[ Pous – The ninth month of the Bengali calendar, from mid December to mid January]
It is three o’clock. Keeping aside the work in hand, I leant back in my chair. My handwritten long row of small words on the white sheet of paper – just like dead flies on a white wall; each line resembling a slithery black snake. I had finished one page after an hour of hard work. I have transformed an atomic part of the vast and unclear world of the thought processes in my brain, into decipherable human language – watered through eons of years, the developed feelings in symbols, in conversations. The process involves extreme anguish and pain. Despite that being so, I just have to go through it… I have to bear the pain through the whirling days and sleepless nights, through weeks, months, years upon years, until the day death will bring the last and ultimate respite. When I look at the sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, I shudder to the bottom of my soul. Words, words. Endless, unending words. Maybe these words are meaningless to everyone except myself.
Are there six people in this land who’d understand what I wanted to say upon reading my writings? The way I want my works to be read, will there be three men to read them? I know what happens. On a summer afternoon, closing the doors and windows of the room, turning the overhead fan on, the deputy homemaker lies down on the mammoth cot holding my book in her hands, (if she doesn’t have any boy or girl nearing the ‘about to be fallen’ age) then after reading two pages, the printed words become hazy, she turns aside and dozes off to sleep. The weight of her fat hands would squeeze the open pages of the book with three hours’ of sweat. And the guys from the public library vie with each other in order to get hold of my books; only the fortunate returns home clutching his prize within his armpits, jumping with joy, gobbles up the book from the first to the last pages – turning the pages like a madman, to get whatever he wants, whatever he understands, for which he has saved his pennies with extreme diligence. Instead of offering these at the pious feet of the screen’s gods and goddesses, he turns the pages of my books ravenously, in search of the same pleasure. Then after his disillusion, he creates various juicy stories and anecdotes about me and in this way, takes his revenge. I know, I know.
In this literary essay, Shaswato Sarcar explores Edgar Allan Poe’s works highlighting how Poe flourished because of his unprecedented approach and narrative technique, which was one of a kind.
Even though Edgar Allan Poe was considered as one of the most popular figures in the genre of ‘Romanticism’, he did introduce the audience of that age to a completely distinct style and genre of his own. He was known around the world and still is, because of his signature genre of ‘psychological horror’. Though the Victorian era was flooded with horror story writers, still Poe flourished because of his unprecedented approach and narrative technique. His narrative style was one of a kind. He made sure that his readers were as much moved by his storytelling as by the context.
Poe was a pioneer of Macabre. He completely transformed the genre of the horror story with his masterful tales of psychological depth and insight not envisioned in the genre before his time and scarcely seen in it since.
In this deeply personal and moving essay, Manish Gaekwad talks about his experiences of growing up in a brothel and being queer
I was five when the boys started petting me and kissing me in places other than my flushed cheeks. Once, when I was at home in Kolkata, a lady peeped through the door and saw that a boy older than me was lying on top of me and rubbing himself vigorously in ways that adults do. He must have seen someone do it to his mother. He was trying to replicate it to see where it goes.
It went sore.
His mother thrashed him. My mother thrashed me. I did not understand why I was being beaten for doing nothing. I was merely lying down and I don’t recollect how I got there. I did not have words then to express what I felt. I sensed that what was giving the boy pleasure was not acceptable to adults.
Soon, I too got a taste of that pleasure.
We were disappearing behind curtains, playing hide and seek in the afternoon when the women were sleeping after lunch. We were kissing and fondling behind those curtains, in plain sight of the very women who had objected to it. A boy once pulled my trousers down and shoved his face in my crotch. Another time he spooned me under a quilt where we were hiding to be startled. My body tingled with the thrill of these secret games. The games children saw adults play through peep holes.
For the longest time I took pride in the fact that I would listen to only Begum Akhtar and the like. I took pride in naming several world movies and having remembered their directors. But what is not on record is that I started reading fairly late into my teenage years and started out with a railway copy of Bhagat’s Two States during my high school years, which I discreetly disposed of on my bookshelf in my later years.
My journey to develop a ‘refined taste’ was a rather self-imposed one; the one where I decided not to listen to certain genres of music, or avoid watching certain films. This intent to culturally ‘polish myself up’ was my regular homework, which was led by an unconscious need to fit into certain sects of society and a need to appease an imaginary audience.
A personal essay by Anupama Kumar on how Odell’s book how changed her experience of work and writing in the pandemic as it speaks about opting out of the attention economy, and taking time away from distractions.
What if, Odell asks, augmented reality simply means putting your phone down?
What if, indeed. Odell’s book reminds us that while the world is structured on having our attention on something all the time – even if it isn’t all our attention, all of the time we’re paying attention, there is perhaps another way to be. We have been heading here for a while. Results Only Work Environments and employment in the gig economy require us to be on our toes and “available” for anything. Time is a valuable resource in today’s world, too valuable to not be spent productively, and certainly too valuable to waste on not allowing our attention out. Odell exhorts us to disconnect, to “opt out” and re-engage with the world on our terms. She cites an instance from her own life, where she began to walk through a park in San Francisco and identify individual birds by their calls. By focusing her attention on the moment, she gained a far deeper understanding of the world around her.
This does not mean a complete disengagement with the world, or retreating into complete solitude like a hermit. To Odell, complete disengagement, and a complete retreat away from the world as we know it is impossible. Instead, she advocates that we step away from a culture that requires that we pay attention all the time – to social media, to technology, to the relentless pursuit of productivity – and instead enjoy the one life we have right now.
While I was growing up in Tokyo, there used to be a cherry blossom tree outside my apartment window, a ‘sakura’ tree. It bloomed, but just for one week during spring every year. The branches would fill with riotous pink blossoms, heaving in the breeze like big sticks of cotton candy. They would wave about gaily like they were saying hello to whoever was beneath them.
It was common to see people sitting and making merry under these blossoms. New loves being found, hearts being broken, friendships being forged and life decisions being taken. But within a few days, the gossamer pink petals would curl onto each other and gently fall to the ground. Their lives would be done, the sole purpose of their existence being to lend happiness to people and beauty to nature.
Exploring all that Bhishma did to order and protect the lives of two generations of Kurus, Neera Kashyap dissects his character to bring out the finer nuances.
Bhishma Pitamah, the grand patriarch of the Kuru clan in the epic of the Mahabharata lived a long life spanning five generations. From scholarly estimates, it appears he may have lived for over a hundred years, for he enjoyed the boon from his father King Shantanu of choosing his own time of death – ichcha mrityu. He earned this boon by making the most astounding vows: giving up his claim to the throne and taking a life-long vow of celibacy so that there would be no claimants to the throne from his own bloodline. Read more
Living with a pandemic can be testing and full of surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant). Verena Tay shows us a glimpse of her journal entries during the pandemic to show us life, as she sees it.
Some say there is value in writing down the minutiae of life, no matter how trivial, as a record of what happened for posterity. In this pandemic period, some say it is even more important to do so because these are unique and historic times that one must remember. Surely future generations will be keen to find out about the experiences of those who lived through Covid-19 so that they can draw some kind of significance for their own lives?
However, why journal about these times when so many of my contemporaries are making their own chronicles, now that literacy and art-making are more widespread? What about the importance of noting down my own perspective? Ah… Not much has really happened during the last few months for me.
With the quarantine in full force, I constantly found myself buzzing with the undercurrent of my anxieties and amped up by this misplaced energy. It’s funny because it’s not like I have much time on my hands. My workload has been more or less the same amid the ongoing pandemic. But there are pockets of break times so, one day, I found myself decluttering my stacks of papers and notebooks from college.
They were my old essays, reading materials and various notes. Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I read through them, especially considering that I haven’t written anything remotely personal lately. With my work as a writer for someone else, my job is just to be my boss’ foot soldier—to produce content for him, for his business, for his name.
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.