About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Joy&DubbleX Fan Club

For anyone who likes the poetry, music & arts produced by Joy&DubbleX.Joy has been on the NYC poetry scene since the early 90's. Back then she hosted an entertainment show for Cable Access called "Inner Joy" & also was an editor for the New Press Literary Quarterly in addition to hosting a reading for them. Her book, A Spot of Bleach & Other Poems and Prose was published by Big Foot Press in 2006. Joy runs a yearly poetry music event for the Wahi (Washington heights & Inwood) Art Stroll. Her other publication credits are too numerous to list here. She currently does editing & writing for Augustus Publishing.DubbleX has been writing his entire life and playing music. His artistry helps keep him sane. DubbleX teaches in public schools.

Check out (clicking on the post title will also take you there): http://violetwrites.googlepages.com/dubblex&joyleftow

After I befriended Joy on Facebook, oh yes, that much talked about (no skepticism now!!) networking site, my poetry got referred to several good places and was even picked up for publication in quite a few journals and zines. Also, Joy is a fantastic person for feedback and advice, a kind heart who reaches out to help even if you never ask her. Dx's poetry rocks with a natural rhythm and is a constant source of inspiration.

I do have one poem of Joy Leftow posted on my site: TUPELO HONEY. Do check that out too! New Year cheers to all!

Monday, December 29, 2008

My dad's latest blogpost: IN THE SHADOW OF FAMINE

It holds a special meaning for me to read my father's blogposts, however infrequent these may be. Not because he has been a column writer and commentator in local newspapers and other publications from a long time. Mainly because, for a person aged 70-odd, using the Internet happens to be a completely new and unrelatable skill for all his years of job, writing, activism and knowledge gathering. Now he uses the e-mail, speaks to us across seas using Skype and blogs now and then.

This account below is not just deeply touching but it also happens to be a slice of history. His repository of commentaries is an oral history that I have always found to be of utmost relevance -- something that should be recorded in some manner.

Go to his blog Old Man River or the specific link to read: http://pbdasmailing.blogspot.com/2008/12/in-shadow-of-famine.html

Friday, December 26, 2008

Serendipity, Allow Me a Dream

Wrote this poem at some one's request on the theme of "weaving dreams"... As the year closes on, probably dream weaving is something I will indeed try do in earnest! This one is a rather melancholy poem although the given topic is supposed to generate hope, also a little lost and deeply coiled within, like a lot of my obscure thoughts. Nevertheless, for my friends:

I do this often, immerse my face in
The drifting melody of speed,
Throbbing, expecting
Pushing towards a pool of unknownness that sails slowly
Like a lost boat come home after tidal winds are dead.

Leaf falls and yesteryears do
Make up some of its urgency,
Nagging, irritating fly
That snaps its sticky wings and revisits doorsteps of a house
Called memory, its driveway almost always messy.

My dream hovers above meandering
Pessimism, a mountain,
Like an elephant gone to die
In peace and relative grandeur where motions kneel down
Aware that the wind takes scraps away to its bare-wall den

I wonder if then you hear songs
With birds sitting on thorns,
Bloodied to their core,
And while caravans lose paths in the swirling sea-sands
Nights pass taking stones with names inscribed and hewn

Tell me then why we need to belt
And buckle to our seats
For a fur-flung destiny
And hold our hands when verses wither off like ink or seeds
No raccoon would eat, only this planet would dream in bits

I sieve those dreams when everything’s
Gone to a dusk of rest
Beyond a highway run
Where your guns and sheep come bleating for a final kill.
I’m someone with a question still slung on her breast

Perhaps there’s a new sea rising
Over your brazen hand
I see its dazzle at night
Serendipity, let me weave a dream that creates boats and homes –
A web of hopefulness we wake up to in blossom-smelling lands.
Photo from Internet

Friday, December 19, 2008

One Place To Go

There was no place to go
When winter dimmed
There was this all that came to light
When sacred fires skimmed our faces over fences of memory
I waited for the unfed Santa-man on my school's sidewalk
He didn't give, but begged for coins
For him there was no sweet crumbs baking
Warm dishes squealing in the little arc of holiday lights
Also there was this fat nun-teacher in our section who did a jig for us
She tall and big, sang throaty carols in the name of deserts, donkey and a child
We saw that kid everyday near the pale woman by the shops
She wore rags like royal attire and a smile to light the brightest
Candles lit by my Catholic neighbor that competed
With my grandma's heathen oil lamp flames chasing the Sun-god
Running askew at solstice behind the sky
To flicker till the rays fell straighter on her dew-soaked Tulsi
Grandma would scatter puja grains and chant her Uttarayana mantras
And tell me about a path that leads to a garden
Of ceremonies where we apparently could share
Sugardrop laughs with my classmate Maria Joseph -- also Humeira and Maya
There, where incense sticks burned around ravishing firepits,
There was no place for lines or walls
There was no place to go other than
Longings for prim days that opened their doors wearing festive shades.
Picture from Internet: Surya, the sun-god
(This poem has been written for this holiday season on a special prompt by the very helpful blogspot poetswhoblog's "Twelve Days of Poetry")

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pop Goes Delhi!

South Asia Curator of Cornell University, Bronwen Bledsoe, a very funky and friendly personality, is coming to town. That is Delhi. Where I am these days. She I came to know recently through Prof. Debra Castillo of Cornell in Ithaca. Debbie, the lovely angelic soul that she is, had very kindly suggested my name to Bronwen as one of the people to meet up, for planning a Bollywood series in collaboration with Cornell Cinema. Later about that.

Now Bronwen is touring South Asia and China regarding her own work and researching on Subcontinental pop culture (she is a historian, and in her words, everything is "pop to a medievalist" like her!!). I'm damn glad I have a chance to meet her again. Hopefully at least a couple of times we will have delightful discussions on Bollywood, food and neo-urban customs.

That brings me to think: what is pop culture in Delhi without a Big Fat Punjabi wedding anyway? Something in the style of "Monsoon Wedding"! In fact, I just came through one in the family, my sister-in-law's wedding, held pretty true to medium-budget (ha!) Bollywood flicks. Every ritual seemed important as well as mindless at times and yet we enjoyed so much! Now IF I can take Bronwen to a loud, pompous, alcohol-infused, raucous DJ-music-ridden, obscenely intricate crystal-and-gold lehenga-carpet-curtain-cover-draped farmhouse or clubhouse wedding, I'd say both of us will instantly know more about pop culture than any astute researcher poring over books or a computer screen.

Or, we can take it easy and just eat and drink and laze about in Dilli Haat or Crafts Bazaar in Pragati Maidan or scrounge around in Janpath. Also visit my alma mater JNU.

If my readers have any suggestions, kindly write in about what to do in the name of pop culture in Delhi.
Photo (from Internet): Diwali decorations on sale

Monday, December 1, 2008

Usha Akella's editorial in the forthcoming issue of Muse India

I shall be posting the 2009 January Muse India link when it goes live. In the meanwhile, here is an e-mail and a sneak peek of the editorial by this Diaspora issue's guest editor Usha Akella. I'm pretty excited that my poem appears with hers in the urban poetry anthology SHEHER (Frog Books). Parts of the editorial that I have vested interest in, have been boldfaced...

"Dear Friends:

While sharing with you, the contributors, the editorial to the January 2009 http://www.museindia.com/ that includes your work, I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you for submitting in time and being part of this exciting project. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to connect and savor your work. Please do not forget to check out the website in January.

The submission period and editing is closed as of today and henceforth direct any queries/needs/requirements you might have to GSP Surya Rao, the manager of museindia.com at gsprao2003@yahoo.co.in. My participation in the project ends today but I hope that this is the beginning of new friendships, projects and shared kinship between us. For me, poetry has always been about the connections and friends it brings.

I'd love your feedback to the editorial. I sincerely intended to pay tribute to all of you and to the poetry we write so I hope it does you justice.


Usha Akella"

Dense with words, a homecoming
Diaspora poets, USA
By Usha Akella

When G.S.P. Surya Rao invited me to edit this issue, I had an opportunity to connect with the unseen community I belong to- the US Diasporic poets. On reading the poems sent to me there was an instant familiarity- the gnawing, simultaneous claiming and disclaiming within our sensibilities, and the passionate ownership of words to heal/acknowledge/define/transcend that fluidity. I felt I had just entered the country I truly belonged to- a country with many post offices. To quote Rajarshi Singh, 'For it is not simply a tale of one promised land.'

I am hugely delighted to share with you the poems of Ravi Shankar, Reetika Vazirani, Ralph Nazareth, Pramila Venkateswaran, Soham Patel, Saleem Peeradina, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Meena Alexander, Goutam Datta, Kazim Ali, Ro Gunetilleke , Nabina Das and Rajarshi Singh. (For various reasons, I was unable to include the work of Vijay Seshadri, Prageeta Sharma, Sana Mulji Dutt, Amitava Kumar and Agha Shahid Ali which to me would have rendered this issue 'complete.')

I delivered an impromptu speech at the Calicut International Book Fair, Kerala, October 2007 somewhat bewildered by the decades old, and to me, passé debate if Indian poets writing in English are authentic enough:

I am glad for this opportunity to finally confront my own personal history. I write in English. I dream in English. I blunder in English. I know no other way. This was circumstantial, and we must not be guilty of our circumstances or our personal and national histories. I accessed my Indian culture in English as a child. And my culture accesses me via my English poetry today… When English is unceasingly and scathingly targeted as foreign, I wonder why do we not ask the same question of Urdu? After all this language too is the language that emerged as a result of invasion and occupation. We have allowed time for a process of assimilation for this language and accept it as intrinsic to the land. Where is the spirit of generosity, absorption and inclusiveness that to me is the quintessence of India. Do we ask the question, are Punjabis Indian? Are Tamils Indian? Are Muslims. Indian? Are Christians Indian? What is pure Indian? Is this an answerable question?

English is here to stay because English more than any other Indian language has evidenced the spirit of adaptability and absorption. How many kinds of English exist within India alone! Like a river taking on the characteristic of the land it flows through, English has the incredible flexibility to morph according to the mother language of the speaker. English is the only language that is able to access an Indian sensibility not just a regional sensibility- and thankfully! In some sense, this issue being debated in English is like a brain observing itself.

I now have a golden chance to tear down a few walls. Pireeni Sundaralingam enquired if she was eligible for the issue, given that she is not Indian. "I was born in Sri Lanka and lived in both Europe and the US but, sadly, not India." She was welcomed with Ro Gunetilleke, and on reading their work we will be glad of the hospitality extended. I'd like to think India softened its borders in this issue.

I am glad to honor the poetry of late Reetika Vazirani who seemed slated for a great poetic career Her exquisite poetry evokes jazz, chant, lamentation and celebration. I thought it appropriate to include two prose pieces in this issue- an interview with Ram Devineni, the founder of Rattapallax and a staunch promoter of poetry; and poet Goutam Datta's foreword to the anthology A mingling of waters. Goutam and Ram collaborate to bring American poets to Kolkata. (Check out Goutam's new online Literary journal, http://www.urhalpool.com/, a contemporary Bengali-English bilingual webzine. The next issue of Rattapallax is devoted to Bengali poetry)

I felt that this is an editorial that should be heard from the poet's mouth- what it is to be bracketed by twin realities. I asked the poets to provide an artist statement and the fascinating array evidenced an acute awareness of identity, poetics and displacement. Poets by definition are natural immigrants 'comfortable' in exile- both inner and outer.

Saleem Peeradina states this suspension with a lucid image in 'Song of the Makeover':

Where travelers reaching their destination
Discover they are lost. An error of navigation,

A trick of perception, crunches two realities
Into a single space

Ironically, the parenthesis itself becomes the figure for Diaspora - the release from India and an unceasing unfoldment from her. A poetry, this complex, can never be wholly contained by geographical extremities or even psychological ones, and is constantly re-imaging and imagining itself beyond its own scope.

Perhaps, in the land of language, India is Kazim Ali's vowel and America his consonant. Both are needed to speak, and to contain, to find the silence from which words must come.

Ralph Nazareth's poems froth in a furious awareness of fragmentation. 'Try to take India away from me, and I'm like my dog, fierce in defense of his bone.' This could be called a poetry from a borderland fully lucid of its sleep walking. Perhaps, there is no better way to portray it than Pramila Venkateswaran. She writes poems 'Early in the morning in the silent hour between sleep and waking.' In contrast, for Soham Patel, India is the noise and music, the magic that keeps her rhythm. Ravi Shankar poems whirl delighted in the substance of words, spiraling within the contours of language to find their center. Like Nabina Das, if only we could perceive our world as an amble in two gardens savoring two different bouquets. For Meena Alexander poetry is an expanse in which Meera meets Ginsberg. Poetry can ask for no more!

In conclusion, I say to Pireeni and the company I am in, let's "find each other in foreign lands."

Usha Akella

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Poems in Lit Up Magazine

Got word recently from editor Mike Covey that two of my new poems are published in Lit Up Magazine. Follow the link http://litupmagazine.wordpress.com/new/. Lit Up Magazine is a cool journal of poetry, fiction and art. Check it out.

For all those lazy people out there :-), I am pasting the poems below:

Othello’s Path
Butterflies dropped dead from branches
Where they never grew
Dewdrops of nights that stifled dawns
Lay on your path
Or were they tiny handkerchiefs
Outlining a long sorrowful track?
White of course
Black with guile
Wordsmiths called
It green, envy
But when the foliage died
No one was left to pry
So, don’t walk that path dear Othello
Don’t wipe your eyes with
Those thunderstruck fingers, they’ll teach
You rage and us a loss forever to linger.
In very hot weather
Flowers wilt like bouquets
As do kneeling gardeners
But no one hears them.
It is fashionable for us to
Take bouquets - not words -
To happy or sad rituals where
No one deciphers the flowers.
We can shade the buds
But that may deter buzzing bees
Heavy with the delusion of summer
And the ensuing calm.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Roger's Haikus

My esteemed former colleague from The Ithaca Journal, Roger DuPuis II, now an editor working from Scranton, has a beautiful way with Haikus. His comment was so arresting that I decided to put it up as a separate post. He blogs at arespectablesecond. Read on:


I was delighted to receive your request for haiku. I think a started working with the form out of a wry desire to use it as a filter with which to distill my own sardonic angst into little pools of pure, shimmering bile! Albeit drinkable bile ...

Rather than fall into the appalling Western tendency to caricature the form (see above; and I agree) I wanted to capture moments, people and ideas which were ordinary, yet sublime -- and sometimes really rather jarring -- and which had nothing to do with leaves or ducks or lily ponds.

The 5-7-5 pattern required me to work in a controlled fashion which prohibited my charateristic verbosity, to which you are right now being subjected! That said, here are a few untitled selections from recent months:

"Seated down the train:
Proud sister, your poise and grace
Somehow make me smile."

That ode was to an unidentified woman on a Philadelphia elevated train, whom I gazed upon bleary-eyed the morning after a particularly nasty row with my best friend. April 14, 2008. Happily we've moved on... But also from that day:

"E-mail is evil.
For it never quite conveys,
What you meant to say."

Unrelated from the next day, after I had my income taxes done:

"Well, that was painless!
Sometimes it's worth it to pay
Someone else to think."
Haiku about income taxes! How very bourgeois --not a lotus flower in sight!

Then there was this, written privately to a family member in July:

"All the little lies
Told so we can smooth the way ...
Deals with the Devil."
Such is life.-- R.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today is the Trans Day of Remembrance

"The Trans Day of Remembrance is about protecting the dead from oblivion, true, but their memory has another hold on the living. They remind us that we can’t barter away their lives."

I am cross-posting the post Full Spectrum from Feministe. You may also follow the link : http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/11/20/full-spectrum/ or click on the title of this post. Leave a comment, in appreciation or dissent, if you wish. Have a day of thoughtfulness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let's HAIKU!

I am going to be a copycat for some time and try write a reflecting haiku in English for each of these masterly compositions below but without the traditional trappings and the mandatory seasonal reference. My samples will be quite contradictory to the lilting idea of a haiku.

Possibly the best known Japanese haiku is Bashō's "old pond" haiku.

Roughly translated:

"old pond
a frog jumps
the sound of water "

My sample:

murky snow
million footprints
searching paths

Another example by Matsuo Bashō:

"the wind of Mt. Fuji
I've brought on my fan!
a gift from Edo"

My sample:

the cry for freedom

scattered morsels
whither justice?


And yet another Bashō classic:

"the first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw"

My sample:

the last chance
a woman's voice
silence is death

Now, perhaps my compositions are really not haikus. But hopefully some of my readers will write a few for me to show me how to practise this beautiful craft.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


This is a very personal poem... I feel infinitely better having it posted for my blog readers. Death, dying, decay etc. have occupied a portion of my mind lately. Hope to derive strength from my readers' supportive reading, so please do comment:

You shirt flutters in the afternoon air
On a clothesline in the yard, sweat evaporating as
You sit under the toiling rotating fan under a humid roof
In your undershirt, smiling.
From you boots (Ma allowed you to keep them on) drop
Dust and grey grass, scatter in the musty breeze
On our living room rug.
Ma couldn't stop exclaiming: boots in this heat, you must be crazy!

You must be crazy, I reflect now,
To take your own life.

We are your little cousins who stare in bubbling adoration
As you tap your boots and strum a lonely guitar
Sing with eyes eying the wooden beams above that define
Our human menagerie, outline the ceiling.

Similar wooden beams where
One day you would sling your shirt in a loop.

Or was it the bright scarf you wore one placid winter
Working on tomatoes in your precious patch?
We giggled around ecstatic in touching the red round forms
And squished ourselves with blood of fruits while you sung.
The tunes stutter in my ears
As though they were butterfly wings broken and stuck
Still throbbing with the music of life that wished to live.
So young, yet you sing of pain! Ma had exclaimed.

You must have been pained
To die while we still hummed your song.

You let me play the strings once
You let me touch your colors that kept you busy through night
I marveled at your sculptures so lifelike
Perhaps life was elsewhere for you, I think.

Love is everything, it’s all up there, you had said winking
Before you were gone that summer day, waving at us kids,
Shirt back on. We practiced the springy steps you taught
And howled to see you go, Hawaiian guitar and all.

‘It’s all up there’ meant nothing to us then
Until we heard you were dead, my dead cousin.

They had brought your body down, flower dangling from a twig
Laid you beside your friendless guitar
Ma told us after many years the meaning of your songs –
He was a child of another world, she said, shy and alone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I finally, admit it. But don't hate me for thinking this way, please! I have been slow in putting up poems on my blog because I didn't feel very comfortable about it always. Perhaps because I am technically a new blogger. It's not just random people picking up my random thoughts and lines that I am scared of, but it's also something to do with my allegiance to the paper form of my writing, an old habit nurtured too long. Anyway, I'll try to be more forthcoming as time passes. Now, I wrote this poem up realizing I sorely miss the warm and humid weather of India -- the years I spent in Delhi, and before that my hometown Guwahati. Both the places I'll see soon. Ithaca has summers like Delhi autumns and winters like the North Pole...!! Hence this musing about the weather!

It’s musty in my town --
Not frosty
It’s a bit hasty
Like here it is gusty
It tweaks open buds early morning
Makes my shingled heart tremble
With it’s rippled caress every dawn.
It can be dry as rolled oats
With sand flowing under the nails
After rivers go for a sleep-full rest
Never to come back again

Like lost pets.
It’s musty
And not frosty
It rains as if the sky had forgotten
Something stirred its tears
Kicking up spiral mud where
Our ankles twist and slip playfully
And our guard drops like water
That wipes our dusty faces
Tired from running life’s errands –
Same jokes, same wasted tests.
It’s musty
Not frosty at all
Although winter can hoodwink
You into bundling up in
Hats socks and scarves entwining
As though we were trapped inside
Thermal rainbows, fuzzy and bright
Watching the mist roll up its
Car windows, slowly passing by –
A short-term guest.
It certainly is musty
Never frosty there
A bit lusty with bodies shining
In sweat and warm diurnal light
Gliding through the sun and moon’s
Humid corridors to where
The town heaves everyday
Without repose or rest.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vote for my poems on bookhabit.com!

Two of my poems are currently in a competition on bookhabit.com, sponsored by the New Zealand Poetry Society. It'd be great to have my readers and friends go to http://www.bookhabit.com/competition/ and register for FREE in order to vote for my poems. (clicking on the post title will also take you there...)

Once registered, the site's users get to award points to the poems currently in the race. My entries are:




An advantage with bookhabit.com is that you can upload your own book or poetic work and wait for excellent peer review. Besides, there are a lot of other cool things you can do by connecting with writers and poets on that web site.

So please vote! Cannot post the poems here now because rules forbid me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Writing Ruba'i

Of late I've been reading and practising writing "rubaiyat" (plural), an adapted form of the classical Persian quatrain, each derivative quatrain or four-lined verse called a "ruba'i". In Persian I'm told, the ruba'i is only 2 lines long...

The most famous example of the adapted rubaiyat form in English is Edward FitzGerald's 1859 translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Another very popular form of this Persian quatrain is found in Robert Frost's 1922 poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". We've all read it, haven't we? Still one of my favorite poems.
Now each ruba'i that I've written below are only evolving ones, because I'm constantly changing them and re-working them. It is not as easy as it seems, but definitely fun, especially when the rhyme scheme has to contain a pithy idea. Here I use the AABA rhyme scheme:

Brutus Sings A Ruba'i

From behind O Caesar, when I saw your trusting head
I imagined homeless folks, kids hungry in bed
Democracy raped, chasms deep all around
That noble moment let my hand, remorseless, strike you dead.

Shakuntala Sings A Ruba'i

If a ring were everything, a face, an identity
I should call my luck all but serendipity!
Thus I too have learnt to take a passing fancy
At faces like talismans. There’re too many, O king, in your city!

(I don't like putting footnotes, so I'll let readers find out on their own about Shakuntala's story and the reference here...)

Mobocracy – a Ruba’i

This is where you took home millions
And nurtured your unworthy scions
Those that hardly cared for a ballot to come clean
Or reach out to lambs eaten by lions!

(Persian literature in translation has engaged me ever since I was a child. For more information we can go to A Brief History of Persian Literature, by the Iran Chamber Society. Feel free to add more ruba'i on the Comments section or on your respective blogs. Will be fun!)

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I extend my newfound
hand to the clouds
I spread out my hair like the
light of the night
I step on a graveled
path that blooms

I give myself a name
That discounts all we knew so far in the name of peace and war

And the firmament splits

I am a tree, a border, a language

I take sides
I change.
This is called change.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition 8 ruins my election fun

Yes, we are all happy that Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. Such a day should come everywhere in the world, in every country where the marginalized are able to to find their rightful voice. This win is not a magic wand, but without it, America would truly be sorry.

Now I hate to be a party-pooper, but this morning I read the news item "California voters approve Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages - Los Angeles Times" and was sorely disappointed.

Gay-rights advocates, after this debacle (52% yay-48% nay), filed a legal challenge in California Supreme Court to Proposition 8. The supporters of gay-marriage ban call it an attempt to "subvert the will of voters".

According to LA Times, lawyers for same-sex couples said they will argue that the anti-gay-marriage measure was an illegal constitutional revision -- not a more limited amendment.

Guess, there is still a steep hill to climb then, as Obama (watch video) said in his thank you speech.

Incidentally, I noted that Proposition 8 was the "most expensive proposition on any ballot in the nation this year, with more than $74 million spent by both sides." Talk about fervor and nastiness.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Er, I stole this from the political blog Crooked Timber that I follow:

A committee setting exam papers, a long time ago.

Paper: Public Choice Theory

Draft question: “When is it rational to vote?”

Economist, with raised eyebrow, looking political scientist in the eye: “On election day?”

Hope we know what America did by midnight...

Friday, October 31, 2008

All Souls Saved

My Halloween musings, in a poem:
The day splits open like a pumpkin
Orange and sunny

Seeds are birds
They peck on dark leftover clouds in the corners

Clouds or souls that pine to leave
With night, fog and disembodied leaves
Dropping one two three
From the great white oak on the lawn

It is still slender
Yet to grow in girth
Mimics the dreams and mysteries this day
May bring or night may savor –

Brief passion, eyes of amber, skin that sizzles
And masquerades to waltz with the wind

A crazy reveler who talks to the dead
In a tongue that lives, forever lives.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Few Things of Remembrance

Okay, so there's a brothers and sisters festival coming up soon. It is observed mostly in the eastern part of India and is known by two or three different names. I had written the poem below not exactly addressing this sentimental occasion, but generally as a musing about my brother and me when we were kids, and above all, brats. The poem is an exercise in some kiddish recollections... but for a change I like it. Sometimes, a brief vacation from the adult world refreshes me. Hence this me-created nursery rhyme, edited a bit from the existing version on Sulekha.com...

A Few Things of Remembrance

He would always do
such nasty things,

My brother. He'd always upset me.
Once he had snuck open my sketchbook

And doodled a darn bird
That mocked my unruffled

sunrises and gregarious waterfalls

With that cock-a-doodle-doo trick.
Defiant, brash, energetic,

It showed me the lack of sound and movement in my art.

He had secretly scribed it in there with no one watching, not me.
A darn springy little chick.

I got hold of his toy train tracks,

vendetta of course!

And hammered it altogether
Just to make the point that I

did not need a plucky rooster
To animate the heart of my art
However immobile or inert.

I made sure his toy engine would
not puff and rush along like before

My hammer made sure it flattened them all,
a neat rejoinder
Against a scrappy bird mocking my part.

My brother stole my watercolor

tablets the next time

And soaked them well
In a plastic bucket; especially

his favorite ones – red and blue
So he could paint his tiny face
Usually cherubic and chaste.

He chose a droopy holiday
afternoon for the venture

Finding me tired doing those clock-time math
homework and sleepy,
He let the colors run without trace.

I coaxed him into acting in

my dance drama – a ploy –

He was made up as a girl.
Wearing pink frock and frills,

blue liners and painted ruby lips –
A fairy child framed on the walls
Of my Roman Catholic school.

Little did he know how I laughed with
my mischievous friends, called him names,

Punishing him for spoiling my watercolors,
have him dance and jig
Like a girly girl!

My incorrigible sibling stole my

new dolls, actually kidnapped them.

They were barely acquired.
Even before I opened the packing,

examined their tubby face and lace,
Georgette gown and pageboy hair,
Brother and sister –– an adorable pair,

He fed them gumdrops in captivity and
suddenly became a brother to them.

Then realizing something he surrendered to me
Entire cache! How rare!

I would always do this to make

you understand, he mewed:

I thrive in your playthings.
So I took your dolls, rainbow

paintboxes, sketchbook and games
Tiny balls of clay dough clinging
Candy-coloured blocks for building

Our pools of friendship where I’d swim
like a busy fish, with you

In the waters of life that perhaps would
recede steadily everyday

Until our parting.

My brother and I indeed left our

home of tales and so it feels now

I can let him have it all,
Visit it at will with his perky doodles,

funny designs and secret doors
Through where we now travel

To a childhood untroubled,
Every now and then together following

trails that he or I uncannily left

After all fights and quarrels were done and
stolen moments came home
never to double.

Looking at the broken engine, one-legged
carts, dollhouses, cracked fishbowls,

I want to tell him how our silly kiddish
capers now make me smile,

Coming back like dreams
All of it really seems
Coloured leaves we gather as we go on

into a prolonged autumnal spell.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Assam clashes: The communal angle came from the news media

My journalist-writer friend Subir Ghosh has taken out an exciting and deeply investigative study. Those of you who are political animals and in general are interested in the North East of India, do read the news release below. Clicking on the title of this post will take you to the detailed report, downloadable and free.

New Delhi, October 23: The ethnic clashes between indigenous Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants which broke out in Assam in the first week of October 2008 gave unnecessary importance and prominence to the “Muslim” aspect of the latter.

The finding is from a study by Newswatch, an independent online entity which monitors, collates and documents news and information pertaining to the news media and journalism. The Newswatch (http://www.newswatch.in/) probe was conducted over an eight-day period starting the day the clashes broke out (October 3). The study —Identities and descriptors: How the news media described the Assam clashes — was meant to be a qualitative analysis, and not a quantitative one. The idea was to look at the way the news media covered the issue, and not quantify the exact number of publications or news outlets that did a story, or did not. “Sectarian violence in Northeast does not always make it to the front page of newspapers. But this one did — coming as it was in the backdrop of the attacks on Christians by Hindu rightwing elements in Karnataka and Orissa, and a palpable sense of Islamophobia that seemed to be all-pervading in the aftermath of the serial blasts in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. The prime objective of this study was to look at how the media uses descriptors and modifiers in ethnic conflict situations,” explained Newswatch editor, Subir Ghosh.

Altogether, 597 stories published during the period were tracked down by the researchers. After leaving out duplicates (mainly because of news agency creeds), the number was brought down to 187. The next round of elimination was done to exclude non-English stories and ones that ran into 100 words or less. In the end, 138 stories were selected for the content analysis.Very few stories, it was found, desisted from naming the two communities involved in the clashes. It would be wrong to say very few “publications” did so, since different news items emanating from the same outlet used varied descriptors for the two groups of people. In other words, there seemed to be a dearth of policy when it came to naming communities or ethnic groups involved in clashes. The study found 26 sets of descriptors and modifiers which were used to describe the Bodo tribals which ranged from “local Hindus called Bodos” to “non-Muslims.” In case of Bangladeshi migrants, the number was 27, with the descriptors and modifiers varying from “Bangladeshi Muslim migrants” to “Muslim migrant settlers”. Many terms, both correctly and wrongly, were used as synonyms.

The study also looked at the use of the term “Muslim” both in the headlines as well as in the body of the copies. Seven news items (of six outlets) played up the Muslim card in the headlines. As many as 66 stories used “Muslim” to denote Bangladeshi migrants either in the first two paragraphs, or later in the copy (if this community was first introduced only in a latter part of the story concerned). Though the Bangladeshi migrants, by and large, are Muslims, the over-emphasis on the “Muslim” aspect of this particular community went a large way in adding a communal colour to a clash that was not essentially communal in nature. It was rather surprising that the coverage of a clash which left over 50 dead and rendered about 100,000 homeless, saw only 21 Bodos/Assamese/Bengalis and 8 Bangladeshi migrants being quoted in 138 stories. This filtering of voices becomes all the more lopsided given that most of the stories analysed directly or through insinuation projected Bangladeshi migrants (even mostly mentioned just as Muslims) as being the victims of orchestrated violence against them. The lopsidedness in the count of both sources and voices of the people may be gauged from the fact that almost half the stories (65) originated from Guwahati.

The report can be downloaded from here: http://www.newswatch.in/research/1754

Details of the report:

Pages: 10
Format: PDF
Colour: All-colour
Price: Free
Size: 640 KB

For more information contact: Subir Ghosh, Editor-Publisher, NewswatchTel: 0-9811316305Email: editor@newswatch.in Website: http://www.newswatch.in/

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


This is one of my favorite poems by Joy Leftow. Read more at http://joyleftowsblog.blogspot.com/ (clicking on the title too will take you to her blog)

JoAnne is one tough broad,
Italian Irish descent
from the Northeast Bronx
Through sacrifice and dedication
JoAnne is now a nurse at
Presbyterian Medical Center
This is her story
bout a methadone baby
born addicted
on JoAnne’s ward
This boy had tupelo
honey colored skin,
and hazel brown,
almond eyes
Birth mama’s blond and curly haired
A blue eyed Nuyorican
Daddy is a dark skinned African
Mama named the baby Shonequon
The nurses called him “Sweet”
Sweet’s a boarder baby who
lived on the ward
for 2 and a half months
BCW tryin to decide
what to do with that tiny
methadone addicted baby
Now me amiga esta sin ninos
she has no children
e quiere uno mucho
she wants one very badly
so she fell in love with Sweet
talked about him constantly
JoAnne said,
Sweet is cryin all the time
He holds his body rigid
his cryin is so fitful
Kindled by the pain
cause Sweet’s addicted to meth
and this is how he sounds
Sweet’s tiny fists
are always clenched
his spindly arms crossing
his scrawny chest
This baby can’t relax!
He’s got a monkey on his back
Sweet’s addicted to meth
The Doctor confides
he wishes he could
keep Sweet tranquilized
cause he’s screamin so fretfully
JoAnne loves to nurture Sweet
She embraces him reverently
comforts him with the rhythm of her heart
she whispers soothing sounds
her voice falls like soft waves
caresses tender hollows
of his frail anatomy
her soft warm breath
glides down his velvet neck
Sweet responds with purring sounds
JoAnne’s gentle devotions
linger on
like a mango blossom’s scent
fragrant on a breeze
Sweet watches her giddily
clinging with his
tightly gripped fists
Yesterday Sweet smiled for the
very first time
JoAnne bragged
as though he were her own
Sweet, my boarder baby
is delayed in his response
and yesterday was the
first time
God graced me with his smile
Her eyes rimmed with blurring droplets
Dewdrops silhouette
I love him, she said
I want him to be mine
Even though he’s HIV
and surely won’t survive
I want him to be mine
Child Welfare lets his Mama visit
she hardly came at all
Daddy was there
mostly every day
but he was always drunk
Today they let her come and
take my Sweet away
Honey, JoAnne said,
This baby’s in a lot of pain
he suffers from anxiety
You don’t have to hold him
24 and 7,
but you need to let him
see your face
smiling, talking
into his
Sweet’s Mama answered
I know mucho more than you do
let me tell you somethin’
You don’t know what I been through
All my kids are born on meth
and that’s the way it’s always been
The baby started fussin’ then
his spindly arms
clenched across
his scrawny chest
Sweet opened up his eyes
and focused on JoAnne
reaching out his scrawny arms
But Mama reached the baby first
and took him from his crib
Esta te quieto, nino
she said as she rocked him
to her methadone beat
Esta te quieto, nino
It’s gonna be okay Mama said
Grandma said she’s gonna help,
She’s carin’ for my other five
My oldest girl’s gonna be there too
And like I told ya,
All my kids are born on meth
And that’s the way it’s always been,
but we know how to get by.
"Floodlight Reflection" and "Autumn Breezes" are among the other poems that I like on Joy's blog, also "Mimicking Marguerite Duras: A Tribute ". So, go there, and imerse yourselves, dear readers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fiction forthcoming in Mirage Books short story collection

This was a nice surprise:
My short story selected to appear in a collection by Mirage Books (http://www.miragebooks.com/), India. The story is "Tara Goes Home" that I originally wrote last year, as an entry for Orange Prize (ambitious, ambitious!), UK. It didn't make the cut there and I felt the story had too many loose ends and quite a bit of fluff. So I edited it over and over again. Finally, this year Mirage Books picked it up and I thought, OMG, they like this story? No way! I had contributed three stories (all within 1,500 words and only one to be selected), and my preference rested on either of those other two. Those were really nice tales! But this probably has more gravitas in the theme. Who knows?

Anecdote: When Nadine Gordimer wanted to stick to the title of her novel "A Sport of Nature", her publisher kept arguing against it citing some silly reason like this title might have the book mixed up with sports books! What I mean is, publishers and writers allegedly have totally different world views... (Now I'm not Nadine Gordimer, so let's move on...)

The selected story is about a young woman named Tara who lives in Delhi. She is chided and goaded by her family to bear a son while she keeps getting pregnant with girl babies (revealed by illegally done ultrasounds) that are aborted one after the other. So, finally one day, she steps out of her conservative home and gets on to a bus. The bus meets with an accident and Tara lands up in a hospital. There, half-conscious, she takes a strange decision about her life. This is all about Tara Goes Home.

Here's part of the e-mail that came this morning from Mirage Books editor:

"Hi Friends,
Announcing the winners of the contest -
[From the list below, you can check if your story has been selected, but do come back to read the following message.]
First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for participating in our contest. The response for it has been much better than what we had expected, initially. For us this has been quite an enriching experience and I hope you enjoyed participating as well.
These short-stories which we have selected will be published in our next book and each story will be followed by a short bio and a photograph of its author: That is the Prize.
The very reason why we announced this contest was to promote writers and story-writing. There are so many good writers who don't get the opportunity to get published: Well, today we feel that fifty talented writers will be added to the select group of – 'Published Authors'. Congratulations Winners!
For the ones whose stories don't feature in the list, I'd like to say: Most of the stories we received were good and it has been quite a tough task selecting the ones which we did.
Here is the list of the stories which have been selected:

Nandita Mundle
Ink And Lead
Anu Chopra
Arranged Marriage
Asma Siddiqui
Beyond Love
Ankita Aranke
Desert Faith
Ketan Joshi
Padmaja Menon
From The Mouth Of Babes
Saurabh Turakhia
Call Of Nature
Vijaya Prakash
A Good Bargain
Susan Smith
Sunil Sharma
Butterflies Grandma And Me
Pooja Nair
Recipe For Disaster
Vandana Jena
Second Sight
Shantanu Dhankar
And I Burn
I D Atkinson
First Contact
Lilia Westmore
Escape To Hopeland
Gerardine Baugh
M Annamalai
Million Steps
Anusarat Kothalanka
Nishgandha-A Dreamscape
Pratik Shah
Wavering Bounds
Rachana Shah
Gulabjamuns In Syrup
Cyril Sam
They Say I Am Crazy
B S Keshav
Fast Forward
Nabina Das
Tara Goes Home
Kenneth Cross
A Healthy Dose Of Insanity
Farahdeen Khan
Divya Mohan
The Silent Brook
Anita Baruwa
Just Rs 499
Sunil Tarini
Ribal Haj
Chased By The Wolves
Leo Mukherjee
The Fly Who Knew Too Much
Anubha Yadav
The Gift
Kamal Sharma
Bharadwaj Vijaysarathy
Tom Dick And Harry
Chandru Bhojwani
The Love Letter
McKenzie Hightower
The Lost And The Forgotten
Sweta Vikram
Challenges Of Breaking Rules
Eva Bell
Perfect Execution
Kirin Gupta
Ramprasad Adpaikar
The Baby
Sindhu Ramachandran
Happy Teacher's Day To Life
John Wolf
Earth Dogs
Vivek Shivram
A Conversation With The Damned
Salil Chaturvedi
Ta Rat Thing
Malavika Shridharan
The Shooting Star
G S Vasukumar
The Last Drop Of Tear
Joe Pfeffer
Supreme Reflections
Tia Rohit
Darkness Behind The Bush
Carmalin Sophia
Love Me Dear
Swapneel Khare
I Am Sorry

[This list is subject to the authors' furnishing the details and complying with the rules.]
The authors of these selected stories need to furnish some details, for which we will email them, individually, very shortly.

Warm Regards,
Huned Contractor
[Editor: Mirage Books]

Monday, October 13, 2008


The atavistic life of ancient
Turks or for that matter, Romans, before that Scythians
and who knows who else, is a testimony to the fact that human beings have, time and again, perfected the art of lying,
deception and inflicting misery on others who they (or is it we)
'others'. This is so much like a road
taken again and again
and very much like what I read in Kay Ryan's poem last night,
that a road NOT taken is a road closed to all, to paraphrase Ryan.
The road is here, there,
everywhere. To me it looms
like blue elephants, slow and majestic.
Or it also becomes dry flowers that usually fall in concentric
rings from trees that hardly care.
My pets, my books, my dear ones, are all strewn
along this road dusted with my little deceptions, obsessions and disharmony.
What is atavistic?
What does it mean?
I can't even remember because I don't have my dictionary
or my thesaurus with me. See, how I deceive myself too?
I'm always taking the aid of these tools,
and to a large extent, my computer -- the Internet.
I war
on my senses, my own
memory. I keep them gagged.
And we as humans have been doing this over
and over again until some roads -- especially those that are NOT
taken and those that WANT
to be taken by so many -- are forever closed.
War, deception, memory
linger on like sticky cheese on fingers, making
me sad. Sad because I wish it were different.
But to tell a secret, it also makes me happy, immensely, to note that rigor
is a name applied to anything and everything.
So, there's a chance!

Random thoughts... with Hillary out, will Palin iron shirts now?

Random thoughts are good. They don't stay long! On a propitious day such as Columbus Day (that plunderer...) I am thinking hmm, now that Sarah Palin is the Republican mascot, will anyone stand up in her meetings and holler: "Sarah iron my shirt"? How's that going to fare? As it is, some complaining noise was made about how either her opponents are harsh with her 'because she is a woman' (or a pit bull wearing lipstick) trying to compete with men or too soft on her because 'oh poor thing's woman' and should be back to womanly things only.

Somehow, opponents of Hillary have forgotten that there had been folks holding up signs or screaming "Hillary iron my shirt" (http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/01/07/hillary-hecklers-yell-iron-my-shirt-at-new-hampshire-campaign-stop/) at her campaign meetings. Now I'm randomly forced to think, will this happen in India when Mayawati or Sonia Gandhi or Renuka Chowdhury stand up speaking at their meetings. Will a Mulayam, Advani or any other supposed supporter of "male" privilege of being in politics do or say this sort of a thing, ever? NO.

Well, I don't mean to say anti-woman stances are not there among prevailing Indians, but not blatantly at least.

What is it that in a country like India, where gender biases run deep, where patriarchy can assume ugly forms, and where women are seen as means of reproduction, no one dare stoop so low regarding a woman in politics, government and policymaking. No sir, no one will say "Sonia make my rotis", "Maya clean my dishes" or "Renuka wash my undies"...! They might say, let's see, "Mayawati is a megalomaniac", "Sonia is manipulative" or "Renuka is unrealistic" -- things that politicians are supposed to say to each other.

So why, in America the land of freedom and other sundry stuff associated with that, will men stand up saying "Hillary iron my shirt"? Now don't try saying that to Palin, or you'll be branded a misogynist, for sure... Random thoughts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This is taken from the SACW dispatch that I receive by e-mail:

-- by Badri Raina

Agreed you were Adi Indians,
Long before the Aryans came;
Agreed we made you Dalit
To set off the conqueror’s name.
Agreed you are illiterate,
Agreed you have no say;
Agreed you are untouchable,
Agreed you are kept at bay.
Agreed that our development
Makes you resentful, red;
Agreed, in fact, we prosper
Upon your sweat and blood.
Agreed we rape your women,
Agreed we stray, at worst;
Agreed you may not use our wells
To quench your low-born thirst.
Agreed our Constitution
Is ours and ours alone;
Agreed our hallowed temples
Will not let you in.
Agreed your land, your forest
We grab, we chop, we burn;
Agreed our banks, our markets
Will never serve your turn.
Even so, your villainous move
To leave the Hindu fold –
How could we ever forgive you
Betrayal so beastly, bold?
Go tell these priests who dupe you
That all plants, animals, men
Were created Sanaatan Hindus
The minute the world began.
Do you then prefer Christian ease
To family atrocity?
How traitorous, how ungodly
Can this world of vermin be!

The sarcasm is clean and ringing! For Badri Raina's writings, go to Badri's ZSpace Page >> at zmag.org.

On this note, it is astounding that the Indian Cabinet is divided on the demand for ban on VHP-Bajrang Dal-Sangh. More evidence is needed, is the refrain. Aghast as I am, I hope more evidence piles up from the rightwing outfit's past exploits. What's been going on in Orissa in the past few weeks, is only a glimpse into the dark deeds of the Sangh Parivar practised and honed through years (Gujarat is the golden age... Nanavati may not agree). Combined with it is the issues confronting the Dalit community and other under-privileged citizens of India and also the "intervention" by Maoist groups in rural areas of Orissa and Karnataka. India has a huge challenge here, only a rising GDP and a booming stock market does not guarantee smooth business while other matters remain highly discordant.

A lot has already been written about it ... but the "encounters" in Jamia Nagar in Delhi (pic below) after the recent bomb blasts have naturally put another community more blatantly under the scanner than ever -- the Muslims of India. Two young men and a police officer had died in the shootouts. It is said the bullet that killed the officer is not being found. Why? How do we then know who killed him -- terrorists or his own men or a stray or a ricocheted bullet? Do we remember in broad daylight in Delhi some years ago, police had gunned down two men on the suspicion of being dangerous antisocials? The whole case has been turned over and the dead men found not guilty! Forget that the police actually had planted "evidence" that these men were real targets and ultimately they were punished by the court. And wasn't there a report about the police faking tomato ketchup as blood to 'create' encounter scenes and have medals awarded to themselves? What encounters are these anyway?
I'm not trying to blame the police. The sodden force must be under Himalayan pressure. I just wonder what 'intelligence' leads to such incidents.
And oh, the name "Indian Mujahideen" is really popular now. Apparently they masterminded these blasts. So now there's an identity tag to it -- Indian -- as opposed to let's say Afghan Mujahideen or Pakistani Mujahideen!! Nationalism in terrorism at last, may I say?!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Other India Stories: Indians win 'alternative Nobel' --- some recognition?

I would love some comments on the BBC news article: Indians win 'alternative Nobel' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7647718.stm)

During my tenures with NGOs in India, working on projects whose beneficiaries were the under-privileged, most often the human faces that would stare us in the face were Dalits, Tribals and other marginalized sections.

My former employer, the National Foundation for India (NFI) does terrific work with women, especially the Girl Child, and their proposals usually seek to aid both Dalits and Muslims without really determining a target group only by those specific configurations. As astounding as it may sound, the 'other India' is still a humongous mass of people who are not only low-income, but also inevitably low in the caste hierarchy. And it serves no good purpose to ignore any dialogue on this aspect.

The likes of Jagannathan and Krishnammal, from Tamil Nadu, may not be overwhelming in number in India, but there are significant ones who work without any recognition. Besides, how many of our silent crusaders work in order to get an award? At least from my NGO experience I can say, quite a few even have to weather threats posed by unfriendly population, dominant upper-caste groups, apathetic government officials and other infrastructural, monetary and logistical hurdles. The award to the Jagannathan couple is heartening for those of my friends who are trying to promote the condition of India's Dalits, through education, direct intervention, awareness programs and even Internet dissemination of information.

Cannot somehow stop here without remembering Sanjoy Ghosh, who was allegedly abducted and killed while working on Assam's Majuli island (the largest riverine island in the world) working among the locals -- not all Dalits -- to raise awareness about flood management and soil erosion. Some say he was picked up by ULFA, a raging bull on Assam's political landscape. Whether that's true or not, we haven't had another Sanjoy back there, a testimony to the fact that the situation is still terrible for Assam (see Sanjoy's Assam).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Post-Harvest- A Poem

The CSMA Gallery reading on Sept. 27 had very few participants, sigh, perhaps owing to the fact that the Apple Harvest Festival was in full swing outdoors and people preferred being out especially after the nagging rain throughout that morning had finally stopped.

The good thing is that apart from poetry we also talked about different ways of getting folks to read and appreciate poetry and making it a part of an oncoming CSMA project called Arts Marathon where, with a meager donation of $2.62 from individuals, there'd be a workshop on writing 26.2 line poems, etc. etc. It's still in the process of being finalized. More later.

The theme was "apples", the meaning extended. Katharyn Howd Machan, first Poet Laureate of Tompkins County, read several lovely poems from her book Redwing as well as from a chapbook and her little hand-written diary. Mary Beth O'Connor too read some of her very interesting compositions including a great pantoum. Both Katharyn and Mary Beth teach writing up at Ithaca College.

The other participant, Ruth (I missed her last name), read only one, but it kept ringing in our minds. Some other people came and went in between. Later Anu, my scientist-poet friend came in, but she just heard the others (I really hope she reads next time...). Mo was there, naturally, to keep me company! My reading was pretty well-received in that small group. Anyway, one of those, APPLE PIE, is already on Sulekha.com and this other, I'm posting here. Suggestions are welcome, as this happens to be the second or third draft (I have a habit of going through several drafts):


Japanese lanterns or food for thoughts?
Reared and harvested by hands or hoes
Apples – they hang over homely farms
In orchards from Freeville to Candor
Topped in barrels, baked in
Subcutaneous oven stores.
We mix honey and ginger
Proven wonders
Raised from other gardens of calm
Along warm shores
Just so the shades mingle easily with textures
On our tongues and embalm
A toasted taste for which
They please
Our knack for orbs and oblong treats.

My bushel is never full because
I tend to stare more than use my hands
And when it’s over
Others noisily sip coffee they dislike
After the rain leaves splashing on the window of
Little barns where apples clutter
Like dreamy heads.

Meanwhile, the orchard sings alone
Only leaves play with memories.

Katharyn asked me to repeat the two ending lines and said she liked the mood of forlorn. Mary Beth said she liked "Our knack for orbs and oblong treats", which I thought, was a bit heavy-handed.
(I decided not to post the other two because of magazine submission regulations.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailout Tale from A Dump-Headed Village

Here's an interesting folktale:

Once upon a time, there was this group of moneylenders and shopkeepers who resided in a village somewhere in one obscure part of the world where people barely knew how the east was different from the west or north from the south. Although these folks did not bicker much about these issues, neither were they interested to know from where their food and articles of daily use came from, whether they had enough doctors or medicines in case they needed them or if their schools were teaching them stuff that would help them find stable jobs, have homes and later, a safe retired life. These were good people in this village, but because they truly believed the earth was flat, they rarely dared to go out far for fear of getting toppled at the edge.

The moneylenders and shopkeepers meanwhile, assured the good folks that they did not need to venture out far as everything the villagers wanted could be provided by this bunch of enterprising business people.

This is how it continued for several years until when one of the shopkeepers called E simply collapsed and people were surprised to find out that E had been indulging in bad business ethics, in essence, lying and cheating. This probably gave him heartburn and colon cancer, a deadly combination.

All that scandal was discussed animatedly but forgotten quite soon as other interesting things like an attack by a foreign enemy took place on the unsuspecting village. Laws, lifestyles and lot of other things changed owing to this dastardly incident. The village head was elected a second time and he led his army into another faraway village to punish the allies of the attackers. That war still rages today and costs a lot for the innocent inhabitants of our little village, but then, WTF, patriotism first, though our simple villagers.

To cut to the chase, very recently, the moneylenders and shopkeepers who have been regulating very important aspects of public life, business and politics, as well as funding the wars and several such important projects, found themselves without the expected returns. It appeared that the villagers were unable to pay back to the business community as per the high interest rates charged. Because the villagers did not have enough good jobs, enough assets and savings, also enough security that might prompt them to do timely paybacks. This despite the fact that the villagers often worked overtime, at two or more jobs, barely finished education or had little in healthcare or vacations.

So, when this situation continued, one by one the moneylenders and shopkeepers started to declare themselves "defunct" and asked the village head to bail them out. The amount they asked for was several times more than they could have spent in healthcare, education or environment for all these many years. Quite a few villagers found this a big joke and even protested. All that money the business community demanded was after all, supposed to be the money villagers paid in taxes so they could have improved governance. Some even pointed out the case of E, when it had gone bankrupt, causing irreparable harm to many villagers, taking their money with it. However, many others did not even understand what was going on and they thought the business folks must be re-instated. This is because the defaulters "constituted" the village economy.

Secretly, the moneylenders and shopkeepers were happy that nothing majorly punitive or critical was thrown their way. Even if they had lost out a bit, their core asset was intact and their leaders could still take home plump salaries, go for Caribbean cruises and buy land in Hawaii. After all, the villagers still believed in them. Goodfellas.

I'm stopping my folklore here. Because I ain't no crystal gazer. If the people of this village don't learn any lesson from this crisis, they sure are suckers for everything devious. Or else, it's chow-time again dudes!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poetry Reading at CSMA Gallery, Saturday, Sept. 27

My first poetry reading in Ithaca, NY, will be this Saturday, Sept. 27. I have read earlier at my university -- JNU, New Delhi -- in the hoary past where doing theater workshops and reading others' and my own poetry minus any intention for publication or exposure used to be our pastime!

The theme of this reading is "apples" widely interpreted and coinciding with the annual Apple Harvest Festival downtown.
"Ithaca Community Poets and Writers Read"
The Community School of Music and Arts, CSMA Gallery

Coordinated by Katharyn Howd Machan (former Tompkins County Poet Laureate), who will also read from her work.
3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
330 E State Street
Ithaca, NY

I have heard Katharyn recite and perform before. It's an absolute delight. Although my voice is under attack from a bad cold, I hope to engage. It's not singing, after all! So, welcome everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Other India Stories: Death penalty for Dalit murders

A court in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has sentenced six people to death for killing four members of a lower-caste Dalit family in 2006. Read more here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7633128.stm in this edition of Other India Stories.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Other India Stories: Revolutionizing (almost ruining) a Rural Indian (Brahmin) Wedding

We often keep having animated discussions on this aspect of Indian society -- caste, gender, religious bigotry and related hierarchy. We meaning Mo, Shashi, Anu and me for most times. Anu runs this group blog "Time and Us" (http://castory.wordpress.com/) where she has several others comment and write, and she also cross-posts blogs and articles of relevance that debate the topic. I happen to be one of the registered "commentators" of that blog but I usually have very little to write. But when we meet face to face, a slew of anecdotes and observations flow spontaneously. This is not because I have zero stories about the Dalit experience (I am not one and can't speak on behalf of others). But caste and gender divides are all pervasive in the Indian society much as you may try to deny it. So, I do have my own share of stories that pinpoint the experience of being a "non-Brahmin", often an effective blanket term dumped on an individual in several parts of India when it comes to maintaining the power structure, exercising status quo, according social acceptance, the degree of acceptance and ritualistic adherence (if one is a practising Hindu).

This is a story I shared recently with my friends about attending a rural wedding in a Brahmin family of Uttar Pradesh, in a village called Jagdishpur. I'll call this series -- for I hope to have some more -- Other India Stories.

We were invited by our Delhi neighbor, of last name Pandey, to their oldest son's wedding. The fellow -- I'll call him UP here, how significant! -- was Mo's childhood friend and the family treated Mo like their own son, although they were Brahmins and Mo's family Khatris (I have no clue what that caste is, perhaps something to do with being a martial clan, so don't ask me to explain ... these labels come up only during socio-religious events like marriages, festivals and idle chatter by folks who have nothing better to do). Anyway, so in that respect I was considered their "bahu" or daughter-in-law.

The journey from Delhi via Lucknow to Jagdishpur itself can constitute an interesting tale. But I'll try not to digress. That we were traveling to a place totally back of beyond, was evident hour by hour. When we reached, Jagdishpur stood like a canvas of green farm fields flanked by lofty brick-and-mortar houses with erratic electricity lighting up the quaint rural scenes later at night. I was told, the farm laborers lived quite a distance away, not in the vicinity of the rich Brahmin landowner. So I didn't see any other villager there.

Soon on reaching, I became a cat among the pigeons. Without even suspecting what commotion my statements would generate, I asked to join the baraat (groom's party that goes to the bride's house to marry the boy) the next evening.

"But women never accompany men in the baraat. Never," was the terse comment that followed from the senior-most Pandey (he never appeared to talk directly, so this sort of wafted from his chamber where mostly men were assembled).

Oh, I should have realized. Women and men never ate together in these households, women never walked side by side with their men (they followed them mutely), women never sat down to tea with the men to discuss sorrow, happiness and life in general. So now that I said it, what'll happen? Precisely that's the question the Pandey women asked themselves, a little scandalized by my audacity but also hopeful that they can finally, in the 21st century, attend a wedding in the girl's house by joining the traditional baraat. One of them, UP's cousin's wife, told me privately how this was absolutely the need of the hour, breaking down this silly rule. You bet!

From indirect sources again, Mo was requested to pump some good sense into my impatient foolhardy head. But only 'requested'. He was like a son to them, he couldn't be ordered as they would have ordered a peasant. So he did not prevail over me.

I was further blacklisted, a woman who did not heed her 'lord's' words. I'm told the Pandey household, the menfolk actually, got huddled into a conference. The older women were sort of terrified, but they smiled at me, those aunts and grandmas, trying to look normal.

Meanwhile, eager to savor fresh country air, I even went to the "khet" (farmland) with UP, his brother, a young girl of seven (not yet in the 'woman' category) and Mo. Going to the khet has a terrible connotation in rural India. Later on that.

Finally the verdict came.

Yes!! We'll all go as baraatis to the bride's house. They could not turn down the request of a 'daughter-in-law'. Suddenly all the younger women in the house looked bright like sunflowers. They busied themselves in choosing the right saris, ornaments and the mehendi to be done in time. I guess I managed to break a huge taboo, but back then, I was only interested in enjoying things as one should.

Now the second part.

While the men baraatis went in a van -- smoking, a few drinking and waving to the crowd when they reached the bride's house, our van was a silent one, with very dark tainted windows all rolled up. We could see people (mostly the poor, forsaken, low-caste villagers) standing by the roadside and gesturing and blessing, but we were advised not to open the windows or respond in any manner. This was a 'law-and-order' requirement, we were told. So be it. But we were there.

I'm told the bride's family too was faced with a major quandary about how to welcome a van full of errant women (one of them a city woman, the word got around), how to sneak them inside the wedding venue without the lowly subjects spotting us, and in general how to deal with any social stigma if one might arise out of this.

I'm so glad I was blissfully unaware of all goings-on.

Only that cousin's wife whispered to me later (seeing me half-sleepy through the elaborate wedding ceremony): "You asked to come here and revolutionized the family wedding! No one can stop us after this. Don't sleep now for God's sake!"

I ... revolutionized ... a wedding? I thought I almost ruined their family event. Seeing her and others happy made me feel good. But does it take an 'outsider' always to break rigid norms? Why can't they themselves do it?

"We are daughters, daughter-in-laws and women in a high-caste household. Our society will never allow us to change things," one said.

The only man, other than Mo (UP and his father maintained a diplomatic profile) who quietly praised the adventure was UP's sister's husband, a soft-spoken man who conducted things slightly differently than his enlightened counterparts. The others, especially the senior-most Pandey of Jagdishpur, never spoke to me directly, even after the episode. When we were taking their leave, I thought of acting traditional and doing a pranam to him, to which he said rather nicely, "Daughters don't touch feet. Be happy."

I said goodbye in English then. From daughter-in-law to daughter, I did make some progress!

Will be back later with more Other India anecdotes!

SHEHER -- the Tentative Cover

Guest-edited by Meena Kandasamy, the anthology of "urban" poems by Indian women writers has this tentative cover. Haven't heard if they were re-working it. Encore shameless plug: my poem will be there humbly nestled, hopefully by the scintillating Kamala Das (same last names, you see!).

Basically, these were my comments on the cover:

*the vertical view conveys strength and direct approach of the woman’s position

*that she is holding together what represents the cities symbolic ‘mammoth’ bridges, pillars/monuments/edifice… she is like the female Krishna who held the mount govardhana (was it?) to shelter the cattle from rains… (aw I forgot my mythology!)

* that her back is turned towards us. We don't need to see her face always, a face that has been over-abused in movies, calendars, posters, matrimonial (shaadi.com?) ads… et al. hence we don't need to know if she is good/bad looking, dark or light, shy or angry… whatever

* that the image also conveys a sense of control in the way she holds the city’s edifice and looks upon the spread before her. She surmises it, it’s her say on the city.

* her hands holding together or apart of the monument and bridge is very emergetic. She has the capability to change, that comes out well.

What I didn't like is:

*that she looks very ‘rural’ in the way she has been dressed. per se there is nothing wrong with ‘rural looks’, but here, perhaps a more “straight” form would look better than a swingy, ghaghra-wearing sort of form. Perhaps the artist can rework on relaxing this formative structure of the woman’s image.

*I love B&W but there is just too much black there. and the spotlight kind of treatment doesn't make it less imposing. Could a border around the etching work to keep the image in its lightedness?

* The title font (I don't think it is spooky at all) seems to jar a bit with the slug/sub-hed below.

Also, friend and poet Anuradha Pujar's work will be there. Two writers from Ithaca in the same anthology, ain't that cool?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My Sunday Reading -- Seamus Heaney

Apart from gathering old stories and articles (mostly written by me) I also read something refreshing every now and then. Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/feature.html?id=182158) is a good place to go, and when I read Seamus Heaney, one of my favorites, the weekend seems quite good despite the gray sky and that nibble at the toes by a nagging about-to-descend autumn weather hovering outside my doors. Joshua Weiner writes an insightful article about Heaney's craft and how identity plays a role in shaping it...


by Seamus Heaney
He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman’s quick eye
And turned observant back.
To him, my other life.
Sometimes, on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.
It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.
But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.
He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?
‘Now, you’re supposed to be
An educated man,’
I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.’
I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse...
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond...
Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.