Once upon a time there was an ant, an elephant and an orchid. They were friends though they never met. They spoke to each other across three different poems. And though they spoke very different things, and though they spoke silence, and though they spoke ‘narrow, minimal life’, together, they seemed to chant. Vinita Agrawal’s poems — in their separate preoccupations — are stark insights into how we might truly flourish if we weren’t so rigidly human about it.

As I write this note, the fervour of Independence Day is building up all around me; flags, discount offers, tricolour jalebis and of course, patriotic songs on loudspeakers. For a short burst, someone plays the thematically incongruent Javed Akhtar song Panchhi nadiya pawan ke jhoke. A critique on borders, the song reminds us that birds, rivers and the wind are not held back by any borders; and if we have created these systems of constraint for our own selves, what have we achieved as humans?

Before the song can reach its second verse, someone hurriedly switches it off. But some of the sentiment lingers in Agrawal’s poems. After all, ecopoetics is not nature poetry. It is deeply political in its question of self and the natural world, self and systems of exploitation, self and home. Did I say that the ant, the elephant and the orchid were friends? They were more. They were pleas; they were warnings; perhaps they were hope.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

To Orchid (as in Verb)


is to recycle coconut husk
into soil

drink water from vapour
using a stomata straw

live statuesquely
dangling from the ledge of survival

and then, to open up the vortex
of your heart

herald a fine art of apricot tongues
on mauve petals

as though to exhibit colours
was compensation for ‘not blooming’

to orchid, is to
mimic narrow, minimal life

yet stay in the game
when roses and violets are wilting

it is to accomplish stunning disclosures
when none are expected

it is to flourish
when nurturers gave you up for dead

to orchid
is to take one by surprise

the way a currency note might
when spotted in a wallet about to be discarded.



Ant in Amber


The craggy underside of a leaf is full of toeholds. It allows me to walk
upside down on the bristling length of a stem. I dive into the receptacles
of the hibiscus, slurp on the milk of aphids. From the tips of my elbowed
antennae to the ends of my chitin exoskeleton, I am industrious. Here in
this forest of conifers, I am high on pine-scent. Climbing a particularly
tall, arrow shaped bark, I encounter a missing limb. Resin oozes on the
tree trunk.

slender hindgut
trapped in Amber
lost pheromones



An Elephant


carved in ivory, forever frozen, bled
dry from the poached tusk. Its huge body 

           in huge rigor mortis. You hear 
           the anguished trumpeting in your heart.

The severed ivory tooth chokes you.
You’ll never be able to speak again.

            The sound of the sawing deafens you
            You’ll never be able to hear again.
You see the soft eyes of newborn calves
every time you close your own.

            And here in someone‘s showcase, 
            the ivory elephant trumpets.

cringe at the stark contrast of white 
a horde of red, blood-soaked hands.


Vinita Agrawal

Vinita is an award-winning author of four books of poetry. She has edited an anthology on climate change and co-edited the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English. Her forthcoming collection is a finalist for the Proverse Prize, Hong Kong. She is Poetry Editor with Usawa Literary Journal and is on the advisory board of the Tagore Literary Prize.

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