Swati Chawala

Lost in translation

A village is lost
In translation
Morning chariots appear from the mist
and tear apart poetic skies, once blue
Lakes pleat in submission
To the sun
Even the lighthouse defies
Feudal hawks get
Bitten by the sky
Swarms of women
Spiral out of their homes
No burden to bear,
No earth to lug,
Sing freedom
of foreign lands
In half songs
A trickle of sun
Exposes from
Under the nine yards,
Three folds of indian-ness…

The bawdy scarecrow
guards the secrets of the
language that the poets
lost in translation

(no) lotus feet
(no) hindu tethers
(no) lecherous moths
(no) spilling of dalit blood

In faraway foreign towns,
some women in headscarves
Sing to their water babies
Freedom of indian villages
In half immigrant songs
The indian-ness in the song
bides time...

The Convict

A canard pecks at the eaves, between the metal shingles
Of my memory— a rumor that imbeciles
Have been ensnared in the barbed wires of your hair…
I remember lazy Sundays,
When you opened your hair,
A composite of water, cider and honey to ambush
The sedimentary rocks of your bosoms… I am consumed!
Your willowy hair, elephantine,
So long, like a river, never in the same color
Its mouth gushing to fill a
(w)hole in my oceanic heart…
It is your largesse to allow me shade
Under the thicket of your hair
A lone gray hides...

I have been accused of making
Imbeciles of mortal men— recounting stories
Of plucking loose, rebel hairs, slipping like catkins
From the serpentine weave of your plait…
I am that unfortunate, lost moment
Who cannot keep the perpendicularity of your eyes
That constantly reflect me...

I have been convicted for
Emanating as pain
Between your puckered brow
In times of separation...
Your body my sanctuary,
Every frame so poetic, skin scented,
As the musk of an old letter unopened, buxom, whole
In it the memory of my fingers strumming
Your bodice, like raindrops drumming
The gabled edges of my cellar

I have been persecuted
For residing rent free
As a refugee-god in the temple of your body

For staining your lips
In blasphemous prayers of me,
The xenophobic gods have pronounced a judgment
Sentenced to death...!!!

Rant of a poem

When I was young, I was the songstress of the night
My bloody lips orchestrated
Kings' courtyards

By morning,
I became the holy devotional(s)
For whom scores of men
Killed with reluctance

To be passed in pages of folklore
Language to language,
Generation to generation

Swills me for its own good
The tide of time has buried
My reputation by the sea, but,
You revive me
For competitions (only)

In your bastardised tongue, mixing
Long, resounding swirls
of Tagore with Milton.
You embellish me with proverbs:
Chaucerian, Shakesperian.
For inspiration, you look
For nature- Wordsworth
Tennyson for love,
Agha for your mother’s Kashmir.
But the reams of your poetry
The dead bones

Of your grandfather who carved syllables in inks
Of love: Pablo’s green,
Red for passion: Dinkar’s urvashi alike

Your forked tongue that bifurcates in Hindi and English,
Cuts through the edges of meaning…

I am just another egotistic win.


When salaries were Rs 60, mutton cost nine annas, and the living was easy
—read it somewhere

In those days
living was easy.

I could befriend a Malabar
without earning the wrath of my father
Trees walloped
my skin in exchange of a shade of silver
of dew drops.

At noons I would wander
To catch a tangerine break by the sea
The whiff of sweet woodnote passing
from the jungle nearby, on my way
I would collect a pot of sunshine,
a firefly's flight, some crisp English
banter of chatty white women.

With two rupaiya, four anna
I’d go to the market to buy my mother’s religion— Rosaries, incense sticks, lamp oil, fuller's earth paste…For my betrothed Kalyani,
A Kalamkari saree— a deep, glistening red to match her cheeks,
Some marbles to play with ahmed abdali- a match for his one legged conscience,
A merciful glass of tea with some extra ginger— my rejoice,
On special days, a ticket;
An old man
from far away Turkistan
would play his magic acts—colors of kaleidoscope,
black and white pictures
of confident women.
My mother always warned me against confident women.
At no extra cost, he would promise
A peep
into his old ragbag— a lazy patchwork of wool, jute and cotton,
sewed together with threads of desire, they said.
But even with all the richness
of my remaining
two annas, I dared not
Peep… it stank of the future!

In those days
living was easy.


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