Prose | Juliet Reynolds

We present to you the second part of the excerpt (reprint) from Finding Neema by Juliet Reynolds ( Hachette India, 2013)

When I first entered the Indian contemporary art world in the late nineteen seventies, the atmosphere was much healthier and more motivating than today’s. The art market barely existed and there was more communication and camaraderie between artists. This is not to say that groups or cliques did not then exist. Art politics frequently reared its head, tending to be petty in nature, with artists fighting over the crumbs thrown from the table of the private or corporate collector or from state run institutions like the Lalit Kala Akademi; only once in a while were serious issues raised and the battle lines drawn on ideological grounds. But despite all the wrangling, the environment was quite relaxed and welcoming. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this environment and becoming familiar with the artists and their work. Almost every afternoon or early evening, Anil and I would view exhibitions and then meet our friends in the garden canteen at Triveni Kala Sangam, the multi-arts institute close to Connaught Place, New Delhi’s hub.

Connaught Place was also the scene of the Saturday Art fair, a weekly event marking a strong anti-elitist movement. Anil was one of the best known artists to participate in this regularly, but the leader was his senior, Suraj Ghai, a close friend and, like him, the archetypal anti-establishment artist. Apart from exhibiting their artworks in the park, the participating artists also painted or sketched on the spot with people and landscapes as their subject. I found myself drawn into this activity, in the beginning reluctantly because of my poor skills, but I soon began to enjoy myself; I became quite uninhibited which surprised me a god deal as we often attracted large crowds around us.

Beyond my modest artistic strivings, I learned a lot from the Saturday Art Fair experience. Our interaction with intellectuals and activists from other fields – poets and writers, film-makers, journalists and leftist theatre troupes – was both lively and enlightening. Sometimes there were fierce arguments about ideology and creativity or about how to take on the art establishment. Sadly, the movement fizzled out within two or three years because the logistics of organizing it were too demanding on the artists, many of whom had fulltime jobs. Moreover, the municipal authorities and the police were against it; on several occasions they swooped down on the exhibits and attempted to seize them. Everyone decided to move on to less irksome activities. 


The art world began to change in the latter part of the eighties, and although the change at first was slow and insidious, it would soon become rapid and sweeping. Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in late 1984, the first steps were taken towards opening up the Indian economy, and these were paralleled in art by the invitations extended to Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other international auction houses to hold sales of Indian contemporary art in this country. Sotheby’s also attempted to establish a permanent foothold here in order to gain legitimate access to India’s heritage. Although the attempt was foiled, the notion of an Indian art market took root through the periodic sales held under the auspices of these auction houses, and a new class of art patrons thus emerged. The ones to benefit from this development were the already established artists and some of the lesser known artists belonging to the cliques they controlled. Almost overnight, the prices attained for the works of such artists increased manifold, jacked up by artificial means. A true art market is never created suddenly by discriminatory measures. It grows over time within a regulated structure, encouraged by tax and other fiscal incentives. But in an economy such as India’s, which thrives on black money, no-one had interest in changing the status quo to benefit art.
In the midst of the sham commercialization of Indian contemporary art, I was increasingly turning my attentions away from teaching towards my writing. I was a teacher neither by training nor temperament, but during the near ten years I was engaged in education, I’d enjoyed the experience and had learned a great deal. In order to teach my mother tongue to young foreigners, I’d been obliged to study in depth its grammar so that I could explain its rules and idiosyncrasies in a thorough, logical manner. Expressions, structures and usages I had taken for granted had now become a matter of inquiry and I found this gratifying. I was also rewarded by finally finding use for my years spent studying speech and drama. For one thing, I discovered that teaching the basics of English phonetics helped learners overcome their difficulties in pronouncing the language, and I tried to achieve this in an entertaining way by adopting a somewhat theatrical style when articulating sounds and making them repeat these. I further discovered that drama was a wonderful tool for teaching a foreign language. Through the enactment of sketches, scenes and short plays, some of which I myself wrote, my students picked up spoken English much more rapidly than they did in their language classes.
Despite the satisfaction I derived from teaching my only regret in giving it up was economic. The good experiences it had afforded me did not repeat themselves; rather, as time progressed, I was increasingly landed with spoilt, unmanageable teenagers who made racist remarks about Indians and had little interest in learning. But having a regular income, and a fairly good one at that, had alleviated the stress Anil and I had faced when we began to share our lives.
 The strain of those days had been almost entirely financial. Our relationship was fiery, and we sometime fought fiercely, but we were in the main very happy. Our economic struggle was a mundane matter calling for practical solutions, not diminishing our enjoyment of life. For our first two years we slept on a mattress on the floor and had no fridge, but these discomforts barely bothered me. Paying our rent and bills when we were down and out did cause problems and, Anil was sometimes obliged to sell his paintings at abysmal prices, always a miserable solution for an artist.


Poems| Sophia Naz

"Leisure" (Watercolor on handmade paper) - Sabina Yasmin Rahman

1. Sequestrum

That there was a serration, a separation between sinew and tendency. Zuljinnah, bolting from the fabric of that story. That the stray strand became a floater, a mutt barely above water in eye-seas without shorelines. Makli, where the tombs have been looted but the fishes are still sacred though vanished. The queue involuted to silence while in the corner of another see, Jesus burnt on toast smiles through the irony of smoke alarms, floral tiles and backlash.  So, like Penelope you sit down to the dissection of wings, the hew of long-lostness, a Loch-Ness of a color. This is Imago, this the ghost negative of a Sphinx moth and this HermAphrodite, hovering in between blue and violet,  winged lover and veiled night mare. On your bedside table Ramanujan is drowning in the oil spill of small print. What all has been stuffed inside. One day  you are cleaning out the Hazrat  Bal and here is  Eesa again! All irony vanished from his Kashmiri smile. Because you are a pattern seeking mammal adding a third mind-stripe to the yellow meridian snaking along the grey squirrel-back of the road. Hun-Dun, turtle brain, swimming in your own soup of stubborn phosphenes and marrows, swimming to Khul-na, the jilted mouth of the Sundarban. Somewhere there is still a beautiful forest, nocturnal, necrotic, erotic. This is where you take the bit between your teeth. Braid mongrel Buraqs into bone-spurs, ride them deep as they can go.

2. Bolt From the Blue

In narrow throated alleys, past the usual stations, slow trains of steam rising from the dyeing vats. The only tezgaam your feet, trundle-gallop on the treadle while you guide bibi Singer with a single graze on her gold and oiled obsidian. Doyen of jaundiced inch-tape curling light as smoke around the curves of my adolescence measuring remedies for a rebellious teenage neckline looking to bust out from the hooked himalayas of your patrician nose to the thin tributary, your outstretched tobacco-yellow witness finger to senseless scissoring.

Tailor-master you and I are cutting the same cloth from  opposite sides of the mirror, pencils tucked like  flowers behind our ears. Only, I have made a running stitch, a garland culled from the shorthand of cut-pieces to cup the air with, thread its fraying voile on my knees. I read the falling leaves as if they were passports to the country of loss, finger the indigo stamped exit wounds where gypsy moths hole up sweatshops of riddles and sleepless eyes join the dots of stars while unnameable others in rooms beyond reach, dangle naked bulbs, men exiled from their next of skin, pull out nails and hammer  “befitting replies”.

The only thing that separates us is a single syllable between  arraz, & arz - earth, which unlike this envelope, can never hide the scar. That remains like Sita, a furrow across the forehead caste in stone until death. Even back then there was a voice, simmering in the hems  & seams but now, there are no masters, ji. I choose all my lines, let language be lightning,  bolt from the blue, unlatched

3. Hubbub Dil

In case you are tempted to pity her poet’s heart, musclebound to serve until death and until then much maligned. Sliced splined, closed, indisposed. Tempted to pity the pitter-patter,  surreptitious pater mother, soundtrack behind the lines.  Attempting to pity the passing of passion to pine. Panther-panthi liebling, jaan, jive  & jubna  pigeonholed by libeling jibe. Case in point. If you are. Tempted to twist. Her heart, broken. In too many languages.

Papeeha, Piyush Gham-ka-pyala, angelic angina, cavernous corazon  cubbyhole amphitheater, her piano heart, a grave-length key she plays by the skin of her teeth. See her plumb, her calm turquoise tortoise jug you lurch. Down HermAphrodite! Now she slow-fans, punkah-pens your twinned beating whims.

Now Aparna, leafless heart, desist, but do not cease, soon she will be bereft of serendipity even in these waveless seas.  Pity the perfect monotone of the metronome, if  you will,  not the nocturnes of my circuitous  do-tal, ravenous skinny dip dip drip piping hot dram of dream, she loves me even though I am an incorrigible, inflammable dirigible. Look how she hearts! You may be tempted but you will never unseat Hubbub Dil, the Red Sovereign of Emoji-San!

4. Epitaph

Dear maker of mirrors sculpt me an epitaph from a grain of sand.  Weave its winding bandages into line lengths finer than gravel and coarser than silt into the arboreal cemetery of my tangling. Wrap me in its ribbons of seaweed-shroud as if I was a blind dolphin murdered in the silting mudbanks of the Indus. Even the river has become a beggar, fingers dammed and amputated at the cusp of kissing the mouth of her mahasagar.  Bury me in her remaining  rags of mangroves. There are no more  pages of night left under the neem tree. The monsoon has abandoned this city. Only the mournful signboards of Chinese dentists remain standing. Hoardings among hordes of trash the malnourished buffalos keep chewing and chewing. Death is made of plastic milk diluted with effluent.

Were you expecting me to write another lyric made of tinsel? To open and close chapters as if I were an orphan pinecone constantly weighed in the hexagram of changing light? No matter how many years pass the wind will die at the edge of this slum.  Her funeral will have no feet but will hang endlessly; laundry on the clotheslines that you never cross; her corpse will  smell like the rot of a thousand corrupt officials.  She will always  remain a migrant from the  furthest reaches of your mind. Weaving a story by day and unraveling it at night.  You will lull each other  to sleep pretending iridescence is kerosene, yet another bauble rubbed and rubbled in the graveyards of meaning. Dear maker of mirrors sculpt me an epitaph from a grain of sand. I am ready to write my obituary now. To consign its scissored words to the open wounds of the wind.


Poems | Shazia Nigar

"Girl at the Gallery" (Watercolor and ink on handmade paper) - Sabina Yasmin Rahman

1. Be Kind love

Be kind for having failed your twelve-year-old self's dreams
for having been fired from jobs
where the background score to your life was
tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Be kind to yourself for pronouncing Athena wrong,
for not knowing how to care for a blue-green eyed cat
for having spent warm summer days in a hazy daze of Parvati smoke and dreams in limbo,
for having slept with men who lay on your bed as the sun spilled into your room
while you picked up cigarette butts, used plastic glasses with remnants of last nights drink
and wiped off charcoal feet other guests left behind
and who later said “All I remember is I woke up with my shoes still on.”
Be kind to yourself for not having felt anger then. Be kind.

Be kind to that boy who loved you when you didn't know how to love.
Who smiled as bright as the Narmada sun on a bulging river under velvet blue skies.
Who liked to flirt with other women making you pregnant with jealousy
and unearthed crevices where unknown shadows played pee-ka-boo, be kind.

Be kind to that girl who doesn't hang with you anymore
She is fleeing herself, only later will she know.
She squirms at parts of herself she can't own, you disgust her when you love her whole.
She doesn't know how to be friends, be kind, for she is only a bliss seeking soul.
Be kind to the autowallah who won't go by the meter, he knows Hauz Khas is no village,
it's where the Gods of liberalisation curse Allen's angel faced hipsters.
He can fix a meal and a bit for the cheap treatment his wife gets
at the teeming stinking capital city's chemotherapy cancer cell.

Be kind to the murderer, the fanatic and the rioting Prime Minister
for there is hell raging in their minds, only with kindness can hatred subside.
Difficult is the terrain of a guilt split inner life.
No one wants to be possessed only by their darker side.
Everybody only ever wants to be loved like their baby selves were deprived.

Be kind to those who know the stale breath of hypocrisy,
booze puke nights of veiled shame, namaaz with abbu and ammi.
They know not the freedom your tongue suckled from breasts,
coconut water for one under Gokarna sun and dusty barsaati lived Delhi days.
Freedom that strengthens your prurient white bones and deepens the red flow of your heart
so that it shows on your toes and in lipstick made of pig fat.

Be kind to those who unlike you can sway by a clock
and slide judgement laced looks when you tell them you don't have a long term plan.
You may leave a job if bored, but baby deer eyes pierce you like a sharp beaked bird.
You stretched max-i-mum, and yet can't match society's rhythm. Tch-tch-ta-dum!
Howl: you don't want to save the world, you got to save yourself first! Be kind love.

Be kind to children, kindness is learnt.
Revolution is kindness transforming little minds
into expanded love generators, that breathe life.

P.S: The idea of writing on 'Be Kind' was inspired by an explosive poem by Allen Ginsberg called 'Who Be Kind To'. I have referenced him in the poem but I also wanted to state it clearly.

2. Untitled Poem

At present, lovers meet in the eighteenth century.
Softly marred with the grumble of a land mower and flood lights,
Safdarjung's tomb, sits in meditative poise.
Lovers enter and exit. Some amble along the pavilion,
others hold hands, kiss and bask in the char bagh sun.
They lean on each other, against white marble and red sandstone.
A man spreads prayer mats in the mosque at the East gate.
In this heterotopia of time, believers and lovers prevail.
Centuries later, when the carcass of capitalism
will be the monument of our lives, perhaps they will write,
medieval India belonged to lovers, modernity
was reigned by Hindutva and Fatwas.

P.S: the poem has been written in the context of the threat issued by the Hindu Mahasabha that they will marry off couples who are seen in public on Valentines day. When lovers are being denied the right to love by fundamentalists of all shades it almost appears as though Safdurjangs tomb is giving them refuge. Last week when I went there, apart from the staff the others were all couples and at the mosque in the monument people were preparing for Friday prayers. This co-existence of lovers and believers was striking given the present context. What also struck me was the play of time.

3. Untitled poem

How dare you steal words my nanima needs to soothe her soul.
Five times a day, the words with which my maulvi sahab,
loyal to Allah, gentle to all, calls my brothers to pray.
Did you not hear the soothing strain of azaan at the break of dawn?
“Allah-u-Akbar” is not a death knell, it is a wake up call.
Your bullets have emptied meanings from words.

P.S: This poem was written after the Taliban attack on the Army School in Peshawar where  children where gunned down amidst a shout of “Allah-u-Akbar” by one of the gunman.


Prose | Juliet Reynolds

We present to you the first part of the excerpt (reprint) from Finding Neema by Juliet Reynolds ( Hachette India, 2013)

A painting by Hungryalist painter Anil Karanjai
Source: Facebook page (with permission from his wife Juliet Reynolds)

Anil and I were from very diverse backgrounds, an assertion I make without allusion to our ethnic origins. It was the social milieu we grew up in that most defined our distinctions and made our marriage a rare one. But it was Anil more than me who touched us with an uncommon brush: almost invariably in alliances like ours, the Indian husbands of European memsahibs are the product of the English- educated, westernized classes and with Anil this was demonstrably not the case. Socially and economically of the lower middle class, the medium of his schooling was his mother tongue, Bengali and, until his early twenties, by which time he was already a professional artist, he barely spoke English. From early on in our relationship, I realized he was all the better for this, as he had much deeper roots in his own culture than other Indian men I had chanced to encounter. Yet, at the same time, he was thoroughly cosmopolitan and progressive in outlook. 

The most crucial years of Anil’s intellectual formation were the 1960’s when his hometown, Benaras became a hub of radical politico-cultural activity of both a national and international character. At the very beginning of that unparalleled decade, he had joined ‘Hungry Generation’, an avant-garde group of writers and artists, active largely in Calcutta. Subversive to the core yet supremely creative, the ‘Hungryalists’ had shaken up the establishment to such a degree that some had lost their jobs and were briefly jailed. Covered in a special story by Time Magazine, the group had been closely connected with the Beat movement and had influenced Allen Ginsberg during his sojourn in India. As one of the few visual artists active in the movement, Anil had illustrated their publications and designed their posters. Although he was at odds with the nihilism and anarchy of ’Hungryalist’ ideology, he felt blessed to have been part of a movement that made so vast an impact on modern Indian culture. It was an experience that would mark him for the rest of his life.

In the final years of the sixties, after the ‘Hungryalists’ had gone their separate ways, Anil continued to engage in anti-establishment activities and to create in a cosmopolitan environment. A frequent visitor to Calcutta, a city then fired by the spirit of revolution, he sought out senior artists who could guide his hand and help strengthen his artistic vision. Back home in Benaras, he and other artists ran a collective studio they called the ‘Devil’s Workshop’, and they converted a rundown teashop into the city’s first gallery. For a while they also lived in a commune, a place of intense exchange between idealistic young people from many countries. This was a time when Anil and some of his friends experimented widely with consciousness expanding substances, including LSD and, of course, derivatives of cannabis, then an accepted facet of Indian culture; this was especially so in Benaras, the city of Lord Shiva, where these substances formed an important part of religious practice. But Anil never over-indulged or experimented irresponsibly. Ideologically committed to the far left and determined to become an accomplished artist, he was always passionate and serious-minded. There was no room in his life for self-indulgence, fickleness or frivolity. 

It was many years into our relationship before I came to understand that Anil was never as fulfilled as he had been in the sixties. The immense collective energy he’d experienced during that decade was never to be reignited, and he felt the loss intensely. And because I was never able to compensate for that loss, I have an abiding regret that I missed out on that experience.

I was nine years Anil’s junior and at the time he and his comrades were agents of change in the world around them, I was still a schoolgirl in knee-high brown socks, incarcerated with nuns at a boarding school in south-west England. My mother was an Irish catholic and at the time of her marriage to my English protestant father, she had solemnly vowed that all their issue would be brought up in the faith of the Roman Church. As one who grew up to denounce all forms of doctrine and institutionalized belief, I never quite forgave her for making such a promise on my behalf. Even as a young child, I was blasé about rituals and catechism classes, I found Sunday Mass a torture and I thoroughly disliked most priests and nuns. At first, my mother took this in her stride, thinking I would grow out of it. Sometimes she was even amused by my heretical leanings. She never forgot an incident when, during a Sunday sermon, I complained about the priest who was exhorting his parishioners to donate money to the church fund instead of propagating the message of Christ; though I was only about six, my complaint was audible to the entire congregation as well as the priest; from that time, I was looked at askance by the Reverend father.

But if my mother believed that my non-conformism was just a phase, she would be in for a rude shock as I entered my rebellious teenage years. Like most of her generation, she was entirely unprepared for the advent of the sixties and of the electrifying effects of this era. The voices of the sixties’ anti-establishment culture were heard by my generation irrespective of class and made us feel liberated and euphoric. But because they so manifestly contradicted whatever we’d been taught, they also made us confused and angry. All teenagers experience conflicting emotions, sometimes very violently, but I believe that in the sixties the contradictions we grappled with were especially fierce. I found It impossible to reconcile worshipping John Lennon and loving the Rolling Stones, having been conditioned by a religion that promised eternal hell and damnation for merely skipping Sunday mass, or commanded one to recite a string of Hail Mary’s for thinking ‘lewdly’ about boys.


Anil, too, was a religious dissenter. A Brahmin by birth, he’d already begun to argue with the pundits of Benaras before entering his teens; he’d then studied  in depth the Hindu sacred texts like the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita so that he could take them on, exposing the gaps in their knowledge and the contradictions between the dharma they preached and their actions. Abjuring the caste system, Anil deliberately spent time with people and in places considered inferior or unclear by the Brahmin orthodoxy. Eating beef in the city’s Muslim quarter was one expression of such dissent, and he would grow up to feel protective towards this quarter’s poor inhabitants, mainly weavers and their families, who were vulnerable to attack by Hindu mobs. Once he single-handedly confronted such an entity, challenging its adherents to kill him before proceeding to perpetrate whatever acts of brutality they had in mind; since killing a Brahmin is one of the most grievous sins a Hindu can commit, the mob dispersed in fast and cowardly fashion. Around that time, one of his younger brothers had come under the influence of right wing Hindu ideologues; the differences between the siblings often led to fierce arguments, creating an atmosphere of tension in the home.

The Karanjai family were refugees from East Bengal, casualties of Partition in 1947. Anil was   a small boy when this great upheaval took place, but he had witnessed no bloodshed or communal hatred; he recalled that their Muslim neighbours had been reluctant to see them go and that tears had been shed by people from both communities. Anil’s father had taken the wise decision to eschew Calcutta, where middle class refugees would find themselves facing appalling circumstances, many forced to live in slums; in Benaras, the family’s living conditions would be much more tolerable, humble but not humiliating. Anil’s father practiced homoeopathy, treating the poor for routine complaints; he also tried his hand at running small businesses, but was unsuccessful, so that his six children grew up facing considerable hardship. Anil responded to this situation by becoming independent as early as he could. He never fought with his parents, but from the age of about fifteen he spent most of his time away from home. Having already begun to practice art, he dropped out of school to join his master’s institution where he soon excelled to such an extent that he became a teacher to his fellow students. 

Anil’s independent spirit and his parents’ acceptance thereof ensured that I would encounter none of the difficulties faced by young western memsahibs embarking on marriages with Indian sons, above all Brahmin ones. I had little interaction with the Karanjai family but on the few occasions I visited their modest home in Benaras, they treated me with kindness, warmth and respect. That I attempted to communicate with them in Hindi and with the smattering of Bengali I had picked up from Anil helped a good deal, as they seemed to find this both touching and funny. They had long since given up the idea that Anil would live an ordinary middle-class life, and they accepted our marriage without demur, as though it were an expected and natural occurrence. When we married formally, none of Anil’s family or mine was present. As we had lived together for several years and already thought of ourselves as husband and wife, we were wed privately with only a handful of friends present to act as witnesses. I was very grateful to Anil’s family, as also to my mother, for their progressiveness in the face of so unorthodox a union.


In India, even when visiting the most awe-inspiring monuments, I had never once felt overpowered. Rather, my experiences of Indian art had almost invariably offered me a feeling of wholeness and belonging, of a rootedness in the earth. It would be inaccurate to state that my love affair with India began and ended with art, but it is mainly because of art that I remained here and found a direction for my life. My marriage to Anil had not initially been in the reckoning, for I confess that until we met in the late seventies, I had been unconcerned with contemporary Indian art. I shared the prejudice of most Europeans that the country’s artistic achievements belonged firmly to the past. I had seen and appreciated some of the early 20th century masters of Bengal, but I had written of what I had seen of contemporary artists’ work as derivative and boring.

Anil was to change that view even before we had met; in fact the changed perception he wrought in me was the very instrument of our meeting. Put simply I fell in love with his paintings before falling for him. I had seen a few of them at the home of a friend, a contemporary of Anil’s from Benaras, and I was immediately drawn to the imagery: faces and limbs emerged forcefully from natural forms like clouds, rocks or trees or from man-made forms, mainly ruins. These strange humanized landscapes reminded me of nothing I had seen before and I found them very refreshing and challenging. I was also impressed by Anil’s technical competence and by the breadth of his vision; though his images spoke of suffering and oppression, there was a great positivity, a sense of overcoming, sometimes conveyed with a touch of sardonic humour and occasionally with glimpses of a soft romanticism.

My obsessive desire to meet the artist was maddeningly thwarted by his absence in the USA. In an attempt to overcome this mighty obstacle, I wrote to him offering to organize a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Jehangir, a well-known public gallery in Bombay. My offer was promptly accepted; Anil said that away from India he had felt uprooted and creatively uninspired, and I had provided him with a good reason to return.

Anil and I first came face to face in the early days of 1978, about two months before the scheduled retrospective. After some hesitant moments, unsure of my responses, I knew I was passionately attracted to him. He was a good bit shorter than me but his magnificent mane of Afro hair made him stand tall and was most appealing. As to his face, he had a beautifully shaped, generous mouth, neither too full nor too narrow. But it was his eyes above all that reflected his charisma; huge, luminous and intense, above high, chiseled cheekbones, these spoke of a character that was fiery and dreamy at the same time.

We became a couple almost immediately, a development that gave rise in me to powerful but conflicting thoughts and emotions. On the one hand, our being together seemed not only very natural but also as if we’d been together for eons; sometimes in Anil’s presence I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu, a feeling I rather enjoyed and even desired. On the other hand, I had tremendous difficulty adjusting to my new relationship with a man as commanding as he was. For the first time in my life, I found myself dominated much of the time and this often led to explosions. We decided to defer any decision about our future until after the exhibition, the preparations for which were hectic.
When at last we reached Bombay and the paintings were mounted, the retrospective took place with considerable fanfare and a good measure of success; it was attended by a wide public and received excellent press coverage; a few paintings were sold to appreciative collectors and the exhibition was extended for three weeks at the Chemould, a respectable commercial gallery located above the Jehangir. During those weeks, Anil and I spent some deliriously happy, carefree days in Goa, By the time we returned to Bombay we had resolved to try out a life together. Within a couple of months we settled into our first barsati in Delhi …


Poems | Kenneth Hickey

Sketch by Gayatri Goswami

1. Thus Spake Hector

Achilles’ baneful wrath - resound, O goddess.

i. Shock and Awe

Remus, whitewashed rapper,
MOBO winner 2011,
Gold disc hanging high,
Halcyon sepulchre against grey grey sky,
Demanding gas for his humble humvie hunger,
Sends bright Benny Blanco from the Bronx,
One hell of a pizza chef,
To lose an eye in Faluja,
Six hours and twenty four minutes,
Before the young village girl
catches the stars from a smart bomb shower.
Prickly pear, prickly pair.
They grow dumber by the day.
Schools out.

The Prime minister has a special relationship you understand,
Ambassador over for afternoon tea,
Debates whether to have one lump or two.

Leader of the international community court,
States disaster is imminent.
Rouge Russia vetoes,
Protecting foreign policy imperatives,
Important diplomatic links.
Nothing left to do,
But settle down to plates of escargot,
‘My hands are tied don’t you know!’

CNN weren’t available
to cover the village girl story.
Broadcast priorities the executives say.
Cyclops Benny watches from his bed.
Somewhere the defence secretary
is showing videos of precision carpet bombings,
Flanked by his favourite ribboned general.
‘Watch ‘em go Norman.’
Cue applause.
Israel grabs more desert.
Old Glory fluttering over Texas.
great Britain still values its free press.
Little girl succumbs to her injuries.
Unavoidable collateral damage.

ii. Endgame

Minor mini-clad models
- moulded on media’s martyr Moss,
Sniggering supermodel,
snapped snorting charlie
from ceramic cistern surfaces,
Tomorrow’s trout trappings,
tossed to tarmac and towpath -
amble ably on.
Each a Helen in herself.

Rugby’s running Ruairis,
rampage round ruined revellers,
Blackrock’s borstaled boot boy battalions
bend to batterings bright.
Proletariat papers’ prejudices,
Passed proper for painted pardons.
Poor peoples’ perplexed panting
piles polished plight on plight.

Mother’s maiden meadows
mashed mangled for mortar monstrosities.
Green grass gorged
by greed-fed growling granite giants.
Yet we wage the wigged warriors
working wonders for wealthy wranglers.
These tycoons to trite tribunals trape
tying TD’s to trinkets tight.

The land has paled to darkness
Such are the things you see.
Turn wasted eyes to wasted skies,
Where empty words smile wide for thee.

iii. It Bleeds

It bleeds.

Rust blooming on patchy pile,
Cauliflower red stained
bedroom bile,
Drip by drip,
Draining from me.

Left the last seeker
stranded at Australia’s heart,
Aboriginal activists pleading backpackers not to rise,
‘It is sacred.’
No one listens to dark skins.
‘Where’s the souvenir shop?’

So they tear oil
in my pop up book country
from the heart of peoples’ rosary gardens,
Ancestral houses.
The leader’s painted face crying,
Dark eyes lined
with mascara too expensive to run
The not yet perished ready for the blender,
Mashed beans far too costly
for the King of clowns to afford.
Fiscal limitations abound.
‘He’s not that bad really.’
‘Sufficient satisfaction!’ rating polls declare.

Bring out your dead.

Nothing but corpses now,
Sending auditions tapes to the newest TV show,
Celebrity Slurry Island.
They tear the sad shepherd from the hill,
To burn in their bright twinkling bonfires.
There is no poetry anymore.
I blame Paris.

It bleeds.

2. The Unicycle Paradox

The red blood poppies bloom in June.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.


Hair of raven black claw,
Skin, cold, new silver snow,
Eyes piercing Eventide’s song,
Cat Anna flays to the bone.
Alone he stays the lonesome vigil,
His strength forlorn, faint and freckled,
In solitude watches her emptiness
Of which the golden angels wept.
They are christened children of shadow,
Fine fortune set amiss,
Peering through perfumed visions,
To vandalised each anniversary.
Bronze for the eighth year.
Or so they used to say.
Does anyone remember?
Or first caller wins a t-shirt.
The future’s ghost so seldom glimpsed,
Cruelly blind to the fate of drowning mariners,
For Jesus was a sailor.
Calmly followed the condemned man,
From gallow post to gate.
Childlike through forgotten lines,
Forgotten songs, forgotten airs,
See how they run.
She takes his claw with strength unanswered,
An eagle to all lesser birds.
Aquila chrysaetos.


And in the desert cactus flowers,
Fed by heavens seldom tear,
Pierced thorns with bold colours screaming,
Bloom for paradise regained.
Never more in Hell than when in Heaven.
There amongst the Tuareg tents,
Settles them to fever bed,
To play away the stilted daydream,
Through every twilights dying breath.
Half in that half-light perfection gallops,
Matching stallion’s march for step,
Hoofbeats cracking, breaking white sands,
Waiting on imagined tides.
The salt that would never arrive.
In her eye dark prizes blazing,
Burning iris, pupil spark,
Midnight desert silence cloudless,
Peeling every answer twice.
Here they gain the zenith proper,
Here they touch the fractured skies,
Feel the golden sunlight streaming,
From within the tarnished mouth.


Like the swans sweet silent swimming,
Of her beauty she knows not,
With mortal arms he tries to capture
That which only Gods can forge.
Dipped in death like Hector’s slayer.
Her soul’s not tempered for ceaseless sunlight,
Divine dove of brittle wings.
The world of cracking pots and riddles,
- A fox, a sheep and a sack of hay -
Strips with filed teeth this hard won life,
Scratching tears from rose gentle cheeks,
Burning infants as they lay sleeping.
All the pretty little horses.
But still their love fell, tarnished dew,
Gathered in puddles cool and sacred,
There to stand with babies’ weeping,
Embraced as tightly as mortals dare.
Each tragedy must show its villain,
Each court must name a knave,
Fairytales so full of falsehood,
Follow the crumbs for your salvation.
The second thief would not listen.
Dost not thou fear God?
A question for our age.


His pride, his pride becomes his weakness,
Jealous lips plucked raw and red,
Held others wicked words as gospel,
Forgetting all he saw.
Through the pain she screamed forgiveness,
For deeds and wars not her own,
His madness raging, raw waves tempest,
Burning seas of beauty acrid.
He dried her eyes with fury boundless,
Sin of trumpets calmed her pleas,
Knowing too well his own errors,
Finished every sin.
Till destruction was the shadow,
Of a Samson without sight,
Dragging temples down on pagans,
Screaming his righteousness to the deaf heavens.
He stole her half constructed penance,
Drew passion drop by drop downward,
Mixed it well with spoken spell,
To feed his chocking crop.


In vain she forced a lovers smile,
Alas she cried on high,
She tamed his pain, his rage, his pride,
But never chained his fears.
Now strange ghosts haunt these bloodshot days,
Lessons learnt and lost,
He walk the hills before the dawn,
Draw faces in the dust.
Shifting through old creased bills,
From suppers dark and undocumented,
He sit alone in silent hissing,
Content with evenings song.
For through his veins she dances onward,
Her song, his blood, entwined, ensnared,
Her smile the crescent crackling moon,
For every star that winked to extinction.
There in the pale white lily bloom,
He see those tears once more,
And know by heart the price paid
For the ignorance of men. 



Poem | William Cotter

Australia Felix

Painting by Chintu Das

The wedge- tailed eagle comes alone here, now,
The keeper of winters, summers, murders,
The single voice and the passing shadow,
The wing scribbling down the sandstone ridges.
He it was who saw the feeble sun slide
And erase, the darkness spit sudden fire,
The horses on the steepest slopes, the wide
Eyed children desperate to climb higher,

Heard the straggling acacias lamenting,
In the clean, semi-dark caves the cut short cries
Of mothers. The snub nosed shotguns barking
And the hideous game of hide-and-seek.

But all is calm, now. And across the plain
He carries in silence one people’s shame, another’s pain.


Poem | Leeladhar Mandloi translated by Abhimanyu Singh

Sketch by Rai Ganguly *

विचार घास का तिनका सही

इससे पहले की उनके विचार कर्मकांड की तरह जकड़ लें
मैं बुनियादी सच की तरफ आपको ले जाना चाहता हूँ
इसमें शोर नहीं संगीत की अपूर्व लय है
जिन विचारों की चर्चा आधुनिक मिथक की तरह की जा रही
वे बरसाती नाले के उफान से अधिक नहीं
आपने देखा सत्ता में आने से पहले इसी सोच ने सदियों की
विरासत को ज़मींदोज़ किया
इसकी जगह मंदिर बनाने की अनूगूँज में, वे एक झूठे स्वप्न को
जीवित रखने के नाटक में हैं
उन्हें वो फैलता अंधेरा नहीं दिख रहा जो भजन-कीर्तन के साथ
फैल रहा है
झूठ को छिपाना नामुमकिन है, वह एक दिन ज्वालामुखी की
तरह फूटता है
जनता का कौतूहल एक सीमा तक साथ चलता है
एक दिन वह क्रोध और घृणा में बदल जाता है
वे अभी उत्साह और प्रशंसा के रथ पर सवार हैं
उन्हें रथ के पहियों से अलविदा कहती कीलें सुनाई नहीं दे रहीं
मैं कहता हूँ बुनियादी सच के बिना हर ताक़त एक खोखला
भ्रम है
उनकी भाषा झूठ के आवरण में निस्तेज हो रही है
किराए पर उठा लाए भीड़ को वे ताक़त मान बैठे हैं
वे भूल गये हैं, उतार के बाद हर नदी तटों को सिर्फ़ गंदा कर
जाती है
बुनियादी सच यह है की मनुष्य की जगह ईश्वर को थोपना
अपराध है
वह उस कलम की तरह है जो पेड़ बनने की जगह सूख जाती
वे यक़ीनन उस खाई की तरफ जा रहे हैं जिसमें अंधविश्वासों
का चमकता मलबा है
मैं दोहराता हूँ यह सच की उनके साथ जाना महँगा ही नहीं
ख़तरनाक सपना है
धर्म के बिना जीने का पाठ अकेली ऐसी ताक़त है, जिसमें
असंभव जीत भी कदमबोसी में झुक जाती है
पेशेवर ठगों में उस असाधारण वक्ता को पहचानो, जो प्रचारक

मैं कहता हूँ, झुकने की जगह झुकाने को बनाओ अपना स्थाई
विचार घास का तिनका सही, आकाश को चुनौती दे सकता है

Thought Might Be A Blade of Grass Alright 

Before their thoughts grab us like rituals
I wish to take you towards the fundamental truth
It contains no noise but the unprecedented rhythm of music
Those thoughts which are being discussed like modern myths
They are no more than the swell of a monsoon nullah
You saw that before coming to power this thought process annihilated the heritage of centuries
In the echo of creating a temple in its place, they are play-acting to keep a false dream alive
They don't see the darkness spreading with the bhajan-kirtan
It is impossible to hide the truth, it bursts like a volcano
People's curiosity only goes so far
One day it turns into rage and abhorrence
Right now they are riding the chariot of enthusiasm and praise
They don't hear the spokes of the chariot's wheels bidding farewell
I say without the fundamental truth every power is a hollow illusion
Their language covered in lies is losing its sheen
They are convinced that the rented crowd constitutes power
They have forgotten, every river only dirties the banks as it recedes
Fundamental truth is that it is a crime to impose god in the place of man
It is like the stem that dries up instead of becoming a tree
They are surely moving towards the abyss which contains the shining debris of superstitions
I repeat this truth that to go with them is not only costly but a dangerous dream
To live without religion is the lone power, in which even impossible victory also kisses your feet
Recognize the extraordinary speaker among professional thugs, who is a preacher
I say, instead of bending, make resistance your permanent thought

Thought be a blade of grass alright, it can challenge the sky

* The artist adds, the windmill is inspired by Animal Farm, where it becomes a symbol of industrialism and oppression rather than socialism and development for all


Poem | Stu Buck

so many people living
their lives under such
burning white stars
with such wonder and
passion for unity and
need and will to give
and kiss and love for
all these people who
said yes to life and yes
to each other who did
nothing in fear and did
nothing with regret or
hate but instead truly
knew what it meant to
be human for each of
these people we have
a bullet and a barcode
and no room for such
endless joy inside peace
and such blinding vision
to take us over and see
truly for the first time.

Poem | Pardeep Singh Balyan


I won't even
Button my sleeves
To impress you,
Or pretend not to
Be looking at your
Breasts, when
You lean forward.

The girl at the visa agency
Says I am high risk
Because I am single
Punjabi, and broke,
And only Sumi
Can help do
The needful.

Amrika, Sumi says
It all comes down
To the immigration interview,
And to wear the green shirt,
And to mention that my
Brother-in-law is a doctor
From Atlanta.

But Amrika,
You know
I'll show off
My ink
And my tracks,
And deliberately
Wear my kirpan;

I always do,
When forced to
Walk thru
Metal detectors.

I won't lie
About how much money
Is in my account
Or pay another Balyan
For a copy of his statement,
Just to get a visa.
But Ma'am Amrika,
Be informed that Dilbagh Singh,
Of F Block, Malviya Nagar,
Owes me 1200 rupees.

It's like this:
I can't go twelve hours
Without scoring;
Inside a day,
The dealers of Georgia
Will know my number,
And say,
My man, Balyaaan.

Sumi pretends
Her little brother
Is not a
Jalandhar junkie
Of the first rank,
And that one day
I will be a professor
Of creative writing.
But Ma'am Amrika,
My essay on Rabbi Shergill
And Frank O'Hara
Went nowhere.

I'm telling you;
Besides my sister,
The only thing you've got,
That I need,
I have already.

So I'll wait until
Sumi visits again,
And pocket
The visa application fee.


Poems | RK Biswas

A painting by Hungryalist painter Anil Karanjai
Source: Facebook page (with permission from his wife Juliet Reynolds)

1. Bitter Coffee

There are yolk coloured flowers bursting
out from olive green leaves. The sky right above
them is frothy with clouds. Today is
a breezy, sunny day. Yet what words of love
do I write? How should I address
this welling of sadness, as if a sea swell has emerged suddenly
and drowned too many? Where do I go
from here? This place of abject sorrow to which
you have tethered me.
This is not a bag of salt that I may toss
across my shoulders into the waters and
instantly rinse clean. The sediment
has calcified and now hangs barnacle-fashion
from my muscles and tendons. I have lost
the strength to renew myself. Greet each good
day through the shrouds, of your heart. Yes yours, which mourns
all the time, never seeing how life
blossoms and pulsates around us. You never
hear the movement of air. Never feel the sun’s
brisk touch. You have doused me in tar. Your bile
has hardened my liver. And it seems to me that you perhaps
needed not love, but only a receptacle to pour all
your effluvium in.

2. Headache

There was enough
anger in you then. Enough, more
than enough. Human necks
are soft, twistable things. Human-will
as slim as the waists of ants.

You could have let it loose. Run amok. Taken
pleasure in their fear
-ful respect. There are times
when you still feel that way. Like today.
Like today. You want
to burn your muse down to cinders.
Smash every goddamn
beautiful thing in your present life.
You feel like carving faces today.
You wonder
how each one of them would fare
if you whipped off their security blankets.
would they be able to stand straight?

There are times when you wonder
why you didn’t
take that extreme path. You could
have. You could have.
There was so much anger
in you then. You could barely
hold it. You still
can’t hold it. You still get hot and cold
all over. But you won’t. You won’t.
You won’t ever be able to do
those things. You followed
the rules for far too long.
You’re old. You’re soft.
And these days when you rage
you only end up with a headache.

3.  How we bring happiness into our lives

We gloss over the immeasurable cruelties
encountered on an ordinary day in the ink
of newspaper, the glare of television screen
and soft soulful, nurturing conversations.
We turn down the lids of our eyes. Just like
the snail beneath a rain of clods, we create
a protective carapace for our tender most parts,
which may or may not be our hearts,
but that is a nonessential requirement. We
walk around with a nonchalant
air. Insanely unaware of our daily
annoyances in the shape of those who dare
to scratch against the window panes
of our cars with their dirty fingernails.
But we listen to poetry even when
the vapours within threaten
to turn toxic. And then we turn to flip
through the pages of meaningful books;
we go to art exhibitions, watch sad films
and classical dance. And at the theatres
we are immaculate. We’re so often vegetarian,
and even buy Ahimsa silk and chic handloom.
Our children are polite. They do well at school.
All said and done our lives are neat
and tidy. We are in sync. We never miss a beat.
We never forget to offer a drink,
even when we are on the brink
of a teeth gnashing, hair pulling,
saliva spewing situation. Eager to pour
more venom into the air than
a spitting cobra’s fangs. We are clean.
We keep our lives clean and free
of disorder. We take great care
never to become the other. And we


Poems| Shakti Chattopadhyay translated by Arunava Sinha

Shakti Chattopadhyay used to be associated with the Hungryalist movement that took Calcutta by storm in the 60's. However, he later went his own way.
Source: http://www.parabaas.com

There’s no fixed day or time to visit the forest
You can go to the jungle whenever you like
Whether to pick leaves or to swing an axe
There’s always a generous invitation to the forest
Have you ever walked with the moon in the forest?
Have you seen it sliced by a saw of leaves?
Like a football the moon is poised over the hill
Waiting for the late night game and the war cries
At these moments you can visit the forest


Try just once to love
You'll see rocks tumbling from the breast of the fish in the river
Rocks rocks rocks and the river and ocean water
Blue rocks turning red, red rocks, blue
Try just once to love

It's good to have a few rocks in your heart - they echo sounds
When every walking trail is treacherous, I can arrange the rocks one after another
And go all the way to the distant door of autumn's pale stars for a look
At the naked use of poetry, of waves, of Kumortuli's idols in gaudy, sequined, embroidered costumes.

It's good to have a few rocks in your heart
There's no such thing as a letterbox - leaving it in the cracks in the rocks is good enough
The heart does want to build a home sometimes.

The rocks in the breast of the fish are slowly occupying our hearts
We need it all. We shall build houses - erect a permanent pillar to civilisation.

The silver fish left, shedding rocks
Try just once to love.


I have seen postmen wandering in the autumnal forest
Their yellow sacks filled with grass like swollen sheep bellies
So many letters new and old they had found
Those postmen in the autumnal forest
I have seen them pecking away incessantly
Like a solitary crane at a fish
So impossibly, mysteriously, warily absorbed
They're not like those postmen of ours
From whose hands our constant, indulgent love letters
Are lost all the time

We are moving away from one another continuously
Distancing ourselves out of greed for letters
We are getting many letters from far away
We are going away from you at once to hand over letters
Loaded with love to the postmen

And so we are moving away from the kind of people
We are ourselves
And so we are about to express our foolish weaknesses
And motives, everything
We can no longer see ourselves in the mirror
We keep floating in the unpopulated evening veranda
And so we are taking off our clothes to be swept away
Alone in the moonlight
For a long time we have not embraced one another
For a long time we have not savoured human kisses
For a long time we have not heard people sing
For a long time we have not seen babbling children

We are drifting towards a forest even more ancient than the forest
Where the mark of eternal leaves is fused in stone jaws
We are floating away to a land of such unearthly connections
I have seen postmen wandering in the autumnal forest
Their yellow sacks filled with grass like swollen sheep bellies
So many letters new and old they had found
Those postmen in the autumnal forest
The distance between letters has only grown
I have never seen the distance between trees grow


Why must you go early? Let the hours pass, sever
All bonds before leaving. Like a torn-off vine
Like a melancholy man in a crowd of laughter

Why must you go early? Let the hours pass, sever
All bonds before leaving


I'll ask my old sorrow to visit me today
I sit here, there's some shade, if sorrow sat by my side
I'd like it, I think I'll tell my new sorrow, go away
Wander about in some other garden of happiness
Destroy flowers, set fire to green leaves, ransack the place
After some time, when you're tired, come back
Sit by me.For now, make room for my old sorrow
It's been in many gardens and homes, slashed and burned,
And wants to sit by me now. Let it stay a few days.
Let it find peace. Companionship. Come later.
Come afterwards, my new sorrow.


Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet
Breast in breast
Nothing more - (a lot more?) - even earlier
Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet, breast in breast
Nothing more.
'Hands up' - raise them high - till someone picks you up
Another black van in a black van, and yet another
A row of windows, doors, a graveyard - skeletons lying awry
White termite in the bones, life in the termite, death in life - therefore
Death in death
Nothing more.
'Hands up' - raise them high - till someone picks you up
Throws you out of the van, but into another one
Where someone waits all the time - clutching plaster like a banyan seed
Someone or the other, whom you don't know
Waits behind the trees like a hardy bud
Holding a golden cobweb noose, he will
Garland you - your wedding will be at midnight, when pavements are swapped, tottering from head to toe
From wall to wall, from parapet to parapet
Imagine the train waiting while the station runs, starlight by the dying bulbs
Imagine the shoes walking while the feet are still - heaven and hell turned upside down
Imagine children trotting to the crematorium bearing the corpse - in afterlife
Decrepit men dancing horizontally at a wedding

Not a very happy time, not a very joyous time
That's when
Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet, breast in breast
Nothing more.


Take a step down if you want to stand by me
Take a step up if you want to stand by me
Stretch your arms out, cut your ties to the world out there
One step up and one step down, if you want to stand by me


From Mikir Hills the elephants come down late at night
Tea-gardens below, the shade-giving trees shed leaves
Clouds hang from the dark brown branches all in a row
The bungalow beneath. Even lower, the dishevelled waterfall

I sit in a corner of the veranda, watching the west
In case something catches my eye or misses my eye
With this hope I sit here, sit here watching the west
Silent like rocks in a corner of the veranda

At dawn I'll see my reflection in blue water and leave
I may never return, from Mikir Hills the elephants
Will come down late at night in single file, like rocks
When stones collide there will be bloodshed in the veranda


You are safe now, death can no longer threaten you
It won't cast a long shadow on the distance at your door
Won't break your bones, your home - this ascetic world now
Will do nothing that bears the sinful touch of humankind
Because it was there you tried to provide whatever there was not
The fullness of the goat and the echo of emptiness were yours alone
Whatever was spartan was intense in the stone when it existed
In beauty and in heart, in your wayward manic soul
Trust and fear lived together - once troubled, Bengal is reassured
No one else is there now to torment with lightning whiplashes
This mediocrity, this wealth, this satisfaction within people
You have left, audacity has departed, humility has arrived
You languish like burnt stones here by our side in Bengal,
Ritwik, for you the insignificant poet cries in grief


The boy wraps sleeping arms round his cruel father
Who's always travelling to cities, forests, remote lands
Constantly rushing from one place to another
I'll be back soon, he says, and goes away abruptly

The child won't go along, his arms have grasped the man
It's even possible the father will ignore these bonds
And leave at the dead of night, forsaking everything
Memories will be left, the warmth of a memorable bed
Why does he do this? His son does not understand
What mad attraction, what company takes him away?
What disease is this that no medicine can cure?
The boy wraps sleeping arms round his cruel father


I hadn’t asked for it, still the rain, like galloping hooves
Rang out on the tin shed, flowers were sprinkled on the road
A stain trickled down the garbage hillock, a different
Black torrent facing ugly houses instead of bungalows
Of Calcutta, the rain came, the rain flooded the bylanes
Swept away stories, rags, fish scales and peel, everything
The humidity in middle-class homes, policies of
Strewn scraps of paper, voting ballots, dry wood shavings -
All of these. From the rain to the picnic in the rain, all of it
Is useful for Calcutta, dead grass – that’s useful too
The labour-room on one side, crematorium ashes on the other
Birth and death, all the details, are neatly arrayed in the rain
In a satin case inevitable lumps of cottonwool rest
The rain goes to bed a little late on Calcutta’s breast


Some flowers arrived on my birthday
Amidst the impossible happiness and laughter and music
A cat climbed up the stairs, counting out
Fifty-two steps of its paws, carefully
A spiral iron staircase, atop the stairs
Unobserved by anyone, atop the black stairs
Only I saw
Its hesitant manner
Its melancholy

Some flowers arrived on my birthday
They've wilted now