It took me a kneel-down

to know that a garlanded photo frame

can give more joy than

the god tucked therein,

that the damp grey dregs

of burnt incense

are laden with a coy

catechism of slow fire,

that a deity can easily

be coaxed into submission

or roped in by the silence

slithering in prayer

and half-whispers clung

to throatspread.

It took me a supine surrender

to see that a copper bell

fastened to a roof beam can

resonate reveries much before

finger touches clapper

or eyelid kisses sclera,

that the body rejoices

in the quiet which swirls

in the closed-room dusk of

heat-swollen afternoons, when

the primal yearning of flesh

makes the bones quiver

with the fear of vehement

sinning in the very midst

of saints, ever watchful

in their still-life serenity.

Sarabjeet Garcha published his first book of poems, The Half-Moon Halo, in 2004. He lives in Delhi, India, and works as an editorial manager for an international publisher of science, technology, and medical books. He also writes in Hindi; his book of Hindi verse and a Hindi translation of selected poems of the Marathi poet Hemant Divate will be published in 2011.


The shrine in this poem is a gurdwara in a sprawling, riverside building, now deserted, in Nasik, Maharashtra, that will soon either crumble on its own or be razed to the ground to make room for a new one. I spent my childhood in this building, originally meant to be a rest house for pilgrims but later home to many families who rented rooms in it and spent decades instead of days there. The gurdwara would usually remain locked, but whenever I found it open I’d sneak into it and spend hours on end there, sometimes sitting cross-legged on the dhurrie spread out over the floor, sometimes moving about, very, very slowly, to touch and feel the various objects that supposedly make the space within four walls holy: a platter with castaway matchsticks and dregs of incense, a lamp with a burnt wick still exuding the odour of clarified butter, the scriptures sleeping cosily in the softness of silk cushions, a flywhisk snuggling in the groove between the thick book and padded cloth. When I visualize that old building, the shrine is the first place that livens up my memory. Also, a bell is a most unusual thing to find in a Sikh shrine. Perhaps this has one because it belongs to the Nirmal sect, the followers of which are Sikhs heavily influenced by Hinduism, especially Brahmanism and the Vedantic philosophy.




Copyright 2009