Gopuji tore away the blanket. His shirt was drenched in sweat. He dragged himself out of bed. When he foamed toothpaste in his mouth, he heard it again. It seemed to be a classical tune of great melancholy, of Western origin rather than a Hindustani one. It flooded his ears. His temples throbbed. Sudden chills in the forty-degree Mumbai heat and humidity. He remembered last night’s dream of feathered attacks. Yes, that was what it was. Wet wings slapping at him as if they would murder him in a pond or lake … hard forceps-like things clutching his neck … a thick fleecy rope winding around his neck … tighter and tighter, claws gripping him and tearing his flesh.
Even the memory of it sent streams of sweat down his body as he showered and got ready for work. The lilt lingered into his hearing.
Gopuji was accustomed to background music. In fact, he was more used to it than most average people. He was a filmmaker. How many times, while making films, had he ardently wished for a personal background score? A score that would act like lyrical second thoughts, drizzling around him, making his life more meaningful and understood by those around. Was it this wish that followed him now? This principle that if you wished for something strongly into the Universe it was bestowed upon you?
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.
striped feline— birthmarks 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.
Among the many sub-genres of poetry, haibun might be the hardest to categorise. Is it in essence poetry or prose? Or a tapestry woven from the two threads by a skilled practitioner? Is it distilled from personal experience or a product of the fanciful flight in a fabulist world created by the poet?
Haibun, despite being a 500-year-old form, assiduously escapes the narrow confines of a definition. Yet, the critical elements of this form – sincerity, brevity, suspension of cleverness, living the moment, and experiencing the world afresh (to name but a few) – are universal. They lay the foundation for works which stop being a collection of words, images, memories, or feelings and invite the reader to embrace the poetry and own it.
Rochelle Potkar’s full-length prose poetry collection, Paper Asylum, is humanity turned inside out, flesh, bones and soul, painted skilfully on every page. Her poetry deftly navigates a plethora of complicated subjects and themes – love and lust in their myriad shades, longing, pain, loss, gears of society, growing up in a world that makes little sense, and the multifarious joy at finding and being found in the bargain. These poems are explorers journeying through the self and its projection on the universe beyond.
Potkar’s prose poems (most of which could be categorised as haibun) strengthens my belief that one of the qualities of good poetry is its ability to surprise. Much like life itself. In that sense, I propose that poetry and life are one and the same. Paper Asylum brims with life, in all its visceral, raw, urgent, messy glory.
He missed her after the breakup. Although he was the one who had broken off. He didn’t know what came into him when he got too close to women. When he poured everything into her like an ocean into a jug of wet earth.
He felt deeply wronged.
fish catch –
the boat swinging
– “About Turn”
Anyone who has ever had a breakup would instantly recognise the truth in those lines. The hunger of loneliness and the need are not only palpable but instantly identifiable.
Lucknow has been the hub of mushaira, Dasstaangoi and kavi sammelan for centuries, but as times change, rituals and traditions also get recreated and rejuvenated according to the prevailing zeitgeist. In a unique collaboration, the first of its kind, writers, poets, translators and scriptwriters from different parts of India and Asia assembled in Lucknow in the first weekend of April to celebrate writing from South Asia and Southeast Asia.
This first edition of the SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival was jointly organized by Kitaab International Pte. Ltd., Singapore and Shri Ramaswaroop Memorial University (SRMU), Lucknow and was held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2018 at the SRMU campus.
Building bridges between Asian writers and readers
Festival Director Zafar Anjum, the festival’s patron A K Singh, Vice Chancellor of SRMU, Chancellor Pankaj Agarwal, Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal, and the faculty of SRMU led by Dr. B.M. Dixit, inaugurated the festival. ‘The aim of this festival ties up with the aim of Kitaab—to create bridges and dialogue between Asian writers and global readers and to bring literature to the grassroots,’ said Anjum in his welcome address.
Agarwal applauded SRMU’s collaboration with Kitaab. He said that Kitaab is an esteemed organisation that offers a promising worldwide platform to both budding and established authors, editors and publishers. Extending from the areas of literary fiction and translation to filmmaking (together with Filmwallas, founded by Zafar Anjum), Kitaab caters to all genres in English and other South Asian languages.
The festival featured more than 20 writers in English, Hindi and Urdu from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Well-known and award-winning writers such as Sudeep Sen, Rahman Abbas, Yogesh Praveen, Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Isa Kamari, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and Novoneel Chakraborty top lined the festival. Theatre and film actor Shishir Sharma, who was present to talk about his journey in the world of acting, presented the film, More Chai Please, Singapore’s first Urdu short film.
The film, shot in Singapore and presented by Filmwallas, tells the story of a couple with the plot spanning Singapore and Lucknow. The film’s writer and producer Sunita Lad Bhamray and its director Zafar Anjum were present during a special screening of the film on the second day of the festival.
The other major highlight of the festival was the launch of Tawassul, a Malay novel by Singaporean novelist Isa Kamari, translated into Urdu by Rubina Siddiqui. It is the first work of Singaporean literature to be translated into Urdu. Award-winning Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas who has also helped oversee the edits, hailed this avant-garde work of fiction and told the audience that the book’s Hindi edition was in the works.
Rochelle Potkar is a Mumbai-based fiction writer and poet. Her first book, The Arithmetic of Breasts (2015), is a collection of short stories and Four Degrees of Separation (2016) is her first poetry collection.
The collection consists of sixty poems structured under seven pronoun-ed section headings namely: i, he, them, they, her, there, those. I found the section titles interesting, then distracting as I wondered about the choice of “he” but then the switch to “her” instead of “she”. Perhaps the intention was to be elusive, so I let it go and dove straight into the writing.
With the opening poem “Timely”, Potkar immediately draws the reader into a world of voluminous images, bringing life to each syllable. “Don’t pick a wilted flower/ even graves are dressed in fresh ones/ – heart-beating petals over dead bone/ and you ask me to wait.” The last verse bears a haunting refrain to the opening, “Don’t ask a rose to wait. / There is no time in its petals/ only the saga of one sunrise/ and one sundown.” Her words are rich; full of colour and brilliance. There is a poignant sense of pause as we are called to measure our breath while reading these words.
The next poem, “Stray epiphanies”, introduces the sense of disconnection and alienation that weaves its way into some other poems in this collection too, while also showcasing Potkar’s capacity for diversity of form. The eleven epiphanies leave me with the impression of a mind bouncing mercilessly awake on tossed linen while staring up at a dark ceiling at 3 am. She opens gently enough, introducing us to the idea of the poem, then by epiphany number 5 we arrive at “Mumbai will stamp on your feet/ but allow you your space. / She doesn’t care whom you date.” But it’s epiphany number 8 that really grabbed my attention, “Eat my words, you word-vulture/ give me back none.” Ending with “I will one day cut you open, and take away your entrails.” This is where the poem’s tenor shifts to reveal surprisingly dark corners. “Doggerel” introduces us to Potkar’s playfulness, with her final words in the last verse, “We sometimes remember not the model student/ the first ranker, / but the one who was completely out of rhyme, / out of tune./ out of line./ out of time./ This is only about memory./ If not, what is?”
The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potkar (Kindle, 2014) doesn’t have just its Maths, but also its Chemistry, Physics and Biology in the right measure. These bold and tantalising tales of myriad men and women grappling with issues of relationships and passion, offer much insight into the dark recesses of the human mind pertaining to their romantic pursuits. Rochelle Potkar’s easy style of writing and her ability to conjure up images whilst narrating her “seven and a half stories” draws the reader into the worlds of the characters, and enables the reader to empathise with their peculiar predicaments.
Narain’s raw passion for Munika in the title story “The Arithmetic of Breasts” is so powerful and strong that it almost leaps out of the pages, and the intensity of their love-making is beautifully described with small, intimate details.