Poems by Shyamal Chakrabarti

The Ghost watcher

My Tamil colleague, whose fear of ghosts
Is perceptibly more than his faith in gods,
Is always in the look out for the eerie.
He is thirty four and still a bachelor
Being busy with his ‘spectroscope’
Searching for specters when others are
Looking for a suitable bride instead.
He fears most whom he calls “lady ghosts”
Who chase him even in his dreams
In bridal dress or in Halloween attire.
He talks of ghosts respectfully for
“You can afford to ignore an innocuous god.
But being lesser gods, the inhabitants
Of the nether world are quite touchy.”
He further adds, “The land of temples
Is now left with few Brahmins who used
To double as exorcists. In their absence,
Lesser gods and demigods have taken over.”
It is possible that ghosts followed him
Thousand miles northward, across Vindhyas,
For there was no such sudden explosion of
Population of ghosts in my town before.
Now they are everywhere, keeping
Vigil on my colleague from roof tops
And tree tops ready with a slab of concrete
Or a tree branch targeting his head.
He avoids them, riding twice the distance
In his motorbike to reach the eatery
Where he dines and taking a different
Route to return panting but in safety.
If the ghosts are clever, he is cleverer
For now he watches their movement
And their presence in Google Earth,
A powerful addition to his ‘spectroscope.’
One day he told me, “Sir, if I may say,
Your garden has turned into a rain forest.
You must get the trees pruned or even felled
For they quite conceal your bungalow
And sword of Damocles hangs from them.
I was watching Google Earth and found
To my horror a huge colony of ghosts
At the south-east corner of your compound.”
I have at least half a dozen trees - ashoka,
Bay leaf, neem - that bear no fruits and
Another half a dozen of mango, jackfruit,
Guava, custard apple and cashew nut
That grew as they liked but never did I
Suspect them of harboring terrorists!
A chill flowed through my spine for
Fear is infectious and it was nighttime.
Next morning, after a restless night,
I went out and looked at the south-east
Corner where creepers formed a canopy
Over a neem tree, almost obscured.
A closer look at last revealed what
My colleague saw on computer screen –
A huge colony of inhabitants of air
Who doubtless changed their form
(For spirits are good at choosing shapes)
By day break to turn into honey bees!


Birds and Squirrels

The lorikeets and chaffinches that lived
In a cage of modest size and displayed
Every color of the rainbow and more
To the envy of the local birds – doves
And sparrows – were most wasteful.
They scattered more seeds than ate
By winnowing with their wings
And left droppings on the tray.
A loquacious lot, they chirped on
When their keeper wanted them
To be frugal and maintain peace.
Being stupid birds, they never sang
To please the keeper who saved their
Worry for food or water, sun or rain.
But they loved music and sat silently,
All seven of them, when their keeper
Played for them the melodious songs
Of yester-years. They liked most
The song of love between a bulbul
And a garden flower sung by Rafi.
In the story, the bird sang to a dahlia
Who smiled in acknowledgement.
One day, a bird catcher took the bulbul
Away and the dahlia swooned and pined
Until the bulbul returned, tearing open
The cage; such being the power of love.
Though the keeper of the colorful birds
Was not an ornithophile, he hung
The cage outside, in the garden, where
Kamini, seuli, jasmine and madhabilata
All stooped to draw their attention.
The birds were a happy lot and beat
Their wings more vigorously than ever
Scattering more seeds on the ground
A few inches below. Doves and sparrows,
Jealous of their beauty and fortune,
Preferred to stay away but two squirrels,
Who believed in the dictum, waste not…,
Made forages for grains, falling underneath.
The keeper, who though hated wastage,
Realizing it was not enough for
The pair of timid but agile rodents,
Kept another seeds tray underneath
Until the squirrels got over their fear
And began eating from his hands.

Shyamal Chakrabarti teaches Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He writes stories, poems, popular science articles and has never travelled abroad. He did his M.Sc. in Physics, M.Tech. and Ph.D. in Materials Science all from IITs (Kharagpur and Kanpur).

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