Poetry

I have seen postmen wandering in the autumnal forest: Shakti Chattopadhyay

I have seen postmen wandering in the autumnal forest
Their yellow sacks filled with grass like swollen sheep bellies
So many letters new and old they had found
Those postmen in the autumnal forest
I have seen them pecking away incessantly
Like a solitary crane at a fish
So impossibly, mysteriously, warily absorbed
They’re not like those postmen of ours
From whose hands our constant, indulgent love letters
Are lost all the time

We are moving away from one another continuously
Distancing ourselves out of greed for letters
We are getting many letters from far away
We are going away from you at once to hand over letters
Loaded with love to the postmen

And so we are moving away from the kind of people
We are ourselves
And so we are about to express our foolish weaknesses
And motives, everything
We can no longer see ourselves in the mirror
We keep floating in the unpopulated evening veranda
And so we are taking off our clothes to be swept away
Alone in the moonlight
For a long time we have not embraced one another
For a long time we have not savoured human kisses
For a long time we have not heard people sing
For a long time we have not seen babbling children

We are drifting towards a forest even more ancient than the forest
Where the mark of eternal leaves is fused in stone jaws
We are floating away to a land of such unearthly connections
I have seen postmen wandering in the autumnal forest
Their yellow sacks filled with grass like swollen sheep bellies
So many letters new and old they had found
Those postmen in the autumnal forest
The distance between letters has only grown
I have never seen the distance between trees grow

Standard
Poetry

The Tale of the Arjun and the Krishnachura: Mandakranta Sen

The Arjun tree stood alone in that field
An Aryan male – a pillar of aristocracy
All the other trees bowed to it
This was merely the beginning of the story

From somewhere came the Krishnachura seed
A few years later she was a young woman
A Santhal girl, with crimson in her hair
At once Arjun wanted her as his own

She was not a girl who would submit
In spring she dressed up without help, alone
She wasn’t drawn to the Aryan male
She was busy making the buds bloom

Last night’s flowers had fallen from her hair
Rippling leaves had woven clothes for her
Arjun – he was an Aryan male, who thought
Only he could claim beauty so fair

From the distance the Arjun tree could see
The Krishnachura’s cascading heart
Bewitched by beauty, his perplexed eyes
Wondered when he’d find his way to it

I’d better finish this story quickly
The Krishnachura is far too obstinate
Her pride won’t let her sell herself
She’d rather be a neighbour or a friend

The story isn’t quite so simple
Arjun shed his bark, sheds it still
But the Santhal girl can shed blood
The Aryan male accepts he cannot win

Be reborn as an Arjun tree
Consider the Krishnachura a friend
Don’t confuse me with others, upright one
When I bleed, shed your bark, call me then

Standard
Poetry

Three Poems: Mandakranta Sen

After The Last Kiss

After the last kiss I’ll bring back a fallen hair
Life won’t change, I’ll take away this brief mistake
A momentary death, a synonym, over how many lives?
You sucked an ocean from my lips with sweat on your brow
Give me, give it to me, let me drink it, I am exhausted
How much of life did I have before this last kiss?
How much will remain afterwards? Just this lock of hair
Which I’ll wrap around my finger, a finger that touched you
Touch me, touch me more, let life leave in a flash
From my finest man I’ll seek a secret child
Whose hair’s just like yours, infinite space

~

The Story Of A Garden Somewhere

Every day you come to water the plants
Every day you go back gathering dry branches
In what simple flames
Do you cook your meal, gardener?

You give me the sun every day
Twice a day you water the earthen pots
Regular, measured love
I’m not an ill-fortuned woman

How long will you go on collecting fallen leaves?
Look at my green, all this green is yours
Ashes lie in the swabbed oven, I shan’t
Put fuel into it every day

The roots have settled in deep
You think they bind the soil of life
Uprooting this household
I shall escape from the garden

~

Rajani

Just Rajani’s luck
Any man she likes
They’re all married

Her aunt told her yesterday
If you heart awakes from sleep
It’s proper to raise your eyes

What’s the use of doing that
Saris dry in their garden
Playing in that arbour is wrong

Still the full moon is the sky’s guest
She climbs to the roof, a silent urge
Mesmerised by moonlight, the girl

You’ll jump, Rajani, won’t you?

Standard
Poetry

Not a Very Happy Time, Not a Very Joyous Time: Shakti Chattopadhyay

Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet
Breast in breast
Nothing more – (a lot more?) – even earlier
Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet, breast in breast
Nothing more.
‘Hands up’ – raise them high – till someone picks you up
Another black van in a black van, and yet another
A row of windows, doors, a graveyard – skeletons lying awry
White termite in the bones, life in the termite, death in life – therefore
Death in death
Nothing more.
‘Hands up’ – raise them high – till someone picks you up
Throws you out of the van, but into another one
Where someone waits all the time – clutching plaster like a banyan seed
Someone or the other, whom you don’t know
Waits behind the trees like a hardy bud
Holding a golden cobweb noose, he will
Garland you – your wedding will be at midnight, when pavements are swapped, tottering from head to toe
From wall to wall, from parapet to parapet
Imagine the train waiting while the station runs, starlight by the dying bulbs
Imagine the shoes walking while the feet are still – heaven and hell turned upside down
Imagine children trotting to the crematorium bearing the corpse – in afterlife
Decrepit men dancing horizontally at a wedding

Not a very happy time, not a very joyous time
That’s when
Tottering from head to toe, from wall to wall, from parapet to parapet, swapping pavements at midnight
On the way home, a home in a home, feet in feet, breast in breast
Nothing more.

Standard
Poetry

Two Love Poems by Nirmalendu Goon

~ 1 ~

When I tell you, ‘I love you’

It doesn’t mean that I don’t
Love anything other than you.

When I tell you, ‘I love you,’
Do I not also see the clouds?
Or the flower behind the leaves,
The birds on the flowers? Pretending
To look at you I look sideways at the world

The morning dew is still on your clothes
Around your reddened ankle the green grass
Plays at being twilight in its head

It strikes me that I love you because
The green grass in forests grows beneath your feet

~ 2 ~

The lord knows how many times I have
Drawn back my hand when about to touch you
My lord knows the number of times
I haven’t told you about love
Even when I was ready to.

I had welded my ears like magnets to the door
So that I could wake up at the sound of your
Soft knocking. You would arrive to tell me
‘Wake up now.
It’s me. Me.’

And what was this I heard
I would hurl myself at you with such joy
My lord knows how many times I have
Imagined just this scene.

My hair has turned grey for you
I have run up a fever for you
My lord knows my death will be for you
And then, much later, you too will know
I was born for you. Just for you

Standard
Out, The Magic Moonlight Flower and Other Enchanting Stories

From The Magic Moonlight Flower: by Satyajit Ray

~ 1 ~

Nashu the village doctor sat feeling Balaram’s pulse for nearly five minutes. Balaram’s seventeen-year-old son Kanai stood near the patient’s head, staring fixedly at the doctor. His father had been ill for ten days now. Balaram had no appetite and ten days of starvation had withered him. His eyes were sunken, and his skin was pale. Kanai had tramped six miles to Nashu’s house, begging him to examine his father. He did not know what this disease was called. Did the doctor know? The frown on Nashu’s face made Kanai doubtful if he did. But the long and short of it was that if Kanai’s father did not survive, his world would collapse. He had no one else to call his own. Father and son lived in Nandigram, the sum of their possessions being an acre and a quarter of land and a pair of oxen. Whatever they managed to grow on their land sufficed for two frugal meals a day for the two of them. Kanai’s mother had died of smallpox about five years ago, and now his father had developed this strange illness.

‘Moonlight,’ said the doctor, shaking his head. Nashu’s fame had spread far and wide. Apparently his ability to read pulses was extraordinary. If he said that a patient was beyond cure, not even the gods could save him; and if he prescribed a medicine, the patient was bound to recover. But what on earth was chandni, or moonlight? ‘Excuse me?’ Kanai asked, frowning.

‘He has to be given the juice of moonlight leaves,’ said the doctor. ‘Nothing else will cure him. The classic name of this plant is Lunani. And the disease is called miseria.’

‘So moonlight is the name of a plant?’ Kanai asked, gulping.

Nashu nodded twice. But his frown did not disappear.

‘The moonlight plant is not to be found any and everywhere, my boy,’ he said at last.

‘Where, then?’

‘You’ll have to go to the forest of Badra. There’s an ancient abandoned temple there. Twenty-five feet to its north is a moonlight plant. But it’s almost ten miles away, can you go all that way?’

‘Of course I can,’ declared Kanai. ‘I don’t mind walking.’

Another question occurred to Kanai.

‘But how will I identify the plant, doctor?’

‘It has small, pointed, purple leaves, yellow flowers and a bewitching fragrance. You can smell it twenty feet away. Its scent can beat the amaranth of paradise hands down. The plant isn’t more than three or four feet tall. Grate a single leaf and give your father its juice—that’s all you need. The illness will flee his body with cries for help, and he will be as good as new in just two days. But you have only ten days. If you cannot give him the medicine in ten days…’

The doctor didn’t finish what he was saying.

‘I’ll leave first thing tomorrow morning,’ said Kanai. ‘I’ll ask Ganesh-khuro to look after my father while I’m away. I don’t suppose we can force some food down his throat, can we?’

The doctor shook his head. ‘It’s no use trying. That’s the symptom of this illness. Can’t digest any food, and the patient just withers away. But the juice of the moonlight leaf is a surefire cure. And, er, we’ll discuss the rest after he recovers…’

Requesting his neighbour Ganesh Samanta to keep an eye on his father, Kanai left very early next morning for the jungle of Badra, packing some flattened rice and gur in his bundle. It would be evening by the time he reached, but Kanai didn’t care. He worshipped his father like a god, and his father loved him more than himself. How could a perfectly healthy man like his father have become so ill all of a sudden? He had shrunk to half his size in no time at all.

Since Kanai didn’t know the way, he had to keep stopping to ask for directions. Whoever he asked inevitably said on hearing the name of his destination, ‘What business do you have there?’ Kanai realized that the forest was obviously not a very safe place, but so what? He was willing to lay down his life to get the moonlight leaf for his father.

When the sun had started throwing long shadows, Kanai saw a dense forest beyond a paddy field. A farmer was returning home with a plough over his shoulder. He confirmed to Kanai that this was indeed the forest of Badra. Kanai walked faster.

There was barely any sunlight inside the dense forest of sal, teak, silk-cotton and many other trees. Locating a plant barely four or five feet tall in this enormous forest was no child’s play. But there was supposed to be a temple near where the plant grew, which would help him.

When he was twenty-five yards inside the forest, Kanai spotted a herd of deer. They fled as soon as they saw him. Deer were all very harmless, but what if he came face to face with a formidable beast of some kind? Anyway, there was no point worrying about these things. His first objective was to find the temple, and then to locate the moonlight plant.

But Kanai got the fragrance even before spotting the temple. Not particularly strong; quite mild, but so satisfying.

After passing a mohua tree, Kanai saw the dilapidated temple. It was almost evening, but because the trees around the temple were a little sparse, a few scattered beams of late afternoon sunlight were visible.

‘And who do you think you are?’

Kanai leapt into the air, startled. It hadn’t even occurred to him that someone else might be living here. Turning towards the sound, he found a man with a three-foot-long beard in front of a shelter of leaves, frowning at him.

‘You won’t get what you want here,’ the old man said, advancing towards him. Could he read minds?

‘Do you know what I’m looking for?’ asked Kanai.

‘Just a minute, let me try to recollect. I knew what it was when I set eyes on you, but now it’s slipped my mind. At a hundred and fifty-six years of age the memory doesn’t work as well as it did in my youth.’

Lowering his head and scratching his right cheek, the old man suddenly straightened his head again. ‘I remember! Moonlight. Your father is ill, and you’re here to collect moonlight leaves for him. It was there on the northern side of that temple till this afternoon, but it isn’t there anymore. Go take a look—someone’s taken it away complete with its roots.’

Kanai’s heart leapt into his mouth. Would all his efforts go waste? He advanced towards the temple. The north. Which side was north? There. There was the hole. That was where the tree had been. Someone had uprooted it entirely and taken it away. But who?
Kanai had tears in his eyes. He went back to the old man.

‘Who’s taken the plant? Who?’

‘The minister and soldiers of Rupsha have taken the plant away. Rupsha’s citizens are all ill with miseria. People die in twenty days of starvation after their limbs waste away. The juice of the moonlight leaf is the only possible cure.’

Kanai didn’t feel like talking anymore. The world seemed to have turned black. But then the old man said something strange.

‘The moonlight may not be here, but what I see is that your father will recover.’
Kanai was startled.

‘Really? Is that really what you foresee? But how will he recover without the medicine? Do you know where else this plant can be found?’

The old man shook his head. ‘It can’t be found anywhere else. This was the only place, but now it’s gone to the kingdom of Rupsha.’

‘How far is it to Rupsha?’

‘Let me think it over.’

The old man had probably forgotten again, which was why he lowered his head and began to scratch his bald pate in an attempt to recollect.

‘Yes, I remember now. Sixty miles away. An enormous kingdom.’

Now Kanai remembered too. ‘Rupsha — isn’t it famous for its handspun fabric?’

‘That’s right. The clothes they weave at Rupsha—saris and dhotis and shawls—are sent all over the land. Such gorgeous clothes are not woven anywhere else.’

‘How do you know all this? Who are you?’

‘I know the past, the present and the future. I do have a name, but I can’t recollect it right now. By the way, you have to go to Rupsha. You must search for the moonlight plant.’

‘But the doctor said if I cannot give my father the medicine within ten days he will die. I’ve already lost a day.’

‘So what? Do what you have to quickly.’

‘How can I? It’s sixty miles away. I have to get there, look for the plant, come back…’

‘Wait, I remember now.’

The old man went into his hut and came back with a sack. From it he pulled out three round objects—one red, one blue, one yellow.

‘Here,’ said the old man, holding up the red one. ‘This is a fruit. When you eat this you will be able to run thrice as fast as a deer. You can run a mile in a minute and a half. Which means you will reach Rupsha in an hour and a half. All three of these are fruits, and I’m giving you all three.’

‘But what do the blue and yellow fruits do?’

‘Now you’ve got me in trouble again,’ said the old man, once again lowering his head to ponder. Then, shaking his head, he said, ‘Uh-huh, I can’t remember. But they do something all right, something that can only help you. If I remember I’ll let you know.’

‘How will you let me know? I’ll be gone.’

‘There are ways.’

Reaching into the sack again, the old man pulled out a seashell almost as large as his palm. To tell the truth, Kanai had never seen a seashell as large as this one. Giving it to Kanai, the old man said, ‘Keep this with yourself. I’ll call your name if I have something to tell you. Your name is Kanai, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’ll hear my voice in this seashell. You’ll hear me even if the shell is tucked in your waistband. And then if you press it to your ear, you’ll hear me clearly. When I’m done saying what I have to, you’ll hear the roar of the ocean in it. Tuck it back then.’
Kanai placed the seashell in his waistband right away. Looking around, the old man said, ‘It’s dark already. There’s not much you can do at Rupsha now. I suggest you spend the night in my hut and leave early next morning. You’ll have the entire day to do whatever you have to. I have some fruits, you can have them for dinner.’

Kanai agreed. He wanted to eat the red fruit and set off at once; he wanted to test the old man’s claim. But he controlled himself. It would be best to go in the morning.

‘By the way,’ the old man said, ‘I remember now. Everyone calls me Jagai-baba. So can you.’

Standard
Out, Panty

From Panty: Two Novellas by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

~ Hypnosis ~

On a searing summer afternoon, four sex-starved women sat together, knees touching, discussing their sex lives in introspective mode in Ilona Kuhu Mitra’s air-conditioned room. Ilona Kuhu Mitra was one of them, of course. The others were Laila, Sunetra and Lavanya. All three were Ilona’s friends. They had never had such a confessional discussion, with so many candid admissions, before. Each woman was largely aware of the others’ relationships and sexual experiences. But on that day they seemed tossed about on the stormy seas of their respective stories like dinghies that had broken free of their moorings. They had given precedence to self-respect throughout their long and deep friendship, but that day they abandoned any sense of embarrassment to describe their secret failures, humiliations, sins and tyrannies, bringing each of these to life with laughter, tears, nudges and winks, all the while gulping beer directly from the bottle and using foul, profane language. The women performed suggestive dances for one another, clapping like hijras and made orgasmic noises as they tumbled on the bed with their eyes shut.

The whole thing began when Sunetra said, ‘Women’s sex drive peaks around thirty-five. I no longer care to have my hand held or kissed. All I can think of is: hold me, carve me up, draw blood. And now of all times I have no one to have sex with. I wish I would die.’

A college professor, Sunetra had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago – still in its first stage, it was being treated. She bled at times from the urinary tract without any apparent cause; sometimes she was racked by pain. But still, Ilona Kuhu Mitra and her friends had never heard Sunetra wish for death. That afternoon, they did. Sunetra’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke. ‘I had sex on the sly at fourteen with a guy from the neighbourhood. My first taste. I’ve always considered myself a bad girl since then. My drive is too strong; I jump into bed as soon as I’m in love. But, I wonder now, does sleeping with more than one man amount to having a great sex life? All I’ve experienced during such random and irregular promiscuity is the urge. How much pleasure did I actually get? It didn’t even last two years with Arindam. Shilajit also went off to Bombay. In my twenty-year-long sex life the number of days I’ve actually had sex can be counted on the fingers of my hands.’ Arindam was Sunetra’s husband. They had been married more than ten years. Sunetra even had a son. And she had only had a short-lived affair with Shilajit.

Once the barriers came down, each woman began to tell her own story without hesitation. Ilona Kuhu Mitra revealed that she had been masturbating since the age of four. But no one believed her.

‘Don’t exaggerate, Ilona,’ said Laila. ‘Four? Are you kidding me?’

‘I’m going out for a smoke,’ said Ilona. ‘I’ll come back and give you the details.’

‘No way. You’re going to make up a story. Tell us now.’

‘I’ve always known that sex has nothing to do with the heart. What starts with the body ends with the body. That’s why I don’t believe in all these clearly defined identities like homosexual or bisexual. Anything and anybody can give you that pleasure. Our pleasure orientation is concentrated in such a small area. A hole or a penis, around which there are a few nerves capable of receiving the pleasure stimulus. The rest is imagination. I really was four then. I was rocking in my chair one day; the legs rose and fell and there was a thump each time. My mother shouted from the kitchen, “Don’t do that, Kuhu, you’ll fall and hurt your head.” I wasn’t listening, I was being disobedient. Suddenly I had a very good feeling down there. It felt wonderful. I didn’t know that I was having spasms, long spasms. I did it because I enjoyed the sensation. The whole experience stayed with me. I did it whenever I remembered. Even in school. I was doing it in school one day, rocking, and we had this teacher . . . she slapped me. “Didn’t I tell you not to make noise?” My mother slapped me too one day. After that I obviously couldn’t do the rocking thing in other people’s presence. What now? I was addicted. I was so innocent – I discovered that I could get the same pleasure if I lay down, crossed my legs, and rubbed one against the other. It didn’t make any noise. I did it in full view of my mother one day. “What are you doing?” she asked. “It feels good here,” I told her. She collapsed. Then came the scolding, the spanking. So I started hiding it, and by the time I was seven or eight, I had developed a complete method of masturbation, in my own style. And by the time I was twelve, I was inserting things into myself.’

‘Do you know what I used to fantasize about when I began masturbating?’ asked Lavanya. ‘My father doing my mother. Uff, I’d be so miserable afterwards. This is probably why I became so distant from my parents, don’t you think, Ilona?’

‘If a psychiatrist heard this, he’d call it a case of the Electra Complex,’ remarked Sunetra.

Lavanya’s face fell.

The last story came from Laila, that too after Sunetra and Lavanya had left. ‘I was raped, you know,’ Laila said.

Ilona Kuhu Mitra thought she had heard wrong.

‘We lived in a bungalow on a tea estate in Assam,’ said Laila. ‘When I was fourteen or so, two strange boys moved into the slums next to the estate. Word got around they were ULFA militants. The police even took them away once. Then they let them go. I have no idea if they really were militants. We were forbidden from visiting the slums. Everyone was perpetually scared of the ULFA then. My father practically gave up evening parties. Whenever we went out some people would follow us in a jeep. My father always drove with the headlights switched off. But I liked those two boys, you know. I trembled with some kind of concealed infatuation. When they looked at me, I looked right back at them. One of them called me over to their house one day. I climbed down the spiral staircase behind the toilet under the cover of darkness and visited them.’ Laila paused. ‘They didn’t utter a single world. I entered and they raped me, both of them. Twice each. I never told anyone. Because I was the one who had visited them for an adventure. I have no idea how I returned home that night, how I even survived. Now I know that I should have had psychological treatment immediately. My life wouldn’t have turned out so weird.’

‘You can still do it,’ said Ilona. ‘You can see a good psychiatrist, can’t you, Laila?’

‘I’ve been going to a hypnotherapist for two months now, Ilona. I hope I can continue with the sessions. There’s so much pressure at work that I hardly have any time even for myself. How long has it been since we met like this?’

‘What’s your hypnotherapist’s name?’

‘Nirvana Rudrani Khiri,’ answered Laila. ‘A nomadic woman from Tibet.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard