CR Report 17th June ’17: …and June Trembles Like a Butterfly
Amidst the sure but soft foreshadows in the darkening sky, the air dense with humidity and the city holding its breath for the rain that was playing a teasing mischievous hide and seek, the black board of Cappuccino Readings at Kitab Khana announced a stellar line up of poets last Saturday, 17th June ’17. The poets slated to read were PRIYA SARUKKAI CHABRIA, RANJIT HOSKOTE, ARJUN CHOUDHURI, PRABODH PARIKH, MUSTANSIR DALVI, BARNALI RAY SHUKLA and SCHEREZADE SIOBHAN. Sadly, Priya met with a rather nasty mishap that morning and was not able to be with us. However, Priya’s poetry was read out very ably by Anil Sequiera and, to that extent, while wishing her a speedy recovery, Cappuccino Readings and everyone present there felt that she was with us.
The evening commenced with Anil reading from Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s book, ‘Not Springtime Yet’. ‘…Once/there was no horizon./Sky and earth mingled/in a womb of rain/as you entered me…’ Priya says in ‘Rain’ and, in ‘Survival – 1, ‘…Sea splinters/Cliffs collapse/ Mountains drip…’. Then again, ‘A Stone from the streets of Baghdad Says:’ was read and the stone came alive to say, ‘…I’ve been cut to size/ by time and human intervention/ But not, it seems, cut down enough…’
As Ranjit Hoskote took the mic to read, he transported us from Priya’s Baghdad to a Buddhist monastery on the silk route… ‘for years nothing/ then torrents of sand…’. A roller coaster ride then from the mountains to the city that offers ‘…sights that surprise you when you roam the city and stop midair…’ to the Highway Prayer that speaks of burnt tyres and sleeping dogs where ‘…time burns right through him…panic, flags, exploding shells…’, the rosetta of violence!
Prabodh Parikh, at his flamboyant best, took the stage and wowed the audience first, with his poem for Tyeb Mehta in Gujarati and English. Then, in his inimitable ‘sawal-jawab’ manner he asked, ‘…and what is being? Worth seeing…and what is saying? Worth listening…’ He also read a poem written for Dilip Chitre just before he passed away. It was on the occasion of Chitre turning seventy. ‘Why is poetry most about those that are absent?’ was his poignant question. The rest of the poems Prabodh read in this round were about bhaibandh, about being in love and about his wife.
Barnali Ray Shukla took the mic to read three poems – One about the Earth, a second about running into chairs and a poem for root canals. In the first poem, Barnali says, ‘…The earth cracked, and ate me, with pickles, some lime and mango…’, and continues, ‘…It tore me, made me swear, pelted lava, lithium…’. Her verse spoke of the earth ravaged yet strong, angry and not one to remain quiet.
Arjun Choudhuri, who brought the air, the colour, smell and the vibrancy of the mountains of Assam to Mumbai, read his poems that were at once rich with images, sensuous and full of light, colour and metaphor. From a poem about the festival of Ambubachi that falls in June and when, it is believed, the earth menstruates (and the river turns red) to a memory poem about his mother who at one time had long hair, Arjun turned to his poetry in Sanskrit – a verse from Mrichhakatika.
So it was that this beautiful and enchanted polyphony of voices and languages made this Cappuccino Reading (marking our stepping into our fourth year of existence) so very special. The reading took place in three rounds and in the second round Anil returned us again to Priya’s evocative and beautiful poem as he read, ‘…Dawn colours the petals of the sky…spreading through hills…I think I have lost direction…’; Ranjit spoke of his fascination for official gazettes as, again, he brought us down from the mountains to the city’s streets and the nerve center of this metropolis- the Churchgate station… ‘like nerve gas has laid the architecture flat’ to a straggler from a late-night movie who said you could be gagged. Ranjit then read a poem about Sycorax from The Tempest and he described one way of thinking about Shakespere’s Tempest as a ‘parable of patriarchy’. Prabodh then took the stage again to read a poem about Medha Patkar – ‘tum ho samata ki dehlees par ek asha’ he said, ‘tumhara ek naam hoga ‘pakshi’, tumhara ek naam hai ‘nadi’’; Arjun read about the Valmiki Ramayan, ‘pregnant for long, wet with the sun…’. He then read one of his Sanskrit poems in free verse – a poem about the month of June. ‘…when it rains fire, this elixir…these two months have passed again…’ and ended with the very title of this Cappuccino Reading ‘and June trembles like a butterfly…’. What more could have we asked for? Barnali came on stage again to read four poems where she spoke of the Ganges, ‘…Stitching a river, along frayed hems, The silt doesn’t breathe, sits by the smocked edges…’, she said, ‘…And now the Ganges finds herself tamed, by the dreadlocks of Shiva, twisted and aching beneath, her torso, waiting to come, undone.’; in another she speaks of a baby unborn, ‘…I wanted her to arrive, like your first letter, That aerogramme with, edges of red and blue, post-marks of your hometown…’ and continued, ‘…She broke her promise, and kicked me hard, tore open unlettered, pages written in blood…’; Ranjit came back with two beautiful poems about 1857 – one about Bahadur Shah Zafar and the other about Ghalib in the winter of the great revolt. Ranjit described Ghalib as an embodiment of the poet in difficult times and he spoke of both these poets as being Modern since they made the choices of a modernist. His poem ‘The Heart Fixes on Nothing’ (Lagta nahin hai dil mera) brought on a call for an encore and in Ghalib…, Ranjit read, ‘…You say your ink-well is empty, but your dry quill, still claws at the fibres of the heart…’ and concluded, ‘…Send paper, friend, these are the last pages, of my journal I’m writing on.’ Prabodh read a poem about ‘homesickness’, Barnali read a poem, ‘I Wrote a Poem’ and Scherezade read three poems about displacement and home. A poem called ‘Second Generation’ where she asked, ‘Who wants to leave home…’ and in another poem said, ‘…before you come to a body, you are already a ghost…’
Truly, the warm and welcoming Kitab Khana and the company of fine poets is a heady mixture that creates a world one wishes never to leave.
We were not willing to go but the bookstore needs to close. The intoxication of the music that this polyphony of voices created will stay with us for a very long time.
Some images from the evening –