Where am I who am I?

Who am I that has dwelt so long in the other, who am I that left the sunny perch;
A Chameleon? Lizard eyes circumambulating, seeking, searching for the heavens,
The mediators of light pointed to; down, down the nauseous blind alleys,
Spinning in an immortal grind of thoughts; left, right and center, seeking, searching;
Now in reds, now in greens and in yellows, but so long in the other.

Was it a gift, or a curse that erased our boundaries,
Invoking bitter sweet ruminations, wafting in from your dark perch?
Too long residing in the scent of a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend,
Hopping, skipping, arresting flight; just a while longer just this one more round;
Hop skip and jump said the skipping rope, slicing the air from beneath my feet,
Scooping me up, like cowry on divination boards; here jump over this and this,
High above Saturn, all around Jupiter and all across Mars.

Why I never asked; why are your reds as red as mine,
Why do your blues come roost in me;
you don’t ask the white Champa do you,
Why she erased gloom in a satin wink;
You don’t ask the Jacaranda in bloom why you bowed;
And your heart skipped a beat at her sight.

And yet today I must ask this garden that I am, who sows the seeds,
Who waters, weeds and prunes me, this unruly sketch that I am;
Who put the sparrow there, its notes beating fast in my chest,
Dipping deep in me as though in fall, and shooting up for the lights;
Suckling honey and vanishing in a flicker from inside me?
The squirrels scampering on my trunk, their feet so light, effervescent;
A reminder note like a fleeting whisper, or a backward glance.

Even as the story of the tree kept swimming in my mud, blood,
In me the night owls fierce cackle and in me the aphids bloom,
I am alive, my red blood swishing in the soup bowl I served you,
I am alive, my January leaves floating in your brown skin,
I am alive, in you; I am your mango tree laden with flowers,
Nodding heavy in a tuft of summer breeze.

So where am I who am I?

In the taste of a sun drop dancing on my tongue,
As I savor the dried gooseberries from my garden,
In the hunch of the red ants tireless march across my railing,
In the shy fingers of a wind chime, it’s murmur leased out to the wind,
In a flash and a flicker of a light in a mirror, or was it in me, the flicker!

Of an oft forgotten clearing that bared itself in a split second,
walking down the stair, carrying a casserole like a babe in my arms,
Wiping the remains of the night’s insipid dinner from table tops;
I could then hear the faint knock in my flesh, the beginning of a clearing,
I could be in that mynahs stride across the blue lawns, a woman on a ramp.

A tiny step and you’re in the warm embrace of a woolen blanket,
Another and you’ve leapt into the dungeons of a dream, I’m Alice in a rabbit hole,
A leap of faith and you’re under an ancient tree, its seeds in the pleats of your frock;
Now, bleeding in your child’s tremulous gaze, now residing in the crease in your husbands
forehead; now in the hasty sweep of a gardener jabbing at an impudent termite mound,
Invisible, swarming, deep, under,
Now here, now there, now everywhere.

So tell me, where am I who am I

Today the stories must uncoil their limbs, fragrances and fetishes right here in my garden,
Today let there be joy in every heart for no reason at all;
Let your sons and daughters dance in enthrallment,
For theirs is the garden I have tended with love,
And theirs the mirrors in my balcony, welded not out of silver and glass.

They smell of warm summer skin, and whimpers of unsaid compromises,
They watch me, they hear me, and they feel me- sighs and snippets of joy,
My branches heady, drunk and dripping in pink shoots,
And the fragrance of mango blossoms heaving in my breast;
Someone’s been incessantly sweeping at the fallen winter leaves,
The wind gods working tirelessly to carve that clearing in my flesh,
A butterfly in white has just flitted across my light, weaving a spell;
I thank you kindred soul, for your light and lightness.

A wayfarer looks into my eyes as though into a rear view mirror,
His comb flicks in place a tuft of hair astray,
While another drags me back into the skin of a dream,
I had already shed, molting like a snake in a bush.
Someone’s lassoing me in,
Asleep on the steps of the temple of the gods,
Into shadow less dark valleys,
And there I am, courting pain in someone else’s yard;
There in a newborns smile, and in a flash of merriment;
Here, in a fallen leaf and an ode to a shepherd.

So tell me, where am I who am I

Once again I beg on this auspicious day, lend me your voice, do not disappear yet,
Drop into my cupped hands held forward in prayer, a silk hanky to buff my mirror,
Lend me forever the intersections, the twilight zone where lights collide,
And a primordial chant reverberates.

In this webbed mansion where vaporous clouds meet the steely glint of a bone,
Where soft flesh singes into fire, fueled by air and cooled by water;
Here is where my stories were forged, here the tremor on my lips,
Here the pied piper who led me into the sea, and here the rabbit hole’s call.

With the fire in my belly I molded my son, passing the baton when my feet faltered,
I learnt then to contain myself in brass lamps fit for the gods, oh what a waste!
Time a masked assassin religiously rearranges my flesh and bones,
Now a pair of eyes seeing through the dark, now a lump of flesh writhing in the dark;
Now in a cuckoo’s flight, now in a dogs snarl from across the road.

It threw me into the sea when I knew not how to swim,
It broke my heart in two and nailed me to a cross, only I was no Christ,
Lovelorn I lived in a shroud, it’s been too long, the act,
The coiled sleep, and wings pruned to fit.
The wily witch threw in flame after flame through the bird window
Ill equipped I stamped at it with my feet, I clamped at it with my hands,
Until finally someone, perhaps time, gave me a glass of water.

So tell me, where am I who am I

I learnt then to drink water to douse a flame,
So I drank and ate my way into a succulent flesh,
My skin brown, my bones perhaps brittle, ensconced in a fire too long,
I bleed every month, unheard voices of unborn children;
I’m a container of retreating hormones,
I’m a woman they remind me, I’m the earth, mud, gross body,
It’s easy to believe that, the story of mud, until your gaze is pulled up,
Someone chops a few branches, thank you Uday from Tata Sky.

And now off to my abode of the wind, propelling my body, guiding my wings,
My talons in a fist, my soul soars, and I see once again;
I see the earth, the searing flesh far down below,
No, not I not I not I.

Enshrined rattraps, here take it all, the hungers of the flesh, leave me alone.
Let me don my cloak and relish this light; speak yet again from a yonder world,
Nameless one, let me hear you again, Oh voiceless one;
Loud and clear and doubtless, skipping in my veins like a pulse.

I’m an eagle in Cerulean blue crocs that hide its talons,
I’m an eagle in a sari, a unicorn and a bandicoot,
A rabbit and a rabbit hole, so just let us be;
Mud and water, air and fire,
And those innumerable spaces in between,
Made of you and me.

Anuradha Nalapat 2018

Dedicated to Bharat Thakur whose passion and love for art and life touched a core deep within. That resonance and remembrance is the only hope I have felt and known, and the only thing that makes some sense in this world. My deep felt gratitude.