A Trek Through the Himalayas – and other poems

by Srinjay Chakravarti

The journey lasts for days and days.
We trek up valley, hill and slope
We carry with ourselves the hope
To traverse strange, untrodden ways.

We enter now a world of clouds.
Along the way we hear the call
Of mountain wind and waterfall.
The pallid mist is spreading shrouds.

At last we reach the final peak.
The summit beckons us to come
The air is cold, our feet are numb.
We climb to reach the grail we seek.

The path is steep and narrow there.
It snakes its way—these stairs of stone
Now mark the route we make our own.
The sunshine gilds the lucid air.

The peak is stark with gelid snow.
We look where sky and earth have merged,
From high above. Our souls are purged.
Forgotten lies the world below.


These, my days,
have stopped where I myself had stood
just a while ago.
Thus far and no further, they say—
we won’t go any more on foot.
I see them sitting by the river’s edge,
swishing vague feet
in the muddy silence of its water.

I sigh, and start once again.
My body trundles along wearily,
creaking and swaying
under its new, unfamiliar load.
My days, piled upon each other
as though on a bullock-cart,
jostling for space on my back.
Only my feet seem to know
where this rutted track is taking us.
I watch them walk on and on,
till they blur into the spokes
of my uncaring wheels.

The trees and bushes by the road
are overhung with wild creepers
matted and ashen into an ascetic’s unkempt hairs
by the murky light of this my evening.
Underfoot, the dried mud and slush
hardly conceal the stones and boulders
and make for a bumpy ride.

The black basalt shoulders of my road
have their skins stretched
across fleshless old bones.
From the leaves overhead,
clustered spaces of sky
count its ribs with the scraps of light
they sometimes let through.

Countless carts have returned this way,
stripping it of all its clods.
The knobbed tufts of grass
make up the only backbone
that has been spared by the ruts.
My axle wobbles on,
following the spoor of this green spine
into the beckoning darkness.


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 cruelest 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 smoldering 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 bards can divine
the sources of invisible rivers
without dowsing rods,
without the solipsistic necessity
of heat and thirst.


The Soul's Wilderness

An alpine peak
with its diadem of snow,
and a solitary mountaineer
abseils down the slope
leaning against the cloud-marbled sky.

The parajumper’s
heart in his mouth,
on the brink of surrender.

Earth’s turntable
rotates its mosaic of
trees farms fields houses
green yellow brown white

a landscape corrugated
with canals and streams
till his feet, turning—
a record needle
pointing in vertiginous axis.

A shark’s toothy smile.

The sharp sting
of an electric ray
shimmers in its whiplash.

An octopus stretches out
eight handshakes.

The diver descends,
his eye’s luster
seeking that of a pearl’s—
underwater, the loneliness
of scouring the sea-bed
for death to yield
its meager treasures.

Screeching tires scatter
a bouquet of sparks

in the ears,
or blood:

pebble on a slingshot,
the tight arc
on the circumference
of the arena.

The motocross driver’s
essential aloneness
with only acceleration
and adrenaline
for company.

Machete in hand,
the poet makes
slow weary progress
through the foliage
and treacherous undergrowth.

Following the spoor
of words,
to where it leads on:lair of wolf tiger lion

all alone with the darkness
of the midnight hunt.

Of Poets and Potters

The wheel begins to move
under your hands.
Slowly at first, then it picks up speed.
Now your thoughts are only lumps of earth,
but water gives you ceramic
when poured and blunged.
The spinning rhythm of the disc
draws you into its orbit, and molds
a gyral form all about its emptiness.
Your fingers are words, and pattern themselves
on concentric curves and enjambed spaces
which, whirling, benumb your careful eye.
A shape, emerging, as imagery gathers
volume and heft in centripetal spin;
its fictile texture hardens with trope.
You have made nothing happen:
with this clay of language which your fingers knead,
you are shaping an essence of life, of being
as its vortex drags you into its madness . . .

Suddenly, it’s finished. Complete. You lift it up:
in your hands, the vessel is whole. And real.
Its surface is glazed, its colors are in place,
its edges male-hard, its contours lissome.
And each word sparkles
with a joy so beyond all other joys.

© Srinjay Chakravarti is a freelance journalist, writer, editor, researcher and translator based in Kolkata, India. He was educated at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta and at universities based in Calcutta and New Delhi. University degrees: BSc (Economics honors), MA (English). His poetry and prose have appeared in around 100 publications in more than 25 countries. His first book of poems has received an award in Australia. He won one of the top prizes in the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Competition 2007-08. His journalistic columns include essays and articles on economics, politics, physics (including astrophysics), religion, spirituality and literature (including literary criticism and book reviews).