Issue 7 :: Spring 2005  
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Srinjay Chakravarti

The Invisible River

In summer, the Phalgu
vanishes under the sand
near the temple town of Gaya.

As a tourist there in May
(India's cruellest month),
with an empty water-bottle
and a parched throat,
I was at the end
of my trek
and my tether.

I scooped out four or five
handfuls of dust,
and there it was:
water clear as memory
under the smouldering sun
and delicious to the lips.

There is a legend
that the recalcitrant river
was cursed by Sita,
immortal queen of Ayodhya,
to flow beneath
the ground under her feet.
Or so says Valmiki
in the Ramayana.

Perhaps mythopoeic poets can divine
the sources of invisible rivers
without dowsing rods,
without the solipsistic necessity
of heat and thirst.

Snapshot of the Silver River

Moonless landscape,
complementary colours
in photographic negative.
Trees and rocks
blend with still, heavy air,
while the river deepens
the silence as it mints
its coins of tinkling water.

Soaked in starlight
(or silver bromide?)
contours develop
blacks and lustrous greys
on acetate film

in the darkroom
of one a.m.

Kala Pani
'Black water'

.. . . as a fishline sinks, the horizon
sinks in the memory.

—Derek Walcott, 'Names'

The sea has nibbled away
at feet of clay and stone,
wearing down monolithic cliffs
into littoral and delta.

To cross the black ocean
meant losing your caste:
the doctor back from Vilayat,
the artisan from Fiji,
the shopkeeper from Trinidad,
the political prisoner from the Andamans.
Kenya and Uganda, Mauritius and Maldives —

the Hindu diaspora spun its web
across distant continents,
but exile is a ship that returns someday.
And the black water over which it sails
slowly wears away the last bastions
of a caste-honeycombed society.

Vilayat: Hindi for Britain (Blighty)
Photo credit: Corel