Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Change of Roof







The scriptures say, I’ve heard them tell
this is not a home
the earth is just a carousel
you spin round with it for a spell
you dance a jig, you sing and marvel
and then when the metronome
marks the stop
you get off
and find a place to dwell.

 

So a change of roof here is a trifle
flat terraced or a dome
and I should know that very well
yet I overwrap the fragile, breakable;
this porcelain and that crystal
with paper and plastic foam
I’m far too anxious
all this fuss
as if any roof is final!

 

Yesterday a harbour, today a channel
change is my only home
yet so much effort to make walls habitable
each roof loved, each window, each corbel
clutched too hard for easy farewells
as all things slowly transform
what flashes past
is that no homes last
they crumble and/or expel.




 

Monday, 27 May 2013

ma phaleshu kadachana







It can be won only part by part
and not with the tools I choose,
not with the one lovingly penned;
the price of each victory gained
are the crumpled ones that lose;

 

this nib’s been dipped into this heart
but blood’s too thick, no use,
must get some ink and keep it plain -
no dramatics, overdone pain,
forget the wound and bruise;

 

no attachment to any art
learn to turn them loose
once they’re done wipe heart and brain,
once they’re gone from this domain.
Others say if they win or lose.





Friday, 24 May 2013

Polite advice to hunters. Of homes and sundry other things besides.





The stars the graffiti of the gods
like shaky letters on walls and roads,
the moon puffs out a gibbous cheek
bitten off more than can be swallowed.  
 
 
 
The path is narrow, the path is broad
widespread the world and space hallowed;
peg the tent by a daisy face
but keep your own in alert mode.
 
 
Give your mind away to awed
but keep an eye out for the fraud
set no store by cactus smiles
and sunflower hearts without a code.
 
 
The slap of field's green, roughshod
feet trample at whim, crush rows sowed.
Keep pegs light and hammer not deep
and up they come at slightest prod.
 
 
The tent is all and the tent is flawed.
The walls are frayed, cup what’s hollowed
thin air, thick air, hot air, cool -
it’s nothingness that forms abodes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

This isn't the one







That’s a different poem that hums in my head
but this the one now I’ve got to write
don’t start that again, that dispossessed
wannabe swansong full stream midflight
that gets nowhere popsickles iced dead
between mighty maybes limp oversights
stick to now, stick to what’s got to be said
see to the other if everything’s alright
when the final dream’s cut, spliced and shed
like a reptile tail, pulsed, convulsed tight
in circles, looping the loops on itself
the animal tucked away out of sight.
Who gives a damn what can or can’t be helped
what plays out gently against the lobes of nights
the drumbeats in blood, the restless fevered bed
the sudden sobs in thin veins of light?
that’s a different poem, different its mesh
of rhymes and words cut free from black and white.




Friday, 17 May 2013

Moving







The soul clothed in the folds of skin and flesh
the flesh housed in concrete walls and cells;
the soul switches its costumes and that’s death
what’s it when flesh changes housings, travels?

 

The shapes of shadows morph, the leaves, the street
names change to strange foreign tongues, can life then
be same in differently fashioned concrete?
where absent fig tree shade shocks the garden;

 

the same silver but different the anklets
on the feet of passing women, the wells
few and far between, even the planet
changes her outfit, different here her veils.

 

You carry too much, you can’t take enough
this must be thrown off, it's outlived its use
no place perhaps to string mango leaves up
different the rules there, different charms, taboos;

 

get over the longings for a certain
size of courtyard, a blooming branch, a view
from a fixed window, casual, sudden
prints of careless altaa’d feet which stepped few

 

minutes too soon before the red had dried.
It’s not written - the altaa and anklets,
familiar jingling metals inside and outside;
workday sounds. That’s not for you, so forget

 

being rooted in the same courtyard and walls;
for rice paste painted wavy ears of  grain.
The body’s housing changes faster than the soul’s
the path stumbles on the rocky terrain.









Tuesday, 14 May 2013

RFW May Challenge - Letters









When I saw the prompt - Letters – for this month’s challenge at Romantic Friday Writers, it seemed a perfect fit for some characters/lives I dreamed up a few years ago.  I wrote a triad of Bengali short stories sometime back – Chithhi (“The letter”), Ashtamangala (“The return of the bride”) and Seemaheen Bidesh (“Borderlessly Foreign”), and you can read a synopsis of all three stories here, if you have the time. 
The mc is Abin Bhaduri,  a middle-aged widowed man, living in early-nineties Kolkata, Bharati is the name of his wife.  The others are Chhuti, his step-daughter and her husband Tareq, the couple live abroad; and Abin's long time companion-come-helper Ramcharan, and Ramcharan’s wife, Namita, though they have no role in the current story.

My first response to the prompt was an abridged and translated version of the first story.  But it felt a little lame to let go of the prompt with a tweak of an old idea.  So I sat down and wrote afresh, directly in English no translations involved, about the same characters.  I also used the challenge to write a separate story in verse form,  in a series of sonnets, so all in all I have exploited the prompt quite fully, thank you RFW :)

I write in two languages, and what I write in my mother tongue has always felt untranslatable to me, even though the cultural context for what I write in English is much the same and I hope, smoothly interchangeable.  I have always kept my Bengali and English writing separated, I have always thought the emotions evoked, the settings, the dialogues in Bengali can’t be seamlessly transposed to English.  But this prompt made me want to try. It will be interesting to see if I have been able to prove myself wrong.

Looking forward to your views!
The Guardian of Letters
Abin looks out of the window into the garden briefly, before he bends to open the cabinet under its sill.  He lifts up the pile of old newspapers and gropes the concrete surface gently – nothing.  A little flutter of panic and he kneels laboriously to look closer, and ah, there it is.
The thing to say is – of course I’ll always be with you, in everything, everywhere, don’t grieve.  But that’s a lie.  I’m tired of lies.  The truth is, I will be nowhere when you read this.  But I was.  I was with you. Everywhere.  I must remember that till the end.  So must you.”
A flake of paint falls into his teacup from the ceiling as Abin straightens up. Early morning, there is no-one in the garden, just the birds with their frenzied news exchange.  He tries to remove the floating flake, but it leads him a chase and crumbles.  A crow sits on the gatepost and croaks a single warning caw as a taxi turns in at the far end of the block.
Abin heaves a long sigh.  The house, Bharati’s house, needs repainting.   When she died, his household help and companions, Ramcharan and Namita saw him through that loss; Bharati’s own daughter Chhuti left her mother’s house at a marathon run soon after, didn’t stop till she crossed an ocean and settled into a foreign land and faith. Quite some time since she married her Arab husband Tareq. 
Then Ramcharan died, and his son claimed the mother; so Namita too left, and all that remains here to see him through all his losses are the letters.  Bits of paper that Bharati wrote as she got ready to die.   Two years she’d had to prepare, and she had used them to make pickles, rows and rows of jars, and to scribble those odd conversational notes, an instruction manual for coping; straight talk tucked into desks and closets, messages in bottles and jars.  Well, the pickles had finished a long time ago. But her letters are there still, in the empty jars, inside the closets and cabinets; read and reread.  Bharati’s voice still echoes around him in this house; he can access that comfort whenever he wants.  Though he hasn’t quite made out till now what she meant by “So must you” – what? Remember that they were together till her death, or remember it till his?  He’s chosen to till his end, not that it’s a choice.  One can’t remember or forget on demand. She was absurd sometimes.  Abin smiles a little and looks down again at the note in his hand.
It’s all still exactly as Bharati had planned.  The house, the garden.  A gardener still comes to tend it part-time, though Ramcharan is not there to supervise anymore.  Few houses with patches of garden left now, the older ones remade into high rises, often with only potted plants in the lobby.  Houses have changed hands in this street itself.  Sutapa, Abin’s long time neighbour and Bharati’s friend, has sold and moved out recently.  He misses his old neighbours, Sutapa used to make him pickles; sometimes he used to play chess with her husband.  Another link with the past snapped. 
“Everything needn’t be filed away in triplicate.  Leave this note where you found it, you’ll see you’ll forget, and come upon me suddenly some other day, and it will be like a fresh discovery again. Isn’t that better?”
He knows some of the notes by heart, and still, the specific details of contents and locations do slip his mind sometimes; so when he comes upon one suddenly, it still gives him an aching thrill. 
“No-one can spend a lifetime rambling around alone.  One must find someone to share a laugh with, a shoulder to cry on, to talk to.  It’s easy to find shoulders, but to bring oneself to rest one’s own head on a different living body and let the tears soak it, now that’s never going to be easy.”
She never wrote any salutations or signed off anywhere, he had thought he’ll find one headed “Dearest” or ended with the customary phrases of undying affection, but nothing had ever been found.  In retrospect, it made sense, she wasn’t the type to write in predetermined formats.  He’d never found that shoulder anyway, and doesn’t particularly want to.  He stays here, the guardian of her letters and garden.  He is content enough alone, shadowed by his own grief, an outcome Bharati hadn’t foreseen. 
The taxi meanwhile makes its way round and now stops at the gate, to his surprise.  Which redoubles when Tareq gets off it.  They have just spoken last week, nothing mentioned then.  Tareq has dropped in unannounced before, and that didn’t bode too well for Abin.   He leaves his seat, walks swiftly out onto the patio.
“Salaam aleikum!”
“Peace to you too, Tareq! Everything well?”
“Oh yes, all fine. Chhuti would have come, but she isn’t allowed travel. You are going to be a grandpa, Sir! I thought you’ll want to be with her, a woman needs her parents such times. And we didn’t want to tell you on phone.  There are other things too -,” he hoists his bag.
It strikes Abin again, this easy-going gravity with which Tareq affords him the respect due to a father; of a step-daughter’s father.  He is delighted, but all change, even good ones have a bitter-sweetness about the core.
“That’s great news, Tareq! Congratulations! But how will I leave now? Before, Ramcharan was here.  But now –“
“You leave that to us.  This might be a good time for the repairs. We could get a contractor, make a turnkey job of it –“
Abin interrupts horrified, “No, no, that would mean all the letters – . Everything in the house will be upended, disorganised—“
Abin can’t quite explain the dilemma, why he avoids all maintenance work like the plague.
” Let’s talk it over,” Tareq says as he steps inside.
WC- 996
FCA
Read more about RFW and the May challenge hereMembership isn’t mandatory for participating, so go on over if you enjoy writing.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Also me







When the western sky is unsure of its blue
and the dusk slowly curdles the shadows;
when darkness gently drizzles and falls through,
and curls up in a spot somewhere close,
then my leave from my life is curtailed;
the dragonfly dreams, the phrases that I’ve nailed,
the febrile bubbles that I’ve carefully held
are dropped and silver-shattered on the floors;
and I come back and quietly sit by you.

 

When the beach has tiptoed for miles along the thin,
transparent waters of the ocean edge;
and failed to find its end, or where it begins
and stopped a moment beside a rocky ledge,
there my life is recalled to itself.
On a millennia old continental shelf
like a necklace set with a thousand seashells.
You strip me slow of all my need for language
and you open your arms and calmly fold me in.

 

When the foam leaps over the waves better to see
the sunset framed between the crystal hills.
And kites are flown till darkness cuts them free
and they lose themselves in the twilight chills.
Then my life is shaken out of its trance.
Where the cliffs retreat as the waves advance
and signal sternly, and the sea returns.
And I too am home. And things are the same still.
Just that you are still you, but somehow also me.



 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

9th of May






 
I.

 

She slips into mind, every year, about this time
when spring hesitates to get to summer, dithers;
a dancing graph, light of dawn, in one straight line
from the sun over the water, she too shivers

 

just like that; the sunrise reflects on the man-made pond
like her smile, and I am more mindful, notice then
without knowing why.  They tell me some unnamed bond
ties me still, ties me fast, closer than tight apron



strings. I can’t believe in soul-aprons, dust and ash
the only ends, the cosmic chasm the last vessel.
They tell me she’s a better place, they know it’s trash -
the feel good chants, cosy hype, raised snug levels.

 

It doesn’t matter where she’s gone.  She was here.
That’s what counts. And that quiver.  This time of year.

 

II.

 

Did I tell you how soft she was? How soft her lap
and what she wore slung over her back? always white
but stained with my finger-marks, turmeric mishaps;
did I tell you that her smile was like the first sunlight

 

filtered through leaves, slanted on streams, dappled glee;
that taut peace of the needle when north is found?
the high-noon ice-cool solace of the filigree
shade of trees? that flock of birds overhead homeward bound?

 

Did I tell you how frail her arms, and yet how wide
their love, how strong their resolve, how tender their touch?
all floated into oceans now on countless tides,
whatever remained after the fire, and that’s not much.

 

As I can’t lay petals on cold tongues of headstones
I lay words here, writing blind, not knowing whereon.

 

 
III.

 

It’s no use now telling me that the earth still bends
magnetic lines from south to north as it always did
and if I held my compass up the needle ends
would still align; but there’s no peace left in the grid.

 

Never again the same refuge in an unstitched cloth,
never again her fingers on my hair and brow.
Let all needles point always to the axis north
what difference can it make to anyone now?

 

It’s a barefaced lie that I said she comes to mind
once a year, on occasion, when the seasons cusp;
I haven’t kept an exact count - how many times
I’ve thought of her since she turned to ashes and dust.

 

But still sunlight’s on the pond, a sudden flicker
about this time every year. When seasons dither.

 
 

IV.

 

One by one the reference points change their spots
from living homes to burning ghats and then nowhere;
not a cordoned off mourning zone, just nothing, nought!
just an immense gulf, a cosmic gulp of ash and air.

 

The deepest loneliness is born of crippling grief
the more they chant the placebos, the deeper it gets
a flicker of light on a wave brings little relief
from this music of lies the myths of light around death.

 

Where are the new cardinal points, where do I go?
now that those wrists have no more an earthly address
no coordinates to mourn at and pent-up sorrow
doesn’t light the way out of any loneliness.

 

Maybe this is all there is to navigate it with:
loneliness, and flickers of light; music and myth.








 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Midweek Sillysong







Don’t judge a journal by its cover
and a person by their clothes and clogs
there’s land under the deepest water
and a wheel’s not a sum of its cogs
 
gold’s always gold, but as for glitter
it can choose to take a shine, or not
who can say that matte isn’t better
and high polish always hits the spot?
 
the skies might lighten and get darker
the sun and stars in an endless swap
and yet the dark cosmos is greater
though all of them do a sincere job
 
the road decides when to meander
and when to pull up and dust itself off
and run for a bit, brisk and straighter
it’s much more than its starts and stops
 
graphics well drawn, slicker and quicker
than lightning forks, one click and shot
the essence still escapes the picture
the whole cannot be framed and caught
 
the sense gets dimmer, the meanings splinter
and it's all fine, but we are distraught
come split this hair and point the finger
and tell us exactly what is what
 
there’s more to you than being a reader
there’s more to me than someone who plots
lines of daydreams trailed into rivers,
the heartsblood of nights in inked out clots.