When the bombs go off and there is blood all over the TV,
he’ll be sitting in some human corner of the world,
drinking his tea, stunned by the impersonal reach
of his act, just as you are by how far this screaming thing
has travelled – translated by distance into helplessness
at being dumb witness again to the guts-spilled-open
suffering of random strangers.
And this is how we realise the world’s grown-up –
by knowing that the act of twisting a knife
inside the warm heart of your enemy on a summer night
is far too local a measure of your loathing, while to kill people
you do not know and will never see is to speak a language
of the universe that can be relayed on the TV.
I go out into the August slush and get the wine,
and all weekend is one long afternoon,
watching the light soften on the sill,
knowing it’ll rain soon, drinking happiness
like Peggy Gordon: “I put my head to a glass
of brandy/ it was my fancy I do declare.”
I’m seeing our life from the outside like a lit window,
I’m shaking it like a locked box, trying to judge
its contents from the sound.
Everyone does their made-up thing inside –
getting pissed and not showing it, panic and desire,
speaking half-sentences into the phone for someone
three thousand kilometres away to complete.
So this is what loves means – the weak beating
of a hardened heart. Smiling at the thought –
I’m not young anymore. Drinking and thinking,
we’re going to forget this only because
some day we can do it again.
THE DAY NO ONE DIED
(After Frank O’ Hara)
It’s a day to drink a large soda
in Bangalore, gulmohar flowers livid on the left
and there on the right. I take the creaking 278,
a woman with one cataract eye’s handing a bag
of bananas to the conductor at Mekhri circle.
She knows it too, today’s the day
no one dies. The soda bottle’s
hissing a bit like laughter in my hand when
I pass through Cantonment railway station
without a platform ticket, the policeman watching but
maybe too hot to move. I’m predicting the overbridge
will collapse soon but I walk on it every time.
My doctor’s back from Bombay, yawning, henna
on her hands. Ma planned to boycott the wedding
but didn’t, she says as she watches
the inside of me on her screen
and then I’m in a rickshaw to Lavelle Road
to see photographs of empty lots in the gallery,
alone with them, not sure why they’re all sunny lots.
Someone in the guestbook has written, ‘We were fooled.’
I like it that I can sit in Koshys, eat peach melba,
read till the waiter brings back the afternoon menu.
Then I’m out again, drizzled on by the big wet men
sculpture on Mallya Road, turning
onto Kasturba Road and there in the May dusk and 6 o’ clock
traffic, the black leaves of a rain tree are, I’m not exaggerating,
like a thousand small quivering birds about to take off.
WHERE I NOW LIVE (REVISITED)
We would never find the place
but suddenly I’d be back in the same evening,
buying bread and tomatoes on streets
where it hadn’t rained for four months—
dust searing the voices of the rickshaw drivers,
the grapes rusty and warm, yet even
on those nights that I hadn’t died many times over
to live through, when for once no doubts folded and
unfolded themselves, worn at the creases, and you
were in the kitchen opening a window, shutting the fridge,
while I fixed on all the things money can’t buy
—even those nights we couldn’t scratch ourselves into rock
or plant a tree, time didn’t fit rooms and memory
wouldn’t peel like an onion’s skin, yet I still knew that
through our dreams any paradise could pass—
say the green burial mounds outside Uppsala,
say the brown hotel room in Kollam.
The longing to nail down a place
became a way of finding a reason to drift:
we are our own geography, and talk must do and kisses;
towns are no more than their photographs, and home
is just the space of a table between two chairs.
The search for fresh carrots, small bureaucratic victories, wondering
if it’s going to rain when it’s clearly going to rain, and allowing,
even if briefly, the thought of new underwear to lift your soul.
It’s enough to fill the kind of book that life is too short to read.
Anjum Hasan: is an Indian novelist, short story writer, poet, andeditor. She was born in Shillong, Meghalaya and currently lives in Bangalore, India.Her works includeStreet on the Hill which won her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006 . It was her debut collection of poems. Her debut novel Lunatic in my Head (Zubaan-Penguin, 2007) was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award 2007. Set in Shillong, a picturesque hill-station in north-east India, in the early 1990s, the novel weaves together the stories of its three main characters, ranging from an IAS aspirant who is obsessed with Pink Floyd to a college teacher struggling to complete her PhD and longing to find love. The novel has been described by Siddhartha Deb as ‘haunting and lyrical’ and as acquiring a ‘lyrical intensity’.Her second novel titled Neti, Neti (Roli Books, 2009) was longlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and shortlisted for The Hindu Best Fiction Award in 2010. Her short-story collection, Difficult Pleasures (Penguin/Viking 2012), was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize.She has also contributed poems, articles and short stories to various national and international publications.
She is currently Books Editor for The Caravan.