Author: SamyuktaPoetry Page 1 of 5

Crossing the Shorelines

Geetha Ravichandran

Gopal Lahiri is an award-winning, bilingual poet. His latest recognition is the first Jayanta Mahapatra award presented to him at the Toshali Lit fest in February 2024. He is prolific and has published several books of poetry till date. Gopal Lahiri straddles between abstract concepts and vivid imagery with practiced ease and engages with the reader, invoking memories and sketching tales that speak of greyness , loss and quiet celebrations.

Crossing the Shoreline by Gopal Lahiri is about liminal spaces and the quest to embrace the unknown. The poet uses clutches of metaphors and experiments with various forms of poetry to convey a sense of immediacy in his journeys and transitions across borders. A pattern emerges, as the poet lays bare his experiences and then watches from the shadows. This is borne out by the following lines from the very first poem of the collection which
shares the title with the book.

“unknown alphabets draw humpbacked sand dunes
aligned in endless rows on the shore
of my sleep”

In the first section, “Voices of Concision” the poet displays an economy of words and yet manages to mine the hard, outer crust of thought and holds up hidden meanings.

“Stories are just stories
I listen and forget”

The poet is, as he puts it in the poem ‘Crossing’, “building the quiet raga amidst the chaos”

In the imagery the poet uses, there is an amalgam of the mundane and the complexity of chaos, and they enmesh seamlessly. In the poem ‘City -Skins’ , the poet writes

“woodpeckers write the evening lyrics,
The tide of new settlers
opens up a new conversation,
lies, more lies or death”

There is thus a modulation, even irony as finality approaches.

Some of the poems in this section speak about the difficulties of conversing, the poignancy of meanings lost between exchanges of words.

“Switching on and off, I want to
converse but with each failure
I squelch around, push my gaze away,
and my heart returns to the cage.”

This theme of lost meanings recurs in the poem “Poetry mirror” where the poet says,

“My words can’t reach you, alphabets rustle,
I am watching all these through my broken mirror”

In the section 14 liners, the poet experiments with the sonnet form and binds words in a typical structure while at the same time loosening the knots to allow word play. The sonnet has a fixed poetic form, consisting of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter. Lahiri’s sonnets are bold experiments in free verse . In this section the poet speaks of time, space and everything in between.

“ Then there is the blank space
The wall clock stops at quarter to nine.”

In the poem ‘Far and Beyond,’ the air is thick with melancholy- ‘words become solidified wax’… while ‘the trees bend to one side, losing their songs in every leaf.’

The same melancholy also pervades the poem ‘Frozen Ballet’

‘It is right here, the ending , you circle around,
The figures are whirling yet still in a frozen ballet’

In the poetry of Gopal Lahiri there is pointed attention to what lies beyond the apparent, where the seed of hope and renewal nestle. While there is darkness , there is also a hint of warmth.

“I remember how long the winter was, how pure, how dense.”

“I am going to give back to the trees
the leaves they have lost,
to the fallen feathers the bird,
to the sun sharp lights”

And again, the contemplation of absences and losses, paradoxically arouses a new energy in the poet.

“I must wake up with light, speak to the arrays
Till they become my voice in every morning”
“Black now fills me with hope, showcases love and light
Weave a tender ethereal story”

The poet outlines the transitory nature of time and space. And therefore, memory arches over to tell the stories.

“Your voice rears high up to meet a liquid sky connecting to memories,”

And again,

“Memories are kept in long boxes and the fine tissues drop whispers there”

The poet’s verbal acuity is on display in the Japanese short forms, Haiku and Senryu which are included in the third section of the book. This form is used by the poet in creating visual vignettes which also layer a deeper meaning. The poet holds up the little things, the details of the ordinary day to be seen through a clear lens. The images mango buds, rail tracks, sunset and twilight speak to the reader in the form of the Haiku, which are gentle yet distinct

The last segment in this book contains five Haibun. The prose and the haiku meld seamlessly.

In ‘Sight and Sound’ the poet startles the reader with a pithy Haiku,

carefree summer
go as you like clouds
drop text messages

In the Haibun ‘Snapshots’ the poet contrasts colour and erasures, flashes of brilliant memories with commonplace experience of the quotidian.

grey sparrows share
ghost stories

The warp and weft of the book is authenticity and a breadth of exposure to the core of human experience. It grabs the readers’ attention with an adroit mix of directness and suggestion.

Geetha Ravichandran is a retired IRS officer. She has published two books of poetry, published by Red River. She also contributes poetry to several journals and writes a monthly column for a leading newspaper. She lives in Chennai.

Kapil Kachru

For a while, death has been on my mind. What does it mean to die? Do we enter another dimension, where all those we regrettably or gladly let go are waiting for us, saying, “See, it’s not goodbye after all!”  Or do we join one of those long, never-ending lines of people waiting to board a bus to Hell or Heaven? And never realise which is which? And what if what we thought was the ultimate solution to all problems was just the beginning of a whole new set of unimaginable conundrums? Sometimes I feel death must be like slipping into a sensory deprivation tank. A black sea of silence where stillness prevails. A detached body floating in a sea that becomes its whole existence, till slowly, slowly, dissolving, the body becomes the ocean. Perhaps, death is being forgotten and forgetting. All those rituals and prayers for the departed performed by the descendants who in turn teach their offspring are the promise to remember the dead year after year.  All of this stems from the fear and the hope of the living- the fear that they might one day be forgotten and the hope that they won’t be forgotten. I suppose it is a tad difficult for humans to believe that after all the things they have accomplished on Earth, they just end up evaporating. No. I suppose for life to have meaning, death must have significance, gravity, sorrow. Why else the mourning? The guard of honour, the flags at half-mast? Children too are our guard-rails against being forgotten. People we see ourselves in, our quirks, our habits- they who shall inherit our name, our assets/liabilities and the task of remembering us.

Writing names in books, promissory notes on trees, on walls- Madhu ♥ Mohan, on those mausoleums of eternal love that kings built, is all a hope that one day someone will remember and thus all that was supposed to be dead, supposed to be lost to the sands of time or to the drudgery of life will still live on. And then one day, when the books are burnt and the trees cut, when the walls are pulled down, when mausoleums are demolished, when there are no children, we are truly, truly dead.

And Gods are not immune to this form of mortality either.

The Gods come into our lives as those to be feared, those who love us, those who must be appeased. They form silent, all-knowing, all-seeing presences and remain in their shrines in our homes, in our places of worship, their name taken in vain, wine or whine several times a day. They stay alive thus; blooded by our memory, travelling with us on every journey, witnessing our every transaction, our every action. Till one day, the shrine is jostled as we dust our home, or when children play a game of ball. The God falls from their pedestal. And forms a crack. And suddenly, just like that, the God is no longer a God. They become not-God. They did a not-Godly thing by falling down and breaking. They must be sent away. In Hinduism especially, it is believed that a broken idol must not be kept in the house. It must be either dispersed in a river, a sea or placed at the foot of a tree in an open space, where the energy it gained from the devotion it received before breaking, can dissipate.

So then, thus, God becomes a no longer-God. No one remembers them. No one worships them, they remain a figure under a tree. During a journey to Hyderabad, I came across the shrine of Kattamaisamma- at a place called Tank Bund. Kattamaisamma is a local goddess who has the power to avert floods and she has been doing exactly that for the people of Tank Bund for many decades now. Across the shrine, bang in the middle of a very busy road, stands a tree. It was possibly a shrine. I happened to notice this tree and went across the road to take a look. At the foot of the tree, a parallel shrine of broken gods sat. Presided over by Ganesha- the elephant-headed God, sat a veritable array of Gods- Shiva, Nagaraja or Snake gods, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Devi in her many manifestations, Ganesha who was obviously prised off a panel at the entrance of some house when they remodeled, some panel of gods given as house warming gift, the vermilion finger-dot on them still intact, Gods peering out of broken frames, gods presiding over calendar sheets of years gone by. Gods stacked, stashed, left behind. Gods- many handed, decked in finery, some already fled, leaving just frames behind, while others sit, patient, having witnessed the frenzy of devotion and the calm reasoning of desertion that humans are capable of.

It was Kapil Kachru’s poem that we carry here today that made me think of the no longer -Gods of Tank Bund after all these years. Kapil’s poem has a very vivid memory of a temple he visited some decades ago in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, which is also my hometown. I know the place he talks of and the temple too. When I read his work, it made me smile. His eye has missed nothing.

That is his blessing. And perhaps his bane too. Kachru has a very personal, lucid eye that he trains on the universe around him. He seems to carry his history- real, imagined, political, personal- in the pocket of his coat. Like raisins. Or like a sea anemone. A case in point are these lines:
Who will feed the crows
when we are gone?

Mother’s mother asked
leaving for the last time
the house her husband built
in the Garden of Turnips

Ever since then, the question
addressed to nobody in particular
gets raised, like a threatening sickle

Eighteen years later, heading to Anantnag
you miss seeing or hearing crows
miss the turn for the place
Father insists on visiting

By a slender shoulder of road
you ask a passerby
taking his bicycle for a walk

Much easier finding an old grave
than a new one, 
he says, with a smile
drier than day old bread and points the way

(Radio Kashmira, )

The sardonic, sly humour that sheaths biting satire and political angst makes it difficult to pin-point the discomfort that he manages to release.

We know how much he likes keeping an eye on life in the street we prepared a table specially for him by the window

So to speak, we had the glass removed some time back it was fatally attracted to bricks, you see

Particularly during riots, which have become awfully popular, these days

(Waiting for Kolatkar Mia, ( )

Kachru presents an important voice in poetry today. One, that is capable of treating language with reverence. Of being able to reveal the prismatic impact of language and through it, articulating the polyphonic modern body. A body where memories, nations, languages, cultures, syntax and registers collide and where much that is valuable stands in danger of being lost. Kachru’s verses are astringent as they look to cut through the noise to reveal the layers of eternal journeys beneath who he is today. The journeys he undertook or those that others went on before him, or for him.

Reading the verses of Kachru, following him as he unfurls memory after memory, is like watching an act of prayer. Its personal, but it also includes you. It remembers you, names you and invites you into its circle of remembrance.

It is an act of immortality.

The four-part poem, Kochulloor Calling is a very philosophical, impish take on a very old temple. The many colours we brushstroke faith with, is potently narrated. Kapil Kachru looks at the many parallel lives lived on a single morning on the premises of a temple. And in the midst of it all, there is a God who might possibly need a quick getaway. It’s a delightful, contemplative idea!

This is why, though it is well within reach, I am not posting a current picture of the temple Kachru talks about. Let it remain in our memories as he remembers it. I would like to think that Kapil Kachru once passed this way and picked up a temple in the once-sleepy village of Kochulloor, put it in his pocket along with the raisins and the sea anemones and quietly walked away. He took with him, the Gods, the not-Gods and the no-longer Gods.

Sonya J. Nair

Kochulloor Calling

a four-part poem
for Samyukta Poetry
Kapil Kachru

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kapil-Kachru.jpg

Kochulloor Calling


Sleepy village in the deep
south of God’s Own Country
yawns at moody December sky

seven thirty in the morning
an ungodly hour for night owls
all across this vast blue-green
pebble of a planet

on a cement plinth
below a woven cane roof
braced by bamboo

it occurs to you
none too soon
what your old man
was talking about

that disc of stone
hole in the middle
beneath your
overgrown beak

that’s what lingas looked like
in the old days, marking
propitious places to cross
ones legs & close ones eyes

the scrawny excuse for a tiger
in the corner of this makeshift shelter
receives the new-found wisdom
tail curled in comic horror

native hunches pinned down
by Plaster of Paris, hanging on
with declawed paws & an un-
healthy complexion

that’s not going
to get any better
any time

Kochulloor Calling


A veteran horn blasts
breakfast calm to bits
an elephant trumpets

in acknowledgement
your attention hijacked
ears on end

you follow the sonic
invasion through the
blast & trumpet lane

over broad, smooth steps
down to what looks like
it might be a pagoda

on one blast & trumpet side
stone wall, painted white
bleeds from cynical pores

graphic brushstrokes ooze
the symbolic red blast &
trumpet substance of belief

Skanda comes face to face
with his furious nature
& feeds it to the fire

almost new, red Kawasaki
blast & trumpet, parked side-
ways, right there, to the left

by the main entrance, don’t
you know, even God needs
a getaway vehicle, these days


perched in the thick, green
canopy above, an owl rests
her sleepy, telescopic eyes

Kochulloor Calling


It’s a big step
you take, so casually
over the threshold

no owl would dare
not in this blinding

best not look back
too soon for that
sort of thing

up ahead, a young bull
elephant, feet bound
with linked metal chain

trots along a paved
rectangular path
around the central shrine

straddling his neck
man armed with
carved ivory horn

curved like crescent
moon, which he blasts
every chance he gets

the elephant trumpets
obediently with his trunk
devotion is slavery

he bellows, wake up
you sleepy slaves
wake up

after sufficient laps
clockwise, around
the shrine

he catches a break & rests
anticipating a well-earned
offering of morning fruit

on a covered platform
behind the compound, you bow
to the magnificent being

with gratitude
you haven’t felt before
thanking him

for abducting your attention
for luring you here, barefoot
in this temple courtyard

all the way in the deep
south of God’s Own Country
close to Kanyakumari

the elephant eyes you with
the suspicion you deserve
& keeps his holy distance

Kochulloor Calling


Not old, the young villager replies
about a hundred years or so
the small, weathered statues
of Nagarajas, guarding the immense

time-honored tree, shielded by
hoods of cosmic serpents
speak of older memories, still
nothing stops wind & water

gnawing at the agonizing work
of mortal hands, the sea doesn’t
deliberate, only scrubs the features
off your face

with salt, scrapes away
all trace of who you think
you might be, wipes it clean
without second thought

late last night, while you imbibed
the wine & olive soaked fantasies
of Hellenic seafarers, Athena sent you
one of her own

a white barn owl, gold freckles
across breast & belly, arrived at the
windowsill to behold you as one would
a curious specimen

in an expensive glass box
at the world-famous zoo of a foreign city
imploring you with the silent miracle
of telescopic eyes & you were scheming

to take a picture with your phone
how else would anybody believe?
startled, the owl flew off into the night
never to be seen again, until earlier

this morning, you caught sight of her
in slivers of sky, slender blue ribbons
cut by translucent glass slats, saw her
turn upward

in a desperate last-minute
maneuver, escape an eagle’s
bloodthirsty grip by the width
of a tail feather

cheered on by a savage
chorus of crows, fluttering
in noisy formation around
the predators

you couldn’t tell if they were
cheering eagle or owl, or placing
bets on both, you couldn’t deny
how maniacal it was

the eagle gave up chase
the crows settled down, eventually
you spotted a couple, hours later
on a low boundary wall

taking turns pecking a cat’s tail
from either side, harassing
the little hunter till he hopped off
& went hissing into the overgrown

Kapil was born in Lucknow and lives in Boston. His poems and stories have appeared in journals, magazines and an anthology in India, The Netherlands and the US. Including Inverse Journal, The Bangalore Review and The Bombay Literary Magazine. Negligible Inertia, his debut collection of poems, was published by Writers Workshop.

Women Who Wear Only Themselves

Arundhathi Subramaniam
Speaking Tiger Books LLP 2021
499 INR

Reader Response by
Shabnam Mirchandani

Woman as Medium and Message

Women Who Wear Only Themselves

Arundhathi Subramaniam is an experience: a sun-washed vision of graceful beauty, with a sensuously timbral poetic voice that is artfully spare, yet cerebrally alluring. The sartorial trope she uses in her latest book is a draw precisely because Arundhathi wears herself so beautifully. Ecstatic rumination drapes this book like her silk saris, and her kohl-lined eyes lead us to gaze deep into the echoes of ancient well-springs. Her sojourns lead into other women’s journeys: mystic spaces that open up a field of answers to questions we have not yet learned to ask. These do not comprise the wordy emptiness that spiritual discourse sometimes descends into, nor are they mere aesthetic condensations of esoteric conversations. They cannot be fitted into a page or even a zoom session. Not really. They are expansive vibrations of auditory, olfactory, tactile, corporeal, and numinous events that flow out of encounters with four remarkable women who inhabit themselves with awareness honed from trauma, vacillation, struggle, visions, and ultimately an evolution into purpose, presence, and improvisatory freedom.

Women Who Wear Only Themselves offers words as psychic entities, compelling a neurological odyssey, a shift at a cellular level. The narration is a palimpsestic gesture as Arundhathi weaves her own feelings and asides into the telling. She makes concerted efforts at direct communication with certain enigmatic women who serendipitously show up at different points in her life, but they are is not exercises in deconstruction or even investigation. They are grounded in a quest for respite from questions, and the women provide a way. They are connoisseurs of transparency: shedding garbs of language, perception, and convention, they appear to spill out of their skin, charging the very air surrounding them. Their spirit journeys happen in villages, ashrams, highways, and cities. Arundhathi’s dialogic unfolding of their animated inwardness is interspersed with her own resonant poems. The sentences surge and ebb like a river, sinking into listening ears with an intimacy of tone that is somatic in its vitality.

Broken becomes whole, and whole broken, as the stories pour out of Arundhathi’s uniquely honest surrender to helpless awe. The skeptic, writer, poet, translator, and seeker in her are awake, yet hushed, as she delves into deep listening. Letting go of herself, she lets the women in. A candid epistle to herself takes shape as Arundhathi documents her own transformation and turns it into a conversation with the heart of questing spirits who share her thirst. Pages fill with the tangy pickled wisdom of Indian women of different stripes, their flavors distinct. They dance into our sound palette like the bangle clink of kitchen hands, bringing with them the green truth of herbal thoughts, the fragrance of thirst-quenching rain, and the eloquence of silent darkness as it melts into the sun.  Fiercely female, they speak, unmindful of an audience, or a reaction. They have an authenticity that is its own life force.

Annapurani Amma, who as a child had the voice of an ancient goddess embedded deep in the grooves of her psyche, is now nakedly adult and still in communion with the long dead saint. She is powerfully graphic in her physicality. Paradoxically, this is what evaporates Arundhathi’s subjectivity as she witnesses transcendence in real time. It plays out in the mercurial language of Amma’s cosmic laughter. Balarishi’s abode of flowing mantras was once a rickety ride, where a young unsung heroine found release in song distilled from the gift of receptivity. She waded through the marshes of existential struggle, prejudice, stereotype, stifling norms, and a feuding family. Her devotees now sing their way home to her and dwell in her chanting. Their bliss has no name. Lata Mani’s injury-induced oblivion brings us void as vision. Lata’s long arduous process of becoming occurred after her body’s violent tryst with pain-ridden emptiness. Her aphorisms stem from simple yet “majestic” endeavors such as plucking faded flowers off a stem, a feat considered life-affirming in the invisible world of disability. She is holy in her quiet strength and her powerful vulnerability. Maa Karpoori’s ashram is in her personhood. An extremophile, she propels forces through intense awareness under the watchful guidance of her guru’s compassion. All paradigms are turned on their heads, as we see submission as strength, blue denim as ochre robe, student as teacher, silence as voice, calendar god as friend, urbane traveler as dervish.

Rumi once said, “What you seek is seeking you.” Four women sought and found Arundhathi’s consciousness. There they sing, frolic, mediate, marinate, emote, jest, and rest. We readers are  treated to a banquet as nourishing as mother’s milk, and an embrace as divinely feminine as mother earth’s. Our latent bhakti braces us for the rigorous freedom described in this book, as  its cover reveals to us with artistic splendor, the self settling luminously upon the self. Arundhathi seeks us, as we seek her.

Where does Arundhathi’s voice land in this magisterially disorienting time? Our world today has turned into a morphological opera. Suddenly, words have developed the creative potency of astral wings, releasing metaphysical essences that are ontological revolutions in themselves. Dystopian imaginations are in overdrive, their provenance being reality itself: a bitter concoction of hope and hopelessness. Yet, no linguistic repository exists that can possibly reduce what is happening around us to human signification. We have a massive cognitive blind spot where comprehension should be. This new matrix of being has shattered paradigms of individuation, prompting affective shifts towards an archetypal eye beyond language itself. A geometry of spirit which transcends the limits of anthropocentric thinking invites alignment with a refracting lens, a return to vintage cosmic couture, a reclamation of voice as clothing, an expression of intimacies and intimations, an embrace of fellow humans through the ethereal/authorial medium of gaze, gesture, word. That happened to me, friends, when I read Women Who Wear Only Themselves, a book that was cleansing rain to my parched senses, until they turned into a lake held within its shores. The words of this book transmute subjective discovery into celestial flutesong, inviting a soul dance into familiar spaces one has never visited.

Shabnam Mirchandani is a mosaic artist, music aficionado, and lover of poetry. She lives in Pittsburgh, USA. Shabnam embellishes repurposed objects, mostly pottery, as an expression of her spiritual and experiential engagement with places and friends. Music serves as an acoustical template for the sculptured shapes that emerge from her contemplative approach to her creations . She favors the artisanal mediums of stone, clay, glass, and metal in her practice. A former English teacher, she has an ever-renewing interest in the versatility of language as a portal into creative exploration and experimentation. She views it as a bridge to self-awareness, as well as a foundational tool for thriving cultural ecologies. Shabnam also has an avid interest in evolutionary cosmology. All these inclinations coalesce as a polyphony which finds its way into her writing life. Shabnam is fond of preserving the tradition of epistolary relationships, preferring the long-form letter to nurture her love of writing.

A review of “Women Who Wear Only Themselves” can be read here.

Women Who Wear Only Themselves

Arundhathi Subramaniam
Speaking Tiger Books LLP, 2021,
499 INR

As I read the introduction to Women Who Wear Only Themselves, I was reminded of a book by yet another Arundhathi- Arundhathi Roy and the iconic title of her debut book, The God of Small Things. The God of small things- the one who watches over the ants, the beetles and other little creatures- does not get massive temples or frenzied, opulent rituals. That god exists in relative anonymity and in the truncated lives of his devotees. But it’s a reassuring god. A comfortable god.

This is the sort of divinity that Arundhathi Subramaniam brings her readers. Published in 2021, the full title of the book is, Women Who Wear Only Themselves: Conversations with Four Travellers on Sacred Journeys. As the title promises, the book contains Subramaniam’s engagement with four female mystics. These engagements are at times chance encounters that evolve into deep spiritual relationships and lead to engrossing introspections on the ways that people can exist.

Spirituality in India is a multi-billion dollar industry, with some spiritual leaders amassing massive followers and fortunes. There is a huge demand for wise words, sayings and tangible symbols of spiritual affiliation. And the more contemporary a guru is, the greater the following. It is into this cosmos of noise that Subramaniam tosses a bubble of silence. The four women she writes about are not at the centre of the spiritual industry, they are not owners of media houses or million dollar educational and industrial conglomerates, rather, they are women whose vestments or the lack thereof (in the case of Annapurani Amma), points to an essential innocence. These goddesses of small things are individuals whose connect with the cosmos and themselves makes them self-sufficient. They require no hordes of devotees to assure them of their powers.

Arundhathi Subramaniam brings four spiritually awakened women- Sri Annapurani Amma, Balarishi Vishwashirasini, Lata Mani and Maa Karpoori into our midst to ask us to redefine our ideas of what spirituality may mean.

Each of these women have their own means of connecting to the universe and have made their peace with the realities that surround them- be it skepticism, the expectations to ‘perform’ spirituality as per the imagination of the people or the singular focus demanded by monkhood. Subramaniam has brought each of these personae to life by pointing out their core philosophies, laying bare their vulnerabilities and narrating them as they are.

Women Who Wear Only Themselves is a brave book. It presents without judgement and seeks to speak truths. The authorial voice, which also acts as eyes for the readers, is an impartial one. It intercedes, introduces, expresses doubts, seeks to find the horizon. There is no hagiography. Each section of the book is extraordinary in that it presents women in different stages of their lives, experiencing the Divine or the Universe in their own way- be it through the ardent devotion to the Guru as with Annapurani Amma, the music of the cosmos – as with the Balarishi, the understanding of stillness and the revelation it can bring as with Lata Mani. In the segment titled What it takes to be Redwood Tree, Subramaniam quotes Lata who reveals that the Devi asked her to be like the Redwood tree.

‘The roots of the redwood are shallow but the network is horizontally extensive and extraordinarily resilient. At the same time, the vertical trunk shoots determinedly skyward, while the branches plane towards the earth. It is a perfect image for the rooted dis/passion of the tantric way. We are fully present on earth, densely connected to each other, and equally to that from which we came, and to which we will return.’

Subramaniam then goes on to observe,

That image has stayed with me. The redwood tree as an axis between temporality and foreverness. Between earth and vertigo. I am reminded too of a couple of lines in Lata’s book: ‘Truth is merciless. It demands that we not set up residence anywhere, but remain ever ready to resume our journey onward.’ (128)

Women Who Wear Only Themselves carries within it the power that these women exude. Their uncomplicated assurance and belief in the Goddess and their spiritual guides. They speak of visitations from gurus and saints who are hundreds of years old- their devotion is unshakeable and doesn’t rely on showmanship for garnering devotees.

The segment on Maa Karpoori A Leap into Monkhood, is where the author is at her intimate best. There is a sense of the autobiographical. The introspective tone reveals vulnerabilities of the sort that have often crossed our minds as well.

I relate to the idea (even if I don’t feel called to live it) of paring away inessential identities, of giving up the seductive daily jugglery of roles—employee, offspring, spouse, parent—that we are encouraged to believe is the excitement of human life. Outsourcing one’s material anxieties to a monastic order to lead a life of social engagement or contemplation also makes sense to me. Simplifying life makes deeper sense still. (135-36)

 This book is also illuminating for one who is interested in knowing what Subramaniam considers Bhakti. Considered one of the most strident voices of the modern day Bhakti tradition, it is heartening and encouraging to have Subramaniam speak of Bhakti outside of any specific ideology or as a regimented, unimaginative way of life. Bhakti for Subramaniam seems to be freedom from the fetters of hierarchy. It is a beautiful communion with the Self and with Nature. 

For bhakti is not obedience, as many believe, but commitment—and commitment not to a person or a belief, but to an unfolding inner journey. And as the journey deepens, one of the most extraordinary discoveries the bhakta makes is that surrender is not one-sided, but deliciously mutual. (158)

It is this surrender that creates these extraordinary women who wear only themselves. Their voices are like hurricanes and their eyes see everything, their minds are unafraid. Take this exchange between the author and Maa Karpoori:

I turn to Maa. ‘How would you describe monkhood?’

‘When what is unnecessary falls away, and only what is absolutely needed remains. When everything is yours and nothing is yours.’ (161)

Sometimes, as a reviewer, I feel it is best that the author themselves speaks. For all the words that I have written above, Subramaniam sums up the soul of her work beautifully, succinctly.

If this is a book about language, it is also one about attire. A recurrent trope is clothing: Annapurani Amma’s nakedness; Balarishi’s journey from ochre to denim; Lata Mani’s search for a verbal fabric that combines the cellular and the cerebral; Maa Karpoori’s embrace of her monk’s apparel. There is a process of weeding, of stripping down, paring away needless acquisition, sheaths of unexamined habit, that each traveller speaks of, in order to find herself. There is also a process of crafting a new garment, a new wordskin—lighter, airier, less stiff, more porous—into which personal discovery as well as insights garnered from other sources and traditions are internalized, woven in. Which makes this, at heart, a book about language as chosen attire—a way of wearing the self.

Poetry is a language of concealment and revelation. It offers meaning as well as a respite from meaning. A shadow-light weave of layering and unveiling, of mystery and clarity.

And that is how I see these women. Not as case histories to be proved or disproved, but as weaves—of sun and shade, semantics and silence, suspended between logic and lyric. Their language ranges from the dense to the sheer—sometimes Persian carpet, sometimes pure pashmina. (167-168)

The book is interspersed with poems that reflect the soul verse of the book.

Goddess II
after Linga Bhairavi
In her burning rainforest
silence is so alive
you can hear

While the book talks of four women in conversation, it will strike the reader that there are actually five women who are equally invested in their search of the Divine. The Goddess, Energy, Cosmos, Eternity- call it what you may, courses through the veins of the five seekers. It may finally dawn on the reader that in her own way, the author too might be wearing just herself. In the twilight hours or in the quiet hours of the dawn, when we feel a shift in the Cosmos, it makes us aware of the immensity of the canvas that we face. The ensuing wonder and humility are what Subramaniam brings us through this book- that- and the lives of truly remarkable women.

Sonya J. Nair

A reader response by Shabnam Mirchandani can be read here.

Goirick Brahmachari

Eyes hold a strange fascination for me. The way the pupils expand and contract, the million messages the eyes convey through the play of shadow and light and the beauty of the flare of the irises. Over time, I have studied the eyes of willing subjects- seen the way the browns carry flecks of gold, the blacks absorb light, the greens with a coppery timbre. I have seen faint rings of white- crusts of sugar- building a moat- one that will one day need to be broken down. I have seen bright, perceptive eyes acquire the stillness that age brings. The confusion that ageing parents have while facing a biometric, PIN-encoded, app- governed world, begins in the eyes.

It is also in the eyes that intentions lurk. The sudden shift of the pupils, the slow crafty veil that descends, the gleam of smug satisfaction, smiles that don’t reach the eyes- shallow eyes that give nothing away.

I suppose this fascination for the eyes is a widespread one, why else would there be so many songs about eyes? This interior monologue about eyes came about from the memory of a day nearly seven months ago. It was a day like any other. The sun and all the elements in their place and so on. I drove along a busy road in the morning and went about the day. But by early afternoon, clouds began gathering. By evening, the sky went dark, and soon it began to pour. I was driving along the same busy road, and it was different. There were people on bikes and scooters only, they were not hurrying to save the world, just scuttling to avoid the unexpected showers. The plants along the road were a fresh shade of green, the dust washed off them and the road seemed to be pelted with sparklers. I spotted a paper boat floating along the gutter. Everything was suddenly about the water. The rain spattered down on my windshield and shattered the scene in front of me into a million fragments. Each raindrop was a world in itself, containing its own realities.

I thought of the journeys I have made during monsoon. How in a public bus, the shutters would come down, passengers stick to each other, the lights come on, brownish lights and outside, though you cannot see it, the rain pours out its heart. Trains have their own poetics of rain, through the glass you see lives passing by, people at level crossings with an air of anticipation. Passing through the Western Ghats as it rains is an experience in itself. I have seen the spectacular dawns and dusk that bleed out on to the canvas of the sky and felt a pain like no other. As though it would not be possible to witness yet another daybreak or night fall like this. As though this train, its lights ablaze would hurtle through the darkness with such ferocity that everything thence would feel ordinary, banal.


Reading the poems of Goirick Brahmachari has made me think of this young poet as a person who has gone through this sense of urgency. As one who wishes to go through life taking in as much as life itself would allow.

In a poem, interestingly titled, What Do You See?, he writes,


What do you see?
End of the world
How do you feel?

                          (Madras Courier, What Do You See? | Madras Courier)

I have found the visual to be an element of singular importance in the poems of Brahmachari. The questions he raises of remembering and forgetting resonate in a world where we keep the dead alive through memories, through written words. To break out of chronology and be remembered is aspirational. In the end only our names remain. And sometimes not even that. In a poem published in Berfrois, Brahmachari writes,

Should I lose my memory
Let it come back to me in nonlinear

April has gone missing, September is dry
December asks questions in nonlinear

Wake up to punishments, sleep
Through class—that seems much easier

Now there are no rivers, there are no skies
Only this life that is linear

This city has wearied, the travelers are gone
Memory, come back to me in nonlinear                                                                       (Should I Lose My Memory)


The image of the poet or his mind tramping through mountains, wading through rivers, floating through a sea of humanity gathering sights like fallen flowers is the prevalent feeling you get.


Nothing like a sitar floating into your ears for
hours, falling over your head and then leaking
onto your veins, cooling you from within, like
a chilly Shillong morning, like years of
solitude in rain. The table licks the space-
measures its coordinates and draws a
thousand circles in vain. It grows on you like a smoke of an incense stick that floats away from your face in slow motion, reminding you of sagely old men who sit by the road smoking pot by the side of Ganga on the way to Sarg Ashram.

                         (A Trip Through Indian Classical)


To be able to travel like that, carrying a niggling feel that a destination is close at hand, but never quite reachable is what I most associate Brahmachari’s poetry with. The poems that we feature here today also carry this sense of unsettling, eternal quest. As I read them over and over again, I realise that the traveller within Goirick Brahmachari is perhaps, not even looking to come home. The promise of a destination is what keeps him going. That and the memories he carries in his eyes.


Sonya J. Nair


Fabric Walks

All evening I walked through the fabric stores at Nehru place

In search of the absence of you.

The stores lined up one by one,

Reminded me of your disappearance.

Textiles of all colours, varied shades of you.

So much forgotten, so much to forget.

Pixelated memories. Blunt realities.

So many burns, colours. So many months

– between rehabs and hospitals.


Yet this mad desire to trace 

Your disappearance, months later, confounds me. 

I remember you had said that you saw me properly when I was reading My poems. 

While I Must have unseen, you little by little, every night 

As we made love through the winter’s mist. 

It is winters again and the mist has grown murkier. 

Meandering across fabric stores 

Is all I do now to return.


On the bus from Metro

A shadow of a shadow of a shadow

A reflection of a reflection

Cars and vehicles move

Torsos, heads and hands


At different pace and sizes

Now further,



Lights can pass like city nights

Meanings illuminate,

Longing, numbness

Love and forgetfulness

A rush of blood


Rises up

from the rumbles of ridicule

jealousy        small talk

Snoopy             elastic rumours

Like          stretchable          gums 

Like concretes that spike up


Through our miseries

Skin and rain

Faces move, patchy roads

Inertia breaks.

May the body remain unwashed

By the wetness of their visions of our reality

May the reality remain unwashed

By the wetness of their idea of our body

May the troubles be swallowed every morning after the rage

May the pain givers collide, infest

May we breathe in their smog and breathe out their fiction.

No conviction in this brothel

Of the word and syntax

Now remain.

The structure of loneliness

I sit here, in a familiar cemented sitting place in market 1 where there is no one. Sipping ginger ale and smoking a wave cigarette, waiting for someone to get some more of what I need to make things just perfect. Some weed, smoke super stars, some waves, phoebe bridgers’s kyoto and the entire album. I guess this is how apocalypse looks like. Barricades and cars parked in the middle on the roads. Not even a dog barks. But, sitting there, it felt like a dreamy, beautiful song. Like a woman who somehow manages to get me home safe when I am like shit and drunk beyond a sea. And the rest of the night goes nursing my headaches. Waking up to a smoke can just be a super star or a choti gold flake, and not wave. But, the window overlooks the view from one of my recent rooms at vashisht. You can see a bit of old manali and a few hills may be. Not the majestic Rohtang la view which you get at dharma’s. The kind of view which is like a beautiful intro to song names like spiti or ladakh. But this will do- Even double dutch would do. It’s 8 degrees and I am okay with old manali or vahisht. Just lay there. in the bed, listening to phoebe to remember: how we used to travel.


2. But instead I am here, listening to phoebe, sitting on my wooden reclining chair, at my home as she sings confidently that she knows the end. I believe her. Sometimes, I listen to moon song and cry. This is what this lockdown tastes like. If some fruit juice and cigarettes can help in forgetting some unsettling memories, then I may be able to bear it for now. Let it be a clean slate. Let it be a clean slate.


Goirick Brahmachari’s debut collection of poems, For the Love of Pork (Les Editions du Zaporogue, Denmark) won the Muse India – Satish Verma Young Writer Award (Poetry) 2016. He is also the winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize, 2016. Other collections of verses by Brahmachari include joining the dots, 2016, Wet Radio and Other Poems, 2017 and A Broken Exit, 2019. His poems have appeared in magazines like BerfroisThe Bombay Review, Nether, and Café Dissensus, among others. The Nightwalkers’ (a collaborative volume of verses along with Debarshi Mitra)  is forthcoming from Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata. His poems and essays have appeared in various journals, magazines, blogs and pamphlets. 

I Will Not Bear You Sons

Usha Akella

Spinifex Press, 2021

Reading Usha Akella’s I Will Not Bear you Sons is like walking into the middle of a conversation. A conversation that seems to have been going on for a while, and yet is also one that seems to be waiting for you join so it could finally begin. One of the main reasons for this could be the thematic focus of the book, which is to articulate the feminist concerns with space, cultural legacies, patriarchies, religion, political redactions and the very complicated histories that women share amongst themselves.

I Will… is a collection of poems that has a rather urgent, demanding tone. It does not narrate daisies or lilies nor does it have the wistful fragrance of lost loves. The staccato tone that most of the poems engage with are in keeping with the emergent voices of the women who are speaking around the globe. Akella hacks through the undergrowth of patriarchal white noise with a machete, trying to find the roots that connect women all over the globe.

The book is divided into two sections, I and We. The first section brings intensely personal poems that mark the poet’s journey of self-discovery and the battles encountered in the process of un-learning one’s legacy and culture. The poem from which the book gets its title, is in this section and is remarkable in its execution. The resolute tone of the title carries within it the generational memories of hurt, erasure and an awareness of the obliteration of non-male identities.

        So, let us speak of hands—women’s hands, generations of hands,
        hands that wash pots with tamarind and mud and feed
        drunkards of husbands, hands that pen poetry and fire the guns,
        hands that write, harvest paddy with the rising sun,
        hands that answer phones and stave off
        rapists’ hands of soldiers from both sides of the border,

                                                                  (I Will Not Bear You Sons, 19)

Akella uses personification to great effect and her metaphors ring true and breathe fire. There is a force with which her verse arrives that conveys the immediacy of her intentions. However, there might be the lingering feeling that the poems could have occasionally employed a little more subtlety. This line of thought poses an ethical dilemma on account of the rawness of Akella’s verse. The age-old debate of beauty and its nuanced treatment versus the diamond-edged hardness of narrating reality with warts and all raises its head with this collection. But these doubts are dispelled soon enough when one meets the personae who occupy Akella’s poems. The violence- physical, social, cultural, economic and racial absorbed by these bodies cry out for narratives that are organic, stripped of ornamentation and densely populated. There are lines that force one to stop and revisit them due to the brilliance with which they weave the premise and have the reader fall into the web of the verse Akella has spun. Take for example Harmony which speaks of a man being served dinner by his dutiful wife, as though a God is being given offerings. She is aware of his every need, when the sambar must be served without vegetables, with vegetables, or with just one preferred vegetable. The husband remains quiet, without a word of appreciation lest she become too proud of herself and fail in her subsequent duties. He thus, remains silent for her sake. The orchestra of this mimed performance goes on while the poet remarks,

And I watched exiled from this
soundless solemnity for a decade,
wondering why I could not see the beauty of it. (26)

And in Porcupine where she quotes a line from Kamala Das, she says,

I digest nothing           I roam black tunnels at night,

I am a dart board             unskinned animal salted,

                        dervish-vertigo prays often in my head.


The metamorphosis that women’s bodies undergo, the turns and twists of the female or female identifying mind are all laid out in graphic detail.

The second half of the collection titled We draws upon the intersections that connect women across time, the globe, culture and history. The many dimensions of life that Akella dedicates to women ranging from Meera Bai, Anne Boleyn, Draupadi to Sylvia Plath, Meena Kandasamy, to women in paintings, the goddess Katyayini, to Akella’s grandmother, mother, daughter and the women who remain unnamed, or who are named Astur, speak of violence, longing, love, cuisines, struggles to reclaim bodies and identities. The addresses to these women are deliberate acts of creating art through the very process of naming, an imbrication of the image in the mind.

There is a sense of grandeur in the poems of Akella as they travel comet-like across the various realms, illuminating realities and faces of women who have been relentless witnesses of the ravages and power narratives of history.

Usha Akella has produced a remarkable volume of work that shows the path for academically informed creative literature. Experimental in nature, militantly vocal, furiously urgent, I Will Not Bear You Sons is a collection that is intensely personal and deeply political. The footnotes point to the commitment of the poet towards her craft as she assiduously names her sources and makes the readers aware of the sheer diversity of lives she has connected with.

Akella must be commended for her intellectual integrity as she carefully documents the articles and journals she has read, marking a refreshing fusion of the academic and the creative.

I Will Not Bear You Sons is a resolution, a promise that women make. A promise to bring forth into the world, people who are unafraid to be alive, people who are not bound by the chains of ossified thoughts and who seek to heal the injuries perpetrated by ignorance, superstition and power politics.

I burst into petals of the sun,

                            I throw comet from mine

                        navel, I am sprouting auburn blossoms

                                                            I burn the day. I am hell,

                               I am your air

                                                            Centuries, breathe if you can.

                                                                                           (Recant at St Maxim, 120)

Sonya J. Nair

Aaliya Mushtaq Baba

Aaliya Mushtaq Baba

After a very, very long time, I decided to set out on a journey. Last month. I have been in the habit of going on long drives these few months, but that is always with someone. Those are journeys I might evoke on another day. Today is about the sort of journeys I rarely make.

I had no idea where exactly I was headed towards, how long it would take and if my route map was even right. All I knew was that I was setting off. A friend of mine was staying at a place of healing that was nearly 70 kms away. And this visit was to spend the day with her. I checked the map on my phone and set off just when the crisp morning air was beginning to warm at the edges. The sun was just right and the roads were reasonably empty- the world had not yet made up its mind about what to do for the day. It seemed that for a few kilometres at least, I was on my own.

Highways are strange places. The architecture of a highway as well as those of its peripherals-such as shops and roadside eateries always seems to encourage you to drive on. There are invariably a number of workshops offering you tyre changes, car showrooms – in case you decide to change your car midway, tender coconut stalls for a quick pit stop, eateries that serve real good food at blink speed, set up such that you eat in your car, watching others go by in a manic gust of speed, supermarkets that facilitate a quick getaway once you have bought those obligatory water bottles, chips, chocolates- and magazines for the co-passengers. Everything suggests movement. The hoardings along the highways advertising wedding sarees, jewelry, cars, hotels, resorts ask you to keep moving- to get to another life- one that involves tangibility of a different sort.

I got on to the highway and waited for the directions. The Voice said, “now drive straight for 45 kilometres.” And I loved it. In these highly volatile times, where everything is such an effort, the simplicity of the directions and the matter-of-fact way that it was handed to me was pure joy. And so, I drove. And drove up hills and drove down the hills, passed places of historical and tourist interest, including Jatayu Para- the Jatayu rock- the place where, the bird, Jatayu tried to stop Ravana from abducting Sita and died valiantly. Jatayu first reasons with Ravana and asks him to consider the gravity of his actions. When that fails, he is said to have attacked Ravana’s chariot, killed his charioteer and mules. Ravana in retaliation cuts off Jayatu’s wings and leaves him to die on the mountain top. Sita drops her jewelry on Jatayu in the hope that Ram would find them.

Ram does find Jatayu, hanging on to the vestiges of his life, so he could tell Ram about Sita and also to point him to the army he would need to enlist help from. Thus, Jatayu forms an important part of the narrative pivot of the Ramayana. Atop the mountain at Chadayamangalam, is a 200 feet long, 150 feet wide sculpture of Jatayu, fallen on his back, wings slashed, claws clenched. And beneath the sculpture is a multi-dimensional theatre system and other recreational activities.

I suppose, this is why I have never felt the inclination to visit the place.

Driving on, I came across a number of sprawling nurseries that announced plants ranging from orchids to chrysanthemums and poppies. I made a mental note of poppies. They are addictively pretty is what I heard! The solitary highway flowed into the molten noise of a big town that threw its chaos in four directions at a traffic intersection. The map calmly told me to turn left and then I came upon another junction, where there was a fruit stall that hung on its façade, enormous ropes of apples. The ropes made of apples were at least four feet long two feet thick and I wondered who would buy so many apples. And if the shopkeeper would have the heart to decimate his work of art. ‘Apple Junction’ led me to quieter roads, where one would come upon yellow and violet flowers caught in a surreptitious embrace- in that sea of green, this riot of colours was an interlude. My car was not a machine, it was a travelling eye.

The undulations gave way to a short stretch of flat lands where, situated right in the middle of a vast plot of land was a temple. There were no boards announcing the deity, nothing really to suggest the existence of a temple except the architecture. And a tree from which red pennants fluttered. Every branch, including the topmost one had red strips of cloth tied to them. In many temples, these are tied for wish fulfilment. Sometimes, these pieces of cloth are offerings to the Naga Raja and the Naga Yakshi Amma – serpent deities. After the rituals, the cloth must either be burnt or be left to the elements. Tying it to a tree is the best method of letting the cloth disintegrate as the cloth does not get polluted through contact with the garbage on the ground. There it was, a tree full of vermilion prayers trailing in the wind. I drove on.

I finally reached. And spent a very pleasant, memorable day, drove my friend up the wall with philosophical questions and in the evening, turned homewards. The journey back was rather crowded- the traffic, the people, on coming vehicles, I sought the tree- it looked magnificent in the light of the setting sun. The murmurs of the fabric of prayers falling slowly silent.

It suddenly occurred to me that I should get down and visit the temple- closed though it be due to the pandemic. But the anxiety of trying to make it home by nightfall made me drive on. I drove past the junction with its apple ropes, past irate vehicles angrily belching smoke in the effort to get home, and onto that straight stretch to get me home. All the while I was thinking about my decision of not getting down at the temple. Of not taking a risk. Of playing it safe. I wondered if it summed up the way I lived my life. If I had ever been young and foolish. I looked at the road I was driving on and realised that the edges and the lines marking the lanes were not in straight lines as they usually are. They were zigzag! Jagged lines along the national highway…on the path that I was supposed to drive straight for 45 kilometres! Perhaps, here was the Universe telling me, the crazy sits perfectly snug in the seemingly sane. That sometimes, being young doesn’t mean one is foolish and that one doesn’t have to be young if one wants to be foolish. Grinning to myself, I stopped at the nursery selling poppy saplings. They told me very somberly that they had stopped selling them years ago. It was just too expensive to change the board is why they let it remain there. I walked by the beds of plants, ponds of lotuses, huge tubs of roses and asked for a white hibiscus. They said they had hibiscus saplings, but didn’t know if they were white till they bloomed. I then drove on and stopped at three more places and they too told me the same thing. In that entire stretch, not a single white hibiscus had revealed itself to nursery owners!

By then the road markers had gone on to being straight and dusk had fallen. But I was happy. The world I had seen when the morning was a blush on the horizon, I was now looking at in the shadows cast by the moon, and it all seemed so different. If the morning belonged to sight, the evening belonged to instinct. When I read Aaliya Baba’s poems, this was the feeling I got. That she occupies the worlds of sights and instincts. That the land she comes from, its histories, its geopolitics has shaped the way she thinks, dreams, celebrates and travels. The land and the destiny it seems to be writing for itself permeates her identity and colours the world in the hues of violence and resistance. She writes,

The sacrificial Eid is yet months away
Yet Ishmael is dangled on the cross
The angels keep
their censored silences
and pour them into our hearts.

It isn’t even Muharram
But sisters wrap mourning
over their torn cloaks, and wipe off
sweat from the cold bullets
settled in the brows of their brothers.

Yesternight the guilty moon
wouldn’t show up.
All night it asked of me:
What joy could I shine upon
On all those slaughtered Eids?
I supplied no answers
the dread in my eyes furnished them.

(Eid ul Fitr in Kashmir)
Baba interrogates the self by pinning it against the ravaged land and the promise of what could have been. There is no bitterness, instead, an anger flows through that does watch for the elusive glimmer of hope. Her voice rings with a certain fearlessness as she hacks her way through uncomfortable truths. There is immense strength in her words and her themes encompass a wide variety of subjects such as the conversations around writing, the semantics of resistance that inform her writing and the ways that the discourses of the mind shape that of the body.

We live only one season
In the life of a tree.
It lives our lifetime
In just one cycle of seasons.

(Man and Trees)
These lines made me reflect on the tree I left behind and of the bird sculpted atop the hill. I thought of the ways the non-humans carry our baggage, our anxieties and seem to exist to enable us to carry out our tasks of revenge, lust, greed, salvation. The anthropomorphic in us just doesn’t seek permission. It slathers significations, attributes love, enforces loyalties and createsexpectations. Nature, however, tries to survive. We will never know if within all these tales there is Jatayu’s untold tale of revenge- a revenge he was willing to die for. One that he passed on the baton to an ideal king and sent him on his way to commit another heinous crime- no less in
magnitude to the kidnapping of Sita. The murder of Bali. And thus, set in motion a chain of events whose cataclysmic effects were felt for several births and generations thence. Karma is merely a synonym for chain reaction. It’s a way of telling us that nothing in this world goes by
without making its presence felt. That a tree standing in an open field in Kerala can come back through the verses of Aaliya Baba who lives in Kashmir. That one doesn’t have to visit a bird who is for posterity, etched in pain on top of a hill down which people can rappel or take cable
cars from. The bird flies down and looks over your shoulder as you read verses of sacrifice, lament and bravery.

Elsewhere, a tree looks to loosen promises tied into blood knots.

I stitch my small dreams
like wounds that
never bled…
I am a bundle of
deep memories that
stick to my soul like magnet…
A little me
smiling in the distant fairly tale
wondering, how I came this far…
Life is a rulebook
following its own verdict

reluctant me, turning with the pages!

And when my despair will grow violent
It might explode in symbols
Or diffused metaphors
I shall do no speaking!
One shouldn’t when obsessed
With blood!
I shall pose for pictures
Near the autographed pieces
Of my bleeding heart
Enrolled in shimmering shroud,
Some scented foreign ink.

If war means this,
I fight it everyday!

Leave to me what is left of my solitude…
Few pieces of peace are still here!

The spill over of pain
shall be carefully poured out into unpreserved words…

The bravest for me was to embrace myself…
I hid under your shadow, not knowing the journey stopped in the darkness…

Me, the shadow and the night look one here at this place
I shall regain voice to tell them apart!

For now
Leave to me what is left of me!

I must paste silence…
spread it evenly across corners
of all pagesthat have metaphors engraved by me.

Images like loud horns, screaming unawares
grabbing one in the desperate frenzied moments
that had crashed and violated
the stillness of my mind.

I must paint white over the black-on-the-white,
to make it all look peaceful and serene
And leave no record
of tears or blood or the heartache…

A soul that knows forgiveness
mustn’t commit violence
against silent pages
And cage them into perpetual agony!


they plucked one moon from the dark
and hung it over my roof top
calling it a festival,
tinkling human voices grew louder
greeting me on this wind chime of a moon

I rose still to usual pale sun
until noon kept working on the red clots in my memory
with a homeless chap’s desperation
to appropriate my smile
to the pictured portrait of the last night’s moon.

Born And raised in Srinagar Kashmir, Aaliya Mushtaq Baba is pursuing her PhD from University of Kashmir on the politics and philosophy of Autobiography. Her poems have appeared in journals like Miraas, Sheeraza, Kashmir Lit, English Studies in India and Setu (Pittsburgh, USA). Recently, her poem “Equality” was published in the anthology The Kali Project: Invoking the Goddess Within/ Indian Women’s Voices.

Sing of Life

Priya Sarukkai Chabria.

156pp, ₹499, Context (Westland), 2021


Since its publication in 1913 and the subsequent award of the Nobel Prize for Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (1913) has remained alive and relevant in the collective consciousness of Indians as a text that, apart from defining Gurudev, as Tagore is popularly known, symbolized the validation of the cultural and intellectual wealth of the subcontinent.  In the West, Gitanjali, captured the attention of W.B Yeats, Thomas Sturge Moore and William Rothenstein, among others, creating an aura around Tagore, the glow of which refuses to fade to this day.

The resultant dominant image of the mystic-philosopher that surrounds Tagore often obscures the lasting concerns he had about Nation, nationalism, Art and the role of the Artist. The soul search that is the hallmark of the artist and the quest for an elusive beauty that appears only through art has been a pivotal point in informing Tagore’s enunciation of the Divine. It is this quest that poet and novelist Priya Sarukkai Chabria joins as she attempts a revision of the Gitanjali.

Sing of Life is many things at once. It is a tribute. To the great and wonderous vision of the Gurudev which revels in the exquisiteness of the Cosmos. It is a reimagining of Gurudev as one who sings in rapture like the Baul singers or the Bhakti poets who saw the Eternal-as-Beloved and outside of the confines of gendered semantics. Sing of Life is an act of love, one that sees and celebrates the best of this Beloved. It is an act of veneration, one that stems from Chabria’s own spiritual philosophy. As with her landmark work on Andal, the eighth century Bhakti poet, here too, Chabria commits her heart and soul to this revisioning.

At the very outset, the book lays out its purpose in a wonderfully readable and erudite introduction by Chabria herself, wherein she speaks of the very personal process that helped articulate the poems. Reading the account gives one the idea of the intricate and organic methods that the best translations benefit from. That Chabria reveals her process through examples from the book points to a selfless desire to help others commit to this process and perhaps take this work further. This is commendable and I must say, in keeping with the spirit of Gitanjali that sees knowledge as free and unfettered.

Chabria too has 103 poems in her book, just like the original. What she does with them is entirely another matter. She has read into the soul of these poems and distilled their essence. Where Tagore translated Gitanjali into English as a series of prose poems, Chabria brings us verses from those very lines. She does not, she says, “alter his word order, nor interpolate…I will stay with the present tense to honour the work’s energy. I stay with the thrall.”

There is a sense of urgency and immediacy that informs Sing of Life, one that can only come from an intuitive knowledge. And this intuitiveness is what informs the purity of purpose of this book. Chabria employs juxtapositions, connectives, singularities to Tagore’s lines and presents lines of rare luminosity. She writes Tagore in the language of the present day. The book is a palimpsest – layers upon layers of meanings that come through the process of repositioning the words to form a new pattern of ideas. It is a symphony being performed by two people across Time.

For me, what sets this book apart is the freedom it embodies. The interiority of the journey undertaken together by Tagore and Chabria makes the work one that espouses spiritual liberty. It is a full-throated song of a bird at dawn, the gurgle of a river that refuses to obey. And like John Donne, even when she is done, Chabria is not done. Beneath every poem that she has translated from Tagore, are her own readings – austere in their composition, seismic in their impact.

One cannot help but admire the monumental work that has gone into the book in terms of chiseling away at the songs, particularly ones as lengthy as songs 41, 48, 51, 52, 60 and leaving behind a structure through which light enters, forming interesting patterns. These patterns become very visible on the page through the white spaces that Chabria leaves between words and lines. These line breaks do not indicate rupture. Rather, they are pauses for the readers to contemplate and respond. These are meditative spaces, in which everyone is a poet, everyone bathes in the benign light that wafts in. Chabria foregrounds the elemental aspects of Tagore’s work – rain, sunlight, air, dust, darkness – all find a home in these pages.

It is a cathartic experience to read Sing of Life on account of the unbridled, molten passion and devotion that stand revealed. The book also contains the text of the Gitanjali and when each reading is placed beneath Chabria’s work, it creates a stunning overlay – a route map to the very core of being. The words that she saw, chose, was inspired by, listened to – the patience and dedication of making those choices – fills one with a sense of wonder and humility. She sheds the weight of the Thee and Thou and chooses a more intimate You, bringing the Divine closer as in the Bhakti tradition.

For when

Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs. It was they

who led me from door to door, and with them have I felt about

me, searching and touching my world….       (excerpt from song 101)


I have sought you

With my songs     With them….

one has to sit back and catch one’s breath at the economy of words, the expansiveness of imagination and the sonic effect of the pause. And then as a bolt of lightning, at the end, separated by the tiniest of marks, comes what Chabria found “floating”- another facet to the gem.


            my songs

                        i feel about

                                       searching, touching


                                                     me to

                                                                        the mysteries

Sing of Life is a book that treats its pages as a sanctuary, as places of peace. In a way, it is an epigrammatic expression of the life and message of Gurudev. Chabria comments that while working on the book, she started with Tagore and ended with Gurudev. The same might be the case for readers as well. I love the way Chabria reads the celebrated introduction to Gitanjali by Yeats,passing it through the same process as the poems- indicating consistency, but also being delightfully cheeky! The book is tastefully designed and the attention to detail in the cover design and inner pages heightens the sense of aesthetic awareness.

 In these days of self and state-imposed incarcerations, when human contact is at a premium, when one needs a sense of connect, Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s Sing of Life come to us crossing a century-old ocean, bringing with it the beating heart of a Bhakti poet, the rhythm of his raptures on a page inked in a language that is of the present and yet timeless.

Sonya J. Nair


There is a film in Malayalam called Panchagni (Five Fires), scripted by M.T Vasudevan Nair anddirected by Hariharan. Released in 1986, the film is a nuanced look at the socio-political lives of the afterlife of the revolutionary movement in Kerala. It traversed the everyday performances of violence, desire, anxiety, unemployment, social stigma and entitlement that played out as names, people, places, their identities.These stories became synonymous with the sacrifices that the modern day Keralites claim as their legacy.

The film had as its protagonist, Indira, a young woman who is serving a life term for executing a landowner who raped and murdered a tribal woman. While she is out on parole, a journalist takes an interest in her and seeks to secure her release. There is Sharada, Indira’s friend and Savithri, Indira’s sister- female characters, married, with homes and husbands- women who are subconscious nudges to the audience showing an alternate universe that Indira could have occupied had she not set out to avenge the gruesome incident. The journalist manages to secure a pardon for Indira and she is overjoyed. She can see her whole life playing out before her, a family that has gradually begun to accept her, a life of marital bliss with the journalist- there is even happy music in the background. She runs to the residence of Sharada to give her the news and finds that Sharada’s husband and friends have assaulted the young servant girl. Frozen with shock, she sits by the girl.

The husband looks at Indira and smirks. It is a smirk that reeks of entitlement, a certain repugnant human insouciance- one that comes from privilege- be it social, economic, political or sexual. She shoots the man and returns to jail.

That smirk, and all that it conveyed- that was my first brush with translation. The multiple meanings that I read into that expression, the meanings that it signified for the protagonist, for life, for the innumerable different possibilities that the day, the incident, the reaction could have taken in the film, have haunted me for decades. Over the years, I have become more acutely aware of the ways that we translate our world around us into bite-sized, relatable, tolerable experiences. How we transmogrify thoughts into sounds, into language, signs, expressions, gestures, food, a pat on the arm, a crinkle on the forehead and how all this is converted into Time- the present, the past, the fast-approaching unseen.

The last three years have witnessed some concerted efforts at promoting translations especially in India. What was once a means of merely cashing in on the popularity of mainstream English fiction by making the same available in Bhasha literature, has now evolved into a practice with serious political, cultural and linguistic purposes. There is a canon of Bhasha literature building up in English, with regional writing from the 1930s, 1970s and even the Sangam era making waves in English in the last three years. The rising political confidence and the factors of shifting demographics, the presence of a more interested readership are also factors that play a vital role in the boom being witnessed today. Apart from these, the common person, the middle-class person is in the middle of a quest. The quest for making sense of the changes they witness in the world around them. These translations help a better shaped picture to emerge about the mind-boggling dynamics of India which often seems to be held together by adhesive tape and willpower. Running a finger through the 2021 JCB Prize shortlist, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a lot of translations and many of them from Malayalam. VJ James’ Anti-Clock is my current forerunner, The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by T.P. Rajeevan is not exactly fiction and has a strong sense of the local that it derives its spine from. And Daribha Lyndem’s Name Place Animal Thing while not a translation, evokes a childhood I left behind. The crucial insight these and other shortlisted and random translated works present in this day and age is into the conscious use of history- political and inherited. This is the sort of fierceness that can bring an anti-clock into existence – one that challenges the Anglo-centric notions of time, of progress, of our readings of directions. What is up is down and down is North? Its all in the perception, isn’t it? There is a comfort that translations bring- that lives and people who exist elsewhere go through the same grind as we do. That Jas from Marieke Rijneveld’s Discomfort of Evening wonders about dusks and the wide world like D from Name Place Animal Thing, like I, and possibly you did at one point of time. That the quivers felt by Mohanaswamy as he lays eyes on a handsome man (in Kannada) are echoed in Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar in English and Sachin Kundalkar’s apprehensive protagonist in Marathi- among others. This is the community that translations can create by introducing one to a world that is so like and so unlike the ones we live in.

October 14 was World Translation Day- a very commendable idea that marks the need to be able to speak and think in the language and experience of someone else. It is also the way to keep languages alive- especially those languages that are being decimated under the march of ‘progress’. This edition of Samyukta Poetry honours a Malayalam poet- Rosemary- a poet who in her native tongue has woven elaborate tapestries of experiences that are transitioning- from the narratives of a reminiscing daughter to that of sheets of rain, from the misted mountains to the singularities of falling in love. It made me think that what is poetry if not a fluid act of translation- one that effortlessly speaks multiple languages at the same time?

Rosemary, born Maria Goretti, is one of the most decorated names of Malayalam poetry. Often considered a natural successor to Kamala Das- a reference that she modestly denies- Rosemary’s poems carry a tinge of melancholia. The winding notes of many of her poems evoke the image of nostalgia that is seeking a home. Home itself is a shapeshifting term for Rosemary. It is sometimes a mountain topped with snow, while sometimes, it could well be within the fragile heart of a bird. Her images are etched out and laid out in elaborate detail.

“The love of an old man

Is like the slanting showerIt

wets the blades of grass

But penetrates not

The thirsty root.

It doesn’t cause

The boughs to tremble

No vibration…

It rustles down –

A quiver

Of arrow-like tears

Unable to penetrate

The caverns of the earth.

(Slanting Showers-translated from the Malayalam by Hema Nair R.)

The translator remarks, “What makes Rosemary’s poems worthy of translation and what makes it interesting to a reader of English poetry is the thread of universality that is apparent in the depiction of the experience of the individual psyche.” ( )

Columnist, Journalist, Activist, avid gardener, there are many words that describe Rosemary. But for me, she speaks through her poems, the images of black jagged rocks rising from the seashore are the images her works commonly evoke in me. The presence of an all-seeing, non-interfering God is indeed very interesting in the works of Rosemary. Mercy is a derived commodity in her poetry. It may not be present as an overflowing pool but needs to be squeezed like blood from rocks. Her landscapes are unforgiving and the birds wary.

A mediocrity

With all the novelty already gone”

Is love a solid mass

That decreases when shared ?

Is it gold pledged at the pawn shop ?

My love is a spring that comes down from the mountain mist—

A never ending flow !

It is like a lamp that burns for ever

Nothing is lost

How can it go out

When passed to new wicks ?

I don’t believe in a love that is protected

And cared for all the time

Why should I protect and protect my love

Like a fungus-discoloured bronze vessel

Thus making a worthless thing of it ?”

(A Spring from the Misty Mountain- translated from the Malayalam by Sudha Warrier )

Translating Rosemary presents unique challenges, her line breaks, the nuances that are ensconced within her choice of words make the work move with glacial speed. And that is, ironically, the charm of it. One can rethink the lines over and over, but there hardly comes a time when the glide, thrust and parry of English matches the simple, elegant desolation that Rosemary wafts in from Malayalam. It must be the same with all translations. I suppose, in translation, as in life, there is no satisfaction. There is always something more to be done. Something to be added, changed, possibilities to be considered, a smirk deferred?

Sonya J. Nair


Rose Mary is one of the best-known poets in Malayalam. She has a number of accolades to her name including theSergei Yesenin Award, SBT Poetry Award, Muthukulam Parvathy Amma Award and Lalithambika Antharjanam Best Young Woman Writer Award. Vakkukal Chekkerunnidam, Chanju Peyyunna Mazha, Venalil Oru Puzha, Ivide Inganeyum Oral, Vrishchika Kattu Veesumbol, Nalinakshan Nairkk Snehapoorvam and Marikkunnuvo Malayalam are her major works.

About the Translator:

Dr. Nair’s nuanced and committed translations have seen her becoming the first person from Kerala to be awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust Translator Fellowship which was spent at the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia, UK. She is currently translating Marguerite Duras’ L’Amour from the French to Malayalam. She can be found at

House with No Door

Facing the sea,

hewn from granite,

monumental in its desolation,

stands your ancient house.

Its wooden door

etched with memories of the sea.

Day in and day out, the waves pound.

The incessant roar of the sea

            envelops the house.

You, a plundering pirate!

and I, your bondslave,

bound in servitude by the

ropes of your love.

Our dusky chamber

fragrant with khus,

bathed in amber light.

Serpentine bodies, coil and uncoil,

as passion plays the snake charmer’s reed;

Muted hisses.


in the wee hours of

 a lust-filled night,

you jolt awake

on some strange impulse

to wordlessly disappear,

flinging ajar the wooden door.

At times, answering

the call of unknown waters,

you leap into the outstretched arms of the sea,

wrenching free of my embraces,

smashing the wooden door.

Ill-fated voyages….

            Returning vanquished, enraged

you slash the door

with your keen dagger.

Your endless mood swings;

volcanic outbursts,

 lightning arrivals and departures….

half-abandoned kisses….

My poor heart,


 a trembling bird,

quivering on snowy paths.

            The bolts of the door

give way

at your merciless handling;

its ceaseless creaking

on moonless nights

make me sad, depressed.

Rattling like skeletons

on mountain tops,

it falls quietly,

one day.

Ah, the house without doors!

Before me

infinite vastness,

reaching to eternity!

Wind, rain, sand dunes,

tidal waves,

all within the reach

of my hand.

Towards me,

the waves come charging

with infernal growls,

and plunder your treasures.

An ardent wind

coming from the west

gathers me into the eye

of its hurricane love.

my arms turn wings,

and I, like a seagull

 glide weightless over the sea.


the conqueror

          of many worlds,

returns triumphant,

          victorious flags

          fluttering bright,

and far flung seas

          under his feet,

          before him


the majestic tower –


eyes aflame,

like a leviathan

from ancient times.

In its inner yards

the scent of the sea;

the furniture

cold, frozen;

long, regal curtains

swaying in the wind.

When you,

frantic, bellowing,

roam the empty rooms

 like a marauding lion,

I, on the wings of the wind,

 soar, whistling!

Moonlight silver

and sunlight amber

lend sparkle to my wings.

My heart turns

wild with ecstasy!

In my soul,

neither this earth


nor the pirate lover


Broken heart, deep sighs

sad, gloomy nights,

all memories of

a long-forgotten life!

Between You and Me

Do not

 be afraid of my love;

it asks

nothing of you.

Do not

doubt my friendship;                 

it wishes not

to own you.


on a dark


fairies came, and

filled my heart

with love.

I was

in deep slumber,

when they gave

this gift of love.

When I woke up

my heart

was overflowing.

The sad

and the lonely

came, and

snatched it

from me.

The rest I poured

into a chalice.


the vast sky,


open lands,


desolate paths,

I kept wandering;

the chalicein my hand,

spilling over!

Do not

feel guilty

about my love;

I didn’t take it

from someone

to give to you;


my telling you

of love

going waste?

of the chalice



I want to make clear –

if ever

you come to me,

be not

like a king

visiting his maid.

I do not

want tax-free lands,

or stately provinces.

Do not

come like God

revealing Himself

to a devotee;

I do not

want boons

from your bounty;


is my heart

an empty void,

to be filled

with your radiance.


like an emperor

visiting another;

a friend

visiting a friend;

let’s meet

on equal terms!

Like a flute

looking for a raga,

a question

seeking out

its answer,

let it be


My Poetry

“Where does poetry come from?”

asked the man with spectacles.

Do they drizzle

 from cloudlets

floating in the sky?

In the mysterious green

of dark dense forests,

do they hide?

Is poetry

the bloom of the soil

lush with dreams?

Is it

the tingeof despair

spreading on

failed romance?

I know not, truly!

My poetry –

it springs

from extreme anguish!

Like mushrooms

bursting forth

when thunder roars,

from every blow,

 a poem blooms!

It’s blood

oozing from

my heart’s wounds.

From sorrows

 never shared,

 it breaks forth!

It’s my life;

my poetry –

it’s me!

Gaurav Deka

Isn’t all poetry queer? That is the question that has been running through my mind all these days. Even the most vanilla of poems that talks of some distant fields, full of yellow flowers could be queer. Because, a poem is never just what it presents itself as. It is always something more, a much of a muchness (from another queering work). The unfamiliar patterns of words that dip into palettes of colours or parameters of comparison. There is always a process of defamiliarization that goes on. Recognizing the whorls of meaning a poem can contain and the gradual opening of the same is a spiritual experience. Much like falling in love, or coming back from the dead. Birds in the sky become godlike, terrible beauties are born and dreams become raisins in the sun. That on saddest nights the poet writes the sweetest songs attests to the power of poetry to transcend the ordinary.  To help one feel the feelings.To queer the ordinary. 

If all poetry is queer, then what is Queer poetry? The simplest definition is poetry that is written by those who identify as queer. But that is not the sort of answer that we can get away with. What if a transperson writes of walking a dog? Does the mere fact that the poet is a transperson automatically qualify the poem as queer themed? I would like to think not. Because, that would horribly limit the infinite possibilities that are presented by the idea of Queer. For me, queer is in the insight, in the point of view that a person has. In the way they set their language free and inflict pain or pleasure.

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.

(Elizabeth Bishop, Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore)

It ought to be recalled at this point that this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry went to Jericho Brown for Tradition and the citation read, “a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.” Expressing his happiness, Brown tweeted, “I mean…I dunno…you have to admit, “Black queer men win the Pulitzer for poetry and drama” is a pretty funny sentence, right?” thus referencing Michael R. Jackson’s win for the play, AStrange Loop. Why these victories are significant is that they were seen as affirmative and as beacons of light for all those who nurse similar ambitions. The identity always casts a long shadow. Rarely do we come across headlines that say, “Heterosexual wins the Pulitzer”. It could well be that what distinguishes queer poetry is that it is called so. Redact the poet and the lines will still read the same. But the poem won’t be the same. The poet becomes as important as the poem itself. 

Speaking of the cult of the poet, there is hardly any need to go into the expressions of desire as manifested in the poems of Sappho and others, being as well-known as they are.In fact much of old-world poetry, did not accommodate the notches of differences between same sex or hetero love. The poets wrote of the Divine as a lover but often, this was placed outside the ambit of the corporeal or carnal. The feeling conveyed was one of the sublime. Poetic traditions in India such as Rekthi flourished in the courts of the Nawabs. There were men dancing on the streets in the rapture of the love they felt for their Lord.  They could hardly be called queer. Not in the way the term has evolved politically. 

In the modern sense of the term, queer poetry is not just about the poet. It is about the subject matter. It is about its ability to connect to a community that relies on a network of like-minded individuals for sanctuary and support. The sharing of the experiential is a vital way of reaching out to the community, the members of which often experience violent and destabilizing changes.

To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak-
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.

(Vikram Seth, Through Love’s Great Power)

In an interview with Firstpost, Akhil Katyal, who along with Aditi Angiras edited the anthology of queer poetry from South Asia, The World That Belongs To Us, talks about the fraught situations in the Indian subcontinent and the ways colonialism left its impact. “This debris– along with intractable pre-modern prejudices that our part of the world still carries—resulted in very vitiated positions for queer people who are often viciously attacked on cooked up social or moral grounds. So, let’s write our poems against such attacks together.”

This doesn’t mean that queer poetry is charged with the responsibility of being a round the clock activist. There are heartbreakingly delicate poems that convey very personal narratives of love dare not speak its name and yet is a love story like any other. The ‘everydayness’ and ‘relatability’ of queer love makes it very unqueering and that is what is so queer about it!


In the Urdu Class
I confused my be with pe.
He asked me to write ‘water’,
I wrote ‘you’.
Who knew they’d make them so close,
Aab (آب) and Aap (آپ).
Both difficult to hold on to.

(Akhil Katyal)

See? Just another love story! Or perhaps not! 


And on that note, we bring you our first feature for the month, a handful of poems by Dr. Gaurav Deka. The poems, when strung together, seem to tell a story of love, of coming of age and finally, of coming into one’s own. They seem like a remarkable rite of passage with the narrator finally discovering his own voice that was made for singing. It is liberating to experience the frankness with which his words create narratives not only of love and longing, but also of the complexities of relationships. Deka has a rather introspective tone and the words gradually unspool to reveal the silence at the centre. Though love dominates the conversations, it is the need to survive heartbreak that the poet is trying to come to terms with. The need to break free while being present, is not as potent as the pangs of loneliness that are expressed. The poet says

It is almost fifty years early in
Matheran now.
In your rented house,
you drink alone.
Beneath the immortal evening
the tamarind tree in the backyard—
in its own sad senescence—is thin in
its roots.

(The Three Doors of Anagnorisis)

Deka’s poems are very physical. There is always something happening. Even while the body is at rest, the non-corporeal keeps travelling between worlds and universes. 

in November
just before we decide
to take the ride
draw his
soul on paper planes
and throw them
off the hills,
she tries to be earnest.
(My Friend Talks of Break-ups in Winters)

Just another love story? We leave it to you to decide.

We are joined in our work this month by a team of illustrators, who have kindly agreed to work with us. Today, we feature an illustration by Akshay A. S, a final year M.A English Language and Literature student at M G college Trivandrum. He is a poet and has a penchant for sketching. Unbeatable combination. Do look up his works on Instagram at #jotdowntales.



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