The Neem Petiole

By Shyamal Chakrabarti

Every year, as spring draws near,
Village women visit the campus
In search of neem stalks they use
To stitch the sal-leaves’ plates.
It is the time when neems shed
Their yellowing leaves like confetti
And their much needed petioles.
For most of the women it is the time
When they afford the luxury
Of a bus ride and come this far.

I ride my scooter or even bicycle
Under the mellow winter sun
To visit their villages and watch
How they grow bougainvillaea
And some such ornamental plants
In their courtyards to defy drabness
And indigence of their daily life.
They welcome me to their homes,
Flattered that I, a town dweller,
Cared to visit their measly huts.

I have half a dozen of neem trees
On both sides of my compound
And the trees are as much mine
As my neighbours’ on either side.
It is the time when my gardener
Has to daily sweep my courtyard
Strewn with dry neem leaves.
He piles them up at one corner
Under the shade of bay-leaf tree.
Campus beautification committee
That does its job most earnestly
And considers falling leaves a pest,
Engages contractor labours, armed
With hoes and hand carriers, who
Take away the decaying leaves
In trucks to the state-of-the-art
Incinerator, a proud invention
Of Chemical Engg Department.

The woman with two others
Were prying at my bungalow
From outside the gate, hesitant
To enter without permission.
I could recognise her and said,
“Aren’t you from Boramara,
The village west of Khejra?”
Her eyes glittered, “Yes, Babu,
We come this time of the year
To collect neem-kathi we use
To stitch leaf-plates. It’s only
In the campus we find so many
Neem trees but they drive us out,
Thinking we are out for thieving…”

I interrupted, for it was too much
To bear. She had a peepul tree
In her courtyard under whose shade
She spread a mat for me to sit upon
And offered me water. My pride
Did not allow me to remind her
Of the hospitality that was natural
And so scarce here in campus.


The Alien Heart

Rabindranath Tagore (translation by Shyamal Chakrabarti)

Who plays the melancholy flute
From the boat sailing from far-off land?
The notes carry the ineffable pangs
Of a lovesick heart and reach the shore
Where charmed eddies play on forest floor.
Drenched by autumnal dews, the notes
Raise strange symphony in my alien heart.
Pictures, interwoven by melody and light,
Come to my mind and I vision her
Walking languidly through the grove
With pitcher in hand along the riverbank.

Shyam’s Playmates

Rabindranath Tagore (translation by Shyamal Chakrabarti)

Oh, Yashoda! Let go our playmate, Shyam;
Cowherds are we, waiting outside your door.
Give us back our Shyam, we implore.
See how the day breaks with sunrise
And how flowers bloom in forest.
We shall take Shyam to pastureland,
So put him on his favourite yellow
And give him his flute and ankle bells.
We shall dance together all afternoon
Under shady bower and bells will jingle
While his flute will play melodies
As we weave for him wildflower wreaths.

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 my M.Sc. in Physics, M.Tech. and Ph.D. in Materials Science all from IITs (Kharagpur and Kanpur).

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