Draupadi

draupadi-at-nandikar-1

To Trina Nileena Banerjee

I

You woman of the pyre
Your birth of mixed fire
Your hair fire tongue fire
Your heart’s divided fire
Your hellfire and spitfire
Your fate warmed by fire

You bore the men’s fire
Their clan fire caste fire
The plot-of-revenge fire
Their groin fire dice fire
The gambling-a-wife fire
Yet you drank up all fire

O’ fire, fire, fire, they all
Go into the fire, the old
And young Kurus, their
Wives and only mother,
They all wail by the fire
As the Pandavas mourn
With the piles of corpses
Lying dead by the curses
From your hair

II

Born without childhood
You grew up backwards
Stumbling upon mirrors
Of an alluring blindness
Until you laughed loudly
And the mirrors cracked
Bursting the play of time
And a prince’s blind ego

You who were a lost bet
In the long game of dice
You were the losing dice
Among the string of bets

You asked for laws
Before lawless men

Your pious husband
He who owned you
By the deceit of law
He splurged the fire
Over the dice board
His one-fifth craving
Over divided nights
Gaming a monopoly
In a rush of delirium

Whether he lost you
Or his freedom first

Is it a matter of law –
Or of dispossession?

You altar within altar
A body’s ripped altar

The laws of the body
Ripped from its roots

You raised a question
How fire be stripped

Centuries later Draupadi
As you stood undaunted
Before a grisly senanayak
You stripped nakedness
After so many strippings
And could strip yourself
No further than the last

You stepped out of laws
Stepping out of mythos
Holding you in captivity
And you burnt your feet
In the red soil of history

All Draupadis stripped in
Chitrāngadā’s birthplace
Before soldiers of crime –

Putting honour to flames

Manash Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, translator and political science scholar. His poems have appeared in The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, The Fortnightly Review, Elohi Gadugi Journal, The Postcolonialist, George Szirtes’ Blog, Warscapes, First Proof: The Penguin Books of New Writing from India (Volume 5), The Missing Slate, The Little Magazine, etc. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems (2013), was published by the UK’s oldest cultural and literary journal, The London Magazine. He is currently Adjunct Professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.

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