Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now

by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott
Original Language Bengali

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
          You've masqueraded in this world
          as a clown.
But I am punished inside
          and there's nothing funny about Your jokes.
Oh Ma, sometimes You're the air we breathe,
          sometimes the sky in the seventh underworld
          furthest away, and
sometimes the water in the sea
          You assume so many forms!
I have traveled to countless lands
and worn countless costumes; even so,
          Your marvels -- ha! -- never cease.

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that's why it's sunk
in attachments. Why else
          would these tricks of Yours
               keep working?

-- from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Adrenaline and survivor's euphoria have dissipated and the hard realities of the aftermath of last week's flood are starting to sink in. I'm now hearing from friends and coworkers stories of the devastation caused by the inundation: people made homeless by the floods, farmers whose lands are damaged and their livelihoods lost, cherished mementos destroyed by the water and mud, discoveries that insurance policies don't cover flood damage to homes.

What does one say in such circumstances? Given the size and destructive power of the flood in our area, we can say it's a blessing that so few people died. When you have life, the rest is just "stuff," right? But it is almost cruel to say such a thing to a person who has witnessed the destruction of all they know. And that stuff can be the stuff of life, the means of support, items imbued with meaning.

As someone who was not too harshly affected by the flood, my reflex is to give a pat response, to feel as if I've said something nice that then allows me to feel good about myself and move on. That's not what traumatized survivors need, though. When material help can't be offered or isn't enough, saccharine words are no substitute. What people most need in that moment is to be heard, be seen. Look into their eyes and listen to their stories. Few things restore and renew hope as being honestly present with someone amidst their suffering.

I am reminded of a quote by the late Mother Teresa. I may be misquoting slightly, since I'm reciting it from memory, but it is something to the effect of, "The poor do not need your money. Money can be got. What they need is your hearts to love them."

==

About today's poem...

Battacharya, like several of the other great Kali poets of Bengal, evokes a teasingly plaintive voice when addressing the Mother Goddess Kali while, at the same time, berating his own misbehaving mind.

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
          You've masqueraded in this world
          as a clown.
But I am punished inside
          and there's nothing funny about Your jokes.


For Kali, all of creation is the product of her lila, her play. Reality is a game of divine delight, an elaborate pretense of hide-and-seek, a sort of "joke" meant to prod awareness from sluggish matter. For those of us caught up in the dramas and attachments of our lives, we are repeatedly fooled by Mother's tricks. We become dazzled by physical reality and imagine it to be the beginning and end of all existence. Joys on that level are intense, but never lasting, and losses seem so terribly permanent. Caught in that level of awareness, Mother's "joke" doesn't seem very funny.

When we become less attached to the dancing objects and experiences of material existence, the mind stops spinning, it settles, grows clear. It starts to see behind the great magic show an immense presence, waiting for us to see through the trick, and catch her glowing smile behind it all.

It all comes down to that cad, the mind...

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that's why it's sunk
in attachments. Why else
          would these tricks of Yours
               keep working?



Have a beautiful day!



Recommended Books: Mahendranath Battacharya

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal





Oh Ma Kali, for a