A monkey swallows the sun, unpeeled fruit of the sacred river.
I have crossed two oceans, ferried through the straits of Malacca.
I’ve been swept in the current of a borrowed language to the steps
of this ghat offering my puja of pushpa, chandan, deepak, dhup;
awake to the clamour of death, the drips and splashes of water,
awake to the sound of sitars, temple bells and Shiva’s conches.
It’s too early for the bhangra, in Benares the sons of merchants
sleep the heady slumber of paan. A crow sits in the mango tree
as a pigeon trainer scatters grain, paying homage to the dawn.
The river is flotsam, forgetting her deities, shedding her scales.
Soon, in the morning breeze kites will rise and plummet with the ash
of burning flesh. I too am a kite; the strings of my words tangle.
Hanuman, it is said the shadow of a god measures thirty yojans.
You overcome calamities the size of mountains. Your shadow
slips between temples, an alter-ego moving between two worlds.
First appeared in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
What was it like to be dead? Not crucified or entombed,
but whichever way you turned, your head sliced from your body
by Shiva’s sword, while Parvati detoxed in a scented spa.
To be shaped from sandalwood by the hands of a goddess,
to invite the gesture of a mudrā, to be remodelled auspiciously
by a north-facing elephant, a svástika, a seal of the ancient Indus.
Lord of the ganas, a woman’s dangerous moods returned your life,
improbable and half remembered. You are not the father’s phallus.
You guard the granaries, the terracotta tablets and inscriptions
of those cremated and uncremated. The heroes in temple carvings,
comic books, television dramas, and gold-foil Tanjore paintings
were recorded by you, for Vyasa, the sage. What tectonic affair,
what orogeny hurtled you into the present? I wonder by what
Gangetic detour you arrived—Beas, Yamuna, Bhramaputra?
Perhaps your chakra is subterranean and your mantra, a trinity.
Aum precedes afterlife: in one incarnation, you are three worlds.
Your appellations translate appearance undecayed: a single tusk,
the fecundity of a potbelly and the feminine noun for wisdom.
I dreamed you came riding past my house on a skateboard.
Christ chose a donkey. But you, a spiritual pest inspector, arrived
to clean out the cobwebs, to expose the heart’s furtive parasites.
There were rodents and menaces of all kinds I needed to subdue.
It was not by judgement, or prophecy, nor the visions of Ezekiel.
I had no wish to restore the dry bones— all I wanted was release.
You bridge the living gap between brahmins and sudhras.
Congress pitched you, a symbol of protest against colonial rule—
god of everyman, everywoman, all sects. In the pantheon
of deities your rise is phenomenal. Ganpati, you’re a celebrity
dancing in stone, wood or plaster. Acolyte or principal divinity,
you are a god of transitions, passages, doorways, merchants.
Once at Chathurti, I saw you on a bright red pandal adorned
with vermillion, kumkum and modakas. Bhangra and hip-hop
played as you sunk beneath silt to where the river touches earth.
First appeared in Indian Literature, 257