In another rendering, Kunti wonders
What if she didn’t set her lovechild in the river.
She did not write her thoughts down.
We know this from whispers travelling, one ear to another.
Karna’s twin fathers – charioteer & sun
Both let him down.
A wheel stuck in mire.
Armour given away, when an eclipse would do.
No one came.
Had she kept her child – would he have lived long enough?
The loom of time casts its long shadow.
Would destiny have unraveled beyond argument?
Or would he have met his fate anyway?
In a different telling, his half-brothers in a common camp.
And he, like the forest child Eklavya
Left to fend the arrows of fate with missing thumb.
Karna, with a heart large as the world, left to the elements,
Wherever tree branch and twig leaf took him.
Could she change the will of the gods?
The iron-clad rules of the game?
Yet, tempting to think – Karna as king,
Eklavya as crown prince – empire of bird and bee.
Elsewhere, Gandhari wonders too –
What if she said no?
To marriage, a blind prince, when a commoner would do.
What if she walked out – crying deceit?
And Ganga, river eternal, has a moment midcourse
Somewhere on the way to Haridwar, just before the evening Aarti.
What if she doesn’t turn up today?
If only she didn’t fall – for all that mortal charm – so early.
But that takes us away from Karna.
Karna still asks his mother, that same question, every day.
Would I have been Karna, had you kept me?
Had you not set me among the rushes?
Had my father embraced me, in open sunlight?
His mother thinks hard, comes up with the same reply, every time.
Give me one more day to think about it.
One more day, she knows, will not make a difference.
4000 miles. Skopje to Kolkata.
10 hours of flying time.
Crossing seas, oceans, fears
To reach Moti Jheel, a pearl lake.
The girls listen, of common ilk.
You teach them – prayer and geography
How distance is measured
In maps, but the longest route is the one
From mind to heart.
You tell them about history
While war rages on outside, altering those maps.
And starving hands turn up everyday
For a bowl of rice, leftovers, anything.
They would call this the Bengal Famine
Years later, when history books get written
When they explore what went wrong –
Many things, wrong policies, colonial might,
But also, a failing of the heart.
On that train to Darjeeling, your uncertain wisdom
Heard the call to step out,
Into the heart of suffering, for another long journey.
Black robes gave way – a blue lined white cotton sari,
Ocean and sea, simple as Gandhi.
This would be your uniform.
Those early days were flash and lightning.
Much to be done.
So many to care for.
Nothing seemed enough – the leprous, scabbed, the hungry
Sick suffering dying
Those lost and never found, outside hospital walls
But there was will, and there was the voice
To will it, make things happen.
You were just a messenger.
Do more. Pick up the sick and the weary
Clothe them, bring them home,
A bed to rest, food to dream one more day.
And it went on, as night turned to day
In weary silence – those who knew,
The voice slowly grew silent.
All dark, the light that shone
in those early days, grew faint.
This was the hardest part.
You moved calmly among shadows,
Listening to the darkness inside,
That earnest tongue now gone.
But the little shuffling steps continued,
Travelling miles of geography,
That once came to our school.
1988 in Guwahati. Outside, kids in line, watching
A frail old woman, softly breathing.
As others arched their toes for a view.
You remained quiet till the end.
After you left, they asked no more.
Those who remember you, feel their shoulders lightened
Knowing someone strode these paths.
Before there were planes, internet, whatsapp texts.
The longest journey is still the one to the human heart.
The heart’s barricades are open.
The quiet neighbour, dark
But for nativity in the far corner.
A baby inside.
Hay in the flailing desert dusk.
Should we leave some food?
Our missing wages, at the gate?
Something for morning?
A guard shoos us away.
The baby remains quiet through all this,
In the dark cold dark.
We click a picture, blurry as dust,
The granary empty.
Then the slow camel walk to the stars,
Mother and daughter, hand in hand
Firmly on terra firma, followed by a Bedouin father
His feet walking on air.
Amlanjyoti Goswami ‘s new collection of poetry is ‘Vital Signs’ (Poetrywala). His earlier collection ‘River Wedding’ (Poetrywala) was widely reviewed. His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, his poems have also appeared on street walls in Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg, an e-gallery in Brighton and buses in Philadelphia. He has reviewed poetry for Modern Poetry in Translation and has read in various places, including New York, Delhi and Boston. He grew up in Guwahati and lives in Delhi.