Voices Within: Chandni Santosh

Chandni Santosh is a novelist, poet and painter. Her published works include two novels and three solo collections of poems. ‘The House of Oracles’ is a saga of four generations of women rebelling against patriarchy, while her second, ‘Searching for Durga Sabyasachi’, is a throbbing search a journalist undertakes to get at the truth of his birth during the Bhopal gas leak. Her poems have been published in eminent journals and International anthologies.


FAREWELL

We reached the station in time, the ticket
Safe in his jeans pocket, the trolley bag rumbling softly between us,
And you trotting to keep up with his long legs.

People floated up and down the platform
As the train moved in silently. He drew you to him,
Behind the iron pillars near the escalator,
Transferring the ticket and desire
With his large, soft hands,
Holding you close to him by your waist.

His mouth demanding, his beard searing your neck,
Lips closing yours tight in in his.
Now,
There is no time for farewell,
No time for niceties,
No time for love,
Only the memory of vertiginous, hypotenuse hills following you,
The rise and fall of it,
With dusk filigreed over it.

Through the frosted glass window,
You see him raise his hand,
His mouth form those unsaid words,
His light eyes, jewel like, under the lamp.

Your heart rose into your throat,
As his hazel eyes touched you,
And as suddenly as a moving picture,
An old man in a ridiculous hat blocked your view.
Before the train curved into the next phase of your journey,
When you strained to catch him,
He seemed to pull out a packet of cigarettes,
And search for his lighter.

Now,
Sitting with your face pressed against
The fading light,
Disoriented, empty,
You realize,
That the beginning of the season
Of loneliness is upon you.

 THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

At the window opposite mine,
A silhouette of a woman
Chatting on her cell phone,
Hair flying in the salt breeze,
Twirling a tulip glass in one hand,
And a long cigarette in the other.

The large round moon is unmoving
On a night blue sky,
The wind between us,
And the distant murmur of the sea
Behind us,
The night young, the moon, ripe.

The stained-glass window is moist
From her jubilant breath,
And when the smoke drifts into the hair,
Her sultry laughter glides into the now darkening night,
I can just about sense her perfume.

The high-rises seem to come closer,
Close,
Real close,
I can feel the passionate love swirling from her cell phone.

Love
And the tumult of life.

 LANTERNS

Childhood lantern was a simple affair:
A tin lamp with a cotton wick
Lit with kerosene. We saw our faces bobbing above the frantic light
Like little ghosts,
Dancing in the wind. So vulnerable. Unprotected.

The modified version came a little later.
The glass bottom lantern, filled with blue kerosene,
The wick broader, adjustable. The light, yellow,
Safe inside its curved glass tube,
Safer, yes.

The nude bulb came next. It hung above us
Like Damocles sword,
Shedding poor light at the click of a switch. That was that.
Not safe. No. It went out with the first wind, the first thunder,
And returned the next night
To click shut again the next night
And the night after.

The paper lantern in my room
Shed paper light on my velvet blanket,
The light even more so. I learnt to dream
Beneath its iridescence,
Bask in its glow. I learnt to be possessive.
I would unlearn it later. Much later.

Then came the chandelier,
And lights all over the place,
Over the nameplate. On the gateposts.
Illuminating the name engraved in shiny brass,
Then the candelabras,
That shed more shadows than light,
The light that played up my books and sorrows,
The nights brighter than days. All.

The unforgettable lantern
Is the simple light lit in a coconut shell,
The succulent half placed at the feet of the corpse
That was your love,
Which burnt through the night,
Searing the white flesh,
Smelling of unseen hands,
Untrammeled paths,
Flickering at times,
And lighting the way to the next lantern.

THE GIRL I LOVED

It was night, I remember,
And the sea had lapped against our feet,
Your face was wet. Wet and glittering in the light of the sky.
Water dripped from your nose
Into your upturned mouth,
Hibiscus red, it was. Wet and red. And water dripped.

I do not know why I remember
Even the colour of your dress. It was sea green. Wet and green.
Your face was inflamed from our love making.
Red and inflamed. The first rash of pimples glistening
Against my hands.

Now I watch the mountains
And how the snow descends like the sadness in my soul,
There is a bit of rain too,
The pines and the deodars droop,
The roads are dark, wet and shiny.
The night is upon me.
But my mind flies back to the Arabian Sea,
And your wet and flaming face.

 HOW TO TAKE THE STING OUT OF LOVE

Remove the sting from your upper arms or thighs,
Wherever it has stung. Gently.
Remember to take the whole sting out,
No breaking it. Embedding the remains
Deep into your tender skin,
Inflaming it, causing the burn.

Apply crushed garlic over it,
Massage it with an ice cube,
Then, sit with your legs spread over the windowsill
And look out into the blue of the velvet night.

What about the sea raging inside you?
Do nothing about it. You cannot stop the waves,
Cannot stop its roar.

Bathe in the magic of the ache,
For,
You will not get this moment in a long while,
Not this ache, when the sting is no more there,
Only the satin of the night is spread outside,
And the moon has decided to play hide and seek.

You either love or you don’t.
There is no in between.
Voices Within - Complete List of Poets :: Setu, January 2019

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