N Kumaran Asan (1873-1924) was an Indian social reformer, philosopher and poet of Malayalam literature. Honoured in 1922 as a 'Mahkavi' (Great Poet) by Madras University, he died tragically two years later when the boat in which he was travelling in his native Kerala capsized.
The dove orchid
This sweet fragrance
That radiates in the cool breeze
And puts all other scents to shame.
A bright spray of flowers
Beams above the leaves dark green as beetles.
They look like bubbles in a row
That rise in a pond where the tortoise breathes.
Is this a white crystal vial
That opens, breathing fresh and sweet?
Or can this be a new shell that opens
Revealing the faultless pearl within?
What an exquisite work of art
Is this new-blown flower!
Skilful craftsman working on ivory
Carve nothing like this
A master indeed art thou, oh Lord.
Ah, how did this bird
Pure, delicate, lovely
Come within this flower?
Mysterious are the ways of God
Is this bird born within the flower,
Or is it a shadow or the eyes' delusion?
Unruffled is this bird
Lost in silent meditation.
Among the birds
Some are incarnations,
So the seers say.
Of the meaning and end of this world
Little I know, and I am exhausted searching.
O sacred bird, if ever you understand
Will you in kindness tell me too?
Translated from the Malayalam by Sugathakumari
*Third World Resurgence No. 335/336, 2018, p 64