A few weeks ago, when I was at a friend’s place, waving my arms and talking animatedly, I received a phone call that brought news of an impending demise. Having suddenly run out of oxygen, I walked to the balcony and stood looking outside at what I now recall to be one of the most arid afternoons I have encountered. There was absolute silence everywhere save for a very shrill squirrel whose cries were banging insistent nails into the coffin of an afternoon. I spotted an old lady in the house opposite who had come out to sit on her verandah to guard a tray of rice grains left out in the sun. She sat there desultorily, not even looking at the tray, perhaps because no bird seemed even remotely interested in taking a peck. It made me wonder if that is what life is all about, taking up cudgels in a battle that is not even being fought, competing in a race that is not even yours to begin with- while an invisible squirrel barks angrily at the world, Gods, the trees or perhaps at its own self.
A lot has been written about this year that is like no other. About the isolations that humans, thoughts, homes, non-humans and others were subjected to. About hope, the loss of hope, the return of hope, the scope of hope. The landscapes of living memories have been altered irretrievably and the timeline of life has a before and an after.
Ironically, for a country that had one of the longest periods of complete lockdowns, much of India ended up spending most of its time outdoors. The protests against the NRC and the CAA saw droves of people occupying spaces such as Shaheen Bagh, till the pandemic forced them inside, the leaders of Kashmir were under house arrest for such a long time that by the time they came out, PUBG and TikTok had been banned in India, there was a need to formulate new alliances, Kangana Ranaut’s house was partly demolished and a certain white beard grew as long as Pinocchio’s nose. Tunnels- the longest and strongest came up, the Parliament complex in Delhi was no longer the same, grounds were broken at Central Vista, Ayodhya and so were promises made to farmers, landless labourers, women and to those suffering from the indignities of the caste system. There were lines of migrant workers going home, returning to work from home, dying en route, living to tell the tales of unexpected kindness, of apathy, of fighting primal battles of survival.
This year saw major discussions on medical terminology and I’m positive that the word ‘quarantine’ has entered the parlance of non-English languages worldwide. So have ‘Mask’ and ‘Sanitizer’. And now that the world is slowly allowing traffic to flow through its veins, masks have become a common site in the garbage heaps of landfills and in the usual refuse strewn along roads. The sheer variety of masks, the designs and patterns they come in, amuses me. If anything, it is this that symbolizes the human spirit- the ability to turn anything into fashion.
It has been a learning curve- this year. That the ‘absolute and urgent’ fulfilment of rituals in places of worship can be postponed. That both hell and heaven might well be on earth and exist only till the time you are alive. And that human nature does not change. That at the slightest sign of recovery, the prejudices are back, the constructs of memory, entitlement, all come rushing back like they had never left.
We now live in a world that has lost the voices we knew, the faces that defined it, the people whose blood and poetry gave it life. Today, as I write this, we are in a world without Mangalesh Dabral and Sugatha Kumari.We must also remember those serving the nation from jail. Varavara Rao, Surendra Gadling, writer-activist Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Rona Wilson, Hany Babu, Stan Swamy. Swamy’s lines from prison- as a letter to his fellow religious- say it all. All that a human life should be about. And all that it should not be about.
Prison life a great leveler
Inside the daunting prison gates
All belongings taken away
But for the bare essentials
‘You’ comes first
‘I’ comes after
‘We’ is the air one breathes
Nothing is mine
Nothing is yours
Everything is ours
No leftover food thrown away
All shared with the birds of the air
They fly in, have their fill and happily fly out
Sorry to see so many young faces
Asked them: “Why are you here”?
They told it all, not mincing words
From each as per capacity
To each as per need
Is what socialism all about
Lo, this commonality is wrought by compulsion
If only all humans would embrace it freely and willingly
All would truly become children of Mother Earth
While all over the world, prisoners are being released to prevent prison overcrowding and infection, we have poets, activists- keepers of our conscience- under lock and key. Under house arrest is our conscience as well. Like the parents of the raped girl from Hathras. Medha Patkar sprinted 100 metres or more to join the protesting farmers in Delhi. Those farmers intelligently came in massive tractors and trailers and refused to assemble in another ground that they described as a “prison”. Incarceration and its many, many forms- open skies, captive audiences, radio programmes, news channels for hire.
The year continues to leave its impact on us- an impact that will continue for a long time. The only thing we can do is remember- remember who we are, what we have done, how and to whom or for whom. How would we like to be remembered? We must write of these times, write of the losses, the gains, the love, the pain, the sacrifice. Because, memory is the only weapon one has against the ravages of time. To be remembered is to be alive. In more ways than one. Anaerobically.
This edition of SamyuktaPoetry has Calendar Year as its theme and we are proud to present poems that cover the trajectories of land, mind, faith, history, body, identity, love, anticipation and isolation. Strong poems that sing full throated of their despair, their anger, their wistful farewells. Our tones are evocative, sardonic, soft as a feather landing on felt, angry yowls in a howling snowstorm.
“A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground,” said Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. But nowhere did he say that they must be our kith and kin. This time, let our celebrations mark our survival and be tinged with respect and the memory of those who did not, let us be responsible for the sake of those who are struggling with their health- mental and physical, the precarity of lives of those who speak for others and remember those who cannot speak for themselves. Let us look at the palms of our hands and in the lines etched therein, discover the paths that we have traversed, our histories, our mythologies and our ephemeral existences. This world that is too much with us looks for concrete absolutes. Dead certainties, certificates of birth, documentation, ownership, possession, cards, papers, eugenics and currencies for leaving us our inheritances.
I think back to a blazing afternoon, when a squirrel cried for the canon ball of grief that Time left me holding.
Sonya J. Nair
Chittrakatha1 – last night with her at the care ward
I have it down to a science
but they say it is an art too
I have been shaping
from my lips to yours
my eyes are waterfalls
they travel into yours
that night, I had brought
your favorite books along
you preferred silence, your
fingers encasing my spine
they knew each vertebra, its code
I wipe you down, cooling your fever
reminding you about
your tinctured tongue– sharp and electric
how my words
have spent centuries
inside your spinal fluid
stubborn stories from
my atlas to your axis
I grasp at your iris, the fish floating
inside them, they mist over
for one last time, as if to sip
at the full bellied cry
that is rising in me,
your pulse gripping my fingertips
as I listen to your errant beating
at Erb’s point—
a dancing wind chime
I cover your absent face
with one porous poem
the final one, an obituary
written by your bedside
I let it unfurl, like a new born leaf
it bleeds a hibiscus into your veins
as they calcify, I braid your hair
and as they get ready with a checklist
I sterilize my hands with your stillness
Chitrakatha – chitra meaning picture and katha meaning story. Chitrakatha is the Indian cultural tradition of women narrating stories with a visual aid.
an edible canopy of
I bottled my pickles
last summer –
an aromatic sherbet
of alphonso juice
maa slices mangoes
for me on zoom
What will we do to not become cities
ravaged by war, a troy fallen to greeks
meteorological omens, all doubts cast
away with the rising of a blood moon
one conquering, another falling, the
moon rising against the wall of minds
an eclipsed sky
What will we do to not become cities
eclipsed by prophetic moons, where
God’s or Goddesses stare helplessly
when we march towards armies only
to bring home dismantled suns and
lunar lit chants
What will we do to not become cities
humming of oceans, lashed sleepless
by the hollowed tide, her water bed
lays wrinkled, its furrows blooming
with final moon flowers, as we tread
like our dead
Kashiana Singh lives in Chicago and embodies her TEDx talk theme of Work as Worship into her everyday. Her poetry collection, Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words presents her voice as a participant and an observer. Her chapbook Crushed Anthills is a journey through 10 cities – a complex maze of remembrances to unravel. Her poems have been published on various platforms including Rattle Poetry, Poets Reading the News, Visual Verse, Oddball Magazine, Café Dissensus. She serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor for Poets Reading the News.
Kashiana carries her various geographical homes within her poetry.
Signboards the Flood Spared
The copper plated roof of the seven hundred year old
temple struggled briefly for air before going down.
Hindu bubbles kept floating to the surface till
a Christian boat named Daivasahayam
moored itself to the temple mast.
- DOG – BEWARE.
The German shepherd in the kennel could not
break the gate open, but a pack of mongrels had
made the roof their home and knew how to howl
when choppers approached.
- NO TRESSPASSERS
When the owners returned, apart from clay
and weeds, they found a cobra in the
prayer room and a viper in the yoga room.
- BEGGING IS PROHIBITED
They begged for life on a top floor balcony
to the wind and the rain and the distant thunder of
choppers surveying aerially.
(With inputs by Rajesh Nandiyankode)
Last Global Warning
Dear sluggish earthworm
Don’t burrow the earth
You may be cemented.
Dear sprightly grasshopper
Don’t hop around in vain
You may be skewered.
Dear shiny loony moon
Don’t show your bright face
You may be eclipsed.
Dear sweet mynah
Don’t sing so loud
Your voice may be severed.
Dear green peacock
Don’t dance in public
You may be maimed.
Dear little sparrow
Don’t get raped
You could be jailed
Dear distant pole star
Don’t show us the way.
You may be blinded.
Your genocide is on its way.
Your terminator has landed.
He works alphabetically.
The Unbearable Yellowness of Yellow Deaths
Yellow me lives in a mustard yellow
yello house with yellow walls and a
yellow window from which I can see a
yellow road winding its way to a
yellow hill. a yellow tree with
yellow blossoms greet me every
yellow morning. I sleep on a
yellow bed and watch a
yellow sun pouring in through the
yellow foliage. Beyond the casuarinas tress
yellow plumes rise from cremated kids with
yellow bloated faces and yellow eyes.
Yellowest room of this yellow home houses a
yellow serpent who when roused from her
yellow slumber lasting many
yellow centuries, slither into my bed throwing a
yellow coil around me. She hisses, “hey
yellow poet, write with my forked
yellow tongue. Write two
yellow poems at a stroke, one for
yellow me and one for
yellow you.” That’s when I shed my
yellow skin and become a
yellow phallus stylus pen squirting
yellow ink about yellow deaths of yellow kids.
Ra Sh (Ravi Shanker N) has published English-language poems in many national and international online and print magazines. His poems have been translated into German and French. He has published three collections of poetry – Architecture of Flesh by Poetrywala, Mumbai, The Bullet Train and other Loaded Poems by Hawakal Prokashana, Kolkota and Kintsugi by Hadni by RLFPA Editions, Kolkata. His translations into English include a biography Mother Forest (of C.K. Janu) by Women Unlimited, two collections of poems Waking is Another Dream (Sri Lankan Tamil resistance poems) by Navayana and How to Translate an Earthworm (an anthology of 101 contemporary Malayalam poems translated to English) by Dhauli Books, a collection of essays Kochiites ( Bony Thomas on the migrant communities in Kochi) by Greenex and two collections of short stories Harum Scarum Saar and other Stories (Bama) by Women Unlimited and Don’t Want Caste (stories by Malayalam Dalit writers) by Navayana.
Questions I ask myself
If you could be equal
in an unequal world,
where would you plant
On a floor that slips
with alarming regularity,
or a place
where holding your ground
would you hold?
Would you get ahead
or stay back?
Would you bend
to pick up the remnants
or will you leave
without a trace,
all the lives
that have held place
The kiosk is run by a lady who opens shop at 7 in the evening everyday. In the corporate world, she may have won accolades for her punctuality. But here, there’s only the haphazard queue of auto drivers, cab drivers, and daily wage labourers that squat on plastic stools and eat, perhaps their first meal of the day. She has always been generous with her portions.
Now, there is only a dark pool of oil that her kerosene stove has spilt.
Kiosks don’t qualify for essential services.
no omens for the future
*Forthcoming in a book of haibun published by Red River
Home chores stretch
into predictable loops.
cloud after cloud
into a pot of milk
that has just boiled over.
they come together
like angry lovers,
to draw their boundaries
the next morning.
Shobhana Kumar has two books of poetry and six works of non-fiction covering industrial and corporate histories. She works in the spaces of education, communications and social work. She is Associate Editor of Sonic Boom and its imprint, Yavanika Press. She is deeply influenced by haikai writing and her book of haibun, A Sky Full of Bucket Lists is forthcoming by Red River. She is part of The Quarantine Train, a poetry workshop founded by Arjun Rajendran. She works in the spaces of corporate communication, branding & advertising, education and social work.
We remember when there was only the rain
We remember when there was only the rain, nothing
but the rain. The rain chain stitched itself to our hearts
till our hearts hung out their crimson shadows
to dry in the famished sun. We too remember when there was only
the silence, nothing but silence. We lent silence a language
but nobody came to console us. Only the birds born out of our rubble
wept in our ruins and time hurried past us
with our yesterdays in its luggage.
We forgot when we tumbled out of tomorrow with
the gauze of bleeding clouds flung over our
slumped shoulders. Our destinies were shattered on
the pavements, and the soldiers picked up pieces of
to use as looking mirrors and stroke their guns
with the pride of careless death.
We remember when there were only the shadows, nothing
but the shadows. We cremated our names on water
to reach the other side where you stood waiting with open
arms in the land of your siege and my siege,
the perfume of ripe wheat in your moist eyes. Be
our shadow between the two wars on our glass maps. Take
us to your gardens laden with cherry blossom, sprinkle us
with rose-water and comb our wheat in the prisons of
your names. What was the point of your waiting, who do we
await in the long winter? Did the poets not warn us to lock
our sleep weary doors, as all promises stood broken. Nobody came,
the shikara wala laments, and I complete the verse:
Nobody will now come here, nobody.
Our poem is in your manacled hands and can comb
its fingers through our forgotten songs sung
when we return dead from destiny’s road. We
kiss the poem, surrender our hearts and ask:
Who are you? Who are we?
Letter to a Lost Lover in Kashmir
Every window owns a voice
Though not one speaks to me.
I am lost in such a crowd
Where my only company is me.
Faiz, you summed it right:
Who dares the courage to request now? Who bears the patience to endure now?
I can hardly shake off the fear off me, but how does one persuade the heart to write off its obstinacy? Neither any plea for meeting admitted, nor any grievance redressed. Tyrant, how merciless is your regime: All the rights of the broken heart have been suspended.
Freshly metalled roads lead to wary mountains and wintered gardens in the upturned valley – ashen white and stale green, in jaded wallpapers. Special SRTC buses meet to auction generous routes to relish the barricaded world. There are great attractions indeed, but what use are they when elegy is prohibited to me? The rains of my misfortune didn’t choose a stranger’s roof.
Those stars, we stole from the impossible seas of blood in the dug mountains and strung into three constellations (if our two ran out, we kept one for a rainy day) were gunned down too right in the heart of my sky. Perhaps some prophet will glide over now and resurrect them from saffron graves. Perhaps, I could then empty the sea of long death between us, and nail to it my leaking palms with the syllables of your memory. From me, ailing from you, the furry hands of death will, perhaps, exorcise the mortgaged plagues of memory. My sutured memory leans back on the benches of superiority stroking your blood matted hair with rock-hard guns.
The awaara was used to conversing with the black roses blooming in the undug bazaars. Will he too need to be diagnosed, medicated and counselled for generic anxiety? Will you steal the scars of your memory from him too, the scars which are full moons now?
Someone wake you up, tear you up, grieve over you, when I come back home late midnight
someone sigh over you and console in hushed whispers: indeed,
you have suffered greatly till now, you have walked alone
and burnt in our fires alone. Come, walk beside me
come, let us walk a new journey, come walk, make
me your witness and walk.
How long more dear heart, how much more
life like this?
Saif, we too never wonder
at the dead. Death
must’ve been the only
Huzaifa Pandit is the author of Green is the Colour of Memory which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest, 2017. Besides he is the winner of several poetry contests like Glass House Poetry Competition and Bound Poetry Contest. Born and raised in Kashmir, his poems alternate between despair, defiance, resistance and compliance as they seek to make sense of a world where his identity is outlawed. His inspirations in poetry can be guessed from the topic of his PhD: “Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Agha Shahid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish – Poetics of Resistance” pursued at the University of Kashmir.
Dr. Arya Gopi
IS AN ECHO OF AN ECHO OF AN ECHO, AN ECHO?
I echo sounds of all blind tongues of the hushed era I echo the thud of axes of all ellipses of hunter tales I echo snores of flaws in history of all uprooted souls I echo the legacy of traditional woes of invisible routes I echo the scream of a molested infant of all abused childhood I echo the fear of mothers who lack their home anywhere on this earth I echo the vibe of leaves of a tree in which I listen to myself I echo the grave of immortelle which lives after death on cemetery blankets I echo hooting of nocturnal nights of all circadian rhythms I echo downpour of menstruating moons of dawn and dusk of all stains of being I echo voices of vanquished queens of all incredible empires I echo loudness of the laugh of medusa of all hairy snakes I echo the rising sun of timid ones who never sets every evening I echo the prodigal of love and trials of all mysteries I echo charlatans of all arts of suicidal moments I echo sleepless midnight blues of erotic smuts leftover in the master bedroom I echo dumb words which had drown in the lethe I echo the sleepless nights drowned in the alchemy of woes I echo the violent puffing of all pathogenic influenzas of myriad times I echo weeping of extinct words thrown out of dictionary I echo ignorance of lurches of leaps of all dead parents I echo the noisy flight of blow flies with mouthful of impatience I echo thud of fire of flood of crystallized cadence of sin I echo compromises of obedient life which doesn’t have its own silhouette I echo the anesthetized words of all dirty games I echo slogans of the slippery ideologies of voluptuous politics I echo ancestral contour of runaway of organic whorls I echo the invisible calendar days which is the unseen facades of
menstruating lockdowns I echo wars of silent prayers of all countless echoes of echoes…
Arya Gopi is a bi-lingual poet who works in English and Malayalam with half a dozen published books including four Malayalam poetry collections. Her first English title Sob of Strings was published in 2011. A contributor to major journals and anthologies, she has won several awards which includes the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Kanakasree Award, Kerala State Youth Welfare Board Swami Vivekananda Yuva Pratibha Award, Kerala State Youth Commission Youth Icon Award, International ONV Foundation Yuva Award, Vyloppily Award, She is also a regular presence in the Malayalam literary events. She teaches Literature at Zamorin’s Guruvayurappan College, Calicut University.
It’s the night sky and
I’m looking for stars and
I can’t find any but
I have hope but
I will be here tomorrow and
Alone and single and
On the rough lonely bed but
I will search for stars but
I don’t do it every night and.
Upasana Das is a postgraduate student in the Department of English, Jadavpur University. She is a writer, artist, translator and academic. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, modernist studies, visual culture and performance studies. Furthermore, she also researches the interconnectivity of literature, film, theatre, comics and the other arts.
Dr. Archana Bahadur Zutshi
Not one or two but five of them,
Caught in a limbo, it was a knock,
Sudden, as the preparations were on –
Of the long awaited marriage of their aging daughter.
She too was among those
Who boarded the ambulance,
Quarantine zone was awaiting them
Away from home.
People seem to have been nudged
Into a slow motion jamboree,
The protestations, quirky medication bills,
Have failed their nerves.
They all huddled gradually in the omnibus,
Sauntered into the waiting hulk
As the driver kept reminding
It was not solely at their command.
My afterthoughts were the wedding
Is still twelve days apart,
Mitigating, unsuspecting snatches.
How slow life has become
And death seems to be in a snatching hurry!
Dr. Archana Bahadur Zutshi has two volumes of poetry, Poetic Candour and The Speaking Muse, available on Amazon. She is a bilingual poet – translator, author of chapters in literary texts and co-author of twelve international anthologies. An accomplished poet who has been a judge for online contests and a winner several times, the ‘Culturium’ (March 18, 2019) features her and her poems. Her works have appeared in All Poetry, United by Ink, Spillwords, Confluence, Setu, The Bilingual Journal, The Madras Courier, MirrorSpeak and the Indian Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies.
The Preamble and Power Politics
I first read the Preamble in class seven
The Indian constitution seemed straight out of heaven
I looked up at my mother with eyes lit bright
And found in hers a reflection of my delight
Now the constitution lies torn, disregarded
Surreptitiously before us the manusmriti is paraded
Slowly we celebrate Gandhi’s murder
Stop mourning his death, I shudder
Innocent people are imprisoned, killed, lynched
The courts bat not an eyelid, nor flinch
I realise I must dispense with rhyme
Which represents a youthful, childhood time
I see a world enmeshed in power
I see ordinary people trapped in nets
Lives and homes so fragile
Big men rich men orchestrate
And snap power hungry fingers
Which cost lives and deaths in faraway places
anonymous people, anonymous spaces
They will never know about, nor care about.
Common people like us prance-dance to their tunes
In this circus-ring, who’s the top master,
Who’s the elephant jumping fire
And who’s watching?
Shruti Sareen, born and brought up in Varanasi, studied at Rajghat Besant School, KFI. Graduating in English from Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi, she later earned a PhD in Indian English Poetry from the same university. She has had over a hundred poems and a handful of short stories published in journals and anthologies. She is currently seeking publishers for her novel. Her debut poetry Collection, A Witch Like You, is forthcoming from Girls on Key Poetry (Australia) in April 2021.
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed
Mother Tongue Blues
A human, a woman, a netizen of India,
A native axomiya -a goriya or ‘miya‘,
a deshi, jolha or a baganiya
I am all in flesh and blood one
yet i deeply crib when one asks—
what is my mother tongue?
I blast out at
the computer operator
at the NRC hearing centre
who is rude to my
septuagenarian father and uncle
what is our mother tongue?
He has never heard of the term ‘Axomiya Mosolman’.
I was enraged, but he was just doing his job,
yet why i crib when one asks—
What is my mother tongue?
The lockdown did no better
Those who couldn’t spit on the streets
Spat venom on their screens
Some sane, some insane and some obscene
Yet all in flesh and blood one
And still I crib when one asks—
What is my mother tongue?
No words nor dreams
no sorrow or screams
can reach my mind
now a tabula rasa.
There are no more echoes
of the soprano
of those bygone sagas of love
as I harp on to
the encircling vistas
of surmounting hatred
I move apart to
untrammelled pastures of darkness.
Walking with the sophistry
of the mind
over lanes and streets
in unseen starry nights,
a masked woman am l,
I hide my brazenness
to walk on with a clogged up brain.
I know not where to stop
and etch my destiny
in the lost footprints of time
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed has received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in Feb 2013. Her area of interest is Gender studies, South Asian English Writing and Contemporary Theory. She has published an anthology of poems entitled Soliloquies (2016) and has also edited a UGC Sponsored National Seminar Proceeding captioned Indian Fiction in English and the Northeast (2016). Currently she teaches in the Dept of English, Nowgong College, Nagaon, Assam, India. She writes poems, short stories, articles, book reviews etc for several webzines in India like Café Dissensus, The Thumbprint, The Citizen, Feminism in India, The Assam Tribune and so on.
The treasure I was sitting on
A brand new car and miles to go
The year started with great gung-ho
Overland drives and overseas tour
The road beckoned with its own allure
And then came March and the deadly virus
No big deal, it can’t be happening to us
A curfew day turned into weeks of lockdown
And weeks turned into months of global meltdown
Make do with less, make do online
A new life emerged, called it quarantine
And out of the blue I got literally smitten
With vegetables, grains and more from my kitchen
Faces, scenes, birds, animals and flowers
Kitchen art engaged me longer than hours
In English and Hindi, words would flow
Likes and followers began to grow
My cycle became my bosom friend
Walks and long rides made a lovely blend
Clocked more than a thousand miles
Far exceeded by the number of my smiles
The year that was, unusual no doubt
Turned my life upside down and inside out
The treasure was right here and right now
Every moment was indeed a big wow!
After 35 years of a professional life spanning academics and industry, as a computer scientist, Uma prefers to just engage in activities that she enjoys or is good at, like mentoring students and teachers and life coaching. In the process of working with her own challenges, in the last 20 years, she has analysed life from different perspectives. Creating art from material available in her kitchen – vegetables, pulses, grains, fruits, peels, cutlery, pasta, noodles, papad… has opened up vistas of inspiration for her. The road and its sights and adventures hold great fascination for this avid driver.
Her works can be found at https://photos.app.goo.gl/2LE2auPut1v455HM6
She blogs at http://umavalluri.wordpress.com/