The earthiness of Sukla Singha’s poetry

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

their hands 

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.  

  1. Rinai: A large piece of cloth used to cover the lower part of the body.
  2. KauBru spoken by the Reangs of Tripura meaning: ‘This land is ours too.’
  3. 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. 

Now, 

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

Somewhere, blood 

trickles down the skies. 

With stale hands, 

we now write our own obituaries.  

***

AUGUST

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, 

burnt hens; 

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 

exuding fragrance

in the engkhol.* 

* Engkhol: A Kitchen-garden

[Based on the Manipuri legend of Baidyar Dighi, a village in Tripura]

***

PRAYER

(i)

You worship water

I worship rice

Our religion is to 

swallow a handful of both

to survive

(ii)

leave prophecies to soothsayers

hide from gods who want our blood

before the storm hits our bodies

break into pieces, become dots

(iii)

our old love knows 

where exactly we’d be found sitting

on a moonless night; 

under a fragrant

leihao tree

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.