Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour…(“Ash Wednesday,” T.S. Eliot)


Was your aanchal redder, when you reached the cafe
To meet him? Did you draw those storm clouds
Again for him, on tissue papers?
And, were they ashen like the ones
That rain by mistake when it is about to be spring?
Did it rain, and did you take shelter
In an abandoned dargaah, or an abandoned railway station?
Did your veins…your veins throb with his endless conversation,
Between his choice of coffee or tea
To feed your feline satiety?
Did you sully your fingers before his eyes
With ink, or did your collarbones stiffen? Was your neck
Nervous with expectation? Did you walk a surreal walk,
Did he press your arm inside a storm of the afternoon’s dust?
How long did it last? Or could it have been
An abandoned railway compartment? When you came out with him,
Were the tracks glistening, with rain?
Have you ever heard someone whistling in the rain?
It seems such a distant time today
When you imagined how the mannequins had arrived
In a goods train, from a faraway battle-struck desert
Perhaps from the tracks leading from Gaza
How you spoke of the fear of separation
In forty hours of temptation
Or some dying lover left to pray
Today it is Ash Wednesday
And, although the chances of god
Coming true are still very slim
It is just as well you told me
That you had met with him.

I have fasted from a salt-water jar, kept in the sunlight
Which pours occasionally from this high rise window
Have you been fasting with him all night,
In a kind of fasting which feeds on the body
In a kind of bodily narcissism
A kind of narcissistic hunger
And a kind, of hungry vacuum of the stones from an oasis
When meeting of flesh and flesh is a kind of forbidden poeisis
For a fasting poet, meant to be observing the rituals of lent
Talking to myself too much, in too much of a whispering
Or too much like a young widow laments
The curious neighbours come to me and discuss matters of faith
Like old virgins meditating about the rising prices of grain
But my will to talk has been surreptitiously slain
All I think of now, all I imagine
Is to be looking down the banister
Courting a face below that does not look back at me
But throws its arms around another with such levity
The unheard, unspoken, unrelenting words
You spoke to him shall echo in my ears
Shall flatten my ear drums and maim my speech
Like the wheels of the rail flatten a piece of metal
And magnetize all of it. Like a magnet I keep clinging
I keep ringing of those words,
You spoke to each other in that café
Or fearing whether he scraped your aanchal, or scraped the pores of your skin
And, although the chances of god
Coming true are still very slim
It is just as well you told me
That you had met with him.


Arup K Chatterjee

Arup K Chatterjee

Arup K Chatterjee is a recipient of the Charles Wallace fellowship, 2014-15, to UK. He received his PhD from the Center for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is the author of The Purveyors of Destiny: A Cultural Biography of the Indian Railways (Bloomsbury, 2017), apart from numerous other prose or poetic works and opinion articles published worldwide. He is Assistant Professor of English at the Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, and the founding chief-editor of Coldnoon.