Songs of the Sunflower Valley

by Rohinton Daruwala


Satya

They told him the valley was haunted,
pleasantly haunted though.
The valley was littered with ghosts,
but not the screaming homicidal kind,
or the dhoti or sari tugging remnants
of unfulfilled desire.
These were ghostly songs, voices
as clear as your mother's singing,
coming out of an empty room or
sometimes a flute melody barely
heard above the wind.

Satya had lived in the valley for years
before his revelation.
When he first arrived, he followed the songs
around the valley as some did,
and could make little sense of their
hard and soft and coming and going.
He gave up, and like the sunflowers
covering the valley floor,
spent his days staring out at the Sun
and his nights inwards thinking of
death.

One night when it rained hard
he was caught, up in the hills,
with only a tree for shelter
and a single mournful sarod tune
for company.
In the morning, he understood.
The songs were always
getting stronger.
The songs moved backwards through time,
no doubt being heard before
their creators were even born.
Satya remembered that once he could write
and became a map maker,
charting the songs of the sunflower valley,
predicting which ones would be stronger
each year, and the exact year
of each future original.


Radha

The first thing she could remember
was the violins.
Three separate players, separate because
one was
softer than the first and
louder than the last,
but all three were in harmony.
Before breath and her mother's breast,
there was the music.

These were the years Satya had predicted,
the years of the original performances,
and no one knew who the
players or singers would be.
There were sacred spots known
all through the valley and
at one such shadowless place,
Radha waited with a hundred others,
for the music to begin its beginning.

They waited,
and no one came.

Days in the heat and
not a sign, not a word or sound,
and so much silence in the valley.

On a sweaty restless day,
a day of waiting, like all the others,
when the sunflowers willingly blind themselves
in the noonday sun,
Radha steps out of the group
of onlookers
into a sacred space,
sits down,
and begins to sing.
She knows the raga of the song
and the words,
because she has heard them all her life.
The crowd will sit still and listen,
and when she is done,
bring her food, and shelter her
as best they can in this houseless spot.
They know now that she will repeat
her performance day after day
for days to come,
until the song begins to echo
far before her birth and
far after her death.

And all across the valley,
a hundred and one musicians will
pick themselves out of crowds
and begin their music.


Saraswati

The songs are ending.
Some of them
are already gone.

There are hardly any sunflowers left
in the valley, just temples.
The miracles have flowered and withered,
but the priests are still around
to suck them dry.

Saraswati is a singer in secret.
She sits behind temple walls,
in hidden rooms to
prop up a dying song
with her own voice.

But not today, today is a day
gloriously inauspicious.
The timings of the dying songs
are so predictable now,
that the priests can time their own chants
before and after each event.
Today however, the priest
will be interrupted.
Saraswati will walk out
among the faithful, her voice
still in song, continuing with notes
that have dropped off from the end
of the original over the years.
Now the faithful remember -
notes from their childhoods,
familiar and sweet, but not as sweet
as the notes Saraswati continues with,
extending the song well past
its ancient form.

A young man will rise and walk towards her,
and at this exact point in time,
no one knows what he will do.
Whether he will be the first one
to cast a stone, for these
are days of blasphemy and stoning.
Or whether he will join her
in song, for that is
what every voice raised in song
hopes for, always.
That at some time and
in some place,
another voice with answer it,
a jugalbandhi that will echo
through the ages.

###


Rohinton Daruwala lives and works in Pune, India. He writes code for a living, and speculative fiction and poetry in his spare time. He tweets as @wordbandar. His work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons.

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