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.