I

But for imagination, what would our cities be? As finely-sewn
threads of happenstance and an old truck of russet and rust
filled with carefully piled letters of memories coincide, briefly,
so to must these echoes of urban proclivity. Take Calcutta and I,

if you will, and the strange circumstances that have come to pass,
that an entire city would appear formed, framed, and fraught with
nothing but the deeply-rooted anchor of familial residues and the
softly-strewn murmur of words, several centuries having past. The

fabric of this earth and its many persistent aftermaths, the words
of my father, himself birthed to Varanasi and holding Calcutta as
but a haunted dream, a yesteryear road, filled with the curious tug
of things you can’t leave behind, everything exhaled through this

Bengali prism of riposte, repast. I bear breathless witness to an
old courtesan of the night, carrying within her the potency of
unsaid desires and the silent poetry of things left unrequited; I
stroll by the crisscross crackle of corrosion burnt into the earth,

these cables and these lines traversing roads and human lives,
the fascination, the cobbled filaments, these other ephemeral
entities, all merged into one inescapable collage of crimson dusks
and breathing rusks. On these nights coursing with fireflies and

the rebellious beat of lost couplets, divisive dulcets, I try and
piece together what is to become of this city and me, threading
its riot of smells and faces, its flagrant fresco of decay, desire,
and romances forsaken. Stay still, Calcutta, while my hands

draw these lines across your skin and your skies, drawing the
human geographies of lives thrown asunder and life blossoming
rabid, across the history of man and the predilections of time,
across the imaginary circumference that cuts through you and I.

 

II

But for movement, what would our cities be? This flurry of
human traffic, these haunting wails of a mosque rising to
meet the urgency of human grief, the dappled discourse of
the Hooghly carrying within her crests and sighs the transient

majesty of unkempt lives. Everything exists in these constant
echoes of clamour and blur, even this cerebral collision between
a city woven through mist and myth, once the focal point of the
earth’s royal fables and all those many legacies bequeathed thus

to dust, and this present-day prism of roads cramped with hope
and of my remembrances cramped through exile. Every time the
wind stirs, so do the discordant murmurs at Saint Paul’s with its
Episcopal allegiance; is it the same breeze that ruffles these petals

drunk with dew amidst Mallick Ghat’s consecrated retinue?
This constant rush, indivisible, indecipherable, indefatigable,
thus rustles the fruits at Mechhua Market, even as Burrabazar
tries to pacify its expectant tribe. And what to make of this

new-found flood, this portrait of the Zenana Bathing Ghat
riddled with blood, its forgotten beauty just a whisper removed
from the Strand? At New Market, the mingling of violent broth
with acrylic breath, at Kalighat the confluence of divine disco

dance-coloured profusion with the feminine deliverance of
sacred threads, at Dakshineswar these musafirs, given to where
the water must taken them and deliver them unto the light-as-
a-feather whims of unless. Stay still, Calcutta, while my thoughts

try to bottle your singular incandescence into a jar, to be untied
in distant lands and across horizons flooded with stillness, as
a mark, as a reminder, as a badge of ethnic insistence, that but
for the act of passage, everything would be bestowed to tombs.

 

III

But for poetry, what would our cities be? Only through the
words that eluded Tagore’s throat, does rain no longer seem
like rain, but a precursor to a woman’s flood and her inner
desires for the purity of touch. Only through the miscreant

phrases that escaped the great man’s grasp does a flower
no longer represent a flower, but the natural denouement
to monsoon’s unflinching rush. Nothing to say of Ray, in
frames, his stately gait beseeching secrets from the wombs

of the quietly unseen, and of his piercing eyes, in flames,
burning holes through the paradigm of black, white, and
the earth within. Who knew lyrics and words could flood
the air with the ease of beauty eviscerating what was left

of breath, even as monsoon rushes by, oblivious to the
ghosts of Hayat Mahmud and Maryam Khanum, each
leaving strands of grace across this city’s consequential
truths. Calcutta, isn’t your heart itself film and literary

filament, echoing through corridors long bereft of light,
ravaging lost souls and beautiful lovers alike, bestowing
seraphim and soliloquy through these lingering burns of
Roy and Rahimunnesa, sparring over Howrah Bridge and

its own poetic sway, resting above a rive that surely must
hold the most tragic cadence of all? Idols are being carved
to meter, that which is sublime is being left to stanzas, and
qawwals retort to quatrains. Stay still, Calcutta, while this ink

flows across fresh births and centuries-buried bones, stay
perfectly still as this poet scours the earth for traces of a
somnolent sky, and as he aches, as he must, for the elusive
consonance resting silently within this fickle notion of home.

 

 

This work was published in the Coldnoon Cities (Mapping the Metropolis) Vol II, as part of the Coldnoon journal.

 

Siddharth Dasgupta

Siddharth Dasgupta

Siddharth Dasgupta is an Indian poet and author, his first novel is Letters from an Indian Summer. His words have appeared in Cha, Sunstruck, Kitaab, and Bath Fiction, amongst others. He also written for Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, Eat Stay Love, the Tibet Foundation, and the Dharamshala International Film Festival. A new short story collection (World Rights open) and an unpublished hybrid of experimental poetry are his current literary preoccupations. He lives in Poona.

Comments

comments