Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey!
By Abhay K.
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island; after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Madagascar is in the western Indian Ocean. Some consider Madagascar to be the Earth’s eighth continent because it has such enormous biodiversity.
Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland with the rest of the world’s continents alongside Africa 167 million years ago. 65 million years ago it broke off from the Indian tectonic plate and it has been isolated ever since.
Madagascar has a diverse landscape. There are narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west. Its variations in topography mean it has a variety of climatic regions. This has lead to the evolution of many unique species of plant and animal.
The first humans probably arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo about 2,000 years ago. Later, migrants reached Madagascar from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and elsewhere. As a result, Madagascar has population made up of 18 different ethnic groups.
Members of all these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations. Malagasy is a rich language full of strong images, metaphors and proverbs. Most of them originate from Indonesian languages, but some words come into Malagasy from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.
Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot. Its unique flora and fauna are conserved in a network of national parks and protected areas consisting of over 120 places on the island.
Madagascar has made me a haijin
Madagascar has about 13,000 species of flowering plants out of which 89% are native to the island. Madagascar is also the homeland of the baobab tree. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusive to Madagascar.
There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, including insects, centipedes, spiders crabs, mollusks and leeches. Incredibly, Madagascar also has 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are native to Madagascar. There are 283 species of birds. 51% of these are only found on the island. Madagascar also has over 110 species of lemurs, from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams, to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemur only found here.
Madagascar has made me a haijin. When I arrived in Madagascar in March 2019, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would start writing haiku. I began with usual length poems but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple layers of enlightenment I felt taking place within me as I woke up to birdsong, and looked at: mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours.
Bees sucked nectar from flowers and made beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose, gazing at the sky.
Long poems were inadequate to express the illumination I felt while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the Indri-Indri bird (critically endangered), or watching silky Sifakas dance, or seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald Malagasy sea, or watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.
watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.
I decided instead to wander around this new continent like a fakir and follow the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa. As I did so it was as if I came to another island and another time and space.
I had a chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and received from him a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English. On another occasion, Robert Hass sent me a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar and found the short Haiku form to be the perfect medium to help me capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.
These are my very first haiku and I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity of the island which I am experiencing firsthand as you read this. I try to conjure up that beauty with these images.
a purple shower
of Jacaranda flowers
who needs a red carpet?
sea of innocence
exuding amber light
an ascetic meditating
turned upside down
the baobab tree
giant eggs in drawing rooms
where have all
the elephant birds gone?
below a baobab
what a blessing!
green gecko loves
the bright winter sun
to walk barefoot
the tsingy of Bemaraha
satanic leaf-tailed gecko
pressed against a tree
doubt you can find it
who could say
they’re not aliens
flames of yellow
lighting up Ranomafana
singing, flying, mating
they spend their days
Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including: The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020). He is the editor of many poetry collections including The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems.
Abhay’s poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review and Asia Literary Review, among others. Abhay’s poem Earth Anthem has been translated into over 140 languages. He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in 2018.
Abhay’s forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, won the KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award for 2020-21.
Abhay’s most recent book is called The Magic of Madagascar. It is published in English and French by Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021
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