Introduction to The Magic of Madagascar

La Magie de Madagascar | The Magic of Madagascar by Abhay K.

Bilingual edition, Translated into French by Prof. Madhuri Mukherjee and Katia Novet Saint-Lôt,

Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021, Pages. 144

White Sifakas | Photo: Abhay K.

The Magic of Madagascar

-Abhay K.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo) located in the western Indian Ocean. Owing to its unique biodiversity, it is considered as the eighth continent. Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland 167 million years ago and has been isolated from the rest of the world after breaking apart from the Indian tectonic plate about 65 million years ago. 

Cattle herons | Photo: Abhay K.

Madagascar has a diverse landscape with narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west.  Due to its topography, a number of climatic regions exist in Madagascar leading to a very high rate of speciation compared to the rest of the world.

Madagascan Hoopoe | Photo: Abhay K.

It is believed that the first humans arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo, Indonesia about 2000 years ago. Later migrations took place from east Africa, Arabia, India and other parts of the world, giving rise to a diverse population consisting of 18 major ethnic groups. Members of these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations, a rich language full of images, metaphors and proverbs, which is mainly of Indonesian origin, with some words derived from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Traveller’s Palm | Photo: Abhay K.

Madagascar is a global biodiversity hot spot and its unique flora and fauna is conserved through a network of national parks and protected areas, which consists of over 120 sites. The island has some 13,000 species of flowering plants, out of which 89 % are endemic. It is also the motherland of baobabs. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusively found in Madagascar. There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, around 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are endemic to Madagascar, 283 species of birds, 51 % of which are endemic species and over 110 species of lemurs from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemurs, which are only found in Madagascar.

Red Fody | Photo: Abhay K.

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 here. I began with usual length poems but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple enlightenments taking place within me while waking up with birdsong, looking at mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours, bees sucking nectar from flowers, making beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose and gazing at the sky, or while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the critically endangered Indri-Indri, watching silky Sifakas dance,  seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald sea and watching sunset at the alley of baobabs or merely wandering around like a fakir following the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa, though in another island, and in another space-time.

It reminds me of my chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and receiving a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English and later getting a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington DC in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar and found the short Haiku form as the perfect medium to capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.

These are my very first haiku and I’ve a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity these words and images endeavour to conjure up, which I’ve experienced firsthand in the magical land of Madagascar. Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey! 

a purple shower 

of Jacaranda flowers

who needs a red carpet?

Bamboo Lemur | Photo: Abhay K.

sea of innocence

exuding amber light

lemur’s eyes

~~~

turned upside down

an ascetic meditating

the baobab tree

~~~

giant eggs in drawing rooms

where have all

the elephant birds gone?

Alley de Baobabs | Photo: Abhay K.

standing

below a baobab

what a blessing!

Madagascan Green Gecko | Photo : Abhay K.

how much

green gecko loves

the bright winter sun

Radiated Tortoises | Photo : Abhay K.

dusk now

radiated tortoise

still grazing

Tsingy de Bemaraha | Photo: Abhay K.

calling out

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

painted mantellas

~~~

flames of yellow

lighting up Ranomafana

moon moths

~~~

singing, flying, mating 

they spend their days

Vasa parrots 

Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including The Magic of Madagascar (L’Harmattan Paris, 2021), The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020), and the editor of The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian PoemsCAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review, Asia Literary Review among others. His ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into over 140 languages. He received SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress, Washington DC in 2018.  His forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta  (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara  (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, have won KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award 2020-21.

Abhay K.

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