Note: A roseate sonnet, dedicated to the beautiful, lonely, vulnerable and literary soul of Charulata, the heroine of Rabindranath Tagore’s magnum opus novella ‘Nastanirh’ (which had been filmed by Satyajit Ray, the Oscar-winning filmmaker as ‘Charulata’), the lovelorn soul who seeks love, acceptance and validation from both her husband Bhupati, and realizes the irony of her twisted fate towards the end, when both she and her husband seek a closure.
Every time I have let loose, I went flopping, I drifted ashore,
My pain, lopsided anguish charring me with the embers of my torn poetry.
The silver swirl of my words, my unquenched thirst you had never known, my husband,
Voices floating inside my lovelorn being, in your brother’s bonhomie, had found delightful symmetry.
For you, beneath your spectacles and uninviting cool, had never known how
While I chewed on betel leaves, I scraped inside like crimson paint, pummeling my raw pages like dough.
Did even Amal know, when we wove our silken dreams of our clandestine garden, our little lake, idyllic ducks,
How I craved to be princess of yore for you both, slithering in your mediocre love, every then and now?
A damned, accursed princess, seated unaware, beneath the shady canopy of the hog plum tree,
Burning my untainted silence of moments, dreaming of rampant, inconsequential poesy that was never to be.
Running away, surreptitious, from my frayed edges, Amal, didn’t you trip over our shadowed world, for once?
Only if I had known before, our twilight hill would be crushed, trampled, our rhythmic melody broken down, thus.
Silent, ebbing and swelling inside, my domesticated footsteps censured me, “Charu, be the cloudburst, but never the rain.
Enter my wet, plundered earth, my husband, let us take each other in our lost catharsis, let me be your loving wife, the adulteress.
All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 27, 2017.
P.S. The novella in Bengali has been translated by me as ‘The Broken Home’ (available in Amazon Kindle) and fetched me the International Reuel Prize for translation in 2016, instituted by The Significant League, a literary group in Facebook and The Autism Village Project Trust.
Note: ‘Second Skin’, the prose poem is one of the winning poems based on a photo prompt contest hosted by the vibrant literature group in Facebook, The Significant League. The photograph, a seething document emphasizing on the crass and ruthless impacts of our urban civilization, had been taken and shared by the prolific Indian author, Dr. Santosh Bakaya.
What is the road made of, when we wait, deep, eager, in the tail-end of its sooty flesh?
The dirt is our pixie dust, the molecules of our tainted breaths traipsing with the smoke, swirling in the summer of smells. For ages, we wait, in the clogged pores of the city streets, clenching our calloused fists, our crooked teeth.
The streets become our cradles, rocking us in its high-pitched sopranos. We know the glittering place where the horns screech and trample the silence of our waiting, a waiting with its high and low notes, a waiting in its repetitive rhythms.
A waiting which becomes a clenched metaphor, telling our tale of rags and our smudged brown skins, our soiled faces that slap you hard, slap your conceited words, your vanilla-scented clothes, your practiced complacency.
Ah, this street now, at some uncertain end of the labyrinthine maze, stares in our faces. We flop down, inhale the putrid air, soaked with stories like that of ours, stashed away, nonchalant.
This street now, our second skin, is the rhetoric of our unnamed home as we slip into its monstrous bed, sucking full throttle, from its blackened, emaciated nipples.
Hey baby, suck on, why worry when the earth’s crust is but an unzipped black pit, an ashen pasture when you can roll around in the dirt and lick its fevered heat, running your little fingers over it when the blackness bleeds?
Hey baby, clap, clap, clap in your silver swirl as the thumping in our chests turn into a rhythmic chanting. Let our black foams squashed under the car tires be the thick wash of blood between all things terribly shiny and white.
Let them stop in their tracks for once, in their white skins and made up hair, grabbing the flesh of this cul-de-sac where we now squat, sculpting the pathos, the bare-boned poetry of the city street.
All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 3, 2017.
P.S. The other winners of this contest are Geethanjali Dillip, Bhuvaneshwari Shivkumar Sharma, Fatima Afshan and Rahul Ahuja.
My belated and small offering on the World Poetry Day, loosely inspired by the Tideling poetic form created by the very young and talented poet Daipayan Nair from India, dedicated to Henrik Ibsen, his phenomenal play ‘A Doll’s House’, and to all of us women folks.
Good, good heavens,
My beautiful, happy home!
Who calls you ‘A Doll’s House’?
A self-loathing of debt
A pinch of punctuality, a tinge of engagement.
Who calls you ‘A Doll’s House’?
The messed laundry,the maimed laughter
The sweet scent of prayers that you slaughter
Who calls you ‘A Doll’s House’?
The burnt garlic, the half-cooked onion smirk,
At a quiet cranny, Nora’s crochet and embroidery lurk.
Who calls you ‘A Doll’s House’?
Nora’s starved essence, her miracles and crushing blows?
Ibsen squints from his cold grave.
All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 21, 2017
To know more about the Tideling poetic form, do visit the poet’s blog:
1857 DUST OF AGES VOL 1:
A FORGOTTEN TALE
1857. The rebellion erupts in India. Despite its attempts to stay aloof, NAVGARH, a small town near Delhi, is drawn into the conflagration. And at its heart are Princess Meera and Captain Richard Smith, with their strange alliance made for the throne of Navgarh.
2016, Shiv Sahai, a young Indian art historian and Ruth Aiken, a British scholar discover an excerpt from the journal of an anonymous British soldier, searching for his wife in the chaos of 1857 Delhi. As they begin investigating the scandal, they become aware of the vague rumours that are told in the bylanes of Navgarh – about a princess who married a British soldier to save her kingdom.
Read an excerpt from the book…
Camp, Delhi Cantonment, 16 August, 1857.
Things have changed forever. A day spent in the company of my old friend Knox made it clear. These distances can never be bridged.
The pole of his tent snapped in the storm yesterday; and for the sake of old friendship, I offered Knox my humble abode. But his rancour was jarring. His determination to teach the enemy a lesson, the unshaken belief in the rightness of our mission– such bitterness asks too much of friendship and duty.
Earlier we went over the battlefield. One of our regiments was destroying the village near the bridge to prevent the enemy from getting cover in it. Elephants were pulling down the walls. The villagers stood by as their houses turned into mud while the monsoon clouds gathered on the horizon. Unfortunately, they were the Jats, who, for the most part, are our friends. We decided that the destruction of their homes and fields was necessary. Twenty-three men – their countrymen – were lying together in the ditch at the back of the village; we weren’t sure if they were the rebels. A party of Rifles killed then en masse, just to be sure.
We left the village with our bags swollen like raisins in water. And who can blame our light-fingered gentry? Armies are said to travel on their stomach.
At some distance from our camp, I can see the sun setting over the fort of Delhi. It isn’t much different from the first sunset I witnessed here years ago. How things have changed! We came with a mission – to know this exotic land, to bring the light of knowledge and civilization to its darkness. Now the memory leaves me embarrassed. These massive red walls made me uneasy even then. Today they mock our camp again. Whatever be the outcome of this devil’s wind, it has revealed the banality of our mission.
Knox’s bitterness is an expression of the anger in the camp. When the cannons are quiet, the silence resounds with confusion, with terror, with rage, but most of all with the question ‘Why?’ As we sit around a small fire every night, the question rages in every mind. ‘Why the mutiny? Haven’t we brought the glory of civilization to this land of superstition?’ These thoughts simmer as we deal with hunger, heat and rain.
But soon these questions will be forgotten. The winners will annihilate the other side. Already I see the madness in the eyes as rumours reach us from other places – Cawnpur, Jhansi, Lucknow. Madness will soon be let loose.
I often feel that the answers that elude me today were within my grasp a short while ago. They are somewhere near, yet unreachable, like the time gone by.
I promise to look for them once I have found her again. For she, I feel, holds a part of it.
So every evening, I try to escape this madness by thinking about her, Princess Meera of Navgarh, a rebel soldier and my wife. It is the third year of our marriage. Three years of tenuous links and fragile understanding. It was only a matter of time before an explosion happened. And it happened that eventful week when Navgarh too burnt in the fire raging all across India. The news that the sepoys in Meerut had rebelled spurred both of us. Did I expect Meera to be a dutiful wife when all her beliefs, her convictions pulled her in the opposite direction? Was I surprised on knowing that she was in Delhi, amongst the rebels? Would she be surprised on knowing that I have followed her as an enemy… a British officer? And as I follow her, I stand here once again, after five years, outside the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi.
About the author
Delhi-born Vandana Shanker is the author of the series 1857 Dust of Ages, a historical fiction set in the year of the great uprising in India. A PhD from IIT Delhi, Vandana is passionate about history, storytelling and art. Apart from writing, she teaches literature and creative writing in Malaysia. She has also taught in Universities in India and Vietnam. She currently lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family and wants to travel the world.
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