The River Returns

01 September, 2014

ABOUT THE POEM In many of the poems of the Odia writer Saroj Bal, the forces of the natural world—rivers, the wind—run up against the world of human beings, but in new and mysterious forms. In ‘The River Returns,’ it is not the human subject who approaches the river, but the river that intrudes upon the speaker and seems perfectly willing to sit upon a plastic chair in a drawing room.

As the poem progresses, the river seems full of secrets, as does the speaker, who appears to fall away from human subjectivity into a void-like, river-friendly state—“I have meditated to be a hill.”

The River Returns

by Saroj Bal

translated from Odia by Bibhu

and Minakshi Padhi

Last evening a river

reached my doorstep.

Of course he walked

the concrete road, he walked.

I called him in and inside

my ill-organised memories

were writing their autobiographies.

At that time I was looking

for the fish who had jumped off

their happy aquarium.

The river sat on a plastic chair.

I had never seen in life

such a small river which

began at the head and ended at the feet.

What all the river had written down

in its diary. The letters were shaking

like drops of water. What was that language?

Not Odia certainly. Even then I could|

understand it.

A narrow lane had loosened

towards the heart.

The river wore a pair of spectacles

of thick lenses, although I know

one does not need the eye

to see things here.

After a long time, I opened my eyes

and just then the river began to smile.

The darknesses around here know

how I have meditated to be a hill

for a long, long time, but I never thought

that one day a river would retrace itself|

from the sea towards me, carrying

some salty water and some fine sand.

Last night I could not sleep so well.

The river must have to return,

but I never knew how it returns

on the road of dreams.