Tribute to mother

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With Amma in Agra, in the winter of 2011.

Let me hear your song again mother.
That song ridden with pain and agony,
Which you have often sung to me.
For in hearing it, I can feel the pain

Through which you have been all your life.
You think I will not understand it, perhaps,
For, I have never experienced the same.
But I promise you, I’ll listen to it with all my heart.

I have the same brown eyes, mother,
Wrapped in wrinkled eyelids. The same tears
Flow through them, those useless salted pearls,
Once a symbol of womanly weakness.

All you wanted was a bit of love, right?
A tender loving hand that would support you
In distress and pamper you with caress
And make you forget the world…?

But violent hands bent you in force, they broke you almost!
I can see now how your mother (her tale, another song of pain)
Had thought of you as no less than a burden, only meant to wash
Clothes, cook food, remain indoors, and lay rotting thus for life.

You thought marriage would be a means to escape
From that house, which overwhelmed you
With memories of a bitter childhood. But
You only ended up in a deeper predicament.

For, you became someone else’s burden now.
And your life became a monotone of melancholy
Hummed in lonely corners of the one-room
Apartment where you spent the prime of your life.

From that corner of your heart where motherhood
Lay rooted, and from the cracks that were formed
Due to suppressed desire, burst a fount of fury; you
Rebelled in silence, nourishing your womb with dreams.

And the sole aim of your life became the education
Of your daughters, to make them capable enough
So that they may lead a life of freedom and dignity.
Now, after years of nurturing, I stand before you.

A different individual but your reflection all the same,
With the same brown eyes, wrapped in wrinkled eyelids.
The same tears flow through them, those useless salted
Pearls. But today your daughter proudly bears testimony

To that inheritance of patient suffering.
I shall sing this song for the whole world to hear, mother.
But I wonder if I shall ever be able to sacrifice as did you,
Or carry forward this legacy, this pillar of womanly strength.

 

This train runs on blood

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Picture is for representation purpose only.

Once upon a time, a 5 a.m. monster that would screechingly halt

By the local railway station, next to my childhood home

In Calcutta, used to be my mother’s morning alarm.

The memory of that goods train thundering past our abode,

Rocking its flimsy walls is vivid still. Who’d have thought

That a day would arrive when 16 hapless factory workers

Sleeping on the lines would meet one such monster

Never to wake up this time? Images of their bloodied bodies

Scattered on the railway track fill the morning papers.

Crushed under the merciless wheels of an unending curfew.

Homebound on foot, hungry, penniless, and confused.

Some say they might have tried to kill themselves in distress.

But why would these men, only a few hours’ walk away from the station

To catch the train home, throw themselves to death?

The truth is the train of our national economy runs on their gore –

The blood and sweat of nameless labourers sacrificing life and limb,

To keep our dipping economic graph forever chugging along.

Rumours of their recklessness are just to hide that embarrassing fact:

That we’ve got blood on our hands.

 

© Vidya Venkat (2020)

 

[I wrote this poem in response to the news of the death of 16 migrant labourers in Aurangabad, who got crushed under a goods train. The monster train is a symbol of our systemic exploitation of the labour of the migrants that keeps our economy afloat at an enormous human cost. Watch me read out this poem on Rattle Magazine’s poetry live show on May 17.]

Gitanjali – A Poet’s Prayer

[I had originally written this essay in 2005 for a class on ‘Indian Writing in English’ as an undergraduate student of English Literature at Madras Christian College. The essay is an attempt at an original interpretation of Tagore’s collection of poems ‘Gitanjali’, which fetched him the Nobel Prize in Literature. I am republishing this from my old blog here as a tribute to Tagore on his 159th birth anniversary.]

GITANJALI

There is a distinctly spiritual flavour to the verses of Gitanjali. Going through them, anyone is capable of getting transported into -what in poetic idiom is often referred to as- ‘poetic heaven’. As Yeats too had expressed, in his introduction to the Gitanjali, the verses depict a poetic world that can only be dreamt of by most of us. There is an other-worldly feel to it. These words can only be uttered by a person who has transcended the physical world to explore what lies beyond it. But isn’t that what every poet wishes to achieve? Gitanjali is labeled as ‘religious’ poetry by critics, but to Tagore, these verses were just poetry and it is these classic poetic qualities of Gitanjali that are dealt with presently.

Even a lay reader with no feel for poetry will be able to recognise, how these verses, though framed in the simplest of vocabulary, manage to articulate thoughts and feelings of the highest order. To comprehend them may not be possible for all. Such is the talent of Tagore and such is his inspiration. In Gitanjali, I see a poet’s gratitude finding expression. Every single utterance of the poet is soaked in this gratitude felt towards that Supreme Being without whose will, a poet would never have been born. The very fact that God has appointed him to accomplish a poet’s task is elevating. And when the recesses of a poet’s mind, impregnated with divine feelings, reach the state of maturity, it is but a moment’s labour for a poem to be born through the channel of language.

To a true poet, every poem comes as a blessing granted after numerous prayers have been offered at the altar of the Supreme Being. Gitanjali is an embodiment of these several prayers that the poet has offered at the feet of the divine giver of inspiration. While praying, we do not always plead for something, sometimes we praise our God and sometimes we just share our sorrows and joys as if talking to a friend. At other times, we simply meditate in order to compose our minds. Prayers are a means to achieve inner harmony. The quality of poetry depends upon the intensity of this prayer. Tagore’s Gitanjali is evidently a prayer, a poet’s prayer, and manifests in itself that harmony which the poet has experienced.

Continue reading “Gitanjali – A Poet’s Prayer”

‘Monotony’ features in Rattle Magazine’s open mic

Please watch me read out my poem ‘Monotony’ along with other poets as part of Rattle Magazine’s (www.rattle.com) Poets Respond series in an open mic session. In this series, poets respond to news events as they occur across the world.

My poem was written in response to news reports that Bollywood celebrities are now doing household chores. I wanted to put the whole “pleasure” angle and romanticisation of the privileged performing domestic chores in perspective against the life of a woman (my mother) whose whole life was spent doing such work. Do listen!

A divided bench

0_50255465._SY475_Taking up ten forgotten cases, a writer explains how the judiciary in India has at times been ‘more executive-minded than the executive’

[Book Review first published in The Hindu ]

At a time when faith in the independence of the judiciary in India has diminished, Chintan Chandrachud provides us with a historical perspective on the uneven legacy of the courts in his new book. He elaborates the course of decision-making in ten ‘forgotten cases’ that may have faded from public memory but left an indelible imprint on the course of justice in India, nonetheless. 

Lost opportunities

With the apex court entering its seventieth year in 2020, the book is timely in its critical assessment of the functioning of the courts. Unlike commemorative volumes, this book demonstrates how the court has not always risen to the occasion to safeguard us from the “indiscretions and misadventures of Parliament and the government”.

Continue reading “A divided bench”