Saturday 30 September 2017

Nine nights


My goddess is a patch of sky
between two raffia palms -
a bird streaks down like a spear
thrown by one of her arms.

My goddess is a curl of cloud
on the skyline somewhere
and the wingspan of a kite’s her crown,
tangled mesquite’s her hair.

My goddess is a snapped off stem -
an arrangement of spice
fortuitously made in the kitchen.
A rich bubbling of rice.

She is, and isn’t, made of clay,
she’s whole seasons, not just four days.


She sends me a sign that I don’t
instantly recognise -
the mind admits only a want
to relate might to size.

I look at the sky and forget
the grass beneath my feet
and I think she’s a mauve sunset
where seas and heavens meet,

but the horizon’s just a line -
the limits of my eye,
a sunset is as much divine
as an earthworm or a fly.

She is broad as winds, warriorlike
and a stick thin match ready to strike.


The temple dance of northern lights
she sends me through a friend,
and I watch the worship mesmerised
before I comprehend.

Likewise a different autumn night
there is a quiet fall
of moonlit shreds of small insights -
but their sum’s not small.

She’s among my friends and my folks,
the least of my brethren -
she doesn’t need to be invoked
and worshipped now and then.

She demands not one thing from me,
just lets me breathe and walk out free.


She sends me more, but by this time
I am on high alert
get clued up how she leaves her signs,
offhand, hidden by dirt.

She isn’t there in lotus buds
hundred and eight, or more
neither the soil we call sacred,
nor a foot drawn on the floor,

she sends me a pulse of light and dark
a scratch of old perfume
and news of distant loved ones marks
her grace within my rooms.

She’s a cell, a text, telephone ring -
a massive world of tiny things.


She’s not a fast, she’s not a feast -
she’s core of grape and grain,
what goes into the mouth is least
for it passes out again.

She’s hard to trap, she’s hard to fold
in sandalwood and stone,
and eight rare metals never could hold
and claim her for their own.

She’s not the conch, she’s not a song
she’s not in lamp nor flame.
Nor is she the bell, nor overlong
chant of a special name.

No exact angle quite defines
her intimate bounds, and what’s divine.


She comes to mind about this time
with all my womenfolk,
stretching behind in one long line,
half lost in incense smoke.

I knew no goddess as a child,
maybe not even now.
I knew her through my mothers’ smiles
an aunt’s kiss on my brow.

I knew her from the silky sands
that ran between my toes;
through elephant grass, savannah lands,
where the sandbur grows.

She’s woman, and burr, and long ago
she pricked my cuff and never let go.


And now from time to time I get
distracted by my cuff
at the mass of spines that firmly sits
and won’t be shaken off

Does she like things neat? yet won’t let
me snugly button them up?
I finger the fabric and get pricked
her spines are somewhat rough -

but there’s a smoothness obvious too.
As we move from spot to spot
the garments change, the years, the views,
but the massed burrs do not.

She’s a spine, a roughness - in my side,
and smoothly endures through the ride.


The gods don’t come, they don’t return -
it’s me who comes and goes,
falters at the gates and then turns,
afraid to get too close.

The marquees are made of floodlights
and a thousand-strong crowd,
inside my space her touch is like
silk poured on a raincloud -

and when she can, she lays her hand
on my temple and cheek
though I may see the raffias and
a spear-like sparrow streak.

She is bird-flight, and animal-track,
but she doesn’t arrive, nor go back.


She looks at me through the prayer niche -
her seal’s on calligraphed walls.
On the crucifix. On flesh and fish.
And gutters and urban sprawls.

Her footmarks weave the river bank
into its sunlit scarf,
her thumb print’s on the desert flanks
and on the ocean surf.

She loosens out the date palms coif;
asks neither wind nor breath,
a full moon night she quite shrugs off,
nips out the wicks of faith.

She’s never at home and always near,
she’s everyWhere and everyHere.

Today marks the end of one of the main festivals in my community in India, celebrated over nine nights. I got sent various images by friends and family members the past few days and looking at them this is what happened.  None of the pictures belongs to me, I don't know the copyright holders, credit where credit is due and I do emphatically wish to salute the amazing creativity and expression, kudos!

One of the things I like about my community is the pluralistic approach to religion - it allows space to the devout and the atheists and the agnostics, we are all God's children whether we believe in an Almighty or not, or the forms of our beliefs, or how we observe our festivals. India has been practicing live and let live for centuries, probably the most ancient community to adopt this as a motto, for all I know. But recently this pluralism has been under attack, which is concerning and saddening. 

My own devotion quotient is irretrievably flawed, I leave my family members and friends to intercede on my behalf, and they do a fantastic job - the evidence is amply clear in my life. I'm deeply grateful for that. Therefore, I find it preposterous this vicious effort now to herd us all into one 'right' way of observance, to create one path where there are obviously many. 'There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.' The clueless have a claim to a way and a kiss too!

Happy Festival to you, whatever it is you are celebrating today. May all our prayers in all their various ways find their mark.

And we are getting together for the Halloween at Write...Edit...Publish later in October, see you there.


  1. Thank you for a most wonderful poem, it was a joy to read and so imaginative. Thanks for your explanation as this truly portrays the excellence of the poem.


  2. Hi Nila - what a wonderful way to pull your friend's and family's images sent to you together into a beautiful post for us ... I really do not like being herded ... I do what I do ... and I respect what goes on in life ... as long as it is there for good - and we all relate ... the Nine Nights is important to many ... I love that is celebrated traditionally, yet can be marked non-traditionally. Beautiful poem of 9 verses ... cheers Hilary

    1. Totally agree with you! No greater religion than being compassionate!'He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small'

      Have a super weekend :)

  3. Great message here, and I love how you wove all these images into one train of thought.

    1. I'm not too fond of soapboxes generally but the plot has thickened this side to such an extent that there's no alternative but to get up on one. Thanks for listening.

  4. Amen - we are indeed all God's children.

    1. Several of God's children close by are convinced that people like me are not, sadly.

  5. Thought provoking, powerful and beautiful. Thank you so much.
    And how I wish that live and let live was adhered to - religiously - the world over.

  6. Beautiful poem and images. Indeed I can't say I have a religion but I believe in Earth, nature, and love. To me that covers a lot.

    1. Earth, nature, and love. I'd say that covers 100% of faith.

  7. A wonderful and apt poem Nilanjana one that neatly summarizes all that I feel and so much more. Thank you so much and Shubho Bijoya to you too :)

    1. Shubho Bijoya! Thanks for being here, and wish you and yours a blessed year ahead.