Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kosi by Sumana Roy


Like a woman who will fold and unfold her clothes
to exaggerate the shadow of her riches,
Kosi, the river of death,
stammers at bends, making all journeys longer;
Like a lover who knows not what he loves
except the scratches of stumbles between his toes,
Kosi, water-coffin,
moves without regard for direction:

The world drowns into a whisper,
cow and grass become fodder,
mirrors freckle with obituaries,
names become numbers.
sediment of history’s granary,
rises like yeast, corpses moles on its face.
Legs lose themselves to proverbs:
Kosi follows, at first like a lover,
then chases like a creditor,
until language and tongue become one
– a conch shell of sighs stuck inside Mithila’s throat

In the slaughter houses of its waters,
barbed wires turn anemic,
death blunts the pointed shadows of guns,
two countries fail to identify their dead,
all men become one,
as only Kosi and the vultures know

Everyone returns
to where they thought they had left unfinished tasks –
to sunken pillows, swollen tubers, smelly toilets –
to charpoys of dailiness, all except the river.
Kosi never returns:
like death, its home is forever new.

Sumana Roy’s first novel, Love in the Chicken’s Neck, was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2008. She lives in the Chicken’s Neck corridor, India, from where she hears stories about Kosi’s Great Flood in neighbouring Nepal and Bihar every year. 

To read more of the Dhaba's green poetry, go here.


  1. Amazing poem!

    But Kosi has always been like that. Anupam Mishra's piece "Tairne Wala Samajh Doob Raha Hai" explores the adventures of the river and adaptability of the people living along the river.

  2. Rivers can be brought back to life. The work transforms not only the rivers but those committed to helping them.

  3. @Kabir--I agree about this poem, and will look for Mishra's piece. Thanks for stopping by.

    @Anon--Well said. And true.

  4. Anupamji's piece is available for download here -
    Tairne Wala Samaj Doob Raha Hai - An essay by Anupam Mishra on the Bihar Floods:

  5. Hari - I work with India Water Portal and we would like to get in touch with the author. Could you help us do that?

  6. KOUSHIK DUTTA L' ETRANGERAugust 19, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Of death and love... of love and death! Bitter almonds floating in fountain of ambrosia. And then a flood that sweeps you away, with all that you ever had, to where you have never been. You own me, deadly river. You own my senses, lethal poem.

  7. @Arun--thanks for sharing the link. And I can help you get in touch with the author; drop me an email at and I'll pass it on. I'm sure she'd love to hear from you.

    @Koushik--I'm so glad this spoke to you.

  8. Powerful imagery & brilliantly placed.

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