So much for shadow work

Did you find it, what you were looking for, all the time you were using the perimeter of the ring, the stage, the self, the world?

What did you see after you threw yourself against the ropes, launched yourself from them? Did you find anything? Did they crawl over your wrists, the ropes, tie you in knots when your knees bent climbing them? Did you meet that other body you raged against? Were you subdued before you hung from those arms?

Did your senses return you to yourself? Did you ever reach the limits of that body?

You never forgot yourself, did you? And you wanted to, but not when the forgotten piece would become another fragment of yourself, bartered, fingered, passed from craving, crazed buyer to buyer. Teller of tales, you become coin in their tellers’ hands. (That would be cinema in this late decade.) You are still looking for something more.

Your face when you are not guarding it.

Tree

A. DOORS

‘Tis a terrible thing, isn’t it, to know that one is utterly responsible for every act, every instant, of this long and strange life…

How does one map the golden dust between the weight of this cross on one’s shoulders and the serenity of freedom? The smiles on all those sculptures say that freedom confers serenity. Others say justice is serene, or should be, and take solace in human formulations of transcendent law.

Crouching at the foot of all things tall–altars, crosses, saints, gods, statues– where do I put aside this bundle of grief? It seems out of place in thy philosophy. I cannot enter, my liege.

B. RECKONING

The poet, a man, had stacked body, heart, mind and god against himself.

I, being what I am, stack body against heart. There! The kindling is laid, and the cross.

C. PILLAR and TREE

Tell me how to stand without wish, without desire. Even Kalpataru rears arrested by longings.

Tell me, how to prune to singular aim this multitudinous life, that in pursuit of one invisible longing one may find the flowering and the fruition of all the long years.

Tell me. Is it true?

Sentinel

I shall watch. But no, nothing is as it was to be. Only the festering battlefield and no fate like Karna’s to elevate the mire. No sermon ready for faith, no cosmic peep to contextualise the madness. No sword but these arms, and no code of worthwhile sacrifice but the certainty of ‘kshay.’ There is no exit. The question bites like an insect: what do we do about this? I will watch as you ask.

–Prahari

 

 

Translations:–

Prahari – doorman. Here, I recall to the opening words of the Bhagavad Gita, when the blind king Dhritarashtra asks Sanjay to tell him the state of the great battle of Mahabharat. But the doorkeeper of insight here is any watcher through the ages, anyone who stands apart and watches the outcome of human endeavors. Mischeviously, I also think of Sartre’s Huis Clos and Arthur Clarke’s “The Sentinel.”

Kshay – is gradual diminution, catabolism, part of cosmic cycle of creation and destruction. 

Stone, Paper, Scissors

An author and translator asked his audience: “If you had the option of getting your favourite new novel free as an e-book, but had to pay Rs 300 for the paper version, which of the two would you choose?”

His audience answered with either or both. None answered for neither, so I thought I would.

Ideally, I would try to think not only as a consumer, and would wait for second-hand and hand-me downs in both versions, after enquiring if the author is appropriately supported. After the aesthetic and human questions, there arises a matter of (forsworn) ethics, no? Real costs (to “this earth of mankind”) of production and consumption now in both media. Not morality, I insist, just indebtedness of creator and audience to the network of relationships in which they are ensconced/embedded/trapped and on which they depend visibly or invisibly.

There are real, perceptible and cascading effects of everything we do, and — this is perhaps more difficult to remember — of everything we do not do. Every book I buy used, every clean bit of paper I do not reuse, every item I do not try to recycle (no matter how short a distance the recycling chain goes before it becomes cargo on a trash ship changing flags before it dumps itself on a rotting port in a ‘third world’ country too poor to refuse the money in exchange for allowing the ‘first’ to treat it like a loo) , every bit of fancy and needless clothing, every bit of gold and diamond jewelry I ‘celebrate’ with — all of this came at cost, sweat, blood, tears, labor, hunger, poverty and depravity and perhaps even death.

When we think of ‘investing’ in new property or a car or whatever catches our hedonistic new fancy, do we think of the sun-blackened young laborer exhaustedly asleep on the ton of bricks that open lorry is carrying in the midday tropical sun? Really, you do? In my mind, the cost of the marble flags in my parents’ floor is calculated in the pressure on that coiled extra lungi that laborer used to haul it up those newly laid stairs, the grunts and groans of men hungry and sturdy, shouting and shouted at. Or perhaps in the number of ‘bidis’ and joints he could have bought if he stole a slab of marble and sold it on the street.

Perhaps a perverse calculation, but hardly less accurate than any other. After all, what is the exchange value of a thing?

Two Poets

The world pours itself like a river onto his page.

No need for matted mountain firs to break the fall,

it breaks through mine.

 

I am overcome by the materiality of his ‘matras,’

He overcomes their attenuations.

_____

In Hindi or Bengali, and possibly in many other regional languages of India, a ‘matra’ is a sign, an accent, punctuation. Marker, if you will. In the two languages mentioned, the matra for a  full stop (period) is shaped like a straight line, an ‘I’ without head or feet, a measure of pause and reckoning, a line segment, as small and definite as the human length in the narrative of life.

Epigraph for a medieval woman

Wild with adoration of her lord she cast off her veils.

Cloth, shame, pain, earth, all forms forsaken

but this body, this space,

this knowledge of a self diffracted,

wild with that adoration she cast off

and kept nothing back to give — flowers to stone, Mallikarjuna–,

wild with adoration she cast off her veils, and you hid behind their fall.

_____________

Reference:

“and seeing, I quell today

the famine in my eyes”

 Mahadeviyakka, 12th Century. Trans.  A.K. Ramanujan from medieval Kannada to modern English in his _Speaking of Siva_  (1973). #68, p 120.