Sunday 26 February 2023

Pinning everything



I’d spend more consciously, much less profligate

with time, deep dive into each day, every night

to bring up their treasures, feel their sheen and weight

in my hands and heart, against the watertight

tautness of existence. I’d spend less time on

making a home of walls, an address of roads

and cities, instead make a home of my own

within my ribs and skin and veins. Slightly odd

to be frugal with time and building when there’s

more of it. Nine would mean more time to value,

each like your ring, never mind the gems or rare

metals, just the shape of the vow and the true

worth of timelessness. Each one vermilion red

grace smeared in my hair, love shined on my forehead.



And every single day I’m given, I’d pin

more of my heart, and other parts, on my sleeve

nothing much of the fabric would show, more skin

more raw flesh, more wounds, blemishes. I might leave

off sleeves altogether, on bare arms pin them

instead. Or maybe like stacked bangles I’d wear

them on my upper arms as northern women

do, they’d jingle, make themselves known everywhere.

Or like lace up espadrilles, strong sinews nine

times around, years winding up from my ankles

halfway to my knees. With all the extra time

you might just get better at straps and bangles.

But whatever - on sleeves, straps, bangle or shoe

I might pin in nine lifetimes, I’ll pin for you.

These are the last two of the series of nine and they conclude the posts for February. 


Traditionally, marital jewellery is a huge thing in Indian culture. Not just jewellery, colours and cosmetics also. What a married woman should or shouldn't wear has been specified and prescribed and hotly debated. Not just married women, what any woman can or should wear is up for discussion by all and sundry at the drop of a hat. Anyway, let's keep that for another time,

A married Bengali woman is supposed to wear vermilion in her hair part - first put there by her groom as a part of the wedding rituals, and also as a 'bindi' or 'teep' on her forehead. The colour red is associated strongly with auspiciousness and married ladies, widows aren't supposed to wear it. 

Then there's the loha, an iron bangle worn on the left forearm, slipped on the bride's wrist by her MIL as she enters the new family. There are the conch shell and coral bangles one of each worn on either side. Apart from that, it is frowned upon to leave ears, wrists and neck 'bare' for a married woman. 

Other communities have other marital symbols - some have special necklaces called mangalsutra (lit auspicious thread) or thali which the groom fastens round the bride's neck during the wedding ceremony and which she's never supposed to take off again in her husband's lifetime. Others have special kinds of bangles and so on. If anyone ever asks why, these are all worn to ensure the good health and long life of the husband. Taking them off jeopardises the whole lot. 

In short, a Hindu married woman wears her marital status like a beacon, useful no doubt in a traditional patriarchal society where it's important to be able to tell which women are 'taken' and which not.

On the other hand, the bride in a Hindu ceremony does not put a single thing on the groom, not even a tilak. Some gift of gold is made to the groom traditionally by the bride's father. Some men choose to wear them, some do not - as per individual taste. But men are not required to wear a single item, not a ring nor a dot nor a distinctive hairstyle or beard, to show they are married. You couldn't tell an Indian married man by looking at him - 2000 years ago and also now. 

It has always seemed a tad unequal to me, not to mention the cumbersomeness, the sheer monotony of having to wear a ton of jewellery day in day out. Fine if you want to, many women wear them as a marker of identity - these traditions go back solid unbroken for some 3-4 millennia, so that weight can be an anchor for some, something that pegs their place proudly in the world - I totally get that. I admire and value that long history. But I was never a fan personally. I know quite a few women who followed all the conventions and wore everything they were required to, yet were widowed heartbreakingly early.  So much for the bangles and bindis ensuring good health and long marriage. 

Live and let live, love and let love. Wear whatever the heck you want if that's your own choice, don't be blackmailed into wearing a bangle or a chain because of social bullying. Or conversely, give up wearing anything because of it. 

Wednesday 22 February 2023


Here the shadows of your language

dance on each page I read

a raucous hawker finds new means

to sell outside on the street

the ceiling fan’s mirrored at the edge

of broken glass, the newsfeed

still and frozen on the screens

winter’s coming to an end

a season draws to a dazzling point

but nothing else begins

your hands the way they were

before they got cross-thatched with disease

your parched-earth heels strike the floor

oblivious to all defeat

the terrazzo’s chipped, indistinct colours,

worn divider strips, stiffened debilities;

rusty, weak hinges on open doors;

winter’s crumbling to an end

a season ducks to a frazzled point

but nothing else begins

there’s talk on the ledges of buildings

that you and I can’t understand

there’s no harm though in keeping ears pinned

while I read the shadow-dance

urban pigeons beat their wings

your house is quieter than we planned

just hawker-calls threaded on the winds;

winter’s stumbling to an end

a season drains to a senseless point

but nothing else begins


the radio tunes that I’d heard once

are no longer turned up at dawn

maybe it’s broken, or there’s a difference

in the music that comes on

your lobes hang heavy, a little misshapen

your senses a little withdrawn

your love’s stilled to a jangling silence;

winter’s fumbling to an end

a season clots to a clenched, tight point

but nothing else begins



love and anguish both masked easy

and pasts dance crisp on pages

your magazines are fragile, paper thin,

their editorials strange and dated

but flipping the corners keeps hands busy

and empties all mindspaces

of love that is, and can’t be, sanguine;

winter’s rustling to an end

a season falls to a tattooed point

but nothing else begins

I'm reproducing this from a ten year old post I published in Feb 2013 to share at an online poetry forum dVerse

Same topic, different take, a different kind of love. I was at a different place too :) both physically and mentally. Which hemisphere you're in impacts so much. And because the languages I know and write have both originated in the Northern hemisphere, their perspectives are pegged to the north. North star as a metaphor doesn't work the same way here, just as an example. I wonder if the languages that have originated in the southern hemisphere use the Crux in the same way that Northern origin languages use the North Star? And how do those languages incorporate their seasons and months into their figures of speech?

My week has been a bit frazzled - workmen in the house, disruptions of various sorts, and worrying news both from north and south. I wanted to post for the Mother Language Day here, but couldn't. Here's what I wrote on FB, not as celebratory as I'd like but it's the truth, my truth. Hope your week is going well.

একুশে ফেব্রুয়ারী।

আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস যাঁরা পালন করছেন তাঁদের জানাই আন্তরিক শুভকামনা অভিনন্দন।

১৯৭১- দিল্লীতে বাংলাদেশী ভারতীয় বাঙালি সঙ্গীতশিল্পীরা এক মিলিত অনুষ্ঠান করেছিলেন মুক্তিযুদ্ধের জন্য, কারু নাম জানা নেই, প্রসিদ্ধ শিল্পীরাই হবেন, তৎকালীন না হলেও পরে তো নিশ্চয়। তখন আমার বয়স এতো কম যে এটাও মনে নেই যে তখন জানতাম, এখন বিস্মরণ হয়ে গিয়েছে, নাকি কোনো কালেই জানতাম না? যাক গে অবান্তর কথা। অনুষ্ঠানের একটা গান খুব গাঁথা আছে মনে - আমার ভায়ের রক্তে রাঙানো একুশে ফেব্রুয়ারী।

পরে মা' কাছে জানতে পারি কেন যুদ্ধ হচ্ছে, কেন দিল্লিতে ব্ল্যাক আউট হচ্ছে, এবং তারও অনেক পরে বন্ধুরা - যাঁরা মুক্তিযুদ্ধের প্রত্যক্ষদর্শী, তাঁদের মুখে তাঁদের অভিজ্ঞতা শুনি।

আমার বাবা মায়ের যে বাড়াবাড়ি ভাষাপ্রেম ছিল সেটির আংশিক কারণ বাংলাদেশের ভাষা আন্দোলন মুক্তিযুদ্ধ বলেই আমি মনে করি। শুধু আমার বাবা মা না, ওই গোটা প্রজন্মটিই বেশির ভাগ। মা' পরিষ্কার কথা - লড়াই করে জানপ্রাণ খুইয়ে একটা কিছু জিতে আনার মর্যাদা আর ঘরে বসে তুড়ি মেরে সেটা পাওয়ার ওজন একদম আলাদা। হয়তো আমরা ঘরে বসে পেয়েছি বলেই ভাষার মান নিয়ে আমাদের, মানে ভারতীয় বাঙালিদের, বিশেষ মাথা ব্যাথা নেই। দিব্যি অম্লান বদনে বাংরেজি আর হিঙ্গলী দিয়ে চালিয়ে দিচ্ছি।

কোনো ভাষাই স্থির থাকে না, সব ভাষাই অন্য ভাষার শব্দ নিয়ে সমৃদ্ধ হয় গোড়ার থেকেই বাংলা একটি পাঁচমিশালি ভাষা কি নেই তাতে - আরবি, ফার্সি, ইংরেজি, পর্তুগীজ, ডাচ না জানি আরো কত ভাষার শব্দ বাংলায় ব্যবহার হয়। কিন্তু এখন যেটা শুনতে পাই কলকাতার রাস্তায় ঘাটে সাধারণ টুকরো কথা, চোখ ছানাবড়া হয়ে যায় - অর্ণব আমার বন্ধু 'হচ্ছে', এখন 'লেটে' গ্যাছে (শুয়ে পড়েছে), নখ পালিশ 'পরবো' -! শুধু কথা নয়, লেখাতেও বিনা প্রয়োজনে হিন্দী শব্দ গুঁজে দেওয়া হয়, শব্দ বিন্যাস বাক্য গঠন অন্য ভাষার ব্যাকরণ থেকে সরাসরি চাপানো - অদ্ভুত হিন্দী ঘেঁষা, বিজ্ঞাপন খবরের কাগজ দেখলেই উদাহরণ পাওয়া যাবে।

আমার হিন্দীর সাথে কোনো বিবাদ নেই। একটু আধটু বলতে পারি, পড়তেও পারি আস্তে ধীরে - দিল্লিতে ছিলাম, আর তাছাড়া বাবা মায়ের ওই ভাষা প্রেমের দরুন কোনো ভাষাই খোয়ানোর অনুমতি ছিল না ছোটবেলায়, নাইজেরিয়া যাওয়ার পরও আমার জন্য বাড়িতে হিন্দী পত্রিকা আসতো বহুকাল। পরিশীলিত হিন্দী বা হিন্দুস্তানী বাংলার মতোই শ্রুতিমধুর, তার নিজস্ব একটা জায়গা আছে যা একদম প্রতিষ্ঠিত সে সব নিয়ে টানাটানি করার ইচ্ছেই নেই। কিন্তু যা নিজের জায়গায় সুন্দর সেটাকে ভেঙে চুরে বিকৃত করে বাংলার মধ্যে ঢুকিয়ে দিলে না বাংলা না হিন্দী কোনো ভাষারই সমৃদ্ধিকরণ হয় না।

শুধু মাত্র ভাষা নয়, গোটা বাংলার ওপরেই অবাঙালি একটা প্রভাব - বিয়েতে লেহেঙ্গা পরা, মেহেন্দি হাতে কনে, পুজো প্যান্ডেলে হিন্দী গান, বিজ্ঞাপনে হিন্দী স্লোগান আমরা কি কোনো তাগিদে নিজেদের এক রাষ্ট্র এক ভাষা আর একত্রীকরণের লক্ষ্য করে তুলছি? আর নিজেদের পরিচিতি এবং সংস্কৃতি এতো সহজে আমরা হারিয়ে ফেলতে রাজিই বা কেন?

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Write... Edit... Publish... February 2023 : Gone With The Wind


I hope Year 2023 is treating everyone well and is going much better than the previous three horror shows.  

Thankfully, it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... for the February Challenge,  an instant mood lift anyway if things are looking a bit well, dodgy. And a writing spa to luxuriate in if they're not.  Always a  pandemic-n-other-pestiferous-stuff-proof space! There are some changes over there, but the essentials remain the same.  This entire year we're writing to movie magic prompts, and what could be more appropriate than GWTW for the Valentine month, right? 

I have to confess I'm not a Valentine-y person but I have been diagnosed as a romantic (no, they're not mutually exclusive!)  and I'm also a great fan of GWTW, all controversies notwithstanding. My entry is another excerpt from the story I posted in December - Chiaroscuro. Not exactly a Valentine flash, but there's a romance lurking in there somewhere if you care to look closely. 😊 I hope you'll enjoy it.

Chiaroscuro II : The Evidence in Black & White

Strange are the ways the universe chooses to tighten the knots, to yank wandering feet back to their roots. A chance view of an arresting photograph and a hundred messages later, here I was, standing in front of the shuttered entrance to the studio.


The front room yielded cardstock mounts, vellum paper, frames and a bunch of  loose photographs. But nothing that I could connect with either the grandmother or anything else in your photo. The second room was partitioned off into three sections. One was the studio set up for indoor portraits, the reflectors and lights still standing, the backdrops rolled up ready behind an arrangement of armchairs. But not the furniture I was searching for. The next was the darkroom, still vaguely familiar to me from childhood years spent there.


The last was the storage – full of the quaint old, bulky, leather encased, Bakelite-n-metal look cameras, tripods of various lengths, lenses in their caps. There were jars of chemicals too, trays, clips, gloves.  A cabinet with files of negatives, organised by year, the ink on the labels faded, almost indecipherable. I rifled through a few of them, many were foggy, many damaged beyond retrieval.   And who would want to retrieve them anyway?


More prints, more enlargements – portraits and streetscapes, mostly from years ago – the city in its various moods. The special Sundari trams; wide clear pavements at Gariahat; a much flatter skyline everywhere, unrecognisable now. A rickshaw-puller sitting under a lamppost, his face half in shade, the rickshaw just discernible by the faint gleam of metal where the light had caught the rivets and reinforcements.


Hand pulled rickshaws had been officially banned. The city had switched over to other modes of transport. A step towards a more evenhanded world. Trams also had vanished except a couple of lines. Nostalgia washed over me in slow release waves. Not for just the skyline and the modes of transport. An entire, slower paced, albeit more unequal, lifestyle had vanished too. I sighed and put them back. Not even close to figuring anything out.


I only knew there was something important, some compelling connection that I must uncover. The more it eluded me, the more certain I became of it. The light had started failing. I would be back tomorrow, with a fresh mind, keener eye. Tomorrow was another day, another angle, another chance - who knows what it would bring?




It had rained early morning, the roads had a film of moisture, a subtle patina mirroring the comings and goings, the movements of leaves, the backlights on cars.


The building was constructed in the old 1920/30s style – a set of rooms rising to three storeys around a central, paved courtyard. Crossing through, I entered Sam Gain’s living quarters, the corner of the building sectioned off for his own use. A sitting room, a rather large bedroom and a small one fitted out as a kitchen. The last was mostly empty - an ancient hob, a rusty looking kettle, a few chipped dishes.


In the sitting room, the glass fronted cabinet yielded a penknife with a real ivory hilt, yellowed with age; books on photography and fiction, the pages brittle and similarly yellowed, riddled with tiny tunnels where the silverfish had burrowed. A set of brass vases, some porcelain figurines laid carefully in a velvet lined box, the nap gone from the fabric, the corners of the box rubbed smooth. Props for portraits, possibly.


The wardrobe in the bedroom was cleared, the owner’s clothes had long been given away. A wooden clothes rack had some anonymous looking stuff hanging, dusters perhaps. I lifted the ancient silk cotton mattress as a last resort – nothing. Dead end.




“Hey! I can’t find a thing. Gone through all the rooms now.”

“How’s that possible? We’ve bunches of photos from there.”

“Yes, I know. But none of the prints are anything remotely resembling your photos. No furniture, no vases, no other portraits. The negatives are too cloudy to make out anything. Storeroom, wardrobe, shelves, cabinets. Looked through everything.”

“Have you looked under the bed? Those old beds are high! They take a trunk or two. My folks had a few under theirs.”

I bent my head and sure enough, the light was skirting around an oblong shaped shadow though I couldn’t see the actual object that was creating it. Eureka! My pulse quickened as I leapt off the stool, reached in under the bed and pulled it out.

“Yes, there’s something!” I shouted into the phone in excitement.

“See?" I could hear you laugh. "Okay, I’ll leave you to get on with it.”


Thankfully, the trunk was not locked. It revealed stacks of papers, envelopes, bound ledgers, all arranged neatly in three piles. Tax returns, banks statements, petty cash accounts for the business, some personal letters, old cards. My excitement gradually faded. Only the last layer was left now – a couple of manila envelopes right at the bottom.


The first envelope yielded some wedding pictures – portraits of the veiled bride, groom and the ceremonies around the sacred fire. All less than perfectly orchestrated, more spontaneous, the shots unrehearsed and artless – all the more moving because of it. I set them aside and pulled out the last one.


A whole sheaf of photos. The top one was a nude study of a young woman, her face turned away from the camera, her long hair undone and covering her breasts, the curve of her hips and calves achingly beautiful. My breath caught in my throat. As I looked through them, I realised they were all nudes of the same woman as she grew older, in different poses and settings. The photographer’s eye worshipping womanhood – virginal, married, postcoital, pregnant, maternal. Each one was heart stopping in its beauty. But my heart had come to a standstill for a different reason – as the photos aged, the face slowly became recognisable. It was the grandmother.


WC - 985


Tagline - A bunch of B/W photos can open a can of worms.

Read the other entries here:

Sunday 12 February 2023

A Worm's Perspective



If I had nine, and I was aware of that

number, exactly how many and their span -

I’d try some perspective, just like a cat.

I won’t do something just because I can.

I’ll leave the mountains to the mountaineers,

burrow deeper underground, try the dark,

for once stop equating light with crystal clear.

Try if the earth itself can strike the spark.

I’ll leave it to the birds - the clouds, the skies

and I’ll stick closer to the ground, as close

as the grass and the worm. Nothing king size

but the minutest I can curl to. My toes

crumbed by the soil, no flesh showing, not a hint.

And I’ll wait in all nine. For your footprints.


Last week, somewhere on my feed was this idea - love is the sure basis for a more equal, more just world. 

Universal love. The kind of love leaders, prophets and mystics speak about. Love thy enemy, because loving thy neighbour is no big deal after all, there's no virtue in loving what's familiar and therefore, not feared. Learning to love those we fear, now that's something that takes effort, application and discipline, we must get out of our own heads and get into their shoes - if successful, we're rewarded with a glimmer of understanding and compassion, even if we can't get to love. Love is the strongest force the world possesses. Love is a bridge to everything. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Every religion preaches it. Easily preached, near impossible to practice. 

But suppose, for the sake of argument, it were to become a reality, would it lead to social justice? Does love automatically lead to fairness? Are we always even handed with those we love?

And how do we hate the sin and love the sinner and be fair at the same time? The racists, the rapists, the paedophiles, the human traffickers, the swindlers, the gloating creators of unending human misery, the architects of monumental corporate frauds, the corrupt megalomaniac politicians who'll do anything, descend to the lowest level of remorseless dishonesty, to cling on to power - how is loving them going to bring about justice for the law-abiding, compassionate, open-minded citizenry, the non-toxic, non-haters who make up the quiet majority everywhere? 

I know this has strayed a bit from the kind of celebrations I had planned for this month over here, but still...I'm on topic even if somewhat at sea... 

Sunday 5 February 2023

All through this month and 24/7



If I had nine lives, like a cat, I would hold

more pens and placards, be a bit less bothered

with hemlines and hats, people’s different thresholds.

Give silence its due too, be less awed by words.

Though I’d look at the hollow made by your head

in the cushion, I’d still want to write sonnets

starting and ending with you whether you read

them or not. And I’d almost never forget

passwords. Maybe try being an accountant

in some life midway – if it suited better

I’d stay in it for the rest, I’m reluctant

to change for the sake of it. Write more letters

by hand, use them more mindfully in all nine

and each time, I’d still want yours to hold in mine.


Last November I wrote a series of nine poems in which I explored the theme of love and posted a couple of those at the time. I'll be putting some of the others up here through out this month as I celebrate the same in all its myriad shapes and sizes. And mid-month we are starting off with the first Write...Edit...Publish...Challenge, a new look site and prompts based on movie magic, what's not to love, right?


In the Hindu belief system - and I might as well tell you at the outset, I am no expert on it, it is held that death doesn't part the souls of a wedded pair, their union is said to persist for seven lifetimes. The whole system is predicated - not on a single life and then eternal rest but reincarnations through many births and many deaths and some bonds lasting for more than one cycle. I'm quite happy with that part. Personally, I'll take the same pairing for the next however many lives I have to go through, no issues with that.

Whether a soul gets reborn or not depends on the weight of the sins, its karma, accumulated in a previous life. If it leads a sin free life, then it gets free of the eternal cycle of birth and death and unites with the cosmic soul and is absorbed into an Absolute Bliss. It doesn't have to come back to earth to suffer any pain. Earth is referred to as Martaloka or the domain of death while where the soul goes once it is freed is called Amritaloka and Anandaloka - the space of deathlessness/ecstasy. All material things are an illusion, earthly bonds hold the soul back, the smart thing in this given system is naturally  to detach pronto and hurry to that blissful cosmic union asap. 

In short, the belief is that life on earth is generally a pain in the neck and the sooner one can escape it the better, the greater the part of eternity the soul can spend in perfect communion with the One, in perfect bliss. That first part I'm not so cool with - earth seems a good enough space to me, and being in a human body does not feel as horrible as it's made out to be - death, attachment, grief, suffering, all the nonsense and violence going on in the world notwithstanding. I mean, I'm not knocking absolute bliss, moksha, detachment  or anything, they may well be as super awesome as the sacred texts promise. Only that I don't think this entire earthly existence needs to be so thoroughly trashed, that's all.  It can be mildly enjoyable here too, at times, no harm in admitting that. The planet's breath taking, being human can be quite alright too, there's love and kindness and inspiration and all kinds of other goodies, so c'mon, ditch the nonstop negativity already.... Just saying. 

Here's to a mildly enjoyable week and life on earth in general. To your February and mine. May all conflicts be gobbled up by the forces of love everywhere.