Sunday, 18 December 2022
Sunday, 4 December 2022
It's fine in the daytime, there are children
on the grass, noisy buses going past,
the incessant birds, faraway workmen.
The dark palm wood beams sloping upwards cast
shadows familiar for months. But when
darkness falls, the lights come on, traffic thins,
I heat a meal for one - rice or ramen,
bread and soup. You're away, you won't be in
so I eat at the frantic screens, the phone
and TV turned to their loudest volume
to mimic company while I'm alone.
A fake calm puddled in the empty room.
That is when the walls snarl, concrete and chrome
bare their fangs. This no longer feels like home.
I am travelling, off to a place that does feel like home no matter who or what is in it. :) I'll be moving around visiting family so I'll catch up with you as and when I can. The WEP Challenge is on this month and I'm the cohost for Dec so of course I'll be present there through the month.
Wishing you happy holidays, peace, good health and happiness throughout the coming year. A very merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating and a happy, healthful and tranquil New Year 2023 to you.
Thursday, 1 December 2022
Honestly, can you believe the year is over? It's gone like a puff of smoke. But before it disappears altogether it's time for the last challenge at Write...Edit...Publish... based on Roberta Flack's iconic number - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Here is my entry, an excerpt from what's going to be a rather long short story. I hope you enjoy it.
The first time...Wait, no, hang on a minute. I didn’t really see your face, did I now? So I damn well couldn’t think the sun and moon rose in your eyes, even if I had a mind to. Did I get a shivery someone-walking-over-my-grave feeling that this person will turn out to have some monumental impact on my life? No, to be honest, not even that.
Truth be told, I’d just felt a stab of interest and admired the photograph. Clear, crisp, high contrast, the chiaroscuro effects superbly employed. Not many people put up B/W photos on their profiles now, the vast majority of photography is carried out in colour, often overmanipulated, too vivid to be true with a million filters available at the touch of a single button. So it’s intriguing when one comes upon a stark portrait like that – a lady in the fashions of decades ago sitting formally at a Victorian table with an outsize art deco radio, a vase of flowers and a silver framed photo. Too senior to have an independent social media profile, so I assumed it was the job of a grandkid. Which, you told me later, was true, it was uploaded by you, she was your grandmother. Your picture was the one framed in silver, your babyface partially visible and anyway too blurry to see suns and moons anywhere. I liked that idea – the invisible profile pic. Meeting the requirement of being pictorially present without giving anything away, quiet, private, a little quirky. Also a tribute to your grandmother whose death anniversary had just passed. I liked that even better.
Anyway, all that came later. I saw the profile pic and on some insane impulse, messaged you about the provenance of the photo. It must have stood out from the wannabe-friends messages that beautiful women get by the bucketful. Different enough that you wrote back - the studio stamp was legible on the back, the name was clear, the address was too faded to read. No date, but roughly mid/late 70s from the baby photo. Even that had the same name at the back. You wrote you’d taken it out of the frame and checked. You even attached a picture of the stamp. It was like a gut punch – bony fist reaching out from a forgotten past and socking me a massive one. Took my breath clean away. I had come a long way from the last time I saw that name.
My mother’s uncle, Samudra or Sam Gain, was one of the first non-European photographers employed by Bourne & Shepherd’s in post-colonial times. He later opened his own studio. It did moderately well, photography had a different weight those days, it was specialised and somewhat more seriously practiced as art and/or business.
He used to take me to the studio often when I was a child. I remember watching him in the darkroom, the details of the images slowly getting filled in – it was magical to a child’s eye. He employed an assistant when the running around got too much. People joined, photographers and accountants came and went. I got to high school and had no more time to lounge around watching films being developed. The B/W photos in the window got replaced by colour prints. Sam got a little more stooped. But his hand was still steady on the shutter button. Then one day, he died – there in the darkroom, without any warning, any preparation, felled clean in one stroke. He was unmarried and had no other surviving relatives except my mother and her sisters. The studio with its forty-year load of images passed to them.
His three nieces and nephews-in-law knew zilch about photography or running a business. They agreed that there might be negatives of archival value stacked away in the backroom. But no one had the time to look through them. The junior photographer kept on for sometime, but he couldn’t carry the studio on his back like the original owner. The orders dried up, the staff dispersed and soon the doors were shuttered. The signboard got so dusty that the lettering - Focussed Gain’s could hardly be read.
That random photo opened up two parallel conversations – one with you, thus the details about your grandmother. The other with my parents about the studio, whether anything had been done with the little two-and-a-half-room corner of that large property, where Sam Gain had meticulously photographed his clientele.
No, they told me, the tenants on the other floors refused to move. The negatives were still untouched, gone beyond retrieval probably by now. The rooms couldn’t be let out unless someone cleared out the whole place. The property itself was getting into its 7th decade and needed massive repairs. No-one had the time or energy to take on that job. Or that of wrapping up a dead man’s existence. If he had had his own children, maybe they could have. But it didn’t seem fair to ask great nephews/nieces to upend their life and sort out the aftermath of his death.
“Why?” my mother asked, “after so long?”
I didn’t know the answer. Seriously, why? I was working abroad, settled in my life, I had left my hometown more than a decade ago. Why was I letting an old photograph randomly viewed, stir up what? I couldn’t even properly name it – vague disquiet? hankering? - for impractical explorations, to connect imaginary dots where probably not a speck existed.
I resolved to put this whole wild goose digital chase to an end. But then you wrote you had made some enquiries of your own. The props – the table, the wooden polished radio, had never been part of your grandmother’s home, no one could identify where the photo was taken. That silver frame was the only thing that everyone remembered and that was with you. There was something rather odd, an undercurrent in the messages which I couldn’t pin down. Maybe there were some dots to connect after all.
Tagline : A random photo can open up a can of worms...
Okay, so that's as far as I can get with the word limit. The full thing will probably run to about 5K or more, we'll see. The MC will go back to his hometown, to his great uncle's studio and discover things that connect the grandmother and granddaughter to Sam Gain. Against the backdrop of B/W photography in mid-20th century Calcutta.
Will the MC fall for the granddaughter? Should he? Will that make the story more interesting? What do you think?
Incidentally, Bourne & Shepherd was one of the oldest photography studios in the world, set up in 1863 and finally closed a few years ago. There were many studios during the 60's and 70's in Calcutta and studio portraits did good business.
I'm hoping this story when done will become the final title of a collection of shorts themed on the word 'return.'
Read the other entries here:
Like the previous years, Plague Year 3 has been mixed, life has continued to throw challenges at an unprecedented rate, some I've enjoyed and some not so much. I am expecting the next year to bring more changes - keeping my lamps trimmed and ready for them, nothing fazed! Most changes pan out positive given time - at least in my experience, anyway.
Wish you all a happy festive season and a wonderful, joyous, healthful, fun and tranquil 2023! Much travel for those who like travelling, stillness for those who prefer to be still and a good balance for those who like both. Keep smiling, keep writing.
Sunday, 27 November 2022
The sunset is snagged for a minute
on the window of the moving car.
It makes me glad - that we are in it
circling sun and island as we are.
Ordinary things make me happy -
the sounds at the pump as you refuel,
the curve of road, the strength of coffee,
minute grass flowers strewn like small jewels.
The ancient trees that make the forest,
the curve of the moon that makes the tide,
this poem written in the smallest,
quietest words with you at my side.
This one's dedicated to the Hilaire Belloc poetry fan, who will deign to read no others. Which means I can write whatever I please, that's got to be good. And all rather ordinary. :)
And here is another bit of ordinary and boring...
Monday, 21 November 2022
If I had, like a cat, nine lives – I believe
I’d let my mother’s china be with someone
who’d use it more. I’d eat off banana leaves,
drink more from clay cups in each one rather than
fine, foreign porcelain. I’d use the word foreign
itself a lot less because more things would be
mine to cherish without paying attention
to their provenance, craftsman’s nationality.
In those other lives, I’d smell more books and rain
buy fewer umbrellas and be less afraid,
just squeeze your hand tighter when the thunder came.
I’d look more closely at the dents raindrops make
on the sands. Also at your thumbprints on glass,
leave the smudges. Learn to photograph the grass.
Pleased to report that this whole series is now complete, all nine of them. And I got some others written in the idle-time between them too. A good crop, all in all.
The birthday always falls around the time my American friends and family celebrate Thanksgiving - and it's always seemed to me a good one to borrow into my own life. This year it feels extra special due to various reasons, not least among them the personal harvest situation going on - written and unwritten, countable and uncountable. Giving thanks for each one of them, every single day.
Happy Thanksgiving to you in advance if you're observing. And the happiest of weeks to you if you're not.
Monday, 14 November 2022
Living in a house with umbrellas hasn’t been
something given for the longest time. The rain
comes but rarely in the desert. I’ve only seen
a rainbow there once, though some places do contain
the word within themselves, in their very name -
it feels aspirational – more a hankering.
In the local language it’s simply not the same -
the vowel sound, the suffix, mean quite different things.
I watch it come down, drip from the overhang of
the porch, umbrellas shut and open like moth wings
colours darkened by a shade, bedewed, glistening,
and climb back into rain compatible living,
the feel of damp laundry, dark, moistened earth. Love
comes easy - for the desert, for the rain falling.
For those who are interested, the project of the celebratory Love Song of the UnPrufrock in nine parts is coming along nicely, seven done, two more to go, so more than halfway there in less than half the month - good progress. I've been dabbling in other love songs in between...
Sunday, 6 November 2022
If like a cat, I had nine lives, that is, eight
more to go, I’d choose to be married to you
for seven as the sacred texts indicate
anyway, maybe I’d swap to a man to
see if I liked it in one, and then change back.
For the last, I’d take that round-the-world trip, not
in eighty days though. I’d find a way to pack
the important things. I’d learn to sail a boat,
to grow a tree from seed, to write in blank verse.
I’d waste less days searching for that perfect rhyme,
fill them instead with the words of foremothers.
Read more Bengali poets from scratch this time.
I’d live more deep, look more closely at the dew.
Leave more space for wonder. Leave more space for you.
November happens to be a month of personal celebrations of various kinds. This week, I'm celebrating through the writing of a series of nine sonnets, here is the first of them. A celebration and a thanksgiving for the guy who's stuck around staunchly for more than half my life...despite the shortage of elbow room...
Monday, 31 October 2022
I get that all flesh is grass, quite apart
from the lofty meanings of transience
I get it the green that sprouts must also dry
but inside my head, deep down inside my heart
there’s a rejection of both faith and science
the decrees whatever blooms must also die.
Spare me the lectures, I’ve heard all that before -
my flesh is the grass and the herbivore.
Yes it dies and no it doesn’t, lives beyond
many lifetimes and treads the grass it’s made of,
how do you measure its lifespan as finite? –
make it fit into words to correspond
exactly as given, sans leeway and love,
demarcate its death and its depth and height?
Sunday, 23 October 2022
There are some things I know aren’t happening
although I’ve wanted them with all the force
I could muster from the very beginning.
A dormer window. Guava tree. A course
on floating. A tripfree tongue. The universe
has other work, can’t always be listening,
aligning the Rubik’s cube of perverse
desires that snatch at arbitrary things.
Some things aren’t going to happen I know
they’re going to be always denied me -
what earthly use is a dormer window
on dead flat roofs? It’s an anomaly.
Still I press on, undeterred. Who knows? Maybe
next time, next life? Maybe just moments to go.
It's Diwali, which is actually a festival of five days the main point of which is the festival of lamps. Shubha Deepavali if you are celebrating/observing.
May the light of peace and plenty shine brightly around you always.
Thursday, 20 October 2022
Time to get back to Write…Edit…Publish… for the funnest of the challenges – the Halloween fearfest. This year we are writing to musical prompts and MJ's Thriller is the one for the Halloween month. Do please note however, that WEP welcomes all genres apart from the creepy and spooky too (except erotica).
My October has been insane, super-mixed - family visiting from the US, a power outage, an evacuation and two main festivals - head's spinning. Rather a lot of people I know who're going through stressful situations, that's been worrying too. Keeping them all in my thoughts and wishing them well and able to cope with their respective challenges.
So - a serious crunch in writing time, let alone editing. I’ve chopped as ruthlessly as I could but am a tad over the word count still, the original was 1700+ and I got whittle fatigue and gave up. My apologies.
A Different Route to Return
There was a rickety pier, just off the port, opposite the Lequana island. One could get a boat there and leave all one’s troubles behind. The waves always rocked Eddy to peace. He used to sail out on one of his own in another lifetime. Now he had to hire one. He smiled a crooked smile.
Monday, 17 October 2022
No, I don't. Maybe I do.
What's that bit of paper for?
Oil and water never mix.
Not easy to keep it straight.
Don't undo, let's try again?
I can do it! - with your help.
Priorities need some sorting.
All quite streamlined, and pristine.
Close windows and get offscreen.
That enough? is that plenty?
Talking about numbers - I had zero intentions of posting this, in fact I'd sat down with a completely different idea but this rhyme muscled its way in and wrote itself at top speed and then vanished and also annihilated the other idea, far more well thought out and planned, I must tell you. I couldn't find a trace of it anywhere afterwards. Is it just me or does this happen to you as well? This lightning bolt idea that mushrooms out of nowhere and obliterates everything previously planned in a head-on mega collision that gives the big bang a run for its money? No, okay...just me then.
Btw, I've just completed six months in Fiji. With my usual unmindfulness, the day slipped by before I noticed. But the great thing was my nephew and his family were here visiting and we met up for dinner and had an entirely wonderful time, so it didn't go unmarked or uncelebrated. And the frangipanis are blooming now. Singly or in bunches of eight to ten. Love that family of flowers too.
Monday, 10 October 2022
A crumpled-mangled scarf lies on the ground,
it’s been rendered colourless by the sun,
it once had the tiny thumbprints of a dream
but now it’s as bleached as a skeletal scream,
she’d let the edge slip an inch – she was young,
she may’ve forgotten that even a gleam,
even a minute inch can bring dreams down.
Someone creates a monument to her hair
and to those who dream and so let their scarves slip.
The blades of grass cannot be outnumbered,
each ends in a point, each is unencumbered
by laws of mortal men and leadership.
Let those whose scarves slip be always remembered
in each word and silence, across city squares.
I'm still with her, can't get over what's happened and don't think I should or even want to. I'm in awe of that memorial sculpture but we'd all be better off if there were no motivation to create it in the first place. The image is a screengrab from Dezeen which I can't seem to credit w/o linking back to my 'edit post' page. Weirdness unlimited, part of the same pattern.
Personally I've had a bizarre week, which was the main festival (Navaratri/Durgapuja) for my community - started off with a super spooky electrical fault like nothing I've experienced in my life. The power had to be shut off, piles of frozen stuff thrown away and we had to ultimately move to the guest house till the conduits were plucked out and re-laid. Back now and all running as normal.
But my challenges pale into insignificance compared to what women elsewhere face daily. Thankful for all that I was/am given, for every challenge and its final outcome.
Shubho Bijoya! to you if you're celebrating, and happy week if you're not. May there be much beauty for your eyes, sweets for your tongue and freedom and peace wherever in the world you are.
Sunday, 2 October 2022
Give me a word as the sunset is to sea -
a tender ocean cupped by infinity,
give me a word as the wind is to hair
rake your fingers through and give no scarves to wear.
Some...any word that humanises me.
Just say something as choice is to the soul.
But if you can’t then don’t you dare speak at all.
Give me a word as plumed grass is to free,
rooted to the ground but at one end only.
Oh I have waited far too long for you to care,
give me your word or else watch me burn and tear,
just watch my sharpest edge slash gleefully
through these massive knots that presume to control,
and if you can’t then don’t you dare speak at all.
For all my daughters, those that were never born and those that were born to other mothers.
Sunday, 25 September 2022
There are different kinds – the car scratched on sand
with a twig, an arrangement of seashells,
driftwood draped across the earth like clock hands
a pair of mugs, a wallpaper on a cell -
these too were promises, and they travel
with me now, their tyre marks wherever I land,
their shapes circling the baggage carousel.
They tug forward, nonstop, breathless, the rims
of golden clouds, the brimming azure sea,
the curved solar lampposts. The sun must dim
its light so that their stores can come to be
a lit path back home. They travel close with me -
the long lost shells, driftwood, pebbles, the whims
of tides and winds; promises made too freely.
Saturday, 17 September 2022
I’ve been thinking of you – especially
your storytelling in summer afternoons,
the curtains closed against the heat of Delhi -
words in the dim room woven magically,
about those golden crowns and silver spoons.
I’ve been thinking of you – your birthday’s soon.
Birthdays persist, stay on in memory
after death, cascading outside the room
like an endless vine down that double storey
house. The last monarch, the power and glory
are gone now. The televised mourning resumes.
I well up a little. Not quite sure for whom.
I’ve been thinking of you - more has been lost
than just stories. Too much to count the cost.
|Arundhati Maitra (18.09.1938 - 12.04.2020)|