I   Back  I 

Prathibha Nandakumar


To the earth or the skies,
To the waters or the land,
To the wind or to the long lasting feeling
of being pinned to the wall,
Where do I belong? To whom?

The unclaimed baggage defies the new porter.
May be itís an explosive, may be
a forgotten-in-a-hurry pot of gold
sitting for his possession.
May be it belongs to the unsung hero of the
narrow by lanes where superior things get priority
like, for instance, deceitful beauties.
Does it belong to the port or the
platform, to the truck or the shaky shelf,
to the maker or the buyer?

Whoever has heard of the twilight belonging
to the day or night? Shore to the land or water?
They are in a perpetual no manís land where
the middle aged go to feel and not look,
young look and donít feel
and the old-forgotten have a field day
but come back hurt.

I belong to the waters that claim me with open arms,
drowning me into a blissful oblivion.
To the wind that takes all my senses and carry to
merge with the silent fragrance of the hanging Jasmine.
I belong to the worms that decompose my twice burnt body,
into a skeleton of bones and toes.
Nails stretch out of my fingers that reach out
to cuddle or strangle you.

In any case you never offered a hand.

You are not to be blamed
You belong to the elements
And you never despair.

Forbidden 2

If I try to swim
He drowns me

If I stand still
He sends scorpions to sting

God and I speak
Different languages

I say wind
He says water

The tiny boat
Can float or drown

He shrugs away
Forbidden fruit

Forbidden 3

I am not your water
go find another pond
He forbids

This was a beautiful river
With loving fish

Just a minute ago
Just a minute ago

Woman And Blood

Tiny fingers cut and bleed
despite the warning not to touch the knife.
Blood finally stops with a bandage
the little sobs continue even after the hug and kiss.

All of a sudden growing up
brings new problems
Question papers are far easier
The next is still unknown.

Blood drops
      on the playground
      cycle seat
      degree certificate
      carpet in the hall
      some bench some corner of a park
      cinema theatre
      on the first love letter
      wedding mandap
      and on . . . the bed.

itís a great effort to stop the blood
on it stands the honour of the family
dynasties have tumbled
battles fought, hearts broken
even deaths are justified.

When finally it stops
my God, itís like the churning of the ten oceans
and the butter emerges
bringing smiles to all the faces

White blood from the swollen breasts
flows endless. Innumerable legends,
myths and songs of praise . . .
Itís okay if the young pigeon
turns into a vulture later, itís okay.

Then one day,
it really stops.
Tears, hopelessness,
even talks of hormone treatments.

But itís time for getting ready to go.

Someone once said
ĎBlood relation means . . .í
I stopped him midway
ĎI know, I am a woman.í


You cannot catch me in a fist
lock me in a room
transport me in tiny vehicles
a six-yard sari is hardly enough for me
I donít fit into readymade blouses

Between the front and the backdoor
within two rooms and a portico
the year-round festivals
cannot frame me.

Hey you, the man on the beach
play as much as you can
and return home.

My waves have to carry
many more ships ashore.

The Tigress

He is the animal trainer
makes even the fiercest of fierce animals
crawl, jump, stand on hind legs
just by the crack of his whip.

He puts his head between
the dangerous teeth of the tiger
pats his appreciation
waits in anticipation
of applause.

This tigress
that roamed the deep jungle,
terror of the forest,
now sits cross-legged in front of him.
Is she a tigress or what?

Someone once asked her about it.
She just smiled and brought out
her long sharp nails
hidden well under her paws
and scratched her head.

The Coffee Table 1

To touch or not
was not the question
Penance will definitely give result.
Gods must descend and grant
As is their habit.
The designer draws plans.
To take form is not their prerogative
As can happen with alarming regularity.
The coffee table tells no secrets
Wiping away very crumb is a reflex
As listening ears absorb every whisper.
Fragrant Jasmine is addictive
A load of it not enough to caress
As a single bud can also arouse
And finally he touched all touchable,
Heart, mind and physique
He had no choice but to wear gloves.

The Coffee Table 2

That was no fabled coffee table
Just an ordinary four legs and a glass top
that he would never take credit for designing.
It became a masterpiece by his touch
And his head resting on it was too much
to handle even for an inanimate thing.
And he wanted me to restrain.
I talk of distant roads, lanes,
tile roof houses and court yards with
singing birds and the one
playing dice under a sun shade
hoping he would get the hint
He did. He asks to describe
the lamenting girl when her
earthen pot breaks.
Folks are so good at it.
The coffee table stands witness
to the tears of the narrator,
not shed for her.

The Coffee Table 3

Nearer than this, can be death.
My hands lie on the coffee table and yours
next to it and we are not grouping
for each other.
The inexplicable grasped through
sips of coffee washed down the
scorching gullet gives a lurch.
Yet the mind refuses to accept.
Loss is an abstract feeling.
You do not loose what you never owned.
Un recognised when it comes back
Turn tables at it.
You have finally mastered the art of
waking up to lullabies.
The firefly with burnt wings
commits harakiri.
They never taught me the safe distance.
The coffee table stands testimony
to the unsaid.
To die for love has been an age old obsession.
To live is the new age discovery.

The Coffee Table 4

I am home in your designs.
For you who visualises
filled and unfilled closets
with remnants of the lost digits
with worn out emotions
is not easy to handle adulation
coming so easy.
You try to curtail
in curt, crisp commands.
I lift up my burnt hand
in anticipation.
Unaware, you bring two cups of scalding
Coffee as if that is all one needs
to survive. The table gets offended
forcing me to respond in monosyllables

Tell Me a Tale

Tell me a tale.
Let there be seven seas, thunderstorms,
fire-spitting dragons in it.
Let there be a pet parrot, eating pearls,
mocking his demon master.
Let there be trouble at every step,
an unending maze, no way out.
I know all that and I am not scared.
All such tales end with a
Ďliving happily ever afterí.

Tell me a tale
of the breath-choking hugs
under the neem tree
where dreams turn into his promises.

Tell me a tale
which can make me cry and howl
like a wounded animal
at the end of which
they come together
like lost children
finding each other by chance.

Once upon a time
there lived a princess
and the washer boy
was in love with her . . .

Such tales are rarely false.

Translated by the poet

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