By ARUP K. CHATTERJEE.
_________. . . the beat of a horse’s feet,
___ And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
___ Steadily cantering through
___ The misty solitudes . . .
___ — (“The Way Through the Woods,” Rudyard Kipling)
___I blew out the candle, on the mantelpiece,
hours after the stagnation
___of a slow conspiring: a sleepless silhouette
drifting into the words I wrote—
___a hectic symmetry between their meanings
and a vivid nightmare from yesternight—;
___the last tendrils of fume reaching
out the window, to the mist reclined
___beneath the precipices of the vaadee2 . . .
___The purple tincture at my balcony
is the 5 ‘o’ clock colour of broken sleep . . .
___The headlight of a scooter flares from a distance,
still condensing, until it finally stops
___near my gate; they corner beside
the ramshackle masjid, where someone chants,
___or, murmurs monotonously,
words from a kalma, like the lifting dew
___laa ilaaha illal lahoo3 . . .
___In the leaden cold air I see gray beards
of the vaadee come and go, and then return:
___something that returns, unlike the wind—
something that stays like shadows of surma4,
___unable to walk on its wooden feet.
My hunger is a dream, at breakfast today,
___I try to recall the plot of that night:
a dog with a serpentine tail, a devil with a fairy’s plight.
___Was it then, your face Qasim5, . . . were it you that night?
___His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
___They would not think to lie so long.
___Such faithfulness in effigy . . .
___— (“An Arundel Tomb,” Philip Larkin)
Methyl incantations upon
the orifice of a timeless agony
is wintry, too wintry; the raag7 of no-moon—
La lune ne garde aucune rancune—8
of maarwa9 undulating the méconnaissance
of an approaching radio, for your song.
I will make the metaphor concrete,
and let whiskey trickle over the lips
of the lesion the cold has erupted;
let it seep as deep as you are, let
the colour of night be a waiting hall
of a Kumaoni railway station,
and your colour be of a fasting night
they pour as milk on a phallic god,
or of what you poured in wine, as your throat
stifled the name gurgling inside.
On a rain-littered platform they arrive
endlessly altered from a long ziyaarat10
from a desert mazaar or Arundel tomb
back to unarmorial nights and rain,
back to our envy of their quaint refrain.
You and I— we are two carbon forms,
of binary subversions of the nib—,
heedlessly import suraahs11 to our faith,
meant to dispel the throes of sifar:
I convulse to dispel your rhapsody.
Mounting the stairs of the narrow footbridge:
midstairs a turbaned buzurg12, who paints
brumal exhalations on a shikora13
of tea he blankets with both his palms,
is the faceless ectoplasm of my waiting.
Where do I go with such visions of the rails
which the philandering rail hardly comprehends—
soiled, dismembered, remembered compartments
stuffing their entrails and plunging into you—
which I have traded for a sitar’s crescendo?
Their rumbling shakes this brittle quay
and the transient notes of poorvi14 from my grasp;
my lacerations drunk like the red hibiscus
you shook, as its pollen fell to the floor—
Sufiya, at last, have you come, from behind to watch me endure?
Arup K Chatterjee is Assistant Professor of English at University of Delhi. He is a PhD scholar at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. (The submitted doctoral dissertation was titled Hillmaking: Architecture and Literature from the Doon Valley). He is the founder/editor of Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (International Journal of Travel Writing) Print and Online. He is recipient of the Charles Wallace fellowship, 2014-15, to the UK.
- Kalma means a scriptural verse, or a confession of faith, in Islam. It is also the name of the Finnish goddess of death, cemeteries and the underworld. Her name means the “stench of corpse.” ↩
- Vadee: valley. ↩
- laa ilaaha illal lahoo: there is nothing worth worshipping but the Almighty ↩
- Surma: kohl. Also, the name of the beast guarding the gates of underworld. It has a serpentine tail. ↩
- Qasim: meaning the distributor, the name of prophet Mohammed’s son. Here, it is also intended as the doppelganger of the speaker. ↩
- Al-Hijr: the 15th suraah of the Quran with the dogma that no justification lies outside of the miracle witnessed by the Prophet at Mecca. Hijrat means religious pilgrimage far away from one’s homeland, and hijr is separation. ↩
- Also called “raga.” A type of Indian Classical music associated with particular times of day or seasons. ↩
- La lune ne garde aucune rancune: the moon has no grudges—T.S. Eliot’s paraphrasing from Jules Laforgue’s poem “The Lament of that Fine Moon.” ↩
- Maarwa: after-midnight Hindustani raag. ↩
- Ziyaarat: pilgrimage. ↩
- Suraah: Quranic verse. ↩
- Buzurg: elder. ↩
- Shikora: small clay container without handle. ↩
- Poorvi: after-midnight Hindustani raag. ↩