The Twenty-Fifth of Baisakh
The twenty-fifth of the month of Baisakh flows on—
Another birthday coursing
Towards the day of death.
Seated on his movable stand
At the border of minuscule births and deaths
Who is the artist weaving
A garland out of innumerable Rabindranaths?
Time’s chariot moves on—
The traveler treading on foot
Lifts his drinking vessel up
And receives something to drink
By the time he’s had his fill
He’s fallen behind in the dark
While his vessel lies smashed to smithereens
Under the wheels of time.
Pursuing him comes one
Who has found something more to drink
Someone who has his name
But in reality is a different being.
I was once a boy.
The image built up now of the man
Through the mould of a few birthdays
Doesn’t resemble the boy he once was.
Those who knew him well
Have all passed away.
That boy no longer exists in his own mind
Or in anyone else’s memories.
He’s left forever—as has his world.
The laughter and tears he knew
Are not echoed in the wind anymore.
Even the shards of toys he played with
Have disappeared from sight.
He’d sit by the small window of life
Looking at the world outside.
His world limited
To what he could see through the opening.
His naïve eyes would open wide
Taking in everything till they reached their limits
In the coconut tree rows canopying the garden wall.
Evenings were intense because of spells
Cast by fairy tales; no fence stood
Between fact and fantasy.
The mind crossed effortlessly
From one to the other.
In the play of light and shadow in twilight
Shadows melded with substance
As if they were kins.
His birthdays were islands
Basking in sunshine for a while
And then disappearing in Time’s ocean.
At memory’s ebb tide from time to time
Their peaks would become visible
As would their sunset-red coral fringes.
The twenty-fifth of Boisakh showed up next
In another era—indistinct
In the flush of Spring’s early morning sunlight.
The mendicant Baul singer that is youth
Strung a passionate tune on a one-stringed ektara
Articulating some obscure pain
Seeking the invisible man in him.
Listening to those tunes in a heavenly abode
Sometimes the muse would respond.
Sending some of her messengers
Through shaded paths lit up by palash trees in bloom
Seemingly drunk in a riot of colors
On days when work didn’t matter.
I’d listen to their soft accents
Some of which I could catch.
I could see their dark eyelashes
Glisten with tears;
I’d read on their quivering lips
Intimations of intense agony.
I’d hear in their tinkling bangles
The tingle of intense anticipation.
Unknown to me
They’d leave behind
At first light of the twenty-fifth of Baisakh
Garlands woven out of newly bloomed jasmine
Overwhelming morning dreams with fragrance.
The world of those youthful birthdays
Lay in the vicinity of fairy land,
Poised between certainty and uncertainty.
Occasionally a princess would sleep there
Her overflowing tresses all around her
Occasionally she would suddenly stir
At the touch of a golden wand.
And so days went by
Till the ramparts of the twenty-fifth of Baisakh
Once daubed with spring colors
Came falling down.
The young man now entered paths where shadows quivered
Because of bakul leaves rustling in the breeze;
Where the wind sighed
And afternoon ached
At the plaintive note of a lovesick cuckoo
Imploring its mate to come back;
Where bee wings thrilled,
At the subtle call of fragrant flowers;
And green and grassy groves
Ended in highways built of stone.
The young man now would add
String after string to the ektara
He had strummed to play his tunes.
The twenty-fifth of Baisakh
Next brought me
Through rugged paths
To the shores of a sea of people
Whose waves swelled and roared.
I cast my net in their midst
Negotiating sound after sound.
Throughout the day
Till I was able to net some souls
Though some of them eluded me.
Sometimes the day would cloud over
And disillusionment set in
Making the mind stoop in ignominy
But when afternoons became unbearable
Images arrived from some blessed land
Through unforeseen ways,
Making the fruit of labor look beautiful,
Offering nectar to the exhausted soul.
With waves of ringing laughter.
They rekindled valiant flames;
From a fire almost consumed by ashes;
They retrieved heavenly messages
Giving them form.
Through sheer devotion.
They lit up again my fading lamp
Tuning strings that had slackened
Till music flowed again
Crowning the twenty-fifth of Baisakh
With garlands they had themselves woven.
Their magic touch
Still remains in my songs and writings.
Then my life became a combat zone
Erupting in conflicts every now and then
There were thunder-like rumblings
All across the battlefield,
Forcing me to fling aside my ektara
And pick up a kettle-drum.
Even in the intense noon heat
I had to speed on
Moving through currents of success and failure.
In the process thorns pierced my feet.
My heart too bled profusely.
Relentless waves tossed my vessel
From one side to another
Aiming to drown the freight of my life
Till it was submerged in lies and libel.
My ship of life stuck to its course
Past hate and love
Envy and friendship
Discord and harmony.
Crossing billows of steaming emotions.
In the midst of travails
Amidst conflicts and commotion.
Where you find me now is in an autumnal twenty-fifth
When light is fading and age weighing me down.
Do you realize
In what I have written
There is a lot that is unsaid
A lot that is disjointed
A lot that has been evaded?
In your respect for me,
In the love that you show
In your ability to forgive
You’ve built up a complex image
Compounded out of the good and the bad
The innermost me and what you see externally
The fame I have attained and my failures.
This construct is what is now on show.
He is the man you’ve come to garland
And the man I’ve become publicly
In the winter of my life.
Even as I leave behind for you all
As I take my leave
Let this image remain in your thoughts.
I certainly won’t be smug
Because it is now the property of Time.
And then give me leave
So that I can retreat
Beyond the black and white warp
From which life is woven
Beyond what I’ve become officially
To a lonely and private existence;
Let me mingle different tunes
Produced from diverse instruments
Till I reach the source of all music
And meld with the primal melody.
(“Panchishe Baisakh,” from Sesh Saptak)