Monday, 6 July 2020

No entry




With a milestone for a pillow
with hard asphalt for a mattress
I’m ready to make my way home
through this midday heat, and darkness;


the borders are closed to traffic
they have slammed shut their gateways
and a mushroom cloud is churning,
turning the hamster wheels of days.


But I wear my face lighthearted
I keep the talk convivial
and the laundry colour sorted,
a close focus on trivial.


For the rules mustn’t be broken
and life must always go on
though home’s no longer a shelter
all meanings and routes are gone.




Sunday, 28 June 2020

Orange curtained





I.



Last night I thought of you, I couldn’t sleep - 
the bedclothes were too warm, too soft, their perfume
felt like the long-ago, orange-curtained room
where you’d sat with the sunlight on your sleeve.

The hoarding outside blinked into the night
some wire loose, some pattern of disconnect
patchy skin of an anecdote, near perfect
in recall, but I know that I’m being naïve.

Nothing much has changed meanwhile, there are three
black and white photos still on the bookcase
the walls kaleidoscope into your face
and grief does not leave any marks on these.

Peace is a hollow sound, darkness is an ear
twisted  in the pillow. And insomnia.


II.


I think of you during the day as well
your hands behind my eyes a push button
umbrella, their arcs of fluorescence open,
your voice a softly blooming magic spell
on a fractured day morphing to a lullaby
for a drop of time, neither blink nor aeon,
a swirl of seconds? years? before it’s gone
and I straighten up whatever went awry


turn back again, deep dive into the phone –  
respond to an email, write a paragraph,
read the news, look up the tally, adjust
my nerves, try a new pink smile - mostly half
hearted. Grief’s the shape of my collarbone
and wrist, milliseconds marooned in the past. 





Sunday, 21 June 2020

Lockdown Lesson 2




I do not give up hope, though no feathered
thing sits and sings at my open windows,
which look out on a washing line, tethered
to my neighbour’s balcony, dingy rows
of plastic strings and pegs, the deep shadows
of my own building on it, fallen forward –
a skyline toppled, downed like dominos.
A word game where hope can’t finish the word.


The only thing that flies in is a raptor
with blood on its beak, the sharpest claws
scrabbling the old panels of the railing.
It leaves bloodstains. Hope is not the chapter
nor verse of its song, I lean and listen close.
I don’t give up an inch, but it sings nothing.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Write...Edit...Publish... + IWSG June 2020 : Urban Nightmare


It's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish..., I do hope all WEPers are coping and doing well.   Keeping in mind the ongoing pandemic situation and the personal challenges we are all facing, WEP is going Lite this month. I'm sticking to my comfort zone of photo-essays, aka non-fiction ramblings. I have done better this month on the wordcount control, finally! -  


Pigeon. Panic. Pandemic. 



There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon.
~ Matsuo Basho

Right in the middle of the urban nightmare to beat all nightmares, the pigeon desperately wants to fly home. But it can’t. Borders are closed. The mind can go wherever it wants, it can think only flowers, it can think beyond the moon, it can morph into whatever it desires, but the body? The body is governed by the natural laws, physics and biology and biochemistry and abstruse electrochemistry. It is subject to boundaries both physical and geographical. There is no shaking off its shackles. There is no escape from this city. And so it burrows back into the mind, where it can devise its own escape and try on the grasshopper wings again.


Credit: View from Studio (1886)


The rise of the city is inexorably linked to settled agriculture. And art as we know it today is linked to it as well. If there were no public buildings – the monuments, the necropolis, the places of worship, the town square, the library, the parks, as also the private grounds and the sitting room, there would be no need to hang art on walls or install statues or design frescoes and fountains and what have you. The beginnings of Homo sapiens’ art, as with most other beginnings, lie in Africa, in Tan-Tan and Blombos. Some of the prehistoric art we have remnants of, were either made to decorate living humans with – beads and a mix of pigments to hang around and ornament various limbs; or were independent free standing, portable figurines. A purely nomadic hunter gatherer life does not lend itself to monumental art for obvious reasons. Rock art which dates from around 35,000-40,000 years ago or even 200,000 ya is clearly an attempt to beautify or glorify a cave/surface which humans were at for long enough to create those artworks. Therefore, we can safely assume that though art happened pre-agriculture, wall art required a surface that humans stayed put at for some time or they knew they would come back to. If there are no walls, they can’t be decorated, right?


The ancient cities rose on the back of the Neolithic Revolution – or settled agriculture, in the region commonly known as the Fertile Crescent. The oldest cities such as Jericho (9000 BCE) and Ur (6500 BCE) coalesced along its curve. The first writing and recordkeeping happened in Ur in fact, slicing off the ‘pre-‘ from prehistory in one fell swoop. Cities were predicated on an agricultural surplus and humans changed profoundly, from foragers into a society based on specialisation of labour. Not everyone needed to be growing food, so some turned their minds and skills to other things. A non-farming class of residents - that of the artists/artisans – grew as a corollary to settled agriculture.


The earliest civilisations rose out of these communities in the river valleys of Mesopotamia, India, Egypt and China. Settled agriculture meant an exponential growth in the population, as the same piece of land could now support many times the original inhabitants. As the civilisations grew, their cities became political capitals, centres of education, trade and commerce hubs, forums for artistic and creative exchange. But there was also a price to pay for this luscious, spanking new lifestyle. An organised society meant more rigid class divisions and inequalities leading to high crime rates. Living in close proximity meant higher pollution, and last but not the least, diseases on an epidemic scale. The urban nightmare started early - from ancient times.


***


Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it. 
~ Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent’s nightmares were both urban and various. The most famous of them is the ear incident in Arles. That happened after a heated debate with Paul Gauguin. But there are others as well. Let the grasshopper stop whirring about for a minute and recap his time in Paris.

In 1886, Vincent moved to Paris where his brother Theo was already working at an art dealers. Paris had acquired the reputation of being the art capital of Europe in prior centuries. By the time van Gogh moved there, it was in its artistic prime – it had some of the finest painters and the art schools associated with them. Paris was the centre where several art movements – Romanticism, Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Art Deco etc evolved. Van Gogh arrived in Paris splat in the middle of the Impressionist movement - Monet and Pissarro were already established. Vincent admired the old masters he saw in the Paris museums, at first he didn’t like the Impressionists much. But that changed a year on – he started experimenting with the loose brushstrokes and lighter, brighter colour palettes of the Impressionists. His art evolved at an exponential, breath-taking pace. He worked in the studio of Fernand Cormon and found inspiration from his circle of artist friends such as Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin.

However, living in Paris drained him, even as it elevated his art and grew him as an artist. He smoked and drank too much, ate poorly, the pace of the big city wore him down.

It seems to me almost impossible to be able to work in Paris, unless you have a refuge in which to recover and regain your peace of mind and self-composure. Without that, you’d be bound to get utterly numbed. 
~ Letter to Theo van Gogh, Arles, 21st Feb 1888

I could never get used to climbing the stairs in Paris, and was always dizzy in a dreadful nightmare that has left me here, but recurred regularly there. 
~ Letter to Willemien van Gogh, Arles, June 1888

The self-portrait he painted in Paris reflected this, he looks exhausted and depressed. And he described it as such to his sister Wil ‘with…wrinkles in forehead and around the mouth, stiffly wooden, a very red beard, quite unkempt and sad.

Credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam


Paris ultimately gave Vincent the artistic lift-off he had sought, but he had had to pay a heavy price. 


Always a heavy price. Whether as a heedless species traversing the broad arc of history; or a single, keenly aware individual, a misunderstood genius ahead of his time, trying to make a little space for his art.



WC - 1054
FCA


Read the other entries below :

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Lockdown lesson I


Credit




I follow the stories. Most stories don’t
have pleasant endings, or even beginnings,
written in happy-go-lucky, squiggly fonts.
Year round extra judicial killings.
Some will make it to the headlines, most won’t.
This peaking death in the middle of spring.
Losses that happen and are telephoned.
The rollbacks, the undemocratic stirrings.  


On the plus side, there’s always one, I’m told -
managed to learn a whole new heap of things:
crash course on firming up the pain threshold;
these so called linings of silver and gold
are exactly that – heightened imaginings.
Positive, and its dire, negative meanings.







Sunday, 7 June 2020

Breathless



Credit



I’ve read somewhere – a prophet spent
forty days in the wilderness.
A pair of brothers were absent
for fourteen years more or less.


In strange, nested mythologies,
passages marked in sands and wars.
And in here-n-now territories
time buckles under tormentors.


I heard the empty vessels wreck
my world, too close their keels and teeth.
Saw too, a knee pressed on a neck
and shut my eyes, forgot to breathe.


The mills, I’ve heard, grind small but slow –
how many more aeons to go?






Monday, 1 June 2020

Allusions and a Lockdown Mantra




Keep listening to the birds, and the crickets,
watching for star reflections in buckets,
though the present is a box full of darkness
remember it’s still a gift and nothing less.
The sky never had a limit, and the ground
is hallowed everywhere, even torn and browned,
even when it's sullied with a pandemic
of deceit and a tsunami of plastic.
When it’s ruthlessly mauled by a cyclone;
the warming of seas, the holes in the ozone.
Lay your skin close to the asphalt and concrete
and under them feel the seasonal heartbeat.
Thirteen ways are good, but you don’t always need
thirteen, one is enough, the rest is just greed.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

আমার আকাশ



আমার আকাশ, আমায় নিয়ে চলো বাড়ি
যেখানে দেয়ালে দোলে বাংলা ক্যালেন্ডার
কি জানি হিসেব লেখা কাঁপা হাতে মা'র
আলনায় ঝোলে কয়টি কস্তা পেড়ে  শাড়ি,
না সে কোনো স্বপ্ন নয় হাজার দুয়ারী
বর্ষায় বাড়ে কমে নেহাত সস্তার  দুয়ার
প্রতিবার চেঁছে চেঁছে রং চটা তার
মধ্যবিত্তের  দরজার মাপও মাঝারি।

আকাশ এবার আমায় নিয়ে চলো ঘরে
সপ্তপর্ণীর পাতায় ঘেরা জানলার কাছে।
ফাটা চৌকাঠে ঋজুর বিয়ের আল্পনা
কালিঝুলি মাখা রান্নাঘরের কোণা।
বাইরে ভাঙা ডাল নেড়া তার ঝুলে আছে।
যেখানে জীবনসার ছিন্নভিন্ন ঝড়ে।






My skies


My skies, please take me home
where there's a Bengali calendar on the wall
some indiscernible account written in Mother's unsteady hand
and plain bordered saris hanging on the clothes rail
No it's not a dream of a thousand doors
in fact, it's a cheap shutter that expands every monsoon
and the paint's peeling because it has to be trimmed every year -
the doors of the middle class are also moderately sized.


Skies, now please take me to my home
to the windows curtained by the leaves of the seven-leaved tree
rice slurry patterns drawn on the cracked threshold,
to the sooty kitchen corner draped in cobwebs
Outside broken branches and bare electric wires dangle,
where entire lifetimes lie in ruins after a cyclone.




My home state West Bengal has been devastated by Cyclone Amphan. We were already reeling from the pandemic. The cyclone has killed nearly 90 people in a few hours. Thousands of livelihoods and lives ruined. Some of my relatives in Kolkata were without power/running water/communications  for 5 days, there are still areas in the city where the first responders are struggling to restore supplies. Even worse impact on the rural communities. It will take years to rebuild. But we will get it done. 











Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Let them eat some cake!




How many hearts have been crushed in these fifty days

how many pairs of feet have walked the national highways

and how many lives were sliced open on the rail tracks

how many children starved as their parents trudged back

the unbalconied people who'll go anywhere

and work everything from harvesters to daycare.

Well, there's no vote this year - is that the reason why

you talk about bells-n-petals, and let them die?


Sunday, 10 May 2020

Maybe then...







Maybe when aeons of rivers flow down
to the sea, maybe when lightyears of time
stand ripened, rippling in the autumn sun,
when gallons and gallons of hymns and homes
are blown out embers, landfilled out of town  
when fathoms of feet have trampled stations
maybe then, maybe then? maybe then…


Maybe when memories turn blue black, grown
into the sky, fade inward to smoke and grime,
maybe when the weight of stories equals millions,
when miles and miles of birds and biomes
slink out slowly, escape this long lockdown
to love again - always an affliction,
maybe then, maybe then? maybe then…








Sunday, 3 May 2020

How much?





The question is - how much time? mere six weeks
to knit bones, much less than that for a scratch,
forty days for the womb to rest and bleed
out its slow postpartum debris, to catch
its breath after birth. Exactly how much
time after death is the trauma safe to touch?
All my days are sleepless nights far too deep
for tears. It was she who taught me not to weep.


She was a little old school, but it’s rubbed
off - knit into the brain, the mesh of neurons
and won’t unravel, however hard I tug.
I touch this wound only when I’m alone
and my fingers come away wet, not with blood
or tears, any fluid I have ever known.







April was a monumental month, a whirlwind of events public and personal - some terrible, some devastating, some just bad and some not so bad. 


I failed the A-Z 2020 Challenge because I couldn't comment/visit, though my posts all got done as per schedule. I withdrew halfway through. 


I was absent from the WEP Challenge for the first time since I joined. The support, well wishes and prayers from my fellow WEPers were...just beyond words. They chose to award this entry, which was pre-written and scheduled, of course. What can I say? To all those who wrote here and at the WEP site, emailed or used other social media channels to reach out - thank you! But thank you doesn't even begin to cut it. 





Thursday, 30 April 2020

Z is for Zilch .... Zip ... n ... Zillions




This last day put your headphones on for an old but path breaking band from the 90’s - Bombay Vikings, with their hit number Zara Nazron Se..




And then keep them on for a new one, here’s Zokova live with an untitled track -




The last piece of music in this A-Z series is a jugalbandi featuring maestros Zakir Hussain and Amjad Ali Khan on the tabla and sarod respectively. Both are world famous performers of their instruments. A jugalbandi is a piece played by two musicians in a kind of call and response format.