Spanning poems written over two decades, Anand Thakore’s In Praise of Boneis a landmark collection which eloquently captures the nuances of both history and modernity, embracing tragedy and joy with equal grace.
Excepted below are a few of Thakore’s poems from his celebrated collections, ‘From Seven Deaths and Four Scrolls’ (2017), ‘From Elephant Bathing’ (2012) and ‘From Waking in December’ (2001).
‘Puppet’s Life Ends on String’
The lone surviving gunman of 26/11 was hanged at Pune’s Yerawada Jail at 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday. Asked for his last wish the twenty-five-year-old terrorist from Faridkot village in Pakistan’s Punjab province said, ‘Gharwalon ko milna hai’ (I want to meet my family). —The Times of India, 22 November, 2012
See: they recur, approach and recur beyond terror and grave, The low tin roofs and ambient wheat fields, The hills and goat-filled alleys of remembered infancy—
And soon—but here they are already, Filling their water-pots, tending to their goats, Those I could not forgive for being so poor,
So blind to my rage; for refusing To see themselves reflected in my hate. They cannot see me now, of course,
Capering through barbed wire and thin mud walls— But this is hardly strange; It was so much like this when I lived amongst them,
Only suddenly more acceptable now. What is strange is being unable to feel the cold they feel, The fireside warmth, as winter comes over us
Here in Faridkot, village of my birth, visited once And blessed for all time—as my mother Never forgot to mention at meals—by the Sufi,
Baba Farid, mystic of the floating basket, Whose rapt levitations I marvelled at as a child, And whose spirit I spat upon when I turned fourteen:
There was so little left by then in our lives to praise, And his talk of delight in poverty had come to seem Like senseless rant; the little land we owned sold
For so little, our torn pockets empty, our jackets threadbare, As we stared, half-starved, at the last full moon before Id, With no goats left to fatten and slaughter, or barter for new clothes
And sweets; no money for cooking-oil or kerosene, then none For wheat; and then, to top it all, that hard, unoutstareable look In the eyes of a tribal girl, which could only mean no, never,
Not good enough, never will be—Baba Farid, Whom I dismissed as a fake when I turned into a man, And whose verse the living still lift their arms to,
In the warmth of winter fires at Faridkot! I am glad he was with me, Before that final steeling of burnt nerves against all fear—
Terror of the torqued neck, trapdoor and noose— Your last wish, he said, will not be granted, But will surely be voiced—
A single sentence that survives your death. I am glad it was this and nothing else: Let them come to me now—listen, I say it again—
Those I ran away from; gharwalon ko milna hai.
In Praise of Bone
Somewhere at the back of the brain, Is a place I will never go to again; An old stone guardhouse long deserted, And over the slow green spaces of a lily-pond skirted By rock, quick breeze and a low murmur of reeds. The rocks are large and flat. I look up from the weeds Wedged between their edges; his eyes are too full of love. Was that a monsoon gathering above, Or the liquescent dead come to be with us again? High noon is about us when it begins to rain, And we grow as tangled as a banyan tree; Marrow will outlive its bone— We are plant, animal, stone, And everything we believe ourselves to be. When the rain stops he only feels my skin To know my bones are still the same shape; The same hard forms we will never escape, We know in the end only they can win: Somewhere at the back of my brain— A place I may not visit, the onset of rain.
Beyond the bay—about half a mile of surf and wind— The last bus awaits us at Ferry Wharf. The island is a cyclops about to sleep; behind, The hunched mainland shrinks into a dwarf.
So, to put it bluntly, we are neither here nor there. The moon seems to understand this, pretending once again To be young, rolling herself into an orange flare As you speak of Greece and a bluer sea; then
Dark flags, prows, and green meshes drift between, And over the sea her charred beams are sparse; You do not ask what this worn-out scenery might yet mean— Let this remain—you say, and watch them pass,
Till slowly over the docks the moon returns to grey, Salvages from time a minute—then anchors us to Bombay.
Duet on the Death of a Cat
Two monks were fighting over a cat. The master appeared, drew his long sword, and sliced the cat into two halves. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘is your cat, and here is yours.’ The words of the koan must not be interpreted, only received. —Ritesh Reddy, second-degree black belt, private lecture.
We’ve left here before but this time we’re through. The master’s a hustler, a monster, a fake; And he’s sliced our pretty little cat in two.
Surrender’s our motto, but this simply won’t do. Have we nothing but a pair of selves at stake? We’ve been here before but this time we’re through.
Who rends this mesh, ends this myth of me and you? The long tail reaches back for the mouth of its snake; And the master has sliced our cat in two.
No sign to decipher. No vision. No clue: If death is not real, whom does death unmake? We’ve been through this before but this time we’re through.
Someone could tell us what this means, but who? Who puts us to sleep, who shakes us awake? The master has sliced our cat in two.
Time for this ship to abandon its crew— But we’re thinking again, the ancient mistake— We’ve left here before but this time we’re through. The master has sliced our cat in two.