Tagore in Ukraine: Ashwani Kumar (Tagore Special)


Ashwani Kumar
Like a child, I am fascinated with the polka-dotted, butterflies emitting moist aroma of ancient grapes during harvest, and I am slowly colonized by this life- altering experience; liquid moon beams entering into the skin, lining the walls of my flesh with the memories of unanimal and unnatural words of longing and separation. Often in the middle of a conversation, I start quivering with the pain of soft bark of dead mango trees in the backyard. Am I so vulnerable?  Outside my house, a clay horse waits for aliens to build pyramids for my ancestors. Will they really come?  If they come, I will feed them fresh fish- each fish a morsel of my memory, a door to house of my unknown sins.  Gogol’s relatives tell me my verses are puerile, my language riddled with potholes. Perhaps, they don’t know I also paint with dead caterpillar’s blood.    As widows with tobacco-scented hair prepare for knife -fight in the kitchens, nights grow in my arms like unborn daughters.  I whisper their names, sharpen pencils to write down the colours of saffron desires fading in the sorrowing summer.  How strange is the sound of false silence over war and peace?  None remembers why Pushkin never returned from his exile. In the early mornings and late evenings, I hear trees, flowers and snows wailing in the sun-shrouded dust of miseries in Kyiv. My eyes are filled with toxic fumes arising from the burning shards of lover’s bodies. Sounds of military boots behind, we meet in the dark tunnel-alley, your tearless eyes flash like a golden tooth hidden in my mouth; we slowly make love behind the piles of broken bangles. Ah, the taste of cheap lipstick lingers on my dirty lips.   Haven’t we forgotten the language of surprise?  Memories come in one or twos or suddenly like a violent mob? What is the opposite of losing memory? Judges and gods are surprised that there is a Gulag in everyone. My poet friend Serhiy Zhadan tells me they buried their solider son without his head.   Who did he fight for? I asked. We don’t know, he says.  All I know he loved repairing cycles and playing with marbles.   What do I do now? There are only old men or women in my house in Jorasanko; a sunset, a bonfire awaits.  Must I come home anonymously like the fragrance of sandalwood!


Bio: Ashwani Kumar is a reputed Indian poet writing in English. His major poetry volumes include ‘My Grandfather’s Imaginary Typewriter’ and ‘Banaras and the Other’. Widely published, anthologized and translated into several Indian languages, his poems are noted for ‘lyrical celebration’ of garbled voices of memory and subversive ‘whimsy’ quality.  Recently, a collection of his select poems titled ‘Architecture of Alphabets’ has been published in Hungarian. He is also one of the chief editors of ‘Global Civil Society’@ London School of Economics, and co-founder of Indian Novels Collective for promoting translation of classic novels from Indian languages. In leisure, he writes articles and reviews in the Financial Express, Outlook India, Scroll, The Hindu, Times of India, The Print among others. Presently, he is professor and dean of the school of development studies @ Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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