Monday 26 February 2018

Malfuf wa Malik: Unobtrusive Vowels and Vivid Verbs.

A wide range of music today because I couldn’t just pick one – first, Haifa Wehbe with  Tamaneen milyon ehsas (80 million feelings) her song dedicated to Egypt. Haifa is a popular young Lebanese musician, but here she is singing the lyrics in the Egyptian dialect.

Then the two indie bands – Wust el Balad and Mashrou’ Leila, both unconventional newer fusion sounds, blending Western and Oriental, from Egypt and Lebanon respectively. Enjoy!

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.