Tag Archives: poetry

Veiled and Shut: A Response to Navigating Autism

This poem was written as a response to the piece Navigating Autism. I was moved by what Swathi Chettipally had written and I thought, “life goes on with all its ebbs and flows, perhaps accentuated at this challenging time, for children with disabilities/differently-abled and those with chronic illness.”
Veiled and Shut

 

The sing-song of your, ‘mama’ rings in my head

 

The blithe spirit numbed

Now so lonely in a crowd

 

No joy gladdens

No fears felt?

 

These distant eyes

That once spoke

Mystic, shut, veiled

In self-enchanted?

 

What thoughts repressed

And brilliance locked

What love burned

And pain muted

 

Oh, lament unsaid…

 

No tears shed,

No laughter spread…

 

The sing-song of your, ‘mama’ rings in my head

******

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime. She is also the artist of the featured image.

Sita, the Contemporary Indian Woman

In the fertile landscape of Indian writing in English, poetry is a less prolific genre. This is not due to a dearth of talent, but because poetry has generally been considered less likely to attract a popular readership. However, lyric poetry in Sita’s Choice is more relevant than ever during a public crisis. 

It is no accident that New Yorkers after 9/11 turned longingly to poetry. In today’s period of COVID 19 isolation, former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins has been reading his poetry live on Facebook. The musicality of the lyric form provides a sense of comfort in uncertain times and the shorter stanzas allow us to anchor for a short time in words that can transport us beyond our immediate devastation.

Sita’s Choice is Athena Kashyap’s second full-length collection of poetry. Kashyap grew up in India and currently teaches English at City College of San Francisco. In her foreword, Kashyap introduces the character of Sita in Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana and uses Sita to “explore issues facing women living in contemporary India.” Kashyap is not only drawn to Sita as the embodiment of a suffering wife but also to her role as a mother and her connection to the earth and the environment leading to  three thematic sections in her book: ‘Body’, ‘Seed’ and ‘Soil,’ following the opening section  titled ‘Sita Septet’

Sita’s ordeal by fire.

Kashyap is haunted by the mythological Sita’s decision at the end of the epic not to subject herself to another test of fire to prove her chastity. Instead of reuniting with her husband Rama, Sita chooses to return to the Earth, her mother.

This scene is evoked in the poem “Sita’s Choice,” in which Kashyap depicts this myth through a detailed description of Raja Ravi Verma’s painting of Sita being taken by Goddess Earth. In the poem that immediately follows “Letter to Valmiki from the Other Sita,”, we hear Sita’s voice expressing her disappointment in the poet Valmiki “It broke my heart, . . . the story as you told it.” Kashyap is thus reimagining Sita as a vocal woman, talking back to male figures of authority. 

Kashyap segues from the fire image to contemporary issues of dowry burnings in India in the poem “Fire Trials.” Instead of brides being killed, Kashyap recreates these women as asserting agency, packing their bags, and returning to their natal families.

In the section ‘Body,” Kashyap shifts her attention to many aspects of contemporary Indian American life, with an emphasis on the female body capable both of sexual fulfillment and degradation. From the joyous celebration of “Punjabi Wedding,” to scenes of hidden bodily trauma in “The Mirror” and “Crocodile Lake Revisited,” this section progresses to poems which bear witness to the indignities of women in India not having access to toilets in “This City is Claimed,” ending finally with the desolation of widows living in a peculiar limbo between life and death in “City of Widows.”

The sections ‘Seed’ and ‘Soil’ which follow offer many vignettes of women’s lives as mothers, from the onset of menarche in “Blood, Oil and Water” to the travails of pregnancy, birth, and the sleepless monotony of early motherhood.  In “The Leela Poems,” of the final section, Kashyap widens her focus to include experiences of farmers marching to Lalbagh, Bangalore to demand attention to their precarious lives. Leela is a servant and a migrant domestic worker in the city, subjected to myriad oppressions. But like Sita, the central figure in the collection, Leela longs to go back to the rice fields of her home in the village and is haunted by the longing for rich harvest.

Unlike a novel, a work of poetry does not follow a linear path of plot and character. Instead, this collection of poems is like a palimpsest, the poet’s own life layered with images of disparate women’s lives and traumas, yet gesturing at hope and fulfillment inspired by the mythological Sita.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


Sita’s Choice, Poems by Athena Kashyap. Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2019.

Heroes of War

Heroes of War 

Bracing themselves 

heavy armor

coat after coat

danger is principal.

 

They enter war

an invisible enemy 

the fiercest predator

with an unidentifiable weakness.

 

Their compassionate hearts

drive a noble sacrifice 

for the protection of lives 

they never knew.

 

Heroes they stand

knowing and holding 

the fear of 

surrendering themselves to defeat.

*****

Rashmika Manu is a freshman in high school. She enjoys writing poems, playing volleyball, and traveling. She visits India often and has a desire to help the poor and needy in the future.

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.

Virtual Slam Poetry to Break Quarantine Monotony

In the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, Tri-Valley residents often feel trapped within their own homes, forced to confront the despair and the anxiety of a global pandemic on a day-to-day basis. Although citizens are separated by facial masks and closed doors, some residents are finding unique ways to bring the community together. Pleasanton’s Teen Poet Laureate Kanchan Naik is hosting the city’s very first virtual Poetry Slam, a safe way to spread love for creative writing. The slam is open to all teenagers from the Tri-Valley, including both middle and high school. Students may compete in two different categories: original, where they share poems that they’ve written; and interpretive, where students perform/interpret work from a poet of their choice. After submitting their work via a private youtube link, these submissions will be evaluated by judges from the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council, Tri-Valley Writers, and the City of Pleasanton. 

The event provides young poets a platform to express themselves and get inspired by other writers. They will also be joined by the event’s virtual Guest of Honor: Teen Esteem, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering students. A slam offers a sense of community identity that is painfully necessary during these difficult times, as teenagers get a chance to be vulnerable and reflective in their writing. As stated by the Teen Poet Laureate herself, “The point of the slam is to put your own personal touch on poetry. When I see a performance that really moves me, I can visibly feel the emotion and the power of the poet. I don’t honestly need to hear a poem that is flowery and intricate, but the rawness and sheer transparency in the words is what matters the most. ” 

Being cornered at home takes its mental and physiological toll, and the best way to fight back is to channel emotion through a creative outlet. For more information and registration details, click here! Spread the word among friends and family by sharing the flyer above via social media!

 

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.

Away From

Away From

I come across to what I hate seeing so much

Disgusts me to remember that I thought I wasn’t enough

I think that I need more and more, plenty

But they don’t have much other than others company

Walked outside to the city, new country, poverty

For the first Time my eyes could see openly with

I fear that I’ve lived my life like the Buddha’s early years

Away from deprivation

Away from hardship

Away from the unfortunate

Away from poverty

Giving one a drop of water or a tiny cracker wouldn’t be obliging

Considering the number of them barely surviving

I hope that one day I can give all of the economy an equal chance of success

And maybe get away from seeing this horrible mess.

 

Rashmika Manu is a 9th grader attending high school this year. She enjoys writing poems, playing volleyball and traveling. She visits India often and has a desire to help the poor and needy when she grows up.

An Ode to Women of Color

Skin of Soil

Nature’s first vision is brown 

her first awakening upon the nascent earth, 

a blur of tawny and bronze 

and walnut and wheat.

 

Nature’s first memory is soil 

spilling from the ends 

of her matted mane, 

spilling into empty oceans, 

filling a parched planet 

who never even knew its

own thirst. 

          

Nature’s first footsteps forge dusky craters, 

her rage and her fire bubbling beneath, 

threatening to turn even dewdrops dark, 

to slay sunlight and stars both,

 

but,

 

Nature was patient, 

sewing tree trunks 

into the ground’s silent scars. 

 

Where nature roams there is brown, 

unblinking, unyielding and endless. 

 

So how can i think to reject

the color of the skin 

that clothes me, that shelters

all my thousand creatures 

and flowers and roots,  

how can i bear to soften 

the pigment that endures

my lightning and tears 

and inborn fury.

How can i dare to 

hate the brown that is all

but the rippled 

reflection of nature herself.

——

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.


Artwork by Feminist, Sravya Attaluri.

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. 

Amrita Pritam: She Writes on The Grooves of My Soul

This article was first published in December 2016 and is being re-published in honor of National Poetry Month.

Of late, I have physically embraced the cloak of solitude. Reprimanded often as a dreamer in kindergarten by teachers, now having escaped their vigil I have resigned to my perilous hobby of contemplation. As a doctor, during the day, the drama of disease directs me but in the evenings I am abducted by the poems of Amrita Pritam, Mary Oliver, Robert Bly, Naomi Shihab and Faiz.
I sit still in my home frontier, my easy leg crossed over my other ankle. I tune into their voices. They speak to me intimately as though they have waited for me forever. I am perhaps as enthralled as the spring leaf on the old poplar that thrills in a mysterious shawl of bird song. My identity is revealed, shaped, molded and deepened by my intention to observe and experience my scattered self in their verse.

As I read I, once again, frolic through long summer afternoons free from adult censure. In the body of the poems the memory of my mother’s face emerges. I feel the bright light on my father’s forehead and admire his beautiful strong, artistic hands. His laughter echoes as it tumbles back across time at my first haircut or a stolen cookie and his knotted brow is real too when he looks at my math grades. He smiles his approval at the gold medal I won for an essay about the leprosy home. My mother’s nimble fingers complete the shadow work on my white organdy table cloth from fifth grade. Jumping off rickshaws, scraped knees, a rising cake in a round oven, my first crush, peeling off soaking wet garments, broken spectacles, running out of paper in final exams, frog leg experiments, spinach gulped down with water. Everything is a beautiful song that weaves in and out of my memory becoming my poem.

It is the miracle of remembering and experiencing everything all over again—just right, just as it was meant to be—the nurturing in our Zen-like childhoods. This is comforting as I give myself to the compassion of being solitary.

The sound of dad’s voice reading poetry late into the night, books piled beside his pillow meet the same turf on my bed. Writing becomes a sacred deed and carrying their emblem poems in the deep pockets of my soul my creed. This evening and essay is devoted to Amrita Pritam’s poetry.

Amrita Pritam (1919-2005), was a notable 20th century Indian poet, novelist, feminist and  a proud daughter of Punjab, (now in Pakistan). She was the winner of the Sahitya Academy Award in 1956 for Sunehedey (messages) a lifetime achievement award given to the “Immortals in Literature” the Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan. A prominent voice in Punjabi literature, her work has been widely translated into Hindi, English, Urdu, French, Japanese and Italian. Through her writing, she has become the friend and confidante of so many women across the continents.

Amrita’s magic permeates the soft and deep hues of dreams, infatuation and longing. She blithely walks into the recesses of my heart blowing away reticent cobwebs with her easy rustic Punjabi dialect. She lets me dwell on my own heartbreak and listens long like a childhood friend. Then she talks to me in an intimate tone but when I open my eyes her words don’t leave. They remain accessible and timeless for me. How did she become so insightful? Perhaps she internalized her grief when her mother died at the tender age of eleven and in the depth of her poetry of commonplace things a penetrating sagacity emerges. Amrita’s verse has the redemptive grace of the Holy Ganga as she flows ebulliently through my mind-locks and washes away scars of distress.
This first prominent female poet of the twentieth century who lived in Lahore,(the city of gardens and free thought, birthplace of my father, Swadesh Kumar Kapur) is my kindred spirit. When I am with her, I inhale the fragrance of my fertile motherland of flowing five waters. Amrita helps my mother dress me in my bridal red and reminds the elders that they are not warning me of inherent untold suffering that comes with leaving the parental home.

In her poignant poem “Peed kudi di chholi pao” she implies that the bride is unaware of the pain she will receive along with all the blessings and sweets in her lap. But after the rude shattering of her naïve dreams, she wraps the weary soul of many young girls in the shimmering moonlit embroidery of her prayers in her poem “Channan di phulkari topa kaun pphare.”  (Who can put a stitch in my scarf embroidered by moonlight?) In this poem, she compares the essence of pure love to a luminous embroidered moonlight which is so sheer that only a seer can embellish it.

Amrita was a born romantic; she used to compose romantic couplets in her pre-teens and tear them up fearing that her father would read them. She married young, but did not find her Ranjha (soul mate from the epic Heer Ranjha) in marriage. After separating from her husband, she fell in love with the romantic poetry of a contemporary of hers—Sahir Ludhianvi. This poignant relationship emerged in their verses but they did not unite in real life. The story of not meeting her poetic soulmate is recounted in her autobiography Rasidi Ticket (Revenue Stamp). She did not abandon the idea of romance, for in her golden years she lived with artist and illustrator Imroz. Her poem beautifully expresses this love for her partner of 40 years. Many beautiful poems were written in those years.

*****
Rall gai si es vich ik boond tere ishq di
Esse layi main zindagi di saari kudattan pee layi
Translation:
Because a drop of your love had blended in
I drank the entire bitterness of life.

When she was breathing her last she composed this piece, “Mein tenu pher milangi.”
I will meet you yet again
How and where? I know not.
Perhaps I will become a
 figment of your imagination
 and
maybe, spreading myself
 in a mysterious line
 on your canvas,
I will keep gazing at you.
Perhaps I will become a ray
 of sunshine, to be
 embraced by your colors.
I will paint myself on your canvas
I know not how and where—but I will meet you for sure.
I know nothing else
 but that this life 
will walk along with me.
When the body perishes,
 all perishes;
but the threads of memory 
are woven with enduring specks.
I will pick these particles,
weave the threads,
and I will meet you yet again.

*****
Freedom of thought defined the writings of one born in a remote village of Punjab.
Aaj Maine Aapne Ghar Ka Number Mitaya Hai
Aur Gali Ke Mathe Pe Laga Gali Ka Naam Hataya Hai
Aur Har Sadak Ki Disha Ka Naam Paunch Diya Hai
Par Agar Aapko Mujhe Jaroor Pane Hai
To Har Desh Ka, Har Shahar Ki
Har Gali Ka Dwar Khatkhatao
Yeh Ek Shap Hai, Ek Var Hai
Aur Jahan Bhi Azad Ruh Ki Jhalak Parhe
Samajhna Vah Mera Ghar Hai
Translation:
Today I have wiped out my street address
If you want to find me
Knock on every door, of every street
Where you find a glimpse of a free spirit
That’s where you will find me.

*****
As  I read her poems aloud, my voice mingles with my father’s voice reading poetry late into the night. His gusty voice urges me to keep marching despite the overwhelming grief of bereavement. Two years back, for Diwali, my dad wanted to give me a parting gift. I could not receive this final gift from his hands but I found palliative solace for my insurmountable grief in the audio CD Amrita Pritam: Recited by Gulzar, 2007. I played this repeatedly as I went through my days aimlessly. After my father’s demise, her words became my anchor. The ambrosia that personifies Amrita’s name became my salvation.

Mere thande kkhut de mitra, Keh de jo kuj kehna
Mein ik tidke kkade da paani
Kal tak nahin rehna…
Translation: Oh my friend who shared my cool drink of water in good times,
Please tell me what’s in your heart
My life is trickling out like a stream of water from a
Cracked pot
I will not be here long.

*****
I am certain that these handful of poems that I keep tied in my heart are indeed the mysterious gift from my dad. Yes Amrita, my friend: “Mein tenu pher milangi.” I will meet you again and perhaps we will together wake up Waris Shah from his grave and implore him to rewrite the devastating narrative that marred our birthplace in 1947 during the Partition.
These immortal lines are from Amrita’s transformative signature piece: Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah nu:
Here she implores the 17th century Punjabi poet Waris Shah of Heer Ranjha fame to rise from his grave.
Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,
Ki tu Qabraan Wichon Bol,
Tey Ajj Kitaab-e-Ishq Daa,
Koi Agla Warka Phol
Ikk Royi Sii Dhi Punjab Di,
Tu Likh Likh Maarey Wain,
Ajj Lakhaan Dhiyan Rondiyan,
Tenu Waris Shah Nuu Kain
 
Uthh Dard-Mandaan Diya Dardiya,
Utth Tak Apna Punjab
Ajj Bailey Lashaan Bichiyaan
Tey Lahoo Di Bhari Chenab
 
Kisey Ne Panjaan Paaniyan Wich
Diti Zahar Rala,
Tey Unhan Paniyaan Dharat Nuu
Dita Paani Laa

Oh Waris Shah, you wrote volumes on the pain of one Heer.
Speak out from your grave
Today, a million daughters cry out to you, Waris Shah,
Rise O’ narrator of the grieving!
Look at your Punjab, the fields are lined with corpses,
And blood fills the Chenab.”

The effects of this fracture of Partition are still reverberating in the mountains of Kashmir. Today we can surmount our challenges if we tune in to the timeless classic poetry of Amrita Pritam. Her bold, revolutionary deeply romantic and spiritual poems have a universal appeal that echoes through several genres. Let us  invite her clear voice into the sacred space of our solitude.
Monita recommends reading Selected Poems of Amrita Pritam by Pritish Nandy.

Monita Soni is a pathologist and diagnoses cancer. Her writing style weaves eastern and western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH-Sundial Writers corner and on “All Things Considered.”