Earthquake at Kutch

a poem in five parts

‘Yesterday is a dream for the Kutch people’ (song of mourning)


Shadows of trees, branch-shadows, shadows of leaves
stray in the dust. Only the trees are standing.
Slight shapes chequer a quiet space of ground.
Busy hands, light arms – a sudden playing
on a path where children marched, where children lay.
At first it is a festival of morning.
There in the vivid shadow is the shade
of a marching-by. It is Republic Day,
the hoisting of the flag, a new millennium.
Earth, great Earth – a casual remark
of yours – and Time’s bombastic cover
is blown. Still I hear them say,
Anjar’s children, ‘Our long line knew the way
to be, to be a country.’ I hear them pray,
‘Brothers and sisters, who come here to play
in the tree-shadows, let our land’s flag stay
an emblem of love.’ So the blocked-light-shapes stray
on a path where children marched, where children lay,
over the terrible dust of Republic Day.

Only the trees are standing. Here a red-flower kesura
is out in song. What dead hills are these,
what monotone ridges? Wave after churning wave
of a grey sea. All a dull paraphernalia
of what, a breath back, was the original flame –
the loveliest light, the richest treasury.

Against a tree
insouciant in its greenery – a vast storey,
verandah-and-all, has shuddered to a stop.
High up a nest sits. What chance signature
is this, to life’s inheritance? What attesting
claimant – clear above the path?

parul parul
a man-to-be chirrups the name of a girl
parul parul
a woman-to-be breathes a love-letter’s words

What grey slopes of denial? An impossible proposition,
a crumpled moment, a reduction to the absurd,
of rooves and walls and wires, half-bicycles –
of chatter and shouts and smiles, the living intent,
the body’s thought, sweet musculature of mind,
the god-spark of the eye – out in a word.
What damning statement has been made? As if
a soul the world had were extinguished in
these still and awful hills. It is a time
there is no prayer for. Only a red-flower kesura
burns, burns for Anjar’s children, sings its song.


It is a moment that will never stop.
He sits all day in the rubble. Such defeat
sits in his bones, empowers his eyes, his face,
a candle-flame is in his body’s place.
Why should I see a world-without-end grace
in an old man’s hell? I hear the fact-words repeat:
this was his home. This was his baker’s shop.

It is a moment that will never stop.
Death’s dream is here. All place, all name is gone,
time is a trick. Each of the mind’s ideas
is an illusion. Still for the rest of my years
a flame shakes in me, I can be moved to tears.
He sits. A simple fact speaks, on and on:
this was his home. This was his baker’s shop.


I pause
in a stone garden
for a death-instant.

It is the sky
blue, blue, human-blue
that is an illusion.

By almighty broken walls
I stand.

Once the Palace of Mirrors.
Now a dull exhibition
of dust and stone.


Strange rock-petals.
A flower has broken out
in wild clusters,

and here and there
hugely single.
It has no kin.

No child of light
no daughter of air
or son of dew

breathes in the garden.
The day is dead.
Light is a mirage.


They troop by,
of an old kingdom.

For a few seasons
the rich ease
of an ordered world.

Five gateways
open and close
on a walled city.

They troop by,
of the finery of time.


We are in a stone garden.
All the colours,
the structures of sound

are out.
Only a night of space
and strange rock-petals.

There is living to do.
Something is calling
like water chattering.

A shining is near
with dark shapes
like our own shadows.


Born into blindness
are we not held
in a Palace of Mirrors?

Have we not towered
against ourselves
the tallest of walls?

In a stone garden
the display of stars
is dust.

Made of death
we endure.
A great city is gone.


‘Did you see Kimo? Where is our Kimo?’
Fifty years old, and mad, and no-one can find him.
The whole village wants him. Ninety-seven are dead,
everyone’s house is a dust-heap, not a wall standing,
the water level has sunk, there’s a rumour of plague –
and all ask for Kimo. Would it be so in a town?

‘Did you see Roshni? Talk to our Roshni!’
A ten-year-old sits in a tent, her crutches nearby,
reading. With head body legs all bludgeoned,
she saw to it her friend was fetched out first.
Now they are laughing. Now back into their books.
India needn’t worry with girls like these.

Under Village, My Gaon, buried in a quake
in 1819, still an abode of cowherds,
still the same spot, still to be the same spot,
the poorest and richest place on Earth. Under Village
to the star-mysteries, you who are all our meaning,
in the dark of peopled Time, you record our worth.


The eye of the mind comes round
to the epicentre

Bhachau, an extinct township

and round it, here and there
to an isolated point
once a one-off, unique –
now a cloned disaster,
a smashed village

a mother-town, with its extended family

an atrocity of torn houses

The eye of the mind veers down
a side-street remnant, a crashed wave

here, impossibly open
a half-house is shored up

on the edge of a high shelf, unreachable
a precarious bottle of ink

at the lakeside a mosque is cracked like an eggshell

out on the road a broken harmonium

in a step the blind roadside flowers in song

now it is a sandy path in a village

a temple’s roof has lost its hanging chhatra

the gods and goddesses do not shelter here

still, still the sandy path divides
religions, castes

a sandy path in a desert

in an overdriven world.

The eye of the mind is drawn to where, in time
in time a shift in space occurred
in Nature’s skull

the teeth grate, the sky is filled with an echo

a dome of light is down, how many times

the dead-in-life are left, innumerable


you took a wider loss

but here at life’s stark centre
at Kutch, an old woman weeps

It will not let you forget,
I used to say, it will bring you back,
the sweet water of Bhachau,
all who leave the town one day return,
I used to say. But I was wrong.
Now to the town’s sweet water
no-one will return.


Far and near a scattered wild bush-straggle
greens the desert, grows on nothing.

Here on the dusty road a bull-necked camel
swings on slowly down, in its leisurely grace.

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