Poems by Rupsa De

Podunk BITCH!

 

White pajamas, Daisy sunshine

I want my captain home

Tell me “oh, sweet lover mine

Where do sea captains go?” I want my captain home

From Sandy shores of May

And bring me jewels

From a market on Sunday.

 

My mother taught me a song

“call him sir” and he taught me

To keep steady hands all night long

Until from a little child, I grew

 

Mama saw how big I was

And mama wept sad fat tears

She screamed blue in the dawn

“Gone” before the morning could yawn

 

We ran and ran until we stopped

Pretty pink horses at play

Stained my white pajamas white

Held me down, monsters at bay

 

Daisy sunshine, little flowers

White powder on cheek

Mama sits and empty stares

Why doesn’t mama speak?

 

Now the captain battles at sea

I join my hands in prayer

Mama turned me out, my dear

And took a postman near

 

I sleep on streets and wait for light

Powder in hands, powder white.

Fade, I fade into that terrible night

And curses be on that terrible sight

 

Gods, perhaps in sadness delight

I break, I break, oh I break

Tiny metal

Filthy, filthy shipwreck!

 

 

Love runs cold.

 

Mad love,

You come back home

When the streets are dark

With the night’s child

Lying in a pool of blood.

 

Mad love,

You sleep with your eyes open

And walk the endless lanes,

Eyes closed, as if beauty in death

Has embraced you for her lover.

 

Mad love,

You come back and cup my chin

My face is your Hawaiian dream,

A brown land with green trees,

You want to colonise, to turn it over.

 

Mad love,

I am dreaming of sunlight on my skin,

My golden crown, the wide open sea,

In dreams, I don’t feel your fingers

Cracking my jaw open. In dreams,

 

I only run free.

In dreams, time is still.

Mad love, golden prince,

riding on a horse, goodbye,

 

YOUR ALCOHOL IS MAKING THE LANES WEEP.

 

Sita’s going

 

I drew lines around her,

The girl in the yellow dress

To see if she could step out of them.

 

I had heard stories before

Of the one who overstepped

And the dark one who took her away

 

The sun was bright, the yellow

Of her dress burning my eyes,

Curious I drew the boundaries in my mind.

 

She stepped out, I held my breath

The sun shrieked and hid

The dark one came

 

I hadn’t noticed he was in chains

Why did you do it, he asked in tears

The stories taught me well-

 

A woman out of line

Is a woman in need of History

Playing Devourer.

 

 

red cap picture

Rupsa Dey believes in the power of language and cats, and is only allergic to the latter. She is currently pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University. She never says ‘No’ to tea and if given a chance, would like to believe in a world without borders.

Poems by Antoni Ooto

no matter how much rain falls

the end

takes nothing but shadow

 

nature grows backward

 

and her secret

soaks through a waiting field

peace in perfect quietude

like monks dropping the chaff

 

that final vow

 

 

Family Secrets

the unanswered questions,

the difference in our smiles

 

I was listening from that limbo

for someone to answer

 

waiting

for that connection

 

with a voice

like mine

 

waiting

all my life

 

 

Toward the Last

a cloud of medication

its morphine clock

ticking—ticking

 

sitting—watching

standing––waiting

posturing bargains with God

 

we fight…

still… they leave

 

ordinary as breath

simple as sleep.

 

 

Antoni OotoAntoni Ooto is a poet and flash fiction writer. Known for his abstract expressionist art, Antoni now adds his voice to poetry.  His study of many poets has opened and offered him a new form of self-expression. Antoni’s poems have been published by Front Porch Review, Amethyst Review, Nixes Mate Review,  Young Ravens Literary Review, and many others. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/ storyteller, Judy DeCroce

“Books are Mirrors”: The Power of Literature in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind – Somrita Misra

zafon

 

Stephen King once said that “Books are a uniquely portable magic”. In The Shadow of the Wind the power of the written word and books reigns supreme. The novel begins with Daniel, the protagonist, visiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books with his father for the first time. The reader learns that the cemetery is a rare library of old and little remembered books which is a secret amongst a few select people of Barcelona. Daniel is asked to choose one book from this treasure trove, a book he will have to protect and cherish forever. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, an unknown novel by an author named Julian Carax. So captivated is Daniel by the book that he determines to discover all he can about Carax. Thus begins Daniel’s adventures and troubles.

     Throughout the novel books and literature connect and intertwine the characters. Daniel and Julian’s lives are connected from the day Daniel finds The Shadow of the Wind in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There are also the relationships between Clara and Daniel, Penelope and Julian and Daniel and Beatrice, all of which develop because of their common love for books. Literature has the unique power of helping readers overcome loss, loneliness and grief. The Shadow of the Wind portrays this power through Daniel’s journey through his adolescence. Fitzgerald has famously said: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. Zafón understands this beauty all too well: we see how Daniel escapes the angst of growing up through books. Julian too finds respite from the brutal horrors of his childhood in the pages of his favorite novels.

     Julian tells his friend in the novel that “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you”. For each of the characters their favorite books are indeed mirrors, a gateway to their deepest fears and desires. Penelope finds her longing for Julian reflected in the passionate lovers of her romantic novels; Daniel discovers that other teenage boys can be as lonely and isolated as he is when he reads The Shadow of the Wind. The reviewer of The Daily Telegraph hailed The Shadow of the Wind as “A triumph of the storyteller’s art”. In many ways, the novel is about the power of the storyteller and stories.

     Zafón’s Barcelona is full of fragmented stories about broken people in the harsh regime of Franco: as readers walk through the many alleyways and streets of 1940s Barcelona, they meet characters like Fermin, an intelligent, energetic man whose spirit has been crushed under the weight of Fascism. Then there is the sinister policeman, Fumero whose cruelty chills the readers’ spine and who represents the arbitrary violence of a dictatorial state. The novel traverses a panorama of savage yet alluring characters and their individual stories. Like all powerful historical novels, The Shadow of the Wind spends very little time on factual history; the novel is set in 1945 Barcelona, right after the Spanish civil war has ended. Without any reference to the history of the war, Zafón conveys the horrors of it; his medium is stories and narratives of individual characters who have suffered the trauma of the times.

     The novel is a collage of not just varied characters but diverse genres: Zafón intermingles gothic melodrama, adolescent coming-of age story, historical thriller and whodunnit. The plot flows smoothly and is fast paced while there is a healthy dose of the melodrama and mystery that creates bestsellers. Yet, the novel never degenerates into the banal or the tawdry. The minute subplots and the diverse cast of characters ensure that the literary touchstone remains a high one. The two major protagonists, Julian and Daniel, are separated by many years yet connected through Julian’s novel. Julian guides Daniel through his journey, helping him overcome his obstacles in uniting with the love of his life, Beatrice. Daniel helps Julian heal and overcome the grief of Penelope’s death. At the end of the novel Daniel finds happiness and fulfilment in his union with Beatrice while Julian starts to write again, regaining his ability to tell stories.

     In Zafón’s novel Barcelona becomes a character. Especially significant are the bookshops where the forgotten stories are stored. Daniel himself is brought up in the bookshop his father runs where he nurtures his love for reading. Nuria, Miquel, Fermin all find their lives changed through the books they come across. For Zaf’on books become instruments to forge bonds between his characters and to change their lives. Books do not always impart positive perceptions for the characters: for many like Daniel, Nuria, Fermin, books become a reflection of the tragedy and trauma they see around them. Through his identification with Carax’s novel, Daniel realizes the truths of life: the beauty of love, the tragedy of fate, the universality of suffering. At the end of the novel, Daniel confronts his fears and chooses to commit himself to Beatrice, fully aware of the trials and tribulations of love. Daniel understands that life, like literature, cannot always be beautiful, it can also be dark and frightening. But just as his favorite book cannot be left unfinished, life too needs to be lived to the fullest, a cup that one needs to drink to its brim.

     For Aristotle, literature was a reflection of life. True art tries to achieve this reflection. Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind is a testament to the power and the value of literature. It illustrates the significance of stories and their role in healing a traumatized and torn city and people. Literature and art ultimately are non-utilitarian; they are not “needed”, not like one needs water to drink, food to eat, medicine to survive an illness. Perhaps that is why the Sciences as a field are viewed so much as a priority, not just in India but across the world. Perhaps the concrete nature of scientific fields seems more essential than the abstractions of a literary thesis or study. One can never quantify feeling or emotions and our world values only that which it can measure. However, as Christ famously dictated, “Man cannot live by bread alone”, man has spiritual needs and needs over and above the physical, the concrete.

     Literature provides, in many ways, food for the soul. It nourishes not man’s body but his spirit. In that lies its power and its value, a value that the greatest of scientists have recognized and appreciated. Zafón’s novel is a celebration of this value and this power of books, stories and literature. In the words of the reviewer of Entertainment Weekly: The Shadow of the Wind “is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero”.

মুখোশ খোলার দৃশ্যে — অর্কপ্রভ রায়চৌধুরী

Cover illustration

১.

এতদিন পরেও তুমি সমুদ্রের গল্প বলো। আসলে ক্ষোভ, দিগন্তবিস্তৃত মরা পাথর, ফিরে গিয়ে দেখবে বালি হয়ে গেছে। দ্বিরাগমনের লাভাPiece 1টে আলোয় তারাগুলো খানিক হাস্যকর ভাবে দুলে উঠতে শুরু করলে একে একে সব বিশ্বাস করা যায়- কি হয়েছে, কি হবার কথা ছিল। সেবারও ঈশ্বর খানিক ম্যানড্রেকের ভূমিকায়, বসা মাত্র রাস্তার ওপাশে আলোর রং বদলে যেতে লাগল, তোমাকে নামের মত করে চেনা তার পছন্দ হল না, ছবিওয়ালার ডাকে ফাঁকতালে জুটিয়ে আনা মাছ ফেলে পালাল জোড়া শঙ্খচিল। কিন্তু একরকম সুখ ছিল, বিশ্বাস করো, ঈশ্বর যত বাধ সাধে, ততবার মানুষ হতে ইচ্ছা করে। কিন্তু মানুষ বড় ভয়ানক, সে গেলে ফিরে আসে অথচ কোনো জল পাথর ঘেঁষে বসে না, যতদূর চোখ যায়, বিপত্তি পুষে রাখি চুপচাপ। এ পালানো, এ ধরা না-পড়া ঠেকে শেখা, কেবল কথা বলতে বলতে নিজেকে শুনিয়ে নিলাম অর্বাচীনের মত। ডায়ালগ ফুরোলে যখন দু’টো পৃথিবী হাত ধরে.. তখন নিরুদ্দেশের কোলে কোথাও একটা ছেলে ঠান্ডা মাথায়, ভিতর ভিতর অগ্ন্যুৎপাতকে সাক্ষী রেখে জলের হাতে ছুরি তুলে দিতে চাইছে।

২.

Piece 2তেমন কাউকে পেলে এতদিনে আলো উপহার দিতে। কারণ আলোর একরকম দাগ থাকে। কেউ নিজে থেকে এসে জ্বেলে দিতে পারলে তাই খুশি হও। উল্টে রাখা প্রদীপের পাশে বসে ওরা সর্ষেফুলের গল্প শোনায়। একসময় নেশাগ্রস্ত কাউকে ফিরিয়ে আনতে বিনা কথায় বাড়ি ছাড়ে। রাস্তা পেরোতে পেরোতে মানুষের চোখে পড়ে যায়। হাসে। আপনমনে কাঁদে। রাস্তা ছাড়ে না। ফিরে এসে দু’জনকে খেতে দেয়। পোশাক খুলে ফেললে মনে হয় গোলকধাঁধা। আসলে শরীর।

 

এত কিছু থাকতে তাই আলো বানাও। মাঝেমধ্যে দু’টো রং গায়ের জোরে ছিটকে কোথাও যত্নে আঁকা বরফকুচির ওপর এসে পড়ে, মনে হয় একটু গলতে দিলে ভাঙা-গড়ার সমস্ত বিবাদ মিটে যেত। আলোর আড়ালে তোমার অন্য কোনও পরিচিতি ঢাকা পড়ার সময় এসে যেত ততক্ষণে। এখন আসবে না। বরং বেলা পড়ে এলে ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো একে একে তলোয়ার খুলে ফেলার সময় থাকার পুরনো কথা নতুন করে মনে করিয়ে দেবে কেউ। যে-থাকা বলতে বোঝায় খালি আলোর জন্য থাকা।

৩.

ধরা যাক, সমান্তরাল কোনও পৃথিবীতে এখন লোডশেডিং। মানুষের মুখ আপাতত মানুষের মত না-দেখালেও কেউ কাঁদছে না, এমনকি মানুষও।

Piece 3

কোথাও একটা হঠাৎ বাজি পোড়ে। বেওয়ারিশ কতগুলো ফুলকি অন্ধকারের খবর পেয়ে এতটা পথ দৌড়ে আসে। ঝিল চোখে তুমি প্রেক্ষাপট খানিক কালো করে ফের ঘেন্নায় মন দাও। আলো হতে না দিয়েই। একেকটা বজ্জাত তবু এদিকেই এসে পড়ে, পাল্লা নাড়ে আর পিদ্দিমের ভিতরের মাটি কেঁপে ওঠে। অভিশপ্ত! এইমাত্র ফিরে এল সলতে সেজে, এদিকে বাসি তেলও আগুনের খবর রাখতে ভুলে গেছে কতদিন হল। তুমি দেখেও দেখোনি, বলা ভালো অন্ধ সেজে বসে ছিলে কখন সকাল হবে আর পোড়া দুর্নাম সাত পাড়ায় ছড়িয়ে পড়বে সশব্দে! কিন্তু রাখা কথার ভার বড় দায়, পাড়া কোন মরণকাঠি আগলে বিশ্বাসঘাতকের মত দরজা জানালা সব এঁটে দিয়েছে, আসলে তুমি খবর না-রাখলেও অন্ধকারের অমোঘ ক্যাথিড্রালে তোমার হয়ে তোমার জন্যই রাখা মোমবাতি জ্বালিয়ে দিয়ে এতক্ষণে নিঃশব্দে সরে গেছে অন্য কেউ। তুমি মুখ ফিরিয়ে অন্যমনে আলোর জাহাজ চলে যেতে দেখছিলে ভরা বন্দরে, অথচ একরকম তান্ত্রিক আঙুল তুলে সবক’টা বাতিঘর জ্বেলে দিতে পারত সে-ই। অথচ এখন আর কিছু থাকলেও আলো নেই, তোমার ঘেন্নাগুলোও ক্রমাগত পথ হারাচ্ছে এপারে আসতে গিয়ে। তাদের পথ দেখানোর কেউ নেই, কোনও এক ইন্টারস্টেলার বেইমানির শিকার হচ্ছে সমস্ত যোগাযোগ, বাজি পুড়ছে অথচ আলো এতটুকু দাঁড়াচ্ছে না। আসলে আলোর মত করে কেউ এভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে শেখেনি বোধহয়। তোমার চোখে ঝিল কেঁপে ওঠে, অথচ তা দেখিয়ে দেওয়ার জন্য আলো জেগে নেই। অন্ধকার ছিল। থাকে। অথচ অন্ধকার থেকে এতদূরে একটা পৃথিবীতে বসে থেকে আমি মনে করতে পারি না, কে যেন বলেছিল, “সন্ধ্যেবেলার ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো অন্তত দাঁড়িয়ে থেকে শ্যামাপোকাদের রুদালি শোনে..”

Poetry: Arkaprabha Roychowdhury

Illustrations: Subarnarekha Pal

What Even is Revolution but a Carnival of Hope? – Reflections by Barshana Basu

Ashiana. Ashiana, who has gained a following as the youngest ‘protestor’ has been sitting in along with her mother Rehana Khatoon and thousands of protestors, mostly Muslim women, for the last three weeks. The country wide demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (C.A.A.), the National Register of Citizens (N.R.C.), and the National Population Register (N.P.R.) has witnessed overwhelming participation from people of all walks of life, even in the face of brutal state oppression and state sponsored violence, directed especially against the Muslim community. The last few weeks have been cathartic. Growing up in a leftist household and studying in an university known for its voice of resistance, I have walked in many “michhils” (‘rally’ or ‘march’ cannot contain all the emotions that a ‘michhil‘ is ripe with) and expressed my solidarity to others. But the protests of the winter of 2019-20 are different – this winter is of despair, this winter is of hope.

Protest 2

I have grown up hearing “ye azadi jhuta hai” (“this freedom is a farce”), I still believe that we are yet to achieve ‘freedom’ in its truest sense, but the current momentum gives me hope. Many like me have never felt passionately attached to the symbolic representations of India, be it the tricolour or the national anthem, but I have seen that change over this memorable winter. This winter, we are standing for the national anthem on our own accords. We are singing along because we wish to and not because the government dictated that one should sing along before watching a movie in a theatre. In the last few years whenever I went to watch a movie and the national anthem was played, I sat at the edge of my seat, anticipating with fear that I might just get lynched any moment for not participating in forced patriotism. Those 52 seconds seemed like forever, forever of defiance, forever of resistance, forever of fear. Whenever at demonstrations nowadays the national anthem is sung, I feel elated. I can finally stand for it without being bullied, I can finally sing along because I choose to and not because the Big Brother wants to force doses of Hindutva ‘nationalism’ down my throat.

 

The skyline of the recent protests has been an interesting site – it has been a vibrant milieu of flags of all hues  embodying diverse ideas. All the michhils that I  have walked in in the past have mostly been adorned with red flags (‘rokto potaka‘ if you may), some since the first Pride parade I attended a few of winters back, have been dotted with rainbow coloured ones. The only instance I can recall of marching with the tricolour being present is on one damp cold school sports morning. That wasn’t a michhil, that was a mandatory march past, and it was devoid of any emotion. I can hardly recall having any sort of feelings, let alone strong ones at that, about the tricolour. However, in the last few weeks, the hundreds of michhils that reclaimed the streets, demanding azadi, demanding an end to state sponsored bigotry, an end to fascism, saw the active and enthusiastic presence of the tricolour. On 19th December ’19, for the first time in my life of 22 years and hundreds of michhils, I was voluntarily a part of something that celebrated the tricolour. There were scores of tricolours fluttering unfettered, people of starkly diverse backgrounds waved their tricolours as if in a trance, all the while chanting slogans of azadi. It was hypnotic, the last few days have been that way. In all the michhils since then, the tricolour has been a permanent fixture. Talking about flags, the omnipresence of the rainbow pride flag and the blue Bheem Army flags speaks a lot about the particularly inclusive nature of this movement. Protest 1While the red flag has been a global symbol of resistance for decades, it’s heartening to see it being eased of the solitary burden. The red, the blue, the rainbow, and the tricolour have raised a riot of resistance against the somber winter sky.

 

This winter has been of grief, this winter has been of resilience. Every visitor at Shaheen Bagh is bombarded by a retinue of questions from the women who have been braving the bitter Delhi cold in their fight to save the Constitution – “Have you had anything to eat?”, “Why haven’t you eaten anything?”, “You have come from such a distance, please have something.” The women of Shaheen Bagh belong to all ages – from 20 days old Ashiana, to nonagenarian Asma Khatun. The women of Shaheen Bagh raise slogans of azadi, the women of Shaheen Bagh sing songs of resistance, the women of Shaheen Bagh take care of each other, the women of Shaheen Bagh forge friendships while basking in the warmth of shared blankets. The women of Shaheen Bagh are often seen to break into impromptu dance sessions. However, swaying in resistance is not their exclusive forte. When a massive michhil culminated in Kolkata’s New Market area, a group of people started singing, dozens joined them, they held hands and went around in circles. While the  adivasi anthem of “gao chhorab nahi” (“we won’t leave this village”) was being sung, a local man, perhaps in his forties, sporting a big grin and tattered clothes, made his way to the centre of the circle and started dancing along the beats of the song – a song of resistance which in all probability he was hearing for the first time. He swayed in a manner as if the people around has been his closest friends since ages. A similar imagery was witnessed in Mumbai. A group of protesters, mostly students, had gathered at the Gateway of India. While slogans were being raised, an elderly gentleman, sporting a cap from under which fluffy white tufts of hair were peeping, started swaying along. In that sporadic moment of exuberance, arguably the youngest soul of the crowd made the demonstration a hundred times merrier.Protest 4

There has been passive participants galore. In one of the michhils in Jadavpur area of Kolkata, I caught the sight of a woman who was on a video call. I stole glances at her screen, and there were around three or four elderly women in a huddle. The active participant of the michhil tried hard to keep the women on the other side abreast with the michhil and the slogans. At one time one of her virtual audiences raised a clenched fist keeping in mood with the michhil. As we marched forward, a friend of mine drew my attention to a second floor balcony by the road. An old man sporting unabashed glee was holding the receiver of a landline phone of the bygone era, with his other infirm hand, he was holding the rest of the bulky phone. He was trying to capture the sounds of the michhil for the person on the other end – perhaps an old comrade, perhaps a forlorn lover, perhaps both at the same time. I would like to believe that he was reminiscing his old days, days when he was out on the streets, fighting on the right side of history. How dare I exclude that clenched fist on that five inch screen from the michhil! How dare I say that the man with his telephone was not matching his steps with ours!

 

Protest 3I have always identified more as a  Bangali than as an Indian. However, standing today, I can vouch for the fact that I have never felt more Indian before. We are standing on an oddly weird crossroad – at the very moment that the state is trying to mark us as non-bonafide infiltrators of the nation, we are feeling the most at one with that very nation. At the risk of resorting to a cliché, one cannot help but seek refuge in Dickens –

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

It’s a wonderful epoch when we are reclaiming the tricolour, the national anthem, the constitution, and at large the nation from the clenches of fascist goons. It’s a beautiful time to be alive, it’s a beautiful time to be out on the streets. Undoubtedly this is the darkest period in postcolonial India’s history, but this period is replete with the promise of a better future, perhaps a free India, an azad India in the truest sense of the poignant word. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I would like to believe that we are standing at the threshold of a revolution, for what even is revolution but a carnival of hope?

IMG_20190802_142754.jpgBarshana Basu completed her graduation from Jadavpur University and is currently pursuing her Masters in History from the same. Her areas of interest include the sociopolitical and cultural history of Kolkata in the colonial and post-colonial period, its built spaces, and migrant communities. She also harbours a strong penchant for Gender Studies. She’s a Citizen Historian with the 1947 Partition Archive. If not buried under a pile of books, she’s most likely to be found loitering around the labyrinthine alleyways of Kolkata, clicking pictures of odd edifices.

Bear Trap Heart – A Story by Vasundhara Mukherjee

The last time I had called, it was a winter night. You told me I had woken you up from a deep sleep. Waking up almost made you tear up a bit. I guess, your dreams had taken you to a faraway place, farther than your daydreams ever could. A land so far off, you didn’t want to return and yet you had to. The phone kept on ringing and they just wouldn’t stop. I didn’t want to give up on the dreams we had woven together like a quilted blanket to wear on a cold night. You woke up and picked up my call and I felt that familiar tug in my heart.

“Hi.”

“I was sleeping. You could’ve just left a message.”

“I wanted to hear your voice. I don’t know how much of that I’ll be able to get anymore.”

The silence that erupted after this pause was so heavy, so full. It could’ve drowned us both if it had gone on any longer than I’d let it.

“My mother was asking about you. She didn’t see you yesterday at the party. She loves you.”

I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to stay because my mother loved her so dearly.

“What happened to us?”

“I don’t know. One minute we were holding hands so tight, it hurt. The next minute, our hands were in our pockets, freezing cold. Did we just grow apart and didn’t realise when that happened?”

“You are a part of everything I feel, you know? I don’t know how else to step forward without looking if you’re walking beside me.”

“What’s next for us then?”

“I guess, we stay friends.”

But we were friends. I don’t think we could’ve been this close if we hadn’t been friends.

It’s been five years since this phone call. Thousands of leaves have changed their colours and fallen from the trees since then, many clouds have changed their shapes and drifted to some unknown, distant land. It’s another Christmas Eve today. Our conversations had met a dead end after that phone call that day but in my dreams I’ve caught you watching me from a distance. It kept me warm on days when all I wanted to do was just give up. I got to know about you from our mutual friends and although I tell them that it doesn’t bother me when they speak your name, I am lying. Wars break out in my skin, the very places your lips have kissed. But my face smiles so much, it makes my jaws hurt. The pretension kills me. “Why won’t they stop talking about you? Can’t they see that my life stopped after you left and I’ve been trying to walk in circles ever since? Can’t they see that my lungs are aching to take in your breaths but I can’t do that and it feels like gasping for air to breathe?”

“She used to talk about you,” one of them said.

“Oh yeah? I hope she said nice things.” I say.

“She never stopped talking when your name came up”, another followed.

I left.

I’m walking down this road, the same coffee shop where we had our first can’t-get-our-hands-off-of each other date, I’m making my way to the flower shop from where I bought your favourite flowers, the ones you’d make sure to keep forever by pressing them inside books, I’m walking down the path to your home. And I don’t stop.

Ever wondered why places and paths find a memorial space in our brains? It’s not the coffee shop or the late night favourite take out place that makes me stop in my tracks when I pass by. It’s how your eyes followed me back home every time we went to a place. I miss one piercing set of creamy, hazelnut coloured eyes watching me stride past the newspaper vendor. Did I mention how I developed a taste for hazelnuts since we got together? Now when I sit down sometimes to have a cup of hazelnut flavoured drink, I can never recall if I liked hazelnuts before you came into my life.

I reach my house. A small house with one bedroom and a kitchen with just enough room for one person bathroom. I take out our pictures and glance over them. I turn back one of them.

“We were alive in this moment. We lived, even if the ‘us’ died.”

I can’t keep it in anymore. The floodgates come open and I’m bawling. I know your number by heart. I dial it.

“Hello?”

There’s silence. It’s hanging in the air. Shall I speak? It’s your voice. The one I wanted to wake up to. The one I didn’t get to hear for so many years.

I can hear the muffled sounds on the other side.

“Mom, who is it?”

I hang up and wipe my face. I lie down on the floor and look up at the ceiling. There’s cobwebs in the corners. I’ve seen them in the morning light.

There was a single, endless scream inside of me. Summer nights dim the cityscape’s noise but not nearly as much as their winter counterparts. The ticking of the clock becomes more pronounced, the train whooshing past somewhere becomes more palpable. The hustle and bustle of the day manages to smother this scream during the day but at night, this scream howls so loudly, I feel like I’ll wake up the neighbourhood even though the scream is voiceless, rendering it “screamless”.

And suddenly, on this Christmas Eve, five years since that last phone call and today’s “Hello” from your side, I realise that I don’t miss you as much anymore. I get up, pull out a cigarette from my pocket and looked out the window. I listen to the embers of the last five years.

The river flows without you.

 

Vasundhara Mukherjee photo

Vasundhara Mukherjee is  a Masters student of International Relations at Jadavpur University. She dreams to live and reads to escape. More often than not, you’d find her with a pen and notebook in her hand. She is an introvert in person but an extrovert between the lines of a story.

A Story by John Brantingham

Argonaut

Alex moves to Jackson, California to work the Argonaut mine the day it collapses on all those people, and Alex feels the earth move when it happens. The man in the office says there will be work later, surely there will be work, but Alex needs food now. He used most of his money getting here, so he slips into his cousin’s room, who is one of the men trapped and surely dead below the ground, and he takes his rifle and a blanket and some water, and he walks out of town and into the woodland surrounding the town.

In this forest, he keeps seeing soldiers out of the corners of his eyes. He keeps feeling the ground moving underneath him as though mines are collapsing every moment. He wakes up the next morning, and spends two or three minutes trying to understand if this is still the war or if he was in the mine. A rifle lies next to him, but he is not wearing a uniform so he takes the rifle and holds it to himself as though it is a woman or the blanket he would clasp when he was very young, and he heard the devil outside his door.

He is still a little confused about where he is, but thinking that the war is probably over, when two men with red hats and rifles step into his field of view. He raises his rifle and aims at the man in the lead. They are creeping along slowly, quietly. Following something.

Alex remembers the men he brought down walking along the Danube. Three of them, and their rifles were slung on their backs, but they earned him a medal. He remembers the first one he shot across a wide field and under a tree. Alex could not believe that he was dead. He thought the man must have been pretending, and he checked the body after the battle. He remembers two other men, and he cannot remember why or where he killed them. They must have been the enemy.

These men are someone’s enemy, the enemy of whomever they are stalking, but he doesn’t know if they are his or not. He just can’t remember that or anything or maybe he was in the mine too, and this is a purgatory or forgetting.

Whatever it is, Alex lays down his gun next to him. If these men with their weapons come to him, he will surrender. If they shoot, he will not shoot back. Let the enemy fire. Let the earth shake. He decides that the war, for him at least, is over.

John BrantinghamJohn Brantingham is the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and his work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has authored eleven books of poetry and fiction including Crossing the High Sierra and California Continuum: Volume One. He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.

 

Photograph: An ode to Romance

Ritesh Batra’s Photograph is one of those movies that has managed to ask that one pertinent question, that the poets and playwrights have been asking for ages; The enigma, that romantic love is, has been put to question for the pragmatic eyes of the twenty first century’s audience. The yarn revolves around two characters who have been initiated into each other by sheer chance. Rafi alias Rafiullah (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a street photographer at India Gate and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is an aspiring chartered accountant. As the movie begins we see Rafi trying to charm his customers by saying “saalon baad jab aap yeh photo dekhenge, toh aapko aapke chehre peh ye dhoop dikhayi degi, Aap ke baalon mein yeh hawa aur aapke kaano mein hazaaron logonke awaazein. Sab chala jaayega ,hamesha ke liye sab chala jaayega”(years later when you look at this picture, you will be able to feel the same sun as you do now, the same wind that passes through your hair, the same humdrum of the city life will echo in your ears. This  moment will  most definitely perish but will forever be imprisoned in this photograph). Miloni on the other hand is seen as an industrious student who spends late nights burying her face amidst books. Her father is seen to be boastful of his younger daughter’s academic prowess. Miloni’s mother and elder sister seem to be making choices on her behalf as to which colour would suit her the most. Miloni complies with them in a manner which seems practiced. It is manifest that despite  having a mind of her own she has been denied to use it for a long time. On her way back from shopping Miloni comes across Rafi who tries to ensnare  another prospective customer by his poetic words . Miloni concedes and agrees to have a photograph taken. Rafi who is struggling to repay his father’s debt has been brought up by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar). This vivacious grandmother who appears later on the screen is determined to have her grandson married and settled. Rafi tries to put off the marriage by writing a letter to her, concocting a story of him being in love with a girl named Noorie and to make it believable, he sends the letter with a photograph of his last customer, that is Miloni. The eccentric grandmother decides to pay her grandson a visit hoping to meet the prospective bride. Now Rafi  sets out to find Miloni hoping that he could convince her to pose as his betrothed. Miloni quite surprisingly agrees. And they start meeting on a regular interval. They start sharing intimate details about  each other. Miloni, who doesn’t drink cola because of her sentimental attachment with Campa  Cola and her deceased grandfather , finds an unlikely friend in Rafi. Miloni who has long been out of practice of professing her thoughts gradually warms up to their domestic help . She  says she would love to visit her village. Rafi is constantly reminded of the societal dichotomy between him and Miloni. Meanwhile Miloni’s parents engage themselves in their daughter’s matchmaking. A business student with lucrative opportunities in America comes to meet Miloni. Miloni confesses she wishes to live in a village and work in a farm. Later she turns him down.

Rafi sets out on a fairytale-like adventure  to find Campa Cola for Miloni. He tracks down a Mr.Sodabottlewalah who had purchased the recipe from Campa when they went out of business. Rafi finally having found out what to give Miloni as a gift is left with a vacant face on the screen. Miloni too on a bus ride finds something. She finds her lost voice, she embraces herself as not wanting to be a Chartered Accountant. Photograph is also a story of the unbecoming of Miloni and becoming of Miloni. From being denied of a childhood dream of becoming an actor, to warding off the advancement of a possible predator posing as a harmless teacher(Jim Sarbh), Miloni starts to construct an identity of her own. Being the shrewd Dadi that she is, Rafi’s grandmother somehow deduces that Miloni is not of their religious belief and Noorie  not being her real name. Interestingly enough Dadi doesn’t come up with any religious protestations . Instead she encourages Rafi to find a home. Rafi , haunted by the ghost of a Tiwari(Vijay Raaz) who ostensibly hanged himself due to loneliness, makes up his mind on setting up a factory of Campa Cola. The very prospect of a Noorie gives rise to a struggle in Rafi to battle with man’s oldest enemy, loneliness. The obvious question that one ought to ask is of a philosophical sort. Can anybody dare to think that they can spend their life on Campa Cola? Campa  Cola being an obvious symbol for love. Will Miloni ever be able to leave behind her current life and pursue her juvenile dream of living in a village and possibly fall for Rafi? Or is it going to be another Telenapota Abiskar by Premendra Mitra? If someone is into art which is least didactic in nature and makes its audience ask questions, then Batra’s Photograph can definitely be given a chance.

Photograph can also be read as an ode to the romance of the earlier Bollywood. Rafi borrows the name Noorie from an old and typically romantic Yash Chopra movie by the same name. The song “tumne mujhe dekha”  from Teesri Manzil comes at the theatre scene, which also concludes the movie and fits in quite naturally. Two different Mumbai is vividly portrayed through the lens.

The background music successfully compliments the doleful longing of the central characters. The ending is deliberately left open for the audience to complete the story. Nawazuddin and Sanya have done justice to their roles. The cinematography by Tim Gillis and Ben kutchins helps the case the director is trying to make.

rohan dutta

Rohan Datta is a Post Graduation student at Maulana Azad College. He takes food very seriously. He lives for the sake of eating and not the other way around. The rest about him is privy to very few people.

Poems by Elvis Alves

For Victims of Natural Catastrophes

We cross the river to the other side where a mother

and child wait for the sun before going forward. The

 

new day a promise fulfilled to them. And us. So we

celebrate life every day because a catastrophe can

 

happen without a moment’s notice. Uprooting. To

transport the will where it does not want to go.

 

A stubbornness unfamiliar only in its familiarity,

like a counterpart that is part of the whole.

 

Life happens with intrusions. It is true that every-

thing breaks and needs fixing. An answer that precedes

 

the question that births it. There is a fate

that becomes you and that you need to make

 

a home of, with walls of hope that let love in.

 

Saint Coltrane

 

Lost in the stars, any sound means life.

Humanity pulls, as it grows, from the unknown.

What title you give it wares away into oblivion.

 

Shine as wisdom’s incisive cut—know this above

all else.

 

Music is a spaceship. It travels beyond the ears,

and into the heart. Into the soul.

 

Dig there with might. Find what you may, there.

Dance with the rhythm of life.

 

Out of life’s chaos, create rhythm and not order.

This will help you move along—a path, a journey—

 

or something of the kind.

 

Pray to Saint Coltrane on the way. He who knows

joy and pain—they are in his music.

 

Choice

 

There is no heart here. If there is one, it beats irregularly.

What wakes to the call of the day meets the same fate as he

 

who refuses to rouse from sleep, a dream or body holding in

place that whose fate lies somewhere else but draws close with

 

the passing of time. The heart that beats on its own, or because

it is tugged, lends a paradigm that obstructs the truth its subject

 

begs to know. Yes, the heart can be a shallow pond. Or a river or

ocean that knows the depth of love.

Elvis pic.jpg

 

Elvis Alves  is the author of Bitter Melon (2013), Ota Benga (2017), and I Am No Battlefield But A Forest Of Trees Growing (2018), winner of the Jacopone da Todi poetry book prize. Elvis lives in New York City with his family.

Review of Parimal Bhattacharya’s Bells of Shangri-La by Barnamala Roy

See the source image

I had recently returned from the misty hill station of Takdah, 28 kilometers from Darjeeling when I came across this book. ‘Takdah’ is a Lepcha word which means ‘fog’ or ‘mist’ and true to its name, sunlight there is scarce even in the summer months of May and June. The wetness of the weather and the mingled strains of the Sunday mass and the Buddhist chants break the silence and peace prevailing there all day. But the question haunts you: how long can one enjoy this peace in the damp and joyless weather?

The same question also comes up in Parimal Bhattacharya’s accounts of his own travels in Bells of Shangri-La: Scholars, Spies and Invaders in Tibet published by Speaking Tiger. He weaves autobiography with historical accounts of other travelers and explorers. In his autobiographical accounts, he talks of the weather in Darjeeling that brings a spell of depression to someone born and brought up in the plains. Bhattacharya mentions a string of suicides by invalid British soldiers in a sanatorium in Senchal (Darjeeling) in the mid-19th century. It is the monotony of uneventful day to day living while posted as a professor in Darjeeling (“My days in Darjeeling followed each other like flocks of sheep over the cliff of amnesia”) that pushes the author into depression too. He buries himself in his scholarly pursuits and tries to fill the gaps in historical data. In the process, he is visited by feelings of eeriness or the uncanny, thanks to natural phenomenon like the Broken Spectre, which makes the book more like a detective novel.

The author’s curiosity is driven as much by the aim of solving geographical mysteries as also by the excitement of exploring the personal lives of travelers and explorers who have been lost to the annals of time. He discovers a rare document, priced at eighteen thousand rupees- ‘Report of Pundit Kinthup’s Exploration of Yarlung Tsangpo’  in an old book shop in Mall Road, Shimla and immediately remembers an earlier discovery of a copy of the same report at a kabari shop in Darjeeling. A connection is established between the two hill stations of the Himalayas, miles apart on the map.

Bhattacharya is interested in Kinthup because he was sent to Tibet to explore the course of the Tsangpo Brahmaputra River by the Survey of India.  Kinthup was a tailor by occupation; he could neither read nor write but knew the basics of topographic survey and was gifted with an amazing memory. What surpassed all this was however his dedication to complete his mission even under the most trying conditions. By putting the tailor’s records against the records of Joseph Dalton Hooker (19th century British botanist and explorer), George Bogle (Scottish adventurer and diplomat) and Sarat Chandra Das (school master and later-day noted Tibetologist), the author erases the line dividing scholarly interest and natural curiosity. He dismisses the elitism of scholarly pursuits and gives back the power of intellectual labour to the common man and woman. The title of the book is also suggestive of the same: ‘…..Scholars, Spies and Invaders in Tibet’.

The book unfolds before us the past lives of Kinthup, Hooker, Bogle, Alexandra, Sarat Chandra Das and Eric Bailey all travelling through difficult terrains to solve geographical mysteries. The author follows in their tradition. Bailey follows in Kinthup’s footsteps, Sarat Chandra Das in the footsteps of George Bogle and the author incorporates the records of all these travels in his own journeys. It is about looking at landscapes anew, with fresh eyes, while always being aware of other ways of seeing in different circumstances, as different people. Bhattacharya looks at these landscapes with the eyes of a poet; his descriptions are vivid and aesthetic- pink and scarlet flowers float in soupy grey fog, mountains lose their crowns in the clouds, trees hold up the sky like columns. Particularly striking is the description of how dusk falls during the winter months at the small frozen village in the Yangma Valley:

 “Before the fleeting daylight would fade, women with wooden tubs would crawl out of the cottages and call the animals in. For a while, the slopes would come alive with shrill human voices and deep bovine grunts answering them. And then, as the temperature would plummet further, milk would freeze in the yaks’ udders, the mountain springs would freeze like candle drippings, the rumble of avalanches would echo in the deathly silence. On clear nights countless stars, pulsating and large, would transform the sky into the coat of a snow leopard in flight.”

Bhattacharya’s book is a passage through time – he notes how the ways of exploration have changed through the ages. The spies, scholars and invaders travelled to Tibet on the sly in Kinthup and Sarat Chandra Das’s time; the author now explores the terrains through organized tours or study tours on Public Private Partnership (PPP). He also comments on the advent of home stays in the hill towns of the Himalayas and how they have changed the economy. The author astutely observes how local life and culture is exhibited and sold to guests and customers – he finds this custom disconcerting. This disconcertion echoes in the utter bewilderment Kinthup experiences on his first encounter with modernization (colonization). The town of Darjeeling had transformed beyond recognition during Kinthup’s absence – his years of adventures and misadventures had cost him his family and he was on the verge of losing his sanity at the sight of the unfamiliar steel tracks in his hometown. Kinthup was ignorant about railway tracks and mistook it for a snake, making himself the butt of ridicule.

The author observes the pathos of Kinthup and Sarat Chandra Das’s life. They passed their twilight years in obscurity and in Kinthup’s case, poverty, cradling extraordinary experiences of their adventures in their minds while living the drudgery of everyday existence. Their colossal effort and dedication were erased from public memory and no longer recognized by the government.

‘Bells of Shangri-la’ also talks about the breaking of stereotypes: Alexandra David Neel, the French mystique is a woman traveler who survives blizzards and braves disguises during her expeditions and lives up to the age of hundred and one. Liekwise, Sarat Chandra Das breaks the stereotype of effeminate Bengali man through his mountainous adventures.

The author has lent a keen and generous ear to past records and brought forgotten lives to light, all the while weaving a poetic experience for his readers. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in history, culture, mystery and adventure.

See the source imageBarnamala Roy has a M.A. in English from Presidency University, Kolkata. She reads an assortment of things, thinks about the films she no longer has time to watch, philosophizes, watches birds and feels more at home in the animal and plant kingdom. A freelance writer, editor and translator, she is currently developing video-content for an Educational App-Notebook, living life and lying low. She takes time off each month and travels to remote areas in West Bengal for fieldwork and sanity.