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The Saddhu of Couva by Derek Walcott

When sunset, a brass gong,
vibrate through Couva,
is then I see my soul, swiftly unsheathed,
like a white cattle bird growing more small
over the ocean of the evening canes,
and I sit quiet, waiting for it to return
like a hog-cattle blistered with mud,
because, for my spirit, India is too far.
And to that gong
sometimes bald clouds in saffron robes assemble
sacred to the evening,
sacred even to Ramlochan,
singing Indian hits from his jute hammock
while evening strokes the flanks
and silver horns of his maroon taxi,
as the mosquitoes whine their evening mantras,
my friend Anopheles, on the sitar,
and the fireflies making every dusk Divali.

I knot my head with a cloud,
my white moustache bristle like horns,
my hands are brittle as the pages of Ramayana.
Once the sacred monkeys multiplied like branches
in the ancient temples: I did not miss them,
because these fields sang of Bengal,
behind Ramlochan Repairs there was Uttar Pradesh;
but time roars in my ears like a river,
old age is a conflagration
as fierce as the cane fires of crop time.
I will pass through these people like a cloud,
they will see a white bird beating the evening sea
of the canes behind Couva,
and who will point it as my soul unsheathed?
Neither the bridegroom in beads,
nor the bride in her veils,
their sacred language on the cinema hoardings.

I talked too damn much on the Couva Village Council.
I talked too softly, I was always drowned
by the loudspeakers in front of the stores
or the loudspeakers with the greatest pictures.
I am best suited to stalk like a white cattle bird
on legs like sticks, with sticking to the Path
between the canes on a district road at dusk.
Playing the Elder. There are no more elders.
Is only old people.

My friends spit on the government.
I do not think is just the government.
Suppose all the gods too old,
Suppose they dead and they burning them,
supposing when some cane cutter
start chopping up snakes with a cutlass
he is severing the snake-armed god,
and suppose some hunter has caught
Hanuman in his mischief in a monkey cage.
Suppose all the gods were killed by electric light?
Sunset, a bonfire, roars in my ears;
embers of brown swallows dart and cry,
like women distracted,
around its cremation.
I ascend to my bed of sweet sandalwood.
Anonymous submission.

The Saddhu of Couva is a peculiar poem from Derek Walcott which reminds us of the pronunciation of the local Indian people dwelling in the far countryside or in distant hamlets speaking the aboriginal or native dialect of their own. The word spelt Saddhu adds interest to the poem. Here the Caribbean writer tells of the Indians settled in, taken as the indentured labourers by the British, as the sugar cane cultivators or the tea planters in the ships with nothing to say about their return journey, to a land never seen or visited before, taking Indian culture far to Fiji, Mauritius and beyond. But it gives joy when we see Walcott narrating in his way. The poem is an example of the Caribbean understanding of Indian culture, religion and philosophy seen from far. Who went there with what culture? How were the people who went there? How did they people the islands? The scene dances before the eyes and the mind gets lifted to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Ceylon, Cambodia, Thailand and so on.

India seen from far is the thing under our perusal and it is also a matter of reckoning what India is it thereon, how the image of it. Wherefrom did they sail to? The tale of India where did it reach?

Walcott is really Walcott, Derek Walcott. It is really a marvellous poem from his poetic pen so extraordinary and excellent in its picturesque imagery and landscape setting with the contours and images swapping places never seen before, never come across such a write-up.

How far Indian is Indian English poetry? How Indian are those who live abroad crossing the seven seas? How did they cross over to? Did they ever return to or think of returning? Did their descendants? Whose loyalties where to owe to? How Indian are the non-resident Indians? How Indian are those who dwell in abroad? How their image of India and what do they find after coming to India? How does India come up to their expectation? What can India give to them at least?

I see his photo and under the shadow of it think of admiring and appreciating the poem taking the Indian standpoint, anti-Indian stance, catching the Couvan spirit and dislodging it too, the African stance and the anti-African too taking the Indian orders too. How do the aboriginal folks take to Indian myths and fables in India itself? What India is it in fact? How its old order? Should it be replaced or cleansed to suit the new order? How the sadhus of Couva? Are they the natives of Couva or India? How does Couva appear to them? How their mythology? How their dreams of India, we mean Indian dreams? Should we still talk of the older caste system, the Brahmins and so on? Should it go or not? The sadhus of Couva, can they rise to the level of the rishis, Indian rishis? What can the Bollywood images add to? These can definitely present the pictures of, but knowledge of the self is something different from all that it presents theatrically, the Himalayan wisdom is unfathomable which but only the great sages and saints silent for ever and so prudent can tell it about.

How the people of Couva? How their lineage, legacy, tradition of thought, how their beliefs? Should they talk of a decadent order or merge with the mainline progressive thinking? To be a sadhu, a mendicant is not so much good, and if one can be a rishi, it will really be a matter of thought for the day.

How long should it the past haunt one, the long dead past? Is it not better to be with the present? Which way the Couvan Hindus must go and what to do? Should it be Uttar Pradesh behind it all? How can Uttar Pradesh help them? How can it Bengal? How did the Indians feel it during their Kala Pani? Can anything be continued in exile? Is the situation not like that of Gulliver’s Travels and that of Tempest with Prospero, Ariel, Ferdinand and Miranda?

It is a poem of Trinidad and Tobago and the Indians settled in there, a small coterie of Indian Hindus as the residents of it, their culture, philosophy, lifestyle and thinking and the poet is none the else but a reader, an observer of all that, culture and tradition, Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Rama and the watcher of Ramleela.

An islander Walcott is telling about the history, habitats and population, culture, ethics and philosophy of the people. How did he come to take a note of the Caribbean space and the Indian sub-continental space, the Indian and the Caribbean diasporas? Who the inhabitants of where and how their old stock of tales?

It is a poem of sugar cane fields and cultivators, who came as indentured labourers with their faith and belief in the Caribbean islands re-telling the Indian mythology, but under new situations and scenarios. Walcott thinks over that and tries to construct and deconstruct the myth.

Against the backdrop of a natural Couva, he puts in the Indians, their culture and faith, folktale, and religious belief apart from sugar cane farming and cultivation.

Walcott takes the things in his stride just as a Caribbean man takes them. Here in this poem, the poet takes to colonization and decolonization and tries to question what the colonizers got in bringing them. How can they profess their faith in a different environment? Who were they who came to? How were they? The coolies, labourers? Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie? The people from Uttar Pradesh speaking Bhojpuri and dialects other landed on a Guliverian island. But the Caribbean psyche, this too is not known to us. Who are the actual natives of Trinidad and Tobago? There is something of Creole which the poet uses in.

Who the inhabitants of where? Where the hometown of Derek, where that of Ramlochan? But where can he go with Uttar Pradesh in his mind, Bengal in his heart? The Caribbean is the Caribbean with a landscape and location of own. Could it not have been well had they dislodged it all, the load of the historical past?  Could they not the mythical and archetypal characters from their mindset? But it is the cultivation, growing of crops which has them. What the elders to deliver with regard to welfare, progress and development? The past is good, but it should not turn into someone's cultural burden.

When it is sunset, a brass gong vibrates it through Couva, making him feel his own spirit, a white cattle bird getting smaller over the ocean of the evening canes and he waits for to return to like a hog-cattle blistered with mud, it is as because India is too far, and this forms the setting of the poem when he is reading before us. And to that gong sometimes bald clouds in saffron robes assemble to look to look sacred to Ramlochan who but now sings the hits from Bollywood in his jute hammock as the mosquitoes whine their evening mantras and the fireflies make him remembered of Divali every dusk which comes before the winter fall and exactly after the harvest. He knots his head with a cloud, his white moustache bristles like horns and his hands seem to be as brittle as the pages of the Ramayana. But how did the sacred monkeys multiply like branches in the ancient temples? But instead of the fields reminding of Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, he feels the time overpowering him, old age staggering like an old sage and the things taking a turn. He marks the things in a phase of change and the winds of change blowing about. The loudspeakers keep blaring with the hoardings and posters of cinematic personalities near the stores.

The Saddhu of Couva is but a Caribbean saddhu, not an Indian Hindu saddhu even though he appears to be. Man must learn to suit himself however the situations. To adjust is the main thing and to assimilate and align with. Can one grow in isolation? The islanders must move with the time changing. Can they not do with something? Here none but Derek is the saddhu thinking and re-thinking colonialism and the impact of it, de-colonization and its process and the cultural hangover.

The same sunset glows into the misty haze over the cane fields by the sea and the birds flying over, nature is as it was before and human memory just a looker-on of the things sliding and gliding as natural phenomena irrespective of ethics and morality. The memory relates to Rama and hanuman and the seeing of one into the other. And like an elder of the village thinks of transitional state. As seasons change so are our things in a flux. How to do with gods and goddesses so mythical to be dealt with in other space? But on seeing the canes on fire after the harvest, bringing the pictures of the burning of the pyres swaps with the death of gods and legendary figures. The hanuman now has been placed in a cage as the habitats have been destroyed. Are the used sugar canes on fire not indicative of the funeral of gods and heroes? Can it be not so? The older generations appear to be relenting to the past, but the younger generations in their new spirit and vigour seem to go with the advancing times.

What is the sadhu doing here on the Caribbean Island? Should he slacken the religious strictures and restrictions?

We do not know if the saddhu is but the Caribbean saddhu wanting to be transformed into a holy man with Himalayan wisdom and knowledge, that is the knowledge of the self. But it is the order of the day that the old order must be replaced with the new. Old practices must go, and new practices must be adopted to start for a beginning.

Let us see what he constructs, what he deconstructs, what he sees in terms of colonization, what in terms of decolonization. What to retain it thereon?

Should Uttar Pradesh be dislodged from the mind, as the things are offloaded? Should the colonial past? How long to go with Bengal?

Walcott’s saddhu reminds us of the sanyasins of the Gajan time, the countrified aboriginal folks singing the Chhau songs and performing before. Many tribal and aboriginal people in India do not know even the mantras and they ahve their own saddhus matted and varied.

Who the sadhu is here?  The Indo-Aryan sadhu? Or the Austro-Asiatic saddhu? O, the Caribbean saddhu? What is in what sadhu, how to say it? Some are just loitering sadhu.

As time is fleeting away so he too is ageing. Now with the advancing age thinks he, should he don the mythological coat or not? Should he the Hindu coat or the Caribbean coat? Whatever be that time will not leave peeping into the self.

The poem reminds us of the Shiva temples of Vietnam. Let us think of Indian studies done in foreign. India too has a votary of its own. Who discusses India and Indian culture in which way, how to say it?


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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