Thursday 31 August 2023

Shunned by Sparrows


Photo by Milin John on Unsplash

There used to be more crows and sparrows

in the morning, pecking the backyard.

Now the roads are wider, lanes are narrow

pillows are cloud soft but life is hard.


Used to be doves cooing at midday

marking the sleepy afternoon,

now the skies are an ominous grey

the tides rise but ebb out too soon.


It used to be that Kishan produced

endless garments to cover our backs,

but now that’s changed – ignored, reduced,

our bodies are stripped, minds under attack.


Beware of cities the sparrows shun,

peace starts with the birds, the smallest ones.

You're only creating trouble for yourself if you blithely write things like 'see you soon' and 'hope to get back into usual routine,' how naïve is that anyway? - after a gazillion relocations? Yeah, well...

The house still looks like a disaster zone, okay, maybe a disaster zone after the Red Cross has made a round, but that's about it. The bookshelves still have Emily and Isaac rubbing shoulders. Not that I have anything against anyone rubbing shoulders with someone from a different era and genre...don't believe in that sort of discrimination. But it does make locating them difficult. The good news in all this is, there's been no time for any reading, neither poetry nor sci-fi. 

It's also partly the reason for the disaster zone remaining a disaster. When I am away from India, I follow the news, fret and fume, but have enough control to hold my tongue. Once the distance vanishes and I am in the thick of things, it's quite impossible to remain silent. Keeping things straight, even in my own mind, consumes every atom of energy. And there are always the various dens of bureaucracy to run around to, the endless applications for this, that and the other to fill up, the nonstop officialeese to deal with...'officer I can't access my xyz/yes ma'am, that's because you are non resident, you can access it only from abroad/but officer, I am resident now, we've come home for good/ma'am, in our records you are still non-resident, you have to be here for 6 months before that changes/what can I do to change it now?/you could write an application, ma'am..."  Who said coming home to ye olde motherland was going to be easy breezy?  (Sigh)

So there it is. It's not that I've stopped writing (that's like breathing, can't hold it in for too long) but editing, polishing, and putting it together to put up here has not been within the realms of possibility. I'm not writing 'see you soon' and jinxing whatever chances I have of achieving that. 

Have a wonderful September! I hope mine allows me to be online here more frequently as things regularise. 

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Write ... Edit ... Publish ... August 2023: Chocolat

Hello writers!

It's August and it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... where the prompt is the delightful film Chocolat based on the book by Joanne Harris. Mine is a scheduled post this time as I am relocating from Fiji back to Calcutta, so forgive me if I am a bit late with my reading and commenting.

This post continues the story of Shovan and Mukta, Sam and Janhobi that began last December. It's turning out to be a kind of double scoop sundae romance story in a story... 

What's happened so far:

The MC finds a B/W profile picture on a social media platform intriguing. He writes on an impulse to the woman and finds that the picture is of her grandmother and was shot in a studio that once belonged to a relative, now dead. 

The MC goes back to his hometown and explores the derelict studio. He finally comes upon a series of nudes of a woman in different stages of life, the last of which he recognises as the grandmother.

He finds a letter that breaks the bombshell news that his Great Uncle Sam, the studio owner and the grandmother had an ongoing relationship in the past. 

He meets with the granddaughter in their common hometown and shares the findings...which naturally shocks the granddaughter. The MC assures her that the secret is safe with him and he will support her through this bombshell discovery. They say goodbye but he feels she will not want to see him again. 

Read on to find out what happens next...

Chiaroscuro V : Engraved

The surroundings deepened in colour as one travelled out, even as the bridge was crossed. The skies were incredibly bluer, the earth verdant with a million shades of green and  the air was a clear invitation to breathe deep. I had been so firmly embedded in urban spaces that I had forgotten how beautiful everything got once the city was left behind.


Sometime in the 17th century, a merchant forefather of my mother’s had prospered on the back of the European jute trade. He acquired a tract of land and built a modest home close to a bend in the river. His descendants were to live there and carry on the family business happily ever after. A few centuries down the line however, plastics happened, jute declined, first the World Wars and then Independence and Partition changed the old order.


The descendants had quietly eroded away from the river bend to the city. The land had had to be portioned and sold off, but the house remained. By the time my mother got married, the old homestead only drew occasional visits by the family. I had only ever been there as a child, just a hazy memory.


Two weeks had passed since Mukta and I had met. It had ended as awkwardly as I had feared. I desperately wanted to ring her but did not know if it would be appropriate. This entire molehill-exploded-to-mountain was quite unnecessarily stressful. Getting out of the city was an escape too.  




It was smaller than my memory of it. Entering through the gate into  the traditional courtyard everything felt cramped, the columns not as lofty, the dust adding its own dingy colour to the doors, the round knockers pitted with rust. The front room with its low divan was bare of any mattress or pillows, the old teakwood armchairs were shrouded in yellowed dustcovers, brittle with age. Footsteps echoed eerily on the floors, voices seemed to ricochet round the walls. Mother got busy with her helper in making things habitable. I drifted from room to room, the bustle of people gradually receding as I climbed to the upper floor.


A long verandah ran the entire length of the house connecting the rooms. I walked along it into the last one. It was dark inside but I rattled a window open. Light poured in and picked out an arrangement of furniture that felt vaguely familiar – a Victorian table with an empty vase, an art deco radio, a chair with curved claw-and-ball legs. I dusted it off and sat down. Where had I seen these before? It eluded me for a minute. Of course – in the photo! In Mukta’s profile picture, her grandmother’s B/W photo. I sat frozen to the chair.


Twilight came and laid a gentle hand over the village in a crescendo of birdsong and a fluorescent arc of lilac light. The peak hour traffic rush was substituted by the field workers winding their way home from the paddies. The post office staff on tinkling bicycles, a distant local train’s chugging making the air throb vaguely without any perceptible sound. Peace made almost tangible. But on the outside only.


My thoughts rolled around my brain like pebbles in a shoe, sharp and uncomfortable in whatever positions I jockeyed them to. I jackknifed up from the chair –  the walls closing in suddenly unbearable – and ran down the stairs.


Someone called out behind me. I threw an answer over my shoulder.

“Take a torch.” My mother pressed one into my hands. “It’s dark.”


Indeed the lights were quite dim, quite a few were missing bulbs. The sky was bright with stars though. The house abutted the river at the back, just a couple of hundred yards from the waterfront promenade. If it could be called that with its half tumbled brick parapet, missing paving stones and ever present litter. The birds had fallen silent giving way to a chorus of crickets. Peace lapped alongside the river, the water ran with a low, continuous chuckling. The moon rose and prodded the waves with a shining finger of light. A breeze started up from somewhere. It was enough.


The path back was narrow and dark, surrounded by thickets of bamboo. I switched the torch on. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because the gates were nowhere to be seen. It should not have taken this long. Had I really wandered this far? Lights broke though the gaps in the foliage, there was the buzz of voices somewhere, so I kept on mechanically, mulling over this new discovery of the room and its contents.


The groves thinned out after a while revealing the house just ahead. There was a huge neem tree against the boundary wall, planted more than a century ago. Its branches soared up many feet above the house, dribbling its leaves over the roof, casting deep shadows on the grounds. My feet stopped of their own accord. I shone the torchlight over it.


The beam played up and down over the great trunk of the neem and caught a gleaming speck, it flashed gold as the light fell on it. I drew nearer – it was a chocolate wrapper, plastered flat against the bark by the breeze. I slapped my hand over it. My fingers sank in unexpectedly. Underneath the fluttering wrapper was a small hollow – a piece of bark had been stripped off.


As I lifted the foil away, the torch revealed the mark scratched on the trunk, one of those eternal acts of love, or vandalism, depends on your opinion – names carved on trees. This one looked decades old, the edges had healed completely, the exposed wood buffed and smoothened with age. The letters had been slashed deeply, vehemently, into the grain.  They  were now blackened with accumulated grime, but no less emphatic than when they were first made – Janhobi + Samudra, shaped into an elongated but unmistakable heart.

WC - 987


Read the other entries here :

We have heaps of great stuff going on at WEP - there's the How To Series on various aspects of the writing life. The Anthology Page is now live so that's something we are all super excited about - go check that out for details and get writing! 

And there are always the Challenges, the next prompt is in October and it's based on The Phantom of the Opera - how nifty is that for the Halloween month?!


WEP was also at IWSG earlier this month figuring out the fascinating links between chocolate, writers and books. That's worth a shufti too if you're into chocolate, or writing, or both! 

We at WEP are passionate about writing and storytelling in its various forms. If you like the work we do, please do share the posts on your social media platforms and help us to spread the word(s)!  Thank you for your support!

Saturday 5 August 2023

Numbers mean nothing


Mariner's Reach, Denarau, Fiji.

How many nights must you spend under a roof,

before you can call it a home?

Some say just thirty, others a thousand,

but I say to you – listen closely, my friend,

there’s no magic number, no theorem that proves

the time span that seals your claim.

A few aches are certain every time you move.

Thirty or thousand it’s all the same.


But there’s that horizon, oceans that heave,

a pink sky so breathtaking,

and a bird call can fling your life open.

Home has its place, but the wider world beckons,

your feet forget themselves and pack to leave,

done with walls and the same dawns breaking.

One step. And two. Dust eddies round your feet

and somewhere a welcome is waiting.


There’s that long horizon, pathways that twist

in and out of unknown forests.

The light is a tunnel that lures like a trap,

the ribs of leaves are rivers on a map,

the breeze writes gently on your back and lists

the things that can unravel rest.

And somewhere a welcome is waiting amidst

strangers’ smiles to the east or west.


Here it is cosy, the smoke from the stove

spiced with cinnamon and anise.

Secret garnets in the depths of tamarind,

the slow unfolding music of the winds,

butterfly wings in someone’s mango grove

in some weird definition of bliss.

The paddies are furred and rich, seen from above –

the world has its place. So has this.


So that’s it – you’ll sway, swing back, twang away,

the horizon just out of range.

The airplanes will keep flying overhead

to different cities with others instead.

The ships will weigh anchor and go on their way –

you’ll always be chasing change.

And you’ll wonder how many nights and days

make home and what makes a roof strange.


All your days you’ll fritter away in research

and find that numbers mean nothing.

Only the movement of road, car and coach,

the aerial view of a strange town’s approach,

the spiral of descent, the craft’s thrilling lurch,

the horizons in blues and pinks.

Only being out and away by and large

gives roofs their final meaning.

Welcome to M-i-V! - now based out of Kolkata! Hopefully, for good. I thought I'll post a bit early since I've been away for so long...and say things more expansive wordcounts. It's also been the longest time since I wrote anything more than a 14 liner. In fact the last long-ish poem I wrote was in 2017 - Remembering Zeinabu

The pandemic years have made me shrink in many ways, this is one of them. However, it's time to put that behind me and open up a bit - it's the fourth year of the Big P and my store of small p patience was never really robust. Neither is my word (limit) control. Expect longer stanzas, line counts, ramblings...thank you for reading and your time!

There's lots happening this month, both on the personal front and online. The offspring has come home for a few days and the aforesaid home looks like a disaster zone, but who cares? It's good to have the family under one roof, even if it is only for a fortnight. I hope to be back to regular posts here, also get back to my normal reading as and when I am able to straighten the house out. A few aches are certain every time you move...I'm finding many layers of meaning in that line. The bookshelves are full, even though in complete disarray, a hodgepodge of Bengali, English and genres - Emily D is next to Asimov and just looking at that is freaking me out... :) There's no way anyone can ever locate a specific book in this current mess. That's a job that needs tackling pronto but will have to wait till son flies back to uni. 

Online, there's WEP, the Chocolat Challenge, I can't say enough about that deliciousness however many wordcounts you allow me... so excited! And looking forward to what people write for this one!

I hope the month has started well for you and may it continue throughout. Have an awesome August! See you soon.