Souradeep Roy

Poems of Manindra Gupta

The Second Era of the Timeless, Continuous Tradition of Bangla Poetry Comes to an End

When I finished reading poems for our timeless, ever-continuing tradition of Bangla poetry and looked up
I was staring at the last part of the month of Chaitra, the end of the year.
Under the open, clear sky, the earth looked clearer, but because I have been reading poems year after year
the outlines of alphabets, like iron rods in prison gates, are still
walking  in front of my eyes.
The moment I came out of the cage, the poetry’s pensive thief flew out like animals and caged birds
calling out for help.
How will I observe this lovely world — this world that emerges in the last stages of Chaitra?
Under the weight of words which are thousand years old, my head is like Mammon’s skull.

Suddenly, I see that the poetics, like a golden iguana, is sleeping
on the western side of the sky, against the red clouds.
Ramprasad Sen has taken a dip in a water body not too far away.
With each small, measured dip, he is melting into water.
Why did that golden iguana leave poetry? When did it run away?
When did Ramprasad run away?
If they have run away, I too must run away.

I can tell you that alphabets have become languages for different poets. Letters have begun to walk unsteadily
towards the grey field filled with smog. An unfamiliar, unclear language knocks at the door.
The Eastern horizon is made of wild bushes; the sun sets beside a small portion of a cloud.
There, alphabets become tinier than ants. They vanish into the sky.
After the sun sets, a cold wind blows through the darkness.
This is how the grief of poems written in the last thousand years
blew into the body of poems yet to be written in the next thousand years.

( Chaitra– last month in the Bengali season cycle, Ramprasad Sen– a Shakta poet of 18th century Bengal/ a poet-composer of mystic folk songs chiefly dedicated to goddess Kali)


Pakhi and Ruma

Dipti and Dattaraj Salgaokar celebrated their anniversary
at Dona Paolo’s house in Goa.
Anil Ambani, Dipti’s brother, had come, along with his sister Tina.
Jaya and Amitabh Bhachan had come.
Adi and Parameswar Godraj had come.
Nina Gupta was accompanied by her daughter Masaba.
Several others had come.

I was sitting inside a bush, observing all these eminent people.
After some drinks, birds too get high.
Like a drunkard from the countryside, I shrieked a couple of times
A few wild birds which cry out from the wilderness near me
turned, looked at me and laughed.

I flew out before dew forms on the leaves.
I scampered near the feet of some boiragis who had assembled
at Radashyam ashram in the evening, felt the dust on my feathers,
and touched their feet for blessings.
This world, which revolves around the axis of longitudinal lines,
and mixes with the dust of Truth infinite times,
was as colourful as the the cloth worn by fakirs.

It takes four days to fly from Goa to Gariahat through the sky —
but Ruma was getting married, so I had to come.
Upon arriving, I saw that the construction work for the metro rail has begun.
This drain, made of square bricks, had so much filth rotting for so long.
Now the water has dried up. Pigs are having a good time here.
Trees, bushes, have been wrapped up, uprooted.
Hordes of monkeys have been left homeless. They carry their children
and enter homes and localities inhabited humans, and beg for food.
When they get shooed away, they leave for Champahati, Canning, almless.

Even though I am younger than Ruma, she is like my grand daughter.
Ruma and Masaba are probably of the same age; they have the same dark complexion.
When she bathes, pressing a tubewell,
I wish if she, like Masaba, can bathe in a bathtub
just for a day before her wedding.

(Anil Ambani– an Indian billionaire industrialist, Parameswar Godraj– an Indian industrialist, Amitabh Bhachan- a supreme star of Indian mainstream movies, boiragis– devotees of Lord Krishna according to Hindu mythology, Radashyam ashram– a hostel for holy worship, fakirs– beggar monks, Gariahat– a market place in the city of Kolkata, Champahati, Canning– places in rural Bengal)


Ashim’s Babu’s Story

By the time the shraddha got over, afternoon rolled into evening —
just before sunset Nondo took the Ashim babu’s unburnt remains, some food just before sunset
and gave it to the lake.
No one really goes to that side of the lake.
Some weeds have grown on the water, some reeds;
below the water, algae.
Our bodyless Ashim babu probably knew everything – he was sitting
right under the tree, hungry, lonely.
The moment Nondo left, he folded his dirty pants
and went into the water, looking for his unburnt remains.
They had burnt him without his glasses;
he can’t see too well now.
In the meantime, the last rays of the sun are about to fade —
have my remains mixed with water?
Or have the fish eaten it?
Almost blind, Ashim babu keeps searching
with his thin arms.
The cold that comes in the month of Magh has mixed with the water.
Poor Ashim babu’s task has become even more difficult.
Has cold, hunger, rage, monstrosity followed me here as well?
My entire life was spent so longingly
just for the sake of some boiled rice!
With legs thin as a whistling duck,
Ashim babu keeps looking for rice, for burnt pieces of fish, the entire night.

Om bhu bhuvaswaha!
The cold remains, forever, forever. After two months it was Basanta.
Ashim babu accompanied the home-bound ducks,
He migrated back into the sky.
O earthly sky.
O earthless sky.
O sky.

(shraddha– a Hindu ritual performed for one’s ancestors who left their physical body, Nondo – a man’s name, Ashim babu – a man’s name, Magh– a month in the winter season in the Bengali season cycle, Om bhu bhuvaswaha – sacred Hindu chant. It can roughly be translated as: We meditate on the glory of the Creator, Basanta– spring.
# Note on the ritual described in the poem: According to Hindu funeral customs, the body remains at the home until it is cremated, which is usually within 24 hours after death. The ashes are typically scattered at a sacred body of water or at some other place of importance to the deceased)

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