BY MANOHAR SHETTY
My grief was short lived
When you died three months short
Of your hundredth birthday.
There was no breast-beating
As you gave in to fate, leaving
Behind a sense of relief
Almost and an album
Of hinged memories.
That milestone of a century
Would have been a celebration,
But for you only a moment
Of bemusement, wondering
If the fuss was about a grandson’s
Impending engagement or yet
Another birth in our growing family.
We were all present, respectful
Of a long life devoid of bad blood
Or unforgiven transgressions;
Just the crackle and warmth
Of the clouds of ash, incense,
Camphor and a verse of scripture
Rising to a union with the heavens.
There was too much left unsaid
And it’s too late to make amends.
She’s gone and can’t hear you now.
If she had a word to clear the air,
Bridge the space, it still hovers
Unspoken; a grey cloud shredding
Itself under the sun, the promise lost
Of a sudden shower on your upturned face.
He’s gone native, into
Origami and embroidery,
Pottery from local clay, puppetry,
Kite making, wooden toys,
And paintings from raw
He sleeps in the shade
Of oyster-shell windowpanes.
Spun cotton weaves
Through the assembly line
Of his fingers. He has called
It a day with those chimneys
In paddy fields smoking
Into the sky like cigarettes
And to iron and steel
Reddening in foundries.
He has no interest left even
In the clucking of cyberspace.
He listens all night
Instead for the beat
Of the butterfly’s wings
Heralding the storm.
I’m no longer uneasy with these keys.
They’re like plum seats in a dress circle.
I’ve long missed the boat to
A shore filled with real people,
People setting out
To an undiscovered island,
A rarefied mountain summit,
To those fathomless deeps
Where luminous beings
Sway through the darkness.
Or to those forests to discover
Our chest-thumping ancestors.
I have no sense of adventure left
Except here on this screen
With all those characters.
I’m a slave and obey all
Their commands. I enter insert,
Shift page up and page down, delete, scroll.
They keep a willing tab on me as
I escape back to control and home.
We eat everything that breathes,
Even the armour-plated
Pangolin. In defence it
Retreats into its shell,
And other predators.
But for some it’s a prized repast
Though we don’t taste
The seventy million
Ants and termites
It consumes every year;
It enhances our pleasure
That it resembles
A Roman gladiator.
Banner picture of Japan House, London.
Manohar Shetty has recently published Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems (1981-2017)’ (Speaking Tiger, N Delhi), bringing together his eight books of poems and some new work. He has edited Ferry Crossing: Short Stories from Goa (Penguin India, N Delhi,1998) which has gone into several editions and Goa Travels: Being the Accounts of Travellers from the 16th to the 21st Century’ (Rupa, N Delhi, 2014).
You can purchase Full Disclosure here.