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SURFACES Poetry Reading & Chapbook Launch

Below are some of the poems I read on Aug 9, at Sarai Cafe, CSDS, Delhi, for the SURFACES Poetry Reading with Three English and Three Hindi Poets & Chapbook Launch (moderated and curated by Vivek Narayanan).

Apart from the couple that have been published, the rest have been written during my Associate Fellowship at Sarai-CSDS, 2010. The residency spanned July-August. The poem “AHALYA’S WISH” is included in the SURFACES chapbook, a handmade art collection boasting the work of co-fellows of mine.


Tea with Reza

By Nabina Das

Little glasses warmed by steam

Posing ballerinas pirouetting in silver holders

Glassy eyes too from steaming tears in

Tea-colored eyes

The kettle whistled Reza said, like

The train whizzing past his little

Iranian township that sang

Khoshbakhtam, khoshbakhtam!

Where poplars grew tall, very tall

Reza’s arms ceramic and

Bent bow-like from his time in jail

In a dark cell where he wasn’t given

Books to read or

Newspapers but just lashes and blows

Now and then for reading Marx

At the university

His tealeaf eyelids brimming up

With that memory …

He handed us glasses on silver holders

Held them tender, candles during prayer

The Revolution was not for my

Heart and soul, Reza cried

O my dear comrades, O my friends…

I came to be with you for freedom

And manifestos and democracy

Talks showering morning’s calm

On poplars I loved, my friends loved

Friends who were lost and gone

For singing The Internationale

Their arms bent too, cracked ceramic

Backs scarred, resting in unknown graves

Sometimes letters from prison came

Once a year, till they stopped, mentioning

The smell of tea freshly brewed

Just like this, verses of aroma

Coiling over us during our tea

With Reza one nineties evening…

He still waits in exile.

First published in Mad Swirl


Waiting on the News

By Nabina Das

Come Aitaa

we must discuss before time if we want radishes in this year’s garden

green gourds climbing a common fence, sure, you can have some

also coriander to sprinkle on the pitika for a late afternoon meal

bhoot-jolokia that no one will eat, the army fancies it now we know

the newspapers have it all, the tea shops get their fortune told

Come Aitaa

Let’s talk about the one-legged pigs and calves born this year

the ducks that won’t stop chasing the hens even if you yelled,

about the corner-shop Bipin I’m not sure, his ma died crying

for he was gone in the forest, they say, to become an insurgent,

but the mother said… to find the old dog Gela of the mangy coat–

to those stories Aitaa, my answers are slippery feet on oil

Come Aitaa

Let’s walk down the paddy lanes just till the town bus stand

While you wait for aunt Moromi; I’ll tell you why Aslam won’t sell

His fish cheap even if you swear on the hungry-mouthed floods

forsaken huts and the fungal pots pans we won’t ever throw away

but if you wonder why the one-eyed Harekrishna didn’t return

from the big market of Ganeshguri, no ID, no whereabouts

Aitaa, I swear on my loveless luck I’d have to invent a new fairytale.

This work is supported by Sarai-CSDS, Delhi, under an Associate Fellowship


The Woman from Both Sides

By Nabina Das

When they came home they praised

Her for her naked room, the swiped floor

Kantha-stitched cushion covers and a neat

Tulsi plant doing a dhamail in the breeze

When they arrived at the garden gate they

Marveled at the roses she grew after meals

The verandah with old cane stools dozing

Before evening gods would arrive for alms

When they were asked to say a few words

They saw her brass urns glint on shelves

Filled with partition stories, re-invented,

Re-told with new metaphors washed clean

With her starched chemise in this side’s sun

They wept to see her calmer than usual

So, they sat down by her body’s silence

When they looked at her all wrapped in white

Sandal scents holding on tight to a gray lock

Tucked behind the right ear, they also saw

Her fingers soiled from that side, maps of tales.

This work is supported by Sarai-CSDS, Delhi, under an Associate Fellowship


After the Show

By Nabina Das

We were on the paddies

we walked gingerly

toes to toes to heels

against toes

they said someone

might be following us

We were on

the rails of words

we spoke less

just squeezed

proverbs like stress balls

or mother’s hand

We were inside night’s

armory where

owls sharpened our

verbs of anxiety

skunks clawed at rising

codas of our breaths

We were sweaty

after our show

each one of us done

with our roles

entering a new theater

with the summer mist

where our faces

were terracotta

against the thuds

of rifle butts someone

said would follow us

till the journey’s end

We were deep

inside a language

whose dialogues

rang in a darkness

bright as the ancient

demon’s teeth

its beastly innocence

shone through our flak

There were flowers

red and green

there were the gods

fallen face down

songs about how

they all became

absent mannequins

also songs the grain-

thrashers sang

in the split of

old war stories

then we rehearsed

another new scene.

This work is supported by Sarai-CSDS, Delhi, under an Associate Fellowship


Ahalya’s Wish

By Nabina Das

Her visit made everyone run

fetch her special seat, water glass

a separate special plate, later scoured

separate, after her after-work snack

We kids ran in a tumult to see if

her teeth were different in number

than the last time, slurpy betel

juice soaked, scary monster-red

Mother made chitchat, served her

coconut candies in summer

black sesame sweets in winter

with jaggery or handmade bread

Aunts poured her water slowly

careful not to spill, not to mop

once she cleaned the outhouse

a relic from an unknown rural life

Once she cut the shrubs, weeded, threw

the dead skunk in a ditch and cleaned

up, we kids asked her to pick a name that

she’d like to be in her dreams so she

could be allowed to play with us

make us clay dolls of earthly shapes

Her dark forehead gleamed, no sindoor

the sari-end bunched at her sagging breasts.

Her instant candor still rings in my head:

“I’d like to be made flesh, don’t know the name,”

she said. “Feet first, I will touch everything.”

This work is supported by Sarai-CSDS, Delhi, under an Associate Fellowship



One comment on “SURFACES Poetry Reading & Chapbook Launch

  1. Rhett
    November 7, 2010

    >Woman from both sides is very nicely done in that its never clear until the end – when the subject imagined until then is actually dead – after the show is special – but i wish you'd present it better – sort'a difficult to follow with a line gap in d middle of successive lines n d poem being rather long – but hey these poems r tricky to write anyway and you did a great job – and the end – when those songs are played as the backdrop of the next stage preparation – was great and galvanized the whole poem actually. Ahalya’s Wish is also a good poem – simple but well crafted. Kush

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This entry was posted on August 17, 2010 by in Delhi, fellowship, Nabina Das, poems, poetry, Sarai-CSDS.
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