In the holy city of Varanasi the waxing moon is a hammock and I am Alice, fallen down the rabbit-hole into an oddly strange-yet-familiar land where sacred bulls wade freely through tight alleys because they are a living representation of Nandi who serves the god Shiva. I wake in darkness at 5.30am to rolling bells and a woman chanting through loudspeakers. Men dressed in red robes weave fire torches before The Ganges as the sun rises in answer to their summons. We climb through this liminal space onto a rowing boat where the crease of oars counts time along the Ghats and bodies are bathed, or cremated. The river flows on indifferent and I think of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Paper Boats’: Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the running stream. / In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of the village where I live. / I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and know who I am.
The holy river gifts purpose to boat and bird – Indian pond herons and common myna birds with fast fire flash eyes bob while tenacious white gulls devour spirit offerings cast from boatsides. It begins to dawn on me that I’m becoming less drawn to the trees of a place and more to the birds. Perhaps this is because, after a decade rooted in the community, I’m unwinding roots from earth, growing wing and feather, beak and claw.
The Wales/India project that this cultural exchange is part of is supported by Parthian Books, Wales Arts International, British Council Wales, Literature Wales and Wales Arts Review. Part of the project involved an onstage appearance at the Kolkata Literature Festival.
Sophie’s poetry collection Rebel Sun – a collection of starlings and socialism – is out with Parthian Books in June 2017. Pre-order the book here, along with some limited-edition creative extras.