Panopticon – Poems by Ashalatha

Background Pic by Steve Johnson; inset- Ashalatha


Translated from Malayalam by Ra Sh


A. In the time of Cholera

As God observed from the observation tower,
two kids, boy and girl, barely out of their teens,
were seen fidgeting uneasily near the present
Subhash Park (not sure whether the park was there
before) some sixty years back.

It was sunset time.

God, with his celestial gaze, immediately knew
that they were trying to kiss. Two faces came closer.
Two pairs of lips palpitating.
The old man blew his top!
What the fuck! A public kiss?
Right in front of him?

As if God’s will prevailed, a passerby flashed a
flash light at them. Like the painting on a Grecian urn,
they both froze there in shock and fear.

As for God, he forgot the kids immediately.
He had umpteen other things to remember.

His gaze fell on that place again after sixty years.
The evergreen eternal love was still frozen at the same place.

For once, God felt pity on them.
Felt guilty too.
Now what do I do with them?

It was thus that he teleported them into the brain of a
Latin American writer who was prolifically writing that time.

Who knows what goes on in God’s mind!


B. Please come, Oh flood

Come, let’s sit in the shade of the boat.
Pareekutty invited.

Karuthamma maintained her posture,
looking down, just like in the film poster.
The pot to carry water remained in her hand.
She wore a polka dot blouse, cleavage showing
biting her lower lip seductively.

As it is said in the theories on gaze, the
male gaze relentlessly travelled down.
Pareekutty’s fish-hooking eyes became
Marcus Burtley’s camera that kept executing
tilt-ups and tilt-downs.

Precisely at that moment, the Old Man from
Panopticon turned his observation camera
towards the seashore.

Such wanton gaze on women, you s-o-b!
God growled within and unleashed a northern
wind and southern wind and then the
westerly and easterly winds.

That woman! She is also a hussy!
Thus. all mountainous waves were sent forth
to lash the seashore.
It was thus that everything was drowned
in a flood and the shore was carved away by the sea.

Unlike what these novelists say!

(This poem takes off from the novel Chemmeen, written by  Thkazhy Shivashankara Pillai. Its’ film version was shot by  Marcus Burtley)


C. Anarchist

God noticed her while engaged in a lazy gaze.
She was then writing something
without anyone watching, shutting herself in a room.

Must be some anti-national literature!
God thought, what does she think!
That no one can see her when she
Writes behind closed doors?

When he focused his observation camera
her literature was revealed to him. Body Sea
Sex Obscenity ( if she had been a man, it was ok); 
moreover, Blasphemy Treason Anarchy, etc.

Now could she be a Maoist? God pondered with
his sixth sense. How can one let her free without
teaching her a lesson? She was immediately picked up.

Now, what she does is to sit in the Panopticon and
do content writing about whatever God perceives day and night.

With that, the entire ruckus that was going on in the city ended.


About the Author

Ashalatha is a Malayalam poet and translator whose collections of poetry include Kadalppacha (2002) and Ella Uduppum Azhikkumbol (2013). Her translations include Chitragreevan (Gay Neck, Dhan Gopal Mukherjee), Agolavalkaranavum Asamthrupthikalum (Globalization and Discontents – Joseph Stiglitz -co-translated by K. Rajagopal), Sambhashanangal (Interviews of K Ayyappa Panikker–co-translated by K Ayyappa Panikker), Aadinte Virunn (Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa). Her translation of Feast of the Goat won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for translation in the year 2010. She also holds a Ph.D. from Calicut University.

About the Translator

Ra Sh (Ravi Shanker N)’s poems in English have been published in many national and international online and print magazines. His poems have been translated into German and French. He has published three collections of poetry – ‘Architecture of Flesh’ (two editions)  ‘The Bullet Train and other loaded poems’  and ‘Kintsugi by Hadni’. Ra Sh also translates literary works from Malayalam and Tamil into English.