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Smita Agarwal

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Smita Agarwal

Rufous Sibia, Chakrata. Photo by Nitoo Das


This Sunday, once again, I come back to you, love,
All my cares cast aside – the child struggling with his O
My dreamy, difficult husband; the old man who said,
Come child, come, then pushed me down the hill …

In the light rain, I walk down Giles Lane to St Stephen's Hill,
And take the footpath to Little Hall Farm, Eastingdown,
Alcroft Grange …
Squelch over fallen chestnut and oak leaves till I come to
Little Hall Pinetum
And see conifers, green sails in a sea of brown dead ferns …
Am surprised by a white Citreon Romahome with trailer,
Patiently outside a brick house with Tudor beam faηade
The house quietly smoking in the rain, in winter …

Sheep-come-near-the-fence move off, turn around and stare
at me.
I walk on to where the single track potholed road turns into
a path,
Wind my way on till a neighing unsettles me … I see it …
Big, black, powerful, nostrils smoking … It snorts. I make a
Towards it. It shakes its mane, neighs again and walks till it's
A bush from where it watches … What does it see, dear
An oddball in an anorak with an Eskimo hood?
I'm just as nervy … What if it breaks out and tramples me?

It's to you I return, tired and hungry … It's with you I
wrestle …
Like a man I shout at you …, when you lay down the
wrong preposition,
Dish out a difficult verb, throw a tantrum over a metaphor
I'd spent so much
Energy inventing … Yes, we quarrel. You fling your history
and pedigree
In my face and I say, Get out I don't want you …

It'll go on for hours, won't it love?
Till we're exhausted and my fingers ache?

Hopefully, by then, the weather will have cleared …

(Wish-granting Words, 2002)


Chutney: A Multilingual Existential Poem

We two were sitting agal-bagal
On a chaarpai, under the sprawling
Canopy of a neem tree, dressed in
Sarees chamkeli, enjoying chuskis
Of tea with kurkuri hot pakaori.

We two were sitting agal-bagal
And discussing our saheli,
Hari-bhari at fifty-three,
Victim of cancer,
Now, Hari ko pyaari …

We two were sitting agal-bagal
And, as you can see,
Our conversation was very serious
And very dukhi and little did
We notice a kabootari flying in
To perch on a branch,
Proceeding to splatter
Our sisterly sorority with its droppings,

Showering upon us the life-lesson:
Always spice up the khichidi of zindagi
With the zest of teekhi hari chutney
And live life out, bindaas and tension-free …

(Mofussil Notebook, 2014.)


Giving it Back

From you, I learnt how to break your heart.
You taught me every aspect of the art,
Each time you cracked open mine,
Like an egg-shell or a bone;
A short, sharp sound,
A focused force,
To let out pain …

Time and again you practised
On your sounding board,
Your captive audience, who slowly learnt
To master the grin of pain,
That grimace of ultimate enjoyment …

How does it feel now, old man?
When you're down and out
And past your prime,
To have your face
Ground in grime,
To be made aware of your crime?

Your student – using with finesse,
The monkeyshines you taught her
Half in jest, considering them
Not worth a pice –
Now minting a million "likes"!

Her You Tube video's gone viral …

(Goa, Nov. 2013)

I Love You

Babli Pandey says "I love you …" to Bittu Sonkar.
The campus is agog …
A high-caste girl, Brahmin at that,
Wanting to wed a Backward boy …
Babli's brother gets his act together.

He and his gang, with
Cycle-rickshaw chains
And crowbars, beat
The hell out of Bittu,
Who, for a month, lies festering
In the town's most
Infection-riddled zone,
The Govt. Medical College.

Miraculously, Sonkar survives.
And, but naturally, after full
And final recovery, collects
All the Backward caste warlords
Of every out-house locality
And seeks vengeance.

Siege-like conditions prevail
Around the university's SSL Hostel
Where Pandey and his chaps
Are holed-up …

Meanwhile, Babli, willingly
Abducted by the Sonkar gang,
Under the banner of the progressive
Arya Samaj, marries Bittu;
A scene-from-a-movie like exchange
Of garlands in the presence
Of the liberal intellectual, Prof. Das …

24x7, the mofussil town's single tv channel
Blazes footage of Babli weds Bittu.
For the bristling brother and his goons
Attention is for the time being
Relocated from Bittu to Dr. Das.

Next morning, Dr. Das takes
An extra class on "Break, break, break …"
And discusses the forthcoming Freshers Function
In room # 8, where he shall encourage
Boys and girls of postgrad English
To dance to "Tera, tera, tera suroor"
And "Beedi Jalaile" …

Exhortations over for the day
Dr. Das leads the way
Down a flight of stairs
Where Birju Pandey
And his hoods waylay him …

Residual decency cannot make
Birju punch the don in his face.
So he pulls out a matchbox,
Strikes a match, waves the flaming
Stick, menacingly, three times,
Under the paralysed prof's nose
And growl's "Last chance, saar …"

Prof. Das clutches his heart and collapses.
The girls of the class let out a collective
Squeal and beg forgiveness for his lapses …
Tension is temporarily dissipated.
Mofussil India's struggle
With modernity, abated.
The Babli Pandey, Bittu Sonkar
Saga, by these unforeseen
Circumstances aided and abetted,
Postponed for the next
Bright, new day …

(Mofussil Notebook, 2014.)


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