#39. Debarshi Mitra

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It has been a while since we brought you an edition of poetry. A lot has been happening in the interim. All over the world. A second wave of the pandemic is sweeping through, regimes are in for a change in America, Britain is still rummaging around seeking an equitable answer for its dilemma. Meanwhile, we have learnt that there is “too much democracy” in India. I have heard of too much food, too much money, too much power, too much evil…but too much democracy is a new one. And rather problematic too. How much is too much? Much has been made of this muchness.

And it was also during this time that there were storms gathering on the southern and northern parts of the country. Too much of a coincidence? While Cyclone Burevi ravaged parts of South India, uprooting trees, electric poles and homes, up north, farmers were gathering in huge numbers to protest against oppressive farm laws. To stop the government from uprooting their livelihoods. To use up a bit of their bountiful democracy. They have come and camped. Women, children and men. In tractors, trailers and other assorted vehicles. With enough food to lay siege to the capital and with more food on the way. They grow it after all.

A few years ago, I read about the havoc caused in the lives of potato farmers who had signed contracts with PepsiCo to supply potatoes for chips. The intricacies of corporate stipulations put paid to the financial securities of a lot of farmers. To ask a farmer to grow potatoes of a certain size is probably the plot of an absurdist play. No one can dictate how much vegetables ought to grow. Least of all potatoes. There is a reason they prefer to do their growing underground. They have got used to too much democracy.

Now there is an elected government telling farmers that they don’t understand the benefits of the laws that have been drawn up without — consulting them, including them and going by the nuances, — them. The MSP has been the cushion that has broken the fall of many a farmer and has assured them of securing a projected income. As someone who comes from a family of farmers, I know the struggles undertaken to make ends meet. The back-breaking labour, eyes that have spent more time looking at the sky than at your family, the inability to appreciate the poetry of off-season rain, the mathematics of water sharing, bund making, bund breaking, census of rats, rodents and related pests. And at the end of it all, when the crops come home, it is bliss. Till it is time to start again. It is not a wonder that my family doesn’t farm anymore. This generation is faint hearted.

It is an interesting age to be alive in this country. The most intelligent people govern us. They know everything- about everything. The farmers do not know about farming, the minorities don’t know about citizenship, students do not know how to study, teachers do not know how to teach, comedians don’t know how to crack jokes, they only offend the apex court…I can go on…but there is poetry to come.

What sort of poetry must one write at times like these? When your trust in governance is a sliver of soap under a waterfall and humans have been battling the cold and, in some cases, old age to wrest some form of control over their own destinies. When the world’s largest democracy realises that it has too much democracy, what sort of poetry do we write? Angry? Mournful? Witty? – there—now there is too much of choice. Perhaps we should ban buffet spreads as well.

India in these last couple of years reminds me of America in the Vietnam era. When much of the populace was out on the streets protesting and asking that the violence stop. The tone-deaf regime is yet another stark, staring similarity. It is quite telling that in the ages that followed, amidst all the protests, the activism and the cultural upheaval, what stood out was a music festival in the middle of nowhere, on a sprawling farmland- a festival that set out to sell tickets, but then became free, where the audience helped construct the stage and some stayed back to clean up after. Where for the better part of a weekend, there was music, music and more music. Well, that and a lot of psychedelic drugs and love. Woodstock in 1969, brought the biggest names in music who set anthems for lost youth.

Queen, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Ravi Shankar and Santana were there and so was Janis Joplin- with her persona- a voice way older than her age and pain that knew no name.  “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”, she sang in Me and Bobby McGee, a rendition of Kristofferson’s words. And listening to it in these days of constricted throats, I am inclined to believe.

And if it is the power to convince that I am looking for, then I needed to go no further than

young Debarshi Mitra, who writes,

You close your eyes

and draw a blank.

The fog is everywhere

around you.

The past continues

to keep you at bay.

Your dreams begin

to turn yellow

like the flame

of a distant star.

            (On a Winter Night)

Debarshi has an extraordinary voice that manages to get one to follow it down tricky rabbit holes. Reading the selection for this feature made me think of the scenarios in Alice in Wonderland and numerous smoky memories from past lives. The range that he presents is immense, using the gaps between the words in the text to fashion new narratives.

The night thickens

around the bush


not a footstep

to be heard


a snake

slithers back

to the undergrowth.


Cities, lives, time, he animates them all and sets them free- there, there it is again- that word. It stains the air we breathe and the flights of birds and the borderlessness of thoughts. The ecosystem that Joplin’s voice occupied seems to be where Debarshi’s poetry resides. The grit, the silk, the strobe lights are a part of his soul too.

There is a great deal of Cyberpunk influences in his poetic imagination and I am sure that William Gibson would appreciate the folds and neural pathways that he lights up with his ability to surprise. And he does surprise in more ways than one. even when he is extravagant in the length of his poems, he is frugal with the amplitude. The stillness of his poetry is commendable. And while he is a physicist at IISER, he also writes poems. If that is not the freedom to be, then what is?

He says, “I’m a theoretical physicist by day. My specialisation is Condensed Matter Physics. My two primary interests: poetry and Physics emerge from similar concerns, that is of understanding and gaining insight. While Physics allows one to build theoretical models for natural processes, poetry offers new ways of interpretation and defamiliarization of lived experience.”

 The quest to be unsettled, to be ruffled is an artistic endeavour and Debarshi is the eternal journeyman. The bohemian in him is a kindred spirit to all the songs sung, all the notes played and all the colours that mushroomed at Woodstock decades ago. Those are the songs that last- full throated, bloody and unabashed. His voice belongs to jazz music and vinyl records.

When the common man out on the streets resists with all his might, then the powers that be must sit up and take note. That is the ultimate rule of a democracy. In a land where increasingly symbology, citizenship, history, love, the right to marry- much of what makes us who we are is being dictated, food is a very important frontier. For a regime to dig in its heels and wait out the siege in hopes that a bitter winter will send protesters away, it must be that convinced of its righteousness or of the weakness of the intentions that oppose it.

Perhaps India is ready for its own brand of the Woodstock. A place to sit back and wonder how everything has gone so wrong and when. To throw strictures to the winds and also the rules that govern love- to dream of times when in the span of the same year, migrant workers did not have to walk away from the capital and farmers did not have to march in. There wasn’t too much democracy in that, was there?

“Who you are is what you settle for, you know?”

                                                                        – Janis Joplin

Sonya J. Nair


Postcards to no one

I am the patient etherised upon the table. It is midnight already, the steady hum of crickets merges with the clatter in my head. The words I had once written, now return every now and then to haunt me. Perhaps the words that return are not mine alone, they arrive without warning, fragments of lines, now longer tethered to the text, they arrive like the breeze on cold city nights. “ You always seemed to go round in circles” , I murmur to myself. I discern few other sounds. A leaky tap in the kitchen, must get it fixed, I make a mental note. The sound of the clocks ticking go on as ever, “No man goes down to the same river twice”. I think of entropy for a while, the second law and time. The tap keeps leaking. By now I have almost become used to its incessant rhythm. “All of art is resistance against entropy”, I scribble on a piece of paper, knowing once again that I am indeed going round in circles. The phone rings, I let it. The traffic lights blink. I have grown tired of conversations, of platitudes, of “art, beauty and the meaning of it all”. Hollowed out from inside, I roam these streets like a shadow of myself. This city, its neon facade, its filth, its contradictions, look at me questioningly. I smile back at it and keep walking in this “unending chorus of human feet”. I slip into my dreams. My dreams are of smoke and death. Stray faces appear behind glass, a dog bares its fangs, licks a bone clean, mannequins walk gingerly , a one eyed man grins.


A faraway house

overlooking the highway,

the lights of which

always flicker the same way

in my memory, always the dim

yellow of longing chasing me.

Just as a seafarer knows

the sea by the way starlight

meanders over it,

I discover the city

late at evening,

walking along

its illuminated contours,

and find in every corner

the disjointed strands

of time and distance

and being and non-being,

shaping their own narratives,

even as I keep searching

for effervescent light trails

of headlights and cold neon.


Here I am

in this cafeteria

having a bowl of noodles

all by myself

with a dozing watchman

and the soft, mellow glow

of an electric flycatcher

for company.

I put on my headphones,

my playlist switches to Norah Jones.

I think of my friends for a while

and then my mind shifts elsewhere.

The song begins ,

“Come away with me “ she sings

and I here alone

in this midnight shack

think to myself

that I would if only

I knew where.

Movement as Metaphor

Droplets of light

condensed on night lamps

split open

caught in a flux in

spools of thought

held in equilibrium

mid-air nesting

in the emptiness

of every atom in

every cell and the

continuum in between

where motion begins

only in the mind as

a single twist of phrase

unlocking doors,

as a trickle going down

the endless slope,

as a nameless  soul

receding from its shadow.

Notes from an unfinished diary


Criss cross zig zag pools of light, comfort is disappearance and then oblivion…oblivion…oblivion just writing the word is bliss, poetry is tapping buttons on a phone and auto correct results , erasure is art is life and the continuum in between , the excess of everything has choked me , life is perennial asphyxiation, an endless process of fading away moving zipping past cities, civilisations the old man under the tree telling us tales of our dreams and the mats that waiters dry at night, the lover’s hand groping in the dark , How do I trust anything?memory , literature is artifice, art is truth , truth naked without embellishments of language, of anything , thoughts clear as water, clear as a sentence that does not employ a metaphor. Must wake up sometime before they arrive, then again the next day and the next, life is a series of such days , how does one break away ..


Antidote to melancholy :The act of naming ,The colours ,the sounds, the flesh and all that remains hidden In the shadow all that diffuses out of the surface of our being and the air expanded by our emptiness as it passes in and out through the nostrils as days turn to nights, as all that remains of a once familiar name.


The currents in the vein ,  blood flowing like a river, the banks on both sides unknown, the day draws to a close, a boatman begins his song, sound penetrates silence, bit by bit, the first poem on a cave wall reaching beyond time to us, gathering silt of time, of memory as the world passes in a long drawn breath, the very act of naming is creating, the rebirth of the world in the head, the sounds ring hollow , a skeletal hollowness, the night endless..


The world held out as if a piece of paper

Plain white eye balls, stars replaced by LEDs, the sky cellophane, I scream and hear the sound

of my voice which separates into sine waves.

It moves outwards, upwards ephemeral wisps of smoke. The ceiling buzzing incessant, the sound of crickets in my head, the static from satellites, orbits losing its course, language born in the womb of silence, reaching towards what cannot be known, cellophane skies reaching out to us…us?  thin lights of the night , absolute silence , the mind melting words, sounds, the mind on a sprint out run by light, the first embers of the fire, the signs drawn but never understood, not of death or of  life, a mystery without resolution, words pushing against air, enlarging space, the self diffused , the shadow of the shadow keeping us where we are.


Condense droplets cold surface night ice cream blank page the sun lanterns night lamps heat youtube voices

Voices information the world trapped in a skull , stream of consciousness no boundary , end of the page the point of it all? Deadlines dead line cooler night gives way to morning shifts work and repeat ,what am I looking for, the end apocalypse starting over the physicality of writing poems , people in photographs and people beside you and then people into nothingness me into nothingness, with them who are they ?friends connected by invisible threads, to her whom I love, to her whom I think I love, the way the fingers move over the keyboard backspace backspace heat  boredom solitude split open empty space time body tv series transport in a story of someone somewhere pinned down to time, place , location , country , family , caste , name , universe? Face the man in the mirror thinking in devised metaphors language handed down how does one step out of one’s own feet? Words as vehicles of release, Hormones ? Happy chemical? Sad chemical?


Symmetry breaking triggered by the first word, in the perfect vacuum of silence, the trigger pressed, time – the noose around the neck, entropy fluctuation, a probabilistic blip in the all encompassing halls of nothingness, propelled forward, the brain fist sized presiding over the universe, and you caught in between . All poetry is reminiscence of time when there was no time, space uncharted, a raft caught in the ocean currents of neurons, torn apart by genetics, strands entwined condemning us to a name, to 3.14 , to loneliness, to this eternal separation, to an alpha numeric name next to a blob of green, to anonymous chat rooms, to curious blizzards in Russian novels, to the unsayable buried in the ambient. .


We wither slowly


our eventual invisibility.

The hourglass fills

bit by bit,

we turn vaporous,

appear as frost

on the windows

of our unborn children.

Debarshi Mitra is a 25 year old poet from New Delhi,  India. His debut book of poems Eternal Migrant was published in May 2016 by Writers Workshop. His second book Osmosis was published by Hawakal publishers in 2020. His works have previously appeared in anthologies like Kaafiyana, Wifi for Breakfast and Best Indian Poetry 2018 and in poetry journals like  ‘The Scarlet Leaf Review’ , ’Thumbprint’,  ‘Guftugu’, ‘The Seattle Star’ ,’The Pangolin Review’, ‘Leaves of Ink’, ‘The Sunflower Collective’, ‘Coldnoon’, ‘Indiana Voice Journal’, ‘The Indian Cultural forum’ among various others. He was the recipient of the  The Wingword  Poetry Prize 2017 ,The Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2017 and was long listed for the TFA Prize 2019.  

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