Poems by Amitava Nag

 

Who is sadder?

Who is sadder than a Monday?
Visiting empty-handed like a lonely frog,
Cold beneath desires
Nowhere to go, but
To follow a Sunday,
A new one every week.

Who is sadder, than a circle?
Mating its own lunacy
Forgets where is the head,
Where lies the tail, a search
Over and over again,
Cannot stop.

Who is sadder than the horizon?
Meet in fantasy,
Part in real,
Tears and laughter —
Once, I was both you and me,
Who is sadder than us?

 

 

Self-Portrait

 

I am faithful to this room,

More precisely this window,

Every morning I rise

To the life outside in dust,

Lovely girls flirting over lovers in their palms,

Young boys stand with their backs to me – pee on the roadside bushes,

Buses run heavy with school children,

Honking at the sight of women with delicious curves.

 

I am faithful to this window

Because lowlights trick the mirrors,

I close my eyes and fall

Like paid love and discarded self,

I don’t look at the window with my nostalgia,

The window, is, a nostalgia of the window,

I simply look at me and feel the dirt,

Self-portraits turn out best when one owns a window.

 

 

Crossroads

 

At the crossroads I can see girls

Like wormholes on an earthen pile,

Deserted, but plenty,

I feel invited – 

Men need to follow smell 

I thought,

Someone must have told me growing up –

Islands are informational in this way,

 

I still crack my eyes looking at the Sun, 

As I walk around the beach in all four,

Barking at the waves with froth on their heads,

To fool men 

I can see the girls hiding with red crabs

So many this dawn, shivering in cold,

I sit with my pain, gulping details

A sea brings to waiting throats

Slit in agony of captive souls, bleeding,

 

Too many waves lap and leave

Traces and stresses, 

Bite with false dentures,

Crossroads roam around planets, 

Whisper and wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Amitava Nag writes poetry and short fiction in English and Bengali with anthologies published in both the genres and in both languages. Amitava also writes extensively on cinema and has authored 5 books till date. He has been the editor of ‘Silhouette’ film magazine since 2001.

Lest we forget…on Hathras and beyond: a poem by Bhumika R. with Illustration from Subarnarekha Pal

A tale of walking to the fields

Mother and daughter guzzled down half a cup of sugary tea

The daughter wrapped a dupatta on her head, fixing it with her hairclip

And the mother pulled her saree over her face and walked ahead.

They both walked holding sickles in hand,Mother and daughter.

They would be back well before their family woke up for breakfast, they had whispered while

drinking their sugary tea that morning.

Until then they would harvest their crops.

Mother and daughter.

After daybreak, the mother returned alone

She didn’t cook her family’s breakfast nor did she brew their tea.

Her daughter needed to be brought back from the field.

Mother and her young son walked hurriedly towards their field

To bring back the girl lying crouched

On the crushed sheaves of unharvested wheat,

Smeared with coagulated blood.

Mother and son walked longer than they ever had before.

Their field seemed to have walked somewhere too.

Or had they lost their way?

They walked hurriedly, sweating, dazed and lost

to bring their little girl home.

Their little girl now lying crouched on the crushed, unharvested sheaves of wheat

Smeared with old coagulated blood.

Hathras Illustration

Bhumika R completed her Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2019. She has taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and in IIT Jammu and plans to resume teaching soon.

Besides her academic publications, Bhumika has also contributed articles to Cafe Dissensus Everyday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She also writes poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse and her short story ‘Nameless’ has been published in the borderlessjournal. Currently she is translating Mizo author Malswami Jacob’s novel Zorami into Kannada. She lives with her husband in Jammu.

Bhumika may be contacted at patrika.bhumika@gmail.com.

Subarnarekha Pal is an independent thinker and enthusiast and jams poetry with her friend. Amidst everything, she struggles to be an artist.

An Interview with Arundhathi Subramaniam

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a multiple award-winning author who is internationally renowned for her many books of poetry and prose. Widely translated and anthologised, her volume of poetry, When God is a Traveller (2014) was the Season Choice of the Poetry Book Society and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  She has won such awards as the Khushwant Snigh Memorial Prize for poetry, the Zee Women’s Award for Literature, Mystic Kalinga Literary Award, the International Piero Bigongiari Prize in Italy etc. Her most recent anthology of poetry is Love without a Story, which was published in 2019. In this free-wheeling conversation she talks to Abin Chakraborty about her poems, craft and perspectives with her usual eloquence and depth.

Picture from Wikipedia.org

1.   Can you tell us a bit about your poetic process? Do you write daily with the determined practice of a musician or do you wait for the urge to gradually evolve within you before taking pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard?

I am at my keyboard each day, primarily because I have a writer’s twitchy fingers! I don’t necessarily write a new poem each day, but I do spend a lot of time tinkering with poems. And I do a fair amount of prose. So whether it’s an essay, a review, an article, even email, it’s difficult to stay away from the laptop. And poems are always around – in terms of books by my bedside, or a manuscript someone’s asked me to read. So, even if I don’t write poetry daily, I’m breathing it in pretty regularly.

2.   Which poets, Indian or foreign, have been the biggest artistic influences on your career?

Well, I’m an omnivorous reader, so I’m sure all the poets I’ve enjoyed over the years have had some impact on my understanding of poetry. My early poetics were shaped by all the poets I’d read and loved – TS Eliot, Keats, Wallace Stevens, Neruda, Rilke, Basho, the Zen poets. I was also shaped by my immediate context: Nissim Ezekiel with his emphasis on craft, Eunice de Souza with her poetry of economy, Arun Kolatkar with his poetry of imagistic precision. Mumbai simply abounded in interesting poets – Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel, Imtiaz Dharker, as well as the Poetry Circle, the wonderful writer’s group I frequented for more than a decade. What this context offered me was an ecosystem, and a constant reminder that poetry is about a journey of craft, not a single divine downpour of creative exuberance. Later in my life, I became a rasika of the Bhakti and Sufi poets, particularly the heady blend of the sensual and sacred one finds in poets like Nammalvar, Hafiz, Akka Mahadevi, Annamacharya. Today, as I look around me, I realise books by John Burnside, AK Ramanujan and Dennis Nurkse are invariably within arm’s distance.

3. Your poems often move with the gradual accretion of resonant details, to eventually culminate in a short line or two that like a flash illuminate anew everything that has preceded them. Is that a deliberately chosen structure or simply the structure of the experiences themselves?

That is an insightful observation. It isn’t planned, but it might have something to do with my own fascination, as a reader, for poems with arresting beginnings (John Donne’s verse, for instance), or the distillation one finds in poetry of extreme succinctness, like the haiku. My work isn’t always minimalist, but I do like the oscillation between expansion and contraction, between image and statement, the line that stays determinedly grounded and the line that reaches for the stars. I like to be led by metaphor through a poem, but there frequently comes a time in the poem when you reach a point of sparseness, of extreme distillation, when to say more is to undo the whole point of the exercise. That is the moment of what you call “the flash”, and that’s the time to stop and say no more. In a draft, one might write much more. But while revising the work, it is often clear that much of that doesn’t have to be said at all. The poem can work quite well without the flab. Learning when to shut up is an important part of becoming a poet!

4. The laconic/ironic edge found in some of your earlier poems has apparently been replaced in “Love without a story” to a voice of genial warmth that is willing to accommodate all kinds of diversities– something that may be summed up as a shift from the “meritocracy of heart” to “democracy of tongues”. Is that a valid observation? If yes, would you please elaborate upon this evolution of the poetic voice?

Another interesting observation. I see the ‘meritocracy of the heart’ and ‘the democracy of tongues’ as part of a continuum, Abin. They are part of a widening journey of the heart, a journey of deepening inclusiveness, in which the gaze ‘includes more than it leaves out’ (‘Let There Be Grid’), a journey in which intimacy and spaciousness are increasingly seen as inseparable. 

But yes, I think there is a stronger note of equipoise in the new book. I wasn’t aware of it when writing the poems, but when I look at the volume now, I see that it is there. How did it happen? I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t a programmatic attempt to sit and write less laconic poetry. Some inner shifts have probably occurred – in the quiet, undramatic way in which tectonic shifts in our interior life happen – that must have inflected my perspective. And as I’ve often said, poetry for me is deeply linked to a journey of self-understanding and self-integration. That journey is primary. And it is reflected, I suppose, in the poetry.

My personal aspiration is to allow the poetry to grow subtle without losing voltage, without losing intensity. So as long as equipoise and expansiveness is accompanied by energy, by octane, I’m okay with it. But if the poems start losing form, spine, poise, I would definitely be concerned!

5. As a part of this evolution, your recent poems travel not only across space but across apparent religious divides as well, from Tibetan Buddhists to Sufi saints and pilgrims to more local South Indian Hindu deities and devotees. In the current socio-political climate, how difficult is it to sustain such an inclusive credo?

Yes, I’m aware of this. And precisely because our climate is growing increasingly fraught and polarized, I think it is more important than ever before to keep speaking our own truth the way we want to speak it. I may not wave a flag that proclaims religious diversity or tolerance. But I would like to invite readers to places the way I inhabit them. I am fascinated by the textures of spirituality in diverse traditions, and that fascination is bound to bleed into the work. 

The realm of the sacred has nothing to do with slogans anyway; it is about entering a space where words have to be uttered sparingly, and sometimes murmured, even whispered, rather than belted out. Besides, by walking and witnessing the world in our own very singular ways I believe we make more of a difference than we know – subtly but surely. I do believe that even the murmured truth, if uttered with integrity, can modify the frequency of a discourse.

I am always comfortable around seekers – those who employ commas and question marks and pauses plentifully in their conversations. By the same token, I am uncomfortable around dogmatists – religious or political, sacred or secular, those who speak with shuddering full stops, those incapable of self-irony. Rather than rage against the latter, I’d like to speak to the former. I’ve learnt over time to adopt the same language of habitual rage and scorn to counter a dogmatic attitude is counter-productive: the attitude grows harder, and you end up with laryngitis!

The mystic poets demonstrate this on another level altogether, don’t they? How else do we explain our awe and fascination with Nammalvar or Kabir or Rumi or Tukaram today? They remind us that language, when birthed in conditions of great heat and self-implication when the very heart is at risk, can create reverberations that can transfigure human lives for centuries. It can alter the very ways in which we map our world today.

6. Perhaps as an extension of this inclusivity, we also see in your love poems a celebration of the power of love to bring opposites together, a telling example being the line: “With you/even the moon smells/of mackerel”.

I’m so glad you chose that particular image. Yes, that is precisely the kind of opposition that interests me. That’s the excitement I feel around metaphor – its capacity to remind us that the world is smoky and crunchy, spiritual and material all at once. In ‘Mitti’, another poem in the book, I speak of the role of the poet as that of a ‘messenger between moon and mud’. And I do believe that is the business of the poet: to remind us of all the wild and wonderful ways in which this universe, and we as its inhabitants, are connected.

Put another way, Abin, this has probably been one of the most important realisations for me, as my spiritual practices deepened – that we are not just matter or spirit. We are both! An obvious fact, perhaps, and one that ought to be self-evident, but one that it took me ages to recognize. But since I realise this more viscerally than I did before, I suppose that realization is part of the poetry too.

7. This combination of the visual and the olfactory is yet another example of how several senses merge together to create that world of unified sensibility which characterises your poetry. Again, is this deliberate or just the structure of the felt experience?

Well, I think that is the nature of our felt experience, isn’t it? We are all essentially synesthetic beings. We have simply been encouraged to forget it, to fragment our experience of reality in so many ways. Because of that forgetting, it is a conscious effort initially to reclaim and hone that way of seeing in language. That is part of one’s sadhana as a poet, one might say. Or at least, sadhana for the kind of poet I want to be. So, it is deliberate, to that extent. But after a point, it becomes so much a part of one’s way of processing the world: to look for the colour in numbers, for instance, or the grain of an abstract noun, or even to sniff out the authenticity of a person.

8. Nature plays a particularly potent role in your latest anthology. Leaves, trees, petals, mud, rivers – all merge with various moods and states of being with seamless ease. Have you always been so close to nature or is this too a part of ‘the fine art of ageing’?

Yes, I am aware that the natural landscape has entered this work like never before. I’m glad about that. I’ve been a poet of cities earlier, and even the trees in my earlier poems have been largely metropolitan entities, holding their own amid glass skyscrapers and neon signs. I must confess at the start that both ‘Mitti’ and ‘A First Monsoon Again’ were commissioned poems. (I was approached by a newspaper to write on rain; that’s how the monsoon poem happened. And I was asked by another newspaper to incorporate a word, suggested by one of its readers, into a poem. The word I was assigned was ‘mitti’; and that’s how that poem grew.)

But let me add that I wouldn’t have agreed to these ideas if they hadn’t struck a chord within me. Why did they strike a chord? Well, I suppose ‘the fine art of ageing’ does have something to do with it. I am certainly more conscious nowadays of my need to walk barefoot in the grass, to feel the sand beneath my feet on the beach. It may also have something to do with the time I spend at the Isha ashram in Coimbatore – a place of great natural beauty, at the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains. Perhaps my deepening preoccupation with Devi has something to do with it too: you really cannot have a relationship with a goddess without acknowledging earth and trees and stars, basically, all the glorious thinginess of this world! It could be all the above reasons. I don’t really know. But I think I like the equipoise – there’s no escaping that word in this conversation, is there? – between earth and sky in these poems.

9. Different authors have coped with the pandemic in different ways. Anthologies featuring authors’ responses as well as literary representations on the pandemic are also being released. How have you coped with the lockdown and other consequences of the pandemic?

Well, the first six weeks were restless, unquiet. The world around was ablaze too – as it still is – with raging narratives and counter-narratives, with conspiracy theories and fake news outbreaks. I was reminded time and again of the Buddha’s Fire Sermon. Then I realized that tuning into this madness was disempowering. It felt right to trust a simpler way to navigate these times – trusting the body’s need for exercise, sleep, food, yoga, stillness. It helped.

Gradually, some poems began to happen. I have also managed to work on a book of essays that I’d deferred for a long while. And I’ve been helping Sadhguru with a book on karma. So, it’s not been unproductive. But the real work has been more internal, I think – spending time with oneself, feeling one’s way into spaces of unease, of relegation, learning to trust one’s feelings more deeply. It’s been an intense seven months – difficult at times, but not unrewarding!

10. Finally, any word of advice for the budding authors?

I’m not sure budding authors ever want advice! But here are some possible suggestions. One: don’t feel your first draft must be your last. Enjoy the inspired moment of birthing a poem. But don’t forget to enjoy the whole journey of crafting it. Workshopping a poem can be a very pleasurable process – full of surprise and sensual discovery. Two: read! Read widely, read deeply, read guiltlessly, buy books of poetry, spend time with poems that you enjoy and figure out what it is that makes them work. I’ve learnt more by immersing myself in what I love than by being in any formal classroom situation. Three: you don’t have to be anxious to publish, or in a hurry to arrive. It is not the length of your bibliography that matters. It’s the quality of your work – its depth, artistry and authenticity.

 

For more on Arundhathi Subramaniam go to https://arundhathisubramaniam.webs.com/

Love without a Story can be had from https://www.amazon.in/Love-Without-Story-Arundhathi-Subramaniam/dp/9388689453/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Quarantined Words: Reflections by Suranjana Choudhury

“The random, the unscreened, allows you to find what you don’t know you are looking for….”

Rebecca Solnit

Prelude:

These thoughts came to me when we experienced a temporary shutdown of internet connection last December in many parts of India’s northeast. I live in Shillong, a hill station that has lovely pine trees and wonderful clouds. When this shutdown happened I was sitting at home waiting for the internet to come back. The words that were meant to be sent through whatsapp, mails, facebook etc remained stranded due to this unexpected prohibition. I was reading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day during those days and I could connect with the mood of isolation evoked in the novel.

Many people were stranded too in different places. There was a sense of fright and insecurity everywhere in the region. I came to know about two incidents that happened with people I knew- the family of my domestic help and the cab driver who used to drive me to the airport whenever I needed to travel. I talk about them here.

The idea of being isolated, stranded has been haunting me for a long time. I write about these people to reflect on human endeavors to connect and communicate. I started noting my responses to the incidents and these jottings have spilled over to my thoughts about the global situation, especially because we are experiencing different forms of shutdown and isolation now.  

Words, remembered and forgotten :

Words have their own itinerary. The words that I had sent through whatsapp, messenger and emails were address bound, but somewhere along the way, they were left stranded. These were composed, arranged words in the form of responses or questions awaiting answers. The questions that are serious and important turn unimportant in the course of a few days. New questions emerge and draw our attention, we forget the old ones. I have been thinking about words that have been written at different points of time and place and their various destinations ever since internet stopped working at my place. The destinations have been suddenly suspended from accessibility. We believe we own our ways, and then, suddenly our ways and routes disown us without even asking us. I have never thought of the matter in quite this way all these years; but unrest, violence, curfew, internet shutdown prompt me to think along such lines. Poets, philosophers have told us often that air, water, clouds, rains do not cease moving when some humans fight against each other. One would not dare to resist the firmness and steadiness of their movements; they are mercifully free from all kinds of shutdowns. Does it mean that movement, or rather say, pace-defined, destination-bound movement cause problems? I was rereading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and was struck by what Mr. Cardinal had to say on this to Mr. Stevens, “I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if the Almighty had created us all as-well-as sort of plants. You know, firmly embedded in the soil. Then none of this rot about wars and boundaries would have come up in the first place.” I remember Sumana Roy’s reflections on becoming a tree in her book “How I Became a Tree”. After all, movements also involve crossing of boundaries. How do words cross boundaries as they move around?

When Lucky and Shivam went with their papa to see his work, they knew they’d be coming back home in the evening. The other half of the family was busy minding their work near home like any other day. Papa and his kids were stranded after a mob came and destroyed shops, cars, bikes and whatever that could not run away from them. Their names could be different elsewhere in another time. Everywhere names decide who must be scared and who must scare. Oftentimes people are differently circumstanced because of their names. The papa was confused, his regular route could bring him only danger. So, he took his kids and led them towards a shorter route. These unformed roads are like the broken branches of a tree, they remain unclaimed, guardian-less. Such secondary roads have lives of their own. People occasionally take these roads. Lucky’s papa, in his attempt to protect his children, chose one of these roads and reached his sister’s house. They walked in great haste disregarding the crooked edges of stones that hurt these three pairs of feet at times. Such walks can make hair turn grey unexpectedly fast. The wound on the skin or breathlessness caused by such unprepared speed was less menacing than the tremors of the mind. We live amidst different kinds of fear, the sources are many; there lies fear of diseases, depths of darkness, fear of knowing more than what we want to know. We accept these fears as we’d accept cloudy skies on torturous cold mornings. To an indefinable sense of insecurity must be attributed his decision to walk this previously unexplored path. They found a temporary shelter. The temporariness of their refuge continued beyond what they expected. Peace seemed to belong to the past, people thought so, forgetting that unsettling past was also an immediate present for many. We often reflect compulsively if our past had been far happier than our own times.

Ali Bhaiya narrated to me what had happened to him in his city; how a scary night unfolded before him. The horrors of that night made him drive his vehicle from one corner of the city to another, seeking refuge and safety. As he drove towards his home, he grew increasingly aware of trails of smoke travelling upwards onto the sky. Bhaiya hadn’t realised till that day that smoke could follow such swift and unorthodox paths. He also took note of the colour of smoke, it was an odd mix of grey and black. It looked diseased. He tried looking for shadows of big vehicles, shadows are reassuring, and they create illusions. He tried hiding behind those bigger vehicles. He felt feverish; the warmth of his body was trying to cope up with the flames outside. He wanted rain- big, fat raindrops to usher in some cold. As I listened to him, I remembered some fleeting images of my past- street uproars, neighbourhoods in flames, alert nights-one narration reaffirms the presence of the other, the one that we think never existed. We forget to give it the attention that it warrants, and then night like this reappears and reminds us of its character to repeat itself. Ali Bhaiyya saved his car because he discovered safer roads and reached home.

Do words have homes too?

Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her essays and reviews have been published in different journals and magazines including Scroll.in, The Wire, Biblio, The Statesman, Café Dissensus, Humanities Underground, Coldnoon Travel Poetics and Elsewhere. She may be contacted at suranjanaz@gmail.com 

Collaborative Poetry from Aishwarya Das Gupta and Subarnarekha Pal

These poems are a result of collaborations between Aishwarya and Subarnarekha which resemble jam sessions conducted by musicians. Instead, in their poetry jam sessions, the two young collaborators allow their fertile imaginations and striking sensibilities to fuse and mingle into fascinating wholes that would surely captivate readers. Read on to delve deeper into the surreal innovations from this daring duo who call themselves “Wyrd Whistlers”:

******

শতবর্ষের আঘাত- বোনা চাঁদ
জ্বলে আর নেভে
বন্দী যুক্তাক্ষরেরা ঘুমায় নিঃশব্দ ছায়ায়
আলোক জটাধারী নক্ষত্রমন্ডল
চেয়ে থাকে
ধোঁয়া ধোঁয়া নেশায় এক ব্রহ্মাণ্ড থেকে অন্য ব্রহ্মাণ্ডে দৌড়ে চলে
জ্যোৎস্না ভুলিয়ে দেয়
পৃথিবীর ক্ষত
এক টুকরো শেষ বাসনা
কুন্ডলী হয়ে ভাসে

উর্ধ্বগামী চারণায় , উৎসের খোঁজে

******

ভুলে যাওয়া বাদামী শব্দগুলো
আবিরের মতো উড়িয়ে দিলাম
অশেষের মাঝে,
অবশিষ্ট আমি।
থেকে যাই অল্পেতে–
সময়ের পরমাণুতে
বদলে যায় সময়ের সরল গন্ধ
হাঁপিয়ে উঠি জটিল আমি।
হাত বাড়াই আলো ছুঁতে চেয়ে
অন্ধকারে খুঁজে নিই খোলস,
নিদ্রা তখন আলো হয়ে ঘনায়
বাতাসের ঘন গরলে ঝিমিয়ে পড়া ঘণ্টা
জানান দেয় নতুন রাতের।
শব্দগুলো হাহাকার করে ওঠে…
আবার ফিরে যাই কবিতায়, কবিতা হয়ে।

******

The Whistling kettle
Opens a door in my head.
One old quilt was all I had
When the train cut through the thick and unhappy snow
Of late December.
I was reminded of the soft October night–
I killed the last of the sparks with my shoes.
Cursed by the ashes, I never turned back.
I forgot what forgetfulness looked like
And put all my pennies to buy a jar of clouds.
But the clouds soon turned into a dark smog of loneliness.
I burnt a box full of matches and set fire to it.
The smoke I inhaled,
The fire kept me warm.
The fire soon froze into a hollow nightmare–
Where I danced.
Wore a white satin dress.
Wore a purple mask.
They fitted well with all my blues.
I danced till the dark sky threatened to envelope me
And leave me starless… The nightbound travellers held me back, tied me down
With the threads of despair.
I traded the last piece of my poetry for freedom.

******

This is the hundredth time I’m picking up
The fallen autumns in my hands.
Their browns have seeped into my soul,
Crawling and crumbling–
The Cold of the moon touches me
Breathing it’s magic in my dreams
I write them in my letters to the unborn supernovae
I enclose the untold tales of a dead generation–
But there are histories withering away in my fists.
My fingers still itch
To scratch the surface of the future…
When a new light will be born
Out of bones.
And dust.

Aishwarya Das Gupta teaches in Calcutta Girls’ College. She is a weaver of words who loves to recede into her bubble of silent dreams. She is an avid reader, lover of cinema and creative arts and if left alone to her own devices, may be found lingering under the shady bough of a lonely tree.

Subarnarekha Pal is our resident artist, illustrator and Instagram specialist. She is an independent thinker and enthusiast and jams poetry with her friend. Amidst everything, she struggles to be an artist.