Four Good Words: Sampurna Chattarji

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Sampurna Chattarji is a writer, translator, teacher and Poetry Editor of The Indian Quarterly. The latest of her eighteen books is Space Gulliver: Chronicles of an Alien (HarperCollins, 2020). 

Four Good Words: Rizio Yohannan

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Rizio Yohannan is a writer, teacher and translator. She is the founder of LILA Foundation for Translocal Initiatives and CEO & Publisher of Marg, India’s oldest art magazine still in publication.

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Four Good Words: Kutti Revathi

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Tamil poet, lyricist and film maker Revathi has authored four books of short stories, fourteen collections of poems and several books of non-fiction. She edits the women’s magazine magazine Panikkudam. Revathi is the recipient of several awards including “South Power” (2016), Femina’s “Pen Shakthi 2014 and “Best Lyricist” of the year 2013. Known internationally, her work has been widely translated. In 2019, Revathi directed her first feature film, “Siragu.”

நம்மைப் பிடித்த பிசாசுகள்

சகோதரி… இன்னும் பல முலைகளை
வனைந்தெடுப்போம்
கல்லால் அடித்தும் கத்தி முனையிலும்
உயிர்த்த முலைகளும் உண்ணப்படும் வேளையில்
உலகின் தானியங்களாகிப் போன
அவற்றைப் பேண வேலிகள் இல்லை
வல்லூறுகள் ஏன் தானியக்கொள்ளையில்?
வெயிலைத் தின்று வெட்டவெளியை நுகர்ந்து மூச்சிடும்
அக்கிழவியின் முலைகள்
அவளைப் பீடித்த பிசாசங்களாய்
தொங்கிக்கொண்டிருக்கின்றன
நெஞ்சை முட்டிக்கொண்டு
உலர்ந்த வரலாற்றின் எல்லை வரைபடங்களே
அப்பிசாசுகளும் ஆகவே சகோதரி
நீரருந்த நீர்க்குளங்களாயிருந்த முலைகளை
தீராத வேதனைக் கலயங்களாக்கோம்
ஒருநாளேனும் கற்களாக்கி அம்முலைகளை
கவண் கொண்டெறிவோம்
ஒற்றை முலையோடேனும் அலைவோம்
நம் சூரியனைத் தூக்கிச் சுமந்து.

Four Good Words: Nandini Sahu

An award-winning poet, Nandini Sahu has authored/edited several books some of which are The Other Voice, The Silence (a poetry collection), The Post Colonial Space: Writing the Self and the NationSilver Poems on My Lips (a poetry collection), Folklore and the Alternative Modernities (Volumes I and II)Sukamaa and Other Poems, Suvarnarekha, Sita (A Poem)Dynamics of Children’s LiteratureZero Point and Selected Poems of Nandini SahuPresently she is director, School of Foreign Languages and Professor of English at IGNOU, New Delhi.

Letter to My Unborn Daughter

Tiny limbs smeared with my fresh enflamed blood
oozing out of the womb, gushing in fact.
I knew. I had lost you. Then and there. Shattered.
The sadomasochist burped then, and snored

in a short while, when the maid rushed us to
the local hospital. I heard what you never uttered.
Ahh heal ‘us’, protect ‘us’, you and me, me and you,
Mom and her little girlie, wish to take the world in their stride.

Today, a letter to you, my unborn daughter, after
long two decades of quiet travail
telling our tales to your younger brother,
with a bleeding heart, I smile with exuding tears.

Smile to see my dream daughter alive in
her brother little; so full of love and compassion, so much a
feminist-humanist male, so strong to hold Mom’s head high,
so much you, so as I would have you.

Ah! There was such rage over a female foetus
growing up to be a girl of power and conviction, like Mom dear.
Or like the Pancha Mahakanya. And the marital rapes, the threats
to snatch you any given day, if I dissent; and then the termination.

If at all there is a next birth for you, my little fairy,
come back come back to my womb, life minus you is such dreary.
You need not play the games that the heart must play.
Pronounce before birth, you are not gonna be the woman of clay.

Like Ahilya, never fall prey to Indra’s trickery; and if ever you do,
do it by your choice, not anyone else’s, neither Goutama’s nor Indra’s.
Your penance need not be broken by Lord Rama, the one who
judged his wife; you need not regain your human form

by brushing his feet. Remain that dry stream, that stone,
till you find a way to my womb again, in another life, another Yug;
you need not be condoned of your guilt, you never were ‘guilty’.
Let Indra be cursed, castrated, concealed by a thousand vulvae

that eventually turn into a thousand eyes. Or like Draupadi, take your
birth from a fire-sacrifice, be an incarnation of the fierce goddess Kali
or the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi; but never be the sacrificial goat
to accept five husbands just because someone else deliberated.

If any Yudhishtir drops you at the Himalayas because you
loved Arjun more, look in his eyes and declare, loud and clear–
it’s your right to live,love and pray. While never deriding
the Duryodhan and Karn of your destiny, live laudable my dear.

Nor Kunti be your role model; but if ever you propitiate the sage
Durvasa, who grants you a mantra to summon
a god and have a child by him, then take his charge.
Don’t you recklessly test the boons life grants you by haze

nor invite the Sun-god, Surya, give birth to Karna, and abandon.
An unborn child is better than the one dejected, forlorn.
Or if ever you are Tara, the apsara, the celestial nymph,
who rises from the churning of the milky ocean

be the Tara, Sugriva’s queen and chief diplomat,
the politically correct one, the woman in control of herself
and folks around. In the folk Ramayans,
Or be Mandodari, the beautiful, pious, and righteous.

Ravana’s dutiful wife who couldn’t be his guiding force,
Bibhishana’s compliant wife, the indomitable grace.
Be you, the elemental, candid, real woman who is my ideal.
Don’t ever let another female foetus be the victim of

sadomasochism, unlike your fragile, fledgling Mom.
Be all that she could never be, accept my prayer before birth.
Moon, rain, oceans, and the blue firmament,
shining stars and a sun aglow are all that I have—

you must call them your own, my unborn daughter.
Forgive me my love, for you died with all the petals
falling from my autumny breast, the breast that you never suckled;
you rain on my being and burn my heart, but calm my soul.

You will stay indomitable, taking new lives every single day
in Mom’s prayers, poetry, social responsibilities, ecofeminism,
messages, voices, layers of thoughts and action. My girl,
I am what I decided to be after losing you, that’s the euphemism.

I am not just a woman since that fateful night, but entire
womankind. Now I am a woman of full circle, within me there is the
power to create, nurture and transform. I rediscover pieces of myself
through your unborn narrative, in the resonance in my quirky confluence

Four Good Words: Menka Shivdasani

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Menka Shivdasani, a Mumbai-based writer, has four collections of poetry. She is co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition Poetry. She has edited a SPARROW anthology of women’s writing, and two anthologies of contemporary Indian English poetry for the American e-zine, www.bigbridge.org. Menka is the recipient of the Ethos Literary Award and a Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize Certificate for ‘excellent contribution to literature’.

 

Crystal

For all its glitter, diamond
is only carbon, never mind differences
in price, quality, prestige.

Carbon, they said, was black, ugly,
so they changed the refractive index,
used it as lead to shoot
graphitic holes in paper masks,
then realised it could be polished
to still greater purposes, and made
what we call a diamond. The softness
gradually became hard.

Today, only another diamond
can cut me.

Hinges

I found my body
hinged like any other door.
It could open and close with just
a push. It had been pushed
too often—one hinge
was insecure, the other
firm as iron. No tool
seemed to work when I tried
unhinging myself, and carpenters
charged exorbitant rates.
So I decided to leave it where it was.
Now I’m building another body for myself.

 

Iron Woman

Woman of iron, from an exploded star,
I embed myself in a crusty earth
that waits for the sun to rise.
Hammer me into sheets;
stretch me into wires.
I will turn into a plough,
or light up
the world in return.
Freed from the meteorite
with lightning tongue,
I expand without breaking.
You may melt me and mix me,
I emerge even purer,
magnetic and ready to strike—
Iron woman, in her element.

 

Bird Woman

On one of those days
when the key refused
to fit the padlock,
I turned myself to air
and squeezed through
the keyhole.
It was bright outside,
and I was tired
of all the jostling women—
Nomad, with her fraying
suitcase, Devil Woman
with her lacerated
tail, and that sad little lady
with her stained and grimy apron,
who seemed so familiar,
disintegrating
in a thousand homes.

All these women,
and a few more,
were crowding in,
and the keyhole
that sat on my shoulder
was at cracking point.

I knew I had somehow
lost my way
in the brightness outside,
after all those years
in a dingy room.
Stretching my legs
was a strain and breathing
was a whole
new experience,
but folded up
behind my back
I found some wings.
They were slightly dirty,
but once I got used
to their rusty screech,
I found, strangely enough,
they worked.

I am making friends
with the birds now,
and have discovered
my talons too,
which sink perfectly
into the eagle
with his beady eyes.

Breathing is still
a problem sometimes,
but the air is warm
and I have left those
jostling women behind.

 

Kites

Kites are flimsy, fragile,
decorative, paper-thin,
bearing their wooden cross,
biding their time in airless drawers,
hidden away from the sky.

Kites are nasty, like women.
sharp-edged, they fly
against the clouds,
bite into your hand.
The threads they bear
have hidden shards of glass,
unfurling as they gauge the weft of wind.

You who stand on the parapet edge,
believing you hold the strings,
look up where it hovers and rustles.
Kites are nasty, they soar,
they tug against the reins,
catch the nearest squall
and disappear.

You will only be left
with a stinging hand
and an empty space above.

 

Tea Party

When you and I were about to break
there was no question of a fight
over who would take the cups
and who the saucers.

You spilled over with steam,
meniscus rippling with the slightest
touch; I, supine on the floor,
licked the milk once meant
for you. Both of us
were china at that point.

One of us had been to China too,
known the meaning of porcelain freedoms,
sniffed red guards. One of us
had known the sound of an alien tongue,
harsh and guttural as it came
from smiling mouths.

Our smiles were circular, yours and mine,
yours from the top of the tea
and mine below—two halves joined
together on separate rims. When we blew
at each other, the crockery
stayed firm, and who but you
and I would know the liquid moved?

No, there was no fight
over chipped white glass.
The pieces lay upon the kitchen floor.

And I—I’ve moved to tea parties
in other living rooms, balancing
alien porcelain on a frigid palm.

 

Spring-Cleaning

That was your skull on the bottom shelf,
staring socketless at my ankle.
It was a surprise find among those
bunches of old clothes.
Once I would have screamed;
now I’ve learned to discard
what doesn’t fit, and especially, all that’s ugly.

Carelessly draped on a hanger, I found an arm
leaning bonily towards the perfumes;
in another corner, a dislocated knee.
Did you run away so fast, you broke your leg?
I wish you’d wipe that foolish,
toothless grin off your stupid face.
You needn’t be embarrassed about letting
me down. Other men have too, and they
didn’t disintegrate like you.

What the hell does one do
with human remains? Should I
put them in the waste basket, and let
the sweeper see? Or, struggling under the weight,
dump a gunny bag off the beach?

You really are a nuisance, turning up
on a lethargic Sunday. Now go away.
When I want to say hello, I’d rather
walk up to the graveyard
with a sweet-smelling bunch of flowers,
look sad, and pretend
you are still below the earth.

© Menka Shivdasani

Four Good Words: Gayatri Majumdar

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Gayatri Majumdar is editor, founder-publisher of critically acclaimed Indian literary journal, The Brown Critique. Her books include A Song for Bela (a novel), poetry collections Shout and I Know You Are Here. Gayatri curates poetry/music festivals in Pondicherry and in Ramgarh in the Himalayas.

  1. Tribute to Revolutionaries

I envy your courage, sisters; 
you who have no voice chew bullets during your lunch break
(spit out pins of the grenades of your patience)  
and I, mull, shake my head and nurse my broken years, 
and am still unable to identify 
the enemy. My words are deceptive,
they tighten the noose around my silence
and I spill the beans into this apple pie and ice-creamed void.

Sisters, I salute you
and no matter how long it takes
I will wait until I look back at every wrong 

(with anger);
Sisters, let my admiration for you
protect you and your children from harm –
let the blood of your angels
colour the square 
in another red; 
let the chanting (raze the prisons filled with the fearful to the ground).

Where (how) do I begin? Where is the hammer,
the sickle – the tools I can work with tonight? 
The only possession I have bears the number 
of a soldier drafted in someone else’s war;
I revolt, sign petitions, write slogans
but they have, some say, plans to bomb the bases
after the aerial recee; survey the air and water we breathe 
and feed us leftovers of some superpower’s gallantry. 

Sisters, do not take shelter from the storms
that will rise and wreck the smirks off
those who stomp the waking hours of men
and women who wait and cannot hope;
who sleep in a 10X12, sharing it with 10 other men
(near New Delhi station for rupees 500)
and others, who have no darn idea of how
words can empower (some of them can even read),
or take the 9 am metro (or bicycle) to work.

You stand up to the dirty scoundrels, sisters; 

burst into light (and a song),

reclaim the square for us; us who have succumbed to the morphine-induced painlessness 

(happiness, some say), numb unable
to shed this thick skin (or tears). 

I wait there with you (behind your eyes),
borrowing your strength and promise not to fail.

Outside the square, there is space
where all your tears will feed 
a million stars.

My sisters, stand your ground, your water and fire.
We will shove out this thing blocking our view,
together; we need no guns, no arrows, no stones
to blow their cover and golden-chewed paper crowns.

21 February, 2011

  1. Kochi Series

iii

From Lost Hostel to Loafer’s Café,
it’s a short walking distance

I run past Vasco da Gama’s hollow grave;
mourners wailing walls where the faithful also pray;
not to disturb their troubled souls
unrest even after death.

We go searching for ancient spices
taking a 4-ruppee ride to Ernakulam
past Willingdon Island and massive European ships
still unloading cargo. Egrets wait dotting
another afternoon sea-shift.

At Dhobi Ghat past the Dutch Cemetery,
the heavy toil is relentless continuing from past centuries;
aging men and women beating, uncrumpling even while
smiling – we ready with cameras
taking photographs
of various stages of human frailties – 

we, the neo-colonists.

3. Hole in the wall

i.

There’s a hole in the wall of my city;
it brims with charity and yesterday’s clothes –
you can try them on beside the sacred heart of the red church
at the deadest of night,
your nakedness bathed in moonlight.
In this exchange of dreams, be real,
with a song lining your lips
in the purity of this hour when everything must be discarded –
kameez, pride, beliefs and other garments of excess –
unbuttoning narratives of streets
lined with homes sans walls
opening to split skies and broken breeze.

ii.

There’s a hole in the wall of my apartment;
it opens to halves of moons, trees, gullies, peddlers’ holler.
It makes up the noise in my head
with arguments and love-makings of those
refusing to budge or die.
No addresses listed, only dogs
guard them with their lives.

Endless vistas envelop their sleep –
take the sky, the sea, the rain,
whistles of trains, open drains.
The lullabying heart gentle,
billow smoke from stoves and cigarette rancid.

iii.

And now, there’s a hole
where my sky had begun to settle –
rivers, sidewalks and suns
swirl upward toward eternity.

The whirling over in the heartbeat of a song,
all things fall like poses.

Four Good Words: K. Bala

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K Bala is a visual artist and poet based out of the expanding stretches of Chennai. This is her first attempt at combining the two forms. She works as a student researcher.

Four Good Words: Anju Makhija

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Anju Makhija is a Sahitya Akademi award -winning poet, translator and playwright. She has published  and co-edited several volumes of poetry. Her forthcoming book is titled, Mumbai Traps : Collected Plays.

Tale of the Young Bride

Born in nineteen hundred and sixty eight,
in the crowded busteeof Dabirpura,
she wed one, born nineteen hundred and thirty four
Nineteen hundred and thirty four? Why him, you ask,
Had she no dowry, no jewellery, no land?

Some men collect wives, this one, no different.
Concealing her in a burkha (truly believing
she was his), he collapsed—she on his lips, and God.
Her skin snow white, nipples peachy pink,
she was claimed by another, younger,
born in nineteen hundred and thirty three.

Some men die suddenly, this one, no different.
Unveiling her (truly believing she was cursed),
they flew her back to Dabirpura.
That must be her good fortune, or so she thought.
Returning home, she faced the wrath:
Had she robbed master? Killed him?
Pink nipples were offered to the highest bidder-
bought by one, born in nineteen hundred and thirty two.

This is no tale of sorrow, for sorrow has no hope.
The police rushed to her rescue, slipping by her bedside.
‘What big guns you have,’ she said.
‘What pink nipples,’ said the wolves.
Back to the beginning, as in Hindi films,
Round and round in circles, she roamed.
Her cheeks turned pale; alas, the pink nipples glowed!
Soon she was picked up by another,
Born in nineteen hundred and thirty one.

Some old men do business, this one, no different.
Adorning her in a mirrored choli (truly believing
prized possessions should be exposed), he walked
her up and down the streets around their home.
She lost count of days and nights,
he kept full account, for her benefit, of course.

This is not a tale without an ending, for all tales end.
One night, she disappeared in a crowded bustee,
never to be found, never to be sold,
never to return, or to be returned again.

Post script: Why do old men lust, you may ask.
                     Why not? Don’t young men too?

Zari Sarees

My body is covered with
sweat ‘n shine
shine ‘n sweat.
I live in Dharavi,
wake up at 6 am,
my fingers move quickly
stitching gold wires
on glittering sarees
ordered by Bollywood.

My body is covered with
sweat ‘n shine
shine ‘n sweat.

I bathe once a week,
fleas settle between
my itchy fingers.
I chew zarda daily,
I live in a chawl
like a frightened deer.

My body is covered with
sweat ‘n shine
shine ‘n sweat.

I’m not complaining
though I should.
I’m the smartest one
in our group.
My boss is a crook,
he traps tribal children,
brings them to the city.

Someone, stop him, please!

Notes:

  • Dharavi: a large slum in Mumbai.
  • Zarda: a drug used to prevent hunger pangs.

 

 

                                               

                                               

 

Four Good Words: Anannya Dasgupta

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Anannya Dasgupta is the Director of the Centre for Writing and Pedagogy, and Associate Professor of Literature at Krea University. She is the author of a book of poems Between Sure Places (2015) and is finishing up the manuscript for another, provisionally titled Fullness of Brief Time. Her book Magical Epistemologies: Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern English Drama came out this year.

On a Skyblue Bench Looking at Rohit

I only knew you in your letter:
your words so searing that it
is still burning a hole in the sky
that we keep mistaking for the sun.

Being Little

Little Asifa who loved meadows and took her ponies out to graze didn’t know that it didn’t matter that she was a child. Little Asifa who had new clothes stitched and had planned to get matching shoes didn’t know that her unbought shoes would be on national news.

Little Asifa who brought children out on the street and us on our feet, couldn’t have known the words of horror listed on the charge sheet. But little Asifa was made to know. Her little dead body, her tale of hell, what little Asifa didn’t live to tell.

Little Asifa is with young Junaid and old Mohd. Akhlaq. Little Asifa didn’t know that it doesn’t matter if you are a child, or a young boy going home on a train, or what food is in your fridge, but she does know now that having killed the old and the young, a hindutva nation is just that brittle, that it will rape and kill even the little.

To Hurt

 I hurt –
split open,
bleed, cry out in pain.

I hurt –
hold open knives
in words that draw tears,
draw blood.

The grammar of “to hurt”
hears no difference in who hurts

just that it does.

Neither does the syntax of –
“refusing to hurt”
care for the difference in
who is preserved

just that all are.

Table for One[1]

 “Will someone be joining you?” “No” said I.
“Table for one.” In the fish pool beside me
a Koi swam up, “unless you count me in.” I,
a bit wry, “you need a seat at the table?” “If
you are able,” said the fish. So, fin, tail,
scale and all, fish drank; I ate. “This is new to
me,” I said. “Me too,” fish nodded its head.
Then it was time to go, “Cool, if I get back to
the pool?” “Yes,” I said to the disappearing
fish. What more could I wish? We did sit and
eat; for the rest, fish is fins and I am all feet.

Belonging to Themselves

If we let a tree belong to itself
If we let a bird belong to itself
If we let bugs, frogs and elephants
all belong to themselves, alone
and in swarms, in flocks and herds

then maybe it wouldn’t be
just for animals and birds.

Sister

What is to be sister
I ask myself,
having been one all my life

having watched over
having worried beyond my age
having the words “my” and “mine”
forever split four ways.

Playtime long gone; playthings forgotten
what is it now to be one
in sorrows we keep from each other
like we never did toys.

Am I begging the world
for mustard seeds…
asking to learn to be sister again
asking to be returned life’s lease?

Good Words

Caught in the net
are fish,
small nethilis
some still alive as deft fingers
pluck and toss
them into a pail.

Silver scales
catch light before
falling into a
dark buzz of flies.

A crow waits,
watches for a fault in the line –
a fish that twitches mid-air
misses aim, falls by its feet.

What we fill the belly with,
if at all, and how
is where all good words
come to make the cut

sometimes they are a mouthful of air
sometimes they are wrenched from the gut.

[1] This poem appeared in the anthology The World That Belongs to Us (2020) Eds. Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal.

Four Good Words: Verse by Women

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We closed the 2020 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence with a day of poetry videos by poets who are women. The poems touched on four important values in the Preamble to the Constitution of India: Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These four values are critical to our quest for a violence-free world.

Through the four days of Pongal, we are going to re-share the poetry here, this time with both video and text.