Shred onions over the skyline,
Drop three spoonfuls of the Pacific Ocean into it,
One cup of snow flakes from the tip of Mt. Everest.
Stir the mixture gradually,
Whipping in two bowls of sand from the Sahara.
Sprinkle a pinch of earth dug up for the Metro Rail back home,
And heat it over the Vesuvius.
Three centuries and ten and a half years later
Your poetry is on the table
Garnished with dried Daffodils.
Our house in Dakkhin 24 Parganas is as old as me. As family legend goes, the first brick of the house was laid on the “auspicious” day of my birth. My grandparents were convinced that I was the reincarnation of my great-grandmother (another complicated family myth I will tell you sometime over a cup of lemon-tea) and thus the house was named after my great-grandmother, a.k.a. me- Nobina.
And in all these 21 years Nobina experienced a lot more than I did. She saw my grandfather’s retirement; how he withered with spondilitis and diabetes and then extinguished the day his youngest son fought with him and left the house. Nobina saw my three uncles get married, move out of its pink walls and grey floor to nuclear apartments of their own. Her first floor drowned in the floods of the 2006 monsoon, the tin-roof of the attic flew off with the cyclone on the 90s and she weathered over 21 Kal Baishakhis.
And finally after all these years my grandmother realised how Nobina had rusted and weathered and decided it was time to clothe her anew this Durga Pujo. Thus started the cumbersome process of the renovation. Furniture was scraped from one room to the other, heavy Godrej Cupboards cleaned and repainted, rust scraped off the stairwell railings, missing screws and latches in the doors and windows replaced. Dadu’s old homeopathic medicines were found and discarded, some old bank papers and useless certificates, sarees lost a decade ago were discovered among the spoils of the renovation. But my grandmother’s most valuable finding was this: a 4” by 6” red diary where my father had scribbled poetry in winter of 1983, in Kathmandu, tiding away the frost with only the hope of marrying his love of 7 years in the hot Calcutta May. She found it in a drawer that had been locked for years. The key was lost and no one had quite bothered to make another one thinking the drawer was full of junk anyway. My grandmother read the poems and shed a few tears. She couriered it to my mother, who read it and wailed. And she hid it among her sarees in her wardrobe for a month.
When in October she and my father were lying on the deck of a ship floating on the Nile, staring up at an ink blue night sky, my mother took out this little red diary from her purse and read out the poems to my father. I don’t know what happened after that, the story stops here, no one told me.
Here are a few of his poems, in Bangla. I tried translating them in English but they came out dry and amateurish, like the one that initiates this post. So here they are as they originally floated into my father’s mind in those freezing Kathmandu nights in 1983:
Jege Achhe Deep
Jodi Everester churaye
Tumar shob shukh joro kori ami
Shurjo utthley ek din shomostho shukh
Goley goley porbey-
Shei golonto shukh bhashiye debey
Maidan, Victoria, Boi Mela.
Golonto shukhey Ravi Shankarer
Jhonkar tuley dubiye debey
Bongo Sanskriti Shommelon.
Shei shukh bonnaye shudhu matha tuley thakbe
Babar providend fund
Shojib deeper moto.
Je Din Badi Jabo
Jatha koley shuye shuye
Epash ar opash.
Shokal katey bikeler poth cheye,
Bikel boley, “E raat kobey katbey.”
Raat kichhu bolena.
Shudhu nirnimesh takiye thhakey
Shei bishesh IC 248 er opekkhaye.
Victoriar kalo pori nitey ashbe amaye airportey.
May mashey notun korey shuru hobey boi mela
Shokti Chottopadhyay notun kobita likhbe
May masher goromey pithhe puli khetey kemon lagey?
Amar Hotthakarir Rohoshsho
Shabhabik kalpana, pranin jolpona:
Cha korey debey,
Kapor kechey debey,
Chhidro bichhidro hobey shei din,
Kolom hathey kobita lekhar chhole
Kerosiner tin hathey
Ei khata tei porer pathaye
Dhopar hisheb likhbey tumi.
Amake alu-potol diye
E bhabe hotta korona tumi please!
And when I flipped open the last page of this red diary, this is what I found:
Robir Ma – 20
Jamadar – 5
Tel – 4.80
Dal, alu, peyaj – 8.30
Chini – 2.50
Kagaj – 4. 10
The subtle ironies of life…
Keno Kobita Likhi
Peyadar shashur bari na thakar moto
Hotel managerer kobita lekhar ghora-rog thhaka uchit na.
Keno kobita likhi?
Kobita to “likhi” na!
Shottar upolobdhi kagajey kolomey prokash kori.
Othhoba ja likhi ta ki kobita
Na ki ‘trash’?
“Jol porey, pata norey” er moto
Ekta line o aaj porjonto likhte parlam na.
Taholey keno likhi? Keno?
Moni, tumi boddo bhalo, Moni!
Shei jonnoi bodhoye aajo shada kagoj dekhlei
“Shotta” shur-shur korey othhey.
21 years and 2½ heart-breaks and yet no one has written such poetry for me. I asked my friends. No one has written such poetry for them either. Like Nobina, we have rusted and weathered into a generation incapable of loving like they used to.
Amar Mrittu Holey
Eta amar morar porer will:
1. Everester churo ta dan kora hobey Bharat Sevasram Sanghe
2. Amar janla diye je nam-na-jana pahar ta dekha jaye sheta Brigade Parade groundey boshano hobey
3. Kathmandur somoshtho sheet chhodiye deya hobey May-Juner Kolkataye, ebong
4. Ei khata ta Moni ke ajiboner moto present kora hobey.
· Providend Fund: this poem was written before my father got his job and was still relying on his father’s Providend Fund for his finances
· IC 248: the Indian Airlines flight that flew from Kathmandu to Kolkata
· Hotel Manager: my father’s profession from then till date
· Moni: what my father lovingly calls my mother)