Usha Kishore


A Thousand moons
                      (For Papa)

You counted a thousand moons to
reach this day, your 81st -
your grand sadabhishekam...

We had counted a few moons
together, our footsteps imprinted
on the singing sands of Shanghumughom...

Stars melted into darkness,
when you pointed to me, the
crescent moon on Shiva’s brow -

By the furrows on your brow,
I learnt to count your moods,
By the twitch of your chin,

the quiver of your lips -
Across the years, we smiled,
frowned and smiled again -

Across the squares, I moved
king, knight and pawn under
your watchful eye - my tala

and laya flowed into stages,
flowering under swirling
lights - we walked everywhere

together - I held your hand,
then moved apart and learnt
the meaning of distance

and the pain of not being
a son - at one point, I even
thought that you had let go

and wept, imagining a break in
the bond - I was mistaken,
you'd never let go - you were just

keeping your distance – perhaps,
you should never have; perhaps
I should have known better -

Let us gaze at the stars again
and fathom which one
brought us together -

I never drown in emotion -
you only taught me to smile,
to keep a firm head on my shoulders-

Through murmuring palm trees,
moonbeams fall on the courtyard,
trembling with jewelled serpents...

Dusky voices echo from the other
side of time and dim the light
of the sun, for the moon has

conquered – wooden panels settle
in their places as I inherit a dream -
the melody of shlokas flail upon

the air of incense and camphor -
old panchaloha idols smile from
the sanctum sanctorum

as I harvest a culture of gods
and men – I float on the clouds
to see you dowsed with scented

water, your emerald dreams
still wanting to capture the sun -
Come, let us count the moons

again and chant long forgotten
lines of Kalidasa - of the lion
flinging up to the sky, the gems

ripped from the elephant's
forehead; of Kali muttering
in dark tones: Dandi is a poet,

no doubt – but you are me!
Let us re-create gem-stars
in verse by moonlight -

Chandra will then shower his blessings on us...



Notes

1. The lines of Kalidasa mentionedin the poem highlight the legendary rivalry between Kalidasa and Dandi. The short verse of : Purandaraharidari/kuharagarbasupthothitha thusharakara kesari gaganakaananam paschyathe/   mayukhanakharathrutathimirakumbhikumbhasthala/skalatharalatharakapatalakeernamukthaphala -
is said to be a competing verse between the two poets, where Dandi is said to have started the shloka with a lion asleep in the Himalayas, waking up and killing an elephant. Kalidasa finishes the shloka by saying that the lion flings the mythical gemstones from the elephant’s forehead (masthishka) to create the stars.
2. The lines - Kavirdandi, kavirdandi, kavirdandi na samshayaha/Tvamevaham na smashayaha – written by Kalidasa is said to be Kali’s own words or the poet’s inspiration in competition with Dandi. The lines translate as - Dandi is a poet, no doubt! But you are me!

Sita

Who are you woman,
waiting on Saryu's banks,
water pot in hand?

You are the earth,
waiting for the sky.

You wait in vain,
on Saryu's banks,
for the lost rhythm

of your heart - you have
a heart of gold, chained
to the Kingdom of the Sun.

You are the earth,
waiting for the sky.

What sun will gather your
tears in asoka flowers?

What fire burn your chastity?
What Monkey God, your messenger?

What cuckoo bird will coo your
grief in classic rhymes?

What poet turn into woman
to know your soul?

Unplant your eyes from
the sky, Sita - your Lord
sits on a silver pavilion -

He performs his yagna, wedded
to a woman of gold; his eyes
are set on conquering the world -

Kingdoms for a horse -
The saviour of the world
is now its destroyer -

The horizons of an empire
have swallowed love in
Rama's Ayodhya -

The arrows of power
have pierced man’s
heart and bled it to stone –

Crawl back into your
dark womb, Sita!
Back to your mother earth -

Banish him, as he banished you…


Notes

The poem is based on Ramayana, the Indian (Hindu) epic by the poet Valmiki, composed between 200BC and 200AD. Ramayana – is translated as the journey of Rama (ayana – journey). Rama ,a great archer, is the hero of the epic and Sita is his wife. Sita was supposed to be the daughter of the Earth. In the epic, Rama banishes Sita and she goes back to the womb of the earth.

Saryu –river on the banks of Ayodhya.
Kingdom of the Sun – Rama was said to be Suryavanshi or belonging to the race of the sun.
Monkey God - Hanuman
Ayodhya - was considered to be the kingdom of Rama. It is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, northern India. Currently Ayodhya is the site of religious dispute between the Hindus and Muslims.
Yagna- sacrifice
"Kingdoms for a horse" – Aswamedhayagna - During this sacrifice, the sacrificial horse is let loose and all the kingdoms that are visited by the horse, in the course of its wanderings are supposed to pledge allegiance to the King /Emperor performing the Yagna or be defeated.

 


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