indunil madhusankha

 

Retelling the Story of Yasodharā

In the nightly cold of the Esala full moon day,
perhaps she felt an abrupt rush of the bizarre wind
in her usual entanglements – the cozy and pacifying dreams
as He looked at her on the sly,
for a one last moment
to bid silent farewells
He saw the huggable baby in its gentle cradle
feathered with downy pillows
The candles lit beside the bedstead melted away
with the milky tears trickling down hastily
Then He crossed the border of Anomā Nadee
and left behind on the other side,
the beloveds in the elegant edifices
to embrace the Renunciation
in search of the perpetual Truth
She threw the glinting jewelry away
and also the silky garments of splendid embellishments
Swathed in a yellow robe,
she confined herself to the barren cell upstairs
No longer did she taste the luscious royal dishes
She even dared rebuff the love suit of many eminent lords

Sans answers, she is saturated in acute melancholia

“Are you sleeping on a flower-laden divan in the Himālayas?
Does it ache your sweet feet when you stroll barefoot?
Are the divine gods sentineling you with no deficiency?
As majestic as a regal tusker, my dearest, where have you disappeared?”

Immersed in reminiscence,
she would do nothing, but utter incessant prayers

“May all the wild berries and drupes be delicious!
May the disciples abound as a swarm of bees for a flower!
May the scorching rays of the blinding sun shine diminish!
May celestial palaces emerge from league to league!”

Note: The ideas for the stanzas in the italic form have been derived respectively from the verses 98 and 100 of the Sri Lankan Sinhala folk poem, Yasodharāvata (The Story of Yasodharā) the author of which is unknown.  

Glossary
Yasodharā – The princess Yasodharā was the wife of prince Siddhārtha who later attained the Great Emancipation (Nirvāna) and became known as Lord Buddha in the name of Gautama 

Esala – The full moon day of the month of July. It was on such a day that the prince Siddhārtha relinquished the worldly life in order to practice as an ascetic with the great expectation of attaining Nirvāna.

Anomā Nadee – A river in the vicinity of Kapilavastu of the Southern Nepal
Himālayas – The Northern face of the Mount Everest and it has a profound influence on the Buddhist culture.

 

The Lamentation of a Mother

“Amma, when I come the next time,
prepare me some Welithalapa.”
Saying thus you left for work

But all of a sudden like one of your
most remarkable surprises
You came home deposited in a reddish wooden box,
meritoriously adorned with white coloured flowers

I fanned your face with a handkerchief
just to chase the flies away
And caressed your forehead gently
putting some tufts of hair to the top of the head
You were our only son, the greatest treasure of ours

As you were so catching and handsome a young man
and an influential commander in the Army
We had dreamt of a grand wedding ceremony for you
of sublime calibre
with the accompaniment of music
Yet I heard the smoothing rhythm
of neither the violin nor the piano
except the deafening cacophony of brownish iron horses
that they called a respectable gun salute,
and the lachrymose craws of the participants
I can remember,
unlike the others I didn’t weep or whimper
except at the moment the telephone glided from my hand
hearing the very news!

I curse it,
the horrible death messenger

Huge banners of milky white colour
fluttered in the air
On them in plain black letters
inscribed the cliché, “Anichchāwatha Sankhāra.”

Your coffin submerged slowly in to the grave
I exclaimed
clamouring and wriggling to loosen the clasp
that mitigated against my movement,
you could not be in that gloomy pit all alone
Yet the gathering was deaf

They say that now I am going mentally out
I am neither crazy nor violent
But definitely, so should be those war-mongers

Oh, forgive me, my putha, my golden gem,
for not having made Welithalapa for you.

Glossary
Amma – Mother

Anichchāwatha Sankhāra – A part of a Pali verse with the meaning, “everything is subject to decay having been created from perishable bases.” 
   
Putha – Son
    
Welithalapa – A Sri Lankan sweetmeat made of rice, sugar, and coconut

 

I am Scared of the Night

As the dusk creeps
through the summit
the once luscious sun
dips below the rocky mounts
And flocks of birds soar away
weaving intricate patterns
in the grayish sky

Thus the goddess of darkness,
the night
wielding her power
right throughout
while the crickets creak
in their shrill monotonic tune

Hovering round a towering tree
the giant bats
striking their huge wings
with the ghostly shadows
that look like gothic spectres

The stagnant silence long – standing
A silence that has diverse faces
A silence that prickles the souls
immersed in deep sleep
A silence that makes me scared of the night

 

He is a Fisherman

He is a fisherman,
shrewd and seasoned
He has a line
with a workable bait,
the bait of love
rich with ostentatious gesticulations
and highly appealing flirtations
He uses it to catch the fish
that falls easy prey
to the jazzy beauty and
vitality of the bait
He, then, greedily gulps down the flesh of the fish
Finished.
Leaving the skeleton alone,
the fisherman goes in search of another fish,
pretty with iridescent fangs

 

I am not Going to Prepare Kevun this Time

Loku Naenda sitting still on a bench
watched the framed photograph
of her son, my cousin,
that made an exhibition of him
in his army uniform and fortitude
My puerile questionnaire had its flow
as usual
One question of mine
received an answer,
which obviously touched my heart

“Wouldn’t you prepare some kevun for the new year?
The nicest, your konde kevun.”
“No putha, I am not going to prepare kevun this time,
What kevun for me?
I have already lost appetite.”

As her speech came to an end
she returned to the photograph
and traced the contours of his figure
with her quivering fingers.

This time the koha didn’t sing
its ritual new year song
in its seminal tone
Only the strident,
reedy tune of the crows
hobbling in the compound

Glossary
Kevun - Oil-cake. It is a traditional Sri Lankan sweetmeat made of rice and sugar and is served particularly in festive occasions. The village folk are used to consider it as a taboo to cook or eat kevun in sorrowful situations especially when there is a funeral.

Koha - The cuckoo bird. It announces the arrival of the New Year in the beginning of April.

Konde Kevun - A type of kevun or oil-cake (See kevun)
      
Loku Naenda - This is how somebody calls the eldest sister of their father in Sinhala

Putha - Son     

 

Oasis

All the living are a caravan
caught in the sterile desert of suffering
Embattled in the timeless
sansāric journey
Sans a purpose,
quite unaware of a way of crossing the desert

The Buddha, the most fabulous of all teachers
Now is in the oasis,
having circumvented the barrenness

Renunciation,
as the Blessed One preaches,
clears the path to the salvation,
to the Oasis,
located beyond the arid desert of suffering

 

Wake Up and Shout Out!
(In protest of the incident of a five-year-old girl being mercilessly assassinated after a brutal sexual harassment on September 12th, 2015 in the Kotadeniyawa area of Sri Lanka.)

She was just five
Now reclining mutely inside
the wooden box
lost in a deep siesta

All day long she would
sprint here and there
in the compound
Stalking with her hands clasped together
to catch the butterflies
that were buzzing around
the flowery bushes
Or she would cook some sand rice
using a coconut shelf as a mould
and urge her mother to eat them

While jumping from square to square
sketched in the courtyard
she would incessantly blabber
some lines of songs
that she heard playing on the radio
Such a chatterbox
sleeping long in the daytime
without muttering a word
No, no way,
She must be masquerading as asleep
just to act fool with her mother
How could her tiny childish thighs bear it?
Perhaps she screamed
while cold tears poured down
her fresh rosy cheeks
And then, there was this noose
made out of a strip of cloth
that tightened around her slender neck

Oh, little girl,
You can’t vanish into the soil like that
Wake up from sleep,
march along the streets
and shout out
for the sake of your sisters!

 

To a Street Girl I Saw

Your permed hair
and gaped mouth
still do I remember
Between your dried lips.
there were the brownish stained teeth
that never gleamed.
You had made your home in a grey corner
of the scruffy pavement
and a companion in a skeletal puppy.
The torn out frock with its receding thread
attached to the thin figure of sickly constitution.
The sputter of a coin or two
in your stained, discarded sardine tin
was your sole communication.
Goggle eyes fixed upon you
and pupils in them dashing up and down
While the night gorilla hurrying
amidst the street buildings
your soft whimper heard by nobody.
At times you were beside a public dustbin
scavenging leftovers amidst a heap of cellophane.
Your still eyes, I know, bore an expression
and they revealed everything.

 

A Portent Warns a Soldier’s Wife

The gutter of the wrenching lamp flame
twisting itself wildly
made a warning
It jumped, skipped, pulled
and spun round and round
And was,
in the end,
dragged away by the roar of a brisk wind
Her pulsation was hit for a moment…
Throughout that night,
she was armed against her heart
The next day,
it was late in the morning
as she learnt he was gone,
Gone with that very flame of her lamp.

 

The Death

“That nāki gaeni is at the jaws of death.”
The commonly mouthed typical phrase,
she often applied to describe her mother-in-law
who was about to leave for heaven
She was admitted in the hospital
Chronically unwell old woman,
more dead than alive, on a bed in the ward,
looked like a torn out slatternly mat
With a wheeze her breast bobbed up and down
She was the hapless victim of the constant condemnation
dispersed by the daughter-in-law
who reviled the Crabbed age
as incessantly as a radio

The latter’s mother was of unimaginably good health
The energetic power of a young woman
the possession of which drove the others to envy

One day the postman knocked his bell
to give the daughter-in-law a telegram
That was from her mother’s home
convening her insistently sans a reason
So she did it
As she stepped on the verandah
she exploded into an abruptly pervasive screech
of which the reverberation repeated
for about a minute
passing from ear to ear
among the dumbfounded participants
who were like vertically grown sticks

Crashed on the floor, at first,
the bag gripped in her hands
Secondly,
she herself, all of a sudden, as if shot

Her mother,
hacked to death due to a motor accident,
was laid on the coffin
like an actress masquerading as dead in the television.

Glossary
Nāki gaeni        An informal way of referring to an old woman in Sinhala   

 
We Revere Him

We honor him, we respect him, and we revere him
for his monkhood and incumbency

It is no less a contribution that the priest renders
in financial matters
pertaining to the constructions
and the performance of the pujās

He highly commends vegetarianism
Yet he is more a carnivore
Before the plate of pork,
he seems ravenous
and simply shivers

Arrack is perhaps his favourite drink
Sometimes he preaches in a stuttering voice
like a drunken bone

Next comes the worst secret
It is rumoured that he is guilty on cohabitation
and has two children in a slum
in close proximity to the holy place
Yet the extent of his great kindness
Oh, such a compassion
He sends money to sustain them

On the auspicious days, he prays and meditates,
mutely concentrating in trance

A question here emerges,
Is the noble robe the refuge of rascals?

 

The Altar Left Untidy

At the sacred monastery
in the midnight
Bo leaves twisting in a stormy wind
the head priest dragged the novice away
into his chamber
A volley of scurrilous verbal threatening broke out
The novice’s robe, promptly pulled off
and he on flight to the corner
Words of serenely recited Gāthās
now drifting apart
The child shuddered in nude timidity
He struggled to ward off
the flute’s emission of symphony
Yet the childish limbs were too weak
And vigorous bones proceeding
The pig plundering the orchard
with wild convulsion on the child’s flesh
His purpose was answered
At last, the novice,
scrambled back briskly
and got swaddled in the dirty robe
and devoid of a second look
rushed off.

The alter left untidy,
with ashy dregs of incense sticks
and remains of faded flowers, withered!

 

 


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