Translated from the Bengali by Himalaya Jana
The Palash Grove
Scattered black rocks of irregular sizes. As if a herd of buffaloes has delved into the ground. Only their glistening backs are visible through the green and gray thorns of the spear grass.
This place was once tucked away within a dense Palash grove. Not only was it then a den of robbers, but on moonlit nights, it was haunted by five sisters dancing hand in hand, the five bahanis. The grove became a perilous place on such nights: buffaloes straying into the night would get lost here.
The grove has vanished long since, and so have the five bahanis. Neither do buffaloes graze here nightlong. Only the big black rocks remain: a reminder of those ancient creatures.
Unawares, you are sitting astride a buffalo that has been looking in vain for grass under the ground for decades. Standing alongside, I, a herdsman of the past. Do I know why that Palash grove is leaping into flames once more?
For you are the countless agamanis , for you the bihags.
This mango tree, you must have heard me speaking of it so often. Come summer, and it would be occupied by the village boys. During the rest of the year, however, it was only I who had a relationship with it. As I stepped nearer, the shade on the ground would subtly change to welcome me.
There were two hollows in its trunk. The bigger one, I did not know where it ended. The smaller one, when I put my hand into it, felt like a smooth, safe nook. I knew that the bigger hollow was home to a snake, though I had never seen it. The smaller hollow belonged to me. It is where I kept my contraband bidi and a matchbox. Far from prying eyes, I, a boy gone astray, would light my bidi beside its huge trunk.
How much care it took to guard my hard-earned articles of forbidden pleasure from gusts of wind and rain!
Today, it is no longer there. In a particularly shabby year of drought, it was cut down by the owners in a desperate bid for survival.
The tree is not there, and yet you feel a presence, and perhaps can also hear the silent rustle of its leaves? Stand here behind this huge trunk, your hands clasping mine. Shower me all over with unabashed kisses. Take a long drag of pleasure, as far as the red and green threads.
Look, those hollows I spoke of, they are afloat in the air before you. How moved those unblinking eyes are today, having seen you!
With the soft whiteness of your fingers, close those eyelids. Let them sleep.