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This Heart, The Sinking Depths…— Shankar Lahiri (Part One)

Jan 13, 2023 | Non Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Bishnupriya Chowdhuri 



Artwork by Baibhab Bose



There, the vein gradually thins out from the leaf’s petiole to infinity. Like those fine reverberating threads of saliva oozing from the mouths of the fungi and pupae, your heart hums. Your heart trembles.

Getting all its clothes drenched, the way those nipples stand anxious… you resemble them. You and your days. As if they are Ursa Major , arranged like a question. You tremble with anxiety, with confusion at every moment. From the yard to the roof, at the stairway, on the second floor, on the carpet, and on the divan. When you face the wash-basin mirror. When you are at the letterbox, within the footsteps, at the turn. Under the running ceiling fan, on the commode. At the frying pan and dresser. With your lingerie and chemise, inside the deep, intense purple mosquito net of midnight, you shall discuss yourself. Exploding oceanic yawns, wide and loud, forgetting all tune and tempo, turning into a scream. You will be yours, absolutely. Look at yourself—you, the beauty unknown. Craning your neck like that emaciated crow perched on the midday cornice, away from the rest. As if the slaughterhouse lay just ahead. A day is such—intense under confusion and fear.

Someone will wait for you with water ready for a shower, with anklets. In the afternoon. 

In a rage, you will walk away, squishing that one. You shall rip its skin and flesh. You shall mince, paste, and thrash your tears. And when the aroma wafts, your neighbors under darkness and light, get busy slapping on more and more pomade. 

The crow smudged behind the mist, or the corpses of the three mynahs laced with the thick shadows of the sun—which one is closer to you? Which one feels yours? The crooning chaos of the warm vapor or the cold, weightless cuboid of the ice? Are you Kingshook Kumar; Are you Dhonyokumari

Are you the kiss and the cry of pleasure? Or a knife, bloodied to the tip? The one that sows a seed of light into the warm yolk of the egg. The sharp touch of which the woken breasts under the brown apron of the morning girl, standing on the other side of the breakfast table longs for? 

—Exhaustion. It will tell you to end this day. Let this week, this month come to an end. And you shall grow colder under the cycle of the moon… And remember, you have been alone. a solo vessel afloat on the lake. Amidst ancient, crumbled architecture, you stand cold, alone. And see the Aryan humans on the move from atop the fort. See how the dream girls of those fantastic humans sink like petals. “—re botohiya” The way all flowers, and leaves of the pear tree swoon to this tune. Let all your ailments go. And wake up to the miraculous touch of the sun-soaked breeze all of a sudden. And slowly begin to feel those luminous scales on your body—fish that turns deeper into the water looking for success, emerge at the tip of the harpoon, among a thousand tinsels of light. Shifting that fin of yours, ever so subtly, raising a wave, a whirlwind in the flow, only to witness the roundness of the universe, you the unknowable beauty, alone, you plunge. The deepest of swarms—it shares the bond with you, you alone—F-O-R-E-V-E-R. 


Where the forever river runs through the forest, across the mountains down the canyon, there, the shepherds live among the weightless warble of the water trembling every so often to the billowing wind. Grass and floras of one kind and another take them to different pastures every season. Down the quiet of the wild nightly slopes, their bodily odors roll… till the mist is dissipated by the first fire of the morning slowly and they wake up. The heavy breath of tobacco and the verdant smell of the rocky river, the pine groves screaming inside raw droplets of water… all show them to their flocks. They feel immortal, beyond decay.

Here, burns those leaves. And its intense melody reverberates through the pine grove and the rhododendrons . She sings. Her danglers, tiara, anklets… her melancholia dripping slowly into the river. An unearthly fox ransacks the forests for seven days. Some of the roadways bear the gashes of landslides. Where does the river break, where do the waters run fierce? She defends her hut with fire in her heart.

The cloud herds will eventually disappear like those impecunious rotis she made with her own hands, the pot where she keeps the surmaIf the mountain comes tumbling down and the moonblood overflows, she will surrender to the Lord of the shepherds. Waking up to the first rays of the morning light, she will step out. Over the hills, over the dark outline of the stones, further up where once a thistle bit into her virgin feet. She will climb even further up where no bird ever descends. There where the hot water spring used to be. There lies her mother’s grave. Jumping from one rock to another, the scorpion pounced. One sharp, flawless blow and the god of the mountains descended over her blue body. If the sun comes to shine tomorrow again, if her sheep return, she’ll go higher up, naked. She’ll sit where once as an adolescent she had been. And there that one primal God reigns…

The wind blows, ruthlessly. The lashing rain, the ash, and tobacco, and the thick smoke rising from the burning fat in the lamp grip her into a numbness. Moon-blood, warm and coming. The God, Lord of the shepherds, has the face of a beast—carved and flawless pair of his horns, his body covered with warm hair. Hair, beard, cheek, bosom, lower abdomen, temple, and the naavi. A massive furry paw nears and perches on her breast. Like burnt milk, semen smell and sadness fill her body. 

—Wild mountains on either side, the forever river runs down the canyon. You consider yourself immortal. For just a few brief moments after so many ups and downs, you are deathless. Far far above, where no bird ever descends, meteors shower into the abandoned cavity of a hot well. 

The above is the first part of a series. To read the second and third parts, please visit the following links: 

This Heart, The Sinking Depths…— Shankar Lahiri (Part Two)

This Heart, The Sinking Depths…— Shankar Lahiri (Part Three)

Also, read four Bengali poems, written by Sudip Bose, translated into English by Aritra Chatterjee, and published in The Antonym:  

The Phantom & Other Poems— Sudip Bose

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Shankar Lahiri (b.1950) is a poet, editor, prose writer, filmmaker, artist, and avid thinker. Now a retired engineer, Lahiri keeps himself fully engaged in forest safari, photography, book designing, computer graphics, and the study of cosmology apart from writing and trying to curate his own universe full of endless possibilities. A poet of the 80s, he has been actively associated with the cult Bengali Little MagazineKaurab, as a member of its editorial board. He has authored seven books of poems, three books of prose (non-fiction), and has edited the complete works of Swadesh Sen. He has so far directed four films based on poetry, the latest of which (M B Rajmahal) is available on youtube.

Bishnupriya Chowdhuri is a Bengali artist and writer trying to find her roots across continents and oceans. She weaves hybrid pieces about memory, women, and bodies using what is often an awkward if not unsavory tangle of Bangla and English. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida. She is a collector of girl names, pretty pebbles, and family recipes. Her address keeps changing. 


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