After the pitch perfect night,
so slowly morning could bleed
on the eastern sky,
at the call of a black oriole,
we hesitated for a while and then started
in the fading monsoon,

a few drops of rain and
the wind took a backseat,
a veil of silence all around
we were travelling in M V Mandodari,
a modern motor-boat
leaving the Mangrove Retreat
in Satjalia island,
crossing the Pitchkhali river,

two collared king fishers on the bank
soaking the soft morning light,
staring at the billowing clouds,
after the glow worms vanishing in the light,
striated heron and egrets
flapping their wings,
making a strange sort of a music
that determines the day’s trajectory.

long after my eyes got settled
to count the birds in and around,
I could see the monitor lizards
and mangrove crocodile
relaxing while chital stags and monkeys
limbering up for the day
on the clay and silty bank
surrounded by Hetal,
Goran, Gewa and Sundari trees.

living in this wide landscape
are the people with wide eyes
in search of collecting
honey and wood,
fishing boat in river with dense
mangroves on either side
ignoring tropical storms.

Sunderbans, the estuary forest,
a biosphere reserve, a world heritage site,
sharing with Bangladesh,
the lazy elegance of the canopy of green
covering one hundred six islands,
out of this, fifty four inhabited,

as you travel through this vast waterland,
of mudskipper, tree frogs and Gangetic dolphin,
ruins at Netidhopani, Chand Saudagar
Manasamangal and Behula-Lakhindar myth,

time has not been kind,
the most hostile things of all,
the big cats swim across the water
ready to spring the body forward
with tensed muscles and glowing eyes,
eager to strike out for the frontier.

locals suffering from
hunger and thrust,
as they say, crocodile in the water
and tiger on land, the twin terror,
ignoring the lurking danger,
and hiding the details,
I could see
words in lips adding with a
flicker of a smile.

human and animal conflict,
cut through the morning chill,
it felt like we were in a band
no wonder,
Mother Bonbibi, the protector,
worshipped in every corner.

each time if there was a hush on either side
of the narrow waterways
I looked and dreamt of buying the secret
of the blend of yellow and black
but, no it wasn’t there,
the cry of words I could listen
only coming from the crowded
boat sailed ahead of us,

approaching Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve
there was a tumult too.
our captain conversed
in a hushed tone,
a horrific story of a woman
hailing from the widow island,
in search of king crabs and hermit crabs,
along the vast sheets of salty mud flat
early in the morning,
dragged away by the most intelligent
cat in this planet and the family of the victim,
being registered inhabitant with permit for
entering the core area,
rushing towards the forest office
for compensation.

for a period of euphoria
I felt I was there, at that time,
part of a something,
perfectly in step,
on the Sudhanyakhali bank
under the hazy morning light
fighting with the elegant beast,

I could sense how much further
I could take my thoughts,
yet amidst wonder and insecurity
in the lush green surrounding forest,
a sort of a stench of failure
engulfed me at the end.


Gopal Lahiri

Gopal Lahiri

He was born and grew up in Kolkata. He is a bilingual (Bengali and English) poet and writer. Anthology appearances include National Treasures, Indus Valley, My Dazzling Bards, The Silence Within, Indo-Australian Anthology, The Dance of the Peacock, Illuminations. His works have featured in the journals Indian Literature, Taj Mahal Review, CLRI, Haiku Journal, Arts and Letters, Underground Window, Muse India, Poetry Stop, Debug. He has jointly edited the anthology Scaling Heights.