Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maghi Tyohaar: The Goat Festival

Every winter, in the Sangrah region of Himalayas,
it snows. There is no central heating. It gets cold.
Vegetables are in distant cities. In each house, a goat
hangs in the basement. Each day, a piece of it is cut
 and cooked. Goats are sacrificed with jhatka – single cut – as Hindu law
dictates and the Gods are offered bhog – the first bite of the meat.

Brahmins of the South cannot touch meat.
(Ask them to survive without it in the Himalayas).
Here religion sanctions the piety of every cut.
(And what can preserve the dead better than the cold?)
A portion – liver, leg – is gifted to Sahibs, the law-
keepers. (The men of government love a scapegoat.)

Since prosperity is weighed by the size of a goat,
and for months, they must eat only its meat,
as supplies are short, and the landslides cut
their contact with the world beyond Himalayas,
they worship the goat, drink its milk, battle the cold
using shawls hand-knit from goat-wool. As per the tribal law

on the day of Sakranti festival, every son-in-law
arrives carrying a hind leg of his goat.
This is a ritual of centuries. No one gets cold
feet. The caliber of the family is judged by their meat.
Its believed that the eternal saints still roam in Himalayas
and for them, at the Devta's temple, the faithful leave the cut
head, the cut heart, and also atman - the soul, which cannot be cut.
Devta accepts honest meat, and discards even gems of an outlaw.
Simple men have simple logic for their Gods in Himalayas,
and Gods, specially Agni, the Fire God , whose mount is the Goat
God, believers insist, relishes the pious dish of its meat.
The food in hills is scarce, so they say, "The cold

climate is a blessing. You stay closer in the cold.
Blessed is the goat that gives us life with every cut
and turns into Devta's prasad – holy even as meat."
Here people who toil in harsh terrain, know no laws
or ways to break any. Live, they say, like a goat –
grazing, bleating, jumping, and procreating in silent Himalayas.
They explain: "Main, main (Me, me) it says, it sins – so it is meat, silenced cold.
When you are in Himalayas, in the land of Gods, even when you're cut
if you're meek, by his law, you attain nirvana. Only the blessed are reborn as goat!"

(Published first in "Atlanta Review"; also published in "Saga of a Crumpled Piece of Paper")

Notes: Hindus believe that we are continuously born and reborn as various species, the atman - the soul- is everlasting element that emerges from and at last recombines with the param-atman (the ultimate soul) the ageless, formless, everlasting, omnipotent, omnipresent God.
Animal sacrifice is practiced only in certain tribal regions, though a hundred year back, it was a common practice among many Hindus. 
Devta means God or demigod. Agni or god of fire is special as it purifies everything. Agni is invoked at the Hindu marriage, during most Vedic rituals as well as at death, for Agni consumes the dead body, (Hindus burn their dead). When a goat is sacrificed to Agni, it is said to promote good health in the man who makes the sacrifice.

Published first in Atlanta Review, April 2009

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


His army sergeant, two-months-at-home father
was a cigarette-smell-achkan he embraced                                  
in the wooden almirah kept in his mother's room.                       
His scarred-on-chest father was a smiling photo-frame
he often touched, by using a chair to scale the table.
His word-of-mouth father was his mother's reading voice
that came home, in blue, 'inland' envelopes,
glowing with rusty, red stamps from Border posts.

achkan: Indian coat
almirah: closet
(First published in Breakwater Review)