Neera, Don’t Get Lost
Each day for us was a day of changing birth
In the light – like pieces of broken glass in the sky –
From the horizon before me, like an exile, you advanced
with hesitant steps
Your body covered with a white swan’s feathers, garland of gunja seeds round your neck
I was afraid
That wasn’t a time for sightseeing, it was a time of banishment
Then the city was burning with hate, the knife in the human hand was being planted
in the human heart
Religion fed on corpses burnt in flames in buses and roads
Patriotism was being regurgitated like blood-vomit
I was imprisoned in the attic, I couldn’t recognise you
Then, with a small notebook, I rose and leapt into deep blue space
You were, then, standing upon Dakshineshwar bridge,
The river in your eye’s pupil
Profound silence of night-time in the town, all the schoolbells going ‘dong dong’ . . .

Each day for us was a day of changing birth
Do you remember, when you, like cave-woman suddenly wounding adolescence,
Had tenderly embraced, very early at dawn, the soft, red winter sun
From the kadamba tree on Hari Ghosh Street, at the time, small shards of
diamond were slowly falling
The day’s first blade-sharp tram went by, saying, Awake, Awake
As on a revolving stage, all was helter-skelter – now afternoon, now midnight,
now evening
I was, at the time, shouting out my lungs in a rally, drops of blood dripping from my nose
On all sides, hunger was flickering like a serpent-tongue
Ah! that enthralling, beggarly, imperious hunger
Like the direst circle in hell, that stomach-gnawing hunger
At certain moments, I saw, on the verandah, the anxious figure of motherhood,
eyes like a bird’s
I’d dreamed that, one day, the world’s mothers would serve steaming rice to all
the small, small children
Those bullets and explosions on College Street
You alighted from the bus, and, at that instant, inside, the festive gunpowder went off
With a jump, someone cleared the park railing, and lay down as an ascetic might
His face in the grass.

Each day for us was a day of changing birth
You were once Woman, you became Neera
I wore false beard and moustaches and became a clerk in a pharmacist’s godown
My sandal-strap tore, I squatted before a roadside cobbler
No one could recognise me, we’re all unrecognisable from the back
Sometimes I was the cobbler, and he the pedestrian
Sometimes I was the road; people walked by, treading on my breast
Sometimes I was silence and, at once, a restless roar
You gave a coin to the blind old man, in Sealdah the clock stopped ticking
So many people rushing, after getting off a train, stopped, motionless, for a few seconds
And then with a crashing sound much destruction ensued
Tear-gas smoke the police crying, the Chinese didn’t want to be ‘bhai bhai’
Deflected by a handbill, people fell into a hole dug in the road – many sprained
their ankles
Three live cubs frolicked ebulliently in the gutter
A group of red-haired Englishmen left after photographing the scene on a French camera
You sat alone in the examination hall, the question paper didn’t arrive
I was bent low, searching for small change in my torn pocket
You went to the flower show and flew your sari’s aanchal like a flag
I lay all evening by the side of a cremation ground.

Each day for us was a day of changing birth
The body’s lustre shines upon all those magic scenes
The body peeps inside the poem, sometimes it is shadow; sometimes it’s the recalcitrance
of flesh and blood
Now it drowns, now comes and sits, face to face
Kalidasa’s bee touched your quivering lip
I, having become grass and flower, placed my tongue upon your navel
Like Modigliani’s woman, the moonlight glistens in your thighs
Once I became the child, and you the eternal Mother
At one point you were the absolute girl, an adulterous king desired you
The ocean flung powerful waves skyward
The sky was louring towards hell
A tantric was inhaling the smell of the yoni-lotus
the great illusion, unsatisfied, was saying, More, more
Ah! that playfulness, the heart’s openness
In the springtime, we lay in bed and composed a hundred histories of copulation
Our arms round one another’s necks, sitting unclothed by the window
at the hour of cow-dust or at dawn
A cigarette in my hand, in your hair a golden comb
The forgotten earth was returning to us, little by little; from heavenward, the soft sound
of a voice
At cow-dust or dawn, drop after drop of rainbow-coloured water in the sky
You kept staring in that direction; there was no aeroplane anywhere at that moment
Speaking in one voice with Keats, you absent-mindedly scolded Newton
That split-second was the moment of my rebirth.

Neera, our delusion ends, we once again build from sand those tiny houses of sorrow
We’re still prancing about like naked children
On the seashore
Sometimes, what a splendid hiding-place, the century’s jhau thickets
I can’t see you, I’ve dipped my pen in the inkpot in your name
I haven’t touched you, like a pregnant doe you melted into a mountainous kingdom
Storm after storm is blowing away entire sides of horizons
A wave of the magic wand is enough to summon from heaven waves of lightning
the earth growing in eminence
All’s sound and sound’s deletion, the turning of a page
The amloki fruit beneath the hands is sending out intermittent glances; it, too, glances
at me with a suppressed smile
Neera, you’re alone on a faraway boat, you’ve spread your two wings
I’m alone in a distant mail train, can’t read the name of a single station
You withdrew from the factions in the school committee, went and hid behind a door
I’m spending afternoons on a chair in a glass-ensconced room
While, on the other hand, so many tree-shadows by the river remain unoccupied
Those who’d said that revolution’s at hand are now composing their memoirs
And those who were wiped out, were too much wiped out
The red-haired group’s camera is still roaming the nooks and by-lanes
No one speaks of love any more
Whenever civilization hears of love, it breaks into giggles and laughter
When someone visits the bathroom to wash their face, they weep alone and splash their
face with handfuls of water
Neera, we have much further to go, don’t get lost
There are many births to change, don’t get lost
Neera, immortal girl, don’t you get lost now!