Poetry by Shyam Sunder Sharma

Shradh Offerings

The first offering is always
to the fire,
done even before the Pundit
began to feast.

Fire it is
that consumes
and subsumes
fire that purifies all;
all that is offered is devoured.

The puri dipped in kheer,
first resists burning,
and then surrenders
to the hungry flames.

Reminds me of how
reluctant I was to light your pyre
while you offered no resistance
to the purified release.

Water must follow fire,
water offered in the ritual
I pour out to the Peepul,
the ascetic tree, Peepul,
just water and nothing more
it asks in return for
peace to the soul.

The second food offering is for ants,
and they crawl out of everywhere,
an army of ants comes to feast
and wishes you peace.

The third offering is
for the crow,
and he swoops low,
scooping away,
the small puri full of kheer
placed on the parapet,
he spills nothing,
wastes nothing,
devours the offering,
to bring you peace.

The fourth is
for the holy cow,
benign as ever,
she swallows the offerings
right out of my hand
not even a cud,
she minces no words
gulps it all,
granting instant peace
and gratification.

The fifth and last
I always reserve for the dog,
and it is never my own dogs,
I pick a roving mongrel,
the most ceremonious
among the chosen
the street dog laps up
the kheer first,
then chews up the puri,
masticating peace,
and as he wags his tail
I see you smiling down
from clouds above.

Forgive me mother, my sins
of being mostly away
when you needed me most.

Forgive me my failings.
I don't really care much
about the feast for the pundit
or the afterward feast
for my Brahmin brethren.

Unlike the five offerings,
which I feel I must do
the rest mean nothing.
Until next year then
if I am around
I shall repeat this ritual
till I live.

Seeking eternal peace
for your soul,
taking stock of
my deeds and misdeeds.

I pray for you, mother,
like the fire that subsumes all,
like the Peepul that is detached to all,
like the ants that reduce everything down,
like the crow that swoops away,
like that cow that doesn't chew or cud,
like the dog that relishes the offerings.

Peace and liberation,
is what I pray
for your noble soul
and when it is all done
I remind myself
I cannot be weary
of my responsibilities.

Notes:
Shradh -Shraddha, originally a Sanskrit word, is combination of two words "Sat" meaning truth and "Adhar" meaning basis. So it means anything or any act that is performed with all sincerity and faith. It is said, “Shraddhyaa Kriyate Yaa Saa”: Shradh is the ritual accomplished to satiate one’s ancestors. This ritual expresses one’s unconditional reverence towards the ancestors.
Puri - Puri (also spelled poori) is an unleavened deep-fried Indian bread, commonly consumed on the Indian subcontinent. It is eaten for breakfast or as a snack or light meal.
Kheer - Kheer is a rice pudding from the cuisine of the Indian Subcontinent, made by boiling rice, broken wheat, tapioca, or vermicelli with milk and sugar; it may also be flavoured with dry fruits. 

Peepul -Ficus religiosa or sacred fig is a species of fig native to the Indian subcontinent, south-west China and Indochina. It belongs to the Moraceae, the fig or mulberry family. It is believed that the souls of ancestors come and rest on the Peepul during the period of Shradh. 

Autumn Leaf

Delayed monsoon,
the leaves forgot to fall
and clung on to raindrops.

Then comes the wind
picking on the late hang-ons,
sweeping them away
leaving the trees bare.

I am the autumn leaf
that forgot to fall,
I am the one
who clung on
stuck to my spot.

Grayed, purposeless
yet stubborn,
I wait, not for the wind
but the evening breeze
that knows me intimately.

It knows exactly
where to pick me from
it knows exactly where
to carry me.


The White Tiger & the Victim 

Product of genetic experiments,
senseless inbreeding,
caged white tiger,
born and brought up
in our concrete jungle.

Fed stale meat,
barricaded by a wall and a moat,
a sad amusement in our zoo.
Mentally ill, yet the young man must work
to earn his bread,
no free stale bread for him
in this concrete jungle.
He dreams of tigers
and seeks them.
No one in this concrete jungle
understands him.
Every day before work
he finds an escape,
slinking off to the zoo,
to watch the tiger
behind the barricade.
And yesterday, the young man
jumped into the moat,
what provoked him,
we will never know.

So much in common
between the two trapped souls.
The young man pleaded
before the tiger,
Spare me, I am sorry.

The anguished tiger,
terrified himself,
you are not my meal,
Why are you here?
Tragedy unfolds,
reluctant tiger
is still a tiger.

The mentally ill man is mauled
to death by the tiger,
who ignored him first
till the crowd began shouting
and stoning the tiger
to shoo it away.
You cannot shoo tigers away.
It's just not the tiger’s fault,
the mentally ill young man,
cannot be faulted either.
He was mauled to death
is another matter.
No one to fault,
No, don't go blaming
the government.
It's across Mars right now.
Look inwards.
People crowding to
shoot videos
of the tragic episode.

It makes a Prime time news item.
Some days back,
it was a starlet's tits,
now a reluctant tiger
and a sad fatality.

Look inwards,
is all I have to say.
We have come so far.

Gone across Mars but
forgot, basic human sensitivity
somewhere along the way.

Background:
On 23 September 2014, a mentally ill man jumped into the enclosure of a white tiger at Delhi Zoo. Upset by the crowd, the tiger mauled the victim but did not devour him. India’s successful Mars Mission was launched on 24 September 2014.

Seventy Nine Not Out

Seventy nine, not out,
was how my father told his age,
at the bank
that was two years back.
Prod him more
and he will tell you
that he has two Birthdays.
One is the day I was born,
it cannot be pinpointed on your calendar,
the actual one follows the Hindu calendar,
and then the official one,
quoted and documented everywhere.
Papa, it is time to get your new dentures,
I tell him
and he laughs and says
do you know
I used the neem twigs for toothbrush
till I was sixteen
and the first time,
I saw a toothbrush,
was when a friend had got one from town,
a vilayati ( foreign) stuff,
it was shared by all of us.
Ewww! That was gross!
How could you? I grimace.
We could, and do more,
before your fancy swimming pools,
we swam in ponds with buffalos
for company,
the buffalo's tail was a lifeline for poor swimmers
Those were the days,
now every Birthday is a reminder,
you are way past expiry date.

- Lieutenant Colonel Shyam Sunder Sharma, Shaurya Chakra ( Retired)