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!


Three Poems: Purnendu Pattrea

That’s how miracles happen
Suddenly an ordinary seashell cracks open
Blinding white moonlight flashes inside

You rolled like a pearl into my palm
The scene changed at once
To my right was a cloudy day
It turned into a split pomegranate sunshine
And on my left the pile of bricks
Arranged itself into a red-tiled cottage

That’s how miracles happen

Open it all up today
Leave no flower hidden
Give me the Mediterranean Sea too if I ask
If my arms reach out

If in the afternoon I want
The reddened lips of twilight
If I want moonlight at dusk
Sitting on my wooden chair
If I ask you to be
A cataclysmic river
Give me all your torrents
Leave no wave hidden
Give me the Mediterranean Sea too if I ask
If my arms reach out

When you come the sun rises
Birds awaken on the seashore
The fragrant wedding chamber is aroused on an indifferent meadow
The brittleness of bones when the festivities are over

When you come the moon rises in your eyes
Ripening like succulent, fulfilled fruit
Desire, temptation
A forest from a distant journey
Breaks though the walls of the room

When you come the clouds and rain are both priceless
Our wooden chair
Where the city peters out, the symphony of monsoon
Careens away like a drunken boat without a future
The earth ages
We rub against the ash heap of the world, a foreign land of scattered scenes
The grief and heat and fever and pain of this century
Still we remain young


‘Who’s your friend? Is it a sigh?’: Purnendu Pattrea

Who’s your friend? Is it a sigh?
Mine too
My emptiness can’t be measured
Yours too?

The seasons pass along a distant road
They don’t come to my door when I call
In vain I go out when the flute plays
The wind just laughs at me with scorn

You had a basket, not a garden
Me too
I had a river, not a boat
You too?

The rain lashes your bed
A dust storm sweeps my room
In your room is my cloud
In my bed is your chill


Two Poems: Purnendu Pattrea

The Letters

The letters came together
Yours and the income-tax one
Both contained demands
Down to the last penny

I’ve paid the tax dues

Learning I have to bring you a red lotus
I woke the stars from their slumber
And said, make the blood-knife even sharper

* * *


You touched me
My body got the sun it loves
The joy of sensing
The return of all that the fog
Had swept away
Has made me a blue bird


Conversations Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8: by Purnendu Pattrea

No. 5
I am the tree you travel by
You are my roadside inn
Suddenly the cloud screamed – why? –
The lock’s so big, I can’t go in

You are my oceanfront
I am your hair that flies
Suddenly the cloud screamed – why? –
It’s all wrong, these are lies

I am the lines that crease your palm
You’re my fist which holds something
Suddenly the cloud screamed – why? –
You cannot go, this boat is leaking
* * *
No. 6
You didn’t come yesterday, today’s gone by
It’s cloudy now, it’ll rain soon
Terrifying rain, Calcutta will drown
Are you still looking for your nail polish?
Were you dressed? Why didn’t you come then?
Were your shoes torn? They weren’t torn?
You didn’t have any kohl? Why bother with it
I already know the deer in your eyes

You didn’t come yesterday, today’s gone by
It’s twilight now, in a moment Calcutta will
Put on its burqa and drown in a deeper mist
Are you still looking for your safety-pin?
* * *
No. 7
Your letter arrived around four o’clock this afternoon
A million thanks for your reply, although it came none too soon
Are you shedding tears for me? Turn your heart to stone forever
Charulata’s playing again, would you like to go together?

When shall we meet and where? You haven’t even dropped a hint
Now that you’ve got fairy wings, you can fly out on the wind
Will you come to Sitangshu’s cafe if it doesn’t rain?
The bird is fluttering as it wants to peck the silver grain
* * *
No. 8
– You’re turning horrible by the day
From now on I’ll call you
You know why? You keep burning me
What you give me when I hold my hand out for pleasure
Is nothing but fire

– You’re becoming worse by the day
From now on I too will call you
You know why? You keep killing me
The regret of all that I cannot give you
Is nothing but the blade