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The Trees Of Cochin
Once upon a time
the passage from Thrikkakkara to Cochin harbour
exuded the faith and truth of a straight line.
From the docks one could see
the temple lights of Thrikkakkara.
And the lights in their turn saw
the blue waves bowing down in obeisance.

Long ago
before the turns and twists of
the Varma dynasty of Cochin
before the thieves, cheats and liars
before the serpents with the fruit of knowledge
and the great leaps
of Printing, English and Allopathy
the passage of Thrikkakkara to Cochin harbour
was lit by the adage-like phosphorescence of moonless nights.

And flanking it
murmuring ‘ramarama’, ‘maramarama’ in the breeze
flapping ears, twitching tails, waving trunks,
stood in majesty
the grand old trees.
At noon the shady boughs arched over wayfarers
the blessing hands of ancestors.

Some of them became chants for Rama
some, figures of gods
claws of demons,
racks for the condemned
rafters and carved doors
some became lamp-posts,
some the fragrance of sandalwood,
in Egypt or Greece
the frenzy of drumbeats
the voice of the bird that sang of primeval sorrow
‘the lyre turned to the West Wind’s Ode’.
Some grew up tall and sturdy
pioneers spreading out in the sky.
Others branched off into clans
of emaciated seeds and rotted cores paling the foliage.
Some became poles for pennants
some scaffolds.

In the graveyard
under the demon of a Bodhi tree
fallen Time lay cursed
her bewitching beauty chopped off limb by limb
waiting for the redeeming lips of cruel compassion.
On the refuge of the skeletal branch
Edapally hung like the drooping banner of despair.
With the teeming birds of the sky and earth
Changampuzha grew lush and rich.
On the taut strings of the gypsy’s harp,
stretched from the root to the fruit
Vailoppilli throbbed as an electric charge.
‘P’ became the spring thunder of words,
the tree blossoming in the Hades,
the resurrected emperor of words.
Footprints fed on paths
and feet grow bolder with each untrodden path.
As in the spiral descent to Inferno,
turns, twists and excitement grew.

As chimneys belching smoke sprang up
on either side of the road.
Fertiliser plant
Drug-manufacturing plant
Law-manufacturing plant
Degree-manufacturing plant
Dogma-refining plant
From the new stately mansions
smoke rose
never touching the earth
as apparitions of trees.

Smoke spread like the sheet of algae
which once in my small pond hid from view
the dance of fish and the glittering
grains of starry sand.
The smoke spreads from eye to eye,
changing directions and shape with each new wind
philosophical nomads
poison on the prowl.

On a pyre lit by the raw firewood of excuses,
our lifelong cremation.
In our eyes, nose, tongue
in our little obstinacies
around the bag, the watch and the dream of the future
on the tiny feet long before the shoes
the octopus arms of smoke wind up for the crushing embrace.
No, don’t be in a hurry to get up!
There is time enough.

Translator's Note: Under the demon of a Bodhi tree: Here there is an implied reference to a narrative poem written by Kumaran Asan, a leading poet of the early twentieth century. Edapally: Edappally Raghavan Pillai, a Romantic poet of great promise who became famous in the 1940s and committed suicide in his early youth, by hanging from a tree. Changampuzha: Changampuzha Krishna Pillai was a close friend of Edappally Raghavan Pillai and one of the most popular Malyalam poets of the twentieth century, whose Ramanan, a pastoral love poem, has sold over a lakh (100,000) copies. He is noted for his sensuous, mellifluous diction. He died young at the peak of his fame. Vailoppilli: Vailoppilli Sridhara Menon is a leading poet of the second half of the twentieth century whose poetry maintains a balance between realism and romanticism. ‘P’: P. Kunhiraman Nair, a poet who lamented the erosion of Kerala’s cultural heritage and wealth of nature probed questions related to Kerala’s identity in his poems.