poetry picks

In October (and autumn), six poems about age

The seventh in a monthly series of selected poetry on different themes.

Gone

Mamang Dai

We have long journeys in our blood.
The road has no end.
The lanes and streets are lined in my eyes,
the horizon burns in my head.
At night we sleep with guns and gulls
tugging at land and oceans,
and ropes coiled to barren rock
where once flowers were to seed
pumping blood, and singing voices.

How would anyone know what we have tried to do,
when there was me, and you,
and there was the burnt black hill
monumental with the faces of our people,
until the next moonrise showed us
something about change,
and the existence of dreams.

The steep hillside is a hard place.
There is nowhere to rest our feet
even when I want to kneel and pray,
moved to tears by a rainbow sky.

What is felt
left unsaid,
is a sadness.
Bereft of our symbols
this strange tattoo in my heart
is the sound of footsteps.

I know the clouds are hiding behind your eyes
even as you kiss my brow,
but this is the way that was promised us
the day we met ten thousand messengers
carrying the whispers of the world.


Memorial Time

EV Ramakrishnan

The mirror wall is etched
with letters.
You touch them as if you are carving names
in human flesh.
Memorial poles stand between
the living and the departed.
The bells commemorate
silence.
The boatman at the ferry knows
those with fewer words
will never
return.
I abandoned
a third of my words
at every ferry-crossing
to reach here.
Behind the mirror of water, there
is a realm of glass for those who are gone
from language, but none for those
whose language is gone.


Being Seventeen, Being Boys

K Srilata

It’s cricket in the blazing heat
and they are back,
a glisten of faces,
grime-trail on the bathroom floor.
Over tall mountains of rice,
a brief hungry silence,
and then, the ribbing-each-other
about school crushes and missed catches.
And to think that they are done,
nearly done,
being boys.

First published in Poetry At Sangam


The United States of Amnesia

Sophia Naz

Welcome to the United States of Amnesia
Where the average attention span is
an albatross around the neck of history
drowning in largesse of half-caf mocha frappucino

At every other corner, nine tenths
of teeth submerge in this melting pot, super bowl
of guillotined Halloween, cropped and photoshopped
to the death and the bell trolls a Clockwork Orange
clones & minions man the phones
ringing off the hook like
an armless pirate with his peddling
finger on the twitter
out to abduct you
only, lonely immigrant child, America
this illegal erection election year
unlike any other in living
erasure

Welcome to the Dystopian States
of Amnesia, to the gloom of the homeless underpasses
to the panhandling flutes drowned out
in the tropics of the nocturnal subterranean

Washed up on your shores like a bottle with a pent up ocean in my bladder
memory is the only currency I hold
the infected blankets up to the light, I know
the smell of genocide. I have watched
women shamed as witches, watched them fall
like dominos on a Salem noon. I have met Sally Hemings and the strange
fruit of your history, America. I have fallen in your uncivil war
of a thousand and one episodes. This beast you thought you tamed? He prowls
the profiled night wearing
a police uniform

Beneath your bipolar indifference
a glacial racial iced age is dying
unseen below decks
in red bullet points
in blue moans

While a white white sea
sails on


How A Very Old Poem Might Read

Kala Krishnan Ramesh

Those you love best know
where suddenly your shore curves
into unexplored landings,
and which coves
you are drawn into on certain days.
Those who are newly arrived
will always ask,
“And what lies there, beyond that
curve,
where even the sun’s light seems different,
may we sometime take a look?”
On the days that you love best,
boats come bearing untold tales,
and he and she you love best
lay their heads close to yours
on the sand’s warm,
and speak of
things that take you where
you have loved to be.
In this river
which is never the same
and never the same again,
where even the accustomed moon is
caught unawares,
each of us will
sometimes stagger and fearing
unmentionable things, ask,
“Are you still mine, are you mine,
and sometimes, mine alone?”


Old Man’s Death

Gieve Patel

There may be a very small comfort
In knowing yourself finally
Useless – when even grandchildren
Have grown beyond your love,
And your would-be widow
Has outhobbled you and
Wont be around to break with
One or two of her last thick tears,
And you not caring much for
Your fellowmen, the doctors
Wont get your body –
To know how simply you
Will be bundled away, startling
A lifelong friend who finds
He cannot mourn
At the quick and easy changes:
A sprinkling of water,
The disappearance of an odour,
A turn of bed-sheets, leaving
A bed, a chair,
Perhaps a whole room,
With clarity in them.


This selection is curated by Rohini Kejriwal. She also curates The Alipore Post, a daily newsletter stemming from a love of​ art, poetry, music, and all things beautiful.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.