Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Prayer for Food

Have the last morsel, Yajnaseni.
The vessel is empty. Everything has been shared
And Divided. The husbands are content.
The sons have gone back to sleep, the daughters wait —
Mother, have the last morsel; the vessel is empty.
Outside the guests gather.
Mother, nurture us.
What will you do, Yajnaseni?
Cook your flesh, cook the flesh of your daughters.
A tumbler full of your tears cannot quench their thirst
The embers of your eyes
Cannot light the kitchen fire, mother.
Cook your flesh, cook the flesh of your daughters.
Your sons are asleep, your husbands content,
Outside the guests gather, starved —
Have the last morsel, Yajnaseni; the vessel is empty.

This grain of rice. This is where it begins
This is where it ends.
This grain of rice.
The husk is for the birds.
The peeled skin is for the animals.
The gruel is for the reptiles.
This grain of rice. For them. The vessel is empty.
Have the last morsel, Yajnaseni; the vessel is empty.

This last morsel is for the boy who hasn’t smelt a balloon.
This last morsel is for the girl who hasn’t seen a pencil.

The grain is for the impotent father of three unmarried daughters.
This drop of lentil is for the rickshaw-puller on the street under the rain.
This pod of peas is for the cobbler on the corner of the footpath where no one walks anymore.
This piece of sandesh is for the old woman who cleans the lavatory of the 75th floor penthouse.
This piece of fish scale is for the farmer whose sons went to the raging sea never to return.
This piece of bone is for the butcher who lost his family in the flames of the communal riot.
This peel of onion is for the leaders to cry crocodile tears.
This drop of blood is for the soldier outside no man’s land.
This neem leaf is for the revolutionary waiting for his end in the dark cell.
And, these wild mushrooms are for everyone who wants to start over and end it.
And, this vessel is for you, Yajnaseni. The vessel is empty.

Everything is empty. The sky is empty of water
The earth of green leaves; our bellies empty of food
Our minds of hope.

This last morsel is for Jayanta Mahapatra who’d share it with the old fisherman on the seashore.

(Yajnaseni: Another name for Draupadi from ‘the Mahabharata.’ It is said that she was born out of the sacrificial fire, hence the name. Legends say, during their time in exile, the Pandavs were always visited by guests, and as kings, they were duty-bound to invite the guests share food with them. However, Draupadi did not have the resources to feed so many people everyday. She then prayed to Annapurna, the goddess of food, who gave her a copper vessel, saying that if she cooks food in this vessel, she’d be able to feed any number of people. There was a catch though: The vessel would offer unending supply of food as long as Draupadi, the cook, did not eat. If she had eaten, the vessel will turn empty, till the next day.)

(Part of a proposed collection, titled ‘The Book of Prayers for the Non-Believer’.)

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