Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Smita Agarwal


" ... I can't live without books, ..."
"There is no friend as loyal as a book."
                                                     Ernest Hemingway.

If air currents around tall Manhattan buildings Can turn a discarded black plastic carrybag Into a bird, gracefully gliding from one rooftop to another, Somewhere down the line, swelling up to become An overstuffed pillow, and then, an O On the chalk-white blackboard of the sky, About to burst, then pumped out of air, Shrivelling fast like a punctured balloon, Spiralling out of control like a doomed Jetliner about to hit the ground, Not quite getting there, having been given Another lease of life by A fresh burst of wind from the Bay: If George M Cohan and Father Duffy, While facing Times Square, can patiently bear, Cup O Noodles smoking, Budweiser, Barcode and Virgin Crying themselves hoarse Amidst the din of Broadway posters of Aida And The Rocky Horror Show, South Americans playing their music on pan pipes, A black banging away on his Roland synth, Yellow cabs, city tour buses, the M of MacDonald's Next to the Visitor's Centre, A couple quarrelling, Someone picking trash off a can ... If the entire face of a building Screaming NASDAQ Is actually a TV screen, And air currents can make a discarded Plastic carrybag preen like a prima donna, Then why can't I be As I wish to be, In tired-out Washington on all fours Under the moral load Of the Statue of Freedom, Stern monuments ... mind-boggling museums ... Why can't I be, as I'd rather be On Capitol Hill, under Minerva's watchful gaze, Wafted by gusts of Memory, Reason and Imagination A sheaf of printed paper, Bound in red leather, Gold lettering on my spine, Reclining on a warm-white-lighted Desk, in the Reading Room, ... a book ... From: Mofussil Notebook. Poems of small-town India, 2011.

Angrezi Vangrezi*

It takes Roberto, 
The stand-up from Vegas,
To enunciate how, we of
The subcontinent, speak English.
U-ls-ka instead of Alaska,
U-tt-va for Ottawa,
Baa-s for bass ...

In the grand atrium
Of the Island Princess
In the evening at 8pm,
When we are all headed for the dining hall,
Formally dressed for dinner,
He swoops down on me
To say, Hey Lady! 
I know you're from India!
You speak English just the way they do
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ...

We're good friends after this.
Well into the night, at karaoke time,
I croon Abba and the Carpenters
To the Americans
While they marvel and exclaim
At the Indian lady
Singing well...

For an entire week
On the cruise liner,
Like the notes of an unfamiliar octave,
I hear different registers
Of the
same melody ...

From the Italian Captain of the ship
Announcing on the public address system
A sighting of whales on starboard,
To the Phillipino waiters,
The Malaysian deck-hands,
The Columbian stewart,
The Bangladeshi bar-tender,
The female Chinese service-staff
At the buffet ...

All she has to say is, 
This is pineapple stewed in sugar.
This is vanilla ice cream ...
All I hear is
 A drawn-out low scream 
Of high-pitched vowel sounds
And zees ...

Angrezi Vangrezi - colloquial Hindi for English