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. 

Poetry | ‘Reverse Triage’ & ‘A Benevolent Lion’ | By Adil Hasan

Adil Hasan’s prose poems are a surprising interlacing of abstract and fablery taking over the trail-edges of mist-filled suspense

Reverse Triage

Billowing smoke through the broken shape of a leaf filled with grief. Colour spreads like blood through the veins of a sinewy arm. The spot where a man’s head should be is turning a liquid blue. From inside, a gurney is turning the corner, the pink blanket propped heavy, the body motionless. Of the five red beds monitored, two do not make it into the night. The nurse skates to the door and screams, “Transport, transport!” Freeing hands from large pockets, two sleepy men come running. One turns and nods to the head of a family come to identify a missing relative. Helter-skelter her children run for the exits. A shrill whistle is heard. Outside, I’m jumping into a rickshaw, negotiating with the driver showing me his bruises. A paramedical facility fighting in court to become a hospital. Up high, crows on railings stare belligerently into the one room reserved for critical care. Blue light from the TV cascades down the steel and glass hostel opposite. No parking. An unnamed side street in the city of Bangalore. A camouflaged helicopter paces the sky, thrice in two minutes. White clouds spread, cotton-wool tossed. Precipitation was expected. It pours.


A Benevolent Lion

In the open cage, amidst a large contingent of small animals – a benevolent lion. Instantly shy, I shield my eyes from the gilded sanctuary beyond the barbed wire. With leaden legs I emerge from sleep to a crisis in the far country. My companions lie motionless on the bank, like dispersed boulders in mud on the moon. From across the moat to the other side, reaching high into deep blue space is the jaipur castle. Through sandy windows come choral notes and the sound of a noisy stereo. There is soon to be a show of pomp and fantasy we’ve been waiting for. Androgynes. Androgynes will walk those aisles…

Now on the ascendant, the lion lowers his mighty jaw, making to speak. I flap my ears open and begin to weep. Spears and wooden tongues lash out at him. My companions belch and stutter, coiled tails sweeping arcs at his feet. In the escaping light of those distant days, this beast must come padding in. His throne the muddy mound, the androgynes will court, dancing in their old graceful ways, singing of the stars above. In the far country when you leave me to die, leave me to dream another crisis. But ordain just this: first, kingly flight through a jaipur castle, then the bitter descent to my sandy cage – as you fashion for me, amidst a large contingent of small animals – a continent of benevolent, gilded lions.

Adil Hasan was born in 1971 in Shillong, North-East India and lived in Bangalore for nineteen years before he moved to Pune last year. Having previously worked in the banking industry, he is now a visual artist and a freelance writer. His poems and short tales have appeared in Kitaab, Half and One, and The Thumb Print magazines. An exhibition of his art titled Escape The Dark – A Digital Fantasy was held in 2014. 

Poetry | ‘Honestly,’ & ‘Since I Wrote’ | By Rajosik Mitra

Rajosik Mitra’s is refreshing new voice written in almost a stream-of-conscious tone, capturing the qualia that would otherwise have sieved away.

Honestly,

I have no pain, nothing to speak of anyway,

all I’ve had I’ve had in vain – shadows and rain,

and that bolt from heaven,

scattering us into the night,

as I walked down Error Avenue, 

the Delusion Bridge,

down to my favourite street 

one weeknight in the universe

to see you; 

it was nine thirty, three hours late – 

now everybody’s good friend

(Time rest his soul)

Preetam’s dead, 

so nobody gets wasted 

anymore, 

Neil is cleaning his lungs far out in lonely Trivandrum,

and the world spun so fast we couldn’t make sense 

of the simple summer rain;

you should know,  

I don’t go looking for fixes anymore,

like on some grand quest for Truth, like one of these days 

I’m going to pull down these cheap jalousies and blinds

of Maya like they were hanging from a hawker’s hanger 

in Park Street; then break into the control-room of existence

and catch truth with a toothbrush, in its underwear,

naked, not ready and maybe afraid.

You see, 

I’ve imagined the truth arching over the south-city black tower

wind-flat mercurial suspension-steamed emptiness and sweet,

rich, sweat-bead sigh of the plexiglass and frigid ATMs,

inaccessible to the cabbie parked inside a patch of street cancer

boiling in oil and noon but accessible to me,

and my enlightened air-conditioned academies.

I’ve imagined it in the alley inhabiting the beehive sting of the queen, 

I’ve imagined it watching over me from the balcony 

two chillums away, in the railyard evening, 

where flowers give out smoke and smell of hashish,

while Bittoo sits between scented money

and the wind smells of vodka rushing  

in the winter dry-drizzle cold-alone gutter of the dead, 

’cause he’s figured he ain’t no movie star

dredging every day that black drain for bread;

then the police took him away 

I could hear a faint siren fading, 

the probable cloud of truth shifting,

disappearing completely. 

Do you see? 

A dark night has fallen upon me, upon you, upon those pupils that are cellphone-blue, 

upon those that are happy, upon those boys you knew

making spiced potato-mash in the forest under the moon, 

it is night now, on the moon, it is night now in the stars, that sleep deprived

of oxygen in the red flesh-eating smoke, it is night now upon the surface of the sun,

it is night now, in the heart of the universe and we’re not programmed 

to further understand.

There are more complex things to write about, you’d say,

it was always this way, there’s nothing new in the cycle of ages, 

and you’re right, you know, 

I wish I could write about living more;

the intricate sugar cube, the old man balloon, a moment with dad, 

the daily afternoon melancholy of my mother, my sister, and how her little daughter says 

they went on a visit to washing-machine-ton and how last year, all of a sudden 

winter changed colour.

I’m sitting here, my vague grasp weakening on metaphors and similes

while in 2017 the world went mad with creativity, 

I’m sitting down with the old man junkie,

melting wax, undead, undying, mixing with the underpass – 

looking for nothing, here the long hairy hand of advertisement can’t reach us. 

I hope you’re doing fine, and don’t beat yourself up about the flowers you’ve trampled

trying to catch a butterfly, they’re all petals of the same lie, 

and don’t ask me why I bother to write;

all these bad lines, insult subtlety and rhyme, 

honestly,

I don’t feel like writing long-ass poems, 

I don’t feel like being a severed head about town, useless in a wartime globe.

Honestly, you know, I’m writing bad more and more,

I’ve been mostly dishonest lately, but believe me,

honesty is poetry in this world.


Since I wrote

I have now a heap of sand,

the great hiding spirit that guides 

all stringers of words 

weave me warnings and tell me

I’ve burnt 

my only matchstick-hand. 

In the desert on a moonless night

in my tatter-old jeans

I’ve searched for some airborne light

a breath long and inescapable to the mind, 

you could say I was searching 

for signs of life. 

If you’d know me you’d learn  

I hate petty rhymes

and in the sand there lay 

the ruins of the king of kings 

reading Coleridge now 

I fear he’s not been so kind.

I walk two paces, no more than that 

everyday, and before me the great 

endless arch

and somewhere between them 

I’ve killed much time. 

Darkness grows bottom shallow 

so you’d think it’d dawn

but you’ve not seen nothingness 

not like this 

neither gray, black nor white. 

Lung full of gunk and a life

of two squares 

hyenas on a freight train in the quantum

realm snigger plot and smile.

Pixels bookshelves clat-key uber-green alphabets,

what words could come out of the dead 

what poems could do to the absolute 

endless zero? 

So I raised myself onto the keyboard

and walked on lego-earth flat

my father says I’m old, 

mother strand of hair-grey sadness never spoke, 

only listened 

 listened for some promised morning bird.

Poems don’t pay neither do paintings 

 when you’re bad you’re bad at everything.

Shouldn’t be so personal, these are trying times- 

 in my dreams I go to Varanasi 

not knowing what I’ll find, 

 great gray moustache collapsibles 

soda lemonade ice-cream I’m sorry I said, 

 I’m only looking for an N-95. 

Somewhere I met dead Niladri barely 

 twelve when he died, searched him up on internet, 

and found nothing but death.

 Found my schoolyard changed 

and I think sometimes 

what a blessing to know Ideal_grave 

 great composer caught by dragons on the page 

we should never be rusty- he said. 

 Drag my face across the keys, out-dreams 

and visions and Denver and quiet seaside Edinburgh 

 and souls of swords and their names through 

the redbook of Jung 

and archetypes of the void, of everything gone quiet,

 my usual tropes of windows and sinister flyovers, 

everything gone quiet.

 And I know of Trappist, Andromeda, Susskind 

and America of Morrison and Moore I know Mitras 

 and Mukherjees and Chaudhuri and Chakrabortys some of them so kind to me, 

some outright cold. 

I’ve learned to speak to run and hide and climb black-brick

 mountains and prose and there are words I stole – Kerouac Kafka

Milton everyone on this poem and on and on it goes,

 In this I am in this I’m all, if there is something 

in me that is me it is mute,

 there is nothing I long for more

than to stare at nameless long-gone stars through a telescope.

Rajosik Mitra was born and raised in Kolkata, who likes to read poems, classics and comic books, and prefers to stick to the straightforward and uncomfortable when reading and writing, and sometimes has a lot to say.

Poetry | ‘Glass Grows’ & Other Poems by U. Sai Sruti | School Student Writing

Glass Grows

we live in a glass world
glass dolls and glass minds
growing out of glass jungles
glass bodies cracking and green
this glass shatters in this glowing stream
of green blood and green hearts
bleeding blackening grease
green governments eyeing the glass green
and piercing glass into these bodies
that spew their spleen of earth-shattering green
glass breaking, burning, brewing
glass minds that grow glass ideas
and pierce shards into these green goats
glass ministers take glass decisions
as the glass pushes through the
cracking earth sprouting out
of these concrete jungles
into the glass tongues of these
glass people silencing these glass voices
you are glass, and I am glass too
living in a world that is growing glass roots

lies my mother told me

mama said she saw the purple flowers decorating my back
she also saw pomegranate blood dripping from my thighs
she says that daddy loves me a lot
but mama why does it hurt so much
when he runs his hands along the whip
and paints my back with flowers
mama is wrong
this cannot be love
mama lied to me
and i only realized that when
i saw mama’s back littered with wild petunias

How to Get a New Heart

the thud of my footsteps
reverberates with the sound 
of my heart leaping 
out of my body
and falling onto the middle of
the road
I watch as it
vibrates with so much intensity
and finally comes to a stop
there is a cavity
in my chest now
where my heart once was
I look at it in desperation
waiting for it to
show me something
give me a sign
I try to pick it up
and put it back
where it’s supposed to be
“you are not supposed to be here,
go back inside”
and suddenly
a car runs over my heart
as I watch in horror
my poor crushed heart
now has blood leaking
from every cut
blood splattered on the streets
how do you feel safe
when the ones protecting you
are the ones inflicting this pain
tell me
teach me
how do I feel alive again
how do I feel alive again
how do I feel alive again
ink marks on my fingertips spread
as I keep writing
painting these pages
with my heartbreak and sorrow
one day I will scream these poems
and you will listen
someday, I will find
a new heart
waiting to beat
full of life
I will feel alive again
or so I tell myself

When the Reality Sets In

when the reality sets in
his buoyant veneer cracks
as the truth 
slowly crawls its way to him through his façade
cracking it little by little
as he clutches his little sister’s lifeless body in his hands
the soulless body (he is not used to saying corpse, please don’t say it)
staring into his being with beguiling chasms (please wake up, I love you so much it hurts)
his mother stands there and screams
as the reality is slowly hammering itself
into his brain (I am so sorry I couldn’t protect you, please forgive me)
screams lacerate his throat
he spills honey words into her ear
waiting for his love to manifest itself
in the form of a miracle
miracle
he wants a miracle to bring long-gone sister back home
as he shakes violently
hugging her close to his chest (can’t you see that I’m hurting? please come back)
the universe gyrated the day Esteban’s sister
put herself to sleep
fifteen years later, eidolons haunt Esteban as he sits on the kitchen stool. “Eat up Julia, we don’t want to be late for school now, do we?” he says, turning his head towards the empty kitchen stool next to him.

An Ode to My Past Self

this is an ode to my younger self
and to my present self
and to my future self
sunshine and candies sound marvellous
but that is not what
it will be like
every
second
every
minute
every
day
tick, tick, tick
you see, time will not stop for you
and there will be days
where your voice will slither
and hide in a hidden curve
of a hidden place
in your intestine
where it will stay there
till what feels like eternity
trapped
and sometimes not
and your tongue will swallow
all the venom coated lies you tell yourself
that sometimes drip of honey
honey
liquorice
sugar
sweet
salty
lies
lies that will break your home
lies that will break you
lies that will forever remain lies
truth will stare you down
it will make you queasy
jittery uncomfortable
your neck will itch and your insides will twist
twist into a knot
the kind that takes patience to undo
and that day your mouth will run dry
your fingers cold
your body will be on fire
fire
fire
you will think of sacrificing yourself
and succumbing to the
honey
liquorice
sugar
sweet
salty
fatal
lies
but that day
stare your fears down
stare the doubt down until
you burn holes in its head and it stumbles
backing away from
the truth looming over you
find that voice
and tell yourself that you will be alright
that you will do this again
and again
and again
and again
till the truth seeps through the crevasses of your mind
and stays there
maybe it will never stay
but tell yourself
that you will fight this fight
every
second
every
minute
every 
day
till you feel alright again

Dark Girl’s Magic

Some days I wake up
Brush my teeth with anxiety
And braid my hair with pain
There are days I chafe at my dark skin
As insults burn holes in my heart as I walk in
The school corridors
A sense of alienation hammering into me
I carry anguish on my shoulders
I feel like my soul is being crushed by boulders
Boulders of my thoughts and your words
Standing in front of the mirror I scratch my skin
As the sin of me being dark-skinned weighs me down
You pointed at me and laughed
As I stood there staring at the ground
Waiting for the earth to split open and swallow me whole

Aunty tells me that I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl
That I have nice hair and that almost compensates for the colour of my skin
No, I don’t want your almost compliments
I suddenly forget how to breathe as it slowly dawns on me
That dark is an atrocity
I am almost convinced that the universe
Is making me pay for all my sins
My world gyrated the day I told myself
I can never be enough, not in this skin

One day I thought I finally found
A solution to my
problem
White semi-liquid substance encapsulated in a bottle
My hopes and dreams died
As I frantically slapped it on my face
And rubbed it in until my skin was sore
I screamed
I screamed in rage
As I looked at the bottled in duplicity

You see melanin is only pretty
When it comes in tiny amounts
That day the oceans collided
and my cries were futile
But thank the Gods it didn’t work
My skin is not a painting open to your criticisms
I am not a doll sitting by the window waiting
to be admired by strangers
you see, I was taught that dark skin didn’t deserve to be loved
that I could never love myself
I blame the unrealistic beauty standards set
For young girls and boys
The perfect hourglass figure
The toned muscles
The plump lips
The doe-eyes
And the fair skin
And of course, just the right amount of curves
Stop this

We are going to claim our identities back
We are going to truly find peace in ourselves
So to all those who scratch their skin
And try to bleach it
I say don’t
Stand up for yourself and don’t you drown in dismay
For dark is magic
Dark is beautiful
Dark is elegant
Dark is powerful
Dark is the pupil which sees the world
Stars etched into the crevasses of your mind
And embedded in your arteries
You are made of stardust
My love, you were born from a magnificent supernova
Your skin is as wonderful as the limitless dark depth of the universe
Gold spills from your mouth
There is so much more to you than just your skin
And don’t you cry, o’ moonchild
You have magic running through your veins
Feeling beautiful is loving your thoughts
your mind and your soul
listen not to those
who tell you that you aren’t enough
for you are a child of the dark cosmos
you are more than enough

U. Sai Sruti is a student in her final year of high school at Tagore International School, New Delhi, India. Her writing has been recognised at several forums, most notably Katha Utsav, a national event where she was awarded the grand prize. Rudy Francisco, Nikita Gill and Porsha Olayiwola are her favourite poets.