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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poem in Shalla Magazine's print issue

My poem is included in the Winter Blooms print issue of SHALLA MAGAZINE. Here's the cover with the name of yours truly with other eminent ones. Will post more on this later.

Image: courtesy Shalla Magazine

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 Poems in Unsere Winterreise -- A Danse Macabre Poetic Collaboration

Did you read my poetic takes on Wilhelm Müller and Franz Schubert's grand collection known as Winterreise (Winter Journey) which is a cycle of 24 poems in all?

Well then, rush off to Danse Macabre literary journal to read about this wonderful collaboration between several poets to write along the themes in those 24 pieces.

The themes on which I wrote 3 poems were (harking back to my dear man-river Brahmaputra in Assam; my first snowy winter in the US, and an interesting look at ravens/crows that behave absolutely the same way anywhere in the world... !):

-- Auf dem Flusse (On the Stream)

The river, usually busy and bubbling, is locked in frozen darkness and lies drearily spread out under the ice. He will write her name, and the date of their first meeting, in the ice with a sharp stone. The river is a likeness of his heart: it beats and swells under the hard frozen surface.

The River on a Pyre

Eyeing the Brahmaputra flowing with its whale-body

and the faraway banks smoking

she thought death stood quiet

quietly performing the ritual

of mouth-fire for her own,

the bodies that once talked

laughed and spread guile.

Eyeing the strong-arm river’s sweep of red ripples

carrying unsuspecting dolphins

and last night’s smoky limbs

from the pyres she watched

across her verandah over the

winter’s damp dribble.

She searched out the smell –

ashes in the wind stuck like the stunned river’s pride

the look of a living face smoke-screened in the twilight.

-- Einsamkeit (Loneliness/Solitude)

He wanders along the busy road ungreeted. Why is the sky so calm and the world so bright? Even in the tempest he was not so lonely as this.

Wintered Hourglass

First a feather floats in

does a swirling dance around the lawn

then it drops, softly in my foreign home

one by one

they come to invade

the throbbing serenity

around the little playground, swings and all

knowing kids are asleep, dreaming of riding over white slopes

And they tiptoe, little elves

remind me of the lanky cotton thrashing man who

traversed our hometown streets in summer’s white heat

when called, he set up

a white storm with

cotton for quilts

We loved the magician’s ruse

soft downy puffs flew out

helter-skelter from his old brown gunny bag

with musical whippings he caught hold of each –

one by one

then they swirled and swept

tamed tots

his veined swarthy hands twanged on

The rhythm sang an ode to the floral dance

white and careless, while they dropped

kittens on the loose, all over

the roof, a fidgety fleet

now outside my

lonely doorstep it is all fluffy, full and laden

Wait, the next eager batch rushes in

around the porch, driveway, my little garden seat

they take over the yard

beckon me in this cool shale-

colored noon

where the only music is their descent

they drop float fly

one by one.

-- Die Krähe (The Crow)

A crow has followed him all along the way from the town. Is it waiting for him to die, so that it can eat him? It won't be long, let it keep him company to the end.


Ravens talking in earnest is wondrous

The way they don’t want to share food

And are hyperbolic about their flights

Across fallow farmlands, brown fields

Of spent ammonia, and gassy old bogs.

They have compass heads, curt motions

When they talk, ignoring the mauve sky

Of the thunder-bound clouds over a lawn.

Ravens like a drink or two with a peck

Here and there while the light dances

On their twisty heads, darkening against

A screen of sunset silk with no outlets

For ravens to fly out. So they just spar over

How many worms each of them clinched

Or how long then can keep me company

The ravens talk through my unvoiced gaze.

A familiar sight, but who’ll question them

About melting as silhouettes on our eves –

Not a good thing confronting those beaks.

Ravens herald guests. So for my granny’s sake

I have to wait and watch, although all I see

Them dropping from their mouth’s corners

Is rotten stuff in their callous cawing prose.

Read my friend Priti Aisola's X-mas essay in Danse Macabre here.

And NEWS! I am to be Editor (India) at Danse Macabre, and work to promote the journal's broad international appeal.

Image: River Brahmaputra in Guwahati, Assam; pictures from my computer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

5 Poems in OMEGA 7--Assam-Bengal Legacies as I see Them

OMEGA 7 journal (Howling Dog Press) has been released (November, 2009). Five new poems of mine are featured among the many wonderful ones from an array of writers. The magazine, completely edited and designed by Michael Annis who selected the accompanying artwork by Henry Avignon, in one word, is stunning! Read my poems from Pg 190-193 here.

The five titles are:

  • Dead River Longings

  • For Sukanta

  • Questionnaire

  • History Lessons: 1950

  • The Korobi Song

No. 1 and 4 are Assam-themed. Insurgency and civil unrest cannot escape any writer who has grown up in Assam in the 1980s and 90s. "Dead River..." and "Korobi" are testimonies to that fact. Terrorism, secret killings, abduction, muffling free voices -- much before the global media started hyping up their own stories, Assam has been experiencing all of that. And even today, Assam, and most of northeastern India, remain scarred. Born and brought up in Guwahati, Assam, to me these moments in history never leave my consciousness.

"Sukanta" harks to the poet from Bengal I devoured as a teenager. For a hugely talented writer who passed away at 21, just a few months before India gained Independence in 1947, Sukanta Bhattacharya's voice was a clarion call to arrest imperialism, capitalism and warmongering (I use this word in my poem to a slight objection from poet and friend Nikesh Murali, but he said the poem was otherwise fantastic!).

Last but not the least, "History Lessons..." is almost personal history. My father was a young 'political prisoner' in Rajshahi Central Jail (in the erstwhile East Pakistan) for Leftwing activities. A firing was ordered on April 24, 1950, to quell unrest among the inmates. Seven died and several were injured in that tragedy, among them my father. Read the account in his post "Twentyfourth April". He blogs at Old Man River.

In a salute to my twin legacies I'm posting these two poems out of the five here:

History Lessons: 1950

From rag-wearing villages

of Bengal, they crossed mustard fields, dark

swamps, small rivers in crowded

ferries with a bit of Mars attached

to bodies, a crater from that 1950’s day

of becoming history books

when they rattled

metal bowls & glasses

told the masters there won’t

be any compromise.

Won’t listen

Won’t eat

Will want

all rights to be restored

to dialogue, to be heard

they spoke & they smirked

handholding their tiny fates.

They stood behind iron bars

with backs to a faded

wall uninvaded. Stood in a

Eight by eight

Feet cell, angry

Tired as hell

That was when, his cheeks

smelled of fresh lime leaves

the beard on his chin grew hard

like lotus stalk the soldiers knew

from childhood (they swam with

them in lotus ponds), yet

they fired. Left uprooted trees,

piles of jellyfish drying on a deserted

seashore. The molten moon falling in

a swift swipe, between porous

pebble & muck, he saw

the inside of his thigh a Martian

blotch. A bullet. A red-hot cave of

history lessons the land still hides.

(From my father’s recounting of the 1950 Rajshahi Jail Uprising in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, where he was one of the participants)

Dead River Longings

That was a poet who pined for a sickle-curved river

Golden perhaps or emitting a glitter through its ripples

The river name evoked glinted crop crowns; he wrote about

Jade paddy fields sliced by crow yells and bloodied streams.

That was a poet who walked the morose city streets alone

Uttering words usually unspeaking, like flow and tide;

In stumps of concrete habitats he did graffiti of a rising sea.

In such forgetfulness, some say drunken stupor, he died

Cut by a car when street cleaners came dusting the morning.

Or was he beaten unconscious and thrown by the police?

Out on the dirt, because the bugger wouldn’t stop chanting

About his mist-shadowed river of dying ivory dolphins

That buried incoherent songs in soft mud made softer by

Human waste. What haste hides is that he came back after

Moon’s wane, on his lips: that river, ujani, is still my bride.

NOTE: The poem "Questionnaire" is a legacy of my own global mishmash!

Image from the Internet: Sukanta Bhattacharya; Korobi or yellow oleander.

Friday, November 20, 2009

PARISCOPE -- a 2-part 'city' essay in Troubadour 21

My 2-part essay PARISCOPE is published in "Troubadour 21". Click on the post title or on "PARISCOPE" to read.

Here's a sneak peek:

The Notre Dame looks proudly clean in the summer sun of 2006. The rose window stares at us with a Da Vinci Code wink.
We have just finished learning how to make a baguette inside one of the tents that dot the precincts. This is the Notre Dame fair, unleashing midway on and has kids and adults yelling at each other in French. Of course, this is Paris. A
two-toned pavement, the city elongates and vagabonds with our bohemian tastes.
My partner counts the concrete blocks, I mentally color those that seem plain.
An hour ago, while I rolled the dough, the baguette-master (that’s what I name
him) urged me to fist the plump white elastic form hard, even harder. His
rambunctious “Allez-y” had already allayed my fear that I would remain
forever uneducated in bread-making skills, es
pecially, of this kind."

and from

I tell her goodbye at the turn of Canon de la Nation. Folks still eat there at 11.30 p.m. Mint tea pours to tingles and trickles. Granny’s golden-white hair and the pup’s coat match, tells the light.

“Say ‘bye’, come on, say it Kiki! Give her your bises!”

The whiskered one doesn’t, instead she whimpers. It is too late for her on the road, so what we remain night walkers. It is another night that has crescented over the road."

As far as writing is concerned, the essays came up rather fast but they had been cooking inside my head for a very long time. I have written a few "Delhi" and "Upstate" essays under my proposed CITY series. "Paris" was a pretty logical punctuation in that bunch. So far, two parts. More might be added later, we'll see.

Images from my Paris album: Notre Dame cathedral fair; SIDA rally at Bastille; at Cafe Kleber in Bir Hakeim

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Message Tree- a Poem Inspired by "Ijaazat"

The November 09 issue of Muse India is out. My poem "THE MESSAGE TREE" is published in the special Hindi/Urdu Literary Cultures section. Do take a look, click on the title of the poem (or the post title)!

Sukrita Paul Kumar, the editor of this special section, writes:

"…Thus the focus on Hindi-Urdu in this issue of Muse India. The continuum of the beautiful attraction between the two justifies the ongoing debate on the kind of relatedness Hindi and Urdu have. Their origin and development, the quarrels between them as much as their marriage engage the attention of many a scholar. In this issue therefore, we chose to offer also a glimpse of this debate. Writers, translators and scholars working in these languages often discuss this ever-engaging subject.


And, Nabina Das is motivated to write poetry thanks to her reading of Hindi and Urdu poetry. Bollywood plays a big role in popularizing the Hindi-Urdu-Hindustani language across the country and abroad. Don't we, the people, speak in reality that very language, and not Sanskritized high Hindi or highly Persianized Urdu?"


Well, now, if you still haven't read the new poem here it is:

(From a series inspired by Hindi/Urdu poetry and 'Bollywood' movie songs.)

The Message Tree

You'd passed on some words to me that
quickly got splayed on sunny clotheslines
washed crispy clean like new handkerchiefs
stiff at first, starchy, then sudden wind floats

kites that were eyes, your eyes.

I tied words around your wrist, threads from
archaic ceremonies, unknowing how I tied
up nerves in jasmine bunches hanging over
our garden shades as you casually chewed
sugarcane sticks taking back lost letters or
words that meant a new beginning for us
Our love story was like growing up in a
house with no telephones just soft knocks
true, I had a home like that far away from
glossy shop magazines, no sudden ringing
tones of familiarity that jolted my listless-
ness when I rested under a pool of sleep

tasting sweat with my swoon.

Look, I've grown branches now like it
happened in a Bollywood tale once upon
a time! I'm a message tree, my twigs just
hang where white post-its make a beeline
at the showroom flat-screen that belches out a
song and we dance around the message
tree talking in un-said tones.

Image from the Internet: movie poster of IJAAZAT (permission)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MOLOCH -- New Poem in URHALPOOL Bilingual Zine

My poem "Moloch" is published in Urhalpool, a bilingual online literary journal. Read it here or at http://www.urhalpool.com/oct2009/index.php?lang=eng&pageid=nabina_das.

Nice to find out I am published along with Meena Alexander, Hassanal Abdallah, Yuyutsu Sharma et al!

When I first started reading Urhalpool, I was struck by its sophisticated content, the beautiful covers and the phenomenal span of its writers from the US to India to Bangladesh and many more in between! "A contemporary Bengali-English bilingual webzine," Urhalpool is published periodically from New Jersey, USA. The editors are Gautam Datta (Chief); Catherine Fletcher and Shawan Sarkar (English), and Pinaki Datta (Bangla). You can read the Bangla edition here (Current Edition: Oct 2009, Vol: 2, Issue: 3).

Goutam Datta was recently in Ithaca to conduct a literary workshop with the stellar Indian writer Sunil Gangopadhayay who was visiting Cornell University for a distinguished lecture series. Invited for the first general session by Goutam, needless to say, I ran my fastest to Best Western University Inn, not so much eager about the workshop as about simply getting to meet Sunil Gangopadhayay! He is a dear old man with a youthful demeanor. I blurted out to him how much I was in awe of his "Neera" poems as a teenager --not to speak about the sweep of his stories and novels --that I even identified myself with that name and wrote a few "Neera" poems myself in Bengali! When I left he actually said, "Let me know when your book is out and show me those poems too!"
Oh, by the way, if you still haven't read the poem on Urhalpool's site, here it is!
- by Nabina Das
It’s been long
letters did not arrive
in my name
like time infinite
I packed lunch, tied shoelaces
set out to work
pointing to a bush
on my way, casually saying,
it’s a goldfinch!
Just when I eyed star fruits
in the tropical backyard
a crow ate them up all
Such diligence wavers
my daily dithering
for it’s been really long
Lenin (perhaps) had asked Krupskaya:
do we need kids dear?
The Revolution is our verse
Likewise, it’s been long
I haven’t given birth
my verse has devoured my own.
Image: Courtesy Urhalpool cover art; THE BLUE SAREE - Painting by Jogen Chowdhury

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vanaprastha 2009 - a Poem

"Vanaprastha 2009"

Lenin’s angular profile studies the ceiling’s corner
Raised stiff, suitably elegant and intellectual
Photo-framed on the freedom-sky-blue wall

Lacquer bowls, Russian, with puckered faces not
Able to see their own paint-smeared smooth bellies
In a melee of scores of seashells nestling in them
Short changes from long-ago family holidays

An office union calendar, don’t know who got it
Hangs urgent and fluttery in the semi-spring breeze
Mondays, Sundays, paydays, all days organized well
As in a spreadsheet, boxy dates to enable scribbles
About meetings, reviews and occasional lockouts

My parents did not have the heart to change the TV
The color tube’s a bit busted, spills green more
But the screen beams in Nat Geo & History they watch
In a silent slump from re-painted couches of Assam cane

The brass xorai is not for praying. "True is it, your dad’s a
Red?" A neighborhood uncle had asked me, "doesn’t pray."
Do I know? I also know dad waited with us for prasad
From mom’s puja evenings of camphor, Lakshmi’s calm

That’s her favorite chair, those his books, cobweb
Under curtains long unwashed, my embroidered
Dancers, brother’s rickety racket, the portly phone
Awaiting the ring of our brawls. Where will it all go?

We all laughed, sang, ate and told each other stories here
One of those about this house of memories now on sale.

Images from my computer: "The House of Twining Roses" where I spent my teenage years

Monday, October 12, 2009

THE FARRIER- A Short Story

THE FARRIER (First published in The Cartier Street Review, April 2009)-By Nabina Das

Was Russet to live her life between the legs of horses? She could get kicked sometime, although I’m sure Russet never expected that. It’s a job she had for a long time. Russet had big hands. Her hair cut like a duckling’s tail caught in a twister. She was a farrier. With an uncommon but musical name – Russet. That’s what she told me.

We spoke while rummaging through old books on sale downtown where they’d let us take a bagful for a dollar. Shivering in the line outside on the cold concrete, for it was late November in this little Upstate New York town, I rubbed my bristly palms inside fleece gloves to a frigid drop falling from above, listening to the drone of a man explaining to someone the intricacies of a Russian fireplace. Once inside, we rummaged and I saw she held this Alberto Moravia I wanted, Two Women. Like a predatory animal I eyed her. Silently pointed towards the Moravia. She eye-browed towards the flat thin book I was holding.

“Horses.” She said. “You like horses?”

“I don’t mind them.” I said. Why talk of horses? This isn’t a farm fest. It’s a book sale.

“You’ve a horse here,” she said, leaning over and touching the book I was holding. Tock tock. She knocked on the cover twice.

The flat thin cover indeed had a horse snorting in a yellow-green cornfield. I had no idea if horses liked corn. Suddenly it hit me why horses were the topic.

“Okay,” I said, sheepishly. She handed my book to me. “This is about women,” I explained.

“You like women?” She asked the same way she had asked if I liked horses.

Yes. No. What do I say? I’m a man! I nodded. I liked women only because they are there, all around. Not in the same way I’d adore a race car. It was tough to explain.

“He’s a European writer, this Moravia. He must like women a lot … he writes a lot about them,” I said.

“In Europe they make cheese at home,” she said tilting her funny looking head to one side. “They also name their women Nana.”

“No, that’s Zola.” I said, trying to be polite, adding, “A writer by the name Zola called his heroine Nana. In fact, his book is called Nana.”

At that point she abruptly announced that she was a farrier.

“What’s that?” I was sure I had heard the word but I’d never met a farrier before.

I noticed she had big hands, a bizarre hairstyle, plus she walked with webbed gait and the stolid expression of a bored farm animal.

“Russet,” she said, holding out her right hand.

I thought she was talking about the evening sky, which we couldn’t see it from inside this book-filled musty hall.

“Fall evenings are great, especially evenings,” I said. “Do you take walks with your horses on russet evenings?”

She looked at me as if I were a silverfish worm who eats away old book pages. Tiny slithering insects you want to thrash whack whack whack, until you’re satisfied not a single one exists among your priceless collection.

“I spend most evenings working with horses,” she said. “And my name’s Russet.”

I squirmed like that silverfish worm. Oh, that was her name.

Before I could say my name she spoke about the evenings she had spent under and between horses’ legs, shoeing them. This triggered some strange scenes in my mind. Horses’ legs were spindly and long. Not human-like. They even had hooves. Russet could get kicked. Between human legs it was different. Humans didn’t require shoeing. Still one could get kicked, even with humans.

“But of course,” she said. “I could get kicked even between human legs!”

I didn’t comment. We roamed the hall filling our plastic bags. I noted her choice of books about farming and automobiles. She told me she drove an old truck and managed a farm alone. I pictured this slightly Mohawk-haired woman on a farm, grime and mobile oil all around, the hay smelling of horseshit, and her banging thud thud thud on a horseshoe.

“You do that for a job?” I said. “Shoe horses?”

These were horses whose owners found them too old or useless, she explained. Farm horses that’d never again pull carts. Racehorses discarded after they got burnt out. Show horses whose mane grew coarse. Russet made them shoes to walk in and gallop and play and she didn’t mind as long as they didn’t roll on rain-soaked hay for her to clean too often. There were days when she drove to the city to browse shops. She wore her old work jacket because she had no dates these days. Her twister-caught hairstyle didn’t have to be trimmed because there was no one to appreciate. Coming to rummage book sales was the only thing she had permitted herself in a long time. Books made her put aside her grubby boots and stack away her ‘Fresh Corns’ sign at the roadside. Driving down the winding road, doing a casual fifty-five over the forty-five-mile per hour, swerving by blackened squirrels stuck on the yellow dividing line, she came down here for books. Meanwhile her horses lounged or dozed on fresh hay that had been spread out that morning while waiting to feel her big hands. They enjoyed sniffing her and responded in charged hee hee hees. While she worked between their spindly legs, hay stalks cut her fingers, mosquitoes bit her buttocks and ear lobes, and sawdust rose in little clouds due to hammering and hitting. And the horses neighed happily. What if the horses kicked her head or chest, I imagined, shuddering.

“I like it alone,” she said.

She had a man for six months. A man who preferred worn out camel leather gloves in winter and a lime-stained jacket smelling of wood rabbits. He didn’t like horses. “A farrier’s job doesn’t pay,” he grumbled. He wanted to sell horses, the cornfields and the truck to go do city jobs. He drank and fell asleep when she was off to town doing chores. The horses went hungry many times and the two fought bitterly.

“It had to be him or the horses,” she said. “I chose my horses.”

Her four-legged friends – brown and mustard and chestnut, a few velvety black, were joyous about that decision. Russet’s horse book reminded me of Le Cheval Blanc where the white horse looked painted green. Maybe Gauguin too had lived near a green cornfield.

“What’d your type of women do in this situation?” Russet asked me abruptly.

‘Your type’ sounded like she belonged to another world. This was my chance to tell her about my world, a college professor’s world. Well, my kind read made-up tales. Zola, Moravia. Normally, my type of women would want to keep a man. They’d try very hard. Shop for pretty dresses, colors for their cheeks and tiny shoes – human shoes – to please their man. For a man they’d re-do their entire life.

“Of course, they wouldn’t know the difference unless they kept horses for a few years,” I said. Quasi-apologetic.

She eyed my trimmed hair, my pleated professorial pants and my leather moccasins, my cheeks still fragrant from my morning shave. I knew she could smell my powdered chest – we stood so close– and feel my elbow brush her hard sides. Her eyes were wide realizing that a man like me, a reading and college-teaching type, was not someone she usually met. That hurt me. I pined to tell her I loved hay, but on a painted canvas. And horses were okay as long as I didn’t have to wash or shoe them. Le Cheval Blanc wasn’t to be touched and sullied.

“Yeah, it’s different elsewhere,” she said, as if farriers lived by a separate book.

I tried convincing her otherwise, this woman with big hands who could be made to feel good and wanted. A woman named Russet, like the fall evening. Our plastic bags were full and we’d part having spent only one dollar a bag. The conversation was several more bags full.

“Mind if I invite you?” She threw the words out of her mouth with the invisible stuff she was chewing. “Bring your Moravia book to my farm. Will ya?”

I stood on the wintry sidewalk not saying anything. Her truck spewed smoke in a volley of vroom vroom vroom.

She yelled: “Can I call you Vandyke, after one my horses?”

“My name’s Ludwig,” I yelled back and saw her gesture.

“Where did you get that? That’s a horse name too!”

Suddenly unspoken warmth surrounded me. Ah, she was joking. In a good way. All my life I thought my parents were silly to name me like that. As if they knew for sure I was gonna be a sad little professor.

The women in my life and in the books I read kept cats or dogs. Fluffy, silky creatures bathed in lavender shampoo. Coats combed to a perfect gloss, fancy ribbons tied round their necks. The women talked to them in foreign tongues – oh mon petit chou. Made love while their pets watched. None of them lived by a cornfield and heard neighs all night. Alone.

“So long Vandyke!” Russet sped up.

The pickup disappeared around the bend. A russet sun gobbled it up. Her hammer striking new metal, raw and chiming, the farrier would have a visitor soon.


Please download a high resolution print quality PDF file for only $2.50 at CSR April 2009 Edition

Image from the Internet

Sunday, October 11, 2009

POETRY IN OUR TIMES -- four Sketch Poems

My Sketch Poems are still experimental unless someone thinks otherwise. These are NOT visual poems and so read them as complementary pairs.

Poetry in Our Times

1. Utterance from an Urn

Only when we looked around we saw

A subliminal longing, in an unaccustomed mouth

Birth of lettered rhymes.

2. "A Face Like Ours"

Poetry is a face inviting a peek

A thought that carves the Ajanta grace – a smile, a pause

Poetry’s guest. Liberated words.
3. "Doors vs. Darkness"

Silent waters upon those door frames

The choice is of clarity of shards, not darkness

The face splatters like meters. A welcome chant.

4. "Airborne, We Sing"

Our times is a kite for our hands

To say nothing of the birds. Alphabetic. Soaring

The face, this poetry, defy disbelief of metaphors.

Images: sketches in poster color by me, on paper and then scanned

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Two Poems in MANORBORN collection--"Shuddhi" and "lotuses"

Recently I had 2 poems published in Manorborn 09 Collection (Harford Poetry Society) on the theme of "Water". "Shuddhi From Every Living Thing" and "and I saw lotuses out of season" were my contributions.

"Shuddhi From Every Living Thing"

My faith gave me shuddhi
My ritual of being awash
In ideas that cowered on
Some porches scared to be told
Don’t touch that, don’t sit there
Be a shadow of no one ever

My faith gave me shuddhi from
Thermal springs sprung from myths
Full moon dips in ammonia streams
Avoidance from our liquid beliefs
Of impurity and the five elements

I won’t drown like Ophelia for sure
For my faith poured clear shuddhi
The water from every living thing
As they lay dying in heavens’ corners
Wishing for a stream of reasons to
Reverse course, enter them unsullied.

"and I saw lotuses out of season"

with the rain that collected like eyes
over city roads of many vigils and wrangles
with long lines of handholding kids and adults
the line punctuated with buckets, pots, jerry cans
with monsoon’s bloom of festering holes that deceived
a splash or a sip and diluted rivers of freshness to flow clogged

I saw lotuses out of season ready to take on the clouds.
Manorborn is an annual print journal published by the Harford Poetry and Literary Society (MD). The anthology features poetry, fiction, memoir, essay, and black and white art and photography. See the table of contents (theirs is print-only journal) here and you can order the copy here. Nice thing that my work appears in the same book with poems by former Tompkins County (where Ithaca, NY, is) Poet Laureate Katharyn Howd Machan! What a feeling :).

Image: Manorborn 09 cover

Saturday, October 3, 2009

CITYSPEAK -- a Poem (for once I thought I became a city!)

This was my last contribution to poet and activist Dustin Brookshire's Project Verse. Something that I wrote in a tearing hurry between power outages and a summer of 100 F + heat outside in Delhi. While I sweltered and wrote, my mind went back to New York and Chicago, mostly experienced in cooler climes :), and what they appeared to my not-too-accustomed eyes in relation to my six years of residence in the US. Actually I cheated a bit. This poem is written from a sketchy draft I already had in my mind, had probably even written down somewhere... I just resurrected it. The exercise was about metaphors and similes.

Why is the speaker a city? Why is there reference to cities as siblings? You tell me. I'm an unabashed city-lover and dweller so my opinion may be biased! Here is the poem:


I didn’t have half brothers or sisters, now I do

Siblings in angst, about who grew up faster, smarter.

Macadamized heartbeats, belching, lying in the sun

bristling in the smog of hyperventilating rush hours

toenails curled inwards. That’s how we are.

Brother Chicago, from my labyrinth of freeways

I’ve seen your billboards flashing its psychedelic lure

your finger slow-motioning from the cloud tops

entwining me to your belly button deep and bright.

Your other brother or sister – that gushy half-sibling

New York is Woody Allen. Worried, glib! It arcs

a sharp tongue across Manhattan’s cacophony

rips off the rootedness of our shared metro mangrove.

Laying with its jaunty back of a brooding T-rex

Chicago squints at the waterside, not ready to budge

polishes its towering whiskers – unperturbed even in the snow.

New York slams me for calling out its name

for even thinking I could write these words –

its skyline a lost ship that hopes someone will come

anchor in its teenaged grudge. Well, let it gnaw!

Listen two cities. Don’t tell Kafka, I’ve turned into a city

unyielding, aching and stymied. Forever looking inside.

A silently gregarious square tucked into my seams.

Image from my computer: Downtown Chicago

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Sketch and the Fun I have with it!

I pencil-sketched a Madhubani-style drawing recently, thinking it might be of some use relating to my writing. "Madhubani-style" because the difference is that Madhubanis have stumpy figures and well-demarcated black outlines for each object. Also, smaller etchings are executed usually in fine black strokes. In this sketch, the outlines are smudged, the small leaves are melting into the background and the stumpiness is taken over by rather freeflowing forms. Besides, the circle of trees have a modernist bloody head, symbolizing roots, and the sun rises below, a spatial anachronism. The border is a series of "footprints".

This is the initial B&W drawing:

Then I colored it with marker pen:

I thought the sun rising from the 'netherworlds' could be cropped for some effect!
And then I flipped the scanned image! Looks like a juggler balancing a "wheel of trees" and a spidery sun...

Not sure what I'll do with the drawing. I had a specific use in mind. Tell you later.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading at Poetry & Pastry, an Evening of Near Eastern, Mediterranean and Ithacan Poetry

The poetry reading at Poetry & Pastry, an Evening of Near Eastern, Mediterranean and Ithacan Poetry at Cornell University on Sept. 29, went off very well. I read quite nicely despite my initial nervousness. The Guerlac Room at A D White House was full chock-a-block! Here are some pics.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Translations of "Moonlore..." and "Wasafiri" into Bengali and Assamese

These are the Assamese and Bengali poems, translations I did recently, that I'm going to read at a small poetry gathering to be held in Cornell University on the 29th of this month. The Bengali one is a translation of "MOONLORE FROM THE EAST", first published in The Toronto Quarterly. The Assamese one is a translation of "WASAFIRI", first published in Muse India.

These are scanned images, hopefully clear. My handwriting is pathetic of course!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Years With Rabindranath Tagore

Activist and poet Dustin Brookshire's Project Verse gave us this assignment in the initial round -- "your first poet". This was my contribution, tell me about yours:

My Years With Rabindranath Tagore

Little Boy Courage. The Old Banyan tree.

You came to me Rabindranath
(tough name for a kid)
as playmate Rabi

On a horseback through our
childish woods of romance
mixing the monsoon rains with tunes
of leaf floats making off to the Seven Seas
between homework of grammar and spelling.

Here, Rabi, hold my hand
write that stanza
I’d read even years later
for every year the drummers are out
(still underpaid, they now sell
fake branded accessories)
teasing absent-minded autumn clouds.

Tall palm with winged-desire. Camelia my Girl.

So who said he wore a solemn beard?
Not on my book cover!
Duping the elders we must remain green –
exactly the way he called out:
My little greens, my little young shoots
and those lines are still the first to ring
the way it once did
candle-blowing sleepiness on
a power-outed summer night.

Reading Tagore in bed, living inside
the crumpled book leaves
I frolicked with my playmate Rabi
soared above static and din
(father loved Tchaikovsky
on old Radio Moscow)
also cried when
the Pilgrims drowned at sea.

Here, Rabi, take this line
let my first eyes remember that time

A drop of water. The leaf shivers.

Image from the Internet: Tagore and Einstein

Sunday, September 20, 2009

inside the body of the verse - a Poem

A poem from a set of 5 words -- "zany, velvet, debonair, limp, & exculpate". Activist and poet Dustin Brookshire's Project Verse, now reaching its end, is where I first wrote it. Here's mine, write yours!

inside the body of the verse

Bring, the velvet and the
Mousse of your hands, tell
My verse yes we are
In love with this body
Yours and mine, with our
Zany nights that jerked off
Emotions and plights

Hold, just hold tight on
To the limpness of rhymes
Before we arouse slowly again
This turn of flaccid limbs
Your flourish into the dawn
My frenzy hay-rolled just
As in old-fashioned silver-
Screen tales of our body
Our verse so debonair

Give, give me that strophe
Stroked by your lips and set afire
This song of Moulin Rouge
The body of phones in sweet pangs

Say, just whisper into my ears that
You exculpate this ecstasy spent, so
Free from glare, you and I can curl
Up in pleasure and love the words
Off pages growing on our chests.

Comments/suggestions/critique welcome!

Image from the Internet

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Bollywood Belief System - "New York"

I watch films and read books mostly when the euphoria and the spate of reviews are over. And I watch Bollywood too, because those creations are sometimes useful to see how certain belief systems work, to my surprise or chagrin.

One such recent view was New York (2009).

Two things:

1. Suddenly Bollywood's "overseas" interests have started including the 9/11 commentary, after these many years have passed. While New York seems incapable of any analyses about 9/11 as an event in history, the Naseeruddin Shah-directed "Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (2006)" presented a deeper psychological insight into the people who might have unfortunately been caught in 9/11's turbulence. New York simply seems to be another chance to shoot in New York City, with the campus scenes resembling Chapel Hill (how quaint we never see such flora and fauna in a "state university" in New York) and the cobbled city streets incorporated from some Upstate town topography perhaps...!

2. In New York, Muslims take charge of their own "involvement" or "implication" in 9/11. This has become such a popular notion with the Hindu, upper-caste, middle-class majority (why blame the rightwing?), as pointed out by M. They should, it is argued eloquently, sort out their "own mess". Even a well-known newspaper editor went on to argue recently how secular, liberal Hindus can no longer defend the credentials of the Muslims. And so on and so forth for Dalits, Tribals, and the "others", following a similar logic. Reminds me of Martin Niemöller's lines!

Postscript: In the very last portion of New York, the 'self-absolved' Muslims (the government-appointed one who has helped terrorists see the path of nonviolence and 'we-are-globalized-type oneness' through his own experience of interrogation, torture, and killing, and the independent one who had probably seen the path, but couldn't quite get on to the globalization fast track fast enough because his girl was taken away, because he had to kill, etc.) keep fawning upon the orphan kid (the dead terrorist's child) as the "new Muslim" kid laden with virtues like love for eating pasta, excelling in American football, tolerance etc. Made me laugh. Where did Bollywood get the notion that this "breed" is breeding only NOW, after thorough 'self-absolving' by the older offenders? Talk about belief systems and a sense of historicity!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Two Poems in Mascara Literary Review

Australian journal Mascara Literary Review has published two of my poems in its latest edition in a section titled NEW WORLDS. You can read the poems ALEPH and LIVING ROOM HOMILY here: Nabina Das

NEW WORLDS is a new section to showcase writers from the "neo-antipodes and diasporas".

Editor Michelle Cahill writes in one e-mail:

"We are really delighted to be publishing your fine work in Mascara Literary Review. It will be as part of a section titled "New Worlds", featuring work from the states/northern hemisphere."

and in the other:

"Your poems are wonderful. Do keep in contact. You may wish to consider writing a review in future."

In the main Poetry section, there is my favorite Indian poet Keki N Daruwalla's poems and Sukrita Paul Kumar's work as well. Really feels good to be in Keki's company! My friend on Facebook, Anuradha Vijayakrishnan's excellent poetry is also there.

I love ALEPH and so let me reproduce it here too:


The first sound uttered is always forgotten
Possibly it is never even a word. Just
An interjection that derives from faraway
Fears or an anxious rhythm of speech.
The first sound can be heard quite clear
When groans and grunts are taken care
Of with mighty sweep of authorized
Hands that also stifle songs and smiles.
If you were a baby or a doddering pair
Of legs, your first word would be despair
Not a calligrapher’s delight in dusky ink
Blinking away in the heliotrope night.

In one little fable the first letter was
Meant to be the first word of wonder
But no one wrote it down and so later
The ocean took it with fish and dead matter.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Danse Macabre journal has my review of Yuyutsu Sharma's collection ANNAPURNA POEMS in its latest Totentanze issue.

So, entrée à Danse Macabre and read the review at Trek with the Buddha Bard or at Nabina DAS where you can also read my response poem "THE QUATAQUATANTANKUA" and enjoy the art by Tyson Schroeder, reproduced here.

You can find some of my other work that appeared in Danse Macabre earlier at DM 23 Une Nuit à l'Opéra.

Mnemosyne Lit Zine Features My Poems, Q&A for Extra Fun

Jen Pezzo-Kerowyn Rose's *Mnemosyne* Literary Journal is a cool place to meet emerging and well known writers and read their work. Jen and her co-editor Christina Brooks recently featured some of my poems you can find on http://mnemosynepoetica.blogspot.com/2009/09/nabina-dass-feature-links.html.

The featured days were:
Day 1: Intro / Bio / Poem: "The First Apple Sings a Ruba’i"
Day 2: Poem: "Othello's Path" / Interview Question: "When did you first have an interest in poetry?"
Day 3: Poem: "Moonlore from the East" / Short Q&A
Day 4: Poem: "A Few Things of Consideration" / Short Q&A
Day 5: Poem: "Finding Foremothers" / Short Q&A
Day 6: Interview Questions for Nabina by Tim Buck

I enjoyed every bit of my exposure and interaction on Mnemosyne, made good friends and read wonderful writers. Check out *Mnemosyne* Literary Journal

Thursday, August 6, 2009

OTHER INDIA STORIES: Dalit Women's Venture and Deep Joshi's Magsaysay Award Trampled by Rakhi's Swayamvar and Other Enlightening Stuff

Just back from India and quite a few acquaintances are asking me what struck me there other than the skin-searing heat of the summer. Well, a couple of things for sure.

Almost all summer, Indians were busy watching on cable TV a reality show called "Rakhi Sawant Ka Swayamvar" (Rakhi Sawant's Swayamvar Wedding -- roughly translated).

Rakhi, a Bollywood starlet and 'item girl' as she has been called (much to her hatred of that term), went on TV to choose her partner from among a bevy of hopefuls, hoping eventually to marry him. She chose 'swayamvar', an ancient Indian partner-preference method whereby a number of suitors assemble at the lady's place of choice and try winning her hand through a series of challenges offered to the men. She gets to test and measure the men and garlands one finally.

I too watched some snippets of the show and in snatches found Rakhi's quest outrageous and audacious. Audacious because she seemed to enjoy this 'new-found' liberatedness that Bollywood has eluded her thus far, and outrageous because she indulged in a few stupid run-of-the-mill "good wifely" things to project a certain marriageable image of herself.

Now don't tell me you are from India and you haven't peeked a boo into that show even once! Shame on you, for, even some of my PINK UNDIE campaigner (The Pink Chaddi Campaign) friends have watched her brazen realism.

So go here and enlighten yourself about Rakhi's public wedding "ek khoj" where she was short of waving her pink undie 'in your face'!

While all this went on, prominent Indian social activist Deep Joshi, who has done pioneering work for "development of rural communities", was named along with five others for the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2009, considered as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Joshi was being recognized for "his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India, by effectively combining 'head' and 'heart' in the transformative development of rural communities," the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said in a press statement from its headquarters in Manila.

A masters in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Masters in Management from the Sloan School, MIT, Joshi worked with the Systems Research Institute, the Ford Foundation and has nearly 30 years of experience in the field of rural development and livelihood promotion. Read more on the website of PRADAN (http://www.pradan.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=106&Itemid=78).

Joshi's historical achievement went through very low-key airing on cable TV. After all, Rakhi Sawant was educating the public on how to get married as a liberated woman using a method documented in the mythologies.
Also, another news almost completely missed the broadcast bandwagon.

Newspaper run entirely by 'low-caste', rural women in Uttar Pradesh wins UNESCO literacy award

http://www.newswatch.in/newsblog/4539 (friend and writer Subir Ghosh provides this link on his website). Here's a portion from the report:

Writer and women’s activist Farah Naqvi, who has captured
the story in her book “Waves in the Hinterland, the journey of a newspaper”,
sums up the women’s story like this: “They have battled with their inner demons
and with the images thrust upon them by the world. Images which told them that
journalists are only educated men, demons that fed on fear and applauded and
laughed every time they failed. They have not only redefined the very male
notion of citizenship but turned the very notion of women in India on its
In the end, Rakhi's romping home with the winner from among the 16 suitors (no, she's not married yet... suspense!!) came out a far more important spectacle (!). Other smaller scandals/scoops also held sway over the TV-loving public. Anyway, post me your comments on any of the above or if there are parallels to the above anywhere else (someone mentioned "Octomum").

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Review in "Birthdays of Poets"

Poet and friend Joy Leftow has very kindly posted my review of Basanta Kar's collection THE UNFOLD PINNACLE on Andrew Christ's energizing blog birthdaysofpoets.blogspot.com. Basanta is the author of two published poetry books and is currently Directer, Care India, a nonprofit organization.

Read (again!) :

THE UNFOLD PINNACLE by Basanta Kumar Kar – A review by Nabina Das
The Turbulent Top: Marginalized Women’s Voices from India

THE UNFOLD PINNACLE by Basanta Kumar Kar– A review by Nabina Das

Monday, July 27, 2009

Discussion generated on my poem "Langston...": writing about skin color

Recently I posted a link on Facebook from my blog -- my poem "When Langston Hughes Visited My Home", one of the two published in the Guntur National Poetry Festival anthology released on July 2. Like the other one "Finding Foremothers", this too was appreciated a lot and generated quite a few comments.

What I always look for in the comments from my dear friends and readers is that keen eye for details about my poetic craft and the general topic in question.

One of them came from poet and friend Jen Pezzo Kerowyn-Rose who runs the literary journal "Mnemosyne". In her eyes, 'Langston' was not only a well-crafted poem but also an interesting exercise in looking at race/color/ethnicity through my eyes, trained for the most part as Indian eyes.

This is what she wrote on my blog -- "I love this poem. It is such a contrast to the way many Americans' view skin color, even today. The title is perfect. My favorite stanza is the first one. I like the imagery. What an artfully crafted piece of work. :-)".

With this thread we started off a discussion that has left me richer than ever. And I'd like to share some points with the others here...

1) Did I address the fact that I was writing about LH from childhood memory as part of my individual 'color' consciousness?


2) was it incorporated into a cultural universe where color/race was noticed/pointed out quite deliberately and as a tool for derision of the 'other' or just as an innocuous observation? That I wrote "dark-limbed poet", is it because as a child I was inherently aware what 'dark' and 'fair' meant to a 10-year-old?

Jen's observation that an American would speak/write differently (I believe some times, never) about skin color was a delight and I'm glad Jen and I went on to have a long discussion on a topic many would simply avoid.

-- 1) I THINK... back then I didn't have much of an 'individual' awareness or consciousness about skin color or what it might or might not mean... All I was aware of is that Rama or Krishna were blue/dark, Shiva too after wearing that ash coating all over and all that's because it seemed a special quality possessed only by special gods! Ah, and Draupadi, the heroine of the epic Mahabharata too was "krishnangi"! And a beauty.

-- 2) As for my upbringing in a certain cultural universe, I grew up in a liberal household with a spiritual mom (all Krishna worshippers on her side of the family) and a commie father (many commie uncles and an aunt who's like a Joan d'Arc to me...) although paternal grandparents were diehard Shakti (goddess) followers, mostly believers of the Tantra or the Lokayata school of philosophy. Color (as a marker of race) was probably the least discussed aspect at home. I say the least, because when it came to describing individuals, often it went like this -- "oh our neighbour, the dark gentleman with a moustache..." or "X's new bride is quite fair although her dark sister is prettier... ".

No doubt some folks employed a certain bias based on these indicators but as a child I saw and heard very little of it from my folks. Then caste, that Indian social monster, was pooh-poohed at all levels because it popped up everywhere even if you didn't believe in its rigors. Religion and creed/faith was a private affair, even for the older members who frowned upon the commie brigade!

So a child's mind registered things it saw/read with a question/surprise:

"...why the smaller typeface said:

Poems by a dark-limbed poet, a collection,

I had no idea then"

The editors of the book put that blurb in there for an obvious reason, now I know better. It was not about racism or commenting about skin color, it was an assertion "Poems by a dark-limbed poet" (krishnanga kobir kobita -- in Assamese). Jen rightly pointed out that this was really special, to be able to write/speak about a people in terms that were celebratory.

Celebratory it was. Krishna the god is 'krishna' (literally means dark), so is Rama the King of Ayodhya, and so is Queen Draupadi (nicknamed Krishnaa), whose best friend is Lord Krishna!

However, a 10-yr-old is still surprised to encounter the "krishna"-ness among mortals:

"Dark limbs were not seen

On our book covers

Only limbs were, but then

Krishna is just not a word

For a god, it dawned on me

But skins and cheeks and

Strong arms of poetic force

On my table"

The word "krishnanga" (krishna + anga = dark limbed) in my child's consciousness had signified the entry of a new entity. It was all about a celebrated name called Langston Hughes, the reference to him an assertion by those writers/editors/publishers who championed the cause of avant-garde literature, protest poetry and songs, alternative discourses and exhorting the sun to rise in a new direction -- "hey xurjo uthi aha" in Assamese... and this bit I understood much later when my adult mind realized:

"Also the end of crowing nights

When a poet came home

Inside the covers of a book, smiling:

"That day is past!""

Just as today we celebrate 'Jewish poetry', 'Asian-American writing', 'South-Asian fiction', I am immensely proud that some of these vernacular literatures in India had long ago opened up their doors to the world in order to celebrate the "Krishna" or "Krishnanga" poets and writers.

Thank you Jen, for inspiring this lively discussion!
Postscript: After finishing this note I found this picture of Goddess Kali in Wikipedia. Kali literally means 'black' but it is also believed the etymology includes the Sanskrit word 'kaal' meaning time or eternity. As a child I saw different statues of Kali in different shades -- midnight black, deep blue, dusky etc. -- with different names as well, like, Smashaan Kali (goddess of the cremation ground); Shyama Kali (the dark/blue Kali), and Bhadra Kali (the householder's goddess)
Image from the Internet (Wikipedia): Goddess Kali

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Langston Hughes Visited My Home

Time for posting the second poem from the Guntur National Poetry Festival Anthology. It arrived in mail just this afternoon. They call it "A Posy of Poesy". Well, I don't dig the title, but it's a decently produced anthology, nicely printed on good paper and accommodates several poets from all corners of India. Nagasuseela and Gopichand, the organizers of the fest, are also the editors and they've done a good job.

I was invited to come down to Guntur and read my work with several other poets from different corners of India, but couldn't do that owing to a lot mixed up things going on in my world right then. Would have been so exciting. But I am excited to learn from the editors and newspaper coverage that the festival was a success.

I'm still flipping through the collection and am yet to sample some engaging writing. Meanwhile, I post my second poem from that collection. You remember reading my other poem in the book here: "Finding Foremothers". Now this is:

"When Langston Hughes Visited My Home"

The name was strange and the book
Was shiny dark
Thin, freckled jacket, like my angry
Pre-teen face
On the table

The title kept calling in a
Jingle-jangle Assamese refrain
I kept saying it out loud:
“Hey Xurjo Uthi Aha”!

Why it exhorted the sun to rise
Accept the challenge of a new
Dream that flamed
Brighter and purer
And why the smaller typeface said:
Poems by a dark-limbed poet, a collection,
I had no idea then

Dark limbs were not seen
On our book covers
Only limbs were, but then
Krishna is just not a word
For a god, it dawned on me
But skins and cheeks and
Strong arms of poetic force
On my table

Also the end of crowing nights
When a poet came home
Inside the covers of a book, smiling:
"That day is past!"

Postscript: This poem generated an interesting discussion among my friends. My friend and editor of Mnemosyne poetry blog Jen Pezzo-Kerowyn Rose made a very pertinent observation. Read "Discussion Generated on My Poem 'Langston...': Writing about Skin Color". Tell me what your thoughts are!

Image from the Internet: Langston Hughes

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Check out my review of a poetry collection by Basanta Kumar Kar, who works in the nonprofit sector in India and writes about marginalized women, belonging to discriminated social groups like the Dalit, the Tribal or the Adivasi, and the Other Backward Class. Joy Leftow, principal editor of The Cartier Street Review, had this wonderful assignment for me. And although, most of the earlier reviews I've written for newspapers or journals were art or film reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Reason number one was my own work experience in the Indian nonprofit sector. Basanta has an extended association with the Chhattisgarh-Orissa-Andhra Pradesh region where he has witnessed the life of the aforementioned women, especially the Dalit and the Adivasi women, from very close angles. And the most striking aspect of his writing is how easily he assumes the voice of his subjects, all women, and weaves it into poetic expressions.

Here's an excerpt from the review:

"Marginalized Women’s Voices from India:

THE UNFOLD PINNACLE by Basanta Kumar Kar – A review by Nabina Das

Basanta Kumar Kar’s involvement in the Indian nonprofit sector for years has afforded him a close-up of the tribal societies, the backward classes and marginalized sections of that developing and diverse country. He practices with flourish the first-person voice of personas as varied as an under-aged girl with a history of abuse to a Gond or Maria tribal woman struggling against the onslaught of modern civilization to a mother-cum-sex worker reflecting on her fate in the ruthless city. As a professional in his poetic role, Kar brings alive the disillusionment and haplessness of India’s marginalized women, especially those from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). He is involved in his subject’s plight and at the same time lets his subjectiveness to position himself as the keen observer. Kar shares the wealth of his experiences with his readers in the rather long 73-page collection.

The Wikipedia defines the SC/ST as ‘Indian population groupings that are explicitly recognized by the Constitution of India, previously called the "depressed classes" by the British, and otherwise known as untouchables. SCs/STs together comprise over 24% of India's population, with SC at over 16% and ST over 8% as per the 2001 census… Some Scheduled Castes in India are also known as Dalits. Some Scheduled Tribe people are also referred to as Adivasis.’ Commenting on the crisis of faith of these underprivileged communities, in the aptly titled “Faith First”, Kar writes:

Smoke and cloud work in tandem
swings of snow peep
hills draw lines, mesmerise
they butcher;

The actions embodied by the elements smoke, cloud, snow, hills etc. are swift and brutal, akin to the experience of his subject. Nature provides no succor. It is a constant reminder of bad fortune. In “…mesmerize/they butcher” this is particularly amplified. The short staccato sentences metaphorically and literally “work in tandem”. The cosmogony of the women Kar writes about, socially denied and deprived, and often under a double yoke of social stigma within their own communities, comprises of humanistic elements that surprise us with their animateness, the only source of comfort for the subjugated lot:

I understand my neighbours
tamarind tree, dates and nuts
pigs and chicken, ghosts and spirits
traditional healers.

The weltanschauung of the women is stark yet conveys the environment they thrive in:

We are together

no one more equal than others."

Do go to The Cartier Street Review - Home and click on the little RED link CSR July 2009 Edition to see the full issue and the read the review. Also, clicking on the title above will take you there. In the spotlight is poet AnnMarie Eldon, featured poet is Michael Annis and there is the regular editorial column by Joy Leftow -- "Leftow's desk". Bernard Alain, founding editor of the CSR, has again turned out a superb issue with Joy and staff Thomas Hubbard.

Image from The CSR cover by L. Bellini: "Fragmented Man"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Liberated Muse Vol I: How I Freed My Soul is out. Edited by Khadijah Ali-Coleman. Of my three poems "Chakra Walking", "Purifying Rites by Water" and "A Migrant's Tune" that appear with the work of several artists and writers in the collection, here is:

Chakra Walking

This has a wood-scented flower-center bright like a
Peeping bird's eyes, awake

Also watery

From floating gas fumes of the bus
Invading a space of always, ever, where like pure water
The mother goddess’
Pupils flow with a meadow-rust


And split the day like egg-shells -- A grass-bride giving off stillness to my
Moldy brown hands
That keep tracing
A path, again and again
Stuck like a Greek mythical hero gone to slay

The Minotaur

When I tell this story to my friends
Disbelief and
Awkwardness take over
Because we know we walk chakras at homes, jobs and road stops
Just as we inhale unheroic opposition

Of fate, weather
Wood-scented flicker of other eyes to emerge from shackles.


See http://outskirtspress.com/webpage.php?ISBN=978-1-4327-2415-3 for more info on the book. The blurb says:

Contributing writers include: Tichaona Chinyelu, Nabina Das, Venus Jones, Farah Lawal, Omar Akbar, Anthony Spires, Amy Blondell, DJ Gaskin, Summayah Talibah, Maureen Mulima, Randy Gross, Margaux Delotte-Bennett, Serena Wills, and other notables. Visual art work by Turtel Onli, Marshetta Davis, Shan'ta Monroe and more.

Foreword by author Ananda Leeke.

Cover Art by Sharon Burton.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Finding Foremothers

So, the "2nd National Poetry Festival" took place in Guntur, India, on July 2. And although I am one of the participants -- my work features in the festival anthology as does poet-blogger friend Tikuli Dogra's (http://tikulicious.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/detritus-my-poem-selected-4poetry-fest-anthology/) -- I couldn't go down there. I am in Delhi, but down with what one calls here "Delhi belly"! A friend said, America's softened me, six years of stay... To be frank, we came back to Delhi for the first time in summer in all these years. Well!

So at Guntur, according to the organizers Suseela and Gopichand (both of them English teachers and literature enthusiasts), 100-plus poets were invited from all over India. Must've been a fabulous experience for all who went there.

Here is one of the poems, a personal favorite of mine.

"Finding Foremothers"

This is a day the family sits down
to a dinner for a festival remembering
ancestors they say hover disguised as
birds and animals – on the lawn, on garden boughs.

Is my grandma among the cows?
I knew she was feisty! Maybe
a crow then. And her own mother
was she there too with her broken
teeth and sad robes yellowed with
age in a photograph some gora had
clicked at her rich spouse’s gracious permission?

The sweetened tomato chutney on
my banana leaf plate seeps away like blood
dark dark red, blood of aunts, wives
who cooked and cleaned, sucked
blood from cuts, bore kids and bled till
they stopped; bled in their hearts when widowed and denied.

A few grains of paddy, holy water, forefathers still
flocked outside; on the television a woman wails.
I flip through an old photo album. Sepia, forgotten clutter.

In other news, I am out of the contest. Stuck around for about three rounds I think. But of course, the worthy would carry on the battle whereas I am hoping to hop on to more scintillating stuff! Thanks Kristen McHenry for leaving a comment on my blog, it encourages me a lot! Do keep visiting.
Image from the Internet: women gathered for a party in Bombay, 1910

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Okay, tomorrow is the day. Project Verse begins June 8. PV is supposed to be a grueling poetry competition, and fun too, designed by poet and activist Dustin Brookshire. Read his blog I Was Born Doing Reference Work In Sin to learn more about it. He has updates coming regularly under the label .

How did I know about it? Well, by browsing blogs... finding Dustin through some Facebook friends and thanking my luck I did. I even posted the initial application call -- Project Verse Seeks Applicants -- on my FB page for all else to see and join. Why did I join it? Because I felt this competition would allow me to write more and thoroughly, which I often shirk, and besides, would bring me closer to several poets' work enabling me to learn a lot more. Dustin's activism and writing itself held my interest when I first read the call notice and browsed his blog.

The inaugural Project Verse Competitors are:

Andrew Clark-Kennedy

Jennifer Werner

Robert Walker

Nabina Das

Emily Van Duyne

Micah Ling

Kristen McHenry

Niina Pollari

Emari DiGiorgio

Martin Ott

To begin with, all applicants were asked to write a note with their material based on a prompt -- Ellen Bryant Voigt: “It's all a draft until you die."

That line sure came across as challenging to me. I mean if this is what poet Bryant Voigt said about poetry, I do have a right to express my opinion before I die! The line is deep in its implications and provocative in its suppositions. And I felt adamant reading it.

This note, my own expression, a cover letter and a few unpublished poems were submitted as application material. Got to hear from Dustin that I am now one of the 10 short-listed competitors for the honors offered by Project Verse. And by the gods of poesy, isn’t this going to be one rigorous ride.

Dustin’s blogpost teases: ‘Can you write under pressure without breaking a sweat?’ Hell I can't! I’m mortally scared of competitions although well wishers say I perform well under pressure. Well, be that as it may, I think I do well only if Madame Pressure leaves me alone with my faithful laptop. Wouldn’t I be a Wall Street fatcat otherwise?

More about Dustin Brookshire: "In 2008, Dustin founded LIMP WRIST and Quarrel. He has been featured at poetry readings in Atlanta as well as Savannah, and his work has been published in numerous online magazines as well as in Atlanta's DAVID magazine. Besides writing poetry and 'cooking up' poetry projects, Dustin enjoys serving on the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival Committee, and keeping elected officials on their toes. Contact Dustin via email: dustinvbrookshire@gmail.com"

So get out the swords, sheaths and helmets. The rattle and the battle of Project Verse begins! Also, get some body sprays and room fresheners because I will be writing from the heat of Indian summer.
The cover art above is from the current edition of Quay Journal where my poem "The First Apple Sings a Ruba'i" just came out. Although delayed for several months, this journal is a beautiful one with wonderful writings all along. Go to http://quayjournal.org/ to read mine and others' works.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Shock, Prize Money, Poem in Pirene's Fountain Journal

Suddenly it is summer, at least in India where I am. Not much happened except for a nasty burglary at my parents' home in Guwahati, Assam, where I arrived to spend a month of my Indian vacation. Before the mangoes and jackfruits came tumbling sickeningly sweet on our palate, before the monsoon sprinkles cooled our cheeks, and before I started wearing my blue eye shadow to reflect the hills bordering Japorigog, someone or some people made away with things that I considered to be more in worth than they might be.

Anyway, my cash award for a 2nd prize awarded by the Open Space-HarperCollins-India Poetry Contest 2008 arrived. Some silver lining. Or is it?


Pirene's Fountain - A Journal of Poetry has published my work in their summer edition. You can read the journal online at Current Issue. My poem is titled "A Soothsayer's Dilemma" and can be read at Nabina Das. My favorites Mark Doty, Linda Pastan, Pume Perl among others are published in PF.

Here's the poem in case you just can't visit the strikingly beautiful website (http://pirenesfountain.com/current_issue/das_nabina.html):

A Soothsayer’s Dilemma

When she said prophecies make the sky spin like a roulette table, she meant while taking chances, they reach the end of palpability, each courting a few unexplored desires

She said prophecies would let their winding hands circle my fleshy roots, digging amply inside Apollo’s oracles, welcoming a change in spring’s sparkled honeyed light

I asked if future is a scene, a fête where men and women bestow abhaya; laugh. Because they’re shown grand, animated, in prints of red and Sepia tones in books of prophecies

She said because we can’t read future we melt inside our tacky floors hopelessly shelled with sleep’s call, but they still come the prophecies, like soft footfalls and infantile taps

My mother’s disbelief, when I said prophecies invade my bark before turning it into the ark when new rivers depths unknown are created, seemed like a verse. Prophetic overtures.

PF reproduced Gustave Klimt's MEDICINE with my poem, much to my surprise and liking. I copy it here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In The Eye Of The Storm-Kolkata post

Here I am in Kolkata. In the month of May. Sizzling heat, 90-100F, wrapping me up in its belly. The beast is merciless in its radiating 'hotness' but kind in its lack of discrimination. The sky is clear after a massive cyclone that hit the state of West Bengal a couple of days ago, one of its kind to occur in the last 3o years apparently. The aftermath is soothing in terms of life resuming in all spheres -- vendors, officegoers, students, daily workers, businesspeople back out in their bikes, rickshaws, cars, buses, et al -- but very unnerving when I look around to see there are swathes of neighborhoods without electricity, water and other essential services.

Last night as we came down by the efficient Kolkata Metro from Park Street to Tollygunge, the air seemed rife with discontent on the road outside . Taxis, autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws were disgruntled about the fact that roads ahead were jammed by angry residents, shopkeepers and random well wishers. How long could one live without essential services? And why won't then different modes of public transport charge triple the amount from route passengers? In this melee, the buses looked like ripped open sardine cans, human hands, legs and heads hanging rather graphically from the bare wooden windows and footboards. But the faces were alive.

I was not witnessing any uprising of any kind. No revolution or battle rally. A simple flare-up based around inconveniences that occur on and off around public life here. Some times it is the unique cyclone. At other times it is real political barricades, power line tripping, summer blind rage, monsoon's expected torrents or rare miscreants upsetting the public system. But no one raised their voices beyond a tolerable decibel. No one touched anyone around the collar or pushed and jostled. The aggrieved addressed the perceived privileged as sirs and madams. Only eye brows twitched and lips got pursed. Sweat streamed under shirts and saris but no one uttered one foul word. Women and kids were quickly allowed to cross all protest protocol and moved to calmer zones.

My ties with Kolkata are old, very old. Right from the days of my families' ancestors. Some of them studied here, practised as lawyers, did politics, were even born here, etc. I am not too fond of the title City of Joy for Kolkata. There is too much pain, sweat and daily struggle here that I don't want to eulogize and much less endure myself if I have to live here. In the word of poet Nirendranath Chakravarti (b. 1924, http://india.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=11156)
however, Kolkata has evoked rhythms in my heart every time I visited it, some times jarring and cacophonous and quite often, a raga melody hankering after the sweet sadness of losing something:

Estrangement, and

[1]There’s moss a little below
the surface of the water,
you can see it if you lean just a
but she doesn’t care to, she’s sent
her gaze off
in search of the red rose.
I watch, from dawn to dusk I watch
how like estranged love and
longing it keeps moving endlessly,
the water moss. (read the rest from the link above...)

Having lived in the US for seven years now, was I surprised at the above incidents? Why do I then blog about this? No answer really, but something compelled me to record this. Red Communist flags of the ruling state administration and tricolor grass motifs of the recently victorious Trinamool (grassroots) Congress fluttered around shop tops made of sooty tarp or tin. But no one seemed interested in a party-based blame game really. All that was registered was protest. Peaceful and persuasive. Despite the summer heat and remnants of the furious cyclone strewn about.

What we, those alien to the system or a visitor after a long time, would categorize as madness had a method of human quotient that I would probably not witness in ordinary circumstances gone awry even in most countries I have visited in Europe or America.