All Over The Grey Buildings

August 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm (Dominic Alapat, Poetry)

 the faded yellow ones,

all over gloom dreaming.

Here, in the evening,

in the square,

pigeons are picking on feed

in the buzz of the market.

The lanes of descending darkness

are broken by the whir of cars

and people walking past

the shops with their lights

coming on;

the merchandise, the customers,

the tailoring shop, the bookshop,

the grocery stores, the saree shops,

the restaurants, the tea-sellers,

the vegetable sellers, the fruit sellers and 

the flower-sellers outside the temple

calling out their wares

have now brought the moon down to Matunga.

– Dominic Alapat


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Eight Poems of Geoffrey Hann with an Introduction by Adil Jussawalla

August 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm (Geoffrey Hann, Poetry)

 Geoffrey Hann was a British citizen who lived the life of a tramp in Bombay. Large, bearded, shabbily dressed and apparently unwashed, he attracted attention in the streets and was generally shunned at the free cultural events he went to. People generally made a point of avoiding him when he was around.

I befriended him in the 80s and we used to sit and talk in public parks and gardens; sometimes in my flat. A meeting place we both enjoyed was the garden of what used to be called The Prince of Wales Museum. He began showing me his poems and on 16th September, 1986, he gave me a whole bunch of them. We sat and talked about his poems, he told me the little he wanted me to know about his life, his estrangement from his family.

He spoke with bitterness. He also told me he was fond of the city of Alexandria where he was born. I don’t know when he left Bombay. I last heard from him when he sent me the address of Hyde Park Hotel in Alexandria.

I liked practically all his poems. I tried to get a few people interested in publishing some of them in little magazines in Bombay, but wasn’t successful. Perhaps I read some of the poems out in public, but I’m not sure.

The poems lay in a file until very recently when I showed them to Dominic Alapat. I’m happy he’s found a space for them where they can be read by others.

– Adil Jussawalla



Fire over Bombay!

The dreadful drama of the City of dead-end nights!

I’m so glad it didn’t grab the Lawrence Hotel

Because Ellen is staying there.

Ellen is a pearl of great price

The human disease at its almost acceptable;

When you look into Ellen’s eyes

You are in the grip of Maine’s warrior coast –

Dare I say tenacious as a lobster?

Of course I wouldn’t want her any other way

I wouldn’t care for roast Ellen

No, not even with French fries and flambé –

Maine lobster we will discuss in our next incarnation.

No Homeland 

Being a shelterless wanderer

With no country clamouring for my bones,

I must build a different homeland

Rising step by step out of fantasy.

I have crossed the Nile

Knowing nothing of flow or timelessness –

I am approaching Giza –

The Egyptian night is bright as video

In an ancient setting –

Here high drama has been played for centuries

And casts long shadows,

O Sphinx!

Out of your accumulated memories

And buried wisdom:

Give me the strength to raise

Pyramid dreams.


I’m an old man.

Headed for the dustbin –

You might call it a trashcan –

I’m a lemon squeezed dry

And the juice hasn’t been to everyone’s taste

Juice? No, not that kind

The grapes soured long ago

Attic wit?

Hit by the salt

Geriatric hardening of the arteries.


“Prepare to meet thy doom, the end is nigh!”

The Pale Horse’s laughter ripples in the resilient hills,

Is given back, it is still the music of this world.

Prancing, fear is trampled underfoot.

           Fear is a fatso –

Overweight for your long journey,

The soul’s flight.

I Did Not Love Her  

I did not love the Russian girl

Our guide in Leningrad;

I suppose I did not even like her –

She was too much the Soviet war heroine

With bulging biceps and jutting jaw –

Until she showed us over a church

And pointing to walls studded with bunks, said:

“In Russia we put our churches to good use,

We sleep homeless people in them.”

        Then I felt the hot desert wind in frozen Leningrad.

I loved her.

         Nor did I love the English girl

She was so much the bouncing Anglo-Saxon hockey woman –

I did not even like her.

Until she appeared to suffer a sea-change

As we were picking our way along a Bombay pavement

And she looked at the homeless street sleepers

Then delicately side-stepped, and said,

“I don’t like disturbing people in their bedrooms”

          Again I felt the hot desert wind –

This time in Island Bombay.

          I loved her.  

Fifteen Years is a Long Lifetime 

The pressure is on, heat will out,

Even after fifteen years in the peeling off East,

I’m all steamed up by London –

The eyes set in mobile bone-china tombs;

                                                 Uncaring –

Not a single beggar smirking

Acknowledges my existence –

If I’m grumbling so are the voices I hear

Whining like chainsaws,

Rude mechanicalls.

Of course I’m no Jean Genet;

I’m not armed with that dagger.

On visits to London he stayed in bed

Found masturbation more stimulating than Cleopatra’s Needle.

No, I still circulate in a Senior Citizen amble.

Hope that those sky-searching prices

Button-holing vultures

Won’t drop me from that predatory high-rise

Pensioner dead –

Just a heap of imported bones

That couldn’t make it to a respectable boneyard.

He had the mandatory two,

But these were long ago translated to other planes

And into gibberish languages.

Now he ploughs a lonely furrow

He never sought a teeming burrow

Alone is beautiful.

And sometimes dutiful.

(Sourpuss tells himself)

Given the quality of the terrestrials

(Have they been remaindered?)

When will the ETs save us from ourselves?

And rescue him from a clutch of cousins –

Hostiles not relatives –

Squatters on the edge of his life, edge,

Who yet menace the still precious centre.

They are not the snarling, knife-wielding breed;

But stealthy lungers of bayonets of the spirit.

Almost Over 

Someone tells me that I am bitter –

Just a leaking bag of vinegar.

– Even that my sting is the sting of an asp.

So be it, I was born in Egypt

And can die Cleopatra’s death.

As to crocodile tears, I shed them long ago

On the banks of the Nile –

That was an earlier, easier and more polluted death.

        Lessons? Some I have never learned –

The grace of an ibis with its one-legged stance –

And hence the superfluity of feet –

The homing instinct of the many-rooted banyan tree

– I who am rootless as desert air –

Could I put down an archaeological root in Cleopatra’s city –

Cavafy’s too – Alexandria?

It is fitting that in the coarseness of time

I should exit where I entered –

In my case just a closing of the sand.

– Geoffrey Hann


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Quoting. Questioning.

August 9, 2010 at 9:02 pm (Sampurna Chattarji, The Reading Room)


Editors Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam introduce Indivisible, their anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry with three words: Divisions. Articulations. Allegiances. In essence, this is what one can hope to find in the work of forty-nine American poets “whose ancestral roots lie in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”. Divisions of individual/tradition. Articulations of identity/politics. Allegiances to land/language.

Anthologies with detailed subheads seem to be the new and natural home for poets with ‘multiplicity’ as their middle name. Several of the poets here are familiar from earlier anthologies, such as the compendious Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (my review of which first appeared in Biblio, and can be read here edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar [W.W. Norton, 2008]; The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets edited by Jeet Thayil [Bloodaxe, 2008]; or even Unmapped, The Literary Review Indian Poetry Issue [Spring 2009] devoted to ‘new work by Indian poets from around the world’, guest edited by Sudeep Sen. Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Kazim Ali, Meena Alexander, Monica Ferrell, Prageeta Sharma, Ravi Shankar, Aryanil Mukherjee, Srikanth Reddy, Vijay Seshadri are some of those familiar voices. Indivisible brings us a host of less familiar ones—Mohammad Faisal Hadi, Minal Hajratwala, Amarnath Ravva, Shailja Patel, Ravi Chandra, Reena Narayan, Homraj Acharya, Swati Rana, Mona Ali … this list could go on.

As with any anthology, one could take issue with exclusions, find fault with editorial assertions of intent, quarrel with the idea of ‘multiplicity’ itself. But I shall do none of that, this time. This time, I shall ask myself, and the prospective reader of Indivisible, a host of questions. How does one clear a space in the mind for a fresh reception of what may seem like yet another anthology? How can one renew one’s faith that one will make exciting new discoveries, be struck, impressed, even overwhelmed, or not? Can the clustering of poets under specifically determined parameters yield delights that transcend those parameters? What makes some poets, and some poems, repeatedly anthologizable? Is an anthology the beginning of a journey, or the culmination of one? What do we hear, and remember, in such a crowded space? What do we return to?

I return, momentarily, to the word ‘reception’. Can an anthology be seen as an old-fashioned radio, the kind I grew up with, fiddling with the knobs till the reception grew clearer, voices from faraway places so close, I imagined all those mini-people lived in the box, silent until I turned the dial, found the frequency, tuned in to a clarity given resonance by the underlying crackle of transmission? It is a tempting analogy, but I shall urge you to find your own. Read Indivisible. Question it. Then read it again. Meanwhile, for a taste of the themes, tones and textures in this anthology, I give you a cento stitched together with lines, titles, phrases from the book, an indivisible act of poetry.

It’s a Young Country. I’m Not Home.

You’re good with maps. Find me

a mantra called home.

You walk backwards / into a new land.

Turn what you can into wings.

I substitute images for events, my humanimal prerogative

Which he ate quickly and / sloppily, like a dog.


Every word when leaving / has direction.

I am filled with admiration and autobiography.

I am Burning a Pig in my Room, Apollinaire.

It’s worth a try.

Naming only fixes you as one or the other,

no going back for any one of you.

Before you claim a word / you have to sweat and curse it / crawl and bleed it /

you have to earn / its / meaning

to pour questions about people who bend.

I’m a Scrambled Egg Burrito … with a side of Bitter Melon,

I’m good with tongues.

The sun has done its worst: / skimmed a language, / worn it to a shadow.

The eyes ache from feeding too much

on the ripe fruits of temples.

I mispronounce myself.

All I have left behind

In the Binary Alleys of the Lion’s Virus

treeforms :: the touch of language

memory writings :: picnic

A girl could hang / herself from such a night

Thirty Years Ago, in a Suburb of Bombay

Bombay no longer.

I am a fool to want you.

Is desire confined to language?

The only language of loss left in the world is Arabic—

and my nation is the Republic of English.

We were headed / home, but home wasn’t where we’d left it.

– Sampurna Chattarji

Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry

Edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam

(The University of Arkansas Press, 2010, 254 pp. ISBN-10:1-55728-931-X)

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