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‘How to Read Indian Myth’ and Other Poems

Arundhathi Subramaniam

André Derain, ‘The Sunken Path, L’Estaque’ / Metropolitan Museum

How to Read Indian Myth

(for AS who wonders)

How to read Indian myth?
The way I read Greek, I suppose

not worrying too much about
foreign names
and plots,

knowing there is never
a single point
to any story

taking the red hibiscus route
into the skin

alert to trapdoors, willing
to blunder a little in the dark

—-slightly drunk
BLANK———on Deccan sun

but with a spring in the step
that knows

we are fundamentally

built to float,
built to understand

and the chemical into which we are tumbling
will sustain
has sustained before

knows how to domesticate

knows a way beyond
a way through


the two

aren’t separate.

Read it like you would read a love story
Your own

Let me be Adjective

And so the verb is all

But I’m not ready for it yet

I tie knots
every now and then

to dam the flow
to pretend

I am thing
I am thing

and to pretend
you are too

And when the knots come undone
as one day they must

let me modify
Let me take wing
Let me sing


I suppose I’m asking,
like the old bards did
to be your garland

not always tenderly floral

just a little tart,
a little contrary

the kind that isn’t always allowed
within walled gardens

But even as I meander,
BLANKBLANKlet my trail
BLANKBLANK——-be the thread
—-that completes the circle
I long to make around you

Love, let me be adjective.


He says he dreams
of a cottage marooned
in a moon-flecked ocean of paddy,
she of a solitude
defined by crickets and oil lamps,

and I know I often long
for some warm lair
in a craggy wilderness
suffused by the trust of animals,
monsooned in grace.

We promise ourselves we’ll do it one day
disentangle ourselves
from a world that would have us believe
this is the only way to live —
to follow the frantic zeal of streets
that hurry us all the time towards
offers open only till stocks last.

We tell ourselves we’ll do it,
move out to a place
where drifting across oceans,
limned with dawn,
through ever-widening shoals of stars,
is simply a way of being
intensely local.


Show me a plant
that’s not in search
of a pot,

that knows
——whether it’s meant
BLANK——for orchard,
or jam jar,

that knows, for that matter,
BLANK——if it’s a creeper,
——or just an upstart crocus
too big for its boots.

You’d think it would get clearer with time.
It doesn’t.

And before you know it
you have yet another potted palm
with a raging heart
BLANK——of Himalayan pine.

Or just an old banyan
asking to be
BLANK——a little less ancient,
BLANK——a little less universal,
BLANK——a little less absolute,
a little more bloody

Quick-fix Memos for Difficult Days


clothes, pillows, books, letters
of the germs of need —
the need to have things mean
more than they do.

Claim verticality.


Trust only the words that begin
their patter
in the rain-shadow valley
of the mind.


Some nights
you’ve seen
enough earth
and sky
for one lifetime

but know you still have unfinished business with both.


So here again,
that old cliché, pain,
and its endless syntax
of gurgle and clot.

But better swamp —
always better swamp —
than scrubland.


Settling is bondage.
Wandering, vagabondage.
(Someone said that before?)

(Citizenship is bondage.
Dual citizenship, James Bondage.
That’s a first!)


Once you know
what it’s like
to be chieftain,
serf, concubine
and prop,
what’s left?

You choose story
or you choose curtains



until you’re done with both.


Once you’ve seen grain
you don’t settle for acrylic emulsion.


until you reach
the edge,

then consider a pause.
(It’s usually worth it.)


When they vanish,
leave the door open.

Gingerbread boys
run away but return eventually
to their bakers.



‘How to Read Indian Myth’ is a previously unpublished poem. ‘Let me be Adjective’ was first published in The Indian ExpressFebruary 2016. ‘Locality’ has been published in Where I Live: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2009), and ‘Transplant’ and ‘Quick-fix Memos for Difficult Days’ in When God is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books 2014).


Arundhathi Subramaniam has published four books of poetry. Her prose works include the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic and yogi, Sadhguru: More Than a Life, and The Book of Buddha. She has also edited Pilgrim’s India, an anthology on sacred journeys, and Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry.