“The Road” – A Photo Essay from Siddhartha Biswas

The road has been much romanticized in literature. Literary texts like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road speak of a neo-romantic identity crisis that plagued not only the youth of United States of America, but a whole generation of postcolonial and post-imperial people who had to negotiate with a world shifting through value systems as fast as technological advances allowed. The road signifies journey and the quest for location. International or intra-national migration was, and still is, the core concern of postmodern existence.

But along with the idea of migration there are basic movements and journeys that signify the location of dislocation. Roads and roadways offer a representation of the daily struggle, the banality, and often the ennui of a lived experience that goes beyond the philosophy of home as high culture knows it. The road often allows the gaze to discover other lives and other quests for living. The images offered to us in passing are but passing glimpses of myriad existential struggles which neither theory nor fantasy can adequately address. These images are at the same time momentary and eternal and they indicate that life on this planet remains deeply divided and that the postcolonial merely becomes the neo-colonial. The struggle against colonization never ends. Photographs often develop into silent, yet eloquent, witnesses to certain uncertain individual struggles and they manage to preserve moments that indicate a larger personal – sometimes communal – narrative.

 

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The familiar Indian rural landscape often brings one to strange encounters. Bovine political issues become irrelevant when such on-road encounters offer a glimpse of a life that can be serene.

 

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Another familiar image becomes far less serene with the epiphany that this pastoral scene ultimately points to the dispossession of the tribal community. The women who are so romantically presented in popular cultural narratives are ultimately the poorest of poor and the completely otherized. They have little of their own, and they must survive by engaging in hard labour. The idiotic idyllic ideas survive only on the blood and sweat of such marginalized existences.

 

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No one knows hardship as these hill people. The photograph amply represents the daily toil of villagers who must climb every mountain because they are there and must be scaled not for achievement or conquest, but for daily sustenance. Their presence in the glitzy world of digital existence proves how nothing has changed for the marginalized in the age of eroded democracy.

 

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The labour of millions of such people who live with one single goal – to keep on living – end up in disappointment and deprivation. The daily here is often romanticized, but the toil remains unacknowledged and conveniently overlooked.

 

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Poverty is global. But poverty in this part of the country, along with its own political intricacy, turns the road into a path to unknown ends. This is a province which has a very different tale of colonialism.

 

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Tourists and their cameras look for memories. Sometimes they get intertwined with other memories which they can never be a participant in. But these memories go on; they look at tourists as a monotypical presence. Their lives, with their monotonies, become harder as the demands of the urban and the privileged grow into appropriation of their basic livelihoods. Industry, even the tourism based ones, often play villain in the lives of the local.

 

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Rs. 100 per ride; perhaps three to four rides per day in full season; and barely any income for the rest of the year. A large number of citizens still have such demons to face. And when tourism is tortured, even the hope of survival starts to dwindle. Colonials often come in the guise of saviours and take away all livelihoods.

 

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This is the image of a slightly privileged existence – a cycle is luxury when we are talking about the sun-scorched world of North India. A daily journey of many miles is something most of these men, many of them in the profession of the holy, must undertake to earn their dal and roti.

 

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As Yeats had said aged men are always paltry things. The journey ends in ruins and what is left behind weighs heavily. Introspection is fine, but only when sprinkled with insight. Age often only brings rigidity of belief. But looking forward is positive only when no misconception is overlooked.

 

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Aged women have a very different existence. Their irrelevance is magnified by the gender defined roles set in social discourse. In this photograph the lady is paying respect not to any divinity even though she is in a religious space, but to a number of village elders (unseen here like patriarchy was for most of history). Her body language clearly indicates the kindness she needs for survival. Such is the story in much of our little corner of the world.

 

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The gentleman in the photograph was suffering from excruciating toothache. The other side of his face was badly swollen. But he did not stop from his duties for one moment. No available medicines worked and in that part of the world dentistry was limited to the capital of the province – which was two days away. He did not complain. It was not merely a sense of duty. But also a fear that he might lose his livelihood. Drivers are plenty, demand is not. Workers are plenty, work is not. And still we celebrate development.

 

 

 

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Those who build roads do so with borrowed colours. Their lives are usually as gray as the materials they work with. This is perhaps the greatest gift of capital-centric ideologies that those who build and grow are skilfully relegated to the background; invisible but for the colours given to them by others. They merge with the roads, while roads emerge from their sweat and destitution. They belong neither to the road, nor to the people who map them.

 

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One of the strangest phenomena about corporate colonialism is that it does not hide itself. It remains clearly visible, but just outside the reach of those who serve it. The luxury constructs the other side of the divide and the colonized remain firmly located in their impoverishment. The only advantages given are tools for service. In this case the footwear of the woman is a necessary tool as she must walk miles to reach her place of service.

 

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The myth of the mendicant monk is rampant in all cultures. But in colonial cultures these acquire a significance far beyond the average. These men, sincere or delusional, exist in the periphery of the perceived normative life. They are venerated by some, and must face extreme hardships, unless celebrated by the powers-that-be. Perhaps they do reach some kind of sublime, or remain enmeshed in spiritual discontent. It is very easy to discard or dismiss them adopting a quasi-rational political stance, but they are, and will remain, an integral part of the hegemonic need of diversion.

 

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Art in our part of the world is never free of religion. A beggar must also have help from religious icons. The flute rarely will be enough. The other end of the artistic spectrum is also not independent of this notion. We may look down upon the so-called superstitions, but their presence has an immense impact on the lives of most. And that itself is a value that demands analysis. Life must be understood first, only then can one grasp how the neo-imperial powers grasp not only politics, but the ethno-cultural life of an entire people.

 

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The joy of false privilege motivates a very large number of people all over the world. Denial, and the delusion that one belongs to the core power paradigm, are integral for any joyous participation in any display of faith.

 

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But religio-ethnic privilege has its own power structure. There are many who are discarded not having the glamour and sacred glitz and quietly spend their days by the road watching, perhaps reading life that flows by. They survive barely, they pretend little and having no artificially added aura, they are ignored by most. There are many of them who dot the landscape and the gaze of power happily ignores them.

 

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Even those who are somewhat privileged have many gazes upon them. Within the urban sphere the paradigm of the red riding hood becomes quite powerful. The gendered hunger spares none and quite often, even in the heartland, there has to be enough sartorial armour that can protect the prey from the eyes of the privileged predator.

 

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The world of want has rarely raised its voice. For ages this world of the under-privileged and the marginalized has stood quietly by the road, watching and perhaps yearning for something better. This voicelessness has been conditioned by handsome sprinklings of false promises – both worldly and other-worldly. But generations have come and gone, generations will come and go. Everything will remain the same.

 

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The Road remains amongst the best metaphors that can completely encompass the movement of humanity in time. The Road is made by human hands. But how one travels keep on defining our state of civilization. The Road through unspoiled nature only serves to remind us what we ultimately are. A sense of that is necessary to have perspective. One should not be blinded by whatever level of privilege one is located in. One should walk with wonder and understanding.

 

 

 

Dr. Siddhartha Biswas is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of English, University of Calcutta. His doctoral work was on the screenplays of Harold Pinter. He has written a number of articles in reputed journals in India and abroad. His books include Theatre: Theory and Performance (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK) and Looking for Home: Journey and Boundary in Postmodern Texts (Atlantic, New Delhi) among others. His areas of interest include Postmodern Theatre, Translation Studies and Popular Culture.

Poems by Jharna Sanyal

আজি এ বসন্তে ১৪২৬

                

বাড়ির দাওয়ায় হলদে পলাশ গাছ,
মুখপোড়া কোকিলটা পাগলের মতো ডাকছে।

ও আহমদের মা, ছেলেটা ফিরলো নাকি…

ছেলেটা ফিরলো নাকি…ও আহমদের মা…

আহমদের মা ,
টিভির ট্রাকউপচানো
ভিড়ে খুঁজছে ছেলেকে…

কৃষ্ণচূড়া গাছ লালে লাল।
তবু বসন্ত এলো কই!

 

 

 

সামাজিক দূরত্ব

হাতে হাত ধরো – মনে মনে।

এত কাল তো হাতে হাত

দিয়েই …

এত কাল তো হাতে হাত

দিয়েই …

ছল করেছি মিথ্যে হেসে,

আজকে –

আজকে না হয়

হাত সরিয়ে

হাত সরিয়ে

সত্যি দেখি

তোমার আমার ব্যবধানে!

 

 

 

Fashion Statement

Now a days I have grown so brazen that I flaunt my shamelessness like a costly Abu Jani-Sandip Khosla costume.

The storm -ravaged dilapidated mansion looks like a signature Satyajit Ray setting!

How perfect!

On a riverine street of Kolkata

the black and white reflection of a tree is excitingly a Cartier Bresson shot! কত মৃত, কত ভাসমান – সে তো সংখ্যার সাংখ্য দর্শন, –

মিডিয়ার ফ্রেমে সুন্দর! রঙিন।উফ!আহা! On the newspaper, the picture of a minibus halved by a crashing tree, –any less than an Anish Kapoor installation!

I surf the channels on my handheld canoe.

From one uninhibited mobile phone to another the virus spreads like the dank stench of the flood-molested harvest rotting on the fields.

I try to keep up with the beat of the super cyclone.

I write poems.

জানি তার একটা অর্থ আছে।

এ ও জানি, সে অর্থ দিয়ে একটা আধখানা হলদে -শাড়ি পরা মেয়ের বানে ভেসে যাওয়া একমাত্র তোবড়ানো হাঁড়ির দামটাও হবে না। So, I can’t help but turn my shamelessness to my fashion statement, and, – applying a dab of self-adulation on my face, I say, Here you go! This is my poem! Have a look! Please read it!

And please don’t forget

to Like it! Please Share it,

if you want to –

I am sure you will.

 

 

 

Jharna Sanyal is a retired Professor and former Head of the Department of English, University of Calcutta. A beloved teacher and scholar of vast erudition, she is also a versatile poet and acclaimed painter.

Poems by DS Maolalai

 

Houses on the Clontarf waterfront

utility in crystal,

these windows

of stacked rows, bowled

against the ocean

blowing in. like

going to a bar

on saturday

on a sunny

afternoon

and looking over

the upturned pintglasses,

settled in steadiness

and catching

wet light, fresh-washed

and glistening

on their rubber-nippled

spill-mats.

an awareness

of possible

thunder;

good weather,

eventual storms.

 

 

On reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend

it’s very put together –

very much like a movie,

and I am sure

they are planning one soon.

at the climax, a woman

watches her friend in a bathtub

on the morning of her long-awaited wedding. much

made of shoes – surely

a symbol of something. and much also

of sex also – the wanting of it,

the not having it,

the being

disgusted by it.

and now and then

a flash of something;

like fish underwater

bursting at gnats. there is something there

by way of a soul,

but not much

and not enough anger

in unacceptable ways.

just a beautiful

empty house

built by workmen

sold to a lawyer

overlooking the sea.

 

 

Coming back

coming back in

(from another day

spent answering phonecalls

and emails, minding

somebody’s business

in an open-plan office,

airy and instant

coffee) made once again

more bearable:

the parking car, the stairs

and climbing them – this

tower I scale

each evening to open

our door. and you there,

my life in a kitchen,

frying a slice

of halibut with onions,

a steak with onions, golden

pasta, chinese

noodle soup. barefoot, tiptoe, the sun

setting on your bare

arms. setting as it does

over the river.

DS Maolalai has been nominated six times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, “Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)

Poems by Tapati Gupta

 

My Pink Room

Suddenly the walls declared

I am pink immaculately pink

The curtains match me

And the lampshade pinky pink.

“Do you notice me?”

Notice I did

Wrapping it up in a staring surprise.

How is it that the untidy heap of books

The stacks of newspapers

Two pairs of specs and the

Death’s head Buddha

Appeared as concrete

As materiality could ever appear.

So touchable. Fusion of hardness and softness

Successes and failures

Wrapped in an amiable jumble

A jungle impenetrable

Suddenly appeared lucid

Habitable, with blue-lighted rooms

Greening minds

Coffee smells down summer streets

Grey alley ways full of stalls selling colourful glass bangles.

Suddenly the pink turned into all this.

A grey segment of memory remained

Like a pigeon’s feather slipped off

From the bright bird that had just left the cornice

The feather became the beggar to whom I had turned an indifferent ear that very morning.

Sharply soft.

Sharply hard.

Her toffee-coloured flesh

Barbecued with want.

Her husky voice repeating “Allah ki Piyari ”

Though I turned a deaf ear to this my new appellation.

Let the Plants Grow

Let the plants grow

Peacefully form crevices and dark holes.

There is no need to pluck them out for the building is already crumbled.

Let them rejuvenate the brittle old bricks with their green breath.

Only stop for a while to listen to the sound of their breath

As they rub their fingers across the old wall

And let the spring breeze ravish them.

Do not disturb them. Just pass them by.

Touch

What is the secret of our growing,

Our greening, our sharp sword- like fingers, softening with the special softness

Of the strength of caressing fingers ?

You never ever touched us like this before

Though we have bordered the soil of your balcony for more than twenty years.

You never watered us so lovingly before,

You never spent hours sipping your tea and penetrating our depths as you waited for we know not what,

Reclined in your balcony seat.

You touched us with your sleepy fingers,

Fiddled through our body

Smelled our freshness moistened by the trickling water that you poured on us.

It was the first time you saw us though you have looked before, and got busy with managing your day.

The soft breasted pigeons alight into our sharp blades,

Not minding the pricks that we render

For we are not the smooth ‘durba’ grass, we are the strong and thick.

The yellow alamanda flower decorates us with their gentle blossoms.

But we need your caring nurture, your sunny presence.

Please do not discard us when your human world of touch is restored.

Although we are just a strip of grass.

TG

Tapati Gupta is a retired Professor of the Department of English, University of Calcutta and former Head of the Department. An erudite scholar, a theatre, arts and music aficionado and enthusiastic photographer, she continues to pursue new interests with indefatigable zeal.

Poems by Rati Agnihotri

Soliloquy of silence

If silence were to render a soliloquy,

would it be chilling to the bone?

Would it be high brow pretense, classical music like pensive and all that

or would it riotous and street style sentimental?

If silence were to render a soliloquy,

would it shine bright with imagery of the sun, the moon, the stars

or would it retreat quietly to the background with pseudo journalistic economic and sober phrases and sentences?

At nights when everything seems frozen to core

and stillness dances to the tune of moonbeams,

silence tip toes the pathways gently.

No melodrama, not even a thud.

But when no one is watching,

it dances in wanton outside so many houses

and secretively leaves its fingerprints on their doorknobs and window panes.

The fingerprints become scars

and scars become sediments of exhaustion

as people cover themselves up

in sheets and sheets of nerve wracking silence…

A Raga of Love

 A stone-cutter chisels
a piece of granite gently.

Elsewhere, a pair of lovers in an eternal embrace
 have almost turned to fossils.

 Language itself cannot capture this magic of love.
Now, I say this straightforwardly,

 but readers will read between the lines,
trying to decipher what I precisely meant.

The stone-cutter has stories in his heart,
and in his eyes a tree of hope has taken root.

The lovers in fossil have their beings
tattooed to musical compositions.

 All they needs is an echo chamber,
 a philosopher’s mind, a lover’s heart

and an ethereal vision
to create the perfect raga of love.

In Love

The water

gets

not just the reflection of the lovers,

their caresses and all.

But the sonorous dilemma

of their precise positioning in this world it reflects too.

When lovers walk by the lakeside

hand in hand,

they do not carry a dictionary,

nor do they excel in the glorious tradition of the argumentative Indian.

Their armour is of their bodies and faces.

But when they do walk by the lakeside

hand in hand,

the water also reflects

the dictionary of love which they are creating.

The dictionary which many lovers across the world are creating

at that precise moment.

Rati AgnihotriRati Agnihotri is a bilingual poet. She writes in English and Hindi. Her first book of English poems ‘The Sunset Sonata’ has been published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters. Her Hindi poems have come out in Samvadiya, Parikatha, Kavita Bihaan, Pakhee, Retpath, Yuddhrat Aam Aadmee, etc. She has also read out her Hindi poems for All India Radio, Delhi. Rati also runs a poetry group ‘Moonweavers- Chaand ke Julaahe’ in Delhi. Her second book of English poems is being published by Red River.

 

 

Ghalib, Kolkata and a Heritage of Harmony – Musings by Piyali Gupta

कलकत्ते का जो ज़िक्र किया तूने हमनशीं
इक तीर मेरे सीने में मारा के हाये हाये

North Kolkata with its serpentine lanes, red brick houses and hidden histories in every corner has continued to fascinate me over the years. Named after Sir Cecil Beadon, who served as the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal from April 1862 to 1867, Beadon Street, nestled between Rabindra Sarani and Bidhan Sarani, has been home to heritage structures such as the Minerva Theatre built in 1893, Chaitanya Library which was set up in 1889 and Ramdulal Nibas, the mansion belonging to one of the earliest Bengali merchants, Ramdulal Dey after whose sons Chhatu Babu and Latu Babu, the adjoining market is named. A stretch of Beadon Street from C.R. Avenue to Bidhan Sarani was renamed Dani Ghosh Sarani after the famous actor Dani Babu who was also Girish Ghosh’s son. The stretch between Rabindra Sarani and C.R. Avenue was called Abhedananda Road but has been renamed to Utpal Dutta Sarani after the legendary actor, many of whose plays were staged in the Minerva Theatre. This area is also known for the quaint little eateries lining each side of the road where one can still spot trams meandering their way forward. From the famous ​telebhaja shop Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons (c.1918) which, it is rumoured, was visited by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, we have the sweet shop started by Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy (c.1844) which has been visited by the likes of Uttam Kumar and Satyajit Ray. Here, in this part of North Kolkata, time stands still and without Rowling’s time turner, you can savour the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a bygone era.

Right behind Bethune College, the first college for women in Asia that dates back to 1879, is a lane called Bethune Row that meets Ramdulal Sarkar Street. At the junction of these two lanes, right opposite to the Nakur sweet shop is a towering four storied red brick building with green wooden shuttered windows and latticed balcony. The address of this building is 133, Bethune Row. It could have been just another of the North Kolkata heritage structures if one Mirza Ghalib had not chosen to stay in it years ago in 1828-1829.

Around 193 Years ago, Mirza Asadullah Baig ‘Ghalib’ set out for Calcutta, the capital of British India, travelling from Delhi to Lucknow in May 1827, and via Banda and Allahabad reached Benaras. He stayed in Benaras for a month to recover from illness and then reached Kolkata on February 21, 1828, almost a year after he left Delhi. It was a painfully slow journey and Ghalib covered most of the journey on horseback. Sometimes he used the ​ladhiya or cart, ‘alone, with two or three servants, in a state of great exhaustion and debility without any equipage or comfort’, as reported by Pavan Verma in ​Ghalib: The Man, The Times(2000).

Why did he undertake such an arduous journey? To plead the British for his pension, due to him from his uncle’s estate. He stayed in Mirza Ali Saudagar’s ​haveli at Simla Bazaar, arranged at a rent of Rs 10 a month on his friend Raja Sohan Lal’s recommendation. In his letters from Calcutta, Ghalib talks of the Simla Bazaar, Chitpore Bazar and the Gol Talab that was near his quarters. In Gulzaar’s production ​Mirza Ghalib, and in several other accounts by Ghalib scholars like ​Malik Ram and Shakeel Afroz​, it is identified as the house Number 133 on Bethune Row.

Ghalib could not fulfill his mission and left Calcutta a year later in 1829. During his stay, however, he wrote about the city, its lush greenery, its beautiful women and its succulent fruits and delicious wine :

कलकत्ते का जो ज़िक्र किया तूने हमनशीं
इक तीर मेरे सीने में मारा के हाये हाये

वो सब्ज़ा ज़ार हाये मुतर्रा के है ग़ज़ब
वो नाज़नीं बुतान-ए-ख़ुदआरा के हाये हाये

सब्रआज़्मा वो उन की निगाहें के हफ़ नज़र
ताक़तरूबा वो उन का इशारा के हाये हाये

वो मेवा हाये ताज़ा-ए-शीरीं के वाह वाह
वो बादा हाये नाब-ए-गवारा के हाये हाये

In one of his letters from the city, he wrote: खुदा की कसम, अगर मैं मुजर्रद होता और खानादारी की ज़िम्मेदारी और ज़ंजीरें मेरी राह में हायत न होतीं, सब कुछ छोड़ छाड़ के यहीं का हो रहता (“By God, had I not been a family man, with regard for the honour of my wife and children, I would have cut myself free and made my way there. There I would have lived till I died, in that heavenly city, free from all cares”).

The colonial capital offered various distractions to Ghalib. While in Calcutta, he was introduced to daily newspapers, something that had not reached Delhi yet. Due to the presence of the printing press, translations of English classics into Urdu and Persion, in the recently established Fort William College were available to him. The printing press, the steam engine,

newspapers, the wireless, made a great impression on Ghalib’s mind. He is said to have observed, “बंगाली सौ साल आगे भी जीते हैं और सौ साल पीछे भी”

In an extremely nuanced study on the influence of the city on Ghalib’s mind, A. Sean Pue, talks about Ghalib scholar Mumtaz Hussain who opined that Ghalib embraced the positive, ‘constructive’ effects of British rule in his poetry and letters only after his visit to Calcutta. He recalls the spread of technology and the introduction of Western education in the era, both of which, he notes, led ‘not only to a new critical and rational consciousness but to a new political consciousness as well​.’ He also talks of Raja Rammohan Roy’s establishment of the Sadharon Brahma Samaj and conjectures that such a liberal atmosphere must have had a positive impact on Ghalib’s creativity.

The last four months have been very difficult, we have watched, sometimes with seething anger and sometimes with helpless resignation, men, women and children travelling, like Ghalib did, for miles and miles, in search of a sense of security. As I write this today, struggling to make sense of the uncertainties due to the pandemic and a general environment of apathy and intolerance, I cannot help but marvel at a city that could make a weary traveller one of its own. A city that has a street named after Mirza Ghalib, a city that has his couplets scripted on electric meter boxes, and a city that honoured this weary traveller poet in week long celebrations titled Bayaad-e-Ghalib beginning on the International Mother Language Day, February 21, 2020. As a city, as a race and primarily as humans, perhaps we need to introspect about this difference between being born as men or women and embracing empathy, tolerance and compassion as human beings. As one tired traveller to my city pointed out, years ago, that there indeed is a difference between being merely an “आदमी​” and being an “इंसान.” Maybe, it is time to bridge this gap, if not now, then when?

बस-कि दुश्वार है हर काम का आसाँ होना

आदमी को भी मयस्सर नहीं इंसाँ होना

(bas-ki dushvār hai har kaam kā āsāñ honā

aadmī ko bhī mayassar nahīñ insāñ honā)

 

Piyali di

Piyali Gupta teaches English Literature in Bethune College, Kolkata, is fond of quoting Eliot, exploring heritage, brandishing exquisite sartorial designs and tasting sweets.

 

‘Missing’: Musings on Mumbai by Tuhina Sharma

Monsoon always makes me pine for Mumbai. When it rained earlier this month, I was nothing short of envious. No other rains are rains once you have met them in Bombay. I think that is what binds us. You are family if you’ve ever been greeted by them. Now, it feels like there is some grand event where I haven’t been invited.

 

A month into the city, Bombay was so incomprehensible that it scared me. But I also knew that if there was anything I was ever looking for, it was this.

 

Photo 1

 

On the first of the many rainy mornings that I would wake up to, I find an old couple sitting near the grilled window in the building across, sipping their tea, while their clothes on the line flutter in the wind, promising two more days until they will finally dry off.

 

Photo 2

 

The milkman makes his rounds, playing with his cycle bell. I play old blues on Saavn and we are all sad. The sun is out; it is drizzling. Don’t expect to see a rainbow, because the buildings are too high and too many and there is no terrace or open balconies where you live.

 

Autowallahs will advise you to study well and not get involved in relationships. “Where is the love today, beta? It is all money”. You will agree. Two years later, they will still be scolding you about not walking enough.

 

Photo 3

 

The restaurants across the road, where you have dinner on weekends will get you change for the Rs. 2000 note you hand them for the Rs. 50 dosa you had. Generously and without mentioning it, they will waive off your GST.

 

An old sweet faced woman will save you a seat in the local. And you will be highly obliged. In night locals standing on CST, the driver will stop for you, if you rush towards an already crowded 22:50 CST-Panvel, a Vada Pao in one hand and the dripping umbrella in another. The policeman inside will smile at you and stand up to give you his seat. And you will say, no uncle, it is okay. At Vadala, when everyone gets down, you will have space to stretch your legs and rest your head to catch up on reading.

 

Photo 4

 

Another local will slowly pass by, you will lock eyes with someone and suddenly you will not be alone. It is pouring now; the lights will go out. The train will stop and you will be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Out of the dead silence, someone will start to hum a song, reminding you of home and long chats with your family. When the lights come on, the singing will stop and you will be left looking at faces around you, faces jolted back to their lives long ago.

 

Photo 5

 

You will be lost, looking for Yazdani Bakery and will hesitantly stop a woman rushing by.

 

“Do you know where Yazdani is?”

 

“No. Sorry I don’t”

 

“Okay. Thank you.”

 

“Wait, I’ll ask someone for you.”

 

“No, really its…”

 

Bhaiya, tell this girl where that old cafe is. Explain the way to me. I’ll explain it to her.”

And before you know, your heart will be melting at the kindness.

 

Photo 6

 

Mumbai feels like a sad city to me. India’s Urbs Primus- content with the melancholia, with its speed and with its shortcomings. So much so, that if you pause at the station, everything slows down and you can catch snippets of conversations and expressions.

 

Photo 7

 

Someone catches your eye and smiles at you and two old uncles stop to ask if you’re okay.

 

“Yes uncle”

 

“Are you lost?”

 

“No uncle”

 

“Catching a train?”

 

“Yes, Uncle. Panvel.”

 

“Oho. So late in the night? A lot of rush, huh?”

 

“A little, yes uncle.”

 

“Travel safely beta.”

 

“Yes Uncle”

 

You are left smiling as they walk away into the sea of heads, looking like childhood best friends who have grown old together. And you realize that there is love in the city, hidden behind smartphones and double shift jobs, the hoard of colliding people and the traffic that won’t move.

Photo 8

 

When you get down from the train, the policeman waves you goodbye. Pandey Uncle, the watchman, hands you your keys when you reach home. You watch as a small boy from one of the houses comes rushing to him. Pandey Uncle holds his hands and makes him cross the road to the Vada Pao stall. Having bought one for each of them, you see them coming back. He waves. You wave back. You turn around to walk home and step into a puddle. Someone laughs from the window on the second floor. You laugh too. Fresh touches of melancholy make us happy.

 

Photo 9

 

**

 

 

Tuhina

 

Tuhina Sharma thrives on nostalgia. She tries to read one book per week and write about all things wishful. She has lived in Mumbai and is waiting to return. She works with children and is always on the lookout for stupid jokes and profound stories to share with them. Tuhina has previously published in The Hindu and India Development Review.

 

RagamalaRewa

Photographs: Ragamala and Rewa are budding phone photographers. They like clicking pictures of flowers, friends and skies and everything else they find beautiful, which is most things.

Musings by Soumabho Chakraborty

লকডাউন, শিবমন্দির এবং অন্ধকার

রাতে বেডরুমের আলো নিভিয়ে দেবার পর রাস্তার স্ট্রিট লাইট ঘরটাকে যতটা আলোকিত করে, সেদিন সন্ধ্যের সময় রাস্তায় বেরিয়ে ঠিক ততটাই আলো চোখে পড়ছিল । লোডশেডিং এর চাঁদটা দেখে অন্ধকার ঘরের দরজার ফাঁক দিয়ে উঁকি মারা এক চিলতে রোদ মনে হবার কোনও কারন না থাকলেও, বিদ্যুৎহীন পৃথিবীর বিশালতাকে তা উপলব্ধ করতে সাহায্য করে কিঞ্চিৎ । তখন যাবতীয় মুখোশ গুলো শুধুমাত্র যে লোকলজ্জার কারণে মুখে চাপানো – তা ঠাওর করতে বিশেষ অসুবিধা হয়না ।

 

মুখ ঢেকে বাড়ির সামনের রাস্তা দিয়ে হেটে ডানদিকে ঘোরার আগে আমি পিছনে তাকাই – এটা বরাবরের অভ্যাস । বাবা ছাদে দাড়িয়ে আছে জানি, কিন্তু অন্ধকারে মুখটা দেখা গেল না । সরু গলিতে চাঁদের আলো রাস্তা হারিয়ে ফেলে, ঠিক যেরকম ভাবে ছোটবেলায় সাইকেল চালিয়ে রাস্তা হারিয়ে আমরা নিজেদের চেনা জগতকে অচেনা বানানোর আনন্দে মেতে উঠি, সেভাবেই । বয়স বাড়ার সাথে সাইকেলে জং ধরে, বিয়ারের বোতল ব্যারিকেডের মতন ঘরের চৌকাঠ পেরোতে মানা করে ।

 

জং ধরা সাইকেল ছেড়ে এখন পায়ে হাঁটতেই বেশি ভাল্লাগে । মামাবাড়ির তিনমাথার মোড়ে কোনও এক অজানা কারণে বারংবার বাঁদিকের গলিটায় চোখ চলে যায় । প্রত্যহের অভ্যাস কাটিয়ে এখন শিবমন্দিরে আলো জ্বলছে না – দেবতা মানুষের মুখের উপর আশ্রয়ের দরজা বন্ধ রেখেছেন । একটু আগে আসলে বেশ দূর থেকেও মাসখানেকের অবজ্ঞার ধুলো দেখতে অসুবিধা হয় না । এখন আকাশের যাবতীয় আবর্জনা মাটিতে আসছে, থিতিয়ে যাচ্ছে । এই জং সরানোর কাজ যে সহজ হবেনা, তা নতুন করে কাওকে বলে দিতে হয়না ।

 

ছোটবেলায় নীল পুজোয় বেশ আনন্দ হত । শিব মন্দিরের গলিটায় ঢুকলে মনে হত ঈশ্বরের সাথে প্রকৃতির বিবাহের আনন্দে সারা পাড়া মেতে উঠে চারদিক আলোকিত করেছে । যাদের মনে অন্ধকার তারা প্রসাদে অতিরিক্ত লুচি চাইলে মুখ ব্যাজার করতেন । আমরা ছোটরা রাখাল সাজতাম না – গুন্ডা সেজে হাতে ক্যাপ বন্দুক নিয়ে কোনও এক কাল্পনিক জমিদারবাড়ি লুঠ করতে তেড়ে যেতাম – আর সেই কৌতুক নাটকের একমাত্র দর্শক হয়ে চাঁদমামা হাততালি দিত ।

 

হাঁটতে হাঁটতে সাহেব্বাগান মাঠের কাছে এসে একটু দম বন্ধ লাগলো । মুখোশটা খুলে একটু শ্বাস নিয়ে বুঝতে পারলাম এই হাওয়ায় ছোটবেলার ঘাসের গন্ধ আছে; আসলে আমাদের যাবতীয় মুখোশ তো বড় হবার জন্যই পড়তে হয় । হঠাৎ খেয়াল হল যে এখানে রোগী ধরা পড়েছে – এরকম একটা খবর হাওয়ায় ভেসে বেরাচ্ছে । চটপট মুখ বন্ধ করে এগিয়ে চললাম – যেরম সারা জীবন এগিয়ে যাই, নিঃসাড়ে নিস্তব্ধে ।

 

এখানে এককালে আমি পড়তে আসতাম । হইহই করে যাওয়া আসার মাঝে কোনদিন ভাবতে হয়নি যে এই রাস্তায় একা হাঁটব । অবশ্য সব ট্রেনযাত্রীর যে গন্তব্যস্থল এক – তা ভাবা তো উচিৎ নয় । যে একা যাত্রা করে, তার কোনও গন্তব্যস্থল দরকার হয়না । বড় রাস্তায় রূপোলী চন্দ্রসুধা সার্চলাইটের মত এদিক ওদিক তাকাতে বলে । এভাবেই হেঁটে যেতে যেতে একদিন উল্কাপিণ্ড কখন যে তারামণ্ডলের আকর্ষণ ছেড়ে লাগাম ছাড়া সাদীর মত তার ফেলে আসা যাবতীয় সবকিছুকে ভালবাসতে ভুলে যায় – তা ধরতে পারা যায়না ।

 

আমার ছেলেবেলার শেষ খুঁটি ছিল বড় রাস্তার ধারের সাইবার ক্যাফে । বাবার পকেট থেকে দশটাকা বের করে কাউন্টার স্ট্রাইক আর ফিফাতে উচ্চমাধ্যমিকের বারটা বাজানোয় একটা আফসোস ছিল, কিন্তু কোনদিন অপরাধ বোধ হয়নি । গালাগালমন্দ, চিৎকার চেঁচামেচি, ঝগড়া অশান্তি, আবার বেরিয়ে দু টাকার ফ্লেক – এসবের ঝাঁপ কবে যে এখনকার শাটারটার মতন বন্ধ হয়ে গেল তা বুঝে ওঠার সময় জীবন দেয়নি । শুধু এটুকু ভাল করে বুঝিয়েছে যে অপরাধবোধটা সমসাময়িক আমদানি ।

 

তবুও চাঁদের আলোয় রাস্তা খুঁজে বাড়ি ফিরতে হয় । ভালবাসার ঝাঁপ গুলো বন্ধ হলেও আবার, বারবার মন চায় ঘরের দেওয়ালের মত হাতে হাত ধরে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকি – বাড়িতে ঘর তৈরি করি । আবার তাতে ছোট ছোট আনন্দগুলো আনাগোনা শুরু করুক, বিয়ারের বোতল গুলোর ব্যারিকেড ভাঙুক প্রেমের অপরিসীম বিদ্রোহে ।

 

লোডশেডিং কাটেনি । পায়ের তলায় অবশিষ্ট চন্দ্রকনাকে পাড়িয়ে ঘরে ঢুকলাম । এই লকডাউন একদিন কাটবেই – তারপর আবার শিবমন্দিরে সন্ধ্যার আলো জ্বলবে ।

 

Maverick

Soumabho Chakraborty lives in Bandel, West Bengal, loves reading and teaching literature, spends too much time on gaming online and remains a curious observer of the eccentricities of life.

 

Poems by James Croal Jackson

Familiarity

I don’t know you

but I must have, once,

in some other life, the same

one this timeline is a part

of, this forward motion

a shadow of a shadow

darkening everything

I believe I know

has obscured.

 

Steps

Years later you emerge to say– oh,

you were marginalia in the stampede

of time. Fine. Where

 

are the footprints? Developing

the rock we once said was us.

That’s the Earth. I’m garbage.

 

The erosion of memory

started with aluminum beneath

your feet. The sand–

 

such an ordeal

to remember the origin

of recyclables. I am a

weather system forming

my own thoughts about

the worth of a tornado,

 

how it whips the air

in circles to salt

the crust of distance.

 

Serenity Blue

praise the underwater statue

at the aquarium it looks like Mary

 

mother of– mother of– there is no

statue inside the mind standing

 

eroding inside spacetime   what

a cliché (your reflection) magnified

 

you stare above into great white

light illuminating water’s new

 

life (forms of the past forms

of the past) sentient beaming

 

in its own extensive space

(how to fill the frame

 

of mind) where I want no

other self to suffocate

 

Jackson

James Croal Jackson  is a Filipino-American poet. He has a chapbook, The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017), and recent poems in DASH, Sampsonia Way, and Jam & Sand. He edits The Mantle (themantlepoetry.com). He works in film production in Pittsburgh, PA. (jamescroaljackson.com)

Poems by Don Thompson

Wildfire Dusk

What’s left of the light smolders

in this dark furnace.

 

Out in the fields, thistle

like incandescent snarls of wire.

 

Everything’s still too hot to touch.

Certain thoughts scorch.

 

Hard to sleep, knowing

midnight will taste of smoke.

**

Canyon

The old sandstone creeds have crumbled.

Unconvincing dust and a few spires—

needles without eyes.

 

It would take paleoarchaic faith

to live here.

That and a lizard’s skill set.

 

We have neither—and no patience

for pictographs that refuse

to explain themselves.

 

Stick figure arms signaling

hello or goodbye

as if there were no difference.

**

Wisdom

Dead grass speaks a living language.

 

Its tongues, quickened by the wind

at random, repeat

aphorisms older than human wisdom.

 

Nothing we’d listen to even if we understood,

considering it beneath us.

 

Tell it to the fire, we’d say.

**

Don Thompson

 

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks. He is also the first Poet Laureate of Kern County. His latest book of poems, A San Joaquin Almanac is set to be published in November 2020.