Eco-phenomenology is a bridge between the natural world and our own, one we have forgotten, almost irretrievably it seems. But we forget the earth at our own peril. As someone who has worked in the field of environment for over two decades, I wish my poems to be those of remembering—remembering the earth. In the first one, I deal with a community that has lost its roots to unplanned urbanisation, lost its connection to vital natural resource vetiver or khus as they call it. One that bound their existence together and defined home for them. But now their home is empty and a soulless one. In the second poem, I explore the theme of rising temperatures and humidity through the life of a metal frame worker. He is told it is the wet bulb effect but no one cares to do anything to make his life liveable. As I see it, our futures are diminishing.
The scent of vetiver in my soul
Vetiver Sparkles over the heart of orange blossoms Lingers over the moist dewiness of water lilies These lines on a cologne cover Seduce me, shiver me awake Into rousing sleeping remembrances of vetiver By inhaling its ghost smells and emotions Into making myself absent from the now By recalling its scent that bears for me the meaning of fragrance, of home *** Memories Of me in Uttar Pradesh’s searing Sitapur One that was subaltern, its people and history unseen Of me in my dry and dusty village of Biswan Where the days began and ended with khus or vetiver as you say Of me on the wondrous banks of river Gomti A shoreline that never thinned the perfume of vetiver Of me taking in the smell of vetiver into my soul In its element, a mix of sweet and smoky, subtle and sacred *** Other Recalls Flash pictures of my child frolics on wicked afternoons Of me cocooned in vetiver’s green clumps Of my swallowing khus khushboo Of me, my every breath, suffused by the scent of khus Of my being filled with its pulse The warm, woody thrum of its roots, its under life Of me And of all others around me held together by khus Experiences Of khus roots dazzle vividly Of it being the spirit of sherbets, desserts, medicines, perfumes and bathwater Of it serving as fillings for our dolls and baskets Of it invading our bazaars where buyers thronged from within and outside Of its use on our wall mats and roof thatches Of their being drenched daily to cool our burning noons Of its function as hedges in our farmers’ fields Of its being flattened out of its conceit for our home boundaries Afterthoughts Are that I want to walk with my old life Follow it from behind See it in all its parts The grunge and the glorious Smell the raindrops that quench its parched soil But mostly its vetiver Yet know I can never; the grass plants are no more Multi-storied buildings have flattened their habitats A Requiem For vetiver For a whole way of life gone For the long lost chitters of beetles and spiders within their clumps For the silenced trills of hovering lapwings For the people of Sitapur for whom vetiver can now be had only in bottles For a community that has lost interest in its roots For my people in Biswan who live without their lifeline For me and my co-travellers, for us, who have their elan vital
Wet bulb temperatures
Fold the bulb of a thermometer within a wet cloth Note the temperature It will tell you the lowest temperature Air can be cooled through evaporation Educated people around me say This is called the wet bulb temperature They say the bulb is me The wet cloth is my sweating skin And my temperature will show How cool I can hope to get by sweating But all I know is high temperatures and humidity Make me live in a fireball Let me explain: I drive screws on to steel rods I make five hundred such frames Each day over twelve hours These serve as skeletons for homes The construction site, my work place, blazes And the metal frames burn my fingers In March, this year, my city Chennai Was a fiery thirty-eight degrees Celsius Four degrees hotter than normal And its air was filled to brim with moisture So my sweat stayed back with me And my heat safety valve failed When heat and humidity team up To raise wet-bulb temperatures beyond thirty-two degrees Celsius Physical work is dangerous, the educated warn us Blood vessels will enlarge, stop its flow to the brain And kill one in six hours But our employers didn’t care We worked through the month, lost many co-workers To coma, heart attacks, strokes They are not caused by us, our employers argue We know better: of how hot is too hot Though we may not fully understand wet bulb temperatures You must know about all this too for it will touch you as well
Chitra Gopalakrishnan is a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant who uses her ardour for writing to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, prose and poetry and marginalia and manuscript. Website: www.chitragopalakrishnan.com