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“I am indebted to the British poet, actor, and soldier James Milton Hayes, whose poem ‘The Green Eyes of a Yellow Little God’ with its opening line ‘There is a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu’ fired my imagination to name this collection of poems The Eight-eyed Lord of Kathmandu. Hayes wrote his immortal dramatic monologue over a century ago in 1911 just in five hours. Incidentally, he did not consider it as poetry. Following the footsteps of Hayes, a century later, I have made a humble attempt to draw a poetic portrait of Nepal through my poems on World Heritage sites, festivals, places, landscapes, historical personalities as well as its present inhabitants. My time spent in Nepal from July 2012 to January 2016 was full of bliss, learning and adventure.”
I lead the way to Mt. Everest, paving the path through snow
and ice, fearless of losing fingers to frostbite.
Conquering Everest your face glows like a field of poppies.
Descending the mountain my feverish body breaks.
Your weight on my back. A few dollars in my hand.
‘Like Earth to Stars’: Forthcoming from Poetrywala, Mumbai
Heracleion and the City of Shiva Prakash
Thank you, archaeologists, for excavating
the great ancient city
hidden in the depths of the Mediterranean
for one thousand and two hundred years.
Our stone children,
gods and goddesses,
still lie there
dreamy-eyed and smiling
though heads and limbs are broken
and eroded by sea salt.
Why did this city drown?
It stood on the foundation of sand
that could not bear and support
its ever increasing weight of buildings
and statues of gods and people,
poor sand gave way…
But a lot of the city’s glory still survives poignantly
hidden in water and surrounded by unmindful fish
waiting to be discovered and admired…
My heart too is a city
bursting with palaces, temples and gardens
I built for you.
So many pilgrims and merchants come here day and night
and most settle down
as they cannot say goodbye to a city so exquisite,
because of you and my art
but, alas, I have built all this
on the foundation of wet sands
of your ever dwindling faith in me.
So the City of Shiva Prakash too will collapse
due to a great error of the builder:
He never thought of the strength
of the foundation.
once it goes under the sands of the ever-changing world
will someone discover its wonders
when neither of us will be around?
Every time he read a book, burnt plastic, swatted an insect, or shot a bird for lunch, Jade was stamped right back.
He was hiking through the forest and stung by bees, he ran a cross-country race and was scarred by bush fire, he camped on a summit and was struck by lightning.
After discarding his mobile phones, TVs, computer, electronic appliances, when he camped in the woods of Thailand, he lost his way and had to eat camouflage plant that grew rashes all over his body. (Maybe he ate up its defences too.)
In the next wandering, he twirled in the Sri Lankan tsunami for eternity.
Even when he was done with nature, her fur and fury, her lengths, depths, girth, and breadth, he could count the marks she had given him: his flat, misshapen head, since his fall from the bed of his birth during an earthquake, his amputated toes from frostbite, the red-veined tattoo from a bolt on his arm that looked like an embedded tree about to rev up.
of our past lives
But nature’s fury was decreasing now. She was back-slapping him. The more he ate off a banana leaf, the more he recycled water, cycle-rode . . . she left him with trails of pollen-laden sneezes and minor infections.
Gaurav Agnihotri was apoplectic with anger. The editor-in-chief of the News Tonight Network (NTN) paced up and down his office, as his deputy editor and production in charge quailed in their seats at the conference table in the corner. The bank of televisions that covered an entire wall was showing what was playing on all the other news channels. By now, every news network had managed to get their OB vans into AIIMS and was broadcasting from there. The only channel whose reporter on the spot was calling in on the phone was NTN. Apparently, there was some glitch in the network, which the technicians were working to fix.
‘Just how long is it going to take?’ Gaurav asked yet again, his voice quivering with fury. ‘It’s been ten minutes since they’ve been working on it. That’s a lifetime on live television!’
There was no answer from the men quailing in the corner. They were used to Agnihotri’s wild rage, but this temper tantrum was in a different league altogether. Gaurav stopped his pacing suddenly and switched on the sound of the television beaming AITNN’s feed to the world. Manisha Patel, her immaculately highlighted hair swishing gently around her shoulders, was looking suitably solemn as she did her piece to camera: ‘The Prime Minister has been rushed into surgery. Our sources inside AIIMS tell us that the PM’s condition is stable but serious. The senior leadership of the party has already arrived at the hospital as have Birendra Pratap’s two sons, Karan and Arjun.’
Gaurav felt that familiar mix of anger and admiration wash over him as he watched Manisha on the screen. How did she manage it? How did she succeed in getting in front of the story no matter what? And why was it that every minister who trooped into AIIMS was first stopping by to pay homage at her shrine, taking questions they clearly had no answer to. As he watched Manisha go into sympathetic-listener mode, Gaurav’s mind flashed back to the time that both of them had started as lowly reporters at Doordarshan (DD) News. Coming up against the tired old bureaucracy in charge of DD News, they had bonded over bread pakoras and masala chai in the office canteen, swapping war stories and comparing battle wounds. And then, with a speed that was both astonishing and inevitable in equal measure, they had found themselves in bed, caught up in a passion that took both of them by surprise. Of course, it hadn’t lasted. How could it? They were both Alphas. Both had been competing for the same stories. And neither was willing to back off or compromise. The end had been brutal, with each turning on the other viciously. They hadn’t exchanged as much as a ‘hello’ since then. And now, a decade later, Gaurav felt that old bitterness corrode his insides, as he saw Manisha performing what he derisively referred to as her Oprah Winfrey number.
Her hazel eyes looked suspiciously moist, her voice quivered ever so slightly, as she kept the nation updated with the latest on the Prime Minister’s condition. Of course, there was more emotion than facts in her account. But that was what worked in such situations. And Gaurav had to grudgingly concede that she had got the tone just right: a mix of calm and disquiet underpinned by a layer of barely-suppressed hysteria. The door opened and his production manager rushed in. The link had been fixed. Gaurav straightened his tie and took one last look in the mirror that hung opposite his desk. His salt-and-pepper curls were tousled as artlessly as his hairstylist could manage. The subtle application of bronzer had given his somewhat pudgy face contours it did not, in fact, possess.
Slipping on his rimless glasses (he didn’t really need them but he thought they gave him a suitably ‘intellectual’ look) he headed into the studio, mulling just how he could distinguish his coverage from Manisha’s. By the time he had taken his place behind his desk and been miked, Gaurav knew exactly how he was going to play this. The Prime Minister of India was in surgery, suspended between life and death. The doctors weren’t saying very much about his condition. But the truth was clear to anyone with one and a half brain cells. Birendra Pratap had been targeted in some way at the rally as he went into the crowd. A healthy man like him didn’t just collapse for no reason. There had to be foul play. And if there had been foul play there was only one suspect: Pakistan. India’s perennial enemy number one. The country that had vowed to inflict a thousand cuts on India by using terror as an instrument of state policy. Clearly, it had now decided to up the ante with a direct attack on the Prime Minister himself.
The cameraman counted down, ‘Three, two, one…’ as NTN came back from a break. Gaurav took a deep breath, looked straight into camera, his eyes already bloodshot, his mouth an angry line, and started: ‘This is a sad day in the history of our nation. Our Prime Minister is in hospital, the target of a diabolical attack.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be misled by all these so-called liberal journalists who are talking about how he has had a stroke or a heart attack. We at NTN are here to tell you the truth: Birendra Pratap was the victim of a cowardly assassination attempt. Somebody has tried to take the life of the Indian Prime Minister. And the finger of suspicion points directly at Pakistan.’
Title – Rasia, The Dance of Desire
Publisher – Rupa Publications (2017)
Price – Rs. 295/-
Excerpt from chapter 2
Raj Shekhar Subramanian
My entire being arouses with a protective shield towards this woman. Seventeen years of togetherness is a long time. When have I ever been a husband who wakes up, orders breakfast, takes bath, goes to office, watches television, has dinner and kisses the wife goodnight? Manasi isn’t tired of my creative whims. At least, not yet. Rather, the unpredictability keeps her entertained. My demure wife though, has her own ways to follow her mind. Without the least warning, she goes ahead with things without considering the consequences they might have on me and everyone else around her. Just like her secret visit to my orphanage. Just like she had agreed to marry me on an impulse, even though I had promised her neither luxury nor riches, no undying romance as suitors usually do.
What a strange evening it was when I saw her for the first time.
That was 1998. I had landed up in Kolkata for my final round of meetings with Britannia industries. I was being absorbed by the organization in their supply chain wing post my B.Tech. The city was celebrating the Saptami day of Durga Puja, and was all decked up in pomp and gaiety. Every lane was crowded. After finishing the formalities with Britannia, I was walking leisurely through Rashbihari Avenue watching people pouring into the sari shops, pampering themselves.
So lucky—this privileged class!
I had broken free from my orphanage and moved to the college hostel when I was sixteen. I topped various examinations at all academic levels. The Government, since then, had taken special care of me. I thrived on scholarships for a large part of my life. That made life easier, but I never had the opportunity to splurge. My funds were limited, and I had vast plans with the money I had for the days to come.
The sun had set; darkness was slowly taking over. The city, with its lamps and lights, seemed to awaken to welcome the evening festivities. Distracted with my thoughts, I had unmindfully landed up at one of the pandals*, lit brightly, surging with visitors. I made my way through the chaos and pushed myself forward. A young girl in her early twenties, flawlessly draped in a cotton saree, was dancing with the dhaak** that played. Her vigour wasn’t impaired by the growing crowd watching her. I could tell from her moves that she wasn’t professionally trained. Yet, she had a style—of youth and feminine abundance, of letting go and not holding back. She smiled as she stretched, bent and whirled around; her muscles and body reflected serene fulfilment. Her eyes, beneath a big maroon bindi, sparkled with mischief.
… word ‘Russia’ is enough to make some Bengalis teary-eyed. They made me recite my poems at great length in Russian, although they didn’t understand a word. In return some of the men recited Bengali poems. I was surprised to learn that the plant boss had given permission for this exchange and that the whole factory had come to a halt for the duration. I live in Boston where poetry is an obscure priestly pursuit. I thought to myself, Calcutta’s air is thick with a million fumes but here a poet can breathe easy. Perhaps I’d been affected by Bengali sentimentality, after all I’m Russian.
After that first visit I returned several times. I’ve travelled in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra and stayed in ashrams in Delhi, Benares, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehra Doon, and rural Bengal. A pilgrim’s progress and a poet’s progress. I learned Urdu and Hindi to the point of some fluency. When I visit India, which isn’t as often as I’d like, I use Calcutta as my base and branch out from there to Delhi, Bombay, Madras.
I met Xavier and Doss toward the end of my first visit when I attended the poetry conference. I had done some translation, Pushkin, Mandelshtam, Brodsky. When Xavier asked if I could contribute to the anthology I thought he wanted my translations from the Russian. But why would he want Russians in an anthology of Indian poetry? When I realized what he was getting at I didn’t agree right away. I didn’t know if my Urdu was good enough to translate poetry into English. Of course that was the point. Doss and Xavier came up with the idea of anthologizing the kind of poets who had never before been anthologized, outliers, rebels, hermits, dangerous faces unwelcome in polite society. They found poets no one had ever heard of, or had heard of once and quickly forgotten, or had heard of many times over a period and then never heard of again.