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NIRALA


Breaking Stones

Beside a road in Allahabad,

I saw her

       breaking stones.

No tree to give her shade,

A dark skin,

Firm, tightly-cupped breasts,

Eyes fixed on the ground,

Thoughts of the night before

Going through her mind,

She brought down the heavy hammer

Again and again, as though it was

A weapon in her hand.

Across the road—

A row of trees, high walls,

The mansions of the rich.

The sun climbed the sky.

The height of summer.

Blinding heat, and the loo blowing hard,

Scorching everything in its path.

The earth under the feet

Like burning cotton wool,

The air filled with dust and sparks.

It was almost noon,

And she was still breaking stones.

As I watched,

She looked at me once,

Then at the houses opposite,

Then at her ragged clothes.

Seeing there was no one around,

She met my eyes again

With eyes that spoke of pain.

But not defeat.

Suddenly, there came the notes of a sitar,

Such as I had not heard before.

The next moment her young body

Quivered and as sweat

Trickled down her face, she lifted

The hammer, resuming work,

As though to say,

       I’m breaking stones.


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She sat on a rock,

her blue skirt gently fluttering — thus,

uninhibited, the evening breeze

held some silent conversation with the lovely girl and smiled.

Her curling hair,

black and luxuriant,

blew loose and fragrant over her pale face,

tumbled over her breasts,

teased her affectionately.

From the open sky

the chill spray scattered,

exhilarating,

on her shapely limbs.


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On a vine in the deserted wood

she slept, blissful in dreams of love,

pure tender slender girl —

the juhi bud —

eyes closed, languorous in the folded leaf.

A spring night. Her lover,

tormented by separation in a distant land,

was that wind they call

the southern sandal-mountain breeze.

He recalled their sweet reunions,

the midnight drenched in moonlight,

the lovely trembling body of the girl.

And then? That wind

crossed over grove lake river mountain wood

and vine-entangled jungles

to reach where he could dally

with the budding flower.

She slept —

for, tell me, how could she suspect

that her lover was at her side?

The hero kissed her cheek,

and she swayed, shivering from it,

but even now she did not waken

nor ask forgiveness for her fault.

The long curved sleepy eyes stayed shut

as though she swooned, intoxicated

from the wine of youthful longings —

who can say? Ruthless, her lover,

of a sudden cruel,

struck that tender body hard,

slapped her pale full cheeks.

The girl started up,

stared all about her, astonished,

and found her darling by her bed.

She smiled, gratified in her desire,

and blossomed in her lover’s arms.