Naked words sear truths across
the universe melting swords
dripping venom and blood.
The Truth hurts, singes, burns,
brands but stands fearless.
Poetry has the courage to spell —
to write about exploding skies that
kill innocents, or of toxic fumes
annihilating with sulphurous hate.
Poetry can colour the hate with love...
Each garden weaves a new story.
The garden where I was born,
had roses that bloomed between
thorns. There was a garden where
Sita waited to be rescued, chaste,
hoping she remained unraped.
Why? Did she not know of Kali who
killed demons when men failed?
Could Kali ever be made
unchaste by the fear of rape?
In that garden, Sita waited for
the man who worshipped Durga
to win a war...
I was watching a movie — a Bollywood take on the grand Mughal emperor, Akbar1. A romantic one I guess as it was a movie about how he found acceptance in the heart of his Rajput bride, Jodha. I am not going to go into the historicity or the non-historicity of the movie or the quality of acting or music or recommend or unrecommend it to my readers, but I am going to raise another issue. An issue that is unique and practical and would hold perhaps for all stars of Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and basically, all-wood named filmdom.
As the actor playing Akbar bent over the actress enacting Jodha to express an intense moment of meeting of hearts, as his face lowered on hers, inch by millimetre, a thought came to my mind, and I could not help but laugh out loud. If he had bad breath or body odour, what would the actress do? Would she continue for the sake of earning her daily bread or walk off the scene? Or it could be vice versa… what would the actor do if the actress had BO etc…?
You see I have this problem. When movies or serials become too long or emotional, I find my mind wander into other dimensions. As others discuss technical skills, acting and cinematography, I wander into the area of either somnolence or the ludicrous. My family gets upset for my conscious self leaves them watching the TV show or film. They grumble when after a refreshing nap on the sofa in front of the screen, while expressing my opinions in loud snores (a legacy inherited from my father), I wake up to ask them to fill me in. Or I am filled with a craving to re-watch the show. Sometimes, I have huge memory lapses and forget I have watched a film.
I am told — that is because I slept through most of it! What people do not understand is —my eyes close of their own volition! In any case…
Long ago, when I had a
garden, flowers sang with
children’s shouts, birds’
notes, quiet-pawed cats.
Kois played in the pond
under mauve flowers on
strange trees — I did not
know their names. They
called one yue liang hua
or moon flower from
(Click here to read the full poem)
We pray, we pray each day,
May the world be free to roam
free to soar, free from the
coronal lore. May we find
strength in our core. May we
be virulence free. May finally
a sunrise come wiping the...
Click here to read the rest
There must have been fat emoji-like
people in Guernica
left unpainted by Picasso.
In every story painted or written,
something remains unsaid.
The billions, who hope for
the uncommonality of fame
remain unrecorded, unsung,
out of the frame, the outliers
who never quite made the cut.
Wealth woven into ...
(Read the rest by clicking here)
That is an attempt at translating Tagore’s poem describing the puja season, which is perhaps the biggest festival for Hindu Bengalis all over the world. For us, during our childhood, it heralded a time of celebrations. There would be a cold nip in the air and whiffs of jasmine and madhabilata(Rangoon creeper), and a haze of festivities.
Durga Puja, was quintessentially a time when families got together and celebrated an annual community event, met with friends and relatives and had a whopping good time, which included new clothes for those who could afford. Food, festivities and fun punctuated with fasting before the offering of flowers or pushpanjali every morning. Multiple Durga puja pandals were set up all over town. We patronised one but went pandal hopping to see all the pujas.
Other than appreciating the ornate statues of the Goddess with her family in each pandal, we bought and savoured seasonal delicacies in the temporary stalls that cropped up around the community celebrations. These celebrations were open to all and sundry without any charges and I have never been able to adjust to the fact that often overseas celebrations outside of India restrict visitors by imposing monetary charges. These overseas festivities to me never quite capture what I found in my childhood. They create only a shadow, but it is never the real thing, I feel.
The reality of those days still stays seeped in my bones and spirit. Every evening, there were drummers who played this huge drum, called dhak, amidst the incense and crowds. In the evenings, people danced to dhak, in front of the goddess with incense, dhoonochi nritya. Then there were entertainment shows in the pandal. Most had fun watching the evening and the late-night programmes that were to an extent performed by amateurs, our friends and neighbours. Some of the performances would be by artistes invited all the way from Bengal.
The other event that happens parallel to the puja is Dussehera. Dussehera is a north Indian celebration of Rama’s killing the evil king Ravana, who with his ten heads ruled the island of Lanka (Sri Lanka). Interestingly Rama also prayed to the Goddess Durga to help him defeat Ravana. Ram Lila, a performance of the story of Rama’s life, were performed all over town adding to the chaos of festivities. Sometimes, followers of Rama would drop in to watch our festivities and occasionally, we would trickle over to watch the fun of amateur Ram Lila productions. These performances of the life of Rama ranged from the elaborate and exclusive hosted by exclusive dance troupes, often based on Indian classical forms, to those performed by amateurs. The puja programmes, I remember were often interrupted in Delhi with loud music from amateur Ram Lila performances within the same park. The Durga puja we attended was held in a huge community park. The two blaring microphones of Ram Lila and Durga Puja coexisted without major outbreaks of intolerance exhibited by any of the parties. When, I think of it, I wonder is it still the same? I have not been to such celebrations for almost the last three decades because we moved out of India.
Durga Puja is an old — very old — tradition. No one is quite clear about the origins of the festivities other than that it started in West Bengal. Some myths link it to Rama’s invocation around this time and to the legend of Mahisasur. It probably started somewhere around the late 1500s.
For us, the advent of the season was heralded a few weeks before the real five-day-long event, on the day of Mahalaya, when we appeased our forefathers with offerings and prayers, much like other cultures do on days like All Souls Day or the Qingming festival. Mahalaya trumpets the start of the Puja season. We children were told Durga started her descent to Earth with her family on this day. This event, in those days, meant listening to the famous rendition of Mahisasur Mardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, a legend unto himself. We would wake up at 4 am and sit glued to the radio — I must say I did try to get my forty winks in too but never quite managed. The music was powerful. The lyrics and the rendition still bring tears to my eyes with its majesty. It strengthens. It heals. It emboldens. To me, Durga was the all-powerful, the ultimate female force. She was given weapons by each God and Goddess, to destroy the demon Mahisasur.
Birendra Bhadra’s rendition ingrained her immensity into our systems. The festivities, which lasted five days for us, gave me an assurance that women were powerful enough to battle all evils and win without losing their femininity. For, the statue that was made was of a ten handed Goddess who not only rode a lion to destroy Mahisasur but also nurtured her children and lived in harmony. For me, this myth was so powerful and impactful that I could not then and still cannot comprehend how women see themselves as helpless. That is more after more than half a century of my Earthly existence. For almost thirty years, I have not heard Birendra Bhadra’s rendition as we live in time zones different from his home. I hear snatches of it in the daytime or evening but never in the way I listened to it as a child.
First Published in Different Truths, October 2020, as a commemorative poem for Gandhi’s birth anniversary, October 2020
A cloud that drifted in the sky, paused,
wafted close to the boundary line and sighed.
What is it with mankind, that they divide?
See the boundary line that rips drips blood —
See that child, what is she? Poor or rich?
Yet a hurricane or flood can level them all clean.
What is her caste? What is her faith?
Strange, they all have the same flesh and blood!
Why do they have the need to classify?
They give so many names and then they fight.
Snuffing out lives with violence and hate.
Why do they think they are so great?
They cannot even get it right.
Intelligence is a privilege.
To be born, is a miracle,
To live, to breath, a wonder.
They could just revel in so much:
To see sunrises beyond my times
To dance in the rain which ends my life ...
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane
— Marcus Aurelius
To you a paean mankind should sing
give you the place of a Queen
Condemned by life is
King Lear. Insanity borne of loss
forgets the life that links
Man to the Superman
forgets the inherent Divinity
that defines life outside
the little boxes of unhappiness
caused by manmade divides —
people marginalised —
Instead of seeing what they have,
they cry for what they have not
The golden deer that
led to Sita being kidnapped
remains trapped in phyletic minds
as the ultimate annihilating goal for all mankind