#NaPoWriMo: Curated Poetry for Week 2

Image via Thought Catalogue/ Unsplashed

In honour of the National Poetry Writing Month, April 2017, The Mumbai Meter selects a poem for each day of the month, written by poets from and in Mumbai. This week’s selection is curated by Simar Singh, the founder & curator of UnErase Poetry, with additional text and comments by Ishaan Jajodia, founder & head curator of The Mumbai Art Collective, and Editor of The Mumbai Meter.

This week’s collection of poetry focuses heavily on the written form of poetry, though some of the poems in this collection were initially intended for performance, and may have been performed previously. This week’s list is also more diverse, being almost equally divided between English & Urdu/Hindi.

Saturday, April 8: Ceiling Fan (Nadeem Raj)

Prominent hostel city in a country witnesses tremendous increase in number of student suicides.
 Years of dedicated research point to intense academic pressure as root cause.
 Academic and administrative bodies concur on the need to take prompt and effective action.
 Students’ weapon of choice? Hanging by ceiling fan.
 The proposed solution? Replace all traditional ceiling fans with new ones containing specialized secret spring equipment
 That lowers the fan the moment anything heavier than 20 kilos weighs down on it.
 Top it off with sensors that hoot and alert the authorities as soon as ceiling fan collapses, thereby making everyone aware of pathetic suicide attempt,
 In a country where it might still land you in prison for up to a year.
 Add further security measures through biometric tracking and CCTV cameras, ensuring they know where you are,
 All the time.
 Apart from the added security benefits, above measures are expected to help students integrate better into adult life
 Where every move is constantly monitored and privacy is an alien concept.
 Academic bodies say,
 The above stringent steps have been guaranteed to help misfiring students keep at the impossible
 Dream of cracking ridiculous exams for a couple more years before
 Giving up and turning their inflated bodies and deflated souls 
 To some less noble purpose.
 After all, they are customers.
 How dare they try to take their own lives?
 That’s our job.

India has the world’s highest suicide rate for people between the ages of 15 & 29, according to a report by The Lancet. This was in 2014, and not much has changed since then, with Mumbai being rattled by the suicide of a 24-year old student, who jumped off the 19th floor of a posh hotel.

Unfortunately, conversations about mental health are a taboo for large sections of society, and knowledge of prevention can be crucial in saving lives. The callous disregard for human life results in a cultural phenomena where some believe the only response to failure is to fail the game of life, especially amongst students. And it is this that Nadeem Raj writes about in his poem.

This poem finds its place here because of the pertinent issue that it talks about. The poem will certainly ask questions that are highly personal, and hopefully encourage the viewer that giving up on life is never an option.

Sunday, April 9: Goddess (IdeaSmith)

Listen to the sounds of welcome
Calendars and clocks ticking down to the nine nights
While I put away my five days inside deep breaths
The rush hour horns are honking as the pounding gets
Louder, louder, louder
She is coming home tonight
Watch the colours shift
Gold to celebrate the mother energy
An artist brushes his last stroke of charred black across Her eyes
Living blood starts to seep down my insides and I remember too late
I’m wearing white
But red must only appear on Her clothes tonight
I stay back late so
No one sees the stains
Walking into a night of burning light and colour
Inside me, an implosion of almost, not quite life
While I hide from the male gaze, tiny steps, shying away from the holy
I’m swept into a crowd that makes way for a plaster and plastic Goddess
A hand drunk on bhakti,
Grabs my breast
Jai Ma! the voices shout/ I dissolve into her and she into me
Her wrathful eyes become mine; her weapons, my fists
When a whisper in my ear condemns my stains
I shrink into shame, into mundane me
Feel the Goddess touch your life
Hormonal power
Blood-lust, hunger, release and pain
I soothe my cramps with hot water
Clean away the impurity that is me
While the drums beat out an ode to womanhood
My red, inferior
My body impure
No room for me
In the Goddess’ procession tonight
Because these are but a human’s blood, sweat and tears
But nobody wants to know that a Goddess bleeds too.

The way the poem is written lends it a surreal quality. By no means is it simple, and neither are the themes it aspires to address. The iconography of red is abound, and it is used by IdeaSmith with both positive and negative connotations. The poem is inherently powerful in itself, offering a feminist perspective on religion as it exists today, in India, a brutal reminder that even cities like Mumbai tend to reside in the medieval age. The vibrant nature of celebration is in stark contrast with the dark depths of the horror that one faces when one must go through what is described in the latter part of the poem.

Monday, April 10: Us Paar (Zubair Ahmed Zaki)

Is Paar bhi, us Paar bhi.
Ik Goonj si ham nay suni.
Saazish hai ye us paar ki.
Dono taraf batein hai bas.
Is Paar ki , us Paar ki.
Is Paar bhi, us Paar bhi.
Jaanay Pataa Par hai nahi.
Saazish hai ye kis khaar ki.
Kis ko bhala maloom hai.
Ranjish ye kab hogi khatam.
Is Paar ki, us Paar ki.
Jhaghda ye kab thanda hoga.
Is Paar bhi, us Paar bhi.

Tuesday, April 11: Untitled (Mohammed Sadriwala)

Bezaar na hojau-e-intezaar tere intezaar mein, ye har waqt darr rehta hai
Zindagi ka arsa beet gaya, ab to bata aey intezaar tu kaha rehta hai

This Urdu couplet was written by poet Mohammed Sadriwala exclusively for #NaPoWriMo and The Mumbai Art Collective. I’m going to leave you, the reader, with this one, and figure it out, for I do not want to be responsible for the slaughter of a poem whose beauty lies in being simple.

Wednesday, April 12: Adam’s Apple (Swamini Deshpande)

There is a night full of stories stuck in my throat.
The ones of silences between breaths
Trapped in our chests
Full of possibilities of love
we could have had.
The ones of flowers that grow on my windowsill
In broken cups with edges still holding stains
of our coffee coloured conversations.
Stories of habits which don’t wash away easily
And dish soaps that don’t work well on stubborn melancholies.
There are stories of your letters
That I read backwards in time.
I start at the one with the “Goodbye forever.”
And I stop at the one signed “Yours till eternity.”
I trace across cracks in our moment
that begin from ‘if at all’ and end with ‘but then’
There are stories of your favourite books
Still sitting tight on my shelves,
Like left-overs of an explosion
That divided my life into
A Before You and an After You
Stories of remnants through which
I try to reconstruct my world,
Which grows like a ghost town around
Your phantom existence.
There are stories I should have told you
while you still lay besides me,
framed against the light from our night lamp
Singing to me lullabies that sounded like songs
from the seashells we gathered together.
Stories sitting prickly under my tongue.
Tiny metal shards cutting holes in my words
Every time I speak
Avenging themselves for being caged thus.
There are nights full of stories stuck in my throat.
You may hear them rattle from time to time.

Thursday, April 13: Untitled (Sudeep Pagedar)

Lift, load, shoulder, aim
 Shoot, repeat, kill, maim 
 Rush into rhetoric, no time to wait
 Zindabad! Murdabad! is how we celebrate
 Screw ‘bhai-chaara’, not my brother
 Gather your Self, target the Other
 Who is this ‘dushman’? Tu jaanta bhi hai kya?
 Kaun ye tera Bhagwan? Tu maanta bhi hai kya?
 Politics of Terror & the Terror of Politics
 Partners in crime, in equal measure, pricks
 But we dance to their tunes, who cares why?
 A coin for the song & an eye for an eye
 So trade in smileys : ) for that angry emoticon face :@
 As we celebrate, on Facebook, our #failed human race.

Straddling the border between Hindi & English, Sudeep Pagedar’s poetry is surprisingly modernist (modern and contemporary do not mean the same thing, see here for more information on modernist poetry). The rejection of what is considered appropriate in poetry, through the inclusion of symbols brought into prominence by technology, and reminds the viewer that poetry today is fundamentally different from poetry of the years gone by. This mirrors what the author Virginia Woolf believed happened in or around 1910, when “human nature underwent a fundamental change” due to the effects of technology.

Neatly delineated into couplets, the structure of the poem contrasts highly with the the inner turmoil and angst that is displayed through this poem. The end-rhymed lines, too, do not give an indication of the angst that the rest of the words masterfully construct.

The poem is inherently political without naming and shaming, dealing with the abhorrent concepts of civil society in India, and in Bombay. This brings to mind a question that I was once asked:

Why do people hide love & express hate so openly?

Friday, April 14: Dear Religious Extrovert (Simar Singh)

Dear Religious Extrovert, 
 I can see you to be at the peak of your pleasure and satisfaction. 
 These 10 days couldn’t have made you more happier. 
 I wish I had the option to not be a part of this celebration of yours. 
 Sadly, we’re in this together.
 As a kid, I used to look upto you. 
 I admired this one quality you had and no one else did, to celebrate, dance, enjoy. 
 Although, as I’m growing up to be a rather rational human being, it turns out that kid in me is now disappointed.
 I don’t have anything against you. 
 Or your religion. Or your God. Or your Dhols. Or your Firecrackers. Or your dance. 
 Or your ‘religious’ choice of Bollywood music. 
 Or even ‘your religious excuse’ to consume alcohol, for that matter.
 I respect you and all of these things, from the bottom of my heart. 
 However, I fail to understand you. 
 I fail to comprehend your definition of ‘festival’.
 I wouldn’t have ever spoken out to you though, I wouldn’t have bothered you during these 10 days even once, if it wasn’t for my sister. 
 And perhaps, many more sisters, grandparents, brothers, parents.
 It’s been 10 days since my sister hasn’t gone to school. 
 She’s unwell. 
 It’s nothing critical though, but she might have stepped out of house only thrice in the past 10 days. 
 Either to visit clinics or enjoy her favourite coffee at Starbucks. 
 As an elder brother, I am really worried about her.
 Her exams are coming up and I doubt she’s even aware of the entire syllabus. 
 But what worries me more is you and how inconsiderate you have become since the past few days.
 I wish she had the option to choose to be a part of your celebration or not. 
 I wish I had the option. 
 I wish everyone had the option. 
 Including you.
 It crumbles me when I see her night after night helplessly putting her tiny little hands over her ears to make an individual decision to refuse to be a part of this, but she has been failing.
 And every night I hope that her efforts will succeed tonight. 
 And I pray. I pray to my God. 
 You see, my god is a bit different from yours, he is a bit more sane when it comes to festivals. 
 He is way more rational when it comes to religion. 
 My God is very different from the God you worship.
 Or perhaps, the God you have been worshipping since centuries.
 The God you worship, demands an entry with the loudest of possible noise that can be created in a neighbourhood (and mind you ‘noise’ and not music) and demands an exit in a similar fashion.
 I fail to understand you and your God and I wish to believe this God of yours doesn’t exist in the real world and is rather a figurine of your imagination. 
 And I hope I’m right
 Because Dear Religious Extrovert, if there exists a place and which you claim to know of, where this God of yours resides. 
 Make sure you give him my message as I’m not aware of a possible way to communicate with him. 
 I’ve tried Mandirs, Gurudwaras, Dargahs, Churches. And I still haven’t received a response.
 Perhaps, he might respond to you.
 Make sure you tell him, I sent him love and best wishes and may God bless him. My God, Bless him.
 Dear Religious Extrovert and his non-existent God, thank you for making our lives much more fun and entertaining for 10 days every year and while you continue to celebrate and devote on roads through dance and noise and firecrackers, I choose not to be a part of your celebration and I hope to make you more considerate, the next time your sister falls ill.
 With love,
 A Sane Human Being.

Simar’s poem is an ode to the way that religion has taken over public discourse. His discomfort with the dhoom-dhaam with which festivals & Gods are celebrated is palpable, both on the surface of the poem, and through further readings. He ends with a profession of atheism, leading the reader to believe that the way that religion is another excuse to make noise, get drunk, and to destroy the inherently monist and inward looking aspects of religion.

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