Treasure Island

Ayyappa Paniker

(12 September 1930 - 23 August 2006 / Kavalam, Kerala, India)

Hoogly


Stop writing about rivers!
Rivers bring in flood waters
and drown the towns.
The long-awaited rains
swell into seas.
Hooghly is no river;
she is an ocean,
the end of all time,
floating huts,
writhing beasts,
dogs that don't bark,
cats that have lost their appetite,
virgins who no longer blush,
mothers not worried about kids,
labourers that dream of long legs,
refugees that wake not from their pavement sleep,
beggars praising the philanthropists of heaven.
Hooghly is the ultimate truth,
the embrace of darkness.

Sing no more about rivers!
They cleanse sewers with fresh water;
they dispel the dirt of the ages;
they wash the tired roads with Gangajal,
and give them a new life;
they gather the tears of the grieving man
to raise the salinity of the sea;
intertwining thoughts that refuse to flow,
they line up the crowds in long marches,
and make them reverberate as a single slogan.

High tide in the Hooghly,
verbal tirade in the A.I.R.,
deluge of pictures in the T.V.,
the glory of Ganga where the snows of sin melt,
the splendour of Bengal where sinners dissolve,
the tremulous voice of Rabindranath, poet of all seasons,
Calcutta, the city of cities -
Hooghly enfolds everything.

The night of miracles has come.
Dharmtala Street turns into Lenin Sarani;
history takes a deep breath in Satranj ke khilari;
the Victoria Memorial pales in the eyes of Vivekananda;
the National Library pays homage to Vallathol.
Above the branches of the trees that break and fall,
above the rainclouds that startle and crash;
above the howl of the turbulent hurricane,
flames the Rebel of Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Under the frozen streets,
within the sobbing bubbles,
in the wing-wispers of the birds that have crashed
through the cold and lost their way,
Banalata Sen roams about seeking Jibanananda.

Nightmares that have moved into the city involuntarily
from villages exhausted and haunted by the irregularities
of the weather
hungers squeezing the breasts withheld from bones,
the present munching groundnut on Chowrangee Street,
the invisible city swaying behind the visible one,
the river digging up the city's roots for their scent,
the bridge of marrowless bones across the river,
the rails pointing their fingers towards Howra, the houri
of the city,
the bustle weary of itself at last in the search for silence;
Naresh, Naresh!
a father who has reached the other world calls
from the other half of the homeland now split,
and the feathered leadership of religious rift
that turned the land of gold into a sheet of lead echoes,
Naresh, Naresh!
The snake-waves of the Hooghly, the wave-snakes
of the Padma
hiss and shout; Girish, Mahesh, Suresh...
the tale of a hardship that has filtered down
in the shadow of the sword-wielding Kali,
the holy dip in the gurgling, bursting sewage canal,
the peace quest of Santiniketan, now washed
by the flood;

Calm down, Hooghly, calm down!
You are only a river,
just a water channel,
a plough-cut furrow.

Poets and story-tellers have gone to protect the roots
of the villages;
the villagers in their turn have sought refuge in the towns,
And the ministers go on their rounds
to frighten the Hooghly into obedience.
``Five hundred are dead,
six hundred are nowhere to be seen...''

Every season has its own melody.
Hiren Mukherji whispered to Jyoti Basu;
``Socialism seems to be closing in on us.''
Siddharta Shankar Ray reminded P.C. Sen;
``Haven't I said this earlier? ''

There's nothing that they haven't said earlier;
Hooghly laughed,
Hooghly who is unwilling to flow under the bridge,
Howrah swinging and clinking in her chains,
the ulcer stench scattering wide from partitioned power.

Once upon a time there was a river valley civilisation here.
Floods were cheaper then.
In those days there came a wayfarer, a wastrel,
from the land of two monsoons,
but no record of his whispers to history has survived.

A river
and a city
gobbled up each other.
What you've seen is its memorial,
What you've heard.

Submitted: Thursday, September 06, 2012
Edited: Thursday, September 06, 2012

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