Poems by Prathibha Nandakumar

Pic by Alan Cabello



Paint me a forest

First, I said I am a kaleidoscope.
If he turned me around, he could
discover changing patterns and colours.

He said he didn’t see the three sides of me,
bound by a string and no pieces
of coloured glass turning inside,
making a tinkling noise.

I said I am a sculptor;
I could chisel any granite or marble 
giving birth to beautiful damsels in dancing poses.
He said he could only see my
ugly knuckles, fit for kneading dough.

I said I sang songs that made
the most troubled souls to sleep like a baby.
Now that he was distracted, he wouldn’t hear any of it.

He simply glared at my enormous body
And thought of it as a good canvas to paint.
I was instructed to lay bare, offering my multi-textured terrain.

He took me with his brush strokes and pencil etchings
and charcoal rubs and crayon stubs and created a lush
green forest full of singing flying birds and where
flowers blossomed at every valley and high point.

There were many buyers for the art,
but he declined to sell. He then
put me under a shower and washed me well,
glistening like a rain forest in the wet season,
the colours running down the drain.


The Tiger and the River

Frolicking in the wild, white waters
The tiger loves to measure the length,
and breadth and depth of the river.
The fish, of course, get scared,
and the crocodiles move away.

The river, too, loves the tiger.
It embraces the feline,
caressing its every hair and whisker.
The waters go round and round the tiger’s sturdy body
trembling with excitement.
The cool waters heat up in no time.

And one day, the tiger stopped coming to play.
The perplexed river cried, while the happy fish
And the relieved crocodile celebrated.

Unable to curtail itself, the river walked up to the cave,
pleading with the surprised tiger
Why didn’t you come to my waters?
I came looking for you, without you
playing in my depths, I cannot flow.

The tiger was not happy with this.
How dare the river demand from him?
The river must flow within its expanse.
A cave is no place for you; go back.

Returning hurt, the river muttered
The tiger too must confine to his cave,
why come to the river?


The Third
Hell is other people – Jean Paul Sartre

Forgetting was not easy for him. He called it absurd.
He was angry that he was misunderstood.
What he really meant was something else, he pleaded.
By then I had already pretty much settled into his heart.
He said I was screaming in my silence; he couldn’t bear it.
He forbids me and dictates that I must stich up my lips,
or cut away my tongue or do something.
He claimed I had stolen his face and insisted I return it.

The other said he would not allow any trap of any sort.
Untiring he continued his monologue that he was unaffected
by these hellish relations, twisted, vitiated and exhausting,
until the third appears to hold a mirror to our follies
handing out a bar of soap, water, and fresh towels
to wash ourselves clean and meet again hugging, kissing
and melt into each other and Sartre dictates
‘You should not allow yourself to be turned into an institution’.

The third, he took me.

(Note: All the above 3 poems are a translation from the original Kannada version; translated by the poet)

About the Author

Prathibha Nandakumar (1955) is a leading bilingual poet writing in both Kannada and English. She is also a journalist, film maker, columnist, and translator from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. Her publications include 17 collections of poems, two collections of short stories, one autobiography, three biographies, two collections of column writings, two plays and seven translations of novels, short stories, plays and biographies.