The river bed flounders below the reddening skies.
Over the cracking earth, listless, a starved trickle staggers
wetting the cleaved sands here and there in dark patches.
Only one long-legged bird lingers, hopeful,
scanning the shore and sky; a crab scurries into its mud hole.
A jackal howls once and then once more. A scorpion
cranes its split tail in anguish and hustles off
into a half-rotten skull leaving
unconnected print marks in the sand;
like a bloated balloon the moon floats
over the dried-up hills. Not so long ago
this river was full and mighty. Days and nights were filled
with laughter and the bustle of living.
Children played and sang while the women washed clothes.
Men punted across on long, narrow boats. Was that so long ago?
Three more girls were gang-raped yesterday;
one had her entrails gored out in the struggle.
Warm blood bloats on the ravenous newspapers--
the reporters hardly leave anything
unsaid-- true to the minutest gruesome details-- they deal out
tasty morsels for rapacious readers to devour over their breakfast.
Bombs like magazine centre spreads
blow up most naturally--colourful, bright, bloody.
Barring a few unavoidable delays all trains run on time.
I once saw a plane take off and explode
with its tail-half floundering in mid-air.
No screams or cries, only the boom of burning air.
It happened the other day at a quiet station
when the slow train moved in the blast shook
the very town up in its sleeping-- no one awoke.
Someone discovered a vendor boy’s legs
miles away from his home-station.
His vending tray was never found! No one had missed him.
My people are so used to the awful spectacle of death
on T.V and cinema: “they do it so real these days,” they say.
What else is technology for-- our playgrounds have spread.
We have entered the postmodern. Here is virtual reality
made palpable and palatable-- complete with the thrill
of iced fantasies.
In this earth I know is my passion and dream,
as I carefully gather a handful of soft sand
and send it sliding, shivering in the wind
I feel its mighty resistance, the fall of centuries,
pillared over time.
The evening slides slowly down the dried stream bed.
A nightjar descends briefly on a rock
and faster than its skimming shadow
with one flick of its wings merges with the trees.
Once or twice the north-star blinks
and then the night settles on unseen wings.
There’s no more light to see.
Where do we go from here?
Back to the city’s heedless streets
to wander forever lost--
hounded by shadows of the dead and forgotten?
Or find strength in sheer retreat-- monk-like
sequestered in silence and dark
saffron-clad under clearer skies?
The moon now floats about like paper
caught in the monsoon drift
between the tall leafless trees.
“Are you asleep yet?,” the wind carries
her whisper to the earth, “are you?”
while deep in the interior caverns once more
the Buddha’s smile reverberates. Quite soon
we’ll all awaken to the silence of her dreams.
The strange river moves, unmoving in time.
Darker under the starless skies. I shall sit here
listening for the singing in the reeds
It might be closer than I know--
my self’s listening other.
From Murali Sivaramakrishnan, EarthSigns (2006)