The cracks were all over the media. Every day she read a new story  with updated numbers about her sinking town atop a mountain in Chamoli district. Media persons kept pouring into the villages to gaze at the cracks, and at the protests welling across  towns. She had refused to move out of her small house last week when they came asking  people to leave their houses Let them kick her out. She was not afraid.

The cracks were more of a sign, she thought, of a strange greed that had tunnelled its way through the village. The new projects and roads that kept invading the mountains were not the only invasions. There was something else, far deeper, that was wrong with the world. The divide was in place already. They had cut themselves off from nature, from the gods of the earth, while chasing a new dream dangling from a mountain vine. That vine though was magical. In pursuit of that illusion, who was to be blamed?

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya read the poem

PHOTO • Labani Jangi


It did not happen in a day.
Fine, hairline cracks had
remained hidden,
like the early white strands of her hair,
or the lines under her eyes.
Small fissures between the village
and the mountains, forests, rivers,
had survived
imperceptible from a distance.
When the slightly larger cracks appeared,
slowly and steadily, she thought,
she could still fix those –
a small wall here
some soft plaster there,
like birthing a couple of children
to keep things from falling apart.

But then giant ones appeared,
staring her in the face
through the mirror-like walls,
brazen, unflinching, unforgiving
eyes of Narasimha.

She knew their shapes, directions –
horizontal, vertical, stepped,
the special places where they grew –
beds of mortar between bricks,
in the plasterboard, on the brickwork,
in foundation walls, and soon
it was not Joshimath alone.
She saw them spreading, like the pandemic,
across the mountains, the nation, the streets,
reaching the land beneath her feet,
covering her beaten limbs, her spirit.

Too late to leave now
Nowhere to go
The gods had upped and left.

Too late to pray
too late to hold on to old beliefs
too late to save anything.
Futile to fill those cracks with sunlight.
This exploding darkness
like molten shaligrams ,
unknown rage, a deep-seated hatred
was devouring everything.

Who had thrown the cursed beans
in the valley behind her house?
She tried to remember.
Or did pests get to this creeper
with its roots in the sky?
Whose palace could be atop this venomous vine?
Would she recognise the giant if she were to meet him?
Would  her arms still have the strength
to wield an axe?
Where does one look for salvation ?
Exhausted, she tried to sleep, one more time,
letting her wide-open eyes climb
up and down
in a dreamlike trance,
the magical beanstalks
growing on the old walls.

Pratishtha Pandya

Pratishtha Pandya is a Senior Editor at PARI where she leads PARI's creative writing section. She is also a member of the PARIBhasha team and translates and edits stories in Gujarati. Pratishtha is a published poet working in Gujarati and English.

Other stories by Pratishtha Pandya
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi