nandini sahu



It makes or mars the design
presents words nude
yet hides nudity.
Transmits the vision that
what cannot be found here
can be found nowhere.
It is the beauteous damsel
with the voice of a nightingale.
It is eloquent
and wordless.
Filtered through the brain, it
hides seconds and centuries
it reveals
centuries in a second.
It’s a confluence
of living and dying,
it reverberates
‘Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!’


A Story Untold, in Bits and Pieces

I am holding off words
to say anew my untold story
to make my small world
open to one and all.
This is the only thing we share
this is why my days are
desolate and my nights so barren.
After years of this hide and seek
I discover myself
a willing victim.
This tale has been certain
and unstoppable —
like death, like time.
Our mutual agreement to be with
each other through thick and thin
is now seeming pallid
this tale
in bits and pieces.

When I am not with you
it doesn’t matter who I am with.
But then, I am always alone, an abandoned
song, a lyric unfinished.

Slowly I am becoming a myth
a vessel into which even a changeling can
pour his blue-battered soul.
In this tale
with my star antics
I disarm the world
but my dreams collapse
like toy houses of children.

Anyway, these daggers piercing
the fallen flowers
this pain
is my capital investment for a future
beyond price.

Are some stories



She passed away. Suka-maa
Suka’s mother. Suka’s–Sakunta’s–
Shakuntala’s mother.
She was the mother earth,
the virtual mother of we six sisters.
In our loving, perhaps she loved less her
Suka, Shaila and Koili, her own daughters.

One day, we flew the nest
making her grope
and forever brood.
Today, Sukamaa
(had she any other name?) died.

When a poor one taps my car window
in the red lights of Connaught Place
I feel a shudder of relief that
I am not on the opposite side.
The leitmotif of time – has it
made me somewhat esoteric?
Then who reminds me time and again
of Sukamaa, our childhood
domestic help, our foster-mother,
the rural poor Kutia Kondh
illiterate old tribal woman,
deprived, downtrodden,
the subaltern
one among the crores
that constitute real India?

Sukamaa, the real homemaker
in our suburban household,
she would fight with our
for being strict with us, would
not mind if my younger sisters
urinated or shit on her lap.
Shy about the criss-cross tattoos
on her rather pretty face (which
her mother had etched to
make her less-beautiful, thus, less-desirable!),
she would swear about tales from
her youth, when many men
were engrossed with having
just a glance of her!
We were a foil set against her
to depict her ugliness,
her tattooed face.
We felt so purified after
we had disbursed our dirt on her.
We felt so pretty when
we hoisted ourselves straight across her ugliness.
Her ease adorned her.
Her culpability consecrated us.
Her feebleness made us glimmer with health.
Her inelegance made us
reason we had wisdom.
Her inarticulateness made us trust
we were persuasive.
Her poverty kept us lavish.
We sharpened our personalities on her,
propelled our charms
with her fragility
and nodded in the imaginary world
of our power.

we are sophisticated, articulate.
We confront life with ease
like we did for years
without knowing that it was she
in her ugly, sordid, squalid
haunt who prayed for us
day and night.
Today we pretend
with decent planning for intelligence.
Reschedule deceptions
and call them a point.
We are coping with the tough
business called life, facing the
predicaments of survival,
tearing apart the bonding
between her and us.
Villages have given way to cities;
we have moved
from innocence to experience.

Her story is an incredible mosaic
about a generation, our generation
of the metropolis, the NRIs —
ashamed of Sukamaa’s poverty amid
our chaotic urbanization.
Forgetting that
Sukamaa created a symphony
of time and place.
Eating a proper meal was an indulgence
not meant for her, she felt.
between two worlds – her poor
thatched house and our luxurious
apartment – contradicting,
empathizing, appalling, opposing each other.
Her dedication had no master plan.
Her dream was only to watch
us, rising stars in
a galaxy where the privileged
disdain the sprawling slums.

Sukamaa’s silent death inquires:
Will human goodness
silently triumph someday?
Will we ever get over our fascination
with feigning melancholy and
become like her?
Isn’t it the conscientiousness of
unwitting bystanders like myself
which drives the telling of her untold tale
amid all the sagas of quick-fix
T.V. specials on yoga, beauty care,
weight loss and wealth-gain?
Isn’t it my moral obligation
to an unmindful posterity
to relay Sukamaa’s slum-dog tale?


A Letter to My Love

It has really been ages
since I penned you a letter,
my grey-eyed love.

A letter to you, today
discounting the years
of our shared hurt.

The eons have controlled us,
relegating our lives
to their executors, even for discourse,

even during the eras when we managed
not to write, having even misplaced
our ability to voice.

Perchance our love expressed itself for us.
Perhaps not. Its semantic is
not yours or mine.

Since then it has been with us;
we have relocated and finished with the glooms
of reverie, as if a passage

through them were the only means
we could use to consume our edges
and devour our spectacles.

Rambling through those shades
I have perceived the footfalls of relatives
and folks who left us

because they couldn’t bear more.
Have you heard them?
They barely have any meaning now

for we never mattered to them.
Today we have learnt to endure;
we are submissive, being victims to the centuries.

Let kith or kin stay that way, and
let there be no remorse.
Therefore, this letter, poised.

Read this, lying beside me, while
my fingers move through your hair
the way they did the day you said you loved me.



A man was sitting, sadly;
I did not know him.
I only knew the masquerade of sorrow.

I smiled at him.
He did not know my smile.
Only knew the sharing.

I extended my hands.
We did not know each other’s hands.
Only knew walking hand-in-hand.

I picked up a handful of salt water.
I did not know his tears.
Only knew our thirst quenched, hearts drenched.



Why is it that they tell me
I look dignified
after much humiliation?
My life is full of such trivialities.
I know this much,
I am in Arjuna, and he in me;
I am seeking release in the love of my lord —
And in Karna — in a strange corner of my heart!
One after another shock
ensnares me, like a China doll.
I am not myself.
I am not Arjuna’s only love,
nor Krishna’s;
nor even Karna’s lone victim,
nor the diadem-studded queen;
none of these am I.
I embrace ‘all’, I bleed in ‘all’.
In the Kurusabha,
in my long clothes, my shame in armour, spread-
eagling in all.
This body I wear is not mine.
Like the expansive earth, it encompasses ‘all’.
My five sons —
particles of my blood –
I know not their roots. Yet I call them mine.
I bleed infinitely in the lost identity of ‘all’.
I wish I could distance myself
from my own self and be lost in one.
In Krishna, in Arjuna, or in Karna;
in one.
Honestly I would like to know
what it feels like
to be absorbed wholesomely in ‘one’.
This is Kurukshetra —
the land of half-humans, demi-gods
in this blood-torn land.
I cannot wail, nor can I sob.
So my heart,
like fire I play with you.
Oh, fire!
I am fire,
I am born of fire, my life is fire,
I know not if my death be fire too!
Sycophants, one and all, encircle me,
sway and swindle me, sweltering my bones
as if tickling me
by putting one tiara after another on my head,
trying to heal my unlocked hairs — the
of the Pandavas.
I am an illusion,
I suffer, I am the symbol of suffering.
Even when I laugh with the cruel, hot blood
of Dusshasana, I suffer.
And in the city of the dead
I die a hundred times in delusion.
I seek release, I know not where —
maybe in all!


In the Operation Theatre

I’ve wrapped the moment
within my naked memory
when the doctor, the angelic doctor,
put the scissors to me.
The moment when my blood sprinkled
into the operation theatre
and I cried forth age-old wails.
My blood, my innermost parts
gripped me to hang between life and death
and I was nailed to a cross,
the cross of all my sins,
desires, sufferings.
My soul was naked, body nude,
my eyes were as void
as my heart.
I could then feel him.
To welcome him I moaned aloud
as if this were the moment of my death.
The sombre room, the sharpened instruments,
the green clothes, multiple
hands hovering over me,
the photograph of the Mother and
the stillness of the silence;
all, all entered into me
and I fainted.
After so many memories,
after so many dreams,
I woke up
to find my ‘reason’ to live, at last,
in the operation theatre.
The bird from my heart’s nest was free,
pretty little fair bird.
I became the proud mother of my Part
in the operation theatre.


Lines to My Son

You must ignore the dark face
of time, my son, and proceed
to a world that beckons you
with hands full of gold and pearls.

Never try to fathom that
inherited insecurity in me that may
someday come your way, or my heart
where anxiety sits in the corridors.

The old shadows that stand beside me,
the shadows of cruel history and
my unavoidable defeats in the life-game,
must let you stand alone in your paradise.

While history sleeps in shadows
on the banks of fallen castles,
while the fallen heroes crawl to oblivion,
you can trace your way from youthful sources.

One day, as the water of time is washing
away all, the morning and its dew must
declare your presence; you may
uncover your existence across the rainbows.

And if, someday, you land on an unknown island
and the tumults of agony deafen
your ears, my son, close your eyes; give me your hands,
my dead face will be your staircase.



In the morning
I’m a daughter-in-law
serving hot tea,
stitching broken bottoms,
cleaning, cooking, frying,
stirring, wiping my son’s nose,
sometimes nagging him when
the ever-complaining man
watches me. I’m a wife.
During the day I’m a
professor facing young, obsessed,
girls and boys
trying hard to look
professional, wearing masks
of official fools.
Again in the afternoon
I’m a mother, loving, kissing,
playing, caring for, rearing my baby;
hearing the sagas
of phone bills, market prices,
taxes, policies, news-bulletins;
chiding the maid for cutting
vegetables rather small
or chopping onions
on the wrong side.
In the evening I’m a showpiece,
a perfect business butt,
bargaining, wearing a
matching lipstick,
thinking of the evening menu
(relishing yet inexpensive),
smiling, smiling, ever-
smiling behind a mysterious
face, knowing every
detail of mornings, afternoons and
never-ending nights.
Yes, nights,
’till he smiles proudly and sleeps.
And then! And then
I drag the world to
my feet, dreamer that I am.
I reach the unreached, swim in
a world of fantasies,
quench my feminine thirst,
dry my hungry limbs.
I am every woman
dribbling, pouring desire
into the feminine mannequin.
Next day I am a
daughter-in-law, wife, mother,
researcher again, muted, appearing content.
I am the goddess
who knows what is
to happen and what is not
since time has ploughed scars
into my virgin mud.


Patch Works
(In celebration of womanhood)

Woman is good at patch works.
Frills, long skirts, mirrors,
needle and thread,
virgin colours, dreams …
Oh yes, she is good at patch works
like Nu Guo, who patched up the sky.
Patch up, patch up
broken smiles and relationships.
Keep smiling; some say
“Smiling distorts your (crying) face”,
and some may say, “This rainbow smile
hails life”. But smile, patch up
and sew up the whole universe.
You’re the needle
and you’re the thread.
You’re the sorrow
and the antidote.
You’re love, you’re lust;
you, the renunciation
you, the redemption
you, the decadence
you, the omnipotent.
You look graceful
in this patched, frilled outfit;
you are pied and pretty,
you’re the proud possessor
of a leaking, patched heart —
broken, stitched and patched
time and again.
You rummage for a piece of life
in dried-up eyes
across empty, distant horizons
like a fallen martyr.
You extinguish all lights,
grope in the dark.
Still, you manage, with a struggling flicker.
You know
the deeper oceans inside you
are still intact
and frozen.
You bring back life on your
feeble shoulders;
you know how and when to patch.
Two eyes searching for life,
two curious ears listening to the soul’s music,
two tireless legs running after forlorn hopes;
and what do you gain?
It’s tough
very tough
for caged birds to fly,
for they seem to have forgotten the art of flying.
But you find the remnants in the garbage,
defeat hunger, thirst, fear;
your dried-up breasts ooze milk again.

Woman is good at patch works.
Frills, long skirts, mirrors
needles and thread
virgin colours, dreams …


Can I Start Living Now?

I told you my truth
that I have fled from life
You placed your lips
on my nape,
living behind numbed sensation
in elegant calm.

The past and the future
are enveloped in the present
that you give me
Time comes and goes,
I only tear it to shreds
lamenting the loss
of my roofs and doors.
Moss gathers on my agony.

And as we walk
through the woods, “dark and deep”,
I grope within, grope without.
Where are your fingers?
Did you vanish?
I am not myself.

Moments after sorrow sprouts
mercury spreads all over
leaving the heart half aglow.
You speak mascara
I understand (or, do I pretend?)
my bosom is lighter for awhile.

The night unfurls.
Sometimes even
the prayers are answered!
The night assumes a sober accent,
you face reflects on each piece
of the broken mirror.
I whisper, life…. life…

You feel my forehead,
my sweat, my lips, my silken hair,
in darkness you light the torch
and peep into my gleaming eyes.
Your breath exhales
the hue of sandalwood,
I fit so well into
your contours!

Can I gather myself now
from the destroyed sand-shore?
Can I search
For the new pastures now?
Can I start living now?


An Evening at Konark

Some evenings
time dies down
to timeless
when the language of stone
overshadows the language of man.

Little boy Dharma
is morose one evening —
the king may sever the heads
of twelve hundred architects
They couldn’t fix what Dharama did —
furnish the finishing touch,
the final top-stone
to the Black Pagoda,
wonder of the world.

Dharma became as timeless
as the Sun in the Sun Temple,
piercing into the deep,
saving the lives of the architects.

In the melody of the dawn
Konark illuminated poetry
in the language of granite,
words sanctified by sacrifice,
flutes playing songs of
adoration, pain, awe, admiration,
exultation, knowledge, sculpture,
beauty, symbols, metaphors, mystery.
In the egalitarian songs of the
cascading hair of women,
their contours like un-withering spring,
figures of men and women, their
erotic love eternal,
the wheel of time,
the wheel of fire,
kings and all the king’s men,
the Sun God, and all the gods,
the first rays of the sun,
the last rays of the sun,
the ancient tales of Orissa,
the myths, histories, songs and sonnets
all carved on stone.
In the moon motif of the Sun Temple,
in the tales of nights on the temple of sunrise,
Konark metamorphoses everything but itself and
Konark discloses all secrets but itself.

The desolate sands up to the horizon
at Konark
tell the story of time, the curious baby,
tell the tale of Dharama, a glowing, elevating
message for despised mankind.

Time is not deaf.
It hears the call of silence.
Time hears when stones are eloquent.
This evening, poetry is what lingers
in the nooks and corners of the inexorable
and in the stone’s heartbeats.



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