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Photos in Various Poses

We need several photos, sir,
Of people like you
In various poses, bending, tilting,
Standing, walking,
Smiling, lost in thought,
With a palette and brush in hand,
Staring, smoking, browsing through a book,
Embracing your mate and children
And the now inseparable bosom foes,
Close-ups and long distance shots,
Photos in various poses, sir.

With a new-born child,
At Konarak,
Or Belur,
Or beside a funeral pyre
Despairing of the ways of all flesh
Turbulent troughs
Plummeting depths
And a glimpse of the distant shore

Lashing the banks, overflowing,
Wielding the axe to reclaim land
Leading a march
Shaking hands at a marriage
Folding hands before success
Waxing at one’s favourite tasks
Crushed under futile tasks
Photos in various poses, sir.

Let them see
Those who have never seen us
Those who see us all the time
And even we ourselves:
All that we sing and dance
Through the changing seasons
What we create and destroy
In our various incarnations,
Sir, it is under the gaze of men
That seas swelled to this size
And rivers became sagas.


Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer
Complains that snapshots have worn out
His face.
But one should not forget, sir,
Through the same trick
The stars of our public men have ascended

From the darkness of anonymity
To the kindly light of celebrity.
More exposure, more radiance, sir,
That is what people say, sir,
The truth of a life
Can’t be summed up in a snapshot, sir.
Those who have never been splashed
By a flashbulb,
Those who do not even figure
In a group photo,
It is as if they were never born.
Their life
A formless blind void.


When I face the camera
I panic.
Its single eye
Which is also its tongue, ear, nose
The solar abyss of cosmic flux
A tunnel of night at its core
The possessed demonic dance
Of the Grand Inquisitor
When I face the camera
My eyes swerve
Away from my eyes
My lips wither and fall
Ears itch as if they are grafted
A fly settling on my nose
Treads it down to the underworld.
As I stare at one
I splinter into many.
Instead of the river’s harmony
I become the rain’s scatter.


Thank you, sir.
A few more, sir.
As a solitary tree in the scorching sands,
As a beacon on the dark shore,
With a bunch of spring flowers
In Ooty or Kashmir
As Lenin outside
As Poonthanam in the prayer room.

As an idol in the pageant
As a blowing horn
Or as an elephant’s trunk.
To keep the world fettered
In polemics,
Photos in various poses, sir.

Translator's Note: Poonthanam: A Bhakti poet who lived in the 17th century is well-known for his philosophical poem 'Jnanapana' (The Song of Wisdom).