The following poetry selections have been curated by Tuhin Bhowal , Poetry Editor of Bengaluru Review.
Four poems by Rochelle Potkar
The girl from Lal Bazaar
sips divination off cups,
laced in ginger over a saucer of zodiac signs
in dark-dusky mornings after wine sediments in beer mugs
of last evenings,
gorging eyes off popped cardamoms -
brittle bones of promises,
unspooling the wedge of her mother’s sari under umbilical,
swallowing the rain in vertical pills,
a land-locked dream gathers vapor,
through the thick glass of a cutting-chai
for storms in teacups.
As Chinese lanterns blow, she predicts smaller surfaces
for her future without straining dregs
that stir the night to cinnamon kisses,
like stars smudging daylight.
In maps of doubt, enmity, falsehood,
spade-shapes of fortune, mountains of hindrance,
patterns in camels, dogs/ letters in heart, and a ring.
She starts at the rim like the white women did (after independence),
holding teacup handles to their spiral bottom,
reverse-imaging white-negative spaces in clumps of flavor,
breaking potencies of freedom - on a stain with satin.
The girls were then from Europa, Nippon, for the English soldiers.
Now Madama drinks brew through her yellowing teeth,
stalking the labyrinth of dark snakes in hot water
from a kettle by the pimp,
bittering in tea-garden time – one hour ahead of the zeitgeist present.
What’s left is 14 lanes of women of Nepalese and Indian origin
in the old brewing market of flavors,
and she, the daughter of a randi who is into
the beatings of drums – even has a new track for an international alb
She won’t let ripples in the saucer of lip-smacking liquid,
quivering with delight, decide her near and far futures
in scaffoldings of condoms and collarbone-consciences.
Shortlisted at the Gregory O' Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2018, Ireland.
Memory is… images of a prepubescent boy cycling home,
Parag milk packets in one of his arms,
feeding biscuits to a stray gaggle of brown dogs, wagging their shins.
Large half-moon eyes, kind salivating tongue,
his smile showed no cookie-crescent as he fed them all;
he was my first love.
More than the girls, the calves and canines knew his way home,
this small-towner of a bygone Bhaarat who found humans in animals,
he grew hunger in me.
Now in this morphing, super-quick India, his animals are holographic.
His love fades cookie-slim into the sun of many states, tastes, time zones.
He has not one trail from work to home, but ten homes.
He, the colour of chocolate, almond-abdomened,
he found love in many cities,
animals in liberated women,
who fed off his glucose, milk, sugar, marmalade;
they never grew thin.
Over the trail of his virgin-white honey, the scent of shudh desi,
Old world in new crackling wrapping,
always with a 30% improved marking.
Bearing the saccharine of my bites and goosebumps,
he now breaks under my neurotic granular breath.
chai mein dubha hua – tea-dunked, wafer-thin, milk crux-ed.
My Pickwick, Marie, Parle G, Tiger,
Oreo, Bourbon, mall-shelved Belgian,
same old-same new,
premium cream-crunched love.
From the collection ‘Four Degrees of Separation’ (2016), Poetrywala, Paperwall Media.
Snakes and Ladders
I met Mrs. Kumar twice in my life. The first when I was an administrative assistant and she the wife of a man who had climbed the slippery corporate ladder to become head of HR. She looked resplendent in her aubergine-coloured sari of gold borders and wore heavy jewellery as if it was a wedding and not a corporate dinner. She banded with the wives of other directors and was inclusive of me too in a mirthful way like people are when good fortune smiles upon them.
She spoke about her new car and how it glided over roads. ‘Reminds me of a plane just about to take off.’ Her eyes brightened. She spoke of her children’s achievements, exotic holidays, the number of support staff she had hired. All through the party, she looked at Mr. Kumar, who with the gang of equal men was getting one notch closer to his subconscious over whiskey.
fitting my desires
Years later, when I meet Mrs. Kumar, she is the wife of a retired director. Her sari is sober to go with the grey of her hair. I walk up to her, half expecting to hear her tales. She greets me absent-mindedly and says they have travelled in a cab. ‘Better not to have a car— the servicing, the chauffeur . . . so much expenditure. Cabs are the easiest to hire.’
She shrugs and stays on the outer orbits of the ladies’ group, savouring each piece of finger food making rounds on silver plates. She doesn’t watch out for Mr. Kumar, who is still losing his consciousness over whiskey with the boys—the new horses of the stable—one being my husband.
the second innings
of our relationships
From the haibun collection ‘Paper Asylum’ (2018), Copper Coin.
Paper Asylum was shortlisted at the 2020 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize.
Don’t pick a wilted flower
even graves are dressed in fresh ones
-heart-beating petals over dead bone
and you ask me to wait.
Have you seen a rose, red ripe, raw like wine?
Does it wait its turn in the bouquet?
Its time and place is the morning,
when from the blessings of a stem
it oozes nectar, life juices,
strumming from its veins.
After that: a bookmark in the pages -
memory-aromas in translucent perfume bottles.
Don’t ask a rose to wait.
There is no time in its petals
only the saga of one sunrise
and one sundown.
From the collection ‘Four Degrees of Separation’ (2016), Poetrywala, Paperwall Media.
An alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program and a Charles Wallace Writer’s fellow, Stirling, Rochelle Potkar’s story collection Bombay Hangovers is due soon. She is the author of Four Degrees of Separation and Paper Asylum, which was recently shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020. As a critic, her book reviews have appeared in Wasafiri, Indian Literature, Asian Cha, and Chandrabhaga. She has read her poetry in India, Bali, Iowa, Macao, Stirling, Glasgow, Hongkong, Ukraine, Hungary, Bangladesh, and the Gold Coast. Her poetry film Skirt showcased on Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland. She was invited as a creative-writing mentor at Iowa’s Summer Institute 2019. She conducts haibun workshops for all interested.
Four poems by Shobhana Kumar
Things I Learn from a Barred Window
On some days,
there are leaves.
has a story.
Some pour, some drift,
most just disappear.
can even blot the sun.
Despite the smog
ivy tendrils erupt
I often mistake
for an unborn infant.
Sounds of gossip
when the pills run out.
Time moves in circles.
on the darkest days
I wait for the glimmer
Published in Coldnoon, 2018
A Song for Mattur and Hosehalli
Two almost-forgotten villages
stretch on either side of the Tunga.
Here, centuries of exile have created a lineage
that speaks remnants of a faraway tongue,
borrowed vocabulary from others,
made the land’s syllables her own
and invented a dialect that sings
even as she speaks. She owns no poetry —
perhaps that is why verses seep
into everyday conversations.
But it is the kitchens you must visit
if you really want to know her soul
for this is where she wins strangers
over with just the warmth of coffee.
Today, her children live across continents
and send back picture postcards of their new families.
Under a 150-year-old roof,
the older generation places
the smile of the new-born
on a wooden cradle as old,
and recites her name over and over again:
Published in Coldnoon, 2016
There is more time
to look up from the phone.
It occurs to me that my domestic help
is actually my friend.
There are always dirty dishes in the sink.
And this obsession to clean has morphed
into antiseptic necessity.
For the first time in years,
I enjoy coffee with the sunrise.
No agenda takes on a new meaning.
I get an idea of how alone
I will be when old.
I know what survivor's guilt is.
The world will dare not think of another war.
At least not just yet.
Nothing has changed for the poor.
And we are the only ones who have
time for poems in lockdown.
I wonder if I will remember this moment
of pausing when the madness resumes.
If all the countries can pledge millions,
perhaps they have all learnt their lessons?
A lockdown is a true test
of marriage and family.
The power of the human touch
has never bode the earth well.
Perhaps now is the time
to invoke the divine within.
A Marathi translation of this appeared in Lokmat, May 2020. The English is unpublished.
how much do I pack in the trunk?
And how many minutes do we have?
What if they are ripped open at the border?
Dangerous, for there will be thieves.
Bric a brac?
But they will not feed the little one,
Documents of our possessions?
When we can only carry ourselves?
But why a trunk then?
will I pack?
My old grandmother,
Too frail to walk or stand?
Or the gardener who came to us as a boy?
Memories of this, our home?
Or trivia — like our fields of wheat,
our neighbour’s gossip?
The apple trees and walnuts
that fall down from high above?
Pack just sanity.
And o yes,
Forget your heart.
Conditions Apply, (book of verse), Writers Workshop, 2014
Shobhana Kumar has two volumes of poetry, The Voices Never Stop and *Conditions Apply, both published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. Her work has been anthologized and appears in several online and print journals as free verse and haibun. She is Poetry Editor of Sonic Boom and Yavanika Press and Associate Editor at Humankind Journal. She works in the spaces of corporate communication and education and runs an NGO called Small differences that work with the elderly, abandoned people, and the transgender community.
Three poems by Nabina Das
When my letter quoted: "Main tenu pher milaangi…"
I folded up the letter
With that line at the end:
I will meet you yet again.
The truth is, the full moon
Has stirred into the ink
Your name. Just as water.
Does water not stay
In one place, while love
Flows victorious? Your name.
The other truth is, zuwa,
They’ve barricaded Kashmir
Again. I’ve never even met you.
While everyone’s smiling
At the Covid moon, I don’t
See where the light shines.
Because they’ve killed
Another and darkened
The ink of news headlines.
The truth is, zuwa, we
Will never meet. Not
Till the letters find home.
Ask where is the home.
Ask where are the post offices.
Is the blood red, or are mailboxes?
When the body perishes, does all
Else perish? The dead comes out
In the germinal street, a shoot.
Keep the flower on the nozzle
The gun salute tuned to the heart.
Then we will meet yet again, zuwa.
This letter now in your name.
Speak to Us of Clothes
Know them by their clothes, said
the dark lord. And the trees shed
their leaves. The horizon went dark
in shame. Skin got hemmed in quick.
When Billy Collins had said:
“The complexity of women's
undergarments in nineteenth
-century America is not
to be waved off,” what must
have intrigued the white
male poet is how easily women
avoid the word garb when
they talk about what to wear.
You don’t have to be good
and wear only the white of lilies,
cotton of our mother’s dreams
or the right color of our leaders.
Our leaders are the Clorox
and the Lysol trying to get
up close and personal while
we can only wear longings.
Lust to die full of questions.
The weaver said, "Speak
to us of Clothes." We spoke
of being seen. So they know
us by our clothes. Underpants,
bra, girdle, pants with the long
and the short of it all, also skull
caps. Finally, our skulls smashed.
Finally, our skin, the only cloth
we could douse in the fuel
of a rebel heart. We could light
a c-o-n-f-l-a-g-r-a-t-i-o-n. That word
has a long spelling. And a long spell.
Perfection as Immunity
The woman was perfected
In some dreams alone. Or in prose
Written by men throbbing in the breeze,
Imagining her chiffon. Her rags
Were invisible. The way she folded
Within the petals heaped over her
When she was dead. The face
Got perfected by the painter’s brush.
A whitewash was the only magic
Touch. No one saw the pain lines
Or the struggle for immunity. Her viral
Desires. At the end of the day she lay
Embossed in cleaned cutleries,
Fine cotton serviettes. Perfected
For the next book or silver screen.
('The woman is perfected' is the first line of Sylvia Plath's poem titled "Edge")
Nabina Das is the author of five books -- poetry collections Sanskarnama, Into the Migrant City, and Blue Vessel; short fiction volume titled The House of Twining Roses, and Footprints in the Bajra, a novel. She's a Charles Wallace, Sangam House, and Sahapedia-UNESCO fellow. Published widely, Nabina is an NYS Summer Writers Conference alumna, a Commonwealth Writers correspondent, a journalist by training, and a Creative Writing teacher in university classrooms and workshops.
Three poems by K. Srilata
from The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans(Mumbai: Poetrywala, 2019)
It is 1966
I am not born.
My father knocks on the door of a house
I have never seen.
There at the door, stands
my mother, slender,
a sprig of jasmine in her hair.
I take a taxi to the park
where they are sitting on a bench,
a foot apart from each other,
he with his face resolutely averted,
she with her eyes on the poorly tended flowers.
It’s the beginning, I know, of that great quarrel.
My mother no longer a new bride,
the edge of her sari already a grieving afterthought.
She doesn’t see me.
She sees only the crumble of her years.
I am to hold forever the grating harshness of it all.
I walk up, older, already, than them both,
tell them I am their only daughter—
and will they please please look at each other
the way they had the day he had knocked on the door
and she had let him in,
jasmine in her hair.
My mother looks at the flowers, the crumble of her years.
My father, away, from us both.
(after Agha Shahid Ali’s “A Lost memory of Delhi”)
A Disappeared Person
a person can disappear
and leave no trace at all.
Such things are known to happen.
Missing persons cast no shadows
They don’t leave used dishes in the sink,
nor square bits of body soap,
nor toothbrushes that have flowered slightly
nor notes declaring love, etc. on the fridge.
But surely, growth, and all sorts of things,
are possible in the life
of a person who has disappeared?
like the blade of a knife,
that shadow presence,
leaving used dishes in some other sink,
and square bits of body soap,
and toothbrushes that have flowered slightly,
and notes declaring love etc. on someone else’s fridge,
ever so slightly,
the geometric alignment
of our lives.
Do you remember the day it rained
like it would never stop,
and you and I on Mango hill
watching her cling to her still-born,
and me wondering in my swimming head,
Which one of them is dead dead?
and both of us thinking Siamese twins
with our common seeing-dreaming eyes,
and you saying, too quickly,
“Such love is common in the monkey world.”
Such love. Such love.
The phrase like a loaded gun,
and both our hands on the trigger.
K.Srilata is a poet, writer, and Professor of English at IIT Madras. She was a writer in residence at the University of Stirling, Scotland, Yeonhui Art Space, Seoul, and Sangam house. Srilata has five collections of poetry, the latest of which, The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans, was published by Poetrywala in 2019. Other poetry books include Bookmarking the Oasis, Writing Octopus, Arriving Shortly, and Seablue Child. Srilata has also published a novel titled Table for Four and has co-edited the anthologies Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry, Short Fiction from South India, All the Worlds Between and Lifescapes: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers from Tamil Nadu.