Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Till peace does you apart-

Was watching 'Tamas' ( the fictional television soap on the partition of India ) being aired again after many years..only this time it brought back memories of not only a partitioned country and its horror stories but of the stench that continues in different ways in today's times. It also brought about a few lines hidden stoically somewhere. The poem rambles between the present and the past and rests in nowhere-

The morning after-
she stood
ravaged and still.
The intruders had come,
torn her and him
each other too, it seemed.
Devoid of shame and compassion,
a sudden chaos to austerity.

Fear of being burnt down,
having burnt oneself
of all one ever had,
or the promise to have-
at least.
She stood calm
picking her shreds
from a map so convoluted-

Revolution and revolutionaries
look pretty in history books
in reality there is blood,
only blood and its stench-
of unloved for flesh
and hungry mice.
She cries out
in lonely hunger,
questioning which ideology was greater
than her dead son,
his dreams of spinning yarns,
their flesh she wanted, in return.

Callous hands had beheaded
her pubis
where the dark smell of desire
breathed life.
Only the poor,
the helpless
knew the truth
of life from death,
of shame, and the humour of living-

Go hide your ideology
in your cupboard full of dead bodies
where blood mingles with
songs long dead.
Tomorrow you shall burn too,
and I shall laugh
criminal in my desire for revenge,
'vulgar' defining every home.
I shall dance in my mad pyre,
till madness strikes you dead,
what you fought for
writ in the black
of another's innocence
alive and palpable still.

Now you are the murderer
and so am I,
we live in similar houses,
with crushed flowers
and mangled posies
from lustrous graves
in every city.
We burn the green
kill the love
and then we laugh,
in cupboards dark.

In every little desperate hole-
like rats we move,
in dark abandon.
When ideology sleeps
in a mother's sour breast
go pluck the milk,
feed the wolves
kill another
till peace does you apart.

- © 2013 Maitreyee B Chowdhury

(Image courtesy http://www.queensmuseum.org/5884/the-rising-phoenix-a-dialogue-between-modern-and-contemporary-indian-art )

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

People we meet and don't forget..

Four years ago, still fresh to Bangalore streets I was curious about everything. I would walk different roads everyday( I still do). There's often a nice haste to the roads if you stand still, very still and try and observe that pace. I stood still that day, watching a little boy ride his bicycle sitting on the handle bar and pedaling backwards, reminded of my own antics with the bike in school. Absentmindedly, I had leaned on a gate, which gave away and I almost fell into the premises of a Shiv Mandir. Surprised, I walked in, almost instinctively opening my shoes and wandering around. Some lines registered themselves on my phone as I watched a Linga touched by hands, melt in milk and grow. A small temple and too many people didn't make for a rosy picture, but the stone floor was cool and experiments with the feet a nice pastime sometimes. Like other people, I threw coins at the fishes and watched them being ignored and then I saw her(him). To everyone walking past, there sat a Eunuch selling flowers. For me it was a strange pull, I couldn't take my eyes off the mesmerizing creature with a gorgeous smile, a red saree, a big bindi of sindoor plastered on the forehead, hair coiled up high on the head like lord Shiva's mane and an armful of flowers for whoever came by. I approached cautiously and smiled, while asking for permission to take a photograph. There was a initial hesitancy and then a shy smile. There are certain people with whom you feel like smiling just for the sake of it, just for the love of it. There are certain people, who make you feel good for no reason at all, there presence is good enough. Day after day, that figure sits and sells flowers, smiles at people..goes home perhaps, without the knowledge of a silent smile that she( he) is surrounded by. Seeing her( him) makes me happy and that is all there is to it, all that is necessary too. There have been plenty of times, when I have crossed that road and saw that figure in red, I might have been busy or rushing somewhere but that presence in red never failed to calm me. Every time I have got down from the car, walked the certain distance, smiled and walked back..we don't understand each other's language, perhaps its better that way.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Red Hills

There were five of us. The School had broken for summer holidays. In the early 80’s in a remote part of North Eastern India; holidays did not mean sleepovers and malls. It meant roaming around aimlessly in the surrounding jungles, playing around on the roads and going for picnics on your cycle. On that summer afternoon too, little idle minds wondered what was to be done of the ensuing evening and greater part of the afternoon that still loomed large. Not that we were bored, thankfully that word had not yet taken over the dictionaries of children still. Someone suggested a game of hide and seek, another suggested the Red Hills. Venue and game decided, we set off for the beautiful Red Hills. The place got its name from the view from the plateau that we used as a base for our activities. One had to climb up the gentle slope situated centrally, to see hill. While climbing, we always took off our slippers, in sheer reverence for the soft grass that we walked on. Guava and Olive trees, punctuated the terrain. Guavas hung around on the trees, as if in the remote hope that some child would chance upon them and bend them down to the earthy-ness of human hands. A small ceremony was always followed for the first sighting of the Red Hills. As we slowly approached the slope, all of us in the unison of the sincerity of a child's prayer, closed our eyes tightly. The first glimpse of the Red Hills was always special. Bathed in the afternoon glow of the setting sun, today it seemed surreal.

Someone shouted that hiding places could be anywhere along the slope and hill next to it, but not beyond, never beyond. There was of course place enough to hide if one knew where one was going. Mamma had insisted I behave more like a girl and pulled a white cotton dress through my 9 year old head. It was a big problem, the dress; it lingered on and seemed to attract dragon flies, and little blue flowers that somehow lingered on. Someone started counting 20-19-18-17… As I scurried down the hill, I wondered where I would hide. A Guava fell off a tree and rolled down the slope, settling on the bend of the adjoining hill. Guavas I thought were good navigators; I followed the fruit and came upon a resting place. I had often seen the nuns from our school come here in cars, along with other people. Strangely, when they arrived, they would always be crying but while going back they seemed to be drastically cheerful, almost as if someone had ordered them to be so. I had asked Mamma about it, and she had said, that Christians believed in giving happy farewells to their dead. While much of the meaning of the Red Hill might have been lost to me, its potential as a great hiding place seemed to offer the greatest of opportunities to my muddled head. I ran to what seemed to look like quite a large stone placed on the ground. Two stones joined at one end, making the perfect ‘L’.  I clutched the long white frock and hid behind the stone that stood. Extremely excited because I was sure, no one would find me here, I sat in the quiet. What a perfect hiding place! Having sat myself down to the silence of stones, I inspected curiously the back of the stone on which I had rested. It seemed to be quite ornate, little leaves, flowers and cherubs drawn on it. I touched my hands on it, the edges were rough, probably from the rains, but the center of the stone strangely still felt smooth. The counting should have been over by now, but I had almost forgotten about the game, I crawled over to the front. To my delight, it was like grandpa’s arm chair, the one I wasn't allowed to sit on. I stretched my back on the standing stone and neatly kept my legs straight on the stone that lay on the ground. My head cushioned on the stone felt cold though, just beneath the top. I turned to look at the stone, facing it for the first time. There was a photograph of a small boy, much like my neighbor, the one who always cried. As I looked closely I saw something written there.

'Here lies Peter, born 1968, died 1971. May his soul rest in peace.'

I looked at the photograph again, remembering the date in the school notebook, on the left hand corner, blue margin, it seemed an awfully long time for a small boy to be lying there.  I smiled at him, wondering if he was happy where he was, perhaps he liked the fact that I had chosen him to play hide and seek with. After all it was quite natural that he would be tired of lying there all those years. I stroked the photograph then. The sun was almost down ad yet in the last rays of gold, Peter seemed to smile back. I stroked the face then, in some way trying to reassure him that I would be back with more games and laughter.Someone shouted out to me, “Come out, we can’t find you, 'You've won'.  

I tugged my way up the red hills, with my long white dress strewn with flowers wild, I felt I had left the little boy happier.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An everyday Ramayana

                                                      ( Picture from the Internet)

Yesterday I met a lawyer friend from Calcutta. He brought along a gift and handed it to me rather ceremoniously, which surprised me. When I asked for the reason for the gift, he told me that he had been using some of my insights into people watching in the courtroom and it had been working well for him. I was extremely surprised and curious about how insights into human nature and peripheral observations could actually be used in court. 

But it reminded me of something and we discussed it over coffee. A long time ago in a small town in Assam, I was watching the Ramleela that was being enacted as a part of the Dussehra festivals. A small group of actors play the Ramleela( which is the enactment of a very small part of the epic) there are no special lights or fancy stage decoration. The faces are full of makeup and garish but shabby costumes. They look at you intently, here they make love with the eyes. The most interesting part though is the improvisation on stage. While a couple of musicians play on the Tabla, Harmonium, etc, the characters suddenly break into a dance. To someone like me who had so long seen theater were no one broke away from their own roles or the lines dedicated to them, this was amazing.

During a particular scene, while Ram was busy saying his lines Lakshman sat hunched on the other end of the stage. He calls out to a man close to the stage who is having a Bidi( cigarette) and has a puff from him. The overhead mike, catches his request for a Bidi, but no one is really bothered as Ram is still narrating his lines. Ram suddenly appears to forget his lines, someone laughs and Ram is angry he goes near the audience and says, 'Chal tu hi bol dal' ( why don't you say it). the person keeps quiet and Ram gets back to thinking his lines, Hanuman pipes up and asks him to narrate other lines from later on in the play, Ram obliges and all is well.

I sneak backstage during a break, the stage is empty now only the musicians are playing, singing some songs. The props come and go, gorgeously decorated scenery of chariots, kings and queens, birds and trees on cheap Chinese silk. Behind a curtain at the back, Sita is already in her costume, she is cooking rice on a small pot. She gives me a disinterested look and puffs at her bidi. I'm a bit aghast, isn't Sita supposed to be the ideal Hindu nari( woman) and all that? I look closer, suddenly Sita is no longer Sita, it is Lakshmana in a sari. Everything is a Maya, an illusion. The only reality is the improvisation, what happens beyond the script. I smile and go back, the actors are everywhere.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

An everyday distance

I see you walk in the distance of everyday
sometimes the Sun walks with you,
Orange, arrogant

I open my mouth
and swallow the Sun,
you too
some where perhaps..

I throw you out now
at my own compulsion,
worn and devoid of love
now a rag,
naked, devoid of charity.

© 2013 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury 

( Image from the Internet)