As I was reading for this issue, I became aware of the significant number of thematically-linked selections we had shortlisted, and got a little concerned. Did I have a preference for sets of poems that displayed a united narrative quality? Did I — despite insisting otherwise — gravitate towards collections that ‘spoke as one’? Fortunately, before I could get too worked up, I came across Prashant Parvatneni’s eclectic poems that are stubbornly and comfortingly distinct in theme and style.
‘Wonder’, a meditative piece weaves together history, magic and yes, love. It references the idea of wonder through one of the seven wonders and also the art of making things disappear. However, the poem is not without political undertones. The historical monument of love and ‘Labour’s chopped fingers’ vanishes to make space for a more alive, perhaps honest love: two lovers ‘risking a kiss’. ‘All That Needs Doing’ appears to be similarly gentle and reflective, but is also a critique on the politics of speech and silence. The most unexpected however, is ‘Donkey and the Tortoise’ a delightfully experimental and subversive piece whose title sounds like a children’s moral story and body reads like a news article. Prashant Parvatneni’s poems remind us of the surprising possibilities that emerge when a poet refuses to be boxed in.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
All That Needs Doing
Leave all that needs doing undone
Remember that earth, after all, is a ball
There is no brink to fall off from,
we are bound to cycle from duress
to indifference and back — Don’t worry,
our silence will pass the test of law
They’ll find no evidence of walls
on homes that went missing
Nobody will report the theft of breath
All bodies that make it to the shore
will be deposited safely
back into the Lethe
Time will pass, as if without a past,
our hearts will reverse their shirts again
We’ll cut our nails, fold our shame,
make paper balls and throw them
into the unclaimed
After waiting long enough to find the right word,
we’ll let today remain undescribed
If no one saw the tree fall in the forest?
There was no tree There was no forest
I was not there
When winters are deep and dawns sullen for a brief hour the Taj Mahal disappears Wearing an eggshell white with a fistful of fog Love goes looking for Labour’s chopped fingers As marble yields to mist, shapes drop their shoulders – exit stage left – In the next act they hope to die offstage Scribes escape the plot of graves to write part-time histories by the shoemaker's fire Soon, the monument will be summoned to pose for the prestige of Presence But for now, over Jamuna's moody waters, two rowing lovers are risking a kiss:
It Takes Time
(after Mark Rothko’s Green on Blue, 1956)
Tonight is a tunnel robbed of its stars,
as if a band of boys hollered through
this patch of sky and smashed
all the lamps with rocks at dusk.
All signals suspended, nothing
but air and perhaps some mist passes
through— At a distance, inside
a stranded train, time moves
so longly. But for the mountain
that harbours this hollow
stillness is treacherously short.
Once touched by purpose, it takes time
for a tunnel to cave again, for blues
to turn black in pain.
Donkey and the Tortoise
NEW ALAKACITY EXTENSION, Jan. 13. — The opening of contemporary artist Kalki Kuber’s new exhibition titled ‘Untitled Works’ came as a breath of fresh air for the residents of the city, especially art connoisseurs and enthusiasts, amidst alarming news reports of a possible smog-attack. Comprising seventeen mixed-media works, this exhibition proved to be an immersive and transportive experience. The centrepiece of this show is a provocative durational performance by the 22-year-old artist involving a live tortoise no less. In the middle of the gallery lies a tortoise turned on its back and placed inside a glass box. Unable to turn over by itself, the tortoise keeps kicking its tiny feet into the air. At regular intervals, a performer enters (Kuber himself) and starts taking his clothes off until he is completely naked. He goes on to assume the form of the boxed-up creature behind him. On the floor, in front of a live audience, his contortions mimic the tortoise’s incapacity to change its position. After a while, the artist stops moving and enters a state of deep stillness, dramatic in effect. The tortoise continues to struggle. A silent minute later, the artist gets up, wears his clothes, bows, and retreats to a corner. At the opening, this was followed by a loud applause. In his artist’s statement, Kuber describes this work as an existential resistance against the metanarrative of saturated time. In a way, this piece is a continuation of Kuber’s landmark performance from last year, where he transmogrified his naked body into an inimitable impression of a donkey carrying heavy load while pre-recorded sound of painful braying played on loop. At the end of the performance, it was revealed that the load on his back was actually a sack full of his own sculptures. Kuber had reminded the audience that the sound of braying was recorded in real time with a real weight-bearing donkey in Iran. This year the young provocateur has outdone his commitment to ‘the encounter with The Real’ by bringing a live tortoise all the way from Kurdistan to the air-conditioned rooms of the AlakArt Gallery. [The exhibition will be open to the public between 12pm and 8pm, everyday at AlakArt Gallery, until Feb 13.]
Prashant is a writer and researcher based in Bangalore. His poems have appeared in The Bombay Literary Magazine, Nether Quarterly, and Haakara among others. In 2019, he was awarded the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize. Prashant co-wrote a play called Imagine A Room which opened in Bangalore in June 2022. He also works with ‘The Kabir Project’ towards archiving and curating folk songs from Bhakti and Sufi oral traditions of India.
The banner image is based on Paul Cézanne‘s Route Tournante (Turning Road, ~1905). This work has been controversial for a number of years on account of it being considered “unfinished” in some circles. It is true Cézanne had a low opinion of “imbeciles” who finished things to the point of leaving nothing for the rasika to do. However, it doesn’t follow he considered unpainted space to be empty space.