Hé Ram!

A friend in the fifth grade
taught me
that for every mistake
we had to write
the name of Ram
a hundred and eight times
in little rectangle boxes
on the square pages
of a notebook.

My mother taught me
to say “Ram…Ram…Ram”
in a voice louder and faster
than my fearful heartbeats
racing up the dark stairs
three steps at a time
to fetch a book
that papa wanted.

आदौ राम तपोवना भी गमनम
हत्वा मृगम कांचनम…
(Adau Rama tapovanabhi gamanam
hatva mrugam kanchnam…)
my grandmother taught me
to rattle the entire Ramayana off
in a single Sanskrit shloka.

श्री रामचन्द्र कृपालु भजमन हरण भवभय दारुणम…
(Shree Ramachandra kripalu bhajmana
haran bhavbhay daarunum…)
Mami sang
affectionately stroking my head.
everything came to a standstill
winds, roads, people, rivers, time…
and everything began to flow
courtyards, walls, trees, entire villages, chabutaras
everything was liquid,
melting into one another
into the cosmos,
in that moment,
in that tune,
in her lap.

In my life
apart from Sita
I knew so many women
who belonged to Ram.
Then one evening
someone abducted
their Ram
and buried him alive
buried him deep
with the remains of an old mosque
and built a city of gold on that land.
I do not know under which pretext
of what ‘maryaada’
Ram deserted all his women once again.

Once again
the earth beneath my feet,
tore apart,
and one by one
times, memories, feelings,
meanings, constitutions, poems,
artists, labourers, women, children,
religions, and many a messiah
caved in
Hé Ram!!!

Pratishtha Pandya teaches at Ahmedabad University. Translated from Gujarati by the poet.

Featured image credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui