This New Year’s midnight, 2005,
people no longer craned their necks
like roosters at the sound of crackers.
Troubles are no longer social,
at least not now that our jungle rovers
are merely roving the city streets,
armless without arms.
From Mumbai, Arvik sent me peace and poetry.
Certainly, brutal hegemony must end.
Certainly, missiles and car bombs must be silent.
I’m neither with the one nor the other.
But sad, Arvik! wishing for peace is like wishing
for heaven, and I have stopped dreaming
since the woman who opened my heart like a pear tree
in early spring also became the winter of its barrenness.
Wish as you might, I doubt if poetry could ever flourish
in peace, or that I could ever turn from lament to praise.
Troubles are no longer social,
at least not for us since calamities
are experienced only as live telecasts.
As the sea spits humans like bad food,
we burst in revelry, watching stars
explode in our faces.
I have come to this village perched above
the deep distant gorges of my hometown
to escape the bludgeoning mawkishness of tragedy.
Very grudgingly, I had allowed the deduction
of a day’s salary. But to all those who came for more,
I merely said, “Nature must shake off its burden
or crumble and die like an overworked beast.”
And then, “How would I know that what we give
is what they will get?”
But now I have come here, for the in face of this carnage,
my convictions would only have turned me into a scoundrel.
The Archbishop of Canterbury had launched a searing sermon:
“The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits
suffering on this scale?’ is, therefore, very much around
at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t—
indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t.”
The Pope had produced a predictable answer:
“Faith teaches us that even during the most difficult
and painful of tests… God will never abandon us.”
I’m getting away from these too,
from questions and justifications,
and of course, from the sickening head count,
as if this thing from the ocean
is just another Master Blaster,
already making two centuries and a half
and fast heading for the triple tons. 2
I have come here to rinse and replenish my thoughts,
to forget all the little irritants of my days, only to find
too much forgetfulness. The bells ring with the glory
of an alien land, and as we swallow the holiness
of unknown deserts and follow the history of the diaspora,
nobody can tell me the meaning of your name.
Laitkynsew! today I will plumb the depths
of your tangled ravines. He who has not trodden
the rock bottom of these precipices can never claim
he really knows his land.
The sweet smell of burnt grass; the crackle of burnt tinder;
the cerulean smoke raising its flag of cinder; the orange flames
feasting raucously, all together, all at once like bratlings;
the motley grasshoppers scattering, fleeing their homes
like those poor Palestinians— I’m beginning to remember
my childhood again. This, my children, is what we call “saiñding”,
fighting fire with fire.
The jungle is a village enclosing villages, crisscrossed
by ancient pathways, fed by shadowy springs running
through split bamboos like flyovers in cities. In this village,
the silence is its peace; the soft rivulets, its secrets;
the songbirds, its celebration; the boulder-strewn rivers,
its magnificence. In this village, the living roots of rubber trees
are the lifeblood.
Ficus elastica! “Living-root Bridges”, “Living-root Ladder Bridges”,
and Nongriat, “The Double-decker Root Bridge”! Feast your eyes,
behold the magnificent gift of the jungle, the simple genius
of the old ones, the hand of man guiding the artistry of Mother Earth,
shaping this crown and breathing beauty of the ancient world.
The Japanese hail this entwining treasure, “A bio-engineering wonder,
the only kind in the world”. 3 Gaze upon it, the land’s “enlightenment” 4
we must seek; the glory we must acknowledge; the hymn we must sing.
This is the legacy we must leave: not bombs and impossible causes;
nor flashy cars and concrete structures, the targets of all our ambitions,
the decay of our lives. I would like to grow upwards like this shaggy spirit
of the gorges, branching outwards, laying a bridge that is the living root
of the race, the link between times and generations, the lifeline
of ages gone, the reminder of how well we had lived and had served.
I have learnt so much from this jungle, simple things
like the name of “Phandieng”, tree-potato, with its tall thin stem
and its stout tuberous root. I have learnt to differentiate
between green and wild pepper. I have seen the flaming areca-nut
dangling in bunches from the tousle top of its branchless tree,
straight and smooth as a lamp post. I have followed the path
of the betel-leaf as it creeps along the forest floor and up
the moss-enfolded trunks for a peep at the sky. I have seen birds
that I have only heard of. I have listened to the soft cajoling
of Ki Slang, the melodies of Jlaeit, the distressed call of Jyllob,
the ominous rumble of Pohkrong and the forlorn sadness of Kairiang.5
I have watched girls of bewitching loveliness
flitting from tree to tree, giving us a shy smile
from their wood-shaded huts. How I wish
I could pluck these “half-hidden” violets
to keep them in my flower pots!
I have come to understand the incredible bountifulness
of this place, and its incredible hardship
as my limbs tremble from mere descending and ascending.
In the late afternoon bees swarm about their crevice hives,
buzzing in from the four winds, delivering their cargo of nectar.
As they hover like helicopters amidst the confused drone
of their wings, it seems to me that these divine manufacturers,
like the entire planet, are also air-dropping Tsunami relief materials.
Yes, I too shall go gather some bee-water.
Villages stuck into the cliff face like glow-worms,
floating in the dark void like a reflection of stars
and cruise ships in the sea.
I have come here feeling like a kitchen rag,
only to emerge from the jungle with the taste of ripe fruits
and the scent of bay leaf forever in my soul.
1 The name of a village near Sohra. It overlooks the many wooded canyons running down towards Bangladesh. 2 According to theage.com.au, as of 10 February 2005, the Tsunami death toll was placed at around 296,000. 3 See www.cherrapunjee.com. 4A message from Soso Tham’s major poem. 5 Ki Slang, Jlaeit, Jyllob, Pohkrong and Kairiang are names of popular songbirds.
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih