Saturday Mornings at the Language Class

First published in Saaranga

The generosity of a weekend morning
and a teacher’s unlocked house. Her
trust in us, somewhat excessive. To
leave the property to a bunch of inquisitive
adolescents; there, less for language
learning and more for the telephone to
make prank calls with, just a few, before
the elderly tutor arrived. To then settle
down on the sofa like monastic disciples
awaiting ordination. With the trail of lessons
moving through villages, bullock carts and
heaving rivers, to let the eye settle on a
glass cabinet housing pretty dolls in
traditional finery — Japanese, Bengali,
Rajasthani. The teacher’s off-school
diversion. After the class — a walkabout of
everything from the classics and satire to
home-brewed verses on bygone Saturday
mornings — pottering over to the dining table
to uncover surprises waiting in neat porcelain
saucers. Tea cakes, cookies, seasonal savouries.
Bribes the teacher cooked to entice some
not-so innocent teenagers to bite into the
mother tongue just a bit deeper.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

How I Miss You

First published in Saaranga

I miss you like I miss the memory
of things I once couldn’t forget if
I tried to. Like the leaves of the tree
under which the market presswallah

wielded his heavy iron on the entire
neighbourhood’s rumpled crease.
Like the minstrel’s khanjani, portable
cymbals of wistful supplication. I

miss you like the absent compressor
of our dysfunctional refrigerator, its
garish orange paint a reminder of
a well-wisher’s gigantic kindness

in selling us her relic. When it no longer
cooled water or made ice, Uncle made
It his secret cabinet for stashing the
diaries no one could read anyway.

Not even him. I miss you like the boy
Uncle must have once been, con brio,
wanting to love, seeking home. I miss you
like the illusory promise in the songs we

bellowed in school praising our nation, a
sordid country of uneven ladders. I miss
you the way we miss things not exactly
lost and no longer easily found.

The Filtered Light of Freedom

First published in Live Wire

Like air and freedom, light, too, is suspicious
of prison cells. Here, muscularity, minacious,
well-oiled, prowls around the clock, a wild cat
in command of its turf. Women petrify into
grinding stones too heavy for new sorrow.

Combining, braiding intricately and colouring hair
is quite a communal activity in a women’s jail.

Juicy allegations buzzing with mendacity
test the nerve of testosterone. Old friends
discover each other anew as if they had been
separated for years. Porous prison walls are
the only true ally, at times smothering, closing in,
like an obsessive lover.

It feels as if the jail cell is
shrinking as suffocation and claustrophobia creep
in and take over one’s mind and body.

Here, children lick more darkness than milk and
try to believe the sky to be a true story. The rainbow
is a fairy tale. Long conversations conserve grey cells
and crumble invisible walls more solid than concrete.

I was sitting near the jail bars staring out at the
rain, when one of the guards came and gave
me a paper boat that he had made for me.

Light shuns prison cells like fish dodging a cast
net. On certain rain-whorled evenings, a rainbow
and a full-blooded moon still get caught through
the perfidious windows of this spotted palace.

Note: The italicised text are quotes by Devangana Kalita, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya respectively.

Featured image: Utsman Media/Unsplash

Letter Writing by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

You gave me a gold-plated fountain pen
And a cornucopia of writing equipment.
A small walnut-wood desk.
Letterheads in different designs.
Silver paper with an enamel finish.
Scissors, knife, sealing wax, ribbon.
A glass paperweight.
Red, blue, green pencils.
A letter must be written every
Other day,
You ordained for me.

I finished bathing in the morning
So I could sit down to write a letter.

But I can’t decide on what to write.
There’s only one news —
That you have left.
This, you already know.
Yet, it seems like
You aren’t really aware of this.
So I think of letting you know —
You have left.
Every time I begin to write
Something tells me this isn’t easy news to share.
I’m no poet —
One who can give voice to a language;
Or vision to words.
The more letters I write, the more I shred them.

It’s ten o’ clock already.
Your nephew, Boku, is ready for school,
I need to feed him first.
This is my last attempt —
Let me write to inform you
That you have left.
The rest is only a jungle of
Doodles crowding the blotted ink.

GITANJALI - The original manuscript By Rabindranath Tagore Published by  Sahitya Samsad This is the original versio… | Handwriting analysis, Rare  books, Book layout
পত্রলেখা

দিলে তুমি সোনা-মোড়া ফাউণ্টেন পেন,
           কতমতো লেখার আসবাব।
               ছোটো ডেস্‌কোখানি।
                   আখরোট কাঠ দিয়ে গড়া।
        ছাপ-মারা চিঠির কাগজ
           নানা বহরের।
রুপোর কাগজ-কাটা এনামেল-করা।
        কাঁচি ছুরি গালা লাল-ফিতে।
           কাঁচের কাগজ-চাপা,
        লাল নীল সবুজ পেন্সিল।
    বলে গিয়েছিলে তুমি চিঠি লেখা চাই
           একদিন পরে পরে।

         লিখতে বসেছি চিঠি,
           সকালেই স্নান হয়ে গেছে।
লিখি যে কী কথা নিয়ে কিছুতেই ভেবে পাই নে তো।
           একটি খবর আছে শুধু--
               তুমি চলে গেছ।
        সে খবর তোমারো তো জানা।
               তবু মনে হয়,
        ভালো করে তুমি সে জান না।
               তাই ভাবি এ কথাটি জানাই তোমাকে--
                   তুমি চলে গেছ।
               যতবার লেখা শুরু করি
        ততবার ধরা পড়ে এ খবর সহজ তো নয়।
               আমি নই কবি--
ভাষার ভিতরে আমি কণ্ঠস্বর পারি নে তো দিতে;
        না থাকে চোখের চাওয়া।
           যত লিখি তত ছিঁড়ে ফেলি।

দশটা তো বেজে গেল।
    তোমার ভাইপো বকু যাবে ইস্‌কুলে,
           যাই তারে খাইয়ে আসিগে।
               শেষবার এই লিখে যাই--
                   তুমি চলে গেছ।
               বাকি আর যতকিছু
           হিজিবিজি আঁকাজোকা ব্লটিঙের 'পরে।

To Have Loved

What a beautiful thing it is to have loved.
To stand next to a Japanese maple tree slowly

dying and admire the burgundy stars
shimmering on its branches in sunlight.

To hold a father’s unsteady hands as the
breath ebbs out of him on an uncertain night.

To dig through rubble, fresh and still warm from
the bomb that fashioned it, for your daughter’s

missing doll. To chat with your friend’s
granddaughter over Whatsapp, epistles of

encrypted affection. To think of your daughter’s
face, now in prison, with a trembling heart and

a colourless smile. What if you don’t make it until
she’s freed? To let go. Of a withering Japanese

maple, your father’s sentience, the head of your
child’s lost doll, the hope to see your daughter again.

To have loved is to make peace with loss even though.
To have loved is to know the insolence of desire.

Copyright. Bhaswati Ghosh
First published in MONO

Home is Grandma’s Butterfly Breath in a Guava Tree

First published in Plato’s Caves online

Home is a kidnapper who has finally made you submit to its territory, mapped and unmapped.

Home is your first partner in crime who, by introducing you to its hidden corners, gives a toddler you a taste of what manipulating adults with pranks feels like.

Home is the no-nonsense courtroom, where, you, still a toddler, take the gods to task by bashing up their idols at the altar for denying your grandma her own house.

Home is the compassionate table fan that breezes through the room on a hot summer day as Rafi and Geeta Dutt croon aankhon-hi-aankho-mein on the radio and two children – your brother and you – sprawl on the cool cement floor of a government quarter to hurry through your summer holiday homework.

Home is the indulgent playground overlooking that same government quarter where children make friends over hopscotch and their mothers, knitting buddies, on charpaais.

Home is the confused late-entry hero that is finally grandma’s own house. Its dust and half walls hold you in a perplexed daze. Your brother, yet to reach his teens, brings you back to reality as he returns with a pot of rice he’s managed to cook in the half-baked kitchen of this unfinished structure.

Home is the jealous new paara, neighbourhood, who estranges you from old friends and the loving playground with its consolatory offer of a cricket-colonized back street and stock loneliness.

Home is the keen, encouraging listener of your early-morning and late-evening riyaaz that mother helps add melody to with the harmonium she buys you off months of savings.

Home is the generous open terrace that grows in personality as you do in age – as your study-time ally in your yet-to-be-teen, mellow winter afternoons; as the host of a star-draped night sky beckoning you to let go in your ambivalent early 20s; as your gym and fitness partner later, when you do learn to let go.

Home is the comforting pal your grandfather brings you back to from the bus stop every evening after school. It’s where grandma waits with hot food and a listening ear for all your school stories, helping you bridge the interval until mother returns from work.

Home is the trusted ally you make your way back to, having survived an attack by gunmen in a public space, to hug your grandma, sick with worry. In the days to follow, home makes you an accelerated learner of what political revenge means even as your eyes adjust to the sight of blood on the streets you call paara.

Home is the saboteur who smashes that trust and hurtles you into the dark, suffocating dungeon of an empty house after making you witness the deaths of your grandparents for two years in a row.

Home is the traitor who makes you grow up while you’re still an adolescent without allowing you the time or the technique for the messy transition.

Home is the embarrassing hole in the bedsheet you cover with a folded quilt that you desperately hope wouldn’t shift when your university friends come over to your house to plan a trip.

Home is the sterile mate you’ve lost all love for but continue to live with, your days drained of élan vital, your nights a concert hall for sleep-snuffing nightmares.

Home, after years, no, a whole decade, is finally the conciliatory collaborator who invites you to work from home – with your mother, now retired from work, filling up all the hollows your grandparents’ departure had cleaved into its spaces.

Home is the humble plot of land your grandma bought, even if it’s no longer the house she built. Her breath moves through the guava tree she planted, still rooted to the faithful backyard soil and alights on your skin as a butterfly every time you fly back.

Home is a detective plot that can only unravel in back stories. Each flicker of memory is evidence of the scraps that went into constructing this labyrinth. Every solution is wisdom distilled only in hindsight.

Thirty-eight years with Shakti

Samir Sengupta

Translated from the Bangla by
Bhaswati Ghosh

First published in Parabaas

From Shakti Chattopadhyay’s handwritten
facsimili edition of
Kuri Bochhorer Kuriti
(‘Twenty Years, Twenty Poems’)

I first met Shakti in 1957, at the College Street Coffee House. I still carried on me the smell of Ramakrishna Mission’s Vidyamandir from where I had just graduated. The modernity of Coffee House startled me almost every day. I would find myself a corner to sit at the Krittibas table, with the poets barely tolerating me. Scores of foreign names—of poets, novelists, films, filmmakers—rained down my head. Every single day, I would hear new names—how in the world could I get to read so many books, watch so many films? I hadn’t even seen the magazine Kabita (*Poetry, কবিতা ) yet. I have faint memories of Shakti wearing a red tie and commuting to his workplace, Hind Motors as a daily passenger.

Somehow, with time we became friends. I didn’t write any poetry, only dealt with prose, that too very little. I had enrolled into Jadavpur University’s master’s program in Comparative Literature, which brought me an entry into the haloed and unique adda of ‘Kabita Bhavan’ (*lit. house of poetry, residence of Buddhadeva Bose, founder-editor of Kabita). Shakti’s name was still on the student roll, but one hardly saw him on the campus. He would (suddenly) show up once every six or nine months and that would be it. He was part of the batch following ours, a classmate of Rumi’s (Damayanti Basu Singh, Buddhadeva Bose’s youngest daughter) in the BA course. Buddhadeva had forced him to enroll with hopes of making him return to the mainstream. By then, however, a witch had already seized Shakti’s heart.

Read the rest in Parabaas

LA CASA AZUL

First published in Saaranga

For Frida Kahlo

A sea rises from your iris,
its cobalt waves mapping
your skin, tunneling into your

Bones a freak accident left
Paralyzed — life’s black
humour at 18. But what use

Would you have for walking
When you had wings to take
Off to the azure horizon and

Set it ablaze with the crimson
Desires of your heart.
The earth smells in

you a confidant who knows
Its ripe secrets — the dust
and sweat of toilers. So do

the flowers that sprout from
Your hair. And the birds in
Your seeded tropical oasis.

The urn still breathes in your
Warm scent that wanders
Alongside the cats in the blue house.

In Praise of Slowness

Because time is not a
Super highway, not even a
Road. It’s the mist that rolls

Over mountains when one
Cares to notice. Drink it like

A flu patient does chicken broth.

Learn to watch like
The robin does, letting an
Entire universe unfold

Within while eying
A single worm. Listen to the
radio as it rebukes you.

It’s the friend you
Forsook, like paper and postage
Stamps did letters.

Discard the rust of
Ambition for the never-fading
Sheen of idleness.

Like the chirping of birds in
Spring, reserve all your haste
For love alone.

First published in Madras Courier