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I can hear my name slipping into silence

Three poems by Syam Sudhakar


Los desesperados By Guayasamín Oswaldo
Los desesperados By Guayasamín Oswaldo


Muziris

1 The one who knows the sea unlocks a sky in the heart.

2 The old town of the rough rains that you seek is dead. The alleys that once glittered with the spark of metals now reek of silence. Everything returns to its origin: earthen pots to mud, water to the depths unraveled by the anchor, coins to their lustre. Nothing remains in the memory; no more jasmine scents, no more damsels, roads are clogged by thorns. Weapons, like photographs of lightning, became mere showpieces.

3 When the afternoon sun becomes rooted in the earth and the trees doze off stretching their fingers to Periyar[1] I remember a lost vessel that once sailed to my shores as natural as a mango falling to its own earth. With a kiss God united us; gazing at the night sky we joined the stars.


Together we saw the edge of the sky boiling in the waves. At the doorstep of the sea a town bloomed stretching out fifty-one[2] tongues. The glory of the sun has long drowned. Yet the sound of the same sea and the fate in the same stars drip into memory. We parted ways in the drought after the flood pretending nothing passed between us. Never committed love or time, shared dreams of the body nor surrendered language— Yet had you waited for me this long on the same deck? Like a season nailed onto the wall of earth by some god, had you stood unmoving in the summer heat and salty winds echoing the same sea? Many have come later in search of me— animals, birds, fishes, a defeated king, corpses of toys that lost their child, long kisses of the wind blown into the darkness, anchored stars waiting for their turn, the rain. Like lightning on the earth time has shimmered through my bones unknown by day and night. Water mountains blooming wild, shivering soil, the madness coursing through the flooded arteries of Periyar— I still jolt awake at those memories. 4 Did you confuse the mouth of the broken pot with bangles? Did you decipher the scribblings of the mad foreigner to be a new language? Dear Mr. Historian, if you are done seducing the tourists please be seated to listen to this song: As the King for the foreign deity[3] Decreed to build a temple mighty With the same sweat and spirit That we set straight in merit Ploughing sand, lifting stone and timber in mass Building walls, fitting solid doors in brass, The royal caste in a grand manner Stood adorned under greed’s banner. The lower caste soon stepped far aside Cowering at the ‘eternal dharma’ beside Those spaces vacated by the untouchables Then claimed by the insatiable feudal men. Parting the grating sea with rowing oars Under the warmth that the summer sun pours. In the raging winds on the wooden vessel The goddess sways in tune with the waves’ whistle Wearing the sacred sword and chilamb[4] chiming The devotees utter the fucking song[5], dancing— The procession goes on with the mother god blessing She sinks down, the navel of the land caressing As an offering once a Portuguese sailor Sent a bell for the goddess in valour. Its resounding knell became the music of the world And on it is written in praise of his Lord, SEIA OSANTISSIMO NOME DEIESVS LOVVADO[6] The bell’s untold story remains in the temple. Why did you wipe off from the memory the stories of Persian merchants who waited on the shore for goods and spices, the farmer who was forced to sell his black tears[7] for almost nothing, his skinny barren daughters who could never climb up high or flower? Once a lean sailor came in from the sea. In his dreams blazed the vertebra of the sun, the brain of the sky. He left no footprints. Ploughing the soil he sowed his seeds and from there grew tombs like masks on the earth. Hollow hearts bloomed, the waterfall between two dreams dammed itself, the wings of the wild ducks drooped, crows became the dead, the wild smile of a heart appeared in the midday sky, the shivering skeleton of the sun. Several arks came later hunting wild stars; Many sailors, different seeds. I can hear the footsteps of those without footprints thud thud spreading down like lightning from the heart. Dreams fears reflections excitements leave no footprints. When your palm leaves[8] narrate history as stories of mere conquests, the sigh of a rotting harbour reflects a lightning’s smile in the dark. Buried in the earth lie several sculptures: Patirruppattu[9] songs, various news from Greece, Arabia, Persia, a Buddha’s head wrapped in Chinese net, the chime of death in precious stones, cotton, food, weapons, Iziz, Pattini, Kannaki[10]— the women who still guard the corpses of their husbands in the lonely temple tunnels, the wives who turned to stone when the fire feasted upon the city; the steam of their vengeance rising from the ruins. A big drop of wrath covers the sky. The world ends with water and fire. Whose world has ended otherwise? Birth and death— the alpha and omega. Yet, a turtle with ashes in one eye and water in the other upholds our dreams. Its legs hold the weariness of centuries, the varied waters it has been through, the fallen faces innumerable Pallibanaperumal[11], the crucified brought in by Hippalus[12] through the waters, Sankara[13]—the eternal, Arya Sankara[14], rural deities who turned to sand and stone, Naga queens[15], languages festered with smallpox, the barge that washed ashore, a refugee Jew, the farmer of black tears, the smile of death that escaped from the salty lips of drought, the thud thud sound of the last beat that dissolves in the wind without footprints.

5 Like the song of death spreading in the burning cabin of a ship, the presence of sea unfurls in the memory. Its voice crawls into me like the roots of a wild tree creeping into a dead man’s ear, like meeting one’s own future in a desert. I burn in the rhythm of that voice. In the fall of my life time and wind tell me of Bilathi[16] ships landing in Kochazhi[17] crossing the invisible web of machines. The sea lashes hard against my heart, now covered in moss. The decayed roots of a giant tree that had once welcomed thousands of migratory wings lie spread on the soil. I can hear my name slipping into silence my name like a huge turtle crawling into oblivion. In time the wind has managed to slowly heal the old wounds; I leave myself open to new lashes. The fallen doors will open only to the sky; their focus only on the sun and the moon. I can hear the wind brushing past the waves— ascensions and descensions.

Tonle Sap: A Song of Sorrow (To Ramesh) Above the boat, the sky. Far below like a bolt of molten lightning the lake[18]. Like a tired bird that returns to its branches the lake rebounds its course. The fishermen in a moment reverse their oars. Fins lose their balance in a splash. The ferry woman says a few years back along with a hundred lamps, thousands of people and millions of dreams sank in these waters. Her own children the house of her dreams and a pregnant goat had drowned in the memories. As we approach the shore she flirts with tuktuk drivers, bargains over ripe carrots and kicks the lake into laughter. One night when madness rebounds through my arteries I go in search of her where they sell moonlight. Another night I see her melting into my dreams— a lake within a lake, invisible in the wind, a path within a path. Then one morning she blooms near the lake and grows roots in the waters (as if waiting for the return of the dreams exiled to the depths). Her leaves elegant under the sun. Habitat

A friend gifted an indoor plant when a PhD was awarded in our family. Pretending to be a tree the plant stood tall on our dining table spreading its roots into our appetite. After dinner my grandmother, abandoned by her seven children, got an idea of making a nest on the tree. We all laughed. She withdrew from her plan. But from then on every evening the plant lay a white dream; grandmother brooded on them, silent.

 

[1] A river in Kerala that was once a major trade route. [2] Malayalam, the official language of Kerala, has fifty-one alphabets. [3] Tabula Peutingeriana says about a shrine of Augustus near the ancient harbour of Muziris. [4] A sacred hollow anklet. [5] Obscene, devotional songs sung at the Kodungalloor Bharani Festival to appease the goddesses. [6] ‘In the name of the most holy God Jesus’. It is believed that the bell was given to Kodungalloor temple by Udayamperoor church at a time when religious beliefs were more harmonious. [7] Black pepper, one of the major commodities in the spice trade of Kerala. [8] Ancient inscriptions on palm leaves. [9] Classical work in Tamil which has reference about trade in Muziris. [10] Widowed goddesses from Egypt, Sri Lanka and India respectively who have similar stories. [11] A Hindu king of Chera region (now Kerala) who later embraced both Buddhism and Islam. [12] The south-west Monsoon wind used by sailors to cross the Indian ocean. [13] Lord Siva. [14] Adi Shankara, who was once cast out by the Brahmin community, later became the icon of the same commune. [15] Snake worship. [16] An early local slang for England. [17] The old name of Cochin harbour. [18] Tonle Sap, a river in Cambodia, infamous for its flood that seasonally reverses its flow.

 

Winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize, 2022, Syam Sudhakar is a bilingual poet from Kerala, writing both in Malayalam and English. His poems have been translated into several Indian and foreign languages. His poetry functions chiefly on the rich sound patterns of the Malayalam language. He is one of the pioneers to use the technique of magic realism in Indian poetry, a technique that is usually restricted to prose. Syam is based in Kerala and teaches English literature at St. Thomas College, Thrissur.

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