The old ruler sits forlorn
On his mouldly throne,
Before him lies his mate
Lifeless and long gone
Her blood and entrails oozing,
Darkening the earth with new colour.
In the eerie silence
The subjects wait for new assurance
But the old one only stares with rheumy eyes,
Unseeing and gone beyond all cares.
At last a bold youth speaks,
‘Grandfather, you taught us
How to prowl and prey,
Dodge the spears and sidestep the traps.
But now the new enemy
Comes from nowhere,
Moves like lightning
And kills at will’.
He stops and waits
For rebuke or other response
But the old ruler holds his peace
Oblivious to all around him
Except his lifeless mate.
Suddenly a young voice cries out,
‘Grandfather I saw, I saw one
He looked so funny
All dressed up like a tree.’
The the village idiot butts in
‘Yes grandfather, I saw it too
But he was not chasing
Grandmother, but another tree’.
There is a general murmur
Voicing outrage at the upstarts
For speaking out of turn.
But the ancient one is beyond anger
And has no wisdom to offer
The new terror riding
On streaked lightening.
He shuffles and slowly descends
To lie besides his mate
In object abdication,
And the young are newly lost.
The old regime has given way
And a new order
Has overtaken the habitat
Grinning on children’s faces
Painted with psychopathic stripes.
(This poem refers to underground groups which have filled the minds of Naga youth with violence and hatred)
Blood of Other Days
In the by-gone days of the other life
Before the advent of the WORD
Spilling the blood of foes
Was the honour-code
Head-takers became acclaimed
Tribal heroes, earning the merit
To wear special clothes and ornaments
And live in grand houses.
We believed that our gods lived
In the various forms of nature
Whom we worshipped
With unquestioning faith.
Then came a tribe of strangers
Into our primordial territories
Armed with only a Book and
Promises of a land called Heaven.
Declaring that our Trees and Mountains
Rocks and Rivers were no Gods
And that our songs and stories
Nothing but tedious primitive nonsense.
We listened in confusion
To the new stories and too soon
Allowed our knowledge of other days
To be trivialised into taboo.
We no longer dared to sing
Our old songs in worship
To familiar spirits of the land
Or in praise to our legendary heroes.
And if we ever told stories it was
To the silent forests and our songs
Were heard only by the passing wind
In a land swept clean of ancient gods.
Stripped of all our basic certainties
We strayed from our old ways
And let our soul-mountain recede
Into a tiny ant-hill and we
Schooled our minds to become
The ideal tabula rasa
On which the strange intruders
Began scripting a new history.
We stifled our natural articulations
Turned away from our ancestral gods
And abandoned accustomed rituals
Beguiled by the promise of a new heaven.
We borrowed their minds,
Aped their manners,
Adopted their gods
And became perfect mimics.
Discarded our ancient practice
Of etching on wood and stone
And learned instead to scratch on paper
In premature tryst with the magic Script
But a mere century of negation
Proved inadequate to erase
The imprints of intrinsic identities
Stamped on minds since time began
The suppressed resonance of old songs
And the insight of primitive stories
Resurface to accuse leased-out minds
Of treason against the essential self.
In the re-awakened songs and stories
A new breed of cultural heroes
Articulate a different discourse
And re-designate new enemies
Of customary identity
And restoration of ancestral ground
As a belligerent post-script to recent history.
In the agony of the re-birth
Our hills and valleys reverberate
With death-dealing shrieks of unfamiliar arms
As the throw-back generation resurrects
The blood of Other Days
(This poem refers to the general situation in Nagaland)
Temsula Ao is a poet, folklorist and memoirist from Nagaland who won the Sahitya Akademi award for her short story collection, Laburnum for My Head. She was awarded the Padmashri in 2007