The Poet is the Rosary

Looking at Teji Sethi’s moss laden walls, Urvashi V. finds the collection cinematically significant.

Teji Sethi’s moss laden walls is a ceaseless collection of loss ripening (like a cuckoo’s voice and mango blossoms in one of her poems) through sun and rain—the very first offering, previous even to the book’s first section break indicating ‘haiku and senryu,’ memorializes a lost father:

starched turbans
in your wardrobe
long to be

Memory acts in her poems as the verses themselves do—revisiting grief, she nourishes it, grows it into being as all but embodied kin out of absence, wounds, silence, the caress of incredible emptiness where there was warmth, stillness echoes, and felt music where there was movement and audible sound, ‘nothing’ where there was ‘something,’ light sunk to shadows and darkness, formlessness that remembers shape, and the sigh of words:


reading between lines
the silence
he never wrote


the only sound
he left behind
rustle of leaves

In her tanka prose piece titled ‘Fragments,’ an old woman “lost in the echoes of the past” sighs as she braids the poet’s hair, “puttar jis Lahore nahi vekhaya o jamiya hi nahi”—child, s/he who hasn’t seen Lahore hasn’t (even) been born. Sethi’s poetic intervention terms her (or perhaps herself, gathering to herself the woman’s past) “weaver bird / picking up the strands / of unfinished stories.”

Partition is kireji, spoken or unspoken, a cutting word through poem after poem: “line of control / my identity / in halves.” Just as she traverses Delhi, Lahore, and the borderlands in between, Sethi wades through metaphors in three poetic landscapes—all in their own ways liminal.

In one series of experiments—and all her poems are experiments, “swinging door[s]” through which she ‘learns to unlearn’—Sethi associates a familiar turn of phrase or image with an object unfamiliar, even antagonistic, a manifest opposition, to it:

city lake
a cluster of hyacinths
choking its breath

In another, she makes (an invariably many-dimensioned, aged and stratified from birth, startlingly beautiful in its vari-tongued, multi-meaninged) metaphor out of quotidian circumstance:

looks up at the sky
parched lips

And again,

menopausal blues
it is not red

In a third kind, the poet brusquely brushes metaphor way as an excess—the possibility of metaphorical construction always crowds around the edges, of course, but the visceral urgency of sensation being expressed seems almost to ridicule is presumptuousness:

pruning bonsai . . .
father talks of
a pay hike


shattered glass
wrapped in white muslin
another stillborn

Or, parsing the pandemic,

tree sap
the life in
quarantine d me out

Sethi’s verses are, one and all, cinematically significant—backdrop and soundtrack populate with a single word or phrase the stage or set upon which figurations of poet or those she is inhabiting play their parts. In the prose piece ‘Countless Days,’ “[t]he walls of the wooden lacquered room look forlorn” as kehva simmers unceasingly through an uneasy, drizzly dawn. In a “childhood home / the walls still nurse / a shape of an old picture” and elsewhere, “desert winds / a caravan of camels / loses its way.”

What binds this rosary together is that, subtextually and textually, it characterizes itself as such. The scope of the substance Sethi gifts her readers with in moss laden walls is impossible to pin down, fix, or delineate—memory is everything, after all, everything an individual, her kith kin and communities have touched or imagined. Rivers, forests, wind and wit (that vehicle of the human being’s travel transformation and transpositionings) run through the verses, carrying written word and reading consciousness across time space and scales of feeling. But in the end, it is they that encircle the whole: creations of her craft, they bind the one she speaks to in a kaleidoscope of deeply personal meaning as surely as the finite, physical pages of the book contain her sea of joy in sorrow. The poet is the rosary.

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On Collegiality and Other Ballads: feminist poems by male and non-binary allies, edited by Shamayita Sen

Urvashi discusses one of the recent publications by Hawakal

Collegiality and Other Ballads is an object lesson. But, of course, men can do feminism. They must, or be content to let inequality prompt the flailing, lashing damage so many do learn to coolly and cruelly refer to as the human condition. They may do it badly, thrusting a frightened or revolted, lazy or greedy gaze out from a being they believe safe from the mucus and loam, which births and breeds them, mouthing “hooded sympathy” (48) or reimagining empathy as vivisection.

This book is also a challenge. Collegiality is the establishment of kinship between colleagues; it is to say I know what you mean, I extrapolate from this, which I have felt to name you thus, ma famille and familiar. Look out in this anthology, mainly, for that rare mythification which expands the life of its subject till she fills all the reader’s vision, then brings her back to form for you to recognize, unmistakably, in the hall, on the hill, at the reading. There are poets here who sashay into the line of fire and poets who efface themselves in tender homage to kin.

Editor Shamayita Sen says in her introduction, “To quantify social evolution, this anthology […] puts the onus onto (sic) those who are historically and structurally in socially privileged positions of power” (xiii). It meant then to explicitly publish what manner of solidarity, kinship, collegiality, men and non-binary allies have to offer womxn, their coworkers in feminism. Here is my selection of those to flip to.

The Old Woman’s Kitchen (40) perceives a parallel between the slow failure of an aging woman’s body and the habitual movements of her kitchen, connoted as her realm: her body politic ages and fails simultaneously with its sovereign.

Blue (41) is an example of a woman’s choice of self-representation being shaped by social circumstances.

Myth of the Baker’s Daughter (42) retells the Biblical story of Christ’s retributive metamorphosis of a baker’s daughter into an owl after she has denied him bread. The anonymous baker’s daughter is transformed into an owl of mythic proportions and character through the poet’s retelling.

Bringing Forth (44) narrates an alternative history of Eve — accidental mother to her nemesis, Adam.

Census (45) describes the impressions of enumerators who come to a “shelter for battered women […] to fill forms / to ask and record”— what they see and what they imagine of the women’s lives, bodies, and identities.

Lovers without Hands (46) speaks of touch as the time intersecting with space when desire approaches consummation. “Our story becomes landscape,” as the poet and their intimate (lover, other) arrive across it only to re-live and wait together.

An Ode to Woolf  (47) imagines the inner life of an artist, her brushes with women, words, and men, her struggle with love, religion, and the normative she shies from as “average.” Prayer and plants are her allies, and when she “recalls the face of God; it is a woman.”

Trafficked (49) writes the abduction of women into slavery as the act of undress, sex, and seeding, at once attempting a rehabilitation of trafficked womanhood as mundane, and an ‘undressing’ of tillage and cultivation as a violation — violation retranslated or derived in its turn from that species of ‘rescue’ that tears and uproots, ‘screeches,’ ‘searches’ and ‘shames.’

The Day After (52) contrasts a mother’s representation of the Brahmaputra, whom her daughter weds, and of the “little stream […] who listens to her / and keeps all her secrets.”

On the Terrace (53) recalls a childhood exploration of uncharted territories and navigation around real and imagined monsters — bugs and bees, monkeys, piranhas, crocodiles. The poet and their ally encounter in the end one “more dangerous. / The height of your father, waiting” and name him “komodo dragon […] the friendly dinosaur next door.”

An Ode to Nightingales (55) is a play on Philomela — an acknowledgment of the ubiquity of domestic violence via a child’s evolving consciousness recognizing both his mother’s menstrual blood on a sanitary pad and her scars from being beaten by her husband his father.

Two Women (56) instances collegiality between woman and woman while referencing the victimization of women both in war and the ostensible peace of home through a coupling of the poet’s grandmother and a refugee at the Indo-Bangladesh border. The poet worlds a backdrop of the ungovernable — childhood, animal, woman.

My Gender (62) is a straight-up, exuberant reclamation of the poet’s gender as play and performance, inalienable and uncategorizable “baked in the oven of shame […] steeped in love, / warmth and utopian fantasies / that coalesce into collective aspirations.”

On Inter-Caste Love (64) is a commentary on the futility of marriage — the social(lly policed) contract between individuals, as well as that of languages.

Plus-Sized Poem (65) casts itself as a woman celebrating her body as free of constraints faced by lesser women. It tumbles between metaphors of self-love, repudiating standards of beauty and international prizes, refusal of censorship, and so on, in a fast-paced race to knock “the hourglass of time.”

Portrait of a Poet as a Young Woman (66) is a swaying, rhythmic reification of the young black or Dalit woman poet as word wizard, webbed onto the page through the imagery of flight, fire, hair, and hinge.

Fear of Lizards (84) invokes the banality of physical threat through single lines and nominal couplets that interrupt the blank pages of a woman’s sleep. The woman subject of the poem is beset by memory, past, and ever-present, as an audible drum of tiny monstrosities, alive.

Muslimah (104) presents six women’s resistance work in the first to the third person. The poet writes women who drive in Saudi Arabia, wear a hijab, present research on Aleppo, mother in Gaza, maintain a Youtube/Instagram channel on food, and do iconicity to educate girls globally.

Bride Wanted Ads (108) brings together ideas of cultural sexism, female infanticide, marriage as a conglomerate of market forces, and casteism in a compilation of ever-tightening control.

Conflict (109) is a woman declaring a sex strike till “government and rebel forces / settle for a peaceful stride.”

Gále (110) begins in an ungendered awareness of automation and assembly lines killing craft, heterogeneity, culture. “She meditates like a mountain” in the second stanza, the woman weaver, artist whose “nerves stretch through the universe.” The poetic voice is quietly stunned by the scope of her composition — to assimilate histories, preoccupations, aesthetics, movements. “She owns no war, stitches boundaries and / harvests the sun on her loom, / yet none of her children weave a gále.”

Grandpa and Grandma Sit on the Verandah (114) in a photograph that acts as a foil for grandpa’s poaching, his poor eyesight, and his fear of surviving his wife “the woman closest / to the sun” with her “crumpled skin that read like trashed paper.”  There the “loftiness of slow lives / could, perhaps be discovered.”

Surviving Marital Rape (118) attempts to inhabit a woman’s consciousness as she is raped by a significant other.

Andro and Estro (121) might belong in an anthology of SFF poetry. Figurations of hormones meet for a drink, gossip and complain about binary-gendered folks, and are victimized by a rioting mob — “emasculated” and “stitched up” as the city’s men and women are too, “left as vague males and vague females,” self-fertilizing. Andro and Estro retreat to “an island named / Dopamine.”

On Tabassum, My Daughter, Stumbling Upon The Word ‘Consummation’ In A Dictionary (140) rejects a host of literary, religious, and poetic definitions/evocations of the word with the poet’s daughter — we do not know whether the “Not for her” that begins his versions of these evocations is her view or his, nor why. But the poem’s concluding lines flatten with the force of a sudden gust sweeping all preceding possibilities away. “For Her, / Consummatum est.” It is finished, as Christ said on his cross.

Urvashi V.

Editor, English language division, Hawakal

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Sanjeev Sethi’s HESITANCIES

“The poetry in Hesitancies is poetry to be read and read again, to find the gems within, endlessly inventive, and with an ever present twinkle of self awareness that drags [Sethi] back from obscurity.” — Dreich Broad

Sanjeev Sethi

CLASSIX (an imprint of Hawakal) is proud to release Sanjeev Sethi’s fifth book of poems, Hesitancies. Sethi is in fine form: he broadens his gaze, looks deeper at himself and his settings. The timbre of a lived life follows his poetic trail. To read him is to recap a glimpse of the hand one is dealt with. His poems throb with edged sequences flirting with the savories of nuance playing footsie with the palette of possibilities. Sethi’s inflection is irenic. He sutures the lesions with the fine thread of inventiveness. Hesitancies will hasp you to its interiority, urging you to seek oneness with its rhythms and residues.

Available in both traditional hardcover (India) and contemporary paperback format (overseas), Hesitancies is a must buy for the disciplined readers of poetry.

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বিতান চক্রবর্তীর ‘ল্যান্ডমার্ক’

‘ল্যান্ডমার্ক’ আরম্ভ করলে শেষ না করে নিস্তার নেই। উপরি পাওনা ভাষার সাম্প্রতিকতা। সতেজ, সতর্ক, বুদ্ধিমনস্ক… — অধ্যাপক নবেন্দু সেন

যে সমাজে ওঁর বাস, সেই সমাজের মানুষজন ওঁর গল্পে হেঁটে চলে বেড়ায়, কথা বলে, ঝগড়া করে, কাঁদে-হাসে, মান-অভিমানের বুলি ঠোঁটে মেখে নেয়। চেনা-জানা মানুষগুলো চরিত্র হয়ে উঠলে তাদের বুঝে নিতে বেগ পেতে হয় না কোনো। এই মেলামেশায় সমাজ আর সময় নিজেরাই চরিত্র হয়ে ওঠে, পাঠকের অগোচরে। আর তখন, অজস্র শব্দরাশি সমস্ত তুচ্ছতার ঊর্দ্ধে পাঠককে আপন প্রতিবিম্বের মুখোমুখি দাঁড় করায়। স্বস্তির লেশহীন এই মুহূর্তগুলোই বারে বারে উঠে আসে গল্পকার বিতান চক্রবর্তীর কলমে — বারে বারে — প্রতিটি ছোটগল্পে, প্রত্যেক উপন্যাসিকায়। “শান্তিরামের চা” ও “চিহ্ন”-এর পর “ল্যান্ডমার্ক” বিতানের তৃতীয় ছোটগল্প সংকলন।

ছোটগল্প সংকলন: ল্যান্ডমার্ক
লেখক: বিতান চক্রবর্তী
দাম: ২০০ টাকা (হার্ডবাউন্ড)
প্রকাশক: শাম্ভবী
প্রচ্ছদ: রচিষ্ণু সান্যাল

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A Scope of Enchantment to the Lonely

K. Satchidanandan’s latest collection of love poems will make you explore the alleys of expectations and silent demands.

K. Satchidanandan is no stranger to literary circles. One of the most well-recognized faces of contemporary Indian poetry, he is a distinguished scholar of literature. His native Malayalam and English works represent a generation of poetry that inspired many others to pick up the pen. The skill required to write in bilingual form is a feat only a few others have achieved.

In The Whispering Tree, Satchidanandan has documented his most extensive memories of love and parting. The poems work as images, giving the reader a glance into the intimate world of entwined bodies. There is beauty in this bareness, truth in this recollection.

A man looking back on his past has been a theme in poetry for as long as the art has existed, but to present love in a form so stripped of literary walls is a daring act of passion. Like the past emperors, Satchidanandan attempts to build a testimony so profound that it remains etched in the memory of those who read it.

“I sit in meditation / filling my ears with molten bronze / so that the world’s noises may / cease one by one until / only your anklet-like laughter remains”—­­­­­­­­­­­reads a line from the poem “After We Parted,” where Satchidanandan empties onto the page a narration of estrangement.

Filled with a thorough romantic’s emotional capacities, The Whispering Tree is a book of poems that readers of love poems would love to indulge in. The vast poetry styles explored in the book, and experience replicating a journey through lovers’ lives provide a scope of enchantment to the lonely.

Satchidanandan’s experience of love is best captured in the poem “First Love,” where he compares young love with the lively agility of a rabbit. “Taming it is not easy / It flees into hiding before / you stretch your hands”—reads a line from the poem, expressing a view that many readers will relate to. Soon enough, love receives an unwanted halt—“a frozen tear-drop,” says the poet, is all that remains of the rabbit!

In verses like “Helpless” and “How Love Dies These Days,” the flavor of writing represents what Wolfgang Kubin describes as the ‘cosmopolitan’ approach of Satchidanandan. He combines references to Hindu culture in the English lyric. This establishes itself as another reason to read this book of poems.

The Hindu remarks that the poems in this collection can “shock one out of one’s complacency long after one has finished reading them.” With this statement, few can differ, making The Whispering Tree a collection that provides unapologetic clarity into the often illusory world of love.

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