‘Can You Answer, Professor?’ by Anju Makhija

Forbes dry gin, rum – flavoured pipe tobacco, sunflower seeds,
Mozart’s Amadeus, Milton’s Paradise Lost,
the right mix for immortality...a flap and the fly is dead.

Refilling the glass, lighting the pipe, peeling the seeds,
lulled by the music, flipping through Paradise Regained,
meditating on the bend of a leaf...a flap and the fly is dead.
Empty glass, pipe dangling, seed skins scattered,
chanting a mantra, reading Path to Nowhere,
fanning the Guru...a flap and the fly is dead.
Gin twice a week, pipe alternate days, twelve seeds at lunch,
weekly concert, writing The Great Gibberish Novel,
the right mix for immortality...a flap and the fly is dead.

‘After Gabo’ by Mamang Dai

No one can say it like you said it
About love and magic,
solitude, and growing old
\Here it’s white butterflies
whirling around in the garden
And the scent of bitter almond
is the scent of orange blossom
You know, love is a virus too

Jumping ship,
landing up in ports and cities
so eager, enchanted,
by the banks of another river
in the time of quarantine

There are lines and lines of communication
Jostling through a virtual pandemic
A sadness named, unnamed,

Fermina Daza, is it true
Everything is in our hands?

Outside my window
Red hibiscus, red.
If the aim is to survive
It’s time to weigh anchor again

For how long, who knows?

Our old life is gone.
It’s another summer
and the pages are turning
in a chronicle of things foretold

One battered flag in a time of lockdown.
Despite contrary winds
a battered flag is fluttering,
You’ll see it here and there
in the direction of the future,
Salt water, caresses,
Buoyant as the hearts of old lovers
young enough to believe – in forever.

After Gabriel Garcia Marquez, his great works, prophetic words and great titles returning with undiminished relevance and hope in a time of pandemic.

‘Erasure’, by Nabina Das

Take an eraser. See the damage
in the name of corrections. A swipe
to unthinkingness.
Take a white page. Slowly blow
out the black letters – some
anyway hang by
their cursive tendrils – from
the whiteness.
A little green a little torn.
I’m talking of books and histories
our heads full of winter’s tales.
I’m talking of children’s faces
that have forgotten our justice songs.
Take the darkest ink and blot the days
Take a pinch of our existence and see
how erasure becomes a norm.

‘Mother Mary’ by Pravasini Mahakud, translated from the Odia by K Sachidanandan

Have seen Mother Mary
on some December nights:
a woman with a mother’s heart
turned into a statue
of eternal love.

As soon as I light the candle
all the mothers of the world
appear on her shining face.

I come back, carrying the
half– broken pieces of
grief, of shattered peace,
of anguished tumult.

How else can a motherless woman
return from her!

‘A Woman of Letters’ by K Srilata

Some days what I want to be is a woman of letters,
to retire to my study and be

I can see it all:
that desk – neat, rectangular, coffee brown,
its drawers seductive and deep,
holding secrets from another age,
on it some paper, a pen and an ink well,
and a bookcase filled with every kind of book –
Austen definitely and Dickinson and Chughtai...

No adolescent daughters abandoning dresses in contemptuous heaps.
No grubby sons, their dirty socks like bombs under my books.
No spouses, no mothers, nor mothers-in-law
with their urgent thoughts.
Sometimes all I want to be is a woman of letters.
Between chores, the very idea makes me weep.

Excerpted with permission from Rivers Going Home: 71 Poets in Solidarity, edited by Ashwani Kumar, Red River.