Fiction | ‘Unborn’ by Arsheen Kaur

When Shashi reached home that evening, the sun was shriveling behind a huge tree. The sky looked like a large stretch of land spilling shades of crimson and amber. Birds had begun returning home, just like Shashi. She got down from the auto-rickshaw, relieved to have reached home before dark; paid the fare and took her trolley bag tucked beneath the seat. Her eyes struggled to match the composed clothing of her face. She opened the familiar iron gate and saw her mother standing near the water cooler, coiling the water pipe. Shashi smiled and ran towards her. Her mother stumbled a little at the sudden weight, gleamed with teary eyes and held her tight, “I was thinking about you, I made your favorite daal khichdi with jeera aalu.”

“How was the bus journey? Did you get a nice seat?” She asked.

“Yes, it was alright.”

They went inside. Ravi was cramming the table of 9, looking at his notebook, as if it was reading back to him. On hearing her voice, he got up and ran towards her. “I passed with a distinction, didi!” He said, hugging her. Shashi bent down and kissed his forehead, “Very good. I’ll take you to the fair next week and we will have your favorite vanilla ice-cream.” Delighted, he took her bag and dragged it inside, keeping it next to his cupboard in the hall. 

Shashi greeted her father, who was busy cleaning his spectacles. He didn’t seem too exhilarated at the sight of her. 

Didi, will you tell me stories of the city?” Ravi asked with excitement. 

Shashi walked towards him, plucked his checks, and said, “Yes!”

After all, like a hawker on his routine round through the streets, she, too, had many stories of the city (un)settled within her, waiting to get out of her head. Stories about creepy neighbours, tall buildings, buses brimming with people, streets lined with cars, nights lurking with insomnia, unforgiving traffic, and about her mother-in-laws’ friend who burps after every bite and every glass of water. She knew that Ravi would laugh all night listening to these stories of the city he had never seen. Human fascination with things not seen has a different kind of indulgence. 

***

This was the second time in less than two years that Shashi had come home after her marriage. The last time she did, she was mourning the loss of her first child. Emotionally distressed and wrecked from the miscarriage, she was left at her parent’s home by her husband at the behest of his dear mother. In those three months, she thought about never returning to the marriage, innumerable times, but that was never considered even a remotely practical possibility. She felt as if she was clambering her way into forgiving herself for letting this horrible accident happen to her and to her child. 

Every day, she would curse herself for being naive and ignorant and stupid, and for losing her child. Every moment was a gnawing silence since then. Every night, she found herself drowning, further and deep, in the guilt of not being able to raise her voice –  she had almost forgotten how she sounded. For a woman, to not know the sound of her own voice is ominously closer to her not knowing what she wants to be. 

How could she forgive her mother-in-law? The woman who had plotted to terminate her pregnancy after knowing about the gender of the child! Shashi believed the doctor she was taken to, did the tests, and was swept away by the amount of care bestowed on her by her mother-in-law. She thought she was being cared for because she was pregnant and was going to give birth to her grandchild. She took the prescribed medicines given by her twice a day, there was not an iota of suspicion. Why would there be? Her mother-in-law was educated and looked sensible. She worked at a clinic. Her husband said he loved her, be it a boy or a girl. There was nothing to be suspicious about. Why would she doubt anything at all then?

It was such a deplorable thought! How could she? She was her husband’s mother. How could she!

At her parent’s home, she remained busy doing household chores as everyone left for work. Her father left at about 10 am to open his convenience shop, her mother left at 7 for the school where she worked as a cleaner, and Ravi left with her. Shashi would be alone, and all it took was a bare, silent moment for her to drop on the ground weeping for her dead child. Her hands would go numb with fury, and her heart would split into peas. 

***

Ravi jumped on the bed and tugged at her to tell him stories of the city. “How big is it? How many people live in a city? How big are the houses? Are there any birds there? They don’t have carts like us, do they? Do they have cars like in my science book?” He asked all at once, the excitement for some dream fodder flitting through his eyes. 

Shashi looked at him. She thought her story is definitely not one he would understand at the tender age of seven. She stroked his hair and promised herself to tell him her story someday so he won’t become like the men she knew. 

“There are huge buildings, you know, as high as the sky. About 10-15 floors, even more in most buildings. Every building is taller than the other, every road leads to a new road, and everyone seeks comfort in the noise of traffic and the motion of days.”

***

For many families in India, having children, many children is a matter of tradition. Having many boys is a matter of pride. Who made this the way it is? I questioned myself when I first heard this from a neighbour who would get pregnant, year after year, only in the hope of a boy. 

“After all, sons will light the pyre at my funeral. They will enlighten the generations and they will do us proud. Girls are never really our own. They never belong to their parents, they are born to be given. They add aesthetic beauty to the world, what else? Expensive upbringing aside!” Meena aunty would say with her typical paper-skinned conscience. 

This made her furious then, when she was a young girl who was made to drop out of school to cut expenditures at home. This made her furious and miserable, again, when she was expected to paddle silently, for the sake of a marriage that did not deserve a second chance. 

She was told by everybody – repeatedly – with accents – a mother without a son, a wife without a husband, and a woman without the two is incomplete.

Two days ago when Shashi found out about her second pregnancy, she didn’t want to stay back in the house where her first unborn was murdered. She called her mother and told her about her pregnancy. Her mother asked her to take the morning bus and come home, without asking any questions. 

This time she made the decision for the life of her unborn. That was no way to be, in a city, in a house where girls remain unborn. Shashi knew she wanted to change this. She knew only a mother could change this. Mothers are brave. For her child, Shashi had to learn to be brave. 

***

The next evening, her husband came to take her back. “Stop throwing tantrums and come back to your house. You have no right to refuse to go to the doctor with my mother,” he told her.  She was shocked at his shamelessness. Saurav sat in the centre chair, his shoes shining as if he had just given them a fresh polish. He pushed the tray with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits kept on the table with his hand, looked at Shashi’s mother and raised his voice, “If she doesn’t come with me right now, I will never accept her back. That is my child and I have the right to know if it is what I want it to be.”

She knew she couldn’t let her daughter go back to the marriage where she and her unborn didn’t feel safe. In that moment, in the absence of her husband, Shashi’s mother felt empowered, for the first time in her life, to speak for her daughter. 

Leave and don’t come for my daughter again.” Her mother said, her voice steely, as she closed the gate. 

Standing by the door, Shashi screamed, “How can he ask me to return home, let his mother kill my own child, again, and become a corpse, again?” Her face, mirroring shock and disgust at  his audacity. Her mother hugged her tight and said, “Should I make some tea for both of us?”

***

That night while serving hot chapatis, Shashi’s mother told her father about Sourav. And before she could complete, he got up, furious, questioning why she stopped their daughter from going back to her house. 

“Why are you trying to break her marriage? Why are you teaching her to be a disobedient wife? Who will take care of your daughter?” he asked her, washing his hands. 

“You know what they will do to her if it’s not a boy,” she said looking at him in frustration. He wiped his hands with his lungi and sat in the chair looking outside.  She went and stood near him and continued, “You know what they did to her first child. How could I have let her go back to that house, after knowing everything?” her face straining with assertion. 

When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Shashi will stay here. In her own house. She won’t go back to that house nor that marriage where she is expected to produce a son only.” 

He got up and blurted, “Your daughter is not a princess. This is how it is. She cannot change a curse into a blessing. Send her back to her home.”

“What curse? Shashi is our daughter. I cannot send her back to that hell again.” She said while collecting utensils from the floor mat where they were eating earlier.

He stood near her and folding his arms in anger, said, “Are you out of your mind? I cannot allow you to break her marriage. Shashi has to adjust. Everybody does. Didn’t you?”

Repulsed, she turned to look at him, “Adjust to grief? To guilt? To loss? Shashi will not. I don’t want my daughter to become another sorry story of a woman losing everything to sustain a broken marriage stinking of loss.”

He took his shirt off from the hook and tucked the buttons in fury. “How can we have our married daughter live here? What will people say? What we earn is barely enough for the three of us – how are we going to take care of Shashi and her child?”

She folded the floor mat and shouted, “Ravi, come here. Make space for Shashi didi’s clothes on your shelf.”

Shashi waned behind the kitchen wall. 

***

Five months passed by. 

Every morning, Shashi packed the tiffin for Ravi and her mother before they left, then cleaned the house. In the afternoon, her father returned home and the two of them would have lunch together. She knew it would take a few weeks for her fathers’ reservation to subside. He won’t be convinced – men are taught to be this way – to be brash husbands and stern fathers. 

That day, her father didn’t go to work, he felt feverish. She made him her mother’s proven home remedy, a medicinal drink with crushed black pepper balls, turmeric, and grated garlic in lukewarm water. Her mother used to make this for her everyday, also tossing in a lot many other dry and leafy ingredients, when she was home the last time. Shashi has many painful memories from last year that drag her back to grief.  

Her father continued to feel unwell and the fever didn’t go down even after taking the concoction and trying to sleep it off. Worried, Shashi took him to the hospital where he was prescribed a Widal test for typhoid and a few painkillers. The result would come in about 48 hours. Shashi bought the medicines on their way back home. She hadn’t called her mother yet, there was no point in making her worried. After taking the medicines at home, he dozed off. 

By evening, her mother and Ravi returned home. Shashi had just finished chopping onions to make lauki for dinner. She prepared tea for both, and a slice of toasted bread for each. 

“Papa didn’t go to the shop today. He wasn’t feeling too well,” she told her mother, in a conversational tone. Her mother paused and looked at her. “What happened?”

Shashi continued, “Oh it is alright. I took him to the hospital when his discomfort increased. They did some tests and the results will come in two days.” 

“What did the doctor say? Did he take the medicine before sleeping?” asked her mother, worried, looking at her husband sleeping. 

Shashi nodded.

***

In the morning, later in the week, at about 11, a mini-truck halted in front of their house and a tall guy called out for Shashi’s father. Shashi hurried out, she did not want to disturb her father. He had been sleeping till late into the mornings these days, partially out of fatigue and partially due to the sedatives in his typhoid medicines. 

The man was a vendor from whom her father bought the stuff for his store. She told him about his health and that he won’t be able to open the shop for a few days. 

“But he has made the advance payment for this and if I take it back, my manager might not refund any amount. So, it would be better if you take your delivery.”

Shashi went back inside and pulled out the shop’s keys from her father’s shirt. She went to the shop, a ten-minute walk from their house, and supervised as he unloaded the truck and set the boxes in the godown just at the rear side of the shop. 

“Tell him, two cartons of detergent along with some other items are pending and everything else is delivered,” he said while taking out a piece of paper from his pant pocket. He passed it to Shashi and asked her to sign it at the bottom. 

She read the quantities written opposite the stuff delivered and signed on the wrinkled piece of paper. 

“What is your name?” she asked him as an afterthought. 

“Vijay.” 

***

The next morning, Shashi took the shop keys and left for the shop. She opened the shutter. The counter had a layer of dust, she wrote – S H A S H I – with her index finger. She could write a few words in English and full sentences in Hindi. But she could do some math, really well in fact, on her fingers. Her mother taught her basic mathematics – addition/subtraction/division – since she left school after class V. 

She covered her face, making a mask from her dupatta and began sweeping the floor. Then she took a shabby piece of cloth from below the counter and cleaned the entire thing. As she washed her hands using water from a marred bottle of water, two women from the neighbourhood came and greeted her. They had known Shashi since she was a little girl and now when her baby bump had begun to come out, they congratulated her and blessed her with a baby boy. 

Shashi, completely disinterested in their blessings, asked them if they wanted to buy anything. “One small packet of jeera, a big Parle G. And one kg of yellow split pea.” She turned around to get the two from the shelf behind her. 

That evening when her mother and Ravi returned from school, Shashi told her that she had opened the shop and she thought she did a decent job running it, even making Rs 150. “And Savita aunty and Raj aunty came to buy some stuff. They were kind of surprised to see me there. They blessed me for a son.” 

Her mother looked at her, her worrying eyes stayed at her daughter’s face. “You should stay home. You should not exert yourself at the shop. When your father gets well, he will open the shop.”

“I like it. I need to keep myself distracted. Plus I like the idea of running a shop, selling things of everyday importance,” Shashi said with a smile. 

In that smile, her mother, quietly, reminisced about the time when Shashi saw her school uniform for the first time. She was excited, her eyes beaming with dreams. But here, education for girls is too early, too enough. 

Her father, pretending to have just woken up from his sleep, got up from the bed. “Ravi, get me a glass of water.”

He looked at Shashi as Ravi filled the glass with water from the jug. “Why do you have to sit at the shop? Stay at home. I will open the shop in a few days when I am well enough.”

“I like going to the shop, papa. Let me.”

“If you say so. I guess Vijay might come tomorrow, tomorrow is Thursday, right? Ask him to shift some cartons of spices and lentils to the front for you.” He coughed, and added, “Holi is coming. He will come to deliver colors for the festival. I usually make some good money during this festival time,” while sipping water from the glass. 

Shashi nodded.  

***

Next day while Shashi was cleaning the counter, the mini-truck arrived again. Vijay got down and started unloading the truck. 

“I have got the pending items. 2 cartons of detergents, 1 carton of cosmetics, 2 sacks of rice, 1 carton of biscuits…” he began unloading and continued listing the list of items, “1 carton of maggi, 1 carton of milk chocolates and jelly toffees, and 4 boxes of pencils and pens.” 

“Keep the biscuits on that shelf,” she pointed towards the middle rack on the left side, besides the lentils. “And, the cosmetics here at the display. Rice over there. And give me the chocolates, toffees and pencils, these should be set here at the counter.”

“How is Ram Bhai?” he asked while adjusting the Abidas cap on his head. 

“Papa is fine. He will come to the shop in a day or two.”

“He told me you will get the colors for Holi. Bring a few extra packets, he said. When will you come for the delivery next?” 

“I don’t know. Not this week for sure. I have lots of pending deliveries in another town,” he told her, rubbing the dust from the cartons off his shirt. “I will try to come next week.”

“Want some water?” 

“I don’t mind. Your name is Shashi?” 

“How do you know my name?” 

“I read your signature that day. Here, please sign this paper today.” 

That morning next week was laden with sunshine. Shashi opened the shop and saw a good amount of sales. By noon, she had started feeling tired but waited for Vijay to come with the delivery of Holi colors. She sat on her father’s chair, limping on one side. She dozed off for a few minutes, and woke up on hearing the screeching sound of the truck. Vijay got down and told her that he has got 5 cartons of colors. She took the bill from him and went to the counter to get money. 

Done for the day, she decided to head home early. She picked the keys from the drawer beside the counter. 

“Are you going back home?”

“Yes.”

“I can drop you.” He opened the door of the truck and adjusted the seat for her, “Come, sit.” 

Shashi got in as she was too exhausted to walk anyway.

“You shouldn’t sit at the shop for so long. Especially in such a condition. It’s not good. I have seen my sisters, they usually rest during this time.”

Shashi looked out of the window. 

In a few minutes they reached her home and she got down. “Thank you, bhaiya.”

She opened the gate and saw Sourav and her father standing near the gate. 

“I have come to tell you that I am marrying a beautiful girl from Calcutta. So don’t think of coming back ever,” Sourav told her. “You can continue romancing your delivery guy”

In that moment, Shashi drowned back to the times when she desperately tried to be an obedient wife and an obedient daughter-in-law but was never acknowledged for either. She felt sad for constantly trying to wade through the hearts of her in-laws and her husband. She didn’t have to. Why was she always expected to be obedient?

Sourav left, without waiting for her to answer, thrashing the gate to its hinges and screaming at Shashi as a good-for-nothing woman. The neighbours came out hearing him scream and looked over their walls desperately wanting to know what had happened because everything outside their own house was a circus. 

Her mother and Ravi returned from school just around then and saw Sourav leaving. She looked at Shashi standing there with tears in her eyes. She closed the gate and walked towards her, held her and took her inside. 

“Men are taught to walk out of marriages as if the institution of marriage is their property and women can never do the same, however toxic the marriage is, What kind of a dungeon is this?” she said agitatedly, while hanging her purse on the hook of the almirah. 

“Don’t think about him, that house or anything about there, Shashi. You are here and you are going to live with us. I am waiting to play with my grandchild.”

***

That night, when Shashi was tucked in the corner of the bed, her parents came and stood next to her. 

“Sourav came threatening me to find out if it is a boy or a girl. That man is shameless and not worthy of you. They will not accept you or your child if it is a girl. I told him you are not going back to him either way,” said her father, with affirmation, consciously brushing off any reluctance from his mind. 

Shashi, with tears in her eyes, got up and couldn’t stop crying. “They killed my child. They would have killed this one too.”

“You don’t have to worry about anything now. You are here at your home. You are running my shop, better than Ravi would have,” said her father with a gentle, dry tap on her head. “Do you want to have some fish curry tomorrow? I can bring some fish from Ashu’s shop.” 

They switched off the bulb and went back to their room. 

That night, Shashi couldn’t sleep. She kept looking at the ceiling that needed repair before the monsoons. She remembered the time when she was young and how her parents would save to get the ceiling repaired before monsoons. How certain things require repairing every time!

She heard a dog squealing near her house. In the middle of the night, as she got up to go outside to see the dog, Ravi woke up, too. Both of them opened the gate and found a dog with a swollen belly laying on the road. “She might be hungry!” Ravi quipped. “She is pregnant.” Shashi said. 

Shashi went inside and brought some leftover chapatis for the dog and kept them near her gate. The dog came slowly, cautious at first, and began eating, uninterruptedly. She followed them to their tiny garden. Ravi found a bowl and filled it with water from the tap in the garden. Shashi went in to get an old sheet and spread it for her inside the shed. The two sat there, caressing the dog and looking at the starry sky.

They woke up to the sound of birds at sunrise. 

***

In a few weeks, the dog gave birth to beautiful black-eyed puppies, all of whom lived in their shed. Every morning, Ravi would feed them biscuits before going to school and every evening after returning from the shop with her father, Shashi would pet them and imagine her daughter running around the house playing with the puppies. She prayed for a daughter, all the more. 

One Saturday morning, Shashi and her mother left for her doctor’s appointment. It was a school holiday for her mother and Shashi told her father she would be back at the shop by noon. On their way, Shashi saw some girls and boys going to school. Boys riding bicycles and girls walking behind them, crossing fields, rivers, and lands with tall trees. 

“I will teach my daughter to ride a bicycle,” she told her mother, with gleaming hope. 

“And I will sit on the carrier seat and she will drop me to the market,” grinned her mother. “Have you thought of a name for her?”

“I will call her Roja.” 

She looked at the flowers outside an old building on their way, red roses, defiant, growing out of fence borders with their bodies breathing golden light and breeze.


Arsheen Kaur is a writer and poet based out of Delhi and Toronto. She works in the development sector. Some of her areas of interest are identity, memory, and feminism. She is a film studies and English literature graduate from AJK-Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. She aspires to be a novelist. Her work has been published in The Wire, Cafe Dissensus, Live Wire, Hindustan Times, The Quint, The Alipore Post among others.

Fiction | ‘The Recruitment’ by Imaad ul Hasan | TBR Creative Writing Workshop

Sukesh looked outside the window, and stared for some time. There were dry hills at a distance; Bahava–the golden shower trees were in the middle and a few birds kept flying near the window; probably just to make sure that there were indeed humans inside, who were sitting so quietly. Sukesh wasn’t looking at any of them in particular. He was just lost in another one of his daydreams.

He was unusually happy today. One reason could be that he got a seat near the window, in this huge reading hall – fully packed and completely silent. Another reason could be a comment on his Facebook post. He admired Satyajit Ingle, a PhD scholar and poet. And when he wrote that particular comment, appreciating his post about farmer suicides, Sukesh felt a sense of achievement.

The first floor of the university reading hall is not usually this crowded around the year. But it was April, the harvest period, the time when the civil services exam is around the corner, and Sukesh was one of the millions who was about to give the exam this year. Again. He considered himself a realist; enough to know he cannot clear it this time either, and nor could most of the people in the hall.

He was still looking outside the window, a book open in his hands, when his phone started vibrating on the table. A boy sitting two chairs away with his head on the table woke up from his sleep, startled. Sukesh panicked, looked at the screen and immediately stood up. Pushing aside a chair, he started walking towards the door hastily, making more necks turn in his direction. He slowed down, and  had his eyes glued to the screen while passing through long rows of tables filled with books, kept in disorganized piles and thick bundles of murky rough papers.

He reached the door and received the call before stepping out.

“Haa Dada1? Haa aaloch!”

He came down the stairs as swiftly as he could and as he was about to exit the gate, he turned right, to go into the smaller and darker ground floor section of the building. He knew exactly where Shankar would be sitting now.

The canteen was just a few meters away, but he borrowed Shankar’s scooty to reach there. No matter how occupied the hall was, Shankar would always manage to get the same spot. He was always early and could be found there all day.

Sukesh rode through the main road of the university which was a favourite of many students and locals. It was broad with tall trees on both sides. The trees created a long canopy of branches over heads, stretching along the road. And beyond those trees, were gardens on either side. They were not well maintained and the trees were not very lush either. But perhaps, this place would not have been so comforting if they were.

However, the road was riddled with potholes, and when someone like Sukesh raised their accelerator and disturbed the peace, it would make their vehicle tremble.

After reaching the canteen, he dialed the last name in his call logs – ‘Golu Patil’.

“The person you have dialed is busy,” it said. It was surely an apt description of Golu. No one knew what he was busy with exactly. But he was always busy.

He received a call from the same number a few seconds later.

“Haa ye na, aat ye.”

It wasn’t difficult to find him. Golu was sitting, quite literally on the edge of his seat and talking to the man at the canteen counter from a distance of at least three tables. Next to him was a man, in full white clothes, sitting relaxed against the chair and busy using his phone. Sukesh recognized and greeted him before he could see Golu.

“Prashant Dada, Jay Bhim2,” Sukesh said, after giving a slight smile and a slighter bow to Golu.

“Jay Bhim, Sukyaa! Kasha ahes?” Turning he said, “Sachin! Teen golden chaha aan,” in a low voice but with conviction.

“Arre Nai, order only two. I’ll leave, I have some work,” Golu said, fingers tapping steadily on his phone and slowly got up.

Sukesh asked, hesitantly, “But aren’t we supposed to go? For my job. I thought…”

“I am not going to my funeral Mitra. I’ll come in about fifteen minutes. Got some urgent work,” he said as his phone rang.

“Hello! Arre please ask her to wait. I am coming! Five minutes tops. I am just outside the department.”

Turning he said, “It looks like I am going to my funeral. You have tea with dada. I am just coming and we will leave immediately.”

***

“Samasa ghenar?” Prashant asked Sukesh, sipping his tea.

“Nai Dada, I have just eaten.”

“So what else… How is the journalism department? Are classes still on?”

“No, they are over. The exams start next week.”

“Oh. Prepare well for it then.”

“No. I won’t be giving this exam. I graduated last year. Now I am preparing for the competitive exams. You forgot.”

“Oh haan… In other words, you are doing nothing these days.” He smirked.

“Exactly,” Sukesh replied after a brief pause.

“Are you sure you won’t have samosa?”

“No, I am fine,” Sukesh said hesitantly, thinking of something to say to keep the conversation going.

“Let’s go outside. This place is suffocating,” Prashant said, getting up.

Sukesh gulped his tea and walked outside after Prashant.

***

“Is this your scooty? Bring it here,” Prashant said, pulling his own bike towards an empty ground behind the canteen, not waiting for a reply.

He parked it under a tree and asked Sukesh to park his behind it.

In the afternoon sun of Marathwada, a small patch under the tree was the only shade on the ground. They both sat on their bikes, facing the hills with their backs towards the crowded canteen.

They stayed silent for a while, until Prashant lit a cigarette and asked, “What about you? How was the yield this year?”

“The crop is good this year. Not sure at what rate it will go. If it goes at all.”

“You didn’t go for harvest?”

“No…The questions of villagers never stop. For how long will you study? Who will marry you?”

“And they are right. For how long will this go?”

“I am trying Dada. I’ve applied to all the newspapers and websites. There is no opening, simply. I also had an internship experience for three months with a newspaper. Even they didn’t pay a single rupee.”

“You should have stayed at that newspaper for a while. They would have given you a full time job. Why are you always in such hurry?”

“They would never. There was a vacancy for a trainee reporter two months ago. They gave it to a junior of mine, who had absolutely no experience. He had never published a single story. And interestingly he himself admitted as much to our sub-editor. He said that was fine, and that he would learn once around.”

“What is his name? This junior of yours?”

“Ajay Kulkarni.”

“Hmm, Kulkarni after all. No need to discuss that further. And who is the bureau chief there these days?”

“Syed…Syed Riyazuddin.”

“There you go! I think I have said this to you before. These people have not left any space for us in media, or any industry for that matter. We don’t know who controls the whole ball game, and how it is controlling all of us in return. That’s why our voice is completely absent.”

“I remember you saying something like that.”

“Where is this Patil taking you to?” Prashant asked after taking a long puff.

“He didn’t give any details. But he said there is a vacancy in a PR agency which provides some services to different political parties. He said he knows some people there and can get me a job by recommendation.”

“I see…Look, we work for different parties, but I can’t deny that he is smart and more importantly, very helpful. Take advantage of that. But be careful as well.”

 After taking a last puff and putting off the cigarette, Prashant asked, “What do you think of him?”

“I wonder why a man that skinny can be named Golu. And how does he get those damn clothes, which are skin tight, even for him.”

They both laughed as if they were desperately waiting to.

“You know what I think sometimes?” Prashant said, staring at the hills. “That we should have never left our villages and come here. That we should have kept farming on whatever land we had, and remained happy.”

“But you know that things are not that simple there, or convenient I would say.” Sukesh said after a small pause. “There are all types of problems, and discrimination. There is no escape from humiliation either. And most importantly, we know who is controlling and dominating whom there. We would have had to live with all of this, for all our lives.”

“Correct. But at least we would not be trapped in the illusion that we can change it.”

“I think we can,” Sukesh said.

“By pointlessly preparing for civil services?”

“Not really. By working in the media for one. I know I am not able to work there now. But one day I will. Media has the power to bring change.”

“Fine,” Prashant said, smiling, and put the keys to ignition in his bike. “WhatsApp me when it comes. I need to go now. Patil has said he will just come, which means even you can go and wrap up a pending thing or two. Ani ya job sathi subhecha9.”

***

After waiting for a few minutes, Sukesh rested his hand and then his head on the handle of the scooty, stretched his legs towards the end of its seat, and pulled out his phone.

He scrolled through his Facebook wall and came across a piece of news: ‘55 year old dairy darmer lynched in Alwar. The incident took place on a busy highway. Video vira-’

His phone vibrated again and he got up. “Haan, Dada? I am outside the canteen, just coming.”

Golu Patil was sitting at the usual spot and had ordered tea already.

“Where is Prashant Dada?” he asked.

“He had some work.”

“Oh of course, he is very busy… Look, a friend is coming, and then we’ll leave immediately.”

“Fine. Here’s your pen drive. I edited the photos, and the movies you asked for are in the folder ‘MOVIES.’”

“Are wah! It looks your brother will have a new Facebook DP tonight. By the way, you seem to be having quite a time on Facebook, huh? I saw one of your posts had twenty shares or something.”

“Arre, it just happens sometimes.”

“Great. Will you have a samosa till then?”

“No. I am fine. I had lunch just a while ago.”

“Have one at least. He has started making really small ones anyway…Sachin! Don Samose! I don’t think you have met Nilin Deshpande. He used to work in the PR office I told you about. He has made some great contacts with politicians while working there. Now he is handling big projects for them. The day you told me you are looking for a job, I met him in the evening and spoke about you. He said you have the perfect skillset for the job. He had come here to the administration building for some work so I thought I should call you and take you to the office with him.”

“Thank you so much for this Dada! But to be honest with you, I wanted a job in the mainstream media. But I can definitely work here till I get that.”

“Exactly! What’s most important is having a job.”

“Right.”

“Are you sure you won’t have samosa?”

“Yes, I am full.”

“Sachin! Ekach aan Samosa!” he shouted and then said softy, “I think it’s better not to waste anything.”

***

A few minutes later, Sukesh left the scooty under the tree. The three of them left the university on Deshpande’s bike when Golu said his bike is at the office and Sukesh can come with him on their way back to the university.

Nilin Deshpande rode the bike towards the office, Golu Patil sat in the middle and Sukesh Kumar at the end, trying to fit in.

After passing through some narrow roads, they took the flyover. The newly built flyover with broad roads was, in fact, broader than the university road. But unlike the latter, it didn’t have gardens on either side. It had absolutely nothing. The road was smooth and would never make someone tremble, unless some sensitive soul realized that dozens and dozens of homeless are under their feet and starts imagining their plight.

They didn’t speak for long. In the middle of the flyover, Nilin seemed to have forgotten everything else and was enjoying the breeze on his face. Satisfied, he gathered himself and continued a short conversation they had at the university gate.

“I think you didn’t understand quite well what kind of job this is,” Nilin said while riding the bike down the flyover and turning his neck slightly. “This is a proper media job, Sukesh. Just like the one you wanted. You have to write sufficient content – reports, opinion pieces, analysis. You will have a good graphics team to turn your piece and opinions into clickbait and visually friendly content. In fact, this is better and bigger than any media house you know.”

Golu was busy with his cellphone and Sukesh nodded along with little confusion.

“The readability of the content you will write or even a small tweet would be sharper than what most of your big editors sitting in Mumbai and Delhi produce,” Nilin continued.

Sukesh found these words amusing and was wondering why Nilin was making such exaggerations. It was only a matter of minutes before Sukesh would realise that these words were quite the understatement.

***

The building seemed to be newly constructed. One could smell the fresh paint the moment one entered the building. The office was on the third floor and the elevators were not functional yet. They started climbing the stairs.

Nilin waited for Sukesh to come forward, put his arm across his shoulder and said, “They don’t usually allow this. But I thought I should show you the office and tell you more about the work. You will have to face an interview and if you clear it, which I hope you will, there will be a training period for a couple of weeks. And don’t worry; you’ll get a stipend for that as well.”

Sukesh kept listening with his head bowed, matching the speed of the much taller and broader Nilin, while climbing the narrow and steep staircase.

“And as I told you, the power of opinion making we hold is unmatchable. We have the support of the established authorities. Or maybe, they are authorities today because of our support. In fact, we are bigger than anything else in this country if I may say so myself. We control everything, because we make the narrative. We decide what the Prime Minister will say and what he will not. We decide what the media will discuss on Prime Time and what arguments will take place at the tea stalls tonight.”

Sukesh remained silent, unable to understand what to ask next. When they reached the corridor, Nilin asked him to switch off the phone. Golu had already switched off his. Walking through that silent corridor, they opened a thick door and entered a huge hall, fully packed, and noisy. Nilin walked towards the manager’s cabin at the other end of the room and Sukesh followed.

There was a lot going on, all around. Bewildered, he slowed down and kept staring at one of the many screens to understand what was happening here. Upon realizing that Nilin has gone much ahead, he walked faster, passing through long rows of tables filled with neatly arranged mobile phones and laptops. Each person had at least six mobile phones and a laptop in front of them.  All of them appeared to be of the same model with different serial numbers stuck on them in dark and bold letters.

***

They spent fifteen minutes in the manager’s cabin and all the confusion in Sukesh’s head was gone. He came out and walked towards the door, but this time without looking at the tables and those screens. He saw Golu standing in the corridor.

“Nilin Dada?” He asked after looking at Sukesh.

“He said he will stay and asked me to leave if I want. And I definitely want to. Immediately.”

Golu dusted his bike with a cloth from the next bike, while Sukesh turned his mobile on and they left for the university. The sun was still blazing fire and the roads were empty.

“You knew what that place was?” Sukesh asked after a few minutes.

“I don’t know the exact details of the job. But of course, I know what they do there.”

“You told me it is a PR agency!”

“Of course it is”

“No it is not…”

“It is a PR agency, for a party, for their senior members. I didn’t lie to you.”

“Lie? The very foundation of that place is lying, and spreading those lies. And their lies destroy the lives of people on a daily basis. It is a bloody IT cell! Their job is peddling hate and anger. Nothing else.”

“A lie depends on which side you take. You have been told that look, this is the only truth and you keep believing it. And now whatever is on the other side, is a lie to you.”

“So you knew about them and still brought me here?”

“I knew about them, yes, that is why I brought you here…Look you are talented, and if you wait for those newspapers to hire you, you will be waiting forever. Even if you get a job, they won’t pay you even half of this.”

“It is not about money…”

“It is about money! I am surprised you didn’t understand this till now…”

Sukesh’s phone rang.

“Yes Shankar… Yes, I have the keys. I am coming in five minutes. I am just outside the university.”

***

Sukesh sat on a slightly elevated platform near the administrative building, lost in his thoughts. Golu’s bike was next to him. Golu had gone inside the building to check on the progress of the application Nilin had submitted before the lunch break.

His phone threw up another notification – ‘Man lynched in Alwar dies in hospital. BJP MLA defends mob, blames the victim.’

Slowly the fragrance of sand disappeared and the smell of beedi turned bitter.

“I don’t know why such useless people work here. They forgot about the application that was given just hours ago. And when I reminded them, they asked me to come after two weeks,” Golu said sitting next to Sukesh. “What about you? Did you decide something?”

“About what?”

“About working there”

“Why do you still think I will work there?”

“I don’t understand why you are overreacting.”

“Overreacting? You are asking me to be a an enabler, almost a killer.”

“You don’t know anything about this world. Do you?”

“What I know is that the innocent people who are victims of this horrible crime have a life. They have a family.”

“What crime, what family? How is any of that that related to this?”

“Read this…It says the cow vigilantes had no weapons with them. Well, that is wrong. The weapons of this murder are WhatsApp forwards and tweets. And I know from where this organized misinformation and hate come from.”

“You really think one or two WhatsApp forwards or an article you might be commissioned to write might result in these kinds of lynchings? It is just a part of dhanda, business. The cattle traders need to pay some protection money. It has been going on since years. If they fail to do so, there comes a need to create fear among the community. Even if they pay the money on time, sometimes they feel there is a need to establish dominance. This is done for business, plain and simple. Some silly WhatsApp forward does not kill.”

“But it definitely kills the conscience of the people, it makes this normal, justifies it. It stops us from asking the tough questions and allow this to continue.”

“You are too naïve and charged up. I don’t know who teaches you all this, is it the same WhatsApp university you were berating sometime back? But it is totally up to you, I need to go now. You have their number, you know what to do. Think it over, calmly, not about this, but about the job, the future.

***

Sukesh read poetry in his room–his go-to activity to deal with every kind of emotion. The faint colored walls of the small room had just two things on it – a tiny plastic mirror and a big poster of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

A little past eight, he went to the terrace of the hostel building. It was a full moon night. He stood near the edge and enjoyed the view of how his university was reflecting the tender moonlight. He saw Shankar returning from the reading hall on his scooty. A big tiffin in hand, he came up and stood next to Sukesh.

“So you are saying you finally found a job and a job with more salary than you had imagined. But you don’t want to do it?”

“Yes,” Sukesh said after a pause.

“What is wrong in working at an IT cell? You are just helping a leader and a party to win…”

“But at what cost?” Sukesh interfered while opening the tiffin box. “They will ask us to demonize Muslims, communists, journalists and everyone who speaks against you-know-who,” he continued.

“You don’t understand why this is important. You have not read any history of how we were dominated, humiliated, but still fought back for our pride, for our dignity. If that happens again, this time we will not have a chance to even defend ourselves.”

“But look at what is happening because of that. Have you not seen about the lynching that is happening, in the media?”

“Media? Seriously? You think they are unbiased? Violence should no doubt be avoided. But do they ever speak about the violence on cows, which is happening every minute in our country? And when such isolated accidents happen, they immediately start erupting. They clearly have an agenda.”

“These are not isolated incidents, Shankar. They are increasing every day”

“They will stop, when the slaughter stops.”

At some distance, a few students had gathered, some ladders were put up on the walls of the hostel, and nails were being hammered. The university was being decorated for 14th April.

“I think I know where all this is coming from. You think these people, with their jholas and daflis and red and blue flags know anything?” Shankar continued.

“I hardly ever go to their protests and rallies.”

“But you go to their seminars and attend lectures of their professors. They have different ways to brainwash everyone. Now look, they will do all kinds of programs for the Jayanti  but will hardly read his books. They will portray themselves as the greatest flag bearers of equality, while all they do is create differences.”

Sukesh was looking at the going ons downstairs but turned to focus on Shankar and asked, “You think they don’t believe in equality?”

“Not in reality. You will see that in the next two weeks. Most of their speeches will not be about teaching Babasaheb to the people. It will be about teaching hatred towards the other leaders of his time and their organizations. They will keep pitting Babasaheb against Veer Savarkar and the Sangh. What do they know about it? Did you know Babasaheb had regular meetings with the top leaders of the Sangh?”

“No. A…”

“Neither do they. Or even if they do, they don’t tell it because it doesn’t suit their agenda. In 1939, or 1940… when Babasaheb was invited to the Sangh in Pune, he was greatly impressed with the discipline and equality of the uniformed men. He saw the untouchables were eating with the upper caste in the same plate, just like you and me. They worked together for the same goal all their lives. Instead of telling this, they will flaunt the posters of Gandhi next to him, against whom Babasaheb had written and spoken enormously. They have also put names of Mohameddian speakers on the posters this time. What do they have anything to do with him?”

“I have heard once, somewhere…When Dr. Babasaheb left Hinduism, he asked some of his followers to accept Islam as their relig-”

“That’s the problem with you. You just take in partial information. Read what he wrote in the books that he especially wrote about them. You will know what he felt about the beliefs and the loyalty of these people towards our nation. As I said, these jholas and daflis have different ways to brainwash and you got caught in one of them.”

Sukesh remained silent for a while and continued eating and then suddenly said, “I may or may not have been influenced by the people you are talking about. But I simply cannot work like Nazi propagandists there.”

“Again. They said Hitler was a crazy man who just wanted to kill all the Jews and you believed them, like all of them did. There is always a reason for a man’s action, a justification. You will never read and listen to what the Jews did.  Hitler did what he did to protect the dignity and purity of his people. He wanted to save his country from getting destroyed by the outsiders.”

“Did you just justify state murder of six million people by one man wanting to pure, or whatever you called it, the lineage? You cannot, you did not.”

“Where is the evidence of it all, or of that number? And who?”

***

Golu was restless after having waited for this long outside the Registrar’s office in the administrative building. He saw Nilin coming out of the office finally and stood up to greet the Registrar from the slightly opened door.

“What happened?” he asked Nilin.

“Wasn’t approving the tender. But I did what I had to. Will be cleared within a week hopefully. Don’t worry.”

“The last time they had asked me to come in two weeks, and then they took more than a month. It is already May. If it is gets cleared quickly this time, we can start the work in June.”

“Don’t be in a hurry all the time Patil. We will get that tender eventually. We cannot expect anything better from these people who are not appointed by merit but some charity. Come let’s have chai.”

They entered the canteen and saw Prashant in his usual white attire.

“Arre Prashant Dada. Jay Bhīm! Khup diwsa nantar darshan dile,” Nilin said in a loud voice.

“Are tumich yet nahi gariban kade.”

“Did you have tea? Even if you did, you have to take another one with us.”

“No, no. I have to leave. I just came to…eh… visit the university.”

“Where are you going in such a hurry dada?” Golu asked.

“To my village.”

“Are wah. When are you returning?”

“Hopefully never.”

All of them laughed as Prashant left.

“He reminded me of that Sukesh. Have you talked to him recently?” Golu asked.

“Did a few months ago, but not recently. Give him a call,” Prashant replied typing on his phone.

“Sure.”

Sukesh was sitting in a chair near the window, trying to look outside, but was unable to. The view was blocked. He continued to read when his phone vibrated on the table and he immediately stood up to walk towards the door. As it kept ringing, his pace increased. He passed through long rows of tables, filled with neatly arranged mobile phones and laptops. They had sharp stickers of dark and bold serial numbers on them. He pushed open a thick door and picked up the phone in the silent corridor.

“Haan Dada?”

Glossary:
1 – Dada – brother (used for someone older or respectful)
2 – Jay Bhim (greeting used by mostly Dalits or followers of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar)      
3 – “How are you? Sachin! Bring 3 golden tea.”
4 – Are Nai – Oh No
5 – Mitra – Friend
6 – “Somasa ghenar?” – “Will you have samosa?”
7 – “Are nai Dada,  Jevan zhala attach” – “No brother, I just had my lunch”
8 – Kulkarni – Name of a Brahman (or most superior as per the caste system)
9 – “Best of luck for this job”
10 – Sachin! Two samosas
11 – Birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
12 – Birth Anniversary
13 – “Prashant Sir. Greetings. You showed up after many days.”

14 – “You are the one who is not ready to meet this poor thing.”


Imaad ul Hasan is a freelance writer and journalist based in New Delhi. He hails from Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Imaad writes fiction and non-fiction on human rights and conservation of environment and historical monuments.  He is currently studying at AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Milia Islamia. He can be reached on Instagram and Facebook.

Top Middle Eastern Literary Magazines to submit your Creative Writing to.

 

Hello!

Here is a new list of magazines to submit your work!

We, at The Bombay Review have a special focus on emerging and established writing from the Middle Eastern region. So if you are from or write about the region, and wish to have your work published with us, submit away! Our themed editions, published or forthcoming are on: Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, and Egypt. While submissions for these open regularly, we sure look for great writing all year round. Details below, along with the list of other literary journals/magazines. We are constantly working to update this list, if you know of a publication that can be here, drop a comment below. The list is in no particular order.

–  Editor, The Bombay Review



The Bombay Review
Year established: 2014
Published from: New York City & Mumbai
Genres: Fiction, Poetry, Essays, Art, Reviews, Interviews, Culture pieces
Submission period: All year
Type: Online + Print
Website | Instagram | Facebook
Submission fee: None
Payment: Ranges from Nil to $50
Editors: Kaartikeya Bajpai | Rochelle Potkar



13 LITERARY MAGAZINES
The Middle East
(English/Bilingual)
Short fiction, poetry, translations, reviews, screenplays, essays, and more.

The Bosphorus Review Of BooksThe Bosphorus Review of Books

Year established: 2017
Published from: Istanbul, Turkey
Genres: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Book reviews
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Instagram | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Luke Frostick and Thomas Parker


new-journal

Rowayat

Year established: 2013
Published from: Egypt & Kent, United Kingdom
Genres: Short fiction, Flash fiction, Poetry
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital + Print
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Sherine ElBanhawy


Sukoon

Year established: 2013
Published from: Dubai, UAE
Genres: Poetry, Short fiction, Essays
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Rewa Zeinati


Sail

Year established: 2010
Published from: Dubai, UAE
Genres: Articles
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Instagram | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Iman Ben Chaibah 


ArabLit Quartlerly

Year established: 2018
Published from: Unknown
Genres: Poetry, Fiction, Essays
Submission period: Rolling basis
Type: Digital + Print
Website | Instagram | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil to $500
Editor: M Lynx Qualey


Pin by IAA Libraries on Books from Around the World | Literature ...Banipal

Year established: 1998
Published from: London, UK
Genres: Translations
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital + Print
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Margaret Obank


Jahanamiya

Year established: 2017
Published from: Saudi Arabia, Michigan, USA
Genres: Poetry, Fiction, and Non-fiction writing
Submission period: Rolling basis
Type: Digital
Website | Instagram | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Ahd Niazy


Al Jadid Magazine

Year established: 1995
Published from: California, USA
Genres: Essays, Features, Reviews, Interviews, Translations
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital + Print
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Elie Chalala


Rusted Radishes

  • Year established: 2011
  • Published from: Beirut, Lebanon
  • Genres: Comics, Artwork, Translations, Fiction, Creative nonfiction, Poetry
  • Submission period: All year
  • Type: Digital
  • Website | Instagram | Facebook
  • Submission fee: Nil
  • Payment: Nil
  • Editor: Rima Rantisi

Untitled design (1)Pars Times

Year established: 2002
Published from: Iran
Genres: Interviews, Articles, Poetry, Short fiction
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Unknown


Parsagon

Year established: 2013
Published from: Iran
Genres: Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Unknown


Al-Madaniya

Year established: 2018
Published from: Yemen
Genres: Essays, Short fiction, Nonfiction
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Hamza Shiban


The Istanbul Review

Year established: 2014
Published from: Istanbul, Turkey
Genres: Poetry, Fiction
Submission period: All year
Type: Digital
Website | Facebook
Submission fee: Nil
Payment: Nil
Editor: Hande Zapsu Watt

Advertisements

Advertisements

“Poetry is Music, Poetry is Gold” | Interview of Sudeep Sen, by Sukant Deepak

 

Sudeep Sen’s [www.sudeepsen.org] prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1980-2015(London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), and Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor), World English Poetry, and Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi). Blue Nude: Anthropocene, Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over 25 languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, pbs, cnn ibn, ndtv, air & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf/Random House/Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature.”

1. Your poem, ‘Love in the Time of Corona,’ has gained popularity across various media platforms after it first appeared in The Indian Express. 

Love in the Time of Corona

I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.

― Bertolt Brecht

   1.

Faint indigo tints in the greys of your hair
   evoke memory — Krishna’s love for Radha,

its perennial longevity, its sustained mythology,
   its blue-bathed lore — such are life’s enduring

parallels. Fourteen years — yet my heart flutters
   infatuated like first love. My hands fidgety,

palms sweaty, pulse too fast to pick —
   I am not allowed to touch your face.

Cyber-flurry emoji-love cannot assuage fears —
   or corona’s comatose cries. I don’t believe in God.

   2.

In thousands, migrant workers march home —
   hungry footsteps on empty highways

accentuate an irony — ‘social distancing’,
   a privilege only powerful can afford.

Cretins spray bleach on unprotected poor, clap,
   bang plates, ring bells, blow conches, light fires

to rid the voodoo — karuna’s karma, infected.
   Mood-swings in sanitised quarantine — self-

isolation, imposed — uncontained virus, viral.
   When shall we sing our dream’s epiphanies?

   3.

City weather fluctuates promiscuously
   mapping temperature’s bipolar graph —

tropic’s air-conditioner chill, winter’s
   unseasonal hailstorm, sky’s pink-blue spring.

Blue-grey will moult into salt-and-pepper,
   ash-grey to silver-white, then to aged-white.

My lungs heave, slow-grating metallic-crackles
   struggle to escape the filigreed windpipes —

I persist in my prayers. I’m afraid of Him. 
   Hope, heed, heal — our song, in present tense.

2. Tell us the ‘story’ of this poem.

Sudeep Sen (SS): During the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown, things were changing so fast around us that it was viscerally affecting our society — the play of politics, the way people thought and reacted, the changing culture of ‘working from home’ for the privileged and lack of work for the dispossessed, the gruesome images of migrants walking hundreds of kilometres in the unforgiving weather riddled by hunger and pain, the quarantine, the virus — how can all these not affect you psychologically as well. To make matters worse, the pandemic was accompanied by floods, locust attack, earthquakes, and more.

So when the novelist and editor, Raj Kamal Jha, of one of India’s leading newspapers, The Indian Express, asked me to contribute something on the pandemic for the editorial pages, he was probably looking for a sensitive and incisive non-fiction piece from an artist’s point of view. I am pretty certain he did not expect my response in the form of poetry. In any case, I sent him the poem ‘Love in the Time of Corona’ — and I must say I was impressed at his boldness to carry it in their weekend edition — “the first time that they had carried poetry” according to him. Thereafter, the poem took on a life of its own.

The former UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy selected it for a world project ‘Write Where We Are Now’, currently hosted on the Manchester Metropolitan University’s website. Among others, ArtVirus magazine (USA) carried the poem, and it is forthcoming in The Guardian newspaper (UK). A slew of translations have appeared — in French, Spanish, Serbian, Persian, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, and Hindi. Various editors have anthologised this poem in new books that have been recently published on the subject; and a filmmaker has made a powerful, avant-garde, creative short film on it.

3. What do you feel about collaborations between different mediums?

SS: I find it personally enriching to collaborate with like-minded artists. The film version of my poem ‘Love in the Time of Corona’ is the most recent example of artistic interplay and jugalbandi. Many filmmakers, musicians and dancers have responded to my work in the past. The following films: ‘Flying Home’ by David Wheeler & Michael Walling (UK), ‘Lines of Desire’ by Davina Lee (St Lucia), ‘Prayer Flag’ by Aparna Sanyal (India), ‘Silence’ by Ramanjit Kaur (India), and others are already available. The Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan has used my poem, ‘Prayer Flag’ as the opening sequence in her stage production ‘Shunyata’. Michael Walling has used my poetry for two stage productions, ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘BodyText’ produced by Border Crossings (UK). BBC Radio broadcast a radio-play version of ‘Vesuvius’. Annette Phillips of Music Unlimited (now a music professor at Berklee, USA) and Advaita have used my poetry as songs and performed them live for the ‘Rain’ show at the British Council; Aditya Balani has responded and composed music for my poems for our album ‘Kargil’, among others.

4. How was it working with filmmaker, Anirban Dutta? What is it about his work that made you go ahead with the collaboration?

 

I didn't choose poetry, it chose me: Sudeep Sen | english.lokmat.com

 

SS: When the feature-filmmaker, Anirban Dutta, showed me the first cut of his film based on my poem, I was very pleased — not only because I love collaboration across artistic genres, but more because I admired Dutta’s visual aesthetics, his intelligent sense of pacing and haunting sound design. Working with him was easy – even though we have never met. We were mostly on the same page regarding aesthetic choices. He was very quick to respond. And the final result is here for you see and experience.

5. As a writer, how important is it for you to respond to contemporary social and political issues?

SS: As an artist, I cannot be apolitical — everything one does is ultimately political. Being an avid reader I am very informed on social and political issues, however, I am not always moved to respond with poetry. For that to happen I need to be moved or have something new and meaningful to add. Often I will just listen and absorb and at some point it may find its way into my writing. You will see that contemporary social and political (and historical) scenarios seep into my writing quite unobtrusively, through a process of osmosis. In poetry, the challenge is always how to make the writing universal and creatively fulfilling — ideally. Otherwise it can become prosaic sloganeering or protest poetry which, while it is an absolutely valid form of writing, tends to have a limited shelf-life.  

6. What do you make of contemporary English poetry in India? Considering English can now be considered an Indian language, do you feel more youngsters are willing to work in this language as compared to say a generation back?

  Screenshot 2020-07-02 at 12.51.36 PM

 

SS: That is a huge question. As you know, I have always been a big champion of Indian poetry and Indian literature at large. I have edited several special issues of international magazines/journals that are focused on Indian poetry Lines Review (Scotland), Wasafiri (UK), Index on Censorship (UK), The Literary Review (USA), Prairie Schooner (USA), The Yellow Nib (Ireland) and others. I have also edited some landmark anthologies on Indian (and world) poetry in English The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), among others.

I have always maintained (and still do) the best English poetry written by Indians in the contemporary national and international literary arena is perhaps as good or superior to Indian fiction in English as a whole. There is bravura, experimentation, risk-taking, innovation, erudition, and delightfully uninhibited and fine use of language by the poets here. The range of style, preoccupation, technique, is vast, various and impressive. Many ‘Indian’ poets are now part of the broader Indian diasporas across the globe. This diversity allows the poets to have an internal dialogue between themselves and the varied topographical cultural spaces they come from or are influenced by. Therefore, the poems create an inherent syntactical and historical tension one that ultimately celebrates the written word, imagination, artistry, intellect, and humanity.

The subject matter of the poems and their poetic concerns are staggeringly large and wide-ranging. There is introspection and gregariousness, politics and pedagogy, history and science, illness and fantasy, love and erotica, sex and death the list is centrifugal, efferent, and expansive. There is free verse and an astonishing penchant for formal verse so you are likely to encounter a pantoum next to an acrostic poem, a triolet juxtaposed against a ghazal, lyric narratives and prose poetry, Sapphic fragments and Bhartrhari-style shataka, mosaic pastiché, ekphrastic verse, sonnet, rubai, poem songs, prayer chants, documentary feeds, rap, reggae, creole, canzone, tritina, sestina, ottava rima, rime royale and variations on waka: haiku, tanka, katauta, choka, bussokusekika, sedoka the Indian poets are in full flight.

Though, I must add that in the current scenario there seems to be a vast amount of poetry being “published” on social media.  Much of this is terribly mediocre or worse. Some of it even finds its way into vanity publishing. Still, largely speaking the best of Indian poetry is flourishing well and is in good hands.

7. You are a regular at different literature festivals. How do you imagine them in the post-Covid times? Interestingly, newer ones keep coming up, not just in major towns but also small town India. What do you say about that trend?

SS: You can already see the trend most of them are resorting to an online format. Of course that takes away the immediacy and buzz of an actual festival on the ground but it is the second-best option in these unusual times. The more festivals, the better all around for writers, readers, publishers and booksellers it is a win-win situation. But an important lacuna that needs to be addressed is payment to the writers, which the organisers think of only when prompted to do so. This culture of ‘free’ is ultimately disrespectful to the writers and arts as a whole.

8. What are you working on nowadays? Any book on the horizon?

SS: Very busy actually. This year alone, my Selected Poems in Malayalam translation (by Syam Sudharkar) was launched at the Matrubhumi International Festival of Letters in January. The Sahitya Akademi poetry anthology, which I selected and edited, was on the stands in February.

 

I Did Not Choose Poetry, Poetry Chose Me': Sudeep Sen

 

And most recently, a 350+ page book of Interviews was published by Classix in Kolkata. This is part one of a set of three books — the other two being on essays and literary criticism on my work. Classix has done a wonderful job producing this book. Interviews contains a generous 350-page selection of the best conversations and interviews on my life and work — culled from over 30 years or so, of articles that have appeared in leading newspapers, magazines and journals around the world. International and national scholars, critics, writers and journalists have spoken to me in detail about the intricacies of my literary craft; about my preoccupations, interests and obsessions. These have now been collected and published as a book. Classix’ has paved the new way for a discursive literary genre that is almost non-existent in India. In times when mainstream publishers avoid poetry, it is laudable an independent one chooses to map a literary province where interviews and critical essays can be archived in a systematic and worthwhile manner.

There are several other books in the pipeline — My Typewriter is My Piano (Aark Arts) by Anamika, a 200-page book of ‘selected poems’ in English translation from the original Hindi, comes out in August. I edited, selected, introduced and co-translated this book. My own ‘selected poems’ in Hindi translation, My Body is the Stepson of my Soul, will be published by Vani Prakashan; and in Punjabi, Godhuli Lagna, by Autumn Arts. These are all ready, awaiting publication later this year. My book of micro-fiction, EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), is currently on the 2020 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize shortlist. Hopefully, a new updated edition will come out soon.

 

Screenshot 2020-07-02 at 12.52.01 PM  

 

As part of my current ‘Museo Camera Artist-in-Residence’ fellowship — I am completing a project interweaving poetry, classical dance and photography titled The Whispering Anklets. My three-and-a-half decade obsession with classical Indian (and Western) dance will come together — simultaneously in a bookform, exhibitions, and live shows. This project is in collaboration with the internationally acclaimed dancer and photographer — Aditi Mangaldas and Dinesh Khanna respectively. Khanna specially shot Mangaldas for this project in a controlled space that included live dance, poetry, music and fine-tuned choreography. The book is an homage and tribute to Indian (and western) dance worlds, both at a macro and micro level — whether it is responding to an individual dancer, a specific dance performance, or aspects and nuances of dance as a whole. The project highlights the importance and intersectionality of the arts — how they feed off each other, how they commune with each other in a harmonious way through agreement and disagreement in political, intellectual and artistic views of these three diverse artists. Ultimately at the end, it honours friendship, and most essentially, it celebrates the essence of humanity, peace and creativity.

Amid all the negative noise in the world, my current book-in-progress, Anthropocene: Portraits of a Pandemic, is a quiet artistic offering — a testament to our fervent times where the ever-increasing ravages of climate change scar humanity, where right-wing Fascist politics overrides the silence of introspection, where the cleaving schism between the rich and poor becomes ever-widening, where racism peaks on an all time high, where toxicity among people proliferate, and fake news abounds. It is also an important contribution to the growing field of global eco-literature.  Anthropocene: Portraits of a Pandemic ultimately is a prayer for positivity and hopefulness. It urges us to slow down, to consume less, to relearn how to love selflessly and expansively. — “Hope, heed, heal — our song, in present tense.”

Hope: Light Leaks

Late at night, light leaks — spilling
   beyond the door’s rectangle edge —

a cleaving shift, its shape —
   a partial crucifix, a new resurrection.

Light’s plane waxes, wanes —
   viral load expands, contracts.

Lives matter in this blackness —
   there’ll be light after the darkness.

9. Several writers have pointed out that translations keep them ‘sharp’ in the period they are not involved in original work. What do you feel about it? And what is your process of translation? Your earlier book of translations, Aria, won the A K Ramanujan Translation Award — and your new book, Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury), has been a spectacular success.

 

Screenshot 2020-07-02 at 2.16.05 PM

 

SS: It is not just ‘translations’, but keeping in touch with ‘writing’ and ‘reading’ everyday that keeps me ‘sharp’ — it is a riyaaz or practise. Unless they are commissions, translation for me is usually a labour of love – as I want to transmit to a wider audience in English what I might have enjoyed in another language.

The basic purpose and aim of translation for me is very simple — to render accurately both the content and form of the original. The process I follow is fairly logical and uncluttered — first mathematical, then oral, aural, tonal, and finally using a near invisible soft charcoal I fill in the subtle undertones, texture, depth, and recitative qualities of the original poem. Mathematically, I first transfer the exact metre of the original poem onto my worksheet; scan it to jot down the iambs and dactyls as it were. Then I read [or have someone read out to me] many times over, the poem in its original tongue — this further updates my notation taking. Thereafter I would make a glossary of all the possible meanings of difficult words and phrases, and try and see which English ones’ match most closely to the meanings of the original text. If the poem follows a certain rhyme scheme, then I attempt — a sometimes almost impossible task — to find words that best suit the end-rhymes without making it appear contrived or sound like a staccato-stumble stutter. Then follows draft after draft of what the translation would or should be. When I feel that I am nearing and closing in on the final versions, I take the same soft charcoal sketch stick to shade in the transparent quiet qualities, ­and if the final product retains more than ninety-five percent of the original content, feel, mood, and musicality — then I let it free to fly out of its nest.

But all along, the important thing for me is that the original poem must retain the poets’ original and dominant voice, and that my own tone as a translator ought to be as invisible to the naked eye or ear as is possible. Often this tends to be the other way around with many translators, and that seems rather self-indulgent on their part. Perhaps my process may seem conservative, but at least it is true to the tenor of the original poems — and that I feel is the best way of showing respect to someone who, in the first place, inspired and moved you to undertake the translation of their work. The second test for me is that the translated poem in English should be able to stand on its own and read as a good poem in English.

Here, I want to quote my Indian compatriot at the 1997 Jerusalem Poetry Festival where my love for translations first took root all those years ago. I entirely agree with and relate to what Vikram Seth stated in the introduction to his Three Chinese Poets: “Works of translation from languages I do not understand have had as deep an influence on my own writing as works I can read in the original. In some cases the translations have so moved me that I have tried to learn the original language of the work. In others, the form or the spirit of the writing has served as a template for my own inspiration.”

Sukant Deepak was, until recently, a journalist for India Today. He is now deputy editor for Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘1959’ & ‘Limerence’ | By Carl Scharwath

Carl Scharwath’s thesis on duality is piqued in well-crafted miniscule phrases that bear testimony to imagery. 

1959

Two children plaster forms

A decorum of the 1950’s

Embellishment, quietly grace

The family road trip.

Baseball cards on the floor

Gum under the seat

A façade of happiness 

As billboards swoop by.

Telephone wires, a dizzying array of surrealistic lines crossing the clouds and pointing the way. Last-chance gas stations, diners with dead-end jobs, the radio static filled with a revival preacher, admonishing the listeners to repent. Everything turns to Utopia.

 

Mom in the front seat

Dreams of a new washing machine

Perhaps a new house coat

And a husband who would love her again.

Father, eyes straightforward

Thinks of the next two martini-lunch and

An evening rendezvous with his young secretary

In a secret hotel close to home.

Like a thick novel with empty pages-four lives down the highway in a metal casket with tail fins. Route 66 attractions beckon for attention and a sparked conversation. This nuclear family just one of the forgotten many in the proto-industrialization of a historical timeline-a contaminated generation.


Limerence

You are alone

I am ashamed

We walk among the lavender, wilting in the heat of our passion. Wisteria releases tears of dew drops on a lover’s pillow encased in short-lived memories. Tattered vulnerabilities, crushed velvet revelations filter through the flower field. This is the territory of asbestos laced pollen. The martyred pathway sinful and filled with misty lies under the shadows while the world is changing. 

The end of the beginning

Is the beginning of the end

Carl Scharwath’s poetry, short stories, interviews, essays, plays and art photography have appeared in 150+ journals. His photography was featured on the cover of six journals. His poetry books are – ‘Journey To Become Forgotten’ (Kind of a Hurricane Press) and ‘Abandoned’ (ScarsTv). His first photography book was recently published by Praxis. He is the art editor for Minute Magazine, Poetry Editor for TL Publishing Group, and a competitive runner and 2nd degree blackbelt in Taekwondo.

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘Chennai in Frames’ & ‘Sestina’ | By Saranya Subramanian

Saranya Subramanian’s poems have gasps-and-wonder-in-punctuations taken from places like Bombay and Chennai or grown from the life of Perumal Murugan and his interiority. Such variety!

Chennai in Frames

Thatha’s Ambassador croaking at us
Heavy air carrying sweat and grime
Sandalwood’s scent peeling off walls
Winter trips to Madurai by bus
Heat washed away by Marina’s sweet lime
Beach memories packed in volleyballs 

A backyard of our sleeping cricket bats
Red earth keeping warm Tulsi’s feet
Dinner on the terrace dipped in starlight
The grumbling generator housing rats
Tamil Soaps forming our home’s heartbeat
Downstairs toilet burping through the night

Comic books replaced with medicines
Laughter: once family, now visitor
Walking sticks: the new pillars of the house
Cancer taking his body, not his grin
Solemn-looking, weepy mourners
Patti’s tears filling wells, saving droughts

Dirt standing where home once was, once divine,
me standing in Chennai, but seemingly stuck in the wrong paradigm.


Sestina
For Peumal Murugan

He licked his thoughts along
the envelope seal, shut it tightly
and posted it to no one. Inside it
were ideas we’d never see—sharp
pebbles that cause multiple ripples
over still waters. 

It is sinful, they said, water
must reflect a frozen image along
its banks; it must be calm, devoid of ripples,
to show calmness in return. His tightly-
clutched pen was snatched. Their sharp
swords granted him a life without it

and left him with a blank page. But it
was deceptive, like how the surface of water
bodies hide fields of algae below. The page’s sharp
border fell into a coastal shelf. Peppered along
its bottom were baby wordlings, tightly
packed and jostling against one another. Ripples

were birthed from this chaos; every ripple
sprung from a crowning word as it
locked arms with other words tightly,
peeking up from underwater.
There was no stopping them. Crawling along
the coast, they appeared as sharply

dressed sonnets and sestinas, sharp
enough to slice through sand. Ripples
met with a lyric here, marching along
to the beat of rebellion, a ghazal there, in all its
glory, glorifying the gods of fire and water
written out of law. Tightly

bound, they were the Songs Of A Coward, tightly
tied together in cowardice. Their sharp
melodies caused creases on still waters,
as they united to form one fearless ripple
that grew into a tidal wave. It
ran towards the shore, tiptoed along

its path and crawled along the prison walls that tightly
shut the writer within it. Each song’s sharp teeth
gnawed off his chains. A ripple trembled into roaring waters.

Perumal Murugan was to be read again.

Saranya Subramanian is a 22-year-old literature aficionado, based in Bombay. She spends her time singing to herself and watching Madhubala videos (sigh!). And she writes because, well, it’s all that she can really do. 

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘On Tabassum, my daughter stumbling upon the word “Consummation” in a dictionary’ | By Umar Nizar

Umar Nizar’s poem On Tabassum, my daughter stumbling upon the word ‘Consummation’ in a dictionary, where the title of the poem is as artful, provided a recursive unfurling of the circularity of dead-ends, with a refrain, entering a path of imagistic exclusion, to reach a dry word in the dictionary.

On Tabassum, my daughter stumbling upon the word ‘Consummation’ in a dictionary

Not for her 

Ethereal glimpses

Of roseate morning skies

Not for her 

Tridasan vihaya, the 

Crimson trails on the parting of her hair

Not for her 

Frolicsome 

dips in the pond

Not for her 

The pride of erect breasts

Kissed by weary garlands of marigold

Not for her

The insolence 

Of tender limbs

Not for her

The tender 

companionship of the blue god

Not for her

The all-consuming void

Atop mount Kailasha

Not for her

Whirling of the Darvish, or

Perversions of Foucault, Derrida

Not for her

Swan lake on 

Moonlit nights

Not for her

Rose gardens of Shalimar,

The love of Majnoon

Not for her

The Carrefours

 of Shahin Bagh and Taksim

Not for her

Secret millennia

Of Amazonian insurrections

Not for her

Tombs and minarets of 

marble and clay

Not for her

Gazelle-eyed flights

Across plastic borders

Not for her

The insouciant grappling

Of tiger cubs

Not for her

The cosmic dance of 

Black hips

Not for her

The flashing eyes and 

Slipping drapes

Not for her

The luminous bazaars

Of Scheherazade

Not for her 

The jouissance 

of clickety fingers

Not for her

The frolicsome Eid 

Of a thousand full moons

Not for her

The adolescent devotees

Of CR7

Not for her

Feigned anger

Of reunions

Not for her

Dreaming steeples

Of incunabula

Not for her

The vermillion of freshly

Wiped tears

Not for her

The pollen grains

 of Behzad and Hafiz

Not for her

The mystic routes 

of Baghdad

Not for her

The miracle of 

Jerusalem

Not for her

The blue mosque

Or the red one

Not for her 

The pools of emerald

And jasper

Not for her

Stolen kisses

On the corniche

Not for her

Simmering anger

Of the dark-eyed goddesses

Not for her

The raging pyres 

Of sacrificial suicide

For Her, 

Consummatum est.

Umar Nizar is a poet based in Kerala, India. His essays and poems have been published by Vayavya, Muse India, Culture Café Journal of the British Library, Ibex Press Year’s Best collection, The New Indian Express, The Hindu Open Page, India Gazette London, Café Dissensus, and also broadcast by All India Radio.

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘Abortion’ & 2 other poems | By Anindita Sarkar

While Anindita Sarkar’s bold pieces on abortion, bullying of a unique boy, and surviving health ordeals spoke of grit under the surface, in the core and kernel. The choice of her themes – riveting with knife-edged impact. 

Abortion 

A noxious odour filled the infirmary

 Dull walls with murals

Harping on alchemy. 

Exotic beasts in white apparels, 

Roamed about in similar fashion. 

Bevy of varied-aged women, 

Hand in hand, huddled together. 

One after another, 

They entered into the curtained space, 

Cut off from the mainland, 

A place of no unwanted intrusion and calmness. 

Forks, knives, blades decked out, 

Ready to perform an act, 

Women were doused to sleep 

To carry out the unabsolvable task. 

One had premature limbs, 

The other’s heart wasn’t formed, 

One had even developed genitals, 

Another was barely two centimetres long! 

Petals of the rarest beauty, 

Crushed to death. 

The women gave each other a blank stare, 

One was not solvent, 

The other was a young widow, 

One was regularly abused by her husband, 

Another was already encumbered

 with four children. 

A new visitor plodded in, 

This time a ten-year-old, 

 to murder her unborn.


The Bully

Dark-green, Purplish, or with a Black hue

Effeminate boys at my school

Were catcalled Avocadoes.

“There goes the pear-shaped fruit” 

Masculine boys nudged 

Each other with a bravado. 

“How did you master

 a dual identity?”

They curiously examined 

His limbs and elbows, 

As if he was of 

An idiosyncratic breed. 

Furrowed brows and 

Protruding eyes

Guzzled his edible pulp

Beneath his armadillo. 

They struck his bottom and 

Called him a Pillow-biter

As they chiseled through 

His succulent buttery flesh 

To satiate their perched tongues 

With a flavour. 

Peeled off from his rind, 

By the swashbuckling criminals

Tears wobbled down his eyes

As he left with that 

Unswerving sweet smile, 

Never to return.


Only I recovered 

It seemed like a battle I could never win. 

My body was punctured, fettered to the bed, 

The walls were painted in chartreuse green. 

I thrived on that bleached fluid 

From the drip embroidered on my vein. 

I fed my soul on the veridescent terrain 

Clearly discernible through the indigo-bordered casement. 

A monitor palimpsest-ing my pulse,

While the garish ray of the winter sun

Implanted innumerable kisses on my face of pallid complexion. 

Nurses in lavender tunics like Seraphs of Beriah 

Smoothly kept tiptoeing 

In the room anointed with a mordant fragrance. 

A lilac curtain splatted the long room into two, 

My roommate lied in her imperturbable stupor 

gaping at the silk-white frescoed ceiling.

We acknowledged the silence from dawn to dark

united by exchanging telepathic waves. 

We frittered the day listening to the mowing of cows

And nights doused to sleep the lullaby of nightjars. 

Slowly my body began to ameliorate

I conquered death and owe her revivification. 

As I was wheeled back home, 

On an olive wheelchair, memories sweet-bitter lingered, 

While she recoiled to her desolation like a wilted fuchsia flower.

Anindita Sarkar is an UGC Junior Research Fellow pursuing her MPhil from Jadavpur University, India. She is from Kolkata, West Bengal. A neophyte in creative writing, she has graduated from Scottish Church College and completed her Masters degree from the University of Calcutta in English Literature. She has also served as a Lecturer in GNIHM College, Kolkata.

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘Articulate’ & 2 other poems | By Mihir Chitre

Mihir Chitre, whom we are publishing for the second time this issue, is as evocative as always; the years have only refined his poetry.

Articulate

How often have you won an argument

and lost a person? Think of your fury

when she says, “You just don’t get it,”

when you’re sure, after making a cogent argument,

that it’s her who doesn’t.

However, very often, it’s language that doesn’t.

In Mandarin, there is no tense.

You have only context to establish if you “love her”

or “loved her”, or if you were innocent or still are.

The more articulate you are, the less creatively you crawl

through the web of understanding.

In Archi, a verb can occur in over a million and a half forms,

but, I’m sure, there’s a woman up the Caucasus mountains,

who doesn’t know what to “do” when the cloud foaming a peak,

resembles her dead daughter. I can use “schadenfreude

in practically any sentence about Twitter, but

would it truly contain the pain of being a victim of it?

A syllable can have up to nine different meanings

in Cantonese that vary with the tone you say it in. Yet,

there are people in Hong Kong who lose their voice

when in the mood for love. Language is a city

in the civilization of communication. Being sophisticated

is not the same as being the best, and being the best

is not necessarily being the superset of all else.

There are things you can do every day in Tosh

or Alleppey or in the forest of Mahur that you never can

in Bombay. We often say more than we need to.

“Help,” we could simply say, and let the listener decide

if it’s “May I help you?” or “I need help.”

Imagine the agency of that choice –

helpless today, helpful tomorrow.

A “yes” is barely a yes when it comes

from someone you have power over. However,

a stooge of language would take it no differently

than the answer to “Would you like a million dollars?”

Someone once told me that if a person can speak,

without blinking an eye, on any subject, for more

than fifteen minutes, he knows nothing about it.

The ripple of understanding is concentric with,

but larger than, the ripple of language. Poetry

may be a linguistic high jump, but I’m not sure

the best poets communicate any “better” than a child,

finding his home. The fact that no feeling can ever be

perfectly articulated is both a limitation and the lustre

of co-existence.


Journeys

We’re an abstraction of the journeys

we make. Getting down at Amsterdam Centraal.

The first glimpse of Europe, after waiting for it

since you began waiting. It’s not the event itself

but the idea that is brilliant. The loaf of imagination

dipped in the tea of what you see.

Life, for most part, is guesswork. The thrill

of something living up to your expectation, at last.

The Ukrainian woman across the canal. Her projectile beauty,

masked in red. What you felt smoking sativa and drinking

at Brouwerij’t IJ while forgetting a world, is impossible

to tell with exactitude. Memory coupled with knowledge

is an asymptote to the original moment. What we have

is an abstraction, which moves as we move.

And yet we have stories to tell and some of them,

we believe, to be true. The truth is every story is fiction

to some degree. And the truth is that there is no truth

we will ever lay our hands on. I can tell you more

about Amsterdam and how I visited a city that thinks like me,

about the windmill that rotated periods of time and shuffled

the arcs of understanding. The bridges I crossed, the women

I passed, about cold beer, hot wine and the fishing line

at Volendam cutting into itself like greed. The cheese

and the wooden shoes at Marken and the hot chocolate

that fought alone, with great valour, against the cold, but

journeys can only be recounted, not relived. The old woman

smiling on the train, the number of her teeth intact,

the freckles on her cheek, summarising a continent.

All lost in the swarm of observations like the value of things.


Law

What’s the point where law parts ways

with justice? Your evening ritual in Amsterdam

can get you a life sentence in Singapore.

A Saturday well-spent in London

is felony in Saudi Arabia. In many countries,

a failed suicide attempt is punished

with a life worse than death. In many countries,

aiding a man, willing to terminate his suffering,

is abetment of murder. Most societies don’t agree

on an idea of wrong. Where law resigns,

the constitution is your conscience.

What is justice, after all, if not the balance

of an uplifted mind?

If you introspect without the inebriation

of culture, you’ll probably lament

for the man who was sentenced to 30 years

in a Turkish prison for an attempt to smuggle away

a kilogram of heroin, or a man who spent

half his life in the courtroom for sleeping

with a powerful man’s wife or a man

who was in exile for writing a book

that questioned a religion.

The purpose of law is to protect innocence,

but, often, it devises the end of it.

There are men who commit murder

after being incriminated for one.

In this world, sometimes, crime

follows punishment. Our sense of justice

is loaded with prejudice and weakens

in the cyclone of generalisations.

Every rule smothers its exception.

Mihir Chitre is the author of two books of poetry – Hyphenated (Sahitya Akaademi, 2014) and School of Age (Dhauli Books, 2019). His poems have featured in over 25 magazines including Nether, Indian Literature, Himal Southasian, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Cerebration, Vayavya etc. His work has also featured in anthologies such as Poetrywala’s 40 Under 40; Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing (Volume 4); Sahitya Akademi’s Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians. Chitre wonders what’s right about what’s left. Of late, he’s been particularly interested in the totalitarianism exhibited by some who call themselves liberals. His book: School of Age can be found here.

Advertisements

Poetry | ‘English in me’ & ‘Travelling with Papa’ | By Ranu Uniyal

Ranu Uniyal has the adorability that comes from a shifting relationship to English. For no matter how much we love it, we can’t live with it when we know beauty and depth may lie in other languages. ‘Fuck in English/Fuck it now.’

English in me 

English is as big as a mustard seed 

in my conscience.  

I have made a living 

all these years

read and chewed 

and sometimes failed to digest 

its embryonic juices.  

Constantly I am being told 

you know nothing.  

Here is a poseuse  

without pauses 

or commas

jutting off hyphens 

and siphoning 

all the prepositions 

with umm’s and ho’s.  

My desi friends 

make fun of 

my Sanskrit seeped in 

accented English.   

They say nimboo pani 

as an ideal drink 

loses thrill unless 

sugar and salt are 

adequately mixed.  

And my English friends 

with stoic disdain

forgive my sins 

for they know 

she knows not.   

Heavenly Father 

has always had 

the final laugh.   

English is the language 

I make love in.  

English is the language 

I have used for my living.  

English is the language 

I travel in mind, body, and soul.  

English is all I could never be.  

English is all I will never be.  

Fuck English 

Fuck it now.  

Embrace English 

Embrace it now. 


Travelling with Papa

Because I have lived 

a one and twenty years 

in this house 

with its wide truncated 

corridors, I can smell 

you everywhere, on that 

broody charpoy, that 

sedan brown chair with its 

velvety cushions piled on high 

and you dazzling like a 

laughing Buddha. Unlike him 

you had no inch of flesh on you.  

Just the smell of neem 

and sarson gave you away. 

I knew it had to be you

reading Geeta, chanting Ramayana

living on the news from CNN.  

The less I travel and stay put 

I see you in distant capitals 

visiting Eiffel one day 

and Louvre the other

tracking the road to Cottingham

searching for a house 

in Salmon Grove. 

Is it you in Hornsea

waving, gesticulating 

with a grim flick of a smile? 

See I too have left my soul there 

and am hauling the carcass everywhere. 

Ranu Uniyal is Professor of English at Lucknow University.  An author of six books, her articles and book reviews have been published widely. Her poetry has appeared in Mascara Literary Review (Australia), Jaggery, Medulla Review, Sketch Book, Twenty 20, Whispers (USA), Littlewood Press (UK), Bengal Lights (Bangladesh), Asia Literary Review, Cha (Hongkong), The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, Dhauli Review, Muse India, Kavya Bharati, Femina, Manushi, Indian Literature, Ethos literary journal and several anthologies in India and abroad. She has published three poetry collections:  Across the Divide (2006), December Poems (2012), and the most recent The Day We Went Strawberry Picking in Scarborough (2018). She has read her poems at international literature festivals and conferences in Bhubaneswar, Chemnitz, Calicut, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lancaster, Lucknow, Madrid, Tashkent and Udaipur. She was on a Writer’s residency in 2019 at Uzbekistan. Her poems have been translated in Hindi, Oriya, Malayalam, Spanish, Urdu, and Uzbek. She also writes poetry in Hindi. She is a founding member of a day care centre for children with special needs in Lucknow. She can be reached at ranuuniyalpant@gmail.com | ranuuniyal.com

Advertisements