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On the narrow streets of Old Benaras, we watch every step. One miss and the slippers can land on what must be reserved for toilets. Not discreet. As in your face as it can get.
a beggar’s bowl
clanks in unison
The corners are sharp and lead to more streetways. Crumbling walls run through the course of the narrow gullies. Doorways to homes open every now and then. An old woman sits facing a niche shaved off a wall. She is draped in rags and a torn blanket. On a haphazard pedestal of sorts next to her is a Shivalingam, majestic, oblivious to age and shit. The idol has been freshly anointed with sandal paste.
a peepul leaf lands
on an unwritten page
One of the alleys opens to a main road. A profusion of tongues pushes its way to the temple. An infant cries. A middle-aged man screams abuses at the crowd trying to push its way past. A woman’s saree gets caught on a siderail. A hapless policeman blows his whistle with urgency.
distant the sound of water the sound of silence
All along the way, large groups of people have found spots outside shops. They unfurl mats and settle down before the long walk to the deity. Large pots of thandai are being made for the grand night, when the gods will be married. Sweetmeats, lassi, chaat, paan, all beckon cash holders and e-wallets. As night deepens, song and dance erupt.
a leper, a pregnant woman
with two children in tow,
a group of fifty middle-aged travellers,
a spot of Spanish speaking senoritas,
throngs of urbanites in branded shades,
the fervent, with Shiva’s third eye etched in vermillion
on their foreheads,
very important people,
very, very important people
some French, some German voices
they all come, seeing,
On the steps leading to the ghats on the Ganga, a group of Naga Sadhus smoke up chillums and curse passers-by who want to photograph them but refuse alms. On the Manikarnika, men with tonsured heads wait by the pyre, watching fire smelt flesh, muscle, bone.
the same flock of Siberian gulls
swoop down for fish
the seller promises this one
published in Seashores, Vol. 9, Nov. 2022
You both lie asleep with heads buried inside down-feather quilts. You are here but, in your dreams, you are in another world. I look at your faces for a long time, marvelling at how beautifully life has planted her blessings on you. In your eyes, there are a million visions waiting to unfold. In your ears, sounds of the world wait to arrive and find their way into
your soul. On your faces, the angels dance songs of peace and love.
a long-forgotten story
emerges in the mind
I look at your tiny limbs and wonder how far you will walk with them. What will you make with your hands? For whom will your heart beat and skip one? In how many ways will you feed your soul and mind?
morning paw prints
in the foyer
Shobhana Kumar’s book of haibun, A Sky Full of Bucket Lists, Red River, 2021, was conferred the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2021-2022, and is the recipient of Touchstone Distinguished Books Award, 2021, Honourable Mention, instituted by The Haiku Foundation, USA. She is a memoirist, chronicler and industrial biographer. She also has two books of poetry. She works in the spaces of social work, education and branding. She is Associate Editor, Yavanika Press and non-fiction editor at Usawa Literary Review. She is the founder of Small Differences, an NGO that works with the elderly homeless, transgender community and vulnerable children and women