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