POETRY EDITOR Ananya S Guha’s note: The poetry of Sukla Singha is replete with people, the soil of the people and its earthiness. The lyrical poise of the meditative poems stand out as cadenced music. She uses people sights and sounds as the key notes in music hanging precariously between the beginning and a tantalising end.
THIS LAND IS THEIRS TOO
(For Trinath Reang)
At six am
in a faraway village in Dhumacchera,
the aroma of burnt garlic and green chillies
rises from Khasrangti Reang’s mud oven.
She’s finished weaving a new Rinai1
She kisses her child,
goes out to join other women
in the jhum.
These women of the hills
know how they should spread
to feed winter birds
on December mornings.
These women in the hills
do not hold placards
do not curse anyone
They only sing in the rain:
Bo ha pho chini no klai o2
Their voices seep into the soil,
hitting the insides
of the earth.
Just as their balancing acts
on the pitcher,
earthen bottles and lamps on the head
swaying from side to side,
the enchanting verses of the sumu3 –
have been our own, since ages,
this land is theirs too.
- Rinai: A large piece of cloth used to cover the lower part of the body.
- KauBru spoken by the Reangs of Tripura meaning: ‘This land is ours too.’
- A wind instrument made of bamboo.
O B I T U A R Y
In cold tree-holes, we thrash an egg or two, of birds who’d trusted us despite the forebodings.
Dipped in pulp and blood, our hands make a clean V, once again.
our days and nights reek of rotten bodies scattered across cities, countries, and continents.
We crawl into burrows of loneliness leaving behind warm alleys and the sound of early morning bells.
We find strange looking faces in the mirror: veiled, uneasy, sceptic
of human touch smeared with fear
trickles down the skies.
With stale hands,
we now write our own obituaries.
we lose sight of peoples
rainsongs and landmarks
we become dots
our tired gods run helter-skelter
in rose coloured glasses
and freedom is a grey morning
standing alone at the street corner
AT THE SNAKE CHARMER’S LAKE
Spring at Baidyar Dighi is magic.
Beneath the white skyline,
you see only dazzling green.
We return after two decades to the Snake Charmer’s Lake.
The water holds no grudges; it looks placid,
as if there are no secrets in its womb.
On sleep-deprived afternoons, the twin ponds
at the village gate weave stories
of us catching tadpoles in the rain, of coquettish
men and women making love underwater.
The ancestral mud-house opens its giant mouth, as if
to swallow everything up, leading lost sojourners
to the Snake Charmer’s fate.
The ‘Baidya’ from Hojai claimed he could bring to life
a bundle of straw, and with his magic spell, turned it into
a giant serpent.
Before disappearing into the lake, it had animals
and humans gulped down its throat.
To punish the creature, the foolish sorcerer
then built seven steps at the edge of the lake
where the serpent was seen last.
The first six had a bowl of milk, rooster, rat, rabbit, pig and cow
to feed on; on the top seventh, sat the Snake-Charmer, calm, playing his pipe.
In the direction of the music, soon the serpent’s giant head came out.
His end was near, everyone was relieved.
But the sorcerer’s fate was sealed! Overlooking
the first six, the serpent flew
straight to the seventh step, coiled the man,
to plunge back into the fathoms of the dark water.
Villagers screamed and pleaded, chanted hymns,
the Baidya was never seen again,
the serpent was never seen again.
Baidyar Dighi is where memory grows
green and tall, like potted yenam leaves
in the engkhol.*
* Engkhol: A Kitchen-garden
[Based on the Manipuri legend of Baidyar Dighi, a village in Tripura]
You worship water
I worship rice
Our religion is to
swallow a handful of both
leave prophecies to soothsayers
hide from gods who want our blood
before the storm hits our bodies
break into pieces, become dots
our old love knows
where exactly we’d be found sitting
on a moonless night;
under a fragrant
where we’d be found singing
on a moonless night
Sukla Singha currently teaches at a school in Tripura. Her writings have appeared in Café Dissensus, Muse India, The Sunflower Collective, Aainanagar, Usawa Literary Review, and elsewhere. She has contributed to anthologies – Kirat: Contemporary Poetry in English from Tripura (2018), Niharika Nirbachito Torun Kobider Kobita (2018), and An Unsuitable Woman (2017). Her book of short stories Jamdaani o Onyanyo Gawlpo (Bengali) was published in February 2020.