Jan 20, 2012


Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was 
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars 
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say 
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

by Jack Gilbert



I cannot do without you I think,
as I listen uncomprehending to their words
tumbling out quicker than diamonds,
out of a bandit’s purse string.

Eager promises, stupid condolences,
Earthy philosophy they offer too.
I turn a deaf ear and cast my mind
To times when you were my sound.
Speaking on my behalf, knowing
 their stares alone would bring a silence profound.

I was told it would be impossible
To live under the same roof.
Never once did you complain
As I read late with the light on,
When your speakers blared, not once did I frown.

Perfect harmony is made up
of two of a kind.
At the busy corners, my hands and lips,
Would beat a wild stacatto,
in sync with the tap of your stick on the ground.
As you held my hand,
Often I asked, ‘what’s on your mind’?

They asked me what did
it a
ll amount to?
Sight and sound and amber
and incense and fulfillment and knowledge
that i was not alone. 
Reading lips, fleeting touches,
The letters in Braille,
Such was our holy grail. 

Jan 16, 2012

Ebar Ashi?

One of the things I love about being a Bong is our language: the melodious, clean , rounded sounds of our vowels and consonants, the forms of respect accorded to each address based on one’s relationship with the addressee, and the meanings behind names. I find great beauty in my language, little that I know of it. Often these days, I meet people, both in mumbai and kolkata, who are ashamed of speaking in the vernacular, who stubbornly answer in english even when you address them in bengali. I find it annoying. Anyway, that’s not why I started this post.

One of the pet Bengali phrases that was once commonly used and is slowly dying is ‘ebar ashi’. Used as a signature at the end of epistles, and also in speech, its direct translation would be, “now, let me come.” But it is actually a form of goodbye and the ‘ashi’ or ‘come’ is actually a promise to ‘return’ soon. Whenever we Bongs bid goodbye, we never say ‘jachi’ or ‘I’m leaving/going’. It is always, ‘ebar ashi’ – ‘let me go now so that I can return soon.’ More beautiful still is the ‘ebar ashi?’ - the question mark lends a dignity and sanction to the addressee that should be at the heart of all meaningful interaction. I don’t know if similar forms of leave-taking exist in other languages but I have asked my marathi and gujarati friends and it seems that they don’t have anything like this.
I don’t know anything about the genesis of my mother tongue so it leaves me free to imagine how things came to be. I imagine this graceful leave-taking must have its roots in the young boys who had joined the Swadeshi movement and who touched their mother’s feet and bid ‘ebar ashi’ before leaving their homes for the eternal home. Or maybe, it was the only consolation a husband could offer his wife as he left home to eke a living in some far off land. For, poignant as these moments must have been, can you imagine a more hopeful and pregnant goodbye than this?

Jan 10, 2012


I learnt I am nobody

Did you too?

Why the pallor? Despair not.

There’s a pair of us yet.

Don’t show it,

That you have me around.

They’d banish us, you know,

Bury us underground.

Relish the thought,

You are invisible,

Truly free,

Neither the volcanic ash,

Nor the minstral, can stop your departure.

Didn’t you find it dreary,

To pose for the camera the livelong day?

To perfect the collagen pout,

And colour the hair,

Modulate your clear voice,

And tone your skin?

I know you did,

‘cause I did too.

Terrible it is to be somebody!

How like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!