The meaning of quiet – those corridors
Knew it well. Softly girls. This building is old,
Mother C lisped up stairs, her wimple
Flaring like a halo. At table, tennis, we twirled spins
like neat habits. A single smash could dismantle
our world. Outside school, a man with a cleft lip
spiced slices of raw mango. Red chilli
burst into our mouth like explosions of sea water.
The heat moved us to shower. We limp-toed
into womanhood in spotless socks,
a generation afraid of bringing things down.
A backyard of bramble and weed was where
we found noise. It wandered knock-kneed
and had a tongue full of pins.
Through this poem, I discovered Anindita Sengupta in a new anthology I will review here tomorrow. “Brink” caught my eye on a flight from Mumbai to New Delhi on New Year’s Eve. I already intended to visit protests there on violence against women. So yes, I was ripe to land on this hinge line of “Brink:” “a generation afraid of bringing things down/ A backyard of bramble and weed was where/we found noise.”
I also admired the poem’s focus on the “meaning of quiet” and the deft insertion of the meaning of unquiet through a table tennis scene: “A single smash could dismantle/ our world.” Just outside the school in that poem, explosions are found, alliteratively and literally, in “spiced slices of raw mango.”
City of Water, Sengupta’s first collection of poems, was published in 2010 and won the Muse India Young Writer award in 2012. She lives in Mumbai and is pictured with her nine-month-old daughter, Amaya.
I love how quickly you can travel the world and the world of ideas on the Internet. I offer a few postcards from my travels after meeting “Brink” on paper.
My first stop was Ultra Violet, a site for contemporary feminism in India that Sengupta founded and edits. I’ve been reading it regularly since my return to New York for its sophisticated coverage of civics and culture and have had a few email exchanges with Sengupta. Ultra Violet reflects her ear and eye as a journalist and poet. She is one of six international journalists recently awarded new media fellowships to report on topics of global health by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Sengupta will focus on maternal and reproductive health as this link explains.
A delightful discovery of my trip to India was the large number of journalists who write poetry or poets who support themselves as journalists. Print journalism, at least for now, remains a robust business in India. As a newspaper reporter for more than two decades before I made poems, I fantasize about more cross-fertilization between poetry and journalism in the United States. Both poets and journalists aspire to compressed truth. I’d love to see more experiments like NewsPoet where a poet spends the day in the newsroom at National Public Radio reflecting on the day’s stories and composes a poem for the night’s broadcast. And I urge journalists to look beyond the usual suspects of government officials, academics and advocates and call poets for quotes. Who would not want to hear what W.S. Merwin or Jorie Graham, or even better their poems, have to say on climate change? A good poem is by technical definition a good sound bite.
Ultra Violet considers issues from political, cultural and practical angles. The poem “Not a Cactus” by Minal Sarosh shared recent billing with astute analysis about needed reforms from a pioneering woman’s rights lawyer. “Our Cities, Ourselves: An Open Letter to Mumbai City Administrators” examines how urban design affects women’s issues. Shilpa Phadke, an Ultra Violet editor, sociologist and Assistant Professor at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, posted her letter and “Mumbai Rising,” a powerful video below produced at the centre. Phadke is a co-author of the book Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets. The book argues that women should have the right to choose to take risks in public space without being harassed. Phadke appeals to Mumbai government officials for better public transit, expanded parks and restaurants and bars open late at night which she argues is not only good for women but for Mumbai’s reputation as a “world class city. Surely you care about international financial investment.”
Like in travel, when you discover an interesting neighborhood, the best way to explore is to just wander around. Ultra Violet is a great place to roam.