Editor's Note

Humbug-spotter, druggie and celebrated American writer William S Burroughs famously asserted, “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact. ” While poetic style and technique has undergone revision, this sentiment from one of the primary figures of the Beat Generation holds truer now than ever. As editors of a magazine that sees thousands of submissions, we are lucky to have the chance to infer patterns and preoccupations, and there is no doubt that the socially conscious poet-speaker is here to stay. As Nikita Deshpande’s set demonstrates, it does not have to be personal and immediate either; a poet from the ‘global south’ could just as easily be moved by racial injustice in North America as by violence in Kashmir. The page knows no borders.

These poems derive their energy from a deeply empathic speaker who is not afraid to be vulnerable. To be moved, even wounded by the violence of the world. Her poems demonstrate the confidence of a writer who knows that art does not take a backseat when it becomes the light through which we see our world. Quite the opposite. The images and metaphors of these pieces are more potent for the ache, the duas that they hold.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Bilkis

 

.      for the Dadis of Shaheen Bagh

 

I want her hands to have snow cream in the Delhi winter.

I want her toothless mouth to open soft and wide

for raspberry-vanilla dollies in the summer.

Let her suck on jalebis in the land she was born,

sprawl more wrinkles, from too much smiling

and squinting at a thousand-thousand bright nights

of grandchildren gambolling like puppies,

teaching her the way of memes and TikToks,

and phenti hui coffee.

Let the dust collecting under her fingernails

be the only paperwork she ever has to show.

 

 


 

Time Capsule from a Pandemic

 

On the day a man is shot at a check post in Kashmir

a girl in Bombay slices open her finger while milking the pulp

from a blackened, overripe mango.

 

Blood gurgles up from the small mouth newly opened

in her thumb,

painting sunrise in the bowl of juice.

 

Later, loving hands alight on that thumb, bird-like,

and treasure it away like a button, a bottlecap, a precious string.

Later, that finger is washed in cool water, anointed in turmeric.

Band-aids are deployed.

 

The day they choke a man in Minneapolis, knee down on his throat,

the girl is peeling garlic.

 

It is a long summer,

her first in the kitchen.

These white bulbs they bought in the closed market,

five-feet distance from all the shopkeepers,

smiles hidden behind surgical masks,

each dying to say kaise hain aap,

to renew the delicious small-talk that coloured their days,

with stems of curry leaves and chilli, given like a blessing.

 

She sinks her nails in the garlic, prying dry skin from hot flesh.

Afterward, the old newspaper starts to look like an elephant graveyard,

each peel a ghostly tusk rising up,

looming over the GDP numbers from March.

 

It starts as a small blaze

underneath her nails, scalding

pointers and thumbs, making red waste

of precious fingertips.

And again, hands tend to her, careful and loving.

 

Oh to have gentleness for small atrocity

to have milk and ice rubbed

into the nubs of your fingers.

Oh the fuss in this house over nicks and cuts.

Here, when a child bumps her knee against the table,

we hit the table, as if even wood knows

there is a price for inflicting pain.

Oh to have warm breath foo-fooed over your bruise.

As if your body, as if these delicate peels of dying skin

matter.

 

 


 

After you died

 

.      you became a wood splinter in my thumb,

small enough to go unnoticed

hurt enough to matter.

And when the voices in my head

called me Time Thief,

I pressed my nose into the glass of the world

and decided to be a good one.

 

I stole your share

of kisses and cupcakes

greasy flat noodles

the last slice of everything

Patiala pegs in quarter bars

and ink on my skin,

lipstick loud as ambulance sirens

tearing through the night

screeching:

there just aren’t enough hours

in the day

not enough days

in the year.

What is youth if not a hurtling bus

that will explode if it slows down?

I saw that in a Keanu Reeves movie.

 

I cupped my hands around my twenties

and lit them like a cigarette.

Its blazing tip still singes through

sonograms and x-rays.

 

As it turns out

there are just enough years

in a decade

to count.

You become the sour tamarind candy

held lightly between

tongue and roof of the mouth.

Your sharpness is a gift,

company on the quiet nights when I whisper,

look, we made it to 32.

Look, the luxury of candles on a cake and wondering

what vitamins to take,

what garbage bags to buy

or how to best snip a milk carton.

Look, a ghostly white hair,

sticking out in the dark wilderness of my head.

 

Now I count the years like beads

on a prayer necklace,

each day adding spare change

to my small hoard.

 

Acknowledgments

Image credits: thecognate.com

Nikita’s titular poem is inspired by activist Bilkis Dadi. The 85-year-old grandmother (hence, ‘dadi’) came to the national attention in 2019, when she and other ladies participated in the months-long sit-in at Shaheen Bagh.

Author | NIKITA DESHPANDE

Nikita Deshpande is a poet, author and screenwriter. Her published work includes the novel It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote, short stories in the anthologies A Case of Indian Marvels, Magical Women, and Grandpa Tales, and a poem in The World That Belongs to Us. Her writing has also appeared in The Deadlands, The Rumpus, Grazia, Scroll, Buzzfeed, and Firstpost, among others. In 2015, Nikita was awarded a Vermont Studio Center fellowship to work on her fiction, and has won the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize in 2023.

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