2/9/23

New | Poems by Simrita Dhir

Photo by Arshi Zama




What Fever does 

A fever nips speeding time

Awakens the body to the reality of now

Heat raging inside and out

Limbs constricting

Forehead throbbing

Eyes watering

Everything hurting

Ask for forgiveness, Ella says

I close my heavy eyelids and

Seek forgiveness from the universe

For mistakes that I have committed knowingly and unknowingly

For thoughtless words that I have uttered

For expectations that I couldn’t meet

For hearts that I have bruised

 

I open my eyes and nod

Ella nods back

We smile even as our eyes are brimming

Two days later, when I am up and about and hopping in the sun

I call Ella to say thanks and we get talking about the benevolence of fevers

How they make us humble compassionate kind

Grateful loving amicable 

 

Overhead dragonflies are gliding by

Their sunlit wings glittering 

I crinkle my eyes and jump up to touch their trail of light

Iridescent colors set my hand ablaze

I gaze at it and gasp

Who could have known that leaving the fever would present me with a

Dazzling new dream


That’s a Friend

When you meet a good person, you immediately let your guard down, Ella says intently. I try to think of the good people in my life. I am still thinking when she

rambles on. A good person never puts you on the defensive, a good person knows what to say and when, she says. I am still trying to recall the good people that I have

encountered. A good person makes excuses for your lapses and tells you not to be hard on yourself. A good person knows when you are sad and tries to make you smile,

she says with emphasis. Suddenly I jerk and stop thinking. That’s not a good person, that’s a friend, I say. Ella waves her hand impatiently. First there is a “becoming

stage” when all that there is - is a good person. Later, there can be a friendship, she says. She waves her hand again as though to say that I know nothing. I think of my

few friends and step up to take my turn at waving the hand. A friend is a friend even before you’ve met, a friend doesn’t have to become, a friend simply is, I say.

 Ella gasps. I wink. I may not know everything but I do know something that is worth knowing.


Too much of anything good

I wait for rain, pray for it. Rain will drive the drought away, nurture fields and dreams, sprout hopes and crops and laughter. I see rain birds hopping, I can smell rain too,

a lot of it. Ella tells me that things are best wished for in moderation, too much of anything good turns atrocious like too much emotion, too much trust, too

much love. I agree not. It’s raining now. Faraway fields dance to rain and I want to dance, too, but my mind begins to worry for the tall eucalyptuses that grow along the

old road that leads up to my house. Rain-drenched soil will loosen their roots, send them tumbling down. Darn that Ella. She doesn’t have to be always right.

A strong tree will endure. I’d rather love too much or not at all.


Bio: Simrita Dhir is a California-based academic and novelist.  She is a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Standard Awardee and the author of the critically acclaimed historical novel The Rainbow Acres. 

11/19/22

Book Review | Assembling Landscapes | Edited by Jeong Heon Ki, B. Ajay Sharma, Anish Cherian

Cover of the book Assembling Landscapes

 

Assembling Landscapes is an anthology of writing by artists. Many of them who have contributed to this volume showcased their artworks as part of the exhibition featuring Indian and Korean artists at the Korean Cultural Centre earlier this year.

The book draws on the theme around which the month-long exhibition was put together. Its overarching theme is the world around us – in the forms of landscapes, spatial as well as temporal – and how it has been progressively disintegrating due to various challenges such as climate change, war, Covid and others.

The exhibition, aptly called Synthesis of Difference, was curated by B. Ajay Sharma, an Indian painter and performance artist, and Jihyoung Park, a South Korean installation and performance artist with the help of younger artists Vanshika Sareen and Harsh Kumar, both currently pursuing their degrees in the Fine Arts. The book has been edited by Anish Cherian, a writer and multi-media artist. Cherian was also the assistant curator of the exhibition

The most notable works in the exhibition, according to this reviewer, and for many people who visited the exhibition, were by the reputed South Korean artist Lee Lee Nam. Lee Nam’s work – consisting of a series of animated LED screens – depicted the world as we know it, threatened by war and destruction. Huge missiles floated over the screens which depicted mountains, forests and rivers, along with cultural wonders such as Rodin’s sculpture of the Thinking Man, and the statue of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Pharoah. The minute detailing of the set pieces, intricate and layered, made the viewing of the work intensely rewarding. In the book, Lee Nam sets out his objective behind the work by suggesting that he is a student of “the meeting of classics and modernity, humanity and nature, the East and the West, and creation and cloning”. “Through the reinterpretation of the complex digital technology of the moving pixel world…Lee Nam sees the possibility of a closer relationship between the artist and the audience in a virtual world.”

The works by another well-known Korean artist Lee Jeong Lok were on display too and made for a very interesting viewing experience. In the book, Lok provides the source of inspiration behind his work.

“You would know the hidden realm

Where all souls dwell.

The journey’s way lies

Through death’s misty fell.

Within this timeless passage

A guiding light does dance,

Lost from conscious memory

But visible in trance.” (Journey of Souls, Michael Newton).

 

 

The mystic core of the above-mentioned verse is well-captured by the camera of Jeong Lok. All his works at display feature what Nuzhat Kazmi, academic and art historian from Jamia Milia Islamia rightly calls Noor or Divine Light in Urdu/Persian, with surreal landscapes featuring mountains and lakes. In his work, one gets an idea of Spinoza’s concept of divinity residing in nature.

Kazmi’s piece provides a succinct overview of the exhibition. She writes: “The exhibition here of art works of ten artists, Korean and Indian, seeks to find a space that allows to understand the synthesis of difference/s and to put into public domain, each artist’s concerted creative projects, to either dissolve the apparent difference, as a keenly deliberated endeavour…”

On Jeong Lok’s wrok, she comments: “I carefully looked at the art of Lee Jeong Lok and discovered an ability to appreciate the artist’s visual mystical experiences using the powerful, universal understanding and experience of the phenomenon of light, the concept of noor, as would be referred to in much of sufi traditions…”

 

The works of Haru K. also provided food for thought (pun-intended) through his depictions of landscapes suffused with food items. As he comments in the book on his work: “My work stems from an attempt to solve contemporary people’s perceptions of nature and the ideals that emerged from Eastern thought from a modern perspective.” His work has a certain playful quality, and the use of bright colours makes it even more so. In a way, his work amounts to a deconstruction of ideas surrounding nature and to find a synthesis among the varied way in which nature is viewed: a resource for human beings from which we draw physical sustenance, as well as a sacred landscape from which we draw spiritual succour. Haru K. suggests through his works that nature is all of this, but still greater than the sum of its various parts.  

 

The installation by Jihyoung Park stood out in its thoughtfulness and execution. Her work featured several broken objects, meticulously pieced together by Park, who titled it as “Fragile_Handle With Care.” The delicate objects on display, broken but still standing could be read as a comment on the state of the world itself, battered by the onslaught of Covid, Climate Change and wars, but still displaying enough fortitude to go about its business of existing. The other project that Park undertook was equally poignant, in the sense that it allowed people to scour for memories of Covid and to pick one physical object which reminded them most of the pandemic. This object was to be put in a jar which you could collect first from Park who spent most of her time at the venue of the exhibition, distributing them to all who came. As she noted in a social media post later, most of the jars were returned by the people who took them home.

 

 

 

The exhibition consisted of the works of Sharma too, largely in the form of photographs of his many performances over the year, which had an apocalyptic vividness to them, in terms of choice of location and the props that he used in the course of them. The carcass of a cow, worn over the head in the dilapidated Malcha Mahal of Delhi was one of them, a comment on the spate of cow-related lynchings in India. Another featured him in a costume resembling that worn by members of the Fascist organisation Ku Klux Klan of America, holding a rabbit in his hands, upside down. Yet another featured the biggest garbage dump in Delhi near Bhalsawa Dairy, with a fire raging over it, titled The Burning Land.

Other notable works featured included those of Paribartana Mohanty, who depicted through a video installation the slow drowning of a town in coastal Odisha. Inder Salim’s essay on modern art, culture and society, through a play on the word Meta is a delight to read due to the author’s irreverent take on many social and philosophical constructs. The poems by Vinod Bharadwaj, noted film critic, and Sarvesh Wahie, a young scholar and writer, are noteworthy additions to the book.   

All in all, an insightful book to match the profundity of the artworks displayed at the exhibition. Here is to many more such exhibitions by the curatorial team!

 

 (Note: This review was updated after publication in order to correctly mention Anish Cherian's full contribution to the exhibition and the book). 

 

10/28/22

New | Poetry | Tea in the Desert | Hoshang Merchant


                                                                              
Original artwork by Rajni






 Tea in the Desert:

A Poem for Iran


Afsanneh, Maimouneh,

Parvaneh, Nargis and

Nasim

Packed a picnic basket

Tea things, date cakes,

Sandwiches 


                                                                           


        


They wore

Scarves, veils, chador

And went for tea in the 

Desert

They walked out

Before sun-up

And walked and

Walked to the desert's 

Edge

Then they saw a sand 

Atoll

So, they climbed it

The air nimble, the sun

Low

They saw another, and

Another

So, they climbed all the 

Atolls

One after another

Behind them they left

Father, priest, and 

Brother

                                                                             
     

But still there was

Another

The highest atoll to

Climb


From where they could

See

To Yazd, Kerman, Bam

They took off their

Veils

And let loose their hair

For they were flushed

Hot

                                                                               


   

Nasim's hair was best

In red fiery points, a

Halo 

And when they sat 

Down to tea 

The sun was at its 

Highest


They sweated blood, 

Felt faint

Curled up in each

Other's arms

Kissed

And slept and slept...


The wind whistled

Around them


And this is how they

Had their tea in the 

Desert

Afsanneh, Maimouneh,

Parvaneh, Nargis and

Nasim.


(Hoshang Merchant is India's first openly gay poet who lived in Iran during the first days of the Islamic Revolution, 1976 to 1979). 






9/10/22

New | Poetry | Jobeth Warjri

Georges Seurat, A Riverbank 

Borders

Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved…

                                                                                                 —Salman Rushdie         

Poetry cannot have meaning unless it

traverses the lines dividing you from me.

There is a muteness there of all the

things we could not say:

a sky half-filled with

constellations we cannot name.  

So, I made a home in your body

believing that, if I did, I would

not have to contend with that

which shows you for you and me for me.

 

I was wrong.

 

Lapalang means a foreign country

to which I cannot belong,

no matter how hard I try.

Mei tells me its hurt is ancient,

its blood seeping past the familiarities

of home, nation, world;

a sound to which my ears

are unaccustomed. A turn of phrase.

It slices the night, she says, with

a knife meant to wound, if not kill.

 

I know

it fills cities with graffiti

that skewer even indifferent clouds.

 

Mei also says it inhabits a form marked by what

it ought to have left behind:

your affinity for cold, for instance,

and mine for heat,

you for you, me for me;

so that the lines may fall, jagged,

where they must

 

and I quote Rushdie for comfort

when they eviscerate

the air from which my poetry bleeds.

 


Leaving

When we leave this city,

there will be no light

from above to make us go blind—

there is no saviour for

abandoned boats on the River

Tapti, stranded during summer. 

The lovers along Dumas Road

know the wretchedness of parting.

They say a prayer on arrival.

 

And doesn’t this feel

a little bit like love—

when one picks at the wound 

to arrive at what remains?

At Amar Tiffin House

the kebabs smell

sickeningly of home.

 

The Valley

Here, in this city of lakes, the waters

wash a distant memory to shore: you

balancing between the hate of the familiar

and love of strangers. It is swimming

of a kind because there are no fish to greet you

like the ones the fishermen carry on their boats.

They have company you cannot keep.

 

It is Elah but also not quite when you

have already arrived, as it were, to gaze

upon children who barely grow up

to become adults. Eight died that week.

 

You notice old men in pherans

at the market and you wonder if

they ever felt lucky to be on this side

of the bridge and not the

other side with eyes closed. 

 

You walk the streets no earlier than 8.00

and no later than 11 hours from then.

Happy schoolchildren fill a battered Maruti

with the scent of ink and chalk-coloured dreams.

A man behind the counter hands you

your packet of cigarettes. You smile your thanks.

 

There are firs in the garden to

keep you from peering too closely

through the windows of homes.

Their exposed bricks remind you of

of tents in a snowstorm.

 

You remember Munnu from

the deer story, the one you clutched

to your heart on your way here.

You delude yourself into thinking that

this cannot be history. It is only a graphic novel.


Schizophrenic

The thing about it is you’re never prepared.

 

One: remain calm when you hear the noise of the ocean

turn off the fan just to be sure,

words don’t float on a page.

Massage your body, gently

you are not air, you are not bird

be sure that you know this when

 

two: something tells you you’ve bungled

even when your life depended on it.

Don’t compare yourself to Scheherazade

remember, you’ve already died a thousand times

shivering in the last throes as you do now

 

without a language and tongue, a past.

Three: the lead in your brain isn’t actual

weight inviting you into silence

empty your pockets of stones

before waves take away your remains

 

you are Virginia Woolf but also

 

not really.

 

 

Stories

Stories are difficult to write

 

believe me, I’ve woven some from your hair,

untangled knots others do not see

like that day when you wanted to

make the sea your home and not return to me.

 

I fancy myself a gardener, sometimes

 

I’ve re-fashioned plots from loss and longing

separated your tree from its roots,

so I can graft branches

that grow in little pockets of the sky.

 

Other days, I am a petty mechanic

 

oiling parts of the evening with your misery

bolted down the setting so that your

hero wouldn’t have to die a slow death

I have blood on my hands, thick and viscous   

 

in short, I kill.

Mostly, I am a thief

 

I have stolen from your hurt

its tortured limbs and labyrinthine arteries

to give unhappiness its due regard:

 

stories when you weren’t even looking.



Diasporic

Relocation.

When we got here,

light rain streamed down

windows of a plane;

we became birds cooing

from rafters damp with weeping.

      In an airport humming

with arrivals,

we called strangeness

by another name,

named new places

after the ones we’d left. Just in case.

We grew accustomed to habits―us foreigners―

only for a time, for

a time, for a

time.

 

You remembered Marco Polo; I, Ruth, opened an atlas

to welcome your coming with

the agony of

stones.

 

Dislocation.

Sometimes            the wound hurts

like roots of a tree           torn from its earth,                   a great cavity

whose jaws rip apart

we

who have left                           

and keep on leaving.

We tend to blame it                  on the losses,

those worn out tents                                    we’ve stapled to the

sky

while we were out. Camping.

 

Really, it is not cities that haunt us―

the maps whose

loneliness we have felt               drive nails through our palms.

Nor is it the baying of wolves in

Gethsemane

before we traced

the wetness of betrayal                                 on our cheeks.

We’d left them on our way out

the psychologist’s office.

 

One day, I shall pluck it out of you―                      that poisoned dart

      which causes you

to never return.