book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Ten 20th Century Indian Poets

R. Parthasarathy

Parthasarathy, R.;

Ten 20th Century Indian Poets

Oxford University Press, 1976/2009, 114 pages

ISBN 0195671627 9780195671629

topics: |  poetry | indian-english | anthology

poetry is arrogant, full of herself - a wastrel who thinks nothing of leaving most of the page blank. she is desperately vain, always wanting the limelight.

good poetry anthologies too, must be vain, full of narcissistic conceit. but it takes a rare spirit to carry it off, and Parthasarathy is one of the few who manage to make it with his acerbic dismissal of a century of romantic writers and his fine ear for the contemporary poetic scene.

the ancients

parthasarathy's acid eye roves over the landscape of indian english poetry, looking for sparkles. but first it must discard the dull and the rusted. you may not agree with his taste always, but you cannot but admire his spunk, dismissing the revered poets of yesterday, ten of them in one page:

toru dutt had talent, and even she is chiefly remembered for one unique poem, 'our casuarina tree':

   But not because of its magnificience
	Dear is the Casuarina to my soul
	Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
    O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
	For your sakes shall the tree be ever dear!
    Blent with your images, it shall arise
    In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes !

sarojini naidu: her verse is excellent, but as poetry, it disappoints.
    .... she has perhaps the finest ear among indian poets for the sound of
    english, as in this anapaestic tetrameter

		Lightly, O lightly, we bear her along,
		She swings like a flower in the wind of a song
		She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,
		She floats like a laugh on the lips of a dream.
		Gaily, O gaily, we glide and we sing,
		We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

			(anapaestic = stress at end of syllable;
			 tetrameter = 4 groups of 3 syllables)

aurobindo ghose: today, one seriously questions his outsize reputation.

the others (derozio, m ghose, michael): only of historical interest.

reading this volume today in the 21st century, i couldn't but agree

beside the artificial romanticism of the poems, another reason for our
disinterest in ancient poems also arises from their choice of poetic themes
in the ancient past, as in ghose's savitri or michael's captive ladie (the
rajput romance of prithviraj and sanyuktA).  this choice of theme reflected
the orientalist emphasis on india as nation of ancient glory that had now
lost its way, and fit into the imperial myth of a nation that was incapable
of governing itself.

today's poetry has less of this baggage; it simply tries to tell of our
pressing emotions, and tries to invent a language as it goes - as does
poetry everywhere.

modern "indian english poetry" is "indian poetry" first

for parthasarathy, "indian verse in english did not seriously
begin to exist until after the withdrawal of the british from india", and
the change came about because the verse became
    	indian in sensibility and content, and english in language. it is
	rooted in and stems from the indian environment, and reflects its
	mores, often ironically.

thus, the poems we write today are indian first, english only later.  it
breathes the air of india, it walks on its streets, and most importantly, it
is written for the indian ear.  it is an indian literature, which happens to
be written in english.

of course, tomorrow's poetry reader may consider these works staid and
boring, but today, we can see exactly what parthasarathy feels.

the trend started in the 1960s, with the earlier romanticism giving place to
individual experience.  Starting with Nissim Ezekiel's Quest magazine in
Mumbai and PC Lal's Writer's Workshop in Calcutta, and other individuals like
the iconoclastic kamala das or the piercing vision of jayanta mahapatra, a
number of fora developed for this raw, heart-felt poetry.  the
experimentation in the mumbai group (ezekiel, mehrotra, kolatkar, jussawalla,
patel) formed one canon whereas the Calcutta group showed a more
experimental and earthy trend (das, nandy).

along with volumes of poetry - mostly self-published for a small reading
clientele - a number of anthologies sprang up, reflecting a new vibrancy that
had been completely missing in pre-independence poetry.

some of this transition was captured towards the end in larger
anthologies such as vk gokak's the golden treasury of indo-anglian poetry
(1970).  but the intensity and passion can be gauged in the more breathless
compilations such as subhas saha's an anthology of indian love poetry
(writers workshop, calcutta 1976), or pritish nandy's strangertime
(hind books, calcutta, 1977).  here you can feel the excitement of a new
canon of poetry surging through the lines.  a more nuanced perspective,
though still fired by this new dawn, can be found in selections, such as
saleem peeradina's  contemporary indian poetry in english (1972), or
this very volume.  perhaps the maturing of this canon is to be seen in AK
Mehrotra's Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1993).

today's generation seeks to find is own emerging voice through compilations such as
confronting love : poems by jerry pinto and arundhathi subramaniam (2005).
while other compilations such as jeet thayil's 60 indian poets, remain
too heterogeneous to capture much of a new excitement.

parthasarathy ignores the gokak compilation in his review of earlier
anthologies.  starting with the much earlier volume "india in song" (1920)
edited by the classicist and poet e.v. rieu (1887-1972), who was an editor
with the OUP in bombay for some years before 1923.  the foreword states that

    it is not generally known that during this century [1817-1920] much good
    english verse was produced by indians...

parthasarathy disagrees strongly, going on to eviscerate most of the ancients
as summarized above.

what is interesting about good anthologies is the conceit underlying its
claims.  just as descartes, when he says "i think, therefore i am", is really
telling the reader - "you think, therefore you are"; so also the compilers of
opinionated, subjective anthologies seem to think that we readers will go
along with their claims.  one thinks back to Michael Roberts' references on
"hostility to poetry" in the Faber book of modern verse

indian poetry

parthasarathy argues his case, that modern english poetry is essentially an
indian poetry, by citing from the work of bilingual authors like kolatkar,
who "does not use english and marathi for different purposes".  that is to
say, kolatkar's verse, both in marathi and english, are characterized by the
"cryptic, often aphoristic" style which relates to the tradition of bhakti
poets such as tukaram, whom he has translated into english:

		The seventeen lines are congealed
		In a carpet are deliered
		In the void of the woman's body
		Hanging by a rope

		The goat of glass in the corner
		Takes a metaphysical leap
		Transcends the barrier
		Of the hanged woman's body
		The empty vase flashes
		Like the flashgun of a camera
		And like the heavenly negatives
		Of the snap of a suicide

		Issues flowers of blinding light
		Which burn the spectators's eyes

unfortunately, these translations by kolatkar, which predate jejuri, don't
seem to be available anywhere.

Excerpts: Poems

Kamala Das

from intro by Parthasarathy:

with a frankness and openness unusual in the Indian context, Kamala Das
expresses her need for love.  ... an overpowering sense of urgency - her
poems literally boil over -
	After that, love became a revolving-door,
	When one went out, another came in.

The despair is infectious.  ... The tone is distinctively feminine.

Kamala Das : The Invitation p.26

I have a man's fist in my head today
Clenching, unclenching....
I have got all the Sunday evening pains

The sea is garrulous today. Come in.
Come in. What do you lose by dying, and
Besides, your losses are my gains.

Oh sea, let me shrink or grow, slosh up,
Slide down, go your way
I will go mine.  He came to me between
Long conferences, a fish coming up
For air, and was warm in my arms
An inarticulate... You are diseased
With remembering,
The man is gone for good.  It would indeed
Be silly to wait for his returning.
Come in, come in. Oh sea, just leave
Me alone.  As long
As I remember, I want no other.
On the bed with him, the boundaries of
Paradise had shrunk to a mere
Six by two and afterwards, when we walked
Out together, they
Widened to hold the unknowing city...

End in me, cries the sea.  'Think of yourself
Living on a funeral pyre
With a burning head.  Just think.  Bathe cool,
Stretch your limbs on cool
Secret sands, pillow your head on anemones.
All through last summer's afternoons we lay
On beds, our limbs inert, cells expanding
Into throbbing suns.  The heat had
Blotted our thoughts....  Please end this whiplash
Of memories, cries
The sea.  For long I've waited for the right one
To come, the bright one, the right one to live
In the blue.  No.  I am still young
And I need that man for construction and
Destruction.  Leave me ....

The sea shall bear some prying and certain
Violations, but I tell you, the sea
Shall take no more, the sea shall take
No more... The tides beat against the walls, they
Beat in childish rage...
Darling, forgive, how long can one resist?
		(from The descendants, 1967)

 	[AM: unlike the directness in much of Kamala Das, this poem has a
	convoluted construction, like a shell picked up from the beach.  The
	sea enters the lines time and again, the waves leaving behind layers
	of consciousness: a bleached relationship like a dead fish, the
	tragedies of rememberance, and the woman's need for a man.  in the
	end, the prying sea recedes for the last time, beating against the
	dyke walls "in childish rage" - but it is ineffective, for the love
	is not all dead.  the poem ends on the same note of ambiguiity that
	determines the entire poem - an ambiguity hinging on whether the last
	line is spoken by the man (being rejected) or the woman (needing him

Nissim Ezekiel : Background Casually


A poet-rascal-clown was born,
The frightened child who would not eat
Or sleep, a boy of meagre bone.
He never learnt to fly a kite,
His borrowed top refused to spin.

I went to Roman Catholic school,
A mugging jew among the wolves.
They told me I had killed the Christ,
That year I won the scripture prize.
A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.

I grew in terror of the strong
But undernourished Hindu lads,
Their prepositions always wrong,
Repelled me by passivity.
One noisy day I used a knife.

At home on Friday nights the prayers
Were said. My morals had declined,
I heard of Yoga and of Zen.
Could I, perhaps, be rabbi-saint?
The more I searched, the less I found

Twenty-two: time to go abroad.
First, the decision, then a friend
To pay the fare. Philosophy,
Poverty and Poetry, three
Companions shared my basement room.


The London seasons passed me by.
I lay in bed two years alone,
And then a Woman came to tell
My willing ears I was the Son
Of Man. I knew that I had failed

In everything, a bitter thought.
So, in an English cargo-ship
Taking French guns and mortar shells
To Indo-China, scrubbed the decks,
And learned to laugh again at home.

How to feel it home, was the point
Some reading had been done, but what
Had I observed, except my own
Exasperation? All Hindus are
Like that, my father used to say,

When someone talked too loudly, or
Knocked at the door like the Devil.
They hawked and spat. They sprawled around.
I prepared for the worst. Married,
Changed jobs, and saw myself a fool.

The song of my experience sung,
I knew that all was yet to sing.
My ancestors, among the castes,
Were aliens crushing seed for bread
(The hooded bullock made his rounds)


One among them fought and taught,
A Major bearing British arms.
He told my father sad stories
Of the Boer War. I dreamed that
Fierce men had bound my feet and hands.

The later dreams were all of words.
I did not know that words betray
But let the poems come, and lost
That grip on things the worldly prize.
I would not suffer thai again.

I look about me now, and try
To formulate a plainer view:
The wise survive and serve to play
The fool, to cash in on
The inner and the outer storms.

The Indian landscape sears my eyes.
I have become a part of it
To be observed by foreigners.
They say that I am singular,
Their letters overstate the case.

I have made my commitments now.
This is one: to stay where I am,
As others choose to give themselves
In some remote and backward place.
My backward place is where I am.

Goodbye party for Miss Pushpa : Nissim Ezekiel

		Our dear sister
		is departing for foreign
		in two three days,
		we are meeting today
		to wish her bon voyage.

		You are all knowing, friends,
		what sweatness is in Miss Pushpa
		I don't mean only external sweetness
		but internal sweetness.
		Miss Pushpa is smiling and smiling
		even for no reason
		but simply because she is feeling.

		Miss Pushpa is coming
		from very high family.
		Her father was renowned advocate
		in Bulsar or Surat,
		I am not remembering now which place.

		Surat? Ah, yes,
		once only I stayed in Surat
		with family members
		of my uncle's very old friend-
		his wife was cooking nicely ....
		that was long time ago.

		Coming back to Miss Pushpa
		She is most popular lady
		with men also and ladies also,

		Whenever I asked her to do anything,
		she was saying, "just now only
		I will do it. That is showing
		good spirit. I am always
		appreciating the good spirit.

		Pushpa Miss is never saying no
		Whatever I or anybody is asking
		She is always saying yes,
		and today she is going
		to improve her prospects
		and we are wishing her bon voyage.

		Now I ask other speakers to speak
		and afterward Miss Pushpa
		will do the summing up.

Arun Kolatkar : The boatride

the long hooked poles
know the nooks and crannies
find flaws in stonework
or grappling with granite
ignite a flutter
of unexpected pigeons
and the boat is jockeyed away from
the landing

after a pair of knees
has shot up and streaked
down the mast after
the confusion of hands about
the rigging

an off-white miracle

the sail

because a sailor waved back to a boy another boy waves to another sailor in the clarity of air the gesture withers for want of correspondence and the hand that returns to him the hand his knee accepts as his own is the hand of an aged person a hand that must remain patient and give the boy it's a part of time to catch up frozen in a suit the foreman self-conscious beside his more self-conscious spouse finds illegible the palm that opens demandingly before him the mould of his hands broken about his right knee he reaches for a plastic wallet he pays the fares along the rim of the boat lightly the man rests his arm without brushing against his woman's shoulder gold and sunlight fight for the possession of her throat when she shifts in the wooden seat and the newly weds exchange smiles for small profit
show me a foreman he says to himself who knows his centreless grinding oilfired saltbath furnace better than i do and swears at the seagull who invents on the spur of the air what is clearly the whitest inflection known and what is clearly for the seagull over and above the wwaves a matter of course
the speedboat swerves off leaving behind a divergence of sea and the whole harbour all that floats must bear the briny brunt the sailboat hurl its hulk over burly rollers surmounted soon in leaps and bounds a gull hitched on hump the long trail toils on bringing to every craft a measure of imbalance a jolt for a dinghy a fillip to a schooner a swagger to a ketch and after the sea wall scabby and vicious with shells has scalped the surge after the backwash has reverted to the bulk of water all things that float resume a normal vacillation [...]
his wife has dismissed the waves like a queen a band of oiled acrobats in her shuttered eyes move in dark circles they move against her will winds like the fingers of an archaeologist move across her stony face and across the worn edict of a smile cut thereon her husband in chains is brought before her he clanks and grovels throw him to the wolves she says staring fixedly at a hair in his right nostril. a two-year-old renounces his mother's ear and begins to cascade down her person rejecting her tattooed arm denying her thighs undaunted by her knees and further down her shanks devolving he demands balloons and balloons from father to son are handed down closer to keel than all elders are and down there honoured among boots chappals and bare feet he goes into a huddle with the balloons coming to grips with one being persuasive with another and setting an example by punishing a third
two sisters that came last when the boat nearly started seated side by side athwart on a plank have not spoken hands in lap they have been looking past the boatman's profile splicing the wrinkles of his saline face and loose ends of the sea [...]
the boat courses around to sidle up against the landing the wall sweeps by magisterially superseding the music man an expanse of unswerving stone encrusted coarsely with shells admonishes our sight

from Jejuri: Makarand

Take my shirt off
and go in there to do pooja?
No thanks.

Not me.
But you go right ahead
if that's what you want to do.

Give me the matchbox
before you go,
will you?

I will be out in the courtyard
where no one will mind
if I smoke.

Shiv K Kumar: Indian Women

In this triple-baked continent
women don't etch angry eyebrows
on mud walls.
	Patiently they sit
	like empty pitchers
	on the mouth of the village well
pleating hope in each braid
of their mississippi-long hair
looking deep into the water's mirror
	for the moisture in their eyes.
	With zodiac doodlings on the sands
	they guard their tattooed thighs
Waiting for their men's return
till even the shadows
roll up their contours
   and are gone
   beyond the hills.

Shiv K. Kumar : My Co-respondent

Not my rival but co-sharer,
your saliva is on my lips.
Often when she made the gesture
you were the prime mover.

    Just this difference though —
    while you rose like some giraffe
    I slouched over worms
    climbing up diamond-knots of wet grass.
    Each night I limped into my lone self
    where the dead croaked like frogs.

Now that I give you the rose to keep
let me pass through the turnstile
into the open fields
where riderless horses whinny
under the red moon.

Shiv K. Kumar : Pilgrimage : p.55

Not all of us spoke the same language—
some cowered under the sun's threats
and the dwindling supplies,
others felt amused
at the enforced equalities.
The bystanders took us for a Persian
mosaic of some insidious design.

Sometimes the urge to feign
was paramount. I pretended ataxia
to lag behind and visualize
more sharply the road's last, devious curve.

The trees on either side
would have given us a guard of honour
had our leader not defiled them
with blasphemies.

Then suddenly someone announced
that the easiest way to hit
the destination was to
march crabwise.

We were out to span the sky's amplitude—
this journey was merely to stimulate the blood.
The women mumbled, 'Rest would be haven—
I was the only one to caution
that the gods had trapped us
into belief.

	[online at varnamala,
	 along with Days in New York]

Jayanta Mahapatra

JM explores the intricacies of human relationships, especially those of
lovers... there is an unexpected quietude about the poems.  He says:

   What appears to disturb me is the triumph of silence in the mind; and if
   these poems are inventions, they are also longings amid the flow of voices
   toward a need that I feel is definitive.

   A poem makes me see out of it in all directions, like a sieve...

Love offers a sort of relief from the uncertainties one has come to expect of
life...  The economy of phrasing and startling images recall the subhAsitas
of classical Sanskrit.  p.59

Missing person : Jayanta Mahapatra

	In the darkened room
	a woman
	cannot find her reflection in the mirror

	waiting as usual
	at the edge of sleep

	In her hands she holds
	the oil lamp
	whose drunken yellow flames
	know where her lonely body hides.


The whorehouse in a Calcutta street : Jayanta Mahapatra p.61

Walk right in. it is yours.
Where the house smiles wryly into the lighted street.
Think of the women
you wished to know and haven't.
The faces in the posters, the public hoardings.
And who are all there together,
those who put the house there
for the startled eye to fall upon,
where pasts join, and where they part.

The sacred hollow courtyard
that harbours the promise of a great conspiracy.
Yet nothing you do
makes a heresy of that house.
Are you ashamed to believe you're in this?
Then think of the secret moonlight of the women
left behind, their false chatter,
perhaps their reminding themselves
of looked-after children and home:
the shooting stars in the eager darkness of return.

Dream children, dark, superfluous;
you miss them in the house's dark spaces, how can't you?
Even the women don't wear them --
like jewels or precious stones at the throat;
the faint feeling deep at a woman's centre
that brings back the discarded things:
the little turnings of blood
at the far edge of the rainbow.

You fall back against her in the dumb light,
trying to learn something more about women
while she does what she thinks proper to please you,
the sweet, the little things, the imagined;
until the statue of the man within
you've believed in throughout the years
comes back to you, a disobeying toy
and the walls you wanted to pull down,
mirror only of things mortal, and passing by:
like a girl holding on to your wide wilderness,
as though it were real, as though the renewing voice
tore the membrane of your half-woken mind
when, like a door, her words close behind:
'Hurry, will you? Let me go,'
and her lonely breath thrashed against your kind.

Grass : jayanta mahapatra

	Have I to negotiate it?
	Moving slowly, sometimes throwing my great grief
	across its shoulders, sometimes trailing it at my side,

	I watch a little hymn
	turn the ground beneath my feet,
	a tolerant soil making its own way to the light of the sun.

	It is just a mirror
	marching away solemnly with object and earth, lurching
	into an ancestral smell of rot, reminding me

	of secrets of my own:
	the cracked earth of years, the roots staggering about
	an impatient sensuality, bland heads heaving

	in the loneliness of unknown winds.
	Now I watch something out of the mind
	scythe the grass, now that the trees seem to end,

	sensing the almost childlike submissiveness;
	my hands that tear their familiar tormentors apart
	waiting for their curse, the scabs of my dark dread.
							p. 63 

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra : The Sale

It's yours for the price, and these
old bits have character too. Today
they may not be available.
Naturally I can't press you
to buy them, and were I not leaving
— You heard the sun choke with an eclipse? —
I would never have thought of selling.
You may take your time though, and
satisfy yourself. This is Europe,
that America, this scarebug Asia,
that groin Africa, an amputated
Australia. These five. I don't have more.
Maybe another egg-laying island remains
in the sea. You remember in my letter
I wrote of forests? They're wrapped
in leaves and carrying them
shouldn’t be difficult.
This skull contains the rivers.
About that I'm sorry. Had you come
yesterday I could have given you two.
I'll take another look. Yes, I do
have a mummy somewhere; only last night
the pyramids came
and knocked at my gate for a long time.


Would you mind if I showed you
a few more things now yours?
Be careful, one river is still
wet and slippery; its waters continue to
run like footprints. Well, this is a
a brick and we call that string.
This microscope contains the margins
of a poem. I've a map left, drawn
by migrating birds.
Come into the attic.
That's not a doll — it's the photograph
of a brain walking
on Sand and in the next one
it wears an oasis-like crown.
I must also show you a tiger-skin
that once hid a palace.
On one roof you'll see
the antelope's horns,
on another the falling wind. These round
things are bangles, that long one
a gun. This cave is the inside
of a boot. And here
carved wheels turn through stone.


I wish you had asked me earlier.
The paintings have been bought
by a broken mirror
but I think I can lead you
to a crack in the wall.
I've a skeleton too.
It's full of butterflies
who at dawn will carry away
the crown.
I've also a wheelchair to show you;
it belonged to my uncle
and one day the hook
that hangs from the sky
touched him. If you open the cupboard
you'll see his memory
on the upper shelf and two books
now yours:
Ruskin's Lectures on Art
and A Short History of English Literature by Legouis.
I'll take another minute.
Can you climb this ladder?
Well, that's the sun and moon
and with this candle you
work the clouds. I'm sorry I was
short of space
and had to pack the Great Bear
in this clock. Oh them,
let them not worry you.
They're only fisherman and king
who will leave soon as one's bait
is ready and the other's dominion.

Arvind K Mehrotra : Continuities p. 68


This is about the green miraculous trees,
And old clocks on stone towers,
And playgrounds full of light
And dark blue uniforms.
At eight I'm a Boy Scout and make a tent
By stretching a bedsheet over parallel bars
And a fire by burning rose bushes,
I know half a dozen knots and drink
Tea from enamel mugs.
I wear khaki drill shorts, note down
The number-plates of cars,
Make a perfect about-turn for the first time.
In September I collect my cousins’ books
And find out the dates of the six Mughals
To secretly write the history of India.
I see Napoleon crossing the Alps
On a white horse.


My first watch is a fat and silver Omega
Grandfather won in a race fifty-nine years ago;
It never works and I've to
Push its hands every few minutes
To get a clearer picture of time.
Somewhere I've kept my autograph book,
The tincture of iodine in homeopathy bottles,
Bright postcards he sent from
Bad Ems, Germany.
At seven-thirty we are sent home
From the Cosmopolitan Club,
My father says, ‘No-bid,’
My mother forgets her hand
In a deck of cards.
I sit reading on the railing till midnight,
Above a worn sign
That advertises a dentist.


I go to sleep after I hear him
Snore like the school bell:
I'm standing alone in a back alley
And a face I can never recollect is removing
The hubcaps from our dull brown Ford.
The first words I mumble are the names of roads,
Thornhill, Hastings, Lytton;
We live in a small cottage,
I grow up on a guava tree
Wondering where the servants vanish
After dinner, at the magic of the bearded tailor
Who can change the shape of my ancestors.
I bend down from the swaying bridge
And pick up the river
Which once tried to hide me:
The dance of torn skin

Is for much later.

R. Parthasarathy : from Trial

Mortal as I am, I face the end
with unspeakable relief,
knowing how I should feel

if I were stopped and cut off ,
Were I to clutch at the air,
straw in my extremity,

how should I not scream,
'I haven't finished?'
Yet that too would pass unheeded.

Love, I haven't the key
to unlock His gates.
Night curves.

I grasp your hand
in a rainbow of touch. Of the dead
I speak nothing but good.   [p.77]


Over the family album, the other night,
I shared your childhood:
the unruly hair silenced by bobpins

and ribbons, eyes half-shut
before the fierce glass,
a ripple of arms round Suneeti's neck,

and in the distance, squatting
on fabulous haunches,
of all things, the Taj.

School was a pretty kettle of fish:
the spoonfuls of English
brew never quite slaked your thirst

Hand on chin, you grew up,
all agog, on the cook's succulent
folklore. You rolled yourself

into a ball the afternoon Father died,
till time unfurled you
like a peal of bells. How your face

bronzed, as flesh and bone struck
a touchwood day. Purged,
you turned the coiner in a child's steps.   [p.78]

It is night alone helps
to achieve a lucid exclusiveness
Time that had dimmed

your singular form
by its harsh light now makes
recognition possible

through the opaque lens.
Touch brings the body into focus
restores colour to inert hands,

till the skin takes over,
erasing angularities,  and the four walls
turn on a strand of hair.   [p.78]


A knock on the door: you entered undressed
A knock on the door :
you entered.
Undressed quietly before the mirror

of my hands. Eyes
drowned in the skull
as flesh hardened to stone.

I have put aside the past
in a corner, an umbrella
now poor in the ribs. The touch

of your breasts is ripe
in my arms. They obliterate my eyes
with their right parabolas of gold.

It's you I commemmorate tonight.
The sweet water
of your flesh I draw

with my arms, as from a well,
its taste as ever
as on the night of Capricorn.

It's two in the morning:
my thoughts turn to you.  With lamp
and pen I blow the dust off my past.

Come in, and see for yourself.
It's taken thirty odd years.
Now, a small hand will do.   [p.79]


It was the August heat
brought the stars to a boil,
and you asked me about constellations.

Yet, by itself, your hand was a galaxy
I could reach,  even touch
in the sand with my half-inch telescopic

Fingers. Overwhelm the flight
of human speech. Thus, celebrate
something so perishable, trite.  [p.80]



Keki N. Daruwalla
    from Under Orion, 1970:
         from The Epileptic
         The Ghaghra in Spate 14
		And every year
		the Ghaghra changes course
		turning over and over in her sleep.

         from Ruminations
    from Apparition in April, 1971
         Fire-Hymn      Routine
    from Crossing of Rivers, 1976:

         Death of a Bird
		Under an overhang of crags
		fierce bird-love
		the monals mated, clawed and screamed;
		the female brown and nondescript
		the male was king, a fire-dream!
		My barrel spoke one word of lead;
		the bird came down, the king was dead,

		or almost dying;
		his eyes were glazed, the breast still throbbed.

Kamala Das
    from Summer in Calcutta, 1965:
         The Freaks
         My Grandmother's House 23
         A Hot Noon in Malabar 24
         The Sunshine Cat 25
    from The Descendants. 1967:
         The Invitation 26
         The Looking-glass

Nissim Ezekiel
    from The Unfinished Man__, 1960
    From The Exact Name, 1965:
         Night of the Scorpion
         Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher
         The Visitor
    from Hymns in Darkness, 1976:
         Background, Casually
         Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.
         Poem of the Separation

Arun Kolatkar
    from manuscripts:
         the boatride 41
    from Jejuri, 1976 48
	        Makarand 51

Shiv K. Kumar
    from Cobwebs in the Sun, 1974:
         Indian Women  54
         My Co-respondent 54
    from Subterfuges, 1976:
         Days in New York

Jayanta Mahapatra
    from A Rain of Rites, 1976:
         Indian Summer
         A Missing Person 60
         The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street 61
    from manuscripts:
         The Logic

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
    from Middle Earth, 1984:
         The Sale
         A Letter to a Friend
    from Nine Enclosures, 1976:
         Remarks of an Early Biographer

R. Parthasarathy
    from Rough Passage, 1977
         from Exile
         from Trial
         from Homecoming

Gieve Patel
    from Poems, 1966:
         On Killing a Tree 86
         Servants 87
         Nargol 88
		[every year, an ex-servant comes begging when
		he visits the native village]

		This time you did not come
		To trouble me. I left tthe bus
		Wiping dust frm my lashes
		And did not meet you all the way

		Cruel, you're cruel.

		From a village full of people
		She has chosen me; year after year;
		Is it need
		Or a private battle?

		At the end it is four annas —
		Four annas for leprosy. It's green
		To give so much
		But I am a rich man's son.
		She cringes -- I have worked for your mother.
		She hasn't --
		You come just once a year.
		All right, a rupee.  She goes. ...

		Was it not defeat after all?
		Personal, since I did not give,
		I gave in; wider -- there was
		No victory even had I given.

         Naryal Purnima
    from How Do You Withstand, Body, 1976:
         O My Very Own Cadaver

A. K. Ramanujan
    from The Striders, 1966:
         Looking for a Cousin on a Swing
         A River
    from Relations, 1971:
         Of Mothers, among Other Things
         Love Poem for a Wife
         Small-scale Reflections on a Great House
Select reading list 108
Index of titles 111
Index of first lines 113

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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Sep 03