Summer Prize

It was a hot day. The sun shone with all its might and the sand was hot. Tired, he settled down on one of the comfortable chairs placed on the beach. They weren’t meant for him, they were meant for the men and women who crowded the beach, drank things out of pretty coconut shells and stupidly walked around with hats on and little else. The shack owners seemed to love them for some reason, those noisy idiots. He looked around scornfully. There was a plastic bottle with a little water on the side, but not enough for him to be able to drink. Must be those thoughtless humans! Irritated, he looked around as he always did in these cases. Idiotic as they were, the tourists always left a thing or two in their carelessness, and he picked them up without remorse, taking those back to his nest. It was the closest and most viable imitation of a revenge in his mind. As he looked around, suddenly something caught his eye, shimmering and glittering in the scorching sun. Aha! Must be one of those glittery things they wear around their necks. Over the years, he had come to realise that those were quite valuable to the humans, although he never understood their purpose. With one last look around, he swiftly swooped down from the armchair and picked up the trinket from the sand. With an air of victory and a sense of pride in his heart, the crow flew away. His prize hung from his beak, a liquor bottle cap, shining in the sun.

Paper-bag Poetry

Uma was looking outside her window, absent minded. The sky was a monotone of dark grey, a patchwork of thick rainclouds. Deep rumbles emerged from the horizon in steady succession. The old grandfather clock announced the twelfth hour of the day, gong beating away musically. However, looking around, one could be convinced that it was well past sunset. “Bouma, did you bring back the clothes? All his white shirts, office shirts Bouma, don’t let them get wet!” Bhabani Debi called out urgently. Hastily twirling her hair in a bun, Uma ran to the terrace. Just as she picked up the last shirt from the clothesline, the rain began falling in large drops. Uma loved the rain, the way it caressed her skin, wet her hair- but she couldn’t let the starched office shirts get wet. Downstairs, there was a commotion. Her mother in law, aged but domineering Bhabani Debi was rebuking their cook cum servant Ramu sternly. “What’s the matter, Ma?” Uma interjected. “Let Abani come home tonight, he has to do something about Ramu. Your Baba indulged him in all his nuisance and now he wouldn’t lift a spoon!” she looked over her shoulder and glared at her late husband’s picture on the living room wall. Exchanging a few words with Ramu, Uma quickly learned that her mother in law wanted to eat some fried pumpkins and Ramu was expected to oblige. An expert in maintaining household peace, Uma cajoled Bhabani Debi into retiring to her room, promising that she’d fry her some pumpkins at once. The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Uma looked out of her kitchen window. A neem tree, freshly bathed in rain, now looked greener than ever. A faint smell of mud and dust wafted in the air. Her sons were inexpertly trying to dribble a football. The sky…fresh leaves…smell of rain-

“The earth awash and smiling shy,

Like a timid bride on her wedding night…”

Uma smiled as the words circled in her mind. Turning the stove off, she quickly disappeared into her room. She’d have to write them down, or they would be completely lost from memory in a few minutes. In beautiful handwriting, she scribbled the couplet on her notebook and stared at it admiringly. Her first and an abrupt attempt at English poetry- not complete, but a start nonetheless.

“Bouma, don’t let the fries sit cold. Why don’t you bring them over here,” Ma’s voice broke her reverie. “Yes Ma, at once.” “You have a gift for cooking, darling. Why don’t you take some?” urged Bhabani Debi. Uma politely refused. “You need to put some flesh on your bones, at least till you’re nursing. Did you feed her?” Uma nodded faintly. Her mind was busy with the couplet, tearing the lines apart and stitching them again, adding and removing words, trying to rhyme. “Don’t let her sleep in the sun. She’s a girl after all. How’s the knitting coming along? Show me the baby’s sweater once you’re done with it, won’t you? I need you to embroider this table cloth after that”, Bhabani Debi pointed at an off white piece of fabric that covered the sturdy Mahogany tea table. “Yes, Ma. The sweater is almost done, just the sleeves…”, “Oh you can finish that off today”, the old woman dismissed her with an impatient air. “There is a party at Ghoshal’s this Sunday. I was wondering if you could stitch a piece of lace on that white blouse of mine. It’ll look elegant for the evening.” Uma looked through Ma’s neat wardrobe and spotted the garment under a pile of blouses. “I’ll get this done in the afternoon.” Bhabani Debi watched her daughter in law walk away with admiration. She had found a perfect wife for her Abani. An expert in music, cookery, knitting; beautiful and obedient. Her luck was envied by many in the neighbourhood. She raised her hands to her forehead for a quick prayer.

Uma was sitting on her bed, her fingers swiftly maneuvering the needle, but her mind distracted.

“The earth awash and smiling shy,

A bride in red on her wedding night,

Charming, fragrant, her features spry,

Sweet as a rose, large kohl eyed.”

She grabbed her pen and book, and after a minute of scrawling, found herself staring critically at the scribbled lines before her, chewing her pen, rummaging her brain for better rhyming words. Her first attempt in English poetry. Uma enjoyed writing, but predominantly in Bengali, despite her B.A in English Literature from the City University. She used to be secretive of her writing at first, but winning a grant or two back in her college days had allowed her to express some magnitude of brave love for it. Plath, Chopin, Shelley…she longed for a corner of her own, in the boundless world of literature. Her mind wandered back to the first few days of her married life. Abani had spotted her notebooks full of poetry in her half unpacked trunk. “When you told me you like writing, I didn’t think you were serious about it”, he wore a strange expression. Was it amusement? Appreciation? “It’s just a hobby really”, Uma had taken her notebooks from him and put them away under her sarees. “Interesting. Well, writing isn’t easy. And uh, after all, you’re a woman.” After a short pause he had added with a laugh, “It’s a great hobby actually. Maybe you can even write a poem or two in your free time. But I’d rather hear that sweet voice of yours humming to some Rabindra sangeet now.” With a surprising sudden urge to confide in her new partner, Uma had hinted of her desire to pursue writing as a career, hoping for him to churn out a reassurance that couldn’t be expected of other members in a house one was just brought to.

“What does that mean?”

“You went through the book. What did you think? Not very often, but fairly regularly…if I could publish…suppose in Amritolok or Sahityasambad? Just a weekly magazine maybe? I actually published an essay in college that won the…”

“Oh Uma! Why can’t you just let it be? You’re no longer a college girl. Besides, if you’re busy with reading and writing all day, I mean…think of the household. You’re a new bride. What will the neighbours say?”

“You will be at work, what will I do at home? Besides, I have a degree in Literature. Might as well make some use of it.” At this, Abani had laughed out loudly, “Well didn’t you make use of your education already darling? I for one, always wanted my wife to be educated.” he looked at his newlywed wife with adoration. “Besides, what do you mean you’ll do all day? Ma is old now, Ramu dada doesn’t cook well. I’m certain Ma will let you take over the kitchen. Don’t worry about spending your time, we seem to reside among some specific species of curious neighbours in a continual search for reasons to visit our house, ha ha ha.” Looking at Uma’s crestfallen face, Abani had added, “You can always write, like I said before. Write at your leisure, and maybe, when I come home from work, serenade me with your poetry.” With a smile, he had turned to his side and fallen asleep.

“Ma can you make us some lemonade?” both her sons entered her bedroom, sweaty and beaming. “Oma, you’re drenched in sweat!” Uma quickly switched on the table fan, checked on the baby and went towards the kitchen. Her eldest son liked his lemonade sweet, the younger one salty. She squeezed a large lemon in a glass. It was after about a year of their marriage, Abani had taken her to a party at his manager’s house. The Senguptas were a cultivated family. Mrs. Sengupta harbored an affection for European literature and having learned of Uma’s academic endeavors, she had brought out a copy of Mrs. Dalloway and handed it to Uma. “My first book in London.” Mrs. Sengupta had insisted Uma keep the memento, despite keen refusals from the recipient and her husband. On their way back, Uma thought of the book, and its author, “You know, she said, a woman needs some money and a room of her own to write.” “So now our upcoming writer needs a room of her own is it? Ha ha! Mrs. Uma Virginia Banerjee.”, Abani was greatly amused. “Listen Uma, the Senguptas are a different category altogether. They have two cooks, and a gardener. All this reading and writing isn’t meant for us middle classes.” Abani’s eyes had been fixed on the wheel. “I like the embroidery on your blouse. Did you do it? You could do one for my panjabi too, the yellow one? You get a lot of time anyway, with Ramu dada helping you out.” “Hmm? Yeah, the yellow one did you say? Sure”, Uma’s eyes had been fixed on the empty roads.

Uma handed her sons two tall glasses of lemonade. The grandfather clock struck 3, filling the house with a deferential echo. In a few hours, she’ll have to wake Bhabani Debi with her evening tea and water the plants while Ma finished her evening prayer. The sky was now clear- the afternoon sun fierce. Sunlight fell diagonally on her bed, the notebook basking in it. Uma opened the book, her finger tracing the lines she wrote a few minutes ago. Mrs. Uma Virginia Banerjee! She felt a faint lump on her throat. She got up and moved to her wardrobe, shaky fingers pulling out a couple of notebooks from under her sarees. Essays, a short story, mainly poetry. She gathered her notebooks and sat on a stool in the attached balcony. A small corner for herself, in the boundless world of literature. A middle class family in Calcutta, with little to spare for nothing. An antithesis. A bride in red on her wedding night, who wasn’t asked if red was what she wanted to get married in. Uma’s eyes had stopped watering years ago. Uma looked outside through the railings. “Papers! Old papers, new papers, newspapers, care to sell some papers?” a familiar voice pierced through the silent afternoon. The ragman visited their neighbourhood almost every day, asking for glass bottles, sometimes scrap metal, and occasionally newspapers. “Hey, over here.” the words escaped Uma’s mouth before she realized. “Boudi, do you have some old papers?” the bony figure wiped his forehead with the gamcha he carried around his neck. “I have papers. But tell me, what do you do with the things you collect?” Uma pointed to his sack curiously. “Sell madam, sell. The glass bottles are crushed. They go to the factories. If we have some good clothes, we keep one or two for ourselves, and sell the rest. Old papers to make paper bags. A good deal can get us even five rupees! Do you have papers, Boudi?” he was impatient. “Yes yes, paper bags. Paper bags travel everywhere, I suppose.” “Yes, paper bags go everywhere. For the jhalmuri and the rice, peanuts in the train. Everywhere, Boudi. Sometimes you may find a Bengali newspaper at a station in Bihar, heh.” he wiped his forehead once again. Uma went inside the house and came out a minute later with a small pile of old newspapers. “Char anna”, he was done weighing the stack. “These papers go far and wide, you said?” She almost said it to herself, but the man looked at her bewildered. “Char anna, here”, a small coin shined on his outstretched palm. “Just a minute.” Uma ran inside the house and came out in no time. “Here, no need to weigh them.” she handed out three long hardbound notebooks, with printed illustrations on their cover. Paper bags travelled far, and along with hem, her poetry may too. The man picked up his scale and other paraphernalia, and was just about to leave when Uma called out, “I may have forgotten something in there.” She took out a green hardbound book and turned the cover. The swift sound of a page tearing was followed by an imperceptible exchange of expressions. “Here, take it back.” Uma stood with a leaf from her book in hand, watching the ragman walk away.

“The earth awash and smiling shy,

A bride in red on her wedding night,

Charming, fragrant, her features spry,

Sweet as a rose, large kohl eyed.”

Her first English poem was still unfinished.

A Spectre at the Party

His mansion gleamed with a thousand lamps,

A thousand carriages at his gates,

Crystal glasses in unison clinked,

Fur and leather and gold cufflinks.

Strings of pearls amidst giggles and heels,

Lavish gowns swept the floor,

His table laden with elaborate meals-

The Mayor’s soiree, opulence galore.

With hearths and halls and secrets many,

The Mayor’s mansion- a giant edifice,

Several storeys above the ground,

Just as many below the surface.

A hundred men at the Sire’s bidding,

Had scrubbed each room that morning,

Save for the chambers underground,

Which to curious eyes, remained unseen.

Lavenders and voices and perfumed silk,

The evening alive and echoing through the house,

Kindled a rustle at the cells underneath,

And the spectre of a great old seigneur was roused.

Still in his robes of sapphire and gold,

The lord, once a fencer, now pale and old,

Held captive after a violent row,

And thrown into the dungeon half a century ago.

He smelled the smell of food and dance,

Sunken eyes springing to life,

He advanced to the doorway, as though in a trance,

Flooded with memories of when he was alive.

Of ballroom dancers and drinking bouts,

Of a table laden with freshly baked cakes,

As the spectre walked through the corridors,

He gasped at the finery, his dead heart ached.

An instant of silence, and they broke out in screams,

Running and tripping over boots and shawls,

Pallid with fear, chairs upturned,

Some had spotted the ghost in the hall.

Standing by a pillar he watched them dance,

His face gleamed with vicarious glee.

All he wanted was warm bread,

And a little wine to wet his throat,

A chair by the fireside,

To recount cheerful anecdotes.

But alas! The guests shrieked and scrammed,

Leaving behind a coat or two,

In shock and dread and haste alike,

Nobody bade the Mayor adieu.

Puzzled and hurt, the ghost of the Lord,

Pacing quietly through the marbled hall,

Stumbled upon a gilded mirror,

And his walk came to an abrupt halt.

Bones for shoulders where his blue robes hung,

A skull in place of a human head,

The Lord appalled at his own reflection,

Then realised why the guests had fled.

Gravely saddened, the Lord glanced,

At the scented and well lit room once more,

In great despair the spectre

Retired to his basement floor.

Via Discover Prompts: Hidden
https://wordpress.com/discover-wordpress/2020/04/26/discover-prompts-day-26-hidden/ 

A Haircut for the Lady

“Won’t you suggest a makeover, miss?”,

I looked into her terrified eyes,

Pallid and shaking, the stylist

Nodded only once, in agreement.

No, she didn’t turn to stone.

“They don’t bite”, I admired my wild tresses

Hissing in every size, sleek and lively.

“I prefer woody scents, full of mystery”,

A green bottle of sweet smelling shampoo, and some fancy conditioner-

The stylist was as efficient as an ant before winters.

Lather. Massage. Rinse. Dry.

She grew increasingly comfortable with a head full of snakes.

“Your hair is extraordinary”, her fingers awestruck but,

“Cut off these living locks?”, her voice laced with worry.

“Well it’s just a trim, and…hair grows back.

Oh, and, colour it red.”

The next few minutes of swift scissors moving

Through my hair, brushes and bits of aluminium foil.

The white tiled floor now red with blood,

Or dye if you insist.

“Did you get this from your mother?”,

She struggled to clean the squirming mess,

“A punishment for rape, really.”

Think I saw a small flash of sorry in her eyes,

But I didn’t look up lest it was only my imagination.

“And ma’am…”, “Just Medusa.”,

“You’re all set.”, I saw her smile,

Holding a mirror against my bouncy mass of red.

“Warm winter fashion, would you say?”, My fingers caressing

The now groomed reptiles.

Walking over to the counter,

I tipped the young stylist despite service charges being

Already included in an exorbitant bill amount.

At least she gave me a haircut in a thousand years.

[An imaginary account featuring Medusa from Greek mythology. Her claim of being punished for rape is the reference to Poseidon seducing Medusa in the temple of Athena and Athena punishing the once beautiful Medusa with snakes for hair and poor skin.

P.S- Both the poem and the graphics belong to the author of this blog]

Haiku #1

My English teacher was telling us the other day how the famous Japanese form of poetry, “Haiku”, has long been her coping strategy. During her lecture, she also managed to discuss the basics of Haiku writing and asked each of us to try one out! She said that the beauty of this form won’t be comprehended until tried, after a while, you’ll be obsessed trying to bring out that perfect Haiku! And from experience I can tell, she’s absolutely right!

Here are a few basic guidelines to start writing Haikus:

  • The first line must comprise 5 syllables
  • The second line is to have 7 syllables
  • The third line should again have 5 syllables
  • The Haiku must contain a seasonal marker on the first line
  • The second line should essentially have a paradox

However, Haiku is one of those forms of poetry which has undergone a lot of experimentation and innovation. Several poets, authors, have broken free from the traditional styles and created their personalised style of Haikus. Moreover, the above guidelines weren’t followed by all traditional Haiku writers either.

So based on my teacher’s guidelines, I tried writing my first Haiku, which you’ll find below. Please feel free to correct any of the information posted above as well as give me feedback on my first!

It’s the winter time,
Raging smoke from factories,
And fireplaces.

Cyberstein

They’re out!

They’re coming to get you.

Who you never considered fearing,

Dormant in the invisible strands of a spider web that spreads beyond horizons.

You had carelessly tossed them aside.

It’s a modern retelling of Frankenstein.

You bred them relentlessly,

Marvelled at your creations so fine.

Steeped in pride, nobody considered tightening the shackles.

They probably waited for years on end,

Patiently grew in figures and strength,

To avenge an objectification, however unintended.

What if-

You ran up and down all day

Heavy resounding footsteps mingling with chaos and dirt on the streets.

Followed by soundless ones, but heavier than the prey.

You pleaded with those formless monsters,

You pleaded with you! Quarters and halves of your identity spread everywhere on the world wide web.

Parts you had built in haste. For an incognito adventure or a half hour debauchery in a knotted corner of the Internet.

Or simply because your parents were too strict.

Half names, code names, strategically written biodata

Alongwith a stock-photo, and sometimes the effort saved for later.

Those very selves which you had created recklessly, half complete, half true-

Are out armoured, in search of you.

What if-

They have revenge burning in their non eyes, seeking an explanation for their non-identity.

How about an image of them creeping up behind you, piling one on top of another

Like eerie shadows growing against a whitewashed wall?

Sucking out vital information, including your credit card numbers,

Or cutting out pieces of your skin to fill up the void you had saved for later.

On a journey of becoming you, what you had deprived you from,

All this while.

And if you’re reading this now from the comfort your couch,

Smirking at the pages, “This is just sci-fi!”

Well I’d be steadfast and say,

“Nightmares still cause insomnia.”

 

Conquering a Demon

“Shhhh, careful!”, fearful, Jule hissed from behind us. “You shouldn’t have come with us. I knew you’d be scared and put up a fuss”, I scowled at her.

“Both of you be quiet, this isn’t the time for you to fight!”

We tiptoed around the table, past the long corridor and were able, to silently cross Aunt M’s bedroom. Even though I mocked Jule, in my heart of hearts, fear ruled. My mouth was as dry as the loaf Aunt M gives us for breakfast. I tugged hard at Moddy’s shirt.

“What?”, annoyed, he turned to look at me. “Aunt M might wake up anytime, it’s almost three.”

“Oh she won’t! Now keep quiet or go back, and I’ll do this on my own.”

I was too scared but I couldn’t let him unlock the cupboard alone. So I followed him with a silent groan. Not that I wanted to see my demon, but Moddy said it’d be the size of a lemon, since it fit into that little cupboard. Jule held on to my hand tight, and both of us with all our might, followed our leader closely.

Jule and I met Moddy last year during Christmas. He visits his grandma’s house every now and then, which is a few houses away from ours. This time, he came here to spend his summer holidays. “I don’t like you playing with him”, Aunt M says always. But we naturally reunited. We invited him over for lunch last week, little did we know an adventure he’d seek. No sooner had he entered the kitchen than the tiny marble cupboard made his eyes glisten. There wasn’t much else to evoke curiosity, but the little cupboard with flowers on it was exceptionally pretty.

It was forbidden too. Aunt M always kept it locked, and the keys dangled from an unreachable peg on the wall. We weren’t supposed to go near it at all. It contained an ugly demon, locked up by Aunt, who would otherwise get out to hunt, little kids like us.

But Moddy did not seem convinced at all. “How can it hunt if it’s tiny enough to fit into a cupboard so small? Lies!”, he said. Although his words seemed wise, Jule and I never tried going near it, until he wanted to see how the demon fits. “No! You’re not supposed to see it. It looks terrifying. It has long canines, and only one eye. Has red hands and black fangs.”, I tried explaining. But Moddy was a headstrong kid. A little older to us, he was eight. Jule and I were young and naive. I was seven and she was five.

So we stood on the floor, eager but tense, glancing at the door every now and then. Moddy dragged a chair and climbed with ease. Within a moment he had the keys. Jule and I covered our faces, planning to flee before the demon chases. But as soon as the cupboard was unlocked, all three of us were surprised and shocked.

There was a row of large glass jars. One was full of raisin tarts. The others contained colourful treats, jellies and cookies and all kinds of sweets. “Here’s your demon”, Moddy smiled evilly, and started off the task of emptying them speedily.

And with my mouthful of red-blue fiends, I wondered if it was a coincidence that Aunt M wasn’t quite fond of our friend.

War.

The kings are now gone,
And the bugle blowers unemployed.
Decades of rust has gathered on bloodied swords,
They are now rendered useless.
Canon balls in a corner like ostrich egg fossil,
Immobile. Ineffective.
The bloodshed is now remembered in catalogues.

You are relieved, because the wars have happened in the past.
Branded horses no longer tread city roads,
Drinking water at their enemy’s courtyard.
The corpses have long decomposed.
The world is at peace and
The land stands divided.

You are relieved. It has all happened in the past.
But you fail to see reality.

Blood spurts out- cynical ink flowing with unfazed fury.
Peace and pacts and feats and facts.
The wars still happen everyday-
And the bloodshed is easily soaked up with blotting paper,
So you don’t see.

Branded horses no longer tread the city roads,
Because they have been replaced by aerial supervision.
The skies are full of twinkling satellites,
And seeds of destruction breed beneath the land.
Eternal conspiracy circles inside glass doors and rises up the chimney.

And you,
You feel safe believing the world is at peace.