Dilli: An Anthology of Women Poets Of Delhi.
Edited by Semeen Ali. Foreword by Susmit Bose.
Published by Amitabh Mitra, Poets Printery
Review by Glory Sasikala
The enticement of youth is the temporary elixir that it is. What remain for the rest of one’s life are the everlasting nostalgic memories that one carries as permanent anchors. A dashing young man walks across a terrace, attracted by the voice of a girl calling out to her mother. The burkha lifts to reveal a face that would haunt forever… and suddenly that ancient city, so full of love stories and poems and ghazals and heartbreaks comes alive. Eyes meet over a cup of chai in Chandni Chowk on a rainy day. Life could be just watching the pigeons fly into the shadows at twilight. Hands held surreptiously in a crowded marketplace speak louder than words. The Muezzin’s call is perhaps Cindrella’s time to depart. He is with her against the dark silhouette of Old Delhi’s majestic skyline of forts and mosques and palaces. He senses her in those narrow lanes that echo Mirza Ghalib’s mesmerizing lines, tracing it all back to a time when all was right with the world. A spark Dr. Amitabh Mitra carries through in his poetry and art, depicted so picturesquely in his imitable style in the cover picture.
The task of putting together an anthology is not an easy one and one must appreciate Semeen Ali for her efforts and the gusto with which she has gone about the task.
And so…do they feel it too? These young women of this generation? Do the same smells and textures and colours of the same ancient city spell the same kind of magic for them? Perhaps that explains the choice of poets: below thirty, delhiites, and female. How else to explain the wish to nutshell what is the ageless, timeless and inexplicably intricate art of poetry writing?
My curiosity in reading this anthology is more because I understand that the poets are all below thirty years of age, which means they were all born in the eighties. Lots happened before then, in fact, according to me, the best time in Delhi were the seventies. It was the watershed and a milestone period which possibly dictated the modern times in India and I am curious to know if their poems are based on stories they have heard from their parents about the preceding years or are the poems typical reactions to the mid-nineties that we from the previous generations were trying to resist and the youth were trying desperately to get back and hold on to the ethos and emotions of the seventies through music and the arts.
Susmit Bose (foreword)
I am sure they are startled by the answer. For these are no soft, romantic poems painted in shades of pastel pink, but poems of the stark reality of living in Delhi today: still the city of rulers, but again, a law unto itself. And that, according to me, is the single reason this book is important, for here, these women speak out their hearts in the hope of being heard.
A loyal client-base that you’ve built painstakingly.
You leave it all behind and move to the rape capital
To be with a man.
Men touch you in the streets
You ask one why he grabbed your ass,
What he gained from doing it
And he looks at you like you’re crazy.
The dupatta plays its part today in self preservation in a way it was never meant to:
The dupatta signalled again
And he reeled in stinging pain
That came with two sudden slaps on his face
Served duly by hands encircled in pretty pink lace.
They bring the city to life with their words…
Delhi’s night stage
Starts with a blue screen
And a solo:
The azan explodes!
Into yellow noise
Shadows multiply in headlights,
Obnoxious cars spill
Dust on sandals.
A rickshaw puller
Tugs his lungi
Spitting out pan
Like a putrid curse.
A woman squats
Rinsing a rusted dish
And muddier water.
They tell you what Delhi is and is not:
They all try hard to live in this city, New Delhi
Where life is an endless challenge yet to be won
New Delhi is our world
The world where we surprise one another and give one another
Smiles, laughs, tears, and something we call human: a connection.
A city transient, unchanging, alive and dead
Of promises, mistrust, love, hope, despair all rolled in one.
A contradiction loved, hated, revered.
Delhi isn’t that man
You find charming at first sight
Its magnetism trickles
Till it’s shining bold and bright.
Isnita Nayantara Keskar
Love in the context of this new urban definition is a matter-of-fact daily living:
She watched her breath
Blow over her coffee
While his cigarette
Held his scrutiny.
Crouching with the ash
He asked her, "Are you sad?"
A struggle to search for an identity even while helping you find yours:
The streets still wind around the silent hostels, the decrepit classrooms and empty canteens
Large meaningless words still spring out of graffiti-covered walls to assault the unprepared stranger
Peacocks still roost on the high trees, their tails dragging them down to meet the red brick walls, But the roads are empty.
To acceptance of Delhi as their world:
From the green hills to a concrete jungle
I learnt to see the beauty in endless roads
Tall buildings, crowded markets, streams of cars
The hustle bustle,, wired skies and dusty tar
A life where I have no time
What once seem scary, unfamiliar, is now home…
Isnita Nayantara Keskar
Emotionally Delhi has always fascinated me and always will, perhaps because it is the seat of power and it dictates the governance of this huge and diverse nation. I came to Delhi with its big houses, wide avenues and beautiful historical monuments. I lived in Delhi witnessing the enormous changes that were taking place and changing its social patterns. I anguish over Delhi’s aspiration of becoming a Super “A” Capital and completely ignoring life.
I am excited about the relationship of these modern poets with this great city and how they perceive it through their poems.
Susmit Bose (foreword)
A push from a man
Rushing to the end,
Bringing him back to his senses,
To see the city
That stole his life,
But gave him
About Glory Sasikala:
Where breathing, writing, living and loving lose their personal identity and present as one, I come from that land... sometimes letting my pen lead me, sometimes leading my pen…...it’s a Pied Piper’s tune all the way!