Volume 4 Issue 2, June 2020
Special Issue for Indian Poetry

Swatie Chawla

Modern Ramayana

 

In this hamam

I am naked

A story that sages

Would leave behind 

In scrolls

 

A horde of monkeys

Have raped a mewling

Tragedy

But the tragedy

Doesn’t die

She lives on as someone’s

Ramayana 

Of casteist truths

Purged, purified.

 

But—

How could your

Shudra mind

Ordain my

Brahman tragedy

To be touched and violated?


 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in Translation

 

A village is lost

In translation

Morning chariots appear from the mist

and tear apart poetic skies, once ultramarine

Lakes pleat in submission

To the sun

Even the lighthouse defies

Colonizers

Feudal hawks get

Bitten by the sky

Swarms of women

Spiral out of their homes              

No burden to bear,

No earth to lug,

Sing freedom
Of foreign lands

in half songs 

A trickle of sun

Exposes

Under the nine yards

Three folds of indian-ness… 

 

The bawdy scarecrow

guards the secrets of the

the language that the poets

lost in translation

 

no lotus feet 

no hindu tethers

no lecherous

moths spilling

blood

 

In faraway foreign towns,

some women in headscarves

Sing to their water babies
Freedom of indian villages
In half immigrant songs

The indian-ness in the village

bides time... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Convict

 

Outside a canard pecks at the eaves

Between the metal shingles

Of my memory— a rumour that imbeciles 

Have been ensnared in the barbed wires of your hair…

Inside I remember

Lazy Sundays

When you opened your hair

A composite of water, cider and honey,

To ambush the sedimentary rocks of your bosoms…

I am consumed.

Your willowy hair, elephantine,

So long, like a river, angular edges apart,

Never in the same colour

Its mouth gushing to fill a

(w)hole in my oceanic heart…

It is your largesse to allow me shade  

Under the thicket of your hair

A lone grey hides...

 

I have been accused of making 

Imbeciles of mortal men—recounting stories

Of plucking loose, rebel hairs slipping like catkins

From the serpentine weave of your plait..

I am that unfortunate, lost moment

Who cannot keep

The perpendicularity of your eyes

That constantly reflect me...

 

I have been convicted for

Emanating as pain 

Between your puckered brow 

In times of separation... 

Your body my sanctuary

Every frame so poetic

Skin scented as the musk of an old letter

Unopened, buxom, whole

My fingers strum your body

Like raindrops drum the gabled edges of my cellar 

 

I have been persecuted  

For residing rent free

As a refugee-god in the temple of your body…

For staining your lips 

In blasphemous prayer of me, 

The xenophobic gods have pronounced a judgment

Sentenced to death... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Backwards…

 

You are dead.

Much is strewn as salt sprinkled

In the sea your dead ashes

unwelcome

Remains of your youth…

 

Life rolls leftovers

From the night curl back your teen ages—Your very first

wine the dripping hair

of Episcopalian princesses. Seamless full frontals

Your introduction

To gods, you stroll

Tessellated grounds like a winner crushing

the sour grapes of childhood-- You disobey

Your parents for a packet

Of Cobain’s lithium, your wish,

School teachers be boxed

In a Socrates’ paradox- “I do not think I know when I do not know.” 

Only Mazzini the mail man

upholds the honour of your moth-eaten socks 

Full of lint that suffered with you 

The travails of separation

From your father…

 

You fight revolutions in your sleep

As a new born the womb

A prescient warning—Your beloved (will) run away

With the neighbour’s dog; Your meerschaum (will) suffocate

Cobain, Mazzini (dead) in a sauce pan…

 

The last seven minutes you wish

You were unborn, generations flock by

Fractal images of mortal beginnings

Your family's spiritual leanings

Will determine your mortality. 

You may now be alive…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (un)Woken City

One day,

Forests would rile in fire

and earth’s crevasses would devour

Its tombs and minarets,

Temples, demi- gods and rich men, with equal rigour.
Lucifer would dance to his last fall.

After that one day,


Gabriel would annunciate

The birthing of a ghost town

where destinies hang on trees,
skies pour milk and honey

and poets celebrate
The daily ritual of 
cows feeding on dead men. 


In that ghost town,

My country’s farmers will survive. 

 

 

 

 

 

Then

When salaries were Rs 60, mutton cost nine annas, and the living was easy
                                                                                              -- read it somewhere

in those days
living was easy.

i could befriend a malabar
without earning 
the wrath of my father
Trees walloped 
my skin in exchange 
of a shade of silver
of dew drops.

at noons, i would
wander to catch 
a tangerine break by the sea
the whiff of sweet woodnote
passing from the jungle 
nearby, on my way
i would collect 
a pot of sunshine,
a firefly's flight,
some crisp english 
banter of chatty
White women. 

with two rupaiya, four anna
id go to the market
To buy parsley, 
granules, rosaries, incense sticks, lamp oil, fuller's earth paste, 
what have you! - my mother's rest.
for my betrothed kalyani
a kalamkari saree- a deep, glistening red to match her cheeks
some marbles to play 
with ahmed abdali- a match for his one legged conscience
a merciful glass of tea,
with some extra ginger - my rejoice.
on special days, a ticket;
an old man 
from far away turkistan
would play his magic acts- colors of kaleidoscope,
black and white pictures 
of confident women.
my mother always warned me against confident women.
at no extra cost, he would
promise a peep 
into his old ragbag- a lazy patchwork of wool, jute and cotton,
sewed together with threads of desire, they said.
But even with all the richness
of my remaining 
two annas i dared not
Peep. 
it stank of the future. 

in those days 
living was easy.

 

 

 

 

In Remembrance

 

My grandmother’s twin sister was left in Lahore.

My grandmother stays with us

but lives on memories; a caviller.

So solemn: her childhood in Qadiyan.

The internet has a description of that place

Decrepit and dying,

as her. 

 

Her forlorn stick defies her athletic muscle

that rummaged through mango trees.

Her beautiful hands,

weave boundaries

that time has eroded.

She is ahead of her time.

.  .  .  . 

 

Today, she has left me;

a piece of her Lahore

in her will of memory.

A piece of Sindh too,

Napier’s peccavi as a con joke

the paradise of time.

I now live through her songs in Delhi— Ragas of dusty clouds,

and she lives in the threads of pashmina

that wrapped her twin sister 

back in Lahore.

 

 

 

 

 

Where is your home?

 

Ever since the white butterfly stopped swirling and whooshing, and the buried antlers of a deer was discovered by his doe, I have flown my home.

 

Where is your home?

 

Now I sit tall on a pyramid of white snow, near the lake, atop a bed of stones. In my kip I build a home, a place where the snow does not turn color and the lake remains colorless. I am a relentless guard of the lake. But the carmine doesn’t stop to splinter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resurrection

 

You always talk of

The parched earth

What of the sacrifice
Of the crestfallen raindrop

That melts and dies

For a kiss of the molten soil?

You write of the pink

Of carnations,

What of the grit

Of the wilted floret

That braved the storm?

 

Do not tell me of your

Cities of gold and masters…

Your demi-gods, green pastures,

Jilted kings, sabres worth egos, your rituals…

Instead- Tell me about those
 

Insalubrious potters who whittle
gods in hard skin
Tell me about those desecrated cities,


melted bodies of slaves
Moth eaten mildewed women...

Tell me that your gods are

Not currencies of exchange

But a battalion of cripples, beggars

Hermits and sages

Who embellish the earth…then,

 

I will tell you

How hope resurrects

In a scream

That was once a smile

Wilted flowers

That once bloomed

Abandoned cities

That were gold

Detritus that

Formed the earth

Melted bodies

That bore the sun

Slaves who were once free…

 

 

 

 

About the poet

Swatie Chawla is a political scientist and social researcher by profession. She ascribes her poetry to Socrates' theia mania, or the divine gift of madness, writing purely for the soul.

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Published by The Alternative.