Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo), located in the western Indian Ocean. Owing to its unique biodiversity, it is considered the eighth continent. Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland 167 million years ago, and has been isolated from the rest of the world after breaking apart from the Indian tectonic plate about 65 million years ago.

Madagascar has a diverse landscape with narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west. Due to its topography, a number of climatic regions exist in Madagascar leading to a very high rate of speciation compared to the rest of the world.

It is believed that the first humans arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo, Indonesia about 2000 years ago. Later migrations took place from east Africa, Arabia, India and other parts of the world, giving rise to a diverse population consisting of 18 major ethnic groups.

Members of these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations, a rich language full of images, metaphors and proverbs, which is mainly of Indonesian origin, with some words derived from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot and its unique flora and fauna is conserved through a network of national parks and protected areas, which consists of over 120 sites. The island has some 13,000 species of flowering plants, out of which 89 % are endemic.

It is also the motherland of baobabs. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusively found in Madagascar. There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, around 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are endemic to Madagascar, 283 species of birds, 51 % of which are endemic species and over 110 species of lemurs from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemurs, which are only found in Madagascar.

Madagascar has made me a haijin. When I arrived in Madagascar in March 2019, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would start writing haikus here. I began with poems of usual length but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple enlightenments taking place within me while waking up with birdsong, looking at mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours, bees sucking nectar from flowers, making beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose and gazing at the sky, or while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the critically endangered Indri-Indri, watching silky Sifakas dance, seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald sea and watching sunset at the alley of baobabs or merely wandering around like a fakir following the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa, though in another island, and in another space-time.

It reminds me of my chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and receiving a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English and later getting a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington DC in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar, and found the short haiku form the perfect medium to capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.

These are my very first haikus and I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity these words and images endeavour to conjure up, which I’ve experienced firsthand in the magical land of Madagascar. Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey!

a purple shower
of Jacaranda flowers
who needs a red carpet?

sea of innocence
exuding amber light
lemur’s eyes

an ascetic meditating
turned upside down
the baobab tree

giant eggs in drawing rooms
where have all
the elephant birds gone?

below a baobab
what a blessing!

how much
green gecko loves
the bright winter sun

dusk now
radiated tortoise
still grazing

calling out
to walk barefoot
the tsingy of Bemaraha

satanic leaf-tailed gecko
pressed against a tree
doubt you can find it

who could say
they’re not aliens
painted mantellas

flames of yellow
lighting up Ranomafana
moon moths

singing, flying, mating
they spend their days
Vasa parrots

La Magie de Madagascar|The Magic of Madagascar

Excerpted with permission from La Magie de Madagascar|The Magic of Madagascar, Abhay K, bilingual edition, translated into French by Madhuri Mukherjee and Katia Novet Saint-Lôt, Éditions L’Harmattan.