Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


DILLI-DALI by K. Satchidanandan




E-104, Amar Colony, where you reach

crossing the school for the blind,

Raghuram temple, the long winding cries of

vegetable vendors and the inviting odours

of bhelpuri and rajanigandha flowers,is not my house.


Whoever occupies the second floor

of B- 13, Kalkaji behind the Bahai temple,

the paras cinema, the December mist

and the freezing wind,

it is not me.


I don’t reside in Mayurvihar or Saritavihar.

I have no houses in Janakpuri or Vikaspuri.

I have hung around the seventeenth apartment

in Alaknanda: but how can I know whether

it is me who is living there unless

someone comes out?


I have never been to Yusuf Sarai,

I have no kin in Sheikh Sarai.

Moolchand, the ration-dealer is not me,

not even remotely related to me.

Shyamsingh, the taxi –driver, does not

Recognize me, nor do I, him.

Even a sparrow will not listen to me

if I say that nest on the neem tree is mine.

Then there is the crow named Ashtavakra,

That leaps from antenna to antenna


And that black cat, Gajmukh,

That flies from balcony to balcony:

They go on changing houses.


I asked the tortoise carrying its home

On its back: Where is my home?

He ( she) just withdrew his (her) head.

I asked the silk-worm in her leaf-house,

The snakes in their hollows in Sarojini Nagar,

The apes in their iron cages in the zoo,

the parrot in the fortune teller’s wire- nest,

all in vain. Then I asked the black dog Kali

royally barking away in front of his bungalow.

He just wagged his black tail and groaned.


I roamed the labyrinths of many a street,

Got into buses with different numbers.

But all the houses looked alike

and bore the same number as in

an Arabian Nights tale.


I felt like knocking on the doors

Hoping my daughters would open one

And come running to me with

outstretched arms.

I pressed my ears to every door:

no, it was some strange language,

not of love anyway.


Wandering I crossed the bridge .

There it was: a green courtyard

brimming with yellow flowers,

green walls, green curtains.

I opened the gate painted green

and rushed in.


On the front wall

In inviting green it was written:

C R E M A T O R I U M.




Trees, yes.

I recognize the neem

and the peepal..

But that third tree with

small leaves: what is that?

Not tamarind: it has no red ants

Not gooseberry: no black ants.

Mango tree would have squirrels

and jack fruit tree, crows.

Its leaves are not as close together

As those of the pomegranate,

Nor as deep green as of lime.


That third tree even parrots avoid,

Its trunk so strange and twisted,

Its odour so unfamiliar and repulsive:

Which is that tree?


Coconut trees are far away.

Even the breeze smells of mustard oil.


I don’t like kathak..




Languages do not have homes here.

Kashmiri, a sleepless refugee

sits in a street corner in Green Park,

the green dreams of the valley in her knapsack.


Punjabi, guru-faced yet illiterate,

blood flooding his memory,

sits weary and pale,

his head on the steering of a taxi.


Tamil sweats in her rags,

sweeping courtyards and

washing the kitchenware.


Malayalam, his hopes of a

new world crushed, walks shoeless

in the unwelcome winter,

clothed in the factory’s soot.


Telugu decked in cheap satin

and marigolds, waits under the flyover

for a single night’s partner.


Languages have no houses.


Haryanvi screams from the maize field,

her head in bleeding palms,

scared of her master.


Maithili is still in the woods.*

Chattisgarhi and Braj cling to each other

like two frightened kids

in the shadow of the roc-bird

rising from the television screen.


Vaishnavi, strak naked,

Her hairs let loose, laughs madly

From her rock-throne.

Urdu sings the last ghazal

Standing under the huge thighs

Of a Bollywood heroine.


I long to build a palace for

these refugees among the tombs:

I, who has not yet found a home.

I stutter in broken words,

in twisted sounds from some other body.

Which of the three tongues I use

during the day is truly mine?

or is it the pure language of mystery

I speak in my dreams at night?


My language rises from the street:

the obstinate cry of the new-born orphan.

O, Lords of men on earth,

here comes my language,

his feet dirty with the gutter’s slime.

It climbs up the steps,

steps it climbs up, to lead, to rule,

steps of the country’s parliament,

climbs, climbs the gallows,

climbs the Mount Calvary.




Love in the city is

a drop of cold water

thrown over red-hot iron.

It leaves only smoke

that burns the heart.


Love in the city is

a rose flung from

one speeding vehicle to another.

It gets squeezed between the two velocities

leaving only a bloodstain on the street.


Love in the city is

a pair of wandering shoes

in search of a room,

punctured by sharp stones.

The beloved, her fire-test over,

vanishes through its hole leaving

only dry memories of green woods.


Love in the city is

like the sky in the city.

We know it is there;

but wherever we turn,

we see only walls.


Love in the city is

The one smuggled-in cyanide pill

The prisoner manages to take at last.

He would never know

whether it tastes sweet or bitter.




This beast is a man.

These eyes peering out of the torn sack

once played flute.

Now a village floats in them, dead.


This is half lamb, half wolf.

Which sun will weave its wool

into a blanket for its freezing winter?

Which orchard will feed it

When choked by hunger?

Which tree shall be

its roof in scorching summer?


The village drove it away.

The city will not admit it.

Sitting huddled in this alien fog

The truth is revealed to

this Buddha of the street :

Bread is remoter than the moon.

Earth derailed from its orbit

is slowly moving away from the sun.




Summer in Delhi is a mother in panic

running to the doctor

with her half-charred infant.


The emperors already sweating in

the tombs cannot afford to

welcome one more corpse.


The song of the cuckoo

instantly turns into the smoke of trains.




Ask the whip that fell on the worker’s back

how beautiful Taj Mahal is.

Let the mad elephant in chains

tell us how strong iron is.

The camel dying in the desert

knows best how deep water is.

Find out from the frog in the well

the ocean’s magnitude.

He who must grow into a shepherd

must be born in the manger.

He who should find the peepal’s wisdom

must renounce the palace.




A deer trapped in this minar

stretched its neck and

turned into a giraffe:

this was not how evolution began.


A Persian ghazal

married an Indian fairy:

this was not how

the human race came to be.


The last king and the last slave

have not yet jumped down

from the top of this minar.


Yet I read in these ruins: evolution,

creation, the end to evil power.

Here I am a Sufi.




Pointing to a huge mound of earth

Covered with grass the guide said:

This was Hastinapur.

That moment I became Vedavyasa.




The lullaby of the New World

rises from the Stock Exchange.

Come invest in this revolution:

tomorrow Sonal Mansingh dances here.


*Maithili is the name of a language as well as a name of Sita, Rama’s abandoned wife.


( Translated from Malayalam by the poet )



Athens 27.4.2014

Dear Satchi,

what beautiful poem you wrote about Delhi! It seems as if I got lost with you in the streets. How you put an ear to the door, and hoping your daughters would come out to embrace you. Forsaken! The only revolution left is caused by turmoils (my implicit hypothesis) on the stock market. It reminds me what an old friend told me when he grew up in Delhi. Every day when fetching bread he needed to step over bodies not sure if asleep or dead. Speaking three languages and not knowing who is you, that expression captures the moment Kapuscinski, the Polish journalist who was learning fast the English language when on a first assignment to India and then suddenly realized he was learning the language of the suppressor.

My request: do I have your permission to put up the poem on the website under your name?

warmest regards


Thanks, Hatto! The poem is more than 20 years old, but I hope it does convey the dismay and the culture shock I had when I moved to Delhi from native Kerala. Of course you can upload the poems on your site.
Warmly Satchi

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