Ashwani Kumar

Ashwani Kumar

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In one of those scary nights

I hear lonely Freud’s voice-

I wake up and walk across the silent footpaths;

To fetch poppy seeds from prison bars.

Near the old clock tower in the town

I hurriedly take a marginal step and sink into peripheral journeys across the homeless valley.

Curious monster-size

Water-borne Insects close their eyes, welcome me with their twisted arms, and lead me from unmitigated past to a deformed utopia.

As I enter my chosen destiny

I see the face of my old schizophrenic roommate,

His tongue split wide open, hissing over red corns

And lamenting the loss of his imaginary mango

Orchards on the Eastern Coast.

I know

My body is a foreign city without bipolar history

That does not register permanent scars.

So I candidly record in my handmade jute diary;

“Shallow –fried potatoes, Non-serious faithful wives,

Prawn-sized buffalos, rogue drag queens,

And ancient Tattoos hidden in our biceps Oppress me”.

As an easy escape from tyranny,

Let’s add and subtract monotony

Let’s fuss over missed kisses, frivolous eyelids

And unholy crime thrillers,

Because soon we will all die in the faceless world of blogs!!!

(Published in “My Grandfather’s Imaginary Typewriter”, Yeti Books, India 2014)

(2)Unfulfilled Dreams

Mortgage all her prized possessions

The air flies without wings

to meet her lover in a gorgeous restaurant at the hilltop.

Mad with her flirtatious ivory sandals,

 she is stubborn as the seashore.

Lingering in the lazy  moonbeams

summer dies before my eyes.

And winter frets unconsciously like

 dedicated nuns in the convent.

Birds or beasts,

all sing in the dusk of aloofness.

Furious with me, on a humid day

clouds burst like coffee breaks in the office.

 Wet in the absence of a raincoat

the Sunflower bites her nails nervously.

Playing snake and ladder with toddlers,

grownups run bare feet to catch the mist hanging from the sky.

I am afraid my son earns his grades

chasing rabbits in the grass.

I am afraid my son learns his eating habits from whistling squirrels in the school canteen.

Tired of irregular job interviews

I gaze dotingly at my future in his uncombed doodles.

Memories are often slain by extinct dinosaurs, and

Miseries grow hollow like aging dragonflies.

“Fortunate I am in the company of unfulfilled dreams”

she whispered on the backstage of the  school theater!

((Published in “My Grandfather’s Imaginary Typewriter”, Yeti Books, India 2014)

(3)Bombay-A Love Poem

At the Gateway of India

Newly married black horses

Chase virgin waves.

Uprooted first-generation lovers

Rob garrulous harbours in diluvial lights.

Pale bloodless golden sky vanishes

In the first shower of memorial rains.

Born in the casting nets for migrant fishes

I become a bonded slave to the

Goddess of Island Mosque!

(4)Rustom’s Café

Know.. O Dear Chef Rustom

Humming homewards

In fresh ripe fruity sunshine,

I see frolicking winds of autumn, spring, winter;

Hop, chop and whistle in Bougainvillea glory.

We stray eastwards- the wrong way,

In lattice-moonlight gay,  

Hearts, pure and perfect- filled with

sapphire-crested dark chocolate coffee-cake;

 We savor top-less religion in late night dinner.

 Happy with the elusive kitchen fragrance from Persia,

Far happier, writing barcodes for new fictions of freedom;

In silk stockings and botanical prints,

We swim upon memory tea of Jasmine.

Somewhere, far off, in the crevices of rogue desires

Bombay Bites and Prawn Pickle Pao

Smile, one by one,

 Like good and evil together.

Know… O Dear Chef Rustom

To go whither I must wander,

Humming homewards

I again return like the rain of yesterday in Khirki Village of Delhi.

( Published in the anthology “ Banaras and the Other”, Poetrywala Mumbai 2017)





(5) Tagore meets Ginsberg on the streets of Mumbai

Every day
When I return home from work
I see young and old fishes
In over-sized winter -gowns
Sweep the sparkling, darling streets of Byculla
In between bare-breasted leisure
And deceitful romance with
runaway sailors
They scrub their caramel- pink skin
With whispering waste of the sewage.

I don’t know them well
Yet I feel so good inhaling
The scent of foreign flesh of illicit lovers in Mumbai.
I also see groups of anarchist male dancers
in curly-burly shoes
Singing sacred verses of Tukaram
On the promenades of the vegetable market.
Prostitutes, pimps and laughing police dogs
Know better than me
That Gods have fled Pandharpur slums.

On the way I take off my dark glasses
See married Chaibasa elephants
Intoxicated with unfulfilled promises of wedding nights
Pounding each other in rice and sesame postures

Under the toxic shadows of crumbling buildings of paradise.
Mumbling Marathi alphabets on the upper tip of the tongue,
When I reach home, I find
Afridis, Pathans, Bengalese, Nepalese, and Parsee cooks
sleeping over tattered potato shacks
In my granite modular kitchen.

These days when I return home from work
I take a short-cut
Walk fast on Jessore road in Parel,
I see no open drains, no lavender fragrance, no caterpillar sounds
My eyes and ears are full of lead and mercury
I don’t know if you know-
Refugees are often good cooks.
But this is no good excuse to believe that
I come home early
For making love in the hot, steaming cooking vessel!

(A tribute to Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘September On Jessore Road’)

About the Poet:

Ashwani Kumar is a Mumbai- based Anglophone poet, writer, editor, and professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. His major anthologies include ‘My Grandfather’s Imaginary Typewriter’ (Yeti Books) and ‘Banaras and the Other’ (Poetrywala). His poems-translated in Indian languages and Hungarian, are noted for ‘lyrical celebration’ of garbled voices of memory and their subversive ‘whimsy’ quality. His ‘Banaras and the Other’, first of a trilogy on religious cities, was long listed for Jayadev National Poetry Award 2017. Select cantos of the Hungarian translation of Banaras and the Other were performed by Hungarian band Kaláka at the Times Lit Fest 2017 in Mumbai.  Recently his select poems have been translated for a special volume ‘Architecture of Alphabets’ in Hungarian. He is also co-founder of Indian Novels Collective to bring classic novels of Indian Literature to English readers. His other scholarly publications include ‘Community Warriors’ (Anthem Press), ‘Power Shifts and Global Governance’ (Anthem Press), and he is one of the chief editors of ‘Global Civil Society: Poverty and Activism’ @ London School of Economics.  He also curates popular TLF (TISS Literature Fest) and Rajni Kothari lecture series in Mumbai. He is a visiting fellow at leading global universities and think tanks including London School of Economics, German Development Institute, Korea Development Institute, University of Sussex. He regularly writes articles and reviews for Financial Express, the Print, Business Standard, The Hindu, Indian Express among others.  In his leisure, he repairs Derrida’s punctured cycle, and makes Bihari Litti- Chokha crooning ‘Ooh La, La Ooh La, La Tu Hai Meri Fantasy’!