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.