Poems by K. Satchidanandan




A House called Sorrow

Sorrow is a house,
its walls painted yellow
and ceiling green with fungus.

It has many rooms, from melancholy
and pain to anguish and depression
Darkness and chill go on growing
as one moves from room to room

There are doors from one room to another,
like from autumn to winter, but
there are no windows, only small
casements for sighs to pass.

The last room opens to a deep well.
Even the screams of those who
step out of its door never come out.

Some are tenants in this
house, but some stay here forever,
until a catastrophe liberates them
into eternal darkness.

Those who dwell there do not even know
there is a garden of pleasure outside it
The loud laughter and the hisses of kisses
from the garden strike those yellow doors,
shatter and fall on the moist earth below.
Sweet scents return to their sources
fluttering their spotted wings,
scared of the darkness within.

Those hurrying along the road in front
must have sometimes had a glimpse
of that house; but those people struggling
to survive hardly find time to stay there.

The fairies guarding that house at times
invite me too to stay there; but the choked
screams I had heard from the neighbouring
rooms and the chewed bones flung
from them during my short stay there
in the past keep dissuading me.

Even my language had left me then.
Silence covered me like a termites’ mound.
And when I broke out of it
there were three flags in my hand:
one green,
one blue,
one red.


Between Seventy and Seventy Five

There is a dark place between
Seventy and seventy five: broad
Like memory, deep like death.
Those trapped there have no return.
They roam about in the childhood bushes
Or fall headlong into the well of decrepitude.

Be warned if those between seventy and seventy five
Behave like the young: for, they are young.
They can love, can dance to music, and if need be
Even lead a war or a revolution. In fact
They are not dead, like most young are.

Those between seventy and seventy five
May suffer from delusions: at times they want
A horse-ride; at times want to fly above oceans and mountains
On the back of an eagle, wander along deserts
Looking for water that is not there, stand naked
In the rain, or read a poem no one has written yet. There
Are times when they feel history is retracing its step,
And feel like crying aloud, screaming, almost.

The solitude of those between seventy and seventy five
Is sepia, like some early morning dreams or
Like the friendships in old albums. When they
Laugh, sunlight retreats into village lanes.
Their sweat smells soft like sesame flowers.
Their walk is like the descending scale of saveri (1)
And their lilting speech is littered with gamakas (2)

You wonder, why, this is all about men. Yes,
Women do not pass at all between
Seventy and seventy five; invisible to us,
They just glide along on a tender rainbow of affection,
With the soft feet of fairies fragrant like heaven
And the smile of oleanders, an invitation to salvation.

Saveri : A raga in Karnatic music
Gamakas: embellishments done on a musical note


Questions from the Dead :

An essay on Nationalism

Which country’s border was Hiuen Tsang crossing
when, on a donkey, he crossed the Himalayan pass
with a sack full of Buddhist texts?

Whence came the races that spoke
Dravidian and Aryan tongues? Was there no one in India
when they landed here? Not even a tribal?

Where did the Bharatvarsha of Mahabharat and Meghdoot
began, where did it end? Did Bhasa and Kapilar
belong to the same country?

Where were the borders of the India of Fahien
and of Al-Biruni? Where was Taxila? Which was
the India Alexander set out to conquer? Which
country did Ashoka and Akbar rule?

Who created India: the East India Company
Or Mountbatten? Or was it Gandhi? When
Did ‘Hindu’ become the name of a religion?

When did Earth come to be in the history
of the universe? When did nations come to be
in the history of Earth? How many nations
make a human body? What is the kinship between
human soul and nations’ maps? Did all the births of
Bodhisattva take place in India? How many oceans
are there in each language? How many skies
in winds? How many seasons for love?

I had been guarding the borders till yesterday. All
my life I had arguments about borders. My living flesh
bled, caught in their barbed wire fencing. I went
to court in their name, killed many times, died many times.
They said I would become a martyr if I died
for the cause, that it would secure Heaven for me.

My land, I do not loathe you, nor do I worship you.
Had I been born elsewhere I would have lived another
life; I would have needed a passport to enter you.

Today at last I am going to cross all the borders
and become part of the Earth. Do not cover me with flags.

Today I know, we are a creation of coincidences,
like our body, like the Solar System. We have
no scope for pride, and war does not have even
that scope. Bury me deep without an anthem.

No one ceases to ask questions
just because one is dead.

( Note: The above poems translated from Malayalam by the poet)

About the Author

K. Satchidanandan is perhaps the most translated of contemporary Indian poets, having 31 collections of translation in 19 languages including Chinese, English, Irish, Arabic, French, German and Italian besides all the major Indian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Assamese, Odiya, Bengali and Hindi.

Satchidanandan writes poetry in Malayalam, the Indian language of Kerala, and prose in both Malayalam and English and has 24 collections of poetry besides many selections and chronological collections,  five books of travel, a full length play and a collection of one-act plays,  and many collections of critical essays  including five books originally written  in English on Indian literature. He was also in the Ladbroke shortlist of ten probable Nobel prize winners in 2011.