A Language Called Death
I shook the door a little but the metallic grating made my teeth wince. The 19th century colonial powers raised in the outskirts of the cities’ massive prisons with the same care and thoroughness they built their governors’ mansions. In their days too, the Hastings prison had a record of escape twice a week. With the end of the Second World War came the end of the governors but the prisons remained prisons and Hastings in our country is the prison for life convicts and political prisoners. Political prisoners right now meant Tamils. With enormous hostility whipped among the non-Tamil majority, we weren’t sure which was safer – being within the prison or outside it. A guard came. My left hand was on a bar on the door and before I realized what was happening, he had swung his club and I felt my eyes screw in unbearable pain.
I jerked my hand at him and blood from my fingers splattered on his face and coat. He swung his club again but I was now well within my cell. The door rattled under his blow.
“What’s up?” He asked.
I held my bleeding hand with the other and answered him in his language,
“The chamber-pot is full.”
“Why didn’t you empty in the morning?”
“I did. I have a bad stomach.”
“You dogs eat like pigs.”
I stood without answering him. The pain in the hand almost made me pass out. But it was imperative I went to the watchtower. With murder in his eyes, the guard came with the keys and opened the door of my cell.
Crisscrossing corridors divided the prison into 20 wards. Each ward had its own bunch of keys.
I followed him holding his chamber-pot. Blood from my fingers spread on to its sides and begun dripping on the floor.
Gunasekharan was in the corner cell of my ward. I gave a slight tilt to my head and I know he noticed the sign.
The pit was situated at the far end of the prison near the barbed-wire fence. We were supposed to make use of the morning outing to empty the pots in the pit and wash the pots and ourselves at the water-pump. There was a watchtower near the pit. No one in normal state could bear the stink of the pit and keep a watch from the tower. I emptied my pot in the pit.
The gripping my stomach, I slumped near the tower. My hand rested on a broken piece of porcelain.
The guard came running towards me with his raised club.
“Nothing. My stomach again.” I said and hurried to my cell with the pot.
Once the guard locked the door and went away, I unfurled the paper pellet placed under the porcelain chip. Tamil letters were written the other way as when seen in a mirror. It was all like a child’s scribbling. Next morning at our rounds to the pit, I whispered to Gunashkharan,
“When will they come?”
“A little after eight, when it is all dark outside.”
“What are we to do?”
“Just wait. Try something to have all the guard right within the prison.”
Even before we reached the pit, the message had been relayed to all the 62 prisoners.
I wasn’t myself all afternoon. The jailbreak had been attempted twice before with disastrous results. In the first attempt, 30 of our men were dead. Twelve died of torture. The second attempt was made to look like an isolated case of escape. The guards kicked him to death. This time, the plan was to get all of us out. All 62. At any cost. My hand was swollen. How much it has been a part of my functioning was a frightening realization. The pain was excruciating. I had somehow managed to sleep off the previous night but would I be able to do it tonight? And when they come to get us free, I couldn’t play the part of an injured comrade. Nor would I be of any use to them.
I slumped to the floor. I wasn’t conscious of anything but my pain. Maybe it was not quite true. My head was picking up an unusual drone, a very distant one. First I thought it was the pain making me imagine strange things but the drone was getting louder and closer. A kind of sound that generated itself in a large crowd. Must be a hundred, or even, two hundred men. They were rushing towards the prison, shouting… terrifying things. Could they be our men? They were supposed to come past eight. Now it was not even six. And men attempting to stage a jailbreak, would they come so publicly?
I stood near the door. From the clang and the grating, the other prisoners too must be at their doors. They were all shaking the doors violently. To confuse and unnerve the guards.
But not a guard was in sight. They could be preparing to launch the assault anytime. How many times in these eight months had the guards bashed us up? It will be for the last time today. Either we were all free, or all dead.
It’s come. It’s come. The getaway. Still not a guard in sight. Must have all fled. Wonderful. Was it? The shouts of the rescuers don’t sound like Tamil.
It needed just a few seconds for us to know. It was not the Tamil party. Instead the group bent on exterminating Tamils. They were descending on the Tamils to wipe out the Tamil fighters imprisoned in the Hastings. That’s why no guard was found – they had all gone away to give the mob a free hand.
The attackers burst into prison shouting kill ‘em kill ‘em.
The corridors echoed with their shouts as they rushed in banging the doors with their crowbars and shoppers. I sat crouching at the extreme corner of the cell. The other prisoners too would be perching themselves farthest from the doors. Facing an army or the police in the open prison against a frenzied mob was a disastrous thing. Like me, the other prisoners too would have been frozen with fear of a terrible death. There was sudden exultation in the mob. They must have got hold of the keys.
I can’t describe the screams now. There are screams at the torture cabin. They are all in unbearable pain. The screams I hear now are of men driven to the edge of death. With every blow and swish and bashing, the howls get more and more ghoulish. Like animals in a slaughterhouse. To make men howl like animals and die – there can’t be a crueler desecration of the human spirit.
An attacker banged my door. It was obvious the key to my cell had not been found. They could have broken open the doors with crowbars but they probably didn’t want to destroy the prison. The shouts and cries got more and more fearful and savage-like.
One could hear the doors of the cells being forced open and heads of the prisoners being smashed. Each blow is hit to destroy life once and for all. The crude weapons make a sticky noise when pulled out of human flesh.
I hardly breathed. Terror, I felt in every cell of my body. I seemed to become a huge goose-pimple about to burst anytime. Without my volition my throat was making ghastly sounds.
Then suddenly, in my bundled-up posture, I felt dipped in acid. I realized I was wet. Evacuation in a human body was not unusual during torture. Here was a case of simulation of it. I also felt the floor of my cell getting sticky. Blood. Human blood. It had flown all over the corridors and was now spreading into my cells. It must have been quite a long while ago but in my terror-stricken state, I hadn’t noticed it.
I swayed in my squatted position. There was more and more of the human lava in my cell. Not only in my cell but all over the prison for now I could feel it by the way the attackers ran about the corridors splattering curdled blood. My face, my body was all covered with blood paste. Blood of my companions, my prison mates. Ten, 20, 30… it would not be too long before my blood would mix with the sticky paste on the floor. The key to my cell was still not found. Once found, I should also be a lifeless flesh and broken bones.
Now I hear gunshots for the first time. It is automatic gunfire from various directions. The killers in the corridors stand confused. Obviously, it is not from their men.
It is a veritable barrage of gunfire. It is now the turn of the attackers to run in terror and panic. They run, stumble down, get up, stumble or slip down again, fall one over the other, run…. The gunfire is still around the prison. The killers all run in one direction and finding it covered, retrace and run in the opposite direction. Without my knowing I am standing near my door and anyone could have smashed my head with a blow. But at that moment, the attackers have nothing else on their minds expect saving their skins.
The gunfire is right in the corridors. Bullets strike the walls and ricochet. Once again I crouch in a corner of my cell. Until now the death-howls were in Tamil. Now the howls assume a different tongue. Whatever be the language, a death-howl gripped your stomach the same way. Blood froze. Heart stopped. Human life must be very firmly bonded with the body or the body wouldn’t struggle so ghoulishly at the parting of life. Suddenly, the whole place got lighted up. Someone had switched on the lights. In fact I hadn’t realized all along it was dark and my head was picking up what was happening only through sounds!
The mob, which had come to finish us off must have numbered about 50 and they all lay mowed down by a handful of our men with automatic weapons. The guards had their guns and had they chosen to defend, both the attacks couldn’t have been accomplished so swiftly and completely. One of our men traced me out in my cell and blasted open the door. I stepped out.
The corridors were a bloody mess with countless footprints. Dismembered limbs were strewn all over. A single eyeball stared from a corner. The attackers had all used blunt weapons and so the death was even more gruesome and painful. Clothes of many prisoners stuck to the wounds as though stuffed into them. In some cases, it was the clothes which had kept together the limbs and the body. Bellies slashed open and heads smashed had emptied their contents on the floor. The blood-smeared pale mass of brains and entrails looked like dozens of freshly skinned snakes. The smell of raw human flesh and blood and faeces and urine prevailed everywhere.
Death-throes and excrement. Dismembered human organs. I ran from cell to cell. There wasn’t a single friend alive and – without parts of his body torn off. In one cell, a longish crowbar had been driven through the victim. The attacker hadn’t been able to pull out the crowbar and so the body hung pinned to the wall. Gunasekharan had been hacked to pieces and his clothes stuck to the wounds. His brain had flown onto the floor.
I ran through corridor after corridor. In every cell, there was only death, mutilation. Death could not have worn a more awesome countenance in a medieval battlefield.
I collapsed to the ground and threw up violently. Someone held me tightly.
I sobbed, “Is anyone left at all?” The man shook his head sadly. He seemed to read my mind and held the gun out of my reach.
(Translated from the original Tamil by the author)
August 9, 1964
for ma and baba
Her placenta burned, turning lava-florid,
her womb stretching to its very last limit,
blue veins crying, full and wet,
waiting for life – yet
another life, rearing to make an exit.
A new entry – its
sex unknown, until gloved
hands pull and reveal unformed
flesh, wobbling around soft small
bones, outweighed by an odd pear-shaped skull,
drooping, still connected to
the umbilical, linked to
the very last. Now cut free from her breathing
that only recently resuscitated his
own tiny heart, he cries out loud to test
the validity of life itself –
that squared triad of
sanctity – of birth, of life, and of
death – roaring,
his solar nomenclature – a Leo-
nine, of the nine-day old
month itself. A final tribute to her
labour, nine months of shelter,
her live chamber cloistering his helplessness,
sharing her blood, bread and breath.
Not That Kind of Love
Maybe, Debbie hadn’t wished hard enough, but there was not a star in sight to hitch a ride on to Bethlehem. Actually, it had been early, too early for any stars, planets or constellations to show up in the firmament on Christmas eve. It was high noon when she’s hopped aboard a bus at the terminus neat the Jaffa Gate. The sun shone brightly, but a sharp wind blew across the Judaean hills and inside the bus, it was as cold as an ice-box. She was the gregarious kind, travelling made her even more talkative. She’d address total strangers most cheerily, something she’d never do back in her hometown, Panaji. The Israeli consulate in Mumbai had warned her that sort of garrulousness in a woman travelling solo could be dangerous in view of the intifada.
Dangerous for whom? For a Jew, certainly. For an American or European, maybe. But for an Indian? Indian Christians had the best of both worlds. She was sure of that, as sure as the sound of a Carreira trundling down the long and winding red laterite roads of Goa.
She’d slipped into a conversation with a middle-aged European woman; a Swedish nurse on her twentieth visit to the Land. But why?
Why would anyone visit Israel for the nth time? Perhaps, the Swede was on the lookout for a husband. There were any number of kibbutzniks who’d eloped with Christian volunteers, much to the chagrin of Orthodox Jewry.
At the YMCA international hostel where she checked in, fresh off the bus from Cairo, she noticed a tall Nordic-type with Paul Newman eyes was the only other person drinking tea like her in the dining room. Paul Newman had joined her table, introduced himself as Fr Martin Schaeffer, a Jesuit theologian from the University of Heidelberg.
“Mind if I join you? I noticed you’re all by yourself. I’m engaged in scripture studies in the Ecole Biblique across the road. How about you? Where do you come from? Sri Lanka? Fiji? Bali?
“India, Father. Do Balinese look like me?”
“Considering that I haven’t met any, I can’t really say. But you know how it it, when people have preconceived notions of…”
“Of what people ought to look like, or behave. Is that what you were going to say?” She’d interrupted, then, proceeded to tell him she was on sabbatical from her job with a drug addict rehabilitation center in Panaji.
“There are many addicts?”
“Some Indians, some foreigners, Father. English, German and a few Israelis.”
“Interesting. And what provoked you to come to Israel?”
She told him her interest was sparked by an addict called Yossi Goldstein and the Israeli backpackers who’d taken over a part of the Anjuna beach. “They call it little Tel Aviv.” She smiled at the memory.
“A few visited the rehab center to enquire after Yossi, who’d finished a stint in the Israeli army. You know, he had this funny habit of calling me Dvora-le.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“Deborah, I presume.”
“Of course, but the young man’s version is a term of endearment.”
“Oh…. Actually, he’d asked me why I wasn’t named Maria like good Catholic girls are given or some other typical Portugese name. Once he’d asked if I were sure I didn’t have a Jewish ancestor tucked away somewhere; there were a number of Portugese Marranos in Goa, he said.
“I reminded Yossi my surname is Almeida. Did that make me a descendant of some conquistador or the other? AL-MEI-DA. That has an Arab ring to it, doesn’t it? The Adil Shahi dynasty had ruled Goa for three hundred years before the Portugese conquest. Perhaps I had Arab blood running through my decidedly Indian veins.”
The Jesuit laughed out loud.
“Do you know who the Marranos were?”
“I know now they were neo-Christians who continued to practice Jewish rituals in secret. I’d told Yossi that I didn’t particularly care. I wasn’t going to hanker after an obscure past. The present was what counted. But fair, he had red hair, too – and he’d said, ‘The Queen of Sheba was darker than you, and she was the smartest woman in the East in her time.’
“Did you find that flattering?”
“Hardly. I told him that Sheba was so smart, so clever the Jews broke up her marriage to Soloman and sent her packing back to Ethiopia. He’d said, ‘Dvora, Dvor-le, you know that’s only part of Soloman’s harem, when she was a Queen in her own right? Yossi asked me why I didn’t believe he could be such an MCP, such a fundamentalist. In which case, he was hooked on drugs? Didn’t those beach bums fornicate as if there were no tomorrow?” He said, “ I didn’t know you were a voyeur.’ Oh, he had some nerve.”
The priest said, “The Jewish boy made an impression on you, ja?”
Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Did you fall in love with him?”
“That’s a preposterous question, father. He was too young, only a boy.”
“But you couldn’t help loving him.”
“It was not that kind of love, Father, although I don’t expect you to understand that.”
“And how do you know I don’t undertand? The celibate priesthood doesn’t make us subhuman or incapable of comprehending emotions. Look at us now, speaking in English. Do you speak English a lot in India?”
“Most of the time, Father. We have more than 300 languages and 16 scripts and English happens to be the link language for the urban elite anyway.”
Ah, so you do understand.”
“Tell me now, did Yossi recover?”
Now, she could not hold the tears back. “He’s dead, Father. One day he managed to get hold of a large dose of heroin, God knows how. He went into an uncontrollable fir and before anyone could stop him, he had rushed out onto the road to be knocked down by a truck carrying construction materials for a railroad. If you only knew the number of horrific road accidents in India. The truck had no business to be speeding, Father. As it is, the government is building the railway through the fertile coastal belt, instead of the backward hinterland. We wanted to sue the railway authorities and the lorry owner, but the Israeli Consulate wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Strange. Ve-ry strange. You know how they go after the Nazis, don’t you?”
“Crime deserves punishment, doesn’t it, Father?
Actually the consulate felt the case would go on forever.”
She paused for a moment. “Yossi died moments after we carried him inside the center. The consul-general came to Goa from Bombay and agreed to bury him in the Catholic cemetery. What there was left of him. Yossi did not have much of a family. His mother had died in a car bomb attack; his father had married again and didn’t seem to have much use for him….”
“Are you going to meet his father?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I might go to a kibbutz. Don’t laugh, but I’m planning to visit Bethlehem today, attend midnight Mass, maybe.”
“Why should I laugh? Going to Bethlehem would be the right thing to do.”
“I don’t know about that, Fahter. Back home, I’d go to church mostly to please my mother. Now that I’m here after spending a month loafing around Egypt, it would be silly not to hear the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, wouldn’t it?”
He said, half under his breath, “For every season, there is a time.”
Then he enquired whether or not she had a ticket to attend Mass in the Basilica of the Nativity in Manger Square. That took her by surprise. A ticket? What was that all about? He’d explained then that, for security reasons the authorities doled out tickets to every tourist/pilgrim going to Bethlehem.
Debbie was nonplussed, he’d laughed at her bewilderment; fished inside a pocket of his jacket and waved a ticket in her direction.
“Here, you take it. I’ve heard Mass in the Basilica many times. I’m going to be here for another year or two, so you can have it without looking so guilty.”
“Oh, Father! Are you sure?”
Yes, he was. And no, she wasn’t depriving him of anything.
She was smiling now. “Danke Schon, Father. God, I’m so lucky.”
“There is no such thing as luck, my child. Only Divine Providence.”
“Okay Father, I’m going to hear a homily in Church tonight, so you needn’t start one. And don’t think I’m not grateful.”
Father Martin Schaeffer said he didn’t think anything of the kind.
So, Debbie had gone to Bethlehem. There was a parting of ways when the Swedish nurse decided to return to Jerusalem and Debbie decided to perambulate around the little town instead of going back and forth the 10/11 odd miles. She had less than $500 to live on and she intended to live in the Land as long as she could with that.
A real Christmas tree, the biggest one she’d ever seen stood imposingly at the edge of Manger Square outside the Basilica. Her map told her it was the oldest church still in use in the world. Debbie window-shopped around the Square, then entered a tiny store.
“Ahlen Welcome. Welcome Heendi. You know Raj Kapoor? You like heem? You like these angel? Nice creeb? You like, you buy? The Arab shop-owners smiled.
Poor Kapoor was dead; these fellows were hopelessly out of touch. Mother would like dried flowers and the beautifully decorated candles and the olive wood rosaries. They’d made nice giveaways too. Cards, she must buy lots of cards. Fancy that. X-Mas cards from BETHLEHEM. She must send dad a big lipsticked kiss in one.
Ambling up and down the narrow streets criss-crossing the Bethlehem hillside, she came upon a cinema. Ah ha. Nothing better than a movie to kill time. It was screening a biblical epic. Oh no, what a bore. The film was Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. Now, why couldn’t it have been Romeo and Juliet? Or The Taming of the Shrew? Or Hamlet with that hunk Mel Gibson?
Sitting in solitary splendor, it wasn’t long before her hands began to feel like ice. Her brothers had laughed when she’d borrowed her their father’s clothes. Who on earth in hot, sultry Goa would possess warm clothing? Her doctor father did. God, was she glad, she had his jacket on.
She hugged it tightly around her body, and burrowed her arms under her armpits. That Zefirelli was a genius. This Jesus was a real dish. Those were not feet but blocks of ice inside her shoes. If Jesus could feed 5,000 people, make the blind see, the lame walk, calm the storm and walk on water; sure, he could do something about the damned cold? If he didn’t, she was going to join Raj Kapoor. In Heaven, she hoped. What a way to make it to The Jerusalem Post “Indian Tourist Found Dead on Christmas Eve.”
Perhaps, it was extra-sensory perception, perhaps it was only a coincidence; but a Palestinian entered the hall, tugged a small heater towards her. At the interval, the lady herself appeared with a steaming glass of tea. On her starvation budget, Debbie could not afford luxuries like tea in movie theatres, but the lady had ignored her protestations with a flow of Arabic, which she gathered to mean, “No charge, tea on the house.”
It wasn’t tea. It was the nectar of the celestials. The Arab couple were ministering angels. Other Palestinians might carry out suicide bomb attacks, but this man wouldn’t throw a stone at a Jew, would he? She was sure he wouldn’t.
The celebrated Mass was in Latin, Arabic and English. How splendid the priests looked in full regalia. And how pompous, dad would have said. After the Mass, she’d gone to the crypt below the church, where the Franciscans have marked the spot of the birth of Jesus with a silver star. How did they know? How could they be so sure? It could have been somewhere else. But then, the thought came unbidden; it could have been on that very spot.
An image of the Christ child lay beneath an iron grill. As pilgrims filed past, the others prayed, a bent, old priest shuffled in and genuflected with an in incense urn before the image. Debbie could see his face, hairline to chin, suffused with adoration. She could read his mind: This was the place Eternity had entered Time. She fell down on her knees and kissed that spot. Like a woman in love. But not that kind of love.
Diana Mae Kimoto
Once upon a time, two time ago, there was a man who sold mirrors. He had many mirrors to sell. They were of all sizes and shapes. No one knew from where he obtained all his mirrors. They only knew that they were very special.
Now everyone understands that a mirror just reflects that which is placed before it. It does not reproduce reality like we directly experience it. In its reality, our left is its right and its left is our right. The ups and the downs usually stay the same. But as far as the subject matter is concerned, it can only give back that which it is presented. It can sometimes do special things, like enlarge or reduce, deform or distort. And then of course there have been magic mirrors that were able to reflect things that were yet to take place, or never did exist.
But never before have there been mirrors like the ones that this man sold. It seems that these mirrors did not reflect an image of what was being presented but rather what which the viewer himself chose to see. Essentially what was being reflected was the image that the viewer held in his mind. Objective reality did not enter into the picture; or rather, into the mirror. Its entire visual composition was made up from subjective reality. Of course, all this could have been quite interesting and somewhat amusing if things did not keep going wrong.
The usefulness of a mirror, an ordinary one that is, is that it is capable of supplying information. And most people use it in this manner. Is my dress straight, my tie crooked, my makeup correct… are daily questions that everyone asks when in front of a mirror. It reproduces by reflection, producing in its own way the reality which it faces. These images are used to inform us about a world of which we have no direct access.
But what happens when information leaves the world of objectivity and has nothing to do with collective reality? How real is this reality if it belongs to me and only me? That was the real problem with those mirrors. They seemed capable of only transmitting subjective information. But what is the use of knowing what I know? Do we not information to inform us about things that we do not know?
One can argue that we never know what we know and that mirrors that give us this sort of information might be quite useful. It could help us to understand something about ourselves. But if I look at something which has been fabricated in my mind, is it sure that I have the ability to extract any information from the image produced? How can I know if anything is really true if the only method of proving it true lays in my mind and only in my mind? What kind of a world do I live in when I use this sort of information?
It was soon discovered that those who bought one of those special mirrors soon had trouble distinguishing the value of things seen from other points of view. For one slowly lost the habit of seeing things other than what one thought was there. As one could no longer be sure of what others were seeing, one began to disdain questions concerning objectivity. Mirrors were no longer objective reflections of the existing world that everyone collectively shared; they became mirrors of the mind, worse, the mirrors of one mind, that of the onlooker.
Thus in front of the same image, every mirror had a different view. Every looker perceived a different image. A different world existed for each and everyone. It was also a world which changed with every state of the mind. So even the owner of the mirror was never sure what image the mirror would present to him. For he, himself was never sure what condition his own mind was in whenever he looked into the mirror. And each time he passed in front of the mirror, it offered a different reality. Soon those who possessed one of those special mirrors could no longer remember what they looked like. To discover that they had to visit friends who had ordinary mirrors.
However, the worse occurred when two or more people happened to pass at the same time and the mirror reflected the thoughts of everyone. There existed such confusion that it was impossible to make out any sort of image.
In the end, it became very annoying to be the owner of a mirror of minds. No one ever knew what one would end up seeing. Before long no one wanted to possess such mirrors, for in fact they were completely useless.
Those who had bought one once, never repeated the experience and discouraged the others from doing so. Eventually the customers became rarer and rarer before disappearing altogether. And the man who sold mirrors no longer sold any.
Little by little the mirrors invaded his dwelling, surpassed his frontiers, and overflowed into the properties of others. It seemed as if they multiplied all by themselves for after a time, everyone noticed the absence of the man who sold them. Everyone now took to avoiding his house and as no one wanted to pass in front of all those mirrors that reflected things no one wanted to see. The mirrors increased and to avoid them, the inhabitants of the town took to moving farther and farther away. Before long, the village was deserted. As no one ever returned to the village, it is impossible to know what all became of those mirrors.
Moral: One wants to see what one expects to see
And not what one thinks one sees.
Journey From the Edge
Anil Anthony Pais
Sitting around playing with the keys, he let the sounds swirl around him. Listening, yet not listening, refusing to allow them to touch him. He felt weird, alien, unwilling to interact, dreading the thought of anyone approaching him. “Can they just leave me alone for a while?” he thought feeling the oppressive thoughts smothering him again. I don’t want to handle it any more. If only things would just take care of themselves. He couldn’t find the fire in his belly to deal and conquer like he used to. Simple things went by unattended. Left to take care of themselves. He felt deep down his wife uncomplainingly picking up after him, attending to things as best she could. “God, she is an angel!” he thought resentfully. It only made him feel worse in so many ways, as much as he felt grateful. “Take care of me, honey,” and she was always there.
He was scared. He was scared. He didn’t want to relive the nightmare again. He didn’t want to admit defeat. He was the role model, leading where others lacked the courage to do so. He hated the followers who safely followed, gaining as much from his experience yet taking none of his risks. Always ready though, to laugh if he fell. There was a time when he yearned for the acknowledgment and the accolades from them, then didn’t know how to handle the unexpected envy & hatred that quickly followed instead. Dimly realizing they hated him for making them feel inadequate, he subconsciously drove the stake through their yellow bellies with vengeful satisfaction. He felt he had few friends. Few who could or wanted to deal with the ever higher standards he set for himself, and by extension for those around him. Sometimes he couldn’t stand himself! Those were the moments of the most searing self-doubt. Self-doubt that prevented him from going where he seemed ever rushing to go. He felt though, down inside, that it was good that he felt thus. It made him somehow stronger for the things he knew he must face.
Now he sat, at the edge of the cliff. Looking far ahead, marking out the safety points that formed the only way out. Trying to be prepared, yet only scaring himself to pieces in the process. The demons were coming up the cliff… or were they? The tension of not knowing. He stood, poised over the edge, time stood still. He looked back at the mental clock. It stood there at the date 2 months ago. Too long. Long enough to break his nerve. Long enough to let the ever surfacing self doubts wash over him. Partly aware that he could, perhaps, heroically snatch victory from the impossible situation he was in, yet afraid he had grown too weak by now. Time had stood still too long. His courage had ebbed. He couldn’t do it and was sure he’d fail even if he tried. “Que sera sera,” he thought wryly, sadly resigning himself to what ever lay ahead.
Yes, the demons came up after him, while the jackals, grown in strength by his weak immobility, snapped at his heels with bravado.
But I will win! He thought grimly, as he turned away from the reality facing him, to the escapism of his everyday chores.
Lines for Mike Who Wishes Everybody a Broad and Deep Smile
Every time we meet
“keep smiling” – and I smile
The other day
near Esplanade east
a broken-winged crow
dreaming of city links
to call off my smile
but I smiled…
downs and ups
or in dreams
now I smile –
for every time we meet
A 1987 Evening
you packed up
talking of resurrection
then of some assorted
vegetables you bought
for your cold bed kitchen
we came out…
you headed for the 5.25 tube
with a soft goodbye
of Manali rhododendrons
took the second lane
beside Dutch cathedral
evening bells, prayers,
folded hands, pure hearts
your three words
‘resurrection of Christ’
three steps beyond
a drop fell
with best wishes from
River of Dreams
I am going back. I can’t work anymore. Each day, it getting harder and harder to breathe. All the fields must be green and really beautiful by now and the sweet scent of rain and soft kneaded black soil would be in the air and the small ponds are all filled up and the canal too, and I know right this moment all of them are snaking in and diving and splashing like silver brown fish in the water and playing with the dung encrusted who roam near the water banks of the pond and, little later, when the sun goes down and the pale moon comes to watch over us, they will all be near the railway tracks throwing pebbles and running alongside the evening trains, which pass through the village like strangers, without a sideways glance or a tender smile, in complete detachment of rapid monotonous motion. I wish I was with them, near the tracks. The tracks feel so cool and lonely in the evenings, and when you put your ear to it you can hear the rumbling of its ancient soul echoing the future that will be past us in a few quick minutes. My mother would be making the evening meal in front of our hut, her head covered with her sari and bent over the stove and the smoke from the dung-fuel burning her eyes. Every once in a while she would wipe her watery eyes and stare into the disappearing darkness and call breathlessly “Ram, Ram… Ram, come home son.”
Ram came to work for us around four or five months back and for days I barely noticed him. He was of a very slight build and was very quiet and used to jump when the phone rang. Later on I was surprised when I came to know that he was 14-years old; he didn’t look more than 10 or 11 to me. I guess something deep inside him was pulling him down, wasn’t allowing him to grow. He was thin, really thin, all his ribs could be counted easily but he ate okay, in fact he ate too much and his hair stood on his head like spikes on a steel coat brush and one other thing, he barely ever smiled. His uncle was two or three years older than me and used to work for us for a long time and was now married and had two kids of his own. He brought Ram to our place because, I guess, they really needed the money and feeding him in the village was burning a big hole in their budget and he refused to do any work. “He roams around the village like an idiot, and his mother fears that he will drown one day or be crushed under some speeding train.” His uncle informed my mother. This uncle of Ram is a real piece of work. Around the same time, the plague scare broke out all over Patna and do you know what he did? Of course, you don’t. He tied an old tomcat on a string and went visiting the scared rich all over town to ferret out rats and killing them for a fee and you know what? I think he carried with him a ready supply of rats too, caught from the gutters. He is one hell of an enterprising man. He charged Rs 25 per kill, and in a week he made Rs 1,000 in cold hard cash. Now they are saying it wasn’t caused by the rats at all, but as far as Munna (Ram’s uncle) is concerned the plague was just fine; it should come once in a year.
At Rs 200 a month, Ram was taken in and his job was to clean and wash and dust and help mother with cooking and generally do everything that was asked of him. He barely said anything ever, and whenever he did, it was with such a thick south Bihar over the Ganges accent that it was hard to make out what he said anyway. Everything surprised him, the phone, the doorbell, the elevator, and which I suppose was the only thing that really delighted him in those first weeks. He would go up and down, again up and press all the buttons and be generally happy in that enclosed area of his freedom, but then one day another small servant of a neighbouring flat got stuck in the elevator and after that everybody became apprehensive – what if their beautiful brat angels got stuck instead; I am sure the thought must have pierced their hearts like a sabre. So a “bill” was passed that no small children or servants should use the elevator unchaperoned. So that was that, but a ride in there till the end remained a thing of wonder and joy for him. The TV became another of his pleasures and after finishing work and later on, even between the chores, he would go and sit in front of the screen and watch everything with a brightness in his eyes that was missing at other times. Sometimes in the silence of the afternoon when everything would be still in the oppressive heat of Patna, I would watch him solemnly sitting cross-legged in front of the unlit TV. And on the screen nothing except a thin film of dust, totally blank; but Ram would be sitting there like the proverbial Buddha under the bodhitree. I just couldn’t figure it out.
In the afternoon, my friends would come and then we would all go out barefoot into the fields of mustard, feeling the black moist soil with our soles wading through acres of the green yellow land and on to the canal where we would ride the bullocks into the muddy waters, and then eyes closed and long fingers clasping the nose sink into the brown spreading softness. They will laugh at me if they find out what I really do out here, if they ever find out that I wash and clean the clothes and do the cooking like the girls instead of working as a fruit seller as I have told them, I will die of shame. I won’t ever go back to the village but what will I do? I can’t stay here; I can’t even exhale, the air inside is constricting my lungs, chocking me. I can’t sleep and all night the wheel turns overhead and one day it will fall….”
A week or two after his arrival, one day I noticed him picking up the phone when it rang; and after a few seconds, he hurriedly put it down as if it were some repulsive reptile. I was surprised that he had even picked up the phone because he wasn’t supposed to; but on the other hand, I had always noticed the expression of intense curiosity on his face whenever the phone rang. “What happened, Ram?” I called out to him. He turned towards me slowly and his eyes were again its, dull fused bulb natural self but his head stood like millions of bright black needles. He looked positively angry. “What happened? Why did you…” “He knows me, he calls out to me.” He said slowly and like then I realized that he wasn’t angry or anything but just confused and perhaps a little scared too that a strange green contraption could curl up around your ear like a snake and blow weird sounds from nothingness like “Hello Ram?” Later on in the day, I came to know that father had called up from his office, and recognizing Ram’s voice, had uttered his name and Ram had put the receiver down. Even my father was confused. He thought maybe he had got the wrong number. I tried in vain to explain the way the phone works to Ram but something tells me, perhaps from the total distrust in his eyes, he wasn’t much convinced and probably thought it was possessed of the devil or something. He didn’t go near the phone for a long time after that. But he smarted up quickly and spend much time in front of the mirror trying to flatten his punk style hairdo much to my mother’s exasperation. My mother found him to be infinitely lazy, his ability for doing nothing all day was just awesome and my mother was right because he was always listless and would dust a single stretch of window panes for hours, or at any given opportunity would disappear into the toilet and stay there for half an hour at a stretch sometimes. God knows what he did in there. No amount of scolding could make him see the light. He would, in the evenings, stand in the balcony and stare at the stretching sky and keep on staring, his long fingers gripping the iron railing and mind you the sky would be as bare, starless, devoid of light like the unlit TV set, but he would still keep on staring at it charting, perhaps, the course of his uncertain life through the unknown sky. Some people wish upon a star but maybe his dreams were hinged on nothingness or, maybe he just didn’t have anything better to do. But, at those times, I almost admired him, his innate ability to stay aloof from everything but deep inside I just couldn’t figure it out.
I was four years elder to him and on a whim I tried to make him study. He was literate; he knew the alphabets all right, he could write his own name but his interest died right in the middle of a lesson, so much for education and my humble efforts, but Ram was all right in a way, I guess. Once he caught me smoking in my room. Well, he didn’t catch me or anything but just barged into my room (he didn’t care much about knocking) and there I was sprawled on my bed with pillows stacked high celebrating my few hours of freedom (my parents had gone to a party), the stereo blowing “RIVER OF DREAMS” and smoke slowly curling away from the lit cigarette in my hand. But I made him promise not to tell and he kept the promise (he had come in because he liked the song, he informed me and stood there listening to Billy Joel’s sweet cool voice, and when the song ended he went away, without a backward glance). He had integrity, I must admit, and, in return, I would turn on the TV for him when there would be no one at home.
Here at night even the stars don’t shine, they are like small bulbs in the sky which go on and off into the darkness. But in my village, the stars look so big and bright and happy watching over us and showing us the way through the fields and into woods shining through the yellow green leaves of the mango trees but here all is indifference; even the moon forgets to look beautiful and comes out unwashed and ugly. At nights, I lie awake in the darkness and here frogs croak near the pond – sweet night sounds of my village, which lull me to sleep sometimes but dawn arrives and I am still here, trapped and there is no escape.
Sometimes I would send him out to fetch my cigarettes and he would dash off in a hurry as if he were a mouse released from the mousetrap. I would watch him from the balcony as he negotiated his way cautiously through the heavy afternoon traffic, slow and diffident amidst the rush; his walk was incongruous on the hot black coal-tar street, his foot going clomp clomp clomp as if he was walking instead in the soft mud soil of the wet rice fields of his beloved village whose beauty he sometimes described to me. I guess I had won his trust and I trusted him too so it came as a real shock when he finally did what he did.
Everything is slipping away slowly from my memory and like the train slowly leaving the station and people receding into the background like trivial dots; I am slipping away going down into the darkness, my home, my mother, the little lemon shrub, which my father had planted before he went away; everything is slowly slipping like these white delicate teacups that I am rinsing under the tap, they too float away and crash and burn, shatter in the sink of my dreams. Did you hear that crash? Tell me, can you listen to my heart? CAN YOU HEAR AT ALL? ANSWER ME, YOU…”
A couple of weeks back I reached home around eight in the evening after hanging out with my friends for a few hours at the market place, smoking and telling jokes and whistling at the girls and they looking at us from beneath their shining eyes, looking cool and unaffected; the blackslapping, eyewinking, elbownudging rites of our innocence and generally had a great time. I am at my happiest when I am with my friends doing what everyone else is doing, nothing. My mother, and a lady who lives in the flat across, were standing outside our flat and my mother looked a bit flustered to me. “He is not opening the door,” my mother said to me. “Who is inside?”
“Why do you always ask such foolish questions, Ritwick? Ram is not opening the door.”
“Why! I don’t know why.”
“What happened really?”
“Half an hour ago I went to the terrace and I told him to lock the door and that I will be back soon, and now he is not opening the door and he has got the TV on too.”
Mother was correct, as usual. I could hear the faint strains of wild guitar riffs coming from inside and I started to bang the door loudly but to no avail.
“He is insolent and lazy, he just won’t listen to anything I say. Today he also broke my precious tea set, all the 12 cups and saucers. I just could not believe it; and last week he smashed my flower vase. This is deliberate cruelty. I got angry and really scolded him hard but he just stood there like a tomcat amidst the trash cans, indolent and slouching. I don’t know what to do with him and now he is sitting in there watching TV,” my mother said to the lady who wagged her head in a dutiful manner.
“He is watching MTV.”
“Does it matter what he is watching, RITWICK! I have been standing outside for the last 10 minutes; so do something constructive for the first time in your life.” Mother was all worked up and I must admit I was getting a bit worried too. Strange thoughts started coming into my head like what if he smashed my stereo or tore apart all my precious books out of rancor; God, I would die. I love my stereo and my stash of Fantasy, Debonair and Fun that he knew I kept underneath the mattress. Oh my God, what to do? I rang the bell and kept it pressed till the bell sound ran out of steam and whined faintly. “Perhaps he has hurt himself,” the lady suggested to my mother. Now my mother was really worried. Other people, neighbors and assorted strangers, started showing their really concerned faces around our door and advise started pouring in like thick raindrops.
I went downstairs and called my father, the matter was getting out of control and I realized I was no good in a crisis; I am a civilian, I belong in the peace time. My father said he would rush back quickly and within 20 minutes he was back and by that time, mother was reduced to tears and I don’t know why some of the other ladies too were dabbing their eyes with their hankies, and children and one small dog were also there, playing and howling (the brats were playing and the dogs were howling). I almost lost my mind and for the first time in my life, I felt my brain melt and evaporate into nothingness. I felt so empty that I stopped sensing anything and just went down and sat down on the stairs, detached from the chaos and stared at the dog. He was a small brown mongrel with a real sweet sad expression on his face. Perhaps he was going crazy too and I am sure he wasn’t there by his own choice and like myself, would have much preferred to have been elsewhere, anywhere in fact. My father suggested we break open the door and everybody enthusiastically consented. Somehow we managed to break it open and my father and I rushed inside. Everything was still and silent and dark as no light was on anywhere except for a thin ray of light that came from the sitting room mixed with faint echoes of rock music. We pushed open the door and at first we couldn’t see anything as the room was dark and the only light came from the flickering TV screen. Ram was lying on the carpet face upwards and there was no movement in his body, and for a second I thought he was dead; but, as usual, he was staring steadily into nothingness. He turned his head slowly towards us and saw us, and I am sure we must have looked pretty ridiculous standing there and he started laughing, really wild and out of control; so before father did something terrible to him I tried to calm him down. But he hit me across my face and grabbed me, there was so much strength in those thin arms, a low scream like a call of a trapped animal in great pain came out from him and big tears came streaming down his face. Father tried to free us but he just hung on to me by my shirt front and in the end, my new T-shirt was ripped to pieces and I looked into his eyes for the last time. He was sent away right then with our driver back to his village. Why did he do it? He had everything here; I mean I just couldn’t understand it at that time.
A week later Munna came by again and he was sad but said everything would be all right and the very next day, he brought another of his protégé; this time a cousin of his. So everything is fine now and life goes on as usual. Everybody acts as if nothing has happened and I guess it is fine by me too. But still when I am alone sometimes, sitting and brooding in my room at night, I can feel his long fingers grabbing and tearing my T-shirt and the look in his eyes – a look of rage mixed with helplessness, anger dipped in tears; a kind of betrayal, and that moaning shrill low scream of pain violate my ears like thin sharp needles and goes on and on and on until I can’t take it anymore and I crawl on my knees to my stereo, put on some rock music and pump up the volume to the limit to drown out his scream and, more often than not, I play “River of Dreams.”
Of Mice And Men
|‘Eye’ (Pencil on Paper) – Natasha Z. Pais|
Natasha Z Pais
At first he thought it was a scarecrow
The weathered man amidst the grain
With tattered clothing
And stubby arms and legs.
But then it jerked
Animated into life.
He flattened himself
And tried to remain
Part of the Earth.
Hidden in the tall stalks
He clutched the fertile soil
For the perfect moment to escape.
Dirt matted his hair, as his small, worried eyes watched
Two feet turned toward him, two
Worn leather soles unpolished.
His heart thumped as Scarecrow bent its body
To reach down and grab him.
He scrambled to get away, but alas
The farmer had him by his tail.
“Who is this mouse to make
His house among my crops?”
Asked the Scarecrow to the World
Who made no reply.
The mouse hung slowly in the man’s hand
Twirling, confused, and dizzy.
Disposed of him
If not carefully then efficiently.
Notes: “Of Mice And Men” is a poem I wrote in the summer of 2009. It explains how a farmer finds a mouse in his field and disposes of the pest.
However this trivial story represents what has been going on in the world for decades. It symbolizes the systematic mass killings of innocent people who are considered “pests” but have done no real harm. A mouse is a small animal and is just trying to live eating grain. It does not know that the crop isn’t his to eat, it is only trying to survive. It is the innocence of people who are only trying to live, but at the same time they clash with some doctrine or sometimes (in the case of the Holocaust) the law.
In my poem, the farmer is described as a scare crow, an inanimate object designed to intimidate naïve crows. The farmer embodies those who act inhumanely, threatening those who try to get the things they want. Those who step over their invisible boundaries are “disposed of/If not carefully then efficiently”. Some hold the power to destroy and cruelly use it.
The farmer also addresses the rest of the world, asking what the mouse is doing to his crops, and the world does not answer. This is a metaphor for the unwillingness of people to get involved and what little we do when there is tragedy all around us.
Ebony black Atma Mahaar
would present himself
each morning without fail
at my childhood home
At the rattling of his stick
the maid servant Gopika
“Atmo is here!”
His plate would be filled
with stale food from yesterday.
Nobody would touch Atma.
After he left,
the floor beneath his feet
was cleansed with fresh cowdung.
I was my grandma’s pet
So an exception
to practicing untouchability.
I would coolly sit on Atma’s lap.
He would shower his affection on me.
I was subjected to
a complete bath
after he left.
Recently, I had the good fortune
to visit Pandharpur.
I was able to view
the ebony black statue
to my heart’s content.
And remembered Atma Mahaar.
I realized then
that as a child
I had actually sat
on Vithoba’s lap!
(Translated from the original Marathi poem – ‘Saakshaatkaar’- by Dr.Mangesh Padgaonkar)
i feel i have cheated my way into great company, sylvia plath
i’m lying on her quilt,
diary thief mistrust with the great verbs and proper noun,
i re-read the diary, her hate-crush on adrienne rich [omitted],
now the diary is almost at an end,
i find her, playing her dying noise
sliding mahogany-smooth into place,
her top open, bottomless crevasse, wretch from the bra
her tensity, her aggrandized damper.
a mattress ought to float free, not shake loose.
your poem on her manuscript prickles. beside her bed-side,
the typewriter. her head hid
in the floorboards, heart furnished, but her, misplaced,
how he feels cheated [that he is me], all silk road promises
and spice road lies,
in her black coat, modish, breathing for the visitor,
when i unscrew the jar.
i started to feel guilt, that i have erred,
in some way, in-trust written phrase, seclusion nullifies
apology. she complains lowell’s
secret-hate, promises to kill her self
and with the creak on the numb stair,
i replace her diary, intuiting who she hates
and to keep her,
you’ll have to playboy the rules.
hurt her so she feels alive,
ink her out.
omen her, hammer her projections down [her three frantic lesbians inside]
show corpulent papa-gravestones like black piano keys
una corda, soft pedal, stamp!
sostenuto, your feet
all over her typewriter. rubber her, red over modeling glue,
killing typewriter, my feet, asphyxiate,
stink-harmonies. her paw print, rared.
[spare her mother] the guilt, her handwriting,
outline. your friend-masked
pass, practical joke aside. her pregnant spare [her mother].
look at her costume-draft, your friend-mask elapses. practical
be she still alive,
me her visitor in her asylum,
where she makes her jewelry from split-tip
bee-stings. her poems inflict
on a daughter’s search
~for christine l.
i love –
lorna on-fire told us the story.
i told to myself how an artist burns,
in all ways, an intern until the flame bows darkly.
how an artist fits
puzzlement and shadow dancing. at the ground level
the story just seemed to be. a browser crash,
or time capsule, either cyclic with an edge;
or one poet married to another, then another.
or from where.
and over fries and salad,
three couples take shape;
poets and poetesses on-fire, the plural ifs
the ‘f’ and ‘s’ sounds fork-on-me, lightening sibilants, greased
cowslips and mottled geese.
black-fish, air, as brackish chernobyl clings
the lung. block soundings. 1953 into marriage,
1957 separation mistrust-misuse [serious writing ensued],
and 1963 into another marriage
and a name change. something so neruda,
word strings that drag-out pearl. fulminate
so i love
you because i know no other way.
she said her love affair is with invertebrates,
and the ‘if’ is threatened by her frank-
ness, and she prepares
for her own death. only if.
knowing, what if
she never showed to read?
lorna’s words to young couples,
how labour is spelled,
with or without the ‘u’.
I lip-read better than, I listen.
how the poet fits into poetess
by curling spine – O embryonic haunch.
squamish, being different in a creek bed.
my ability to love [put out by the glacial sidelong], her sidereal
unavailable, but clasping other poet’s
phrases in the air, as children cup butterflies,
and then send them back heavenward, rejected yore
zodiacal, the world – O beautiful what if.
dolphins like a lithium babe,
the fierce uninspired search. parrot.
Tale Of a Morgue
lying at the extreme end
you must be thinking
of popcorns, Sherin, bolster home
or love in the time of cholera
oblivious of your present identity
you must be thinking
how beautiful your name sounded
when Sherin uttered
on a random night-out
they said –
you are a medico legal case
the length of your body
breadth across the shoulder
weird mole near the left ear
in the unfriendly register
is 1023 too is thinking
Ananya S Guha
Summer blues are ending.
And the summer was one
of wanton desire, even if love
was punctuated with doubts.
Forlorn skies, pierced with
whimper of dogs, looking
towards a full moon.
It all began with winter, these
summers of doubt, even if the mind
went cathartic in a flurry of ill begotten hopes.
Somewhere sauntering in the mind is the ravenous
Predatory, asking for more, even when
silence refused such rapacity.
I am as usual caught in this summer winter
dialogue, when the mind thinks that this
summer was, is and will be different.
With this the beginning of the end
of a season, and springtime will spread
Will the pain of these hills lessen?
Ancient, primeval, these hills welcome us to
the mountains where the earth’s crust is hidden.
Yet in oblivion, these hills search for an antidote
even as, this city cringes for more, the rush does
not abate, not in the rainbow hued colours.
There was a time we called you a hill station.
The quest for a city is magnanimous, even opulent
as wide, starry eyed you view the hills in transit
Should they still be a part of you, should they?
In my supine thoughts, there is a maelstrom,
which dies every time these hills echo, the plaintive
call of crows. Trees nestle by the tempestuous wind
and the rains only spoil ethereal truths, but they are
needed we say.
We need, yes the hills bearing tremulous pains of past
and the rains whistlling like wind to foil spurious moments.
But the people do not look at these searing hills.
Lest a moment be lost, and I orbit between eternity, time
and these hills of plenty.
A teardrop is simply, reminiscing
those boyhood excursions of a song.
Photo by Tiziano Fratus
The Wolf of Trana
he feels the dampness collected, step by step, in this morning
of high light that colors the icecap azure, only yesterday,
invisible: floats under an arch of rock and stone, catching a scent
of the smell of wood used in constructing the new bridge, on the river,
after the recent flood that split the valley,
waters eluding the desire of immobility: his back scrapes
against the wall of a house on the curve, head low he clears
the pass, climbs observing the countryside in shadow along the river
that moves away, to the advent of the mountain that
exposes its bare side, salacious: one wonders often if
he was ever at the peak, up there: he retakes to running, suspicious
of the shadow, he borders the fence that marks
the peat bog, cars dart along the road, grass
and acacia branches tickle his paws and sometimes rub
under his belly: from the other side a human being gets out of
a car, holding in its arms a woven basket, preparing
to penetrate a path in search of mushrooms and chestnuts, the last
of the season: it sees him and whistles, patting a hand against leg,
the whistle is lost in the woods like the shadow of the wolf, that
speeds its course, a dark gate signals the sun and the residential
zone: traffic increases, a hedge and half a road to the left,
a roadside saint, an ascent, a curve, sun that blinds,
on the terraces appear women in robes
and hair gathered with hatpins or held in place
by barrettes: the climb compresses breath, the sun heats skin,
shaking off the dampness collected by the river: tall
trunks of pine to circumnavigate, behind a green fence,
finally, the road of man gives way to the road
of the forest and of beasts, running, paws wet, scent of the earth,
the scent of maceration, the scent of leaves, of bushes and branches to replenish
the eyes: it’s time to let himself hear: an opening in the forest
breaks the silence of the woods, an echo that weaves other echoes
climbing, along the crest of the mountain, unaware
of the ridge that protects the secret of the old forest:
he runs along the worn path, scent of earth, scent of leaves,
scent of life and freedom, scent of dampness in the bones, the din
of the countryside climbs up the valley, exposed roots and ditches
in which to wrap oneself, intricacies of bramble that attempts
to scratch the sky, fields and beds of oak leaves,
dirt falling away from the sides of the path, now cemented, red
berries and a back that itches, rainbows of dwarf ferns
not yet bitten by winter, that knocks, with
growing insistence, trunks covered with young ivy,
carved atolls of blackberries and thorns, moss and mold
over rocks, impressions of dew, the soft heart
of wood that powders in throat, the only noise his
movement: drops that run, a paved tongue,
a shaft of light and lines hung, a wooden cross in a clearing
at the peak, walls in view and roofs collapsed by the chattering
of passers-by, a wood burning oven covered in vegetation, a slab
covered in scratches and writing: repaired in january 1938: a trunk
of bold acacia, grown inside a two level house,
rooms to spend the night, sprays of fallen spider webs
from a ceiling made of logs tied and nailed, floors covered
in dust and ivy, walls never painted and crumbling,
the remains of a recent affair, between teenagers,
the eternal call of snow covered peaks there in the silence, frozen, in prehistory,
when geology wasn’t a concept useful for counting
the passage of time: carmine leaves shaken by wind, a coat
that moves in waves, muzzle raised to the heat of the sun:
a purplish vein marks the twisted body of a wolf
shriveled, in a ditch, at the side of the path, tongue
hanging over teeth, eyes open to every form
of reflection: there is no use in pushing him to his feet,
upsetting the immobility without return, healing
like a creature deprived of defense, waiting
for the earth to open and swallow him: a rifle shot
injects itself under the skin of the world
Fading Roots of Childhood
Through the threshold of childhood,
I limped towards the miracles of youth.
On the horizon, passive but firm, saw I
the eclipsing glimpses of worn out
seizing of the facts,
of tales of falsehood, so cherished,
Scars don’t heal suddenly,
Scars are not out of hiding.
I walk with my unsavory movements,
someone halts me, reminding
me of the ultimate festivals of atonement,
one has to pursue, sometimes for long,
Swollen I stand, aghast,
joyously leaping youth,
looks forward to meeting
the incredulous motives.
Stories lie in silhouetted remembrances
circling faded roots.
The menacing miseries don’t heal suddenly.
The soliloquy of the silent is not out of hiding.
the crumbling traces of childhood,
the smokes of cynical traces,
youth is just an outpost.
Sensuous perceptions bemoan the arrival
of the images we wrongly believe are
left in the burial grounds,
barren for long.
The roots that are timidly talked of
by persons, renowned,
enshrine themselves in a vacuum of
Alive for so long.
undeterred, the fading roots hop around,
majestically, in a state of softened tranquility,
as if the wiliness in us,
on the verge of its
Wretched lingering of rootless
dilemmas contain me conceitedly,
force me to disown my
Too ignominious indeed.
Sunil P. Narayan
Pulled into my husbands’ court by my uncombed hair
Thrown onto the floor where hundreds of feet touch their thick, red silk
The flowing carpet rises and falls like the mist of my garden
I know you are immovable in your rage Shákuni
Your ego knows no limits, it is like a snake stalking a mouse
Quietly without remorse in its meager heart
All eyes watch me cry in anguish as you pull my sari
To end of this room it flows like the Gaṅgā
Shining with its thin, gold-laden fabric
And crippled by your greedy fingers
Dignified beauty you tossed with your dice
Human emotions you sacrificed with your heart
Bring your eyes to mine to see one word: regret
Ha! You are the nectar’s enemy: regret!
If you took me then Kṛṣṇa will smite you right now!
His chakra a knife for your spineless body
All my fears that followed me at night with my friends
Nibbling on their black pearls while I watched the roses rise
They are you…a shadow that rapes the moon
I cannot give you my body for it belongs to Keśava!
My life will one day be returned to his home
To live as a cowherd while churning milk for his hungry lips
The boyish smile and curly hair that barely touches his shoulders
His eyes so wide yet shaped like the waning moon
Little specks in the corner of both eyes are galaxies unknown to us
So far away other people exist for whom Kṛṣṇa is their king
If I am his then he is my king too
Shákuni, you are the drunken ego, a corrupted seed for humanity!
My body is a vase holding the virtues of Sūrya
He touched my spirit to give me a bite of his own
Disrobing me in front of my husbands and all the Āryas of their kingdom
is a sacrilege!
I cry to you to stop this great injustice!
Can’t you see I have sunken into a sea of distress!?
No, you are busy drowning my voice with your wicked laughter
Brahmā gave you a boon that protects your life from any physical or divine harm
Yet, has he no shame when seeing this monstrous deed?
Ma! You are Sarvāsuravināśā, come to my rescue!
Show your terrifying face to this savage
Make him cower under your crippling stare, ma!
Turn his limbs into brittle sticks so he will stop treating my honor like a toy
I Will Stay With You
A window cold and made of ice
Blue as if the ocean froze for me
Air so thin and reluctant to let me take it in
Down into my lungs which have lost all their moisture
I can see world of smoking fish, eyes so black
Little black pearls of the Polynesian Islands pushed into their sockets
You are no where to be found mother!
I wait in this little home made of unbreakable ice cubes
Sounds of the ocean’s breathing and heartbeat
The table being hit by my iron fingers
Ouch! Hear the vibration pass between my fingers
Gone is the blue flesh you created me from…
Everyone fell asleep to leave me to watch
A world no more in existence yet lingers on
Passing each planet now evolved into tiny stars
I call them your diamonds, mother
Mother cut stones out of the black silk worn by father
I waited for life to rush into my body
A soul without no form, just pure imperceptible light
I couldn’t watch myself endure the pain she caused me
If a new body of existence is created, let her be a woman!
To contain all animals and plants within the womb
A garden nourished by the spring flowing from her breasts
She gives two rivers for anything that breathes
My mother I once knew with a fear of her gentle yet tough exterior
Now, she is dead, waiting inside God’s heart for me to call her
I gave myself to the man with penetrable skin and eye sockets without light
An act of love to bring myself to mom, only to find myself stuck in limbo
Gayatri and Me that Day in Florence
What were we seeking that supple
radiant day when
a medieval city rearranged
its geography, kodaked itself
at several degrees to the sun?
What were we seeking,
two Indian poets in the mood
to get lost, as a world
unravelled graciously –
bridge, cobbled street and canal, careless
effusion of silhouetted cathedral,
the endless melancholy
of the Arno, and the shimmer
of trade on the Ponte Vecchio?
We asked for coffee with a frisson
of alcohol. We asked for just one man
who looked like Al Pacino.
But that endless autumn day in the year 2000
it was enough to participate
in this great elsewhere, to be included
in a page from library books
of our childhood, crisp, transfigured
by burnt dreamlight. It was enough
to be part of the picture.
(A short film in Assamese by Swakkhyar Deka)
Follow the link: http://vad.nmartproject.net/?page_id=91 (if the video appears distorted here)
Abarodh (The Confinement)
The film is in Assamese with English subtitles.
(2008, 14 min 37 secs)
The film tries to show the inner conflict in a person’s mind who finds himself alienated from his surroundings. It’s inspired by the “stream of consciousness” genre in literature. The film deals with a person’s inner conflict and his isolation from the society he is living in. The mental agony, frustration and his so-called to inability to live up to the societal norm- all come together to make him what he is- a rebel. Though he wants to fight the society he is also, to some extent, a timid onlooker. He may be an artist or a poet but his mundane existence is intellectually paralyzing him. The smoke filled room of his, after he butts the nth number of cigarette, becomes symbolic with the vacuum in his life. The books he reads only show his liking for the angry protagonists and tales of depravity. As he walks on the street, he feels like an island in the human sea, adrift and out of company. He reaches an isolated point at the outskirts of the city in the hope of finding himself. He thinks, wonders and also shouts at the top of his voice only to the echo to set his soul free. This may be the same reason why he runs like an insane at night on the sleeping city streets, which seem to challenge him. When he is back in his room, he is tired from his mental wrangle with the city and its people. He finds solace in the bosom of his guitar as he madly plays it to find a musical refuge from his misery. Our protagonist is frustrated- spiritually, aesthetically and yes sexually. His sexual longings make him find comfort in the curves of his guitar that becomes symbolic with a female body and revisits his memory of a night spent with a prostitute. He is disillusioned with the world and he draws on the wall of his room in a burst- images that defy any logic- that may be the only window to the chaos within. The final irony is seen when he picks up the newspaper only to read- It’s Valentines Day tomorrow.
This video participated in
CologneOFF IV – Here We Are!
4th edittion of Cologne Online Film Festival
tbc recommends (journal)
Asia Writes has a network of the most prominent writers, artists and publishers in/from the Philippines, India, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, etc. (http://www.asiawrites.org/)
tbc recommends (music)
Cakophony (Adwitiya and Pritam)
|Cakophony live at Epicenter, Gurgaon (22 Sept ’10)
97 WEST, is a quartet from Kolkata India.It is a free jazz/fusion band with influences ranging from most of the latitudes, primary being Indian Classical, Jazz, African, Latin American, Middle Eastern etc. Their music has been classified as “MORPH MUSIC” – music that changes seamlessly from one cultural sound to another. The setup involves Voice, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar & Keyboards. A unique feature of the band is, all of them being melody players, they double up as percussionists using KONNAKOL – Authentic Indian Classical Vocal Percussion. They have performed with PINK NOISE recently and are one of the confirmed headlining acts at IIT SPRINGFEST 2011
WEBSITE : http://www.97westmusic.com/
MYSPACE : http://www.myspace.com/97westmusic
Ashokamitran (born September 22, 1931) is one of the most influential figures in post-independent Tamil literature. He began his literary career with the prize winning play “Anbin Parisu”, followed by many short stories, novellas and novels. A distinguished essayist and critic, he is the editor of the literary journal “Kanaiyaazhi”. He has written over 200 short stories, eight novels, some 15 novellas besides other prose writings. Most of his works have also been translated into English.
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Angela Ronita Torcato is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist. She sings in the Paranjyoti Chorus, is deeply interested in religion and has been attached The Examiner Catholic Weekly and Review as member of its editorial board.
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Anil Anthony Pais always having harbored a secret desire to write and make music… and in his words “I finally got a chance to do so when I lost my job in this current great financial crises. So first I celebrated my nice break with a long road trip through Europe. I deserved it after some 20 odd years of working very, very hard. Then, I got down to pursuing other interests, most of which I actually hadn’t really considered before.
I picked up art and produced a few successful oils and pencils. I took up piano lessons from a truly amazing teacher and realized how hard music really was outside the shower. Found I still had more time on my hands after applying for jobs each morning, so started to practice for a half marathon (having never run in my life before!) and learned to build websites as a possible start of a new career. I sleep about 5 hours a night so also started to read about 9 newspapers from across the world. At night. Hey! The internet makes it possible, so why not! Oh, did I say I pursued writing? OK I lied. It was the one thing I didn’t, but now that I’ve said so, I’m going to start. Tomorrow. In the meanwhile, does anyone have a job for an out of work computer programmer?”
Pinaki Chakraborty is a Kolkata-based journalist. He worked for the SAARC magazine and freelanced for other journals.
Siddharth Chowdhury was born in Patna, Bihar, and educated in Delhi. He earned an M.A. in English literature from Hindu college, University of Delhi before drifting into publishing. He lives in Delhi and works as an editor with the house of Manohar.
Writer and artist, Natasha Z. Pais, lives in New York. Her work is up at: http://www.natashazpais.net/
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Barnali Chetia, pursuing PhD in linguistics, JNU, New Delhi, (a guest lecturer, freelancer); a rendezvous with the perfectly imperfect me (her) with my (her) incomplete thoughts… is served in http://waitingforazephyr.blogspot.com/
Ananya S Guha lives in Shillong India and works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University. His poems have been published in magazines/ezines both in India and abroad. Some of these are: Glasgow Review, Osprey Journal, Poem 2 day, Asia Writes, Art Arena, Muse India, Concelebratory Shoe Horn Review, Other voices, and Gloom Cupboard among others.
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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.
Swakkhyar Deka works in the National Rural Health Mission, Assam, as District Media Expert in Dhubri District of Assam. His job requires me to make strategies for effective campaigns to make the people aware about different health schemes initiated by the Assam Government through NRHM. Musicians Adwitiya Chhetri and Pritam (Cakophony) live and work in Delhi. You can check their work at: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=142666089110723
Swakkhyar Deka works in the National Rural Health Mission, Assam, as District Media Expert in Dhubri District of Assam. His job requires me to make strategies for effective campaigns to make the people aware about different health schemes initiated by the Assam Government through NRHM.
“Abarodh” was Deka’s first attempt at making a film, especially fiction. The writings of James Joyce and poems of T.S. Eliot are his inspiration. “Abarodh” won the best film award in “Commfest 2008,” a media student festival held in Assam University, Silchar, Assam. Deka made a documentary titled “OF LIVES…UNTOLD” in December 2009 about a Karbi Tribal village in the outskirts of Guwahati, where there is still no power, hospital, schools and mobile connectivity. It is an attempt to highlight the plight of these people and also the work done by a Karbi youth to set up schools there.