Wednesday, 21 February 2018

In Too Deep - Write...Edit...Publish...February 2018

Hello WEP-ers!

Welcome to the first post for 2018 for Write...Edit...Publish... which has a groovy updated look, super awesome! I love it. 

I'm here with an excerpt from a long story called ‘A Postcard from the Village.’ Not exactly a Valentine's story, I'm afraid. Not romantic love, but it celebrates sisterhood and camaraderie between women and the triumph of the human spirit over conflicts born of narrowmindedness. (Btw, 21st Feb has a great significance in Bangladesh, and also the wider Bengali culture. The day has been recognised by the UN as the International Mother Language Day. In a way this story is also a tribute.)

The setting is September 1946, in undivided Bengal in the run up to the Partition the following year. In 1947, as India won her Independence, Bengal was divided into a Hindu majority West Bengal, and East Bengal became Muslim majority East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. That year – 1946, was a year of deep and bitter, bloody religious conflict in Bengal. Countless people from both communities were killed. The story itself is of course fictional but it's based on a terribly real history.

Sukhada, a Hindu woman living in Calcutta, West Bengal, receives a postcard from her pregnant sister-in-law, from Sukhada’s ancestral home in East Bengal.  In it is the news that all the menfolk have been killed by rioters, and her mother has died from the shock. The SIL is being sheltered by a kindhearted Muslim woman who is also at risk of being murdered if it becomes known she is helping someone of the other faith. Sukhada appeals to the head of the family to let her visit her sister-in-law. But her Uncle-in-law refuses permission. Sukhada then decides to run away, return to her parental home to her sister-in-law. This is what happens upon her arrival.

A Postcard from the Village  

The stench was overpowering.  The smell of charred earth flapped like a wet rag against her senses, suffocating, dreadful.  The paddies had only scorched stumps left.  The thatched cottages had been reduced to ruined mounds. The trees stood stripped of leaves, branches blackened and deformed, clawing the sky, strangely skeleton-like.  Sukhada suddenly came upon a half-burnt forearm stuck in the charred lower undergrowth, the flesh bloated, horribly mottled in pink and black, crawling with flies.  Battling nausea, she clapped a handful of her saree over her nose and quickened her steps. 

Her ancestral home was one of three brick and mortar buildings in the village, the others being the post office and the school.  It was a rambling residence, generations had added a wing here, a room there, modified it to suit them over the centuries. 

It was shaped loosely like an E, the three bars of the letter forming the three main wings.  The outer wing facing the main gate housed the sitting rooms, one large for the men’s use every evening, and a more intimate family room.  There was also a small schoolroom for the children and another one that served as an office. The middle wing was mostly bedrooms, a day room given over for the women’s use, the central one a small shrine.  The last wing comprised servants’ rooms and the bathrooms.  The spine of the E were the kitchens – vegetarian and non-vegetarian strictly segregated, the store rooms, another with the paddy-mill.  Tucked between the women’s wing and baths, was the small ante-room used by generations for music. The entire house had deep, wrap-around verandas, so that all rooms were accessible from the verandas as well as from each other. 

Sukhada stopped where the main gate had been, and looked at what remained.  The entry gaped open, the walls were charred black, a heap of burnt rubble.  The graceful louvered windows had been reduced to cinders along with their frames, the terrible heat had distorted the wrought iron bars before they had worked loose and fallen in a tangle of metal.  Sukhada’s head swam as she recalled the postcard.

'They were more than fifty strong, armed with machetes and torches.  They dragged the menfolk out.  Our esteemed mother protested, and was shoved back.  She fell and stayed motionless.  They went through all the rooms, helped themselves to what they wanted.  I hid behind the sitar, huddled under the dust-cloth and recited the Durganaam, thinking if the Goddess wishes my baby to be born She will let me complete the chants.  The house became quiet presently. I went to our mother and called her but she made no answer. 

I found Moga outside, she has brought me with her, I am writing from her home, but it is not a secure position.  I lit the pyre for our mother as there were no other males present, the priest said no sin would attach to me and more importantly, affect the little one.  I am much dispirited, Sister.'

Room after room lay in ruins, furniture reduced to kindling, cherished items made worthless, dust and ashes. Sukhada felt a terrifying hand squeeze her heart in a constricting grip.  What had happened after the postcard was written? Was the letter-writer safe when the burning was going on?

Her grandmother’s elegantly carved rosewood four-poster lay in a brutally burnt heap, the exquisite scrolled carving of vines against the raw grain of the split wood like an obscene wound.  She could not bear to look, yet she could not tear her eyes away from the destruction, hypnotised by the horror. 

In her brother’s bedroom, someone had brought out the old rocking horse and given it a fresh coat of paint.  The mob had decapitated it, and she stumbled over the mutilated, partly scorched head, the blackened mouth had been split open in a ghastly travesty of a grin, parts of the remaining gaily-painted red harness seemed like oozing blood. She ran along the veranda with her heart thudding.

She paused at the threshold of the music room, it too had not escaped.  The doors had been taken off their hinges with blows that had cleaved the frame, the windows looked out onto the veranda black and hollow like the empty eye sockets of a skull. Sukhada felt dizzy, all her fears heightened to a crescendo of panic.  She stepped over the doorsill.

The mindless destruction had left its evidence all around the walls here as well.  A collection of flutes that had hung in a case had been torn off and set alight.  The drums and harmonium were similarly defaced and burnt.  Sukhada walked, astonished, towards the centre where a small but exquisitely made carpet was laid.  She recalled many hours sitting on it practising, strumming the sitar.  The instrument was still there, its dustcover disturbed, bunched up over the neck.  The full, round gourd rested on the carpet exposed, but intact. 

It sat on the carpet unscathed as though on an island untouched by the ocean of wreckage around it.  She sat down beside the sitar and picked it up.  The strings came alive at her touch and she drew the few first notes of a favourite raga in unpractised fingers.  She had not played in a long time, the instrument was not tuned, but still the strings felt warm and quivery under her hand, eager to lighten the weight in her heart, to resonate with her grief.  She laid her head upon its neck and finally abandoned herself to uncontrollable weeping.


WC -924

Read the other entries here: 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Easiest to forget

Today I'd thought I’d write a poem for you –
but the sunrise seamed the sky in lilac
and birdwings, and so I could not get back -
prise myself away, think the structure through.

The road was busy, the day starts early here,
city noises are not quite as mystic -
(the birdsongs drowned by the whoosh of traffic)
as the daybreak shows the skies engineer.

A pair of doves sat on my window sill
wings growing sharper with the changing light
and I forgot the poem I’d thought I’d write;
they sat a long time, I watched longer still.

Wings in the sky and on the sill - sonnets
are some of the easiest things to forget.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Valentine II

I can still feel the drizzle of your fingers
soft as the sea-sand on my face and hair;
some things are gone, it’s now many winters
the fallen leaves are banked in many layers;

there’s half an empty eggshell in the pond
floating next to the water hyacinth;
some kind of plastic scum in faded blonde
choking the small concrete steps and the plinth,

the bricks crumble gently and grow their cracks
and lure in grass and a banyan sapling;
but I can still feel the rain on their backs -
your hands don’t change unlike the other things.

And yes, this is where I’ve chosen to stand
surrender again to rain and your hands.

Totally off-topic, for those interested in my safari pics - there's a video clip in the sidebar. And maybe it's not all that off-topic either, plenty grass at any rate.

Monday, 5 February 2018


I can no longer breathe you in
or accidentally brush your skin.
Radio silence, an empty glove
strangles time. But I still choose love.

The smells of coffee and cologne
reconfigured to disaster zones –
blood orange and marmalade nerve.
But I’m choosing to stay in love.

Mushroom smoke and mother of pearled
guns pour from factories of the world.
War and peace on an unknown curve.
But I’m choosing to stay in love.

A lone bird sits on an antenna,
the skyline slow fades to henna.
This soft sea. The heavens above.
Yes, I'm choosing to stay in love.

Friday, 2 February 2018

For Twinkle and Moongoddess

Did we want the moon supersized, what would we do? -
with a great big moon on our plate, both red and blue,
a thing of splendour in the skies, eclipsed or full,
even cut in half when served up too wide to chew.
Too wide, too great for the plate, too far for our lens
to pick up shades and nuance across this distance.
Let the moontug of yearnings subside, these birdprints
in the sand and the grains in hand too, are immense.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Malfuf wa Malik : Silence, Sounds, Shapes, Ramadan Stories and Traditions

I’m still in the mood for oud. Here’s Ahmad Alshaiba from Yemen with an oud cover of The Sound of Silence, one of my all time favourite songs -

and also of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The absence of lyrics is a serious improvement imo, the music's okay, but thumbs down for the chauvinistic words.  The polar opposite of favourite, not a fan  - no idea why it won the Grammy yesterday...but then I'm not the demographic that Ed is singing for. Though I'm glad to see the choice is creating its own firestorm of protest.

Anyways, take a listen while I tell you about...

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Republic Day 2018

Vault over to some place where everything
was colour, glory, the parade in full swing -
thousands moving as one, the thud of boots,
overhead the roar of airmen’s salutes,
multitudes of faces, hands in the crowd
clapped to the marching beat and cheered aloud.

Once more then, through jamun lined avenues
the early morning fog in soft greys and blues
traffic sparse enough to step on the tarmac
along the wide boulevards as we walk back
to where lies, if uttered, were not-for-profit,
all men were heroes, at least, not complicit.

Even now, though age has coarsened my hands,
they still want to clap to those marching bands.
But meanwhile some of those jamuns are gone,
the fog’s forced to curl around a saffron con.
The tunes are just as brave, the wings in the skies.
But the grounds are mined with a web of lies.

Of course the decades turn, the sense of free
changes with time, as does the jamun tree,
and the road it shaded once. Some time ago
that morphed to a highway, but peak traffic’s slow,
and there’s a bridge and a brand new police booth -
more crime, less heroes, that’s the honest truth.

We walk in silence, each rapt in her thoughts
a gate, a date, a parade, and each one fraught
between the current and the past recalled.
As for myself, I struggle to place the fault -
is it mine or is it just circumstance?
There’s a hole where a jamun had swayed once.

Free us from hatred and the conflicts it breeds;
give us strength to embrace every tribe and creed
free from the past, not trying to rearrange
what was unpleasant - for it does not change
even if a name’s wiped out, a word dropped
out of visible discourse, a few facts cropped.

The march past I watch now, and also those
I watched long ago, both draw to a close.
The balloons rise, the guests begin to leave.
Glad my hands have clapped, but they also grieve -
this road’s widened but endless others shrink,
narrow the spaces to live, love and think.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Written in blacks and whites and greys

You wrote me like a poem, a tracing
of water on a metal plate
a single blade of grass, subtly lacing
and weaving the breeze into a fete;

you wrote me like the plumes of dust devils
gently blur the horizons, spiked
lines that danced on the page, couldn’t keep still
and went off the edge as they liked;

you wiped me off too, like the savannahs
after rain, pockmarked with blossoms,
carry the sounds of slowly fading cars,
erase the gleam with clumsy thumbs.

You wrote me down and then you tore me up

flung me into the grass and into love.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Fresh new eyelids

Somewhere in a river of red Sundays,
in thick drifts of January headlines,
somewhere in black boxes of old crosswords,
perched nervous on a taut wire of sunshine,
I’ve waited for you to give me back my mind.

Somewhere in yellowed photograph albums,
in a million cracks of brittle glassine,
staring at the six-faced dies of mind games,
turning the wheels of dead mundane routine,
I’ve waited for you to tell me what you mean.

The years fall like petalled rain on fingers
and both my hands and eyelashes are wet.
On the highway piled up sullied winters.
You’re still out shooting, eyeballs on target,
but no more waiting, I’m primed to forget.

Eyelids are woven so they’d be drip-dried,
strength’s a dragon kite flying at its own will.
I’ve torn up all the rivers and cracked glassine
and forced the boxes open, dies to spill.
You’ll be in sometime. I’ll be quite civil.

And I’ll claim back each of the shot Sundays,
and every blank box on the crossword grid,
rake back each ribbon of hijacked mindspace
and weave myself a pair of fresh, new eyelids
and brush off all that you did, and undid.

Sunday, 14 January 2018



The first discards are not even noticed -
the packing newspapers, old magazines,
the shift in the definition of local,
and the weather displayed on tiny screens.

One day too soon the memories are blurry
and previous city roads get unravelled.
The radio programmes, heights of doorframes
shift slightly to let you know you’ve travelled.

The last of the old supermarket’s brands,
bags bright in undegradable plastic -
a beaker bought there is suddenly broken
and shattered pieces of glass equal homesick.

You sigh, sweep up and throw them in the bin,
and that’s when the meaning of home sinks in.

I'm still celebrating the mundane, which is what I do, generally. I know, I should get a life! This year, I promise. I'll make a serious attempt. Right after I finish this post. 

Anyways, last month, last month? year end, I was talking to my friend, and of course, we started with something very crisp and concrete on the agenda and wound up someplace completely unrelated-fuzzy, history, and homes, and the meanings of both.  And something that was said - home is shared history, the stuff you carry around, the interior of the mind and not the interior of the house - must have stuck in ye olde subconscious and produced the above. 

An Egyptian kettle and a teamug broke in the  meantime, I don't know how they managed to sneak in here. But things have got to a pretty desperate stage if broken mugs and electrical appliances are making it to poems! Must find mundane, but less mundane, stuff to celebrate. Pronto!

What are you celebrating today? :)

Sunday, 7 January 2018


The yin and the yang, the fizzle, sizzle and bang
the sparkle, the circle, and line
oh, I am grateful for all, the short, tall, oddball,
the glass and the fuss and the wine.
The stable, unstable, the three-legged table
so long as there’s place it’s just fine.
The pins and the prongs, and the fork’s probably wrong -
but I’m grateful it’s still got tines. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Hello, 2018!!

Not many photos of the grass
-  so remiss! So remiss, because
the earth there wears a festive lace,
it shimmers when a mild breeze blows.

Not many photos of the grass
as it’s not in the line of sight,
effort’s needed to find the grace
that’s not obviously supersized.

Just one photograph of the grass
to snag memory in a snare.
The small always made even less,
ignored as if it isn’t there.

But the grass underfoot makes me ache,
it’s lace, and longing, and heartbreak.

I was in the African savannahs over the holidays. Got lots of photos of the wildlife, the big 5, the mammals, even the smaller less drooled-over species like dung-beetles and lizards. The variety and the beauty of the grasses blew my mind, the delicacy of their seedpods, the slant of their bending to the winds. I didn’t get too many photographs though, the breeze was always blurring the picture, when I made the effort to focus in the first place, that is. Which is odd when you think of it, because surely the star of the show in the grasslands ought to be the grasses and not befanged and betrunked animals?

But I got a few photos, and one of them is up there for your consumption, for whatever it’s worth. Not every magical moment/thing can be clicked and binary-coded into hard disks and boxed up even if I were to be less remiss – that too is a life lesson in acceptance.

I also had this vague expectation, fully aware it was wrong and therefore duly afraid of being disillusioned as well - this mixed and mixed-up expectation that somehow it would offer me a route to the utter peace, the aching content that the savannahs of my childhood did. It was a thinly veiled attempt to return to lapsed spaces and times. Which of course was doomed to fail from the outset. 

But as it turned out, it wasn’t a failure.  The landscapes of the East are different from the West where I spent my childhood - the acacia species, the missing baobabs, the mango trees laden with a totally different red-magenta fruit. Even some of the grasses felt different. But that heart-stopping hushed feeling when in the savannahs, stretching from where your feet are planted to the horizons? Exactly the same. You breathe deep, and you mentally clasp your hands together in gratitude.

Welcome! to M-i-V in 2018, which is going to be roughly the same as it was in 2017, but hopefully a little wiser, a little less remiss, with a slightly clearer focus on the grasses while keeping an eye out for the betrunked and the befanged in the savannahs of life.