9/17/20

New | Poetry | Sukla Singha


 


rain, city, lovers

 

i

 

some rains have stopped hitting our insides

 

at midnight. They

f

a

l

l

in straight lines

in the emptiness of

our hands

without touching

our bodies

 

we fumble for             bad words

beneath the sheets

 

some rains aren’t us    anymore

 

 

ii

 

afternoon rains

tilt their transparent toes and

stir

the corners of our square yellow

houses

 

we lift our skirts

smell each other’s sweat

count the polka dots

on our thighs

as we go on long pointless walks

in the room

 

outside,

a rain-girl sips lemon tea

on the wet street

 

dimlights and water-gods       watch her in silence

 

iii

 

on rainy nights like this

we suddenly find ourselves

playing kuk-lotpi

 

in the middle of the night

like a laimu chasing a laishaabi

 

 

you adore the brownness

of my skin

that melts in your mouth

 

 

on rainy nights like this

you adore the brownness

of my skin

thatmeltsinyourmouth

 

 

 

iv

 

evening pounces on the ugly flyover

at Nagerjala

 

we come home late

fatigued, indifferent

 

we speak of useless things

and people

teacups, traffic, tantrums

we don’t make any sense

we don’t look into the eyes

we don’t smell the skins

 

our bodies are dead flyovers

our bodies are cold flyovers

our bodies stretch

like flyovers

 

but we aren’t forgetful

we aren’t loveless

 

our numbered days

burst like clouds

to sing songs of rain

on empty rooftops

 

we’re rainmakers in this hopeless city

 

 

 

 

kuklotpi: a game of hide and seek

laimu: an evil spirit

laishaabi: a virgin maiden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jaamun

 

is the colour of

childhood

 

that hangs

like pegs of memory

 

little fingers

stealing

crushing

mixing

 

a handful of ripeness

a purple river

 

deluging

my youth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

silkworm

 

butterfly patterns

on the wooden loom

 

a butterfly sits

on her head

 

a smoke of desires

rises

from her mud-oven

 

like children sleepwalking

to catch tadpoles

in rain

 

she’s never

woven

a silk saree

 

her starched cotton inaphi

leaves

marks on the skin

 

like silkworm

feeding

on mulberry leaves

 

 

 

inaphi: a cloth to wrap around the upper body

 

 

 

 (Artwork: Vincent van Gogh, Rain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 


 

 

 


9/5/20

New ___ Three Poems ____ Prashant Mishra




            The Two Beloveds of Janus

 

Janus stands in the balcony with the two beloveds. The first one, who is standing on the right side, is a bit distant—six feet distance. One face of Janus is looking at the beloved with certain pain. Janus’ lips are wet. Janus can still feel the beloved’s teeth on the lips. The beloved was one with Janus. The lips remain wet. They never dry up. Janus’ right hands are draught, and they run over the right lips, and yet those lips do not dry up. As if the teeth are still on the lips. That they are gripping Janus like a tiger, but the tiger Janus thinks of has dual aspects. Those teeth grip Janus’ lips like a cub and like hunted prey. Janus struggles, and the lips do not dry.

 

The other beloved, the one who stands to the left, is closer to Janus. The other face of Janus is looking at the beloved with a dry hope. The beloved is to approach the lips of Janus. The beloved is to kiss Janus. Janus can almost sense the breath of beloved. The beloved has nearly arrived. But the lips remain dry. The lips are never teethed. Janus wills to lip the other beloved, but the beloved remains close. So close that Janus cannot touch the beloved. Janus cannot move. Janus asks the other beloved to move. The beloved does move but, like the Achilles of Zeno, never reaches Janus’ lips. The beloved is always to arrive but never really arrives. The tiger is absent. Cub is still a possibility. Prey is still to walk. Janus’ right hands are rivers, they run over the right lips, and yet they remain dry.


Janus’ lips are wet and dry. Janus wants them dry and wet. Janus cannot move. Janus’ right hands want to reach the left lips, and the left hands want to reach the right lips. Janus, like a door, is a house and not a house. Janus’ draught hands run over wet lips; Janus’ river hands run over dry lips. Janus never is.

 

                                          The Star Child

 

Inside the room, the evening appeared through curtains in golden hair. The boy who seemed no more than ten was reading a book. It was the book, which seemed odder than the other objects. The inside walls had cracks and resembled the crooked legs 0f a spider. If one opened the room at night, it might have seemed to be the inside of a belly. The boy was reading, and with a gentle caressing, the last rays left the room. With a yawn, he closed the book and went to the adjacent balcony. There were boats, a river, a few people and the stonesthose eternal stonesadamant and confined.

He gazed into the horizon. A sharp, attentive gaze, as if he penetrated the presentthat ungraspable moment when it is not evening or night. As if, he stood at the liminal. He came back and opened the book. The book seemed thicker than before. He looked at the pages and numbers on pages and pictures on the number of pages. He carried it in his hand and weighed it for a while. The transformation was remarkable. After reading not more than a single unified moment, the yawn returned to his mouth. And he slept, or there was a hint of slumber on his face.

There was the churning of the ocean, there the tortoisea dancing god becoming a dance. In dance was birthed a sleeping god. From the navel of that sleeping god came a god who would speak the Word. From the Word came words and words became the first lilies. From lilies came the first cloud. From the first cloud appeared two lips. Two lips kissed, and the world appeared. The burning stars became flesh and talked like immortals. He saw the first men marrying rivers. He saw a man’s sperm carried by a bird. He saw the quasars hovering on a forehead. He saw the colours which were to be invented. He saw a boy asking an old poet with butterfly-beard what the grass is.

Slow walked the moon over his face. Gentle budded his eyes. There was the bookcomposing pages. The boy gazed at his skin and chest hair. He stared at the ceiling like the dreams of a migrated man.

He went to the balcony. There were no boats. No river. The stones vanished from their eternal realm. Pure mercuric constellations in oscillation.

He snatched one of the stars and kept it in his left pocket.




                                               The Insider

 

That what awakes in the gentle breath

and awaits in the next room.

The incessant need to touch one hand with the other

to keep the real, real.

What melancholy does the silence preach?

The One that is a stranger, It that lives within me

I have known it as the memory of my village,

the cactus and hibiscus of my memory.

What way, in what cave can I find the real darkness

where that obscurely familiar void does not follow me?

Perhaps, like others, it loves and in loving

allows itself to torment me.

 

I had seen it when there was no one,

my mother would sleep on the terrace

grandfather lulling himself with a thin hand-fan

and the house, turning so silent

as if a torrent was to arrive.

Keeping my head on one of my hands

I saw in pages escapes

but it arrived like a companion with whom

you have shared strange tales.

 

You still do not know what to do with it.

You cannot even give it an attribute.

It comes with nakedness one often finds

in the solemn music played

at the heart of a perilous tragedy.

You do not understand if it is verily you

Or it is you who looks at it.

It has a semblance with those old-healed wounds

with no sensation, un-fleshy

it senses you like ashes sense the last fire.

 

You sit calm, a sea happens and then comes

a vortex of undulating wind

and like creepers, it grows from the chest

you see it coming out of your navel

two black branches crawl out of your nose

your eyes are its leaves, your mouth

excretes an ambiguous silence.

 

You hear ice on your skin like a sinking ship

you do not move, it emanates

as the birth of a flower out of a dead insect

your body is empty of organs

you smell the stem growing between your thighs

snakes play on your back 

you stir, and the birds fly out of your sockets.

 

 (Artwork : Jonah and the Whale, Folio from a Jami al Tavarikh, (compendium of chronicles) courtesy Wikimedia Commons) 

 

 

 

9/4/20

Distances : New Short Fiction, by Ameya Bondre

A bunch of European cities was trapped in the crisscrossing panels of the black showcase fixed to the living room wall. Five horizontal and four vertical panels made up the fifteen-odd shelves that hoarded memories. I had imagined arranging palaces, squares, museums, bridges, arches, and towers on these shelves. Instead, she had filled them with sandals, bicycles, ice-cream, mugs, seashells, and earrings! Each one of them wanted to jump off their designated space to explore our home and enter our conversations. But looking at our frequent arguments, perhaps they changed their mind. This piece of furniture on the wall is our only child. We love it. Even today, I give it the attention it craves. Why else am I reminiscing over our whimsical collection of memories? And…. why does she take so long to get ready?

I gazed at the bedroom door, which remained still and shut, then resumed my contemplation of the showcase.

The pair of miniature red heels stood at the centre of the middle shelf, the ones she had insisted on buying on a crowded street in Barcelona. They were a reminder of the time she had worn a similar pair while learning to dance the flamenco. The first day at Escuela de Flamenco José de la Vega had been a disaster. Each time she got carried away by the music and the fluttering red ruffles of her black dress, I lost track and stomped on her heels. In another instance, she tried to echo the lyrics she did not understand, didn’t pay attention, and her feet slid between mine! I clutched at her waist trying in vain to stop her fall, but mercifully, she caught hold of the shoulder of a hefty Spanish lady who was lost in her own rotations. She loved the training and adamantly wanted the heels. She claimed that the training helped her ‘focus’.

 ***

‘How long will you take?’ I shouted. We were still young, and inexperienced in our equation, our home and our routines, and my patience ran thin.

‘Just five minutes. Have you taken the file?’ Avni shouted back from the bedroom.

‘You have asked me three times since morning!’ I lowered my voice. There was no answer.

There were other souvenirs from other times. A pair of tiny polka-dotted coffee mugs was a tribute to a quiet brunch at the Antico Caffè Greco, the oldest café in Rome. After a toxic argument, while climbing down the Spanish steps and onto Via Condotti, we had craved coffee.

What did we argue about? The usual stuff - why does the world intrude into our space, or more specifically, my parents? My mother had called me early that morning, panic-stricken, to inform that the caregiver took a sudden leave and my father threw a tantrum to avoid taking his pills. He screamed, which he never did earlier, and refused his breakfast. Scrambling to find a replacement at such a short notice, I couldn’t help peeping into my phone every few minutes and making calls, interrupting Avni’s flow of conversation - she was gazing at a church and telling me what she felt, or an anecdote that I can’t recollect anymore. I wasn’t telling her the reason for my distractions to avoid an argument in the middle of tourists thronging the place, and I stretched it for as long as I could by making comments on the weather, people or the artwork that surrounded us, but that irritated her more. She finally got into the matter, made a few calls herself and managed to find a therapist-friend to come in and help. At the cost of getting upset, cold and distant.

At the café, we settled down at a small three-legged round beige table surrounded by maroon chairs and sky-blue walls studded with rows of framed murals. It was a noisy evening. Locals had filled the place with their rising and falling Italian accents and intense conversations. We didn’t talk the whole time. We sat, gazing from the murals to the people to our golden rings and back to our coffee mugs brimming with cappuccino. We had read that the café was a ‘timeless place that helped people to unwind after heavy sightseeing’. But no café could contain our relentless spirits. We had to take more calls from home. We had to stay updated. We had to pass on more instructions to my Mom and Dad. We had to follow-up. And, we, didn’t talk the whole evening, and night. Next morning, she was chirpy, once again. Mornings made her normal. A day later, while leaving Italy, we came across two mugs in a gift-shop that reminded her of Greco, and now here they were on our showcase.

‘I am trying to find my Aadhar card!’ she broke my train of thought.

‘Come on!’ I grunted.

‘It’s somewhere in the folder. Don’t worry, I will get it!’

A pair of black and pink toy-bicycles were tied together with a cheesy red ribbon, to recollect our morning in Amsterdam. We had pedalled over the friendly streets past the steeples, the old houses with gargoyles and ornate façades, the hundred-odd florists trying to get our attention, the lush green parks, and the city’s vivacious waterways. I can’t deny that I cherished the bicycles. Oh, and the earring! One of her old earrings got stuck on my shirt button at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul! We were walking like a spectacle, the right side of her head attached to the middle of my chest. People had a field day staring and giggling at us. She enjoyed walking with a slanted trunk, listening to my hammering heartbeats and couldn’t stop laughing. I avoided the glares and stares, and the teasing people offering help…. and tried to escape that frenzied place. And on returning to India, she showcased this earring! It now sat next to her version of a Gelarto Rosa, an ice-cream in Budapest where every cone is made into the shape of a rose. She made one using coloured paper, with alternating layers of brick-red and lemon-yellow petals and placed it on the showcase, claiming that the ice-cream was her ‘best European memory’. She could have chosen better things from our month-long gruelling vacation. Yet, how can I forget the white pebbles she gathered straight from the clear, sky-blue waters of the Agios Dimitrios beach on one of the Greek islands? For a change, it was I who asked her to collect a heap of them, for the showcase, to which she said, ‘Since when are you into these things!’

‘Okay let’s go!’ She stepped out. Avni liked to startle others—then and now.

‘You sure you have all your documents?’

‘Please, let’s go.’

By the time I had locked the door, she had scurried down the stairs. I saw our name-plate for the last time. An hour-long winding ride down the hill awaited us, and at the end of it, the district court. The untimely, breezy, romantic weather was at odds with what we had set out to accomplish. My open-air car felt unnecessary. We were not going on a honeymoon, far from it in fact. We were going to file for a divorce, to separate for good.


***

 

We set off and within a minute, she started, ‘Why do you wear faded jeans?’

‘What’s your problem?’

‘We are going to a court, Aman, for God's sake!’

‘My jeans won’t change the judge’s decision.’

‘It’s a formal occasion!’

I scoffed. She didn’t belabour the point. That was one advantage of separating - as a wife, she would have gone on endlessly. I wanted to be quiet. I wanted to drive. I wanted to look ahead. But I couldn’t.

I just had to get the words out: ‘After we are done, I need to rush back home. Papa needs me.’

‘I know that.’ She paused. ‘Why do you have to say that to me? Like that?’

‘I just mentioned it,’ I heard my voice rising.

‘Look, by now, your family and all your relatives know that I have failed to take care of your father.’

‘Please don’t start….’

‘No, seriously!’

‘Do you realize his illness? Alzheimer’s... And how much we need to look after him? And, I mean, as a family – from now, it will be just me and my mother.’

‘For two years, I tried to do what I could. I helped with everything. But I cannot be chained to a house.’

‘I don’t know why his illness needs to conflict with your dreams and choices. All I asked of you was to slow down a little. I have a nine-to-five job. I have pushed my goals aside because of his health. I am going slow.’

She snorted. ‘Yes, slow in all things, except when it comes to kissing someone.’

 

I couldn’t reply. I should have predicted that. Of course, she had to bring it up. And make it sound as though that one single incident had been a habit, something I did as a matter of routine!

We had fought almost daily in the last six months or so; largely because neither of us was present when needed to attend to my father. We were torn between our work, my father, my mother’s inability to provide the level of care he needed, and our suffocating relationship. We delayed having a child. After a long fight on one of those regrettable nights, I stepped out and went to a nearby pub. I met an old friend from college, someone I once used to have a massive crush on. We connected like old times over vodka and sandwiches. And we chatted, flirted, teased, argued and breezed from one topic to another. Time flew. I kissed her. She didn’t stop me. We didn’t realize how long it went. And worse, I didn’t expect someone in the pub to pass that information on to my wife. Someone who was known to us. My obsession with knowing this person’s identity angered her even more. ‘Why does it matter who told me?’ she had raged. ‘All that matters is what you did.’

I admitted my guilt a hundred times. This happened a month after we returned from Europe. Europe, six months back, had come as a much-needed breather but ended up being a mix of fun, fights, fuss, and frivolity. Europe, was our last-ditch effort to infuse hope, create time and find ourselves back in our marriage. Did it help? Creating an eccentric showcase of memories was her way of trying to ignite any feelings left between us. Feelings shaken by my blunder in the pub.

 

‘You know it was not an affair. Far from it. Yet, you allowed your lawyer to quote that as one of the reasons for divorce.’

‘What else I could have done?’

‘What else? How can you lie?!’

‘Lie?’ she smiled. ‘Please let’s just stop. I am sorry, I couldn’t take care of your father. I am sorry I penalized you for kissing your friend. I am sorry I decided to file for divorce and bring a lawyer into the picture. I am sorry I damaged your home by doing so. Alright? Now, please, let’s not talk.’

‘When did you stop loving me?’ I was dumb to ask that. Horrible timing.

‘Please drive.’

 

I drove fast for the next few minutes, but then reduced the speed after she clasped herself to the edge of the window. She kept looking out, not turning in my direction for even a minute. For the next half hour, we didn’t speak. She preferred to keep her eyes closed and soak in the breeze—or so it seemed. Her eyes opened when the car went over a ditch, faster than usual. Her eyes met mine and she smacked her lips to hint that she wanted water. I handed over the bottle. Her hair gleamed in the sunlight as she raised her head and drank, holding the bottle a little away from her lips. An act so familiar that a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I watched her out of the corner of my eye. But she hardly looked at me. She hardly spoke. She hardly turned my way. She hardly broke the stillness. I wondered if she ever thought about me as I did about her. She had walked great distances with me but hardly crossed the distance between us. She always maintained the distance. She liked it. She hated a part of me, or hated me. I failed to understand her. Yet, we both could tie ourselves in every knot possible.

I spared a few moments, every now and then, to catch a glimpse of the small things talking to us. Unnoticeable things, in the air, on the ground and in the sky. Things that I thought could defuse our feverish thoughts.

We were approaching a winding road flanked by the mountain on one side and the tea-farms on the other. Our journey was a mix of sharp turns and straight roads. Tea-plants nestled in large groups on our left. How chaotic were they? They had hundreds of leaves elbowing each other to sip that little bit of sunlight that fell on them. But they didn’t sway one bit, they stood wisely. The overshadowed leaves at lower levels were content with the used light that trickled down. They didn’t demand their share immediately. They waited for their turn, for long periods of time, until the upper leaves fell or were cut off. Circumstances ruled. They adapted.

And in between these crowded communities, stood the tall, proud and isolated teak trees. They kept a studied distance from each other. They got their space. They were privileged to shower in fresh air and sun. They didn’t struggle. No one told them to be patient. They basked in glory. But they stood apart.

I turned on the music to distract myself, but Avni butted in, ‘Can you switch it off? I am trying to sleep.’

‘But you are not.’

‘I am trying to. The breeze isn’t letting me.’

‘Normally, people sleep in such breeze.’

‘I am not normal.’ She closed her eyes to shut me up.

 

I glanced to my right. Grey and dull-black rocks were huddled together. Green shrubs separated them. Why did they grow in between the massive, monotonous and lifeless rocks? They found water. Rocks hid a lot of water beneath them; groundwater that was scarce and deep. The shrubs snatched every drop to survive. I wondered where the desperate need to live a life came from. Weren’t they afraid the rocks would crush them? They were. Fear suppressed them. They lived their whole life like repressed, invisible souls. They never spoke out. They breathed. But they formed a relationship with scarcity. And that kind of bonding took some time.

 

‘What are you thinking about?’ She startled me, again.

‘So, you are not sleeping!’ I firmed up my grip on the steering wheel.

‘Answer the question.’

‘I am just looking around.’

‘Oh…. your love for nature,’ she mocked.

‘Don’t dismiss it.’

The road became straighter and easier, and I speeded up, a bit in annoyance.

‘So, what is it telling you right now?’ she asked

‘It?’

‘Your nature.’

For a moment, I considered if she was genuinely curious.

‘That we’re going too fast,’ I quipped, slowing down a little. ‘It is constantly speaking to us, but we have to slow down to hear its messages.’

She shrugged. The kind of shrug that indicates agreement with a bit of indifference. Every gust of wind that lashed us seemed to be driving us more and more apart. Our reactions were polar opposites. Our thoughts were like the teak trees, standing apart, standing tall, and disconnected from each other. I didn’t know how many of our feelings were real… and how many were exaggerated. The only thing we had in common anymore was this journey we were sharing, to a common destination.

She interrupted my thoughts, ‘When you drive down a hill like this, do you ever feel that you will fall?’

‘No.’

‘Aman, I mean, the narrow road, the tea-farms have gone behind us…. we just have the valley by our side. The fencing isn’t great. No barriers here. Do you feel unsafe?’

‘No, because, when I drive with you, I think only about you and me.’

For a long moment, she didn’t speak. She stared at the moving gear. Then, she said:

‘You don’t feel like we are on the edge? Right now? You think you are going slow?’

‘If you tell me to slow down, I will.’

 ‘But you are able to think about two people?’

‘Yes.’ I nodded. ‘It’s hard to keep that in mind every second. But I do. Mostly.’

‘You do… because there is no one here.’

‘As in?’

‘It’s easier to think about us, when it’s just us,’ she said.

‘Like now?’

‘Yeah, like now.’

‘And, how often do we get such a time?’ I grabbed that moment to ask.

‘What about Europe?’

‘That was a long time back!’, I said. ‘And we weren’t alone. There was always a landmark, a monument, a statue, a promenade, some history and if nothing else, the movements of a train.’

‘You want to be completely alone with me?’ She teased, or so I thought.

‘I want to be alone, here.’

‘Live here? On these hills?’

‘Yeah. So, I can touch the clouds when they descend.’

‘So, it’s the clouds, not me.’ She chuckled.

‘Yeah, the cloud-nine feeling.’

The landscape and its quietness had infected us. A little bit of peace…. it crept into the car, somehow. I can’t describe exactly what I felt; all I knew was that I had felt it after a long time. I felt like stopping. I felt like telling her to step out so we could take a selfie together in the meadows, for all it’s worth. Maybe not just that. I wanted her to pause… to absorb the panoramic valley, and the soaring ranges of light-brown mountains whispering to the white clouds that refused to embrace them. I wanted to stop the car and hug her. I wanted to stop.

But we had reached the town. The court-house was only a mile away.

Before the judge and lawyers, we were stiff and cold again, formal and correct. We showed the documents. We answered their questions. We clarified. We thanked the advocates. We left with our files, she clutching hers, and I mine.

We stepped out and it started to drizzle. ‘Such bad timing,’ I couldn’t help thinking. ‘It should have rained during the drive!’ I was being selfish, of course.

The light drizzle changed to a heavy shower. I had no clue what she thought, but I grabbed her hand and we rushed for shelter under a bus-stop. I released her hand, but it felt stiff and hesitant. I didn’t know what to make of it.

 

She pointed to something and said, ‘What’s that?’

‘A tea-shop.’

‘Really.’

‘Yeah!’

‘It’s pretty small and makeshift.’

‘Hmm…’

‘Well, well…. It has something that’s amazing!’ She squinted to catch a glimpse.

‘What?’

‘Look carefully!’

‘Tell me.’

‘You have to see it.’

‘Come on….’

‘Look! It’s something you love,’ she said.

I peered through the falling rain and caught sight of the brown cups without handles. They had kulhad chai!

‘Awesome!’ I stopped short of jumping in delight.

‘Remember you complained every fourth day in Europe!’

‘Yeah, I wonder where else in the world they have it.’

‘Should we have it?’ she asked me.

 

I nodded. We had no umbrellas. And, we were not holding hands anymore. We walked along, with a little bit of distance separating us. We got drenched. No, we didn’t look at each other. We wanted the chai. And, while I can’t be sure of her, I wanted some time. A little more time, for us…. we couldn’t have asked for more.


(Artwork by Manet, At the Cafe