Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The dispersal of the bones - Om Prakash Valmiki

tr. from Om Prakash Valmiki's Hindi poem 'Asthi-Visarjan'

Whenever I wanted to touch
the stone in the inner sanctum 
of the temple
or the sculpted murals on its walls

every time, that feeling of a hammer
hardened in the palm of my hand
and calluses awoke at the start of my fingers.

Every time we went to have a bath in the Ganga
- Har ki paudi, 'the steps of a god' - 
it felt as if we're taking a dive
into a rain-clogged sewer,
where beneath the fast stream
there's no sand
but reptilian stones
that do not let our feet hold.

It is difficult to remain
against the stream,
like standing on red-hot embers,

under your feet
come the bones of the dead
which are scattered around the stones
on the bed of the river,

these bones
which once had fought
with air and with language,
with rituals and habits
before, one day, being dispersed in the Ganga
under the vague mutterings of a Pundit
(some folks call this muttering Sanskrit).

These bones lying under the stream
caress the soles of our feet
in terrifying ways

that is why I decided
I would not bathe in any such Ganga
where the vulture-eyes of the Pundit
are fixed on the coins kept among the bones
and on the rupee-notes of his fee
to swoop at even before those bones are dispersed.


(thanks to Abhishek Kumar)

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