Conversations 3.1: Purnendu Pattrea

Not today, but for a long time now, Calcutta’s phones
Have sworn not to allow anything but dirges to be heard

But this sudden call?
How’d you get my number?
Who told you this is the hour
When I’m alone in my cave?

Where are you calling from?
Greece or maybe from Paris?
You haven’t been in Calcutta for seven years
Are you back?

Speak a little louder please
When it comes to intimate conversations
The telephone is not just an obstacle or fence
It’s bruising barbed wire

You startled me when you called out my name
Subhankar? He’s a lie
A figment of imagination
Non-existent on this sunlit earth
Privately created by someone, he’s just
A personal plant

Is it you, then?
Really you?

I didn’t, to tell the truth, imagine this
The flute of spring in the glare of summer
Is beyond my dreams


Getting hold of your number?
That’s a long story.
Ten times I scoured that fat directory
Couldn’t find your name anywhere
Want to know how I got it at last?
I met Shyamal suddenly at Nandan
At the Chaplin festival
He parted with the precious information

How long have I been back?
Nearly three months

In a gondola in Venice, at Pompidou Centre in Paris
On Mozart or Chopin nights at the Barbican in London
While swimming waterless in a speedboat on a Swiss lake
At the Vatican, the heaven of Sistine Chapel in my eyes
And at all those other places when I lived in Europe
I thought of you, and then
The flame went out, or I
Snuffed it out myself
But as soon as I was in Calcutta
The dead fire was reborn
All my womanly principles were shattered

The moment I saw the softly overcast Calcutta skies
The knee-deep water on Calcutta’s pavements, submerged carts,
Within me, the rain
A devastating dance of clouds, lightning, storms

Calcutta’s trees are dressed in your clothes
Your passion is on the Metro Rail
The neon lights are your dazzling eyes
You’re all over Calcutta
You are Calcutta

What time are we meeting?
When? And where?
At the Cannes Festival I learnt
From your former devoted journalist Subrata
That you’ve given up cigarettes for a pipe
I’ve got you other presents too
Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Braque, Paul Klee
Magnificent, marvellous prints
An ashtray from Florence painted like Michelangelo

Anything more you’ll get
Is open to guesswork
When? Tomorrow? In the evening?
Where? What? Hello?
Hello, speak louder, hello
I can’t hear a thing, hello, hello
My god!

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