Category Archives: Context

Like Blood On The Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems by Akhil Katyal. Art by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue - Delhi Poems by Akhil Katyal Title: Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems
Author: Akhil Katyal
Art by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: Context
ISBN: 978-9389152258
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 164
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It isn’t easy for people to read poems. There is something about this genre that either works for some and doesn’t at all for others. What works for me is the brutality of a poem – the sweet sharp pain, and the after effects of reading a poem. A poem that etches itself on to your heart, is something I look for. Constantly. Unknowingly even. The one that arrives silently and works its way to my heart.

Like Blood on The Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems is a collection of old and new poems by Akhil Katyal. I read this collection in one day – in a gulp. I hurried through it, without letting go. I rushed through it and yet knew words, sentences, and emotions that spoke to me. I recognised them because we all go through the same – yet we feel we are different and so different from each other. Poetry makes you see the similarities, and smile or weep or both in good measure.

Katyal’s poems are about love, longing, a paean to the city of Delhi, to its streets and signs, its small shops and crooked lanes, its monuments, and corners where lovers meet. His poems make me want to go to the top of my building terrace and scream out loud. They make me want to yell and be heard. He writes of lovers – of you and I. He writes of silences – the ones that hang in the living room as we drink cups of tea and hope someone messages or the phone rings. He writes of a better world, a better country where the voice is held high and we all come together. Katyal writes of humour, he writes of the people on the margins – the ones who live in shadows and yet make themselves seen in ways unknown to the world.

Reading Katyal is to be hopeful. His poems make me believe that it is possible to find love, even if it doesn’t go anywhere. Katyal’s poems have a structure, and then they don’t. They meander and roam free like cats. They have a life of their own and that is made very clear right from the very beginning. Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s art is complimentary because it also tends to not follow any pattern or norm. The art reflects Delhi – Akhil’s Delhi – the Delhi that couldn’t be anywhere else but in Delhi. Of cable wires in the air, of pigeons seated on tombs, of the Delhi metro and people who inhabit it day after day, and also of Bombay and how he sometimes yearns for the sea. The art reflects Ghosh’s Delhi of Delhi Calm, of the Delhi in today’s time and world, of Delhi protesting against everything and standing out.

I wrote of a love gone by in the margins of this book. I found myself scribbling alongside Akhil’s words. I also found myself teared-up when he speaks of love and longing and loss and Hoshang Merchant, and then of JNU, of the Delhi Queer Pride, and all things that make us and we become or unbecome as we live.

I am not going to ramble anymore. All I am going to say is read this collection. Read it. Reread it. Read it. Reread it. Fin.

Here’s my playlist for Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue: Delhi Poems: 

  • Aaye Kuch Abr by Atif Aslam (Coke Studio)
  • Faasle by Kaavish and Quratulain Balouch
  • Aaja Re More Saiyaan from Coke Studio
  • Shaaman Pai Gaiyyan by Naseebo Lal
  • Jaana by Zoheb and Nazia Hassan
  • Aise Hijr Ke Mausam by Chitra Singh
  • Ek Chaand from the movie LOEV
  • Babul Mora
  • Ronay Na Diya
  • Dilli 6
  • Rehna Tu Hain Jaise Tu
  • Kissi Ko Bhi Toh Mukkamal
  • Jinhen Naaz Hain
  • Raah Pe Rehte Hain

January 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

January 2020 Wrap-Up

The start of the year has been great. I wanted to read 20 books. Ended up reading 13. Not bad though, out of which two were graphic novels and one a picture book for children (seemingly). .

Books read transported me to so many lands and made me explore my own stance on issues and life in general. From a story of a marriage to a story of how a movie on Manto was made to a novel on racism in modern-day America to a book on Dara Shukoh, I’m quite pleased with the diverse reading. At the same time, it so happened organically that I ended up reading 12 books by women and 1 by a man. Also, thank you to all the publishers who sent these books.

Here are the titles with my ratings:

1. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (5/5)
2. Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (5/5)
3. Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy (4/5)
4. I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (5/5)
5. Jaipur Journals by Namita Gokhale (4/5)
6. All my Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos (5/5)
7. Manto & I by Nandita Das (4/5)
8. North Station by Bae Suah (5/5)
9. The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante (5/5)
10. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (5/5)
11. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (4/5)
12. So All is Peace by Vandana Singh-Lal (5/5)
13. The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi (5/5)

This is my list. What have you read this month that has got you excited or made you want to recommend it to everyone you know? .

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy Title: Exquisite Cadavers
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 9789388754842
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I do not know where to begin talking about this book. There is so much going on in this book – love, hate, fights, religion, a book about a young couple navigating love and hate in London, about migration, and how we are in the modern world. Or rather how we perceive love, and its failings (if any).

Exquisite Cadavers is about a young couple, Karim and Maya. Karim is a filmmaker who has left his house in Tunis, and made his house in London with Maya, an English woman, who is battling her demons of an almost absent father, fighting with giving up cigarettes, and is confronted by a pregnancy she isn’t quite sure of.

The book is very cleverly divided into the actual novella and in the margins the thoughts of Meena as she was writing the actual book. Sometimes it just feels that the novel is meta and the thin line between reality and fiction is blurred to the point of it not being recognised. Pieces are stitched – revealing one layer after another. While one column speaks of Karim and Maya, the other speaks of the author’s creative process, her life, and the horrors occurring in India (yes, she speaks of the current ruling party and what followed).

Meena’s life on the left – from seeing her friends killed and arrested to becoming an activist herself is a stream of consciousness that shouldn’t be missed. The rage and anger is perhaps what we need in large doses, given the times we live in. At the same time, the domestic tale of Karim and Maya is extremely engaging, till the two very cleverly meet at the end of the book.

Exquisite Cadavers is a book that needs time to brew and seep, till you pick it up and look at it by taking sides. You need to take a side, and stay there. This book demands that when it comes to marginalia – you cannot sit on the fence. It is an experimental novella unlike any other that I have come across and it will make you question, ponder, mull, and understand where you come from.

 

Love Without A Story: Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Love Without A Story Title: Love Without A Story: Poems
Author: Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher: Context, Westland
ISBN: 978-9388689458
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am very particular about what poetry I read. After all, poetry is acquired taste. It needs that breathing time. Time to mull over and make sense of what is going on and how it has managed to leave you breathless in its wake. How a poet has that power over you, and you just cannot seem to decipher that. You just let it be and accept that as your fate or whatever you believe in. Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems “Love Without A Story” is a book of poems that just is. I don’t think it is trying to make a point or say anything that you haven’t already heard in various forms – it just is though, in all its beauty, subtlety, and grace.

The poems jump at you, almost ambush you. But isn’t that what good poetry should be all about? The ambushing. The cornering. The making-you-sit-down-and-listen kind of poetry. From making you think of old friends, to getting down to the business of love – sometimes said out loud and sometimes hidden for reasons only known to the beloved, Subramaniam’s poetry cannot be placed on any understanding or technique and quite frankly, doesn’t even need to. As long as the reader feels what she is trying to say is more than enough. Isn’t it?

“It gets easier, friend,
With age,
To delete, plan breakfast,
Turn the page.

It would have been easier still
If you hadn’t deleted the sun”

The above lines are from a poem called “Deleting the Picture”. This one hit home the hardest – the one that made me weep a little and mourn the loss of a friendship. This is what poetry is supposed to do, right? Good poetry at least – to seize you, jolt you out of your existence, and make you see what was always visible.

Arundhathi’s writing isn’t difficult to read at all. If anything, it is so simple, that you connect with it instantly. Her poems are of longing, friendship, of boundaries we are willing to cross, of relationships that break and don’t return, of people who break them and survive. It is almost like every poem is a universe of its own – so vast and detailed, even if it seems contained in the pages of the book.

When parents die,
You hunt for clues
In strips of Sorbitrate,
Immaculate handwriting,
Unopened cologne
And in evening air,
Traces of baritone.

Finding Dad is another of my favourites. Once again, this made me weep. Made me think of things that I did not say to my father while he was alive, and now I search for him in objects, in his favourite songs and movies, and sometimes I think I am reminded of his voice.

Love is a strange territory to navigate. Poetry most certainly helps us. Good poetry makes it even better and tolerable. It makes us see the people we were and what we have become. Arundhathi’s poetry does just that. It has the sense of abandon that poetry demands from its creators. It has the sense of fulfilment and yet keeps you on the edge, wanting more, and not giving it. You have to make do with what you have. That’s the first rule of poetry according to me. You soak in its brilliance and dare not ask more, till it is given on its own. Every poem of Love Without A Story leaves you with something – big or small doesn’t matter. The emotion is there, the feeling of empowerment and helplessness, and above all of love and its various forms. I leave you with this one.

For lovers flatten
Into photographs,

Photographs
Into reminiscence,

Reminiscence
Into quiet,

And then what’s left?

Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world,
Love without a story.

Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan

Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan Title: Indira
Author: Devapriya Roy
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
Publisher: Context
ISBN: 978-9386850683
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of some ideologies of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and yet I find her life extremely intriguing and to a very large extent, am in awe of her for sure. I guess it has a lot to do with being told stories from her life as we were growing up. She was almost an idol then, till of course, we made our way into the world and got to know her political aspirations and the means she sometimes used to achieve them. However, that is not what I should be talking about right now.

Right now, I want to talk about the graphic novel (interspersed with a lot of text as well) “Indira”, beautifully illustrated by Priya Kuriyan and written just as well by Devapriya Roy. I remember discussing this book with its publisher at Jaipur Literature Festival this year and being very excited to read it. I finally did and I loved it for so many reasons.

At the same time, there were times I felt that this book felt short in terms of chronicling so much more. I guess they also had to stick to the story of the other Indira and her coming-of-age in contemporary India. Also, kudos to Devapriya for not idolizing Mrs. Gandhi but showing her just as she was – another human being with very strong talents.

Kuriyan’s illustrations are simple and yet breathtaking in so many ways. The detailing is strong and complements the writing tone. The writing is simple and at so many places I loved the meta angle to the book which totally works to its advantage (you will know when you pick it up and read it).

We need more books such as “Indira” to reclaim our past and history, given so much of it is at stake in current times. Lest it be forgotten. Books such as these will remain proof of what happened, why and how.