‘And we smelt like guavas’ : Five poems by Nilim Kumar

Translated from Assamese by Dibyajyoti Sarma.

Carry me again on your womb


Mother, carry me again on your womb,
I don’t remember those ten months.

Don’t know how I slept under water, how was
the night’s darkness, your lips, breasts, womb.

Mother, call father,
I’ve dug up a night from the soil’s bosom.


The evening is on your bellybutton.
Your two eyes burn like oil lamps —
the air catches fire.

Spreading the two hands,
the river’s brown breaths
spread over the field.


Father waits on the riverbank —
a rock of history.

The river doesn’t let him go.
Look, father kisses on its lips.

Look, how the river has swollen,
how it has opened its uterus.


Mother, you come down like rain,
wear away anthills, drench the fern night,

on father’s face, on the damp rock of his lips,
fling your unkempt hair of clouds.

You too gather on you two breasts
the melancholy night’s tall grasses.

Call father
away from the riverbank.


What if the river curses me?
What if I’m born as a snail?

I too have a secret affair
with the river.

The river’s shadow on my eyes,
on my mother’s eyes.


Was I not meant for your womb ever?
Was my father not ever meant for
your lips, your breasts, your uterus?

With licks after licks,
why did you lull that rock to sleep
in the green night’s bed?


Remain naked
after you have undressed.

Hide in the darkness of ferns.
I’ll come; I’ll come.

Even if I’m a snail,
I’ll cast away water.

I wouldn’t blame the river;
I wouldn’t blame my father.

Look, look, mother,
In your womb, I’m the broken sun.




There was an anthill.
Next to it, a family of bamboos —
the middle-aged men were bhaluka bamboos,
the jati bamboos were their beautiful wives,
on whose leaves clutched the bijuli bamboos,
their children. We played amidst their shadows,
their girth, their leaves. Seeing us with them,
the bhaluka bamboos glared at us.
And my most favourite sister,
on whose chest were two breast-marks,
was sitting on the anthill.


We had small sticks on our hands;
long snakes in the mati kathal bushes and
with that gooseflesh, we played in the backyard,
chewed on green scent and tangy leaves.
The bed was made of bamboos.
The dreams were wild even under the pillow.
A tall, ancient cupboard without doors, where
next to the slate and pencils, we treasured
tiny polished stones and broken, bent dreams.
Under a melting dream sometimes
Father beat us up, until he was satisfied
and we had marks of un-love on our backs.
Everything else in the field at midday was
like happiness. We harvested hays and
on the stakes dug yellow tunnels, where
our tiny bodies assumed erotic shapes
and we smelt like guavas.


And one day Grandfather made me wear
a small piece of sorrow-coloured dhoti.
Carrying a fire, clearing the wave of whimpering
I followed behind my Mother’s body.
The cremation ground was next to the
waterless river; my mother didn’t have a bed.
It was the first long day of my suffering because
seeing me, Mother wanted to return from
the blazing fire, not seeing Father. And my
unfortunate hands clutched Grandfather’s fair arms.


And I loved kissing old people’s lips and noses, which
spread to the lines of Grandfather’s cheeks and forehead.
And a teeny-weeny servant boy showed me removing his
clothes that dark dense path beneath his bellybutton.
And in one of those nights, a widow-coloured woman
imbibed me with her never-ending nights. And I
started to enjoy fair breasts of raw flesh and
the dark trammels of its black centre.


Like a piece of multi-coloured soil of light,
amidst the merciless school, stakes of old books
and cockroaches, amidst discoloured dreams
and joyless games, I grew tall like a tree. As if
crossing the road from green to yellow breathlessly,
I took a deep breath in the curved lines of my pain.
Crossing those mid-days and afternoons of green voices,
those muga-coloured mounds, now, like a traveller
without destination, I walk towards somewhere.
Wearing a baggy green shirt, my destiny walks alone
in my childhood. And this song I sing for myself,
this is a song of the future without bodies.



In great secrecy a red hibiscus
blooms within her bosom.

When driblets of petals fall on the ground,
weeping, she informs her mother.

For seven days and seven nights she doesn’t show
her face to the sun, the moon and the stars.

For seven days and seven nights she drinks succour of soil,
a clay lamp on a pot full of rice awaits near her earthen bed.

The women arrive, buzzing females;
chanting, they fill their pots with flowing water.

Hiding behind the water ferns
fishes listen to the distaff hymn.

In a holy enclosure, a banana sapling turns into a bridegroom;
with sesame seeds and turmeric, the women bathe both.

She adorns a garland of beads
on the sapling’s neck.

With two gusts of wind of two hands
the banana sapling graces her hair.

Wearing a red dress, she touches the soil; corn seeds
fill her lap. Weeps alone the very bottom of her heart.

At night, some fireflies
enter into her heart.

Someone takes away and buries
the banana sapling behind the house.

Enwrapping wind on infant leaves, I was
the banana sapling on her puberty.



Where do you go, brother?
Where do you carry
this flock of dead birds on your shoulders?

Sister, I go to my mother.
The rain killed the birds, I go to revive them.

Brother, where does your mother live?

Across those mountain peaks like vultures,
crossing the village of winds,
beyond the processions of clouds,
the starry sky, songs of the crematorium,
behind a sob, there’s a velvety pond.
There, on a lily, lives my mother.

How would you cross the mountain, brother?
The wind will crush you; the clouds will bury you.
You will be burned by the stars.

I’ll travel in a song, sister, I’ll travel
among the rocks, making the leaves flutter.

Would you take me with you, brother?
I’ll call your mother mine.
In your song, I’ll untie my hair,
fling my hands, bare my heart.

Sister, if I take you, mother will be angry.
For, my fate is to be solitary.

Then, I’ll be a bird, brother.
The rain will kill me.
As a dead bird, I’ll travel
on your shoulders.


On Whose Forehead I’ll Smear Colour

Who won’t let me remember the last night, who’ll
pierce me with saddening good nights and good
mornings, who, with the colours of her tears, will
ask me to draw small household dreams, who’ll come
to sit with me on the dining table, to comb the
instability of my hair, to put a cover on my pillow,
to spread cold sheets on my bed, and to
wipe away the darkness of my inebriation,
who’ll offer me the blessing of her touch and sight,
who in some nights will tangle me like creepers, the
sleep of whose hair will lay entwined on my breast,
who’ll hide my crimson shirts, burn my favourite
letters, arrange my old poems which because she
wouldn’t understand, will not be dangerous, who
gradually will turn a stranger to me, and move
away, far away from my heart.

To make my sadness more painful, is she
coming on whose forehead I’ll smear colour?


Nilim Kumar is an Assamese poet with 17 collections of poems and three novels. Winner of the Raza Foundation Award, Uday Bharati National Award and Shabda Award, Nilim Kumar has been widely translated into French, English, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, and other languages. The clarity and simplicity in the texture of his poetry is deceptive, for it both provokes and enriches the reader.

Dibyajyoti Sarma has published three volumes of poetry and an academic book, besides numerous writing credits in edited volumes, journals and websites. He was born in Assam and now lives in Delhi.

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