I am waiting for my father. I glance at the clock. It is not yet time, and he never delays, but I am impatient. As I fidget with my things, I suddenly feel a chill enveloping me. Shivering involuntarily, I glance up sharply.  The study door is swinging on its hinges. Sure enough, Dad is ready.

“I’m sorry,” he says with an apologetic smile. “Is it very cold?”

I smile back. I am so glad to see him, I cannot complain. “No matter, Daddy,” I say as I cross over to shut the door still gently creaking in the wind from the open window beyond. 

I come back and look at him. He is wearing a faded shirt, and he looks frail and old, but his face shines. Is he in perfect health, or is he so glad to be with me?

An introduction to the poem by the poet

The poem presents a situation where all around the world people are doing one form or another of counting. Numbers have come into the foreground in our pandemic days. As I was becoming more and more aware of how random numbers began to affect our lives in unexpected ways, I decided to write a poem that would reflect both the despairing  and hopeful feelings oscillating within us with regards to these numbers.

While writing this poem I became very conscious of Tennyson’s melancholy and how his poems often moved from despair to that of faith and hope. I decided I would intersperse the stanzas in my poem with lines from various Tennyson poems to heighten the effect on the numbers and their connotations. I believe the intertextuality in the poems takes the poem to a new dimension.

Published by Kitaab, Quarantined Sonnets: Sex, money and Shakespeare by Tabish Khair is considered to be one of the finest works of literature to come out of the Covid 19 pandemic. This anthology of sonnets written by the noted poet, novelist and critic, contains powerfully original rewritings which combine humor and satire with acute social and political commentary.

A preview of There’s a carnival today originally written by Indra Bahadur Rai in Nepali and translated into English by Manjushree Thapa (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2017)

The old couple could never forget their own wedding. They’d had an arranged marriage on the sixteenth day of the month of Falgun exactly thirty-one years ago today, with a nine-piece musical band in the wedding procession. Kaase Darzis had blown narsingh trumpets from a platform on the roof, sounding out the auspicious news of the wedding. Lamba Lama, Hukumdas Sardar and Doctor Yuddhabir Rai (the poor men had all since passed away) had danced all night to the sweet melody of the shehnai. Kaji Saheb had taken a photograph when Bagam Kanchha, who was home on holiday from the army, had dressed up as a maruni in women’s clothes and danced, spinning a plate in each hand. They’d had to set another pot of rice on the boil after eighty kilograms proved insufficient to feed the wedding procession. Nowhere in today’s Darjeeling would you see members of a wedding procession sitting in rows to eat in the courtyard while being attacked from all sides by chickens, which, when shooed away, raised clouds of dust with their wings.

Team Kitaab is in conversation with Taran N. Khan, the author of Shadow City (Published by Penguin India, 2020) where we discuss Kabul, her love for the city and her fascination for it which led to this book.

Taran N. Khan is a journalist and non-fiction writer based in Mumbai. Her writing has appeared in GuernicaAl JazeeraBerfroisHimal SouthasianGulf News and Dagsavisen, as well as in leading publications in India like The CaravanOpenThe Hindu and Scroll.in. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Logan Non-Fiction Program, Jan Michalski Foundation and Pro Helvetia. From 2006 to 2013, Khan spent long periods living and working in Kabul. Shadow City is her first book.

Taran N. Khan’s Shadow City is a fascinating read on Kabul. Interestingly, the first thing, Khan, was told when she reached Kabul, was to never venture for a walk. And that is exactly what she did- explore the city through walks, which further led to this book.

From “I have a complicated relationship with walking…” to writing a book on exploring an entire city through a series of walks. Has writing this book redefined walks/walking for her, we wondered. To which Khan says, “The book was shaped in part by this complicated relationship, which is still evolving. During the recent lockdown in Mumbai, for instance, I was not able to walk as often as I used to. When I did go out, it felt like a different terrain. Emptied of its crowds, the bare bones of the metropolis emerged, and I could see features that had always existed, but had been invisible to me.”

It was a Wednesday evening. We did not have power since the Amphan, a cyclone of sinister proportions, had made a landfall on Tuesday afternoon lashing Calcutta with ferocious wind and rain in the middle of a lockdown. The part of Calcutta where we live had the look of a cornfield ravaged by a hoard of rogue elephants – thousands of trees uprooted, boundary walls collapsed, and we did not have electricity for the previous 24 hours. It was not at all an appropriate time to upload photos of tea cups on social media and snobbishly announce the elevated status that had been accorded to an old brew on a sleepy mobile phone tangled with a power bank. But I could not resist the temptation to share the breaking news – ‘The United Nations recognizes the importance of one of the oldest brews on earth and declares May 21 as World Tea Day. Cheers!’ It was instinctive. Like itching.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

We play often in public, my husband and I, as we walk through shopping malls, in private as we stroll through empty garden parks, or stand by the sea at the beach or at the harbor’s front. I play and joke and tease him with my words. I like to remind him of past events, either a mistake or a funny joke, and make him take responsibility for his foolishness. One of our most repetitive banters is about Alexa, the Amazon machine that enables you to control many connected devices, such as bedroom lights and stereo music. When he mentions Alexa to my friends, or his, I would dramatize a head-shaking-sigh and say, “So jealous. His mistress. Even in our bedroom he calls for her.”

One day when we were alone on a walk, I said, “Don’t talk about her, Alexa. Makes me jealous.” His reply, which came quite spontaneously was, “If tech is your enemy, then food is mine.” I did not have a response. I was caught with my hand in my panties and, once again, had been painfully and loudly reminded of the fact that I played and joked and teased him with my words because I did not know how to do so with my body.

This is an excerpt from the lectures of India’s first Minister of Education and well-known freedom fighter, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. This is part of a series of lectures that he delivered during the Khilafat movement (1919-1922) in India during the British Raj. This movement was one of the key developments in India’s struggle for freedom which brought Hindus and Muslims together on one political platform under the leadership of giants like Gandhi, Azad and the Ali Brothers.