Is there Now – Karun Menon, Chennai

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E – phe – me – ral
what does it mean?
asked I adolescent
a fuzz above the lip
pimpled face that
promised manhood

Wiping glass thick and sphere
with a smile that wrinkled
another wrinkle which knew
truths and days that ravaged
bodies and burned minds
She had said slowly

“What is there
and now not there”!

Confused I had looked
back into a weathered
cover of ‘Binodini’
a prize in a competition
of a mother’s early music journey
And I had repeated
That is there ……
And now not there?

When portions of heart & life
are placed on white shroud
wiping tulsi and sesame
across huge banana fronds
on desolate court yards
that resonate voices
sharp & soft
of strength & despair
rolled beds and floors washed
wet eyes dried out and empty
I had asked
that is there . . . . .
and now not there !

Green groves hummed with
birds & quarrelling squirrels at mornings
mating dogs and cats at night
now moved down by machines
and the terrifying roar of choppers
where luxury apartments would rise.
Burn the soil day after day
to make the mud
hard flat barren
so that dreams that wash
T.V.Screens can be erected
box on box
one above the other.
Stumps glare back
at my desolate balcony
where mother waits
with cooked rice for
a coloured tail mynah
who used to angrily demand
lunch from green branches.
An old cranky aunt
she said of our tharavad
who had died unmarried
with longing and must
now at least be made
happy if not content!
in silence Amma watches the spot
that homed her favourite gulmohar
while lorries smack in glee
as booties of remains
get stacked & loaded

Eyes that now need drops to wet
hidden in a cavern
a mouth closed in toothless silence
a faded blue nighty
the smocking peeled & fallen
a chest that once had breast
years that had crumbled to powder
a plastic sheet on a bed
Suddenly she reached
out to cover a
white bone knee
eyes vacantly searching
halting on days
when she had massaged
virgin oil and lathered
musk turmeric on her fair skin
spraying eau –de–cologne
wiping between washed toes for hours
with soft muslin.
What is there . . . . .
and now not there!

When eyes meet at
wedding of another
after uncounted years & days
Pretend friend or stranger friend
you with wife
She with a gift on
her arm from another
you wish, she smiles
wife ask, you know?
faint doubt flickers you think
in the kohl rimmed eyes
and you hurriedly say
yes! same college and look away . .
to beaches with desolate
bungalows searched out
on friend’s car where
you could never have
enough of each other’s
bodies hungrily shared
devoured again and again.
Now spent
little fingers knotted in each other
bed wet with sweat
our breath matches the
slow whirl of a fan
gaze fixed above in silence
and she had said
I can’t imagine a
life without . . . .
imagine we did not
but lived we did
for a decade and more.

Across heads and dried
curry plates of a buffet
I see she, Mother wife
Gently folding prawn and pulao
on her finger feeding
an eager little mouth
while husband watches.
Wine red blouse, a string of pearls
that nape with a dot
and
a mind that could cask away!

what is there . . . .
and now not there!

Days of mourning over
feast done, temples visited
returned to the room
where we had lived and
sent away
brother all of twenty
opens a rexine trunk
an ochre silk
aged and wise
tulsi beads that smell
of sandal and saffron
Gospel of Sarada Devi
covered in old brown paper
eyes glazed
he slumps like a sack
a sigh so heavy
that it bounces even this day
on those powder blue walls
what Is there . . . .
and now not there!

Now, then and ever
when brow & belly
touch stone floors in shrines
of ages unknown
Mahamaya!! I say
in an obeisant whisper
that strings
the endure with bulbs of hope!

Glossary of terms

Binodini – A famous novel on doomed love by Rabindranath Tagore.

Sarada Devi – A lady Indian mystic and saint and wife of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
who lived in the late 19th century.

Mahamaya – A Sanskrit term for describing the divine mother god as a creator
of the grand illusion.

Tharavad – Ancestral matrilineal families of Kerala

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