November-december 2010

New work                                                                                            

i.

Ronita Torcato
Nissim at 74

He says: “Shall we go across for chai?

‘Peace’ by Aditya Hazarika

We could take a stroll by and by.
Won’t you stay the night?
There’s plenty of room in here.
You don’t mind sleeping on the sofa, do you?”

He laughs at the sight of the food: “All this is for me!
Have a cookie. No? Why!
Are you sure? Have you eaten?
I’m sorry there’s nothing to eat.
I’ve been working all day long,
Writing a little,
Attending meetings in my office.
Do you have to go back to yours?
Is it far? Can’t you stay?
Must you go?
Please stay.
We could step out for tea.
Shall we?”

I say: “I’m sorry, we can’t go across.
Doctor’s orders.”
He frowns, “Oh, I see.”
He hasn’t once said my name.
“Please say my name.
I’d like to hear you say it.”
He leafs through the journals as if he hasn’t heard.
“I can read these later?”
“Certainly. But now, won’t you read aloud to me?”
“Of course. But what?”
“This poem or that news item, maybe?”
He reads.
A pale finger tracing each line,
Like a child learning to read for the first time.

Nissim Ezekiel (14 December 1924 – 9 January 2004) was an Indian Jewish poet, playwright, editor and art critic.)

ii.

Vineet ‘The Troubadour’ Kaul
three poems

The Boondoggle of Curry Eating Surrender Monkeys

“Dear Mr. Politician
I voted for you because
democracy bid me
to choose the lesser evil.
You cried out my cause
with poise (What ploys!)
and I, too, clung on
to a hope to which
our nation is eternally damned.

Perdition can lead to denial
at the tender age of 18
when you wear your voting ink
like a 24 carat rock
and keep getting told
that YOU made the difference
regardless of the fact that
the choices were all the same.

I let go of all the scams
that pampered your Swiss account
and sojourned your affluent delegations
with my silence: the easiest choice.
I knew where you came from,
minus the criminal records,
but I thought a hundred million
would suffice to douse your greed
though I seldom understand
the need for an air bag made of gold.

And five years later
I was far more busy
and far less enthusiastic
to bother to give someone else
the same chance and privilege
that I had earlier granted.
Acceptance is the bane
to admitting mistakes.

You had the benefit of doubt.
You also had hundreds of acres of land
for each member of your family
and luxury to last seven generations.
I thought, NOW, you most certainly
will think about our welfare.
So once again the masses voted.
Our collective silence boomed
but never give birth to a voice
because all our banter was reserved
for office politics, family affairs
and abusive rants in road rage.
All the mistakes were repeated.
Democracy was consolidated.
You’ve come to visit me, since,
in various front page headlines
on mornings lazy enough for tea…
Speaking with a borrowed voice
in defending an outrageous choice.
Crying out against conspiracies
to malign you; I’m sure they are.
The court cases will drag
another 17 years, I fear,
until my kid will wear his ink
and I hope, then, at least then
the ring of ink doesn’t feel like ash.”

The Ex-Tradition of Guilty Persons

“O! Sahib, Seventy for meter.
Last offer! Take long time to make.
Handmade, traditional print,
very tough it is. Take take!
If anything wrong you bring back!

“Sixty! I’ll take three. But sixty!”
He sneered and he sized me up.
His eyes stopped at my silk tie.
Then dropped to my Italian shoes
pausing on things they passed by.

“Nooooooo! No deal for you!
This craft passed from generation
To generation to generation.
I’m seven such generation.
My forefathers make this for
Ancient kings and sultanate.
They get bountiful prize and respect.
Bag full of gold coins.
I get what? Sympathy
And about enough to send children
To municipality school with
Bribe of free lunch.

Babus come announce scheme.
Make big promise and small talk.
Never take our vote.
Always ask for it.
Post our picture on website.
Then the school bell rings
And children come home hungry
And join in pride of heritage.
Eight generation.

Lady and Gents come
from your retail town
wearing stole we made,
not knowing it is our village.
Make promises of promoting
what we do in retail
of fashion circus.
Make big name for self
by keeping foot on our shoulder.
Put nice ethnic motif
and big, fat price tag
in eco-friendly shop with
three air cooling things.
Selling green revolution
to guilty persons.

They still light fire in
our village on no moon night
not for bonfire celebration
happens all every night
no Bijli except pet cat
only her eyes glow at night
not even pucca road or rail
must walk six hours for bus.
then hold on to the rail for dear life.

In Mela all Memsaab come
in big car with driver
and pat my children on head
to ask name and
give smile for discount.
90 per meter for you.
Take or go.”

He stopped to breathe.
His ribs jutted out at me
through his button less koti
almost as if an alibi
and his child, wide-eyed,
threw me a yet another
clueless smile.
Stung and sterilized
I bought three meter of five.
I was going to pay
by credit card, anyways.
I called my dad in Delhi
and hugged my kid that night.

To the Cuckold in the Cuckoo’s Nest!

Why would you love the cuculus canorus?
Other than for how she sweetly sings,
Boldly heralding an impending spring,
But you surely abhor her plans; nefarious.

She caught my breath
with careless smiles
The vilest of terrestrial things!
Imprisoned in her promise
to release me…

Why else would you love the cuculus canorus?
Even in lore she hasn’t much to give,
At worst denote how long you live,
May you find trust, despite her deeds; precarious.

Like a childhood memory
Pleasingly vague
Surreal as a déjà vu
Set into the root and branch
As hard to dodge as a yawn

How would you love the cuculus canorus?
With progeny groomed before they breathe
To turn the warbler’s nest to wreathe
Would you want your own to be burglarious?

Mundane as everyday fare
Tempered with a frown
You fell for an (unspoken) unimplied
Depth in the blink of her illusory eyes
Finding philosophy in an empty page

iii.

Fióna Bolger
three poems

Words to a New Wife Entering Her Kitchen

Pack away your feelings neatly in spice jars
Carefully label each one clearly in black.
Anger first you pack with chillies red and hot
Manjal will fight off all sickness, even lust                                    
Cloves, levang, take away pain, let go your hurt
Cinnamon sweet spice of joy, leave friend love here
Jeera next reduces pain of birth… put away child love                    
With saffron your baby can come fair or not at all- store control
Asafoetida stinking spice will hide shame
Black pepper currency once, conceals your greed
Saunf’s sweet taste helps digest disappointment,                                
Happiness can be kept here
With menthia, fear of age, fear of life,
Bitterness will go unnoticed 
Whatever heats your blood, ginger won’t reveal it
Memories pack away with ghusa ghusa – forget.                            
And when you finish scattering yourself around your kitchen
Do not be surprised if you think like a cabbage
Dream of beetroot and aspire to be grain
You are now vegetable matter- no longer fruit
Only raw mangoes come in the kitchen 
The ripe and juicy maambaram are eaten at first sight.                    

Pattambuchi

I walk the streets with scissors grasped in my pocket
I lop chunks of fabric off discarded
inside out and broken umbrellas
my plan is to sew the pieces together
coat them with a waxy fantasy
then, using old belts attach my willow basket
and climbing in – fly away
in my dreams the balloon bursts
each patch becomes a pattam
and I’m bourne aloft by butterflies

Mary and Sunil

I have headed east
from Haverfordwest
left behind my child
my shame, myself

        I headed west
        from East Pakistan
        my caste and pride
        erased by kala panni

sangam, sacred place of meeting
water, two colours
flowing side by side
through mountain ridges

       To earn a living
       I mass produce
       vinegar
       with all my Vedic
       learning

       and now these Britishers
       sprinkle my water
       on their chips

       before eating
       my father adjusts
       his sacred thread
       and pouring water
       in his hand
       mumbling a prayer
       sprinkles it around his food

The essence of all beings is the earth
the essence of the earth is water

This man I do not understand
has given me three children
I could not have conceived

they are mine
but what am I?
no roots here,
no twisting lanes
winding around green hills
surrounded by high rise
they speak with London air
in their lungs

the essence of man is speech
the essence of woman breath
when the two come together
they fulfill each other’s desire

         My children will never
         see a Durga Pooja
         never know the taste of misty dhoi
         dance before the Goddess Kali
         bearing incense on the beach
         the  drum beats
         building up and up
         until the only way is seaward
         and the Goddess must be drowned

         and I was drowned
         when I crossed the Kala Pani

let there be no quarrel between us
let us learn together in harmony
let there be peace

(based on ‘My Unusual Grandparents’, by Tanith Carey in The Guardian, 10th July 2010)

iv.

Revive, a romance
Mousumi Roy

Everytime, I look at the river,
only memories of a river,
Men in short splash, hop onto pleasure,
lovers meet by its bank,
defying the rules to steal
a quick kiss in the dark.
It was here, by the river side
whose name has evoked
poetry and love.
echoing in its enclaves…

Everytime, I look at the city,
memories of a city,strikes
As the violence has eased,
casting aside bad memories,
embracing the river
like a long lost friend.
bombings still claiming lives,
the memories of floating bodies,
some mutilated, some with bullet
in the head are never far,
still haunt in the long dark nights.

Come on, don’t be scared,
Enjoy the day; who knows
what is to knock….
Young men move your feet
to the rhythm of drums,
eyeing the blushing women nearby…..

v.

Insia Fatima
The banyan tree and the monsoon rain

The little owlet that had taken shelter in her quiet, gnawed trunk peaked out of his hole enquiringly as the first cool zephyr alarmed her glossy leaves into a rustle, informing of his approach. The pair of chirpy squirrels stopped chasing each other through her branches and thought of hiding in a dark, private corner. The parakeets were suddenly quiet – waiting expectedly. The song in her heart died down, and she clung to the Earth with all her roots, waiting for the worst.

He came rumbling from over the hill, too drunk with the heady delights of a couple of hours of thunderous orgy – the ravaging of the hill-side with wind, rain and sleet – quite confident that the trees in the forest must have secretly enjoyed the storm after a whole year of boring quietude. But he was stopped short by the vision before him. Here was a tree that reminded him of childhood! He reached out gently to explore, at first, this magnificent and shy tree that appeared to be quite content without him; her dark, shady recesses almost inaccessible; her branches, just a moment ago, so alive with happiness.

The gentle kisses of the first few drops came as a pleasant surprise, the pitter-patter almost welcome. She shyly shook herself free of tension, the squirrels emerged from their secret hiding place, the parakeets broke out into chatter, the owl gave a hoot or two before turning comfortably back into his hole again. She would make friends with him if he promised to behave.

(“The desert and the river”, inspired partly by characterization of humans into the Earth and Water element in astrology, and partly by nature. In this particular piece, the banyan tree is the embodiment of the Earth element, the monsoon rain is the Water element, the tree is the female, rain the male; the story is about what happens when they meet.)

vi.

Bipin Patsani
two poems

NEUCLEAR  LIFE

We travel in different routes.
You have your own way of choice
And I mine.
Complementary though
They seemed in the beginning,
I don’t understand
How could they be repelling.

Maybe your disinterest in my world
And my inability to adjust in yours
Have widened the gap between us
And play the trick.
Utter indifference from your side
And my disappointment
Now divide our chosen worlds.
All that remains is the thin thread
Of a mere blood relation
That has no import these days,
But just a burden to get rid off
Or maintain for sheer formality.

Can’t  Science and Arts remain
Siblings, the science of the making
And the beauty of things made?

4 December, 2010

ANOTHER OZYMANDIAS

The centre couldn’t hold such unnatural grace
Flowing fast from above. So fell the fort.
The fort of false pride, arrogance and lies
Fell flat, bulldozed to be made mild.
The image of the self-acclaimed
Righteous lord of the wild
Was pulled down from the pedestal
Wonderfully well in a calculated move
And his bust so cleverly sculpted
To proclaim his unchallenged authority
Crumbled into dust and was humbled.

For success in high places merit counts,
Not the springboard of some special privilege
That which provides only with an opportunity,
But doesn’t guarantee greatness or dignity.

The mass holds the class in high esteem
So long as the scepter stands for common good
And enjoys trust.
History repeats itself for those whimsical idiots
Who refuse to learn from their past,
And power blind, slip into the gutter of greed
And succumb to the sickness of some foolish deed.

That such thing would happen to him, he did not know.
He did not imagine that the Bastille would break open
And those who had so long been denied a voice
Would come around swarming like bees
From all sides, sting him and strike vocal

And some of them point their fingers at him.

The imposing autocrat who was proud of his wild ways
And talked high of his stock, would get testaments
Written for him, downplay his subordinates
And use them for narrow personal gains.
He enjoyed befooling his own folk with his pseudo elitist image
As much as he enjoyed good wine and his harem women,
All on public money, all in the name of culture and tradition.

So much assured he was of his authority
That he took his words to be sacrosanct
And his signature the regal seal,
Which sanctified each decree that came from his chamber.

He signed and signed and imposed fines,
The amount increasing irrationally each passing hour
And enough to blow his bastion or banish him.
Poor Prince! After a desperate attempt to prove
His point, all in vain, he withdrew to the wilderness
In quest of another Kautilya who might be waiting
For an umbrella in some safe haven.                                 

22.9.2009

vii.

Siddharth Srikanth
Bitter Caramel
fiction

If he hadn’t known otherwise, Ashok would have probably thought he was in heaven. White light illuminated the white-tiled office, as white people flitted from cubicle to cubicle like singularly purposeful wraiths. White noise slowly filled his head, one drop at a time. He satn down and stared at his reflection in the dark LCD monitor. A double chinned, pudgy manwith an oily forehead looked back at him, the hint of grey in his hair made visible by the white light glancing off the screen. The Great Indian Dream in all its splendour, he thought bitterly. And then he saw the memo. Employees were summoned up to the twentieth floor for only one reason.
Ashok stood up and walked. He walked from office to office, from floor to floor, negotiating the turns of the maze and consuming the whiteness like the big yellow mouth in a game of Pac-man. Black suits, brown suits, a black skirt an inch too short, a white shirt almost carelessly unbuttoned at the top and a brown man. Each seemed more efficient and stone faced than the next like a colony of ants, only they weren’t. They slurped their coffee.
By the nineteenth floor (was it the nineteenth floor?) Ashok was exhausted. Sweat formed little blotches on his white shirt, revealing layers of flab that piled upon each other like pancakes. The day had started like any other – toast with marmalade served by a quiet red apron, two polite, well-mannered Goodbye, Dads, a silver Toyota with soft grey seats and Frank Sinatra urging him to pack his bags and set off to New York. The weekend, as it turned out, was the calm before the storm. He had played golf, watched the Superbowl and entertained Ted from the twelfth floor for drinks on Sunday night where they both agreed that the President’s recent healthcare reforms were decidedly socialist, the negative kind.
A glint of silver brought Ashok out of his reverie. He looked around and found himself in a small room he had not seen on any of the previous floors. A door of polished wood with a silver doorknob stood in front of him. He suddenly felt like Alice; the door seemed to beckon to him with its fine polish.
The room was panelled with the same polished wood. A strong smell of strawberry incense permeated the air. A maroon typewriter lay on the floor in the centre of the otherwise empty room. Ashok walked up to the typewriter and examined it carefully. It looked old and jaded; several keys were faded to the point where the letters were unrecognizable. Ashok sat cross-legged on the floor and started typing.
Ashok was in a muddy playground back in Madras; it was the monsoon and a ten year old kid who would one day own a silver Toyota was playing catch in the mud with his friends. He was in a white vest, soiled beyond recognition. Every time the ball flew in his direction, the kid would dive into the mud with reckless abandon to catch the ball, a look of exhilaration on his face. Ashok tried to walk towards the kid but found himself immobile. It soon started raining, but the bunch would not let up. Loud hoops accompanied a tough catch; equally loud catcalls accompanied a dropped one. As darkness fell, they made their way back home,
dejected and yet, oddly enough, content.
Ashok stared at the typewriter with alarm. It looked older than it had before, and a few letters were on the verge of falling off altogether. The polished wood shone more brightly, making the room shimmer in an ethereal manner. His curiosity piqued, Ashok started typing again.
He was sitting on the verandah of his grandparents’ house, eating rasam rice as his grandmother watched him, her face wrinkled and spotted. She was telling him the story of Abhimanyu’s valour from the Mahabharat. Her gentle voice turned quiet and grave every time his hand reached his mouth, his eyes widening as he chewed. Ashok noticed how sad and worn out her eyes looked. She would die soon after.
Ashok stopped typing. He hadn’t thought about ammamma in years. The sour taste of vinegar filled his mouth. Her pickles defined her; always understated, never too spicy, never too sour. The typewriter drew his fingers back into its body as Ashok watched with strange fascination.
He was older now, a teenager who had outgrown catch-in-the-mud. A green eyed girl with shoulder length hair and full lips lay next to him on the bed in his room, their bodies touching each other ever so slightly at the side. Neither spoke for an hour as music played in the background, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, and sometimes bittersweet. After the music stopped, he turned to his side and kissed her gently as her hair hid the pair from prying eyes.
Shalini, always kurta clad, with a small bindi on her forehead. Shalini, who had taught him to play the mouth organ and to whistle. Shalini, who had shown him how to make an elephant with play-doh, her hands on his. Shalini, who was probably fat and old, rotting away in a middle class house with children and a mother-in-law somewhere in India.
He was now in his mid-twenties, a tall, well-set man with just the hint of a double chin. He was in a church, smiling, his eyes glazed by the whiteness that the church exuded, as a wedding gown walked slowly towards him. Ashok watched his wedding take place from the back. He spotted his mom in the front, a smile plastered on her face, confusion in her eyes.
The typewriter finally disintegrated, letters shooting away in every direction like machine gun fire. The floor seemingly swallowed the typewriter into it, leaving no trace of its existence save for one letter that lay face down on the wood panelled floor that had lost its polish. ‘I’. The smell of rotting wood slowly filled the room forcing Ashok to leave.
Ashok made his way to the twentieth floor, a little pudgier, a little browner, and a little greyer.

viii.

K.Balachandran
Three poems on the death of a wanderer poet

When a wandering poet collapses by the wayside and dies, not many may
identify him, as was the case with renowned poet A Ayyappan, points
out K Balachandran (formerly with Malayala Manorama and Varthamanam).
Balachandran says it was Ms Rani, Head Nurse at the General Hospital
where Ayyappan’s body was taken, who finally identified the corpse.
Moral of the story: Scribes with famous by-lines may go unnoticed if
they collapse unconscious by the wayside. Over to Balachandran, who
has penned three poems to mark the moment and honour the poet.
– Joe Scaria

‘I am the wound and the knife,
I am the slap in the face and the cheek,
I am the limb and the torturer’s rack,
I am the victim and the executioner’
                                      – Baudelaire
                         (L ‘Heautontimoroumenos)


An  angst-ridden poem, unfinished

You lay face down kissing the feet of earth
After the final tryst with the moment of truth,
An intense experience, alas, you wouldn’t write.
What could have been your metaphor for death?
The  last poem written with your life blood
Drained in to angst-ridden words
On a crinkled paper, in your shirt sleeve was tucked,
Along with a  few soiled currency notes,
That seemed a symbolism for the life spent,
In  that unbearable beauty of penury.
Only the angels of suffering with bleeding wounds
From  nails  stuck on palms, as trophies
Held high before a world demanding for,
The debit cards of material success,
Can afford such a heroic death.
A martyr, you are, one we come across rare,
Felled by enemy’s  sword in mortal combat
Against the demon known as craze for success.
Every wanderer is granted this much:
Endless journeys through the alleyways
Of life till that very moment of crossing
The cold threshold of death, where the path
Mysteriously vanishes and a new adventure begins.
Your new adventure, (you always were ready for one)
Did start the moment you fell, in front of the playhouse
Where your heart rejoiced in aesthetic ecstasy.
Many times imbibing the strange meanings
Of the shadow play of life, in it’s film screenings.
Eternal wanderer in poet’s multi-hued cloak
Through the sun-scorched paths of life, you
Like a poem of irregular rhythm and no rhyme
Criss-crossed the map, the way you liked,
In your expeditions to collect raw materials
For a life which itself turned into a fractured poem.
Memories of pain and hunger, Buddha’s simmering  light,
And poignant metaphors for loss, all fused into your  poetry.
Ayyappa, peace be on you, you live in your  fiery words
Now it’s time to rest,making our memories weep.
                  
The pauper poet took nothing

He took nothing ,the mendicant poet,
Didn’t even take the last award,
In the name of ‘Asan’ and the purse,
Which was substantial for one who
Never bothered to be counted
As a penniless poet of the road.
The award came at the wrong time,
Of his one final wandering
To the beyond.
Ending meanderings in Trivandrum.
Or was it the right time?
Just to prove this one point,
As a lesson of all time, for all,
And to contradict the the common belief.
Read his poetic correction thus:
‘Not even the winner
Takes anything  back
To where he really belongs’
He had dressed well,
Up to the standards he set for himself.
For the longest  journey he ever undertook.
He had the clothes of a man on the street
May be soiled, but an elegant shirt
And a dhoti that fits a legend
The only thing strange was this:
Contrary to his image familiar to all,
He didn’t touch even a drop of alcohol,
Though one famously addicted to it.
As death took his hand on a dry day.
His face had a cherubic charm
That didn’t anyway help you sense
The volcano he contained inside.
Some lives are like that,
With a baptism of fire, early in life,
They are destined to be just
Poets and enumerators of pain,
That haunts mankind like nightmares.
This celebrated loner, sometime
Schizophrenic, true companion of pain
Was a mere body unidentified
Till the moment his poetry, alive and sound
Got up and spoke to some one who listened.
He lay face down, evening sun waving
A halo around his gleaming silver hair,
It was perfect, the angelic, pauper poet left.
             
The final journey on a bed of arrows

His words spun beauty of a disturbing kind,
And he moved like an animal of the jungle night,
With an alert sixth sense to avoid honey traps.
He was dead before their shadows could
Fall on him, but self-confessed friends and
Assorted groups of admirers couldn’t stand
The temptation, they made his demise
An occasion for the usual show  of high drama,
In quite an unusual way, the living ones won
While the dead and gone had to grin and bear it!
Doesn’t it tell us something, hmm….about ourselves?
Professing love, acting out grief and creating drama,
They struck him many times over keeping the body
One full week; all out of love, and to honour him, too,
Arrows sharpened with love of a hard kind
They struck him, repeatedly, till everything was quiet.
The dead poet fell pawn to the game  of the living
Who didn’t much care about that ‘orphan on perpetual move’
When he was alive and found poetry, unlike decorated poets
From wayside and many regular daily stops where
He spent his time brooding, before getting the nightly
Forty winks or a little more under his sister’s roof.
‘Any time’ in his  last poem he  touchingly frets,
‘The arrow may hit me, I run for my dear life’
Death was his shadow, the eternal lover waiting
To shower  kisses and lead him away
To the perpetual night.
But the wielders of power thought it fit
To grab attention by standing around him
For that, the dead had to wait in cold bed
Till the elections were over, and time got just perfect!.
Had he come back from dead and was
Offered a second chance for another funeral
He would have said in disgust, in his stern voice,
‘Let me begone in peace, if that’s your compulsion,
Find some other game  for you to play’.

Renowned poet A. Ayyappan was found unconscious in front of Sreekumar

Theatre at Thampanoor, Thiruvananthapuram, on October 21, and later
confirmed dead at the General hospital. The body was kept at the
mortuary as the body was not identified. On October 22, Head Nurse
Rani, who was familiar with the poet and his poetry, identified the
body. The state funeral could only be arranged (for different reasons,
including the local body polls) on October 26. It was a rare case of a
dead poet’s last rites awaiting the convenience of the State. Friends
and admirers protested against the inordinate delay, at times
acrimoniously. Some of the more demonstrative among the lot, took the
path of agitation. The poet, more out of the turn of events than
deliberately, chose to live in an unconventional way that is hard to
replicate, but the whole system it seems conspired against this to
make the funeral a typical one we are quite familiar with!
       

previous issues

x.

Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra

Lifelong Romance With English (interview)
Swapan Kumar Banerjee
Forlon and forsaken, tortured and tormented, a child of nine – an age when most children tend to play truant – pushed out, through the medium of English, into the world of expression, in perfect obedience to a passionate call from within.
Deprived of affection at home, and of friendship at school, he got himself weaned on a diet of classics. There was antagonism all around. And there was heartburn. “How could a boy,” snorted the peeping Toms, “read and write in English when his mother tongue is Oriya?”
Later, much later, when the world recognized Jayanta Mahapatra as one of the finest poets writing in English, Mahapatra in his memoir wrote: “Was it a part of my conditioning? Or my program for survival?”
“You ask me,” chimes Mahapatra, “ about my love for the English language. I feel my British headmaster was responsible in part. And then, the books I managed to read: Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, She and The Return of She by H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ and An Outcast of the Island… yes, Jack London too. But there were so many others an enviable garden of letters!”
Mahapatra read avidly; Sferis and Alberti, Alexaindre and Quasimodo, Faulkner and Hemingway, Zweig and Zola, Maurice and Proust… the list is endless.
How could he read so exhaustively when his main preoccupation was with Physics and not with Literature?
“That, of course, is a lifelong romance with English language. You see, my entire schooling was in the English medium. And as I was fascinated by the language itself, I could not help myself dabbling in it. Now I could turn the words around, twist them, play with them. It’s like clay. I can use it to my own needs.”
Lately, he has been devoting his time to writing in Oriya. Why this sudden shift?
“After writing in English for such a long time, I felt that the person who lives across the street did not know what I wrote about. So I thought I would write in Oriya.
“My Oriya, you know, is very colloquial. Here I lack the literay language. My vocabulary is not good. That way I have been writing differently in Oriya.
“Samaj is a daily newspaper here. I publish a poem once in two/three months. The response is quite good. The younger generation’s looking up to me. That makes me a little joyous.”
What does he think about the budding writers writing in English at present?
“I think some youngsters are writing well. I think when they write about their places, their roots, the land they come from, they write in a very strong manner – particularly from the Northeast, Shillong, Meghalaya. Similarly in Kerala, we have a very talented group of writers. However, Delhi is not a place for poetry. I don’t know about Hindi Poetry but English poetry is terrible there. Calcutta and Cuttack, you know, are very similar…. The bazaar and the poverty, the warmth and the affection, they exist side by side.”
Mahapatra, by virtue of being a first-rate poet writing in English today, has travelled, on invitation, to countries like Australia, the United States, Japan, Russia, Italy, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Germany, England, Ireland, Singapore, Mexico, Honolulu…. Has he stopped writing in English these days?
“No, no… the language has now become a part of me. I feel freer using English rather than Oriya. But my blood and my breath is Oriya.”
Mahapatra has come a long way indeed. What once skewed up his peace of mind has now undergone, through his poetry, a remarkable transformation. In the just-released Shadow Space, his 15th volume of poetry in English, Mahapatra writes: “And I think I know now,/ what has gone and what is/ Each loser is a seed under my feet,/ and its silent root moves against me. (Losers) it seems Mahapatra would not have written at all had he not written in English which, in a way, has chosen him, just as it did Conrad and Nabakov, for instance.

x.

Tulika Singh
Winter in Your Eyes

                 You talk of an everlasting love
unquestionable like the earth
                                                 and the skies.

                 Your words have the warmth of the sun
but,
                 there is winter in your eyes.

(apr-jun ’95)

xi.

Sudha Devi Nayak
The Crow

The crow sat on a peepul branch
mighty in its blackness
a common place crow
took on the dignity of a peacock.
Its racous caw seemed an imperious order
to bring forth the best
the rice and the payas and the pakoda
mixed with ghee and sweet –
It looked human as it ate
and it looked with benevolent eyes
at the household collected before it
after all it’s Ma who has come back –
Ma whom we had left four years ago
who comes faithfully each year
on the day she died
to bless the household with her presence.
The crow that will eat vermin tomorrow
is today the glorious persona of Ma.
We didn’t want to let the crow go
but then crows are meant to fly away.
While it lasted the ritual was good,
the crow brought back Ma for brief minutes.
It looked big, it looked generous,
it looked forgiving –
It was Ma and wish we kept it.
Ma will visit next year
at the appointed hour.

xii.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhury
three poems

Letter

After all this time
raking up memories of you years prime
came your letter, made me wonder again and again
whether it would have been better
had it not arrived to open up the Pandora’s box of pain.

We are all getting on in age you know,
Time has robbed us of our youthful glow.
It has been a nice journey all said and done
the high noon of which is now gone
At dusk now
the mirror looks grey
like a traveler who has lost his way
and no longer cares anyhow.

The encroaching darkness saddens me
when in solitude of evenings I am free
like a miser all these years –
all those laughter and all those tears
and that chorus with friends of yore.

They are all I have got to see me through.
I smile, thinking of you as a father of two
and wonder how it feels to have a family –
I never had one my own you see.

I often find myself thinking of her
(surely you have not forgotten either)
Wondering how the demands of motherhood
have taken a toll of her varying mood
and whether the streaks of grey
that must have found their way
into her once proud hair, could ever efface
the little-girl-lost on her face.

Breaking into her absent-minded reverie
her voice often calls out to me
everyday its silent undertone
haunts me when I am all alone
There are others in the group I recall
in my life I have loved them all.

I wish like I never wished before
that we could all meet once more,
just one more time my friend
before death comes as an end.

Circles

There are these circles I move in.

A journey on Delhi’s Ring Road
without destination
alighting where one had embarked.

Waiting for words, the right ones
and forcing them out in impatience
rendering them raw, unpalatable
in a mockery of poetry.

As the accountant equates
the debit and the credit
with profits that are and will be
the poet sews up his wound
before another bout of agony
and wonders why
it is his lot to deal in losses only.

Were the two to imbibe a little of the other
rare would be the harmony.

Time tends to weaken the memory
creating time and memories
for me to move in circles.

A Poem and the City

This city is not one to write a poem in.

The horizon is poisoned
and I cough words that are dry
and have a feel of ‘déjà vu’.

A poem needs space, a moment in time
there is none in this city;
and it needs the passion of love to nurture it.

Even hate would have done
but how can you create with indifference
the only lack of passion it arouses.

(oct-dec ’97 and nostalgia oct ’99)

xiii.

Ayesha Ramachandran
two poems

Education

Plastic baubles roll off plastic leaves,
A sickly green fluorescence:
I struggle to come to terms with reality.
A sheath of veiling raindrops outside
Desperate in its purification of the grey, heavy, unclean air.
And suddenly a gust of freshness
Crashes into the gangrenous atmosphere of the classroom
I am startled by my body’s reaction –
The prickling excitement at my neck
As the smell of earth and rain, mud and sky
Intrude on my indifference.

Ah! The fragrance –
Subtly intoxicating, so complete
Full, ripe, almost sensuous –
For a moment I am drowsy with a drunken joy.
The baubles aren’t plastic anymore
Now cool ice-droplets, bits of heavenly freshness that melt
                                                      against my grimy cheek.
Opposite, the grey tarred roof is bathed.
The grey is now a livid black
That is touched
As the infant gold breaks away from the sun.
And dappled sunlight pours through.

I feel like laughing hysterically
Laughing with a shrieking sense of frustration
Of stifling suppression.
Laughing,
Laughing,
Laughing to throw off the steel-plated armour of indifference
That is riveted to me with bolts
Of disinterestedness and futile demotivation.

The creature behind the desk talks to me
Like a huge arm that is coming close,
The gigantic hand that flexes its fingures in front of my face,
That caresses my neck, my face, and then
Seizes my brain –
That tiny discoloured mass of cells,
Merely units in a biology class,
Yet symbols of an era,
A mind which can add a kaleidoscopic range of colour
To the white mass.

The long, brown fingers and weather-beaten skin
Close over that petty insignicance
And crush it, slowly
Ever so slowly,
So I feel each shaft of pain encompass my body.

The insistent hammering of a bell
Rips the silence.
I submit.

Door

I gaze at the closed door,
The lustrous varnish glimmering
As phosphorescent waves of the distant lamplight
Set it ablaze – incandescent shudders of sudden intensity.
Unnaturally hunched, etched momentarily, I am
Carved into the latent fire of the fine finish.

What are you doing behind this wooden tourniquet
That cannot choke the poison away
Even if you tighten it mercilessly,
Forcing the vein itself to buckle and twist in torment?
What do you think of the cloistered seclusion
In the interminable world of yourself?

Are you staring down at your slender hands,
The tenderness against which I longed to pillow my head,
Working as you always do –
Or are you still thrashing within your labyrinthine rage.
Your reason gouged out by paroxysms of fury,
With the dense cataract of misunderstanding
That blinds me to you,
That makes my thin, barbed wire cage of ribs
Convulse with colossal volts of extreme fear.
Or are you lying in the dark,
Wrapped warmly under the soft quilt,
Enveloped in the mists of comforting nothingness,
Wondering what I am doing outside your cell?

Will I ever understand you?
Will my shrouds of helpless apprehension
Transform into transparency
Through which I can see you –
The vibrant eyes that flame and smoulder,
Burning me even with a glance and
Smiling savagely as the searing spears of suffering
Singe my skin.
The force of the tender fingers that sting my cheek,
Which are raised again, unstopped
By the unruly brine that streams
Into the stabbed wounds.

I look at the leaves outside,
Tearing away from from the mesmeric glow,
Drawn away, embarrassed by the flooding river
That seems to drown me
As I grab on to the tenuous threads of hypocrisy:
My only floats as the water bursts its banks
Eroding what once seemed immovable, eternal.
And yet,
When I see the dappled sunshine touch
Only the tips of the leaves
Leaving stagnant pools of green shadow,
I know the door will never open

xiv.

Anil Saari
two poems

Hanumanji

Hunuman ji
               you are a god of the underdog,
               are you not?

A monkey-god –
                a leader of the unseen tribals,
                India’s invisible men.
A messiah
               of the forgotten folk,
               cast beneath the shroud of poverty
               like so much dust?

God of the losers,
their faces battered
in the jungle of deprivation;
looking like a monkey god!

How do they live,
                 Hanuman ji?
What do you eat
                 Hanuman ji?
As an icon
                what do you plead?
in the land that survives
itself as a holocaust…

II

               Like you,
I want to wrap my tail
with fire.
And burn the world
that chokes me.

             Like you
I want to have
no family
of despair
or greed.

Like you I want to fly
over the3 sea
and breathe life
into a new empire
of emotions,
                Hanuman ji…

To the Good Memory of a Great Sufi (Ajmer)

You have to pay a price to evil
to reah the feeling of the good.

Were it not for the poor
who come ceaselessly in his memory,
the Khwaja who listens,
would be listless in his aloneness
among those who demand you pay
a price to evil
before you reach his goodness.

Beneath the sheets stained by greed,
the Khwaja’s thoughts are bare –
quiet, unto themselves,
like the stone of marble
that shuts him out
from those who prey on the poor,

the poor that he listens to,
the Khwaja,
whom we remember
in our helplessness,
in our desire to stand up
and be counted
among those
who do not need
the Khwaja to listen to.

It is
the price we pay
before
we can reach out
to his goodness
for the few moments of the day.

III

Christ had said:
blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the earth.
And Karl Marx said:
blessed are the poor…

And the poor came ceaselessly
in the memory of the saints,
that they be blessed
by those who listen.

For the poor will privately ask
why they are meek
             – as they come ceaselessly
               to the oasis, seeking
               the memory of the saint,
               that they be blessed.

And perhaps the Khwaja
waits for them
in his memory,
as they come
to pay the price
to reach out to the good.

(apr-jun ’96)

xv.

Kavia Ezekiel
two poems

Unborn Daughter

If only childbirth came
with guarantee of sex-enjoyment,
I’d go through the process
unblinking.

If only mother-love
involved less hurt –
every scream of a willful child
causes anguish, so that
from childbirth’s remotest shores
it made me want to drift away.

If only the willing soul
could stir the flesh
to perform miracles,
so that the phase fo motherhood
did not seem eternity.

5 O’clock Prayer

The alarm, like the first ray
of dawn
is disruptive of dreams.
The two us arise
in different beds.
I, from an excess
of passion,
you, from lack of it.
(Or so it seems)

My body hurts
from loving you, all-night,
in absentia, of course!
Your 8 a.m. eyes
are red too –
from the exhaustion
of your secret.
Because you will not admit it,
or maybe it’s a secret
only by a long stretch
of my imagination.

Your daily self-expression
is becoming more vehement,
more violent.
(Do you realize it?)

And so, we manoeuvre
our deliberations
to further shores.

I shall pray again,
as I have done before….

xvi.

Arundhathi Subramaniam
three poems

At the Doors of Closed Rooms

I long for a poem that can engulf your experience,
that can offer the enchanted balm of metaphor,
rather than slick polyester clichés
When speaking of women who are brutalized
by men they love.
But it is difficult.
I want to tell you that I do know
of the guerilla strategies of love affairs,
the savage lunacies that claw hungrily
at the doors of closed rooms,
that I am just as wary of magisterial verdicts
because doubt remains for me
a matter of gastric juices,
not some alkaline theory of the mind.
and when you tell me your story is unique,
I believe you, although others have said the same of theirs,
and I want to give you more
than ideology and its cold aluminum comforts,
for slogans, I know, yield neither art nor compassion.
But neither shaman now, nor poet,
I offer you only the thin solace of my rage
and this unwavering certainty –
no, I cannot believe love was ever meant to be like this.

Heirloom

My grandmother, wise
even at eight,
hid under her bed,
when her first suitor came home.
Grave and serene
her features defined
as majestically as a head
on an old coin, I realize
through photographs, clouded
by the silt of seasons
like the silver patina
of age on Kanjeevaram silk,
that in her day,
girls of eight
didn’t have broken teeth
or grazed elbows.
Now in her kitchen,
she quietly stirs ancestral aromas
of warm coconut lullabies,
her voice tracing the familiar mosaic
of family fables, chipped by repetition.
and yet,
in the languorous swirl of sari,
she carries the secret of a world where nayikas
of beauty and sinuous grace still walk
with the liquid tread of those who know
their bodies as well
as they know their minds;
still glide down deserted streets
to meet dark forbidden paramours
whose eyes smoulder like lanterns in winter,
and return before sunset,
the flowers in their hair radiating
the perfume of an unrecorded language of romance.
The secret of a world
that she refuses to bequeath
with her recipes
and her genes.

To My Mother

I’ve never quite understood
your plumbing:
what rumbling cistern feeds
your self-containment;
what tortuous whorl of drains
siphons off the blood
that must surely rise, violent,
between your closed lids at night;
how you tamed those surging torrents
of windswept anarchy into
the ebb-tides that swim
with muddy images
in your eyes.
And it still remains a mystery to me,
how you allowed a fragile bubble
of treacherous techinicolour hope
to burst
into the flaming hullabulloo
of yet another life, deciding
terrifyingly to forgo forever
the option to despair.

(oct-dec ’95)

xvii.

Gauranga Datta
Calcutta – My Love

Amidst the morning fog
when the Sun melts
I’ve seen you staring at me
calm, serene, mystique.
Your eyes pierce my heart –
my heart bleeds
Longs for life to begin

There are dreams in your eyes.

xix.

Vikram Murarka
Ideas

As I walk, in slow measured steps,
In circles,
I see the men around me, and I cannot relate
Am I a Man, or an Idea?
A Thought Form, suspended…
On the backdrop of eternity.
I am eternal, I know,
Yet I know not me.

I have journeyed across time
And though I cannot return,
To me all Time is the same.
Yes, there must be a reason why
I am here today.
Am I an Idea whose time has come?
Is Time a continuum,
Or can it come full circle?

The shackles of the flesh seem to have been broken
And I stand at the edge of the Horizon.
I have reached, and am resting.
And I feel complete.
Yet the journey is not over,
And as I sail through,
I shall either be mangled, shattered, blown to pieces,
Or Time WILL come full circle and envelop me,
Reach me to the world of ideas.
Which I know.

xx.

Arijit Ghosh
two poems

An Elegy

You could have waited a second
longer on the other side of the world.
You could have said what you intended to
after leviathan had passed

Now how would I decipher
what was there on your mind
from the blood-splattered gooey pulp
which happened to be your brain?

(I can remove one shoe
and make a red pattern on the asphalt
with my toenail…
hoping it would remain
till the July rain.)

The Truth

You would go on pushing
the walk to the brink
where the world yields into an abyss,
a victim of charm

I would count days
on my digits, waiting
for an inadvertent parting
of lips, blurting
the truth.

Deep within, a voice rebukes,
‘you’d talk about all
save your feelings, I know,
that’s the way it has been
Eugene.’

Prancing around you
like a crazy moon
I would crack two jokes.
laughing, stealing
beseeching glances at you.

Knowing all, you would
still talk about the weather, leaving
with me to carry to my grave,
the truth.

So, You didn’t Kiss Me Today

diamonds are dreams
realized for you
high-falutin for me

I’ll give you a lapis instead

And a bunch of paper roses as an afterthought.

I’ll capture your saccharine smile,
pin it to my termite-ridden soft board.

The little aesthetes would devour
all else save your lips
I’m sure.

And as you didn’t kiss me today,
I’d wish you a Hobson’s choice
when the post holocaust cockroach
requests a kiss.

xxi.

Bhaskar Sen
Transformation

Because I have not been properly watered
I have turned into a piece of dry log.
Lively sunrays cannot save me from becoming anaemic.
Tell me then why you have not showered
Love on me.
You have not bothered either to touch
my forehead with your caressing fingers.
Meanwhile with the passage of time
termites have eaten away my bone-marrow
and I have started suffering from hallucination,
for mosquitoes have taken refuge
in my skull.
I am now desperate to die.

How can I get rid of this suicidal thought?
Shall I get respite at this hour
if I drench my throat with a strong concoction?
Or shall I indulge myself in the thought of
erotic fantasies
as erratic as that in the urge
of a celibate sailor?
May be after having recourse to the journey
I undertook in my mother’s womb
I will become emancipated,
Sky, not soil, will then be my address
in this vast tipsy world.

(jan-mar ’00)

xxii.

Ninaz Khodaji
two poems

Ophelia

I often wonder about Ophelia.
She never made it, poor thing.
In the bewildering motion of the city,
She inhabits only her thoughts…
High-ceilinged rooms with old furniture,
Narrow corridors where clocks have stopped ticking.
Days, even years, slip through
The blinds on her windows;
Fine-veined china in rooms
Where evening settles like dust,
With the smell of the sea seeping in
Even when the windows are shut.
And then, like little bulbs in frill-like china,
No white-hot filament exposed,
Film-star cut-outs looking down at her bed.

Ophelia prays before she sleeps
And the film-stars watch over her longings
With their unwavering gaze.
She hears voices, in snatches,
Talking among themselves in her head,
Hums half-registered tunes
As she drifts through half-lit corridors,
Avoiding the shapes of silence
That crouch where shadows congeal.
There are no words for Ophelia
Save the ones she consoles herself with
Amidst the clutter of old china
Or utters to the solace of an ornate mirror.
It is doubtful if Hamlet
Ever really was on the scene.

Poor Ophelia. Her world was never realized
Until its sentinel, her father,
Was torn from his post
And its gates forced open
Too wide.
Her rooms invaded with strange thoughts,
Pushing her out,
The outside rushing in –
Mad Ophelia, distraught,
Did not know where to look,
The privacy of her mirror gone.

In whirls of noise,
The clamour of her thoughts
And traffic noise
Beckon her to the balcony;
But the sky is too big
For her to shout at.
She looks to the sea,
The imagined stillness of deep waters,
But there is no tide,
Just the boulders, exposed,
With the stench of dead fish
And men defecating nearby.

Poor Ophelia, with nowhere to turn,
Out on the open street
With cars screeching past,
The glare of headlights,
A blaring horn, abuses
As she falls off a divider,
The amber flash of a junction up ahead.

The world beyond her castle-gates
Gave her no room to
Outgrow her girlhood.
She died, so to say,
Of a broken heart,
Waiting,
In the long shadows
of her empty room,
for something
To give beauty to her death.

The London Underground 1989

Theater posters
   lead you
     down the escalator
       To the walls autographed
          in spray-paint blood
            With things that the managers
               of life’s concert halls
                 will not allow expression
                   To where a busker plays
                     ‘Concerto in D minor’
                        On an out-of-tune violin,
                           A Cadbury’s slot machine,
                             A rush of air as the train arrives.

The doors part automatically,
People herd on,
And the train burrows into the tunnel.
You let your eyes pan along
The faces lining the compartment
The blonde in the leather jacket,
An old man in a frayed coat,
Then read your paper in the fluorescent light
Glancing into the darkness,
For your station –
A light in the middle of the tunnel,
The automatic parting of the doors,
The fluorescent-lit comfort
of a temporary destination.
The train hurtles on into the darkness;
Outside, the overcast, fading day.

xxiii.

Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres
(Gabriela Mistral – Chile)
translation

Land of Absence

Land of absence
alien land
lighter than angel
and subtle trace,
dead algae’s colour,
colour of falcon
with unchanging age
with no age content.

It bears no pomegranate
nor grows jasmine,
and has no skies
nor indigo seas.
No name, a name
I have never heard
and in a nameless land
I am going to die.

Neither a bridge nor a boat
brought me here;
nobody described it
as island or religion.
A land I did not seek,
a land I did not discover.

Just like a fable
that once I learnt;
a captured dream
a freed dream,
and it is my land
where I live and die.

Born of something
which is no land,
of native land, native land
that once I had and I lost;
of living things
whose death I saw;
of something that was part of me
and went away from me.
I lost cordilleras
where I had slept.
Where sweetly I lived
I lost islands of indigo
and sugarcane,
and the shadows of those
who were around me
and together and loving
became a land.
I saw clouds of fog
without back or nape,
sleeping breaths
pursuing me
and after long wondering years
became a land,
and in a nameless land
I am going to die.

The Earth

Indian child, if you are tired,
rest on the earth
and if you are happy, dear child,
share your games with her.

You will hear wonderful things
on the Indian drum of the Earth:
you’ll hear rivers, tumbling
and falling in countless waterfalls.
You’ll hear the axe cutting the jungle.
You will hear the weaving of the Indian looms.
You’ll hear the threshing seasons and the fiesta times.
Whenever the Indian plays his drum,
and Indian drum will answer,
fingers drumming near, fingers drumming far…
a fleeing sound, eternally coming back.

The holly back of the earth taking it all, carrying all:
that which walks, that which sleeps,
that which is playful and that which is sad:
taking the living and the dead
the Indian drum of the earth.

When I die, do not cry, my child,
place your chest against the ground
and if you hold your breath,
as travelling from everything to nothing
you will hear the ascending arm
which held me and brings me back,
and you will see the broken mother,
full of life, coming back.

xxiv.

Daya Meditates
Sashibhusan Rath

Under the Peace Memorial
Meandering around Dhauli
Quiet flows the river Daya
on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.

Early morning, a bird chirps
Merrily flying over the fertile land
Stretched on either side of Daya.

Sun is yet to rise
Over the concrete stretches
The morning mist matches
The whiteness of the memorial.

A figure appears to move,
Over there at the memorial.
Who can it be, so active, so early?
Maybe the residing Japanese monk.

In the stillness of the morning
I tried to hear the inner note
Of the gravels and sand.
Nothing could I hear
The sound of bherighosha (war drum)
Has sunk since long
Into the abyss of lattices
Of these gravel and sand
Littered under and around Daya.

A peculiar silence pervades
Maybe from the core of Dhauli
Silencing the war drums forever.
This silence has engulfed
With the passing time
The sound of iron,

The writhing blood percolating
Down to the dust.
And that shameful sound or water
Of the flowing Daya
Over the slain bodies
Of men, women, children
And war animals.
Silence alone cannot,
Can never erase off
Those motifs of memory:
When the human blood
Dripping from this Dhauli
Stained the pages of history:
Asoka sat on Dhauli
Self-exiled,
Who in youth waded through
A pool of blood
To reach the throne,
And on this Dhauli
Sheathed his sword forever.

The appalling carnage
Of Kalinga war
Deaths out of privation
And pestilence
Smoted the minds,
even of the victors.
But the river Daya
Was unperturbed,
Flowing quietly
Synchronizing with time.

The sun rises

And I see the golden reflections
On the river Daya flowing quietly
No hassle, no ruffle
Daya continues to meditate.
Maybe, much before its branching
Away from the river Mahanadi,
It preferred to flow
On the tangi (hardness) of
Bhubaneswar.
With their royal symbol of lion.
The devout Shaiva-Kesharis,
Moghuls, the British
And the early Brahmin priests
Have all gone to oblivion
With no marks left
On the banks of Daya
The river that meditates.

The inscriptions at Hathigumpha
On the rocks so ancient
Are undoubtedly
Records of history,
Recorded by the orders
Of those holding power
And the royal scepter.
But the real time-capsule
Without any testimony
Of inscription
Is buried in the lattice
Of gravels and sand
On the riverbed of Daya.

The day’s activities start
When the machineries
Both visible and invisible
Run at the industrial estate
And at the secretariat;
When men loiter purposefully
On the corridors of power
And transactions are made
Purpoted to be for
Development, welfare,
Eradication of nuisance
And above all
For culturing the trust!

I hear
Here on the banks of Daya
The sound of the flowing water,
Daya’s own way of meditating
Over men and their times:
As if Daya knows and yet knows not:
The ensuing rise and fall
Of the empires,
The ruler and the ruled!

When the sun dips into the west
The long and faint shadow
Of the Lingaraj gets lost
Stretched into the eastern horizon
And also into the river Daya
Almost as insignificantly
As the demise of Asoka
Bestowed with so much of
Benevolence and greatness!

Quietly flows the river Daya
Meets lake Chilika,
With its legacy going inot
The fresh ater lake,
A sanctuary of birds:
The brahmani kites,
Teals, egrets, spotbill ducks,
Geese and a lot more;
The gulls changing from
Brownheaded in summer
To white in winter.

And the migratory birds
Are on the move
Today here, tomorrow there
One day men will
Emulate the birds
Said Leonardo da Vinci

(jul-sept ’96)

xxv.

A.B. Apana
two poems

To Be a Good Perve

On the step
(these very steps, right here)
I sit, and await the postman.
Nowadays he is long in coming.
But eventually (as my stomach screams for lunch)
He arrives.
I see him at the far end of the road
Cycling down, slowly
And hate him
For taking his time.
He draws up.
He wishes me
I wish him.
I receive a leaflet urging me
To be a good Perve
Fight the law Lords
And to march
On 31/11/94
From Trafalgar Square to Marble Arch.

Aubade

As dawn breaks
And night flees
I feel good                   but

All is not well.
A thin mist lingers
And with it
Some thing
Vaguely troubling
Like a patch of bristle
On a smooth chin.

xxv.

Darshan Chhabda
two poems

nana chowk

a.

as evening turns into night
I leave the office
And turn towards nana chowk.
A young ragpicker, his bag half full,
Sits on the threshold of a closed shop.
A loose dirty old coat flung careless
Round his shoulders makes him look
Dramatic as he bends
With total concentration
Over a charas joint
He is toasting carefully
With the flame of a single matchstick.
He’s so still.
Only his fingers move gently
Like a lover’s,
His face soft and serene
In the matchstick’s momentary flare.
A fourteen-year-old yogi in the twilight
Creating his own moment of divinity.

b.

I walk on.
In the three-armed island at the crossroad
An old man
In a loose shirt and dhoti of a villager
Is fast asleep.
Arms and legs spread-eagled
He faces the sky.
He looks exhausted – or
Am I imagining it?
I wonder – did he
Have a hard day carrying heavy loads
And is too tired to walk to the slum
He lives in?
Or does he sleep on an empty stomach
After a long day
Looking in vain for work and wages?
Before he closed his eyes
Did he look up at the vast expanse of sky
Where the stars have begun to appear,
And remember, perhaps,
The starstudded skies of his village
Where, too, he liked to sleep in the open,
Often on an empty stomach?

c.

get up and take control of your life
– The singer on FM-107 insists.
But I keep remembering
the destitute woman, near naked,
crouching quietly behind the gowalia tank bus stop.
Bunches of annoyed or indifferent commuters
Waiting impatiently for their bus, occasionally
Throwing her a sour glance.

She was not old.
Had good eyes, fine cheekbones.
But her close shaven head, serrated skin
And humped unkempt body
Chilled my bones.
She seemed quite unaware of us,
Would move and mutter,
Close her eyes, wake up
With a shudder, then curl herself
Into a self-created womb.

I thought I should do something
Give her a cover, find a social worker
To take her to a hospital or beggars home.
But I was scared to go near her.
If she was, as she seemed,
Mentally unhinged,
She might flare up, hit me,
Spit in my eye.
I put some food and coins near her feet
I wish I had done
Something more for her; then I would not
Still be carrying her
Inside my head.

d.

auspicious day.
On the way to the temple
I see a cow being fed
A whole basketful of banana skins.
Happy cow. Lucky cow.

Out on the roads
Drums are beating
Ear-splitting rhythms
And everywhere city folk
Are dancing in honour
Of the great ganesha,
The giver of prosperity,
Beloved of domestic households,
Businessmen, Brahmins, orators,
Crooks, elephants and mice.

The three-armed traffic isle
At the gamdevi-nana chowk crossroads
Is today a picnic site
For a cheerful noisy family:
All dressed in new clothes!
There’s crisply starched bright-coloured turbans
For the elders,
Creaseless terene shirts and pants
For the breadwinners,
Synthetic sarees, silver mangalsutras
And shiny sandals for the ladies,
Frilled frocks, ribbons, jeans
And smart shoes and the cutest
Tiny earrings for the little ones.
All squat comfortably in the chowk,
Have a sumptuous meal from a huge tiffin
And watch the mad merry traffic move to the beat
Of nagaras and drunken feet.
The roads belong to the revelrs today
For the big city is escorting
Its favourite god to his true home
In the sea.

Memory

“if mars were here she would not come into my arms.
She would sit over there on the sofa, cross her legs, look
Me straight in the eye and say, “why have you got a third
Chin now, daddy?”

“if kio were here she would be all over me, pulling my
Hair and tickling my back. I would start telling her a story
About the little fairy who came to visit me secretly.

“where’s she?” says kio. “I want to meet her.”
“look,” I say, “she’s on my left ear… now she’s flown
To the top of my nose… silly thing, she can’t rest anywhere
For more than a second… look, look, she’s on my elbow now!”
And kio eagerly follows his voice.
Her shining eyes move from ear to nose to elbow.

“she’s not there,” she accuses him, “you lying!”
But she wants to believe in the fairy and in him. So they
Go on fantasising.

xxvi.

Shail Raghuvanshi
Patient(s) Musings

‘A showpiece
I have become!’
a patient muses
as medicinal air
pervades the hospital.
Doctors in white coats
stroll by.
Doors of the ward
shut and open
time and again.

‘When shall I be out?’
an invalid wonders.
No trees,
no sunlight,
no familiar sounds
‘only the lull
of silence
to STAY…’

xxvii.

Rudra Kinshuk
Songs of the Wild Birds
(Santhal folk song)

Santhali is the mother tongue of 30 lakhs of people. Still no serious effort has been made to preserve their literature and language. It is to be noted that Santhali is spoken by the second largest population in West Bengal. A few Santhal organizations and educated people of the community have now come forward to take care of preservation and progress of their own culture, which many think is as old as the Vedic and Greek cultures. And they may have been publishing regularly a few journals such as the Susan Dahar, Jirihiri, Jangchio, ect., to realize that dream. However, there should be determined and coordinated efforts at the national level to respect the susceptibilities of these little communities, to undertake a scientific evolution of their script, to build up a literature in their own language and to ensure the observance of Article 29 of the Constitution, which guarantees the protection of the interests of the minorities and their right to preserve their distinct language, script, and culture. (R.K. – Excerpt from Preface to Songs of the Wild Birds)

6.

I went to a distant field
to spread my seeds,
and you to another field
to pluck up seedlings.
While I was working
your memory came to me.
I spread the seeds with my hand
but could not shake off your memory.

13.

Flowers that bloomed in dews
have withered in the sun.
They have fallen thick in the dust.
I have picked up a few,
a few have been eaten by the horse.
and a few more flowers are still lying in the dust.

14.

Don’t bedeck me as a bride any more
for it will rend my soul.
I’ve realized my dreams
in the youth of my village
whose body possesses
the softness and loveliness of a banana plant.

xxii.

We went together for a catch
of silvery fish and shrimps
along the bank of the river.
And when we reached
the grove of banana plants
on the estuary
you took me suddenly
in your embrace.
Now you’ve forgotten me.
But still I remember
that green grove of banana plants.

24.

Many Santhals and many aliens
are going to the fair
on the horse’s back or on the elephant’s.
We two brothers
will go along the dusty road on foot.
Walk cautiously
or your feet will hurt
on stone, and bleed.

34.

A long mud-road runs
through the village.
A swan glides along it.
A garland sways on its neck.
Give me the garland.
I too while dancing will sway
like flowers in the garland.

39.

In this world Marang Burui*
has built our body of blood.
And this life depends on the wind.
My life and your life
have a delicate relation.

*Marang Burui is the Santhal God. He is often depicted as a boatman in Santhal songs.

Courtesy: Songs of the Wild Birds – A Collection of Santhal folk songs. Transcreated by Rudra Kinshuk; published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta 1997; Price: Rs. 80 (Hardback) PP:34

(jul-sept ’98)

xxviii.

Autobiography of a Poet

Joy Goswami

Joy Goswami

(in conversation with Gayatri Majumdar)
Joy Goswami turned 40 last November and is already a household name among Bengali poetry readers. His is a distinguished genre of writing, which he has been able to establish with certainty. Though born in Calcutta, he spent almost 30 years of his life in a countryside in West Bengal in at Ranaghat. He lost his father, who had ingrained the love for Rabindrasangeet in him, early. His mother, who brought him and his mother up, was the headmistress in the local Lalgopal school. She died in 1984. Joy Goswami studied till Standard XI.
The first poem that Goswami wrote was about an old ceiling fan at home. He was 13-years-old then. He wrote another the same day.
He was 19-years-old when his first poems were published simultaneously in three local little magazines. Since then, he has been published widely. Joy Goswami now works for the leading Bengali magazine, Desh, and has been living in Calcutta since 1992. Goswami received the coveted Ananda Purashkar for his collection of poems Ghomiecho, Jhapata? (Are You Asleep, Tamasisk Leaf?) His other works include OOmader Pathokram (Madam’s Syllabus), Butum Bhagawan (Ghostly God), Prathnajib (Ancient Being), and many others. His collected works under the title Kabitasangraha (Collected Works) was published in 1990. He lives with his wife, Kaveri.
Here are some excerpts from the interview taken at Goswami’s Rahim Ostagar Road flat at Dhakuria in Calcutta. The poet talked about Tasleema Nasreen, Emily Dickenson, Rabindranath Tagore, the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 and the importance of love among other things.
Gayatri: What is the source of your poetry? Do you transform whatever ideas, experience and thoughts you may come across into words at once, or do you wait for a definite pattern to emerge before you write them down?
Joy Goswami: There are no premeditated ideas that I have when I writing. A line or word comes to mind suddenly and they remain there in bits and parts. Gradually, while travelling in trams and buses, those words and lines take on a definite form. Finally, a time comes when I realize I have to sit down with them.
Initially, at the beginning, there was a time when, in my house which is in the countryside, I found it very difficult to write. The house lack the environment. I have had to face this constraint of writing space constantly. I certainly feel the lack of privacy. That is why, there was a time when I used to write entirely inside my head. I would complete poems this way during a month. You’ll find some of these poems in my books OOnmader Pathokram and Bhutum Bhagawan. I have not used this method since. That method came along with my lifestyle then. That was a time I hardly got any time to return home and had to spend a lot of time on the streets. This was before coming to Calcutta.
So, my poems are born out of a word or a sound. I never know, however, how they will end or, if ever, they will end. Somehow, with time, they get their form.
Gayatri: In many of your poems you have used the meter of children’s nursery rhymes. Poetry is often the product of the unconscious mind, the reason why many poets use this meter. To what do you attribute this usage?
Joy Goswami: Yes, I have used the nursery rhyme meter in my poems.
I never get the opportunity, really, to change any of my thoughts, emotions and experience into words. The lines come to me out of nowhere and suddenly. It sometimes take a shock for this to happen. For instance, my recently published poem ‘Aathojiboner Aansho’ (Section from an Autobiography) was born out of an argument with Kaveri. I walked out of the house angrily and, at that moment, words started pouring in. you see, it happened because of the turbulence. Sometimes, however, the words come without any reason. When I am asked to write, though, as I am often in the office, I find it very difficult. I never get ideas. There are only lines. I jot down in bits and pieces and when I am told to write, I weave around those lines and let myself go, as it were.
Gayatri: Some years ago you had written, and I quote, “illiteracy, poverty and sickness – these are my condition. Would this mean that I am the entire country?” what do you have to say about that now? Have you changed? Has, in fact, the country remained the same?
Joy Goswami: My Aathojiboner Aansho’ was published recently. It’s a long poem. I think that the fact that we are alive today and the fact that I am talking with you are all a part of my autobiography.   Simultaneously, in the world that surrounds me – on this earth; in my country and outside, and even the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 colliding with the planet Jupiter, are all an integral part of my life’s story. They are a part of my life because I am aware of them. Though I will be around the planets and comets, I can read about them in the newspapers. As soon as, then, I know of their existence they become a part of my autobiography.
The ‘I’ in my poetry is used in this context. Certainly, the ‘I’ in my poetry is a universal one. At one point, I had written that I write for love. I think because of love human beings are able to survive and live. Though, there is a lot of anger in my poetry as well. I have never belonged to any political party.
Wrting is my bread and butter. Initially, I did find it difficult to accept this fact but now I have let myself go, in a sense. I write without any qualms. Most of my readers are ordinary people. Though I do not bind my writing to any fixed genre. After writing, what is known as a ‘simple’ poem, I can write an equally complex one. These are the ways the lines come to me, in their ‘simple’ and ‘obscure’ ways. I have a poem called ‘Paagli Tomar Shaghe’ (With you, Crazy Woman). It’s about conjugal life. It’s a very popular poem. This is the reason why a lot of my contemporary poets have been unable to label me. Since the last five years, I have been rejected by most of them. During that time, however, I was picked up by unknown readers who enthusiastically buy my books. Though, the same readers send me letters demanding to know why my poems appearing are ‘complex.’ In my autography and my life, the ‘I’ evolves from history and from the deep recesses of the earth. In Aathojiboner…,’ I emerge from the wars, the tortures, the rumblings out into the desert. You see, I have read history and cannot deny it. (Here, Joy Goswami reads from his poem)
In the same poem, I have written (I was told to write about science) “this poem is fire; that poem, thunder; and the other is the Northwest Moushumi wind (bringing in rain), and which, while blowing across my country, has dropped a bit of Mou at the house opposite mine.”now, Mou, as you know, is a popular Bengali name for a girl, and so Mou goes to typing and singing classes; whereas, Sumi (short for Sumita or Sumitra) is from Nagerbazar at Dumdum. She is poor, not very attractive and has no boyfriend, and, who has to take tuitions twice a day. I happen to meet her one day and fall in love with her. This is the risk I take in my writing. The shuttling back and forth. I am the reservoir of all science. There are times when I feel that even words cannot keep pace with my imagination. I want to write this particular autobiography now; I am willing to take that risk.
Gayatri: What kind of history have you been witness to as a post-independence poet?
Joy Goswami: We have been witness to the Naxalite movement. I was never a member of any political party, though all the happenings have been a part of me.
Gayatri: Rabindranath Tagore is a major influence on most poets. However, how have ‘modernists’ been able to deal with his ‘romanticism’? What does Tagore mean to you?
Joy Goswami: Rabindranath is very dear to my heart. I have often quoted him. Rabindranath can never be in the ‘past tense’ or ‘over’ for me.
This is important to me. Most poets differ from each other in some ways and this is a universal phenomenon. Rabindranath may be one of the greatest poets, but in spite of that, the Bengali language has not followed him. I admire him a lot but don’t write like him. No one does. Isn’t it so? On the other hand, during Jibananda Das’ time, the next generation of poets were Sudhin Dutt, Bishnu Dey and Buddhadev Basu. Out of them, Buddhadev read and liked Jibananda. The others did not like him and, one of them, did not even read him. What this means is that when a poet happens to be ‘different’, others are unable to accept him. A poet, however, can only write the way he or she can. Every poet is unique in his or her own way. If we can accept his or her writing, then I believe, we can only grow. You see, some poets talk about sunshine, some others talk about the darkness. If ever, such a poet comes about in our country who is able to talk about sunshine and the darkness in the same breadth, the, would it not be wonderful? But these poets would then be labeled as ‘characterless’ for the precise reason they cannot be pinned down.
There is no spring or monsoon when I do not recall Rabindranath’s songs. I grew up listening to these songs and they are embedded in my subconscious. Therefore, the songs are a part of my memory. However, I am not just nostalgic about them as they have proximity to my present life as well. In a Bengali’s life, besides the excessive domination of English education, Rabindranath’s influence is tremendous.
In some texts, there is excessive romanticism in the poet’s language. But we must remember, he wrote about 60 to 70 years ago. Language is an important ingredient because a language can change in a couple of decades. When we started writing poetry, its language did not sound awkward, but now it does. A hundred years ago, it was even more awkward. That old language has become dusty – dust has gathered about the language.
Besides, Rabindranath liked to talk a bit too much; and that might be construed as ‘excessively romantic.’ It’s not there in his songs, however, which are more compact. In his plays like Dakghar (Post Office) and Raktakarabi (Red Oleander), there is a sense of timelessness. It (this sense) appears in Rabindranath’s as well as Jibananda Das’ works. I watch Dakghar whenever I can. Whenever I am depressed with all kinds of pressures at the office, the compulsions to write, family and my own ill health, I let my imagination take over. It gives me solace. I like Rabindranath and Jibananda for this reason. It is one thing to talk about what is accepted as reality – the protests, the anger; whereas, this is the other aspect of life which is the imagination that is ageless and timeless. You might call me an escapist, but it part of my life – my autography.
(jan-mar ’95)

meanwhile…
xxix.

New from SAMPARK
CALCUTTA : A CITY LIVED IN AND REMEMBERED

Samir Mukerjee                                                                                               

Calcutta is not an old city if one compared it to Benaras or Jerusalem or London. Yet, in its three hundred years the city has witnessed momentous events. In the last century, its character has changed through the decades. From the old world charm of colonial Calcutta of European businessmen to genteel Bengali bhadralok to the mixture of east and west in the Bengali upper class kitchen, much of the Calcutta of 1930s and 1940s are only tales of an almost forgotten city.

Samir Mukerjee, scion of the family of Sir R.N.Mukerjee, the great Bengali industrialist who among other things, built the Victoria Memorial and Belur Math, recounts a Calcutta that has passed by the Hugli. From the famine of 1940s to the communal riots of 1946 to the Naxalite rebellion, Mukerjee’s pen captures all the sound and fury of our much loved and a bit hated city.

On one page we see Indira Debi Chowdhurani and on another Pritish Nandy and yet in another story Nandita Das jumps into our living room. Calcutta : A City Lived in and Remembered will capture the minds of all who have walked and lived moments in this city of joy.

Samir Mukerjee had written all the pieces in this book for The Telegraph and the book has become even more lively thanks to the drawings of Debashish Deb.

SAMPARK, the publisher of the book is a publishing house based in Calcutta. It specializes in translations of world and Indian literature into English. It has brought out memoirs of many outstanding individuals including one of a grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi.  The publisher can be reached at [email protected]

recommended sites
Eva Sullivan
TRACKS
contributors
Ronita Torcato is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer. Vineet Kaul, born in Ahmedabad, is a musician and journalist who has been exploring words as his medium of expression through poetry, prose and songwriting. His poems and articles have been published in the leading newspapers and magazines of India and in a handful of Literature and Poetry Journals. His work featured in the “Bearing North” anthology published by the MLM Press of annual winners in November, 2010. Vineet also plays as a guitarist in a band and has been a freelance content/copy editor since 2007. Mousumi Roy is born in Kolkata and lived there mostly. Presently living in Muscat, Middle East. An ardent lover of poetry and literature; profession: teaching. Insia Fatima is an amateur writer who has been living and working in Mumbai since 2007. She has tasted life in a variety of cultures – Lucknow, Saudi Arabia, IIT, IT corporates, and wildlife tourism start-ups — and likes to delve deep into what moves people. She dabbles into all forms of creativity, whether it comes to life in the form of a C++ code, or a poem. Bipin Patsani (b.1951): From Badatota, Khurda, Odisha. Education at P.N. College, Khurda and Ravenshaw College(1973-1975), Cuttack. Working as a teacher at Doimukh in Arunachal Pradesh. Published poems in many literary journals and poetry anthologies. Translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Three poetry collections to credit: VOICE OF THE VALLEY (W/W, 1993), ANOTHER VOYAGE (Wordsmith  Publishers, Guwahati/ 2010), HOMECOMING (Wordsmith Pub. / 2010). Siddharth Srikanth  is 19, studying humanities at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. His fields of interest are fiction and journalism (and trying to distinguish between the two). He has written features for TOI and The Hindu (Chennai). For him, “writing is a way to make sense of a world that really makes no sense.” Born in Ireland, Fióna Bolger has lived in India also. She is currently between Chennai and Dublin and studying for a masters in creative writing from Lancaster University, online. Distance Learning Masters they call it. This would be the first time Fiona has had something published online or otherwise. K.Balachandran is a journalist ,writer and translator based in Thiruvananthapuram.  published short stories and poems in Malayalam,Tamil and English. He has reported extensively on art,culture and literature in Malayala Manorama for two decades. Balachandran is currently engaged in a project to to translate from Tamil to Malayalam.
Tulika Singh is a student from Chandigarh. Sudha Devi Nayak is an officer in the State Bank of India, Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Her poems have been published in newspapers, Indian Literature and TBC. Shantanu Ray Chaudhury works in the Accounts Department of Oxford University Press, New Delhi. His poems have been published in Sunday Telegraph Magazine, Asian Age, and Poet’s International. Ayesha Ramachandran is a student of the Cathedral and John Connon School. She lives in Mumbai. Anil Saari Arora’s first volume of poems was a cyclostyled, private edition of early work titled Odd Rhthym, 1969. His other publications include include a dramatization for the stage of Albert Camus’ novel ‘The Fall’ and the original play, ‘Prefaces.’ He has also written two plays in Hindusthani. Arora works as a journalist in Delhi and is one of the leading film journalist in India. Arora’s collection of poems, Nomads and Other Moments, was published by Blackmuse Books. Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca was a lecturer at the Maharshi Dayamand College of Arts and Science, Bombay, from 1975 to 1977 and at the Podar College of Commerce and Economics for the following year. Her book of poems, Family Sunday and Other Poems, was published by peacock Publishers in 1989. Arundhathi Subramaniam has published three collections of poetry: On Cleaning Bookshelves and Where I Live; and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems brought out by Bloodaxe Books in 2009 . She is also the author of a prose study, The Book of Buddha, and was co-editor of Confronting Love, an anthology of contemporary Indian love poetry in English.

Gauranga Datta lives in Kolkata. Vikram Murarka works and lives in Kolkata. Arijit Ghosh teaches and lives in New Delhi. The three poems published here are his “maiden effort at getting published.” Bhaskar Sen is an artist whose poems have been published in Femina and Debonair among others. His collection of poems (in Bengali) include Rikto Shobdojhuli and Manusher Chobi. Ninaz Khodaiji is a Mumbai-based actress for the English theater. Sashibhusan Rath has a P.G.D. in Social Work from Calcutta. He is a member of the Indian Physics Association, Indian Secular Society, and The Poetry Society, among others. Rath lives in West Birbhum, Bihar. An actor, singer, and poet, Salvador Ortiz-Carbonerez , has published articles on Spanish literature and books. His translation of ‘Platero and I’ by the Spanish Nobel, Juan Ramos Jimerez, has won universal praise. Salvador lives and works in Warwick.  Swapan Kumar Banerjee is a freelance journalist based in Hoogly, West Bengal.  Rudra Kinshuk from the University of Calcutta and is a post-graduate of Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. A writer, he has contributed poems and short stories to a number of publications including The Telegraph, The Asian Age, The Famous Reporter, Studio and The Brown Critique. Besides this book of transcreation, he has two other books of poems to his credit: Footprints on the Sand and Portrait of the Buddha as a Dog. Darshan Chhabda is a Mumbai-based freelance writer. A.B. Apana writes poems and short stories and teaches in the English Department of the University of Hyderabad. Shail Raghivanshi  (http://musenpoetry.blogspot.com/)%20is a Chennai-based writer. Aditya Hazarika, a graduate from Hindu college with BSc Chemistry Honors degree and a postgraduate from the University of Exeter, UK, with an International business degree. art, movies, traveling attract his interest.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.