Down and Out in Paris
The street corners of Paris are full of Syrian refugees. Metro stations too. Sleeping in the cold. With children in tow. It undercuts the haughty imperial grandeur. It undercuts the long lines in front of the Louvre and the Grand Palais hosting an exhibition of Mexican art. It undercuts the knowledge contained in obscure books in the numerous book shops. It undercuts the amply available food in the restaurants, the year-end revelry, the immaculately dressed citizenry. The golden eagles and lions watching over the pedestrians and speeding automobiles-guarding the bridges dotting the Seine-like a necklace folded over many a times. It undercuts the Great Men featured in the Pantheon lecturing the city in a quiet monotone about liberty, equality and fraternity, the erstwhile Parliamentarians and theoreticians of democracy watching with disdain the hoi polloi pass by. The celebrated expensive deaths of rock stars and bohemian writers. It undercuts the very raison d’être of a modern city still trapped in a nostalgia for colonial power past. For when the heart rots of vengeance, all other organs start to decay.
people that I know in this world
are the cycle-rickshaw pullers who live
near my house – some of them sleep
in the rickshaws at nights, especially
during summers- next to the ghura
behind which lies the booze black market, famous in entire South Delhi.
There is Bikram, the ‘alpha male’,
Prone to being drunk 24/7 and picking up a fight and who was for a while a henchman for the Anna, local alcohol bootlegger, running a betting ring on the side.
Noor, who lives with his family said they had packed Bikram off
To his home in MP for the same reason
-‘else he may end up dead anytime’
Noor could not pay the rent in the month of Eid as his stubborn son
Insisted on buying an expensive pair of trousers as his festival gift but it is fine
There is Pawan, who has a sob story ready every time I take his rickshaw.
I have learnt to ignore them when I have nothing to give. His left eye is half-closed for the last few days, an insect bit him- he is taking eye drops and medicines, he said. He keeps regretting not taking up a job offered to him years ago which would have helped him avoid this dreary existence he is forced into today.
Then there is the guy with one bad leg* – gangrene I guess; every once in a while someone calls an ambulance for him and two days later, he is back again, sleeping under the tree, wrapped in his dirty blanket like the disgruntled Delhi moon under a layer of smog, gesturing with his hand near his mouth when he sees people pass by.
Raja’s foot was injured too but he has recovered and is now back to plying his trade, his smile as sweet as ever; he is a bit of a rogue and he knows I know it and he does not not try his tricks with me anymore.
When the dismay becomes too much
To bear sometimes, I chat up with them and I feel alright, convinced
That there are still people who know what it is like to be simply
A human being.
*he died on the day this poem was written.
Amongst the Ruins
The heart is a city
torn down after a war.
the old landmarks
have been reduced
to ash and cinder.
the ancient monuments
have shaken and crumbled,their
epicentres moved irrevocably.
The fortress of fate
Is in shambles; an existence beyond
Recorded history: uncharted territory
With no map-making possible
The empty street is a palimpsest
Of scrubbed out desires.
I stagger and stumble
moving amongst the ruins
like a bar of slick soap
on a wet torso.
nothing makes sense.
Milan and the Sea
Today I took my son
To the beach at Thalassery.
Before making it near the sea
I crossed a couple of men
Packing freshly caught fish in chunks of ice – I asked one if he was with the Party- but he said no, a little startled at
My question and somewhat disdainfully, ignoring the hammer and
Sickle flag hovering on a pole
Behind him like one ignores a gatecrasher at a wedding reception.
The air smelt of salt, fish and piss.
The sea was a beast, wounded but not
Hurt irredeemably. It had the sun caught between its teeth, bleeding slightly over the waters. It whispered to me
That if lived with enough conviction, even a lie turns into a truth.
Milan,daunted by the awesome spectacle, clung to Aletta and started to nap- I was reminded of another poem I had written about the sea many years ago which I sent to several fancy literary journals but they all rejected it.
I felt like me my son too must have felt immortal
Before the sea, like all men do but
Too small to contain the feeling he chose to sublimate it in sleep.
(Maybe if I had written about feeling mortal instead of immortal in that poem it would have had a better chance at publication for that would have pleased the editors with its humility. But I do not do humility. Just like the sea.)
Metro to Chawri Bazar
Every time the metro train
Reaches Chawri Bazar
I feel a sort of home-
The three storied exit
That made you dizzy
Even before you came out
Of the station,
Like a mole out of a burrow
The cramped road –
Choked like the arteries running
Through a big man’s heart
with daily wagers pulling their rickshaws, carts what have you
Loaded with useful but dull goods –
Which we would walk down
Every other day
Looking for our angry fix
In the Bangladeshi slums.
Shared degradation can sometimes cement
better than everything else.
The Exclamation Mark
the exclamation mark is the underdog of literature. its flamboyance is suspected by serious types. its earnest nature is considered ‘too personal’ /’confessional’/not ‘universal’ enough. it makes everyone uncomfortable. its innocence is looked down upon by experience. caught in this Blakean paradox, it rues its very being and fidgets endlessly into the moonless night. it tries to upset the status-quo with little success. it befriends teenagers and eternal adolescents and enhances the excitement of their communication. it stays away from conferences and seminars where bearded intellectuals speak of James Joyce. it peeks through the heavy doors of academies. it finds itself allowed in jejune political pamphlets sometimes. it flatters some poets who let it in their verse occasionally. and so on and so forth.
From One Day to Another
i stumble from one day to
another like a trapeze artist
quite certain i will land on my feet
from all the practice
but always slightly unsure still
(tempting fate is the most fun
thing to do)
god gave me a face
a ear to hear
in my youth, I read the Russians as well-
which is why on some days
I feel just fine.
Many came to colonise my mind/men,women,beasts,activists/literary editors/publishers/poets/distant relatives/friends of friends/poetry lovers/professors/ but I could see their love was a knife that cut both ways/the hatred in their heart had left them incapable to realise/that the sky above their heads was a tattered canopy/ that any child could see/ I met them in corridors of hospitals and ministries/ protest sites,police stations and city squares/ Film festivals and poetry readings/ they told me everything that was noble about them/the wind showed me their dirty underwear/ they seemed to resent my resistance/to join their side in a war they deemed righteous / I said I do not care for your diseased conscience/the earth is my friend and the river and the mountains/ what use have I of your patronage/ not one of your dictums shades me from the sun/not one of your strictures cares for my pain/there is no way we could be friends/ for the tongue in which you speak/ is a tongue I have discarded/for a silence lighter than the stars.
Speaking in euphemisms
You spoke in euphemisms so often
I forgot the timbre of your actual voice
Like the bark of an ancient tree
Carved into names of lovers all over.
An excess of beauty too
Can get on one’s nerves sometimes.
(All men violate.
Women preserve all that is worth preserving.)
Was Ginsberg in cahoots with the CIA himself?
Can I trust anybody except my wife?
I have honed my skills as a devourer of storms
under the best
but still, sometimes, after the act,
My head reels and my body shakes.
Words are the balm I apply
To heal my throbbing forehead
As I convulse into atoms
breaking and remaking the universe
In my own image – I forgive myself.
To hell with your poesy!
What do they of beauty know
Who shudder at the ugly?
I don’t want to go to places.
I want to stay here and tiptoe around
A coloured glass bottle
all day in which I have transferred the latest storm
Like a little genie. It asks me to name
At nights, it turns into a
firefly and illuminates
dark corners of my room.
Abhimanyu Kumar is a Delhi based journalist who occasionally dabbles in poetry.