Chris Mooney-Singh's latest collections are 'The Bearded Chameleon' (2011) and 'The Laughing Buddha Cab Company' (2007). His poetry and fiction has appeared in several South-East Asian short fiction anthologies. Mooney-Singh also a noted performance poet and the founder of Poetry Slam in Singapore and Malaysia. Mooney-Singh travels trans-nationally and is completing a PhD at Monash University, Melbourne.
Chapt 20. War at Home
from 'Foreign Madam and the White Yogi'
a verse novel in progress
Synopsis in Media Res:
Yogi (a meditation group nickname from back in Australia) is staying at the home of local furniture merchant in a provincial North Indian town. The event, packed with friends and neighbours has the atmosphere of a religious gathering for a TV viewing of the dramatised Mahabharata, India's 'Illiad' and longest poem in the world. This excerpt is set in 1990 when the nationally televised series was garnering audiences of an estimated 100 million each week bringing the country to a pious standstill.
darkness is poison stone body creepers
arms tied ankles rope-burnt thinking unwinds
reels out an oxygen lifeline bubbles bubbles
serpents swim scarlet green injecting venom
straight to bottom and through to another place
creepers break cobra hoods smash like tree roots
slither cold tunnel jewelled walls emerald cavern
the thousand thousand coils of serpentry
turning human with honeyed speech
poison is nectar each bite a burning antidote
each bite one hundred elephants of strength
after each fang clasp strange transference upsurge
sunlight kingdom surface breaking
awake in the mind asleep in the body
laying until the lotus-pink of dawn
Closing eyes he listened to his heart rate
recalling a childhood glued to the TV,
hidden behind the lounge till very late
when the hand of Dad stung like a killer bee
sending him to bed. He felt the blows
again; and then the Mahabharat war
was back, more volleys of rapid arrows,
elephants, fake swordplay, tomato gore.
Among Indian grown-ups, was he the dunce?
This popular program was their hour of power,
a Bollywood tragi-comedy all at once,
philosophy turned into cartoon hour.
Now Krishna was telling Arjun — be a man.
Just kill your Grandad and fulfill my plan.
Knowing the tale, Yogi recast old gold
in his own way to keep himself inside
the poem's fold. As in a wrestler's hold
the storyline had long back, kept him tied
also to Margot, met that summer night
in Klopper's quarry through dramatic art.
Just a car drive from the burial site
he wondered then, if one chariot cart
had been his own in some long past time,
how otherwise had he landed here?
Next day's battle heat began to climb
as massive Bhima and his charioteer
clubbed with his gold mace and grunted breath
a dozen Kaurav cousins to the death.