PaperPlanes#17 – Unearthing Bowl of Rice

हमर कतका सुन्दर गाँव
जइसे लछिमी जी के पाँव …..
अंगन मा तुलसी चौरा
कोठा मा बइला गरुवा
लखठा मा कोला बारी…..
जेकर लकठा मा हवे मदरसा
जहां नित कुटे नित खाए।
            -Pyaarelal Gupt

(My village so beautiful, like the feet of goddess Lakshmi. There’s a Tulsi in the courtyard and a buffalo in the porch, there’s also a garden full of greens. There’s also a place of learning near, where daily you eat and you beat.)

This poem is called Hamar Katka Sunder Gaav (My so beautiful village), written by one of the progressive poets of Chhattisgarhi Literature. This poem has beautifully captured the underdog literature of Chhattisgarh. This has been a predominantly agrarian state with small holdings farmer everywhere. This society was never a market-based society. It was sustainable, it had no waste and the soil flourished like gold. This poem is also capturing this village India, where home is in the soil. The place you learn is where you have to beat paddy to get rice at the same time, you get beaten to eat well the food of knowledge and learning. In Chhattisgarhi, the word for wealth is Dhan and the word for paddy is Dhaan. These words are not coincidentally similar rather people here value paddy as much as one values gold. Rice is called the gold of soil and this emotion cannot be justly expressed in English. Another masterpiece by a poet called Lakshman Masturiya goes:

मय छत्तीसगढ़िया अंव
मय छत्तीसगढ़िया अंव ग…..
सोन उगाथौं माटी खाथौं
मान ले देके हांसी पांथौं
खेती खार संग मोर मितानी
घाम-मयारू हितवा पानी……….
(I am a Chhattisgarhiya. I shoot gold, eat soil, I struggle to catch a laugh, field soil my company, sunlight my kindred, water by my side… )

This poem is self-explanatory but what is so beautiful and catching is the fact that the poet prides upon eating soil. He prides that water, soil, air are his friends and accomplice. It seems that he is complaining in the third line where he says that he hardly catches up on laughter but this is a sacrifice he made consciously to be friends with sunlight and water. Life in Chhattisgarh starts with agriculture and ends with the gold called harvested paddy. But one shouldn’t be in darkness and understand that because it is an agrarian society, it did not have the evils of caste, class, gender discrimination. Like Ambedkar had always questioned the village republic, Masturiya is not also not considering village as a utopia rather he writes another poem called Mor Sang Chalaw Re (Walk along with me):

मोर संग चलव रे ,मोर संग चलव जी
वो गिरे थके हपटे मन अउ परे डरे मनखे मन
मोर संग चलव रे ,मोर संग चलव ग…….
नवा जोत लव नवा गांव बर, रस्ता नवा गढव रे
मैं लहरी अंव मोर लहर मं फरव फुलव हारियावव
महानदी मैं अरपा-पैरी तन मन धो फरियालव
कहां जाहू बड़ दूर हे गंगा पापी इहे तरव रे………

(Walk along with me, walk along with me, those fallen, tired, scared souls of the heart, walk along with me, walk along with me! To new life,new village and to build new tracks, I am a free wave, you too join my wave and cleanse yourself. I am like Mahanadi and her sisters, wash away your body, your heart. Too far flows Ganga, I pour all my sins here.)

This poem is for a camaraderie. It calls to all those deprived sections of the society, who needs help in their upliftment. It calls them and asks them to join as if the author is not a person but a wave, an ideology. His ideology is to free one and all from the evils of the society.This will create a new village, a new path, a path free of sins. He compares this with the ritual of washing away sins in Ganga among Hindus. He says Ganga is too far, so immerse yourself in my Mahanadi!

Chhattisgarhi literature has never been read and circulated extensively. It has never come out of the state itself. In this amateur attempt of bringing more poems to the world, I have tried to show how literature has been diverse and some diversities are more equal than others.

In this attempt, I have used constant help from Sanjeev Tiwari Sir, a lone man in digitizing Chattisgarhi culture through the website www.gurturgoth.com .I express my gratitude toward this support and help.

About the Author: Kalpita Wadher is a Masters’ student of Social Science but her undergrad in literature makes her combine society and people with words of solace.

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PaperPlanes#16 – Quest To Discover Self With Kamala Das Surayya

Search for identity has been the muse for many wordsmiths. The desperate need to define oneself and establish a sense of link somewhere, to someone had been informing the pages of literary compositions since ages. From Romanticism to Post- Colonialism, the time has been a witness to this struggle. This is especially pronounced in post-colonial literature, where the trauma of colonization gushed into creative narratives. In these, it is women, who were in double jeopardy on account of their gender along with post-colonial confusion, whose voices echo the loudest. Of these women, it is Kamala Das or ‘Madhavi Kutty’ as she is remembered fondly by some, who has carved a special place in Indian literature that can never belong to anyone else.

The first ever poem that I wrote was in my mother tongue Malayalam, titled ‘Pathimugam’. It was the consequence of assignment doled out by an ambitious teacher hoping to spur poets in our average, non-assuming 5th grade. Inventing words has always been a part of me since a time I am unable to trace back. Armed with the dictionary from my father’s half-eaten library, I set forth with my literary journey. That was my first tryst with poetry. The reason for this nostalgic journey is to pronounce the fact that I started out in my mother tongue, and gradually lost words in it when I began to consume more of English narratives. Being a brown-skinned Indian who now creates in English and not just translates, there were innumerable times I was shamed for my language preference. Language has been always been a medium to express feelings that pushed and prodded. Do I need a censorship there too?

I knew her as Kamala Das first. First through her anthology of poems ‘Summer In Calcutta’. Then through her autobiographical novel ‘My Story’, she was embraced as Madhavi Kutty. A fond voice that resonated with me. In the conservative, educated society of Kerala where I grew up, patriarchy is not so obvious as in other Indian states. It is masked and conveyed through culture or even excused under the grandiose of education. In that society, Kamala Das was a rebel. The modern day Robin Hood, who dared to take up arms and shatter the false-mirror of liberalism that Kerala wanted to project. She refused to let her voice be claimed too. She composed in English, raged in Malayalam and explored the one aspect of identity loss that she was experiencing: Language shaming. Why couldn’t she express in English when her words easily rhymed in it?

I read Kamala Das’s poem ‘Introduction’ much later, in the class of another genius Mrs Dennison. By then I had made acquaintance with Kamla Das and considered her mine. In the poem ‘Introduction’ Kamala Das voiced out and raged against the sense of identity that she had and the one people pushed onto her. This theme would go on to define much of this poetess’s life. A Malayali by birth, as E.M. Forster might describe her, she was English by tongue and Indian by the look. Her poem revealed her sense of struggle to conform. In the time when she found her voice, she was tormented by the constant reminder that English is an alien language which the post-colonial India should abandon. Even today Kerala, a home to intellectuals who continue to astound the whole Indian subcontinent with their English versification from Tharoor to Arundhati Roy, for the most part, remains hesitant to embrace the alienness of English that whole Indian subcontinent had invited to their very bedroom.

I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.
I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love … I met a man, loved him. Call
Him not by any name, he is every man
Who wants. a woman, just as I am every
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.
(Introduction)

Discovering this poem is a feat that is one’s own. I can promise each of her lines like a dagger is sure to pierce your consciousness. And I will leave you to that journey. In conclusion, I would like to draw your notice to the feminist overtones in her poem. Ironically, Kamala Das has always refrained from defining herself as a feminist. Was it because she wanted her poetry to be much more than a crusade? We can only wonder!

About the Author : A wanderer at heart, Vibhuthi is the author of Rainbow, an anthology of poems that was published in 2009 by Nishaganti Publication.

PaperPlanes#15 – The Poetry of C

To grow a Texas cactus from the start,
You scatter tiny seeds on dirt and sand
(Your nail works well to nudge stuck ones apart).
Then sprinkle water with a steady hand.
Each day, my son asks, “Will it get real tall?”
He crowds his brother as they check for growth—
The way I’ve searched my hairless head since fall.
I pray young shoots will sprout up soon for both.
It happens all at once — soft spikes appear;
I rub my scalp while calling to the boys.
They peer in close to analyze each spear.
My bigger joy is lost to hooting noise.
The victory is all my own: Mom’s hair?
The news is that we grew a Prickly Pear.

Inspired by the cactus she brought from Texas for her sons to grow, Kyle Potvin wrote the poem ‘The New Normal’ about her experience with Cancer.

Poetry has two epicenters. One is located at a place where the poet has understood the world too well too quick. The second one is positioned where the poet is tired of trying and failing to comprehend the ways of this world. The question is – does it help? Is it capable of healing the wounds for good or does it just provide a momentary catharsis and the ancient suffering takes a modern form? What importance does a momentary catharsis play in a life that is being constantly seen by distant people with a sense of despair but a poetic hope by people on the inner arc? Does it make another day easier to live? Maybe it does. Otherwise, why would someone write this –

I come-to wearily, conscious of the slight ache in my shoulder.
I hold the kettle under the cold tap, one foot on the other on the chilly lino.

I watch the sheep from the kitchen window while I wait for the kettle to click off.
They are nibbling the hedge. I don’t know what attracts them. It looks bare to me.

I take my cereal and tea back to bed and arrange my two duvets, my hat and my scarf.
I am lucky to have an appetite.

Once I’ve drunk my tea I’ll have a cup of water then clean my teeth, have a salt-water rinse and try and chase some more sleep.

Despite it being a bright, sunny day out there, sometimes you just can’t find the will to live each day as if it were your last

(Chemo in winter/ Everyday life.)

Can poetry speak to the cells of cancer? When winds blow against the sails of today, can poetry, impregnated with our tomorrow, carry us through to the other side? Is cancer willing to understand what it means to be alive and why the human spirit never gives up its fight to breathe? Someday, can cancer realize that its host’s body is predisposed towards life? Can cancer be made to see how purposelessly it feeds on this world? In effecting all of these, can poetry play a role, a supporting one at the least?

I was pondering over the role of poetry in the fight against cancer. I looked around and I wasn’t alone!

I gaze at your face now,
Irish and watery eyed with fear and mirth.
There’s a line under your eye
that you didn’t have before…and soft red marks on your hands.

Prize fighter.
Fight dirty and grab it by its dark balls, or
if it happens to be a lady,
dig your nails in and pull out her hair. All’s fair.

(Prize fighter)

It does help that you can express your feelings about what you are going through. However, can a poet tell all that he feels? Did we ever have such a poet in the history of poetry? Language is too feeble a medium. That feeling which travels from your gut to the heart’s vessels to the canals of your brain and egresses out as saline something from the shores of your eyes can not be translated into any language. Do I wish that it could be? On days when a 17 year old boy knows all that is happening inside the body of his 37 year old mother, at least those unworded, shapeless emotions should be left to remain private.

What about the part that is voiced in a cancer poet’s words? For me, that expression is vital. A poet by his wont only exposes the portion that he understands can take the flights of expression and that right he has. He has the right to expose only the tip of the iceberg. A sensitive seagull can still perch on it and songs of hope can still be sung atop the numbing tip.

Passages to strength
Come in many forms and lengths,
Survival of the fittest,
The biggest
Lessons learned
Appear only when earned,
When fate turns
Its back on you,
Misconstrued,
Subdued
With questions of how and why,
Will I die?
How many tears am I able to cry?
The inquiries never seem to subside,
Outside,
I am a warrior-Braveheart if you will,
Yet within the walls of my ivory skin lies a disease that will kill
At will
With no prejudice or bias,
Ready to guide us
To our Maker of life

Where there lies no strife,
Maybe finally a day of peace
The heartaches will cease,
But my soul tells me to get up and fight
It is not my time to go towards the light,
The flight
That is destined for me
Is to be
The leader of every community
To help them see
It is not about you or I – it is about we,
I will not be added to the list of the deceased

Time of death 12:43,
Any demon can be defeated
As long as in the Lord’s hands you are seated,

(sigh)

I AM HERE
And yet you have been gone for slightly over 2 years,
And it’s amazing how my smiles take the place of those tears,
I now hope…instead of fear
And I pray that my message to all is crystal clear,
I stared Cancer right in the face
Not with anger but with womanly grace
And told it to get the hell out of this place!!!!!

(Cancer Slayer, Sabrina Esposito, Vero Beach, Florida)

Sources –
https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/the-poetry-of-cancer/
http://www.keep-healthy.com/poems-about-cancer/
http://www.cancernet.co.uk/poems.htm

PaperPlanes#12 – Let me sing you a little song

Sonetto, meaning little song had its birth in Italy at the hands of Giacomo da Lentini. It was not long before it entered English shores with Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard. As with all poetic forms, the time has twirled and nicked this form here and there. Traditionally dealing with the theme of love, sonnets offered poets or sonneteers as they are referred to in this case, a vehicle to carry, ruminate and find a resolution to their dilemmas. Continue reading “PaperPlanes#12 – Let me sing you a little song”

PaperPlanes#11 – It’s Poetry. Period.

Last year, I was in a village in Gujarat, trying to understand about menstrual hygiene among rural women. It was fascinating that the topic of menstruation brought a lot of laughter among them, Clearly, they were ashamed to talk about the hush topic which was apparently dirty and unhygienic. It didn’t matter that I was also a woman and went through the same cycle. Continue reading “PaperPlanes#11 – It’s Poetry. Period.”

PaperPlanes#10 – Adonaïs

Imagine a man whose list of admirers reads like this:

  • poets and writers of the order of Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock, Mary Shelley, Keats, Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy
  • social activists, no less than Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr,
  • intellectual giants on the scale of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, WB Yeats and Aldous Huxley

Continue reading “PaperPlanes#10 – Adonaïs”

PaperPlanes#9 – Poetry Has A Language, And It Doesn’t Have To Be Your Mother Tongue

It was a cloudy evening in namma Bengaluru on which Harper Perennial had hosted its tenth-anniversary event at the new Blossom Book Store on the Church Street. They had Vivek Shanbhag, Anita Nair, Volga and Jayanth Kaikini as their chief guests. They spoke about their books in regional languages that got translated into English by Harper Perennial.

Though the guests spoke about books, the focus was language. At one point, Kaikini said when he lived in Mumbai, at home he spoke Konkani, Marathi on the local bus and metro, English and Hindi at work, and came back home to write in Kannada. Kaikini, if you don’t know, is a writer, poet, and above all, one of the lyricists who brought meaningful lyrics in Kannada movies back from the brink of a shameful death. Though his mother tongue is Konkani, he writes in Kannada because it is close to his heart. He also said people can understand better if written in a language close to them. For most people, unlike himself, mother tongue is close to their heart. For which I told yes, just like people get more offended when someone abuses them in their mother tongue than in any other language. Yes, I had to make that analogy. Because you don’t choose language, but the language chooses you.

Kamala Surayya, a noted poetess, under her penname Kamala Das, wrote in An Introduction – ‘Don’t write in English, they said, English is not your mother-tongue. Why not leave me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins, every one of you? Why not let me speak in any language I like? The language I speak, becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses all mine, mine alone.’ She was right. Poetry is a form of literary work that doesn’t care about language in which it is written. The poet writes in the language in which he or she is comfortable. The reader chooses poems in languages he or she enjoys. Both don’t have to be the same.

What a poet tries to convey through the poem is best known to him or her. A reader can only analyse and interpret it to his or her best knowledge. It is not the same as reading a novel or a short story. Nobody can impose a poem on anybody. Because a poem is a whole story written in fewer words. Poetry is not for everyone; so wrong. Perhaps poetry in all languages is not for everyone. That means it is not enough if you know the language to enjoy the poem. You have to feel it. You will only feel the poem if it is close to your heart. That’s why teachers in school took more time to explain poems than stories in the textbooks to students. Again, the teacher would have explained what he or she interpreted and might have differed from what the student thought. That’s why most students feel poetry is boring. No, poetry is not boring. It is just that poetry is not in the right language for that student or person. Because poetry has a language, and it doesn’t have to be your mother tongue.

PaperPlanes#8 -The Lost Emperor

You would think an aging person unanimously chosen, nay forced, to lead several factions from various regions, cultures and even agonistic religions in an underdog war against the might of the Empire, in its full glory, would be the stuff of legends, considering how many Star Wars and superhero spinoffs permeate our waking moments these days. And yet hardly anyone remembers Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India.

And yet I am not here to correct the annals of history (William Dalrymple has already done the world that favour) but rather to speak about Bahadur, the man, Zafar, the poet. So you didn’t know he was a poet, you don’t say!

Zafar lived in the times of Ghalib and Zauq, two of the biggest names in Urdu Shayari which, of course, Zafar himself was instrumental in promoting. But despite living in the shadow of giants (a theme with his life, it seems), he was no mean pen-pusher himself (being trained by Zauq, the court poet himself) and tackled and improved upon some of the hottest themes and images in ghazals of the time:

kyA hogA rafu-gar se rafu merA garebAn

ae dast-e-junoon tu ne nahin tAr bhi chhoDA

Pining lovers tearing their clothes off in a fit of passion and jealousy was a common theme. Zafar hits the hyperbole out of the park by saying he has ripped his to such shreds that there’s not even a thread left to stitch.

marg hi sehat hae us ki marg hi us kA ilAj

ishq kA bimAr kyA jAne davA kyA cheez hae

While Ghalib famously said that pain beyond limit becomes its own medicine, Zafar is beyond the point of caring for medicine and recommends slow sweet death as panacea! What was most striking for me when I read Zafar for the first time, however, was the softness of his sorrow. In a field (led by Ghalib again, who else!) where chest thumping, self-patting and gore was the order of the day in romantic ghazals, Zafar comes across as a breath of soothing air, a balm on lovers’ rent chests!

What king, let alone the Emperor of the greatest of all kingdoms, India, would speak with this humility to the woman of his dreams, begging for his daily wages of insults!

gAliyA tankhvAh thahri hae agar baT jAegi

Ashiqo ke ghar miThAi lab shakar baT jAegi

Zafar was an unwilling emperor, the crown thrust on his sensitive head! Before his accession, he lived like a pauper, unlike his three royal brothers. In 1828, a decade before he succeeded the throne, Major Archer had this to say of Zafar – “His appearance is that of an indigent munshi or teacher of languages”.

itnA miliye khAk me jo khAk me DhunDe koi

khAksAri khAk ki gar KhAk sAri rah gai

In the words of the simple king himself, be so humble that if someone searches for your ashes in the dust, let them find only dust! So in a way, it is fitting then, that the victorious Emperor (Zafar means victor) is lost to time.

About the Author – Kaushal Suvarna has published two poetry collections – Siamese Compassion and A Trans-Arabian Handshake. He writes at https://lovelifeetc.com.

PaperPlanes#6 – Boast of Quietness

Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious and would like to
understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect to arrive.

It is because of this piece, I was drawn towards poetry. What held my fascination was the fact that in this world of poetry, one can be honest; that one can be true to oneself and to the world; the gesture will be applauded. It is a pity that when I came across this piece, my meekness led me to believe that being oneself was possible only in the world of poems. Back then there was an utter lack of ambition and one would immerse into and hide behind this world where the day would pass as a maze of thoughts. Time was never a worry, as it seemed to be playing along my pace. I realize how this piece gave me an intellectual high, comforting my self imposed limitations and fears. However, even back then as now it did twinge this point just below my breast and just above the lungs, somewhere in the centre.

Today when I consider myself far more confident, and not at war with the world, I want to partake in its worldliness. This piece does not comfort me anymore, as I feel the need to find a place in this world. I do not feel the same pride I once felt addressing myself as someone and anyone. While I still feel we are the voices of same poverty, there is an urge to change the status quo the country is still languishing in. I have developed drive whose inspiration is still not materialism, although my day has become greedy from the need to make this country a better place to live. I have never felt this identification for my homeland as I do now, and would like to see its men and women rise above the worries of food and shelter. My ambition is to not worry about a livelihood but about ‘a way of life’.

I am afraid to admit that one has developed a conflict with the idea of a city and its need to ‘build’. I am at conflict with its pace. With no first hand experience of a countryside, I assume it to be a place with unattended green wilderness punctuated by houses which are not at conflict with nature. I have many complaints, angst and regrets against the cities I have been a part of and still am. The quick to attack rage of steel and the lariats of my fellow Indians makes my heart burn, though now I do not feel isolated by their aspirations.

The willow grove’s visible prayer holds much more beauty for me now, as do all the phases of a day. Now I want to be a part of every sunrise, and every sunset and find romance in noon. While I am much more aware of my dispensability, I would like to feel worthy of tomorrow as I sleep and wake up, every day.
I want to develop my own pace, fast or slow and be unashamed of it.
I want to be more prodigious than a meteor as I wanted to be back then, albeit being a part of this worldliness.

The ‘Boast of Quietness’ holds a much more meaningful place in my life now. Thank you for this poem.

About the Author : Gunjan Vashisht is a poet, writer who has a flair for human nature and finds herself at home with the propensity to explore habits, reactions, opinions, mindsets.