6/22/22

New | Poetry | Shlagha Borah




উম



bird mom/mom bird


her nestlings


nesting


resting





until we came with spears




Joy


Sunflower clouds 

hiding         seeking

the blue 

getting blue-er but not darker. 

feet crossing tiles, two 

at times three. 

Birds. Can you hear the birds? 

I’ve never heard a kopou sing 

in Manhattan. I know, I know. 

We’re not in Manhattan. 

It sure feels so, though. 

children/ cotton candy - pink, fluffy. Dancing 

mullets in the paella. Rice marrying broth. 

umbrella tucked behind the wooden chair. 

I won’t let it rain. 





Holiday/Home


fleeting, floating


waves gently 

cleanse, with might 

to sweep the unguarded


sitting mid beach-

arms, thighs, chest, mouth

crumbly singing along; 

music reaches from everywhere


child munching,

waves crashing;

who’s to discriminate


crab kings dance 

wind washes the sand 

so the child can draw again


trusting the sea, praying

it won’t consume me

when I’m asleep






Postlude


how long were you in there? how long before your tongue snipped? have they kept the stool away? which shirt were you wearing? how does the pyre react to skin? what melts first — eyes or hair? did you think of me? what would you have done differently? what would I? what was the last tune you whistled? if you had one more breath, which tune would you whistle? what would you say? what was your last word? what was your first? was your last breath an exhale or an inhale? what hurts more– not knowing your birthmother, flushing Benzodiazepines or dismissal? what are you now– ash, smoke or light? do you visit as thunder or rain? did you know that a budweiser can you once touched and my lover’s cat sleep under the same soil? how much do the dead know? can I stop you from becoming history if I talk about you in the present tense? can tense turn time?


6/21/22

New | Poetry | Kapil Kachru

 


First Night

 

moth eaten

mantle of clouds

on the move

 

conceals,

reveals,

conceals

 

distant

gleaming

 

no words,

no smile,

not even a wink

 

this first night

of winter

 

just worn out

fragments of

black n’ white

 

song & glimmer

of freshly minted

moon,

 

shy

in its

fullness

 


 

On the Beach

 

surf recedes

crows descend

in a flash

 

like German

dive bombers

in world war two

 

heartless

precision

picks off

helpless crabs

 

scurrying

out of their

slender holes

for some sandy

 

reason

other than

frolicking

in the sun

 

crows

scatter

surf returns

 

rustling

her many

layered skirts

 


 

Grassland

 

en-

danger

-ed,

 

not

extinct

 

bent

by wind,

 

yet

unbroken

 

marsh grass

rears its many

heads


 

Old Worlds, New Eyes

 

 

i

 

in distant homeland

orchards erupt

 

with archaic

enthusiasm

 

ravishing, mute

pink & profuse

 

over promising

almonds

 

 

ii

 

sufficient stem of lotus

singularly transcending mud

 

mossy in recesses of

seventeenth century village pond

 

watercolor deep

in fragile opium sleep

 

 

iii

 

peacock in temple cage

pigeon on security camera

crow line dances on wire

& hops on palm leaf

 

 

 

iv

 

fronds droop under the weight

of prosperous murder

 

roots bust out of brick wall below

like dreadlocks

 

Rudra grins

wide, unconditional, manic

 

drips from unfathomable fangs

welcome relief

 

 

v

 

indigo

hammers & sickles

 

adorn

freshly whitewashed walls

 

on route

to historic academic ruins

 

 

vi

 

some tribes

separate men from boys

by the sharpness

of their tongues

 


Bio:

Kapil Kachru lives in Boston, USA and works as a copywriter. He has been devoted to The Beats since his teens. First Beat book he bought was Ginsberg's Indian Journals, Penguin India, late '80s/early '90s.

5/29/22

New | Poetry | Three Poems | Akhil Mishra

 






Second Pair of Eyes

Some memories are ghosts of their own memoirs.

Mother’s first specs,

A-decade-and-some old

Bifocals, Gandhi rims, painted in city-gold.

‘Cheap and alright’ the seller had said. They broke today.

 

Should not have mattered. Ma never could read.

She was a living relic of that medieval breed

Where holding a pen was like riding a steed.

A moustache was your saddle.

 

Disruptions in my morning routine!

Things break all the time. It was old as the Peepal tree.

I ordered one off the web and set myself free.

Same difference, mother. Fret not, ye!

 

Dark days need more ISO, or the picture turns hazy.

I recall a woman battered by time - broken, but not blind.

Wrinkled white sari, those gaudy glasses, with a thread behind,

Like a bank teller, a teacher. She sat cross-legged in the winter sun.

 

My cab back home tonight is taking a detour. So must I.

When I was but a boy, a man had died.

They, by whom he was survived,

Survived with nothing but practiced pride.

 

I come home tonight and find, the dead man’s gift,

Her lovingly named ‘second pair of eyes’,

That Frankenstein - taped and glued and mended -

Now upon the Bhagwad Gita lies.

Some memoirs too, are memories’ slaves.



Letters in Ink

 

I used to wait for a time when I wore glasses,

and lived far far away, so I would get mail too.

Long letters from family, and birthday cards folded in two.

 

Like most things simple, the red boxes have been dead for a while.

I turned sixty today. There were no cards for me.

The mail now is ‘e’; delivered instantly for free.

 

The quote of the day by some Palo Alto hotshot -

“Emails would have a personal touch after the upcoming update”,

The 21st century notion of touch, too early, too late.

 

A father’s letters are data packets now, floating through the web.

The letter-box is a software, with attachments just to the files

Still a darned miracle they say, “In seconds across a million miles”.

 

With age comes adamancy. Can’t trade emotion for function!

I tear a sheet from a notebook, and watch it blot as my nib sinks.

In shaky hands I write a letter to myself, in watery blue ink.

 


Meaning

 

There’s never enough.

Time or Love or Drugs.

There’s never going to be enough

Money, hard earned sweat stained

Or stolen, stuffed into pillows,

shoved under the basement rugs.

 

Philosophy is a slave to the privileged.

Art, a concubine of the insane.

Living is just driving in circles,

On the right track, on the wrong train.

 

The men who yell hoarse to hide their faces,

Will hear them echo off their high walls.

And they who toil in hunger, soon

Will ask the right questions in clarion calls.

 

More verses will be scribbled in their answers

In new hands and old words

Their ink tasted in metaphors, metaphorically

In the blots they leave behind in their curse

And turned into a malady for every known cure.

Their meaning, forever obscure.

 

5/28/22

New | Short Fiction | The Mattress | Muhammad Nadeem

Artwork by Basita Shah 



by Siyah Kalb

I

Snow fell on the streets of Srinagar in September, the season that Naayim was born. Snow is nature’s curfew—a safer one. Everyone stays home. Warm. No shops are open. No traffic moves. No bullets are fired. No bodies fall.

Maimoona’s water broke with the break of dawn. Hamid knew they were in a pickle. He went to see if Shabir could take them to the hospital in his auto-rickshaw. Shabir made him realize there was a foot of snow, and there was no way it would be shovelled off the streets any time soon.

The LD Hospital was three checkpoints and a bridge away.

Maimoona stepped into the snow and let an esshhh out, which sounded like  cold droplets sprinkled on burning coal.

Hamid was a foot-and-a-half taller than her. He put his left hand on her back and the right one on her right shoulder. To keep her from slipping or falling, he had to bend and hold her like the Qausain once held the Kaaba.

I was taking a nap just outside their gate under a shop front. When I heard the door crack open, I woke up. As I was doing nothing important, I decided to tag along; I love walking on snow, probably as much as camels love walking on sand.

After going through three checkpoints—with the army stopping them at each Bunker to check their identity cards and see if they were really Kashmiris — and crossing a bridge over the mighty Jhelum, they were finally at their destination. Freezing, but safe.

I saw Nishat and Harud outside the OPD. As the couple went inside the hospital, I decided to check up on my friends. Last night, there had been an encounter in their area, and the army had “accidentally” destroyed their home. With no other option left, they decided to take shelter at the generator shed behind the same hospital building where Maimoona delivered her newborn.

An hour or so had passed when Hamid finally walked outside the hospital building. His relieved expression and the smile brimming across his face told me everything had gone well in the maternity ward. He crossed the road and went inside the telephone booth, where he made a few phone calls to his relatives to give them the happy news.

Because of the snow, none of the relatives, friends, and neighbours visited them that day.

The next day the sun shone as if it were already mid-March. The snow started to melt, and the usual traffic began to move. The relatives came to visit with happy faces and eggs, milk, and baby clothes.

II

Naayim grew up to be a docile and lovable boy. With his father’s blonde looks and mother’s beauty and kindness, he became one of the most cherished kids within the community. Soon, Naayim began to walk and was old enough to go outside on his own to buy candy and other items from the local shops. He was a little afraid of me. His mother would then accompany him and encourage him to give me the leftovers. Soon after that, he would come out alone after dinner to feed me.

He loved football. The kids often pooled pennies together to buy a communal ball to replace the old one, once it was lost or worn out beyond repair. Periods of ceasefire were always an opportune time to start a quick game and release some of the pent-up childhood energy after long hours of hiding behind closed doors. Growing up during the war, protests and political instability did not stop them from playing. For those few moments during the game, they were able to put aside the violent world of death, devastation, and tragedy revolving around them to enjoy running freely after a ball.

He looked adorable in his school uniform. His chubby cheeks and brown eyes would give him a unique look in his green sweater. Every morning before sending him to school, Maimoona would recite Chaar Qul and blow over him to protect him from the evil eye.

The only concern they had for Naayim was that he slept a lot, quite often and quite quickly. “Sometimes I think he loves his mattress more than he loves me,” Maimoona had once complained to Hamid, who would smile away, amused at the tenderness behind such words.

Too much tenderness might  ruin and spoil a child , Hamid felt at times. But Maimoona knew that this freshness, this light-heartedness, and the need for love and strength of faith in our childhood do not return once we grow up. She knew Naayim’s innocent joy and the endless desire for love were essential. Tenderness filled Maimoona’s life at this stage of her life, and she did everything in her power to make it available for him.

Once, Naayim had his head in Maimoona’s lap. They were watching the night sky on the Zoon-Deb. He asked what to make of the stars. Before she could prove that stars were our source for looking into different pasts, he was snoring his way into sombre dreams.

There was an agreement of experience between Hamid and Maimoona in raising children to support each other in ways both practical and tender. And there was, between them, the sum of the years and the small familiarities; the trembling sound of each other’s breathing when a child was unwell; the ailments, the sorrows, and cares, unexpected and unbidden. And all this, as if, were somehow more obligatory, more important, and more irrefutable than one’s own life.

They took him to a doctor. He said this was normal. Maimoona also took him to a Peer Baba, who advised her to change his name. Hamid was reluctant. It was not like they called him Naayim all the time. His mother called him Jaana, Zoova, Jigra, Sooba, and Lala, and his father stuck with Sahab.

Katsa oos Sahab? Sahab kya karaan? Sahban khyova Batte?

Soon, they got used to it.

 

 

 

 

III

In Kashmir, life changes in an instant. All the happiness gathered is swept away like it’s nothing. The world is never tender with significance here. Amongst the death and destruction, the share of joy eventually comes to an end. That’s life for the Kashmiris.

The day was cold as evil. Two months after Naayim had turned fourteen, an encounter took place a few alleys away from their home. One among the Mujahideen jumped over the rooftops and landed in their attic. He was injured in his right arm and could not hold his weapon correctly. Like almost every other family, Hamid saw it as his obligation to protect him and hide him. Maimoona tended to the wounds of the Mujahid and cleaned his blood from the floor.

The army started a search and cordon operation after the encounter. The crackdown was put into place. The joint operation of the Indian Army, JK Police, and the SOG was in motion. They entered a local Masjid with guns and their boots still on, grabbed the Muezzin by his neck, and told him to make the announcement. Within minutes, all male members of the locality were forced to be present in the courtyard of a local school.

The army, with the unwavering support of the local police, went house to house to search for the wounded Mujahid. They wreaked havoc in every home they entered.

Hamid and Maimoona hid the Mujahid in the Byear Kyeni behind piles of their extra bistar.

Hamid looked for Naayim but could not find him. Maimoona urged Hamid to leave before the army barged in and became suspicious.

Hamid left.

Maimoona went upstairs to look for Naayim.

But it was too late.

The army heard Maimoona calling for Naayim. They grabbed her and punched and kicked her all over. They kept asking her where she had hidden the rebel. She cried, implored, and shouted at them to no avail.

Some of the army men went ahead to search in the attic. They felt some movement behind the bistar and opened fire without any warning. The red blood seeped through the white sheets.

Two bodies were found there.

Naayim received fourteen bullets. One for each year he had survived.

The army took the body of the Mujahid and dragged it all over the market square.

The army chief told the in-charge of the JK Police to take care of the kid’s body and his family. Four Kashmiri police officers—with Kashmiri names embroidered on their chests, who spoke the Kashmiri language as any other Kashmiri—beat Maimoona and made sure to kick her stomach so hard and so much that she would never conceive again.

Hamid was arrested, tortured, and sent to prison.

Naayim’s body was lying in a pool of blood until some neighbours gathered courage and went inside. They wrapped the adolescent in one of the mattresses and brought him downstairs.

They put the body in the courtyard. The fragrance of his blood was so enchanting that I could not resist. Afraid to be kicked away, I carefully went near the mattress in which he was wrapped and saw angels descend to take his soul away. I could never forget that fragrance.

A few hours later, there were protests and processions. Naayim’s body was taken to the Martyr’s Graveyard.

Hum kya chahte? Azadi!

Zara zor se bolo – Azadi!

Hai haq hamara – Azadi!

Hum cheen ke lenge – Azadi!

Khushboo waali – Azadi!

Hai jaan se pyari – Azadi!

Aye Moula dede – Azadi!

Shodah ke sadkey – Azadi!

Mere kafan pe likhna – Azadi!

Aayee, Aayee – Azadi!

Naayim tere khoon se – Inquilaab aayega!

Ponde Police – Haay, haay!

Indian dogs go back! Go back, go back!

 

IV

Maimoona remained in the hospital for months. Upon discharge, she chose to stay in her own house even when her parents begged her to stay with them.

Every night, while wandering like a lost ghost in Naayim’s room, she would keep whispering things to the void. She was trying to preserve some kind of life there, even though she knew the void had no chance of enduring without hope as its body. She would still feed it, keep it comfortable, care for it, medicate it, caress it, and even sing to it:

Madano pardeh royas tul

be lagay’e dard’hetay gul

t’che mo’laag bewafa bilkul

be lagay’e dard’hetay gul

madano pardeh royas tul

 

She would tend to these basic meanings, to these essential acts, so that she could sustain the memory until  time sublimated it . Every night, a time came for her to live amongst ghosts. The void opened out as nothing but a vast emptiness. She kept the conversation going:

Do you know, Jaana, Saleem Kak was buried alive in his home? Does he tell you stories in Jannat now?  Your friend Wamiq was shot in the head today at Boulevard. I hope you won’t be too lonely anymore… The children deserve their moment of remembrance, don’t they?

At Fajr, I would see her leave for the Masjid with a candle in her hand. When all hope has vanished, the prayer has the dominion.

Maimoona occasionally visited Srinagar Central Jail, where Hamid was indefinitely lodged. There came a point when she saw his lifeless state and that there was no longer any difference between her husband and the chair he was sitting on. And after that, she would visit him but see a chunk of flesh wearing the face of a man who once was her husband. And after that, when there was nothing left of Hamid that she knew, she waited for his death like a branch that cracks away in the harsh wind or like a jacket that slips off a hanger and falls to the floor.

They had taken her son away in a single swipe. And they took her husband, slowly, like one part of his soul at a time, till there was no Hamid left for Maimoona to call her own.

IV


Pain is a place none of us know until we reach there.
After Naayim’s funeral, Maimoona never ceased to grieve. One of the biggest problems Kashmiris have, is that they move on. It doesn’t matter who is killed, how many massacres take place, how many villages are raped – they move on. Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people because any sensible being knows this kind of grief is eternal.

[We don’t move on. When you hear us howling in the dead of the night, every night, who do you think we mourn? We don’t forget. Not only us, but every other species also mourns, and we don’t have it in us to carry on living in the occupation. That is the life of disgrace. We don’t want to obey their laws. We don’t want to go through utter humiliation every time we go out to buy some milk. We are made for liberty, for freedom.]

Maimoona refused to move on. The pain that was thrust upon her, she didn’t let anyone fix it. The only time she was seen smiling after the incident was when she was found dead. She was always in grief. That fate was inherited, like the colour of one’s eyes. The tears fell into an endless well within her, and the colour of her eyes eventually turned white. She told one of her relatives to bury her in the mattress she used to sleep on.

When her Jinazah was about to be prayed for, I was shaken. I smelled the same fragrance coming from the mattress she was shrouded in that I had smelled from Naayim’s blood.
Does a mother miss her child more than she can remember? How empty is the world when you lose a loved one? A single person is snatched from you, and the whole world becomes hollow.

When someone you love is brutally killed, you don't lose them all at once; you lose them in bits and pieces over a long time— and their scent fades away slowly. And when the last bit of Naayim’s scent was about to vanish from her world, Maimoona died.

Translated from the Dog-language by Muhammad Nadeem.

bio:

Muhammad Nadeem is a reader and writes about what he reads. Among his writings are reviews, poetry, and short stories. His poems have been translated into Arabic and Urdu and included in different anthologies. He works with translation and criticism and has previously been published in Hikayaat (New York), Prachya Review-Journal, Cafe Dissensus Magazine, KashmirLit Journal, Oracle Opinions, Greater Kashmir, Free Press Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Life, Kashmir Pen, Kashmir Vision among other reputed literary newspapers, magazines and journals. His reading interests are diverse and he has reviewed hundreds of books for literary magazines. He has been the Managing Editor of Captured Illusions Magazine and currently edits Fiction and Poetry Section at Monthly Print and Online Magazine: Mountain Ink (www.mountain-ink.com). He is also the author of I Flow like Blood and Memory (poetry collection).