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S. K.  Iyer






From the beginning of my past… (1)

In this world I have nothing to conceal,
so flows the shameless river like my life,
there are no stones to gather moss,
nor the golden sand of younger days,
only bed of civilisation,
where shadows of trees sleep coolly,
and sandy banks, now a grazing land.

The broken steps towards north,
reminiscence of a flowed down past,
leading to the old temple, where God
still lives in captivity, a dingy flame
struggling to confine the darkness.
How could He stay there, hundred of years,
within four walls coloured by lampblack?

The gap in the center of long green fence
is the entrance to my ancestral house,
surrounded by a variety of plants.
After sunset darkness reigned,
in those days of oil and wicks.
A huge elephant in black and white,
decorated the face of upstairs wall.

On the west, the road from the town
ends up unable to cross the river.
The river in the afternoon sun,
patches of shades and silvery sheen,
as I sit under tiled roof of main gate.
An irrigation trench passed through here,
a small waterway for children,
forgotten by time, merged with the road.
Paper boats now float in my thoughts,
contented life's intense joyful moments.

Path from the gate to the house
went with shoe flower plants
on both sides, till the courtyard
the heart of which a cemented floor
in the shadow of a group of trees
like a small carpet with a fading art
of design of kolam touched the verandah

Entered the house  - the center-stage,
where generations saw the light of life,
where my umbilical cord was cut,
where I spent summers of childhood,
with my grandma, the great manager.
Everything is old, but not memories
every time I visit, they grow stronger. 

I began to wade through the fleshy
life's flashy ways, hugged by mother
as a month old babe, from place to place
like planets changing positions,
restlessly in twelve zodiac signs;
the flyway of life seems to be strange,
like paper airplanes of my childhood,
they never reached where I wanted.

So the wheels of life rolled towards south,
as the old train hauled the passengers,
hissing and whistling on the tracks,
spitting thick smoke and coal dust,
and I reached my father's house,
taken by my aunt, in my mother's words
into a dark corner of the thatched house
where lives struggled for existence and left
one by one leaving my father alone.

Morrows for him were non-existent,
yesterdays were stories to narrate.
He gave the present a flavour of taste
with his cookery and a smiling face
he was famous in his days
wherever he set up a way for our lives.
And he put up a coffee house
to feed us by feeding others.

Freed from oblivion of infancy,
memory gains its prominence,
empty brain begins to fill the vacancy,
like a scavenger, gathers moments
of pains and pleasures of retired past.

A toddler's luxurious days
are as bright as his hedonistic delights,
with a playful mind, an aimless life -
running between tables and chairs,
luring the minds of customers,
with infantile prattle and pranks -
an extra relish to their dishes,
I ruled the kingdom of innocence,
with abundant freedom of childhood,
where ends pure love's longevity
and begins a life of selfishness,
desire for the unnecessary,
a childish life's uncontrolled oddities.

Through the eyes of the wooden grill
I would catch the movements of rickshaws,
people walking their life of thrift,
cyclists peddling in haste,
vendors heading towards the beach
with head loads of merchandise,
the roads stretching straight on both sides,
alongside the parapet walls
guarding the canal that bisected the town
saving the park and the beach to the west.

Taxies were rare, but rickshaws -
transport of the social elite.
Clad in a lungi, a long towel
around his neck as a shawl,
or tightly tied around his head,
lifting the handgrip to his chest,
he would pull the carriage and run,
old sandals beating the road,
sounding the bell to clear the way,
a rhythmic sign of his presence in town.
After fifty years I saw him in Howrah -
a living beast of burden, but a man.

Shuttling between the town of canals
and my village, perhaps, I learnt
the route of nature's path of love,
in the warmth of sun and coolness
of a labyrinthine water world -
past resurrects, turns into present,
but the present is too different
from the resplendent world of past
untouched by humans of modern world.

As the boat moves, world travels back
jetty hides behind the dredgers
lake waits ahead with its mouth open.
Under the huge igloo of sky, the lake
adorns a green shawl around her neck,
the boat moves, alongside the bank,
fluttering ripples, wrinkles of lake,
stumble with bubbling noise - lake's whisperings,
nature's expressions; splinters of sun
scatter far and wide, silvery rays,
beaming out from undulations,
sometimes pierce through my eyes.
Shapeless creamy clouds move with wind
breeze brings in fragrance of lake water,
mauve hyacinths slither down the ripples,
drooping scrubs move up and down. 
Ladies in lungi and blouse, beat
coconut fibre and wind the strands
on long spindles stretched in the background
of a row of their thatched dwellings.

Gliding down the calm and serene lake,
the boat swims between green clusters
of small islands - natures arabesque,
interlaced foliage in an intricate design.
At a distance, behind the dikes and bund,
an endless green carpet of paddy fields,
white herons changing their positions
appear and disappear magically.

The lamppost at the corner,
guiding light for the navigators,
changes the line of route,
alters the rhythm of pleasure,
from the expanse of lake to canal,
sound of engine ticks past slowly,
in the shade of coconut trees,
playful children wave their hands,
ladies wash crockery and clothes,
men repair nets for next day's haul,
flowers add colours to vegetation,
grazing cattle sharpen their ears,
noisy ducks float in the water,
a few yards away the jetty emerges.

The same route through night -
in nature's solitary isolation,
when she hides her beauty,
the boat would move like a firefly,
floating in the eerie darkness;
beam of light from the lampposts,
fiery eyes of the ghosts of night;
thickets and bushes, dens of monsters,
blinking kerosene lamp flames,
would peep out from the houses ashore,
sleepless stars would blink in fear,
and a frightened me would make,
the entire universe invisible,
curl up into a foetal position,
with my head in my father's lap,
in the feeble light of hurricane lamps
hanging inside from the roof.


Childhood Memories
The archway to the temple of knowledge
opened up right in front of my small house,
green fences guarding the path,
thick growth, up above shaking hands.
Sometimes the path, intervened
by short-cuts 'tween paddy fields.
My encounter with alphabets
commenced in the village school.
Sitting on the rough floor,
I drew the first letters,
with forefinger, in pink sand.
Then I was sent to public school,
In another village miles away,
The rightful choice for the poor.
My village -
with its verdurous vegetation,
fragmented by the river,
its branches and narrow inlets
piercing the land here and there,
an emerald gleaming in the sun,
neatly packed in lush green,
decorated with silver linings,
of the small water courses.
The inlets had palm tree logs
laid across, bridging the path.
Crossing the bridges en-route school,
miles away from my village,
barefoot, holding  a dozen of books,
fastened together by a rubber band,
and a lunch box in one hand,
an acrobatic exercise of routine.
The path, created by footprints
of our forerunners, gave a look
of a brown carpet. Green grass
covered both sides, the mist
on them reflected the beams
of morning rays of the sun.
The growth of grass did not dare
to encroach the path, for fear
of destruction by human contact!
Alongside, the river flowed calmly
westward, yearning to merge
into vastness of lake, far away,
patting the broken banks;
herbaceous bushes drooping on her sides.
A rowboat or two passed by,
undulating calmly flowing water.
Trees and bushes reflected in the water,
produced a portrait of nature
against the background of cerulean sky
with snowy white patches here and there.
Except for the chirping of birds,
the children's prattles and the sounds
of falling auburn-tinted leaves,
calmness reigned all along.
A ferry and a hill intercepted
the path. Climbing down the slope,
'tween a pond at foot of the hill
and a field, led to the seat of knowledge.
Though not big, the hill raised its head
toward the sky, with its green crown.
Monsoon brought out fresh foliage
and doubled beauty of the crown.
Once in school, my mind used to yearn
for the blissful experience of returning home
in the evening, the same way,
enjoying brimming cup of nature's beauty.
Every creeper, searching supports;
every flower, unknown by name;
every sound of bird, falling leaves;
every image that reflected in the water;
all come alive in mind's screen,
at my wish. I learned to love you,
nature, from you. You taught me
the first lesson of natural love -
that blossoms in me everyday afresh
with flowers of innumerable hues,
dispersing an aura of fragrance!
Poverty is not a curse, but a boon,
a blessing in disguise, in many ways.
Outside my small, distressed world,
there was a world of blossoming nature.
I thank Him, who showered poverty
on my infancy.  Or else I'd have walked a mile
to the next village, to be fetched by bus
to my school, leaving myself
deprived forever of my first lessons!