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

Kumaran Asan

How enchanting

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