Moist with new rain: A tribute to the Mahatma

Poet-literary critic K. Satchidanandan's tribute to Gandhi through two poems, 'Gandhi and poetry' and 'Gandhi and the tree'

Gandhi on hunger strike against untouchability, March 1933 (Photo: Getty Images)
Gandhi on hunger strike against untouchability, March 1933 (Photo: Getty Images)

K. Satchidanandan

I find no contradiction between the sacred and the secular, I can be spiritual without being religious. This I have learnt from our saint and Sufi poets and reformers like Kabir and Gandhi who battled against hierarchies of every kind, and challenged power in its many manifestations.’

-- K. Satchidanandan

Gandhi and poetry

One day a lean poem

reached Gandhi’s ashram

to get a glimpse of the man.

Gandhi spinning away

his thread towards Ram

took no notice of the poem

waiting at his door,

ashamed at not being a bhajan.

The poem cleared his throat

and Gandhi glanced at him sideways

through those glasses that had seen hell.

“Have you ever spun thread?” he asked.

“Ever pulled a scavenger’s cart?

Ever stood in the smoke

of an early morning kitchen?

Have you ever starved?”

The poem said, “I was born in the woods,

in a hunter’s mouth.

A fisherman brought me up

in a cottage.

Yet, I know no work, I only sing.

First, I sang in the courts.

I was plump and handsome then,

but now I am out on the streets,


“That’s better,” Gandhi said,

with a sly smile. “But you must

give up this habit

of speaking in Sanskrit at times.

Go to the fields. Listen to

the peasants’ speech.”

The poem turned into a grain

and lay waiting in the fields

for the tiller to come

and upturn the virgin soil

moist with new rain.


Gandhi and the tree

Gandhi was walking in the sun

that had survived Noakhali.

“Stop, and rest for a while.”

Gandhi turned around.

It was a shady tree.

“You? It’s not yet time

for me to rest,” replied Gandhi.

“The world is in a hurry,”

the tree complained. “I have grown old.

I don’t flower any more, nor bear fruit,

even the birds have abandoned me.”

“Don’t worry,” said Gandhi.

“You are waiting for the axe

and I, for the bullet.”

“Don’t say that!” the tree said, in agony.

“Someone will need my shade.”

The memory of spring escaped

the tree as a sigh.

“Pray,” said Gandhi.

“If you don’t stop,

I will have to walk with you.”

And the tree fell into step beside Gandhi.

A breeze blew. A bird

flew to the tree.

“See? I am in bloom again!”

The tree burst into a laugh of white flowers.

“If you have begun walking,

then I can cease,” Gandhi’s blood whispered

as it flowed out

like a prayer for every being.

“See?” cried the emancipated tree.

“My flowers are growing red!”

Three birds that had been dreaming of fruit

came flying from the East.

(Translated from the original Malayalam by the poet, in collaboration with Sampurna Chattarji)

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