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Bhavesh Kumar
Poetry Reading - Indian English Poets

From left: Meena Kandasami, Mohan Ramanan, Menka Shivdasani, Usha Akella and Semeen Ali. Photo courtesy: Semeen Ali

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.



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.
It’s afternoon
the heat is burning up
her eyes
her mind
Kohl streams down.
The azure sky
has suddenly turned black.

White Screen

She sits at the window
a congregation below
Faces clean
faces bearded
soft and heavy voices
A humming noise created
A white screen
separates her
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

Tea Party


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.



Bird Woman


On one of those days

when the key refused

to fit the padlock,

I turned myself to air

and squeezed through

the keyhole.

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

new experience,

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,

they worked. 


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)

feature Hyderabad Literary Festival 2015
  • GSP Rao: HLF 2015 – An Overview
  • Pramod Kumar Das: Inaugural Function
  • Plenary Sessions:
    • G N Devy: Endangered Languages
    • In Conversation:Mahesh Bhatt & Leela Samson
    • Javed Akhtar: In Other Words
  • In Conversation
    • In Conversation: Anvar Alikhan & Kingshuk Nag
    • In Conversation: S Y Quraishi & Jayaprakash Narayan
  • Panels
    • Panel: "Books for Children – Coming of Age"
    • Panel: "Chills and Thrills"
    • Panel: "Cities and Identities"
    • Panel: "Conversations with Kalidasa"
    • Panel: "Fiction of History"
    • Panel: "Poetry from Poland – Past and Future"
    • Panel: "Reflections on Relationships"
    • Panel: "Unearthing Unpopular Tales"
    • Panel: "Vattikota Alwaru Swamy"
  • Poetry Reading
    • Poetry Reading - Indian English Poets
    • Poetry Reading - Poetry Connections India
  • Art & Culture
    • HLF – Cultural Events
    • 'Jashn-e-Mehfil' – Cultural Evenings
    • Photography Exhibitions
  • Valedictory
    • Valedictory: "Freedom of Expression"