Thursday, September 17, 2009


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

- Sylvia Plath From "Ariel", 1966

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year's Poem

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rimes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Les Poissons

Mémoire des poissons dans les criques profondes,
Que puis-je faire ici de vos lents souvenirs,
Je ne sais rien de vous qu'un peu d'écume et d'ombre
Et qu'un jour, comme moi, il vous faudra mourir.

( Memory of fish in the deep-water coves,
what can I do here with your slow-moving recollections,
I know no more of your than a hint of foam and shadow,
and that one day, like me, you will have to die.)

Alors que venez-vous interroger mes rêves
Comme si je pouvais vous être de secours?
Allez en mer, laissez-moi sur ma terre sèche,
Nous ne somme pas faits pour mélanger nos jours.

(Why then do you come and gaze questioningly into my dreams
as if I could be of help to you?
Go away to the sea, leave me on my dry land,
we are not made to mingle our days.)

- Jules SUPERVIELLE (1884-1960)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Fairy Tale

On winter nights beside the nursery fire
We read the fairy tale, while glowing coals
Builded its pictures. There before our eyes
We saw the vaulted hall of traceried stone
Uprear itself, the distant ceiling hung
With pendent stalactites like frozen vines;
And all along the walls at intervals,
Curled upwards into pillars, roses climbed,
And ramped and were confined, and clustered leaves
Divided where there peered a laughing face.
The foliage seemed to rustle in the wind,
A silent murmur, carved in still, gray stone.
High pointed windows pierced the southern wall
Whence proud escutcheons flung prismatic fires
To stain the tessellated marble floor
With pools of red, and quivering green, and blue;
And in the shade beyond the further door,
Its sober squares of black and white were hid
Beneath a restless, shuffling, wide-eyed mob
Of lackeys and retainers come to view
The Christening.
A sudden blare of trumpets, and the throng
About the entrance parted as the guests
Filed singly in with rare and precious gifts.
Our eager fancies noted all they brought,
The glorious, unattainable delights!
But always there was one unbidden guest
Who cursed the child and left it bitterness.
The fire falls asunder, all is changed,
I am no more a child, and what I see
Is not a fairy tale, but life, my life.
The gifts are there, the many pleasant things:
Health, wealth, long-settled friendships, with a name
Which honors all who bear it, and the power
Of making words obedient. This is much;
But overshadowing all is still the curse,
That never shall I be fulfilled by love!
Along the parching highroad of the world
No other soul shall bear mine company.
Always shall I be teased with semblances,
With cruel impostures, which I trust awhile
Then dash to pieces, as a careless boy
Flings a kaleidoscope, which shattering
Strews all the ground about with coloured sherds.
So I behold my visions on the ground
No longer radiant, an ignoble heap
Of broken, dusty glass. And so, unlit,
Even by hope or faith, my dragging steps
Force me forever through the passing days.

-Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

There was once upon a time, in a big city, a colony of fish who lived in a pretty plain little aquarium on a bedside table. There were three couples - goldfish, angelfish and shark. They lived in mutual harmony, swimming around the tank peacefully, with no reason for any discord. They were fed, they had plenty of fresh water, air and light.

Then one day, they were shifted to a smaller city (a hamlet really) and two new fish came to live in the aquarium. They were smaller in size but they immediately started marking their territory. The earlier residents of the aquarium were startled by this aggressive approach, having lived happily for so long without every thinking on the lines of property dispute! They huddled together discussing this new turn of events. The goldfish thought they could act as mediators since the new fish were from the same community as them. But the shark warned them that the new fish were from a small hamlet where such issues as sub-caste were of great importance. 'Might is right' said the shark. 'From now on, it has to be to each his own.'

The next day brought even more alarming changes in the tiny colony. The goldfish, being gentle creatures decided to try and talk to the new residents. But much to their complete horror, the aggressive goldfish turned on them, attacking them viciously! By nightfall they had pecked away at the fins of the male and he had to be quarantined. Though he was admitted to the ICU, and they took good care of him, he did not survive very long. A few days later, he had to be sent to his watery grave. Pining for her soul-mate, the female slipped away and was found one day, lying dead on the bed of the aquarium.

A tremor of shocked silence rocked the aquarium and the shark and angelfish bid their sorrowful goodbyes to the goldfish as she too, was taken away. They were still grieving when the goldfish took possession of the square inches that belonged to the deceased goldfish, claiming blood relation! Not content with their increased property they next turned their attention to the gentle angelfish. Within days both angelfish were found slinking in corners nursing their injured fins...they had to be rushed to the hospital where they too breathed their last.

Now it was just the goldfish and the shark remaining in the aquarium. The male wanted to get rid of them as well, but the female warned him not to cross swords with the shark. 'They may seem quiet, but they have a true predator's instinct. Let's not be too greedy. After all we have increased our property three-fold. We don't need anymore darling,' she pleaded...she was being tormented by nightmares and couldn't seem to wash her fins clean. Day and night, she heard the feeble cries of the goldfish and the angelfish, begging for mercy! The male, indifferent to her plight, could only think of his evil plot and he didn't realise that his girlfriend had slipped over the edge. One day, unable to take her guilt anymore, she jumped out of the aquarium, commiting suicide.

The next day, at the solemn prayer meeting held for the deceased goldfish, the shark rounded up the male and asked him if he was satisfied. 'The colony, once such a happy place has become a graveyard now thanks to your evil greed. Are you satisfied now?' The male finally realised what his plotting had done but it was too late for regrets...his conscience ate at him and soon he fell ill. But there was no one to take care of him. Diseased, he soon developed a strange disorder and his whole body was covered with a repulsive fungus that ate away at his body and he died a tormented death...

Alone now in the aquarium, the shark swum around the deserted colony wondering what awaited them, till one day the aquarium cracked in the middle of the night and they were shifted to a make-shift refugee camp in a bucket till a better solution was found and they were released into a nearby pond, free at last...

(Inspired by a true story which I narrated over lunch recently, to the amusement of my companions. I've added some more mirch, masala and twist to the story but respected the main events and characters)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Une Vie de Boy - Ferdinand Oyono (1956)

Une Vie de Boy (Ferdinand Oyono) - a beautiful novel - has been written in the diary form, making it much more realistic and lending it a more personal touch thus making the reader feel like he's privy to the innermost thoughts of the main character, in this case Joseph Toundi a.k.a the Boy.

Houseboy or Une Vie de Boy narrates the story of a young Black who runs away from his tribal village, enamoured by the Whites and gets himself "adopted" by a White priest and taken to the Missionary in Dangan, Cameroon. Educated by the priest he starts recording everything he experiences, sees and thinks vis-à-vis his life in colonial Africa as a young black servant. When his benefactor, father Gilbert dies due to an unfortunate accident in the bush (which nevertheless marks him as a martyr for having died in Africa while trying to civilise the savages) he becomes the "Boy" of the Commandant of the colony.

Serving the Whites at the Résidence, the opulent city of the Whites, while he lives in the Quartier Noir (Black Quarter) provides him a vantage point to observe everything around him and slowly his illusions about the Whites are stripped away as he sees their naked truth. The author uses an incident as obviously simple and transparent as the first time Toundi sees the Commandant naked and realises he is not circumcised to illustrate how Toundi's illusions of the nobility and grandeur of the Whites start being stripped away. We see, through Tondi's eyes how the two societies so drastically different are forced to co-exist and are blinded by their stereotypes of the "other."

The novel explores the various questions connected to colonialism and the impact it had on the lives of the natives, especially those like Toundi who tried to cross over and found themselves straddling the fence, having lost the right to return to their native world. Not welcomed into the world of the white coloniser either, they are drawn inextricably into the world of servitude, oppression and eventual obliteration. As Toundi says on his deathbed:
" My mother used to say my greed would take me far. If only I had been able to foresee that it would take me to the cemetry..."
An extremely riveting read, this is the second French novel I've read this month and will definitely recommend for its subtle analysis of European colonialism and the resulting clash of cultures, the beautiful descriptions as well as the underlying silence which speaks volumes. F. Oyono has used the African oral tradition masterfully, using it deftly to present the reality of the colonised.

PS Yes the review in french shall soon go up on Accros de Français