Several people have been asking me about my life during the lockdown. Apparently its modes and textures have not changed much except that I miss my morning walks that often give me my poems and the travels within and outside the country that exhaust and energise me at the same time. This may perhaps be true of all writers who have retired from regular jobs.
This interval of isolation has also meant an enhancement of virtual life with all the demands for videos, podcasts, Facebook broadcasts, Zoom readings, WhatsApp collectives and Twitter wars. The pace of my writing has not changed much as I anyway have a regular monthly column on poetry in a Malayalam weekly and I keep writing and translating.
I had started writing short stories in 2018, something I had thought I would never do and do not yet know when this new virus is going to leave me or mutate into something worse, like the novel. Even during the lockdown I wrote two stories, though not very long, besides three poems which had nothing to do directly with the disease but had oblique emotional links with the trauma, invoking old wounds, contemplating solitude, celebrating the revival of the natural world that human beings no more meddle with as astutely as they used to.
The new things are, one, translating of Kabir’s selected poems in various genres into Malayalam – from the originals with the help of commentaries and English versions – a pet project, political in a way in these times of religious insularity and communal hatred, I had not yet found time to do, and, two, editing, with an Indian poet in the U S who drew me into the project, an international anthology of poems that attempt to capture the mood of these times in direct and indirect ways.
But what disturbs my sleep as a member of the privileged middle class is none of these, but the destiny of the marginalised without a roof over their heads or wages to keep their families alive, unable to follow the unscrupulous State’s thoughtless commands to keep social distancing: A destiny that, if recognised and understood by the general society might transform the world into a more liveable egalitarian place or, in the absence of such an awakening and rethinking, will push their life further into infernal inequality, joblessness and poverty.
That is where we are: Between our last chance for a possible systemic change, and eternal damnation that is our punishment for the unpardonable sins of neo-liberalism spurred on by a politics of hatred and driven by a rhetoric of stupidity.
I sit alone in my room and
look out the window:
to make sure the world is still there.
There stands a grown-up tamarind tree,
a swing on one of its lower branches
and a boy on it swinging higher and higher
The tree stands firm, careful
the boy doesn’t fall.
A calf and a cat watch the scene
with raised tails.
The boy’s dad is reading a newspaper
It carries a girl’s photo
The two children have similar faces
But that girl is dead.
The life that has left her
is on the branch of that tamarind tree.
It is watching with excitement
its living brother on the swing.
I am alone in the room and
looking out the window,
to make sure the world is still there.
A horse is speeding outside.
On it is a hunter who beautifies himself
with young men’s blood
every day, like the sun.
Earth trembles beneath its hooves.
There is fresh blood on its mane,
blood, that moves on a swing.
I sit alone in the room.
The world sits alone, outside.
The bangled bough of a laburnum
offers me a bouquet from the window.
There is the life of a child on its crotch
That is my life.
That bouquet falls on my body
A breeze gently moves it, as if it were a swing,
as if I were a child sitting on it,
on a tamarind tree
in my village compound
south of my house
north of death.
On This Earth
We landed on earth from different stars
That is why we speak different languages.
Each word carries the aura
Of the memories of the stars we left.
In sleep we travel to those glittering homes.
There we speak to our forefathers
Like geckos that know
Every one of its walls.
We wake up to discover its stardust
On our skins.
From which star did you come?
I ask, watching the blue dust
On her shoulders at dawn.
She stares jealous at the red dust
On my chest.
We are now characters
in some science fiction
Even our heads do not look human.
As we die we return to the
Stars we left.
We will forget our sojourn on earth.
We will float in space,
As weightless souls, until we get
Another body and another language.
I want to be reborn on earth,
This time as a tree.
You will be a bird
perched on its bough.
I will recognise you by the
Blue dust on your wings.
And you, me with the
Red dust on my bark.
This time we won’t quarrel.
I’ll exchange my fruits for your song.
There won’t be humans
To see or hear it.
Translated from Malayalam by the poet.