Cappuccino Readings was looking forward to celebrating the glorious rich colours of August with an exciting and eclectic panel comprising the poets, Sampurna Chattarji, Jane Bhandari, Sachin Ketkar, Anand Thakore, Ramneek Singh, Ashwani Kumar and Archna Sahni. Who best then to commence the reading than Jane Bhandari who is also an artist along with being such an accomplished poet and, through her words, she combines evocative images with a wry and tongue in cheek British sense of humour. This was evident in her mischievous poem about the hazards of kissing a frog even as she deftly maneuvered to read some delicate sensuous poems beginning with Lipstick on a Teacup and then The Kiss, where she read, ‘…I left a kiss/ on your curved upturned hand/ I tasted salt…’. She also read two poems that she described as being notes for paintings that became poems, Limp Lover on Yellow Sheet and Lover on Blue Sheet. She ended with a poem Kala Ghoda with Eunice dedicated to Eunice de Souza.
Archna Sahni read poems from her poetry collection First Fire and from more recent work to be published in book form in Canada in 2018. Her poem, My Immaculate Conception, where the poet conflates the act of conceiving a poem and its product, a poem about an imaginary daughter, who has multiple imaginary fathers who fail to recognize her. First Fire captures a deeply transformative experience in which the poet returns to her own feminine power embodied in Kali, whom she has contained in herself as a child all this time. Archna’s poem, Sap is my Heritage describes the experience of death and extinction of self. It is only because she turns into ‘nothing’ that she is able to embrace ‘sap’ as her heritage. From her newer poems Archna read Immigration: Take One, a humorous poem about the refusal of the poet to give a straightforward answer to the question, “where are you from”? The poet plays with her multiple identities and calls her experience of immigrating to Canada as one of feeling ‘at home’ on account of her prior multicultural experiences and in ”Another Nirvana” the poet’s memories move between parts of India & Toronto, questioning the meaning of home & belonging. She imagines the experience of “another nirvana” as a way of transcending geographical spaces.
Sachin Ketkar read some of his own Marathi poems and some translations from Gujarati to Marathi. His reading of Narsi Mehta Dolay Ughadto was particularly poignant when he read, ‘…osarlelya puraat vaahun geleli aste majhi maitrin/ hee andharleli raat…’. He also read a poem Station Road Navsari, then in A Soulful Song to the Black and White Television he says, ‘…Senility makes/ Blackout drift/ In front of your eyes/ Discarded by all/ You sit in the corner/ Staring at the wall/ Your hunchback/ Turned towards the colourful world…’ and ending with, ‘…But don’t you worry grandpa/ I am sitting just next to you/ Like a Celeron 133 computer/ Opening only ninety-five windows of my mind/ Awaiting for obsolesce/ To set on me sooner, Than on you.’ Sachin also read the really deep and meaningful Ten Asides FOR ten Heads, trying to understand the present through a Dashpadi syllogism where he speaks about the ten headed one who speaks, ‘You think Ravana was a single person/ Or that his world had a single face/ Let me point out for your information/ His bliss was also ten-faced/ His agony was ten-faced too/ He used to laugh/ In ten different ways/ At a single joke/ He used to weep/ His single grief/ In ten different ways…’ and then again, ‘…I have seen this world/ Ten times more than you have/ I have perceived clearly/ With my twenty eyes/ How all things have ten sides/ Pray tell me then/ How can I shed light/ On my ten-headed world/ With your one-headed language?…’
Sampurna Chattarji, in her unique and flawless reading enthralled the listeners by opening with, ‘…This morning the aurora borealis arose in the Maharashtrian sky…’ which had us hooked right away. She read her poem, The Dangers of Hindsight and then her translation of a prose poem by Joy Goswami. Sampurna also read some intriguing poems the titles of which were found lines – Evidence of Things Seen (the title of a Dylan Thomas book), No turning Point, Go Back (a signpost on the road going to Dylan’s grave), and Some of the Rooms are You and Some are Me (a writing prompt exchanged between Sampurna and a fellow poet). ‘…I am following the ‘alo’, the light of my mother tongue…’ she read and continued, ‘…I am a body, notched at the waist…’; ‘…whose grief is this, plucking yellow flowers to shed…’, ‘….I am the foot, in the red red shoe…yes, I am meshing two houses together…I am song…’.
Ashwani Kumar, who, in his poetry, brings together a raw earthiness and an unobstrusive sophistication with exquisitely mischievous humor that can be only imbued by a deep communion with the Ganges read from his two books of poetry, My Grandfather’s imaginary Typewriter and Banaras and the Other. His first poem, The Lord Comes to my House, written in 2006, says, ‘…The Lord comes to my house./Delivers the message from the bank, “My account is short of minimum balance.”/ Late in the afternoon,/ I get a call from the Seven Angels:/ I have sinned for not submitting my income tax on time./ Ashamed of peer pressure,/ I drink, dance,/ and sing Merry Christmas from my rooftop./ At the end of the year,/ the large crowd of scribes issues a new commandment:/ “The names of the scriptures be changed….”. Ashwani also read a poem called Tomorrow, a poem about a girl who committed suicide and one about 1984 (Delhi). He went on to read from his new collection Banaras, a poem Brihanalla, both man and woman, ‘…you know who I am, I am Uravashi’s daughter…’, he read and left us wanting to hear more from his pen.
Anand Thakore opened with his poignant Chandri Villa, ‘His name was Chandri – my grandfather once said/ Who was to live here, but died of plague. Each of us fails/ in the end, but I was born in a house built for the dead;/ On the red gate, they hammered his name with nails…The wide grove closing its arms as if to kill; My veins so many banyan roots twisted into one,/ And all their tangled knots come undone,/ Till almost I see him – the plagued man I never will.’ He read two poems about sex, enslavement and coats of many colours about what a boy was thinking about in scripture class and then Anand concluded with a powerful reading from his book Seven Deaths & Four Scrolls. His poem is about Kamdev who was burnt to ash by Shiva so that Kamdev is now nowhere but then that he still exists in every person. In the poem Kamdev muses upon the death of the body, he speaks to his only friend, Vasanta about the song flesh sings.
Ramneek Singh, the very popular spoken word poet from Jammu, whose hard hitting poetry highlights inequalities and draws attention to a land that has remained conflict ridden. for many decades. He read his beautiful poem ‘Acche Din’ on Kashmir which is about a little girl who has a disability and doesn’t understand the grave consequences of living as a person with disability in a territory that is constantly under threat. Her grandfather keeps writing letters to the Prime Minister asking him to stop this fight over a piece of land. He writes:
ज़मीन का टुकड़ा ही तो है,
फ़ौज परेशान, लोग परेशान
आप परेशान हम परेशान
करवा देते हैं दो हिस्से
पार्सल करा देते हैं आधी जन्नत कराची
और छोड़ देते हैं अवाम को
अच्छे दिन .
Ramneek also read his poem, Jhelum, based on a mysterious disappearance of a Kashmiri friend. It is about how he is trapped with a sense of guilt when it comes to breaking the news of his loss to his friend’s family members. He ended with a brilliant poem about Mumbai, Sheher Matrix ho gaya Hai.
The evening was a polyphony of voices, of languages, of ideas, images and questions that spoke to each other, complementing, echoing and at times setting off each other even in their differences. It seemed as though we had been witness to a beautiful symphony which continued as we left the warm and gracious Kitab Khana the music echoed in the rain that was falling softly from the skies in the tender night.
Some images from the Reading –