Editor's Note

On first reading Manjima Bhattacharjya’s poems, I was struck by how they engage in a curious kind of time travel. Same place, different historical moments, unexpected connections. This suite is united by its interplay of history and immediacy; places examined through different times undergo various transformations. And as a building, space or a city becomes layered with years and decades, it becomes newly relevant, ‘made whole again from ruin’.

Bhattacharjya combines this palimpsest technique with surprising images (‘fish in the sacred pond / fat like kulchas’) and astute redactions. But most refreshingly, her metaphors too yoke together ideas from different worlds and times, linking for instance, General Dyer to a ‘Texas gunman in a mall’. Read these poems for Bhattacharjya’s unique preoccupation, where time is a two-way street.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Amritsar: Salvation

You like your temples gold
a gilt glaze poured over
frosted slabs of white marble,
a two-tier wedding cake
in dark waters.

Your fish in the sacred pond
fat like kulchas
on pilgrims’ offerings,
a glint of goldfish
guarding nectarine shores.

Your shrine is a receptacle
even of the faithless
waiting patiently
in a thick queue. A cord
of multitudes
their heads covered
in orange, red, white scraps
of leftover zardozi, pieces
of torn dupattas, squares
of castaway cloth
finding their true

made whole again from ruin.

Memorial Park/ Elegy for a Massacre

You like your history told
not stored. You wear
heartbreak on your sleeve,
painting white squares around
British bullet holes on a garden wall
those that missed their mark
to mark the day they opened fire in the park
like a Texas gunman in a mall
till they ran out of

You like your letters whole
your signs in triplicate
Hindi Gurmukhi and Urdu because
even if Bollywood and the republic forgets
you never will.

You collect
objects left behind
trunks letters memories maps trauma
personal museums of partition in every home.

A hundred years later
toddlers throw tantrums in Jallianwala Bagh.
Lovers quarrel families picnic
large women commandeer
sons nephews husbands handsome
men turbaned
in tupperware blue.
Like flowers in a garden,
young mothers spread Phulkari arms
to catch drifting children
with the promise of kulfi.

Ghazal for a Beloved

We were still young but the city was old, Delhi
In her barsaatis and backseats we rolled, Delhi.

No gulmohars fell, no laburnums cried
When you chose the silver of Bombay over gold Delhi.

Where were you when young women roared ‘Azadi’?
You watched on TV, a burning bold Delhi.

On the edge of change or crushing defeat
Students bore water cannons in cold, cold Delhi.

Villages turn hipster. Builders swallow bungalows.
Guns are pulled at traffic lights in bhenchod-madarchod Delhi.

A guard stops me on what was my grandfather’s plot.
Who are you, Manj? Why did you leave her to be sold, Delhi?

In Mussoorie

.          we ditch the Yamazakis and G&Ts and return to rum and coke. I bring gossip. You bring gujiyas. Six of us eat the sticky golden sweets sitting on a king bed in a cramped hotel room. We exhale without labour and swim ashore an island of trust. Here, bad habits are open secrets. In the company of friends, we split bills, share meals, accept favours and loving insults with a knowing smile. We roam the mall road, eat chicken momos and Maggi and aimlessly watch the twinkling lights of Dehradun come on down below. I am a mother of two now. You are your parent’s caregiver. We are new. We know too much about cancer and teenagers and the after-effects of anaesthesia. We are startled when we remember things differently. ‘But I thought it was because you liked him?’ ‘No, I just wanted a ride home!’ I haven’t watched any of the movies you have, you haven’t read any of the books I have. We don’t finish each other’s sentences and don’t know who has tea and who prefers coffee. Milk? Sugar? Under a nimbus cloud of reminiscence, we watch the rain fall. In our generous forties, we forgive who we once were and remember who we want to be. In Mussoorie, we plant new seeds and water fresh saplings of our friendship.

rum and coke around
a winter bonfire:
time machine


Image credits:

© Jack Pritchett / Adobe Stock.


Manjima Bhattacharjya

Manjima Bhattacharjya is a researcher and writer based in Mumbai. She has been part of the Indian women’s movement for over two decades. She holds a PhD in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is the author of Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Glamour Industry (Zubaan 2018) and Intimate City (Zubaan 2021), which received the National Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity in 2022. She lives and works out of Mumbai.

Scroll To Top