Otherwise Why Should You Be Human Poem by Shakti Chattopadhay

Otherwise Why Should You Be Human

A group of mud-smeared dark boys

Their loin-clothes raised above their knees
Excitedly catching fish, as they plunge into the water
Beside the ankle-high ridge in the middle of the pool.
Over on the other side
Their loin-cloth pouches fill with little jiyal
Their hollow hampers full already
Draining away water from one side of the pool
Into the other half
So they can grab the fish with bare hands.
Before the rains
The earth dry and parched
The naked backs of the boys burning in the sun
Like the outside of earthen pots darkened
In the smoke of burning sawdust
While they desperately pat themselves on the back
With wet mud to bring down the summer heat
Trying hard --
And later
Would come the inevitable rolling in the soft slime
For this was not the time to use the usual
Net-baskets of bamboo.
It's time now
Simply to run over the lowly varieties of fish
And seize them
And gulp the fish down, fried.
Even if no cooking oil is there.
And if one is lucky to catch any shol
Then, to roast this fish and take these
with a bowl of watered rice-
Enough if there is a little salt to go with it.
In the first rains
As mudskippers wriggle up with whirring noises
And streams rush down from high hillocks
To fill the pools, now clear and pellucid-
Delighted, the small fish rise
Erect with their barbed bodies
Becoming difficult to get a hold on them.
And bristles?
Yes, there are.
As there are ways and ways
Or else life can't go on.
It is the same everywhere in the world
It has to be caught the right way.
Otherwise it slips through your hands
And isn't there your loss or gain in this?
But, let things be as they are.
In the eyes of that man behind
One has to reach out for some such example
Of success, struggle or fear-
Otherwise why should you be human?
You could have been a shy mimosa creeper!

[Translated by Jayanta Mahapatra]

Shakti Chattopadhay

Shakti Chattopadhay

Baharu, 24 Parganas / India
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