Poetry| Dipak Barkhade

Source: http://www.brambedkar.in/


Mother’s Saat 

My mother lived 
in the railway colony 
of Surat city.
She got married and 
came to live 
in the village of Selamba.
My mother saw
Grand-mother sitting 
in the shop 
She learnt 
to use katiyar, amboor, 
raapi, saat, 
and the nails
one day. 
Since then, 
I hear the noise
of saat striking 
the tiny dark nails 
in the hard leather chappals 
like the jolts
of an earthquake. 
The more I age
the more the nails pierce
into my soul. 
I ask my mother 
to continue her saat
no more. 
But she is 
not to stop it
I ask my mother 
My mother passes me 
a smile 
of victory 
which is lost
in the history 
of love, labour and life.
Note: saat (an iron hammer in round vertical shape), katiyar (a needle to sew the broken part back to the slipper), amboor (nail clipper) raapi (a cutter) 



Learn how to love 
from Ramai.
She met
Baba saheb under 
a raining sky. 
Since then, 
To Baba saheb
She truly stood by. 
Both faced 
the challenge of sky.
Both pained 
seeing the fall
of the womb.
Both struggled 
to ensure the seasons 
of humanity bloom. 

Note: Baba saheb (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar), Ramai (the wife of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and mother of the oppressed of caste)


The Odour 

I did not see my mother at first.  
I had felt the odour 
near her breasts.
A new born,
I grew up 
on her milk and left
for the city
where I shared the colours 
with the upper-caste friends.
The colours had obscured 
the taste of milk
I had sucked 
on the breasts 
like a blossom of the breeze. 
But the long seated odour 
always beckon me.
I went home back 
in the village and 
heard what 
Mr. Bhanu Luhar 
had reported:
“your mother tried
to arrange the chappals
on the iron rod
in the foot-wear shop.
Unable to take her hands 
to the uneven heights
She fell off
the stand.”
The glass of my eyes are 
with the memory 
of imaginary fall
Though influenced by the colours
of city, 
I come back 
to my self-consciousness 
in angst 
again and again. 


The Taste of Roti

Both Ratilal and
Motilal had melted 
the cow fat 
in a tomb yard 
of the village.
They survived 
against starvation and 
protected their sister, Shanti 
from the upper-castes.
They heard 
they were 
the reserved castes. 
They day 
they became officers
they fed roti 
to their posterity. 
They did not know
the roti would 
swallow the past
in the love 
of taste. 
the posterity roam
in the city 
of identity 
the ancestors shared. 


A Loss of Silver Bangles

Mother sold 
the grand-mother’s silver bangles
to the gold-smith
of Selamba. 
The eclipse 
of identity 
She herself had 
But she failed 
to grasp it. 
Mother was compelled 
to imitate the upper-caste norms.
She was restless 
to make money and
feed her children 
a future bereft
of her indigenous culture
until she saw
her children writing 
the songs 
of revolt. 


Dalit Mothers

All struggle 
in the search of streams.
The Dalit mothers 
store morsels
of hope
in the language 
of dreams. 
They have wept, laughed 
and danced 
with the mothers 
of the water, the forest and 
the earth 
of mankind. 
They share 
common dreams
in the indigenous stream. 
They embody 
a culture
evolving from the toil 
of day and night. 
They represent 
a path 
moving to the light.


Poetry | Bruce Bond

Van Gogh, Olive Trees


The journey feels unlikely with coincidence

and fate, and yet whatever confidence

spins us through the great design remains

a little nervous.  I barely think of it.

Earth’s demise is something I write off.

Like a nightmare or vascular condition. 

Sunlight comes and goes and goes.  Who here

is any less compulsive.  Do the extremities

of alignment and disorder describe, for you,

two candidates for a bad day.  Lucky me.

My cat is funny.  Nothing means nothing 

to her.  She eats.  She plays.  She eats the hand

that feeds her.  Just kidding, she says, I’d never

do that.  And then.  By accident, she does.


Dante says the suicides in hell

search in vain for the bodies they threw

away.  So it is written, says the writer

to the soul for whom one life grew

inconceivable, one death unbearable

to the daughter he abandoned.  If

design is cruel, what does it say about

us, the designers.  I thank heaven

I was born to question, listen, choose

life and search for it in hell.  Dante says,

suicides turn to trees because they fall,

when they fall, at the feet of the trees.

I know you, I say to the branches, I

loved you once.  And looked for you in vain.

TSC Reportage | The Imprisoned Vale | Part II (Final)

Kashmir Landscape by S. H. Raza via  http://autarmota.blogspot.com/

Unable to find a way to reach Downtown the next day, I walk along the street next to the Dal Lake. In front of a half-open photo studio, a large sized photograph catches my eye. In black and white, the photograph shows Sheikh Abdullah, the greatest leader of Kashmir of all times, welcoming N. Gopalswamy Ayyangar to Srinagar airport. Abdullah and Ayyangar are surrounded by cheerful onlookers. Ayyangar, a former bureaucrat who was entrusted by Nehru to draft article 370, looks slightly flustered at the welcome, his diminutive frame weighed down with many large garlands. Sheikh Abdullah has an expansive expression on his face; he seems pleased and welcoming.

The photograph is misleading and conceals more than it reveals. In a few months, Nehru would dismiss Abdullah’s government and jail him – on Ayyangar’s advice. Abdullah’s insistence on deciding the fate of the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, who signed the Treaty of Accession with India, led to his downfall, as narrated by A.G. Noorani in his book Article 370, A Constitutional History. The year was 1953. Years later, after being released from jail, he would write to Indira Gandhi, then PM, to start negotiations about the future of Kashmir, by taking ’53 as the year of status-quo. Indira would respond, haughtily, that it was impossible to set the clock back. That turned out to be the end of the discussion. Indira Gandhi told Sheikh Abdullah that she was too busy to see him right away as a new session of the Parliament was starting. Taking it as a snub, and rightly so, Abdullah deferred the meeting indefinitely and it never happened.

The photographer who has opened the shop after several days, hesitatingly, the shutter half-down, does not have a copy of that photograph. He has opened the shop only because the machines need to be kept functional, he tells me. I spot a bunch of newspapers on his desk – they are all from before 5th August.

I manage to find an auto-rickshaw to take me downtown after some waiting. I have to meet more Pandits – I found a family to speak to earlier at Indra Nagar, where many Pandits live. I remember from my last trip that in Habba Kadal, there is a temple which is managed by a Pandit family.  


Habba Kadal is risky to go to, the auto-driver tells me, refusing to go there. It is in the Downtown area where the curfew is much stricter – I know that and do not press. 

I find another auto-rickshaw to take me to Jehangir Chowk, in the Centre of the city. He too does not want to go to Habba Kadal. I walk down to the area, whose entry is manned by a posse of security personnel, armed to the teeth, keeping a close watch on everyone passing by. Only pedestrians are allowed. An armoured Vajra vehicle, designed to control riots, is stationed at the entry. It is my fourth day in the city, which has been under two weeks of curfew and I can see the fatigue of the soldiers, with several of them sitting down, their gaze wandering.

The streets are deserted and all the shops are closed. At some street corners, small groups of men huddle together. I cross paths with an elderly Muslim man walking by. We chat briefly. He is worried there will be a war involving India, Pakistan and China over Kashmir, a nuclear war that will wipe out everything. I tell him I am looking for the temple. He offers to take me there, after some hesitation. He walks me to the gate of the temple and leaves. I walk up to it and knock.

Two men appear on the terrace of the house adjacent to the temple, and direct a servant to open the door.

I tell them the purpose of my visit when they come down. I am asked to come in. The leaner of the two, with his fine aquiline nose, and crisp English asks me if I would like to visit the temple first and pay my obeisance. I agree.

After we are done with the darshan, he offers to put a tilak on my forehead. “I hope it won’t cause you any trouble,” he says amicably. I am not sure of that, but I keep quiet and let him. He tells me that both Hindus and Muslims visit the temple.

Later, we sit in the courtyard and chat about article 370.

Amit Munshi, in his mid-30’s, is here in Srinagar as his elderly father is sick and cannot bear the heat of the Jammu plains. “I will take him back when the temperature cools down, in the month of September or October.” He used to work in a private bank but being his father’s caregiver means he cannot work full-time anymore due to the traveling involved. He would like the government to provide jobs to pandits in the valley itself so he can take care of his father and work. “This situation is terrible for everyone, old and young alike.”

Like many other Kashmiri pandits, his family also left when the insurgency began in the valley three decades ago. “We were thrown out like sheep,” Munshi says, his voice rising in indignation suddenly, as opposed to his otherwise soft-spoken demeanour.

The house we are sitting in belongs to the Trust established in Bapuji’s name, his grandfather, and a local godman, he tells me.  “My own house was burnt down. It will take fifteen minutes to walk to it. But in all these years since we left, I have never had the courage to visit it. I don’t know if the land has been encroached upon.” On the other side of the Jhelum next to which the temple stands are a row of desolate looking houses, abandoned for all intents and purposes- they used to belong to the pandits.

“This whole area used to be a pandit-dominated locality. But only three-four families live here now,” he tells me.

Munshi is not euphoric about the Centre abrogating article 370. “It did not rescue me when I was forced to leave my motherland. Nor is it doing me any good when it is not there. It hardly makes a difference whether it is there or not,” he states in a matter-of-fact tone.  He is also not sure about any future benefits. “Only time will tell.”

“It will help the Buddhists and Shia population in Ladakh to protect their identities, our Muslim brothers in the valley and Dogras in Jammu. But Kashmiri Pandits are nowhere. We are scattered everywhere. What is my identity? Will renouncing article 370 give me my identity back? That is the biggest question. Forget about jobs, shelter or any other damn thing!” he spits out the last words in anger. “Does it give any assurance that we will not be uprooted again. Like it has happened over centuries?”

Does he feel safe? I ask him. “Yes, I can roam about on the streets but not as freely as before. There is tension and we can sense it.”

About the conflict itself, he is more philosophical. “Thousands of reasons have become attached to that one reason. Now you can’t go back and identify that one reason.”  


More than three lakh Kashmiri pandits lived in the valley before the exodus began in the early ‘90s.  Today, only over 3000 of them are left behind, settled all over Kashmir.

I see several nameplates of Hindu residents in Indra Nagar when I visit it. It is one of the colonies where the pandits live in Srinagar. The headquarters of an army regiment is nearby.  

Usha Ganhar, a professor of political science, also lives here with her husband. In her 50s, Ganhar has been unable to go to work since Indian government cut off communications in the valley. She appears listless, staying cooped inside the house with her husband and nephew, when we meet in the afternoon. Although schools opened last week, colleges remain shut.

She bears no ill-will towards Muslims, she tells me. “Some of the locals are also trapped between following the diktats of the militants and the government’s orders,” she tells me with a resigned air. “We have never faced any trouble from the Muslims. Individually, they are all very nice.”

She blames the Congress and the National Conference for the ‘mess.’ “Their policies spoiled everything here.” In particular, she blames the local leaders for ‘favouring’ Pakistan. “Initially, they showed that they favoured india but their heart was always with Pakistan. It is the politicians who make us fight.”

She is happy that article 370 is gone. “It never allowed Kashmir to be part of India. “ But she has other worries and remains doubtful about the future for pandits. “There will be more competition for local jobs now,” she says. She does not believe Kashmir can be industrialised like other states. “There are no raw materials, or cheap labour. The winters last for three months, making transportation difficult. Narendra Modi must be having a plan.”  Her nephew chimes in that call-centres can be opened in the valley to give jobs to the youth. But he is also worried about the ecology of the state getting affected with an influx of migrants from the plains and increased economic activity. The fear of moneybags from outside buying prime land is also there, they add.


Back at the boat, I decide to relax in the afternoon, having finished my assignment for the newspaper. After lunch, I have a siesta. At around 4 pm I am up again. I go and sit in the front part of the houseboat, from where I can see the lake. I see the younger brother of Rumi and Parvez (whom my wife and I know from before) ready to dive in. “Do you know how to swim?” he asks me. I tell him that I don’t. He tells me that he was taught by Parvez, the eldest brother. “When we were young, Parvez would throw us in the water. We would struggle to stay afloat and he would ask us to keep our head and hands above water. That’s how we learnt it.”

In order to demonstrate his expertise, he does a somersault and lands perfectly on his back on the water. I marvel at his felicity. 

(The family remains out of touch with Parvez. I learn from Rumi the next day that despite many attempts to make a phone call from  a police station, he never managed to beat the queue. So it would fall upon me to call him once I reach Delhi.)

The evening passes slowly. The golden light of the late afternoon recedes and darker hues take its place. You can feel the heaviness of time and you cannot shake away the feeling, as if it has entered your bones and made them heavy too.

Later in the evening, I hear, a sermon from the mosque on the other side of the Lake. The Imam narrates a story which involves a  master and his slave. The master, he says, is allowed to hit the slave in case of incompetence or disobedience. But he can not hit him more than what the slave deserves. If the  punishment meted out by the master is excessive, he will have to account for it on Judgment Day. I wonder if it has something to do with the current situation. 

Next day, after the visit to the Lake early morning, which was planned and postponed a couple of times, and before I have to leave for the airport, I catch a smoke sitting in the same place on the boat from where I saw the teenage brother of Rumi and Parvez swim yesterday.

A Shikara passes by. Inside, I see a Sikh man and his companion. The Sikh man sits expansively, looking regal in his turban. The boatman is also accompanied by a friend.

The Sikh man asks the boatman how much it would cost to buy a houseboat. It is evident he is considering buying one for business or investment purposes. The boatman says they can be expensive and the really good ones can cost in crores. This seems to deflate him and he goes quiet. I can not help feeling the boatman probably inflated the price, just to show the man his place.


At the Srinagar airport, I see birds – pigeons, and common sparrows. They amble in the waiting area and over the food court where KFC and Pizza Hut outlets are. The birds move about freely, even making small sorties over the heads of people sometimes but no one seems bothered. Their presence inside a heavily secured area makes me wonder if it is a metaphor for the Kashmiri desire for freedom.

I get some coffee and write my notes down. Around me, I see everyone is watching cartoons on the TV at the airport. The ludicrousness of the situation strikes me. Cartoons have to be offered to the public when the news is too disturbing. I see a poster in front of me. It has the predictable bland visuals of snow-capped mountains and states a clich̩ РKashmir, Paradise on Earth.

I don’t know what will happen in Kashmir in the days to come, if the warnings I heard would indeed come true. But in general, I think Albert Camus spoke the truth in the concluding lines of his classic novel The Outsider, when he wrote that with time, one got used to everything.   

Read Part I of The Imprisoned Vale here


Poetry | Sharpest at the End: A Cycle of Poems | Trina Nileena Banerjee

Surrealist Cemetery, Christian Satin 
             “It began like a caress and ended like a knife wound,
It rained sharply all night
That late monsoon.”

“Weather Report”: Epigraph.

       In my dream

In my dream
When we touch
It snows everywhere.

When I wake
The sun has flooded
Every heart with fire.

We place
A bowl of still water
Between us and wait.


Some mornings

The sharp thread 
To the future 
Is wrapped tight
Around god's teeth.     
The universe spins like a lunatic
Doing a dance only the flies understand,
Flipping and twisting, 
Drunk on the sweetness of decay.

Time is a giant chewing on the famished night. 
Something grieves inside the ticking clock.
The gap through which you see the stars
Is closing fast.


When you fall into the water from that immense height,
Nothing remains a matter of choice.
Necessity delivers you to pain,
The spinning sky is not your friend.
Grief overtakes you as sure as love.

Words are bubbles suspended in the brutal air,
The mermaids sing: but not for you.

The crimson of this coral,
The purple of that murderous ice, 
All this is yours.

There is a whole field of drowned plastic
That your heart must negotiate.
Little landmines that will never explode 
In your lifetime.

A ship full of dead fish stands in your way,
Each as precious as a beating heart.

Tin cans fill up your stomach like factory lead.

When you fall into the water from the certainty of doom,

You take your whole city with you:
The million sweating faces, 
The jungles of smoke and cooking meat,
The hopeless prophecies of the market.

You leave on the shore a single lamp-lit table,
Where love fell like a word nobody understood.
This is your harbour, this is the resting place of ghosts.

The water drowns you like language,
Drowns you without hope.

      Impossible Cartographies

I have stood across the sea
From an island on the horizon,
And said it was mine:
Under my breath, 
Feeling my heartbeat quicken,
Knowing not a map in the world
Would tell me its coordinates, 
That no ship would take me there.

I have said to myself that it was mine
Holding your hand across the impossible waves,
Our fingers have felt its shape, 
The soaking greenery, the unstoppable rain,
The rivulets freezing into ice over the difficult winters.

Knowing neither of us knew the way
You have opened sealed bottles from the sea,
In anticipation of its appearance.
I have felt in my belly the slow weight of its blooming flora,
Years have passed in making sure
That insatiable dreams do not devour our waking hours.

There is an island in time that was ours
It gleams on the ocean where we cannot see it,
But the map of our bodies is already its terrain.
It owns us, while we wait for the sea to send us a boat.
Perhaps this year, the waters will be kind to us.

Not You

What my fingers touch is not you.
The burning tip of the cigarette,
Droplets on the side of the frozen bottle,
The ashes of consequence, years wasted,
The third sleeping pill, the last two glugs
Of shampoo, slime, bubbles, 
A knot of hair stuck in the drain,
Hot, cold, brittle, tough, crumbly, wet
There is a whole universe of textures 
Open to my fingers, I plunge my hands 
Into everything, all day

But everything, all day is not you
This freezing, burning, coagulating, condensing, sticky, fuzzy, elastic world…
I am free to go anywhere, touch anything.
I even touch the rain, I stick out my tongue
But it is not you
Nothing I taste is you
Sweet bitter rancid tart burning hot
It makes no difference
There is no difference
Everything speaks of a fatal sameness
Not you not you not you


I put my eye next to the miniature tree on the vase that belonged to my grandmother,
I try to discern the shades that make up its indeterminate hue, over the transparent glass,
Blue green aquamarine, and a slapdash splash of gory pink,
Where the cherry blossom was meant to be.

I wonder if she ever saw a cherry blossom in her life, my grandmother,
With a smile as wide as the hills, and always mixing, burning, mixing her metaphors.

You see, this is how it is, I begin to write to you of love,
And I end by telling you a story, every time.
I tell you a story like a half-finished painting by someone I used to know,
A painting I found in the attic when I was barely eight,
A painting I treasured till I traveled beyond its strangeness to the indifferent landscapes of the world.
I tell you a story that has nothing to do with you or me or love or this shameless, soaking mess we find ourselves in.

We stay as long as we tell each other stories,
And if dawn breaks over love's muffled cries
We will take our story to another night, barely floating through the morose daylight that fills the space-in-between.

A thousand and one nights stand staring at us in this room, this moment,
Two prisoners waiting for an execution, or a prince desolate enough to stake his kingdom on one more tale, or
The wild horse in the stable tearing at his bit in the depth of the night, his blood more crimson than the sky boiling at dawn.

The branches of that imaginary tree are purple and iridescent, on each branch a bead of glass shaped like a teardrop,
The tree whispers endlessly when the stars are dimmed,
The soil around the glassy roots grows moist, 
The leaves glow in a humid heat,
Such is the fevered delirium of the night.

The tree spins love like a fragile thread,
Its branches coil and unfurl like fingers,
It spins stories like threads like roots like wrinkled time
She spins all night like my grandmother and her grandmother before her.
And so too, I must finish spinning you this one,
Must finish spinning you like yarn before dawn, 
For what is love but a fond tale we tell each other,
Twisting the ends of a moist, humid core, untangling messy, stubborn roots from seething soil,
Looking, as fools often do, for sense, for sequence, for reason, 
Tighten this yarn around your fingers before you go,
For what is love but a thousand teardrops gleaming, like drowned voices bursting forth from the darkness of the night.



There is music between us.

Your fingers are the string and bow

And I merely formless sound,
Liquid air that trembles as you leave,
Somewhere in between coming, and going,
And coming again, skin and skin
Have condensed like fevered drops on 
Broken window panes, waiting for the wind
Again to come alive, for the night 
To become a dark sea of immeasurable 
Waves, noiseless and vast as only love
Can be.


When you give your heart out it is like an opened flower any boot can crush,

When you take it back it looks a bit like a brick with cracks in it,

And saplings growing out of its fissures,
It is an old thing - a brick - damp and mossy,
Burnt red and a little charred at the edges,
But with a brick you can build a house
Or bolster the clay oven where you make 
Your daily bread.
Admit it, we each have bricks and flowers
And so many hearts broken and fresh 
That we have stopped counting.
But we build our houses and bake our bread
Because at the end of a long night of love,
You are still hungry.
You cannot eat flowers, or can you?