Poetry & Prose : THE OLD MEN AND OTHER POEMS
(Translated by Bibhu Padhi and Minakshi Padhi)
THE OLD MEN
The venerable old doze off in their chairs
after asking the smaller children
to get on with their singing
The country is growing old.
Until the wind feels tired,
culture wouldn’t change.
Bread and fried things
get stale in the meal box.
The water pouches thrown
on the road have started sprouting.
A shadow keeps sitting on the ridge
See, perhaps it has been crushed
under that tall signal tower
keeping the stories of violence
and sweets, the temples increase
with sweetmeat shops on roadsides.
The machines understand our stories;
they build children, pizza and burger.
Like crushing the suppurating wounds.
Now it is common to murder and love.
The country is feeling the wounds
and I sit near it.
No one can predict things anyhow.
Give me only the ambulance’s
phone number. Let me
keep it locked in my chest pocket.
THERE IS NO LAND NOW
He likes it
though there is no land now.
There was a time when there was.
The field-like heart
is now the words’ pavilion.
The mind and the brain
are controlled by the words;
their mischief is so much that
there is a fear that
love’s soft petals are in danger of
Where else is land?
Now core houses are being built
to take care of the words.
there is very little land
for them to live happily.
What shall we do?
I would have extended my hand
but the muscle and skin are numb.
I would have offered a kiss,
but my lips have been burnt by hot words.
How can I take it on to me,
since I know the words
are waiting with their hidden cameras
in his own hidden rooms?
Please don’t mind.
There is no place now.
Listen, I just don’t like
to take over someone else’s land.
THE RIVER RETURNS
Last evening a river
reached my doorstep.
Of course it walked
the concrete road, he walked.
I called him in and inside
my ill-organised memories
were writing their autobiographies.
At that time I was looking
for the fish who had jumped off
their happy aquarium.
The river sat on a plastic chair.
I had never seen in life
such a small river which
began at the head and ended at the feet.
What all the river had written down
in its diary. The letters were shaking
like drops of water? What was that language?
Not Oriya certainly. Even then I could
A narrow lane loosened
towards the heart.
The river wore a pair of spectacles
of thick lenses, although I know
one does not need the eye
to see things here.
After a long time, I opened my eyes
and just then the river began to smile.
The darknesses around here know
how I have meditated to be a hill
for a long, long time, but I never thought
that one day a river would retrace itself
from the sea towards me, carrying
some salty water and some fine sand.
Last night I could not sleep so well.
The river must have to return,
but I never knew how it returns
on the road of dreams.
I am the wind
and I can get into anything.
I stay under the gills of the red fish,
in the long road’s shadow-less, stunned
silence, under the shy of the eye,
like a warm breath, or stay on
a lost nameless dog’s tail.
I am the wind, your enemy.
Each time you bring me out
of your lung and heart,
I shall enter it again.
You can only get adjusted
to my ways, there is no other way.
However strong the wall
behind which you stay, whatever barricade
you raise against me, whatever net
you throw to overcome me,
I shall not listen to anyone’s
pressure or request
I shall not be afraid of your
red eyes and sirens, I shall not leave you.
I am the wind.
No one can open my knot.
Don’t shut the window,
don’t stop the wind.
Its heart will be full once
it walks over the house;
you don’t know how small is its demands.
If it sweeps away something,
let it, for it is the wind;
if it destroys something, let it,
for it is the wind.
It has traveled over the miles,
leaving behind its territory,
washing away the footsteps
on the sands of time.
Its feet must be tired, its
soles must have turned red,
its toes would be paining.
Would it be wise for you
to shut the windows?
Ask him to come, ask him.
It shall not ask for sherbet,
nor bedfellows nor make love.
It shall feel your body
through its thin dress.
It shall plant a sapling of the cold.
What else does it want?
Take the curtains off the windows.
It is not so selfish like you, so
it would ask for the accounts of its breath.
A well-known aloneness
encircles the white-ant hills
of the body.
To ward off this,
you need a small crowd.
The crowd needs
a morning of sunshine.
The shining light shall not be
available all the time.
That is why the clouds have to be
removed from the sky.
In order to remove the clouds,
one needs some sturdy wind.
But then where are the winds?
Perhaps they have hidden
behind the blades
of the city’s ceiling fans.
The meaning of locating
the winds now amounts to
waking up the city from its sleep.
Better still, is to sleep under the blanket.
There is no need of a crowd.
Let the aloneness encircling
the white-ant hills stay like that.
The white ants have gone
in search of blood.
I wonder if they won’t come back
when their stomachs are full!
The Author: Saroj Bal (b. 1976) has degrees in Oriya literature as well as music. He has twelve collections of poetry and received several awards. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the well-known publishing house in Orissa, called Timepass. He also edits an annual book- magazine in Oriya.
Illustration: Wooden Hands; photography, by Ishmael Annobil, 2013