An Armless Son

missing you mama
missing you baba
both old and ill
and me just a son
too far for a hug that speaks
when words fail

I am really worried and weeping that I may not be around when all you want in the world is a warm wordless heartfilling hug as you quietly pass on, letting out the last cloud of breath in a long string of thinness on which your crystal dewdrops slide into the mist and beyond. Unwrapped by these arms still small and delicate to you, unlike those warmth and love, and the beating joy and curving smile that you once greeted me with when I came.

There is a time
once in a lifetime
when all one wants
is just an hug
and no word.

I am just words,
and no arms–
words for the mulct
arms for the dear.

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চোংশিন্নবা / Face to Face

Face to Face
by Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2011)

ৱাকচীংদা চপ লেপখি হিংবা৷
উচেক্না তন্না পাই অদুগা থৱায়না
তকই লমহাঙ লমজাউদা শুরু শুরু
তক্তুনা লৈবগুম হিনা হিথাঙফমগি পুনফমদা৷

উপালশিংনা লেপ্পী মনম ওনশিন্দুনা ঐঙোন্দা৷
থানা শীল্লবা উন মরেপ ওল্লী অশিবা চরূনা৷
মন্থরকই খোঙ্গুলশিংনা লৈমায়দা৷
ৱাজরে লোনদি তিরপাল মখাদা৷

নোংমদি লাকই কৈনো’মা থোঙনাউদা৷
খূৎকি থবক থা, লৈদুনা য়েংখৎলুই ঐ৷
মচু মমেন্না ইঙান! ঙম্নমক লৈদুনা য়েংলম্লে৷
মালেমগা ঐগা চোংশিন্নৈ৷

 

Roblin Fulton’s translation:

In February living stood still.
The birds flew unwillingly and the soul
chafed against the landscape as a boat
chafes against the pier it lies moored to.

The trees stood with their backs turned to me.
The deep snow was measured with dead straws.
The footprints grew old out on the crust.
Under a tarpaulin language pined.

One day something came to the window.
Work was dropped, I looked up.
The colors flared. Everything turned around.
The earth and I sprang toward each other.

মঙ্গারকপা / Back from a funeral

The poem came visually and aurally, quite in a pre-linguistic fashion. Yes, when I woke up from sleep in the middle of the black night. Then when I got down to writing, the visuals and audios crystalled themselves linguistically. This process is a subtle aesthetic orgasmic experience, and you don’t ever want to get over this. For this one, the linguistic crystallization occurred simultaneously in two languages–some parts in Manipuri, and some other parts in English, the two languages I straddle most comfortably. The blended nature of how I experienced the original bilingual poem has its own distinct, irreplaceable beauty; however, I have separated the strands for better presentation, translated parts from one language to another and vice versa, and have presented the two versions as below, the English and Manipuri lines kept abreast of each other.

Assuming some may find the line alignment of the English version in the ‘preformatted” juxtaposition with Manipuri uncomfortable, I have reproduced the English version at the bottom of the post again.

ঈশিংদা তাশিল্লে                      Fallen into the water.      
কদায়দগিনো খঙদনা--                God knows from where—
অরূবা ঈশিং                        clear water,
ত্রৎ ঈংবা ঈশিং,                     freezing cold
হকচাং কয়াৎ পূম্বা য়াথোকহনবা৷          getting around all organs.
হোই,                             Yes,
মখূৎতু ঙাইহাক্তি লাম্মী                 the hands grope awhile
মখোঙদু ঙাইহাক্তি কাওই৷               the legs kick awhile.
অদৈদি ঈশিংদু হঞ্জিল্লকই                 Then the water returns
করিশু খঙজদবা মতৌদা৷               to its placid innocence.
ফমজিনখ্রবা ঈমায়দা ফমদুনা             Crouched on the icy surface
উই মশাগি হোৎনবা পূম্বা               he sees all his own efforts
ঈশিংনা চূপশিনখিবা,                  being sucked up by the water,
মাগি ফিথোংদবা হকচাং                 his naked body
অঙৌবা গুলিগুমই                     a blueish-white tablet
অরূবা গ্লাসকি ঈশিংদা                 in a glass of clean water
তুমদ্রঙৈ ঙাইহাক্কি প্রীক প্রীক৷             noiselessly bubbling awhile
                                 before it dissolves.

অহিং নোংয়ায়দা মীৎকপ থোরকই৷         He wakes up at midnight.
মঙ্গারকপগুমই মদু                    It feels like back from a funeral
অঙকপা অমম্বা লমদম অমদগি৷           in a strange dark place

মুশিবা তেবল লেম্প নাকলদা              A glass of clean water
অরূবা ঈশিং গ্লাস৷                     beside the shaded table lamp.
অঙৌবা গুলি অমা থাদৈ৷                 He drops a blueish-white tablet in it.
কোঙ্গোল মচা খরা পৃক পৃক              A few tiny bubbles prick up
ঙাইহাক৷                            just awhile.

অমুক তূমথবা য়াদ্রে                     He can't bring himself
মহাক৷                              back to sleep.

The English version is reproduced below again:

Fallen into the water.
God knows from where—
clear water,
freezing cold
getting around all organs.
Yes,
the hands grope awhile
the legs kick awhile.
Then the water returns
to its placid innocence.
Crouched on the icy surface
he sees all his own efforts
being sucked up by the water,
his naked body
a bluish-white tablet
in a glass of clean water
noiselessly bubbling awhile
before it dissolves.

He wakes up at midnight.
It feels like back from a funeral
in a strange dark place.

A glass of clean water
beside the shaded table lamp.
He drops a blueish-white tablet in it.
A few tiny bubbles prick up
just awhile.

He can’t bring himself
back to sleep.

তূম্বা য়াদবা অহিং (Insomniac Night)

Last night it rained here in this part of Delhi where I live. Its sound was so sweet. The sound of the rain is my crush. After sleepless nights, days and nights of sleep and wakefulness in fits and starts of about two weeks, finally sleep came heavily on me after 60 hours of sleeplessness at a stretch. The rain continued.

The alarm rang long before dawn. I could not remember setting it. The last time I went to Manipur (yes, recently), I was so busy that such basic things of life as food and sleep became secondary–I worked at the studio day and night, without sleeping for 48 hours or more. I must have set it then, not to miss the dawn run of the Kakching Runners. Things often slip off my mind. But back to Delhi, I have not once heard the alarm ringing. Strange.

When I woke up, it was still raining, though slow. In the dark. I could not go back to sleep. Then memory brought a lot of things back to me. My thought was set into motion. My emotions aroused.

ঙরাং অহিং দেলিগি ঐনা লৈবা মফমদা নোং খরা তাখি৷ মখোলদু য়াম্না নুংশি৷ নোংগি মখোলসি ঐগি ঙাওজবীনি৷ ইতৎ তত্তনা অহিং তূমদবা, খরা তূম্বা য়াও তূমদবা য়াও হপ্তা অনী লৈরকপনা মমৈদা অমুক্তদা পূং ৬০ চূপ্না তূম্লক্ত্রবা মতুংদা ঙরাং অহিংদি য়াম্না তুম্নীংবা ফাওখি৷ নোংদু অদুম তাহৌই৷

নোং ঙানগদবা ৱাৎলিঙৈদা অলার্ম খোংলকই৷ মদু থমখিবা ঐ নীংশিংদ্রে৷ ঐনা মনিপুরদা অকোনবা চৎলুবদা অহিং নুংথিল তূম্বা চাবা খঙদনা ষ্টুদিওদা থবক চিনখিবা, অহিং অনীকা তূমদনা থবক তৌখিবা, মদুদা ককচীং রন্নর্স কাঙবুগা নোং ঙাল্লমদাইদা লমজেল চেনশি হৌনখিবদু শোয়দনবা থমখিবা ওইরম্বা য়াই৷ ঐ খরা কাউগল্লী৷ অদুবু নহানমখৈদি ঐগি ফোনগি অলার্মসি অমুক্তসু খীংলকপা তাদে৷ করিনো খঙদে৷

হৌগৎলকপদা নোং খরা খরা চুরম্লি৷ অমম্বদা৷ অমুক তূম্মু য়াদ্রে। অদুদগিদি করি করিনো য়াম্না নীংশিংলক্লে৷ করি করিনো য়াম্না খল্লক্লে৷ করি করিনো য়াম্না ফাওরক্লে৷

 

(১)
অহিংগি ঈচীক হুনবদা
ঊৎমান মচুগি অনেম্বা অতিয়া মখাদা
কাঙলূপ কাঙলূপ ঊচানশিংদো
মুশুক মশুক
মুরূম মুরূম
অরোনবা অমা তানবগুম
কৈনোমা ৱানা ঙাইবগুম
মীৎশেন খাঙদুনা
(য়ৌরকহন্নীংদবা নুংশিবরা মদো?
কুইরবা অহিংদু নীংশিংলি
মমা মপানা পমদুনা পুরকখিবদু
অচীকপা ময়োম অমা য়ূমদা, অপীকপা মচলগি
তুমিন্না, ঈচীক চীক্না
অরাপ্পা লায়েংশঙদগি৷)
লেঙদবা অহিংবু চুরূপকুম চিংদুনা
নিংথমগি অৱাউবা মনিল কামদুনা৷
অচীকপদা
মখোয়গি ফি তক্নবগি মখোল
মখোয়গি শোরনা চঙবগি থোকপগি৷

নুংশীৎ শীৎলকপদা
মখোয়গি মশমশু মফিশু
মায়কৈ অমদা ফ্র-ফ্র৷
য়েংবশু৷
মখোয়না ঙাইরিবদু নুংশীৎনা চেনবীখ্রগুম
ঊনাগুম মরী মরী
হনুবগি মীৎনদি উদবা৷

২.
তপ!
তপ!
তপ তপ!
তপ!
অতিয়ানা থোঙ থীল্লক্লে
মীৎশেন খাঙলিঙৈ তূম্বা ঊনাগি৷
তূম্বা য়াদবা অহিংদা
অহিংনা ঈচীক হুনবদা
নাকোঙগি ঈখৌলাংবা মখূৎ মশা মরেং ঙম্নমক
মরেঙ মরেঙ লামথোরকই৷
খোঞ্জেল মরীক অমত্তশু!
লৈতাদবা ফমুংদা লোংনা৷

নোংগি অশাংবা মরীশিংদু চেন্থরক্লে
মুশুক মশুকপা ঊচান মরক্তা
মখোলদি ইথোক থোকহন্দ
অরোনবা থবক তৌরিবগুম
হোন্দোক হোঞ্জিন তৌরিবগুম অরোনবা খরা
মালেমগা অতিয়াগগি মরক্তা
তপ্না, য়াম্না তপ্না
অচীকপদা খোঞ্জেলদং থিবা
তূম্বা য়াদবা হনুবতনা তাগদবা মতৌদা৷

৩.
নুমীৎনা মমীৎ পাঙলকপদা
উচেক ৱায়া ঈরাঙ লাঙলে৷
অদুগা লৈমায়–মদু অশিবগি ইমুংগুম
ইহিং হিংই, তরু তরুই,
খোঙ্গুল অমত্তশু তাদে
ঊচানগি শম্না অমত্তসু
ঊনা খরা নত্তনা কদায়দগিনো খঙদবা
অকংবা, কংফাত্তবা, নাপু৷

অরোনববু অশুক লোনব্রনে?

Stranger in the Town

A formal experiment in epic poetry,
with sensibilities spanning whole stretch
of known time. To come in a series.

Proetry
Fictional poetry
Epic poetry in a new form
This series will keep coming

 

When I pull into the tavern that is more a tool shed
with tables and benches like the one my grandfather had
where he taught me to wield tools as tools and weapons
a thousand years ago when the human face
was less evolved and more expressive of true emotions,
out of the long winding ways and the endless winter winds and snows,
steaming like my horse foaming at the mouth
and rubbing my unglobed hands together,
the one-eyed man taking black-blood bottles from the counter
shifts his what-should-have-been-the-left eye from me
and says in an unknown language accenting every syllable
equally as foreign tongues do and care, in a tone
that needs no language to get the message across to the mark:
“Ech dot kothari che ni det.”
Did he press a button or pull a string to soul a puppet show?
All the eyes there all at once shoot at me
like long shafts of light directed to me in an opera.

“We don’t serve sons of bitches here.” That’s from the left.
Another voice, deep as hell’s grumble under your feet, dry as a slough.
The bottle gurgles as the dry-blood wine jumps into a tall tumbler.
My steps free and my hands stop rubbing.
“I don’t say that.” He explains, as he turns holding the frothing tumbler by the ear
without looking at me but seeing, but revealing a face
with which evolution has stepped back—one-eyed, with the ball
protruding like an eyed probe, the left side where you would expect
another eye telling the story rather of a hole in the wall
mortared and troweled badly than something
that has anything to do with a human face, ugly though as can be.
A rather huge hagstone nose and a pair of fleshy lips under it
easily taking the shapes of the words pouring out of them.
His probably kind translation carries the breath
of an original hate and feels less like a translation,
and this and how he comes across seem to impress
on anybody who sees him the scripture of his life
whose sole commandment is to hate and hate around.

Do they have the same face? Oh! Do I look at them differently
from how they look at me? I have the same eyes?
Thoughts are invisible but they do concrete magic
like throwing yourself off the cliff or hole a breast
to traffic a soul across the border. I am often too numb
for a warrior, my war teacher told me I would better throw
my brains away to the dogs and pour wine into the skull
than momentarily stiffen in the middle of a battle
while I should be mowing heads like on a grassland.

He raises the restless crystal to his lips and empties it
in a gulp that makes a lot of noise down its course.
When the left-eyed tender walks to and stands on his left
they are more a single monster split in half on a jigsaw board.
“Tu-e pet siot kothari ata wang mal penture khrose,”1 the drinker barks
in his coolest voice as his half drops an oily leg on the table
and makes another crystal trilling with life
and chews his words like cud before he swallows the fluid,
“Ech wech khothari che det, et du pist wang.”2

The right half turns and looks at me with his well-deep eye
that would wrest the breath from a less hardy heart,
and says with a bad smile, “He says he takes sons of bitches
on a windy day.”
My two eyes ray into the only eye he has for a steady moment,
enough to roil its well and before long he blinks
and says with a less bad smile, “That’s not my word.”

My fat coins gong when they hit the hewn top
of the coarse unplaned pine counter, and that suspends
the disbelief of the one-eyed keeper for now, whose wine-stained
thinned-down fingers with the lines on the flats rubbed off
by handling coins too long falter in the drag of the emotion
before he has to gather himself to show me the way.

 

Unwanted notes:
These notes are not meant for reading.
[1] A left-eye can accept a son of a bitch at a high price on stormy days.
[2] I will accept a son of a bitch here, if you pay high.

Berry Picking

So you go on like history blasé
about the obsidian past black as your eyes
(set in a face crumpled from lack of sleep)
that, amid that sleepy creaky voice,
looked up from my “uncomfortable” arms
at my sleepless eyes from behind those
wispy locks tousled from rolling in the hay
we had just gathered from the sun,
the season’s last, that turned out a life’s.
And I will say the past is like your hair—
it’s dark and lost behind the absent wall,
though I often turn every speck of its dust
in the sunless time to scratch back up
the stains of my soul spilled all over
at a stumble—so ungraceful you’d wonder
how God makes things so slack!

I go on—a berry picker (when not dusting
dusty memory), a slow one, who loves berries
like the last thing left all in the world
too far and vast for tired eyes,
I am on my hands and knees in the soil
caring not to break the groping stems
or let the red-flesh fruits slip off
my crinkled hands with broad blunt fingers
or the basket when my used eyes comb
through the cold netty crouch of the lacy stems
and the serrate velvet leaves scratching
the black tightened soil that smells rawish sweet
under the green and yellow coiffure,
to look for spotty lady-bugs in meditation
and lovebugs set in bliss in the green
and semi-transparent worms measuring green miles,
while seeing the season breathing itself out,
and I would know I’ll have to prepare
the land for the next season—
carrot in the mulch, sunflowers in waves.
Seasons go on and on like history
that has nothing to do with the past.

নিংথম ময়ায় / Midwinter

Midwinter
by Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2011)

শংবান্নবা অমা
ঙাল্লকই ঐগি ফিজোলদৈ৷
নিংথম ময়ায় চবূক৷
জ্রিং জ্রিং মরীকশিংসে উনগি৷
ঐ মীৎ উইশিল্লী৷
ঈচীক হুল্লে তাইবঙসে
অকায়বা মখুল অমা
মদুদৈ অশিবা হোন্দুনা
থাঙই লোন্না ঙমখৈ লান্না৷

Robert Fulton’s translation:

A blue sheen
radiates from my clothes.
Midwinter.
Jangling tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a soundless world
there is a crack
where dead people
are smuggled across the border.

 

 

 

 

সোই / Signature

Signature
by Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2011)

কানশিনবা তারে ঐগি
খোঙ অমম্বা থোঙজিনসিদা৷
শঙজাউ৷
ইঙান ঙাল্লী অঙৌবা চেদু৷
মমি কয়ানা লেঙ লেঙ৷
শোই তৌনীংই পূম্নমক মদুদা৷

মঙালদুনা ঐবু লাকহৎ
মতম্বু খুমজিনখিন্দ্রিখৈ৷

Robert Fulton’s translation:

I have to step
over the dark threshold.
A hall.
The white document gleams.
With many shadows moving.
Everyone wants to sign it.

Until the light overtook me
and folded up time.

 

 

 

উন তারক্লে / Snow is Falling

Snow is Falling
by Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2011)

মঙ্গুম্বা চৎপা লাকপা লেপ্তে
মথং মথং, হেন্ন হেন্নদুম
লম্বী তাকপা খূদমশিংগুম
সহর চৎপগি লম্বীদা৷

য়েংলি মীওই লোক্তাক অমনা
অশাংবা মমিগি লমদমদা৷

মদোম শাগৎচৈ থোং অমা,
তপ্না
হেক্তমক থিনগত্তুনা শুন্দ্রংদা৷

 

Robin Fulton’s translation:

Snow is Falling

The funerals keep coming
more and more of them
like the traffic signs
as we approach the city.

Thousands of people gazing
in the land of long shadows.

A bridge builds itself
slowly
straight out in space.

To John Ashbery

John Askbery photo by Lynn Davis
Photograph by LYNN DAVIS

Poetry is ash, Ashbery—your dust has already scattered in the wind, been the breath of many who have turned into ashes and joined the dust, wind, fire, water and the sky. I don’t know where you came from, Ashbery, but I think you return where you came from, like all of us. We are ashes for a while and we fly and scatter when the home-bound wind comes.

John Ashbery, the beloved Ashbery, your death has let the hell loose in me again, and a sadist or joyist (who can tell them apart, if they aren’t one and the same thing?), I love it because there is a pleasure in all this. You are like me—guilt tasted pleasing, and it made you a poet, for which you have become the beloved.

Surviving the death of a loved one always accompanies a subtle (often acute) feeling of guilt. Life wants to live and death wants to go on, and unfortunately love cannot bridge the two, to our chagrin. If not bridge, love should be able to keep us together in life, through life, or in death, we petulantly demand. But we the warlike humans, who just don’t let it go without a fight but wage wars against and kill each other for whatever petty thing there can be, can’t possibly put ourselves into any action when death wrests our loved ones from our arms invisibly even as we see it, which is stabbingly painful. And life is such that in most of the cases we drag on (just out of nature, but for nothing obvious to live for—it really feels rather empty, unbearably heavily empty, and you just don’t commit suicide), feeling the fading pang of guilt—the survivor’s guilt fading into general sadness or general weakness that pervades the rest of our life, which gravitates toward and finally empties itself into death. Life with its apparent injustice ends well in ash, so it all seems well. Maybe, there will be a lingering after-life feeling of anger at having put through it that badly.

Ashbery, you go on. Your ash, a berry to home—it sucks you back. All the world is ash. I loved you. I love you. I love myself. Life and death. Living and dying. I don’t put myself to a final death maybe because that would deprive me of the (extended) pleasure of continual dying, the pleasure of hating life that in turn breeds love of life, the pleasure of feeling angry at being wronged or done out of something good. The sadism or joy of all this.

Of God and Men (Part 2)

Click go to to Part 1

When the boy returns with a bottle of water, Stille first drips a few drops into his (the man’s) mouth, which he immediately swallows eagerly. He then tilts a half-filled glass slowly into his mouth, which the man drinks more eagerly until his mouth shuts before Stille cants off the glass dry.

It seems he is relived for a while–his complaining eases off and then stops. The mist of tension lifts. Even the old woman rises with an effort and comes trudging past Stille, stops beside him and smiles weakly down at the man.

Is she his wife older by five or ten years? Stille wonders. Or his mother, him having sprinted through his life so fast almost overtaking his mother’s age, perhaps consumingly quickened by what he is suffering from?

Soon the creases of faint smile around her lips and eyes wither back home into the usual crow’s feet, and she leaves there before long, trudges back and sits down at a new place, curled up like before. However, when Stille begins to think of going back, the man starts again, and worse this time. He tosses and turns and twists and kicks, and the low moans develop into long-drawn shrieking cries. The spirits that showed a weak rise during the momentary let-up quail.

“What is the doctor saying?” Stille asks the boy without expecting much of an answer of the boy.

“Nothing!” He is quick on the trigger.

Exactly, Stille thinks.

He leans over the man and asks him in a calm, firm voice, “Please don’t cry. Let’s face this.”

The swaying of the head breaks off, and in the dark, steep depressions in the gnarly emaciated face, a pair of glinting eyeballs rolls to a stop to look at the speaker. “What do you want me to do?” Stille asks softly.

The eyeballs glint at Stille for a moment. There is no anger in them. No defiance. No suspicion. No wickedness. Nothing. Just pain, fear and confusion. Then the head that begins to sway takes them in tow. Now his body twists and then his legs shake as if they were kicking off the pain.

Stille leans back up, shifts his position a bit toward his left and begins to massage the man over his blanket. Unaware of what is troubling him and where the trouble lies, Stille is quite quick about the massage covering the man’s back, waist and legs. However, it seems that the man’s body does not feel his massage—the man groans on, as if the pain is as deep as his marrow, oozing out of the pores of his bones, unaffected by the massage.

“My skull! Frozen! My legs!” The slurred murmur amid his moans is fibered. He is tired, but the illness pulsates what remains in him. His slurs a second language to him now, the boy gets closer to the bedhead on the other side and massages the man’s skull with both his little hands, the fingers hooked and flicked out like the prongs of a harpoon. Stille moves further left down to the foot and finds the feet cold like a block of ice. The temperature felt normal five minutes ago. He manages to rub them fast until the increasingly more terrible jolting makes it impossible. Then the man gives himself up to more jolting, more strained groaning, cursing and crying.

The night has both ends of sound—silence and this man’s cry—together in such a strange fashion. There is the engulfing silence and his occasional cry tears into its pitching, throwing its spear-tipped flight into the darkness toward the other end of the long ward. And the ward’s dark silence kisses the sound dry off it even as it flies and turns it into one of its kind. The silent sitters who have woken up remain still like ghosts pitched in their sick beds black against the dull glass windows.

The place felt empty to Stille when he entered, and now when he scans the space allotted to the bed, its emptiness feels so chilling—the bed, the stainless steel on one side of the bed, the rusted steel bedside table with cabinets between the bed and the wall, which the hospital provides, and nothing else, except for a small bag under the bed and a small plastic trough smelling of urine. The steel cabinets contain no medicine. The only vestige of medicine is the spent plastic IV bottle on the hanger attached to the bed, with the tube casually coiled back up and the connector plugged into the hub of an extra needle punched into it.

Did the woman or the boy put the prescription away? In one of the half open empty cabinets? The darkness inside would not give away a small piece of paper that anybody would tend to fold. Or in a shirt or trousers pocket or in a petticoat pocket, as many Throny Vale women of the lower middle class steeped in hard earning with some valued money usually show doing when they furtively loosen the phanek slit to reach for the money when they need to part with part of that on a bill at a hospital or on an unavoidable distant trip? It is not anywhere visible, but yes we don’t put a prescription on the show. We tend to take prescriptions carefully even when we are too broke to make them meaningful and keep them at a safe place intensifying the feeling of safety, false as it may be, and the lesser money we have, the tighter and tighter does our hold get. How tightly a penniless person holds a prescription shows how tightly and dearly they hold their loved ones on a hospital bed against the pull of death, as if the piece of paper were the very soul of their loved ones.

The boy shakes his head. The innocent face has learnt to show despair. Stille shifts his eyes to the man in noisy torment and it looks like he is dying.

Stille’s lips tighten. He draws in a long draft of air and gives a long sigh, and taking a couple of brisk steps toward the right, he leans low over the man’s face and asks,

“Do you believe in God? In Allah, or any God?”

Is he hesitating? The man gives no visible sign readable as a response to Stille’s question. Not even a different twitch in his lean face almost grotesque in fighting pain. Does he not believe in the idea of God or is he pissed off with me bringing in the far-fetched, inane and useless idea of God while he is struggling for life?

 

Go to Of God and Men (Part 1)

 

Of God and Men (Part 1)

But little folk who will not climb
Into bed at the proper time
Get acquainted by-and-by
With Sleep’s big brother Hushabye.

“Ssssh,” says Hush to girls and boys,
“Go to sleep, and don’t make a noise.”

As he occasionally does, Stille Quiete looks up from the book—The Raibow Book by Samuil Marshak—toward his sister sleeping soundly on her hospital bed, the head section raised a little to her comfort. The transparent IV solution is dripping from the plastic bag hung from its hanger hook into the drip chamber slowly and regularly, and from there it curls down the tube through the roller clamp, takes a few circular turns where the tube lies in a few casual coils, flows through the needle and finally enters her body. She is recovering from a bad cardiac arrest.

“Eeeyouch!” This time the groan from the other ward is disturbing, both in loudness and the anguish it is filled with. “Mama! Aaaaugh! Somebody kill me please!”

The loud cry, cursing and howling in sharp pain continues in the hospital ward in the wee hour of the night when nobody—no patients and no attendants—makes a noise except for the whizzing of breathing and the rustles of shifting in bed once in a while and an occasional cough or two here and there. His sharp cry rings clearly in the silence and many wake up and sit up without complaining but worried.

“Something is really wrong with this guy.” Toiler Hard, husband of Lina Hard, the patient, turns in the cushioned divan on Stille’s left, which he has turned into a makeshift bed.

The sound disturbing to the others does not disquiet Stille, whose thresholds of the intensity of silence and noise are off the chart. But he quietly puts the open book face down on the steel bedside table with cabinets, walks out the door without a leaf, continues for a while in the corridor and disappears into the long ward on the other side.

With all lights out, the ward is semi-dark, lit only by the cold light from the lamps along the gravel path in the hospital campus on the other side that is thrown on the walls along with the skewed shadows of the windows. The man’s cry and cursing makes it easy for Stille to locate him in the semi-dark.

When Stille sees and approaches him, he finds the reduced, sixtyish-year old body of the man in agony from which the loud, high-pitched cry originates, and he restlessly tosses and turns in his bed in the semi-darkness attended only by a confused pre-teen boy who, at a loss, only keeps readjusting the blanket that keeps slipping off as the man writhes, and an old withered woman in head scarf seated on the naked floor (hospital floors—kneaded by restless shoes with dirt and floor cleaner and smelling of medicines and phthalates, triclosan, ammonia, chlorine and other chemicals—are a dreadful paradox of cleanliness and dirtiness) curled up and leaning on a wall near the foot of the bed, her forehead resting on a palm and the hand supported on the folded knees. A pathetic picture of utter confusion, hopelessness and resignation.

Stille rushes to the staff nurses’ station. In the low light of a power-saving night bulb, the place lies still, the swivel chairs and stainless steel stools empty; the several piles of files, record and register books ranged neatly on the desk, with a couple of medicine boxes lying in the spaces in between; and the visible corners of the open station harboring some unnamable dire-looking light pieces of hospital equipment and a couple of oxygen tanks clamped onto their carts leaning on the wall; a squattish off-white fridge humming at 40 Hz, quite peskily uncomfortable if you continually hear it in the silence.

They must be asleep, Stille thinks. He turns and looks around as he steps slowly, reading the door signs legible from this distance—Nurse Changing Room, Sterilization Room, and here is the Sister on Duty.

A nurse answers his knock and opens the door, her eyes crumpled from lack of sleep. Stille does not have to say much to identify the patient and his problem—she guesses it right and fast, which feels like there being something about it more than years of experience.

When they are back, Stille finds the light on.

“The sedative isn’t working?” She asks when they are at the man’s bedside, looking at the man and then at the empty tube attached to his hand and the plastic IV bag shaking caught on the hanger hook. Her control and casualness could not cover her irritation. The old woman on the floor turns and looks toward the nurse.

“Relax. You are on a sedative.” The nurse hates it that the emaciated man has so high a threshold or is refractory to α-2 adrenergic agonists. She goes round the bed to the other side, removes the connector from the cannula luer lock, caps the lock, casually coils the tube up and hangs the coil on the hook after capping the connector.

She must have been so fed up with that man that she then slips into scolding him loudly in the silence of the night. With a grimace he turns his head to the left and wearily stares at the wall, and his noisy complaints, cries, restless toss and turn stop all of a sudden as if an insensitive reproach were more effective than a sedative. Is he angry with the nurse? Or is he rather thankful that the nurse’s reproach pulls him back out of a dark abyss he has plunged into, like a 200–1000-volt shock defibrillates an arrested heart quivering into a final rest.

She swings the doors of the two cabinets on the bedside table one after another and looks casually into them. Then as she rises, she pushes the doors back in listlessly just to leave them half-open and leaves without a word further. A newcomer, who arrived the last evening just a few hours ago, Stille cannot not understand a thing about it.

“What’s he suffering from?” Stille asks the boy.

“I don’t know,” he says innocently.

The old woman has retreated into her somber silence.

The light goes out a few seconds after the nurse’s departure, and turning round to see any sign of who may be doing that, Stille catches, three beds away, a grainy glimpse of a black figure in the dark move from the wall and it fades into the pervasive darkness below the level of the beds. Used to gloomy rooms and finding the cold light reflected from the wall in this part end of the ward sufficient, he does not complain. The old woman and the boy also seem to be accustomed to darkness.

Stille turns to the agonizing man, ready to do something about him. But the man confuses him—he complains his chest is burning and Stille attends, and almost at the same moment he says his feet are icy cold. Stille checks and they are not, but he removes the blanket from over the man’s chest to fold it up and cover his feet. Then the complaints pile up–“This head is frozen. Oh, my feet–burning. My chest–something pierces me. Ah, cold chest. Cold feet. Hot head.” All almost simultaneously–he just takes time to give words to what is happening to him, it seems. It is like ice, fire and pain are running here and there all over his body, taking turns to occupy different parts of the body momentarily. Stille shifts the blanket very fast and massages the muscles as the pains ghost around.

Despite all Stille’s sweating, the man’s complaint does not subside. Amid his breathless moaning, he asks for water. Stille looks at the boy who is standing still and confused on the other side of the bed opposite him—he does not move in response to “water,” the man’s thirst.

“Water!” Stille says.

“Run out of it,” he replies resignedly.

The woman on the floor shifts in response and glances slightly toward us, apparently apologetically. The weak light through the windows from the hospital campus thrown on the walls cannot light up her face enough, but it seems she is wiping a few drops of fresh tear off her cheeks.

Stille tosses off a twenty rupees note from his pocket and gives it to the boy.

“Go run. Fast as you can.”

The boy disappears and Stille continues to help the man as he keeps rolling and complaining, but not so terribly as he did before.

 

Go the Of God and Men (Part 2)

Imphal and its Climate #1

Original title: Imphal amasung magi ishing nungshitki fibam
Genre: Novel
First published: 1971
Writer: Pacha Meetei
Translator: Thoithoi O'Cottage
The first book winning the Sahitya Akademi Award in Manipuri language.

Chapter 1

“Hello!”

I hear the voice laced with the knocks on the door. Who is that? I don’t know.

“Hello, professor!” The knocks rattle again.

“Who’s that?” I ask, still seated. “Who?”

“It’s me. You OK?“[0]

The voice confirms that he is the manager of the hotel.

“Ah!” I get to my feet. “The manager?”

“Yea!” His identificatory reply comes before I can complete my question.

“Yes, it’s him. A letter from home.”

“Great!” Putting the open Bengali book face down on the table, I walk to the door, open it and take the envelope from the manager.

“Thank you,” I say courteously.

The manager leaves and walks down the stairs.

I close the door, walk back in, sit in the chair and tear open the envelope to read the letter from my friend, Priyalata Singha.

Ek

Pranam, dada Thanil,

How long I haven’t heard from you! Yes, it depends on the samay[1]. However, it feels like we have become strangers that you have not contacted me for so long though we spent our time talking at the college canteen and elsewhere.

Recently (I’d rather tell you something first), I went to the Silchar town with my youngest brother to buy some clothes. On the way back—you know that beer-bellied Kshirod Majumdar? It was his vendor—the kid inexorably whined and demanded that we eat there. I suggested eating somewhere else but he protested. His eyes were glued to something and reading that. Curious, I followed his eyeline. This was written below the vendor sign board:

Majumdar hotelar kaliya-ichamachher bada khaite suswadu
Ekhane thaka-khaojar subondobasth aachhe.

Well, I mention this for no other reason—it occurred to me that advertising is beneficial to life. Maybe it’s because I—being a girl, if not demure—did not advertise my heart to you enough while we were about near each other that you have forgotten about me now.

Please don’t mind I’ve just blabbered a lot.

It’s said that the women of Manipur—Manipuri women—are so beautiful. Aren’t they? You don’t come back here. I am not sure. You should at least have let me know. God! Silchar theke Imphal[2] immediately, even though I am a girl. Single. Salaried. Who can stop me?

She has got something in her mind, and maintaining a double face, she tries to humor me with snippets of jokes. I light a cigarette. A laughy feeling quietly creeps up my heart. With my mind’s eyes I vividly see her standing in this silent room at this great distance—darkish of complexion, and the set of white teeth sparkling. No. This is in my mind. I am still aware of this.

As the time of my departure approached, we had coffee at the college canteen, and she, coming back out from a long thought, asked me,

“Going to Manipur this summer vacation?”

“Yeah.”

“For what purpose?” That was in English. She had let alone her coffee.

“Nothing.”

“No! It can’t be!” She starts in English, rubbing or wiping her plump with a handkerchief. “Is it just like that? There must be a purpose. Friend circle, if not parivar[3] and sambandhi[4].”

“No. But yes, there is purpose.”

“What?”

“Manipur, Meitrabak—I haven’t seen it yet.”

“Never?”

“Never. I have nobody there—no friends, no relatives.”

She then receded to silence. Did my series of replies muffle her mouth? Would she remain silent, if not forever, as long as we sat at the canteen? Won’t she ask me any other question? I would be filled with remorse if it turned out so, I thought holding the steaming cup as I saw the change in her. But the short phrase she said next relieved me in no time. That followed a long uncomfortable silence without looking at me directly.

“Staying at a hotel? Aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I guess you have already heard at least a bit about that place that you want to go there so much, and there are probably some things that have fascinated you.” She sipped at her coffee.

“Yeah!” I said putting down on the table the cup I had raised before it reached my lips. “I’ve heard a lot about Meitrabak. We are Meiteis—you and me, too. Aren’t we?

“Yes, we are.”

“Won’t a Meitei love to see their own land?”

“Sure,” said she in English.

“That’s it. Meiteis as we are, we have not yet seen the beauty of that our motherland and drunk its pure water.”

She retreated into silence.

“Aren’t we poor?” I continued. “Even if I can’t settle there, I will at least visit it.”

“Why? Why can’t you?” She drew a long face quite visibly, and she continued, “Why can’t you settle there? Buy a piece of land, build a house, and I am sure you’ll get a good job.”

“Oh!” I cut in. “No, it ain’t about money. It’s about the heart. About tearing myself away from my father and mother, brothers and sister, and friends and acquaintances who I have been with here in this land since my birth, my childhood.”

“You still love us?”

She looked up at me before I could find my word, when I also incidentally cast a glance at her. Our eyes met, and she smiled lightly, pouring into it all the arresting beauty of a young girl, asking me, as it were, “How’s this question?” I also smiled back. Right in time the canteen boy came and served us the omelet fresh from the fire with kata and chamach[5]. Both of us were startled. Why were we startled by the canteen boy? Both of us knew we should not have been. People don’t usually get startled just like that. Something had sprouted in our hearts.

Dui

I thought a lot. A lot. Of those countless thoughts, the only one that stays behind as my constant thought is “I’m confused!” I am at a loss. I spend my time doing none of my studies, but doing others’.

Last Friday, your constant friend from Krishnapur. What’s his name? The Bangali. Isn’t that Manoranjan? I ran into him. He asked me why you had gone to Manipur. But as you did not tell me the details, I just said, “Nothing. But that’s our holy place.” Is this an exaggeration? “Holy place. Our holy place.” I vaunted to him. Didn’t you say once at the canteen, “How poor we are!” If manageable, please write to him. He must be eagerly expecting it. I will stop here. I will write longer next. For the day …

I will go to the movie this afternoon.

Namaste[6],
Apnar[7],
Priyalata Singha
Silchar

I remove the watch from under my pillow and look at it (yes, I did well think about her then—I was laughy, happy, indecisive, and I cannot forget her now, and so on)—it is almost 3 in the afternoon. I have a program at three o’clock, at Hotel Natraj.

Glossary:

[0] The literal translation is What are you doing?
[1]
time
[2] Silchar to Imphal.
[3] family
[4] property
[5] fork and spoon
[6] A salutatory gesture made by bringing the palms together before the face or chest and bowing; used as a respectful greeting
[7] Yours

Sleeping Home

When you can’t carry your own weight
against the earth’s call for a fall
life is reduced to the weight
of flesh, blood and bone.

The old man settles into his unmade bed,
made only by the fussy wind from the sea—
a bundle of wrinkles among the messy folds.
Old and spent, he sleeps the last sleep.

No snore. The folds and wrinkles at rest.
It feels like time has done with all its fuss—
there is nothing stirring in the bedroom,
in the living room, the corridors, the kitchen,
on the stairs and the cornice—the white silk curtains
in frozen stirs at the windows, and the breeze
caught in the cobweb of the air.

None will hear and the air won’t feel touched
when the old door creaks again to close
when you’ve walked home in your sleep.

নুংঙাইবা থিবদা ৱারদুনা

নুংঙাইবা থিবদা ৱারদুনা
ফমথখ্রে অঙাংদো নুমীৎ তাফমদা
ঙাথদুনা মমীৎ উইশিনখ্রবা নুমীৎতা
মদৌগুম মপোক্না পূংঙৌ ঙৌরদনা৷

মহৌশাগি মচৎতা কনানসু ৱাহং হংলুদে।
মহৌশাদি মহৌশানিদনা,
অঙাংনা শান্নবা পাম্ববো!
অদো, নুঙাইবা থিবদা ৱারবদা
পোত্থাফম থিবদা চোকথরবদা
খল্লুদব্রনে নঙবু নোংমতসু
কনানা করিগি নুংঙাইববু অসুক মমল য়ামহল্লিবা?

য়েকশিনবীরমই লৈই কয়া মাগি মায়থোংদা মতম্না,
ঙাথু থেংথুরবীরমই নুংশিদুনা মাগি হকচাংদা নুংশীৎনা
তারে লৈচিল কয়াগি খূৎফমসু
মমাগি মতম্বাক্তগি শীৎথখিবদা ঙাইরিবা ঊন্সাদা ৷

মদোমই মাদি অদো
কনাসু করিসু লৈজদ্রবগুম–মমাশু, নুমীৎশুুু–
মরোল লোল্লিবা তাইবঙগি
খাঙঙমদবা অচীকপা মরক্তা৷