Poems by Bashabi Fraser
Dr Bashabi Fraser, CBE is Professor Emerita of English and Creative Writing, Edinburgh Napier University; Director, Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs); a Royal Literary Fund Writer and an Honorary Fellow at the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh.
Bashabi is a poet, children’s writer, editor and academic. She is the recipient of a CBE (2021 Queen’s New Year Honours) for Education, Culture and Integration and has been declared Outstanding Woman of Scotland by Saltire Society in 2015. Her other awards include Kavi Salam from Poetry Paradigm and Voice of the Republic in India in 2019; the Word Masala Foundation Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2017; Special Felicitation as a Poet on International Women’s Day by Public Relations Society of India, 2017; Rabindra Bharati Society Honour, 2014; Women Empowered: Arts and Culture Award in 2010 and the AIO Prize for Literary Services in Scotland in 2009.
Bashabi has authored and edited 23 books, published several articles and chapters, both academic and creative and as a poet, has been widely anthologised. Her recent publications include Patient Dignity (2021), Rabindranath Tagore, a critical biography (2019), The Ramayana, A Stage Play and a Screen Play (2019) and My Mum’s Sari (2019).
When you walk beneath my boughs
They make a canopy above your gaze –
So intricate that the sky appears in glimpses
And if you invade my domain
You will find your steps impeded by the foliage
That flourishes between the stalwart trunks
Of my populace – this earth’s rich heritage.
You can feel the deep silence of my presence
Which embraces your every alert sense.
This is where the leopards lurk
The deer stand still or leap away,
Here I have the foxes’ den
The pheasants’ call, the rhino’s horn
The bison herds between my bark
And birds of every hue and cry
Send sharp signals
To all prey
Who slink away
Amidst my intense density
Where monkeys chatter
And squirrels scatter
Nuts and fruits
Against my roots
And blooms that vie
In shape and colour
To attract and capture
The insect life that is enraptured
By the habitat I provide.
But you have set a tidal wave
That sweeps under the forest glade
Pushing my treeline back
To the edge of life’s brink.
You have cleared me to plant cash crops
You have cleared me to graze cattle
You have cleared me to cultivate
You have cleared me to build your homes,
Your roads, your factories and fires,
To paper walls, to write your tales,
To feed your staggering race
That overfills this planet’s face.
You have set in motion soil erosion
You have let landslides, mudslides crush.
My roots that keep the earth soil porous,
Now removed, cause floods that flash.
I hold carbon dioxide
I release your precious oxygen
You slash at your very lungs
With every tree you crash for gain
As the air above turns heavy with
Greenhouse gases that spell death.
Every day you calmly clear
Twenty football field-size land
Of virgin forest that today stand
Between you and your destruction.
So twelve million hectares
Disappear every year.
This is a war you now wage
With cutting-edge technology –
Bulldozers that neatly raze
And road graders and log skidders
That bare the earth’s surface –
Till in a hundred years from now
My forests will exist no more
Replaced by a silence
More terrifying than war.
(Published earlier in Scottish PEB online journal in an issue on Climate Change and Global warming)
The White Space
The forest calls out from its still centre to the leaf of the book that came from its heart, in the silent scream of a shared creative agony
The white space
Is like a still lake
An emerald grove,
Its silence borne
From the depths
Of a forest
It was torn –
In our factories
Waiting to be
Ripples that will
Shatter the surface
Of rustling leaves,
Desires of tendrils,
Of the dark bark
And the ambition
Waiting to find
A voice to spill
Over and fill
The white space.