Literary Yard

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‘If We Meet Again’ and other poems

By: Shamik Banerjee

If We Meet Again

When many Springs and Autumns have gone by,
Amid a concourse, should we chance to meet,
Will we ignore the moment with a sigh
Or stop to see each other: smile and greet?

The heavy husk of silence may conceal
Our voices for a while; how will we know
The newborn persons we’ve become, or feel
That old deluge of love felt long ago?

To start a talk, I’ll bring your kids up first:
“Your oldest is a gentleman; your nose
Sits perfectly upon his face!” A burst
Of joy will swell our hearts and draw us close.

Soon joy may transform into gentle laughter
As we explore this baffling book called ‘life’
While slowly leafing through each bulky chapter
On mirth and gloominess, on peace and strife.

Though time will hurtle, ticking very fast,
We might forget our duties for the day.
When feet grow tired, we’ll find a seat at last,
Unravelling that old bond in our way.

I might confess your beauty’s still the same,
And you might take it with a modest smile.
I’ll wonder if our former passion’s flame
Still burns within you after all the while.

“I hope you’re happy”, if I mumble this,
You’ll answer with a partly-broken grin,
“I’m doing great! There is no lack of bliss.”,
Secreting every misery within.

And I shall do the same; sustain the cheer;
Not let my tumid heartache anguish you;
Lest we succumb to bygone times, so drear,
That bit by bit will obfuscate our view.

What shall I gain by wilting off that flower
Of False Conviction that enshrouds your cries,
And tells you that your life would have been dour
If we had not unyoked our prior ties?

But if my posture fails to hide this fact,
Will you implode, oppressed by sorrow then,
While playing that old masquerading act:
Get up and say, “It’s late. We’ll meet again.”
And let the pall of silence veil our faces
Anew, and give your form a hostile stance
While visiting those old and painful traces
We left behind, then share a parting glance,

While leaving as if we were never one,
But joined by Destiny’s delusive play
Into a whole whose wholeness was soon done,
As I pass like a stranger on your way?

A Lesson From Zaheer, Our Fishmonger

All things are measurable, son: the food
You have, the sprawling mains, for man has power
Over the world; He deems what’s bad or good;
Determines if a plant should wilt or flower.
But ordeals measure us—we take the test
Of mercy when affliction’s cavalry
Threatens to loot the kindness off one’s chest
As in the massacre of ’83,
When every lane had reeked of Muslim blood,
My Abba Jaan had fallen to the sword
Held by your neighbours; trembling on the mud,
He mumbled, “What’s my sin? My faith? O’ Lord,
Don’t charge them for their deeds.” Love was his wish
That lives through me, for I still feed them fish.

About this Sonnet: The incident described by our fishmonger is the Nelli Massacre, which took place in central Assam (an Indian state) during a six-hour period on February 18, 1983. The massacre claimed the lives of 1,600–2,000 people. The victims were all Muslims.

My Uncle’s Desk

To him, this desk was no less than
A pretty maid is to her man;
The groom, my Uncle, wedded it,
His bride, the desk, he petted it.

At it, he taught my life’s first letters—
‘The more one reads, the more one betters’;
From it, harangued and often scolded
Whenever my mischiefs unfolded.

At it, reviewed his files, accounts,
Son’s tution fees, the bills’ amounts,
The sum to borrowers he gave,
A month’s expense, how much to save;

On holidays, at break of day,
He sat at it to fully pay
(Through lens of lunettes spectacles)
Attention to his articles.

He decked it with a flower vase,
A flagon old, an hourglass,
A penholder, a blunted comb,
And picture of the sacred ‘Om’.
When minded to hilarity,
Made aunt’s and children’s mockery
While sitting there and taking sips
Of Ginger tea with grinning lips.

And when in grave and tetchy mood,
Strict language formed his attitude,
But not for long this state would be
When he sat there for poetry.

He sat there one full night to catch
The Cricket World Cup’s final match,
And all throughout the coming day,
His run-down eyes upon it lay.

The countless verses that he penned,
The letters for his dearest friend,
The tomes of novelettes he read;
Each happened at this very stead.

Time passed. He aged, so aged his bride—
With oldhood comes life’s ebbing tide;
His movements slowed and came to rest
When Parkinson’s impinged his chest.

Brute Fate! it took from him the right
To feed and bathe, to hold and write;
With each day, it severely wrung
And stole the power of his tongue.

He summoned me on his last day
Through my aunt to make his last say—
She gave a note, it read: ‘My will:
Before I’m rendered cold and still,

‘I’m passing down my desk to you.
I hope, like me, you’ll love it too.’
I smiled at him, his eyes looked pleased—
Took one last breath and got released.

Before my eyes, his desk now stands—
No woodworms, cracks or trace of ants;
Still burnished, solid, gives a glow
As if produced a while ago.

I sit here now and tell my mind:
“The dearest thing he left behind,
Still keeps us close though we’re apart,
And bears the imprint of his heart.”

Assuaging My Lover’s Trauma

“That bestial man is dead, my love. Don’t fear.
His long perversion haunts you still, I know.
We buried all his stuff this very year,
Remember? He can no more dim your glow.
Disdain the crimson past that galls your head.
Look up! there is a white hue: Healing’s light!
Love, here’s your Sertraline. I’ve made the bed.
Let me embosom you throughout night.”,
I tell her and the judder of her spine
Begins to ease. “Let’s talk of something nice.”,
I mutter low while nuzzling her soft hair.
“Babe, will my face regain its former shine?”,
She asks. I answer, kissing her warm eyes,
“It is still there, my love. It is still there.”

Temple Days

“Wake up and bathe. It is already dawn.”,
My early-waking Ma would softly say.
Obeying her command, I’d quickly don
A saffron flower-printed bright array,
And knowing it would be a humid day,
I’d take a battery-backed fan, put on
My chappals, and by six, we’d drive away
From home towards the mandir, whereupon
Stood Mother Kali. Standing in a queue,
We’d watch the thronging devotees in view.

From local vendors lined along the street,
My Baba would purchase a puja plate,
A wreath of red sorrels, a covering sheet,
And agarwoods to scent the temple’s gate.
He’d hurry to the point where we would wait,
Pass on the things to Ma, then rush to meet
Our panda and pay him a handsome rate
To get a saree for the Devi’s feet.
With these, we would be in the lengthy line
And keenly wish to worship the Divine.

With growing daylight’s time, the sun would be
More rageful to the Bhaktas everywhere
Outside the shaded pillared halls. Though tea
Was served to them, it wouldn’t suffice as their
Thirst was for God alone. A cooling air
Would often bring us much tranquility,
Or dancing langurs on a branch would spare
Us from fatigue, and this hilarity
Would help divert our restless hearts, and soon
The morning hours would turn into noon.

Advancing slow, at last, we’d gather by
The front door leading to the Devi’s throne—
A downward-sloping cavern where would lie
Her bed of ancient rocks (and no lights shone).
Each man would be allowed to go alone
Inside to pray in deep extolling sigh,
And touch the water (stilled) that would be shown
To him. It’s deemed to be the Devi’s eye.
With mantras for us three (each for a name),
Like others, we would worship all the same.

Once done, with well-contented hearts, we’d go
Towards the place’s rear walls, where the ground
Had idols of great Devas, touch them, show
Our reverence through lamps, and walk around
The temple three full times: rites for a sound
And pious life. The pediments would glow
Its gold-carved designs. Peace would be found
In each spot as the evening would come slow.
We’d take our panda’s blessing and, at last,
Sit in a puri shop to break our fast.

About the poem: This poem talks about a particular day in the past when my parents and I used to visit a temple to worship Goddess Kali (a powerful goddess in Hinduism). This poem details the rituals and the experiences that I gathered from the events.

Few points to be noted:

  1. A God or Goddess is offered things like flowers, cloths, sweets etc. In case of a Goddess, a saree (the traditional dress for women in India) is offered.
  2. Fasting is observed until all the worship rituals are complete.

Unpardonable

Indeed, it would be wrong
To boldly say
I was not stirred by your rouge thong
Pegged on the washing line
The other day.

Last week, at the bazaar,
We shared a glance
For quite a while, though from afar
(It was deliberate
and not by chance).

Our windows are too close;
I can see you
When you brush that mane, stretch, repose,
Or oil your skin. I think
You know it too.

One noon, you saw me go
By—let me in
For tea. Your spouse was at a show.
Since then, we have both borne
That damning sin.

The Pebble’s Testimony

My home and haunt are on this road,
Beneath the smoky clouds;
Each day, I meet the pleading feet
Of berserk, breakneck crowds.

Some loader put me in his van,
Left here amid the flanks
Devoid of scenes—the rural greens,
The rills, and riverbanks.

At day, this road becomes a place
Of gruff, harrassing blaring
With none to sing a hymn and bring
Relief from my despairing;

Although the public treads on here,
It’s filled with lonliness—
A shrub and oak, my only folk,
Bring ease and merriness;

I chat with them throughout the day
About a balmy breeze;
Oh! how we long to be among
Wide orchards full of trees.
The surly cars run over me,
Displace me from the spot
(Far from my mates) to grits and slates
And there I lie distraught

Until midday when schoolboys come,
Make me their ball, kick! pace!
Then as they prance, I get the chance
To reach my former place.

When twilight’s mantle slowly drops
And skies are turning brown,
That time, we three, relaxingly,
Behold this dimming town.

The early hours of the eve
We calmly spend at last,
But late at night there is a fright
When lorries trundle fast,

For once a reckless driver had
Collided with a whelp,
But did not care to aid it there
Or stop to call for help—

Poor soul, who tried to cross the road,
Was soon deprived of breath,
Remorseless, he set out to flee
And left it to its death.

Unwillingly, I had to watch
Its red, convulsive self;
I saw its strife to gain back life
But could not move myself:

Thenceforth, I’ve praised the sunlight more,
Begged it for longer days
For then at least, a helpless beast
Can ward off such a phase.

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