Pavan Varma


translated from Urdu by Pavan K Varma


They peer from the Panes of locked cupboards, They stare longingly For months we do not meet The evenings spent in their company Are now passed at the computer screen. They are so restless now, these books They have taken to walking in their sleep They stare, longingly The values they stood for Whose ‘cells’ never died out Those values are no more found in homes The relationships they spoke of Have all come undone today A sigh escapes as I turn a page The meanings of many words have fallen off They appear like shriveled, leafless stumps Where meaning will grow no more Many traditions lie scattered Like the debris of earthen cups Made obsolete by glass tumblers Each turn of the page Brought a new flavor on the tongue, Now a click of the finger Floods the screen with images, layer upon layer That bond with books that once was, is severed now We used to sometimes lie with them on our chest Or hold them in our lap Or balance them on our knees, Bowing our heads as in prayer Of course, the world of knowledge is still there, But what of The pressed flowers and scented missives Hidden between their pages, And the love forged on the pretext Of borrowing, dropping and picking up books together What of them? That, perhaps, shall no longer be!


When tired of winging around The white eagle descends It speaks to the mountains Of trees that once were. There a tall deodhar had stood once It would tie the clouds to its leaves Like a turban Or wrap them around like a shawl Holding the breeze Swaying, it would say, If I was not rooted I would waft away with you! And there, a little ahead of the keekar Was a sheesham The two would fight a great deal But the truth was that The keekar was envious of the sheesham’s height! When the wind whistled through the leaves of the sheesham The birds on its branches would imitate the sound There was a mango tree too For years a koel Would alight on it as it flowered Nearby were a few gulmohars, of which only one remains It spends its time assuaging the pain Of names gouged on its body And here a neem tree, in love with the moonlight Drunk with joy its leaves would turn blue A little further away, on the next mountain, A rustle of pines could be heard breathing deeply But today not one can be seen on that mountain I have not seen but it is said That in the embrace of that valley lived a champa Larger in size than the big banyan tree Lush, milk-white sap oozing from its cuts The poor champa was taken away From this jungle in so many parts Sitting on a barren tree, the white eagle Tells the mountains old stories Of trees that once were. Trees that stunted men felled Cut into pieces, and burnt.


Every day I am given a full day to spend But every day someone snatches it away Grabs it away from my grip Sometimes it drops off from my purse And I do not even hear it fall Even a good day I forget thinking it was bad! Then there are those who collar me and claim my day! ‘It is a debt owed by generations before you, You must pay the instalments – Others forcibly mortgage it saying: Take a few moments to spend now The rest we will credit to your remaining life And settle accounts when required I would love to have A full day to myself, if only for once And to spend that one full day with you Is what I truly desire