Durga: The Light That Flickered and Blazed

 

Note: My poetic tribute to the relentless, unblemished spirit of the teenager Durga, a poetic celebration of her short, unceremonious, yet unforgettable life and the haunting reality of her untimely death in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (Song Of The Road), the award-winning cinematic adaptation of the master storyteller of Bengal, Bibhutibhushan Banyopadhyay’s magnum opus novel  of the same name.

durga-in-pather-panchali

(1)

The light that had flickered and blazed had found its humble moorings

In the moonbeams of a brother’s quiet smile.

The light, naked, unabashed, glaring, rose and fell

between the crests and rims of an untamed want of ripe mangoes

and guavas picked up from neighbor’s orchards, her kith and kin

for whom Durga was the other name of a censuring reality.

The light, an all-pervading truth, had shone, wandering in those wistful eyes

Loosening in their shores like sea water, and she clutched the brother’s shoulders

And took in the delight of trains whizzing past the silhouetted fields, whistling,

While the kaash flowers swayed in those eyes in their ivory nakedness.

The moon of her newborn puberty ached in the dark edges of her kohl,

A dark ink that had craved for a morsel of pampering from a troubled mother,

Splotches and shades of a promise peeping by, whistling in her ears the provocation

Of a scrumptious feast of a wedding, the provocation of a sweetmeat

Of a fancy doll, a string of false pearls, which she could cling to, as her own.

(2)

The light that had cradled her lap which hid sweet nothings for her ancient, dying aunt

A strand of forbidden silver which had carved her destiny, in a dilapidated hut

Where hope was but a shallow inhale, trading her brother Apu’s porridge

with her grim, corrosive punishments, a plate of squashed rice

and a mother’s wordless tears waiting for her, in an eager dusk of her return. durga-and-apu

The light, which had died out, in spurts, stumbling upon the dead aunt

In the lingering quiet of her way back home, chewing on rural titbits.

The light had taken in the world in the diamond drops of a torrential rain

Squandering in the open fields when she too hungered to live life

In bite-sized chunks of enduring moments, swirling, dancing around her.

The ashen sky of Nishchindipur, the nonchalant village

Where she anchored her tomfoolery, had flashed that one final grin

As she hung, loose, papery-thin in its sunless folds, taking in

Her wild breaths, hissing against the wind for one last time.

Death, her truthful, final kin had put his arm around her

While the brother listened to her last wish to storm out in the open fields

To see a stray train whizzing by….

The brother, the stoned mother, the bereaved father,

The starched cotton sari which she would never ever wear,

Waited and moved on in the bare-bone life, trudging on uncertain miles

Where her dim light, the dying vapors of her last breaths waved at them,

In a choking, molten surrender.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. February 28, 2017

 

Also, sharing a detailed, in-depth essay about the grinding reality of death and the philosophy of life as depicted in the Apu trilogy that I had published in 2014 in Cafe Dissensus e-mag. It is also archived in this blog (January 2014).

Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy: Celebrating Life Through the Vision of Death

 

Between a Sip and a Cup

 

coffee_image

Image source: Google+

Note: For the love of COFFEE, the magic word, a beautiful poetry prompt initiated by The Wordsmiths, a poetry group in Facebook.

Between a sip and a cup, here I stand, a mistress of your desires, brewing in your coffee with my own feminine juices, a dash of my own spiced up wants gone awry, a tinge of your own fragrant clouds, blowing the mist of your long, wistful years.

I don’t get the thick broth of your molten voice any more as you sip the remnants of the cup with an intent oblivion, as I still long to grip your hands around the coffee mug, dull, blunt, practiced in traversing the known route now, the route of a ripened home where love is not a sonata anymore.

But then, between a sip and a cup, here I stand, housing forgotten echoes of lovelorn voices, the musk of my shimmering remnants spewing a beautiful venom in that one coffee mug, a concoction that might still glitter in the pastures of your throat as you pass that one dart of a glance and kill me yet again, kill me with your red velvet mouth, your brazen kisses, whisking me away.

Between a sip and a cup, here I stand, threadbare, coughing up my staccato wants, waiting to become a doomed fairy-tale.

An Ode to ‘Ijaazat’: The Final Approval

Note: My poetic tribute to the haunting, melancholic, yet the beautifully touching saga of love gone awry in the hands of destiny, the irresistibly deep and unforgettable chemistry between Mahinder, Maaya and Sudha in Gulzar’s timeless love saga ‘Ijaazat’, based on the Bengali story ‘Jatugriha’, by Subodh Ghosh.  The film, unforgettable till today for the tenderly crafted lyrics of Gulzar Saab composed with finesse by the phenomenal R.D. Burman,  followed the story of couple who are separated and who accidentally meet in a small waiting room of a railway station and discover some truths about their lives without each other.

ijaazat_movie

 

Like weary travelers, lost in the waxy orbit of time

We lose our shores, and then, keep coming back

To where our stories began, the Ground Zero

Where you slouched against my caramel skin,

Lost in the deep, blinding maze of a past, passionate, drunk

With the lyrics and heartbeats of Maaya, the wandering girl,

Her eyelashes, soaked with the salt and oil

of the forbidden randomness of your wants.

“Ek akeli chhatri mein jab aandhe aandhe bheeg rahe they

Aadhey sookhey aandhey gile, sookha to main le aayee thi…”

The raindrops pelting on the window where she stood,

Forlorn, dreamy still, asking you to return the cloudbursts

Of your memories in spurts, were mine too, the clouds which I stared at

Like forbidden turrets of your leftover dreams overlooking

Our half-baked love songs, yawning with an emptiness

As I had rinsed off their remnants from our rooms, our plates,

Our cups and dishes, our breaths, entwined, yet not whole.

I did look for you and long to hear the syrupy strains

Of those lovelorn lyrics, which you had once hummed to me.

I did look in the hand-delivered letters of the postman

For the silhouettes of those sullied memories and burnt out poems

Which never reached me, as I settled down, colder, less rippling

And more permissive, in a new mooring.

Forgive me, today, as I dried off your wet hairs, drenched in

Our once-familiar raindrops in an unfamiliar station,

Waking up to dig in the dust of our forgotten, forsaken days

Waking up to your frostbitten face, bursting wide, crooning

In the smoked mirror of this tiny, clumsy waiting room.

Forgive me, like Maaya, the sad, wandering girl who gagged herself

And was washed away in the crossroads of your tyrannical trails,

The sky, drunk, sunken, taking in both our salty waters, and crackling.

Forgive me, today, as I seek your approval, for one last time

To drive off to my moorings now, as you will drive off to your own,

The smudged lines of our story, hanging loose, askance,

In this Ground Zero where we had stumbled upon, and burnt.

 

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. February 17, 2017

 

Watch the full movie here:

Review Of My Book THWARTED ESCAPE in Cafe Dissensus Journal

“Distance and memory are uneasy twins. As one advances, the other gallops in an interminable contest of catch up. This fraught relationship is at the heart of Lopamudra Banerjee’s memoir. The tension begins with the book’s title itself – Thwarted Escape – an oxymoron if you will, yet one that makes sense as the reader starts journeying through its pages.

The book’s four sections – on childhood, womanhood, motherhood, and life and death – reminded me of flower arrangements – of their evanescence, their beauty. Banerjee, the florist, crafts delicate narratives as she pulls them towards a theme bunch. She uses the present tense to a delicious effect, pulling the reader into the immediacy, and hence, the momentariness of her experiences. The beauty results from her love of language – the carefree abandon with which words spill onto the page. Then there’s the fragrance running through the sections – the author’s constant introspection, a memoirist’s greatest tool. And often her biggest risk.”

te_cover

It is my pleasure to share an overwhelming review of my book ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ written by the brilliant writer/translator Bhaswati Ghosh, published at Cafe Dissensus journal, New York. Do read the full review here, friends.

Book Review: Lopamudra Banerjee’s ‘Thwarted Escape’

Saath Saath: The Longing, The Despair, The Closure

Note: My poetic tribute, dedicated to the soulful ghazals sung by the celebrated musical couple Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh jee

unforgettables-chitra-singh-jagjit-singh

Image Source: Learningandcreativity.com

 

I don’t know how the kohl-smeared nights would dissolve

Into the fresh dawns, squinting into the day, when your voices

In the unison of duets, would waft in the lingering, dark silence

Of a bedroom with crinkled bedsheets and the recycled language

Of the two-in-one stereo, my unrequited wants, cocooned in

The sweet, fleshy cracking of your ghazals.

I knew not, at the end of those nameless siestas, when my senses,

Handcuffed, trudged through those uncertain mazes, how I would

Unwrap myself, lapping up your waves, losing myself in your shores.

“Tumko dekha toh iye khayal aayaa, zindagee dhoop tum ghanaa saayaa”…

 

I only knew that in my first love’s eyes, I was a washed out night raaga

From the flesh of your moonlight’s swirling melody, a raaga that

Would come back to you again, with my cheap tears of a love,

A tight embrace gone awry. I only knew that in my eyes clamped shut

In that clumsy bedroom, all by myself, I would hum, together with you,

“Iye tera ghar iye mera ghar/kiseeko dekhna ho gar/to pehle aake maang le

Meri nazar teri nazar…”, feeling my rib cage, my bones and the throb

Of my man’s Adam’s Apple, brush against the twilight music of a love nest,

A nest where our smudged syllables would one day, give in to stark, dead silence.

 

You both knew the trail, didn’t you, the trail of quivering, lovelorn hearts

Who hummed along, biting deep into the flesh of those lyrics in symphony?

Did you know the smog, seeping through your incandescent tunes,

As you sang, every strain filling through your own cracks, your own pores

While you couldn’t rain together anymore?

Did we all know, us, the sagging vines, hanging around

Your bestselling albums, that even melodies could gag,

In life’s unmarked road where you clasped tight

your tragedy, your only route to break free?

 

I come back to those nights in nameless, grey spirals, your ghazals

The cinnamon wants traipsing around them still, rolling slowly

In my senses, like a dream, forbidden, interrupted,

Which might make a lover out of me, yet again.

jagjit-singh-chitra-singh-us-mod-se-shuru-kare-phir-yeh-zindgi

The Unforgettable Duo. Image Courtesy: MusicMyLife

Also, visit this link to listen to the soulful melodies by this classic duo:

 

An Ode to Silsila: The Star-Crossed Lovers’ Tale

Note: My poetic tribute to the passionate, all-consuming love between the two star-crossed lovers in Yash Chopra’s blockbuster romance Silsila, which had put the silver screen on fire in the early 1980’s.

silsila-1

The poster of ‘Silsila’, released by Yash Raj Films in 1981.

Betwixt the twists and turns of life’s uncertain miles

The pastures of love had tempted with a painterly vision.

‘Love’, the oft-committed, dazzling sin testifying in its fullness,

‘Love’, the beguiling light, irresistible, blinding,

One that soon engulfs in its maddening darkness.

 

The scent of their silken touch, the frantic movements of pleasure

In their entwined bodies, unraveling, squirting, unabashed,

Out of their neatly packed matrimonial boxes, to whisper

The esoteric lyrics of a seductive, silken reunion that lingers,

Tears to shreds, burns to ashes the salt and pepper of domestic bliss.

A pair of star-crossed lovers, seeking a pound of solace in

The lyrical ferocity of their swan songs.

 

The mad refrain of the desperate artist lover,

Sucking the moonbeam of her jingling bangles,

Nibbling on the wafting fragrance of his paramour’s body,

A scorching story of the boundless seduction of old flames

While estranging domestic ties, and the sad, silent tears

Of a demure, resilient bride, waiting to reclaim him,

Sowing his seed of a once vowed proximity.

 

And she, on her turn, carrying those lovelorn songs still

In her bone and sinew and blood, pan-seared in the surging lust

And love, melting, like the old, familiar salt in his luscious wants.

Her other man, bonded in vows of a holy matrimony waited,

For he too knew, the smell of her lover would wane away

From her chiffon drape, in the inevitable downhill climb,

The destiny of this perfume-soaked, transient saga of love.

 

‘Love’, the salt that perhaps had stung in their lips still

Would strive to settle in its familiar homely mooring,

From where there would be no leading astray, after all.

 

Lopa Banerjee.  February 8, 2017

 

 

Amor Mio: Short Story

man-and-woman

Man and woman. Image source: 

litttle-princess.deviantart.com 

 

A naughty sip of sunshine kissed her pouted lips as her eyes looked far, far below at the sun-kissed dome, the long, defiant tower with its crane-like neck housing curious visitors of the city in its esophageal tract. The voluptuous sculptures, the fountains yet to squirt their orgasmic waters, seen from afar, filled her with a desire to open up with spurts of gushing, forbidden rain. The streets of San Antonio, Texas bore the remnants of the last night’s copulation with the Christmas lights, everywhere the happy star dusts of a faded, died out light of the earth blinked, as if inviting her enormous trailing memories and yearnings. The throngs of passion broiled, dying till their finishing embers as she woke up, disembodied, groggy from sleep and the night’s own coercion into a practiced, empathized, mutual intimacy.

Slowly, diligently, she shoved herself away from the crumpled bed and stood up to walk a few feet to reach the giant, wall-to-wall transparent glass door of their hotel room that overlooked the city’s bustling downtown. There, the illuminating Christmas lights and music had created a heady concoction the previous night as they came back from their indolent strolls from the Market Square, the quaint Mexican market and the tourist’s hub, the cascading Riverwalk.

“Let’s raise a toast to our new beginnings, my wife, and a happy new year to be merry and blessed.” Neil had touched his glass of margarita to hers and made a clinking sound, which converged with the music being played in the local pub-cum-restaurant, the symphony spilling over the place.

In the fresh morning sun, Shalini looked down at the floor right next to the bed where her flip-flops, her silk blouse, her red, flowing skirt, her silken lingerie lay scattered since the wee hours of the night. She couldn’t remember if it was Neil who undressed her, layer after layer, as he would often do, or if she had done it herself. All she could remember, following the hangover of the previous night was that he had untied her hair and caressed its strands, each stroke of his finger awakening a bruised, pent up libido within her as the tears in her eyes eclipsed everything around her in the silhouetted darkness of the room like a thick, unforgiving mist.

Was it a tiny flickering of a being, a struggling embryo that died in its mother’s inviting womb yet again, gushing out in clotted blood and crushed, maimed flesh?

Was it a soft, rainy dream, trampled yet again from the ruthless remembrance of a life she had lived, as if in a previous birth?

Was it that dangerous liaison of years back, rearing its ugly face, when all that she had brought along with her as she ran away from it relentlessly was a breathless, deadening terror? Was it the terror of being slashed, the terror of kicking feet and abusive fists, the terror of the bulging walls of a dream that came crashing down, yet again?

What was she thinking in the waning moonlight that glimmered in the languid waters of the Riverwalk as she sat at the patio of the restaurant? What did she say to Neil, looking unmindful at the other tourists who came to dine out, holding a lobster tail dipped in garlic butter in one hand, while with her other hand, she grabbed the glass of Margarita, wishing to crush the glass to shards till her palms bled to death? She didn’t remember. She only remembered that a loose, waxy dribble hung from her mouth as she chewed on the food, one that housed memories, slanted truths, all drowning under the bottomless pit of her mouth.
Threadbare, barely out of the clumsy wraps, she wandered amid the ruffled skin of the clowns on the streets she has stalked the previous evening in her little pursuit of happiness. She thought of spooning out the thick cream out of the pie with the fork dangling in her cold hands that she remembered with queer, practiced clarity as she roamed amid the humming semblance of the relics she might have visited in some previous birth. And as she sat in the ferry amid unknown faces, relishing the placid waters of the Riverwalk, she hummed the lyrics of a dead singer-composer’s songs, reverberating in the air bustling with conceited human cacophony and charbroiled animal meat.
In the deadly quiet of her hotel room in the twentieth floor, it was all about silence and waiting–a long, silhouetted wait to sleep sublime under the cocoon of thousand unknown stars in a faraway galaxy, stars who do not know the tainted flesh of the humans. Late into the night, the game of thrones between two bodies had scoured the arid air inside the room, the body of an Adam and Eve of the spoiled, betrayed earth.

For once, she longed to tumble down, far, far below the wall-to-wall stained-glass door and see her naked, unbound soul go out to hug her nemesis, to touch and grip the utmost rim of her life. For once, she longed to plant a long, wet, last undying kiss on the dribbling mouth of her man fumbling with the used bedsheets in his sleep. She glanced at him with the corner of her kohl-smeared eyes, as she longed to smash open the stained-glass door with a gash of her bleeding wrists, to slide down the expanse of the building, falling down, violent, headlong, in the vortex, waiting with sure, steadfast arms, waiting to engulf her in an avalanche of sleep.

*****************************************************************

As always, Neil did not sense the first changes that sprouted in Shalini’s mind. As a norm, he should have been the first to notice them. But his pretty, ‘eccentric’ wife moved through her days in an unperturbed stance, her hair dangling in loose, dark brown curls on both sides of her shoulders as he came back from work, wishing in his mind to love her some more, but ending up not displaying his affection. He didn’t always know how her mind was cutting through, traversing in dangerous directions. Neil, on his part, lovingly relished the affectionate licks and hugs of their pet dog Bruno, the moment he would fling open the door. He would see only her frantic, squirrel-like movements all around the house, quietly inhaling the steam from the coffee being brewed on the cooktop, and the wafting aroma of her strong feminine essence that he recognized as he entered their domestic domain.

Did he know since the first year of their wedded life in the quiet, suburban town of Texas which became their home, that she was strumming her obsessive thoughts in the deep, innermost recesses of her mind? Did he know the dormant volcano inside her when she peeled potatoes or onions in their kitchen, worked on simple dinners of chicken and rice, when she vacuumed the carpets, or bought home her choicest vegetables from the farmers’ market? Or did he care less? Because when the two bodies brushed against each other, exploding, contracting, towering above each other in the dark, frenzied bed as they made love to each other in the messiest, yet most delicately loving way, and he savored all her feminine juices, all he thought then was that there was a glimmering, inviting light at the end of the tunnel, one that would suck away the most debilitating abyss that she sometimes surrendered to?

…… “So, for how long would you say such things have been going on with her?”

At the psychiatrist Dr. Jones’ plush office cabin, Neil sat, suddenly cautious of the urgency of his visit, woken from the stupor of his momentary daze following the long wait.

“I told you already, she had an abusive past, and she had a really hard time, struggling with it, and breaking herself free from it…I should have…I should have noticed it a bit earlier, I think.” Neil replied.

“Hmm, I see some of that in the case study my assistant had prepared, and it is quite common too, to have a history of this sort, for manic depressive patients that we see on a regular basis…but yes, in your wife’s case, she seems to be acutely sensitive.”

“First thing, can you tell me how is her equation with her family? Anyone in her family except you, with whom she has had a painful history? What do you think?”

“Shalini, my wife is the only child of her parents, born in Delhi, India. Her mother had succumbed to kidney failure in India quite some years back, and life was difficult back there with her alcoholic father. She had a godmother in Delhi, an entrepreneur woman named Ms. Padamsee who had introduced her to Rajesh, her first husband in a local jalsah, a poetry reading and musical event of sorts, in Delhi.  After a few meetings in regular intervals, she had thought of Rajesh as the antidote to all her pain at home. He appeared to be a sweet-talker, and had his ways with women. Also, he owned a corporate event management company in Houston, so he was quite well-off, financially. They didn’t wait for much long after the courtship. Her godmother arranged for a quick registry marriage and she flew away to the US as soon as she arranged for her visa in the country.”

“I can understand…I bet she was lured, and why not! So, do you know if she tried to get in touch with her family, or her father in India after her husband started abusing her?”

“It was of no use, actually. In fact, her father is in this country now, for the past four years, and seldom visits her. He married Ms. Padamsee, her fairy Godmother, who was no more a fairy now, and they both moved to Connecticut soon after. The last time I had got in touch with them was to invite them both for our wedding, and a Thank You card reached my home, along with a gift card from Macy’s. That was the end of it all.”

“That is sad….Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you if you think something in the recent past might have triggered her sudden neurotic phase?”

Neil paused a bit. “Ummmm, not very recent though, but she had a miscarriage, quite a traumatic one, before she separated from her first husband, and she….she remarried…me.”

“Hmmm, I see….so does she speak of it to you? Or get hyper-sensitive?”

Neil nodded his head in assertion, gulping a steady influx of unsaid words, words which he would perhaps gather and break, construct and deconstruct, striving to know the rumbling, pent up thunder that was Shalini’s world.

“And also, may I ask, have you both as a couple thought of having a baby after all this? Now that you have been married for over two years?”

“Yes, we have…we have discussed this, quite a number of times….” He stammered a bit.

Some weeks back, when he had parked his car in their garage in a rather quiet, chilly winter evening, the loud, erratic barks from Bruno echoing from a distance seemed a tad bit unfamiliar. As he walked into the passage leading to the family room, the dog was in tatters, distressed and lost, literally dragging him to the far end of the passage which led to the main bedroom. There, in the hardwood floor, between the space of the dresser and the bed, she lay, her long tresses disheveled, her eyes loosely shut, with crystal drops of tears coating the corners of her eyes, streaming down her cheekbones. She sweated profusely in her sleepwear, which was the first thing which struck Neil as he stooped down to touch her, and then, discovered the whitish, semi-liquid discharges spilling from her mouth, all the way to the nape of her neck.

“Oh God, she must have thrown up a bit, just a while back”, he said to himself as Bruno started to scratch on some sticky remnants scattered on the floor where she lay.

“Shalu, sweetheart, wake up! What did you do to yourself, you crazy girl? See, I am back home! Look at me for once, damn it!” He had blurted out.

In the wooden dresser to their left, the container of her blood pressure medicines and a number of other medicines she took lay, angled, the lids opened. He looked at the remaining number of the pills, mocking the tumbled down promises of trust, love and the life-long companionship with which they had vowed to each other the day Shalini had come to his two-bedroom apartment in Sugar Lane, Houston, burying her face in his inviting chest, desperately pleading him to arrange for her divorce, so that she could free herself from that scumbag of a husband, Rajesh.  He had felt an inexplicable chill climb up his spine with her tight, cozy embrace, sweetly teasing him before the torrents broke open in that deep, sultry July evening almost three years back.

“It doesn’t rain in Delhi, the way it does here.” She said.

“Well, it doesn’t rain in Durgapur, my hometown too, the way it does here.” He replied. An alien rain with a familiar promise would unite them some day soon, they prayed together.

He knew in his heart of hearts, since the night they had met each other in the news year’s eve party at Rajesh’s furnished condo where Shalini moved around, awkward, with submissive, cat-like steps following her husband’s commands, that she was a lost soul, stuck in that quagmire of a home that was not really hers. He would whisper in her ears months later, in one of their passionate, clandestine weekly meetings that one day, if he could claim her absolutely, they would set their new house built together, brick by brick, on fire. The fire that would consume both of them on a high tide night, when they would drown in each other’s essence.

….He raced up to dial 911 and call the emergency. “There has been a medicine overdose…yes, my wife. We need to save her, quick.”

******************************************************

“You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They’ve changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two,
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . .
I don’t know a thing.”

Gazing at the pages of her favorite Sylvia Plath’s book of poems, she lay in her bed, beneath the bland linoleum ceiling, the lonely, cryptic walls of her room in the hospital engulfing her, tearing her into shards and bits…Did her story begin in the night of her nuptial bed four years back on that grey, permissive December night in that lodge in Noida where, in between the rough, unburdening crests of sex, she thought she had been one with her man, Rajesh? Her man, who would revere her, nurture her like the sacred touch of the wine he had made her sip from his glass?

“This is the best birthday present I could have ever asked for, Minal masi!” She had splashed her long, curly hair around Ms. Padamsee’s gleeful cheeks and bid her goodbye, along with the handful of other wedding guests and slid under the plush cocoon of the lemon-froth curtains of the hotel room where the man, her new husband watched her peeling away, bit by bit, pouncing at her, laughing.

Did her story begin in the following spring of the next year, when she flew all the way to the United States, crossing the anonymous crowd, grasping in her palm the frothy bubbles of the promise of a new light inside her that was flickering inside her queasy stomach?

Inside the banquet hall of a very posh convention center at Herman Park, Houston, where the classy corporate guests of Rajesh were busy raising toasts to their own symphony, she had turned down the glass of Bloody Mary.

“You know, I am six weeks pregnant. I was dying to tell you, but checked myself. If I did, you wouldn’t have allowed me to fly all alone from India.” She had said, wrapping her arms around Rajesh’s neck as he started to crouch on the bed beside her.

“What? So soon? Are you sure it’s ours, and do you want to keep it?” She remembered him frowning, irritation flickering over his face as she tried hard to gobble the first hard chunks of the truths surrounding him and her moorings in the pale, yellow light of the room.

He had crushed her, trampled over her night-gown, tearing it apart, as her petit frame lay in the middle of all his cussing, temperamental, hysteric bouts, pleading to him in the obscure dark of the bedroom where his kinks, his fetishism spilled all over her. She wondered if her story began when he would suddenly come home early in the evenings, with pink and white roses and a resplendent diamond ring for her, looking at her middle finger with awe as they splurged on exotic seafood in that new restaurant in town. Those were also the dimly lit evenings when she waited for him to come back, drunk, stroking her nape and digging his fingernails deep in her skin. “Bitch…one hell of a bitch. You’re only my bitch.”He would shout, vain, irrelevant.

What were the people that surrounded him in his whims, she wondered, when he bent over to kiss her hair, and then, burst open in a sudden fury?

“Who is it that your hair smells of? Having fun, you whore, when I am not home?”

“You know it’s not true, Rajesh. I work from home and do not go anywhere without you.”

The deep beige walls, the milky white of the window blinds and the murky red of the designer curtains creaked with her hollow shrieks. She had been a doll of his twisted desires, a doll with the perfect pout and the thick, mascara-laden eyelashes which housed her burnt-out days, days when she woke up to his obsessive compulsive wants, days when her limbs, her torso, her abdomen and her loins strained with the pain of bearing the seed of his obsessive wants that he had fostered inside her, in the name of matrimony and the sweet seduction of a sanctioned love. Then one day, in a violent daybreak, the seed, almost a half-grown fruit inside her, spilled out of her in bursts of blood.

“It cannot be mine, it is never mine, you bitch! In every party I take you to, in every party I host at home, you have to catch the eyes of a man and flirt with him, eh? You just used me as your easy ticket to fly away from your filthy, middle-class home, didn’t you?”

His vehement kicks and rash shoving, slapping hard at the lyrics she had woven with him in the narrow alleyways of suburban Delhi, had sliced through the half-formed body of a cursed embryo, breaking it into splinters and shards.

The next day, Rajesh had come to visit her in the hospital. He held her pale, fragile hand and kissed the diamond on her middle finger again, convincing her that it was he who had admitted her, after all, begging of her to forgive his drunk, disastrous aberrations, give her one last chance. She lay there, groggy, scraped off, not knowing how long she would have to grit her teeth and hold on to whatever semblance of sanity she still had within her.

…………….Was it the smell of the fresh beige paint of the walls yet again, two years later, in the quiet suburban home that Shalini had built with Neil in Plano, Texas, as she discovered, working with her books piled up, working with the soapy bubble of the dishwater, that yet another seed was sprouting in her body? Would it be the true token of her deep, basal yearning to live, shedding her morbidity aside, she wondered. Bruno, the pet dog wagged his tail and smelled her belly, as if sensing an omen, while she washed him clean in the bathroom, craving for some fleeting moments to dance to the music being played amid the sweet household mess.

************************************************

“You are finally mine, Shalu. What would be the first thing that you would wish for, in our new life together, tell me?” Neil has asked as they had roamed, carefree, hand-in-hand amid the gentle sea breeze in Galveston island near Houston, guilt-free, elevated with the dream of their togetherness for the first time since Neil had met her in the presence of Rajesh as one of his ex-clients.

“To get the hell out of this city, and make a home in another part of this state, or a different state, for that matter.”

“You know what, I just had this surprise for you! I had applied in a few places since the court proceedings of your separation was going on, and just got an offer from an insurance company in Plano, near Dallas. What do you think, we should move there?”

“Yes, it’s about time we do that, maybe.” She said, with a sweet, lingering sigh.

“Okay, your highness.” He had replied.

Shalini still felt the sweet tug of that moment, with the sea purring like a naughty pet cat, the music, the pull of the sand beneath her toes, as the salt still stung in her eyes. She had never again visited the island after this. Her divorce with Rajesh, obtained with the help of one of Neil’s friends in Houston, now a thing of her past, choked her at times like a sudden siren rushing on in the distance. But Neil had often, in the bed and in the other rooms and beyond, spoken about, wanted to usher in new beginnings, despite being shut out from his orthodox Bengali family in Durgapur, India for marrying a divorced north-Indian woman, almost two years older to him. A new beginning, a luminous oasis in the midst of a desert, a new child implanted in her womb again, at the zenith of the consummation of a love affair that made her change her moorings all over again.

“It’s ours.” Her deep, resonant voice cut through the musky scent of his bare breast. A He, or a She, doesn’t matter, she thought to herself. Since its inception, Neil had kissed the welcoming spring in her tummy, and flaunted in its ownership. The thought of the new being inside her had engulfed her like a thick, rolling fog, like the shoulders of the lovers who had switched roles in her life. The antidepressants that their family care practitioner had prescribed for her during her tremendous trying times went off her shelves, and the hypertension symptoms she had, emerged at times like a secret tide, then slowly dipped underground again.

“Can I talk to Indraneil Sengupta? This is the nurse from Dr. Rogers’ office, it’s regarding your wife’s pregnancy.”

“Yes, speaking. What is it, please?” Neil’s voice shook as he received the call during the first hour in his office.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, the preliminary ultrasound of the baby your wife is carrying was fairly good, with a steady heartbeat and all. But the recent prenatal screening she was scheduled for last week came out with some…some findings…and we would…”

“What do you mean? What happened to our baby?” He shouted, cutting the caller mid-sentence.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, I am afraid there are good chances of the baby having a genetic birth defect, or a chromosomal disorder. The test results indicate a type of down syndrome, but there can be more specific findings…”

“And can I ask, what are the chances?”

“Well, as of now, the tests indicate a good 80% chance of the fetus growing with the disorder…”

As he stood in his cubicle, gripping the cell phone, his feet staggered. “I am sorry again, Mr. Sengupta, for…for having to tell you this…” the nurse stammered. “We know the medical and psychological condition of your wife already, so we decided to contact you first, regarding this. But you both have to come and visit Dr. Rogers to discuss the condition in details, and your wife has to go for some further tests, so that the diagnosis is confirmed further. And then, we would discuss with you what options you can consider.” She added. The last part of her words, a blurry melange of words and sounds, failed to register in his senses. He flopped down on the floor, close to his desk.  …………………………………………………………………………………………………

The thin mist of the fall was rearing its head as Shalini looked up at the contours of the sky kissed by the skyscrapers and the evening lights which were just beginning to explode in the nightscape about to descend on them, a cool, gleaming red, blue and fluorescent yellow. At the topmost floor in the observation deck of the Reunion Tower, five hundred feet above the city of Dallas, an icy stillness settled in her heart as Neil caressed her shoulders lightly in the presence of other onlookers.

“Please try and understand, be a good girl and listen to me. We cannot keep the baby, it would be too risky for you to give birth to a genetically challenged baby, and too risky for us both to nurture it for life. Please, Shalu, not this time. We saw the videos and the slideshows of a baby with such conditions, didn’t we? How could we cope with the fetus developing abnormally, with a number of physical and mental problems? How would we battle with it all our lives, have you any idea?” Just a week back, he had pulled her towards him to let her thaw, melt in his arms in the blanketed warmth of their bed. He took some time off from work, to coax her into the termination of her pregnancy.

She walked straight towards one end of the geo-deck, brushing aside the other visitors immersed in the panoramic views of the cityscape, capturing the illuminating wonders of the Thanksgiving lights in their cameras and smartphones. “Happy Thanksgiving!” The couples and the families romancing around, taking pictures, were flashing cheesy smiles while bumping into each other, the way Neil had done with her too, in his attempt to pull her away from her pitch-dark private hell.

From the vantage point, she was seeing the city lights, the sleek glass layers of the urban buildings, the dark luster of the veil of the glass window, and wondered what to be thankful for at that moment. The doctor whose surgical instruments probed deep inside the far end of her cervix and ripped apart her half-formed embryo just three days back, the flesh parts and the blood, gushing out of her, controlled with the intervention of nameless nurse attendants? The icy, steely stare of Neil and the doctor while they discussed the procedure of this termination and signed the paperwork? Or the litany of his monosyllables with which he bulged into her wound on their way back home? Their hands that moved together, seeming out of sync now, the practiced curves of their bodies reunited in bed again, with hopes woven again, much against the diktats of their ruthless times?

The journey back from the loose mirth of San Antonio to the plain, unswerving sameness of their everyday lives in Plano, Texas plagued him like an invisible, surreptitious wound. In between his staccato bouts of making love, and journeying together, they both fumbled for words, knowing they could rip their hearts out while their car raced past the long, stretching sameness of the interstate.

Words, in all their littered ambiguity as he called his parents, his younger brother in India on the way, curtly wishing them a happy new year, wishing the foamy bubbles of their estrangement would disappear at the long stroke of the night. Words, the silky rain and their drip-drop delight which he ardently wished and prayed, would come to their only sister Lily in their old, cobwebbed Durgapur home, washing down the tags of an ‘abnormal’ girl that their neighbors, their relatives, the people surrounding them had hurled on her. Lily, the dim, twisted smile, the dribbling mouth, the frog-like croaks that never became songs as she sat, wraith-like in her pale grey wheelchair amid the din and bustle of the everyday paraphernalia around her, etched in his soul’s canvas like an unresolved story. Lily, who comes back, by and by, to haunt him in the faraway land, the fourteen-year-old, the brainless, ‘spastic’ girl at the threshold of her puberty who had curled up, cold, motionless in her wheelchair one summer evening, years back, with her eyelids shut, the dark, red river of her menstruating cycle splashing the floor as it did sometimes. Only, that day was the finale to the grin painted with her crooked teeth, the finale to the questions in her life’s uncharted miles, questions which she could anyway never ask, burnt to ashes along with her in the crematorium.

“Oh God, did she die, just like that or did they end her life?”

A forced finale, the neighborhood gossiped, something his family might have wanted all along, while Neil, her eldest brother packed his bags and flew away from them all to attend an MBA program in a University in Houston, in search of greener pastures.

Why couldn’t he tear open and show his gashes to Shalini in all these days they had been man and wife? What stopped him as he clasped her hands and strove hard to kill her pain, one stroke at a time as he promised he would tend to her wounds? What stopped him from shouting out, as she sprung up in his arms and wished with all her might that their baby, the conjoined flesh emerging out of both of them must be given a chance to be born, whatever the odds might be? Could he open up to her now, peeling himself in the layers unknown to Shalu, once they reach home, and tell her there was still a bountiful rain waiting for them both at the end of this jagged road they had trudged? A welcoming rain which might usher in, once he confesses, squeezing her tight that he has also been a betrayer in her life, swallowing his own share of thorns.

“Don’t forget the appointment with Dr. Jones, the psychiatrist, coming up on Friday, Shalu.” He said, stroking her shoulders with one hand while driving. The rain might plunder the streets, their home, and their beings, any moment now.

dark rain

Dear Poetry

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Dear Poetry, have you left me, deserted me for good? So many scars, so much of venom puked, so many unwritten lines, so many lumps in the throat, not yet gulped down. My stories are drowning me in a pitch-dark, bottomless pit every day. The thorns of prosaic truths scraping the inner core in merciless, relentless bouts.

My life, the most plain travails, shut unceremonious between the folds of recycled beds, dark, drab parlours and the missing music of the dining nook, wants to reach out to you, crossing the uncertain miles of the distant spray of juvenile mirth, crossing that little slope of the setting sun where you had sprung in my arms once like a truant, confessional kid.

My eyes sting, I seek the old, weeping willow tree where I had found you once, stroking hard at my blank, surreptitious womanly canvas. Come back my ‘wings of poesy’, let us find each other yet again, and hide from the world in a crushing, sinister curl.
Come back and penetrate me, spill all your juices inside of me, as the barren woman wants to be fertile, all over again!

 

Mindless Meanderings

 

Note: Poetry for the prompt contest of ‘The Significant League’, a literary group in Facebook, judged by Dr. Santosh Bakaya. My poem was the winner of the picture prompt contest which got me Dr. Bakaya’s phenomenal book ‘Where Are The Lilacs: A Collection of Peace Poems’, published by Authorspress.

 

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Fly on, what makes you stop on the bare, grassless streets?

The morning will soon gorge on ashen smoke and filth.

How can your little chuckles and chirping, your strolls

Holding on tight, to your flock, jutting out human ears

Change the course of the pockmarked day?

The city needs to thrive in its skin and blood,

The black hair, the soot and the whistling horns,

The pervasive rhythm, the sound drums.

The city doesn’t need its parched, shadowy silence,

The shitty moans of street urchins,

Your scattered, broken dances, your mindless trails.

What are you nibbling on, at the traffic lights, violating

The intersections, the ground beneath your feet

Murmuring a fluid, nascent language?

Fly up, and over those grimy streets,

Those vignettes of cardboard houses and cars,

The spell of cacophony shutting out the music of soft earth

In the man-made parks. Fly up and claim your space,

The sooty sky might still want the red earth

Breathing in your bravado voices.

Claim your space where solitude is still a distant smell,

pouring out, scarcely, as bleeding, shriveling rain.

 

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. September 3, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Knitted Tales by Rubina Ramesh

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The cover of ‘Knitted Tales: A collection of emotions’

When I first browsed through the pages of Rubina Ramesh’s maiden short story collection ‘Knitted Tales: A Collection of Emotions’, the blurb of the book gave me the impression that the stories would unfold the dark, grim and intriguing side of the human mind and the harsh truths that spill out as the inevitable consequences. But as page after page unfolded the subtle nuances of every story in the collection, I realized that the book was much, much more than a collection of dark, intriguing tales and the twists and turns and emotions that define each one of them. It was, in reality, a journey, a revelation of the quintessential human saga which spoke of the fragility, the vulnerability of the human soul, on one hand, and on the other, the strong, feisty, spirited flow of human life as well. Keeping this in mind, I would say that all the stories are defined by the sheer fiber of pathos and the captivating secrets evoked by the storyteller in Rubina, be it the unfolding of an eerie past rearing its head out of the closet in ‘A Secret in Their Closet’, the unfolding of the raw emotions of anguish, betrayal and thwarted trust in ‘Lolita’, or the unleashing of the stark, heart-wrenching tragedy in ‘Suvarnarekha’.

Keeping in mind the colossal trend of theme-based anthologies in today’s times, categorized in easy, water-tight genres of romance, thriller, supernatural, horror, feminist stories or children’s literature, here is an anthology that captivates even more because the myriad themes it represents makes it a massive, yet delectable canvas. For me, as I read it, each story filled in the gap of the earlier story, though they were not technically interconnected stories. However, the undercurrent of loneliness, deceit, agony and the fragility of being a human shines so strong in most of the stories that often times, while reading, I felt one story feeding into the emotions of the other. The narration, sometimes pacy, dramatic and sharp, sometimes lyrical and full of cadence, compels the readers to get at the heart of the emotions of the protagonist of every story. So be it the immigrant mother and her daughter who confront racism in ‘Chicklet’, the fiercely introvert filmmaker Abhijit who wronged his wife and the lady-love of his growing up years in ‘Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned’, the tremendously intriguing wife Raima with a clandestine online friend in ‘No Regrets’, or the vulnerable Jyothi in ‘The Other Woman’, somewhere the storyteller makes them all splinters and shards of our own unacknowledged selves, and we cannot help but get drawn into their fractured walls.

The element of the dark and supernatural is yet another strand which makes this assortment of stories of elemental human emotions so delectable and engrossing. Right in the first story of the collection, ‘The Secrets in Their Closets’, I had been startled with the stark revelation of long-buried crimes and the way the narrator revealed it in astonishing, shocking spurts. In ‘Betrayal’, the ghost of a dead husband presents a riveting, shocking tale of a conjugal life gone awry, a tale of domestic violence where the festering stench of morbidity seeps through the senses of a sensitive reader. In both ‘The Missing Staircase’, and ‘Cliff Notes’, the last story of the collection, though the themes are diverse, the narrators in both the tales take the element of the supernatural in its most elemental form and build it up to a crescendo where the readers are transported to a world, sinister yet irresistible, a world which we are compelled to explore, tearing apart our comfort zones. In the final analysis, I would say it is an extremely courageous and compelling book by Rubina where she has shown that the true power of a storyteller lies not only in writing intelligently crafted tales, but churning a world of tantalizing, memorable emotions out of the tales. ‘Knitted Tales’ is mostly successful in accomplishing that, where the last page makes the readers yearn for more.

Definitely a recommended read for lovers of short fiction.

Know more about the book and read all the reviews here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32446826-knitted-tales?from_search=true

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Author: Rubina Ramesh