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Satchidananda Rautroy


Why must one live for one hundred years?
Bereft of the poison-tooth, defenceless,
and unable to lift one's own bow,
must one still live?

Why must one play host to one hundred autumns year after year
opening and closing and reopening and bolting again
the doors and windows?
Must one go on playing the same game for eternity,
keep on doing the same sum till infinity?

Who will be my witness:
the snippets of Vietnamese valour
from the pitiful daily newspaper
in between sips of milk-powdered tea,
that act like vitamins?
The old guileless photograph of the well-dressed
young man smiling with his bride,
preserved inside the glass cupboard,
that warms up one's strained nerves?
Or the "farewell-message"
presented with garlands of now-faded camphor
by the office-staff
on one occasion of a transfer from Bhadrak to Koraput,
displayed on the wall?

Thereafter the same formulae of multiplication
from one to twenty and from twenty to one,
framed photographs hung on dusty dark walls:
the eldest daughter donning the black gown and hood
and holding her diplomas,
the younger one doing her Odissi number.
And the picture, framed from a newspaper cutting,
of my dear lovabale son, unemployed,
arrested under MISA,
standing inside the police-cordon.
I can hear the bids of my daughters
trying their luck
in the matrimonial auction of the bridegroom-market.

What do they signify—
these basic ingredients of my world?
What do they stand for :
my tattered lungi and dirty vest and office-shirt?
A cake of soap is too costly, costlier is food;
it is only life that gets devalued day by day.

I do not want a boxful of birthdays, I don't.
One inch of life is all I ask for,
the inch-long life of a matchstick.

I feel I have all, yet nothing at all,
for the spark that ignites
is missing.

My wintry breath buries the cold sun
in the snow of slumber.
Still comes the heat wave,
and people die in Bihar
and people die in the north.
And people die of suicide in villages,
and they die without food.

But no one dies for the living.
No one waves his tattered shirt
soaked red in blood.
No one knows where food lies
except the rats and the intelligent ants
who dismiss humans as fools.

I begin my day with the steam
of the flavourless tea in the morning;
I retire at midnight with hollow dreams
in the much-mended mattress of silk.
Nightlong the lamp-post mocks at me.
In my courtyard blossoms the kadamba tree
from where my bicycle had been stolen
on a moonlit night.

Meanwhile I grow a day older
and wane a month upstream,
and then I drift through awakened slumber
towards the next birthday.

Why must one be so kind
to live for one hundred years?
And what does a birthday stand for :
to be or not to be
or non-being?

Translated by Rajendra Kishore Panda


My lost crown appears to me
as I face the sea,
watch it rolling about on the sands.

And here my kingdom lies in shards,
enveloping me like a fortress
vast, and the limit's past.

I forget myself, forgetting my first name
in time to become my second self,
turning a stranger to myself,
aloof and unfamiliar.
In the sky of my own self
I lose myself, losing too
my beginning and my end:
the truth of all that was or wasn't, and is.

All words in an instant
turn wordless,
the word's past,
the unheard of what is heard.
All sounds seem meaningless,
the quest for all meaning futile.
Oh, if only these sounds unite
to become a signal, a sign or symbol
that would open
the entrance to a magical cave
at the touch of a finger...
To say, to know, to understand
Useless are these words and voices,
all the prepared prayers.

Translated by Jayanta Mahapatra

Goddess Durga

She is the one who slays me,
moment by moment,
In the grove of casuarinas,
by the shores of the sea,
She is the one who slays me,
in the very last act of the play.
With every single gut of my blood
is woven a pattern of immense terror.

She is the one who slays me
hour by hour
In the white man's cemetry, or here.

She is the one who pushes me
down the abyss of death.
Drawing me with the beak of her gaze,
She slays me with the strands of her smile
Here within, or in some lonely river isle,
In an abandoned citadel.

And I live again, fall in love with her.
My Sumba-Nisumba existence only resembles her.
So she is a Goddess, for how else
Can she secure the slayed,
Death and love, with strings of slaughter;
Because love is death, her order ultimate.

And receiving and giving seem complete
when each other we annihilate.

She is the one who slays me
with eyes of murder,
Slays me in the cell of love,
Over a secret stairway,
or on some forgotten border,
For she is a Goddess:
truly she makes me hers
Under the pretense of worship,
each moment by moment
In every single act of the play.

Translated by Jayanta Mahapatra

The House

It's night.
It's cold.
What incredible fury of the blizzard !
An unbearable death
could break into this house
like a hungry wild cat.
Close the doors and windows.
It's better here, in this corner of the lounge
of this house.
The chairs, the carpet and the table do not talk.
Talk, sing, or do something
entirely petty and entirely unnecessary.
Or take a book, lie down, and do not speak.
Whatever you do today will have some meaning—
a mile-long sip from a teacup,
drawing in cigarette smoke and puffing it out,
the violin's sad melody—
whatever you do will have meaning,
whatever you do will clearly be better.

Close the windows and doors.
Let's build a pathway paved with echoes,
away from solidified mysteries,
and arrive at the abode that's our very own.
There, in that abode,
a single moment holds
the reflection of our whole familiar world.
In light's green effulgence,
and in darkness that contains
God knows how many layers,
the blue sky descends in dewdrops
into the abyss of consciousness.

Let's go then to the frontier
where all disquiet has ceased.
Let's go into the house
set apart for us
by God knows who.

Some day, however, those terrible paws
will break into the house.
Its doors and windows will fall apart.
Electricity will be switched off.
It will embezzle every single certitude
of my universe
and, then, disappear for ever.
This moment will be the moment
of all-devouring time
that has no beginning,
and no end.
Look, the black wild cat
is here once again.

Translated by Ramakanta Rath

Seashore Faith

The seashore of faith
is swept away
by the seven waves;
a speck of dust
is better than a vast void—
let the sand castle crumble
or its three shingle steps
be swept away,
the centre holds
life's magical flower,
faith's secret self.

Men may come
and then may go
but the primal truth
is left in footprints.

A sign
means a form
and also the formless,
the source
of soul and self
and the all-pervasive.

Translated by Jayashree Mohanraj

The Onlooker

The gallery is crowdless now; my play and I
are sitting here, face to face.
And I, the silent spectator,
am gazing at myself.
Between us there is our acting alone.
So many actors and actresses, so many, who
make me live once again in their gestured voices,
execute the shape of my play.
And, so many landscapes, high streets, gardens,
decorated platforms, battlefields, scenes of blood,
beheaded bodies of men, and at last, the pleasure-place
where the dance is absorbed into the dance
and, moments later, separated themselves.
I and my play are one, and again are divided,
I wait for what might take place at some future time,
or what could possibly have taken place.

Here, I am the creator, and also
the helpless instrument, the onlooker
I have my rights over actions,
and yet I exist apart from these.
The gallery is without its crowd, and I and my play
are sitting here, face to face;
I am the spectator, I the protagonist.

Translated by Bibhu Padhi


All eloquence
remains inadequate,
there is always room
for a postscript.

to count steps,
seeking yourself
bit by bit
in your own image.
Finish the roll call
and the end once again
becomes the beginning;
even a wrong call
a wrong cloud
strikes me like a deluge.
All quest is futile
(the quest for self)
all knowledge fruitless
(the primal knowledge)
all things are
a mere translation
of something else;
knowledge is illusion
only an image
carried down memory lane
for aeons of time.
All things get
sucked away by Time.
Ah! for the Timelessness,
to be forever!
Gone is my youth,
lost in paleness
leaving nothing
for the Last Day,
and my future
lies broken
in the glorious ruins
of an empire.
Fools make history,
says the court jester.
I wing the dead butterfly
from blood's garden
with a misplaced mirth.
The 'I' born of desires
and time, a remainder
of Timelessness--
yet all quest, all dreams
revolve round this?
'I' an image of an image!
Lying face down
in my bed
I hear my own heartbeats
like the call at an auction:
hundred and one, hundred and two...
Alas, my lost youth!

Translated by Jayashree Mohanraj


Many lives
become extinct
finally merging
into the five elements,
says the law of life;
dinosaur, neelgai and unicorn
are wiped out one by one,
they need protection,
a sanctuary.

Good hearts too
are numbered now,
dropping out one by one--
those reluctant parents
who never ask for more
while simple schoolmasters
unwilling to earn
by unfair means
prefer to live
on honest bread
only to become thin,
endangered, and finally
be wiped out completely.
Only deceitful tricksters
with a long pedigree survive,
juggling black into white
to rule this world forever.

Translated  by Jayashree Mohanraj


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