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Only Four Days


‘If you catch a glow-worm

And in a match box confine it,

You’ll see fairies in your dream’

Said the elder sister

To her little brother

Sitting on the low wall

Of a pump-house,

Their muddy legs dangling,

Swaying and shaking

As they chewed the green juice

From the long grass stalks-

To swallow the tension

For their baby sister

Who would die soon

Suffering from infection

And untamed fever.


The old pump-house watered

The corn field.

Empty noon sky shone within

The entangled still water

Among the crops thin.

And glow-worms

Measured the brimming night

As time measures a short delight.

Flame of hope for tomorrow

Flash in small sparks

And flicker through sorrow.


The poor family prayed

‘Only four days, O god!

Please delay her death

If you must stop her breath’.

They knew

She would not last long,

But the festival of Durga Puja

Would also be immersed

In the stream of wisdom

After four days with

The idol of mother goddess.

The baby’s creaking lungs

Must breathe magically for their sake

At least for these four days.


The Durga Puja promised

Bellyful of rice for

The poor Brahmin priest

And his starving family,

Through his profession of worship.

People grow more pious

During the four festive days

And obeyed the holy rules

Chosen by mother Durga

Spoken through the pious priest.

Obscure verses of prayer

Float to the heaven in a mutter

And earn blessings.


The sacred thread of identity

Across his shoulder to waist

Certifying his stubborn holiness

Seldom furnished enough

To feed his flock.

Children grew like wild creeper

Through cracked wall

Almost every year

After the season of ceaseless rainfall.


As in custom, a death in the family

Would reject the priest

From the trade of worship

And earning,

As gods don’t accept

The cold worship of a stale soul

Grieving a loss.

Then dejected,

His family would starve

Nourishing the dignity

With only rice water

And some dry verses

Balancing hell and heaven.


The four days passed

Like a without-ticket passenger

Sheltering from the ticket examiner,

Guilty nerves flushing to guard

The error,-unnoticed.

Thanking god, nightlong,

Every thud in their heart

Tiptoed out in relief,

On every orange morn

As the festive days passed

One by one.

The priest could earn,

Their stomachs were filled,

Future was also secured a little.


After Durga Puja the October breeze

Whistled lightly through the mango groves.

The remote village by the brook

With its few huts,

Thatched roofed,

Under drooping banana plants,

Looked like a child’s drawing;

The turn of a thin muddy lane

Emerging from a distance aloof,

Widening little by little

To a broad nearness

Through a watered cornfield;

And a red sun over the rim of hills

Beyond the palm fringed dawn

Defining the horizon.


The sister and brother came one evening

To the pump house, only to see

If they could locate their little sister

Wrapped in their mother’s torn cloth,

Floating in the far off stream

On a banana stem floater,

As they had tied a glass jar

Full of glow worms

To her little stiff body.


A night train passed

Through the dark

Like a line of giant ants

Marching on and on and on,-

No haste, no purpose, no destination,

As if its regulated motion

Was never a part of life;

Only a wasted breath

Chasing time,

Sincere, determined,-

Only a presence in a sequence

Like the stomach leading to intestine. 


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About Kakoli Ghosh

Kakoli Ghosh

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