An epiclet: Apsara
Hail , you non-existent or existent
Mystery of the cosmos
Personal or impersonal
Male and/or female
O Multifoliate One!
Let me inspire you, ‘garud’ of a dove
Be your muse
Touchpad or kepypad may soar above the seven heavens and higher than the seven notes
To glorify or magnify
Your story in more than seven colours and in more than seven numbers
Or days, and set it free.
Thousands of leaves may fall off a tree
But to one out of the many that is falling
red, yellow, and brown edged, it would matter
more than to the others
if by some mysterious force
it became somehow imbued
with the consciousness of being parted from the branch.
So it was that long ago miners in the south of ‘Bharath’ found a stone
blue as the sky on a dark morning before a storm
a stone unpolished and uncut, by no human yet worn
and they took it to the stone cutter, hoping to give it a form.
Tucked away , in a shady grove
near the centre of the universe
was a temple no one knew about
for a woman – not a goddess meet!-
whom the earth had one day devoured.
On her forehead was a diadem
In the sanctum sanctorum
the gem-maker’s large cut blue stone
in size, lustre and quality
almost unmatched around the world
now adorning that fair forehead, like a blazing dawn.
It lit up the dark niche
as a bright star would our green earth, on a cloudless, moonless night
so bright was it, like blue fire!
One almost felt it lived.
In the village, love was stirring
treacherously, as always
between the stereotyped farmer’s daughter
and the poor subaltern blacksmith’s son who helped
his father in shoeing horses for the newly arrived, white-skinned firangis.
He loved the wheel that sent out sparks, the horseshoes and the whetting stone
the ability to make keys and duplicates
in the smithy’s fiery small, dark forge
but all his love went to Apsara
as hers to him by the well, one day
drawing water or by the still village lake
or in the green paddy fields that turned brown as dust
in the summer of frog croaks, no rains.
For beautiful was she as any Indian girl, brown as a berry
with black eyes and hair
that was almost, at times, as lustrous as the blue diamond
And he was also handsome, in his simple rustic dress
whether driving cattle to their homes
or helping in his father’s trade
and both went to the temple often
to pay their obeisance
to the lady in the dark niche
and saw the blue stone dream
with its blinding light in the forehead of
the fair silent figurine
beautiful and distant
to whom she prayed, so constant
and of whom he thought
secretly, to himself
I wish her skin was like
Apsara’s, so nut brown
but whom he loved more than her.
He knew, like all , the difference
between the love that gives
asking nothing in return
and all human love that only, finally, kills
Apsara, we know, was her name
The blacksmith’s son’s name is lost to history.
One twilit eve Mr Smith looked out through the window
After polishing his black shoes again to make them shine
Till he could see his bleached face in them
And saw Apsara and her young man walk by
Something in the curve of her walk
reminded him of the curves of the sweet Thames’s slight waves
that ran softly as if in song
be the song long or be the song lorn
Come, let me with this Amaryllis in the shade sport
and have some dalliance, he thought idly
That it may not be said I did not enjoy foreign furlough
Mrs Smith being too oft engaged in some other sport
He called the young man and her over
Asked them amiably what there was to visit
In the quiet vicinity
In halting English, they said
We go to the temple
May I too, he asked
As to how to explain that they themselves had to stand
far away from the temple and bow
they half-heartedly said, yes
and then the three fared on
When they reached the banyan tree
They asked him to wait
He did without demur
They went and came back
Then he asked them about the blue light
Even from afar it could be seen glimmering
They tried to explain about the gemstone to him
He had come to survey about the railways lines
criss-crossing the entire land
and its feasibility for their place, he said.
At parting, he let his eyes remain only on her
She felt confused and hers, hers fell down.
The nameless young man watched, troubled at something
he fathomed and did not. The advent of more travail.
Slowly they spend more time together
Apsara and the man from across
the sundering seas with his strange stories
of ships that sail and tunnels through which
roar coal-driven so-called modern carriage-bound locomotives
while in the background silently
feeling as if he was fading away into nothingness
waited patiently the blacksmith’s son
listening too and learning, thinking
dreaming, wondering what the advent of the new knowledge meant.
One day he could not go to see both.
Apsara alone met her new mentor
who told her about the globe and its wonders
and gemmology and then asked her if she knew
about the birds and the bees
and on hearing her answer that she did not understand the question
he laughed and she could not decipher in it his tone of mockery
When she was about to leave he suddenly touched her cheek
carressingly and in a swift move, kissed her full lips
She was all of sweet seventeen
Astounded, without even knowing fully what had happened
her chest rose and fell in confusion as she
crimsoned and he withdrew, and her breath grew rapid
her heart beat as if bursting out of its rib-cage
she ran away without a backward glance
unlike Lot’s wife who had long ago been warned
not to look back but on disobeying
had been changed forever into a pillar of salt.
She knew about the landlords in her place
and the fear girls her age in her community bore
but this new threat she could not entirely fathom
It came in such an alien shape that it was not entirely clear as one
she told not even her only friend
or her mother or father or siblings in her home
His knowledge was attractive, she had often felt
But his advance merely repulsed her
It felt unjust
She went home and decided to no longer go there
for picture books or for learning that strange new alphabet.
On a dark and stormy night
Mr Smith saw the light
It had the shape of a gun
Mr Smith wanted some fun
The blue of the gem dazzled him
Apsara’s curves mesmerized him
He dreamt of railway lines across the land
Trains thundering and tunnels so black
Gems, spices, women all at his demand
A world in which he nothing did lack.
Mr Smith went out that stormy night
He took hold of the blacksmith’s son
Made him steal the gem for him
While thunder and lightning scoured the land.
He did not stop, he shot him –
Left him on the ground, sure he had died
Then he wandered in a red mist to the home in which
Apsara slept and thunderously knocked
Alarmed at the hullaballoo, they wake
He puts his gun away, and says: come, my friends
I caught the blacksmith’s son trying to steal the gem
and shot him, he lies there, he may be dead.
The parents and Apsara run to the field
On the way he catches her by her hand
In the dark she goes missing, they do not notice at once –
in rushing the boy to help and temporary village‘hate.’
Apsara’s tale I can’t further relate –
That same night, Mr Smith flees the village for France.
In the morning, the boy survives
They kill Mrs Smith, who knew nothing of it
Such is history, victims and chances
and stories, and survivors:
becoming epic narratives
and then a poet who narrates it
full of gaps and what meanders.
In France he sells the blue gem for a fortune
Is this the end of Mr Smith’s story?
Will no one now marry Apsara, ruined?
The blacksmith’s son turns to gun- making, and swears
to fight both the wicked landlords and the British
This is where my epic poem begins
or maybe it has ended.
Who knows what’s next?