Once i was a poet

July 2008

I used to be an avid reader at one point of time gorging upon anything I cud lay my hands on. I like poetry, short stories and novels, exactly in that order. I read novels but only upto ninth grade after which my attention span shortened as happens with any teenager. After all who had the time for 300 plus pages when u had the Biology book in hand with the reproductive system and the anatomy of girls explained, a chapter that I finished at the beginning of the academic year itself – at that age they were far more interesting. Besides u had outings with friends (read new found freedom) and to an extent serious stuff like academics and career (yeah, I was a good student upto tenth grade – its only later that somehow the seriousness died). But yes, short stories and poetry find a place in my heart to this day. My favorite short story is ‘Love across the salt desert’ by K.N. Daruwala. Incidentally it was a part of our English curriculum in senior high. It told the story of how a ‘Najaab’ brought ‘Faatima’ into his village crossing the Rann of Kutch in between. The day Faatima entered Najaab’s village, the rain swept away three years of drought.

Coming to poetry, there are two that are my all time favorites. ‘Upagupta’ by Rabindranath Tagore (the original Bengali one and not the English translation by Tagore himself) and ‘Buddha’s Death’ by Romesh Chander Dutt (a Bengali again).

‘Upagupta’ (click here for the original Bengali rendition) is a brilliant depiction of human emotions. In it, one of Buddha’s disciples Upagupta, while preaching in Mathura meets a very beautiful prostitute who tries to lure her. But Upagupta being the sacred man that he was replied that he will come to the whore some other day when she would need him more. The lady probably mocks Upagupta to let such an opportunity pass by. Decades pass. The prostitute is now old with gravity having taken a toll on her skin. She has nothing to offer now. Her youth has faded away and her entire body is polluted with disease and pestilence due to her past lifestyle for which she has been banished outside the walls of the city. Alone, old and in great suffering, the lady lies on the ground silently awaiting her death. There she meets an old man who takes her head in his lap and caresses her forehead. Astonished, the prostitute asks the man that who was the merciful one that still cared for a human being the whole world had discarded. The man replied, saying he had come to her as promised years ago as she now needed him more than ever. The old man comforts her till the prostitute dies in his lap to the best of what I can recall. Tagore wrote the original poem in Bengali as ‘Abhishar’. Later he translated it into English but it wasn't half as good as the original one. According to me Rabindranath was to poetry what Sarat Chandra was to literature. He is any day much better than Shakespeare (I really dunno why the world is ga-ga a about a man who stole his plays while working as a curtain puller in a theatre company in Avonshire).

My other favorite poem is ‘Buddha’s death’ by Romesh Chander Dutt. Again it was a part of high school curriculum. It was one of the poems in the book ‘Flights of Fantasy’ that we had to study for the boards (ICSE students will know better). It is a solemn tribute to the greatness of the Buddha. The storyline goes as such – The Buddha preached across lands in his young days along with his friend and disciple Ananda, his message of truth. In praise, all the heavens showered flowers and incense upon him, hailing the greatness of this man. But the Buddha tells his friend Ananda that he cannot be pleased by showers of sandal and heavenly praise, but rather, by the devotion and truth in people he preached. The Buddha didn't seek glory in such things.

Years pass and the Buddha is now old and weak and lying on his back waiting for death to come, with his friend Ananda by his side. The Buddha is now approached by a Brahman (man seeking wisdom in this context) who had come for a far off land to meet the Buddha and seek wisdom from him. Ananda stops him saying that the dying Buddha was not in a state to preach and hence the Brahman should return. Buddha overhears this and tells Ananda to let the man come, saying that the Buddha never returned anyone empty handed. And thus at the cost of inflicting pain on himself, the Buddha taught the truth to the man and passed away. The whole theme of the poem was like - Even in death, the Buddha had passed his test.

One of my paid jobs as a youngster before I formally took up employment happened soon after I had given my engineering entrance exams. There was a considerable gap between the exam and my first day in college. An earning opportunity presented itself during that time that not only gave me money sitting at home but also brought out something that I am somewhat proud to this day.

There was an old retired professor of Oriya who lived downstairs. After retirement, to keep himself engaged, he had taken up an assignment with the National Book Trust to translate selected pieces of Oriya literature to English. The man was learned and somehow we got to sit in the evenings discussing literature and trading whatever we knew of our domain. In the course of these evening discussions over tea, I learnt a lot about Oriya literature, mostly medieval, but of other periods too. Believe me, I never knew that Oriya literature actually had a beauty of its own. To cite a few examples I learnt about Bhima Bhoi and Bhanja Sahitya (literature written by Upendra Bhanja, an exponent of Oriya literature). Some of the stuff was a discovery in itself. For example a book by the name ‘Baidehi Bilaasa’ has its every word beginning with Ba (a syllable in the Oriya alphabet) including the title as one can see. Or for that matter there was a poetic novel where every line was a palindrome. I remember the opening line which was like – ‘Sari nahi kaala kaahin naarisa’ meaning my time is not up but where is the lady of my heart. This line is a palindrome in Oriya. I also read another piece where the lords namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were praised. If u dropped the first letter of each line the praise goes to Brahma, the second to Vishnu and the third to Shiva. I also had some insight into the ‘Gita Govinda’ by Jaideva on which the entire Odissi dance is based. According to a recent and well proven stream of thought, Radha was not a living character but a mythical being who had been first written about in the ‘Gita Govinda’ which is basically the tale of the courtship of Krishna and Radha as reflected in Odissi dance.

On the other hand I told the old man about what I knew about English and to some extent Bengali literature and he seemed to relish it and from what I figured, quite impressed. One day, the old man said that he was contemplating of not taking translation assignments anymore as it was taking up quite a bit of his time and besides, he din need the money anyway. I used to be free in those days and thought if I cud try his job. I told the man so. He replied that I cud try translating a small piece as a trial to see where I stood. I did. I remember it was the translation of a brief 12th century text written about the prevalent social, political and religious beliefs of that time mostly centered around 'Jagannatha' (the predominant deity in Orissa) and the devadasi system, by a ruler of the Ganga dynasty that ruled this place at that time. I remember handing it over to the old man with eyes full of expectation, more for the upcoming opportunity to make a fast buck than the praise for a good job that I thought I had done. The old man reviewed it for a day and in the end said I exceeded his expectations and I cud start earning. I dived into the job head and shoulders. The next few days kept me very busy. I used to work late nights too. Each day I encountered words written in archaic and poetic Oriya I had no clue about. Wherever I needed help with these words, the old man readily helped. The translations took me around a month after which I knew the end of the job was near as the entrance results were due soon. The old man liked my job and I can say to this day that some of the stuff in NBT is courtesy yours truly.

I din take up another assignment as I wasn’t sure if I cud complete it. But the turnout of the job was that my stock of words in poetic Oriya had increased to a substantial extent. It was then the thought suddenly occurred to me – Why not translate my favorite poem to Oriya! Incidentally Buddhism was more of an offshoot of Hinduism until Ashoka conquered Kalinga. It was from here that Buddhism spread all across the world and has today become a religion in itself with a following that far exceeds Hinduism.
Although it was exactly the opposite of what I had been doing all these days, I did it. It took me three days. I tell u what, translating a poem is much tougher than writing a poem urself. The biggest challenge was to keep the theme and the mood intact. I showed it to the old man who liked it and said I had done justice to the original one and jokingly said that I was encroaching upon his territory. The tragedy was that soon after I lost the school book which had the original English poem (my guess is that the folks at home sold it to the man who bought old newspapers for recycling). Days went by and I did try to recover the original poem but met with no success. Soon I forgot and moved on.

A few days earlier while cleaning up some of my old papers in my file, I suddenly came across the translation. It brought back some nostalgia at least. This time I decided to search the original one in earnest. I Googled the stuff and found it. I have reproduced both the original English poem and my Oriya translation below. For those who don’t understand Oriya, the English poem wont disappoint u believe me. And as for those who know, they obviously can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Buddha’s Death

Thus in many lands they wandered,
Buddha and his faithful friend,
Teaching truth to many nations,
Till his life approached its end.
And they say, along the pathway,
As the saintly Master went,
Fruit trees blossomed out of season
And a lovely fragrance lent!
And that flowers and sandal-powder
Gently fell on him from high,
And came strains of heavenly music
Gently wafted from the sky!

But the saintly master whispered
To his beloved and blest,
“ ’Tis not thus , O friend Ananda!
That the Buddha’s honored best.
Not by flowers or sandal-powder,
Not by music’s heavenly strain,
Is the soul’s true worship rendered,
Useless are these things and vain!
But the brother and the sister,
Man devout and woman holy,
Pure in life, in duty faithful,
They perform the worship truly!”

Night came on and saintly Buddha
Slept in suffering, sick and wan,
When a Brahman seeking wisdom,
Came to see the holy man.
Anxiously Ananda stopped him,
But spoke Buddha though in pain,
“He who comes to seek for wisdom
Shall not come to me in vain!”
And he to the pious stranger
Told the truth in language plain,
Taught the law with dying accents,
Stopped and never spoke again!

Romesh Chandra Dutt.

The translated text has a few words in Oriya which the average Oriya reader may not understand. So before reproducing the poem here are the meanings of a few Oriya words used in the poem:
Tathaagata – Another name of the Buddha
abirata - at peace with, content
mudrita - sleepy / dying eyes in this context
mahakaarunika - the most generous
bipra - brahman
pranipaata - salutation, surrender
abaruddha - abrupt ending

I had named the translation as ‘Buddha Debanka Mahaparikhya’ meaning ‘The Buddha’s Test’

Sisya gahane bohu sahachara saha, Goutam Tathaagata
Kete janapada bhrami bhrami abirata
Prachaarile se parama sata, Mahabaani ahinsara,
Upanita hela sese taanka bela, abasara ghenibara.
Sakale dekhile, prabhu Buddhanka gamanakaale,
Mannjarithila phula taruchaya, pathe pathe akaalare.
Barasila dhire chandana renu, patha hela surabhita,
Aakasu aasila bhaasi, sulalita sumadhura sangita.

Eha dekhi prabhu Buddha na hele trupta, bhaasile bachana dhire
Suna Ananda mara priya parijana, ye sabu nuhe sanmaana mara tile.
Phula chandana, madhu sangita taana,
Na haba ethire ma aatmaa upaasana.
Hrudaya jeuthi kalusha mukta,
Subha karma re jaa jukta
Sneha bhakatire sikta jeuthi mana,
Jathaarta puja seithi ma hue jaana.

Buddha jibane, abasesa dine, aasila grahana bela,
Hoile se khina byatha bichadita, tanu hela durbala.
Hele asakta gamanare, bisraamile tarutale,
Hoile sajyasahi,
Esamayare aasi upagata hele, Brahmana jane tahi.
Kahile sisye aasichi mu duru, gyaana aaharana aase,
Jibi Buddhanka paase.

Sisya prahara Ananda bhaasile, pherijaao tume ebe,
Prabhu Buddha ta asakta ati, gyaana kipari ba debe.
Mudrita nayane mahakaarunika, hoi gale bichalita,
Nele nispatti debe upadesa, jadiya thile pidita.
Kahile turate sisya priya Ananda ku paase thaari,
Aase je mo paase, gyaana abhilaase, byarthe na jiba pheri.

Aasile bipra Buddha samipe, karile se pranipaata,
Sumadhura sware, sarala bhasare, sunile dibya sata.
Ehapare krame, maha prabhunkara, swaasa hela abaruddha,
Mahaparikhya re hele uttirna se mahapurusa Buddha.

While the old man is no more today, thanks to the job he gave me, I did something that makes me somewhat proud to this day. Hope u liked the poems.

Realizations Part 2 - The anatomy of love.

July 2008
“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” - Samuel Butler
I know better. I had my first crush in ninth grade…. and lost it. The girl was senior to me by a year and the goddess of my world. I never let her know. We went our own ways. She is probably the mother of four kids by now. Kompaani’s story seemed to be similar and hence I cud relate. But my friend’s story gave me an insight in human emotions. I realized a few things. Not that all the realizations were new to me. I knew some of them anyway. But my belief in some was reinforced.

Love speaks the same language all across:
Whenever I recall the chain of events from that day and some thereafter, I find that the thread of emotions is the same, whether in feel good movies or in the somewhat unglamorous lives of simple people like my friend. Just like most other people wud have behaved, my friend’s behavior was very predictable and human. He too nurtured hopes in his heart, worked hard to give them shape, was shattered when they din work out the way he desired them to, tried not to let his suffering overshadow his happiness for his love, camouflaged the turmoil in his mind with a fake smile and u get the drift…. U can more often than not, see a common pattern in most people when faced with this situation. I guess love knows no boundaries as far as emotions are concerned. It’s the same in everybody.

It hurts to love someone and not be loved in return, but what is more painful is to love someone and never find the courage to let that person know how you feel:
We are probably the most hypocritical lot on earth who wud rather prefer incest than agree to let our kids marry someone from a lower or different caste even if he or she may be otherwise suitable.
But even otherwise it's tough living with coughed up emotions

Love is the biggest motivation on earth: 
Bobby Fisher to this day remains the only American to have ever won the World chess championship and considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. At the age of 16, he dropped out of high school simply becoz he cun stand everyday, his crush going around with some other guy. Years later, Fisher had enough name in the circuit but still wasn’t the best. In 1970 at the age of 27 he met his girl again in a Jewish ghetto. The girl was impoverished, and after many failed relationships, lived with a man who wasn’t her husband. There Fischer for the first time expressed that she was his crush since childhood. The lady said it was too late in life as she had cancer. But before dying all she wanted, was to see this man as the best….. And as they say, the rest is history. The girl died six months before Fischer’s world championship match with Boris Spassky. Folklore had it (courtesy the bellboys assigned to his hotel room) that Fischer quit smoking four months before the match (1972) so that he cud improve his concentration, lived alone in a hotel room for those four months with a girl’s pic on his desk where he practiced his moves day and night relentlessly without letup. He did it not to impress the girl as she wasn’t there anyway, but all the same he did it only for her. None knew of this except his manager and his best friend and practice partner in whom he confided who let the word out after his death early this year. Even in his pics from that time u wun find any hint of the fire within this man. He camouflaged it with his smile. And as for the reason why he hid it, it was becoz he din want the world to know of the impoverished state of the girl at death and her checkered past.
U know u have found love, when u want to be ur best, when u push urself harder to live up to someone. And that someone is the person who is gonna make u a better person than what u can ever be by urself. Someone who builds or breaks ambition inside u by his or her presence or absence. Maybe that was the reason Fisher quit smoking for four months. But if u still wonder why I wrote all this here, well maybe that was the reason why my friend worked eighteen hours a day.

You can close your eyes and ears to things you don’t want to see and hear, but you can’t close your heart to things you don’t want to feel:
Emotions can pierce through our hearts without making a hole in the flesh. As I said earlier, hope is eternal. We live in it. Although my friend knew of the caste problem, he still saved for her in the hope that something works out.

Someone can walk into your life and it is not until after they walk out that you wished they were back:
I had heard somewhere that sometimes we get so busy gathering stones that we miss the diamond. We take people for granted. Its only when they go, we realize that they have left an indelible mark in our lives.

We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love:
Someone should sue Disney for planting the ideas in little kids’ heads that every girl or boy has a prince charming or a damsel and everything ends up happily ever after. Sitting in that room all I cud do was watch helplessly as this man cried his heart out. I guess he din have much choice either.

Love is sacrosanct:
The wedding happened. Days went by. But never for once did Kompaani speak ill of the girl or blame her for his state. You know you love someone when you want them to be happy even if their happiness means that you're not part of it. People we loved always remain sacred and holy to us. We stand by them when someone speaks trash bout them. We go to any length to maintain the sanctity of our emotions that once prevailed in us.
It's amazing how someone can break you heart or tread on your dreams and trample them underfoot, but you still love them with all the little pieces that remain.

There is a time for departure even when there's no certain place to go:
There are things in a past that u hold on to. Things that can’t be denied. Emotions that are irrefutable. Images that remain a treasured memory forever. People who will be ur last thought when u die. But at some point of time u have to let go and live for other people and not urself anymore.
Trying to forget someone we love is trying to remember someone we never met. I guess moving on is easy. It’s just that what we leave behind, that makes it so difficult. But then again the saying goes – ‘Love will find a way’. When the mind is healed completely, the wounds on the body don’t hurt anymore……Or on second thoughts, maybe they still do.
Kahlil Gibran once said “Life is a bridge. Cross it, but build no house on it”.
We don't stop loving someone. We simply learn to live without them.
Kompaani lives on. But he doesn’t work eighteen hours a day anymore.

Realizations Part 1 - Monsoon wedding.

July 2008

Monsoon is that time of the year when nostalgia somehow runs high. After all, dampened souls can cry their hearts fill in the rain without anybody noticing their tears. It is also the time for weddings. A time when two people find redemption in each other, be it for money, security, sex, love, companionship, providence, adjustment or simply a helpless surrender to fate. But for some it’s also a time for heartbreak, if it’s not the way one had intended it to be. A time when tears down our cheeks are enough to bring a deluge in itself, sans the rain. A time when we wish we cease to exist. A time when we curse God for our lot. And surprisingly also a time when some people rise above themselves in an amazing display of character as I witnessed in one of these weddings and gained many a realization in the process. Here goes the story:

There is a tea vendor in my locality by the name of ‘Kompaani’ (I have his pic somewhere in my Orkut or Picasa albums). A young lad junior to me by two-three years, hardworking, honest, good guy and basically quite serious about life. He runs the local ‘chai ki dukaan’ as I mentioned earlier which is a stone’s throw away form my house. U might imagine the crowd at his place in the evenings when people come for tea or an evening snack. I don get to meet him on most weekdays when I’m away at work but I make it a point to pay him a visit in the weekends and spend some time with him over tea. And whenever mom is out of town, I take him and Paanu (works for us) to eat out (he incidentally is Paanu’s best friend and hence the attachment). The guy is doing quite well going by his economic background and limited education, has his own bike and runs his family that lives just behind his cabin. The guy like any other lad of his age, dreamt of settling down with a nice girl and live happily ever after in conjugal bliss. So far so good.

A few days ago, on returning from work, I saw a marriage invitation on the desk. It was from an old man in our locality who sold vegetables in the local market. He was getting his daughter married and had come to invite us. Mom had taught stitching to the girl, something mom herself had learnt back probably in her home science honors days I presumed. Hence I knew the girl. She was a nice, decent girl by all accounts.

Mom asked whether I would go. I decided to go as I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet some of my friends who drove autos or ran betel or chai shops like Kompaani himself (social bonding is quite strong around the old town area where I live). Everybody knows everybody. It’s a small world here. I like making friends with these people and have a decent rappo among them. Though downtrodden, these people stand by u in times of need. To cite an example, the local auto driver just needed a call to attend to me when I ran out of gas midway while returning late from office. It was past midnight but the guy came. The surprising thing is that I usually don pay him any more than the actual fare. I guess all they crave for is recognition as equals in a somewhat divided society. That is all I gave them and I guess that was enough for them.

The wedding was on a Sunday. I came to know from Paanu that Kompaani had been invited and Paanu had told him that we would all go together. So in the evening at around seven Paanu and myself went to Kompaani’s house to pick him up. We found him lying on his bed in his small room. He said he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t join us. I said the chicks at the wedding might make him feel better and pulled him out of bed. And that’s when I saw it. The guy was crying. The silent crying I mean. His eyes were wet and his body shaking. And that’s when it dawned on me – he loved the girl.

He burst out and broke down. His body was shaking even more and the silent suppressed crying had been replaced by the crying of a child who had been denied his toys. I was speechless. Maybe I was overawed by the sudden outburst of emotions and didn’t know how to deal with them. Or may be I freezed like a eunuch. Paanu comforted him and after some time the guy regained his composure. He said he feared that his emotions might get the better of him and that might create a scene at the wedding. Hence he didn’t want to go. But all the same he didn’t want to spoil our plans and so requested us to proceed. At that point of time, for once I thought of skipping the wedding to express solidarity with him but went anyway.

This was the wedding of a vegetable seller’s daughter, so obviously it was a simple affair. But what really touched me there was the fact that the emotions were all the same as those in the big weddings that I had attended as well. The girl’s father personally came to greet us at the door of the pandaal. While Paanu departed to help with the arrangements, I decided to catch up with the community people. It felt good meeting the guys after a time. Ant then it happened. Around 40 mins into the wedding Kompaani arrived. Neatly dressed, tears gone and smiling (probably fake). He delivered an envelope to the girl’s mother which probably had some money and promptly came back to me. I jokingly asked if the lure of the wedding girls was too strong to resist, hoping to add some cheer. I guess it din help much or may be it was a bad joke on my part. After some time we had dinner together. It was somewhat different to have a sit down dinner with people serving you rather than the do-it urself stuff that happens these days. While the menu had only four items, the hospitality made a big statement in itself. I told u these poor people have a big heart! After some time we all met the father and thanked him and left.

While returning, none of us spoke much. I decided to accompany my friend till his house. It was 10.30. Kompani told us to come in and prepared paan. I knew that he wasn’t in the slightest mood to do this. Probably it was just a gesture of thanks. I decided to stay back for some time. I somehow felt that if the man could find someone to discuss, it might just lighten his burden. So I asked him why didn’t he ever tell the girl or her parents. After all I had come to know that financially, there wasn’t much of a difference between the groom and my friend. Probably they wud have agreed. He replied saying he never had the courage to do so. The reason was the girl belonged to a higher caste. But then they say hope is eternal. We live in hope. That is what makes us go through the drudgery that is today in the hope of a better tomorrow. He told me he had saved a decent amount to improve his standing if he were ever to ask for the girl. She was the reason he worked so hard, keeping open till midnight and opening at 6 the next day. Didn’t want to miss a single penny. All his hard work had gone down the drain he said and started cursing himself for not keeping his emotions in check. After some time he broke down again. This time I didn’t want to stop him. I guess it’s tough to live with coughed up emotions. Sometimes it helps if they find an outlet. Besides I figured the tears that I wished to wipe away will run unchecked in my absence. A teardrop is insignificant in a pool of water, but it can touch the soul as it runs down someone’s face. When he was stable I left, but with a heavy heart...

That night while I lay in bed, the images of the day flashed in my mind one after the other. I figured every thing in the chain of events had some message. I had made many a realization in the anatomy of love.