The Lonely Nilgiris Watchman*

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My awesome awed mate saw it first,
Thrusting a curious arm its way:
A cross, etched darkly against
An all-blue sky that day;
Stark on a hill with grassy skin,
Rippling patches in a petulant wind
That cooled the river-split valley.
Who was buried there and why?
No other crosses brooded nearby.

A woodsman whose axe had rung
And now in other hands is swung
In this grand sweep of rills and trees?
Or a man of the land
Whose bullocks spanned
His tiny patch of flinty soil
Until he tired of daily toil
And decided to rest awhile?

All other plans I set aside
And directed a quickening stride
Toward the enigmatic hillside,
Seeking secrets that might abide.
Pausing for breath that came hard
I climbed half-way and higher,
Stepping around stripling trees
Planted neatly with foresters' care,
To beautify the slopes with greenish hair.

I peered down at my river people,
In miniature so far away
For a pause and wave, and then
Gaze at my beacon and climb again.
Then came the summit at the watchman's side,
Rewarded with an early alpine prize:
A glance at the curving switch-back ride
The watchman took to his resting place,
After his hour glass lost its pace.

There's no name marker or head stone
To bell a fragment of his story
Of birth, achievement or female quarry.

Only the plain, weathered cross,
Fashioned primitively from a hard wood
Stiffly standing, prodded by rocks
Stuffed at the foot; a few flocks
Of wild flowers grow at random
And pay respects in languid abandon.

Who cared about him, where there any?
Indeed there could have been many
To accept that his time had passed
And put their backs to the parting task.
Did burly kin pay a visit again,
To hoist their burden to the rocky rim?
Perhaps village friends also flocked in,
Crowding in heartsick at the end,
United in their love for him
Before memories of close ties grew dim.

Had he asked a stricken wife,
Prior to the closing of his life
For a favor before finality
Transformed into to somber reality?
Amid end-time prayers did he say,
"Let me rest on the highest hill."
A granted wish for a life fulfilled,
They bore his head of gray
To this place and to this ground
And turned his charpoy bed around
And turned his face to look straight down
At the display of river-forest ballet
Performing in this Indian valley.

Turning from the watchman's place
I was arrested by the grace
Of dual streams gravity-frolicking;
One was the mainstream, picking
It's way tumbling down:
Broad, brown, bereft of foam;
Both waterways "Namaste"*adieus
On a voyage heading home
To vanish into the inspiring series
Of peaks and crevices of the noble Nilgiris.

As the dusk looms or at night,
With a rising wind just right
To spur the monsoon clouds to increased flight
And writhe across granite faces to suspend
Mantles on the shoulders of blue friends
And flood the valley with torrents of tears,
The plaintive voices of the waters carry
And the solitary, lonely watchman hears.

. *Blue Mountains
**Greeting or farewell