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A Brown Sky (poem series)

I squirm in my bed / Forget the metaphors, the similes / Allusions, images / Whips after whips of remembering the dead,
brown sky courtesy pickpik
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The brownness of my skin reeks
As the Sun’s rays pierce my holes,
Brown skins burn more,
I sweat a lot, I know
The crevices ooze oysters,
Brown skins turn more, more than
White, more than Black – both speak,
Both are heard, but my skin, alas
My skin – between the rays of the Sun
And its shadow black,
Between God and man – hangs,
A skin hangs – Brown.


Even the Microsoft Notebook
Doesn’t have a brown cover,
The closest one may get
Is tan,
But tan is not brown,
It is always a white man’s wish
A black man’s wonder – tan is unreal
Almost like a dream,
Brown, is my life
With no dreams fluttering in a tan notebook.


Covering the endosperm,
A bran,
Fibre and protein, even oil –
Brown rice, brown bread,
A brown sky covering the white fields
Of white men and whiter women,
A brown skin they scrape off
To get the white rice,
A brown identity synonym of care,


This is not a poem
Like the ones we read
Arching our backs in romantic languor,
Only if we know how warm the alphabets become
In search of words – anger,
Orphan words.

But, I will let you know still, that
There is music playing from a distance,
An East Indian drum
Slowly getting louder
Raising the chaos of the night,
The idols all painted
White – their faces of local heroines,
Breasts full like moon,
Breathlessly Hollywood,
I squirm in my bed
Forget the metaphors, the similes
Allusions, images
Whips after whips of remembering the dead,
I look up at the deity,
Light melting down her chin
Mixes with sweat of brown bodies
All who wish to trade,
All who wait for a chance
To rub off the upper layer of their skin.


The isle of the departmental store
That read ‘Asian’ has now become
‘Indian spices’ – what glee,
For the friends in the colony, the houses strewn like
Torn lilacs on the beds of misery,
I push the cart in the aisle
Slowly to find out if there is a smell,
A different smell like the one
In those tiny detainment cells they put you in –
At the airport, at the interstate crossings,
In their heads, and in our own,
The cart goes deep inside the aisle that reads ‘Indian spices’
With snakes and germs all round you,
Deadly diseases and mystic fakirs,
Half-naked, full lie.

You can see those fakirs, the snakes, the germs, the diseases
Gobbled up in cans and bottles, fat and long
Like dead fetus in jars they show in movies,
All clear and white like
The insides of a white man’s head.


There is a brown sky in every sky
There is brown
In every sky,
Like the mountains and hills that don’t have an ice topping,
Yet those who rise from debris and stand tall
Above the dark ground – men among boys,
The brown mountains hold the sky with arms and fire,
Only in small quotients, never dull,
Never lull,
Brown mountains and hills paint the sky


The boy mixes red and green,
Lets it dry,
His teacher at school told him once to try a different shade –
He loved the soothing tinge of purple with yellow, but
Blue and orange – a bit reddish
Too angry,
The shade card of the wall colour has beautiful names

Holding translucent filters – red, green, blue
The boy greets the Sun,
Holds up – different angles
Different times of the day,
Mood swings of the sun, as if,
The boy, yet to be a man, lets the rays play
On him, his body changes, mixing colours
The boy, not a man yet, pleads Sun
To paint his white skin


I have a dream,
A dream of elephants
Marching with horses
And mermaids riding them both
Fire in their breastplates
And ants leading them a way,
The heads of ants are that of tigers, Indian
Their legs chained in sorrows
Smoke and dust covering the path
I have a dream,

Not only in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisana,
The red hills of Georgia,
The giant sequoia of Sierra Nevada,
Lookout mountain of Tennessee,
Even the shanties of Himalayas,
Dwindling banks of the Ganges,
Hiding lanes of Benares,
The billowing smoke from the burning streets of East Indian cities,
Below the poverty lines
Run the streaks of love,
I know, cause
I have a dream –
Where all Gods become faceless,
Where children paint their own rainbows.


I am not the one you know,
One to lie low in immigration desks
With a weak passport tugged in the inside pockets,
Nor am I the ‘Indian’ you love to shoot
In those black-white films you named Western,
Cause am neither white, nor black
I am not the one you have known,
I am never in your frame,

As generations grow up to
Persons we would never become,
You profit from our self-doubt,
Parables of mysticism, black-science, immunodeficiencies
A motive of your history, a desire of your reader,
Yet I am there,
Not one – but in crores and lakhs, not millions and billions –
Zeroes you will get tired to count, yet I am there,
As much as you keep me out of your frame,
As much as you try to disown knowing me
As much as you forget there is another world,
As much as you sleep in your black and white dreams.


Every time you invaded my home,
My territory, my soil, me
You pulled me up from my bed, shouted at me
‘Native’ –
So did I, every time you leave me, whisper to myself
Cause you are in the prison of your deeds,
Your ego, your pride, your greed,
You are the cage in hunt for birds,
Free like my untied hair,
‘freedom’ a word you never understood the meaning.

Every time you invaded my home
You made sure you leave me crooked,
Immobile, breathless –
With your veneer of wisdom, your façade of knowledge,
Your surety of supremacy,
Your disgust for local,

Every time you vilified me
You left my women with big bellies, hungry
Each time you mock me for my mixed colour when I am born,
You disown me, yes you do – as your part,
Each time you leave me, I whisper to myself
‘Captive’ as I hold the better half of you
In me.


It was your diseases, not technologies
That defeated us,
And when we started paying back you closed the door –
Do you call this modern?
Us – purified by ice in the north
Fire in the south,
We were, doomed by purity,
Depleted of blood,
And our virgin bodies fertile for your crops,
Your societies, your seeds
Remember, it was your diseases
That defeated us, not
Your technologies, sit once – think.


From Fiji to Peru,
Ecuador to Samoa
Even Brazil or Honduras
Extents of lands and valleys,
Meandering lakes and pastors for grazing sheep
Destroyed by your pests and rats,
Left us to die and make room.

Not our destiny,
Nor a lack of immunity but your poverty,
Your policies,
We – the Lamanai Mayas, Hopis, Mandans,
We – in Navajo, in Hawaii,
We – your ‘Oriental feminine’,
We are not one, but diverse –
The world is our home,
You name us ‘tribes’,
We call you ‘son’.


Your heroes seldom smile,
I have never seen them cry, ever,
Living on codes and binary divisions –
‘x’ or ‘y’ but not both
You equate identity with negation,
So, don’t cry, O man,
Never ever shed your tears,
That is so weak, so feminine.

On this side of life
Tears roll down our brown cheeks
In the hills of Americas, the jungles of Africa,
The valleys of Indus,
Men, women, children alike,
For centuries and generations
Because you have preferred to be stern,
And we,
Do not.


Beyond the temples
And mosques,
Behind the mountains and the rivers,
Beneath your culture of cynical pessimism,
In the clouds of history,
We forgive you,
For we give you a chance –
To believe – ‘white’ is not a colour of negation.


Do you agree there is nothing indigenous?
Just a frivolous interplay of emotions,
A forgery of superstitions,
Let us accept –
Beyond nations and geographies,
Virtues and beliefs,
Religions and deities –
You and we
Don’t see colours
But the shadows of our defeats,
In the canopy of our restlessness,

When I leave, will you agree,
There is nothing called ‘colour’?

Amitava Nag is an independent film critic and author from Kolkata. 16 Frames, Satyajit ray’s Heroes and Heroines, Beyond Apu 20 Favourite Film Roles of Soumitra Chatterjee, Reading the Silhouette are some of his published works. He is a founder-member and an editor of the online film magazine – Sihouette. He writes fiction and poetry in English as well as Bengali for several publications.

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