Thursday, October 8, 2015

Three Mahabharat Poems

Once, I had a book contract: six stories that followed perspective of six women characters from Hindu Mythology (Sita, Radha, Shikhandi / Amba, Anasuya, Shakuntala, and Satyavati). This contract was triggered by my story, "I, Sita," which was published with Freedom Fiction Journal. I worked, re-worked, and revised all six stories, tried to meet expectations of editors across oceans. My efforts, however, fell short: the editors dropped my project, claiming that they did not have the editorial support my stories needed. It took me months to acknowledge that my work of over two years has come to naught.

I now have six well-dressed characters, waiting; I watch them sitting around on my desktop, adjusting their clothing, glancing questioningly around, and I wish I could apologize. They no longer have anywhere to go. How do I tell them? These six characters are very strong women: diplomats, queens, warriors, lovers, yogis, all ferocious, two attained apotheosis, one even re-born as a man to exact her revenge. I, their messenger of ill-tidings, would not be allowed to exist in the same room as any of them. Whatever will they say? What will they do to me when they hear? Do I even have language to phrase what I must tell them?

Well-wishers and friends keep asking after the book contract; how far has it gone? When is the book being released? My head hangs even lower at these inquiries. A lot of  people had promised to be the first to buy a book such as the one I was working on. How do I bring them to where my characters await?

I do not resent the work, of course. I'd do it all over again, and gladly. It was a labor of love. I learned a great deal, both about the myths and the way I write. I am not the same. Perhaps that is enough. After all, in the final analysis, I wrote mainly for myself. The one person who truly enjoyed the stories has been me; I wonder at my whining!

Let me remind myself: I do have a few poems published. Here are a couple of poems. They are included in Swaranrekha, an anthology of poets from the Indian Subcontinent. Perhaps these voices will give heart to me and my muted characters.

Gandhari Explains
My sons number in hundreds, like iron fillings
Almost indistinguishable, black and hard like my chosen darkness
The birthing was difficult; I prayed for death and release
Posterity wishes I had died, rather than birth what I did
I don’t, of course. I understand their necessity;
This black age needed them to prick itself with, to corrode from within, rust, disintegrate
This knowledge brings no hope, no comfort, no wisdom, no divine insight
I find the false light intolerable, like a transparent, insincere promise
Of a maybe-paradise-after-life if certain cosmic forces are benign
If I can embody ideal of good-wife, good-mother, good-queen
But these good-women cancel each other out, contradict each other,
Pop and blink each other out of existence when they try to be
I prefer denial, the softness of the blindfold, a chosen lack
To keep the balanced universe on its toes, force some boon,
The heavy price already paid in advance, like a flexible spending account
For I have known of my sons’ nature from the time they were a glint,
A splinter of shining metal, glowing darkly in their blind father’s eyes
Which only see his lot shortened, cheated, overlooked
No deity, demon, being can force me to watch in 3-D Kodak color
The slow destruction of an era dying in my sons’ faults,
Their thousand-and-one trespasses on divine patience
All their juvenile assassination attempts laughed off as boys-being-boys
Their malicious tricks and sneers they thought I was too blind to see, shards in my breast
They were indulged when they should have been slapped silly: an expense to be paid by
This world, the golden city my oldest rules justly, if not wisely
Do you wonder why I chose this blindness now? With a
Brother like mine, Husband like mine, Sons like mine,
Would you have chosen differently?
Yet do not call me cursed! I have that
Which Kunti, even, could not coax of the gods:
My dismissed daughter that you forgot, who did not forget me
Stoic and iron-willed, surviving father, uncles, brothers, cousins, husband
After the bloody apocalypse of eighteen days, I need only her touch to bless
My forfeit of illusory sight. The divine nephew, charioteer of victors and kin-killers knows
She is the kindness the cosmos was forced to surrender to my stubborn blindness.

Ganga, Unable
The light confuses me, twisting colors, weaving hues
I keep squinting, unable to focus on a single dimension
Seeing too many tenses at once, unable to hold moments singly
Unable to dwell on a penumbra to tell if it’s dawn or dusk 
I should never have left my heavenly streams
There is such peace, such uniformity in darkness beyond space
This tellurian world demands I assume a safe domesticity,
Properly befitting my gender, scholarship, ancestry, origin
I try, tried modulating gracefully in sweet tones of wifehood, queen-ship
But these cloths, though silken and pliant like my waters,
Do not fit.
They keep slithering about, like the king’s promises,
Get stuck and break apart, like dark suspicions,
Whisper severe doubts along deserted palace halls,
Remain opaque and unyielding so my fluid self is cloaked
 I sit here, at the window seat, my hands idle
The mynah on the mango tree screeches sweetly as she despoils the fruit
I must leave soon; I see the forbidden question squatting on the sunset
Unspoken as yet, but imminent, inevitable, like you, my newly conceived son 
             I only want to keep you formless within me, my taintless child, spun of waves and swords,
Like this ageless song snatched from the tenuous plundering bird;
You don’t agree and insistence on proper whittling distresses me
I am relieved when the bird flies off to desecrate other unripe fruit 
A lucid glance at my husband shocks as I rise in greeting and recognition:
For when I see the king through my variegated veil, I am unable to un-see
                               The obsequious timeworn son behind the temerarious impulsive father.

Finally, here is one of my favorites. It was posted on this page some years ago and is included in my book.

Arjun at the Swayamvar
Being best friends with the divine doesn’t help
The same old intrigue and desperations led me to this contest and fire
My arrow, though true to its mark, is fueled by mortal sinew and blood
The eye it snags spits out tissue and nerve
The whole exercise feels like a hoax, a bad deal with too-tiny small print
But the Fire Princess seems oblivious to any cosmic conspiracy
Seeing only the promise and comfort of my muscled shoulder, my twinkling glance
Admiring only the sensuous garland entwining my bronzed epithelium. 

I lower my eyes (she is shorter by a full head) to hint at my noble humility
She exchanges a quick glance with her brothers, one divine, one fiery
Seeking assurance for the rightness of her choice, the propriety of what is happening

I too look around, but my brothers have forgotten me in the moment
They all are busy blinking tears, of victory, of gratitude
You’d think I’d blinded them when my arrow targeted the fish eye.

They do not smell the fog of envy that clouds the Hall
It stings my eyes as it rises to the canopy and darkens the skies 

 I wonder what sightlessness descended when my arrow pierced that eye
The contest feels weighed, like loaded dice, a veneer covering a warning
A clanging prothalmion sung as prelude to apocalypse
My shoulders sag under the heaviness of flowers as I lift the bridal garland with sure hands
And hang my head to accept the burdensome future of a dying age.

It is my hope that these three voices will remind me how much I loved the project, the stories, and the characters that emerged and began speaking. I am very fortunate that I was allowed to hear. Telling is complicated and could take long. After all, it took my characters all of my life time to reach me! But if they can reach me across the oceans of myths and millennia, I am hopeful that my telling may yet reach out those who await it.


  1. I still have hopes for that book of yours!

    1. Thank you for that hope! It is a kindness. I don't knw what i'd do without it


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