7/12/18

Book Review | Zeeshan Husain




Partha Chatterjee is a voice that no one can afford to ignore. Broadly working and having expertise simultaneously in two fields— political science and modern Indian history, he has many feathers in his cap. Chatterjee’s contribution to our understanding of political theory, West Bengal’s society and culture, peasants in India, subaltern consciousness, and issues of development deserves special mention. I wonder how come so much complex stuff has been theorised by him with so much lucidity. Perhaps this is a hallmark of any expert. The book Politics of the Governed is definitely an important contribution by him to understand contemporary politics, ranging from the local to regional, to national and international levels. Let me first summarise the main arguments of the book and then analyse it critically.
From the title, one gets a brief idea what the book will be about. It is about the common people and their way of dealing with bitter socio-political realities of life. The geographical area under consideration is almost the whole world. The book has two major parts. The first part consists of three chapters which were delivered as Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures in 2001. The second part consists of a collection of three speeches delivered in various places in India and US. Thus all the seven chapters are actually oral texts and are extremely lucid to read. This is usual in Chatterjee’s style of writing. But this also causes omission of various references which would have helped serious readers to locate the sources of statements which the author is making.
Chatterjee clarifies word by word the title of his book. ‘Popular’ means non- institutional form of politics, ‘most of the world’ means the whole world except the modern capitalist democracies i.e., Western Europe and North America (p.8), ‘civil society’ is the closed association of modern elite groups and ‘democracy’ as politics of the governed. One remains thankful to Chatterjee for defining these terms quite clearly. Indeed this makes the task of reviewer (and critic) considerably easy. Just a brief summary before we start the critique.
The book broadly deals in the first part with the issues within India and in the second part deals with global concerns. In chapter one, he critiques Benedict Anderson’s theorisation of ‘empty homogenous time’ and says that a nation actually lives in various time-spaces; or in simple terms modern, non-modern and even anti-modern characteristics exists in the same nation. In the second chapter, he puts forward concepts like ‘population’ and ‘‘political society’’. He departs from usual modern (liberal) understanding of Citizen and proposes the concept of ‘population’. While a Citizen's existence is theoretical, and normative, ‘population’ is empirical and descriptive. Population allows the State to intervene in people’s lives in the name of development. Chatterjee refers to Foucault’s notion of ‘governmentality’ (p.34). Chatterjee delineates ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’: former connects nation-states with citizens and the latter connects populations with governmental agencies (pp.37-38). ‘Political society’ exists outside the domain of ‘civil society’ (p.40). In the third chapter, he outlines what is meant by the ‘politics of the governed’. For him, it is democracy but seen from the position of those who govern(p.69). It is a local paralegal arrangement which seeks moral solidarity and tries to bring about change in the (asymmetrical) power distribution (p.66). From the fourth chapter onward starts another paradigm, that of global issues. Chatterjee says that globalisation is not new (pp.85-91); what is new is the emergence of US as Big Brother of the world (p.96). The peace of the world is ensured by the US, in a kind of ‘global democracy’ (p.100). He calls it an ‘empire’ (p.98) whose principle is control not occupation (p.101). It is this chapter which critiques the global order/ peace very poignantly. Fifth chapter flags the issue of ‘Islamic terrorism’ as a plank by US to ensure its control in the name of global democracy. Sixth chapter problematises the concept of secularism, along with ‘democracy’ and ‘war on terror’ and the seventh chapter gives the gloomy picture of neo-liberalism reaching India’s cities.
Chatterjee is critiquing the liberal understanding of ‘civil society’ and proposes the concept of ‘‘political society’’ to understand politics of the non-West (or East). For him the concept of ‘‘civil society’’ is not relevant in India, and perhaps the whole East/ South. Unlike in the West, people are not completely under the purview of state; they do not have citizenship rights. This causes many, if not most people, to remain outside ‘civil society’. State intervenes in this case, through, what Chatterjee is calling ‘‘political society’’. People outside the ‘‘civil society’’ are not looked upon as citizens but as populations to be controlled by the State for developmental concerns (p.40). He has, however, not defined this crucial term, unlike various others terms in the book. This might be intentional, as the term is extremely fluid. Nevertheless he keeps on giving us various characteristics of ‘‘political society’’, and ‘‘civil society’’ as well. Let us now critically engage with his ideas one by one.
First, Chatterjee is using Foucault’s concept of governmentality in this book. This assumption - that only non- West has this ‘‘political society’’ - is difficult to digest. I agree that ‘‘civil society’’ is quite strong in the West, yet a number of people’s movements constantly keep on negotiating with the State. This is the case with both West and East. On what basis, then, has this distinction between West and East and their respective politics been made by Chatterjee? If he was speaking in terms of degrees, he could have told it clearly. Rather, the neat definitions given show he has strong binaries in mind.
Second, whatever he means by ‘most of the world’ or East or South is extremely flawed. By giving few examples from India and US, one cannot generalise the functioning of democracy across the world. Chatterjee is theorising three-fourths of the world (p.3) without giving enough evidence from even three continents– Asia, Africa and South America. Indeed, there are a number of instances in these countries where there is a complete lack of state intervention. Many countries have dictatorships, civil wars, riots, and military regimes. One wonders on what basis one could theorise a concept while taking, almost exclusively, India as an example.
Third major flaw is the assumption that ‘civil society’ is ‘consistent with the ideas of freedom and equality’ (p.46). ‘Civil society’ is assumed to be modern, while ‘political society’ to be either pre-modern or a strange product of modernity (yes these two contradictory phenomena are used by him to explain ‘political society’. See pp. 51 and 75). To refine his assumption, Chatterjee has often used the term ‘elite’ to show that non-elites are not part of this ‘modern’ institution. It is here that Chatterjee fails to understand even India, let aside the whole of the world. Let us ask- who are the elites? What is their caste, religion, ethnicity, gender and even region? Chatterjee uses sociologists like Nikolas Rose, and Thomas Osborne but fails to accept the reality as described by another sociologist from his own home state of West Bengal– Andre Beteille. Beteille (2001) explains that ‘civil society’ in actual practice is infected with the considerations of kinship and religion. In what way can we assume that Indian elites who are almost exclusively upper- caste urban Hindus are seriously committed to the project of modernisation?
This brings us to the fourth major flaw in the theorisation by Chatterjee. He argues that the various characteristics of ‘‘civil society’’ are not actually empirically verifiable. But, recent researches have shown the opposite. It is the pressure from the grass roots activities and struggles which is making the State and its arms ‘modern’, ‘democratic’ and truly civil. I live in a society, where police connive in communal riots against Muslims, where Special Task Force is recruited to ‘control’ tribal populations and where Dalits are humiliated on an everyday basis. Modernity is a project by the common masses, not the elites. Chatterjee missed out on this completely. Just visit any Indian university and see gender skewedness and a near absence of peasant/ Shudra castes after a decade of implementation of OBC reservations. Even a simple reading of Ambedkar could have helped Chatterjee to comprehend most of the India well. This despite the fact that he has started, clearly in haste, his book by taking the case of Ambedkar.
He misreads Ambedkar at many levels, and various people’s struggles happening across India. This again happens to be a major lacuna in Chatterjee’s understanding. Ambedkar has spoken more about exploitative caste system than about untouchability (p.9) in his works. His conversion after a long struggle with Hindu society, was a tactical move to show people that Hindu society will remain caste- ridden and hence the best alternative, the Navayana Buddhism, has to be adopted. Conversion was not a result of frustration, as Chatterjee believes (p.24). Ambedkar’s almost prophetic quote, from the Constituent Assembly (9 Nov 1948) is: “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” The ‘civil society’ which Chatterjee is assuming to be democratic is actually undemocratic and uncivil. Recent empirical researches like Anupama Rao’s The Caste Question (2010), Suryakant Waghmore’s Civility against Caste (2013), and Jeffrey Witsoe’s Democracy against Development (2013), among many others, show that it is the voices from the periphery that strengthen modern values of life, liberty, equality and fraternity. Pandian’s (2002) crisp essay provides a good framework to sum up how lower caste subjectivity is modern, not the other way round. At one place Chatterjee ends up calling lower caste leaders’ demands as patriarchal (p.75) which shows his limited understanding of caste–gender intersectionality.
Fifth, as I said earlier that Chatterjee has not explicitly defined the term ‘‘political society’’ but has given various characteristics of it. Going by those loosely defined characteristics, even Hindutva groups can be considered as valid forms of ‘political society’. These groups are beyond the purview of both State and ‘civil society’ and claim some moral significance for their groups too. One wonders how Chatterjee understands the rise of such groups, quite visibly since a decade.
In addition to these, there are number of self-contradictory statements (see for instances statements on ‘political society’ on pages 40, 47, 66 and 74). This might be due to his acknowledgement of the complex nature of political formations, which needed theorisation not mere passing references.
Overall the book successfully puts forward important changes happening in present world order, but fails to give any insight into the crucial working of the Indian or non-Western societies. Nevertheless, Chatterjee correctly places the relevnat political theory in the context of colonialism and present neo-liberalism. The book vehemently critiques US imperialism and its propaganda of Islamic terrorism. It is here that the book is at its best.


(Politics of the Governed (2004) by Partha Chatterjee Columbia University Press. New York. ISBN 0-231-13062-7. pp.170+ xi)

7/11/18

Poetry | Suhit Kelkar

pc: Brian Michael Barbeito



GRAPES

In this vineyard,
the earth's quiet work
makes the unripe ripe,
sends the overripe into oblivion.
The circle of life
is a cliche
that exists only in language.
Here, there are beginnings,
there are ends,
distinct and disconnected.
Here, the call of the birds
embroiders heavy shadows
between rows of vines
where the crop, like bats,
hangs, grows, dozes,
after farm hands midwife it in the noon.
No one here but the farmer
viewing an unripe clump of grapes
the way a new father
regards his newborn
with a hint of pride.
As it is, I avert my gaze
from the primal sight
and turn to the acreage.
Here, if I wished to,
I could lose myself in the horizon,
I could sing without shame
A song if I had one.
But there is only silence
within and without.
The grapevines send tendrils
into my thoughts.
I am nourished. It is enough
on the farm's margins
where the birds fly low
over the sun-whitened grass of winter.



HAUNTED HOTEL

The world is a haunted hotel
and I, a lonely lover,
wandering its corridors,
cold in the clasp of fear
as strangers unwittingly take
rooms for the long night.
I fear for them, and for myself.
I can hear them whisper,
quarrel, move the furniture around,
even moan in pleasure through the walls.
Or are those the ghosts?
Outside the open window
between two breaths of the waves
god is an innuendo.
The sea is turbid
for it contains
our evils and our sorrows,
our leavings and our refuse.
Through the moon's keyhole,
night sprinkles through,
soothes my eyes like balm.
Yet my backbone is a guitar string
twanging to the footfalls
of some invisible beast
that has trudged for ages
from the stars to reach this place
with a message that I hope
I will understand some day.
Then my gaping wounds may yet
grow feet and slither away.
And I will feel it amiss-
to see by starlight
the plain, smooth skin
that had once, so beautifully, bled.
That is why I have checked in.
I must heal here,
must fill the wounds
I acquired before birth
and then move on
with a light heart.


CHICKEN DINNER

I saw the way they raise
the chickens that go on our dinner
plates. And why the phrase
'to be cooped up' is euphemism
for prison. I could also tell you
about the extraction
of cocks' semen in syringes
the holding-down of hens
for insemination.
How they flinch, startled and soundless
as the nozzle is dabbed between
their legs, their cloacas staring
like red, reproachful eyes.
Yet I'll go home tonight
and probably order a chicken dinner.
In this way lies evil just beyond
the corners of the eyes
woven into each day
of our pure and virtuous lives.
Love is a stretch of water
dammed till tight as a bowstring
that has to find its way downhill
by one way or the other.
In this manner
inner evils must be made love to
even when brought to sight.
Most people like the leg;
I, however, prefer the breast.


PLATES

This evening, the food is continental
and therefore, mild on the palate
in the chic South Bombay restaurant
not far from where the functional avenue
off Churchgate station meets
the art deco seafront.
On the white tablecloth,
pasta for her, fish and chips for me.
Even in this, we could not have been
more dissimilar. This evening
when we speak of everything else
but what we mean to say
my beer and her red wine
nonetheless sing to each other.
Maybe this'll work after all, I think.
Maybe no one's really
ready for love
and when we get into it
we surprise even ourselves
and stumble from day to day
in each other's arms
like beginners at a Lindy Hop class
till we aren't winging it any more.
Beneath our dancing feet
tectonic plates feel up one another
yield a Himalayan erection.


UNUSED CLAWS

At thirty seven,
when I visit my folks,
it pierces me, the sight of mother
swaying out on arthritic feet
out into the stairwell, to entice
our old cat back into the house.

And I am swept back
to my wanderings as a child,
into supposedly snake-infested,
stranger-frequented grounds,
from which she would haul me back
in a basket of love or threats.

There wasn't much to do there-
no other children of my age-
and the grownups lived in their own
world, so I was left to talk to trees.
Or, there were stacks of comic books,
if I was coralled at home by mother.

As for the cat, safe and bored today,
it overeats instead, and destroys
mother's sandals with overgrown,
unused claws. I say, better it than me.

6/29/18

Book Review | Wayfaring | Tikuli Dogra



Tikuli Dogra’s second collection of poems, Wayfaring, published by Leaky Boot Press reached me some time back, courtesy the author. (Her first, Collection of Chaos, was also published by the same press).
I had read her poems in magazines and social media earlier. But reading them compiled as a book was a different experience altogether.
Organised in seven sections, the poems cover a wide range of emotions and experiences. The book opens with the section called Trains. The poems included in this section set the tone for the rest of the book, in a sense. Some of the themes dear to the poet, especially the contrast between her origins – which she traces to the mountains – and her life in the city are established here. While the mountains bring her calm and respite, city life is hectic and demanding. As she notes in the very first poem, Winter: “We watched the toy train trundle slowly past/ the oaks, rhododendrons, firs and pines/ the hot masala chai melts her inner strife/ filling us with a warm comfort.”
City life has none of these charms. As she writes in the poem, The Local Train: “In contrast, outside the window, / a dry, bleak lifelessness prevails, / the hellish summer sun spits fire, devouring all life on earth.” This poem, The Local Train, also shows us that the poet is a very keen observer of the life around us and that she can articulate using striking metaphors and similes. For example: “Two women, / with their noisy kids, / inch their way through the crowd, / find an empty seat and settle there, / wedged together like orange segments.”
The next section called Exile Poems, introduces a sombre note. We learn of hurried departures, and scattered belongings, under the shadow of violence. “The sky that final evening / was smeared red with death, / and a tangible odour of fear / hung oppressively in the air” (Exile). As the poet writes in one of the poems in this section, this is the period of loss, of innocence most of all. In the poem Ghosts of War – striking for its precise imagery and details – she writes: “This was a reminder / of when the city smouldered under clouds / of dust and smoke, / when I was deafened by shrieking sirens / and the wails of devastated lives – women and children.”
 The third section, fittingly, is named Remembrance. The metaphor of rains is used prominently and frequently in many of the poems in this section, to denote what this ‘remembrance’ means to the poet. “Loneliness curls in the spaces / between the notes of the rain, / the night bleeds neon, / reflects in puddles on the sidewalks, / cigarettes float like corpses / bloated with memories” (Void). The section ends with an intriguing poem of a personal nature where the poet narrates how a long relationship of hers ended over imaginary descriptions of an affair in some poems. It is a particularly touching poem and forces the reader to reassess how they view poetry, for this poem informs us that it can have very real and damaging consequences for a poet’s personal life. “I mourn the love that’s lost / and struggle to accept / this end to all we had / imposed so ruthlessly on me - / two poems and a conversation / the cause of all my grief”.  

Travel follows Remembrance. Once again, the same skills are seen, to turn the mundane into something more than what meets the eye; to find an epiphany when nothing seems to happen. She also manages to include a striking turn of phrase in almost every poem, or a newly minted metaphor, which gives the poems a certain uniqueness. 
Two more sections follow in a similar vein before we come across the poems about Delhi in the last section. This section, in my view, completes the journey that the poet undertook, in her mind and in reality as well. And she pays Delhi a worthy tribute. Especially noteworthy is the first poem about the Dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia. It is here that she receives her final epiphany, the sense of becoming one with the world, which good poetry seeks and finally achieves, for both the poet and the reader. “Possessed in a feverish frenzy of longing/ and sensuousness, bodies merge/ and become the saint and the poet, / love rises, as smoke at the end of incense/ and floats through the prayers/ tied to the marble lattice. / I sit in a corner, eyes closed – entranced, / the poet in me loses herself to the scents, / the sounds, the sights, the dust, the birds, / the trees, the sky, the marble, the songs, / and then dips herself in holy water / as green as the greenest emerald.” 
All in all, a worthy collection to follow a debut. I would advise even more simpler expression at times, and to drop mercilessly the ones that feel worn out from use. At the same time, there is no artifice or pretence in the poems. They do not seek to bedazzle by trying to be more or something else than what they are -  an honest record of the poet’s feelings and that is what gives them their value.   

- AK





6/15/18

Opinion | Chandramohan Sathyanathan

PC: Indian Express 


Honor killings in Parasurama’s own country
[Old wine in new bottle]

The recent murder of Mr. Kevin Joseph, a Dalit Christian youth for falling in love and then marrying a woman of mixed caste identity - born of a Syrian-Christian father and a Muslim mother- has shocked the conscience of Kerala, making front page news on May 29th and May 30th.
The increasing influence of social media in shaping the discourse of the time was very much evident once again. Many Dalit activists claim that had it been not for the social media, this ghastly incident would have just ended up as another one-column news item in the interior pages of the newspapers – that too only in the Kottayam District edition, where the incident occurred.
This is the third such incident to rouse the conscience of Keralites in the last few months. The other incidents being that of Madhu – a tribal youth murdered for alleged theft and the murder of a young woman hailing from an intermediate caste (namely Ezhava) on the night before her wedding to a Dalit youth (an employee of the armed forces) by her father.  The former was an instance of anti-indigenous people violence while the latter, similar to the current incident was predicated upon very patriarchal and casteist notions of family honor that tend to limit the endeavors of the lesser-privileged sections of our caste-ridden society. This incident is a nail in the coffin of those ideals that were enshrined in the Social Renaissance initiated by Mahatma Ayyankali, Naanu Asan and Sahodaran Ayyappan. Rising intolerance, physical, systemic and epistemic against Dalits and tribals, social boycott of Muslims and generic oppression of sexual minorities have become markers of contemporary Kerala society.
1.       Is there an increase in attacks on Dalits or is it an increase in the ratio of such instances being “reported” and triggering a protest?

I would argue both ways. There would have been many mute “suicides” which are brutal murders/caste-honor killings in the past. But recently, due to increased access to the social media for the Dalit-Bahujan social activists, there has been widespread awareness against such incidents. There is a flip side to this. Dalit assertion has been on the rise and has been challenging the establishment and the conventional caste hierarchies. Due to the influx of gulf money and other new found prosperity, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the neo-rich and the traditionally rich, frustrating the socially dominant sections. Dalit assertion may have added insult to the injury of the social prestige of the traditional elites. Thus the Ezhavas and Syrian Christians might want to oppose inter-caste weddings involving brides of their communities.

2.       Is this primarily due to caste? Have other factors like economic-muscle played a role?
 Very much. The deceased youth was an electrician. There is definitely an element of social class operating in this, but the mutilation of the dead body (eyes gauged out) shows an irrational fury often associated with caste/ethnicity ‘pride’. As Ambedkar had opined “caste is enclosed class” though social and cultural elements are very much operational.
3.       A tinge of Islamophobia too?
The secular progressive cultural activists were quick to elucidate upon the Muslim angle to it because the bride’s mother happens to be Muslim. This was the case in the instance of Madhu too. Often secularism has become a ploy to exclude Muslim organizations from platforms for protesting against saffron fascism. Recently Dalit-Bahujan ideologue Mr. Kancha Ilaiah had opined that Congress has been protecting Hinduism in the name of secularism.
The myth of origin of Kerala hinges around Parasurama who killed his mother at the behest of his father for alleged adultery/infidelity. The language of subjugating women –curtailing her sexual freedom is not alien to Kerala .It could be argued that when an educated woman marries as per her own choice, she could demand a share of her ancestral property which would be inherited by the nuclear family consisting of her husband and children. This could result in drastic economic redistribution in terms of land holdings – even more pronounced if the groom happens to be a Dalit and if the folks are more rural then urban. During times when a Dalit with an Ambedkarite ringtone or a desire for a horse –ride during his own wedding procession can incur the wrath of the “establishment”, the moustache-wearing of Mr. Kevin Joseph may have added to the insecurity of the feudal elements. This reminds us why annihilation of caste should be a high priority feminist ideal.

4.       Why has Kerala (a state devoid of infamous Khap Panchayats) not witnessed such overt acts of honor killings when the neighboring Tamil Nadu did have a spree of such killings: the most ghastly being the Dharmapuri murder of Ilavarasan ?

This is because caste operates in Kerala much more insidiously and more viciously than many other states of India. Its documented evidence is found in matrimonial columns with the disclaimer “NO CASTE BAR” with SC/STs ‘please excuse’. In the increasingly urbanized surroundings of Kerala, implicit questions like “what is your full name” / “what is your father’s name?”/ “where is your original home?” often masquerade as pin-pricks to probe caste.  With the collapse of the traditional form agricultural economy, caste has found new ways of manifesting itself like systematic dismantling of welfare schemes; extremely male-chauvinist ‘upper’-caste male protagonists in movies; Muslims, Dalits and the Latin –Christians excluded from the popular imagination of a contemporary Malayali; a leading intellectual of the rationalist movement opposing caste-based reservation, among other such examples. It was only after the prominence of Dalit voices making stringent critiques of these trends that the cracks of the much touted Kerala Model of development were exposed.
 ***

6/1/18

Poetry | Srishti Dutta Chowdhury

pc: Brian Michael Barbeito









glass body mine

by bow he will mean listen. listen. when i speak, eyes rest on the measure of brown/stick/clot. all surface is water when downside upturned, face over. terrors are perpetrated easily, inherited fair.
see his face midnight glowing like an eagle, it is the dying. when i move, wind shapes my ears. all masters want a steady surface to bend over & reach between the thighs. later i will want to carry this certain to the table, not an expectation out of place.
by body, i mean a kiss planted squarely on the remorse. certainty is for the floundering, he will say. & between light & the deep, i shall waltz in a whirr squinting at the sore, at the hardkept tonguetied rarity of a spoilt child.




















but going on is a fantasy. with one reel, one crucifix, one by one beside, revert to previous settings. squares and one, a tonne of old, piles of exfoliation. in seven years good time, flinch.
the monstrosity of tomorrow, the charity of now. next fall, i decide to congratulate you on the new baby. wasn’t it born, was it postconceived like letters bereft of plain words. niceties. angry scrawls rushing through the lack of line. 
i think of moving, a clear synaptic reversion of  my folds. keep straight. little comfort in getting in, moving out, letting letting letting it fall then hold. wax ears, dry eyes and hands true and significantly weakening. such is the trouble of rotting, roots grow anywhere. in a rut, hair and throat fixated on the singular sound of deception. we are good manure, this is a tangible purpose beyond moving.
do not engage if teeth are out. the wolves come out with the shivers. grow old like a faucet turned out.
howl. for what it is not.



















prayers mean nothing to me. empty sound. like a tree, she curved into my spine, a word. hurricane.
it is time. windowpanes give way to the sea calling. one speck hang on a pockmarked pole attached to my radio. where goes the sound after the first contact. skin. little hurricanes of passion. murky like the bloody mary after six. alternatively enabler/saboteur of peace.
at night, i am a whirling dervish to the electric fan. hands reaching head reaching a point. it is the point i drive towards in darkness. this sound reaches no tunnel. an end to this end, time. the stories she writes with her body, the body that leaves through the door.
i have more to say, but in circles. the words armoured against thoughts, keep breathing. exeunt when you think of thinking of nights that burrow into loose earth and dancing.
sleep hurricane sleep



















woman of many heads and ponchos after my appetite own gave me the colour red.                                                                              
and in pastel she became a non sequitur. two houses far bodies growing roots with real living, green between sheets, blue over sink. once a game. twice pulling a trigger over the sea hanging below the tunnel of moons. i am a hunchback conqueror of all internal monologues- you do not cripple me.
dis.arm 





















the one you love left you for a stick of butter. so you bid your time rebaking batches of pasty mud for a flavour that won’t right itself. you are five now, five fingers deep in soft gills ceiling high in experiment. and twenty, in the gashes against your poultry. headless body in an unsteady oven. smooth as the herb butter between thighs, alive as glowing coal at the makeshift barbecue. food is what you do now.






















amma, when as young as she would be to me, talked of when she was a bride.
‘the houses limit the ocean. run off now. let me stitch’ as she ran her nicked digits over our cares, little wishes. ‘save every nickel for a rainy day. get me some paan.’
our boxes and knick knacks held our stories. old wife, poor soul, young widow, mother to a hundred sons and not one daughter, atulprasad doting paan-maker, i knew you.
letters are always read too late, writ too soon.
a wood door called ‘fancy corner (india)’ by this road i walk down every night. nothing too fancy about the green, old, scrambling for support, colour eaten by rain moss and rust. i lost a cat by the door, i marked it with charcoal in my mind, words in the lost section. ‘at the end of my suffering, there was a door.’ i have been handed ‘an atlas of the difficult world’, now to spot myself on it. this society is desperate from the need of saving from itself. i try i fail. i will recede to polite dismissals too, ‘peace of mind’, ‘an air of civility’, ‘quality life.’ rage died old in a rot bed.
then, what? nothing.