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Sitakant Mahapatra

The Ruined Temple

Into the apsara’s navel
Stars and dewdrops fall
all through the night.

On the steps of the temple’s pond
the greasy patchwork clothes
of tradition and history
are washed
on the large shoulders of Ganesha
giver of all knowledge.

Like blind whimsical gods
or like a sudden gust of wind
two or four bats
fly out from its dark womb
towards an uncertain tomorrow
along the banks of
an indifferent sky.

The unending afternoon comes to an end.
Somewhere the bullock cart’s creaking
slowly fades.

It seems as though in a moment
time would stop
over derelict empty fields
at the edge of the gathering dusk.

Someone calls out
someone’s name
in affection
full of a desperate need to possess the other.
( Is it in this life, or in another life? )

A smile on the water’s broad and shining face
becomes a gesture of sudden hope
and pulls the temple’s shadow
and the rising moon
together, lovingly.

The long day ends, waiting.
Before leaving with a weary yawn
the leprous beggar woman
still wishes for the arrival
of some anguished devotee
at the temple door.

Translated by the poet

Death of Krishna

The ordained fateful arrow
finally arrived.
It hit the tired feet
of the cowherd boy, Arjuna’s charioteer
the primeval lover, the wily envoy, the romantic emperor;
trembled and, in a moment, went still.

The long wait to return to Vaikuntha ended:
the working of Karma
the litanies of treachery and retribution
the heart-breaking silence, the remorse
that had dawned
after the din of Kurukshetra,
all of it ended.

A great wind from the sea across Dwaraka
carried the piteous wail of Jara the hunter
soaked in the black rain
of mango blossoms and koel’s song.

Bent under the weight of guilt
the dark voices of ancient rituals wept
in the wombs of prison houses
in frolic and rasas of yesterdays
on forsaken moonlit river banks
down glittering royal courts
and avenues of falling armies.

Unshaven lean face
disillusioned, sad, pale as plaster
crumpled yellow garments
once the heartthrob of the gopis
lips still smelling of
a little earth stealthily swallowed,
stolen butter, half-truths
loveplay in moonlight
and the myriad deceits on the Yamuna banks.

Newspapers flashed hurried obituaries:
untimely accidental death
leaves a void difficult to fill
and yet, from now on,
husbands would sleep in peace
no more would there be fratricidal wars
or darkness in the hearts
and cancer in the soul.

Conflagration of unknown joy
leapt into the sky
as the crowd sang
‘The age of guilt has ended.’
In Jara’s heart darkness swelled
as the sun went out
and his tears flowed as a river.
The same evening
at the hurried convened meeting
condoling the sad demise
they declared another public holiday.

Translated by the poet

Autumn Leaf

They tell me
it is only an equation in chemistry;
the handiwork of the sun’s warming flame
and the blow of the secretive wind.

Maybe it is only the coming and the going
which no one can prevent;
for millennia the sun has inscribed
the same cruel message
on the green molecules of the cells.

And yet there is a time
for the blood to blossom
in tumultuous colours;
a time when not all the city girls together
can parade such colourful skirts.

But do we not know
that colours too are a kind of grief?
the adolescent dresses falling away
in pale ancient memories
even when one feverishly pretends
to be untouched by the dark clamour of the earth.

The sun’s warmth slowly fades
and the merciless hissing of the snake
echoes in your veins;
an inconsolable wailing
that ever inhabited you
suddenly lifts its wings
as you unstick from the branch
with a cold virulence
and the heavy consonants
re-embrace the earth.

Translated by the poet

The Cockfight

Armed from head to toe,
the two warriors are arraigned against each other.
Some anger enlarges
the dimensions of their narrow necks.
Battle drums announce
a face-to-face contest.

Hunting for insects has ceased.
Seeking refuge from hungry cats and hungrier men
has also ceased.
As battle cries rend the air
and carnage is due to commence,
the villagers leave behind their long history of cowardice,
and gather here.

The warriors do not know
what this war is about,
or who is whose enemy.
They do not comprehend
the clamour that rushes on this dumb village
like a bellowing sea.

The weapons they wear
strain their nerves.
And, suddenly, their blood is on fire,
feathers almost fly off their flesh,
and each cell of the body overflows with hatred.
The war is only a moment away,
and, when it arrives,
to kill to be killed will be all the same.

Evening descends
on a sky smeared with blood.

It's all over
in a moment.
Darkness erases all
the day's colours, the day's blood.
A day ends.

Carrying a handful of meat
that has lost its voice
the crowd returns.
The village is once again enclosed
by silence
breathing like an abandoned child.

Translated by Ramakanta Rath

This Is Why We Are Human

Not because we can converse
with fellow human beings
on this ancient earth
from light-years away in space;
but, even after sitting-hours together,
next to someone dear
not even a word rises to the lips.

No need to take all the trouble
Of journeying to the moon, the stars, or the sun.
For, standing here on this mother earth,
we can cancel out the sun
with just the bare palm of our hands;
we can make him jump
out of the bucket of water
and dance on the mud-washed wall;
we can plant the moon
on the beloved's chest
and the stars in her eyes.

We are human
not because we can compel words
to say whatever we intend to say
but we discover that the errant words
can never be cajoled or persuaded
to do our bidding.

We are human
because we can't face up to the truth
blazing as sun;
and instead, in love with illusory words,
those half-truths in half-light and half-shadow
we hide behind them
all our life.

This is why we are human
not because all information, all knowledge
are garnered and arranged
in puthis and computers
within our reach;
but because we spend the long morning
looking madly for the
misplaced pair of eyeglasses.

Translated by Bikram K. Das


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