(After Valmiki’s Ramayana: Ayodhyakanda, Sargas 62-64; 66)

For six days after Rama’s departure Dasaratha
alternately walks on all fours barking like a dog, rubs
his hair in dirt or fresh dung, rolls on the floor of his palace
wailing, or begs and shouts to the walls, the doors:
‘Damn you, woman, damn you!’ ‘Hey Rama,
have me arrested right now, have me arrested, please, please!’
He drinks wine jar after jar, licks sweetmeats
from his fingers, sings koo koo! kirri kirri! then passes out
wherever he is, plunged into a long dreamless
sleep inside sleep. On the sixth day, he wakes
to the forgotten pleasure of light filling the room,
warm heat coursing over him. He hears faraway sounds
with a crystalline precision: the gentle splashing
of water, the snap of chariot wheel on rutted stone,
the clapping of horses’ hooves. Then it all
comes back: he, a young man not yet the ruler
of the world, is in the forest for sport; he’s shot
an arrow by sound alone thinking to catch an elephant
wading in a stream. A piercing
cry, then through the woods
to find he’s done something
he can’t take back: a boy
dying in the water of that stream, black
blood pooling between his legs where
an arrow is lodged. ‘Who would do this? What kind of evil
would kill an innocent for sport? I am
a poor wanderer, son of a Vaishya father
and a Shudra mother. I’ve got nothing, I live on air,
I wear bark for clothes and my only duty
is to take care of my parents who won’t survive
without me. Damn you!’ All at once
in a crosswire of his brain Dasaratha
is the young monk wounded in that unclotting
water, and he’s the wailing of that monk’s
ailing parents and he’s falling from a high peak
into a swimming pool of shit, drinking as it distills
into a cup of sesame oil in his hand and he
stuffs his face from scattered heaps
of stale overcooked rice, rubs
the oil on himself then plunges
head first into a great vat of it,
sucks it through his nose, lets it swim
through him, and settling into
a black throne surrounded
by crimson-faced women

he can see their mocking laughter as if through a haze.


Photograph © Girish Gopi 

The Bachelor Father
Anjan Sundaram and Lindsey Hilsum In Conversation