Poems | Chris

Photo Credit : LeeLa

Comfortable silence

The quiet four had been sitting
in silence around the fire,
by thoughts and words,
for several hours

The moon traveled slowly
across the night,
crickets and frogs sang,
owls hooted and dogs howled
and the leopard walked quietly around,
waiting for a chance to grab
something to eat

The fire was kept low,
and now and then it would be fed
another log

Flames lept and flowed,
embers glowed
and wood slowly turned into ash

The stars and the planets
flew quietly by,
and one by one
the fire watchers rose
and made their way through the dark
and to their beds
until just one was left
at the fire's side,
keeping it company
a little while longer

And when the moon was halfway
to the other side,
he too got up
and returned to his hut

Into the dark

The smell of honey drifted
from the hive near the top of the eucalyptus tree
and mingled with the flames
that licked and danced their way
along the log that lay
upon the glowing embers
of those that had gone before
into the fire,
caressing the wood
as it shed its story
and turned into smoke and ash

The story that had been ingrained in the tree,
the record of what had occurred before,
vanished without complaint,
and as the glow of the embers flowed
among the cinders and the ash,
two friends rose and walked into the dark,
leaving their stories behind

Cat wisdom

Eat and drink,
sleep and play,
be quiet, observe and listen,
make love
and do nothing at all

Enjoy the company of others
and be happy alone

Purr and flow

Be simple

Be natural

Just be

A locomotive has no need for wagons

Through the lush greens of a late tropical summer,
a locomotive made its way down the tracks
pulling some wagons behind,
one for each year
it had been alive,
filled with memories and emotions,
weighing it down

And one day it realized
that it had no need for wagons
and all they contained,
so it uncoupled them
and let them fall behind

Free of the past
and without a thought in its mind,
the locomotive continued on,
enjoying the ride
and reflecting for a moment
now and then
whether to go left or right

Read other poems by Chris here


Prose | Uttaran Das Gupta | Part 2/2

Photo : LeeLa

Lunch at Mocambo*(continued) 

When it was nearly half an hour to midnight, Prabuddha agreed to drive us to St Paul’s Cathedral. Adhiraj, his girlfriend Ecaterina (a Romanian student of Bengali at the university), and I, along with Kanishka, a serious-faced guy who was completely drunk, got into the back of the blue Esteem. Sankalita sat in front. Kanishka sang “Silent Night” all the way.
It was foolhardy of us to imagine that we would be able to get in arriving so late. There was already a large and boisterous crowd at the church. Serpentine queues made their way from the enormous wooden doors of the 19th century gothic edifice, through the large grounds and gardens, nearly up to the iron gates on Cathedral Road. Almost everyone seemed to be wearing red and white or some shade of either colour; we were conspicuous in black and grey. The cold wind did not seem to bother anyone, most of whom were anyway drunk. Those interested in the religious proceedings had arrived early and taken their seats in the church. The larger crowd of latecomers comprised mostly revellers, most of whom were not Christian. A group of schoolgirls sang “Joy to the World” and “Rudolph”.
“Can’t we go somewhere else?” said Ecaterina when it became obvious that we wouldn’t reach the altar before dawn.
“But Manish said he would come here,” protested Sankalita.
“I want to light a candle and pray.”
“You can do that at the manger,” suggested Adhiraj.
The manger was quite elaborate, with coconut trees and camels of the Magi in the background of the stables where Mary sat cradled with the Babe, guarded by a hawkish Jacob. Too many candles had been lit in front of it and a sea of molten wax separated it from the gravel path where we stood.
“How quaint!” said Ecaterina.
“Jacob and Mary and Jesus look more Arab than I have ever seen them. And look at the Magi: isn’t one of them Chinese?”
“But they were Arabs,” said Prabuddha. “There’s hardly any difference between the native Israelites and Arabs. And the Magi were eastern wise men.”
Ecaterina laughed, kneeled down and started to mumble a prayer.
“I never understood why the fuck was Jesus born in a stable,” said Adhiraj.
“They — Mary and Jacob — had to travel to Bethlehem, and since she was pregnant, they kept postponing their travel plans till it was absolutely necessary to do it,” replied Kanishka, slurring all the while.
“But why did they have to travel to Bethlehem?”
“Israel was a part of the Roman Empire, and the Emperor — Augustus Octavious Caesar — wanted to conduct a census. So he ordered all his subjects to return to their native places. Jacob lived in Nazareth but he was from Bethlehem.”
“Wow!” said Adhiraj, slapping Kanishka on the back. “Where did you learn all this?”
“Ben Hur.”
After Ecaterina finished praying, we returned to the car to find Manish leaning against it, smoking. When Sankalita saw him, she squealed in delight, ran to him, put her arms around his shoulders and kissed him passionately on the mouth. Manish reciprocated with equal passion.
Prabuddha coolly lit a cigarette and waited for them to disengage.
“I’ve got some news,” said Manish, “about The Derozio Project.”
No one said anything. Only Kanishka stumbled to the edge of the pavement, got down on his hunches, and started to throw up violently, punctuating his ejaculations with abuses hurled at Adhiraj for having slapped his back so hard.
Blowing a ring of smoke, Manish uttered almost inaudibly: “Rohini.”
Prabuddha and he looked at each other for a minute and then started laughing.

With her head bowed low over a plate of unfinished food, Rohini whispered to me: “I didn’t know. I didn’t know till the next morning when I read it in The Nation.”
I held her hand. “I was furious,” she said. “I was so angry that I kept crying the whole day.”
“Was it then that you…?” I didn’t know how to complete the sentence.
“Yes, that afternoon: No one was at home. I asked Melagrinia — you remember her? — to prepare a hot bath for me. Then, I took a bottle of wine and a blade, and got into the bathtub.”
Suddenly, it seemed to me that the bulwark of Mocambo’s acoustics had collapsed and we were exposed to the unbearable noise of cutlery and conversation. We finished our drinks hurriedly, and left.
Out on the pavement, the glaring sunlight reflecting off every available surface assaulted us, forcing us to seek shelter under a hanging veranda and put on our shades. Rohini lit a cigarette as we were not quite done with our conversation.
“I have often wondered what prompted you,” I said.
Rohini considered my question for a full minute before answering. “Are you familiar with the works of James C. Kaufmann?”
I was not; she explained: “He is a psychologist. In 2001, he coined a term you may be familiar with: The Sylvia Plath effect.”
The term was familiar. It referred to the propensity among female poets — more that artists and prose writers — to succumb to depression, mental illness and suicide.
“You mean to say that you had a case of the Sylvia Plath effect?” My tone must have been a tad incredulous because Rohini laughed.
“How can I tell?” she said. “The jury on whether such a thing exists or not is still out. But I have been reading up on it, and Kaufman, I must say, makes a compelling case.”
Before I could respond, something rather strange occurred; so strange, in fact, that it threw our conversation completely off track.
A woman who was passing by, approached us, and said: “Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Can I talk to you for a few minutes? Thank you. You see, I run a shelter for stray dogs and cats…”
As the woman tried to explain to me how she found it embarrassing to solicit help from absolute strangers for her noble enterprise, I took a close look at her: she was short and lean, with dirty hair and bad teeth. From her accent, it was obvious that she was Anglo-Indian but her English was not too good. She had nervous eyes and her uneasy fingers were caked with dirt. The blouse and skirt she was wearing were unwashed and gave off a musty smell.
Even before she had finished speaking, Rohini started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” said the woman, making no attempt to conceal that she was offended.
“You’ve got very bad memory,” said Rohini. “We’ve run into each other before. Don’t you remember?”
 The woman didn’t say anything. She just stood there staring at me.
Rohini said: “Get lost before I call the police.”
Our curious interloper stood for a few seconds, considering the situation. When she realised there was no profit in it, she walked away, muttering abuses.
“What was that?” I inquired.
“She is a regular feature on Park Street. A junkie, a cokehead, she usually tries to dupe schoolchildren. I’ve come across her before. When I challenged her to take me to the shelter, she bailed out. Anyway, where were we?”
I tried to gather my thoughts. “I was wondering: Did you ever talk to Manik Sarkar about the results?”
“No, what was there to talk about? It was obvious why I had been given the prize. Bloody insulting! I cut all communication with him.”
“Didn’t he try to communicate with you?”
“Of course he did. When I stopped replying to his calls and texts, he started sending me messages through my father. That’s when I moved out of home.”
Our conversation was interrupted yet again by the cat woman. This time, she was accompanied by a police officer.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he said, addressing Rohini. “I’ve a complaint against you.”
“This lady here…”
“She is a con. She claims to take money for ailing animals, but…”
“It’s not about that,” said the officer, holding up a palm. “This lady has complained about you smoking.”
Flabbergasted, Rohini stared at him. “I don’t understand.”
The officer explained, patiently: “Don’t you know it’s illegal to smoke in public? Also, it is rather indecent for a woman to smoke at all.”
My friend blushed in fury. “How dare you!”
“I’ll request you not to scream…”
“I’ll do exactly as I feel like! Who the fuck do you think you are to tell me what’s decent and what’s not?”
Ignoring her outburst, the officer turned to me: “Please restrain your wife.”
“She’s not my wife.” My voice was choked with indignation.
A small crowd had gathered around us, drawn by the shouting.
“What’s the matter?” asked an elderly gentleman.
“You see,” said the police officer, “this young lady was smoking in public, and when I tried to tell her it was indecent to do so, she started abusing me.”
“Look at her,” cried the cat woman, “drunk in the afternoon, making a nuisance on the road!”
“I drink with my money, not by conning others.” Rohini’s voice was also hoarse.
The elderly gentleman, in an attempt to placate her, said: “The officer is right. It is indecent for sons and daughters of good homes to behave like this.”
“I’m not going to listen to your lecture now!”
“Listen to me: I am like your father.”
“No!” cried Rohini, angry tears streaming down her face. “You are not like my father. You can never be like him.”
“Who is your father?”
She declared his name. It had an amazing effect on the crowd. A hush seemed to descend on it, the muttering stopped. The curious onlookers started melting away in twos and threes.
Rohini turned towards the police officer. “Arrest me, why don’t you?”
The officer seemed unsure. “I’ll not arrest you,” he said, “but I’ll give you a warning.”
“Okay, warning taken. Now get lost.”
The crowd had dissolved, the cat woman had disappeared. The police officer, too, hurried away.
“Are you okay?” I asked Rohini.
She was laughing. “It’s becoming impossible to live in this city. When did it become so moralistic? Anyway, I must go now.”
Rohini put her arms around my neck and hugged me. “I love you.”
We started walking towards our cars. 
“Did you get a call from one Inspector Arijit Sen?” she asked.
“Who’s that?”
“He is the investigating officer in Manish’s case.”
“What’s there to investigate?”
“The police have to ascertain whether it was a suicide or not. Inspector Sen interviewed me the day before yesterday. He took your number from me. I guess he will call you.”

The prospect of meeting a police inspector about Manish’s death did not please me in the least, but I guess it was inevitable.

This is the second part of the two part extract we published at TSC.You may read the first part here.

*An extract from Uttaran Das Gupta's Novel 'Hungry', or 'In This Inclement Clime of Human Life', first published in TSC.  First published in TSC

Poem | Ajmal Khan

Artwork : Aakriti Kuntal

J&K Exit

A     The line called Kashmir wanted to exit from poem India or I
          and don't want to join the poem Pakistan or P either
But some words in the line were desperate to join in India
    and some to join in Pakistan

B     Some letters in the line K frequently shout Azaadi Azaadi, a banned word in India
In Delhi the center of  poem I, these letters are called Jihadis
and they sent as many as editors who needed to edit these letters and delete them

C They edit the letters without considering  small letters, capital letters, feminine, masculine or any other
Line K has undergone for editing and re editing many times from 1947 than any other lines in the poem and more than ten thousand letters have been deleted so far
Feminine letters are being raped and molested by editors and young letters are
deleted more

D During monsoons the line K will be flooded and few editors will help
letters to take refuge in the poem I
In the I-poem these images get circulated as the rhythm of the poem

E     Most of the times the poem I will declare, line K is the integral part of the poem
I have created a new grammar for the line K, its called AFSPA
and its strictly followed on the line K

F   Go back India, Go back India, shout some letters in the line K
that will again attract for editing and further deleting
Some letters even editors don't know where they have gone, they are known as D letters, or Disappeared

G       The broken letters in the line K are called H&W
H for half and W for widow
They also shout  Azaadi, Azaadi.
Seeing this, few letters and words from the poem I will stand up for K
Rest of them will shout, K is our integral part while the editing and deleting continues.

Poems| Sartaj Ghuman

Photo : Leela

tête-à-tête 101

when they ask
so where are you these days? or
what do you do these days?
they don’t mean, how do you live?
far less, what do you live for?

what they’re asking is
what do you do for a living?
just smile and say, this and that
if you don’t have an answer for the giving

because, poetry, is not an answer
they’ll understand

they don’t mean
what do you do with your time?
they mean, what do you do about the money?

sorry to disappoint

he would always say
how glad he was that we’d turned out to be
such independent, well-balanced adults, we three
and caring too
as if his reiterating it
would make it true

a lonely winter night’s song

a year went by and then another
another orange summer chased by the rains
and now the snow is on the mountains again
soon we’ll have frost where there now is dew
another winter’s here and no sign of you

your memory was supposed to fade away
but fonder the heart has grown
grown steadily like the poplar trees
that we planted along the canal that feeds
the fields that together we ploughed
tall they stand proud and stout now
and with their leaves all dancing their heads sway
in the winds that will bring back the birds to the lake

and if only they would bring you too
what wouldn’t i give, what wouldn’t i do
to share with you a thermos of tea
watching another sunset from the hilltops
with our heads in the clouds and the town at our feet

and our airy conversations carried by the breeze
when you always mocked thoreau
were fascinated by chatwin’s books
and by sartre and proudhon
and though you thought nothing of his poetry
had behind your door that one photograph of rimbaud
him in harar, standing brazenly in white
harar, where they feed the hyaenas at night

i remember the last conversation we had
though how could i have known that then?
it was on the hill beyond the last aspen stands
where we’d gone riding far outside town
at sunset the sky was shredded into flaming bands
and you were thinking out aloud
about why - when they can fly to distant lands -
do the crows keep coming back

why don’t they just fly on and on
and now you’ve been gone so long
while here i am, alone with this quaint old song
as the days get shorter every day by a furlong
and sooner descends every twilight
ahead of time at dusk the cold nights arrive
all day in the fields to stay busy i strive

but what can i do when the blanket of stars unfurls
above clear violet skies? lonely by the coal brazier i sit
singing, if you’ve seen enough of the world
won’t you deign to pay me a visit?
for now the snow is on the mountains again
and soon we’ll have frost where there now is dew
another winter’s here and
it’d be nice to see you

one rainy evening

the bus stopped in the driveway
ten meters away
from the front door
it was raining so hard
we had to shout out loud
to make ourselves heard

she stood in the queue in front of me
and we saw two people leave
hunched over she peered nervously through the window
her pale hand resting on the back of a seat

then it was her turn and
she prepared to make a dash for it
tucked her purse under her left arm
and wrapped tight her woolen scarf
but misjudged the first step she took
and fell hard on her face on the asphalt

a love poem

i’d slip out for quiet walks on the terrace
when you thought i was in bed asleep
and then much later with the dogs
at night i walked the streets
while you slept for it kept
bothering me
that that was not where i belonged
and so i longed to be somewhere, somewhere else
don’t ask me where for i don’t know yet
you remember the time we argued about careers
your monologue that left me in tears
and i said i’d be happy
breaking stones by the roadside
i was young then and rather naïve
and i think i’ve changed my mind
since. i wouldn’t want anymore to break
them, just balance them in cairns
by the sides of the many roads that i take
and on the mountains, by the passes that i pass
i wish you could see it but alas
we’re very different people
i want you however to know
that i see your point of view
i understand your insecurities
and i don’t hold them against you
but i can’t help but plan my escape
while you think i’m hard at work
to the shadowy world you know nothing of
where crazy dreams and passions lurk
i know you will not understand
why i must do what i do in my turn
and it is beyond me it to describe
so please just sit there and watch me burn
but i want you to know that this isn’t a diatribe
it’s a love poem

Poems | Rohith

Artwork : Matthew Bialer 

(after reading a gazetteer of Anantapur written in 1905)

Muslamma* cried for the last time, as she sank into the turbulent river, "memories are lifeless" - the scream pervaded in air etching an acoustic boundary around this region. The locals believed for a long time, that her sighs could be heard under a Margosa tree- but one day, when an impertinent lady screamed 'O Musalamma! Hast not thy yet drowned?' she became silent forever.
Naked women descend from waning crescent of moon onto the tip of Mallappakonda* hill, where there is a shrine of a local goddess. By morning, the priest reckons, on finding the traces of menstrual blood and moist footprints.
An old man whispered in his disturbed sleep, "...the time when famine and cholera* hurled Anantapur to irrecoverable destinies. Children, their stomach stuck to their ribs, cried with hunger, in sweltering darkness of prolongated nights. The shadow of death loomed from the infamous gibbets where bodies of thugs, bandits and thieves were suspended. Feverish winds licked the dead crop, as sand rose like hood of a snake. A bull rendered as a sacrifice to a black stone, whose jugular vein bled rivers of light, trembled on the infertile soil." The old man sat from his sleep and murmured "Drought is a nightmare".
Evening, you rove in the sinuous streets of town. The sensation of retreating light licks your sole like a tender tongue of a ruthless beast. When you realise that you are lost irredeemably, you hear a racket of laughter and smell of ocean. As you follow your senses, you encounter a canal and ladies taking bath. They welcome you to disrobe yourself and join their company. You go farther to find an arid desert with shaking mirages and last words of dead farmers soaring as winds .
By the time you return, all you remember about Anantapur is a skeleton of fish, stuck in a cast-net.

*Myth has it that Musalamma, a young damsel, threw herself into a swelling river as a sacrifice to Gods , to protect the village from devastating floods.

*Mallappakonda hill is the highest landscape in Anantapur district, crowned with an old temple of Shiva.

*famine and cholera of 1850-70 in Madras Presidency which constituted Anantapur in Colonial times.

Vidrohi's Poem

I saw your poem on the road 
 a bidi in mouth, 
 puffing circles of smoke,
 a blanket around its neck-
 It was wearing your 
old tailcoat and tattered pants- 
 I knew that it was your poem,
 the very moment I saw it.

It was trying to cross
 this national highway of time,
 this road on which 
 young students puked, on their way
 to home from a tavern- 
 this road where revolutionaries
 were hit by relentless vehicles,
 this road that endured 
 ages of amnesia, 
This road that doesn't give a damn 
 for a poet or his poetry.

 I'm a poet too shy, 
 to ask your poem 
 to take me to the other side.
 Instead, I ask for a matchstick
 to light my bidi.


TSC Interviews | Andy Clausen

The Sunflower Collective (TSC) recently interviewed Andy Clausen, a Beat poet and a close associate of Allen Ginsberg and other Beats. Clausen has taught at Naropa University and given readings and lectures at many universities, prisons, poetry conferences, and cafes at home and around the world. He is presently working on memoirs of his friendship and adventures with Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and many others of the Beat Generation.

Source : http://www.woodstockpoetry.com/

TSC: First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. We would like to know your opinion on the relevance of the Beat Generation today- more than 60 years after Howl was first read in public.

AC: I view the Beat Generation in at least two ways. One, as a historical, poetic, social revolution and renaissance, the other, that it is a living movement. For myself, I reject Neo-Beat and Baby Beat, maybe After-Beat. So what was it and what is it? Beat.

It certainly wasn't a literary style. Look at Ray Bremser and Gary Snyder — couldn’t be more different — no style, no subject, was taboo; it had to swing, to be with the flow, (of) the tremendous energy of the post World War II times. I once opined to Allen Ginsberg that the Beats had been the antidote to the Cold War and, if they hadn't influenced the American culture, we probably would have had a "Hot War". The Beats were not for censorship, self or other. It was a rebirth of freethinking, the search for and living out of meaning. We live in unbelievable times. Political satire is made impossible because reality seems to be satire and, to any thinking person, painful.

Not to say there wasn't tragedy, anger and abuse, but its goal, its heart, its dynamic impetus, was free thought, non-violence, anti-domination — socially, economically, militarily, sexually.

TSC: The Beats have been criticized for the way they treated their female associates and for lack of women writers in the group. How far are these allegations valid?

AC: The women of the BG were marginalized. The male prerogative still had a strong cultural hold in the early days of Beat. I think if you look at the other realms of society at the time, you would find the Beats more tolerant and supportive than the academic world, the sports world, business world, church world, and ordinary middle and working class homes. Yes, the women wound up cleaning the houses, or  it didn't get clean, and were often regarded as "sidekicks", acolytes, housekeeping wage earners, and especially as sexual partners for the men. They  were often treated better by gays than by horn dogs.

Diane DiPrima, Janine Pommy Vega, Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Lenore Kandel, Anne Waldman did and are receiving recognition. In the closely related category of women of color, there are many outstanding Beat-like poets, Jayne Cortez, Wanda Coleman, Sonia Sanchez, Amina Baraka. I'm looking forward to what's to come.

TSC: Why do we need to read the Beats today? Do you think the Beat Generation literature is limited to an idea of an era that has passed or, do we see a growing influence of these styles among new writers/poets today?

AC: Almost all modern American poetry has been influenced by the Beats. The opening up of subject matter, the incorporation of the language of the underworld, of the immigrating cultures, making it through a huge war and now living with the atomic threat, the integration of the military and schools, and expansion that was previously unseen had been inseminated with Beats. I can name a few hundred poets writing today who would fit comfortably under the Beat tent.

We need to read the Beats today to remember how poetry can teach and reach down into one’s solar plexus, how poetry can inspire action, how it can bring sanity and exuberance into everyday Samsara.

TSC: Purists (especially those dealing in poetry) believe that Beat generation was more about pop culture than poetry. What is your opinion on that?

AC: Who are these purists you speak of? Why are they pure, because all their work is in an ancient historic form? They have no adulteration?

The works of Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, Burroughs, Bremser, Vega, Di Prima, Kandel, Micheline, Perkoff, Snyder, could not been more anti-pop culture. One must not confuse accessible language with pop culture which was pretty much the enemy of the Beats as much as Academia. The ignorance-worshipping, materialistic-blending and dulling-jingoism  of the pop culture was what we dedicated our lives to enlightening. Prime examples of this is, (the poem) "The American Way" by Gregory Corso; in fact the whole book Elegiac Feelings American is a terrific example; "Death to Van Gogh's Ear", "Television Baby Crawling Toward that Death Chamber" and "Sunflower Sutra" by Allen Ginsberg; "First They Slaughtered the Angels" by Lenore Kandel. When one starts reading Vega or Bremser, they know Janine & Ray don't listen to pop music, maybe they write about sex and that's pop-u-lar. One shouldn't confuse the Campbell soup cans with the Beats. There are similarities and crossovers. We don't have a TV. We sit around the campfire, read poems, play some music, tell stories.

Source : https://www.pinterest.com/

TSC: Could you tell us more about the poetic process and techniques that the Beat poets used? (For example, Ginsberg had often mentioned breath as a measure for linebreaks.)

AC: Breath for linebreaks works, Mayakovsky paced his poems from wall to wall, often  starting with just a few words and onomatopoeic sounds to fill the verses then the word came to him in the cadence of his room, he worked them out in his head and then wrote them down and edited a bit. So his work composed at the seashore or big rooms had longer breath. Yet his verse appears in short lined staggered, usually three liners, but that was because he was getting paid by the line.

Not just for the Beat poets but for all poets, how the words appear on the page  is significantly important. The Russian Futurians believed this to an extreme. The pages in  Khlebnekov’s edited anthologies, each page is a work of art, meant to elicit the poet’s tone and gesture.

When I was in my thirties Ginsberg lamented that my verse pages looked like spaghetti. When I first wrote, it was in ecological mania, margin to margin. I thought we could save trees that way. Ah, youth!

Neal Cassady told us a poet has to have history. The Beat movement was no library to classroom, to dacha by the lake and the poetry society for purity in verse. The Beats were writers who experienced the unusual, the heartfelt and the adventurous.

They wrote high. They wrote low down. Some took psychedelics. They lead extraordinary sexual lives. Imitation was only a starting point. "Find your own voice," was the motto.

TSC: Can the Beat aesthetic exist without the musical form of Jazz?

AC: Well, Jazz was big in the early days of the Beats, the main music of the movement. One doesn't have to immerse self in Bird[1]& Slim Gaillard to dig Beat lit, but it sure can't hurt. The poly-rhythms of Bop, the flatted fifth, the sharpened eleventh was the soundtrack of the mental movies produced by the typewriters, pens and pencils of the Beats.

TSC: Who were the Beats that you were in touch with? Could you tell us a little about your association with them, at a personal and professional level?

AC: Allen Ginsberg was my hero, friend, and mentor. We sat knee to knee as he showed me how to clean up my work. He championed my work.
Much of the poetry scene resented his championing of my work, for various reasons including jealousy. I was not an easy going fellow in my youth. I went to Asia in 1989 and that had a profound influence on the rest of my life. I believe it mellowed me down and afforded me a greater and more accurate perspective. Allen sent me money when I was in Haridwar, running out of it. He was a very generous man.

Gregory Corso and his son, Max, lived with my family for a couple months. That was an adventure. We hung out and read together in San Fran, Texas, New York, Boulder. We'd argue, pull pranks, agitate other poets.

Ray Bremser was my running buddy. He stayed awake & rode shotgun from Utica to Boulder in 31 hours straight non-stop. We talked about everything.

Janine Vega didn't want to be known as a Beat poet, but rather as an activist. She did tremendous work in prison writing programs, as director, as teacher. She was sixteen when she moved in with Allen Ginsberg & Peter Orlovsky, as Peter's girlfriend. She resented Allen leaving her behind when they went to India. She resented he didn't understand her poetry that well. She was an ardent feminist, I'd say. She loved Huncke and Ray and many other Beats. Great friends with Hettie Jones and Lenore Kandel. She told me that she was against competition, but with me she was very competitive (she couldn't figure out how I did it using techniques completely antithetical to hers). She made me respond to her output with some of my best work.

I read with Jack Micheline a dozen or so times. I'd see him at the racetrack. I was closer to Billy Burroughs Junior than to Senior. I was Senior's chauffer once. It was a tough job. I've written a book about my experiences with these poets and many others.

 Andy Clausen, Charles Plymell, Ray Bremser, Janine Pomy-Vega, Cherry Valley, 2002
Source: http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com

TSC: You lived with the Beat Poet Janine Pommy Vega for many years. Tell us more about her and the relationship you two shared? What do you think of her poetry?

AC: Janine's poetry is quite different than mine, yet often had the same sentiments. Her writing became more overtly political in the last 12 years of her life we were together. She loved growing plants and flowers. In her backyard, she had a plant one each for her dead poet friends. She attended an ashram run by Gur Mai, though less in the later years. She was an extremely hard worker, admonishing herself for relaxing. She had nearly every disease and condition imaginable all at once and continued producing, driving through the snow, in blizzards to teach poetry to kids and to Mexican workers in the upstate New York fields and dairies. She spoke and wrote Spanish well, she had spent years in Peru. She resented the way women were treated by the Beat men and she was mostly correct. She died in my arms December 2010. There's an elegy I wrote and delivered at her Woodstock memorial on Youtube[2].

TSC: What do you think about the women of the Beat generation? Tell us about their contribution towards the movement and their art and poetry?

AC: Well I've told you about Janine. Lenore Kandel, who lived with Janine in Hawaii is a poet I admire. A lot of fire. She's a character in Big Sur by JK. Her Love Book was busted for obscenity in the Sixties. It was not prurient by any means; it was about the spiritual aspects of sex. She was Lew Welch's lover for a while. Her career was stymied by a horrendous motorcycle accident that kept her in constant pain. She and Janine corresponded with each other until a few days before she died.

Diane DiPrima has established herself as a major poet. Her political poems are rooted in her benevolent anarchist roots. Some of her work is Alchemy, some are great appreciations of nature and the Buddha nature, others passionate love poems. Her  memoir work is very frank. She gave birth to, and raised, six kids.

Hettie Jones who was married to Amiri Baraka is an accomplished biographer, memoirist and poet. Joyce Johnson in Minor Characters displays a feminine view of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Carr and the boys.

Joanne Kyger, once with Gary Snyder is humorous and often profound. Anne Waldman whose dramatic powerful prophetic reading style and prolific output has turned on many younger women to the modern style that’s inspired by the historical Beats.

I do feel that a female Beat avatar will emerge and reinvigorate not only the movement but world society. I don't think the literary and reading poetry public has fully comprehended or felt the significance of female contributions.

TSC: I have read somewhere that you had worked with Allen Ginsberg on a couple of his books. What do you think of Ginsberg as a poet? How was it like to work with him? Was he a hard task master?

AC: Allen Ginsberg was a versatile and indefatigable poetry writer, freethinker, ambassador, scholar, musician, photographer, horny gay warrior with a love of the common people. He wrote in a hundred poetic styles and genres, classical forms, the blues, Greek metrics, the forms of Kabir and Lalan, the Veerashaiva poets, haiku, epics, biblical forms, objectivism, surrealism, the sutra, the sonnets, jazz inspired cadences, Whitmanic expanded breath.

No political or sexual subject was taboo for the poet. He was a man of extreme candor, yet rarely inappropriate. He helped in any way he could the poets he loved and respected, many of us struggling. At the time we must have looked like a motley bunch.
I think his interviews, many of which have been published, and his essays (He was the Spokesman!), are some of the most well thought out eloquent yet accessible explanations of the human condition. A spiritual problem? Questions on the creation and significance of poetry? Political dilemma? He's there. What I’m saying is he was a superb analyst as well as the creator of myriad exquisite & sublime pieces of verse.
No, not everything he wrote was my cup of chai. He once said, "I'm going to have a huge amount published & unpublished all over the place. Gregory (Corso) will have six or seven little books."

Hard taskmaster? Well, he scrutinized my every word.

TSC: You are currently working on your book that deals with the last days of Beat Generation. Tell us more about it.

AC: My book as of now is titled The Latter Days of the Beat Generation: a First Hand Account. It is full of anecdotes of both the well-known and more obscure Beat characters. It is told in a conversational style. We are getting ready to see how we will market it.

TSC: Are there any small presses in USA today dedicated to publishing Beat poetry and counter culture literature?

AC: Out of all the mags, the best was closed down a few years ago, Long Shot. Coffee House has published some good writers. Out in Denver there's Passion Press. Big Scream out of Michigan. Shivastan out of Woodstock-- printing in Kathmandu on hand-made paper is outstanding, run by Shiv Mirabito who spends winter in India & Nepal. The Museum of American Poetics which published my Home of the Blues   Zeitgeist out of Las Vegas, published Jack Micheline and QR Hand and also many latter day Beats who came out of a San Fran club called Cafe Babar (1986-92}.There's Ragged Lion and the Beat Scene out of England.

TSC: How was it to finally settle down in Woodstock and see it grow as a community over the years, since the days of the festival and the Summer of Love? How is it to live in Woodstock today?

AC: Woodstock prior to the Festival of 69 was an artist, writer & musician enclave. Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Eric Andersen, Tim Harden, the Traum brothers have lived here. Woodstock locals planned to have the festival where they had smaller shows here in Woodstock. The town realized they couldn't handle a big one and it was in Bethel, approx. 140 miles away, where it was held. Many musicians  did settle or had been living here, The Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jesse Winchester. There was a little movie about Woodstock called "You can't get there from here," which was the standard joke-answer by townies (villagers) to the tourist question, "Where was the concert?"

During the Summer of Love, I lived in Berkeley. People were pouring into the Bay Area, especially into Haight Ashbury. By autumn with a new mayoral regime in, and all the pot & mushrooms disappeared and crank (methedrine) and smack (heroin) was everywhere. All these sad stray kids with blisters on their lips huddled in doorways, cops everywhere.

As for Woodstock, instead of an artist community, it's becoming a vacation or second home spot for the bourgeoisie. They like the peace, the art, the spiritualism and vestiges of hippie culture and they will, by sheer numbers and their money, destroy what attracted them. Pretty soon the workers will have to commute into town because they can't afford to live here.

TSC: Name some of the latter-day beat writers/ poets who you think beat enthusiasts must read.

AC: List of latter-day or under-recognized writers: Pamela Twining, Elizabeth Gordon, Nancy Mercado, Dan Shot, David Cope, Antler, George Wallace, Jim Cohn, Lisa Jessie Peterson, David Lerner, Eliot Katz, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Sharon Doubiago, QR Hand, Pedro Pietri, Paul Beatty, David Henderson, William Burroughs Jr. There are others. I don't know much about the slam scene. From what I've witnessed some of it is amazing
but much is not.

TSC: You have spent a few years in India. What brought you here? Tell us more about your travels through India?

AC: In India, I came with a younger female companion, who had already been there a few times. I knew a little bit about India, as I had friends who were elated about the adventures they had there. In the Sixties, Indian culture was very "hip". Even teenagers liked the sound of the sitar, wore saris, did the Hare Krishna mantra. I had read Indian Journals by Ginsberg. My friend could speak Nepali and Lhasa style Tibetan, so we got around okay. From Kathmandu, we went to Benares where I wrote a long piece that describes the streets, alleys, and ghats called Streets of Kashi. Then we went to Khajuraho where I got very sick. Then flew to Agra, and Mathura, then Bombay, Goa and an epic train ride from Margao to Bhubaneswar, Puri and up to Calcutta, Bodhgaya and Hardwar, Rishikesh.

I was writing a lot. I didn't feel I had to embellish or use elegant vocabulary to make exciting verse. I just wrote what my five senses experienced. Though I was often frustrated while traveling in India, it was fun and enlightening. I liked the people, they are resilient.
There is much intelligence and kindness in India, there is also the opposite. As you  travel, each place is very different. Though since I've been there a certain homogeneity must have taken place by now.  But it was often a different language, different clothing, even different food, tempo that we had to acquaint with as we travelled. In the US, it's different.

TSC: Your thoughts on the future of Beat Poetry and the legacy.

AC: Where's it going from here? Nobody knows anything absolutely for certain. There needs to be a cultural change, which will gestate & ameliorate a political change. Most of the changes here were gestated and impregnated into the mainstream by songs, poems, photographs. The irony is, there needs to be a political change so that culture can breathe.

Can culture defeat exclusivity, power, wealth, might-is-right job security coercion, that destroys the meaning of the words like 'commerce' and 'democracy'? 

Sure, but it will need some powerful medicine and I don't think it can afford to be a slow change. The enthusiasm that the young exhibited in the coffee houses, taverns, independent bookstores, around a room, writing verse that would have a relaying value, a redemptive value, is at its lowest ebb since I can remember.

The survivors aren't passing it on and there's little to pass.
You know if others hadn't been foolish we would be. The Beat Generation is not some planned strategy. It is the noble qualities of individuals trying to escape, break through denial, a Samadhi through the hypocrisies of religion, culture, and state. The individuals that have gone on to that great Unknown, let me say, view them as transitional characters We are an essential part of an alternative future.

[1] As Charlie Parker, The Jazz Maestro was known among his fans
[2]Memorial for Janine Pommy Vega : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brmJxfYT70U


Poems | Sudeep Pagedar

To Console the Blind

Artwork: Matthew Bialer 

1. strange morning in limbo

yearning for that midway point,
for balance, that lingering semblance,
a hope, a hint, a glimmer or glint

But the centre is
illusive and I
am weighted,
fated, either
to be left behind or
right, ahead

I wish I'd understood
better, when they’d hung
my head and said
Nothing to be done.

relegated to a box;
a fenced farm:
fertile fields, growing

Mercy, please! I
did not ask to be
a farmer, but
if I must, then
let me farm with a pen

should my crop fail,
only I
will starve

2. Fargone Conclusion  

Reach out from
your dreamed sleep
and call a name.
let it be
for every sigh of
not arriving yet
at ecstasy

moments linger
in wasted hope
of semblance

so we stop
of conversation
cease the broken
flow of chatter
that drips uneven
from confused faucet-mind

weavers weave
spinners spin
in the loom’s blur,
poems begin

so I began
without as much as
a thesis statement

but I am done with that
I'm through with those
Gods and Demigods
and semi-gods
and let me, Gods!
be done

with it all

but no.
I have not elapsed
yet, I could not let go
and don't know when, I
don't know if
with all my sight
I’ve ever caught
a glimpse of light through
eyes I sought

(to console the blind, the sighted tell
of the sightless' heightened sense of

or when un-lensed,
if I’d have sensed

of perfume, but just

a whiff

3. Turn

you sense me
and pivot,

I spurn
your advance -
just one, single step
in that ritual dance
of denial

but I see double,
duplicity and trouble,
coming to pass
judgement without trial

cast out,
you turn about
the moment
of hopeful doubt,
gone by

you make to leave,
for good (and you should)
but stop, if you would,
to consider

the point at which
you swivel, turn,
is the one at which
I shrivel, burn,
born of contradiction
as I am: misshapen
halves coming together,
still less than a whole

all those dances,
they've taken their toll
and I'll have no more of
what's in store, of

that searing heat
the sun calls Desire:

Born of flame.
consigned to Fire.

and there's no turning,
no desperate yearning, when
for every high (above)
a beneath is birthed

you can't restart
when you've buried your heart
in over six feet of dearth

Photo Series | Tarun Bhartiya

Rain, Khasi Hills

Poems| Natalie Crick

Artwork: Matthew Bialer 


She was born
In summertime, with
Rainbow smoke pouring out from her mouth

Like journeys in the sky.
Doves danced in her hair.
Who would know
What was to happen next?

She lived in a chapel
Of glass walls
And God was like
A beautiful deviant to her, a brother maybe.

Madeline. Oh, how I will miss you!
What is life all about?
It is like upsetting all of your best friends and
Turning around

And around
And around

Blood, it pumps through her veins.
Her heart is white jelly.
Madeline, when she was born
She died inside herself.
Sssshhhh, everything is quiet now.

Baby's Breath

On rainy days
I give myself permission

To touch the glass
And see your remains:

Tissues, shadows,
All that is left

Of you.
Dancing with ghosts

Over dark hills.
Skylarks, old dear.

When I stand in your old room
I feel so sad that I masturbate myself.

Bees feast in tartan plumes,
Birds hanging on threads.

An old donkey hobbled
Into the mists.

A pocket full of posies.

Your tiny hands tremble away
From my throat. Jack-daw.

The Secret

The words fell from her mouth
Like black snakes.
She has lost them all.

The secret!
A promise she could not keep.
Someone knows.
He lies in bed, the room growing dark.

It is the last night of their lives.
Take me there
To the beautiful people

Who run in the garden in long coats


Prose | Uttaran Das Gupta | Part 1/2

Photo : LeeLa

Lunch at Mocambo*

Rohini and I met for lunch at Mocambo. I know it has become a sort of cliché: characters of a book or film meeting at this restaurant, thanks to the rediscovered enthusiasm of Bollywood for Calcutta. But I bet you that the writers and directors of these films won’t be able to tell you why Mocambo is the perfect place for a rendezvous. It is because Mocambo has the best acoustics of all the restaurants in Calcutta. I don’t know how or why — perhaps it’s the leathered-upholstered chairs, the high ceilings of the old colonial building, the thick walls or the deep carpets — but unless one is really loud, sound does not travel from one table to another in Mocambo. So, one can converse uninhibited, without the fear of disturbing one’s neighbours or overhearing conversations about the lives of others. And the best table in the house is the small one looking out on Free School Street. It has space only for two chairs, green and comfortable. I found Rohini waiting for me, sipping a melancholic whiskey sour and contemplating the rain, in one of the chairs.
“Where did you park?” She kissed me on both cheeks, her small palms resting on my wet shoulders.
“Near Loreto. You?”
­“Little Russel Street. Worst time of the day to find parking on Park Street. Everyone is out for lunch. If you come a little later, you might have to park on Theatre Road or Camac Street.”
“The rain always makes it worse.”
“What would you like to have?”
I ordered a whiskey sour and hors d’ouevre. Our conversation lingered briefly on the difficulty of finding parking in the city and the obnoxious weather before lapsing into silence.
“So this is it,” said Rohini at length. “This is where it all ends. When they write the history of our generation, they will say it ended on the intolerable summer morning when a police inspector found the body of Manish Guha.”
Having made this grandiose statement, Rohini realised how futile it was, how full of bathos, and tried to dissipate the feeling by attempting to impale a piece a ham on a fork.
The ham broke; Rohini threw down the fork.
“Do you write anymore?”
“Not really, do you?”
She laughed, ironically. “I’m a failed writer, sweetheart. All editors are failed writers. Don’t you know?”
Rohini is a junior editor at Maya — an independent publisher of feminist literature. Sangeetha Kumar is one of the directors of Maya. I don’t know how much Rohini gets paid but I guess it can’t be enough to cover all the lunches at Mocambo and Peter Cat, and the series of parties that punctuate her life.
“What happened to your novel?”
I shrugged.
“Tell me,” she insisted. “I remember you wanted to write a grand historical.”
“So what happened? You started writing it, didn’t you?”
“I did; and I did manage to write a few chapters.”
“Then I ran out of steam. Anyway, why should I even presume I can write a novel?”
“Why not?”
It took me a little time before I could answer. “It takes a lot of hard work, discipline and conviction to write a novel. But that’s what our generation lacks the most, isn’t it? Conviction. That’s how they brand us: entitled 20-somethings who don’t know what they want.”
Rohini downed her drink. “No, it’s not conviction we lack. It’s courage. And of the two people of our generation who had courage, one is dead, and the other…”
We had forgotten all about lunch. I had no appetite anyway; Rohini was too drunk.
“How did it all come to this?” she said. “It was only supposed to be a bit of fun: Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It was only supposed to be poetry. When did it become so much more? When did it all begin?”
“I think it all began with you winning The Derozio Project.”

It was Manish who told us about the result of The Derozio Project. We were all at a Christmas party at Prabuddha’s house. Manish was still working for The Nation, and on Christmas Eve, he arrived late with the news. But before that Sankalita and I shared a joint and planned to go to St Paul’s Cathedral for the midnight mass.
I was a little hesitant about accepting Prabuddha’s invitation to the party because I feared I would meet Rohini there. But he was relentless: he first made the party a Facebook event, which I could have easily ignored, and then called me up insisting on my attendance.
Prabuddha’s house — a 19th century, Baroque palace — was at the end of Babu Muktaram Street, a narrow lane turning left from Mahatma Gandhi Road. It was inconceivable that the sprawling building, with the large garden in front and the empty stable for horses behind it, could be nestled in that lane. But there it was, darkened by its own shadow, like a prehistoric monster, waiting for prey, with a millennial, insatiable hunger.
The first thing that caught my eye as I entered Prabuddha’s house was a large palanquin below the broad, marble staircase. I had seen palanquins before only in films and book illustrations, but never a real one. I stared at it like one stares at the bones of a dinosaur in a museum. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The compartment for travellers was made of thick, brown wood, and upholstered in leather. The wood had ornamental carvings; the leather was torn and shabby. It also had four brass rings at four corners, for inserting wooden poles which the bearers would carry on their shoulders.
“That belonged to one of my ancestors,” said Prabuddha, coming down the stairs. “Prakash Chandra Mahalanobis: Does the name ring a bell?”
It did: with the faint chime of the Bengali Renaissance but without the peal or echo of memory that would provide me with any confidence to speak on the subject.
“He was a friend of Keshav Chandra Sen, a social reformer, and an advocate of widow remarriage. He is the one who brought fame to the family, and the wealth. Do you know how?”
I had no clue.
“By selling salt. In the early 19th century, ships that sailed from Calcutta to Britain were full of the colonial loot, but when the same ships returned, they would be empty. Now, an empty ship on the high seas is a dangerous proposition. So the sailors would fill up the hold with salt. This useless cargo would then be dumped on the banks of Hoogly when the ships docked there. Prakash Chandra — along with a few others — got a licence to collect the salt and sell it in Indian markets. It was a sort of monopoly, a cartel, and they made millions.”
Prabuddha took me to see the portrait of his illustrious ancestor.
There was nothing remarkable about it. Prakash Chandra was a tall man but there was no grace to him. At least, the picture didn’t betray any. In the painting (oil-on-canvas, in the colonial style), he sat on a high-back chair, draped in a Kashmiri shawl, a little stooped, staring at the painter with squinted eyes. The faded colours and a permanent film of dust marked the age of the portrait.
“Do you know what else he did?” asked Prabuddha.
“He supplied indentured labourers to the Carribean.”
I stared at him, not quite understanding.
“You know what indentured labourers are, right? Poor Indian farmers — mostly sharecroppers — whose lands were acquired for opium cultivation, transported in hordes to the Caribbean; to work on plantations from which African slaves had been emancipated in 1833.”
Prabuddha lit a cigarette.
“Don’t imagine for a moment that the anti-slavery movement had anything to do with the humanitarian instincts of the British, though. All they wanted to do was break the backbone of the French economy that depended so much on slave labour. Having succeeded in that, they still needed cheap labour for their own plantations, and this they got from India. Anyway, it was a windfall for my family.”
Prabuddha slapped me on the back. “That’s enough Mahalabonis family history for one night. Let’s go and get a drink now.”
He led me to the party in the nautch room. It was enormous, intimidating. It was impossible to take in all the dimensions at once: they were Kafkaesque in their enormity. What struck me as soon as I entered the room was the gigantic Belgian mirror, nearly as high as the ceiling, occupying an entire wall. Everything in the room was clearly reflected in the mirror, which was remarkably clear despite its obvious age. What was even more remarkable was the light of the crystal chandelier on the glass.
I looked up to take in the magnificence and was surprised to observe that unlike modern chandeliers, which have electric bulbs, this one still had candles. Large ones, burning boldly. The chandelier was swaying slowly in the cold wind coming in from the balcony.

“Prabuddha’s house always reminded me of Jalsaghar,” said Rohini, sipping from another glass of whiskey sour. “The broad marble staircase, the oil-on-canvas portraits and the nautch room… It could have been the setting of Ray’s only tragedy.”
“The only tragedy?”
“Yes, the only tragedy — not just of a man but also of an era coming to an end.”
I demurred. “Shatranj ke Khiladi is also about the end of an era.”
“Yes, but it is more comic than tragic, don’t you think? But Jalsaghar is wholly tragic, and the tragedy is cumulative, reaching a crescendo in the climax.”
I thought about it. “Bishwambar Rai is somewhat like Lear, his retinue of knights lessening over time, his wealth depleting, his property diminishing, and darkness gathering around his mansion.”
“But there was never any darkness at the Mahalabonis mansion,” said Rohini. “Do you remember the large crystal chandelier? Prabuddha’s family was so ostentatious that they wouldn’t put electric bulbs in it but expensive candles, casting a rich glow around the endless nautch room.”
Rohini was right: as far as I could remember, everything in the nautch room was suffused with a warm, golden glow from the candles of the chandelier, swinging slowly, defying gravity, and all the faces of the people I know, smiling, illumined by the healthy, yellow light.
“Do you know the story of Ray and his team scouting for a house that would be Bishwambar Rai’s mansion in the film?”
Ray’s team scouted old zamindar houses in both Bengals for months before settling on one mansion in Nimtita. When Ray told Tarashankar about the find, the author revealed he had set the character of Bishwambar Rai on Upendra Narayan Chowdhury, one of the men in the Nimtita house and the person who built the music room.
“But Ray found the dimensions of the original jalsaghar insufficient. So, he got Bansi Chandra Gupta to create a larger one at the sets.”
The waiter took our orders for lunch: Rohini asked for Yorkshire pork chops, I wanted a Chateaubriand steak with pepper sauce. We also ordered cream of tomato soup and bread rolls.
“Do you remember the large mirror in the nautch room of Prabuddha’s hosue?” said Rohini.
“Yes, of course.”
“It has always intrigued me, you know.”
“Have you ever observed it closely? Where was it — the mirror?”
“It was on one of the walls.”
“Yes, but which wall? Do you remember?”
I did not. “The wall behind the space where the artistes performed,” said Rohini. “What do you think was the purpose of the mirror?”
I thought I knew the answer to this. “To make the room look bigger.”
Rohini shook her head in disagreement. “Why would they put a mirror on the wall to make the room look bigger?”
My companion explained: “As the mirror was behind the performing space, it is obvious that its only purpose was to reflect the audience.”
I did not understand. “Why would the audience want to see itself?”
“Of course they would, silly. At the jalsas, people came dressed to the nines. They were not just the patrons of the performers but themselves performing the role of connoisseurs. The mirror was placed strategically so that they could observe themselves and their peers appreciating the performance.”
By the time she finished, I was laughing.
“What happened?”
“Music and dance were not the only things people appreciated on the mirror.”

Sankalita was planning a trip to St Paul’s Cathedral for the midnight mass but she was finding it difficult to recruit companions for the trip.
When she saw me, she held my hand and said: “Will you come with me?”
“Of course,” I replied, taken aback that I should be selected for this adventure.
“Prabuddha’s being a jerk and refusing to take me to the mass,” she said, answering the question I had not asked. “I’ve heard it’s wonderful. Have you seen it?”
“No, I am afraid not.”
“Wonderful! It will be an adventure for both of us.”
Then, turning towards Prabuddha, she said in a louder voice: “Manish would never have refused anything I asked him.”
Prabuddha was unperturbed by this threat, or mock-threat. Interrupting a passionate conversation he was having with a few of the other guests, he smiled at Sankalita like an indulgent father smiling at a child asking for the moon.
Disappointed, Sankalita turned to me and said: “You want to smoke a joint?”
We went out on the balcony, in the cold. The joint Sankalita offered me was hashish rolled up in thick paper on which one could observe words written in a neat handwriting.
“Rough drafts of my poetry,” she explained. “I prefer using the paper than throwing it away.”
We smoked in silence for a bit. The winter that year was colder than usual — the temperature had reached a record low, and weather officials predicted colder days ahead. The smoke I inhaled warmed up my alimentary canal, protecting me against the chill, more effectively than the leather jacket I wore.
“So where is Manish?” I said.
“Working. He is always working — all through the week, even on weekends.”
“The life of a journalist.”
“The life of a poor man, something you and I will never know.”
The words stung me. “Wasn’t he planning to quit?” My voice had turned hoarse. “I thought he was.”
Sankalita made a clicking noise with her tongue. “Oh no, he is not quitting. He says he needs the money to buy a flat for his aunt and uncle.”
I could hardly believe it. “He wants to buy a flat? Where will he get the money? How much does he earn?”
“I don’t know.” Sankalita sounded exasperated. “He tells me that he has made some enquiries at the bank and they have told him that he can take a loan after he has worked for a year. But I don’t know if he will last a year.”
“Why not?”
“Have you seen him recently? He looks like a scarecrow. He has grown thin, his shoulders are gaunt, he has no time to cut his hair. The punishing schedule he has imposed on himself is taking its toll.”
“What schedule?”
“He wakes up at the crack of dawn and starts writing, and he continues till going out to work at 11am. He doesn’t return home till midnight, when overcome with fatigue, he falls asleep. And this schedule he follows six days a week. He has lost his appetite. Prabuddha and I met him for dinner last Saturday. I could tell that he was hungry but he didn’t eat much — just gobbled down a few mouthfuls and that was it.”
I held the butt of the joint between my fingers and took one last drag. “Is he coming tonight?”
“He said he would meet us at St Paul’s around midnight.”
Sankalita turned to return to the room, gasped as if she had seen a ghost and then, started to laugh.
“What happened?” I asked, startled.
“The mirror — it always gives me a fright.” She was holding on to my arm.
Sankalita and I, and everyone else in the room, were reflected by the large mirror. But the reflections were a little fuzzy because of the smoke from all the cigarettes and joints. It was like looking into an aquarium, or a parallel universe, where we could see ourselves, but as different people.
My companion was still laughing quietly.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Have you ever seen yourself having sex?”
I didn’t know how to answer the question. “How?”
“Make a video, or watch yourself in a mirror.” Her hands gently guided my shoulder. “Prabuddha loves to see me ride him. I love to see him, us, giving each other head. Makes me come in a jiffy.”
Unaccustomed to such confidences, I felt my ears turning hot.

*An extract from Uttaran Das Gupta's Novel 'Hungry', or 'In This Inclement Clime of Human Life', first published in TSC.