Editor's note: Manik Sharma curates this collection of poems, all of which deal with the themes of beginnings or endings in some way. The featured poets include Sharma himself, Urvashi Bahuguna, Mihir Vatsa, Rohini Kejriwal and Maya Palit.
— Manik Sharma
I toss things
to feed them to the after-light
and in it watch puckered hearts
crack open over lakes
I thought we'd dive in someday.
Lakes, I thought, would be
there, forever, like ears
holding apart the world's teeth
or sounds that felt crushed
by them. But I fetch from it
what I can — a leaden picture
of the sun, dry and white
without its mirror, and
the impossibility of
knowing where to start
looking in life
having once thought, I'd
find you, even in death.
THE FIRST SUMMER AFTER YOU
— Urvashi Bahuguna
I have not been held in a while. The satsumas
are soft in their shells from weeks of rest.
I have headaches the size of Crete. The bathtub
is full of lemon I enter into and enter out of.
Your perfume hits me in the jaw.
My stomach rises and falls like the Third Reich —
over and over in the public imagination.
In my dreams I am whole like a Virginia porch
on a summer’s day with a pitcher of iced tea to go.
I dance in the interim between work and dinner,
and I move like a seventies mom with the turntable on.
I eat watermelon straight from the skull.
I still reach for you in the dark.
Urvashi Bahuguna is perhaps the postman of the multicouche, a letter writer of layers, of images within images. In her poem 'The First Summer After You' she anchors grief and loneliness in the kinetics of emotion — ‘Your perfume hits me in the jaw’. The poem pauses, moves and caves into a kind of paralysis in equal measure. Rarely does a single poem arc through so many movements, without losing sight of the bigger picture, the canvas that usually swallows it ‘whole like a Virginia porch’. Perhaps, something that prose never can.
AMONG SCHOOL CHILDREN
— Mihir Vatsa
As with all initiation, my alphabet has
quietened down to a mist. The low sun
will not yet sharpen my voice, and so,
I watch phonemes make typos off slippery
tongues. When I entered, I expected
numbers, vowels, and consonants.
They share with me their trailing words.
One asks for a Doraemon sticker
which he will certainly get “tomorrow”,
the other knows where home is but must
conquer tall syllables for shelter.
Those who don’t know the word home
will see this dormitory as one. A shadow,
I walk through the school questioning,
taking bullet notes, adding header & footer.
I was a good student; never made a noise.
In the corner, a “50% MR” girl speaks
sign to her aurally-disabled friend.
I learn later the full form: mentally retarded,
& remember my own promise to heart
a friend’s every photo on Instagram.
After lunch & a nap, and in fortieth of an acre,
everyone wins at sports, everyone gets
to run. Everyone wins at being good
& smelly & tired. When it’s time to go,
they wave me goodbye in mild anarchy,
& I drive to my four-syllable home
a bit of a winner too.
Mihir Vatsa, who lives and writes from Hazaribagh sees two worlds wherever he looks. It, perhaps, comes with having lived and known one life and having chased another. His poetry looks at the self as much as it sees everything else through the lens of his poetry. In 'Among School Children' two worlds collide (the beginning of something?) but Vatsa manages to retain enough innocence so as not to dehumanise anyone. We are all cut from the same fabric after all — ‘When I entered, I expected numbers, vowels and consonants’. Vatsa has always written with the kind of rawness, that blunt edge that simply cannot be carved. It is just there.
— Rohini Kejriwal
You were once but a stranger, I allowed you in,
There was no door to knock on, but you walked in.
Like a deep sea diver, searching for the pearl,
You could not swim, but you plunged right in.
There were no questions, yet so many answers,
New love to explore, new terrains to touch.
The power of quiet, in a world full of noise,
The power of love, in a world full of hate.
When we shall meet, perhaps you could lead me in
To your heart, where I would like to live.
Where our souls shall meet, let's stay awhile.
Lie with me on the grass, as the rain pours down.
Extraordinary ordinariness is all I can give
Hold my hand now, dear, let us begin.
Rohini Kejriwal writes simply, but never simplistically. Her articulation is light, seldom as complex as poetry is often accused of being. In 'A Ghazal', Kejriwal manages to compile — as much as she weaves together — some worldly realisms. Writing this format is incredibly tricky and it comes with the risk of slaloming into one obstacle after the other, either throttling too hard or saying too much. The ghazal is often about balance – ‘the power of quiet, in a world full of noise’. There are incredible moments here, and the often underappreciated value of saying a lot by saying less. ‘Where our souls shall meet, let’s stay awhile’ she writes. Let’s please?
A BUS RIDE AWAY FROM A LANDSLIDE
— Maya Palit
A drunk cop, helpless in the face of a landslide
Whirled his baton with one hand and hit the glass three times
I screamed when it cracked on the fourth
None of the other passengers moved
The crack spread into a web
I repeated your name all night
Was that comforting?
You told me later you'd had a dream about dying on a bus
So in a way, you were living dead already
But still you bared all 32 teeth and smiled with relief
Landslides happen in the monsoon rain
But never mind
I have your old shoes
The ground on which I walk is firm.
Maya Palit remembers a life-altering incident with the kind of deft holding-on-letting-go dilemma that, perhaps, only a journalist like her could. As someone who sees the tragedy of fact up close, and has to cut into it for value, Palit’s imagination is underscored by finding the surreal in ordinary. In 'A Bus Ride Away From a Landslide' she remembers a tragedy, through its many tangible facets. ‘Landslides will happen in the monsoon rain’ she writes, a simple fact that carries incredible weight in the afterlife of a tragedy. Palit’s journalistic eye helps her poetry never lose sight of the ground, even when it is watered down with overwhelming emotion. ‘Was that comforting?’ she asks, as she must.
— All photos courtesy Harsh Pareek