Poems by Santanu Bandyopadhyay
Poem written in Maithon
I have to return from wherever, crossing steep rocks, sinuous or low bridges, where the solitary haunts, and as I keep moving, a voice cautions —
Watch out before you go any further
It might be my own! I am forced to retreat to
where the secured meal awaits us
used clothing and its familiar scent await us
someone calls in all sorts of strange places
from behind or far ahead —
It’s about time we go back
But for it I would lose my way in the mountainhead piercing the forest
or I would have met other distracting waters
my limbs would have popped out of the calm shell
and blood’s graffiti would have splashed out on canvas
or I would have met my strangest desires all of a sudden
and figure out that they are made of flesh and flood
and don’t recognize me and I don’t either
I would have earnestly brooded over the left behind meadows
But in the end it doesn't turn out that way
I go ahead a little forward when it calls again —
Come let’s go now.
Floor of a sleeping elevator
I come up listening with ears wide open in the cold
to a colder morgue room.
Alone I am made to sit before a strange painting —
this painting tells me of torqued horns
and a crazy kid who sits atop them
with hands thrown up in lifelong quietude.
and that woman, blood-stained all over
anchored on a rock
talking into a dark mirror
while dressing herself — that
In this weird room
the three of us side by side
hold on to the bridge and swing from it.
A city shrouded in light’s parenthesis
impeccably dark streets hold mobilities
that transport beyond their usual speed
with myself and that image
captured in the womb
continuing to sway and swing
Likewise they evolve. And earn. Hit by spectral headlights
they dwindle each day. Each day they lose their way
into meaningless ramblings. Disintegrated neurones, illegible
cursings, drowned in the pungent odor of country liqueur
I latch on to the morgue’s blind walls. This describes how, one day
I entered tinsel town.
A camel line moves
with the animals grazing the hooves against sand
Behind them some people trod
Going on a ritual to sacrifice their children.
They stop before a mountain range
the first sacrificed body is dressed in my clothes
and with a certain immediacy
a fleet of planes take off
their bellies stuffed with complex equations and critical mass.
Upturned computer. A thin dark floats in its mystic air. A blackness descends the stairs — its hand and face — poxmarked all over, from each one of those spots unknown signs spring out to hit in the balconies and in bus-stands, behind the security walls, one man at a time.
Sitting deep inside the pit of darkness an old man —
from deep inside the leaf-sac an old man, trembles
and oozes fission-blood.
On nutty-brown palm a friend wobbles
Even as we speak he moves around,
digging into the ruins for broken pieces of days
he would like to look for
hoping to toss ’em above his head
In the midst of this historical and present times, a new flutist walks into the painting. He squats and begins playing his unreadable melody as colors melt, a wild lasting percussion rises from the center of the forest. Dark pallbearers assemble from all around.
(Un)mapping a subject
“What winsome willows!” he bursts into laughter
spilling over on the sofa
He found grass crease along the curved lines on the map
Fossil-pegs with full-blown masts sailing
on the rocky valley
When was that was that when
The bird-ballet got over in the meanwhile
as he sank into molten melody
Abrupt, broken lines of grass
under thin plank
Snow never piles on the stony steps
Grass encrumbed in the fissures
His laughter-flu spreads into the entire herd
they lose balance falling constantly on their neighbors
Anwar Shah, the herdsman, shows up in a new lungi
All of his wives and offsprings alongside
Business is just right
It’s just about the road
Servicing free all purchases personal
Happy hawkers rinsed with smiles.
Never seen the Narmada
exploring its vowels now
Soft paneers of flesh
Rolling trucks stuffed with cotton
Command us — pick ’em up on our running nibs
Love lives next to the vowels
The mannered lady complains through her man
She needs a rice bowl even here at these heights
Turn it upside down
the convex urge to slide down
to an entire valley
ruled by a map
Everything finds its end
even the melody of string-bowed rivulets
South American Josep gave up the idea of collecting
Ganges water and moving back to the southern hemisphere
That won’t help him cross the Narmada
The expanse of its vowels
works as a metaphor for its own covered space
How far down from here we figured out the
a shirt hanging on bones
It made the tiger come to a halt
and then the snake
and then the 3D images
meticulously picked out
No reading but a game
behind the magnified lenses
A living third dimension
If you withdraw it, things vanish
from the Golden Fortress
A living dimension-three, believe me
Touch Kali’s feet and swear it wasn’t you
Water on the body of tea-vapor
Wet Darjeeling happy home
Sudden clouds fluttering near shawled peaks
Rampant breeze, before the storm stirs
I fold the map to put it back
and speak of darkness, of its advancement.
Anything works, even karate
As we lose the trail we think of Lothar, Mandrake’s best friend
Lothar, Arjuna’s younger sibling
As the landscape whitens, mountains shine
We find “Arjuna’s Chair”
— Who was the first to make an egg stand?
— Who is credited with the Bengali proverb “Crocodile in water, tiger on land”?
— How is Hasnuhana related to snakes?
— What makes the city mouse differ from the country mouse?
— Who first equalled a herd with factory-men?
A language whirls, of endless construction and
co-operation, continuing to form
To fill out the space between them
a few Theodolites are planted
Students pour out with their Brunton compasses
and construction keeps varying itself, in shape size
body and landscape
change change change change chains and reins and change again
Words of the green, of profundity
find their way into all this
Signs and legends add to the map
1. Translation note: Maithon: a picturesque dam-site town on river Barakar in Jharkhand, India.
2. Translation notes: Narmada: an Indian river. Kali: black-skinned Hindu Goddess with four hands. Mandrake, Lothar: characters from Lee Falk’s 1934 comic strip about Mandrake the magician and his African-American lifelong friend Lothar. Hasnuhana: an aromatic Bengali flower (Latin: cestrum nocturnum). Theodolite: a land surveying precision instrument used to measure angles in horizontal and vertical planes. Brunton compass: a land surveying instrument used worldwide, made by Brunton Inc. of Wyoming, USA.
Edited by Sarah Dowling