Tag Archives: Desi Poet

Eat in Peace…or in Pieces?

Eat in Peace…or in Pieces?

Pass the butter, hand the bread

Don’t be dramatic — nobody is dead

Carve the turkey, open the booze

But switch the channel if it’s news.

 

Sprinkle the pepper, pour the sauce 

Dried by the smoke of a burning cross

Just because the flames have been smothered for years

Does not mean we don’t feel the soot in our tears

A man on a pedestal flaunts his crown

Reduces an empire to a ghost town.

We apparently love him — it’s been reported

A toast to that, before we get deported

Close the curtains, God, what a racket

That officer’s gun is not in his jacket.

Just another man screaming for his life

Grab the remote, mute his strife

 

 So what if that burger is dipped in car grease?

Can’t someone let us just eat in peace?

When it’ll be us, just like everyone said,

Someone else shall pass the butter, hand the bread

 

I know that it’s difficult, that this will be hard

When the cranberries are sour and the turkey is charred

But to untangle the noose from this country of rope

Change the menu, bring out the hope


Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.

Originally Published on November 25, 2019.

To Ma, From Your Daughter

ma

To the woman who loved

what had not yet become, making promises 

with unfolding fabric: 

We shared skin, but from you I grew into

my own — an inherited thing

inhabited, but never out

grown.

You hollowed a home 

within yourself, doorways 

forged from flesh, walls

 shifting soundlessly

with each passing breath. 

There is a forever in the spaces 

between you and I — it stares back

at the two of us, a daughter’s love

opening its luminous eyes 

for the first time.

—- 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

“All Around Me Are Words…” at the Matwaala Poetry Wall

The South Asian narrative is always more than the sum of its parts. And the Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood project, a tribute to artistic metamorphosis and diaspora culture, serves as a beautiful reminder. The project was spearheaded by ThinkIndia and Matwaala, a poetry initiative designed to give South-Asian voices a platform. Matwaala has organized a number of initiatives, from cultural festivals to university readings to poetry anthologies. In their own words, they seek to represent “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Their name, which in Hindi refers to a sense of drunkenness or delirium, represents the self-liberating nature of Matwaala’s cause. In some of their previous readings, Matwaala poets have explored the nature of religion, healing, displacement, and the current socio-political atmosphere. This collective is home to prolific artists whose origins can be traced back to so many countries across the Asian continent. 

Since their formation, Matwaala has made waves in the literary scene. In 2017, the group launched their first annual Matwaala Big Read in collaboration with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, which welcomed poets of all ages and experience. The event emphasized community solidarity in the midst of an increasingly polarized political climate. Hallmarks of the Matwaala festivals are perhaps what makes them so comfortably unique. At the Big Read, for instance, a poet-of-honor is awarded a Matwaala mug for their dedication towards poetry and encouraging the craft among others. It’s an interesting touch, a simple and yet thoughtful nod to poets who have spent their entire lives keeping the flame of verse alive. 

Directors of Matwaala , Usha Akella (left) and Pramila Venkateswaran (right).

The poetry wall at the Irving Museum and Archives offers twenty-four poems by twenty-four South Asian Diaspora poets, including Pramila Venkateswaran, Usha Akella, Amut Majmudar, and Ravi Shankar. The exhibit’s grand opening in February was followed by live poetry readings from Venkateswarana and Akella — the co-directors of Matwaala — as well as a conversation with ThinkIndia’s Ravi Srinivasan. 

When asked about their work with the poetry wall, the directors of Matwaala said, “For us, the poetry wall is a testimonial to the range of talent in diaspora poetry. Gustatory delights, environment, nature, music, art, travel, and poetry itself become instances for self-reflection, identity, and self-affirmation. This spread of twenty-four poems on a wall spanning the map of the US is a landmark exhibit in museum history. And that it is within the larger thematic herald of ‘Beyond Bollywood’ the Smithsonian project, is perfect. Diaspora poets are forging, tuning, and channeling words in poetic idiom true to their intercultural experiences. The poetry wall will always be one of our most relevant projects in addition to our festivals promoting visibility for South Asian talent that is inclusive not just of India but its neighboring countries. In a world becoming more divisive, there are some walls that need to be erected such as these bringing in its wake not boundaries but their collapse.”

This collaborative effort does not merely highlight South-Asian art, but rather the Desi experience as a whole. Smithsonian’s display proved to be as interactive as it was illustrative, complete with yoga workshops, dance performances, and musical demonstrations. What is beautiful about the exhibit is how the work forged a careful balance between the personal and collective aspects of the immigrant experience. While the poems themselves offer raw insight into the artists’ self-perception, the wall itself is designed such that each of the works is tied to a map of the United States. It’s an honest reflection of diaspora, a deliberate rejection of the marginalization that threatens to swallow our country whole. 

As an Indian-American poet, I find myself constantly navigating dichotomous cultures and finding myself between the cracks. The poetry wall resonates deeply with me because it’s a poignant commentary on art amid social and personal change. It’s perhaps the first wall of its kind, but I hope it won’t be the last. Matwaala’s latest project memorializes the development of South-Asian poetry and makes way for the voices to come.

To learn more about Matwaala and their work, please refer to some of their latest interviews!

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

A Tribute

A Tribute 

Your eyes all tired and red 

for you haven’t slept in days.

You work all hours, day and night

Your cabin now a triage

you have no place to even sit 

and rest your feet a bit.

The scrubs you use are now 

to be reused, for patients

come in dozens by the minute. 

No time to sip coffee, tea, or even water,

you don’t recall when you last ate! 

No momentary pause

you are on call all day.

You leave your children, husband, wife, 

mom, dad, brother, sister,

without a hug or a kiss, 

so they stay safe.

No time to even worry 

if and when you will see them next.

No bathroom breaks, or calls home 

to say, you are safe.

The fears, the tears, and

the choke you hold within 

never shown or shared.

With no classes taught,

or time to prepare, 

no proper equipment, 

or protective gear,

and resources so scarce,

you were just thrown 

in the frontlines 

of this Pandemic,

and expected to do your best

without thinking of your own life 

or that of your family.

******

Thank you seems so small a word, for no amount of gratitude will ever suffice for all the doctors, the nurses, the first responders, the hospital staff, and to all those who are working so selflessly and tirelessly to save lives. How terribly wrong and ungrateful it will be of us to not listen and not cooperate, and to keep expecting more of their selflessness and sacrifice than what they are already giving. The least we can do, is to stay home with our families, so they can come home to theirs! 

Anita R Mohan is a poet and Freelance writer from Fairfax, Virginia.

Starving

Starving 

the Indian in me spares no expense with words

every sentence decked in red and gold

every phrase clanging like the silver bells

tied around the necks of cows tethered to stakes

the Indian in me is the master of flamboyance

every stanza bursting with metaphors like 

samosas crammed with potatoes and green peas

yet the Indian in me is hollow, and when i search

for meaning beneath rows of red masala packets 

and bundles of empty splendor, i find Nothing. 

the American in me uses not but seizes words 

every phrase in gleaming shackles as though

they were stolen from another

the American in me clenches the metaphor

until it shatters, and grasps the allegory

so hard it loses shape 

the ravenous American in me imprisons all words

and in the end, finds Nothing. 

and so in my entirety, i present the Great Nothing

the product of crumpled wads of paper

of broken poems and meaningless verses

so painfully painless, so perfectly empty 

both the Indian and the American in me 

have been gorging on Nothing for years 

and yet the human in me 

still starves

——

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Karmic Chanting: Ephemeral Poetry by a Young Poet

Beginning Karmic Chanting with an epigraph about temporality is apt, as Sonnet Mondal attempts to capture in his book his fleeting insights about the world and human experiences. In the chiseled cadences of his lyrical poetry, the ephemeral is imaged as “the skyline impression of an aircraft,” or “a stranded kite between the melodious and the mysterious.” 

Akin to the English Metaphysical Poets, Mondal uses analogy to capture ideas about joy, sorrow, mundaneness, love, and separation. For example, in his poem about the evasiveness of joy, he uses the analogy of fishing. Joy “seems like the time taken by a fish / to reveal and conceal itself //in front of a fish hook.” Line breaks and stanza breaks offer us the visual picture of a fishing scene, the distance between the fisherman, the net, and the fish. Witness his lines about reverie: “Reflections as skipping stones are leaping over my melancholy.” White space between the word and the analogy offers us the visual image of the skipping stones on water. Loneliness is imaged as “a fallen leaflet lost in a crowd of leaves in despair.”  His poems “When I Hide,” “Differences,” “The Air around me,” beckon re-reading.

Through concrete images from nature and the everyday world, Mondal expands on his theme of body as cage longing for liberation. His powerful verbs such as “the lies we slither into” or the “limping grasshoppers” leaping across the “wall of illusion,” personification as in “my vain wish coughs like an old man,” or metaphors such as “touring” to depict cogitation, keep us tuned to the image music that his crafted lyrics bring us. Humor surprises us, as in “an owl sits in the roadside mahogany/ shooting me with a cryptic jargon — / which I prefer to the day’s cacophony.” Mondal allows us to join his imaginative flight into the mysterious beyond our senses.

Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County and co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival, is the author of Thirtha, Behind Dark Waters, Draw Me Inmost, Trace, Thirteen Days to Let Go, Slow Ripening, The Singer of Alleppey. An award winning poet, she teaches English and Women’s Studies at SUNY Nassau.