I always find it fascinating how poets choose the most everyday of objects and find such metaphorical potential in it that the object alchemizes into a symbol of something much larger than itself. It is, of course, as Jane Hirshfield says, not the things themselves that ‘seem to give off meaning almost as if a radiant heat’, but ‘the heat in us’ that brings about this transformation.
Bhaswati Ghosh’s ‘Wrapping Love’ does this by simply folding into a triangle the square of a fabric, a headscarf, and imagines it being wrapped not only around her own head, worn while ‘braving the north Indian winter’ but also gracing the heads of several women across cultures and geographies, worn in different forms and styles: a wimple, a hennin, the gele, a hijab. It is almost as if the headscarf takes a life of its own and expands to become something girthier than itself. And before one knows it, it includes us too; the whole world gets held in the generous wrap of a scarf. I invite you into its embrace, and also to discover the other objects that populate these poems in elegant and surprising ways.
— Kunjana Parashar
The Bombay Literary Magazine
At first it was about bending geometry.
Folding a square into a triangle and turning
that into a circle wrapping your head.
You could have been a Russian or Ukrainian
peasant woman working hard in a field.
In reality, you were only a school girl
braving a north Indian winter.
The head, a sphere spawning ever new worlds.
The head, also the seat of wit
and silken hair, treasures to protect.
Women at war and in worship,
school girls in Kabul and Delhi,
desert belles in Kutch, we all wear it.
Every Sunday, my Nigerian neighbour’s head
is the prettiest in the entire neighbourhood.
Geles of Nile blue and Grand Canyon vermilion,
Amazon green and canary yellow burst upon
her head like bird nests and ocean beds.
Love is what wraps you, I was told.
But love is also what you can wrap.
A scarf. A wimple. A hennin. A hijab. A dupatta.
Four Answers to the Same Question
Stare unerringly at a maple tree
for buds, then shoots. Wait
for magnolias to reclaim the garden.
Try deciphering birdspeak daily.
Become oblivious of nightfall. Obey
bumblebees and mama robins. Whiff
barbecue smoke over a friend’s laughter.
Return to a lake’s altruism.
Delight in foraging, the ancient secret.
Find rainbows in trees, carpets on
soil. Read Du Fu to know how “wind
and cloud join the earth with darkness.”
Find out all the words for snow
the Inuit and the Yupik use. Light a fire
and turn on fairy lights. Move inside
blanket caverns and soak raisins in rum.
Crafting a River
Between the two ends of a loom, a river flows.
The weaver sits on one bank, shaping the river.
Warp meets weft, the fabric’s ebb and tide, so
the textile breathes. Creating a river is backbreaking
work. You have to rein in the warps through reeds,
link each weft in with a shuttle, calculations
done with the math skill of a mother who has mastered
keeping her brood together. The river swells with colours,
its waves carrying shades the rangrez infused into each thread.
Slowly, temples and gardens grow on its banks, paisley
pearls and buds bloom on its body. In an ancient city,
drooping men weave crimson rivers for new brides.
They murmur the songs of a master weaver who worked
the loom and crafted a luminous tapestry without
a single hole. A river so whole, it forgot its banks.
Chitra Ganesh, Sultana’s Dream: City in Broad Daylight (2018), linocut BFK rives tan, 20 1/8 inches x 16 1/8 inches, edition of 35 (image courtesy the artist and Durham Press). Chitra’s website displays more of her fascinating and original work.
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s (1880-1932) Sultana’s Dream is often read as a feminist utopia. Bhaswati Ghosh’s poems may not have any such imaginary locus in mind, but nevertheless, we were led to connect the two creators by Ghosh’s reference in her first poem to the “bent geometry” upturning the expected as well as the various head-coverings.
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her first book of fiction is Victory Colony, 1950. Her first work of translation from Bengali into English is My Days with Ramkinkar Baij. Bhaswati’s writing has appeared in several literary journals. She lives in Ontario, Canada and is currently working on a book on New Delhi, India’s capital.