Rochelle Potkar


Knotted inside me

At the time of my birth, my small town Kalyan, did not have a library.

 

It had no road rage, few beggars, one defunct traffic signal at Murbad Road,

and fewer cars.

 

Horizontal buildings silhouetting the sun in shanties, chawls and cottages

Its outline gianted and dwarfed

with self-sustaining jobs of: kiranawalas, primary school teachers, factory workers, dentists, general practitioners, cycle repair shops,

and a small bank (let’s not forget) on Rambaugh lane.

 

It was tone deaf to career ladders, six sigma, hierarchies,

MNCs, pecking orders.

 

Filled with pavwallas, mohmeddans, hindus, bavas,

north Indians, south Indians, non-catholics,

non-hindus, non-muslims, non-dalits, and non-brahmins.

 

The ice-factory owner, the mayor, a smuggler, a customs officer

were The Rich –

their bungalow gardens, terraces, compound walls

sprinted over by well-fed dogs

 

pressing against our imagination (mostly) during new year resolutions.

 

The Sindhis lived in a neighbour town

with plenty of gold and goods.

 

In the year of my sister’s birth

some of their buildings collapsed

like crumbling cake in blood and crust.

 

There was one gang-war in Kalyan

one Anglo-Indian killed,

by a Goan goon, on a night road

a gunshot running through his race, history, legacy.

 

And a schoolboy murdered

in cold gang-boy rage.

 

I, with the other girls were bottom-felt,

walking through the college corridors.

 

That was all we had,

before I left for the City.

 

But the town I had left behind –

like shoes outside a temple –

multiplied around me a thousand times.

Biscooti love

Memory is… images of a prepubescent boy cycling home,

Parag milk packets in one of his arms,

feeding biscuits to a stray gaggle of brown dogs, wagging their shins.

 

Large half-moon eyes, kind salivating tongue,

his smile showed no cookie-crescent as he fed them all;

he was my first love.

 

More than the girls, the calves and canines knew his way home,

this small-towner of a bygone Bhaarat who found humans in animals,

he grew hunger in me.

 

Now in this morphing, super-quick India, his animals are holographic.

His love fades cookie-slim into the sun of many states, tastes, time zones.

He has not one trail from work to home, but ten homes.

 

He, the colour of chocolate, almond-abdomened,

he found love in many cities,

technology-girls,

animals in liberated women,

who fed off his glucose, milk, sugar, marmalade;

they never grew thin.

 

Over the trail of his virgin-white honey, the scent of shudh desi,

Old world in new crackling wrapping,

always with a 30% improved marking.

 

Bearing the saccharine of my bites and goosebumps,

he now breaks under my neurotic granular breath.

chai mein dubha hua – tea-dunked, wafer-thin, milk crux-ed.

 

My Pickwick, Marie, Parle G, Tiger,

Oreo, Bourbon, mall-shelved Belgian,

online baked-and-ordered

same old-same new,

premium cream-crunched love.

 

 

 

Note: In Hindi, Bhaarat – India; shudh desi – purely country-made; chai mein dubha hua – tea-dunked

 

Gathering

My uncle had a strange habit of gathering people.

Not less than 25 he would take on an outing.

 

Like: Aunty Perpetual with her breast cut

who would lift her t-shirt every time to show us her story,

Avo who would stand and take a piss like a giraffe,

Cousin Milton who would talk about everyone’s pants and panties,

Uncle Kaitaan who divorced his wife just before he turned blind

and regretted it in hindsight,

 

or Aunt Bertha who loved her husband so much

they still bathed under picnic showers and sagging flesh of 40 years

(a couple that bathes together…),

 

Aunt Nysa who starved to look thin and ended up haggard

because one kg less is not a year younger,

and Aunt Alice who was divorced when that was still a stigma.

 

Uncle Wilfred had one phrase for every occasion

in lyrical Konkani

aimed to marginalize his opponents

who had marginalized him because of his poverty.

 

My father would step further and further away

from the kids cycling,

as he would from the circle of life and everyone’s life cycles.

 

A few spare uncles would always sit on plastic chairs

with the chauffeurs and gardeners

inaugurating alcohol bottles.

 

Aunt Cassandra would be on a fertility pill

counting milestones of other children and

practising her lotus-like parenting wisdom.

 

Matilda aunt orbited around with curries, sorpotel,

and cutlets fried in rava and cheap sunflower oil.

People relished her friendship-offerings

but never invited her for their parties.

 

And the servants!

Equal of equals on the dinner plates

with their heads full of lice,

they wore shorts, and their bras outside their t-shirts.

They smoked beedis, hovered around the male cousins

with bronzed cricket thighs,

and giggled at cousin Milton until they were molested,

and shunted home.

 

My aunty – Uncle’s wife – would be interested

in every soup and its recipe,

never mind which house or hotel we were in.

 

Nothing escaped her sight

even in daily novenas, angelus, or rosaries:

the peas-in-the pulav bond between Martha and Rosie,

the filigreed work on Avo’s gold bangles,

the salary Jimmy uncle earned,

the marks Edith brought home.

 

My uncle would cut long journeys short

with church mouse jokes on trains to Goa

with break journeys at Miraj.

He would click pictures of Dudh-sagar

with as much panache

as Uncles Fred and Tony beat up their wives

and Aunty Emma stitched her husband’s pocket

from the opening outside

so he wouldn’t lend any more money.

 

Every time Edith topped her class

there would be mayhem for all of us – the other children.

When she got a job with a heavy pay packet,

my aunt searched for zeros in every person,

like ingredients in a soup.

 

We had neither high marks nor the money.

We were the pariahs, patrons of penury.

 

The day never belonged to us

as our aunt whipped us with her blue-eyed gaze

in this room full of people.

 

 

Transmogrified

 

He was first a snake and was in love with her – a she-snake. And then he molted and after he molted he was a turtle and he met another she-turtle and fell in love with her. When he de-shelled after years, he became a four-legged animal, black spots sprouting over his fur, and he fell for a leopard. He moved this way through the jungles, the savannas, the deserts, the skies, through the oceans, the air, the land and beneath it, changing and changing and meeting and falling in love with new she-species.

The lovers he left behind did not change. They were who they were. The same.

They were individualistic so to speak, but now they were also heart-broken and full of hate for him – the one who had left in the middle of, sometimes, passionate love-making.

They had no idea how it was to live so many lives in one life like him.

To take no breaks with rebirths from being mosquito to man.

Sometimes evolution and progress is so fast, blessings and curses are all mixed up, and One.


 

Lake Vostok

 

Under a rock bed of ice

the last frontier of amphibians

and mermaids hooking-up maybe to other pulsating ecosystems

 

This coldest place on earth is not easy to plumb —

its skin stark; body cold; water white

discovered by ice-piercing aerial radar surveys.

 

They say it has to be a longing for the supernatural

that kept this lake buried

for 15 million years under a research station.

 

Pristine water reserve, schmoosed

by a network of rivers subglacial.

 

Ice world.

 

Today we have found her reservoir of resilience,

preserve of rebel.

Faith against all obstacles.

 

Of the life she carries, microbial

despite high pressure, constant cold,

low nutrient, high oxygen, and absolutely no sun

 

under thick sheets, sealed and insulated in total darkness

like a potent self-belief system – latent survival instinct.

 

A lake holding comportment, grace, court,

with naked experience and

and enormous wisdom.

 

 

 

[*to the strength of character in the women and men I know]

 

 

The girl from Lal Bazar                                                              

sips divination off cups,

laced in ginger over a saucer of zodiac signs

in dark-dusky mornings after wine sediments in beer mugs

of last evenings,

 

gorging eyes off popped cardamoms –

brittle bones of promises,

unspooling the wedge of her mother’s sari under umbilical,

swallowing the rain in vertical pills,

a land-locked dream gathers vapor,

through the thick glass of a cutting-chai

for storms in tea cups.

 

As Chinese lanterns blow, she predicts smaller surfaces

for her future without straining dregs

that stir the night to cinnamon kisses,

like stars smudging daylight.

In maps of doubt, enmity, falsehood,

spade-shapes of fortune, mountains of hindrance,

patterns in camels, dogs/ letters in heart, and a ring.

 

She starts at the rim like the white women did (after independence),

holding teacup handles to their spiral bottom,

reverse-imaging white-negative spaces in clumps of flavor,

breaking potencies of freedom – on a stain with satin.

 

The girls were then from Europa, Nippon, for the English soldiers.

Now Madama drinks brew through her yellowing teeth,

stalking the labyrinth of dark snakes in hot water

from a kettle by the pimp,

bittering in tea-garden time – one hour ahead of the zeitgeist present.

 

What’s left is 14 lanes of women of Nepalese and Indian origin

in the old brewing market of flavors,

and she, the daughter of a randi who is into

the beatings of drums – even has a new track for an international album.

 

She won’t let ripples in the saucer of lip-smacking liquid,

quivering with delight, decide her near and far futures

in scaffoldings of condoms and collarbone-conscience.


 

Key holes

 

We hide our wet lace behind a trellis of plants, our voices honeyed from jaded soap operas.

Our requiems are parties inside our heads, earphone to earphone.

Tolerance in the diorama of this rented place.

No door of solace or shame left open.

They will keep boyfriends. And.

They will come with trouble. And.

They will eat meat. And

 

But sometimes we translate into vixens: late night-girls with eye masks,

returning on the stairs – shush! the landlord is insomniac

to stilettoes and side slits of little black dresses,

books, menstrual cups, and spandex.

Who will take responsibility for them?  And.

 

Emerald nights pass into agate mornings,

the sapphire of our head scarves and prayer mats

from insular to secular near our 2 by 2 boxes.

We curl each night against thoughts of saffron eyes, bloodshot.

 

If the nights fall over our skin, our bodies become bottles

of wine, with a crack against it. Dripping… dripping…

                                                                                                     They will get raped. And.    

 

Wooden cages with wooden birds flapping to horizons,

we scrape air like parchment,

peeling secrets from walls of adopted jailhouses.

They will grow wings. And.

Serpentine winds belching histories of women

who left when they heard the bricks squeaking,

Shush! And not again! And please behave yourselves.

 

But we play safe in dog-chewed slippers, our cycle tyres gripping

the road’s ruggedness

as alleyways sugar-lip the broken sky

of old whispering neighbors.

 

All this for only one proper peg to place the key

of our russet city-freedoms.

They will wear short skirts. And.

 


City 101

Built with bones, grass over the fringe of songs.

The lake rippling in lyric.

This new city doesn’t have dust for a thumbprint.

No wet cement freezes foot-marks.

No letters in boxes. No letter boxes.

Telepathic telephone lines.

No shoes, no tyres. No tarmac or asphalt.

Urban sprawl. Urban mall. Workspaces across the street

in walking lines.

 

Graffiti coming out in twilight. Food, gambling, night-life,

home-corners for strays in 200 drainage miles

for city floods.

The waste under skin of soil. Even the grass here is edible.

Plates made of dried leaf.

 

But when we dug this, we found another city in its stomach

100 feet below in rustic cobblestone –

a subterranean of 35 acres. 60 miles of roads,

a television studio, murals, cafeteria, pub,

 

in case of a nuclear attack.

 

And after digging we found another city below this –

33 miles of catacombs with medical clinics, schools,

theaters, and a roller rink.

Food to come from mushroom farming

in case of a nuclear attack.

 

And under this, another … –

200 miles of caves hollowed out from limestone

for corpse disposal, quarry walls,

with a postal service, data center, and cheese-aging facility,

mushroom farms caved out of bluffs

of a giant mine, hideouts during an old war

above a river.

 

There are only seven stories in the world:

man against man, against nature, against himself,

against God, against society, caught in the middle,

or man and woman.

This has to be one of them then.

 

Thoughts recur in patterns

performing history.

 

These cities threatening to cave in

from all what’s above

much before a nuclear attack.

 

 

(Haibun)

The quivering of purple petals

My grandfather was the biggest village drunk. In the village of bougainvillea, Assagao. He created lore and poetry through his breath and burp, laced with alcohol.

 

Now the roads are bare and barren, tumultuous in their climb. There is one dusty Kadamba state bus that we get off from.

 

We walk toward Mr. Dias’ home. Good man of the village, father of three daughters – with a story of his avant-garde love marriage in its heydays that is now passé. His garden is the largest, filled with sprawling tropical flowers. He invites us in to tea and wine, but not to stay in his house of large empty, unused rooms. ‘There is no hotel in Assagao, not even a homestay. No tourists come here,’ he says.

 

There is nothing, but history in reciting stories amidst its living, listening ears. … and the pain of memory etched against last names, ancestral houses. My mother tells me that my grandfather’s house fell to ruins, and had to be sold and resold for a pittance.

 

I hear tales from Uncle Dias. That my grandfather wrote long pages of poetry, that he wrote plays for the village church. That he went to Portugal and returned with shinning beads for the women.

 

summer gloam —

turning coats

into tales

 

 

From my mother, I hear of how he drank night and day and beat up everyone. Of how she and her brother ran around playing on the bunds, or loafed in lanes, floundering in their Portuguese; and how she swam with the buffaloes in the rivers, or climbed trees and fell like orphaned fruit. We hear many stories, contradictory sometimes, time-lapsed, un-chronicled, and not even of my grandfather, after a while as much as of memories, refined and redefined, salted, marinated, left to dry in the hot Goan sun. Then plucked like the flesh of salt fish and eaten with boiled curry and rice. I don’t recall a fantasy of meeting my grandfather. He died a year before I was born.

 

I don’t visualize what it would have been to know him. Was he a drunk? A poet? Was he someone else? Did poetry and country liquor fill up his glass, differently?

Stories, sometimes, are better than the real thing. It fills us up like water. Distance is the best carrier, And time, the best editor.

 

 

creation theories –

rumors of how

we were born

 

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