Chandramohan S, Caste in a local train

Caste in a local train can be deceptive
Like the soul of a Pakistani fast bowler
Camouflaged in a three-piece suit
And anglicised accent.
Though seated opposite me
I can feel him charging on to me.
If my surname is too long
I could be – caught behind.
Will I be trapped leg before wicket
If I attempt a bloodline crossover?
Hope I do not lose my nerve
At abrasive queries like bouncers.
I try to find myself a place
In his skull
Beyond his caste mark amidst his eyebrows
Like trying to find my way around
An ever changing map.
He tries assessing me with an in swinger first
“What is your full name?”
Then he tries an out swinger that seams a lot
“What is your father’s name?”
By this time he loses his nerve
And tries on a direct Yorker
“What is your caste?”!

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Chandramohan S, Caste in a local train

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Muriel Rukeyser, Poem

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Muriel Rukeyser, Poem

Margaret Atwood, Circe

Men with the heads of eagles
no longer interest me
or pig-men, or those who can fly
with the aid of wax and feathers

or those who take off their clothes
to reveal other clothes
or those with skins of blue leather

or those golden and flat as a coat of arms
or those with claws, the stuffed ones
with glass eyes; or those
hierarchic as greaves and steam-engines.

All these I could create, manufacture,
or find easily: they swoop and thunder
around this island, common as flies,
sparks flashing, bumping into each other,

on hot days you can watch them
as they melt, come apart,
fall into the ocean
like sick gulls, dethronements, plane crashes.

I search instead for the others,
the ones left over,
the ones who have escaped from these
mythologies with barely their lives;
they have real faces and hands, they think
of themselves as
wrong somehow, they would rather be trees.

Margaret Atwood, Circe

W.H.Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H.Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts

Bertolt Brecht, In Praise of Doubt

Praised be doubt! I advise you to greet
Cheerfully and with respect the man
Who tests your word like a bad penny.
I’d like you to be wise and not to give
Your word with too much assurance.
Read history and see
The headlong flight of invincible armies.
Wherever you look
Impregnable strongholds collapse and
Even if the Armada was innumerable as it left port
The returning ships
Could be numbered.
Thus one day a man stood on the unattainable summit
And a ship reached the end of
The endless sea.
O Beautiful the shaking of heads
Over the indisputable truth!
O brave the doctor’s cure
Of the incurable patient!
But the most beautiful of all doubts
Is when the downtrodden and despondent raise their heads and
Stop believing in the strength
Of their oppressors.

There are the thoughtless who never doubt
Their digestion is splendid, their judgment is infallible.
They don’t believe in the facts, they believe only in themselves.
When it comes to the point
The facts must go by the board
Their patience with themselves
Is boundless. To arguments
They listen with the ear of a police spy.
The thoughtless who never doubt
Meet the thoughtful who never act.
They doubt, not in order to come to a decision but
To avoid a decision. Their heads
They use only for shaking. With anxious faces
they warn the crews of sinking ships that water is dangerous.
Beneath the murderer’s axe
They ask themselves if he isn’t human too.
Murmuring something
About the situation not yet being clarified, they go to bed.
Their only action is to vacillate.
Their favourite phrase is: not yet ripe for discussion.
Therefore, if you praise doubt
Do not praise
The doubt which is a form of despair.
What use is the ability to doubt to a man
Who can’t make up his mind?
He who is content with too few reasons
May act wrongly
But he who needs too many
Remains inactive under danger.
You who are a leader of men, do not forget
That you are that because you doubted other leaders.
So allow the led
Their right to doubt.

Bertolt Brecht, In Praise of Doubt

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Another Way

To swing yourself
from moment to moment,
to weave a clause
that leaves room
for reminiscence and surprise,
that breathes,
welcomes commas,
dips and soars
through air-pockets of vowel,
lingers over the granularity of consonant,
never racing to the full-stop,
content sometimes
with the question mark,
even if it’s the oldest one in the book.

To stand
in the vast howling, rain-gouged
openness of a page,
asking the question
that has been asked before,
knowing the gale of a thousand libraries
will whip it into the dark.

To leave no footprints
in the warm alluvium,
no Dolby echoes
to reverberate through prayer halls,
no epitaphs,
no saffron flags.

This was also a way
of keeping the faith.

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Another Way