New | Poetry | Lina Krishnan

Painting by Emile Bernard (Wikimedia Commons)

My MIL’s Address Book

Archana heads the list. 

Her number doesn’t though

It finds a place, under S - her nickname

Her Doctors - Murlidhar and Gauri

Are mentioned under their respective capitals

Being decades older than them

She feels she owes them no appellative

I look in vain for my name among the Ls

I find it elsewhere, below her son’s name

And then, there’s Bhag Diwan

Her late husband’s late sister

Less than a year ago, she was at the other end of the phone

Now a barbed wire crosses out her name in the book

Replaced tidily, by the name of the son 

Who lives at that address now


On the Metro’s Purple Line

Tired even on a Sunday 

Faces from an Eisenstein deck

Van Gogh’s farm workers

Now driven from the Land

One in particular, a figure all in white dust

Two days worth of paint in a day

Dead tired, half dazed. 

I look. And look away, too late

He has seen, that I have seen

Safedi walla, house painter in white

Like Michelangelo in marble dust

Brothers under the skin

Or rather, above it. 


The lone shiuli wonders

Why it’s been singled out

Not in the little basket 

With the rest of its kin

Not cognisant at all

With the perils of the spotlight

Of how loneliness colours that terrain

Even if the photograph

That is being taken

Is only for a friend

Homesick for the shiuli season

And much else, unsaid

Anda Bhurji

JNU on a rainy evening
We look about us
When last, did we students from DU

See a forest glisten?

Against a conversable twilight
We unfurl shyly
In a sizzling pan, random kindness
Meets surprised enjoyment

Not so, do you expect
A Menshevik tutorial
After hours, to go

Bandicoot Tunnels

The garden is a warren

Each morning shows newer dugouts

Strategic bunkers for rodent war

Or is it just a nightly commute?

Put in a beer bottle or two

I’m advised. Glass keeps them out

Oh a teetotaler rat, I think

My mind off-kilter as usual

It’s a neat, punctuated row

Along the garden wall

I navigate, in mind's eye

The hundred-plus tunnels

On the Kalka Shimla line

That too, is narrow gauge

Bio: Lina Krishnan has worked two decades in communications. She has phases of immersion in art, then poetry. She also writes notes on cinema. She lives in Auroville, India. 


New | Novel | Serialised Fiction | Junk Days | Part 2 | Abhimanyu Kumar

Mural on socialist liberation by Jack Hastings


When I first went to the JNU, I knew nothing about communism. Or politics for that matter. Communism was dead, I believed. After the fall of the Soviet regime etc. Ofcourse, Bengal and Kerala had communist governments but elected ones, not through a revolution, and those governments functioned well within the Indian constitution so their being communist was not overt.


It took me a week to get a room allotted. Till then, I stayed with someone in Narmada hostel. My elder sister already studied international relations there. It was through her that I got a place to stay. She was a big influence in my deciding to write the JNU entrance. She would come back home in vacations and tell us about the place. It seemed positively enchanting, the freedom: going out at nights and all for someone from a small town where everyone slept at 9 and going out meant occasional dinners with parents. Also, I had very low marks in my plus 2 and it was impossible to get into any college, forget a good one.


After I was allotted a room in the newly built Mahi hostel, I went to check it out. It was filled with people, hotly debating something. I told them I was the new occupant of the room. The information was received in silence. A thin guy stood up. Prakash, he introduced himself. He was the original occupant. It was a double-seater. Another guy was living there, along with him, unofficially. And others also slept there at times, in true JNU tradition. Later on, I would also have 8 people sleeping in my room at times. Of course, like everything else in that university, this also had a political angle. Accommodating new students who hadn't got a room was a political strategy to get them indebted and slowly indoctrinated. If they wouldn't join your political party, they would at least vote for you out of gratitude. In fact, come to think of it, it couldn't have been a pure co-incidence that the then university president from the Party who helped me get a room got me one that was a true and proper Party citadel.


Prakash was a hardcore Marxist. He used to read heavy books on Marxism and took notes in a long register. We started having discussions right from the beginning. When I told him communism was dead, he refused to accept it, and instead told me about Cuba; how the Soviet regime failed because they didn't stick to the correct interpretation of Marxism; about China that also had a communist government although he was not enthusiastic about China opening up its economy like India and about JNU itself that had produced two of the most prominent contemporary left leaders of the country.


No man at a young age, if he is a sentimental fool and believes in ultimate goodness and equality of things to be, can be unaffected by the story of the Cuban revolution and its leaders, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and how they, along with a young band of revolutionaries threw over a despotic regime. The refusal of Che to stay back in Cuba to run a government and his mission to spread the revolution in entire South America, giving up his life as a result, was equally inspiring. And of course, I also learnt that Bhagat Singh was a Marxist - although now I realise he had Anarchist tendencies too. 


Prakash's conviction influenced me. No idea can be dead if someone believes in it so strongly, I felt. I read up on and read works by Che, Castro, Bhagat and others. I started going to Party meetings. Robi was with the Party before he came to university, I think. Manik would come by too but by inclination, he was not very keen on the whole thing. I think he thought of it as a waste of time in his heart. He had the artist’s disdain for power and its paraphernalia, no matter how ideologically sound it was. 

It was not only the ideology for me. The Party had some really sincere people. Prakash, for example, was very upright. He never talked loose, like boys of our age were prone to do, about women or anything and he also studied hard. He came from Jehanabad, a place famous for caste wars, in Bihar. Robi and I would go there, couple of years down the line, after the Jehanabad jail break that threw the Maoists back into the national limelight, to make a documentary film. We stayed with Prakash's father, also a communist and a teacher. 


We had some fun in the Party in the beginning. Other Party activists lived in the hostel too. We hung out together sometimes, smoked pot. They were seniors and didn't smoke openly. Once, we were drunk and stoned and we locked this guy from the main right-wing student group from outside. It was a big scandal when he found out. He suspected us, rightly so, and complained to the warden who called us for chastisement. But he had no proof, and the left was dominant, so we were let off. Now I think we did a wrong thing because he, despite his political affiliations, was quite decently behaved, and never gave us any cause for offense. But politics in the campus, although presented to the outside world as largely ideological and based on high and noble ideas, was often petty and vicious and our side was to blame as well. 


My first hunger strike ended in a disaster. Someone had been denied admission in PhD. The Party took up his cause, and organised a relay hunger strike. I was hanging out at a canteen in the same building with the JNU student union office. Someone from the Party asked us to go for it. We agreed. Both Manik and I got our guitars and went and sat there, outside the admin building. It was great fun. We had dinner anyway. We sat on the stairs of the admin building and played our guitars. Smoked pot with Bidrohi. Bidrohi, who died two years ago, was an old man, a perpetual resident of JNU. He was suspended in 1983 I think, after a student movement led to a Sine Die in the university. But he never left. That's what I had heard. He lived on the charity of students. Someone always bought him tea or food. He was considered to be mad but I always enjoyed his company. He could talk quite sanely when he wanted to. His only quirk was lapsing into these long monologues which were quite incomprehensible except the cuss words. He abused everybody when he had a fit, starting anywhere, sitting at a dhaba, or on the streets. But otherwise, he was fine.


By morning, Neha came and took me away as I had classes to attend. A dog stole a shoe of mine that could not be found. Manik left too.


The misadventure apart, I continued to keep up my association with the Party. I did find it unethical that the party asked us to inform them about the political inclinations of our classmates, acquaintances and friends and that sometimes it did not seem to mind employing the same electoral tactics it derided publicly but I did as everyone else did. It did give you a sense of belonging to a community where the impression given was that they will watch out for you.

Nonetheless, as we continued with the dope and the over-all slackness they began to identify us with, since we slowly dropped going to the meetings and protest demos, the Party became disappointed in us. We were expected to be not only present ourselves but bring others too. On our part, though we never overtly discussed it, the party’s expectations from us, of becoming loyal foot-soldiers who would simply obey command was not tenable. It was clear to us that despite professing egalitarian ethos, the Party was a bourgeois organisation. It promoted the same individuals to the front like everyone else did: children of other politicians, senior bureaucrats, academicians. It expected you to abide by the hierarchy, and follow without questioning.

When Manik started taking junk, I guess somehow it must have leaked to the seniors at the Party. Tahir was mostly around and he was the typical good Bengali boy or Bhalo Chhele as they say – good at studies, overtly mild and subdued, no threat to anything or anybody –that the Party liked. Tahir played the guitar with us. He played well but his inclinations towards popular music were not to our taste. Still, he was very friendly with Manik.

I think Tahir informed Manik’s mom about his taking smack after he was instructed by the seniors in the Party. I remember the night he came to tell him that he had done so. We were in Robi’s room or Manik’s – they were roommates – as usual, smoking a chillum, listening to Pink Flyod. Some others from foreign languages department were also there for the same purpose.

Tahir took Manik away. After a while, Manik came back alone and told us what had occurred. Manik’s mom was already on her way to take him back home.

Robi and I steered clear of the hostel the next day because she was supposed to come visit the room. When we returned in the evening, Manik told us that he had made a deal that he would go back home himself after a week or so.

That night, we decided to play at the music room. Tahir was the co-ordinator of the club; we had campaigned for him when he ran in the elections. He was likely to have won anyway since the Party had the majority in the student union. He had bought some drums and a couple of guitars on behalf of the club. They were kept at a room next to the union’s office in mid-campus.

It was after dinner that we went there, Manik and I. We knew Tahir would be hanging out there. We wanted the key from him.

We found him there. But he said that he was not willing to part with the key. “Why should I give it you? I am the co-ordinator. I will decide to open or not,” he said.

Since he raised his voice saying so, some of the Party seniors also gathered around to find out what the ruckus was about.

Manik, already drunk, lurched at Tahir. Someone got in the middle and separated them. Manik started to abuse Tahir who also returned in the kind.

I can’t remember who mediated but they sided with Tahir. We had no option but to leave.   


He binged on everything he could find in the next few days: pills, booze, smack, grass. After a week, he packed his stuff and left in the next train home.



New | Novel | Serialized Fiction| Junk Days | Abhimanyu Kumar | Part 1

The Red Bus by Clarice Beckett




Where have all my friends gone?


Robi, I don't care about, sure. We were really thick once. We thought we were like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac together– but who was who was never clear. Like Kerouac, Robi was a sportsman, played competitive sports, cricket, at the district level; bowled left arm fast well, he could get it to move away from the right hander real swift, I think I could play him decently well.


He always said I didn't roll good joints. He was probably right but I always disagreed when he said so.


Robi was a year senior to me in university. All of us studied foreign languages, including Manik. I met Manik first, I suppose. We were batchmates and he studied French, along with my then-girlfriend Neha which made them classmates.


 Manik could play the guitar and sing well. He really knew and felt for his material. Also, he could remember all the lyrics. He could hit the high notes too when he was high enough himself. When we would go scoring grass from Minto Road, in Old Delhi, last stop on the 615, which was the only bus that went through the campus regularly, he would sing all the way in a low, gentle voice, sitting next to me and I liked it very much listening to him all along. He learnt the guitar from an Anglo-Indian teacher called Lenny who taught him a number of songs by the Beatles and some country numbers, among others.  


Come to think of it, the Party brought us all together. We were all foot-soldiers of the Party, attending meetings in mess halls, putting up posters, and campaigning during elections. It was a Left-dominated university. I had no clue before joining that people cared about the Left. I was really ignorant, of course; the Party ruled two states back then. I quit the party later. We all did.


Manik and I would spend hours listening to the Beatles in my hostel room. I had picked up a taste for rock music in Ranchi, my hometown. Western-style music was not uncommon in Ranchi due to the influence of Christian missionaries working among the tribal community and at least a couple of music shops had a good collection of rock music. Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance was another favourite of ours, along with bands like U2 and Pink Floyd. 

Manik taught me to play the guitar. I picked the basics fast enough to dream of starting a band. I wrote some poems every once in a while. Nothing very original. But Manik liked them nonetheless, so we tried to put them to music.


Robi, at first, didn't take to our turning his room which he shared with Manik into a practice pad. I remember once he asked us to play something decent or get out. He was like that. Blunt. But then we improved. And he got interested. He said he would buy drums and join us. That never happened.


We had a drummer, in fact. Peter, a Polish exchange student studying Hindi at the university and tabla from an Indian teacher on his own. He was really good. He once asked us to tune our guitars before jamming, embarrassing us a great deal; we had no idea about such a basic thing back then. Robi would listen to our compositions and keep time, slapping his thighs or whatever he could lay his hands upon.



 Music dreams didn't last long. We played at university functions and hostel nights. We had some open jams, and a couple of gigs at the annual Saraswati Puja gala but nothing beyond that. We were not driven enough, maybe. Or, we already sort of knew that it wouldn't lead to much. In any case, Manik had to leave at the end of his second year.



Then came junk. It came unannounced. And with that came Roy. And the fall. It doesn't really sound fair. It looks like Roy was responsible. He wasn’t. It just happened that way.


One day, Manik came back from Munirka, the lower middle-class neighbourhood near JNU, and said he had tried junk. He had tried it with the group Roy had back then. But we didn't meet him immediately. We were quite censorious about what Maink had gotten himself into. We were basically middle-class boys having some typical college fun. Junk was serious business. So, we told him it was not on.  We tried it soon enough. But not before Manik was busted.


A friend of ours who played with us and hung out too, but kept off the grass so to speak, was quite horrified that Manik had tried smack and called up his mom to update her. She did not hesitate to come immediately and take Manik home for good. He had flunked his second-year exams as well so his going home became a bit of a fait accompli.


Manik left and soon, Roy moved in. He was Bengali, brought up in Bihar. He had a curly mop of hair and serious good looks.

Roy was not a student at the university. He was simply hanging out in Delhi, living with friends and this he could do very well for long periods of time. He was very good at making himself comfortable anywhere. He had a keen eye for what he considered to be his interests and he served them regardless of anything.

As company, he was charming, to both the sexes and he was accordingly indulged. He was a bit of a cat, to put it simply. Perhaps our own Neal Cassady.


Like all good things, our friendships didn't last long.  


 I eventually got a job and moved out of Delhi. We didn't really keep in touch, especially Robi and I. In fact, he has simply disappeared from our lives. Now, I don't even want to see him. Of course, there are lots of other things, but I can't tell you all right away.





New | Poetry | Kapil Kachru


Columbus Avenue Cats




denial of our terminal rage, up/down

fury of opposable thumbs hates to love,

loves to hate


shallow deluge of silent majority laced

with spontaneous noisy camaraderie of

untuned instruments, groaning, ecstatic,

in self-imposed, sentimental, sub-terrain



all cages are connected, sticker on mail-

box says







dreams of starlings

in desert lands

drunk on fermented

dates honey hashish

n’ camel milk

hopping & flapping

dull with delight

along crazy edges

of baseball diamond

loosely sketched

on sloping sands

drenched in moon







in that deep

throated gutter



speech & song

terror of silence

sheds its


trembling skin

& dares to dance

naked as flame


on a









Breakfast of Hunters


Happiness, in those days

was hunting for sand crabs

& rock crabs off Carter Road


with an uncle

who almost became

a priest in Portugal


on the beach

& in craters of rock 

that fell from the moon

in a child’s dream


we never caught

a crustacean of any kind

by luck or cunning

didn’t stop us, though


going out on weekends

before the sun’s blistering

fingers were firmly on

the day’s brittle neck


a time when

decent people attend

to domestic rituals


not us, in-laws turned

outlaws, on the fringes

of respectable behavior


armed with nothing

but the raw ambition

of cutting teeth

& unfilled stomachs


secure in the knowledge

they’d be stopping by

D’Souza’s Cold Storage

on the way back


to pick up fresh supplies

of sausages, ham

& pepper salami for

the breakfast of hunters                              



American Shaman


Still as a statue on a slender post,

he gawks, in the fading glow of

fleeing dusk.


Head swiveled, peering over

shoulder, scanning a patch of

garden with stunning attention.


Moments after diverting eyes,

whirring in the air, thud on the

ground. You whip around to


catch the hawk dancing like an

American shaman, all feathers

and feet, shuffling to a primal


beat, whose unwrinkled

wisdom flows unimpeded

in his native heart.





First they cut off your arms

then they bit off your head, O India


how eloquently you’ve staggered

through the depraved deceit of decades

staggered & fallen without disgrace


in obscenely bright bazaars

where blind bystanders picked

each other’s pockets & looked the other way


nobody helped you up, O India

how could they, nobody had hands


there was nothing to lend

what wasn’t stolen was sold

you weren’t born yesterday, O India


you’ve extracted venom from

kings & cobras since the pagan

dawn of prehistory


tasted each poison

natural selection’s dreamed up


swallowed any virulence synthesized

by the insatiable imagination of men


you’ve burnt every desire, O India

& nurtured every antidote in your bones

for a price, of course, call it faith


I don’t blame you

for not writing it down right away


you were always a talker, O India

I wasn’t ready to listen


now continents have risen between us

separated by oceans of forgetting


so many sublime profanities

still left unsung


now unutterable, O India


Russian Roulette

(for Vladimir Mayakovsky)


(raises his hand,

takes center stage)


with the singular

desolation of crisp linen


he sneers


through the unevenly bleached

pages of a 1964 edition


now splutters


a disjointed curse

on the third party forehead

of bureaucratic decency


now wipes


angled lips over the dandy scruff

of his perpetual winter coat


Do not doubt your loyalty

comrade poet, do not doubt


the essential veins

of your tailored homeless soul

were stitched with the joyous iron thread

of Revolutionary Realism


your atheist tax evading liturgy

forced down the collective throat

of pleased proletariat like potatoes


Do not doubt


(he pauses)


at the indecisive gunpoint of


insufficient pen scratching paper

bleeding ink


(he pauses)


inevitably, the dream was wrought

with pig iron in endless fields of wheat

swaying obedient, glad


is God a pervert

clapping in hollow heaven

at our restless naked folly?


O tortured orphan

of destiny unspoken,


(he moves to the side,



as of writing

life sustains

unedited, poetic

germinating in


failing hours of

super-natural half light

disappearing down corridors

of State Office doors


rusty hinges

deliberately ajar

to betray glorious



of imminent