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Tuesday May 17, 2022

Uncut Poetry : Calcutta – A Lover’s Epitaph

Our relationship with the city we have grown up in or know intimately is nothing less than a love affair. It is capable of bringing us ecstasy and disappointments just the way a lover can. Calcutta for me is that loved one, whose every pore, contour of her waist, the shadows beneath her breasts, the way the wind blows through her hair – these are things I know and love and look forward to. But it can still be the crotchety old maid who has not had her dreams fulfilled, and is now living a life of frustration- and in turn frustrates us. 

We spend our time wondering how we can change a city, and then realize that it is something which happens in infinitesimal ways – in which we could contribute but which we would never be able to control. A city’s character is made by a million people and a billion actions, thoughts and feelings. Nobody knows how, but all these seem to converge into one whole – till even a passing stranger notices the uniqueness of a city in her pores, as she enters its air. It reveals itself in the roadside curb as you uncertainly wonder where to go, and a stranger turns to you and says “Can I help?”; it is revealed when you bend down to pick up a fallen stuffed toy of a little girl in the park, and she pecks you on the cheek, and the mother approves; it finds itself in poetry soirees in packed cafes; it lays its soul bare in the winter sun beside the river, in lovers who bask as much in the city’s free soul as the freedom of an unfettered love.

But what do you do to a city which changes? Sometimes in front of your eyes, sometimes in your memory as you knew it years ago, when you come back to its bosom and find its welcome lukewarm? When you look around and see familiar things with strange veneers, familiar people who look back at you with glazed eyes: the air which carried intimations of the sea now only redolent with the smoke of charred dreams.

And then, when you can’t break away from a city in spite of everything, you have no choice but to live inside the devastation of your own broken heart.

Calcutta – A Lover’s Epitaph

There is no other place for me.
Calcutta’s streets have been mapped by my heart,
and I can stop anywhere and tell you stories
of when I was a child, and the city a youth,
of when I grew up – and the city refused to.

But in its heart now, lie crumbling memories
of all who grew tired of waiting, for
its mornings to burst out into light –
even as I sit on the kerb and sip tea
from earthen teacups grafted from its steam.

I am still a lover, though in the shadow
of its decaying facades and tired cathedrals,
waiting for its glory to emerge from its cemeteries,
the way a strand of grass cracks open a gravestone.
I have invested too much of myself into this city,
into the bloodstream of its roads,
into the pores of its eccentricities  –
too much pain, too much sweat,
too much semen, too much poetry –
to now say – I abandon you.
But I despair of this city, this lover –
doesn’t it owe me anything?
But it lurches from one wound to another,
as if life’s expositions are lesser
if not written in scars.

Now I feel abandoned.
The city’s faithlessness is now not of the senses,
it is a disembowelment of my belief.
And if in that deceit lies its definition,
than it is also the epitaph
to my irreparably broken heart.

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