May 12, 2021

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

THE NIGHT OF BONE AND PAPER

The night is as still as paper
—Uttaran Das Gupta

The night is a hard bone you cannot
Chew, an anguish stuck in your throat.
The night is reams of paper burning
In a crematorium, weightless bones
Fly into a sleepless neighbourhood.
The dead are too close to breathe, to
Ignore, to forget, to sleep. The dead
Roam in all directions, the air is full
Of shreds of bone-paper, the dead
Are finally able to breathe, without
Cylinders, they fall like black snow
Over alien windows, the night burns
In their memory, the dead look for
Shelter, they cannot find their way
Back home. They could not breathe
When alive, now we who are alive
Breathe their bodies of burnt paper.
The dead write on the city’s stifled
Air, words that catch your breath,
They write what we dread, they write
What we write on the night’s paper.

from Poets Respond
May 12, 2021

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Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee: “The long night in Delhi, described with poetic precision by Uttaran Das Gupta, refuses to leave the minds and hearts of those who have lost their loved ones. I return to the night that doesn’t leave the city. I take the striking imagery in Das Gupta’s poem to explore what disturbs the still night of paper. This poem is (also) an acknowledgement of, and a response to, Das Gupta’s sombre poem.” (web)

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August 27, 2019

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

KASHMIR, KASHMIR

An Elegy

It rains through the day. I sleep, I wake up,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
On everyone’s fingertips, on everyone’s lips,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
The newsreader parrots his eroded soul,
Mockingbirds risk their tale,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Telephones have lost their pulse,
News of the heart cannot cross the mountains,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Clouds of agony move slowly in long queues,
They linger for a touch of broken words,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Streets are sleeping rivers in the jaws of night,
A deluge of tongues wake them up,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Windows looks out for a glimpse of life,
Tired doors heave a sigh,
The air of hope is in short supply,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Curfewed medicines wait to cure the ailing,
The ailing wail the delay of god,
It is a wrong time to fall ill, a wrong time to die,
A wrong time to be born,
Kashmir, Kashmir.
Someone, somewhere, reads Darkness at Noon,
History, like nature, has no scruples, when it rains
It rains, when it kills, it kills,
There is nothing darker than a dark sun.
Kashmir, Kashmir.

from Poets Respond
August 27, 2019

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Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee: “Kashmir was named ‘paradise’ by the 17th century poet Amir Khusro. History is a blind man with greedy hands. It has been cruel to what it considers beautiful. Between Kashmir and Kashmiris falls a long shadow of history that begun when the Mughal king, Akbar, set his eyes on it in the 16th century. Akbar exiled Kashmir’s ruler and the poet-queen, Habba Khatun’s husband, Yusuf Shah Chak. In his poem, ‘The Blessed Word: A Prologue,’ late Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali wrote, remembering Khatun: ‘Her grief, alive to this day, in her own roused the people into frenzied opposition to Mughal rule. Since then Kashmir has never been free.’ Ali rues how unkind and brutal history has been to Kashmir, and how it imposed an unending saga of grief. But he also considers grief the fuel behind Kashmir’s resilient spirit. Hope the long night in Kashmir ends now, and voices of calm prevail.” (web)

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May 29, 2016

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

NO URDU IN DILLI, MIAN

For Akhlaq Ahmad and Swen Simon

You can’t write Urdu
On Dilli’s walls, Mian1
There’s a saffron lock
On your zuban2, Mian

Horsemen of all faith
Plundered Dilli’s rūḥ3,
They only blame it on
Your ancestors, Mian

From Bīdel to Ghalib
Run rosaries in Urdu,
They embalm history
With rare attar4, Mian

You outlaw a tongue
By policing the wall?
The gardens, the air,
Breathe Urdu, Mian

In the heart of Dilli
Graves speak Urdu,
Even parrots, dusk,
And my jigar5, Mian

Notes:

1 Respectful address of a Muslim
2 Tongue
3 Soul
4 Fragrance made of rose petals
5 Liver, Shakespeare’s “seat of passion”

Poets Respond
May 29, 2016

[download audio]

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Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee: “This poem is in the wake of a disturbing event that took place early this week in Delhi. Two artists, a Christian and a Muslim, were drawing a couplet in Urdu on a wall when they were attacked by members claiming to belong to the Hindu right and told to stop. This was an unprecedented episode of cultural policing in the capital of India, a place which reverberates with a history of brilliant poets during the Mughal era, who wrote in Persian and Urdu, and who were part of the common Indo-Islamic culture that thrived in these parts.” (website)

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