Reading Saranya Subramanian’s ‘Navratri on the Muni’ reminded me of those tornado movies where one sees a whirlpool of objects caught by a force of nature. For just a few minutes we might find cows, roofs, trees, a lamppost, and a coffee shop united in their bewilderment at finding themselves airborne neighours. Subramanian’s themes of displacement, belonging and the ache for home have an entirely different emotional register, of course. But the sweeping energy of eclectic, unlikely images is just as compelling. She uses trains and buses as ‘vehicles’ not just as a physical setting but as larger metaphorical devices that can transport multiple languages, timelines, relationships, even entire cities and ‘nation states and passports and visas’.
I was drawn to how in-betweenness or crossing — whether as transit, translate, transform, transact — forms the existential ache of this piece. It allows for a fascinating array of what would have been contrasting ideas, to come together: home v/s travel, prayer v/s blasphemy, rejection v/s embrace. Subramanian slips in and out of these contradictions with the familiar discomfort of the seeker and the familiar ease of one who has been at it for long.
There is much to love and discover in the other poems of the suite as well. I must, however, leave those journeys to you.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Navratri on the Muni
tired of rejecting your temporary home (denial is serious work), you
stretch your arms wide and embrace the fog, stop the 31, and accept
that you are eating a bagel and drinking a coffee. no milk. the blasphemy.
yes, this is temporary, and yes, you shouldn’t be here, and yes, you came
here just to leave, but you are here now, and it is navratri, a new year,
and you are still here. and exhausted after rejecting yet another
temporary life, you turn the blue muni seats into a kovil of your own:
a kovil in transit— things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay
— and realise that basavanna was writing for you. way before there were
buses and aeroplanes and nation states and passports and visas and
immigration, he was writing for you. his poetry stands for you. and
even though you are far from home, the distance is unable to take
your prayer away: the one you say every time you feel alone. which
has happened in every city you have stepped into, every new identity
you have created— my legs are pillars/ the body the shrine/ the head
a cupola/ of gold— every place of worship you’ve built in transit. today,
bagel and coffee in hand, you mutter all 108 names from the durga ashtothram
inside this makeshift muni kovil, and suddenly you remember
doing this on the mumbai local, the delhi metro, the bengaluru metro, the
sonipat shuttle, the chennai mtc, the bombay best, the zurich sbb, the
london tube, the vancouver translink. you remember the same restlessness,
the same frustration of not having reached, of waiting to get home, of never
really being at home for some fucking reason, and you sing out in sorrow
at how surreal this all has been so far, you sing out in exasperation, you sing
out the same song every, every time— என்ன கவி பாடினாலும், உந்தன் மனம்
இரங்கவில்லை — you sing out, you sing to muruga, muruga, can you hear me,
can you hear me calling you, can you see me in this muni, can you bring me home
Layering Up in October
. in this city of parks, it’s always summer
when you least expect it. i never expect
. to see the sun, so i’m always layered up against
something or the other: the cold, the tan,
. the stares, the body. being seen.
. directing us where to go. but the sun
. burns on today, vapourizing
. all coats and jackets. today, spreckels lake
. is a shining mirror. in it: an elastic body finally at one
. with water. such indecent exposure.
. everything else peels away: the sun
. -screen, the skin underneath,
. the flesh and bones holding blood,
. the voice screaming “Well, Lacan Would Say…”, the tired
. brain wanting rest, the tired smile melting off
. this face, spiralling like pencil shavings into the lake.
. i am a bare fruit ripening in this heat.
. sunrays puncture through, clot this restless
. mind into stillness, inject colour
. into this monochromatic heart. a bruised stone
. soaking in summer, turning yellow—
Blue Gloves and Condensed Chicken Chettinad
it’s been a long day, marked by pungence. blue gloves
and condensed chicken chettinad have cling wrapped
themselves onto my sweaty palms. no matter how many
washes, some things stain, some smells remain. everyone
around me exactly the same: laura and zulery exchange
makeup tips, cheesa and cheung on troublesome kids,
justin and chini grossed out by nuggets, francisco and jose
on call with the market, elaine and latasha prepping for
the audit. the cafeteria is silent to an absence. clammy hands
and a heated oven remind me of a burning body. such
a serious monday, and i, such a cliche: horny at work,
dancing fingers twiddling on the table. the last time they did
that was on yet another man that wasn’t you. these days,
i’ve been training this body to flatten outward, become
a stage. my hands dance all over, starting with just a touch
—a tiny raindrop rippling a puddle—on the tip of the third
toe of my left foot, the skeletal line behind my neck,
my breast, between my legs, over my clit, around my
arms. these days, i’ve been learning what an embrace is.
since you’re not here to teach me. since i wrongly upheld you
as a teacher for so long. no matter how many years, the body
remembers. some memories stain, some things remain.
around me, laura and zulery and cheesa and cheung
and justin and chini and francisco and jose and elaine and
latasha all here, all present. steaming pots of rice and dal,
an array of condiments, a hissing grill meditating behind
me, all here, all present. blue gloves have clenched
these mundane monday palms. hot chicken chettinad
exhales in exhaustion, fogs up the air, dews down my back,
fashions a wall between the cafeteria and myself. a tremor
sizzles down the spinal column. desire washes the body.
Saranya Subramanian is a poet, writer, and theatre practitioner based in Bombay. An MFA graduate from the University of San Francisco, her writing has been published in Lithub, The Caravan, Aainanagar, Outlook, Vayavya, Kitaab, the Museum of Art and Photography, Scroll, The Bombay Review––among others. Her essay, “The Cockroach and I”, was published by Penguin Random House after winning runner up to the Financial Times/Bodley Head Essay Prize, 2020. She runs The Bombay Poetry Crawl, an archival and research space dedicated to the 20th century Bombay Poets. And she writes because, well, it’s all that she can really do.