May 9, 2005

the cloud-messenger, and other tales

day 24 at kottakal:
one more day of treatment to go :-)

apart from my mother’s constant care and doctor’s reassurances that i’ll be up and running about within three months (provided i take enough rest and medication back home), the only companions who took me through this ordeal were the books i found at the library.

shashi tharoor‘s the great indian novel, a classic satire on the characters of the mahabharata living during the british raj, through the eyes of veda vyasa, or VVji for short. i have never come across such mature writing and intelligent handling of the topic itself, while keeping the reader entertained throughout.

r k narayan‘s the world of nagaraj is a predictable malgudi character you can’t help loving. nagaraj is a simple man who tries everything in his capacity to write a book about the less-written, more talked-about kalahapriya sage narada. you cannot ignore his quiet but all-knowing dutiful wife either.

dr sudhanshu chaturvedi‘s the complete works of kalidasa was the surprise of the year. so far i had only heard of how great his poems were (from praveen) and the lack of sufficient information on the same. however, this book does not contain a literal translation of his works, but has enough and excellent notes — on ritusamhara, meghdutam, (both poems); kumarasambhava, raghuvamsham (epics) and malavikaagnimitra, vikramavasheeya and abhijnanashakuntala (plays) — to draw a person into his fantastic world.

perhaps, the fact that i am 5000 miles away from my husband and can rely only on the cell phone signals and std/isd booths that dot the kerala roads, is what made me appreciate the love poem meghdutam the most. all the book contains is the summary but i never seem to tire of reading it over again and again. split into two parts – poorvamegha and uttaramegha – the first deals with the glories of nature and the second with those of love. i couldn’t help listing the cloud’s itinerary to read out to praveen (over the phone) and ended up making up my own lines from the summary itself. hope kalidasa forgives me for getting carried away!

banished
for a year
a yaksha
high
on the ramgiri mountains
pines for his wife
his beloved
eight months
into his exile.

he watches
a cloud
elephant-shaped
drifting
through the blue sky
and instantly
(having no means
to communicate
with his wife)
makes the cloud
his messenger.

with prayers
and praise
the yaksha then
instructs
the three-day journey
the cloud must take…

“over the amrakuta mountains
where light rivers
prepare you for the long way;
where women
awaiting the return
of their travelling husbands
are soothed
by the gentle wind
accompanying you.

“turn northwards
extinguishing
the fires
in the saranga forests
and drink the waters
of reva (narmada)
to undo
your fatigue.

“feast your senses
as you pass over
gardens, fragrant
white with ketaka (flowers)
trees noisy with little birds
building nests
in the rich city
of vidisha.

“rest you must
on the neechais mountains
full of kadambas
and youth unrestrained
courting their loves.

“proceed then
sprinkling your waters
on jasmine buds
and flirting with girls
by protecting them
(from the sunrays).

“make your way
to ujjaiyini (ujjain)
playfully mocking
pretty lotus-eyed women
with lightning,
your spouse.

“fall on the river
nirvindhya
but hurry
to relieve (river) sindhu
of her condition
emaciated
with the dry leaves
blocking her path.
rest after you
cross avanti and vishala
cities referred as
heaven on earth;
and after quenching
your thirst and fatigue
at river gandhavati.

“at dawn,
refreshed by the waters
of river gambhira
proceed with haste
toward devagiri
bathing skanda (fire-god’s son)
with flowers and waters
of the nearby ganga.

“enter then
the land of kurukshetra
taste the sweet waters
of saraswati and ganga
at the foot
of the white
himalayas.
pay your respects
to the three-eyed god (shiva)
blowing sweet music
by rumbling
through the tall bamboos.

“drift through
the crauncha pass
to kailasa
sporting with
celestial nymphs
chasing them later
with your thunder.
hasten then
taking waters from manasarover (river)
towards the mountains
of airavata
where you will find
the land of alaka –
the city
of my beloved.”