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My First Formal Encounter with Poetry and How it Led Me Here

Agha Shahid Ali is widely regarded as one of the finest poets from the Indian subcontinent, and his works are read across the world, touching millions of lives.

In A Map of Longings, Manan Kapoor explores the concerns that shaped Shahid’s life and works, following in the footsteps of the ‘Beloved Witness’ from Kashmir to New Delhi and finally to the United States. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of the book.

A Map of Longings: Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali
A Map of Longings: Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali|| Manan Kapoor

My first formal encounter with poetry happened through my mother, who, looking at the lilies that bloomed in our garden each spring, quoted from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’: ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / memory and desire.’ But it could also very well have been through the renditions of the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib that my father played so often. I cannot recall which came first, but the magical presence of poetry during my formative years had caused a wound. This wound opened itself once again in my teenage years when I first read a poem by Agha Shahid Ali.

I vividly remember reading poems like ‘A Rehearsal for Loss’, ‘Stationery’ and his famous one-liners, ‘Suicide Note’ and ‘On Hearing a Lover Not Seen for Twenty Years Has Attempted Suicide’ (a poem whose title is longer than the body), and marvelling at the sheer simplicity and clarity—there was something ineffable about his language that instantly took a hold of me. Years later, I was informed by his brother, Agha Iqbal Ali, that Shahid had singled out some short poems like ‘Stationery’ as crowd-pleasers that he would open his readings with to charm the audience. The trick had worked on me, and over the next few years, the more I read, the more Shahid reeled me in.

I could also say, at the risk of romanticizing the past, that I became aware of Shahid at just the right moment, when I was ready for him. The years leading up to my first novel, The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky, were also the years of my political coming of age. Throughout my bachelor’s degree, I was working on a novel set in Srinagar in the early ’90s. Although I read numerous accounts of writers and journalists, I fell back, naturally, on Shahid’s collection The Country without a Post Office, only to realize that no one— absolutely no one—was a match for him. Eventually, I ended up using a couplet from Shahid’s ghazal ‘Of Light’ as the epigraph to a section of my novel. Although the political subject matter of the collection was important, it was the aesthetic sensibility, reflected in his language, that made it remarkable. Much later, I read in an interview that Shahid always placed the aesthetic value over the subject matter of his poems.2 For three years leading up to the publication of my novel, I had used Shahid’s works as a lens through which I saw and understood Kashmir. In time, however, the lens itself became the object, which I started looking at from a fresh set of eyes.

I suspect that one of the reasons I fell in love with Shahid was because his poems mapped all the languages, cultures and worlds that I believed I belonged to. Shahid was completely South Asian and completely cosmopolitan at the same time, and in his poems, I could sense the presence of both Ghalib and Eliot, of the West as well as the subcontinent. But as I delved into his work, I discovered that there were more layers than I could have ever imagined.

Shahid was a beneficiary of three cultures—Hindu, Muslim and Western—and at his home, poetry was recited in four languages—English, Urdu, Persian and Kashmiri. Although he wrote in English, his poems, in essence, captured the sensibilities of all these languages and traditions. His father, Agha Ashraf Ali, was an educationist with socialist inclinations and introduced him to the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Martin Buber, while his mother, Sufia Agha, a Sunni Muslim from Uttar Pradesh, sang bhajans to him and dressed him as Krishna for Janmashtami. While on the one hand his paternal grandmother, Begum Zafar Ali, was a devout Shia Muslim who taught him about Islam, on the other hand he went to a Catholic school and, throughout his formative years, was fascinated by Christ. I soon realized that Shahid was the sum total of these different cultures and learnt from all of them, that he never viewed them as contradictions but simply as different world views that later coalesced in his poetry.

This first definitive biography of Agha Shahid Ali offers a rich portrait of the poet and the world he inhabited.

Why’s feminism good for your baby boy?

Informed by the author’s work as a professor of journalism specializing in social-justice movements, How to Raise a Feminist Son will resonate with every feminist hoping to change the world, one kind boy at a time. From teaching consent to counteracting problematic messages from the media, well-meaning family, and the culture at large, we have big work to do when it comes to our boys. A beautifully written and deeply personal story of struggling, failing, and eventually succeeding at raising a feminist son, the advice in this book all comes from first hand experience and learning from trial and error.

From taking on internet trolls to dealing with real life hurdles, Sonora Jha shows us all how to be better feminists and better teachers of the next generation of men. Here’s a look into this electrifying tour de force.

~

How to Raise a Feminist Son
How to Raise a Feminist Son||Sonora Jha

In India, when a mother has a baby, she is given post-partum massage to soothe her from childbirth and help her regain her strength and shape. Then, when the baby is around a month old, the mother is encouraged to massage her baby. It is said to help bond the baby and mother while also removing toxins from the baby’s system. When done right after the baby’s bath, it eases the baby into a deep sleep—and we all know how badly we want that.

For my baby, I would use a mixture of olive oil, coconut oil, Ayurvedic oil, and Johnson’s Baby Oil. I would coo to him and he would gurgle. He would blink at me with his huge, longlashed black eyes as if wondering if this feeling rushing over him was love. Yes, it is, I would whisper as I folded his chubby left

leg over his right and gently pressed them into his tummy, the way the woman who had taught traditional Ayurvedic massage for generations had instructed me, to aid baby’s digestion and promote suppleness in his joints.

In those early months, I looked at my baby and knew he was the most beautiful thing in the world. I thought I would die from this love. This was in the days before Facebook and Instagram, so I couldn’t share it with the world. And so I could just quietly believe it and bask in our moments of gurgle and coo.

I also had time to wonder how to turn this beautiful, doughlimbed, ink-pool-eyed miracle of mine into a mighty warrior of feminist revolution.

I wanted nothing but the best for this boy (thus the combination of massage oils). A part of me then paused to wonder if my plan to raise him as a feminist would be good for the world, yes, but perhaps set him back? Why not let him stay in a deep sleep instead of using his tender heart and limbs and

brain for a cause that didn’t celebrate him?

Fortunately, I started to read everything I could find about feminism and its benefits for boys. I sought out both poetry and research that would help me stay the course. I talked with friends. Over the years, as Gibran grew and grew, I kept all of that close.

Twenty years later, when my friend Julie found out that she was pregnant with a boy, she went through somewhat similar emotions. This was going to be fun, she concluded. (And, of

course, the boy would grow up to be a feminist.)

Perhaps your friends are cheering and buying cute onesies for your baby shower that say, ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’ Or, after too many Trump years and in the reckoning of the #MeToo movement, perhaps they can barely manage a steely ‘Yes!’ and a grim nod. Either way, we know that more and

more of us are on board and aching to raise feminist boys.

This desire doesn’t span merely the twenty years between Julie’s boy and mine, of course. Feminists have been imploring men to be allies for centuries, actually. Let’s harken back to Britain’s ‘first feminist,’ Mary Wollstonecraft, when she wrote in her essay A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:

Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish

obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers—in a word, better citizens.1

Centuries later, a little bit has shifted in that we are now trying to convince men—and some women—that we’d like to be characterized simply as human, rather than appeal to men as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers; but yeah, Mary, I get you: feminism will help my son be in a rational fellowship. To this reasonable mother, that means that he will be given permission to be wrong sometimes—to fail, to fall, to cry, to be protected rather than always be protector, to be provided for rather than always be provider, to seek and receive wise counsel, to be chastised as much as he is cheered, to be led to wild fun, to be held and to be held responsible, to get schooled and to get laid.

I greedily, reasonably, wholeheartedly want all these things for my son.

Is this even possible? Can boys be feminists? Are they doing it for the greater common good, in selfless solidarity, or is there something in it for him?

A pertinent and eloquent response to this question came from a gentleman on Twitter, when I shared an essay about raising a feminist son. ‘Raise a feminist son? Why didn’t you just cut his dick off at birth?’ his tweet said, blinking at me in rage. I didn’t respond at the time. I imagined his question was rhetorical.

I realized soon that the man was addressing an important and rising question in the universal zeitgeist. Boyhood, especially in America, has become some sort of battleground. An odd battle, this, in which boys are both the soldiers and the spoils. Tweet- Man has his finger on America’s pulse, perhaps better than I. Tweet-Man demands a response.

So, dear Tweet-Man: I didn’t cut off my baby’s dick because that would be sexual violence. (Feminists are sort of opposed to sexual violence.) And, to be a feminist, my son would need his brain, his heart, his hands, his feet, his tears, his voice, his breath, and definitely his dick. Make no mistake—he would need his dick to ‘fuck like a feminist,’ a call put out to our men by political commentator Samantha Bee in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

I can see why Tweet-Man wouldn’t want to trust me on all this. To understand why the time has finally come for boys to be raised as feminists, I’d point him to the opinions of someone with a dick. To be precise, I’d like him to hear what Pope John Paul II said in a letter he sent to women back in September 1995 as they gathered for a United Nations conference in Beijing. It was a letter he wrote on 29 June, less than a month after my son was born:

There is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area [of women’s personal rights]: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights . . . The time has come to condemn vigorously the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object. [emphasis added]

This love letter from the Pope was more widely published than the words of any woman saying the same thing, whether in whispers or in clear-eyed articles or in screams. And it was certainly never said by any Catholic woman priest ever, because even the Pope couldn’t go so far as to heed his own call for fairness in career advancement and, gasp, ordain a woman priest.

Enough about dicks. In the same year the Pope wrote his letter, as my baby was fattening himself on the milk of my human kindness, I first heard of American journalist and activist Gloria Steinem’s suggestion that men should embrace feminism because it could add four years to their lives by reducing the stress associated with traditional masculine roles. All right, then. Breast milk would turn my baby strong and feminism would give him a long life. Jiyo, mere laal.

The djinn of the flame

Of Smokeless Fire on the surface is the story of a lifelong friendship between three unlikely children, but at its very heart it’s a story about belonging and displacement. It is a reminder that belonging is not just about allegiance, and exile is not just physical. The novel asks the questions: Once you are ripped from your homeland, do you become homeless forever? What does it mean to live in a land that has forsaken you? Whether rooted or uprooted, is your relationship with your country conditioned by its politics?

Here’s a glimpse into how the troubled life of our rumoured djinn began.

~

 

Of Smokeless Fire
Of Smokeless Fire||A.A. Jafri

Djinns, the invisible beings made of smokeless fire, are Allah’s creations. Human beings cannot create or beget them, but whether it was a djinn or not, a rumour took birth that day that a djinn had been born at the residence of Noor ul Haq, barristerat- law.

Farhat Haq, the wife of barrister Noor ul Haq, almost died in labour that day. It had nothing to do with the delivery, wretched as it was, but had everything to do with that horrible midwife, Kaneez, and her piercing screams: ‘Djinn, djinn! Oh Allah, he’s a djinn! Take him away from me. Take him away from me; he will get inside me!’

What a thing to say after such excruciating labour andcthe relief of finally giving birth successfully after eleven miscarriages! True, propriety had never been Kaneez’s strong suit, but a stupid outburst like that at such a critical hour was something that not even Farhat had expected from that ignorant one-eyed churail.

The well-established superstition is that churails are the most terrible creatures on this side of the Ganga. Born with inverted feet and an ingrained nail in their skulls, these one-eyed Medusas are believed to thrive on children’s livers. Women who die in childbirth are sometimes reincarnated as churails who come back to seek revenge on other pregnant women. Everyone in Pakistan knows this even though the Qur’an doesn’t mention churails.

Everyone in Pakistan also knows about djinns, the invisible beings made of smokeless fire; they exist because they are mentioned in the Qur’an. They are Allah’s creation. Women can’t carry them in their wombs for nine months, nor can they give birth to them. So how could Kaneez utter such nonsense with her loudspeaker-like mouth and broadcast that rubbish to the entire neighbourhood? How do you control a rumour once it leaves her blathering mouth? You can’t! It grows wings and flies into every ear.

*

The malicious gossip that a hideous djinn had been born at Kashana-e-Haq, the sprawling residence of Noor ul Haq, on that fateful day in October 1951 acquired such currency that many

people avoided going there for a long time. The day had begun as a scorcher, and no sooner had the sun come out from behind the eastern hills of Karachi than the city turned into a veritable tandoor, broiling everything in sight: buckling up roads, flaring tempers and wilting flowers. It was not even noon, and yet it felt like dozakh, or the sixth circle of Dante’s hell. The chowkidar

sat on a concrete bench under a neem tree just outside the front gate of the barrister’s house, dozing off, his head falling forward on to his chest, jerking up now and again. The discarded front page of the Morning Gazette got picked up by the hot wind and caught against his leg, the picture of the first prime minister of Pakistan, with his fist raised, and his title, Leader of the Nation, prominently displayed on it. Suddenly, an ear-splitting horn from a black Hudson Commodore startled the chowkidar. He jumped up and instinctively saluted the car, as the Gazette’s front page peeled away from his leg, carried off by the warm breeze. From inside the vehicle, Noor ul Haq’s driver, Sikander, craned his neck out and shouted at the chowkidar, ‘Oye! Son of Genghis Khan, you are supposed to guard the house, not sleep.’

‘Oye, Quaid-e-Azam, let a man sleep! How am I going to guard this Taj Mahal if I don’t sleep well?’ the chowkidar roared. The servants shared a spirited relationship, always joking and pulling each other’s leg. The guard’s name was Changez Gul, but Sikander teasingly called him Genghis Khan’s son. Changez returned the favour by calling Sikander Quaid-e-Azam, the Great Leader, the title given to the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was not because Sikander was the founder’s biggest fan or admired his politics; it was because he bore an uncanny resemblance to him. Tall, gaunt, with a triangular face and a slight gap between his front teeth that was noticeable only when he smiled broadly, Sikander could have passed for the founder’s twin brother. However, that is where the similarities ended and the differences magnified. But to Changez, it was the similarities that mattered the most.

The stories that are emblematic of the conscious capitalism of the TATA group

The Tata Group, in the Indian imagination is far more than a corporate group, it is institution whose inception and growth mirrors that of the modern India and whose value systems are as legendary as its success. Dancing across more than a century of greatness are beautiful, astonishing #TATASTORIES, many of which can inspire and provoke us, even move us to meaningful action in our own lives. Harish Bhat’s vivid glimpses into some of the distinctive cultural legacy of the Tata Group bring to life the extraordinary longevity, vibrancy and success of Tata. But at their essence, they are simple, moving stories of great teams, men and women, which hold deep lessons for all of us.

Read on for one such truly poignant moment, when the great man who would go onto become The Father of the Nation visited Jamshedpur, the beating heart of the institution that shaped, and continues to shape the growth of a nation.

#TATASTORIES
#TATASTORIES: 40 Timeless Tales to Inspire You || Harish Bhat

The steel city of Jamshedpur was teeming with excitement in August 1925. Mahatma Gandhi was coming to visit the town where India’s first integrated steel plant had been established by Jamsetji Tata. This would be a unique event—the man who was leading the charge for Indian independence visiting an industrial city which had taken a step towards economic independence. Mahatma Gandhi knew of Jamsetji Tata’s enterprise. Indeed, in 1905, soon after Jamsetji’s passing, he had written in the Indian Opinion newspaper, ‘In whatever he did, Mr Tata never looked to self-interest. He never cared for any titles from the Government, nor did he ever take distinctions of caste or race into consideration…His simplicity was remarkable. May India produce many Tatas!’

The Mahatma had been keen to visit the steel city himself, and now he was responding to a special invitation from Dinabandhu C.F. Andrews, who was at that time a labour leader in Jamshedpur. He had sought Gandhiji’s guidance to resolve some labour issues. Interestingly, many years later, Subhash Chandra Bose would also head the Tata Steel Workers’ Union in Jamshedpur, but that is the subject of another story. Gandhiji arrived in Jamshedpur and was shown around the steel factory. I can imagine how eagerly workers in the factory would have milled around to see the great man walk briskly by their furnaces that had begun proudly producing steel for the nation. He also visited the township and wrote later in his journal: ‘This town owes a debt of gratitude to the courage of Jamsetji Tata.’ But he went on to say: ‘However, what can one see of such a large factory in two days?’ At the Director’s Bungalow, he completed talks with R.D. Tata (father of J.R.D. Tata), and three outstanding labour matters were resolved after some discussion. It is remarkable that Gandhi took the time and effort to travel all the way to Jamshedpur to help bring these matters to a successful conclusion. Then, in the evening, he addressed a mass meeting on the maidan behind the TISCO Institute, now called the United Club. This was a huge gathering, attended by over 20,000 people. A sea of humanity stood waiting for the Mahatma to arrive, and he did not disappoint them. In fact, Gandhiji delivered a fine and spirited speech, which was both moving and inspiring. Here are some excerpts.

It was my ambition to see one of the greatest—if not the greatest—Indian enterprises in India, and study the conditions of work there. But none of my activities is onesided, and as my religion begins and ends with truth and non-violence, my identification with labour does not conflict with my friendship with capital. And believe me, throughout my public service of thirty-five years, though I have been obliged to range myself seemingly against capital, capitalists have in the end regarded me as their true friend. I am told that though so many Europeans and Indians live here (together), their relations are of a happy character . . . It is the privilege of both of you to be associated in this great enterprise, and it is possible for you to give Indians an object lesson in amity and goodwill . . . you will carry your amity outside your workshops and both of you will realize that you have come to live and work here as brothers and sisters, never regarding another as inferior, or oneself as inferior. And if you succeed in doing that, you will have a miniature Swaraj.

Gandhiji also narrated to the audience an anecdote about how his connection with the Tatas began.

In South Africa, when I was struggling with the Indians there, in the attempt to retain our self-respect and to vindicate our status, it was the late Sir Ratan Tata who first came forward with assistance. He wrote me a great letter, and sent a princely donation—a cheque for Rs 25,000 and a promise in the letter to send more, if necessary.

This was a reference to the spontaneous donation that Sir Ratan Tata, younger son of Jamsetji Tata, had made in the year 1909.

Freedom to live life on our own terms

How many times have you stopped at a traffic signal and turned your face away from the hijra who stood outside your car window asking for money? Wasn’t it pure loathing that you felt? Wasn’t it worse than what you normally feel when a beggar woman with a child does the same? Why? I’ll tell you why. You abhorred the eunuch because you couldn’t identify with her sex. You thought of her as a strange, detestable creature, perhaps a criminal and definitely sub-human.

I am one of them. All my life people have called me hijra, brihannala, napungshak, khoja, launda . . . and I have lived these years knowing that I am an outcast. Did it pain me? It maimed me. But time, to use a cliché, is the biggest healer. The adage worked a little differently in my case. The pain remains but the ache has dulled with time. It visits me in my loneliest hours, when I come face to face with the question of my existential reality. Who am I and why was I born a woman trapped in a man’s body? What is my destiny?

Beneath my colourful exterior lies a curled up, bruised individual that yearns for freedom—freedom to live life on her own terms and freedom to come across as the person she is. Acceptance is what I seek. My tough exterior and nonchalance is an armour that I have learnt to wear to protect my vulnerability. Today, through my good fate, I have achieved a rare success that is generally not destined to my lot. But what if my trajectory had been different? I keep telling myself that this is my time under the sun, my time to feel happy, but something deep inside warns me. My inner voice tells me that the fame and celebration that I see all around is maya (illusion) and I should accept all this adulation with the detachment of a sanyasi (hermit).

The first ever transgender to become a college principal is a rare feat, the media has proclaimed. My phones have not stopped ringing since, and invitations to felicitations have not ceased to pile up on my desk. I would love to believe that those who fete me also accept me as I am, but how can I ignore the sniggers, the sneers and the smirks that they try to hide but fail? For them I am just another excuse to watch a tamasha (spectacle), and who doesn’t want some free fun at someone else’s expense?
Hurt and anger are two emotions that I have learnt to suppress and let go. It is part of the immunity package that I am insured under. I have finally accepted the fact that my achievements have no bearing on the people around me. They still think I am sexless between my legs and that is my only identity. That I also have a right to have emotions is an idea that is still completely foreign to most. I don’t blame them. I blame myself for not being able to ignore such pain. I should have long stopped bothering about them.

It is not that I have not had my share of love in all my fifty-one years of life. They were good while they lasted. I have had major heartbreaks too, but each time I learnt a new lesson. I have loved well and deeply, and I hope my partners, wherever they are now, would silently remember that bit about me. It’s another matter that relationships don’t seem to work for me. Those who have loved me have always left me, and each time I have lost a piece of me to them.
Memories rush back as I sit down to write my story. I write with the belief that it would help society understand people like me better. We are slightly different outwardly, but we are humans just as you are and have the same needs—physical and emotional—just as you have.

———

 

Bridal blues

Inspired in part by the author’s family history and told with courage, compassion and deep humanity, Sunjeev Sahota’s China Room is an astonishing feat of storytelling from an exceptional novelist.

Mehar, a young bride in the rural Punjab of 1929, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family’s ‘china room’, sequestered from contact with the men. Their new lives are those of servitude, much like all new brides of that time and place. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that puts more than one life at risk.

Spiralling around Mehar’s story is that of a young man who, in 1999, travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its ‘china room’ locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence-his experiences of addiction, racism and estrangement from the culture of his birth-he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, before finally finding the strength to return home.

We hope you enjoy this sneak preview of a chapter from this engrossing new read by a Booker Prize nominated novelist.

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China Room FC
China Room||Sunjeev Sahota

It is their second Sunday married and an hour before the sun drops, Mehar, Gurleen and Harbans slip into some old cottons and heave the giant sloshing vat into the courtyard and on to the groundsheet. At this hour the air is lushly warm rather than oppressive and the courtyard

is free of the brothers. They think their men go to the bazaar on these nights, though that is another thing they have never been told. Perhaps they play cards, Mehar suggests, as if she knows what that is. All three hitch up their salwars and twine some old jute around their legs, so they’re naked from the knees down. ‘The leaves have come up,’ Gurleen says, feeling for a way out of the chore, a rare one she finds even more tedious than rubbing clean the spinach. But Harbans is having none of it and points out that there is still plenty of ink left in them. They hold hands, forming a triad, and one by one step inside the metal vat, the indigo plants sliding around the soles of their feet. The water, as if answering a question, rises up to their calves and their feet begin their work, up-down-up-down, a surging spilling tempest, the colour wrenched out and out. They do not speak, it is enough to try to keep their balance, and slowly the pool starts to

darken, their clothes and skin too, indigo staining legs and hips and face, but they stay in harmony, up-downup-down, minutes upon minutes, so that by the time the sun has disappeared and the moon is the whole light, they let go of one another’s hands and double over, gasping.

‘One more week,’ Harbans says, as they haul the vat back to its spot against the wall.

‘Oh, go crack an egg! Surely we’re done now!’ Gurleen complains.

Mehar says nothing, picks up the crumbling soap at the pump and starts on the blue bands striping her feet. It’s up to Mai, in any case. She will decide when the time is right to colour their blooded wedding sheets and hang them out to dry.

 

A glimpse into the unraveling of infidelity

Sometimes when you’re desperate to leave the past behind, the past is eager to catch up!

Anuradha leaves Gurgaon when Dhruv chooses his family over her. She thinks that chapter of her life has ended, and starts afresh in Mumbai. But strangely, it seems her past is trying to catch up. Dhruv suddenly comes back into her life. Even as they try to figure out their relationship, horrible things start happening to people they know. Together, Anuradha and Dhruv need to find out who it is that cannot bear to see them together. Who is carrying out these shocking crimes? Are they really soulmates cursed to stay apart, or is there some karmic debt they have to repay?

Read on for a look at the psychological aftermath of an extra-marital affair.

Only the Good Die Young
Only the Good Die Young || Akash Verma

Mumbai has unnerved me every single time I’ve set foot here in the last few months. It wasn’t like this before. It used to be like any other city. Just that I frequented it more as my advertising agency, C&M, is headquartered here. But now, since you have been here for about a year, coming to this city has never been the same. Work still brings me here—a couple of times a month at least—for a sales review or a client meeting. But every time I am here, I feel like running to you first, clasping you to my chest and not letting you go. Yes, that’s what I still feel, Anuradha, after pushing you so far away from my life. The first few months after you left were tough—to come to work each day with you not being in office; to live without you in Gurgaon; not hearing your voice; and not feeling your touch. Despite having Shalini and the kids back in my life, there was this one large gash in my heart. However hard I tried, it refused to heal. It stayed there, untended and bleeding. My head feels heavy with the weight of a sack inside it.. ‘“Don’t do it!” didn’t we warn you?’ the pebbles inside the sack which rests in my head scream in unison. ‘You can’t love two people at the same time.’ ‘I didn’t do it knowingly. It wasn’t in my control,’ I protest. ‘Oh, come on! Liar, liar, pants on fire!’ squeals one. ‘You had a rock-solid marriage, a lovely family. Didn’t you know what you were getting into?’ ‘I know. All my fault. I thought I could handle it. I loved them both, you know. I just couldn’t stop.’ One of the pebbles has a throaty voice. It’s smaller than the rest. ‘Look where this “love” has led you to. No one’s happy. Neither Shalini, nor you and I guess not even Anuradha.’ ‘Well, who knows?’ I say. ‘Maybe she has found someone. Why “maybe”? I am sure she has someone in her life by now. She is young, beautiful, successful . . . she can easily be happy. Don’t you think so?’ The pebble glances at me, scrutinizing me. ‘Yes . . . maybe. Will you be happy if she has found someone?’ I clear my throat, ‘Why not? Yes.’ ‘Sure?’ I nod. ‘Yes. I will be happy as long as she is.’ ‘Do you want to meet her?’ the pebbles chorus. ‘No. It’s over, isn’t it? Why would I want that?’ ‘Ah, come on,’ one of them says. ‘It’s what you want the most. To meet her. Isn’t it?’ I fumble for an appropriate answer. Unsuccessful. I go quiet, then. The plane has landed. I get out of the airport and spot the driver holding a placard with my name on it. I purse my lips and force a smile; a familiar weakness sweeps over me. He signals to me to wait and hurries off to get the car when I nod. I glance at the passengers leaving the airport, people gathered around the arrival gate, greeting incoming passengers: relatives and friends. I wish you too were here, waiting for me, Anuradha . . .Such feelings seem even more unreal after the way our relationship ended. But then how is one supposed to conceal one’s true feelings from oneself? How can I hide that I love you? Even after you lied to me. Even after I promised my wife, Shalini, that our affair happened in the heat of the moment and was well over. How can my feelings for you ever cease to exist? Maybe I really am the asshole that the people I love think me to be. Shalini and you. Maybe I don’t deserve love from either of you. My relationship with my wife will never go back to what it was. I have done enough to scar it and I don’t know if those scars will ever fully disappear. ‘We have struck a compromise for our children, Dhruv,’ was what Shalini told me at the dinner table one day when the kids were asleep. ‘It can never be the same again,’ she had said. Shalini is a headstrong, self-made woman who sticks to her word in her personal life as much as she does when treating her patients.

Mir Taqi Mir: Scenes from the life of a pioneering poet

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810), known as the god of Urdu poesy (Khuda-e Sukhan), is widely admired for his poetic genius. The most prolific among all Urdu poets, he produced six divans. His deceptively simple poetry had an unusual mellowness and natural flow. Mir was the first poet to demonstrate the hidden beauty and genius of the Urdu language. From the raw Braj of Agra to the sophisticated Persian of Delhi and the mellow Awadhi of Lucknow, he wove them all into his verse. He took the half-baked Rekhta of the mid-eighteenth century to new heights, reaching the pinnacle of literary Urdu’s poetic and creative journey.

Gopi Chand Narang paints a poignant picture of the poet in The Hidden Garden, introducing readers of the grossly misunderstood poet, embellished with a substantial selection of Mir’s most memorable ghazals.

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Mir was born in February 1723 in Akbarabad (as Agra was known then). He was named Mir Muhammad Taqi. When he grew up, he chose Mir as his takhallus (nom de plume). His ancestors had migrated to India from Hijaz in Iran a few generations ago. They first came to Dakan, then moved to Ahmedabad, and finally settled in Agra. His grandfather got the job of a faujdaar (a position in the Mughal army) and he lived a decent life; he died while he was travelling to Gwalior, leaving behind two sons. Mir’s father, a dervish who was called Ali Muttaqi out of reverence, pursued the path of inner knowledge from his early age. Over the years, he gained a lot of followers within and outside the community. He remained busy day and night, his eyes moist with tears, in the remembrance of God. He was a man of utmost humility,a man free of prejudice, a perfect Sufi. He never became a burden for anyone else. In his autobiography, Zikr-e Mir, Mir talks about his father in a highly respectful and reverent tone, dwelling at length about the lessons that his father gave him from his early years. Here, in a nutshell are some of the things he was told:

ai pisar i’shq bavarz, I’shq ast k dariin karkhaana mutasarrif ast:

Son, always adopt love because love is the dynamic force that binds and controls this universe. Nothing great can happen unless you put a lot of love into your endeavour. If you take love out of your life, it becomes barren. All things around you are the manifestation of love. Water is love, so is fire. Even death is love’s drunken stage. The night is the time when love sleeps; the day is when it wakes up. When you fill your heart with love, it attains perfection. Virtue is its union with love; sin arises when it separates itself from love. Paradise is attractive because it is filled with love; hell is a place of horror because there is no love to be found there. The practice of love is more significant than any prayer or pursuit of knowledge. Son, this world is nothing but a momentary excitement. Don’t indulge too much in it. Love for God is the only real thing. Prepare for the journey that starts after this life is over. My son, you are the treasure of my life. What kind of fire burns in your heart? What is your passion? What do you want to be in your life? (When Mir heard his father ask these questions, he had no answer; tears rolled down his cheeks.) Son, be a nightingale whose spring never ends. Admire beauty whose colours never fade. Keep your heart always strong. Always be ready to face odds in life. The world changes continuously. Do not be depressed when things get bad.

Front cover of The Hidden Garden
The Hidden Garden || Gopi Chand Narang

There is no doubt that these teachings had a lasting impact on Mir’s psyche, and he tried to live his life following these high ideals. Mir mentions that one day his father felt the urge to go to Lahore to meet another Sufi who gave sermons by the river Ravi. The old man reached Lahore with great difficulty, but to his disappointment, this so-called Sufi was a fraud who was deceiving poor people by muttering some words in Dari language which they did not understand. On his return journey, God rewarded his father by giving him a disciple, known as Sayyid, whom he brought with him to Agra, and this guest gradually became a member of the household. Sayyid taught Mir, who was seven years old at the time, to read the Quran. Mir called this person ‘uncle’ out of affection. His father and his ‘uncle’ became spiritual companions, andthey could not live without each other’s company. When Sayyid died, a part of his father died with him. Mir wrote, ‘My father threw away his turban, tore open his shirt, and scarred his chest with constant battering.’ On the third day after the death, when friends and admirers gathered to mourn, Mir’s father announced that from that day onwards, he should be called Aziz Murda—someone who has lost a dear friend or a companion. He became famous by this name, and he spent the rest of his life shedding tears each day.

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Budhini Mejhan – ‘The woman who persevered’

The story of  Budhini Mejhan is a nexus of several socio-political strcutures. She was ostrasized by her village and lost her job for an innocent gesture, which was seen as a violation of Santhal traditions. Through Sangeetha Srinivasan’s beautiful translation, Sarah Joseph’s literary sketch of Budhini Mejhan is vivacious, hopeful and endearing. Here is an excerpt:

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Let us begin with the woman who persevered. Not how she recaptured the dancing ground, but how she ran incessantly without knowing whose land to set foot in. Waking up in the fourth phase of the night, she lit her stove and boiled some water. If she had a pinch of tea leaves or rice, she would have made some tea or gruel.

Front Cover of Budhini
Budhini || Sarah Joseph, Sangeetha Sreenivasan (Translator)

‘Oye, Ratni, wake up! We have to be there straight away. Please don’t wake your baba. The moment he’s up he will start whining, “Why toil over something in vain, Ratni’s ma? You have been running for a long time now, haven’t you? Will your complaints reach their ears? Better get back to sleep than wear off the soles of your feet.” But, Ratni, it doesn’t work like that; we should barge in and vex them as often as not. In the end, they will be forced to make a decision. Your baba is depressed, but could we endure more than this! Put your blankets over those boys, Ratni. Poor kids, they have been cold all night. Here, take this hot water. It’s not likely that Jauna Marandi will wait for us. His tongue has no bones. And if we don’t make it on time, he will go on grumbling about it till we get there.’

Languorous but still on her feet, Ratni staggered out of the house. Could this shack covered with asbestos sheets, tattered burlaps and rags, sandwiched between the walls of two multi-storeyed buildings, be called a home? Shoving the ragged fabric covering the back of the house aside, the child squatted on the ground and peed. From the mud kanda on the ground, she diligently filled water in a coconut shell and rinsed her mouth and face. She shuddered because of the cold.

‘Ratni Mei!’ Hearing her mother call out in a hushed voice, she went inside without delay. A little black dog followed her into the room, squeezed itself to make space between the sleeping boys and then curled up on the floor. Looking into her eyes, it wagged its tail in concern.

…‘We are very late, Ratni Mei. It seems Jauna Marandi has already left.’ Ratni’s mother was dejected. Loosening the knot at the end of her pallu, she took out some coins and counted. ‘Jauna had promised to take us for free. What should we do now! I saved these coins to buy medicine for your baba, but now we will have to spend them on bus tickets. But if you can walk, Ratni, there is a shorter route through the forest.’

Ratni didn’t say whether she could walk or not. Her teeth chattered, thanks to the cold.

While life saunters, the sun might as well rise in the west one day, marking the end of order. Then daybreak will turn into the hour of darkness. Like time suspended, nothing will be understood. Not everyone will overcome the bewilderment that is yet to come.

As Jauna’s jeep climbed up the road from Asansol to Dhanbad, an arm adorned with thick silver bangles suddenly appeared right in front of his vehicle. A strong arm! Nothing else was visible in the fog. Jauna forced his weight down on the brake pedal.

‘Get in,’ he bawled.

The DVC workers noticed the woman and child get into the jeep through the impenetrable fog. The woman wore a mud- coloured sari with a green border and the girl a crimson sweater. The child carried a bundle of clothes which she hugged close in a bid to protect herself from the insufferable cold. She looked not more than seven or eight. The woman had a grey shaded shawl wrapped around her and a lengthy red fabric bag on her shoulder. There was no seat. They hunkered down on the floor.

It was only the next day that Jauna Marandi realized, much to his shock, that the woman and child had boarded his jeep and alighted at the gates of the DVC to commit suicide.

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Budhini is an exploration not only of the social laws of identity through the story of Budhini Mejhan but also the imbalanced burden that modernization and urbanization places on communities reliant on ecological methods of sustenance.

 

 

Lighten your soul—Love, forgive, bless

With our birth begins our life cycle and it ends with our death. We all are transitory beings. We can own nothing on Earth on a permanent basis. When we understand that all relationships, situations, sufferings, and emotions are perishable, we realise that the only conquest useful to us is our own mind. The real and only worthwhile journey is into our selves and our soul, for our soul is our greatest guru. When we understand our own soul, we understand all souls. They are all one. The Power of Purity aims to familiarise us with the nuances of our lives and to remind us to steer away from the illusions that the world offers.

Here’s an excerpt from the book in which the author introduces us to a way of life that will help us become aware of ourselves and elevate our soul.

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Front Cover of The Power of Purity
The Power of Purity || Mohanji

Bless all. It will make you serene and light. Blessing expands you. It makes you light. When we bless all the people we like and all the people we do not like, we truly become the perfect expression of the Almighty. His true expression is unconditional love. When we remove all hatred and fear from our mind, we become an embodiment of love. Love expands. Love makes our life enjoyable. When we express sincere gratitude to all the objects and beings that helped our existence on Earth, we become universal. Once we understand the true relevance of the food that we have consumed so far, the houses that sheltered us, the books that gave us knowledge, our parents and our teachers, and, above all, the element of divinity that sustained us, we will be filled with humility and deep gratitude. Most of our vital functions, including respiration, circulation, digestion, heartbeat and even sleep, for that matter, are controlled by our subconscious mind. All these things are working in perfect synchronization because our conscious mind has nothing to do with it. We are given the time, space, intellect and situation to act out our inherent traits. What do we have in our control? Why do we blame others? Why do we entertain guilt at all? What is there to be afraid of? All experiences have been lessons. We could not have changed anything. So what else can we do, except express unconditional love and compassion? What else can we do but bless everybody and everything? When we realize that we are not really the one who does everything, we will see our ego getting nullified and our doership getting dissolved. We will then operate in perfect awareness and gratitude.

God is within us. God is to be loved, not feared. The soul element that fuels our existence is the God within all of us. God, the one who generates, operates and dissolves. Hence, all of us possess the same god element. No one is inferior nor superior to anyone. Some evolved higher through rigorous practices, contemplation and meditation. Through lifetimes of efforts, they attained higher awareness. That’s all. In principle, all are one and the same. The same soul element fuels the existence of all living beings, which includes plants and animals. Just like the same electricity is used to operate various equipment, the same soul operates various bodies, and some of them are human.

All of us are temporary custodians of a body, of money and possessions. It is the same with relationships. Everything is temporary. Everything has a definite longevity. There is no room for egocentric expressions, if we digest this truth. All we can do is forgive everything. Bless everything.

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To understand your consciousness, the meaning of life, and the various facets of existence, read Mohanji’s The Power of Purity.