I was recently invited to collaborate with Method, a contemporary art space in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, which curates and showcases the works of emerging artists across mediums and disciplines from around the world. During the lockdown, Method invited visual artist and cinematographer Linesh Desai to do an Instagram takeover. The video series Bombay was an extension of OB(LI)VIOUS, a photography exhibition by Linesh at Method Art Space. Read about the full series here.
Linesh's poetic glimpses of Bombay were so beautiful and evocative that the idea for this collaboration revealed itself quite naturally. I invited some poets from Bombay who are a part of the poetry workshop The Quarantine Train to interpret a few videos each in verse. Here's what they came up with:
2 haibun and a haiku by Meghna Prakash and Paresh Tiwari
Deep in the belly of the city the tongue of a metaphysical serpent tasting testing teasing the wind. Looping back into time the ocean that carries away the ocean that is me crashing into tetra-pods. Reaching out one tired outstretched arm to the origami fold of a pale sky. The city is pregnant with clouds. The clouds with rain that won’t hold. It’s a memory carried to term. Only to be aborted at the gaping mouth of concrete Lego blocks. Each placed over the other by hands feet heads sweat glistening over naked brown bodies.
The city gouges eyes on its walls. The eyes open into nothingness. They don’t breathe, don’t speak, don’t dream. The tongue of the serpent darts in and out.
monsoon flo o d s
the child’s home
It is(n’t) my Story
Appa moved to Bombay when he was little and still can’t bring himself to call the city, Mumbai. He made Chowpatty beach his home on Saturday afternoons. The waves would send him gifts with each lilt. Broken glass shards, smudged ink-blotted papers full of love notes, plastic bottles, one red and black slipper. The ocean was his only friend. He would make stories about each of these gifts.
There was a sailor who dived into the sea to rescue a stranger, she pulled him out of torrential waters. They withstand storms together.
‘Your mother has the smile of a Cherub and the laughter of a racoon,’ Appa says. He was a cool headed, 24-year-old man holding his bride by her shoulder and taking her to Marine Drive. They sat by the bay and Appa watched the sun set in Amma’s eyes. Her smile still ringing in his ear as he kissed her hand and dropped her back home. They had one mango kulfi and she boldly kissed him on the cheek.
my right toe larger
than the sun
a Haiku By Meghna Prakash
to an empty home
3 poems by Suhit Kelkar
No moon tonight, only the light
from an under-construction hi-rise.
The top of the building looks like
Rodin's thinker in profile. I take it in,
blow my joint's smoke at the stars
while I enjoy the pleasure of walking
in circles along the large terrace.
And although the place is dusty
I have promised myself to keep
my sandals unclean until the rain washes them.
How the past stays with us, leaving
its imprint on the living moment.
I continue conversations with you, my love
that dribbled out years ago.
I remain hopeful you will return to me
because I am in my own movie called Bombay
a detached observer of all that is happening to me
and I want it to be a feel-good one
where wonderful things are bound to happen.
A film where I will never be surprised
to see that magic exists in this world.
Far away, the buildings groan under
the weight of the night sky.
I saw the way they raise the chickens that go on our dinner plates. And why the phrase 'to be cooped up' is euphemism for prison. I could also tell you about the extraction of cocks' semen in syringes the holding-down of hens for insemination. How they flinch, startled and soundless as the nozzle is dabbed between their legs, their cloacas staring like red, reproachful eyes. Yet I'll go home tonight and probably order a chicken dinner. In this way lies evil just beyond the corners of the eyes woven into each day of our pure and virtuous lives. Love is a stretch of water dammed till tight as a bowstring that has to find its way downhill by one way or the other. In this manner inner evils must be made love to even when brought to sight. Most people like the leg; I, however, prefer the breast.
Along this shore, where countless histories wash away in a turgid tide of plastic, the absence of the past hums like mosquitoes. In the streetside cafe, a tablespoon turns the evening sun into lava. A cappuccino’s steam parses the afternoon silences long enough to let languid words breathe. A taxicab rumbles by. The song playing loudly on its radio applies to the couple on the motorbike roaring past, with her red-tipped hands around his brawny arms, her buttocks framing his. There you smile in the cafe chair with the ease of shedding another skin. You talk of this and that. I want to shake you, shout that the fact is, I realise, I have crossed the midpoint; I am now closer to death than to birth. So don’t tell me about your job, your commute, your past, even your life. Tell me your way of seeing this shore, this beach. Show me how you stop time, if only for a moment. But yet again I bite back my words and let you ramble on. Because I want to see you again. The sound of the foamy waves washing away the sand is drowned out in traffic that also ebbs and flows.
3 poems by Jagari Mukherjee
The aquarium is a green crystal-city.
You and I are the lemon-yellow fish--
world-weary refugees seeking shelter in
Bombay, where the sea-rhythm lulls
us to sleep like a mother.
The old man still sells movie tickets
for twenty rupees. When we were poor,
he sold us Bombay dreams, and we
ignored the screen to kiss in the dusty corners.
The sea sprayed our school bus with salty foam.
My window always open, I caught the rain
in my braids and the spray on my skin.
My tunic, now wet, darkened to a jewelled blue.
2 poems by Sufia Khatoon
We are mausoleum of stories
rising and ebbing with the blackened Bombay sea.
I hesitate to drink its somberness mixed with the caged
air in the unfinished water bottle, left by someone who
had forgotten the shifting untouched sand bodies.
I can’t name the stubborn tree enticing
the pandiculation of the waves
when I pass marine drive. Neither will I shun
the lover’s making plans of escape.
They have patiently rented out their bodies for
loneliness to make love to isolation.
Now when the fear of the pandemic is increasing –
they are just meeting in the chaos by the sea.
His fingers listen to the moving insomnia of the people
in the metro headed to the sea city. I can’t read the meaning
of the tattoo on his arm but I know its feelings.
A city on water is rootless –
Bombay is the fish bone piercing my tongue
when I try to separate it from its skin.
Humid days and home-sickness
Auto passed lover’s kissing in the storm on marine drive
and halted in front of chawpatty beach –
tasting of loose sand, half drunk water in a plastic bottle, cramped people and sea salt dipped in smoked corn on the earthen stoves.
The water here didn't stink like Juhu and the air felt much warmer on my face.
I felt sand reseeding from my sole's back to the sea and kept reseeding until I left it to its moaning.
Boatmen unloaded the catch from the fish net, some fishes were still breathing through the coils.
They asked me to touch and feel the sea spirits living inside their bellies.
I froze near the boat overlooking the lined stretch of shanties and eateries.
Mother was eating fresh prawns dipped in sauce, I craved for something tangy.
Pani puri without the mashed potatoes sprouting in the oval mouth with a crunch didn't sound like Kolkata.
It tasted like humid days and home-sickness.
We hired a mattress, bought some chips, wrote a poem for the sea and rested our bodies under the starlit evening.
The Mumbai cityscape flickered in the waves and bending right where the eyes merged in the horizon.
A big thank you to all the collaborators who made this possible! :)
Here's where you can find the works of these featured poets: