CAUGHT IN THE NET 46 - POETRY BY SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI
Series Editor - Jim Bennett
Introduction by Jim Bennett
Hello. Welcome to a new series of CITN. We will be looking at the work of individual poets in each edition and I hope it will help our readers to discover some new and exciting writing. This series is open to all to submit and I am now keen to read new work for this series.
CITN 46. This edition features the poetry of SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI.
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I dropped off everyday at my desk,
between 60 pt NewsGothic Heavy
and 30 pt TimesRoman Bold.
Tossing and turning sheets
between Wingdings, Webdings
From The Summer I Made the Headlines by Srinjay Chakravarti
1 - BIOGRAPHY
2 – POETRY
Ikebana of the Blind
The Summer I made the Headlines
The Sugar-Bees’ Honeycomb
Tears for Bengal
Adventures in the Thriller Trade
All in a Day’s Work
3 - AFTERWORD
1 – BIOGRAPHY: SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI
I am a 36-year-old journalist, economist, poet and translator based in Salt Lake City, Calcutta, India. I currently work as an economist-editor with an international online financial news service. My poetry, prose and translations have appeared in numerous publications in nearly 30 countries. My first book of poems Occam’s Razor (Writers Workshop, Calcutta: 1994) received the Salt Literary Award from Salt, the Australian literary and publishing organisation headed by writer and academic John Kinsella, in 1995. Writers Workshop, Calcutta has just published my second poetry collection, Apollo’s Breath.
The Continental Review website, which has a video reading of my poetry, including my recitation of ‘Ikebana of the Blind’.
URLs: www.thecontinentalreview.com The video reading has also been posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YdcxDlIPxs
or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YdcxDlIPxs&eurl=http://www.thecontinentalreview.com/ email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
IKEBANA OF THE BLIND
He picks up vowels and consonants,
shape and form as the subject
of his fingers: dextrous
and facile, exploring
the impossible fragrances
of jasmine or lily.
He starts with the white nouns,
the basic folds in his alphabet;
then come the verbs
rustling in blue pleats,
and the adjectives forming
themselves into pink creases.
Working with his second
sight of crisp movements,
the grammar of touch and feel
harmonizes textures into rhythm
with his colour schemes of thoughts,
perfumed with imagination’s pollen.
Stretching a point too far —
on a flat sheet, he crinkles
compound curves out of its locus;
spiral gerundives of yellow,
vertexes twisted gently
into cutting edges, visualized
in the blackness of permanent night
into cascades of flowers: buds and blooms
of rose, lotus, gladiolus.
In his hands blossom the ritual
petals of inflexions and hyperboles:
curving branches, scattered leaves,
patterning an illusion of foliage.
Wildflowers, captured manifold
in squeeze and press, squash and push —
Saburo Kase’s nostrils
still tingle with the blossoms
he had smelt as a child
on the mountains near his home,
when vision was not yet lost.
Now it is origami’s paper magic
that parses down his constructions,
that eternizes them into immortelles
in his fingers’ vernacular.
Living in the moment, still
centre of the now, an old man
always in the dark,
but never without light;
his hands always redolent
Saburo Kase (b. 1926): one of the world’s greatest origami artists
This poem won one of the top prizes in the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Competition 2007-08 (www.dorothyprizes.org).
THE SUMMER I MADE THE HEADLINES
A white building, with windows
set into typefaces on its façade —
cells of bold fonts studded
on stucco walls grained like paper,
their borders yellowed into newsprint.
Everyday it was the same old storeys,
convoluted sentences of stairs
parsed up and down in reporters’ copy.
This is where I first came to know
the lies of the land —
in that summer, summer of ’92,
working as a vacation intern
in the newsroom of our local daily.
I learnt to cut corners of clippings,
bleed the edges of inkjet printouts,
trim down paragraph constructions
into false premises, all true to type.
My fingers were soon smudged with
non sequiturs and ad hominem slurs.
Then the night shifts started.
The office, like my temples,
was soon throbbing and pulsing
with the migraines of press machinery,
the gong of a tropical sun beating
inside its cranium much after dusk.
I dropped off everyday at my desk,
between 60 pt NewsGothic Heavy
and 30 pt TimesRoman Bold.
Tossing and turning sheets
between Wingdings, Webdings
I would try Braggadocio
till the captions creased
into Perpetua lines on my forehead.
The kern between the fonts
came too close for comfort;
between shoulder and strap,
the girl next to me dropped
innuendoes into the message box,
into gutters that spilt too wide.
Inside my head, rape,
murder, and arson ran riot
with the scrabble of Reuters takes.
Slipping, skidding, between deadlines,
I hit the space-bar rather too often
between tedium, Valium and espresso.
Now I was news myself!
Between AvantGarde and Utopia,
it was the late edition
before sleep arrived.
By the time I woke up,
at next noon’s Meridien,
the truth was dead and buried
between Myriad Tilt and Futura Medium —
the heavier the slug,
the deeper the grave.
Shortlisted for the Being at Work Poetry Challenge (LivingWork, Ottawa, Canada); November 2006. Published in Bare Root Review (Southwest Minnesota State University)
Life is like the tattered coat of a beggar
To which, every day, a new rag of pain is added.
— Faiz Ahmed Faiz, A Few Days More
A mad yellow mongrel
in scabrous heat:
Calcutta’s sun in May,
stalking with its tongue
lolling, red and blazing.
With the paws
of an afternoon breeze,
it rakes its nails
through the gaps in the coat
covering his back.
He cuts a majestic figure
with his tattered robes of office,
his sceptre of a discarded umbrella
with broken skeletal ribs
and a patchwork canopy of holes
which lets the sun’s arrows through.
His train comprises
the alley’s floating residents,
his wake leaving a slipstream
of tomcat caterwauls,
barks and howls,
and stones pelted by local urchins.
This Calcutta slum is his dominion.
His realm lies between
the municipal garbage vats,
the fishermen’s slimy bheris,
and the miasma from the slurry
of a canal clogged with debris.
His throne is a derelict easy chair;
rocking on its delirium tremens,
he passes his December evenings
shivering and muttering to himself,
nitpicking his scruffy beard . . .
while watching the smog ambush
Chowringhee’s highrises, towers, spires
and the digital billboards arrayed
on a reflected Howrah Bridge,
blazing with free-market Marxism
and the raw scabs in the west.
August mornings, and the streets
are awash with water spilling
out of drains choked with garbage.
His shack sieves thundershowers,
those munificent blessings
of wounded monsoon clouds.
He sits amidst the puddles,
ganja smoke from a Mother India bidi
gauzing the creases of his face
with a bandage of psychedelia.
The head of his shanty
is no less a sieve, with alms
of the monsoon tinkling
down a honeycomb
of bugs and spiders.
Having put his house
in (dis)order, he lives comfortably
with the tenants he has forgotten:
cocky roaches, greedy geckos,
mice and lice, fleas and flies,
hogs or dogs, or ravenous ravens —
these are the subjects of his kingdom,
his ecosystemic biosphere
of lost lives thriving in peaceful coexistence.
Here is the epistemology of junk,
which de-constructs his only room
into an endless amazement park
of corners, cubby-holes, nooks, and crannies.
He subsists on moonshine,
on the arrack trickling
from the neighbourhood hooch joint,
the crumbs from communism’s high table,
and the bitter almonds of memories.
Labour travails claimed his wife
and those of another kind
cost him his job —
once upon a long time ago —
at a jute mill on the Hooghly.
What lost dreams and thoughts
are inside his brain,
stuffed into a coarse gunny bag —
his crowning glory
of matted and begrimed hair.
Head-dress of a lost vocation.
He comes, nimbused, with
an afterglow of twilight;
haloed by a cloud of mosquitoes
orbiting around his head:
for a postmodern ascetic
in a city crazed by suffering.
First prize in a poetry contest organised by Liquid Muse (Online, USA); June 2005. Also published in Terry (University of British Columbia, Vancouver) and in my second poetry collection, Apollo’s Breath (Writers Workshop, Calcutta: June 2009)
THE SUGAR-BEES’ HONEYCOMB
A golden stream of lentil
flows into a seething pan,
spiralling into fragile marvels,
trigonometrized into piping hot jalebis.
spongy white spheres
soaked in refined syrup,
sweet and viscous and warm.
Delectable gulab jamuns,
rich maroon globes
wafting heady fragrances
while simmering in yellow juices.
brown balls fried to crispness
and drenched in thick liquids,
syrupy, sugary, steaming.
Poised on the rim of the tray
with its puddles of juice,
thick, rich, cloyingly sweet,
a housefly squats and rubs
its hands in ill-concealed glee.
Ants weave pheromonal messages,
antennae pursuing their trail
through sandesh barfi kalakand:
multicoloured, wrapped in silver foil,
geometrized into cubes, prisms, cones.
And the honey-bees hover,
floating on whirring wings:
miniature helicopter gunships,
ready to invade the showcases
of the dingy little shop of sweets
in a suburb of that metropolis
of grotesque absurdities — Calcutta.
Roadside smells assault the nostrils:
cowdung, petrol fumes, rotting garbage,
the effluvium of tropical putrefaction
mixing and matching into an incredible miasma
beyond the power of metaphor to describe.
But the bees? — ah,
they’re not so easily deceived.
They buzz into the open shop of mishti,
dancing, crawling, swirling, gathering
honey — okay, it’s actually just sugar —
from the sticky syrup on the trays.
Now don’t blame the poor fellows.
With factories and high-rises all around,
there’s hardly any decent tree left,
what to speak of gardens or orchards.
And without real flowers,
how do they build their honeycombs?
the Pride of Bengal Sweets and Savouries —
with its hoard of molasses, jaggery, cane sugar,
easy and convenient for sourcing
the raw materials of a beehive’s sucrose architecture.
If necessity is the mother of innovation,
then it’s not just we folks
who are up to that game —
honey — sorry, sugar — bees
are just one step ahead of us.
There’s a sting in the tale, though:
for the bare-bodied vendors
in the sweatshop — I mean, sweetshop —
who spend their sultry afternoons
with the winged visitors murmuring
sweet somethings in their ears
as they buzz around gathering
their daily doses of nectar.
TEARS FOR BENGAL
Every year, around the time
when the monsoons depart,
we the people of Calcutta weep,
shedding tears without grief,
whether we want to or not.
Our eyes smart: they turn red,
discharging salt water all by themselves
in bizarre catharsis for a war
that happened over thirty years ago.
Some of us had not even been born
when the virulence first
came with the wind,
including yours truly.
But I, too, have not escaped its curse —
that lingering curse of a glorious Liberation War.
Still, our eyes will not let us forget
memories of that ethnic cleansing.
The migrants brought with them an infection
that is still pandemic here,
that is still called jai Bangla
in honour of the Bengali liberation war.
Since then, the bacterium responsible
for the ocular disorder has struck
every year during the late monsoons
with unfailing accuracy.
Calcuttans watch helplessly
as their eyes get inflamed,
their vision gets blurred, and tears
stream down involuntarily
from this epidemic of conjunctivitis.
It’s as though we still can’t forget
that carnage of Seventy-One, when
a new country was born across the border,
exacting a horrific price in blood and trauma –
and our eyes still water in remembrance
when history returns to haunt us
with the cathartic rains,
with tears shed and unshed.
The year: 1971. Ten million refugees spilled over from the birth pangs of a nation from Pakistan’s schismatic territory into neighbouring India, fleeing the throes of a genocidal war and army butchery as General Tiger Niazi and his soldiers stalked the towns and villages.
In Dacca, 7000 people were massacred on a single night. A total of three million slaughtered in just 267 days. Consider the figures: 400,000 women raped, 600,000 children killed. Of East Pakistan’s 75 million people, 30 million were uprooted and scattered. Fleeing from arrests in the night, torture in jail, rape on the streets, arson and pillage, abduction and murder. . . the myriad-headed hydra of violence.
With this came one of the largest exoduses in human history, ten million refugees pouring into Calcutta and its suburbs and villages. Yet Bengal triumphed, in the end.
The gecko on the hotel wall
bites its tongue, leaving
unsaid all that was lurking
inside the fluttering moth.
His cigarette smoke,
knits a web of vapour
with nicotine and tar.
Fragile as spider’s silk,
it gauzes his shadowed face
with white muslin.
The chameleon room
in the protean light,
with his verbs and adverbs.
The mirror is quicksilvered
with his moods and tense.
She observes the lizard
twitch its knobbed neck
in gerunds of deceit –
the inflexions of its tail
sinister, like his modulated voice.
The conversation evaporates
into the thin mist
of small talk, the silences
condensing into droplets
on the steel-cold body
of the atomiser bottle.
On the bed, rumpled sheets
redolent of musk and arousal;
on the dressing table,
discarded tissues stained
with lip gloss and kisses.
From the hotel balcony,
she watches the monsoon
speak in forked tongues,
the silver dialect of snakes
on a dark velveteen sky.
She parses down the zigzag
grammar of lightning
with her lexicon of thunder.
Declension of static: its ions
spangle down from the clouds.
The grey evening prickles
on her bare arms; the lake’s
skin tingles with goose bumps.
The storm is taking its time
acquiring its vocabulary.
She watches the lizard
trickle down a windowpane
with the rain’s first teardrop.
ADVENTURES IN THE THRILLER TRADE
Here I go, talking
This is my library of classics,
to which I turn for armchair frisson:
putting myself in other people’s boots,
always too big for my eight-year-old feet.
Here, on this shelf, is Stevenson,
and I am once again climbing
up the social ladder
with Jim Hawkins,
heart in my mouth
and life in unsafe Hands.
Here’s another island,
and now I’m marooned
with Peter and Wendy:
while Hook’s heartbeat
ticks away like clockwork
inside a crocodile’s belly.
With Maracot I plumb
his depths to salvage Atlantis,
descent into mellow drama —
the taller the tale,
the deeper the bathos.
With Rider Haggard
I tug at cosmic strings —
births, rebirths, afterbirths —
bouncing off like a yo-yo
from the Dark Continent
to the Roof of the World.
With Passepartout and Phileas Fogg
I turn the clock back,
rewinding time’s threads
on the spools of date line,
chronograph, and unbearable suspense.
Here I am now in the garden
of God, skinny-dipping
with Dicky in the gene pool
of a blue lagoon,
or plaiting golden skeins
into double helix braids
with Emmeline’s blond tresses.
Flipping the pages, I find myself
trapped with an Arabian knight
between a roc and a hard place;
or crossing words with a usurper
in the palaces of Zenda;
or deciding I have bones to pick
with Polynesian cannibals.
Can age wither the appeal
of such escapist fare?
Narnia or Mordor, all is
terra cognita for explorers
young once more. Here I am again,
at the shrine of Pop. Lit.,
devout votary of impossible illusions:
the pantheon of Mowgli and Tintin,
Nancy Drew and Harry Potter.
In Dumbledore’s pensieve,
I stir my thoughts into
the Brownian motion of memories,
spelling out charms with Rowling —
which only shows that imagination
can work just like magic!
This is where I return to Wonderland,
or wander through the Hundred-Acre-Wood.
Swinging from tree to tree
with Tarzan, on liana-generated curves
parabolic and hyperbolic —
asymptotes till the horizon
where childhood ends
and Pellucidar begins.
(From a show on the National Geographic TV channel)
Poor little things, those
snowy white baby egrets,
just hatched in the Brazilian rainforest.
To fall off their nests
means a grisly end, every time;
schools of savage piranha
lie in wait in the river beneath.
A false step, and the chicks
are stripped to bones in minutes,
the swift water swirling away
white feathers in a flash of red dye.
Of course, most of the birds stay safe,
and grow up to start their own families.
And they also come home to roost.
Now the food chain has turned full circle:
it’s summer, and the rain-fed river
has dried to a trickle, sloughing off
stagnant pools of water
after shrinking its sinuous course.
The piranha now barely stay afloat,
struggling to swim, or even breathe.
The egret survivors return to avenge
their slain siblings.
Her sleep sculpts the water, her hands
shape the blue-gold ripples of sunshine
floating through her eyes.
The soft sand of the river bed.
Pink stones and pebbles
stain the creamy smoothness
of the sandy bottom
under the tremulous current.
Her eyes closed, her body
open to the soft sleepy caress
of naked water.
Trees crouch on the banks.
Their roots, their fingers
go inside the river,
and arouse its shimmering haze
deep within her blue thoughts.
She sighs, and shifts
as fingers whisper
within the water.
The roots touch and caress
and probe naked water.
The river swims.
She lies still; she is asleep.
River, dreaming river.
She bathes in handfuls
of green sunshine
and blue water.
Leaves bend down
brush their lips on the surface.
Sunshine stains her sleep,
an ache colours her white body.
The river bathes itself
in the morning sun.
The swimming dreamer.
The water sculpts her sleep,
its hands shape her body
to its own dreams.
Roots break through
and the shallows
of her sleep.
The curious fingers
of the trees curl around the dreams
the river dreams.
Some soft as sand,
some are smooth pebbles,
some jagged rocks
shiny with grained quartz.
She is asleep.
Her body flows gently,
water-kissed and sun-dappled,
with the river.
Dreaming, she swims with the river
and the river dreams with her.
Published in Ariga, Write-Away: WAH, Argo Boat, Private Review, Ginosko, Softblow, and in my second poetry collection, Apollo’s Breath (Writers Workshop, Calcutta: June 2009)
ALL IN A DAY’S WORK
From the window of my brown study,
Chrysanthemum Park is minted
into green and yellow
when the sun chooses to be a goldsmith.
The trees hum and drone with bumble-bees.
Giant oaks roll their lost acorns
with gnarled fingers deep inside hollow pockets.
Rabbits and hares gambol about busily,
in and out of burrows, ears always to the ground;
stopping only to wash their hands
of dust, pollen, and leisure.
Pearly white spiders
knit endless trampolines
with spruce needles.
Green darners float around,
their shiny wings iridescent
with dreamy languor.
Chattering sparrows kick up heir heels.
Halcyon moments, by the ruffled lake —
and the kingfisher, brilliant,
fishes for compliments.
Squirrels and chipmunks, self-appointed surveyors
scamper up and down pines, birches, larches —
measuring and mapping throughout the hours.
Then they squat down, twirling their moustaches,
spending their time of day solving complicated sums
in the shade of the mushrooms.
Amnesiac misers with their hoards
of nuts and berries, their chatter crackles
into the slow lazy static on the vacant radio
in the still summer afternoon . . .
First prize in the Euphoria Poetry Contest 2005: published February 1, 2006. Also appeared in La Fenêtre Magazine and in my second poetry collection, Apollo’s Breath (Writers Workshop, Calcutta: June 2009)
4 - Afterword
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