A Bowl of Rice

Rama image 4.jpg
-Rajesh K. Jha
A thousand or a million year ago,
in the age of Treta,
you walked into the forest in exile,
Where your sister Shanta, banished from Ayodhya,
waited for you-anxious with anticipation.
I don’t know if you met her or not,
But I imagine your eyes had moistened,
breath became uneven with anger at the King of Ayodhya.
Lord Rama, do you still get angry? Do you still cry?
Dandaka forest looked mesmerizing that day,
a little darker than the usual when unreal turned into real,
the golden stag frolicked enticing Sita,
you went to hunt for the mirage,
only to realise she was gone to a land unknown.
Your cries ricocheted against the lengthening shadows of trees,
Animals wept,
the land and the sky shed tears with you,
I adore you, for your tears were as salty and bitter as are mine.
Laxman lay gasping for breath,
hit by the arrow of Meghnad in the battlefield,
till the time Hanuman came with the mountain of the medicine,
you cried for the beloved brother,
put your head on the shoulders of the Vanaras,
They sobbed with you, prayer on their furry lips.
When a brother cries for a brother on the shoulders of a brother,
Mountains move, seas rise to kiss the moon and the world stops for a moment.
Would you not cry, O Lord Rama, today for a brother dying in your arms?
The river Saryu had turned black,
ominous thoughts clawed at its heart,
the day was far to break.
You slowly walked towards it, lost in thought before the final dip.
Was that remorse? Repentance? Destiny?
Shanta, Sita, Shambuk, Shabari, Ravana flitted in a dreamy sequence.
Who would tell you if Ram Rajya came?
Was it a mirage like the golden stag in the Dandakranya?
Yes? No? No? Yes?
The answer eluded like water cupped in the hand.
Sky had turned amber and the birds crisscrossed the rising sun,
Closing your eyes, you stepped into the warm water,
bidding goodbye to Ayodhya and the Treta.
The river cried, birds fell into silence,
your heart swelled with emotion.
An apparition tugged at your half-wet cloth.
A voice came from the forest-wait, wait, wait,
Not the time to go away yet,
don’t repent for the golden stag that you did not find,
get me a bowl of rice,
raise your bow, fire the arrow,
let the sky boom and the earth shake,
with the thunderous quiver of your mighty weapon,
announce to the world,
Ram Rajya can wait,
Bhaat De Harami.*
* Bhaat De Harami–  A famous poem written in 1974 by Rafik Azad, a poet from Bangladesh. The poem meaning ‘Give me food, bastard’ was written in the context of the devastating famine that led to many starvation deaths in the country.
Shanta was the first born daughter of Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Legend has it that she was given away in adoption and later married to a seer to save the land from drought. She was also instrumental in carrying out a Yajna for Dashratha who longed for a son. A tragic character who is often banished not just from her place of birth but also erased from literature for various reasons.
Rama -starvation image 3

One thought on “A Bowl of Rice

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  1. Starvation still continues in quite many parts of India, unknown to us. Shanta and Dasharatha still hold good in the present day India. The desire for a male heir continues and Shantas are trafficked for a bowl of rice. The poem is beautifully written connecting us to our ancient unwanted mindset. Came to know about Shanta, thanks. We will have to still wait for Ramraja. Congrats Jha ji for this wonderful piece. Keep sharing such gems.


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