My Beloved Wilderness, Nature Narratives, POETRY

GANGA


GANGA[1]

1

Ganga,

frivolous, as yet the girl

you flirt with countless millions everyday;

silver trinklets tinkling over the smooth round stones,

whispering ecstatic love songs;

but waken anew into the awareness of aeons

as softly the evening sky buries his flushed face

in your cloudy tresses;

with a singular valediction you move on.

Far in the tamarind boughs

crows assemble.  Their cawings add another leaf

to the chronicle of your loneliness.

2

The wheat fields turn yellow, then brown.

Sometimes a lone night bird cries on the wing.

The moon throws silver behind the mountains.

Fragrance flows downwind.

Ganga,

Flow to me.

Fondle me with your thousand little fingertips,

nibble me with your thousand little silver lips,

curl around me, sweep me into your lap.

Ganga,

Ganga, my love,

how you tremble, marble-cold.

Hold me closer to you.

Snake-like I slip and slither

on the soft swell of your breasts

on the languid slip of your thighs,

only to deliver myself on to the misty grounds

of your remoteness.

Each intake of my breath

tears us farther and farther apart

drifting into the vast regions of the formless

till you are all but lost to me.

Ganga, I can hardly feel you.

Like death you remain unseen, yet too near.

But sever not these chains of sensation

that still bind us together;

my heart needs them all.

3

I dearly love the wind in the trees.

It reminds me of your floating hair

which streams like a burning banner of love in the moon.

Tonight the wind storms into my room,

wild, hectic, unappeased.

I look on helpless and disarmed.

It bloats out my letters as they are formed

and breathes into my lines and swells them.

High in the mountains they are caught

in the lofty trees, your tresses and my love.

Ganga,

my deliverance,

what it had take for me to build in devotion

I have ravaged in violent emotion.

4

Night feels its way into me. Gently

unfolding me layer after layer.

Like the desolate cry of the lone lapwing

my mind soars in empty space.

A mute yellow landscape spreads its nonchalance

below me. The stench of burning sand invades me.

And souls devoid of gravity and reality fly up to me.

What each has gained in faith

the other has lost in despair.

Staring vacant eyes bespeak of a bland fortitude

conceived in helplessness.

Somewhere in the reaches of my corroding memory

I hear you lapping; or are you chanting

the vedic hymns garbed in the saffron folds of a sannyasin?

The dead have found salvation in you.

The living with garlands adorn you.

Prayers dissolve in you, to vanish in dark circles.

Then I find you—

a silver trickle in the bosom of Himavant.[2]

Perhaps this is the place where you descended

with the might of a million Akshouhinis

to be caught in the tousled locks of a Savage God.

5

The mountains know the hand of God.

They are so mute, so huge, invincible.

I have lost my bearings confronted with such vastness.

One moment I am the Brahmin pundit

performing the funeral rites,

absolving the sins of the past;

another moment I am the corpse, soul-flown, half-cremated[3] ,

tossing amidst your immortal caresses,

in a crystal present; a pariah kite dips

and takes off, and I with him fishing

for still-smoking remnants

on your sun-stretched shore-lines;

the  I am the derelict seeking the hermitage

lined with sensual feathers; a breath, a pale whisper,

a flutter of wings, and as a dove I descend

into your silvery depths.

6

As when the mist lifts its veil for a moment,

and blue mountain glimmers into view

for a moment only, to eclipse into eternal quiet,

regions of the soul hitherto unvisited

heights I never knew existed

manifest through my naked self.

People, places, things and sensations

harmonize in a new rhapsody of timelessness.

7

Dark nomadic patterns of grim silence

mingled with the subdued crying of a child;

flash of a low-flying bird in the night sky

across the flares of a few dying stars;

the eternal wakefulness of tiny relentless waves,

and the footfalls of everyday death.

Often, now, I would weave on the same relief

gospels of assurances, surmises, and faith

in a prolegomena to sleep.

8

Ganga,

Ganga, O Ganga,

let me, love, with an ear to my heart,

withdraw in selfless meditation

into the deeps of my mindscape,

and find you, flowing gently

over the smooth stones of my unknowing,

unpossessed, eternal, unceasing.


[1] Ganges the sacred river of India is known as Ganga in most Indian languages. The river is symbolic of the unified Indian imagination, for it remains sacred in the minds of all Indians, through out the land from the southernmost tip of Kanya Kumari to Kashmir in the Himalayas, from the north east wet-evergreen forests to the western deserts, irrespective of cast, creed, community, and it has been so over a long time in India’s history.  It is the archetypal Indian River. The poem explores the terrain of the river from its source in the snow clad Himalayas through the great Indian plains where the river merges with the life of the common folk.  Even today dying beside the Ganges is held as most holy and so death and cremation are quite a common sight on the banks of the river in Banaras, the holy city. The poem visualizes the river in its various images and avatars.

[2] Himavant is another name for the Himalayas. Legend says that King Bhaghiratha, of yore, underwent severe tapas (askesis) and brought down Ganga from the heavens. To break her mighty fall, Siva caught her in his matted hair and allowed her gently to sprout forth ( Siva referred to here as the Savage God, and the force of her descent equated to that of a tremendous force of arms: akshouhinis—a very large number of armed soldiers [An Akshauhini was an ancient battle formation that consisted of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horse-mounted warriors and 109,350 infantry, as per the Mahabharata ( Adi Parva 2.15-23)] . The original source of the river is shaped like the face of a cow and is called Gaumukh.

[3] Bodies are burnt on the banks of the Ganga, and the Pandas or Brahmin pundits who help to perform the long-drawn religious last rites for the dead are ever so hasty to get more money in the bargain that they rush through their work and many a time the half-cremated bodies are pushed into the river to accommodate another body in the same pyre.

(Adi Parva 2.15-23).

NOTE

This poem was first published in the Chandrabhaga edited by Jayanta Mahapatra, in the early eighties, and later appeared in Night Heron : Poems and Sketches(Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1998.

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