Friday, August 26, 2016

The Song of the Dead

Eisha Sarkar
International Writing Program 2016, The University of Iowa (USA)

The faces, the places
The many races
Speeches, lectures
Many campuses
Across the oceans
I travelled so far
A student, a learner
Of customs, habits
My two degrees
An exemplary record
I could have landed
A job in a law firm
Then came a call
From my 'home'
A tug at my heart
I returned to Kabul
A city in ruins
I gathered the pieces:
The detritus of war
I watched the young:
Eyes full of hope
Then came the desire
To rebuild a nation
My tool in hand:
A good education
And so I taught
Classes and classes
Building a nation
From its pieces
Then one day
I heard the 'crackers
A celebration of sorts,
I smiled and thought
I walked to the window
And saw those men
“This ain't the crackers,”
I told my students
They worried, they texted
The door pushed open
The students screamed
Entered a gunman
I tried to speak
He pulled the trigger
I fell down, 'twas all over
Twelve dead, they counted
An attack on education
In a disturbed nation
Don't mourn our deaths
I tell you, students
Pick up your pens
Open your minds
Build a strong nation.

How I created this piece:

On August 24, 2016, terrorists attacked the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul. Desperate students used social media to ask for help. My friends lost a couple of very well-educated friends in those attacks. I created this piece based on the profiles of some of the people who were killed that night. The country needs to reconcile this tragedy and move ahead towards a stronger future.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Eisha Sarkar
International Writing Program 2016, The University of Iowa, USA

I smell:
Coconut oil
Talcum powder
Sweet breath.

I smell:
Blood and decay
Gauze and iodine
Fear and panic.

I smell:
A hospital room
Sweat and waste
Hope and death.

I smell:
Lovely red roses
Perfumed women
Lamps and incense.

I smell:
Clarified butter
Wood and grain
Smoke and fire.

I smell:
Washed sheets
New scents

An old presence.

How I created this poem:

On 18th August 2016, I joined Class 5 of the The University of Iowa's International Writing Program after conducting the funeral of my beloved grandmother. I thought it would take my mind off my own grief as I would focus on Walt Whitman's works on the American Civil War. It's a coincidence that professors Christopher Merrill (also the director of IWP) and Ed Folsom (co-director of the Walt Whitman archive) discussed Elegy and Memorial during that class. I watched the video but could not concentrate on the readings as I was drawn into the black hole of depression. I shut off the computer and cried myself to sleep. The next morning, I read Whitman's works about loss, death and grief. It was painful but I had to move on.

I walked into the room where my grandmother spent most of her life. When she was there, it was filled with her scent and the smells of the things she would use daily: coconut oil for hair and body massage, ointments, balms, moisturisers, lavender-scented talcum powder and so on. A month ago, she had to undergo a surgery to remove a clot from an artery in her leg. It was partially successful. A week later, the lower part of the leg became gangrenous. The house was filled with the odour of decaying flesh. She knew we would not be able to bear it for long and so she decided to get her leg amputated. The operation was successful and she came home. She seemed to be recovering but then the stump got infected. The bacteria spread through her body to the lungs and kidneys. She was in a lot of pain through the week but her final moments in the hospital were very peaceful. She was a very religious person and we cremated her.

With this poem, I have attempted to preserve the memories of my grandmother's last week.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Jamming for Haiku

HaikuJAM is an app that allows people from all over the world to collaborate and create three-line poems. The sequence of the credits is the sequence in which the contributors have contributed. Do check it out. Here are some I have tried:

A note to my beloved grandmother

Ba, you were the strongest person I had ever met and you've made me the strongest I have ever been. I did not let you cry when I left for Australia and today, I did not cry, when you left us forever. Few will fathom the depth of my loss, for these past eight years that I have known you, you have been my grandmother-in-law, mentor, teacher, companion and best friend. We did not have anything in common: language, education, ethnicity, age, culture, caste, religious beliefs, food habits...nothing, but we developed a relationship that grew from immense love and respect for each other. I have learned many things from you but I am listing the five most important:

1. Empathy towards every living being
2. That even within your limited means, you can always give something to someone or help someone in need. (You did not get a chance to study beyond fourth grade but you ensured that your maid's daughters would get into school and a chance at education)
3. That you can be very religious and unorthodox at the same time
4. That family is bigger, stronger and greater than wealth or fame
5. That you have to change with the times

I will always remember all you taught me without teaching me. You were the reason, I became the family's daughter and not daughter-in-law. I love you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Little Girl

Eisha Sarkar
International Writing Program 2016, The University of Iowa, USA

A little girl of ten
With pretty brown eyes
In a field of flowers
That smell so nice!

Sounds of laughter
Fill the spring air
The little girl of ten
Has wind in her hair.

At the edge of the farm
In a small mud-hut
The little girl of ten
Sits with her mother.

A brand new dress
All red and shiny
The little girl all made-up
Oh, she looks so pretty!

Then her mother
Takes her to a chamber
A strange old man
Sits beside her.

She watches her father
Ready to bless her
The strange old man
Holds her hand.

On a bed of flowers
In a house not her own
The little girl of ten
Sits all alone.

Then comes the stranger
As old as her father
The little girl of ten
Cries for her mother.

Her vacant eyes
Her hidden bruises
A little girl of ten,
And her lost innocence.

Child marriage is unfortunately common in large parts of the developing world from Africa to Latin America, from the Middle East, South and Central Asia to Oceania. Girls in their pre-teens are often betrothed to men decades older to them. What follows the wedding is an end to their education, the loss of childhood and a life of abuse.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

World Youth Day and Pax Populi

The Repentant Burmese Monk

In 2012, riots broke out between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine (Arakan) state of Myanmar. The conflict resulted in the displacement of over 20,000 people. Rohingyas, originally Muslims from Bangladesh, are the subject of a campaign of commercial boycott led by the 969 Movement, a nationalist movement in Myanmar. The Movement is opposed to what they see as Islam’s expansion in predominantly-Buddhist Burma and have the tacit support of Buddhist monks.
I drew from this story the image of a faceless repentant monk who wants to put the stains of the violence he supported away by retreating into a forest to meditate. While the image of the monk in meditation is that of peace and the lack of expression, the frame is stained, busy and jarring. Therein lies the contradiction. I have used various media - acrylic, markers, pastels and digital photography – to create this piece of art.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Book: The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance
Author: Niranjan Navalgund
Illustrator: Omkar Math
Publisher: Readomania
Pages: 96
Price: Rs 150

Reviewed by Eisha Sarkar

A book about conversations between books is here! Chess professional Niranjan Navalgund's The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance makes books 'human' giving them personas, expressions, feelings and depth. From tomes that spout wisdom to two book-souls who fall in love, to a protector who tries hard to de-code threat messages, this secret Book-World is a bibliophile's fantasy. The story shifts between the human and book worlds, where humans keep looking for books in the library and the books discuss their readers. The humans don't know that the books can talk. The books guard their secrets. Then one day, a book goes missing. What happens next is a series of events where humans and book-souls search for the lost book.

While the plot seems simple, the author has worked a lot on the characters, bringing life to the books on a dusty library shelf. In order to create a separate universe for the books, Navalgund has cleverly created new words such as 'bera' (a fusion of book and era) and 'bogya' (a fusion of book and yagya meaning a ritual of sacrifice) that are part of the books' lexicon. The author has done well to use a bit of Kannada to create words and names. What makes The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance really interesting are the beautiful conversations between the books about their readers. For example:

“I once met a girl who never put me down. She kept reading me. It was a thrilling experience to lie on her lap all the time. She kissed me and said that the words in me had a soothing effect on her. She embellished me with doodles. What about you?”

“Aha, I never really liked tattoos and doodles. They are like scars that don't go away easily.”

If you love your books, you would wish they talked like this!

While The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance is a book-lover's delight, it is heavy on referencing and might distract a casual reader. It's only 96 pages and you may finish the book at one go but it'll force you to slower your pace and re-read parts of it, to understand how a code is cracked or to look up a reference to a book or a word. Also, the book starts with human characters but ends with only the book-characters. To some readers, it may not give a sense of closure. Whether it does or not, you'll have to read the book to find out.

Thoughtful and incisive, The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance is Niranjan Navalgund's tribute to books and libraries. It's a labour of love, written with great care and a lot of research. Take your time to read this one.