Poetry / December 2013 (Issue 22)

Visiting Ajanta in Times of Unrest

by June Nandy

I thought, every part of your city picked up the black Arabian Sea
To spread breathless long moments in your countless dark caves.
Thirty, forty? Archaeologists are still counting. How many?
The guide says, each one unique, a live history.

At the entrance, the rain-stained benches are made of stone.
Is this the place where your thoughts came to take rest?

Frozen it is, here. The sun is wise not to thaw your state.
Figurines you had carved are intact in their grace. Nonetheless,
For the light, I paid a ten rupee fee. Little more
For the seekers from Japan and far-east.

I made the torch learn its place
In the bag. I had hoped, my barefoot would remember
The dulcet song of your steps.

At the end of every cave, you stood
like a Buddha, with a chapter open on maps.
At the end of you, I accessed, a passage through.

Gautama lies at rest in cave twenty-six, said the school-children to me.
In Mahaparinirvana—his body; twenty-four long feet.
Gautama as young Siddhartha, Gautama with disciple Ananda,
Gautama as Yogaruddha,
Gautama, learnt in classes of co-curricular.

Buddham sharanam gacchami—hymn of a school
That guests from foreign-shores understood.
Buddham sharanam gacchami—hymns start when debates end.

The dark’s jurisdiction demands our eyes.
A blindness that the sun too provides; an impairment
which even the love cannot defy.
How relatively differing paths meet at one point.

I touched a woman in stone, who looked like me.
I saw you lying stretched like Gautama, twenty-four feet.
Little late I had been; ambiguities that had long held me.
Darkness seemed fathomable now.
Rock-faces that our days had built, were foregoing their rights.

The sun rushed toward me to ask, do you understand
Where I express the ambit of my light?
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