New | Book Review | A Bite in Time by Tanya Mendonsa

 Food has always been central to human existence. Our development as a species has been closely linked to the growth in our skills to procure food for ourselves. The greatest civilisational shift occurred when we stopped hunting and gathering and took to farming. Agriculture paved the way for other important civilisational landmarks – the rise of the State, for example, which was powered through agricultural surplus, and availability of young men of a peasant stock for recruitment as soldiers. Agriculture also gave rise to the notion of property, and a desire to control its ownership, which led to patriarchy, among other things, as Simone de Beauvoir has shown in The Second Sex.

Other than these big-scale associations, food offers, other than its nourishing quality, a sensual experience, connected to its aroma and taste. This experience, due to its ubiquitousness, is impossible to replicate through any other means and hence, its centrality to our lives.

Tanya Mendonsa’s new book, A Bite in Time, deals with the sensory aspects connected to food, which, often become part of our memories. We all have that one meal, or two which we enjoyed unlike any other, and no one can really replicate our mother’s cooking.

Mendonsa, who is one of the finest poets from India writing in English, grew up in Calcutta of the 50’s. It was a heady time, with Calcutta’s famed cosmopolitanism still in existence. As she writes: “When we lived there in the 50’s, Calcutta was still a merchant city, though no longer the capital of India, and had a large population of Jews, Armenians and Chinese.” There were others too, such as the Burmese, for example; and of course, a sizeable number of Muslims, with their own cuisine.

 Through her descriptions of growing up in Calcutta, though mostly related to food, we get a glimpse into her development as a writer, which, as is often the case, features a precocious young child devouring books by the dozen. She writes: “My mother was endlessly patient,and read to us all the time. She brought me a series of ten enormous books, hard covered in royal blue, called From The Tower Window, which I treasured and dipped into for years…They had excerpts from The Pilgrim’s Progress, Alice in Wonderland (with the Tenniel drawings) and many other classics”.  

She goes on to describe how poetry came to her, in a sublime passage: “Something about all that time – the utter security of the atmosphere created by my mother, the parijaat tree she planted in the garden, which dropped all its intensely scented flowers at night in a perfumed litter of starry white petals with orange tipped stems and hearts, the wide stone stairways, the seemingly endless afternoons on the vine-shaded verandah on the first floor, all the stories I read and listened to that wove their webs around me – planted the seed of poetry in me which was to grow many years later.”


In chapter four, she briefly mentions the Chinese who used to live in fairly large numbers in Calcutta of those days, and their food. While the Chinatown still exists in Calcutta, it has lost its past glory. The reason was that in 1962, the Indian government, facing an attack from China, decided that the Chinese living in Calcutta and other places in India, were a security threat to the country and interned many of them in a prison camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, for years, even after the short war ended. It is a blot on India’s record as a nation and hopefully, an apology can be made one day by the powers-that-be.

In Chapter 6, we learn about Mendonsa’s move to France, to study painting. We learn that it was a period of transition for the family as her mother moved back to Goa, her original home, being a Goan, along with her father.

Her love for Paris shines through in her descriptions of the city, although we get a glimpse of her struggle too, to make her way in it. “After almost a year doing odd jobs, I found a job at the Indian embassy in Paris as a local employee and moved out of the Moreau’s house, although we remained in close touch for our entire Parisian sojourn. For the first time, I started living on my own, renting a room in a beautiful apartment on the very chic Rue du Bac, near the Gare d’Orsay, which later housed the famous Impressionist museum. My room was small,but had a little balcony that looked out over the interior courtyard of the building: the walls there were covered with a mantle of what is called vigne-vierge  (literally ‘virgin vine’) – the leaves are large and the most ethereal green – in autumn, they turn every shade from pink to blood red, a stunning sight. Naturally, I had never cooked, so I simply ate out as much as I could. From the front of the apartment, one could see Paris spread out like a magic carpet, with the blue and gold dome of the Invalides rising like a Faberge egg in the middle.”


The next few chapters delve into her long stay in Paris, where she lived a charmed life, full of gregarious friends, outings to the French countryside, wine and exquisite French food. Somewhere along the line, she became involved with a language school, thus finding herself a vocation, and she also started to learn how to cook.


After two decades in that ‘moveable feast’ of a city, Mendonsa decided to return to India, in order to write and paint and has lived here since 1995. Initially, she stayed in Bangalore, then Goa, before finally settling in the Nilgiris. She writes about her life there, in the final chapter: “We were lucky enough to find a plot of land in the middle of an untouched tea plantation – alas, after more than ten years now, it is no longer untouched! – and proceeded to build a house. The site overlooked a valley through which a river ran…

Living in the Nilgiris, in a remote area 6000 feet up, full of wild animals, we have many fewer guests than we did in the ten years we lived in  Goa… It is wonderful being able to eat fresh salads from the garden and pick armfuls of roses, but difficult to get quite a lot of things that were easily available elsewhere, not to mention alcohol.”             

Along with her memories of her childhood, her stay in Paris and other details of her life, the book contains a number of recipes, painstakingly collected by Mendonsa over years, featuring a wide variety of dishes. There are recipes for Anglo-Indian staples, Goan dishes, French delicacies, Chinese food, and many others. While this reviewer could not try the recipes out, others may find it a rewarding exercise to do so.   



New | Poets Nabina Das, Lina Krishnan, and Smeetha Bhoumik on writing, rebellion and rejection | A discussion

Poets Nabina Das and Smeetha Bhoumik

On Sunday, November 6, 2022, under the aegis of poetry forum Women Empowered (WE), Smeetha Bhoumik, founder of WE, curated an evening of poetry and conversation. Over the years, WE has grown into a vibrant community of eclectic voices exploring new forms in poetry and expression. On this evening, poets Nabina Das and Lina Krishnan met online and talked of work, fun, dreams, personal and professional dilemmas and more in their creative journeys. Some edited excerpts:


Nabina: Such a pleasure to be back on WE. When it began, it was like a poetry carnival, a dialogue. But Smeetha, you have sustained this. Drop by drop makes an ocean.

 Smeetha: One needs a great start, and then you keep rolling!

 Lina: Every single meeting like this, to put (it) together; it’s a lot of detail. 

 Nabina: The posters, (and) everything! It’s not a joke. I would give an award. What WE has done, it deserves a lot more recognition.

 Lina: You know, Smeetha and I met at the Hundred Thousand Poets event in Bombay (Mumbai), with Menka Shivdasani, (where) Smeetha was curating the segment: Language, WE Converge. I found it very interesting, because we were all reading in different languages. Vinita reading in Urdu, Jayashree in Marathi and German, I think I was reading Tagore in part Bangla, part English translation (mine). The whole WE world is like a leheriya; so many different poets come into it.. Poets come in with their own colours, their rhythms, their varied backgrounds which in turn are informing their work. But somewhere, it’s all happening, they’re converging and creating that rainbow existence.

 Nabina: The colours! Jo rangrez karta hai. The symbol of Bhakti literature. Not everybody has this (experience). We are lucky to have this!

 Smeetha: What wonderful words: Rangrez and Leheriya, to describe this! Thank you for reminding us of that wonderful session, when so many poets came together.


On being a woman and a writer with strong views

Nabina: As an individual and a woman in this fraught democracy, how do you extricate yourself from all the negativity? I went to watch a play after work. Everyone was with somebody, I was with nobody. I felt that the attention was on me: Woman. Alone. Drinking tea. How long will she stay here? (That is a difficult space but)… there are others who have it worse. We have bullet trains but little girls are still scavenging garbage; what is their childhood compared to boys? As a writer, I have to keep that focus; I can only deal with it by writing. Writing is my tool, my implement, my artist’s brush, my song.

Smeetha: And that’s the only way to put all the things out there so that it’s not normalised. In your writing, in your work. That’s the only way.

 Nabina: You are driving WE to different goals. It is that anxiety, that restlessness. Restless women are not appreciated. They are called out. They’re seen as disruptive. So many women and other marginalised people. So, we must write. Where I come from, writing is not only leisure and pleasure. It’s a continuous movement to address issues.

Smeetha: I like what you’re saying, that creative anxiety is actually a spur, and used well, it’s actually a motivating force, to use if you want.

 Lina: It’s also nice to have this supportive poetry world where people are actually rooting for each other; I feel happy, Smeetha, when I see the paintings you’ve made. I feel really kicked that Nabina’s done this Bangladeshi book. And now Anima’s coming out, and its always exciting (to read Nabina) because she’s got such a crazy mind. It’s always nice to meet a fellow pagal and she’s totally pagal.

 Nabina: Deewanapan! I think all women should be deewanis; just do what you have to do. And Smeetha is one deewani who’s followed her passion.


Lina Krishnan


On Recent work

Anima Writes a Letter Home

I, Anima, stand bewildered in the midst of a midnight’s jowl.

Why is it that for many there’s no home? Although it is chaand raat, the night of the moon? And a childs tearful whisper: take me to Eid tomorrow, Ma, take me to Eid. I, Anima, ask you to wait for me to find the answer out when I carry the grasshopper home. I, Anima, stand bewildered in the midst of a midnight’s jowl. What is it, why is it that for many there’s no home? Although it is chaand raat, the night of the moon? And a child’s tearful whisper: take me to Eid tomorrow, Ma, take me to Eid. I, Anima, ask you to wait for me to find the answer out when I carry the grasshopper home.

 [Excerpt from Nabina’s poem from her book Anima & the Narrative Limits, Yoda Press, Delhi, 2022]

Nabina: Anima has been in the making for the last five years. And there’s a bit of my art here. It’s a germinating seedling, that I was teaching my daughter about. It’s the woman’s perspective, looking at the world.

 Lina: This poem is a knockout; like a lot of your work, Nabina, very disturbing.

 Smeetha: Your recent essay in Himal Southasian on 1984. I read that and I wanted to ask you, Lina, what guides your choice of subject matter?

 Lina: I was thinking about the roots of communalism. People don’t hate each other, they’re made to hate each other. These are disturbing thoughts that were on my mind. At the same time, there was this happy space as a child. We were brought up in such a multi-cultural atmosphere of ados-pados, all kinds of communities living around you and we didn’t know who we were. I felt a need to write about that time (as a Tamilian growing up in Delhi). I wrote the first paragraph a few years ago and didn’t proceed. It’s only now, after years, that I’ve managed to put it down and get it published, thanks to Himal!


Only a diminutive granthi was present, fanning a very large book, covered with a gorgeous bit of brocade, with a peacock feather. He did not seem put out to see a bunch of tousled kids troop in, and merely smiled and said in a gentle voice in English, Bachhe (children), cover your heads and come,” pointing to a boxful of scarves kept near the entrance.


[An excerpt  from Tamil Sikh, A Fragment of Memory, From 1984, Lina Krishnans memoir essay in Himal Southasian, June 2022, https://www.himalmag.com/tamil-sikh-fragments-of-memory-2022 ]


Smeetha: It’s such a beautiful essay, especially the childhood parts. There’s a lot of simplicity and the innocence of that era coming through.

 Nabina: I also loved that work. It just shows, (what are) the cultural layers that shape the writer. Here you have written it with so much empathy and love and a little bit of child-like tone.

 Lina: I’m not being naive, I hope, but I’d like to believe that the innocence is still there somewhere, not all gone. Delhi is a city of extremely rich and entitled people, that Delhi does exist, but at another level, Delhi is also a city of workers, all doing fundamentally crucial jobs. They’re all migrants, but somehow, they’ve managed to create that space where during the day, they’re doing their work, doing it very sincerely, and you’ve got to appreciate that. They’re really the salt of the earth, even the much maligned auto-wallahs!

 Nabina: I think Lina should read a poem now. I like that poem of hers; can’t remember the title…

 Lina: Let me read an old favourite.

All afternoon we read poems 

Outside, a bleak sky 

Looks as though

It would like

To come in, and read a bit 


All afternoon, we read poems

And drink tea. After a month

Steeped in Shahid's heartbreaking verse 

I need the peace of Qabbani's rose 


Words flow between us

Like swirls from a thousand continents 

Saturdays should be like this. 


[Excerpt from Lina Krishnan’s All Afternoon We Read Poems, from Love Is So Short, an anthology of female love poetry, Blank Rune Press, Melbourne, 2017]

 On the creative form in poetry

Smeetha: In 2017, in the Global Poetry Writing Month, it was you, Nabina, who introduced us to the sestina. And I was captivated! I wrote a sestina to the six words you had given, and that remains my favourite sestina.


In search of a golden glow half imagined, is there a cess

on it? The forest is all dark and thunder rolls, an old trick

to frighten even the bold, the darkness is a blindfold really,

you walk on, trembling, hanging on by a thought so dulcet

so dear, that maybe you then shed your fear, and are mixing

visions of utopia with whatever is at hand, before it can clot.


[Excerpt from Glow, Smeetha Bhoumik's verse (a sestina with the six words - cess, trick, really, dulcet, mixing, clot), in Witness, The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent, Red River, Delhi, 2021]


Smeetha: You started us off, showing us the importance of voice and re-writing women’s stories. And since the conversation is going from women being disruptive to women questioning, Nabina's sestina says:

 Just to assure Im no believer in idée fixe, I again rallied my sentences home:

Its actually funny to hear I look like a Mexican or one of those folks who regularly climb/over the fences…'

 [Excerpt from Nabina Dass poem When identity and Epistemology Hit One Hard from Anima & the Narrative Limits, Yoda Press, Delhi, 2022]

On the Writing Life

Nabina: The writing life is full of rejections, but I won’t call them downs, it’s a journey. At times, one feels, “Am I writing enough, or being heard enough?” ; that anxiety is also creative and that should be there. But as a writer and poet, I’ve only looked for that happiness, that ecstasy…a little self-centred need to be recognised.

 Smeetha: It’s a huge accomplishment to do the 50 Bangladeshi poets. Not only the appreciation, but it’s work done. You have to actually sit and translate it.

 Nabina: I should mention that it needs some rigour, and I am a person given to sudden flights of “Oh let’s just do something else”. I’m not very disciplined, but I did it in a fortnight. That gave me happiness. Not just that I achieved a book. The 50 Bangladeshi poets; such a range of diverse voices. We don’t see them as Bangladeshi; the stories from my parents and older people of the Partition era, you know, that’s what kept playing in my head. It was possible because of the way the poets drew me in, and how they’ve resolved their issues. Perhaps we should also have a version of that.

Smeetha: Lina, what inspires you most, poetry or prose? Or is it realism or fantasy?

 Lina: Prose and poetry, I feel totally at home with both. It’s really about what I’m interested in at that moment and what comes into my head. Poetry is not very planned, it just appears and I don’t feel any ownership of that. I feel happy when it happens; I wrote a poem yesterday. Every time I write, I’m surprised that I’m still writing. The last few years have been quite tough. But despite all that, the minute one is writing, you have a world, you create your own silence. Poetry takes you away, art even more.  Art is much more peace-giving; poetry forces me to confront certain issues because it’s words and thoughts. In art, yes, the same thoughts and complexities are there, but art is more healing.


(Lina reads her poem Sangat from the book Witness, edited by Nabina Das. An excerpt:)


I recall my mother’s favourite

Kanjeevaram in mango. A green border

As vivid as her occasional smile


And then there was Ghalib, afraid

Its succulent season would pass

While he remained in debtor’s prison


Imbibing tea with a contemplative friend

Silences more than speech would be

The mellow cups as companions


Beauty in a strand

Kashmiri crocus, saffron

That most precious spice


The Buddha’s embrace

Of the bhagwa of renunciation

Enabled the Sangha to grow


The lotus outside , reluctant at daybreak

Its petals half asleep. The still pond, waiting

For the miracle of opening



Nabina: And then, the everyday pleasures, I was telling my kid, look at the sunset. Take pleasure in the pink and orange. The other source of encouragement is friends like you who are always up to something. The pandemic years were really tough, but most of us kept in touch and stayed with poetry. And when someone reads us, then it is like the laya of dhrupad; you go through rigour to ecstasy. At the end of all the hard work, one feels a sense of celebration. Like this evening, its also a celebration!


Bio Notes:


Nabina Das is a poet and writer from Assam, now based in Hyderabad. Her new poetry collection Anima and the Narrative Limits is just out from Yoda Press. Her other collections are Sanskarnama, Into the Migrant City, and Blue Vessel. Her debut book was Footprints in the Bajra, a novel; and her short fiction volume is titled The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped. Her first book of translations Arise out of the Lock: 50 Bangladeshi Women Poets in English appeared in early 2022 from Balestier Press, UK.


Smeetha Bhoumik is a poet, artist, editor. Founder of the WE Literary Community, she is also the editor of the Yugen Quest Review and author of two poetry collections. She has been instrumental in establishing poetry awards like the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award and WE Eunice de Souza Poetry Award among others.


Lina Krishnan is a poet, writer and abstract artist. Small Places, Open Spaces, her chapbook of nature verse, was published by the Blank Rune Press, Melbourne in 2018. Her paintings, poems, and non-fiction writing have found a place in literary journals and arts magazines such as the Shot Glass Journal, Husk,RIC Journal,YAWP and in twelve published/forthcoming anthologies of poetry.



New | Poems | Anannya Dasgupta

Artwork by Floris Arntzenius

Going Gently into the Good Night

When I go into the good night
Alone with only myself to bring
I hope to go in peace, in light
Injustice, hurt, rightful rage, slight:
Calmed, un-grasped, nothing to cling
When I go into the good night
Not in strength, nor even might
Not in the slowed lease of ageing
I hope to go in peace, in light
Give away, be unburdened, light
Feel no lack of love or loss of wing
When I go into the good night
Sound, smell, touch, taste, sight
Gently eased, left to crave nothing
I hope to go in peace, in light

Freed of what may or what might
Will I keep in heartful reckoning?
When I go into the good night
I hope to go in peace, in light

5 images and 1 metaphor

ceiling fan stuttering
on its rotator cuffs

lamp light focussed over
the study table, its penumbra
diffused over the wall

scent from camphor
blossoming on a low flame

books bookmarked, notes
lined and underlined

laptop fired up, documents
open and crackling

a swimmer bracing at the
edge of the pool…

Ba Ba Black Sheep

Ba ba Black Sheep
Have you any wool?

Oh so much -
Baba Saheb replied,
pulled over our eyes
when they lied

about how they are
Manu’s twinkling star.

Up above the world so high
born as Brahmins in the sky.

As for the boy who lived
down the lane…

Little boy blue is blowing his horn
Telling it like it is to be dalit born.

Not lined in shells or cock & bull bells
Keepers of sheep will drink from your wells.


is the pattern
of a square peg in
a round hole?

Neatly aligned lines
joining at right angles
finds a home in a sphere

that with every turn  
around the sun repeats
not now, not here.

Red, a (sort of) ghazal

When I dwell on the sound red
I hear chillies being ground red
The grinding of a stone pestle
in a stony mortar pound red
The pounding, anxious heart
beating till it is drowned red
The drowning deaths await us
for no hands will be found red
Finding blame to heap and keep
is not unique just crowned red

Short Bio: Anannya Dasgupta is a poet and photographer who lives by the sea in Chennai. Her book of poems Between Sure Places is available from Writers Workshop. 


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 in 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. She seeks meaning in fever, friendship and love. Ella, who, figures in all three poems, is at once a friend, critic and mentor.