Poetry| Dibyajyoti Sarma

Abstract Art by Carmen Guedez
Source : 

In which we dream of fish

I cannot eat fish anymore. The bones prick my gullet.
I cannot eat much else either, an old man without teeth
imprisoned in his bed smelling of piss and filth
waiting for the boatman to free me of this body.

I close my eyes and my mouth tastes ilish with mustard seeds.
I gulp and I see other fish – a roasted dark goroi for the
breakfast of water-soaked rice, a dancing kawoi in the courtyard
a kingly bhokua caught in the bamboo net in Moranadi
a rough kokila for the uruka feast
and a single scale of a tall rou, wearing which
she pledged her miserable life to mine.

I turn and find myself in a rice merchant’s barge
riding the red torrents of the lunatic river.
Is he Tejimola’s father
in the quest for that lonesome lotus which would be
his daughter destined to be murdered and be born again?
Is he Chando Sadagar
who would share with me the oozing pain of Behula’s floating mausoleum?

The lunatic river takes the rice merchant underwater to keep
company with the childless widows, ugly virgins, paddy
seedlings and mute goslings, and the boatman tells me how
a mermaid stole his heart and how he now fills the emptiness
inside his ribcage with hyacinth roots and dry fish bones. He
opens the cave beneath his withering flesh and I see
the river dolphins in the waves taunting my ambition.

I ride a river dolphin and escape the lunatic god
for the tattered embrace of the wizened Beki, who takes me
to her jubilant granddaughter, the dancing Manas, who
insists I join the feast within the breadth of her betrothed.

I turn and Luit shallows me. He is the creation, the farmer of
the fish, the satiation of man’s hunger, our very breath, rice
fields, thatched huts, betel leaves, fishhooks. I dazzle in the
sheen of the silvery embrace like the fins of a kanduli, amidst
the sandy islands the Old Man River wears like golden
armour to fight the surging blue waves in a faraway country
which is his enemy, his one true love, his everlasting death.

I follow the creator’s son on his endless hunt, lose my way and
find his offspring, each bountiful, who offer me fishes plucked
from their hearts, puthi, darikana, moua, bariala, pithia, pabho, the
restless chegeli, the fulgent chanda, and the reeking gethu, magur and
turi and brown little crabs, tadpoles and violent hyacinth flowers and
yellow bamboo shoots, red tomatoes, and creamy elephant apples and
magenta banana flowers, blue flowering stalks and green leaves.

I jump from one boat to another. I cross from one river to another.
In Bhogdoi, I witness Sukaphaa’s royal procession. In Dhansiri, a
Bihu dancer washes her glee. In Dihing, Joymati keeps quiet. In
Barak, the Goddess dances naked. I find grandfather’s bones in
Kolong. In Kopili, rice fields turn golden. In Subansiri, I mourn for
Jhonki and Panoi. In Kushiyara, I meet him again, desperate lover
Luit, the mortal enemy, rushing to his death for a new birth.

The Old Man River, he cannot wait. He is now his lover
Jamuna, fertility spilling out of her uncontainable youth, drowning
villages and cities, until they would come to life again when the
youth was spent and she was an exhausted old crone, Meghna, at
the edge of that inevitable end where memories are mirages and
expectations are prickly thorns in the heels, where you despise
your desired destination and you have no ways to begin again.

I close my eyes and my mouth tastes ilish with mustard seeds.
I cannot sleep, an old man without teeth
imprisoned in his bed smelling of piss and filth
waiting for the boatman. He would not catch me a fish.

Author's note : These lines are for my paternal grandfather who spent much of his youth as a priest somewhere near Rangpur, now a city in Bangladesh not far from Cooch Behar in West Bengal. He claimed he had a large farmhouse somewhere in a beautiful village there, which my grandmother, who was left behind, dismissed as a tall tale. For, in the end, on a hot July morning in 1947, he returned to his ancestral home in Nalbari a beggar, with just a handful of Queen Victoria’s gold coins tucked to the knot of his dhoti. Yet, until the end, he would regale us with the stories of the open country blessed with Teesta’s yearly visits.

In which we are in the city

The Djinns have abandoned the city, this city of rattling
bones and dreams of power, leaving behind a diminished
sky and putrid air, where concrete structures sprout glass
shelters for those who cannot tell apart past from future

and the dead, who haunt this wreckage, trapped in the cracks of
these seven cities, one growing from the ruins of another, like
mushrooms in a rainforest, cannot leave; their sighs escalating
the summer days, their despair suspending the winter nights

and Abhai Chand waits for three hundred years, his eyes open
his mouth shut, outside the bloodied shrine of Sarmad Shaheed
for the return of his naked beloved who rejected the divine to make
him a god, to sing to him again the glories of heaven in a speck of

dust, where next to the ittar seller, outside the diseased steps of
Hindu Rao hospital, Ruqaiya Begum hunts for the tabiz she lost
the morning the firangis arrived to decorate the blood-thirsty
pillars of the Khooni Darwaza with the bodies of her three sons

and her grandmother Anarkali, who rejected pearls of the prince
for the throbbing arms of the wheat merchant’s son, who traded
her nights with the waking dream of her lover crossing the river
until jealous Yamuna claimed him for herself, now collects firewood

for the blazing pyres of the Nigambodh Ghat, where memories
outlive scorched flesh, where the young stable boy digs for the
skeleton of his liege, the shepherd who built a city of stone
amidst dry grass, Qila Rai Pithora, where hiding behind the

crumbling walls beneath the glimmer of neon light, Jamal Yakut
remembers another city and another ruler who drew the plans of
her perilous ascent on the chasm of his dark skin, the power of
which he cannot escape from even in death, and now he frequents

forgotten museums and dead trees, amid the tourists with their
children and their selfie sticks and their water bottles, where in the
far corner amid broken faces of dancing girls, Dharmapal, the monk
guards his master’s ashes, until Kanisha returns to dominate the earth

and Maitreya arrives to free him from this cycle of unending death
when this wait would be over, when the summer days would collide
with the winter nights in a whirlpool of dust storm exchanging blood
for bone, when the Djinns would return to claim their shares of death

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