Poem | Bishweshwar Das

Courtroom (1970), Oil on canvas
Source : http://www.artpractical.com/

An autumn day in court...

It was a crisp October morning,
A film of dew on parked cars
I dressed ethnic
And hailed an auto
A long festive weekend elapsed city
Slowly crawling back to work on Monday

The auto snails ahead
In between filling gas in an alley with an illegal vending shop
Sleepy eyes, somber faces
I have had a trim and brushed twice
Lest his honour holds me for contempt of good mannerism and hygiene
It’s been on the anvil for six months now
Earn your freedom week by week, month by month…perhaps

The auto meandered through Siddaiah Road.
Grease, iron, lube and auto parts both sides
Less friction more power
A while back I had seen hoards queuing outside the passport office
A gargantuan building emerges in the left
A familiar gate….with family court etched in steel

I alighted and look for a familiar face
She is on the third floor came the reply as the call disconnects
The lift has a third button but it doesn’t glow red when pressed
It stops religiously on the appointed level
There she  is….looking bit worn out,
perhaps she didn’t sleep well or worked late
Mister Meer strolls in, we exchange cold pleasantries.
His coat looks little crumpled but his hair is neatly cut and gelled
He could have been an army captain in uniform instead of a divorce lawyer
I am fiddling through my phone to zero on a date for the mediation, we decide on sixth
This looks more like a trading house sans the commotion

His honour grabs a piece of paper and the petition number is announced by the clerk
Mr.Meer raises his voice acknowledging it’s his case
The Judge looks through his spectacles and frowns
“Any hopes of reconciliation.” ?
‘No my honor, the parties have decided. No reconciliation.’
Meers voice is clear and mellow this time.
He undoubtedly is  the best looking man in this room
The judge queries….”Why mediation if it’s agreed”
Meer just says…”Obliged”

We meander out and Meer blurts..
‘It will be over today…
You will have to come again in the afternoon’
Seconds, minutes, hours
The courtroom is packed
We are ushered in
Meer nudges me to take off my ‘Raybans’
She mumbles something too disapprovingly

We go up the pulpit facing the judge to our right now
Meer towers amongst the spectators below
His Honour first quizzes her
‘Difference of opinion’ she says softly yet firmly
Who doesn’t have ? His Honour responds
He now looks towards me. I nod in unison
Which can mean either agreeing to her answer or his retort

There is silence for a while
The courtroom is in suspended motion
His Honour breaks silence…Well then ‘Granted’
There is a ‘sigh’ of relief and resilience in us
Meer shakes my hand in a congratulatory gesture
While tying the lace of his green file
‘If you need my service again I will be glad’
We all smile and enter the lift, exit
And walk past the mediation room and the waiting hall

Dusk is settling slowly
The day elapsing in a cacophony of noises
People rushing back to their destinations
I start humming a familiar ‘old blue boy tune’

We're drinking my friend, to the end
Of a brief episode
Make it one for my
for my baby
And one more for the road

You'd never know it, but buddy I'm a kind of poet
And I've got a lot of things I'd like to say
And if I'm gloomy, please listen to me
Till it's talked away

 Make it one for my
for my baby
And one more for the road…

We're drinking my friend, to the end
of a brief episode… waltz… waltz... waltz! 


Vijay Nambisan: The last of the sages
Dibyajyoti Sarma

Source : https://paperwall.in/books/61/First-Infinities

While discussing RK Narayan’s The Guide in the classroom, Dr R. Raj Rao of the University of Pune had explained to us the difference between ‘sage’ and ‘saint’. As opposed to the Judeo-Christian connotation of ‘saint’, in India, we use both the words interchangeably, to mean someone who is wise and who has discarded the worldly concerns. However, as Rao explained, in the context of the eventual journey of Raju Guide, there’s is a difference between being a saint and a sage. A saint remains tethered to the world in some way. A saint needs disciples, followers (as in the case of Raju, after his con becomes a reality for the villagers). A saint needs to make something happen (as Raju needs to make rain). But a sage elevates these saintly concerns. A sage turns himself into a perfect being, where nothing matters, not even existence (as Narayan implied Raju achieving this at the end of the novel).

As I heard of Vijay Nambisan passing away, I was thinking about this distinction in the context of Nambisan as a poet (people tend to forget that he was also a brilliant essayist, a form largely forgotten today. He also wrote the most original treatise on Language as Ethics and looked at Bihar with a fresh pair of eyes before talking about New Bihar became fashionable in the 2000s, in Bihar is in the Eye of the Beholder. He has also translated classical Sanskrit poetry, a language he knew well).  

My Facebook timeline was flooded with quotes from Nambisan’s poetry. It was an interesting development considering it was Nambisan, the most reluctant of poets. He was one of the key poets of the second generation of the Bombay School of Poetry (if you consider Ezekiel, Kolatkar, Jussawalla and others as the first generation), a generation which under the influence/tutelage of Dom Moraes, focused more on intellectual rigour rather than the socio-political concerned with a changing India of the previous generation. 

Nambisan’s contemporaries, Jeet Thayil, CP Surendran, Ranjit Hoskote, among others, are all established poets today, with several collections to their names, but Nambisan seemed to have lagged behind. His first published book of poems was Genini (a two-poet project published by Dom Moraes; the other poet was Jeet Thayil) in 1992. His second and last, and the only solo collection of poems First Infinities was published in 2015. Simply because he did not want to publish a book of poems. He was already well known, since his poem Madras Central won him the first ever All India Poetry Competition award organised by the Poetry Society of India and the British Council in 1988.

He wrote in Madras Central:

To think we have such power to alter our states, 
order comings and goings;
know where we’re not wanted
And carry our unwanted mess somewhere else.

He was an aberration to the norm. He did not need fame and recognition. He would accept it if it came his way, but he wouldn’t crave for it. He did not need the outside to validate his existence. He did not run from the outside either. Largely a private person, he wasn’t a recluse, but a gracious host when the occasion demanded, ever willing to talk poetry, and literature in general, with a witty sense of humour — a great company to spend time with. 

This is how I remember him.

I met him and his novelist/doctor wife Kavery when the couple settled in Lonavla in the outskirts of Pune sometime in 2000s, thanks to my teacher R Raj Rao who knew Vijay from the Bombay poetry days. I don’t remember him as a poet, but as a lover of poetry, who would be happiest to give me a tour of his personal library, filled with books signed by their authors. He inspired me to collect autographed books. He inspired me to reread one of his favourite poets Robert Graves, including his autobiography Goodbye to All That.

Most of all, I found him to be the most generous and humble man I have ever known. This humility was hardwired into him as a man who is extremely erudite, knew it and did not expect others to be as smart and well read as he was. He was a perfect teacher any student could ever hope for, though teaching was not his thing. 

Once, he was invited to give a guest lecture to the MA students of the University of Pune. At first, he was uncertain. He had nothing to tell the students, he said. Finally, he decided to discuss one of his favourite poems with the students — WH Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts. It was not a surprising choice. Auden wrote:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:  

I think Vijay understood this more than anyone. 

Personally, for me, he was a source of inspiration until the very end. When I first met him, I was working on my second collection of poems. When he heard that he offered to look at the poems. At first, I was uncertain. He was a poet of rigour and discipline. I wrote poetry to let off steam. I was sure he wouldn’t even bother to go through the manuscript. Finally, I sent him a hard copy of the manuscript and three months later, I received an SMS. He was in Pune for a few hours and he would like to see me, as he was carrying my manuscript and he wanted to talk about it. 

I was certain he would ask me to junk the idea of the book. Instead, we sat in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying and went through the poems page by page. At some places, he had made comments. He said some poems did not work, and most were largely fine. Then he gave me a crash course in poetry — the importance of music in poetry; the dangers of mixed metaphors and mostly importantly, the need to edit poetry. 

Now, you take this manuscript and keep it away safely for one year, he said. Exactly one year later (I think it was October, he mentioned the month), he said, open the manuscript, sit on a desk and work on it. Make sure that you sit on a chair and use a table, he insisted, not on bed, or elsewhere, where it’s more comfortable. Then go through each word, each sentence, and each line. After that, if you are satisfied, go ahead, publish the book. 

It was the most inspiring moment of my life. And since that day, I have been shamelessly recycling this advice.

The book was finally out four years later, and I was happy to hand over a copy to Kavery during the launch of Vijay’s book First Infinities in Delhi (He was busy being a host.). Kavery said Vijay would be happy to see the book and I trusted her. 

The last conversation I had with Vijay was late last year. On email. When a publisher showed the interest to publish my short story collection (the publisher was in a hurry, she had grand plans, none of which came to fruition; it’s a different story!), and needed a blurb from a ‘famous author’, I could not think of anyone other than Kavery Nambisan. So I dashed off a mail, without expecting much, because I knew she has been busy with her job as a surgeon and with her writing. 

Vijay and Kavery shared the email ID. Two days later, I received an email from Vijay. He read the manuscript and liked it and he would be happy to give a blurb if I would have one. Of course, I said yes, and he gave me a glowing blurb. But he had a caveat. The stories are great but it needed another round of editing. I could do it for you if you have the time, he wrote. Unfortunately, I did not have the time; the publisher was unreasonably in a hurry (I would regret not asking him to edit the book for the rest of my life.) Okay, then, I will edit your next book, he said. I said okay, I will finish my next book as soon as I can. 

The book is not complete and Vijay is gone.

People would say he was a genius who never received his due. It may be true. But I don’t think he wanted his dues. I don’t think he had any expectations. He was what he always was — a sage. 

(This piece was published concurrently in the August issue of The Wagon Magazine- http://thewagonmagazine.com/.)


Poems | Amrita Pritam (Translated by Kanupriya Dhingra)

Source: https://pixabay.com/

1. A Letter

(Translated from the original in Punjabi)

I am— a book kept in an attic
perhaps carrying the Word
or any hymnal
or a chapter from the Kama Sutra,
or quackery for easy, venereal diseases.

Apparently, I am none of these.
(if I were, someone would have read me)

And as it were — a proposal was passed
in a meeting of revolutionaries
and I am its transcript.
Although it carries a police-stamp
and was never enforced, passed anyway,
and was preserved, for the sake of
further legal proceedings.

Now only some sparrows come over
with a few twigs in their beaks
and they sit on my body
to worry about the next generation
(to worry about the next generation
is beautiful indeed!)
but for diligence of any sort
birds have wings,
but no proposal has any wings.
(nor do any proposal has
another generation?)
Only sometimes I think
of smelling out—
where my future lies
and in such worry
my binding comes off, partly
but whenever I try to smell something
I smell bird-shit, only.

O the future of my earth
          I am— your current state

2. A Meeting
(Translated from Amrita Pritam's एक मुलाकात)

after several years
suddenly, a meeting
our souls
shivered like a poem
ahead of us was an entire night—
one half of the poem,
huddled in one corner
another half
sat in another corner
then at daybreak—
we met, like pieces of
torn pages
I held his hand
in my hand
he took my arm
in his arm
and we
laughed like a censor
and placed the page
on a cold table,
casting a line
on that entire poem

3. My Address
(Translated from Amrita Pritam's मेरा पता)

Today I
erased my house number
also removed
the street name impressed upon
the street’s forehead
and wiped off
directions to every road
but if you absolutely wish to find me
 then knock on
every door on the street of
every city of every country
This is a curse, a blessing as well
and wherever there is a
glimpse of a
free spirit
          —know that as my home

4. A Union with Self

My bed is here
But like shoes and shirt
Take off your body too
Keep it on the stool there
Nothing unusual—
It is a custom of one’s country

Poem | Bhaskar Chakrabarty (Translated by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya)

Photo Credits: GB

When Will Winter Arrive Suparna 

When will winter arrive Suparna
I'll sleep for three months
Every evening, as if in cruel jest, my blood turns cold like the frogs –
I sit in silent stupor –
They send a blue balloon soaring through the darkness, they burn fireworks all night long –
Shouting, screaming – then suddenly, magically,
at the same moment,
every candle is extinguished
the day of feast turns direction like the wind,
the tune of the flute stops floating to the ear –
In such moments, I feel like diving headlong into water every time I see it –
I feel like submerging my body and lifting only my face to breathe for a while
I feel empty Suparna
I am not human, nor light, nor dream-like – the soles of my feet
are widening – the sound of
horse's hooves makes my heart throb louder in its cage and quickens my breath
Everyday my fingertip pushes time ahead of its time I feel empty
when will winter arrive Suparna, I'll sleep for three months
Once, waking at dawn, I had seen clouds leaning near the window – Darkness
everywhere – so dark a  day, I couldn't even see my own fingernails – it made me cry
when I thought of you
I lit a matchstick in my hair and fell asleep again to its burning scent
Now I am not human – I feel like jumping instead of walking down a street
I have no desire to kneel before love for three months –
the sound of human footsteps quicken my breath,
I run in the direction from which I came
But why do I run?
I feel empty When will winter arrive Suparna I'll sleep for three months.