“Sexual Love as an Antidote to Totalitarian Control”
|Big demolition prior to the Summer Olympics
The first time when I met Ma Jian, it was two years ago on a wintry day in Brussels. We were both at Europalia, Festival biennal des Arts et de la Culture hosted by the European capital. It sounds better than it is. While a cold wind blew outside the large windows of Royal Museum of Fine Art, the vibes inside reminded me somewhat of Commissaire Maigret coloured haphazardly with a child’s felt pen set. Two days before my publisher had phoned to ask me if I could help a Chinese author named Ma Jian, who was on the Continent to be interviewed by Dutch/Flemish media. “He needs an interpreter. You get paid for the job,” my publisher had said. Certainly, I had answered. The same afternoon I set out to do my research.
Ma Jian was born in Qingdao in 1953. After political pressure, he quit his job as a photographer in 1983, travelled throughout China and later turned these experiences into his non-fiction recounts Red Dust. He moved to Hong Kong in 1987 but continued to travel in China. In 1989 he took part in the Tiananmen Square protests. He left to live in Europe in 1997, where he established his fame as a dissident writer – “Solzhenitsyn of China’s amnesiac surge towards superpower status” as Guardian wrote about him – which gave me an instant shudder of antipathy. Comparisons are odious. Comparisons of this kind underrate a writer and disclaim the literary quality of a work, if there is such intent present in his/her artistic toil.
writing in Chinese is connected, clear and unobscuring, the kind of lucent beauty one discovers in an ink
landscape from the Ming dynasty whose ever expanding perspective adds layers of meaning without losing a valid intention. In short, I found in there the poetic depth that has echoed through two thousand years of a literary tradition, from Book of Odes to Lu Xun.
apart from an epic novel about China’s recent past, a story about the body, “sexual love as an antidote to totalitarian control”. Do you think the Chinese are able to recognise the physical emancipation you seek to communicate? It’s my understanding that sexual oppression is not a communist invention but a deep-rooted Chinese tradition represented by the Confucian School. What do you think of the current revival of Confucianism in China? How should we, as self-chosen exiles, react to the western readiness to embrace the murkiest, biggest export product called Confucianism from a totalitarian country?
body symbolises China that is the corpse princess flirting around a global stage of capitalism. As long as you can get business done, everything else is negotiable. Memory is suspended in the dark abyss between life and death, not being able to decide whether to die or live on. The thing is when your body dies, memories die with it. Da Wei, my protagonist realises that. While he is not in control of his own body, his oversensitive, overactive mind continues to function. In my book the only communication he is able to have with the world around him is through sex. People make fun of his sexual organ; men as well as women take advantage of him and make him their sexual toy. Later on he is even exploited by his mother who sells his urine! The question that should be asked here is: who is in coma, the patient or the society? In my book his erection has become a monument for China’s political persecution in the past, which has turned for profit, commercial shamelessness in the present. Confucianism oppresses the body and the individual. In our day Confucianism is cleverly adapted by the regime to serve the same purpose as it did in the past. In my book the younger generations seek sexual emancipation. It is a protest, but most of all sexuality lies in the heart of humanism. Subversive bodily acts demanding change. Obviously, the individual is beaten by a suppressive tradition in the end. Either it is the genuine Confucian School or the one faked by the regime, it is used as a weapon to kill China’s future. Chinese government is exporting Confucius and his ideas as a cultural product. It appals me because Confucius was in exile in his own time; he was seeking a spiritual home. Until his death he was unable to finish a single book. Thanks to his pupils we are now able to be acquainted with his teaching. During the Cultural Revolution Confucius was condemned, his grave was robbed and his offspring persecuted. Now the Party thinks they can use his name for a wicked purpose of subduing the Chinese people and pulling the wool over foreigners’ eyes.
China enjoyed a poetic tradition that was as diverse as it was complex. Tang poetry unites the natural world with the philosophical, the divine with the everyday. It uses colour, repetition, and parallelism to evoke the great beauty and vibrancy of the world that surrounded us. As for me, I used medical jargon in my story; words forgotten by literature. What I mean to say is that to achieve a poetic sense of beauty, one must dare to take risks and not repeat the past. Also I used The Book of Mountains and Rivers as a literary hyphen between time and space, between imagination and reality, between ideology and spiritual emptiness. But most of all, I want to convey the philosophical sense of time: do we ever possess time? What is Time? Albert Einstein said: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
of the language and you are rejected because readers in our time still prefer mashed potato topped with a homey gravy? How important do you consider yourself – us – in today’s shifting literary landscape?
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (Chatto & Windus ISBN 978-0374110178) by Julie O’Yang © 2011
The First Cut [Doctor in the Making]
The whitish belly is a dome on the cutting-board –
Frozen frame mouthing an opaque cry.
The frog limbs cling, holding the empty air
Pleading against the pleasure of waiting steel.
The T-cut flap opens the membrane doors
First step wounding, to heal greater wounds.
Heartless, the heart and kidney systems lie –
Fleshed soft and gleaming, striking a nail in me.
I cut a prayer, blood colors this sketch
Painting a death, for a future living.
I hear the croak, feel the raindrops splatter –
Growl of thunder darkening, the etherized senses.
The body cell by cell dissolves in the air,
Clotting dreams, netting neurons in my sweat.
As the forceps fingers clutch the scream
The frog leaps and lands on my soul
Nuances of Board Room Beings
Subtle bubbles foam at the meeting
The oval egg breaks in the cold hum;
The silhouettes spring, the feral gleam sparks,
The silky folds of decibels tear up.
Words wrestle fingers, softly lay wreaths
Abacus of sales rattle, slide to ciphers.
Graphs cruise the hearts, dying on the MD’s cheek
Whizzing past teeth, down the painted tongues.
Anger powered, sarcasm driven snagging
The secretary’s nylons to his tie.
Busting Production, heaving marketing
Dragging the slumped sales in decibels.
One chews hungrily his lips, another
Makes lollipops of his pencils.
The icon on the others lap top,
Fingers a fish, in his neuron net
Red in the face, he waves his catch.
The smart one cascades his Niagara
To catch the rainbow in his boss’s eye,
The time watcher, plays tongue footsie with his teeth.
The new entrant dream-fingers his mistress
Lost in the memory of her diamonds.
The keen type keels over, flattened against –
Arguments, loosing shape and stewing in despair.
The token lady at the table top, ripples in waves
Echoes her executive shine, gleaming coins –
Lightweight, only seen and not heard
In the nuances of their word
Delight gloved the infant’s hand,
Rolling, squeezing the gruel in squishy squeals.
Clock hands, grew up the lovely fingers
To cover up her skin.Yucky! ugh! with disdain,
From sun and wind and all dirt of living.
Gloves became the knights of digital armor –
Riding to the ladies rescue, to keep alive amour
Sometimes duenna, some times police.
Gloves are companions, full of compassion;
Protects old fingers from cold and cruel creases;
No tucks, nor botox nor scalpel can make young.
The pair of gloves married in holy matrimony –
One is lost, a spouse is lost forever
Born together, they die together.
using words garbled up.
making no sense whatsoever.
no sentences. no punctuation. perhaps not even words.
and i want to keep speaking.
and i dont want you to try to understand.
or say anything.
i want you to listen not to the words i speak
but to the sound of them.
like i listen to the sea.
and i want you to look at me.
just like that. and not mean anything.
like i look at the sea.
and i want you to keep looking.
i will keep speaking.
Dappled sunlight of the fragrant forest
Ashes float in the sunlight of the new rice
In the home for the elderly
The grey women sit huddled
In the hard rock
To write poetry
I melt away,
Was it you
Was it you
Swati Singh Sambyal
Times when something leaves a deep impact on the course of your life are the ones we term unforgettable. Years pass by and circumstances change, but the wound never heals, and it hurts at the most unexpected, unwanted moments.
Yolanda Lindsay Mabuto
How I almost got myself killed!
Down the street,
Beside a neglected nook,
A tattered figure crouched
On his haunches emerged,
With a buried head in
Between his worn-out knees,
And with a face unnoticed, unseen.
The morning yawned
With commuting bodies and machines,
A common sight.
When a flower loses its fragrance,
When the sky loses all its cloud,
When water loses its purity
And the moon loses its shine
No one feels the pain.
With a sweet ache, I began to behold,
Tiny drops pouring on,
The roof, the rubbish, and the rubble.
A silent whisper, wash out with a force,
The dust on and the rust in.
is a lot of car-rides and a lot of rain.
This April I’m somewhere else,
and strangely enough, (betraying climate experts)
the rain clouds followed me here.
I watched leaves fall—lazy, golden, piscine
when caught in the net of midday rays.
And I watched
someone else’s suitcase being packed,
It’s quite easy to miss home.
All you have to remember:
a smell, some hands, a wickerwork chair,
the typical morning, a calling-bell
and then realize that you cannot open that door
at least not from here.
as I sit on the balcony ledge,
(the heat of the day hasn’t left the stone yet)
I try to figure out why Delhi is ‘two tall syllables’ to Octavio Paz.
And then I see a moon,
shaped just like the Os she contains (or do they contain her?)
only bigger, only brighter, only far away
and I see the translucent fish clouds
swimming over her, asking me to drift along.
It is a home sky up there, I’m glad it’s still the same.
Last April, I was home, wondering,
on a wickerwork chair in Barrackpore,
what this here I now am
would be like.
Last April, strangely, this here was a there:
Uncertain, in discussion, imagined a hundred times over.
Last April, I was home,
I was there.
25 April, 2011
A wind puffed by the raising sun,
branched into my room,
galloped from corner to corner,
disturbed the solitude, raped the room
made the world shaggy
and went away flapping the curtains,
as I saw the scene
pleading that wind to come again,
and do the similar thing
inside my body too!
Someone stitches a song with the wind,
do you know who it is?
She chuckles and shows me the scarecrow.
Someone screams silently, is that you?
She turns toward the naked girl
standing on hill’s top.
Someone is suiciding, do you know?
She sees the sun that is setting into
a valley of hallucinations.
Someone laughs with lifeless sarcasm –
who is that?
She shows me her wristwatch.
Silence become eloquent
a glass splinter, the thread vibrates
Can you hear that? The sound of bell?
She came closer and leaned her ear on chest
as doctor, and said
Shoma A. Chatterjee
The Perfect Script
Like the hero in Polish filmmaker Kieslowski’s first feature film, ‘The Camera Buff,’ Rahul could not see anything without placing it in front of his imaginary camera. Camera angles and shots overshadowed his vision. He would join his palms, backside up, at the outstretched thumbs of either hand. Then, stretch out the rest of the palm straight-ahead to form three sides of an unfinished rectangle. He would then place this in front of his face, like the frame of a cinema-screen, to watch anything and everything, through this ‘frame.’ It is a familiar pose assumed by directors and cinematographers of the tinsel world. Some directors do it reflexively. Others, consciously, specially when other people, not from films, are around. Rahul did not belong to films though. He did not even own a still camera, not to talk of one that took moving pictures.
He kept his ears pricked, to pick sounds off his environs, wherever, whenever. Sounds of doors being slammed, closed, shut, banged, opened. Sounds of the television remote being clicked every other second, shifting channels from the staccato English of the BBC to suddenly switch over to the perfect Bangla of DD7 to the Bombaiyya Hindi of ZEE to pure Urdu on the Pakistani TV and the Yankee English of CNN. Sounds of birdcalls, chirping sparrows, cawing crows, and crowing cocks. Sounds of barking dogs and mewing cats and screeching mice. Kitchen sounds of the whirring mixer-grinder, vessels being washed at the sink, a leaking tap, fish curry being seasoned in steaming hot mustard oil, starch being sieved off the cooked rice in a giant-sized sieve, the shrill shriek of the pressure cooker, his mother barking out instructions to the maid. Sound of tea being poured out of an aluminum kettle into cups, often sloshing over into saucers to make a splash. Living room sounds – of the antique standing fan, a family heirloom that made its presence felt more by the loudness of its whir than by its speed. Or, the old radio (his father refused to give it up) blaring forth news of the day’s weather in a dead monotone sans emotion or pitch. Sounds of the grandfather clock’s chiming on the hour, the constant ticktock of the minute hand. Sounds of his father shuffling the pages of his newspaper, or talking to his sister in whispered tones, so that his mother wouldn’t hear. Pooja-room sounds of jingling bells, jangling of keys tied to his mother’s pallu, low-chants of mantras, blowing on the conch shell after the pooja was over, his mother washing the pooja vessels in the large basin filled with water. Bathroom sounds of the running tap, the shower in full blast from behind the closed door, the jangling of the flush chain being pulled and pulled and pulled, water gushing down the water closet, his sister belting out a Tagore song, tunelessly as usual, during a leisurely bath, clothes being washed and rinsed and beaten even when they defiantly refuse to ‘die.’ Day sounds and afternoon sounds and night sounds. Interior sounds within the apartment and ‘outdoor’ sounds from the immediate neighbourhood – the sound of a neighbour’s car being parked inside the garage under their flat, his brother wheeling in his Hero Honda onto the parking lot outside the apartment block, the sound of the neighbor’s daughter practicing sa-re-ga-ma on the harmonium – something he picked up from a Ray film long ago, or the couple next door forever squabbling in voices that grew louder by the minute, indifferent to their breach of their own privacy.
Sometimes, the strains of a beggar song floating in from the street outside, or the whimpering of a tantrum-throwing child followed by a few stinging slaps from his mother. He associated the smells to go with the sounds because he did not quite know how to ‘store’ smells. Like he still had not discovered the secret of storing ‘silence.’ He stored what he could, in the hard disk of his memory. To be drawn from and drawn upon, when the time came to make his dream film. He did not own a cassette recorder, much less a computer.
Rahul was jobless by choice. No amount of cajoling, begging, scolding or insulting by father, older brother, younger sister, could shake him off his obsession. He wanted to make the best film ever made. His friends had reduced him to a living joke. He had lost three wonderful girlfriends one after the other, in quick succession. They found his looking at them through that unfinished rectangle of his palms insulting and humiliating. Especially in a public place like a restaurant or a park or in the lounge of a theatre. Onlookers would watch for a minute, assume puzzled expressions and go along with what they were at. They probably dismissed him for a crackpot. Rahul knew he was not one. He had a dream like everyone did. Only, his dream was too big, too incredulous, too much of a fantasy for others to accept and adapt themselves to.
He wanted to go to the Film Institute in Pune after his graduation. His father would not hear of it. “We cannot afford it” he said, with more firmness than he actually felt. “I am going to retire in a couple of years. You had better pull up your socks and queue up at the employment agency for a decent job. We do not have anyone in the family in films. I do not want to begin with you,” his father said. Then, as usual, he hid behind the day’s newspaper, a regular escape strategy from disturbing family debates he did not know how to get out of. He did not like to argue with his younger son. It always led to raised voices, angering Rahul’s mother. She was far from the sati-savitri type. She was perfectly capable of walking out of the kitchen to go to the Ramkrishna Mission at Gol Park and listen to devotional speeches and songs. The family then had to make do with just dal-rice for lunch. Because Rahul’s sister went to work. Rahul’s father hated dal-rice. Besides, it turned the fresh, sweet-water fish he had bought from the market that very morning, tasteless and insipid within the coldness of the refrigerator’s freezing compartment. It happened all too often, though, because, like all Bengali families, they argued all too often. His wife, uncharacteristically named Sita by her parents, pampered and spoilt her kid son and did not care for others rebuking her favorite boy. “There is more of Hitler in you than Sita” he often told her, without result. With the solid backing of his mother, Rahul did not bother to queue up at the employment agency. He did not bother to respond to ads in the classified columns of newspapers either. He knew he was born to make the greatest and the best film ever made. A clerical post in a bank or peddling insurance or writing accounts was not up his street. Oh dear me, no!
Rikta, his last girlfriend, told him to meet the great director Satyajit Ray. This would give him ideas on how to go about realizing his dream, she added. So, one fine morning, Rahul climbed into the underground metro from Tollygunje, got off at Rabindra Sadan, took the rear exit, and ambled in his leisurely fashion, towards 1/1A Bishop Lefroy Road, where the great director lived with wife Bijoya and son Sandip. Ray’s official photographer, Hirak Sen tipped him about catching Ray in the morning. “It is the best time to catch Ray in an ideal mood” he had said. Rahul discovered that there was a personal elevator that took one directly into Ray’s living room. But the watchman wouldn’t let Rahul use it. Determined to fulfill his mission of meeting the great genius, Rahul took the stairs. He was unaware of the fact that visitors who took the elevator were automatically given ‘clearance’ to meet Ray. Those who took the stairs, were ‘eliminated.’ So, when the servant who answered the doorbell would not even accept his visiting card, Rahul brushed him aside with one shove of his strong shoulder and walked straight into Ray’s living room. The Nepali servant, now stacked against one of the walls of the narrow passage, gaped at this unexpected dismissal. Rahul turned back once to register how well this scene would turn if kept as a ‘freeze-shot’ in his dream film.
He’d add it to his script, he decided.
Rahul was speechless when he stepped into the room. The august presence of one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of world cinema seemed to rob him of the power of speech. There was the great master, Satyajit Ray himself, relaxed in his arm chair, pipe sticking out of his mouth, sketchpad resting on knees folded up to make a ‘table’, sketching away onto the sketchpad. Slivers of sunlight filtered in through the slats of the large window behind him, lighting up one side of his face, adding to the sculpted features, rough, uneven, dusky, and strong. The ‘picture’ was a live ‘translation’ of one of the thousands of photographs of the great master, photographer Nemai Ghosh had taken. Ray did not notice Rahul’s entry, so deeply absorbed was he in his work. Rahul was tempted to put up his palms and form his ‘camera’ rectangle. So before his hands rose in reflex, he shoved them determinedly into his pockets, and glanced around the room to divert attention. He realized that the left pocket of his trousers had a hole in it and a couple of fingers of his left hand stuck out, thankfully, beyond vision. He turned his mind away from those disturbing fingers and allowed his attention to wander across the room. The walls were lined with books, books and more books. There was the historic piano, its lid invitingly open, the keyboard on display, on one side of the spacious room, where Ray created many a hypnotic musical score for his later films. A book of musical notations rested on the ‘holder’ above. Rahul looked here and there for those famous visual scripts of Ray written and sketched directly into grocer’s accounting books bound in red cloth. But they were nowhere to be seen. Rahul simulated a gentle cough to attract attention. Ray bent his head to look up at him from the top of his glasses, waved his pipe at Rahul first, and then at the circular cane stool in front of him. “Boshun,” (“sit down”) said the great master in his golden baritone.
Voice touched with a slight tremor of nervousness Rahul never imagined he was capable of, he told Ray about his dream. Ray put down his charcoal pencil and listened to him patiently, as he puffed into his pipe from time to time. Rahul watched mesmerized, as smoke rose from the pipe in ambivalent circles, slowly fading away and out of the large window. The fingers sticking out of his torn pocket began to twitch, reflexively. When Rahul finished, Ray asked him to show the script he had written for his dream-film. Rahul could not. He did not have one. With the rather funny confidence Rahul had acquired over time, he said, “I don’t have a script, Sir. It’s all written inside my head.” The great director gently suggested Rahul put down in Black-and-White the script that he had in his head. “You come back and show me the script after you are finished. I’ll take a look” said Ray and went back to his sketchpad, as if the dialogue with Rahul had never happened.
Mridul Sen, another famous director, dismissed Rahul almost as soon as he met the director at his modest apartment near Hazra Road. Defining a vague arc in the air with his black pipe, a habit he had picked up in unconscious imitation of his one and only rival, Ray, Sen refused to listen to Rahul’s dream of a dream film. He laughed at Rahul. His cronies who had come in for a cuppa, laughed along with him. “Where’s the script, my dear boy, where’s the script?” he kept on asking, sounding like an ancient 78 r.p.m. gramophone record with the pin always stuck on the same line. Then, he turned to the human cutlery assembled around him and said, “this boy wants to make a great film and he does not even have a script, does not even have a script.” They laughed in chorus. An insulted Rahul made his way out, slowly, silently. The only sound that marked his ignominious exit was the click of the latch as he pulled the door close behind him against the soundtrack of chorused laughter, now partitioned off by the closed door. Unknown to him, Rahul’s body language had altered. His hunched shoulders and tired gait reminded one of Arnold Swartzenegger in `True Lies’. Of the scene where after overhearing his wife, he thinks she is having an affair because he has been neglecting her.
So drowned was Rahul in his thoughts, that he failed to notice a Cielo come rushing onto him. His dream may have got crushed under the car along with him. The driver, however, was more alert. She braked the car with a loud screech. Then, stepped out, trying to help him up. She gave him more than just a piece of her mind. “What are you doing, you rascal? I don’t mind one bit about your desire to commit suicide. But must you pick my car to be run under? Please, I’ve got a career and family to think of. Don’t be so bloody selfish, you rag!” Before Rahul could open his mouth in protest, he found himself being pushed into the backseat of her lovely Cielo. He noticed that a crowd had begun to gather around them. Before it could surround the car, she sped away quickly, taking him along to her spanking apartment at Mandeville Gardens.
Who do you think she was? Hers was a beautiful face, but Rahul did not recognize it. He felt there was something vaguely familiar about the way she threw back her head to shake off the mane of lustrous black hair, the curve of her full mouth, the curls neatly arranged around her forehead to conceal its broadness. But he could not put a name to the face. She was no ordinary woman. Her name was Sreelekha Sengupta. She was currently the best box office draw of commercial Bengali cinema. Rahul never saw Bengali commercial films. He did not know one star from another and wouldn’t know how to begin. Mainstream films, for Rahul, especially in his own mother tongue, were just so much wastage of precious raw stock, finely honed technical skill, and time. As they chatted over a cup of Espresso coffee she poured out of her imported Espresso machine into dainty cups of bone china, she told Rahul about herself, and about her dream. Rahul realized why her face was so familiar. It stared out of every other big-sized hoarding in the city at every street corner. The kiosks were flush with her face in close-up, wearing a different expression each time, at times, weeping away, at others, flashing a perfect set of teeth, or, in open-mouthed invitation to suggestive seduction. Rahul only saw the face, but did not care to read the credits. The face, then, meant nothing to him. Because the only Bengali films he saw were the ones made by Ray or Sen or Buddhadev Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose, Aparna Sen or Raja Mitra. He did not recall having seen her in any of their films.
“You’ve got to have a dream” said Sreelekha to Rahul, bringing him back to the present. She was quoting from memory, her lines from the latest film she was shooting for. “When you lose your dream, you die” she went on. Rahul, a voracious reader, knew at once that she was quoting from` A Story of Rose’. He put in his own contribution by adding one more line – “We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it” he finished, hiding his pride with a deep red blush, which however, revealed more than it concealed. Sreelekha was amazed. How did he know her lines? When Rahul told her, she realized that her lines had been plagiarized by the dialogue writer and she didn’t even know. This did nothing to embarrass her of course. So, she did not blush. One of the first lessons of stardom was never to be embarrassed by anything at any time. It was a lesson painfully learnt, and easily remembered. Having spent a good seven years in the film line, Sreelekha’s peaches-and-cream skin was not half as delicate and as fragile as it appeared on screen.
Sreelekha wanted to act in the best and the greatest film ever made, she told Rahul. She wanted to surpass Kate Blanchett in `The Titanic’, Susan Sarandon in `Step Mom’, Marilyn Monroe in `The Seven Year Itch’ and Sophia Loren in `Two Women’. But no director was prepared to listen to her. All they wanted was a fat wad of currency notes pressed into their palms before discussion could begin. They wanted to discuss the ‘script’ in rooms booked at lavish five-star hotels with the food and drinks of course, thrown in gratis. She did not tell Rahul about the other side of the bargain she was not prepared to submit to. Quite a few wanted to sleep with her. Being a star, she had a very different set of morals from mainstream people. But she was no longer at a stage where sleeping around was mandatory for any and every role. Besides, she had had her quota filled and was not ready to take in any more. “Why don’t you produce your own film with your own money?” Rahul asked her, though he had heard stories of the shark-like qualities star-families acquired as one of them hit stardust.
“I don’t have any”, she confessed. Her family took it all away, she added. In exchange, they let her live in this flat. “See this beautiful flat? My parents bought it for me and furnished it for me too, appointing Fareeda Khan to do the decor. You know, she flew all the way from Mumbai to Cal to do up my apartment and my parents paid for her ticket. Can you imagine?” she said proudly, waving her graceful arm in a liquid line to embrace the room. The walls had large-size photographs of Sreelekha in different poses. Some in Black-and-White, many in color. The Black-and-White ones, Rahul noticed, were shot with diffused lenses, with careful backlighting that created an ethereal halo around the head, investing it with the star-like quality of the unreal. The counterpanes and glass cabinets were filled with statuettes and medallions of all sizes and makes, inscribed with her name, awards collected by Sreelekha for her roles in different films. One of them, Rahul noticed, was the BFJA (Bengal Film Journalists Association) Best Actress of the Year trophy. And he did not even know her from her face!
Rahul did not know who Fareeda Khan was and why her name had to be so familiar. But for him, the dazzling decor was a bit unnerving. There were imitation chandeliers crafted out of fiberglass hanging from a false plaster-of-Paris-carved ceiling juxtaposed against textile lampshades bought off Cottage Crafts. Priceless crystal clashed with blue pottery from Rajasthan. A batik panel on pure silk was placed right beside a reproduction of a Picasso ‘blue’ abstract. A brass statuette of the Buddha stood alongside a Chinese Laughing Buddha in jade, arms raised in laughter. The velvet-covered settee had a stained glass center table and kantha-embroidered cushions. Rahul winced at this pot-pourri and mishmash decor that must have taken a neat packet out of Sreelekha’s hard-earned money. “I’ll never use this kind of decor for the interior shots of my dream film,” he told himself.
He vaguely guessed out of sheer common sense that this flat, and everything that went into it, was bought off Sreelekha’s sole earnings, as was the Cielo they had driven in. “They give me a monthly allowance that is quite generous, you know” she informed Rahul innocently. He did not care to ask her why she lived alone, and away from family. “Heroines may have their own standards,” he felt. After coffee, she offered him a Scotch-on-the-rocks from the well-stocked bar. Rahul graciously refused the drink. All these years, in his determination to break every rule in the film director’s book of values, he had rigidly kept himself away from the three well-known vices of filmdom – cigarette, wine and women. His girlfriends were simple friendships wrongly labeled ‘affairs.’ “I did not even kiss them” he said to himself, a bit remorseful in retrospect, for never even having made the attempt. He knew the girls would not have stood the test of time, dream film or no dream film. With a shock he realized, that with all his unconventional and radical dreams, he was still a virgin!
After a few more meetings, now secret by design, between Sreelekha, the star-actress and Rahul, the would-be director of his dream-film, unknown to Sreelekha’s parents, producers and gossip-writers, (since Sreelekha lived alone and only had part-time help coming in,) Rahul decided to rewrite the script of his life. He did not have to put pen to paper. He did not have to approach Ray to show him the script. Nor did Sreelekha have to ask for money from her parents to produce her own film. The two incorrigible dreamers just put their lovely little heads together to make the best film ever made. What’s more, it was a ‘live’ film, the first such film ever made in the history of cinema. It needed no re-takes, no editing, no cinematography. No studios, no sound-rooms, no recording studios, no dubbing. Yet, the dialogues were real, springing forth naturally out of impulse, no mouthing of absurdity or melodrama written down in premeditated calculation. No wipes, no fades, no mixes, no superimpositions. No jump-cuts and no match-cuttings. No flashbacks. No montages. Nor did it need the jugglery between financier and producer, distributor and exhibitor. No promos, no P.R. work either. All it needed was a bit of careful planning, choice of proper ‘location’ and a lot of post-production work in a ‘lab’ commonly called ‘home.’
In case you’ve not guessed it yet, Rahul and Sreelekha got married. They shifted to the relative anonymity of Bolpur, the picturesque little town where Tagore built his dream Viswa Bharati, the university at Shanti Niketan, in Birbhum district of West Bengal, a ‘location’ ideally suited to the lifestyle they chose and the ideology they lived for – dreaming forever. They bought themselves a lovely little bungalow with the money the sale of the Mandeville apartment brought them. ‘Post-production’ work consisted of two little children named Satyajit and Shabana, after Satyajit Ray and Shabana Azmi, ‘created’ with love, in that ‘lab’ called their bedroom, during night shootings. This was the dream-film they opted for, when the other one did not seem to be very functional. The best and the greatest film ever made. The perfect script ever written, or rather, not written.
How do they manage to make a living? Through Sreelekha’s contacts she had never exploited till then, they have built an empire in the underground hoarding and selling of cinema tickets of Hindi films in the black-market in Calcutta. They have thus created an avenue of employment for street urchins and runaways into Calcutta, conveniently distanced from direct contact with Rahul and Sreelekha and their two growing children, studying at elementary school at Viswa Bharati. The Cielo is still there. They have retained it as a tribute to the memory of that first meeting. It draws a lot of public attention in this small-town. But they know that with time, the locals will get used to it. Rahul will never rush into it absent-mindedly ever again. Because he drives it himself. You do not really need to drive around much in a small-town like Bolpur. He drives it on his weekly drives to Calcutta and back, sometimes with Sreelekha and the kids, mostly alone. His hands are now conditioned to be around the steering wheel of the plush Cielo. They no longer rise, either in reflex, or by designed intent, to make that three-sided rectangle with outstretched palms to simulate the frame of a shot, viewed through a movie camera.
five poems (usa)
My parents stayed in room 711
while they were in San Francisco
but they didn’t get the connection
– see we don’t have very many
7-11’s in the south where they’re
from although they do have
some in Virginia
’cause the last time I was there
– right outside of D.C.
(the District of Columbia)
I stopped in one off Quaker Lane
and I bought a Coke, a Ginger Ale
and a Peppermint Patty
plus 3 scratch tickets for the lottery;
when I scratched the tickets with my quarter
I didn’t win at all
’cause the odds are against me
as they were for the men who escaped
from Alcatraz – a.k.a. the Rock – in the
icy water not far from the Golden Gate Bridge
– my parents got to Alcatraz by ferry on a tour
with their friends from home – North Carolina –
since they bought tickets in advance by phone
after getting the phone number off the Internet
which holds the key to lots of information
but not without a doubt proof
of whether of not any Alcatraz escapees
ever survived – lived –
but if it were you and you made it
off the Rock
would you tell anyone just so you could go
back to jail albeit as a famous criminal
– probably not ’cause I don’t know about you
but I like having the freedom to buy Slurpees or whatever
at 7-11’s whenever I please, wherever I please
even if I have to cross a state line to do it.
Wild onions growing in an abandoned field
Divided by cement and asphalt.
To the right a furniture factory, and
to the left a house full of Mexican immigrants;
in front a decaying chemical lab,
and behind a loan office and Laundromat.
Once in a while a city employee
gets around to mowing it
on a weekday morning.
Every hour, every minute
Cars, trucks and kids on
Bicycles or skateboards go
around it, never through it –
always practicing avoidance –
never having to acknowledge its presence.
Still the wild onions grow keeping the
weeds, grass, sticks and rocks
company – absolutely content
to coexist even though
everyone else seems oblivious.
White Cars and Waterbeds
My neighbors are washing their
car again even though it’s
white and not dirty; just
because it has rained they think
they have to rush outside on
the first clear day, and scrub off
every single speck
of mud, dirt, debris – whatever
may have stuck between the
hood and the windshield, or
on the wheels.
They’re oblivious to the
weather – far too cold for
washing cars with cold water
that could be used instead
for ice cubes or bathing or
cooking; they soak the plastic
with the hose, dripping drops
of pure, precious water into
the cement drive, down into
On a hiking trip once we
buried ourselves in tall, dark
blades hoping to fill our
canteens enough to heat
something to eat over a
fire that we were never
able to build – not one
Boy Scout, Girl Scout between us.
Maybe we should’ve gone camping
with our folks more often; the
one time we did it was at
the beach, near the ocean
and there were no campfires –
only grills with charcoal.
The neighbor’s car is clean
now so they park it in their
garage; all safe, not exposed
to any of the elements,
An ice cold shower is something
not even a corpse would want to take
with every nerve tingling,
every blood cell freezing
and skin prickling with goose bumps.
A steel table for a towel,
leather straps for a washcloth
bright lights for a hairdryer
that could blow with a power surge
like a hot water heater –
fixable only by appliance repairmen.
The American Dream
A German in America; putting in
the time – working hard, getting
promoted and becoming a citizen.
Toiling for hours, days and nights,
in a factory saving
every extra cent year after year.
The sons go to college, and the
family buys a house, still putting
away anything extra.
Years vanish, he retires and his sons go to work,
the mortgage is gone, the
extra savings are put to use.
Finally, the motorcycle – a BMW
from home – sits in the
driveway ready for long drives
in the mountains of North Carolina.
Now, the dream is real.
April: Your fingers strum my hair
In your laughter this joy is mine.
A glance in the side view mirror
Confirms ‘this is no ordinary high’.
May: I awake, in an out of the blue
Dark night, to blush and be enflamed,
As I dance the suicidal eulogy
Of the odds, with the God of Love.
June: These numb scorched
Fingers struggle to stretch.
The weight of sorrow on an empty
Palm, wide open, cripples.
For now, this is all premature,
I love knowing I could trip and fall!
Go Your Own Way
Fleetwood Mac sang ‘loving you
Isn’t the right thing to do.’
I loved you.
I tried. I fought. I laughed.
I waited. I hurt. I smiled.
I loved you.
The picture is no longer pretty.
You do not understand.
It is not in the grey of the odds
And change but in your bearing.
Knowing it is time
To give in, and walk away
I let go,
In the darkness of the day
It is a shadow
In the light of the night
It is my only companion.
His uncertainty attracts me
I feel it
Flowing with his spirit
It is our
Her pain I feel
It makes me feel like her
Lonely, mad, lonely
We walk on the edge
Taking turns to fall.
Five Minus Three
The Muse enters.
The body pulsates
Bounding within space
in expanding rhythms
Twist, turn, turn
Flitting passion … volatile conception … moonlit waves unfold…
silhouettes cast into space
imbibe into the spirit.
The circle is complete.
A dew drop
is extended in whirling spheres of consciousness.
On the edge
Stands locked on the past.
Self locked. Even the ‘beyond’ stands out.
Controlled within the spirit
that allows every movement
to be its own.
the manifestations of Wombic child = Grown adult
In fingers of creativity
And one foot on earth
Fulfilling the need to hold on
the inner balance
In waves of colours
I have grown
seen the world
to quest the aesthetic crest.
He bows. The Muse departs.
I stand. Applaud.
W a t c h
the words circle to a still.
This space is now yours.
If We Should Cease to Correspond
Must I return your trouble of flowers?
Whisk away your familiar shawl?
If we should cease to correspond.
There would be little left to see beyond:
I’d only watch time fade, as a thrall.
Must I return your trouble of flowers?
My bold nib would wither to a farce,
Blue tracery veins slow to a crawl
if we should cease to correspond.
Nothing stirs, nor will you respond,
How could you then see this child at all?
Must I return your trouble of flowers?
Push dead ink behind all the jars;
Bleed unreal impulses in the hall;
If we should cease to correspond.
These hedgerow senses, on which I fawned
still spread their bouquet despite your wall.
Must I return your trouble of flowers?
If we should cease to correspond.
A car parked. It’s rear lights wink,
Reminders of derelict owners.
In the distance, yahooing jayriders
Doppler shift from buzzsnore to wail.
Regular joggers. Red laser lights flash from heels,
Part the twilight couples into epileptic trance.
Night at the circle. Streetlights clack
on. The florescent drone scatters fireflies.
Flat breath. Eyes squint at the intrusion of day.
Curses splatter the pavement with rusty stain.
Rat-arsed, he reaches into his pocket, and points.
The circuit reaches round to complete its orbit.
Auto-lock makes lewd whoopee, and all is calm.
Turning over on one side,
He shakes a wet trouser-leg from clammy skin,
And snores in the leeward darkness of his parked car.
A Gypsy Mother’s Tale
Cast out we were
into the dark sailing away,
not towards, but together;
she exactly filled
the empty cradle of my arm,
a damp-warm weight her need only I
could meet, the dark vague depths
of eyes, the desperate searching,
the shell-clenched fists rosy
uncurling prawns grasping
my breast tentative
lips and then that clamping pull
of life from me to her, fulfilled
our mutual need, each to each
bound, in perfection
the circle closed.
When did I see she was not
there, her small weight gone
limp, suspended, all warmth
drained, the searching ended?
She no longer needed
me, while I was left, longing,
and my arm circling
empty? Chill terror clamped
my breast and suddenly I knew:
that they would come and
cast her down to depths
infinite she would drop
down never to be found
her tiny body unfurling,
waving anemone limbs
forever searching forever
No! This could not be! I,
her mother, would provide
for her a warm covering, decent sand
and place, a collocation
of the mind, for both our needs, together
a final time, before I said
once more good-night,
good-night, my heart’s own dear,
and left her there.
Note: For burying her baby daughter on the beach of Apulia, where she had landed after escaping
of a corpse.xx.
Bibhu Datta Mohanty (translation-Oriya)
Does the childhood end, there?
Can this vagrant heart
remain charmed there?
How can I bid goodbye
to those commonplace memories?
Can you invite back
your intimate playmates,
to those very places, today
where you can dialogue with yourself,
exchange with your memories?
There sitting by ourselves,
we didn’t feel conscious at all.
I feel myself in communion
with my past when
I still remember your frown
after a heated-exchange,
the confession of my guilt
and the blooming of a smile
on your lips, so sweet!
What is this fear
that grows along with your flesh and body
on the slippery shore
of suspicion where
you place your foot
so cautiously, only
to soak your whole body, that has been
untainted until now!
Let’s not spoil this brief meeting
by raising such issues
on which we differ.
After all, what can the Gandhian’s do
after they know about the earthquake
in the ‘Gandhidham’ itself,
if you question their competence?
What will the poets carry
in scripts if a seminar is organised
at ‘Bhuj’? What will be
the intensity of vibration
of that poetry in the Reichter scale
of apprehension and fear
of the hopeful audience?
How many runs
will Tendulkar’s bat yield
in the coming match
that you are waiting for so eagerly?
Will this be the end
of the march of victory
of the visiting team?
What do you think that
The opposition can’t argue in this budget,
in the new chapter of increase
in taxation by the ruling party?
There is yet no hope
of the yes-clouds of appointment
in the slashing down
of expenses in the order
issued from the capital
or in the thunder
of our ensuing arguments.
We don’t see you as before;
where are you hanging out these days?
Won’t you come for a while!
We’d again forget ourselves
in the ‘Nadiya’ rhythm,
in a revived, devotional dance party.
Don’t you feel uneasy,
sitting all the while,
in the corner of your home;
how can you lie in such a deep slumber?
Red and blue – all
are available free, here;
which one would you prefer?
After such a super Cyclone
and the earthquake
what else remains to be seen
in the new almanac?
If you believe, you’d
rather wait patiently
for some new possibilities
until the notification of the next election.
The Golden Cage
For once, at least,
release me from this
golden cage of your family
and its aura of heavenly happiness,
pull apart this silky curtain
of attachment without reason
before my eyes.
Unfasten that chain
of soaked affection, woven
with the anguish
of our loving expectations,
from the deep concern of my mind;
cut off in your own hand
that string of soft velvet
of your charmed fancies.
Let my desires fly
on their winged fancies.
For once al least,
my desires captive
in the golden dish, the silver urn
and the shining bunch of grapes
of your gifted acres;
let them fly unconcerned,
in the remote fragrance
of the sandalwood jungles
across that distant hill,
The River and the Woman
O river! you are bound
to a vow from your very birth
that you won’t overflow your banks.
You’d be flowing on
in your snaky bed of sands
in your due course.
Like you also I am
a woman, forbidden to cross
the line of decorum,
the decent traditions
of my father and husband
while following the winding roads
of my own small world.
Your banks are sketched
with the sketch
of so many wounds of time,
of the burnt ashes of my ancestors,
of the crops destroyed
in drought and floods,
while I carry on my back
that dirty sack of memories,
the marks of a burning fight,
soaked with tear and blood.
I am almost buried
under a heap of tales of torment
of those escaped seasons,
in your sands,
while an under current
of some forgotten tune
of sweetness flows within.
I am branded
with an obsolete impress
of a wife, mother or sister;
a tune of an exile
in a lonely island moans within.
(For Bibhu Padhi)
My brother returns
from a short trip
to Mochi Sahi square.*
His bulging pockets seize my eyes.
Crisp, round sweet-nuts
roll into my taste.
He wraps them out
with a generous smile
that Bhang alone can give.
His reddening eyes, matching walk
carry me away.
My nostalgia shapes into Grandpa
with his walking stick.
* A joint for traditional soft drinks prepared from raw Cannabis-Indica, called Bhang, a great favourite among the natives.
tbc recommends . . .
Muse of Murmur (Art & Poetry Ensemble)
edited by Subroto Bondo
This special 2009 edition of Muse of Murmur is “dedicated to Celebrated Telegu Poet, Seshendra Sharma, Master Brush-man Tayeb Mehta, and Artists and Poets who enriched this collection by bestowing their valuable creative pieces.”
Basant Badal Deta Hai Muhavre, the Hindi translations of Ankur Betagiri’s English poems, translated by Rahul Rajesh was launched at India Habitat Center, New Delhi, on 30 August this year. Ankur Betageri is assistant editor of Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi