Cities

Sometimes, I visit the city I grew up in.
Just to see, if it still is,
The city I grew up in.

This city, frail and old now,
Forgets me like old lovers do.
Or remembers me as a little bit of many others,
Who came, had their evening tea and left.

I walk down brick lanes around school,
Where tiny black leather shoes still seem as dirty.
And rolled up skirts as hopeful.
Except, that lovers these days do not fall in love with a tiny drop of sweat trickling down a tender earlobe.
Cafe Coffee Days are for a new kind of love.

In the city I grew up in,
We still talk a lot about what is for dinner today.
And about a new pair of slippers. An old ghazal.
And if I stay long enough, these guava laden trees can squirm and screech and squeal and wail into my earphones,
Drawing a buzz that martinis and 4 inch slittetos cannot drown.

In the city I grew up in,
I am still not who I must be.
I am still my mother and my sister’s neat braid.
I am still Cleopatra and Desdemona.
Still six inches shorter than him.

The city I grew up in ,
Does not belong to me.
It belongs to my poetry.

–Photograph by Sutirth Dasgupta

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Homecoming.

We say we are growing old.
Running out of places; running out of new love and old fears.
In the meanwhile, old places that bore the brunt of half-baked puberties,
Do not seem to age.

They were old for a reason, those dark noisy lanes with the raw smell of hope,
As if the world was moving somewhere, as if there was somewhere to go.
Little white uniforms and stories from school at the dinner table were testaments of motion,
No one would be left behind, we knew.

Nowadays at late night parties by the poolside, we hold ourselves to the rim of our glasses,
And find faults with the world as John Oliver would do.
Motion you say, of what kind?
Let’s visit another country? Let’s play the piano?
Sometimes, we lie curled on our bellies on sultry afternoons, and read Che Guevara to each other.
‘There can only be so much revolution’, we say.

Our homecomings are now larger than ourselves, darling.
Larger than our stories at the dinner table.
To Dad’s bright eyed conversations about Kaziranga’s tigers,
We say,”Too young for this, too old for that.”

Oblivion’s Song

The smell of flesh on a bright red spot.
Smoke and water, interlaced in faith.
A word and a half more of their lies.
And my sultry disdain.

Every night is a lie overlived.
Worn to rags, aborted midway.
Every morning a fine grave by the sea,
Smelling of hair and salt.

Virgin remains of a mutilated world,
Through cracks in the walls of sunny homes.
My palace of glass, still alight with a hundred suns,
Now refuses to sleep.

Beautiful men. Beautiful world.
I clawed at their flesh.
Couldn’t find you there.

Like a poem.

Now that I must not forget,I will remember you like a poem.
In the quiet aftermath of a long, freezing war- both lovely and dark.
Like light flickering on a hundred tired faces ,that are not dead.
They remain only to remind that my history is yours.
Not more.
 
My soul doesn’t like love in wrong times.
 
Now that you are away, you will hang from uneven conversations in dark pubs.
Where both music and happy eyes have stopped reminding me of you.
In those dark red rooms, I smell a futility in our shared stories.
Your music was never mine. Mine, never yours.
We will never drink from the same cup.
 
So now that I must leave, I will find you in stupor.
In countries and cities that could never be shared- they remain wholly yours or wholly mine.
In broken bookmarks, and broken silence.
 
You will be my host till I siege the house of our dreams and turn it into a poem too. Like you. Like our little story.
 
Someday, you will become one half of a sun,that fills up the crevices of my busy life.

 

(Image : The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, by Salvador Dali)

 

Neruda

We chose not to believe in fairytales.

We chose to remember that, by far, Neruda’s poems were written in sporadic outbursts of fine times,

When neither wine, nor love made sense.

We dismissed a picture by the bedside, and felt giddy with freedom.

 

Through lush paddy fields and cold mountains we fled,

Merry soles and merry hearts.

The faces of men in crowded buses- women by the river Seine,

The place beyond the cliffs, and the place beneath the sea.

Music and slender hands, the warmth of being away from home.

We watched and smiled at what we were,

A little apart, a little away.

 

We live out of tall buildings now, the kind we never reckoned worthy of lifetimes.

We drive our kids to school, and buy things that freedom never needed.

We never feel giddy, just relieved sometimes.

On those days, we look at the picture by the bedside.

 

I think I write this for I finally believe Neruda.

And both love, and wine, in that order.

 

Syntantical.Memory.

We can say our goodbyes in haste.

We need not wet our conscience with tears

That bind the collective histories of jazzy airports and sleepy platforms,

Into a neat string of rosemary beads ,

Or a box full of old sepia-hued polaroid pictures.

The only kind that we don’t share on Instagram.

The ones for ourselves.

For sultry afternoons. For long nights.

 

We can let our fears of a trivial loss ,

diffuse gradually over a few calm years of mellow sunshine.

We can shake hands and depart quickly.

Or we can hug like lovers, as long as we are determined to not let

The raw smell of familiar skin,

Stroke the stranger in our head.

 

We can choose to forget, one day at a time, or all at once.

We can choose to create a syntactical memory.

Of a single moment of looking back,

At the clear glass of the Departure Terminal.

(slender hands in a tub of popcorn – icecream stains on a beige couch-

prickly grass – summer dresses- paperclips- empty cigarette packs on the floor

– scratches and burns- silence – domes – the uncanny sound of a lie-

the familiar sound of bones breaking – bleeding gums-bleeding hearts)

 

We can then, choose to turn back and walk away quickly.

We can say our goodbyes in haste.

 

Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai: A review of Masaan

“Tu kisi rail ki tarah guzarti hai. Main kisi pul sa thartharata hun.”

Would you say that while cruising on the Ganga after watching your beloved burn to ashes on a pyre? Would you return to a normal life with a daughter caught having sex in a shady Allahabad hotel with her boyfriend? If not, its time you watched Masaan.

Masaan is one of those movies that make you research the director immediately after you are done watching the film. It’s like you need to figure out the context for such perspectives. He could be a small-town Benaras guy. He could be a seasoned movie school pass-out. He could be living his life with the movie, or could be faking it. Either way, he is bloody brilliant.

To be very fair, Masaan is a movie of rare treatment. It does not tell stories that have never been told before. It just tells them with a significantly unique perspective, fortunately one that’s neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. Over and above that, it adds context to those stories, something we almost always overdo/underdo in Bollywood – simply by putting out the daily lives in the aftermath of both trauma and euphoria, in the lives of the protagonist as well as the supporting characters. What I like best is that the movie has barely five minutes worth of crying/weeping/howling screen time in the middle of two hours of knee-deep tragedy. Now that is refreshing.

The story is based around the burning ghaats of Benaras, where Deepak, son of a professional corpse burner (dom), is the only one in the family to have attended university, and is naturally the family’s only hope of escaping a life of breaking skulls of burnt bodies by the Ganga. Somewhere in the vicinity, young Devi , played by Richa Chaddha, decides to take the big leap by meeting her boyfriend in a shady hotel in Allahabad, and gets caught in a police raid. While she is brought back home to her old father at the cost of a huge blackmail sum to be paid in the next few months, Deepak falls in love with upper caste Shalu, determined to land a nice job and marry her, escaping the menial life his family has been enduring for decades. Director Neeraj Ghaywan delicately weaves both the gradual return of normalcy in Devi’s family and the homely warmth of a familiar small-town Indian romance, leaving you comfortable for a while. This comfort soon goes for a toss when Deepak wakes up one night to find the dead body of his beloved in the burning ghaat, and loses more than his sanity. At this point, cinematographer Avinash Arun’s sheer brilliance comes into play. He plays with Deepak’s pain and Devi’s quiet courage like a genius, aided by songs that have unforgettable lyrics. Say ‘Mann kasturi re. Jag dasturi re.Baat hui na poori re’

To sum it up, Masaan won two awards at Cannes (FIPRESCI International Jury of Film Critics Prize and Promising Future in the Un Certain Regard Section) for a reason. In fact, I would say too many reasons. There is barely anything amiss in the film. It is tough to pack romance and death and stigma and satire in one box, and ensure that they are neither compartmentalized nor superimposed. Masaan is a particularly vehement recommendation. If you haven’t, go watch it today.