I will fall sick if you photograph me

26 December, 2004.

Infinite decay at the shores of the Andamans.
Rumour of apocalypse on the streets

heavy with the marrow of civilization
caught in time’s suck and blow.

Bones on boats/on trees/ on windows/
on the collapsed lips of the earth.

Except them.

They who gathered the mist of moonfall,
cared to speak to the brindled turtle,

mapped the gloomy haze over hushed waterways,
released tremulous bird calls from their palms.

They rose at the edge of the deluge,
swooned to the wild beats of the dawn

and bribed no expensive gods
to break into a blossom.

Then came the sentinels of culture
to write on the stunned tongues of technology,

“the tribes are alive.”
A triumphant answer to ‘man’s search for man.’

But to the lust of their lenses,
said the finite forest child, “I will fall sick if you photograph me.”

He did not wish to become a shadow in the wind
or the last wave in the ‘age of rising seas.’

With a bow and arrow on his ash smeared shoulders,
he departed – One last sea-lion gaze at the mossy black of the night,

slow and humming into the woody hollows,
perhaps a prayer for rain:

for everyone to drink a little
for everyone to bathe a little

Jhilam Chattaraj


1. The poem is inspired by a report on the Tsunami, 2004, India published by CBS News.
2. “Man’s search for man” is a documentary on the Andman tribes.
3. “The age of rising seas” is a quote by writer Rachel Carson.

Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet from India. Her works have been published in journals like Colorado Review, World Literature Today, and Asian Cha among others. She has authored the books, Corporate Fiction: Popular Culture and the New Writers (2018) and When Lovers Leave and Poetry Stays (2018).

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