25 January 2015
Poets: Mohan Ramanan (Chair), Menka Shivdasani, Meena Kandasami, Semeen Ali, Usha Akella
Brief report by Bhavesh Kumar
The poetry reading session presented female poets who mainly recited their poems from both new and old collections. Prof Mohan Ramanan (only male poet) chaired the session and took opportunities to recite his poems intermittently. His two poems “Seminar” and “Dog” were sensitive and deep in meaning. Menka’s established recognition was emblem for her excellent poetic sense and her descriptions of the household imagery made the audience feel home. Meena’s poems were of feminist nature and her recitation was very energetic and seamless. Her poem on the Delhi rape victim Nirbhaya was much appreciated. Semeen Ali’s personal experiences were reflected in her poetry as she portrayed women caged in the household. Her poetry advocated the freedom of women from patriarchy and social evils. Usha Akella revealed her association with Hyderabad and mourned the death of her grandmother through her poem. Her cry was the strong evidence of the bond between her and her grandmother that was dextrously woven in the sense of her long poem. In short, the poetry reading session elevated the audience to another plain and touched their heart. Presented below are the poems read by Usha Akella, Semeen Ali and Menka Shivdasani.
1. USHA AKELLA
Jerusalem shall I dare say your tales
with this foreign tongue
as I spin like a top in your streets?
Shall I enter your gates as you lie
under the fingertips of a golden menorah,
what badge shall I show your armed men keeping peace,
When I listen to a mother calling for her children
in fields of invisible ears and tongueless tongues,
and old walls tremble with secrets, flags and burdens
and Time the deathless watchman, prowls your streets,
when the mint in your tea refreshes my tongue,
and bread fills my stomach and I walk, walk
the walk of Via Dolorosa on the palm of the city
pointing different directions
with more than one minotaur at its center,
When I climb Mt. Olives and see dead men waiting
like chocolates in boxes to be opened,
when I see the patience and the impatience of waiting,
and prophets names, too many to remember
cast shadows on your streets, shall I ask for permission,
to enter, shall I dare stand by a wall, join lines
of people in eternal mourning, yearning, shall I join
my grief to theirs and ask for temples to be built,
idol of idols, how shall I gain entry?
You, the navel of this earth, where people rooted
to salt, faith, loyalty, three times over,
like three rivers flowing separately,
between your messianic apocalyptic banks,
What message can I bring as balm for your wounds?
All messages are known to you, they are coded
in your stones in the cursive of prophets,
city of walls, stones, earth, restoration, air,
light, sky, blood, hope, tears, wail, lament,
city of streets wagging many languages,
where past present future coexist as solemn triplets,
Shall I dare change the cartography of religion,
stand under the golden dome and let fly
a new litany longing to be rewritten.
Love is Fertile, Love is Fallen Leaves
The night opened an eyelid and looked at us,
an ancient monster viewing its citizens;
in this night, love yawned, covered her mouth,
yawned again; the car turned as a key
in the streets of night, dawn lay on the other side,
morning was the room beyond, there are many suns,
and many sunrises, in the horizon there are
many dancing suns one for each of us on earth,
In this night there was the smell of eternal garbage and
slumbering dreams; the moon had the look of a dog slinking
away with a cowardly tail; we awakened from one
dream in mid air to one on earth.
In Hyderabad parents wait for their children to come,
wait eternally, the knit and purl of arrival and departure
clicking, clicking, clicking in their minds; the hours
here are like gardens with mirrors in which people
come and go, and sow memories that sprout like
entangled weeds covering ground.
The gates open like the covers of a book,
the house waits as an hourglass,
the plot all too familiar:
Love is taken for granted, stoic,
the offer of coffees, teas under smothered sleep,
set unaltered routines, no pleases and thank yous,
no excesses of banal commonalities, no Hallmark realities.
I could not have sat still.
A neem leaf however bitter belongs to the neem tree.
Fingers curl back to a palm,
wings lie close to our body,
"Do not come," she said, "listen to me. Do not come.
Do not trouble yourself to come."
The trip was long. There were miles and midnight meals,
There was the Atlantic, the endless sky,
boarding passes, security checks, scrutiny, scans,
aching arms, luggage, tired capture of empty seats
and strained sleep in fetal positions. There was gold in Qatar,
in the duty free shops, cosmetics, chocolates,
watches, perfumes, crystals and Arabs,
inconvenient rest room stops with carry ons and child,
the jumble of time, senses, meals; the matrixes, the matrixes.
"We are coming," I said. "We are coming.")
In the hospital the ayahs wore red
like the spittle of Goddess Kali,
squatting in corridors, belching,
squelching, clanging bedpans and curses,
bed clothes hung from railings, in her room
no family feuds ceased, weddings were fixed,
visitors sang their poems, a scene from pandemonium,
she so old that desires were like torn kites,
wishing for her death that did not come
with the broken hip, grandkids and American accents
foot-diving for blessings, the doctor, old patriarch,
like an aged bull dog took his readings,
aunts hobbled in and out, my father’s earnest
manner belying incomprehension.
She sat up in bed,
skin, sad parchment; white hair,
petal soft, like a lily rising out of the earth;
in her eyes pale milk
of a faded motherhood;
her palms like withered autumn leaves;
she held me as she would a new born,
What crawls in her blood crawls in mine,
This blood, the sentence it pronounces-
the last light in which to see myself.
[Love is fertile, Love is fallen leaves, the title
is a line from the poem, Moonlight and a Doorstep
in the collection, The Women Carry River Water
Poems by Nguyen Quang Thieu
Translated and edited by Martha Collins and Nguyen Quang Thieu
University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst]
2. SEMEEN ALI
Two poems read from the second book Rose and Ashes published from Writers Workshop. Calcutta, 2009
The Red Wall
A red wall
separates her from outside
the crimson coloured hands
touching the walls,
the world outside.
Heavily kohled eyes
look up to the sky.
the heat is burning up
Kohl streams down.
The azure sky
has suddenly turned black.
She sits at the window
a congregation below
soft and heavy voices
A humming noise created
A white screen
She cannot be seen
nor can she see clearly
Everything is vague
foggy and clammy
A mushaira has begun
her ears are sharp.
Two poems read from the third book Origins published by Poets Printery. South Africa, 2012:
A blank wall
You stare at it
As if reading something
A spider dares to cross the book
Unflinching, the meditation continues.
A story was written
The dust wrote it
The wall was your informant
It wrote its story
And so did you
In that enmeshed web of words
You search for your version
The wall is dirty
You continue to stare
Stop looking back
The sun will burn you down
Look in front
The moon won’t be harsh
The mirror reflects my image
It resembles you
Am I hallucinating?
Is it me or is this you?
Sun! Be my witness
Burn down the false one
The moon laughs
As the mirror cracks
Reflecting its image for the sky.
Two poems read from the book Transitions published from Writers Workshop. Calcutta, 2014:
A Parallel World will Contain Us
A parallel world will contain us
Where we would be together
A roll of tissue wraps itself around a rose
An artificial rose
White all over
Concealing every inch of the flower
A piece of wood contains beads of music
Tilt it and hear the ocean
That ocean conceals us
In a parallel world that ocean will reveal us
A squirrel cracks open a nut
The shell falls
The kernel shines for a moment in the bright sun.
Left in You and Me
For the days that are left in you and me
Let the silver strands running
Parallel with our lives
Fulfill those wishes
Glistening in the sun
Whispering of the past
Vanishing like the crumbling wings of a moth
A silk sensation left on the skin
For the nights that are present around you and me
Let the cataract eyes
Staring directly into our futures
Absorb the muffled cries
3. Menka Shivdasani
When you and I were about to break
there was no question of a fight
over who would take the cups
and who the saucers.
You spilled over with steam,
meniscus rippling with the slightest
touch; I, supine on the floor,
licked the milk once meant
for you. Both of us
were china at that point.
One of us had been to China too,
known the meaning of porcelain freedoms,
sniffed red guards. One of us
had known the sound of an alien tongue,
harsh and guttural as it came
from smiling mouths.
Our smiles were circular, yours and mine,
yours from the top of the tea
and mine below - two halves joined
together on separate rims. When we blew
at each other, the crockery
stayed firm, and who but you
and I would know the liquid moved?
No, there was no fight
over chipped white glass.
The pieces lay upon the kitchen floor.
And I - I've moved to tea parties
in other living rooms, balancing
alien porcelain on a frigid palm.
On one of those days
when the key refused
to fit the padlock,
I turned myself to air
and squeezed through
It was bright outside,
and I was tired
of all the jostling women –
Nomad, with her fraying
suitcase, Devil Woman
with her lacerated
tail, and that sad little lady
with her stained and grimy apron,
who seemed so familiar,
in a thousand homes.
All these women,
and a few more,
were crowding in,
and the keyhole
that sat on my shoulder
was at cracking point.
I knew I had somehow
lost my way
in the brightness outside,
after all those years
in a dingy room.
Stretching my legs
was a strain and breathing
was a whole
but folded up
behind my back
I found some wings.
They were slightly dirty,
but once I got used
to their rusty screech,
I found, strangely enough,
I am making friends
with the birds now,
and have discovered
my talons too,
which sink perfectly
into the eagle
with his beady eyes.
Breathing is still
a problem sometimes,
but the air is warm
and I have left those
jostling women behind.
Issue 60 (Mar-Apr 2015)