As the monsoons advance across the country, West Bengal-based poet and artist Sufia Khatoon paints her city - Kolkata, in all its drenched glory. Its “soaked rickety rickshaw-walas speeding through the lanes, rain drizzling through the yellow street lights, dark alley way near the canal lined with load cart pullers, half-naked men washing in the public waterways, knees deep in stench mud holes, lightning in the sky, workers leaving the CESE office gate, dogs barking” - all misty, colliding, and transient.
rain seeds in my mouth,
on my tongue, in my eyes,
taking root, uprooting,
everything I am in this hour
it goes somewhere else
searching for respite
dragonflies and glowworms
in the windshield of my heart
mating, moving, circling
' ' ' ' '
One droplet holds
carefully in the dip
of a guava leaf
' ' ' ' '
' ' ' ' '
' ' ' ' '
I see in that falling drop
prism of scented
flowers spiral into
watermarked clouds into
people running for covers into
traffic noise into silence in the eyes that need love.
F a l l i n g
' ' ' ' '
Still f a l l i n g
' ' ' ' '
into the stillness
and cracks the surface of the soil into
thousand rays of light ---
Post rain dispersion
On the patio of an old Bengali bari, an old woman sits moving her fingers through her hair on a wooden takta engulfed with rain smoke, the milkman churning milk in a kadhai outside, litchis on the cart smelling of rain, an aged Banyan tree near the water clogged canal drenched to the roots, the storm wreaked billboards, a rain-washed waiting room in the burial ground, water seeping through the bridge gab under which the children shower and scream, rain drops scaling down the auto window –
"Pani se risi hui diwaron par aam ka darakt lagkar chadraha hai gheri shaam mein – "
Fish sellers in the lampu light selling fish in makeshift plastic tents, soaked rickety rickshaw-wala speeding through the lanes, rain drizzling through the yellow street lights, dark alleyway near the canal lined with load cart pullers, half-naked men washing in the public waterways, knees deep in stench mud holes, lightning in the sky, workers leaving the CESE office gate, dogs barking, samosas and hot fritters in rain kissed mouths, flower seller covering their scent, fresh tobacco shredded in the machine by hard hands –
A drunken man passed out under the banyan tree, a mochi sitting inside a leaking kiosk, washing his feet in the rain, bread, and fried eggs in the chai stall, paper boats sailing through the drains, soaked flowers on the red sanded ground of Kali temple, rain-soaked Pigeons on the ivory white Masjid dome of park circus -
water seed on my tongue dispersing into the night lights on the street --
1 km: lap 15
The trees are a shade of blueberries and coal.
The air is simply translucent water on the mid-June leaves.
I feel the ankle bone creaking in the heat, inhaling half breaths; I focus on the bridge run, crows passively digging in the garbage bin and stillness.
Forget the distance –
I recall that this bridge ends near the sun.
3 km: lap 28
My lungs pump in the air in hesitation and my mouth pumps out the sadness in my eyes.
Among the things I crave
fluorescent lights in the storm, intimacy and roots in the sky
5 km: lap 33
Rain douses the vendors, the tram, the cars over the bridge, the old new market, trickles down my spine and vents out on my face with its cold needles.
People run everywhere, pushing aside the smell of sweaty armpits, the skin of loneliness and growth rings of clustered bodies.
Out of strength ---
close to the water near the Hooghly river
I look for places to walk...
7 km: lap 41
Encouraging myself to enter the thick tree-laden train track near the Maidan
I feel nothing but the swelling of my shin, burning nerve near my ears, watermarks on my nape, and a wide stretch of smoke from the factories.
Where do we go from here?
Where do we finally go?
8.5 km: lap 52
There is friction in the air, I exhale in exhaustion. I sense the speeding time passing the highway, the hold of gravity, the feeling of floating bubbles under my running feet, and my thundering heartbeat.
I see only hazing rain blinding my eyes, coldness of my breath, controlling existence and sadness.
Waves in the river...
Stay still if you want to cross
Notes to rainy twilights
Wherever I go, water marks my footsteps,
it remembers my touch on its shifting gaze and the submerged ghats. I know I should shed the glazed bubbles of love around me and hold the glistening pavement in the streetlight. I should separate my bones from my veins and teach myself 'endurance' and the skills to feed my stomach on its own.
Here the river coils the lovers shielded by the trees. The breeze smells of French breads, morning sermons and my silence in the evening shower in Rani ghat.
I pluck the purple ripped phalsa from the tree, the sky thunders like my ammi's temper.
The airplanes signal frantically to land in the mist of my body. Two boys on one of the water tanks, look for songs to play and gaze ahead. Another one jumps rope while her sister collects the dried clothes from the shaking clothesline in the heavy wind.
Before a thunderstorm crows fight for shelter in my garden. I see a group of kids playing catch and waiting for the rain. The pigeons have returned in the big cage of the middle-aged man who looks up at the sky to count their numbers every day.
Another woman teaches tricks to her pet stray cat and chases it around her terrace. I hear sounds of water, welding of scissors and machines inside the buildings, and a collective call for prayer by the muezzin of all the Masjids in my area. At times they sound surreal; at times they surrender to the passing days. The stadium lights blink bright for the match to begin.
The trees remain firm in their places, holding my will. I smell the hazy evening, the faint lights, and the electric towers. There is a kind of purple hue emitting from the lighted skyscrapers. I look for the North Star in this haze, in the blinking noise of the cars, bats and people. I sit through the rainy twilight; soak in the rain till the night makes me another shade of its silhouette.
(Sufia Khatoon is a multi-lingual performance poet, artist, literary translator and facilitator. She is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets community Kolkata and the co-editor of EKL Review)