Poetry | Deepa Onkar

O Rose Thou Art Sick: by Geetanjali Joshi

Kondana caves

I didn’t touch the smooth
shining skin of the wall. It spreads
now, in memory – thick and grey
like an elephant’s. Dancing girls
and grills floated far above.
I lie on a mat, the floor flecked
with moonlight

I remember the mouth,
almost covered with branches, leaves.
The sunshine. In a photograph,
the brightness of paddy

The long climb, my reined-
in breath. You, bent on deciphering
the thorns, the airy curling scripts
of the wilderness – as if history
would vanish in a moment

A street lamp comes on –
the splayed shadows of palms
shake the dark. I toss –
in my body’s lexicon
it means I am missing something

Sleep closes in
trunk limbs ankles turn
heavy as stone.
There is the squelch
of flesh: clay, mingling with pulsing
vines. Feet sink

I excavate myself before
a dream can find me
exhale, with a vagrant’s quietude

The heart of the cave
soft folded tissue
of light, is close

Ritual at Sefton Park

You press the lighter
there is a whir –
and hold, a flickering,
heat snuffed out.
And again: sparks fly, gutter

Under this plane
tree, endless stretches
of grass and sky

The stick
– and I – wait
The quiet rhododendrons
have assembled,
petals like flickering lamps
by oaks. Such invitation
in the sparkle of things:
I want to take a chance,
make friends with the moss
the sculpted roots and stones

And now the body bucks
to the wind –
thoughts about home whirl
insistent, daisy petals around a sun

The pale nub at your thumb’s edge
catches. A fluttering
flame arrives as if on a whim,
on a scented wave redolent
of musk. The centuries curl:
perhaps there are buddhas
between those trunks.

In the distance, sounds:
the certain, useless shapes
of voices, and laughter.

You and I – we
steady the dimensions –
nameless trees thicken
and crowd in hushed spaces
to watch

Evening, Besant Nagar

What is it that nudges me along
the wet expanse of the shore?
Deliberately, across crabs’
claws, tiny gleam of shells. Thin
watery veils threaten to grab
at my toes. Girls in salwars run.

A whisper-wind tickling
a bend of skin now merges
with the roar of waves,
circles unruly sparks from
the corn vendor’s machine.
Clouds bordering on orange
hint at darkness. Let me be still:
this drowning is pleasant.

Rain song

Let me begin with a memory.
There was rain in Pathum Thani
thick and torrential, a measure
of regret – what a way I’d come –

But also of love: the signs everywhere
wet roads like braided hair
come open, pitted with jasmine,
the scent of wood-smoke mingling
with sweat. Those happy corollaries
of routine –  the hiss outside
the kitchen window
like fat on fire; the drum of slow
big drops to the kettle’s whine

How easy it was to slide
into mundaneness: coffee later
at Hom krun, shopping, run

Now, the curtains open, I listen
to the steely drone of this unseasonal
September Madras shower.
A Palmyra’s fingers curl back from
glass. I wonder what to make of
the image of your shoulder-blades
poised against the dim, filtered light

Perhaps you will walk over
to where I sit, as if you’ve read
the wisps of my whims. But
a roar is breaking in –
bedraggled crows sidle away
in surprise. The widening light
stills the body, holds breath back

We look, as grass and mud are sundered:
the gush, trickle, swallow
we look and look – find it in us
to ask what rain might be

Art of seeing

I want to say something
about the light Vermeer
painted over the kitchen maid’s
head: the tilt of it, the poured
milk. The lapis fingers
of the Picasso mother
lifted, held, for decades –

How the room itself
seems to lapse into
stillness. The furniture
congealed with sunlight

van Iykes, van Goghs,
Rouaults, collect dust:
disuse on the way to doubt

Tomorrow we move.
I brush past
these far-flung lives –
belief in them thins like slices
of late afternoon light
on the walls, the floor.

That chair in the sun
is unframed of chairness.
The house, in a limbo
of moving trucks and vans.

Out the window,
the speeding sky. Nude clouds
skim the skies
with hope, earth with rain

The mirror says I change
a little, each day. Perhaps
 the heart finds a home
in something other
than permanence.

Memories toss on the pillow
I cross over to the moment
drawn to newer sights:
the moon frees itself from
bare listless trees.

Love, of late

These shapes you don’t know
of, scatter a map of love
among the furniture – can openers,
beer bottles. A red sports shirt –

You think of telephone conversations
that caused the borders of continents
to slip. The things that just are:
the muliebrity of handspun
the remembered scent of jasmine
this early morning dew-light on the lawn

You survived
nights, strange cities
those breathless explorations
that turned into hesitation

Oddly, a song breaks through
your lips. Go, love
the brightening colours


New | Poetry | Shirin Choudhary

Image via Viedoblocks

Diaspora – Kampala

In the marketplace
Full of men and fruits
Someone is speaking to us of God –
With a Bible in hand and a voice
That cuts through shop-curtains and loading trucks.
For each time I have been asked of my religion
There is a report of another lynching in the news.
My Indian neighbour, from the city of sweets and riots,
Does not allow the help to eat from the same dish.
In this world of migration and blurring of boundaries,
We transplant our caste even onto those with no history of it.
Time and space have been misplaced in this marketplace,
And God is somewhere lost amongst the people
Desperately holding on to power in the name of culture.


In a city that is cruel to those who love it most -
Delhi – what can I give you
That you have not already taken from me?
In love and in hurt I wrote about you
Spent evenings quietened by your noise.
There are letters I wrote to my mother, never sent,
Kept in a box on a shelf we use for grandfather’s old books
To be given away to be passed on to someone who
Deserves these words more.
In these letters I have not said much
As the city engulfs every poem we write and
Waiting in traffic we forget where we were going
The heat is unforgiving and
I missed my chance when I missed the rain
So I take these hands full of letters and remember
The poems I have always used for comfort.

Love Poem

                                    We are too tired
                                        To love and
                                 It is much too easy to
                                 Get your heart broken.
                         I could write poems to you but
                         Demonetization was pointless and
              The government is arresting people for no reason and
                         It has not rained in some time and
                         The birds will not sing for free
                                  In this market economy.

                                       For Jeet

                      My friend said: it must be brave
                      To write yourself on the internet
                   And I am wondering since when did
           Language become hiding, become private property,
             Since when did writing become dispossession.
            In my mind the time blurs, was it 2014 or 2015,
        The year I met you, the year our words met each other's
                              And we learned, a little,
               That literature is supposed to be shared,
  Like a samosa broken in half or a cup of chai between friends,
            A winter morning warmed by conversation,
            And our voices are made and strengthened
                      With the voices of others.


Book Review | Civility Against Caste | Zeeshan Husain

The moment one enquires  about the future of the Dalit movement, a series of pessimistic answers are parroted in response: the Movement is dead, young Dalits are no more interested/associated with it, Hindutva politics has subsumed  Dalit politics, etc. One also reads about the ‘NGO-isation’ of the Dalit movement, where the basic needs of the Dalit masses are fulfilled but at the cost of discarding the need or goal of a radical overhaul of the caste system.

Seen in this context, professor Suryakant Waghmore’s Civility against Caste (2013) persuades us to revisit our presumptions about the Dalit movement. Based on  intensive fieldwork, Waghmore asks his readers to reconsider the dominant understanding of the Dalit movement in academia. The book deals with both empirical evidence and theoretical advances made in the fields of Dalit studies, civil society and social movements.
At the empirical level, Waghmore explains Dalit movement in terms of two factors: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Manavi Hakk Abhiyaan (MHA). MHA is an Ambedkarite NGO which works to uplift the socio-economic conditions of Dalits of Maharashtra. Demonstrating a solid grasp of  ethnography, Waghmore builds upon  data collected from the field to revisit the concept of ‘civil society’. A critical study of BSP and MHA leads him to rebuild and problematize the notion of Civil Society as usually understood by liberal, Marxist and postcolonial scholars. Let me start from ethnographic details, before going to the theoretical contributions which the book makes.
The study is based on intensive fieldwork in the Beed district of Maharashtra. This district is in Marathwada region which happens to be Maharashtra’s most backward in terms of socio-economic indicators. Nevertheless, the scope of the book can be extended to entire Maharashtra, if not whole of Western India. The fieldwork is both long-term and multi-sited, and was initially meant for a PhD. At the empirical level, the book makes four important points:
First, public space in the Marathwada region is public, only when it is devoid of Dalits. The moment a Dalit enters the space, 'upper-castes' (Maratha to be exact) use violence against the Dalit. Waghmore uses various instances where Dalits tried to cultivate public land, and violence was used against them. What makes the matter worse is the tacit support of  dominant castes (Vanjari and Kunbi to be specific; both peasant in origin) in the violence against Dalits. The public space of Maharashtra in general is dominated by the ‘kingly’ attitude of dominant castes and Dalits are treated as ‘untouchable citizens’.
Waghmore also studies a network of NGOs all of which work towards ensuring land rights of Dalits. Named Rural Development Centre (RDC), it is the non-political face of MHA. While it overtly supports secular issues, it equally asserts against forced labour (begaar) and undertakes mobilisation of Dalits for the cultivation of waste lands (gairan) controlled by dominant castes de facto.  Land is not merely a natural resource, but equally a source of dignity for Dalits. The  issue of land was tactically raised by those struggling for the upliftment of Dalits, to highlight the caste-based inequality considered as normal (and hence invisible) in India. Waghmore uses his training as a sociologist, to excavate the historical roots of MHA and notes that it is an organic part of Dalit movement. MHA uses its global connections to raise funds, and works on the local issues of Dalits.
Third and, I think  the most important contribution of the book, is the exploration of the social roots of BSP. Waghmore moves beyond the usual understanding of party politics and lays out the smaller day-to-day happenings of the social movements which fortify  the BSP at the ground level. The book looks at the cultural troupes that BSP uses for mobilising people. BSP is a classic mixture of past (Bhakti saints) and present (Constitution of India). BSP cadres tried to form a Bahujan identity by including all Dalit castes (like Mahars, Mangs and Chambhars), OBCs and Muslims. Even when it lost elections, the lamp of social movement was kept alight by its committed cadre. It is here that Waghmore is at his best. True to his field of sociology, he is undistracted by electoral calculations and party politics, and observes the everyday ideas and practices of grassroots workers. I found the same spirit among the BSP workers when I did my fieldwork for MPhil in late 2014 in eastern UP. This is a remarkable feat as many social scientists collapse Dalit movement with BSP’s electoral performance solely.
The fourth important contribution of the book is giving a detailed picture of the mobilisation happening among the non-Mahar caste(s) in Maharashtra. Mahar discourse generalises itself to become Dalit discourse. Waghmore breaks away from this and forays into the politics of another Dalit caste namely Mangs. Aptly titled ‘making of swabhimani mangs’, the chapter speaks about various instances where Mangs assert not only for material resources but also for dignity. One of the important features of this is redefining Hindu practices as humiliation of Dalits, a trajectory which usually Mahars follow.  
Apart from these, the book adds to the existing conceptualisation of civil society, apart from various smaller theoretical contributions on democracy, civility/ politeness and violence. Waghmore critiques both the liberal and the postcolonial understanding of  civil society. While the former assumes civility bereft of caste-based exclusions, the latter fails to move beyond the critique of colonial-modern roots of the concept. Partha Chatterjee’s much famous ‘civil society political society’ is critiqued for not only neglecting the intersection between the two, but also for negating the subaltern’s desire for a civil society. Waghmore persuades the reader, quite convincingly, to look beyond the liberal and postcolonial approaches. Waghmore argues for a re-thinking and reworking of civil society, as is shown by the workings of various facets of Dalit movement. Dalit movement works with the State and transforms it; both processes being undertaken simultaneously. By highlighting caste, Dalit movement places various events inside the broader socio-historical framework. This gives Dalit epistemology a razor-sharp edge over other epistemologies like Marxism, liberalism or postcolonialism. Civil society usually entails a kind of civility, which consists of space for dialogue, and debate. This work brings forth the dissenting aspect of civility, and locates even politeness within the caste practices.
I am sure Civility against Caste will cause some consternation among Indian academicians, due to its refreshing insights and piercing conclusions on the recent aspects of the Dalit movement. Some photographs of the fieldwork would have been like the proverbial icing on the cake. 


Poetry | Munni Gupta | Part 1

समंदर का तिलिस्म चिड़िया की परवाज़

चिड़िया कहती है
            समंदर तुम्हारा तिलिस्म तो बहुत बड़ा है
तुम सारा खेल रचते हो
सारी कायनात, अपने में बिखेर लेते हो
            मैं तिलिस्म में नहीं
            जीवन में विश्वास करती हूँ

तो मैं चमकीली रेत पर बैठकर
            तुम्हारे लिए शान्ति-गीत गा सकती हूँ
ही तुम्हारी लहरों पर एक अनंत यात्रा के
                                                ख़्वाब देखती हूँ

और ही,
            समंदर और आसमान के बीच
            त्रिशंकु की तरह
            फंसी रह सकती हूँ

मुझे अपनी मंजिल का पता नहीं
मगर ये जानती हूँ,
            जीवन को जीवन से काटकर
            अपने पंखों पर समेटकर
            तुम्हें ले नहीं जा सकती.

            जीवन में मेरा भरोसा गहरा है
            मैं इसके खिलाफ कैसे हो जाऊं?

तुम्हारे लिए,
 तुम्हारी मछली,
                        तुम्हारी रेत,
                        तुम्हारी वनस्पतियाँ
तल में असंख्य जीव-जन्तु,
                        उन सबका क्या?

जीवन में,
 चिड़िया का गहरा विश्वास 
                         तिलिस्म के विरुद्ध है.

आखिर कौन है जो

चिड़िया हंसती है तो
समंदर ख़ुशी से झूम उठता है

समंदर की मुस्कुराहट
चिड़िया की सरगम है
चिड़िया की मुस्कुराहट
समंदर की ताकत
समंदर की हंसी
चिड़िया की परवाज़

दोनों की मुस्कुराहटों से
समंदर और आसमान
आसमान और समंदर के बीच
नीले फूल खिल-खिल उठे हैं.

आसमान से नीले फूलों की बारिश हो रही है
समंदर नीले फूलों से भर गया है

तट दहक उठा है
मोरपंखी रंग के नील फूलों से

            आखिर कौन है जो
समंदर और चिड़िया के बीच
सुन्दरतम को रच रहा है

आखिर कौन है जो
समंदर और चिड़िया के शून्य को
नील-फूल की  घाटी में
बदल देना चाहता है.

आखिर कौन है
चिड़िया और समंदर
समंदर और चिड़िया के बीच
जो नील पुष्प घाटी को
कैक्टस के जंगल में बदल रहा है.

लव विथ ट्रेजेडी: ट्रेजेडी विथ लव

चिड़िया ने
            जीवन का सुन्दरतम
            प्रेम में चाहा था
जीवन का त्रासद प्रेम के बाहर
कैसे संभव है!
कौन बचा है अब तक इससे
कायनात के इतिहास में.

कहो चित्रकार,
यह प्रकृति का रहस्य है
जीवन का श्राप
जो, खूबसूरत, पवित्र, निश्छल आत्माओं को
मौत की खूबसूरत शक्लों में
कैद कर लेती है.

  तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
घट रही घटनाओं के बरक्श 
रचना है हमें लाल सूरज.

तुम्हारे  और मेरे दरम्यान
            भयानक त्रासदियों के बरक्श
            खिलाना है हमें आकाश

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
            उग आई कैक्टसों के बरक्श
            उगाने होंगे हमें सुर्ख गुलाब

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
            शून्य बनती स्थिति के बरक्श
            बनाने होंगे हमें जीवन के नये समीकरण

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
            उठते भँवर के बरक्श
            खिलाने होंगे हमें पलाश

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
            बनते खार रेगिस्तान के बरक्श
            बनाने होंगे हमें ही समंदर

तुम्हारे और मेरे दरम्यान
            बन आई चट्टानों के बरक्श
            बहाने होंगे हमें ही दरिया कुसुम.