Neera Kashyap has worked as a newspaper journalist, specializing in environmental journalism; social/health communication and research. She has authored a small book of short stories for young adults, Daring to Dream, Rupa & Co, 2003 and contributed to four anthologies from Children’s Book Trust. Her essays have interpreted scriptures and ancient literature for print journals such as Mountain Path and Life Positive. Her short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in literary journals such as Earthen Lamp Journal, Muse India, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Reading Hour, Out of Print Magazine & Blog, Aainanagar, Cerebration, Ashvamegh and Indian Literature (forthcoming). She lives in Delhi.
A descent into hell.
Deianeira’s gift from dying Nessus to be given to her philandering husband:
a love potion so he would love her above all;
turned out a poisoned shirt, burning both in an agony of deception;
Heracles crazed by flames that burned but would not kill
begged his son to set him properly aflame.
His brain oozing from his hair, skull shattering from the heat, blood scattering,
he believed her guilty till the end.
Did Gautama curse Ahalya into aeons of stoniness or did
Ahalya turn herself to stone to bear the raging showers of taunt and shame?
They say adultery by a woman leaves a permanent mark,
never to be forgiven or forgotten.
But Rama came to the forest, touched Ahalya and released her from her curse:
ashes for bed, wind for food, inner heat for warmth,
she resumed her form after a thousand years.
This ‘evil woman, full of greed and delusion’.
O fires of destruction, where does one begin?
A descent into hell.
To bear the raging showers of taunt and shame,
allowing them their flourish, fullest flourish;
all energy turned to bear this giant tide
till it recedes awhile, leaving more filth on the shore.
He was no hero, my lover, no villain either.
Just the image of greatness, beauty and fulfilment
villainously reduced to the panic of being found out.
A weave ripped crazily apart; ruined skeins, gaping loosely.
He was no hero, my philandering husband, but donned the heroics of transgressor;
then the heroics of the transgressed; burning in Heracles’ poisoned shirt,
begging his son for release from the flames of my transgression.
Both ways I was villain, as transgressor and transgressed.
Stripped of powerful enchantment, of skeins full of promise.
Is this heart the stone that Ahalya bore?
Stone that held the hope of anchored rock through the aeons:
ashes for bed, wind for food and inner heat for warmth?
O fires of purgatory, where will this end?
Descent into hell.
Adultery by a woman leaves a permanent mark, never to be forgiven or forgotten.
And by a man?
It matters not, this injustice, not while I wear the flaming shirt, burning in its poison.
Thoughts of justice and injustice do not heal,
just swell the giant wave, leaving filth in its wake.
O Pentecostal fires, burn me properly until death.
Holding breath like a diver plunging for a coin, I plunge
with the merest notion of a rock that may anchor deep below;
the breath held in a watery grave; dim light and silence.
Thought of pain and poison play like shadows in this water,
fluid, formless – shapes of a caravan, passing.
My breath no longer holds; I surface, light and silence trailing back.
Can the poison be a mere shadow for this in-breath?
Shadows in a caravan moving slowly towards home?
I don’t know, but I will plunge again.
For the shadows, the light and the silence may grow
over a thousand years so I regain myself. With joy.
O watery grave of Pentecost, Heal.