Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Learning Unity

                                          
Poem on unity by Anuradha Bhattacharyya
Buzzing all day honey they gathered
From the daisy and the marigold
Flitting from one branch to another
All built up a hive of gold.

The baby elephant fell in a ditch.
His mamma trumpeted loud.
In a herd they came and pitched,
Trunks interlaced and pulled him out.

A buffalo wandered in the night
Alone in the tall grass land.
The pride of lions he could not fight
As they always united stand.

The cavemen early on in the wild
Learned the lesson of unity.
Staying together they realized
Is the best for long life and prosperity.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Painting Black and Blue* (story)



Manasa lived in a closed neighbourhood. These were three storey buildings with four wings, each housing 24 flats. The housing complex had a six feet tall boundary wall that kept strangers away.
In her neighbourhood lived Anita. One day Manasa saw that Anita had brought a small bucket of white synthetic emulsion on the ground. Dipping a sleek brush into the bucket, she dabbed her bicycle with thick layers of white colour. The bicycle used to be pink and inky blue with black pedals and a few rods of steel and black plastic. As Anita’s colouring progressed, each of the different shades of the bicycle disappeared under a white sheet. Unable to resist, Manasa went over to her and asked,

“What happened to you Anita? Why are you smothering your bicycle with this uniform whiteness?”

Anita looked up from her work and said with scorn, “Can’t you see, Didi? This is white, the greatest of colours: the colour of light, the colour of clouds, the colour of chalk, the colour of snow, the colour of enlightenment, the colour of everything pure and peaceful.”

Manasa felt the note of scorn in her voice and decided not to argue with her. Moreover, she was in a hurry to go to the market. But on her way she sat thinking how dull it was to ride a bicycle that was completely white; the innocent pink and the bold blue had completely disappeared. But it seemed that the steel rods did not accept the novelty; the chain and chain cover were streaked with an oddity imposed on them; the pedals got jammed; the rubber tyre was patchy white and would soon become dirty.

Manasa was struck by the impracticality of the whole mission. She looked forward to the outcome. She imagined Anita riding on her new vehicle, the emissary of ‘everything pure and peaceful’. The sixteen year old girl would go round and round in her whitewashed horse and people would exclaim ‘look at that’. Maybe Anita would also wear a white dress.

It was nearly so. Whenever Manasa came downstairs, her eyes would invariably scan the grounds to spy on Anita. There she would be, gaily showing around her bright steed.

As days passed, many-a-times Anita would sit with a brush in hand retouching a portion of her bicycle with white. In about a year, the whiteness disappeared under most of the original colours of the bicycle: the rubber, the steel, the plastic, the grease, the dirt, the pink and the blue. Only a few traces of her effort at whitening and purifying remained.

At home, Manasa recollected the sight of a splotchy bicycle with a smile. The normalcy of the thing satisfied her.

One morning as Manasa headed for the exit gate, she was startled by the sight of a girl sitting on a green stool in front of her red and white bicycle and trying to colour it green. There stood the paint bucket and there she sat holding a brush in her right hand and a large handkerchief in her left hand. She had wrapped her head and shoulders in a scarf. Her bare feet were left unprotected from the splash of colour. She was completely engrossed in her mission.

Manasa took note of the girl’s features and decided to find out afterwards where she lived. On her way back in the evening, instead of going to her flat, she turned towards the place where she had seen the girl in the morning. She could see the stains of green all over the ground. It was a cemented ground and the colour could not be washed away immediately. It would stay there waiting for its natural wear and tear.

After locating the green bicycle and the flat of its owner, Manasa came home. She felt terribly exhausted. She fetched an apple from the kitchen and reclined on her bed. For her, the whole world had gone insane. The satisfaction of observing the genuine disappearance of Anita’s fanaticism gave way to anxiety.

Do we never learn from others? Manasa thought aloud.

A few days later she met Anita. She was riding a new two-wheeler. She smiled at Manasa and stopped to chat. Manasa said, “Wow, a black and blue scooter!”

“Yes, Didi. After the bicycle broke down, I asked Papa to buy me a scooter. I am grown up now. 

There were many lovely colours in the showroom. I could have taken all of them. Diversity is beautiful. This, I bought, by way of contrast to my previous choice. Pink and then white and now black; these are shades under the same sky; we just have different views of the same thing.”
Manasa smiled and said, “And we don’t have to paint everything according to one point of view. Just look at that girl. She has followed your example and decided to paint her vehicle green all over. How long will it last? And how long will she struggle to maintain it? Like you, she will also discard the artificiality of it and allow the natural colours to reappear.”

Manasa hesitated and then with some determination continued, “Anita, do you know that girl?” Anita shook her head. It was evident that Anita was alarmed to know that there were others who had taken her cue and set out to colour their vehicles according to their singular fancy. Although it would actually bring about many colourful bicycles in the compound, the prospect of girls frantically waving a blue or a green or an orange paintbrush frightened her. So she quickly rejoined,

“Didi, I can find out who she is. Maybe I can even talk to her. I can show her my old bicycle and the ugly look it has got due to my folly. Then she can show others also the outcome of this kind of craze. We can gather the children together in the evening and hold a conference. We can stop everyone from being foolish.”

Manasa started shaking her head. She decided she was wrong. The whole idea was wrong. Expecting one crazy girl to teach another crazy girl something was like retracing the same old steps of zeal again. She did not want to make it one girl’s mission to dissuade another girl from doing wrong. She did not want a quarrel.

She raised her palm to Anita’s lips. Anita stopped speaking. She observed that Manasa was pained. So she started her two-wheeler, waved and left. Manasa too, went out of the gate and to her college.

The next morning the same girl sat on the same green stool with her green bicycle standing nearby. Manasa went over to the girl and asked, “Why have you painted your bicycle green?”

The girl replied with a note of sadness, “Didi, it had had an accident and after repairs it looked ugly. This is the only paint I could find in Mummy’s store. But, see, the paint on the steel and rubber is coming off. I am going to redo some of these today but the whole effort of painting has left me exhausted.”

Manasa quickly said, “Of course, the forcefully applied colour would never last. I am sure you could do with a completely new vehicle.”

…………..................……..x………........................…….x……………................…….


*First published in School Shiksha, 2018,
won Poiesis Award for Excellence in Literature given away by Poiesisonline, Xpresspublications, 2018.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Daggers Drawn


Two men, sword in hand,                                                                       
A woman in-between.                                                                              
That’s what I grew up reading of.                                                         
Two men, roses in hand,                                                                         
A woman choosing one.                                                                          
That’s what our new age taught me.                                                    
But I as a grown up                                                                                 
Among grown up men                                                                            
Find women, sword in hand,                                                                
Fighting men; an endless duel                                                              
Where none can choose to retire                                                          
With defeat                                                                                               
Written in one’s share.                                                                           
                                              I partake in a squabble                             
                                              For power everyday                                   
                                              Before mealtime                                         
                                              Or after dinner,                                          
                                              In the office or a party                              
                                              When decisions have to be taken.          
A man’s best adviser,                                                                              
A woman has to struggle                                                                        
To be heard first                                                                                      
And then to be informed.                                                                      
He says nothing,                                                                                     
Acts upon his will                                                                                   
Without consultation,                                                                           
Not taking the woman as                                                                      
A thinking feeling body,                                                                       
Who could be asked if she’d like                                                        
What he did.                                                                                           

*first published in The Camel Saloon in May 2014

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Deluge*

Vulture
You will be terrified of this deluge
Not seasoned in fine weather.
You will be daunted by this display
Of gaiety and indulgence.
Were you a migratory bird
That sweeps over the mountains
To learn about other climates,
Places of abundance and mirth,
You could have saved the shock.
This is not your place, my dear,
Fly off. Not here, not here.

Vulture
You cannot terrify the lizard
That slithers out of its skin every year.
You cannot gather the flavor
Of smoke before fire.
You can no longer linger over
Matter that regenerates itself.
Were you my friend in good and strife,
Were you a travelling partner in life,
You could have deserved
A beautiful favour.

But no. Not here. Not here.

poem by Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Deluge


first published in The Wagon Magazine, March 2016

Friday, 1 December 2017

LOST WORLD*


Lost World (poem by Anuradha Bhattacharyya)
The leaves on the grass shed
Off the branches,
The pearl in the sand taken
From the oyster,
The gurgle from the spring
Separated,
The young from its home
Gone riding to the farthest
End of inspiration,
Wiping out all traces of its descent,
Wiping out the froth
Of past glory.
                     In its travel down the sky,
                     In its affinity with the grass,
                     It sings to the sand
                     A ballad
                     Spun from utopian dreams –
                     Forgetting becomes a melody
                     Without festering fetters,

                     A calm claim to live a new planet.

*First published in Amaravati Poetic Prism 2016

Friday, 17 November 2017

Audience

The page of Anuradha Bhattacharyya's poem from Amaravati Poetic Prism 2017

Anuradha Bhattacharyya, Audience on page 587. Amaravati poetic Prism has made its way into the Limca Book of records this year for being an international anthology of 949 poems, including translations, in 85 languages.

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Camel and The Horse*


In hot summer days when the breeze begins to blow southwards and the slow moon climbs up the sky even as the scorching rays of the sun blaze around the sand dunes, all the men and women retire to their tents for supper. The children dust off the grains that had settled on their shirts. Taking a half filled tumbler of water, they wash the sand off their feet and with the same tumbler, they collect clean water from earthen pots and pour it down their throats. Their mothers serve them thick roasted bread with some pieces of onion and chilly pickle. The men lounge on the choir cots and discuss the plan for the next day.

The horses and the camels crowd around the tents. They start snorting and calling each other: Hiya there! How was the day?

On one such evening Teja, the horse was standing very close to Roshan, the camel. He noticed that Roshan stood critically looking at the vast desert that lay beyond the village. He had strained his neck and pricked his ears. Teja looked in the same direction to see if anything was wrong. But all was quiet and only the moonlight played tricks. The clear blue sky had settled into a darker hue for the night. It was not possible to tell how far the horizon was and what might be beyond it.

He asked Roshan,
What is it? What is bothering you?
Nothing Teja. I am just watching out tonight.
Teja looked around. Each tent omitted a different shade of light. There were silhouettes of different shapes in each tent. They cast a variety of shadows. Some tall, some fat. Some tents were dark. These were the ones with only men who lay quietly. The women and children bustled about in the well lighted tents. For them the day was not yet over.
It was the same quiet night of a summer day. The breeze cooled the air. A little sand skirted round his long legs. He stamped his hoofs to no purpose. He flexed his muscles and shook his head. His mane felt laden and dry. He looked backwards from the corner of his eyes and sighed.
Roshan saw that his friend had become restless. He called out loud like a warning for strangers and then folded his legs and sat down. The hot sand under his belly moved away to adjust to his shape and the sand underneath was cool. Then he raised his eyes towards Teja and asked,
Is anything the matter?
I was just feeling sad, remembering my earlier life. I used to be so dauntless.
When was that?
More than 6 years ago. I came here at the age of 3.
I have been here since my birth 7 years ago.
Yeah, you belong to this place.
Where were you before this?
In a green valley. It was a village across these hills and I was able to graze on my own once in a day. Not like over here, eating dry grass from a bag.
That hurts?
Of course it does. This is nothing compared to my green valley.
Poor thing, your master did not want you there. He sold you off.
I am not very sure of that. I used to draw a wagon. I was born there and even at a tender age, I had great strength. When I was two years old I carried a load of goods from the valley to the steep hills above. I never overturned the wagon as my cousin had done once. He had suffered a beating for it.
Poor thing. Here, nobody overturns a wagon. There are more humans on it than goods. I am happy with the dry grass I get from them.
It’s very little compared to my green valley. Your life here has been tough. What with only the blue sky and the yellow desert to look at. I used to romp about in the little flowerbeds. The hillsides showered a myriad of colours: moss, clay, ash, mica, coal, silt, mist, snow, strawberry and plum. I lived with my mother.
Yes, you must be missing your mother now.
Home, Roshan, I miss my home.
Make this your home Teja. That is the only way for us slaves to be happy.
When the humans decide our fate, they think only like themselves. They want to use a strong horse to draw wagons with loads of stuff for themselves. There is nothing for us in it.
But your master sold you off. He did not want you there. What could you have done?
I could have trotted off to another part of the earth. There might be some place on the surface of the earth for a herd of horses to graze by themselves and run about of their free will.
I would have been very lonely without humans. They keep us together, me and my brothers. They give us food at proper intervals. All I have to do in return is pull their caravans. Otherwise, fending for myself in this lonely land would have been quite terrible.
What were you looking at when you stretched your neck and concentrated in that direction?
O that? I was watching out for danger. You know, ever since I was born, my mother told me to watch out for danger. It is likely to come from that direction. Danger always lies in the unknown. It is only through training and exercise that one can learn to anticipate it.
You think there’s danger beyond the horizon? Why? It’s so calm. There can only be the breeze and in case there is a huge storm, it is natural and no one would survive that. Not even our masters. If I were you, I would not sit there quietly watching out. I would have run forward to explore.
Then you think this alertness to danger is illusionistic? Am I not supposed to protect my home?

Yes, there you are. You are at home here. Your master saw in me a thing apart. He wanted a horse; it is different from a camel. He saw me doing things briskly and decided to harness my strengths to his own selfish purpose. That is why he went over to my master in the green valley and bought me. Look at my children. They have never tasted sweet water from the streams. They have never seen a wild fruit.
Roshan became quiet. He looked at his family and uttered a sigh. He wanted to know what exactly Teja was talking about: mossy hues, sweet water, wild flowers. Anything beyond the yellow desert was dangerous, his mother had said. He strained his ears to hear unusual sounds but it was all the same: the cool wind from the north, the swish of the sand, the cries of a human infant from one of the tents.

first published in Songsoptok, February, 2017