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E. V. Ramakrishnan

The Darkest Word in the Dictionary

ramakrishnan imagePhoto by Salil Chaturvedi

You walk the day without the burden of facts.
The evil is always at hand, it takes an effort
to look beyond it. You think of the polar bear
starving for the fifth day. She had cubs to feed.

By now you know all the synonyms of despair
but the clerk at the table surprises you.
He is a linguist, he has just coined the darkest word
in the dictionary. It does something to your body,

for the mind cannot register it. The mind has its devious
ways of dealing with facts. But the body will never
lie, it will pronounce it backward and forward
till the hair turns white and the eyes turn inward.

I have a prayer for my children, for all children:
May they find love. May they walk a land
where they are not suspects. May they never
hear the word I just heard, a word that

should be banned from the dictionary.
The man behind me said, Say your prayers
elsewhere. This is an office. I said, This is a prayer
for everyone, including you. His mobile rang

and he said, O God, O God, and he ran weeping.
The queue moves like a conveyor belt. When my
turn comes, just before the lever is pulled,
I will think of the tamarind tree, its stout roots

pushing into the soil, its canopy like
a carnival. Run your fingers on its fissured,
weathered bark, and any word you speak
becomes a prayer. Open its lumpy

brown pods of fruits and you are in the land
of folk-tales. Eat its pulp that melts in your
mouth like a rhyming proverb, and you are
no more a dwarf like me, standing in queues

your whole life. I move to the next table. Before
the linguist there pronounces the unspeakable
word a second time, confirming it,
I tell him, Take this brown-eyed shiny seed,

please pass it on to your grandchildren or any
children. They will know one day what
I meant to say to you, when they turn it
in their hands like a globe that is out of shape.