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, February 27, 2009


I live in a lost house with four-winged rooms and a ghost cat I hate
Also, my she-shadow lives here. Unsung

Don’t chide my cell phone’s ring after all, it’s my full-time Raga, a wake-up call
Or my sleep meditation: Om Shantih Om

I turn on my flat-chested TV – my mailman, my unsmiling shrink, my alter ego’s voice
Friendship is not my neighbour anymore

The only humanness rises from an old bandhani rug that held your warmth one night. Memories match your eyes, they’re distant –

Remote as my cold dinner plate, like the puja thaali I’d forgotten. Thrown out petals of
Staid beliefs. Sandal paste of my sweat and all

Walking the dark corridors I fly like accidental leaves blown in by nightly dust storms. My void and I, slipping into a stupor

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I plan to derive a completely different poem from this prose poem I wrote two years ago. Thought of retaining the original version here.

My Grandmother's Dried Green Mangoes

There goes my grandmother again, for the umpteenth time tucking her sari at the waist carrying a woven bamboo tray with a sheet of oil paper -- a resting base for little green mango slices to be dried and stored. I see her in my dream clearly, as though she was there, like she used to be
doing her little ritual of mango drying right from the word get go as soon as herds of mangoes tumbled down from bulging shopping bags at her dry tree-root feet.

She pretended there were just too many of them, (what a waste of time) to feel them and peel them and wash them and then size them up before she settled down with her shining
floor-blade, the scary boti, we kids dreaded so much.

She hemmed and hawed and said with feigned irritation: “O Amal, Kajal, Manjul, my sons, don’t you get to buy lesser amounts of these hopeless fruits? My granddaughter is hopefully eyeing their sour flesh. Her saliva can’t wait to drip till I finish slicing them!”

My father, uncles, ignored her distraught calls. She loved the fuss, loved the chore of squatting on the floor and running her hand over the cool firm green bodies in a sort of amorous gesture all afternoon while captivated, I looked on.

Green breasts detached from snappy tree bodies, tempting surely, stuff to vie for. The old woman wasn’t endowed any more so she probably was a tad jealous of all that skin aroma texture my grandmother could die for but could never possess again in this life. And how would I know, a puny child with flat-rib frame, not touched at all by youth’s caressing hands why she kept sighing over those impudent men-luring women-teasing orbs held firm by tight green bodices, bulbous yet soft!?
Before starting, grandma made sure the house was stumped by slumber induced by gentle helpful summer after curries and lentils were eaten bellyful on a Saturday or a Sunday. Tying her sari end at the waist she’d pick the first victim.
She made it seem the mango was a willing volunteer. Willing to sacrifice a darn mango life at her cutting blade, fall in tender slices, soft and seeking of all that
she chose to do with them. Passionate chopping ensued all afternoon and I always correctly guessed she’d put away a few chosen ones for her personal use, to eat them later like an errant child, sour mangoes tingling her teeth. How she loved that, simply relished the act little realizing I cannot be left behind in joining her.

My old grandmother, really bold but white in the head, and quite sleek like the house cat who no one really noticed snickering around the kitchen, picked up a few fruits and quickly slid them into the big wooden box where rice was kept stored. The rice box made the fruits soft, they said, made them surrender and yield easily to my grandmother’s lust when later she would peel them quietly
no one watching, aided by the sleepy noon’s heat, eat them happily toothless – one by one.

Once I peeped into the room. There she was, reaching inside the cavernous rice box putting her mangoes away, thinking no one was witness to her stealthy act.
On seeing me “You saw it, you saw it,” she yelled. “O what a devil of a little girl she is, my spoilt granddaughter!”

Wailing and screaming she never let up flailing arms, hollering and gesticulating, while the whole house descended on the scene of stashed mangoes, all hers, while I had nothing to do them. “I was running after the cat grandma, really,” I pleaded, truthfully.

“The little fiend won’t let me work in peace,” The old widow bawled on and on.
Upset, I ran away to the backyard where I had recently planted my own saplings, mango of course, in the hope they’d grow up faster than did I, so I could eat them before I’m old like her.

That evening, grandma came seeking me out among tall garden grasses
singing to rainbow flowers dragonflies and teaching my dolls and toys not to speak ever to my older family members for being chased away as was I, in utter ignominy.

“Sweetie, come here!”
“Come here,” she called, her white ocean hair flying like a kindly halo of surf,
hands calloused from slicing dozens of mangoes, blackened from delivering their souls. “My dear, I too wasn’t allowed sour mangoes as a kid, I did cry. That’s what I reenacted, depriving you this afternoon. But you and I, young and old, know what it is when you love something utterly so – mango slices, broken dolls, unpicked fluffy grass flowers – they all gladden our senses so much that we can take any trouble for all that unreasonable stuff that holds our feeble fickle hearts.

‘So, I take back my words,” grandma told me. Really? Glad, my eyes grew very wide. I was no longer the pesky little delinquent. Also, she appointed me her assistant in the great task she had set about of drying mango slices. An activity she conducted all summer, filling her precious pickle jars.

For the peace we made, we got to share in all fairness, the treasure from the rice box, three softened pulpy fruits. She slurped her tongue over their creamy flesh, taking in with salt and tang, eyes tightly shut, in an ecstasy probably unparalleled by anything she had known.

“Ah, nature still provides an old widow things of seamless lust,” she blurted almost rakishly and startled me, barely ten. “Yes, you’ll understand the day you become like me, with fruits flowers and flight of time making my night and day!” Her brown wrinkles sighed.

“Once we spice and rub our mangoes with oil lovingly, we will put them in the waiting sun,” she declared after stolen pleasures were appropriated by more slurps. “Now go to sleep.” She prayed to her lord above, stared on long with glassy moist eyes, lying still on bed as I tiptoed out.

Next day, paprika, mustard, turmeric tumbled. Rubbed all over, the slices went sunbathing. Neatly lumped on bamboo trays lying side by side in the sunny courtyard. My job was to shoo away a crow or our inquisitive vegetarian house cat and other creeping invaders.

I dangled my thin legs on the verandah. Uncles joked because I had been redeemed to become my grandma’s accomplice, from being the obstructing greedy child that I was. (That still I am, and it’s the truth; I helped myself to a slice every other day, as special reward.

A guard’s job is not without rewards – that’s how I reasoned. Not telling
my grandmother of the ethical compromise I easily made in my mind.
She’d be heartbroken and I wanted to see her happiness unsullied from our
little joint venture.)

So, the sun came daily, baked the courtyard into split faces – dusty chunks. The green slices curled up with the white heat, lost the fragrant verdant skin, as though their backbones did not hold and they fell, soldiers on a parched battlefield. Shockingly shrunken and stiff.

Sometimes they looked like dancers, fair bodies smoking in the heat. Ballerinas
dancing their final dance, twisting and turning, browned and choking from drinking salt that my grandmother sprinkled daily between her steadfast prayers and assorted household chores.

Deformed and lying on a steaming platform, the mango slices changed shapes –
bats, leaves, shells, shadow-tales – as stronger grew pungent paprika and golden mustard oil. Every evening we picked up the precious trays put them in their pen under grandma’s sparse bed.

My wicked mind wondered if she secretly ate mangoes at night with an extra dash of spice smacking her tongue in her lonely room, where no one would hear her ecstatic squeal. The thought made me guilty. I counted slices daily
in anxious protectiveness to make sure my conjecture was wrong.

The day arrived. “We have to jar them now.” Grandma determined the next course of action – pack ‘em before the slices went too hard. Tucking my tongue in, holding my saliva, I helped. Bottled, dark slices met more red peppers, crafty cumin, fenugreek, fennel, mustard and other venerable spicy folks.

Grandma seemed happy, her work done. Green mangoes spiced, dried and stored while I wondered if the tantalizing product could be tested soon. Her white hair read my furrowed mind. Yes, I may, sample them through my summer holidays, post-lunch, a bit at a time.

And I did under her supervision so as not to deplete her precious collection of
pickled mango – black gold in three heavy jars. Anyway how much would a ten-year-old eat? “There’d be more,” she assured. Back next vacation I could do it from the scratch again, not to be left out. Yes, we could. I was now a veteran at the trade. Only I wasn’t sure, even with a child’s mind, if she could peel and slice the green multitude again next summer, months away, for she was growing older, her veined hands shaky over her sharp floor-blade, which I'd never try handle on my own.

Perhaps she understood my unsaid concern, promised the jars would be mostly full when I’d return next break. After all how much spicy pickle can a wiry old woman eat? And she'd let me do a few fresh trays. “Sweetie, don’t be late or you will miss the fun of carrying bamboo trays in your arms full of fresh green tang.”

But it was my grandma who went missing blatantly from the scene of our promised activity.

Come next year, I found rather dismayed, she had taken a never-ending break. Passed away. Gone someplace where dried mangoes were not desired or needed anymore. The jars stood on her shelf, slices dead swimmers, the bamboo trays lay idle beneath her bed, the cat licking up old oil.

I dreamed her that night. Dream her even now, among green mangoes cooing like a forlorn beloved, the widowed head bobbing as she perfects the slices, speaking softly to her chopping blade, as crows, the cat and I watch her wipe an oily hand on her spotless white sari; she’d ignore those yellow turmeric marks on her immaculate robe and step out hiding little treasures, tastes, memories, dreams, where the sun had slept to be awakened soon. Between shadow and light, she took her footsteps about.

I still follow those old footsteps, down our forgotten wildflower garden to where
the naughty house cat stretches its idle paws and thinks we’re foolish – boring – not to play our old game of watching over grandma’s mangoes to see them wilt and bend in the heat of time, roasting and resting.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


A person I used to know through his writings and reportage when I was a copyeditor with Down To Earth environmental magazine (Centre for Science and Environment) in India I've found again on Facebook. I always admired Frederick Noronha's awareness about environment, advocacy and community outreach. And he is still engaged in these, full swing.

He posted a link in Facebook that I wish to reproduce here, hoping readers would find this interesting in many ways:


And from the web site, I reproduce the activities of Global Voices Advocacy as stated:

"Global Voices Advocacy is a project of Global Voices Online. We seek to build a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists throughout the developing world that is dedicated to protecting freedom of expression and free access to information online.

The aim of this network is to raise awareness of online freedom of speech issues, and to share tools and tactics with activists and bloggers facing censorship on different parts of the globe. The network is meant not only to provide support to its members, but also to produce educational guides about anonymous blogging, anti-censorship campaigns, and online organizing. By collaborating with software developers, activists, and bloggers, the network hopes to design new and more appropriate tools to protect our rights on the Internet.
The Director of Global Voices Advocacy is Sami ben Gharbia, a Tunisian free speech advocate and blogger based in the Netherlands. From China, John Kennedy contributes regular updates on citizen media and censorship. Additionally, dozens of volunteers contribute articles. Please contact us if you would like to participate.

For more information about Internet censorship by governments around the world, visit the Berkman Center’s Open Net Initiative and country studies. Also check out this article and this excellent weblog by Nart Villeneuve."

Monday, February 16, 2009

INDIAN LOVE STORY 8 & 9 (additional ref: Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai's latest book)

INDIAN LOVE STORY 9: Khajuraho Longings

The monk and the layman
Order a cooled lemon drink
And talk about cafes one would visit
When they would visit new cities
New York, Paris or Buenos Aires
Accordingly they’d pack their bags
One extra robe for the monk,
A pair of fine shawls the layman
Buys with his months of pay
The monk and the layman
Laugh at their own sculpted forms
Sculptured by another layman
It captures their soft moment together
On that ancient temple wall
My hand on your chest looks great
Your arm around my waist
The monk’s dress light, one color
No shoes and wooden flip-flops
A small cloth bag across his brawny shoulders
His tan exciting and earthen the layman
Likes a lot and they laugh and they touch
Before they plan to set off for a worldwide tour
Learn to eat anchovies and mix a gin
They laugh because they know immortality was at hand
Scholars' books, photographs and documentary films
Meant just one way, more so
Once they set off from that temple wall

INDIAN LOVE STORY 8: Maidens in Love

The tree had supple foliage
Dense and purple
Something about that color
(They said, oh a Poison Tree)
Perhaps because it was enraged
To be called such a name
A tree from storybooks
A story that looked for readers
Very much like those who incurred banes
While the tree grew the mane of an unruly teenager
And leaves like eyes
Measured in turmoil
When you see someone die
In front of you and yet stay mute, not cry
Yes, Poison Tree they called it
Then there were these women
Who frolicked under the tree
And made it their own
With glee rubbed its bark
On each others' hands and feet
Lithe, earthen and stark
Those scary Poison Girls
They painted toenails with the purple sap
Sharpened a free tongue
With its twigs
Nymphs who poisoned static rules, turned
Upside down balances small and big
Wiped grime from wars and rage
Searched homes never found
Books with overgrown wild flower pages
Poems head down, as if ploughed
Also caused old wood and fabric
To wilt like filth
Under the purple joy
They still sing
For trees and rhymes
Sing and say oh come,
We aren’t Poison Girls and know
Your false storybooks chime
Of times chipped and gnarled.

These two poems looked good bunched together. I did not want to steal any more picture from the Internet. But "the monk and the layman" photograph is available in Wikipedia as well as in other sites, made famous and copyrighted. I would, for the discerning reader, like to provide a link here to a discussion on the latest book by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai -- "Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History" http://queerindia.blogspot.com/2005/03/gay-historians-ruth-vanita-and-saleem.html. Also, there's a blog on the same by Frog Books publisher Sunil Poolani (http://frogbooks.blogspot.com/2009/02/out-of-closet.html). He is on my blog roll if you scroll down and search on the left-hand column of my blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kama Sutra Kitsch

My experiment on Indian Love Story series of poems still goes on. Here's the latest, (a kitschy ride through Vatsyayana's classic):

INDIAN LOVE STORY 7: Kama Sutra Kitsch
1. Introductory (5 chapters)

There comes a time
When the rose is not as fair as
The beloved, whose arms
Beckon, fragrance entices,
Steps create tremors in the head
And my dear one’s smile
Proves headier than that ruddy cup
Because we learned to love, at last!
The lover roams in enterprises for
That wayside fare called knowledge
The knowledge of love and loving
Even though well-bred, we lovers cry:
Don’t pillory my desires for
You have loved and I have loved
And that love is Devi’s love
My Shankara’s love, dear friends!
2. On the union (10 chapters)
Your desires my embraces
Your soft touch and my kisses
Chandrakala from your nails
The blooming lotus of my teeth marks
Your face steaming with tears of joy
My nervous moves and your pranks
Our daily courting, nightly chants
Of that rush in the blood and
Butterflies gone wild in our stomachs
The game of love won so hard
So sweet and blessed, my heart!
3. Acquisition of a wife (5 chapters)
Hold her hands
Hold them true
See her moonbeam face
And find the light of your life
Sing the word and coo your song
She is your mantra, your strength, your own.
4. About a wife (2 chapters)
Hold him close
Hold him good and strong
In your nimble arms and cherish
That moment when you were his
He was yours, candid and bold
His heart your heart, his moan
Your own, in joy and pain, never alone.
5. About men and women (6 chapters)

We dance and we sigh
Quarrel and cry, day or night
Our chests throb, the hair stands up
On our backs and legs and tickle our thighs
Sentiments that remain old
As the forever green ancient tree
Standing in the courtyard
Even hundred years later, for
No one has changed how to say
I do, I do, I love thee!
6. About the way of the world (6 chapters)
To be or not to be
Is that what she says or says he
She was mine and now no more
He was a lover like never before
My heart will break and I will die
Before love flies away from my life
Gold or silver what is better
Than a battered fate like mine
It is the cause, it is the cause
My soul, jealousy and anger can spoil
But hark, someone calls at my window
What tears? Here, new love, I rise and shine!
7. How to… (2 chapters)
How do I change my walk
My talk my sprightly quirks
My body odor, my earnest fervor
My weak tear glands, and stale garlands
And how do I… should I…
Ever do a double whammy
When I want him and her and her and him
And manage to stay slim
Absolutely agile and trim, my whims
Suiting my beloved like a dream
How to, how to, tell me dear friends
If love will become my only luck?

(The Kama Sutra, said to be the oldest instructive text on the subject of love, is attributed to Maharishi Vatsyayana, and has 1,250 verses and divided into 7 major sections. It has been translated widely around the world. Photo from Internet)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ritu Lalit's blog post: We Are Like This Only

Here's this month's blogger friend's writeup from Ritu Lalit. She is a prolific writer and blogs at http://www.phoenixritu.com/. From poetry to parenting to social issues and storytelling, Ritu has style and depth. This article can be found at http://www.phoenixritu.com/2008/12/20/we-are-like-this-only/

I started reading Ritu first from her dazzling humorous comments and then went on to sample her articles that span over diverse subjects. She reads, writes, runs a family and gives her friends, real or virtual, all the feedback and support they need. What else can be more important?

Here's an excerpt: "Once upon a time, somewhere in Rural India lived a family. The Head of the Family had four wives and lots and lots of children. The girls were of course a total loss so for the interest of the story, the HOF had two sons, who were called Ram and Lakhan. The rurals are not too original. I can point out a whole lot of farming families that have sons named Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan or variations thereof. Of course if they have more sons, the Pandava names are roped in and once in a while a dark coloured chap is named Krishna or Gopala. However, I digress."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Indian Love Story poems 3,5,6

These are poems no. 3, 5 and 6 under my INDIAN LOVE STORY poems series:

(Okay, I repeat, I've never celebrated Valentine's Day, never really figured out what's there in succumbing to the commercial pressures of buying and receiving flowers, dinners, gifts... unless of course we want to stimulate the flagging economy in these trying times. I don't even have money for that! But the month of February, for very special reasons that are personal, makes me think about love and romance. Also, I start sniffing Spring already):

3. Around The Champaka Tree
(dancing around the tree being pretty much a Bollywood staple!)

Oh this was her arm, smooth as silk
Not a pashmina branch of wild fragrance
So I came to her hovering
Over the blossoms and fallen
Fallen on her cheeks left and right
Making her hair nightly bright
With Aguru
From old movie frames
Where lovely black-and-white heroines
Like her
Smile with ivory finesse
While we go around
The Champaka tree
In our dance of love
In a trance, half-true
Take me my love, take me!

5. Smoking Hearts

Was it Amrita Pritam
Who had reached out for the still-live
cigarette butt-end
Left on the expectant ashtray,
the smitten one,

By that Urdu poet of lilting
lines and starry fantasies?
She was a heart of feathers and
I am too, fluttering as
Your half half-smoked cigarette
Calls me with its coiling capers

I too can pick it up, touch it to my lips
And inhale your breath, phlegm, desire
In and out
Before someone’s footfalls
come running
In scrutiny
Of what’s smoking

Between hearts and long days
of wildfire imagination
But I can I can!

6. Jhumkas
(Written after an Urdu poem, remembered vaguely)

Because he had said they’re his teardrops
Taken them out of his coat pocket
He had said
They’re my unruly locks over your cheeks

My arms happy and lax
When they embrace too much
Wear them my beloved
Jhumkas for your bamboo-silk earlobes

Jhum jhum, they tinkle
Bloom by my cheeks
With dreams they mingle
Jhumkas I forget in the bathroom
To scurry, fetch and drop

Hide in my dupatta folds and wear
Only when I stop and step
Out of home
To hear them sing

Tingly like teardrops on the neck
Tangled in my locks
Because these are jhumkas that spin and dance,
At last weary running amok --
Because he never came back.

(I don't exactly remember the Urdu shayari here, it went something like this "jhumke naa pehno jaan jhumke/jhumke chum lenge jhumke"... lovely play on the words as you notice)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Indian Love Story: Romance Under An Umbrella

I've never celebrated Valentine's Day, never really figured out what's there in succumbing to the commercial pressures of buying and receiving flowers, dinners, gifts... unless of course we want to stimulate the flagging economy in these trying times. I don't even have money for that, dang! But the month of February, for very special reasons that are personal, makes me think about love and romance. Also, I start sniffing Spring already! So here's one of the love poems I've been writing lately as part of a series. They are clubbed under the header INDIAN LOVE STORY (and don't ask me why it is the fourth one!):

4. Romance Under An Umbrella

It’s the rain
And your face that streams
Like the pain of an inch-long separation
While we listen together

The road’s song churning under an umbrella
In full monsoon cadence

No, fingers don’t touch
And you take back the longing
Of our heavy-breathing nights
To the trill from a paan-shop radio

Reciting the very lines
I had memorized for you.

Photo from Internet: Raj Kapoor and Nargis in film "Shree 420"