Prof Makarand Paranjape

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Makarand R. Paranjape is an Indian novelist and poet. He has been the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, since August 2018. Prior to that he was a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi for 19 years. Born in 1960 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Makarand is an alumnus of several prestigious institutions including the Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore, St. Stephen's College Delhi and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has taught undergraduate and postgraduate students both in the States and in India for over 30 years and is currently a professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He has published over 120 academic papers, has written a novel, several poems, short stories, essays and book reviews and is a columnist for various renowned publications. “I love what I do,” he smiles “An ideal life would be one where I read, wrote, taught and walked,” he says. Passion and human bonding have always been an intrinsic part of the poetry he loves. “It you read my poems you will discover that it has this erotic tinge. Passion is a trigger to transformation.” “His books explore human relationships, social change and class conflict. They moved me greatly and helped me reinvent myself as a writer,” he says.

In Love (At Thirty)

Prof Makarand Paranjape

To make even one single person happy,
To love her completely, to give her without restraint
All that you could if your were God himself;
Or to love, even a plant, an animal,
Any piece of life; to nurture it,
To care, to have tenderness for someone else;
Even to do this just once, fully and entirely,
Is to fulfill one's life and find heaven afterwards.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
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The Love Poem Unwritten

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The poem he wished to write began this way:
Is it come to this
That I am reduced to writing love poems
To you....
There he stopped. A heavy onus
Of unresolved emotions
Seemed to gag him.
He wished to say:
How ironic it was that separation
Had revived their love,
How she still defined his existence
By absence, as she had once done
Through her presence;
How distance generated intimacy,
So that now they were in love again.
And how corny, how odd, how unusual that felt.
Like nothing they'd felt before,
In fact, almost like in the movies,
Their romance was beginning to dramatize itself.
Yes, this was the intoxication
Of not just being in love,
But of being in love with being in love.
He wanted to say: I love you.
I love myself when I love you.
I love what you do to me.
I love what my love does to you.
When I think of us, there's a tremor
Not in my heart, but in the pit of my stomach,
It's a dull fire that spreads upwards,
From my loins. It's a hormonal high
When I remember how we lie side by side,
Naked, and how we make love.
Unlike the past, now we don't even need foreplay.
We are so hot just being next to each other.
And we are so serene when we join,
We even talk and smile.
But as I push into you, in, in, in,
All words are stuck in the throat.
I feel myself dissolving into you,
My self sinking lower and lower,
To vanishing point.
By entering you, I give you back to yourself.
There you are, your face flushed, but calm.
And then there's neither you nor me,
But only a warmth, throbbing and vital,
Which says: Love, love, love,
Or Om, Om, Om--just the primordial note.
We look at each other like this,
And an eternity passes away
As time forgets itself.
He wanted to say:
Now that we're apart once again,
I think, how strange it is to be in love
And to write about one's love,
To write poems to you,
Telling you how much I miss you,
How I am pining away,
And yet how delicious the pain is,
How exciting, inviting, welcome.
To reinvent language to say all this
To call back to oneself the sighs and tremors
Of love, to talk of your eyes and lips,
To celebrate your face, to get lost
In your fragrant tresses, to seek refuge
In the shade of your eyelashes, to praise
The softness and warmth of your touch,
To talk of the scent of your breath,
To remember your intimate gestures,
To cup your breasts in my hands
Like two panting doves,
To nestle my face between them,
And to remember all the noises you make,
And how you clown around, making faces,
And how we invent silly names for each other...
To talk about all this and much more.
In words, words, words, to project myself at you.
Then after this burst of verbal energy, fear:
To think that the person I am in love with
Is not you, but something that I have created myself,
An image of what I love. To think that I have made
An idol of you which in my loneliness I adore.
And how such love fills me with both
Ecstasy and dread, lest you interrupt these effusions,
Breaking through the image, declaring
Your real self, shattering the mirror of dreams.
How all this fits in with the poetry reading
In which I read love poems to you,
Thus becoming a poet in love,
Wooing you with my poems,
Making public our passion,
And in the process, making you my dream, my love, my muse,
Always passive, the recipient of all this homage,
The silent deity to which the priest-poet
Lights his lamps, pouring out his devotion.
And so the recurrent fear:
It's so easy to love one's own creation,
But how difficult to love a real person.
O God, how scared I am of loving you.
He wanted to write all this,
But how awkward and unconvincing it sounded,
And a silent onus seemed to gag him.
He felt saddened at his inability to love.
He thought: being in love is easy,
But to love someone so difficult.
He wondered if he could ever love,
If there was any hope for him,
If his heart heart would melt,
If he would be saved.
How important it was to find love:
It was the perfume of existence;
And life was arid without it.
He examined himself and his own life,
His compulsions to write,
To project things, to become something else,
To alter life, to change reality,
Always the drive, the ceaseless flow of words, words, words.
And now, the onus on his heart,
The inability to write, to express
His stirring love for his own wife,
The inability to force all this into words,
The fear of being found out as a liar,
The anxiety of being exposed and branded,
The dread of discovering his own changeability,
To find out, alas, that he couldn't, didn't,
Was unable to love, to love her.
At last he wrote:
There are those who love;
And there are others who only write poems.
It is you who love;
And I only write poems.
Did he then realize
The simple release of love
And the bitter doom of having to write only poems?

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
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College Days

Prof Makarand Paranjape

In the grilled window overhead
Before ringing the bell
I see your face.
It is only love, nothing else.
You rush down the stairs
You hold my hand,
Your cheeks flushed with excitement.
It is only love, nothing else.
We sit on the lawn
In cushioned wicker chairs.
The night queen exudes its scent.
It is only love, nothing else.
You smile at me,
I lean over,
The world blurs out of focus again.
It is only love, nothing else.
At the sound of the car
We hastily disengage,
You rearrange your hair.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
Then, your parents suspect.
They inspect your mail,
They take counter measures.
It is only love, nothing else.
We meet elsewhere
Whispering in dingy cafes,
Under the waiter's suspicious gaze.
It is only love, nothing else.
Or else outside your college,
Or on a park bench,
Or in a shopping centre on a weekend.
It is only love, nothing else.
On your birthday, before the final exam,
You lie you're at a friend's place,
We meet in an expensive restaurant.
It is only love, nothing else.
In the dim light you say
We can't go on like this.
In silence I stare ahead.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
At last it is time to graduate.
You hold my last letter,
Now smudged, tightly to your chest.
It is only love, nothing else.
What will become of me, you wail,
My throat catches too,
The sari slips off your heaving breasts.
It is only love, nothing else.
In a flash, all the memories--
Letters, phone calls, innumerable meetings--
Dart by as we watch, helpless.
It is only love, nothing else.
You resist my caress, at first
But suddenly yield, with vehemence.
It is to be our last embrace.
It is only love, nothing else.
I leave town.
You settle down,
Marrying somebody else.
It is only love, nothing else.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
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Getting Outside Patriarchy

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Our distances are intimate,
We grow vast in our silences.
In freedom we have blossomed,
Not having thwarted one another.
How unrestricted are our movements:
We have never tried to trim each other to size.
You come back, asynchronious,
Twisted by your concourse with others.
I react to your divergences.
How we have fought,
With no holds barred
Tearing at each other fiercely,
Until our brains nearly exploded.
Then, all anger spent,
Not one word or hit, left unstruck,
We gaze at each other mutely--
Astonished at the devastation
Each has wrought on the other.
Standing forlorn amidst the debris of our selves,
We heal, and once again
Stretch towards each other,
All our crooked places straightened.
We are the enemies of each other's egos
Ruthless in hunt;
Thus we destroy and recreate each other ceaselessly.
Yet our eyes talk and understand
The subtle signals of love,
The open smile of happiness
Wrapping the other in a warm embrace.
Indeed, our gestures are complete.
My curses have failed.
The blows that I struck you
Drained me of all violence.
Even memories have lost their sting.
Instead, eternal be my blessing
Overflowing all the harsh sayings,
Washing them away like loose dirt.
So go, you are not mine--
Prosper and flower wherever you are.
And yet stay,
Grow strong and straight
Like a companion eucalyptus,
Tall and elegant,
And restless in the breeze.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
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Apostrophe to Poverty

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Poverty is not so easy to attain.
It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,
motherless, naked and dirty, let loose
among garbage heaps on squalid streets;
it is not always a toothless importunate hag,
shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,
clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;
it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay
where during the monsoon, the pus of the city
oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts
wade across filthy gutters by the roadside
to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always
some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,
a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between
stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.
We, for whom poverty is the only sin,
miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.
Regard myself in my own comfortable cage
twenty concrete floors above the common street
surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:
my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,
air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,
dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--
wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--
fabricate my secure and happy delusions. My day
which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm
of a chronometer made in Japan. Wired to a shaver,
I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,
automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages
from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,
open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,
breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,
shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,
descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting
in the bowels of the building. After I leave,
the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows
preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants
on display, strategically placed for effect, languish
for want of sunshine and air.
Regard myself among
all these, my indispensable possessions. Can I
one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?
can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,
disappear into the night to find all the answers?
"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--
can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark
without even a note, as over two thousand years ago
Gautama did? With all my engagements, can I
without notice, even take a vacation? No, impossible.
I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.
The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers
announcing a reward for my capture, will print my
picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,
and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,
suing me for desertion and maltreatment. Afterwards,
endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.
No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.
Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;
it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.
Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.
It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.
He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks
upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,
he is the essential man, without any superfluity.
Or, consider another angle:
we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.
some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,
some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.
Some die of too little, some die of too much,
and all those who die are equal. Hence,
privation and repletion are variations
of the same illness. So don't think that
being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,
for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,
can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?
Beyond a certain point,
I do not care to prolong this argument.
These words formed in indignation
always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.
My philosophy is simple
though some consider it partisan and limited:
the poor define their opposites;
without them none would be rich.
Hence, if nothing else,
let me here declare
my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,
however unlike them I may be.
Let poverty be my lot,
let me make this meagre offering
at the shrine of indigence.
Having now come out into the open,
taken sides for the rest of my days,
let me end,
on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:
we mustn’t extend our judgements
to what we do not comprehend;
we should accept each other,
as we are—rich or poor--
or mind our own business, please.

Excerpts from "The Used Book"
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Mermaid

Prof Makarand Paranjape

I dreamed of bumping into you suddenly,
say, at Teen Murti house,
or at the Times of India building,
and imagined what I'd do then:
give you a big hug and a kiss,
unable to restrain my happiness
on seeing you after twelve years?
Your long, straight, glossy hair
would have done a shampoo commercial proud.
The hooked nose
only added character.
You had a grandmother's benign smile,
but such petulant eyes.
Though terribly insecure,
you always seemed so sure of yourself.
I still remember some of your famous lines:
“Are you asking me out on a date?
Then say so, don’t say ‘Do you see movies?’”
“Incidentally, I don’t go out on dates.”
"I know I'm attractive, though not beautiful...”
“Just because I'm liberated doesn't mean I'm available...”
All your admirers had them by heart—
we rehearsed them and laughed.
At last, you held my hand on the abandoned stairway
leading to the roof of your college.
Before I could begin to appreciate the sensation
we were surprised by a puritanical lecturer
on the prowl, who threatened to report us.
You told him off with characteristic confidence:
"We know what we are doing,
we don't need you to guard our morals."
The poor man was too taken aback to answer.
Yes, the Hauz Khas poem actually
belongs to you, though it occurs in her book.
Remember how we visited the village
before any of the boutiques had come up.
There were reams upon reams of dyed cloth,
in myriad bright colours,
stretched to dry in the sun,
like swathes of a rainbow, descended on earth.
We also visited Mulk Raj Anand's famous house,
but found that he was in Bombay.
Then to Feroze Shah's tomb and madarsa
which was our favourite haunt.
How proud you were when I took a taxi
from the University all the way to your place
just to wish you happy birthday.
I picked up the flowers at C.P.
and called to ask if I could visit at 6:00 p.m.
You told your dad, "You can set your watch
by him. It has to be six o'clock now"
as I was announced and introduced.
You were the happiest that day.
How intensely as we talked, dreaming
of great things: “We’ll change the world,”
you boasted: “you'll be like Sartre,
and I, Simone de Beauvoir."
Of course, I proposed to you.
Then why did you not accept me?
"I’m not sure I love you--" you often said,
"don’t you know how badly Sartre treated de Beauvoir…?"
You went off to the U.S. with someone else
but that broke up too, I heard.
Finally, it was clear
that you'd never really be able
to let go of yourself. You were too
scared of losing control, of heartbreak,
of needing somebody else.
I once wrote to you
just after I'd married her
that I loved you and only you.
I showed her the letter and hurt all three of us.
But time passes and with it
what once was so precious
is hardly worth preserving now:
“I’m just an aging spinster,”
you say when we meet,
“do you still want to be my friend?”
You’re tone is light and ironic,
but why is there a wistful look in your eyes?

Excerpts from "Partial Disclosure"
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Free Fall

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Let me forget myself momentarily
as the divine did itself when it made this
beautiful world of sound, light, and colour,
and peopled it with all kinds of creatures,
great and small, peaceful or violent.
So let me find myself completely in the object
of my desire, let my self be totally lost
in the other, let me thus become a woman,
and fall hopelessly in love with the man
in her. Let this love have no destination,
no hope of fulfilment or consummation;
let it be entirely futile, pointless, even
inconsequential. And let my heart be riven,
broken, crushed, scattered beyond all
retrieval or recognition, let all my poise
and self-control, my pride of manhood
be totally undone in this all-consuming
passion. O victory, I shall seek you
in my utter ruination, like a desperate
soul seeking solace in everlasting annihilation.
My obsession brooks no restraint or moderation;
I must be totally destroyed before I'm done,
no particle of me left safe or untouched.
I risk all to gain all; I am reckless in love
because I know that the one I love, after all,
is not I or you, but the lost whole of which
both are parts. I am willing to wager all
because I know that my love will be as safe
with you as it is with the Mother of God.

 

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Excerpts: The Narrator

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The emanation finally materialized in the evening. Gradually, it assumed shape and form before my eyes. I was stunned into silence, almost stupefied, an open-mouthed and horrified witness to the strange phenomenon. Twilight streamed into my study, casting shadows on the walls. I hadn't switched on the lights. I loved these incandescent autumn sunsets which daubed the sky in brooding oranges, bloody reds, or gentler, roseate shades. I was alone at home. My wife, Neha, had gone to her parents' in Pune. She was expecting our first baby. We had been married for about four years. I can't say that our marriage was a failure, but it wasn't a great success either. She was a very independent person--which I respected. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that there were sides to my character she never could understand. Nor, I must say, did she make any effort to understand them.
She worked as a Section Officer at the Reserve Bank of India, located at Saifabad. I worked as a Lecturer in the English Department at Asafia University. We lived in a modest flat off Tilak Road. We were the average, middle class Maharashtrian couple, somewhat diasporic though. I had bits of Madras and Hyderabad in me, but had never lived in Maharashtra; she had lived in Pune before coming to Hyderabad. It was logical for us to settle down in the latter city after our marriage since both of us had jobs there. That evening, I was sitting in my armchair with a magazine in my lap. My study opened onto a large veranda. From the open doors I regarded the world with what I thought was pensive detachment. I sat back, enjoying the slight nip in the air, breathing in the cow-dust hour of dusk. Then, slowly, the air began to thicken. The light became denser, hanging suspended from the terrace, oozing into my room like spilled honey.
I began to feel uncomfortable, as if my breath were being squeezed out. My body felt leaden, so heavy that I couldn't lift up my hands. My eyes froze in their sockets; my vision became blurred; my tongue was glued to my mouth; I felt gagged and helpless.
The objects in my room became grotesque and distorted. My table sagged and bulged as if it were plasticine. The large, round, Titan quartz wall clock became misshapen, like a clumsily fried egg, its yolk dripping from its punctured skin. Drip, drip, drip, it bled in large pale, waxy drops. My pens, bristling like centipedes, crawled about my desk. Pencils curled at their ends like tender, green shoots. My huge, heavy Websters opened on its own, as if someone were flipping through its pages. Then the books on my shelf began to sing like angry wasps. The novels whined, the poetry screeched, and the criticism droned. My study had become a writer's nightmare.
The light streaking into the room changed colour. There was a bluish glow in the room, an aura of supernal light. The air became brittle and dry, crackling with invisible currents. My hair stood on end. My spine and neck tingled. Though transfixed in my chair, I could feel the wild palpitations of my heart. My shirt was drenched with perspiration. I was like a panting animal being devoured alive by a predator. I even wondered if I was having a heart attack.
My skin became luminous. There was a greenish-yellow layer all over my body. A small, but very bright streak of white shot out of my mouth and eyes. It whirled about in circles, dancing up and down and from side to side. Slowly, it enlarged, like a glowing balloon, full of tiny shining particles. It became bigger and bigger, solidifying gradually, until it assumed the shape of a man. I could see him clearly. He wore jeans and a cotton shirt. He was about five eleven, my height. His features were also like mine, except his hazel eyes. He looked very secure and composed, as if he had just stepped out of a cocoon or from a spaceship. The funniest thing was that I could see through him completely. He was as thin as mist, as insubstantial as gossamer. Slowly, he assumed a more convincing appearance. The air cleared. My limbs and tongue and eyes unfroze.
When I began to see clearly, I noticed it was dark outside. And on the chair facing me, there indeed sat a man. When he saw that I was looking at him, he stirred.

Excerpts from "The Narrator"
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The Original

Prof Makarand Paranjape

She no longer poses but is just herself,
this woman, who is an artist's model.
Undressing for a living, she's stripped
daily of much more than her clothes.
Now there she sits totally defenceless,
not even comfortable in the straight backed chair,
but twisted, drooping, cold, and naked--
her sagging breasts, thin and sad,
and her subdued sex, timidly peeping
from between her thighs,
like a small, quiet mouse.
Her fleshy lips and empty eyes tell one story;
the artist's brush, paints and easel, tell another.

 

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Awaited Letter

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The Awaited Letter
is always penned at night,
not necessarily in stealth
but in a site or manner more
cherished and rare--privacy.
Much of it comes in single
cloud-bursts of ardour or
empathy; much more than ink
flows when it is written.
Then, only words on the page
remain and the pleasure of
being spent. What actually
was written is forgotten.
Once finished, the writer is
anxious to dispatch it as if
its portents must reach their
favoured destination at once.
The eyes that read it over
and the hands that seal
the cover are wont to be a
trifle restless, impatient;
sometimes the stamp can be
askew, the flap soaked
in glue, or there's a minor
error in the address.
The act of actually posting it
is never innocent; prominent
post offices are preferred
for the security they induce.
But once in, it's out of her
hands; a certain feeling of
freedom follows but also a
familiar fear: will it reach?
All night the letter lies awake
quietly, waiting, almost smugly
because it knows how unlike
it is to its pedestrian peers.
The envelope is picked up, marked,
sorted, flung, trussed up, tossed
hither and thither, handled by
so many during its long journey,
creased, sometimes stained with
greasy fingers, or damp and
smudged in the rain. But inside,
the letter itself is intact,
a virgin, unseen and untouched
by any, snugly smiling in anti-
cipation of yielding itself
only to her rightful owner.
The latter already knows it
is on its way as if the sender
had kissed him in a dream
to inform him of its coming.
Yet a feline unease shadows him
as he awaits to repossess that
which he surrendered so suddenly
in a fond or foolish overture.
Waiting, even for what he
knows will arrive, is so hum-
bling; whom can he blame if a
promised missive miscarries?
While he cannot admit the eager-
ness of his need, it has already
reached his post office to be
dropped into his box tomorrow--
or else, it glows distressed,
like a radioactive particle,
in some godforsaken graveyard
of undelivered messages.
Having once reached, look how
teasing it can be, lurking
inconspicuously between all
sorts of junk-mail, only to
spring into his hands suddenly,
dazing him with surprised
joy, and making him shy with
pride, like a woman pleased.
Perhaps, the sender well knows
that both her hands and eyes
have left invisible traces that
rekindle themselves on contact:
some letters, like poems, must
not only be read, but smelt,
stroked, held, and even carried
like shy brides, to bed.
But life is not literature;
an awaited letter is habitually
never written; if written
it is often never posted
but recessed into that inner
wilderness which is awaste
with so many unlived or erased
wishes and sickened dreams.
Even when it is signed, posted,
and received, its comforts
eventually abate: found,
the lost beloved is revealed
as the image of one's own
self. Correspondents who
are experienced know that
somewhere the longed-for one
awaits every seeker; we watch
helpless as a strange magnetism
draws us together even over
the chasms of several shipwrecked
births: how the received letter
works its magic fusing him into
into her! Now the reply he must
write becomes the awaited letter.

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In Love (At Thirty)

Prof Makarand Paranjape

To make even one single person happy,
To love her completely, to give her without restraint
All that you could if your were God himself;
Or to love, even a plant, an animal,
Any piece of life; to nurture it,
To care, to have tenderness for someone else;
Even to do this just once, fully and entirely,
Is to fulfill one's life and find heaven afterwards.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
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The Love Poem Unwritten

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The poem he wished to write began this way:
Is it come to this
That I am reduced to writing love poems
To you....
There he stopped. A heavy onus
Of unresolved emotions
Seemed to gag him.
He wished to say:
How ironic it was that separation
Had revived their love,
How she still defined his existence
By absence, as she had once done
Through her presence;
How distance generated intimacy,
So that now they were in love again.
And how corny, how odd, how unusual that felt.
Like nothing they'd felt before,
In fact, almost like in the movies,
Their romance was beginning to dramatize itself.
Yes, this was the intoxication
Of not just being in love,
But of being in love with being in love.
He wanted to say: I love you.
I love myself when I love you.
I love what you do to me.
I love what my love does to you.
When I think of us, there's a tremor
Not in my heart, but in the pit of my stomach,
It's a dull fire that spreads upwards,
From my loins. It's a hormonal high
When I remember how we lie side by side,
Naked, and how we make love.
Unlike the past, now we don't even need foreplay.
We are so hot just being next to each other.
And we are so serene when we join,
We even talk and smile.
But as I push into you, in, in, in,
All words are stuck in the throat.
I feel myself dissolving into you,
My self sinking lower and lower,
To vanishing point.
By entering you, I give you back to yourself.
There you are, your face flushed, but calm.
And then there's neither you nor me,
But only a warmth, throbbing and vital,
Which says: Love, love, love,
Or Om, Om, Om--just the primordial note.
We look at each other like this,
And an eternity passes away
As time forgets itself.
He wanted to say:
Now that we're apart once again,
I think, how strange it is to be in love
And to write about one's love,
To write poems to you,
Telling you how much I miss you,
How I am pining away,
And yet how delicious the pain is,
How exciting, inviting, welcome.
To reinvent language to say all this
To call back to oneself the sighs and tremors
Of love, to talk of your eyes and lips,
To celebrate your face, to get lost
In your fragrant tresses, to seek refuge
In the shade of your eyelashes, to praise
The softness and warmth of your touch,
To talk of the scent of your breath,
To remember your intimate gestures,
To cup your breasts in my hands
Like two panting doves,
To nestle my face between them,
And to remember all the noises you make,
And how you clown around, making faces,
And how we invent silly names for each other...
To talk about all this and much more.
In words, words, words, to project myself at you.
Then after this burst of verbal energy, fear:
To think that the person I am in love with
Is not you, but something that I have created myself,
An image of what I love. To think that I have made
An idol of you which in my loneliness I adore.
And how such love fills me with both
Ecstasy and dread, lest you interrupt these effusions,
Breaking through the image, declaring
Your real self, shattering the mirror of dreams.
How all this fits in with the poetry reading
In which I read love poems to you,
Thus becoming a poet in love,
Wooing you with my poems,
Making public our passion,
And in the process, making you my dream, my love, my muse,
Always passive, the recipient of all this homage,
The silent deity to which the priest-poet
Lights his lamps, pouring out his devotion.
And so the recurrent fear:
It's so easy to love one's own creation,
But how difficult to love a real person.
O God, how scared I am of loving you.
He wanted to write all this,
But how awkward and unconvincing it sounded,
And a silent onus seemed to gag him.
He felt saddened at his inability to love.
He thought: being in love is easy,
But to love someone so difficult.
He wondered if he could ever love,
If there was any hope for him,
If his heart heart would melt,
If he would be saved.
How important it was to find love:
It was the perfume of existence;
And life was arid without it.
He examined himself and his own life,
His compulsions to write,
To project things, to become something else,
To alter life, to change reality,
Always the drive, the ceaseless flow of words, words, words.
And now, the onus on his heart,
The inability to write, to express
His stirring love for his own wife,
The inability to force all this into words,
The fear of being found out as a liar,
The anxiety of being exposed and branded,
The dread of discovering his own changeability,
To find out, alas, that he couldn't, didn't,
Was unable to love, to love her.
At last he wrote:
There are those who love;
And there are others who only write poems.
It is you who love;
And I only write poems.
Did he then realize
The simple release of love
And the bitter doom of having to write only poems?

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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College Days

Prof Makarand Paranjape

In the grilled window overhead
Before ringing the bell
I see your face.
It is only love, nothing else.
You rush down the stairs
You hold my hand,
Your cheeks flushed with excitement.
It is only love, nothing else.
We sit on the lawn
In cushioned wicker chairs.
The night queen exudes its scent.
It is only love, nothing else.
You smile at me,
I lean over,
The world blurs out of focus again.
It is only love, nothing else.
At the sound of the car
We hastily disengage,
You rearrange your hair.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
Then, your parents suspect.
They inspect your mail,
They take counter measures.
It is only love, nothing else.
We meet elsewhere
Whispering in dingy cafes,
Under the waiter's suspicious gaze.
It is only love, nothing else.
Or else outside your college,
Or on a park bench,
Or in a shopping centre on a weekend.
It is only love, nothing else.
On your birthday, before the final exam,
You lie you're at a friend's place,
We meet in an expensive restaurant.
It is only love, nothing else.
In the dim light you say
We can't go on like this.
In silence I stare ahead.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
At last it is time to graduate.
You hold my last letter,
Now smudged, tightly to your chest.
It is only love, nothing else.
What will become of me, you wail,
My throat catches too,
The sari slips off your heaving breasts.
It is only love, nothing else.
In a flash, all the memories--
Letters, phone calls, innumerable meetings--
Dart by as we watch, helpless.
It is only love, nothing else.
You resist my caress, at first
But suddenly yield, with vehemence.
It is to be our last embrace.
It is only love, nothing else.
I leave town.
You settle down,
Marrying somebody else.
It is only love, nothing else.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Getting Outside Patriarchy

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Our distances are intimate,
We grow vast in our silences.
In freedom we have blossomed,
Not having thwarted one another.
How unrestricted are our movements:
We have never tried to trim each other to size.
You come back, asynchronious,
Twisted by your concourse with others.
I react to your divergences.
How we have fought,
With no holds barred
Tearing at each other fiercely,
Until our brains nearly exploded.
Then, all anger spent,
Not one word or hit, left unstruck,
We gaze at each other mutely--
Astonished at the devastation
Each has wrought on the other.
Standing forlorn amidst the debris of our selves,
We heal, and once again
Stretch towards each other,
All our crooked places straightened.
We are the enemies of each other's egos
Ruthless in hunt;
Thus we destroy and recreate each other ceaselessly.
Yet our eyes talk and understand
The subtle signals of love,
The open smile of happiness
Wrapping the other in a warm embrace.
Indeed, our gestures are complete.
My curses have failed.
The blows that I struck you
Drained me of all violence.
Even memories have lost their sting.
Instead, eternal be my blessing
Overflowing all the harsh sayings,
Washing them away like loose dirt.
So go, you are not mine--
Prosper and flower wherever you are.
And yet stay,
Grow strong and straight
Like a companion eucalyptus,
Tall and elegant,
And restless in the breeze.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Apostrophe to Poverty

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Poverty is not so easy to attain.
It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,
motherless, naked and dirty, let loose
among garbage heaps on squalid streets;
it is not always a toothless importunate hag,
shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,
clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;
it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay
where during the monsoon, the pus of the city
oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts
wade across filthy gutters by the roadside
to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always
some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,
a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between
stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.
We, for whom poverty is the only sin,
miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.
Regard myself in my own comfortable cage
twenty concrete floors above the common street
surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:
my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,
air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,
dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--
wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--
fabricate my secure and happy delusions. My day
which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm
of a chronometer made in Japan. Wired to a shaver,
I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,
automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages
from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,
open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,
breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,
shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,
descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting
in the bowels of the building. After I leave,
the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows
preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants
on display, strategically placed for effect, languish
for want of sunshine and air.
Regard myself among
all these, my indispensable possessions. Can I
one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?
can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,
disappear into the night to find all the answers?
"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--
can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark
without even a note, as over two thousand years ago
Gautama did? With all my engagements, can I
without notice, even take a vacation? No, impossible.
I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.
The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers
announcing a reward for my capture, will print my
picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,
and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,
suing me for desertion and maltreatment. Afterwards,
endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.
No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.
Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;
it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.
Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.
It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.
He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks
upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,
he is the essential man, without any superfluity.
Or, consider another angle:
we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.
some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,
some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.
Some die of too little, some die of too much,
and all those who die are equal. Hence,
privation and repletion are variations
of the same illness. So don't think that
being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,
for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,
can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?
Beyond a certain point,
I do not care to prolong this argument.
These words formed in indignation
always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.
My philosophy is simple
though some consider it partisan and limited:
the poor define their opposites;
without them none would be rich.
Hence, if nothing else,
let me here declare
my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,
however unlike them I may be.
Let poverty be my lot,
let me make this meagre offering
at the shrine of indigence.
Having now come out into the open,
taken sides for the rest of my days,
let me end,
on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:
we mustn’t extend our judgements
to what we do not comprehend;
we should accept each other,
as we are—rich or poor--
or mind our own business, please.

Excerpts from "The Used Book"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Mermaid

Prof Makarand Paranjape

I dreamed of bumping into you suddenly,
say, at Teen Murti house,
or at the Times of India building,
and imagined what I'd do then:
give you a big hug and a kiss,
unable to restrain my happiness
on seeing you after twelve years?
Your long, straight, glossy hair
would have done a shampoo commercial proud.
The hooked nose
only added character.
You had a grandmother's benign smile,
but such petulant eyes.
Though terribly insecure,
you always seemed so sure of yourself.
I still remember some of your famous lines:
“Are you asking me out on a date?
Then say so, don’t say ‘Do you see movies?’”
“Incidentally, I don’t go out on dates.”
"I know I'm attractive, though not beautiful...”
“Just because I'm liberated doesn't mean I'm available...”
All your admirers had them by heart—
we rehearsed them and laughed.
At last, you held my hand on the abandoned stairway
leading to the roof of your college.
Before I could begin to appreciate the sensation
we were surprised by a puritanical lecturer
on the prowl, who threatened to report us.
You told him off with characteristic confidence:
"We know what we are doing,
we don't need you to guard our morals."
The poor man was too taken aback to answer.
Yes, the Hauz Khas poem actually
belongs to you, though it occurs in her book.
Remember how we visited the village
before any of the boutiques had come up.
There were reams upon reams of dyed cloth,
in myriad bright colours,
stretched to dry in the sun,
like swathes of a rainbow, descended on earth.
We also visited Mulk Raj Anand's famous house,
but found that he was in Bombay.
Then to Feroze Shah's tomb and madarsa
which was our favourite haunt.
How proud you were when I took a taxi
from the University all the way to your place
just to wish you happy birthday.
I picked up the flowers at C.P.
and called to ask if I could visit at 6:00 p.m.
You told your dad, "You can set your watch
by him. It has to be six o'clock now"
as I was announced and introduced.
You were the happiest that day.
How intensely as we talked, dreaming
of great things: “We’ll change the world,”
you boasted: “you'll be like Sartre,
and I, Simone de Beauvoir."
Of course, I proposed to you.
Then why did you not accept me?
"I’m not sure I love you--" you often said,
"don’t you know how badly Sartre treated de Beauvoir…?"
You went off to the U.S. with someone else
but that broke up too, I heard.
Finally, it was clear
that you'd never really be able
to let go of yourself. You were too
scared of losing control, of heartbreak,
of needing somebody else.
I once wrote to you
just after I'd married her
that I loved you and only you.
I showed her the letter and hurt all three of us.
But time passes and with it
what once was so precious
is hardly worth preserving now:
“I’m just an aging spinster,”
you say when we meet,
“do you still want to be my friend?”
You’re tone is light and ironic,
but why is there a wistful look in your eyes?

Excerpts from "Partial Disclosure"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Free Fall

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Let me forget myself momentarily
as the divine did itself when it made this
beautiful world of sound, light, and colour,
and peopled it with all kinds of creatures,
great and small, peaceful or violent.
So let me find myself completely in the object
of my desire, let my self be totally lost
in the other, let me thus become a woman,
and fall hopelessly in love with the man
in her. Let this love have no destination,
no hope of fulfilment or consummation;
let it be entirely futile, pointless, even
inconsequential. And let my heart be riven,
broken, crushed, scattered beyond all
retrieval or recognition, let all my poise
and self-control, my pride of manhood
be totally undone in this all-consuming
passion. O victory, I shall seek you
in my utter ruination, like a desperate
soul seeking solace in everlasting annihilation.
My obsession brooks no restraint or moderation;
I must be totally destroyed before I'm done,
no particle of me left safe or untouched.
I risk all to gain all; I am reckless in love
because I know that the one I love, after all,
is not I or you, but the lost whole of which
both are parts. I am willing to wager all
because I know that my love will be as safe
with you as it is with the Mother of God.

 

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The Original

Prof Makarand Paranjape

She no longer poses but is just herself,
this woman, who is an artist's model.
Undressing for a living, she's stripped
daily of much more than her clothes.
Now there she sits totally defenceless,
not even comfortable in the straight backed chair,
but twisted, drooping, cold, and naked--
her sagging breasts, thin and sad,
and her subdued sex, timidly peeping
from between her thighs,
like a small, quiet mouse.
Her fleshy lips and empty eyes tell one story;
the artist's brush, paints and easel, tell another.

 

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Awaited Letter

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The Awaited Letter
is always penned at night,
not necessarily in stealth
but in a site or manner more
cherished and rare--privacy.
Much of it comes in single
cloud-bursts of ardour or
empathy; much more than ink
flows when it is written.
Then, only words on the page
remain and the pleasure of
being spent. What actually
was written is forgotten.
Once finished, the writer is
anxious to dispatch it as if
its portents must reach their
favoured destination at once.
The eyes that read it over
and the hands that seal
the cover are wont to be a
trifle restless, impatient;
sometimes the stamp can be
askew, the flap soaked
in glue, or there's a minor
error in the address.
The act of actually posting it
is never innocent; prominent
post offices are preferred
for the security they induce.
But once in, it's out of her
hands; a certain feeling of
freedom follows but also a
familiar fear: will it reach?
All night the letter lies awake
quietly, waiting, almost smugly
because it knows how unlike
it is to its pedestrian peers.
The envelope is picked up, marked,
sorted, flung, trussed up, tossed
hither and thither, handled by
so many during its long journey,
creased, sometimes stained with
greasy fingers, or damp and
smudged in the rain. But inside,
the letter itself is intact,
a virgin, unseen and untouched
by any, snugly smiling in anti-
cipation of yielding itself
only to her rightful owner.
The latter already knows it
is on its way as if the sender
had kissed him in a dream
to inform him of its coming.
Yet a feline unease shadows him
as he awaits to repossess that
which he surrendered so suddenly
in a fond or foolish overture.
Waiting, even for what he
knows will arrive, is so hum-
bling; whom can he blame if a
promised missive miscarries?
While he cannot admit the eager-
ness of his need, it has already
reached his post office to be
dropped into his box tomorrow--
or else, it glows distressed,
like a radioactive particle,
in some godforsaken graveyard
of undelivered messages.
Having once reached, look how
teasing it can be, lurking
inconspicuously between all
sorts of junk-mail, only to
spring into his hands suddenly,
dazing him with surprised
joy, and making him shy with
pride, like a woman pleased.
Perhaps, the sender well knows
that both her hands and eyes
have left invisible traces that
rekindle themselves on contact:
some letters, like poems, must
not only be read, but smelt,
stroked, held, and even carried
like shy brides, to bed.
But life is not literature;
an awaited letter is habitually
never written; if written
it is often never posted
but recessed into that inner
wilderness which is awaste
with so many unlived or erased
wishes and sickened dreams.
Even when it is signed, posted,
and received, its comforts
eventually abate: found,
the lost beloved is revealed
as the image of one's own
self. Correspondents who
are experienced know that
somewhere the longed-for one
awaits every seeker; we watch
helpless as a strange magnetism
draws us together even over
the chasms of several shipwrecked
births: how the received letter
works its magic fusing him into
into her! Now the reply he must
write becomes the awaited letter.

Read More
In Love (At Thirty)

Prof Makarand Paranjape

To make even one single person happy,
To love her completely, to give her without restraint
All that you could if your were God himself;
Or to love, even a plant, an animal,
Any piece of life; to nurture it,
To care, to have tenderness for someone else;
Even to do this just once, fully and entirely,
Is to fulfill one's life and find heaven afterwards.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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The Love Poem Unwritten

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The poem he wished to write began this way:
Is it come to this
That I am reduced to writing love poems
To you....
There he stopped. A heavy onus
Of unresolved emotions
Seemed to gag him.
He wished to say:
How ironic it was that separation
Had revived their love,
How she still defined his existence
By absence, as she had once done
Through her presence;
How distance generated intimacy,
So that now they were in love again.
And how corny, how odd, how unusual that felt.
Like nothing they'd felt before,
In fact, almost like in the movies,
Their romance was beginning to dramatize itself.
Yes, this was the intoxication
Of not just being in love,
But of being in love with being in love.
He wanted to say: I love you.
I love myself when I love you.
I love what you do to me.
I love what my love does to you.
When I think of us, there's a tremor
Not in my heart, but in the pit of my stomach,
It's a dull fire that spreads upwards,
From my loins. It's a hormonal high
When I remember how we lie side by side,
Naked, and how we make love.
Unlike the past, now we don't even need foreplay.
We are so hot just being next to each other.
And we are so serene when we join,
We even talk and smile.
But as I push into you, in, in, in,
All words are stuck in the throat.
I feel myself dissolving into you,
My self sinking lower and lower,
To vanishing point.
By entering you, I give you back to yourself.
There you are, your face flushed, but calm.
And then there's neither you nor me,
But only a warmth, throbbing and vital,
Which says: Love, love, love,
Or Om, Om, Om--just the primordial note.
We look at each other like this,
And an eternity passes away
As time forgets itself.
He wanted to say:
Now that we're apart once again,
I think, how strange it is to be in love
And to write about one's love,
To write poems to you,
Telling you how much I miss you,
How I am pining away,
And yet how delicious the pain is,
How exciting, inviting, welcome.
To reinvent language to say all this
To call back to oneself the sighs and tremors
Of love, to talk of your eyes and lips,
To celebrate your face, to get lost
In your fragrant tresses, to seek refuge
In the shade of your eyelashes, to praise
The softness and warmth of your touch,
To talk of the scent of your breath,
To remember your intimate gestures,
To cup your breasts in my hands
Like two panting doves,
To nestle my face between them,
And to remember all the noises you make,
And how you clown around, making faces,
And how we invent silly names for each other...
To talk about all this and much more.
In words, words, words, to project myself at you.
Then after this burst of verbal energy, fear:
To think that the person I am in love with
Is not you, but something that I have created myself,
An image of what I love. To think that I have made
An idol of you which in my loneliness I adore.
And how such love fills me with both
Ecstasy and dread, lest you interrupt these effusions,
Breaking through the image, declaring
Your real self, shattering the mirror of dreams.
How all this fits in with the poetry reading
In which I read love poems to you,
Thus becoming a poet in love,
Wooing you with my poems,
Making public our passion,
And in the process, making you my dream, my love, my muse,
Always passive, the recipient of all this homage,
The silent deity to which the priest-poet
Lights his lamps, pouring out his devotion.
And so the recurrent fear:
It's so easy to love one's own creation,
But how difficult to love a real person.
O God, how scared I am of loving you.
He wanted to write all this,
But how awkward and unconvincing it sounded,
And a silent onus seemed to gag him.
He felt saddened at his inability to love.
He thought: being in love is easy,
But to love someone so difficult.
He wondered if he could ever love,
If there was any hope for him,
If his heart heart would melt,
If he would be saved.
How important it was to find love:
It was the perfume of existence;
And life was arid without it.
He examined himself and his own life,
His compulsions to write,
To project things, to become something else,
To alter life, to change reality,
Always the drive, the ceaseless flow of words, words, words.
And now, the onus on his heart,
The inability to write, to express
His stirring love for his own wife,
The inability to force all this into words,
The fear of being found out as a liar,
The anxiety of being exposed and branded,
The dread of discovering his own changeability,
To find out, alas, that he couldn't, didn't,
Was unable to love, to love her.
At last he wrote:
There are those who love;
And there are others who only write poems.
It is you who love;
And I only write poems.
Did he then realize
The simple release of love
And the bitter doom of having to write only poems?

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
College Days

Prof Makarand Paranjape

In the grilled window overhead
Before ringing the bell
I see your face.
It is only love, nothing else.
You rush down the stairs
You hold my hand,
Your cheeks flushed with excitement.
It is only love, nothing else.
We sit on the lawn
In cushioned wicker chairs.
The night queen exudes its scent.
It is only love, nothing else.
You smile at me,
I lean over,
The world blurs out of focus again.
It is only love, nothing else.
At the sound of the car
We hastily disengage,
You rearrange your hair.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
Then, your parents suspect.
They inspect your mail,
They take counter measures.
It is only love, nothing else.
We meet elsewhere
Whispering in dingy cafes,
Under the waiter's suspicious gaze.
It is only love, nothing else.
Or else outside your college,
Or on a park bench,
Or in a shopping centre on a weekend.
It is only love, nothing else.
On your birthday, before the final exam,
You lie you're at a friend's place,
We meet in an expensive restaurant.
It is only love, nothing else.
In the dim light you say
We can't go on like this.
In silence I stare ahead.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
At last it is time to graduate.
You hold my last letter,
Now smudged, tightly to your chest.
It is only love, nothing else.
What will become of me, you wail,
My throat catches too,
The sari slips off your heaving breasts.
It is only love, nothing else.
In a flash, all the memories--
Letters, phone calls, innumerable meetings--
Dart by as we watch, helpless.
It is only love, nothing else.
You resist my caress, at first
But suddenly yield, with vehemence.
It is to be our last embrace.
It is only love, nothing else.
I leave town.
You settle down,
Marrying somebody else.
It is only love, nothing else.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Getting Outside Patriarchy

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Our distances are intimate,
We grow vast in our silences.
In freedom we have blossomed,
Not having thwarted one another.
How unrestricted are our movements:
We have never tried to trim each other to size.
You come back, asynchronious,
Twisted by your concourse with others.
I react to your divergences.
How we have fought,
With no holds barred
Tearing at each other fiercely,
Until our brains nearly exploded.
Then, all anger spent,
Not one word or hit, left unstruck,
We gaze at each other mutely--
Astonished at the devastation
Each has wrought on the other.
Standing forlorn amidst the debris of our selves,
We heal, and once again
Stretch towards each other,
All our crooked places straightened.
We are the enemies of each other's egos
Ruthless in hunt;
Thus we destroy and recreate each other ceaselessly.
Yet our eyes talk and understand
The subtle signals of love,
The open smile of happiness
Wrapping the other in a warm embrace.
Indeed, our gestures are complete.
My curses have failed.
The blows that I struck you
Drained me of all violence.
Even memories have lost their sting.
Instead, eternal be my blessing
Overflowing all the harsh sayings,
Washing them away like loose dirt.
So go, you are not mine--
Prosper and flower wherever you are.
And yet stay,
Grow strong and straight
Like a companion eucalyptus,
Tall and elegant,
And restless in the breeze.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Apostrophe to Poverty

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Poverty is not so easy to attain.
It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,
motherless, naked and dirty, let loose
among garbage heaps on squalid streets;
it is not always a toothless importunate hag,
shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,
clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;
it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay
where during the monsoon, the pus of the city
oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts
wade across filthy gutters by the roadside
to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always
some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,
a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between
stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.
We, for whom poverty is the only sin,
miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.
Regard myself in my own comfortable cage
twenty concrete floors above the common street
surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:
my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,
air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,
dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--
wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--
fabricate my secure and happy delusions. My day
which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm
of a chronometer made in Japan. Wired to a shaver,
I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,
automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages
from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,
open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,
breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,
shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,
descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting
in the bowels of the building. After I leave,
the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows
preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants
on display, strategically placed for effect, languish
for want of sunshine and air.
Regard myself among
all these, my indispensable possessions. Can I
one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?
can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,
disappear into the night to find all the answers?
"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--
can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark
without even a note, as over two thousand years ago
Gautama did? With all my engagements, can I
without notice, even take a vacation? No, impossible.
I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.
The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers
announcing a reward for my capture, will print my
picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,
and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,
suing me for desertion and maltreatment. Afterwards,
endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.
No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.
Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;
it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.
Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.
It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.
He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks
upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,
he is the essential man, without any superfluity.
Or, consider another angle:
we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.
some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,
some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.
Some die of too little, some die of too much,
and all those who die are equal. Hence,
privation and repletion are variations
of the same illness. So don't think that
being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,
for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,
can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?
Beyond a certain point,
I do not care to prolong this argument.
These words formed in indignation
always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.
My philosophy is simple
though some consider it partisan and limited:
the poor define their opposites;
without them none would be rich.
Hence, if nothing else,
let me here declare
my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,
however unlike them I may be.
Let poverty be my lot,
let me make this meagre offering
at the shrine of indigence.
Having now come out into the open,
taken sides for the rest of my days,
let me end,
on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:
we mustn’t extend our judgements
to what we do not comprehend;
we should accept each other,
as we are—rich or poor--
or mind our own business, please.

Excerpts from "The Used Book"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
Mermaid

Prof Makarand Paranjape

I dreamed of bumping into you suddenly,
say, at Teen Murti house,
or at the Times of India building,
and imagined what I'd do then:
give you a big hug and a kiss,
unable to restrain my happiness
on seeing you after twelve years?
Your long, straight, glossy hair
would have done a shampoo commercial proud.
The hooked nose
only added character.
You had a grandmother's benign smile,
but such petulant eyes.
Though terribly insecure,
you always seemed so sure of yourself.
I still remember some of your famous lines:
“Are you asking me out on a date?
Then say so, don’t say ‘Do you see movies?’”
“Incidentally, I don’t go out on dates.”
"I know I'm attractive, though not beautiful...”
“Just because I'm liberated doesn't mean I'm available...”
All your admirers had them by heart—
we rehearsed them and laughed.
At last, you held my hand on the abandoned stairway
leading to the roof of your college.
Before I could begin to appreciate the sensation
we were surprised by a puritanical lecturer
on the prowl, who threatened to report us.
You told him off with characteristic confidence:
"We know what we are doing,
we don't need you to guard our morals."
The poor man was too taken aback to answer.
Yes, the Hauz Khas poem actually
belongs to you, though it occurs in her book.
Remember how we visited the village
before any of the boutiques had come up.
There were reams upon reams of dyed cloth,
in myriad bright colours,
stretched to dry in the sun,
like swathes of a rainbow, descended on earth.
We also visited Mulk Raj Anand's famous house,
but found that he was in Bombay.
Then to Feroze Shah's tomb and madarsa
which was our favourite haunt.
How proud you were when I took a taxi
from the University all the way to your place
just to wish you happy birthday.
I picked up the flowers at C.P.
and called to ask if I could visit at 6:00 p.m.
You told your dad, "You can set your watch
by him. It has to be six o'clock now"
as I was announced and introduced.
You were the happiest that day.
How intensely as we talked, dreaming
of great things: “We’ll change the world,”
you boasted: “you'll be like Sartre,
and I, Simone de Beauvoir."
Of course, I proposed to you.
Then why did you not accept me?
"I’m not sure I love you--" you often said,
"don’t you know how badly Sartre treated de Beauvoir…?"
You went off to the U.S. with someone else
but that broke up too, I heard.
Finally, it was clear
that you'd never really be able
to let go of yourself. You were too
scared of losing control, of heartbreak,
of needing somebody else.
I once wrote to you
just after I'd married her
that I loved you and only you.
I showed her the letter and hurt all three of us.
But time passes and with it
what once was so precious
is hardly worth preserving now:
“I’m just an aging spinster,”
you say when we meet,
“do you still want to be my friend?”
You’re tone is light and ironic,
but why is there a wistful look in your eyes?

Excerpts from "Partial Disclosure"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Free Fall

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Let me forget myself momentarily
as the divine did itself when it made this
beautiful world of sound, light, and colour,
and peopled it with all kinds of creatures,
great and small, peaceful or violent.
So let me find myself completely in the object
of my desire, let my self be totally lost
in the other, let me thus become a woman,
and fall hopelessly in love with the man
in her. Let this love have no destination,
no hope of fulfilment or consummation;
let it be entirely futile, pointless, even
inconsequential. And let my heart be riven,
broken, crushed, scattered beyond all
retrieval or recognition, let all my poise
and self-control, my pride of manhood
be totally undone in this all-consuming
passion. O victory, I shall seek you
in my utter ruination, like a desperate
soul seeking solace in everlasting annihilation.
My obsession brooks no restraint or moderation;
I must be totally destroyed before I'm done,
no particle of me left safe or untouched.
I risk all to gain all; I am reckless in love
because I know that the one I love, after all,
is not I or you, but the lost whole of which
both are parts. I am willing to wager all
because I know that my love will be as safe
with you as it is with the Mother of God.

 

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The Original

Prof Makarand Paranjape

She no longer poses but is just herself,
this woman, who is an artist's model.
Undressing for a living, she's stripped
daily of much more than her clothes.
Now there she sits totally defenceless,
not even comfortable in the straight backed chair,
but twisted, drooping, cold, and naked--
her sagging breasts, thin and sad,
and her subdued sex, timidly peeping
from between her thighs,
like a small, quiet mouse.
Her fleshy lips and empty eyes tell one story;
the artist's brush, paints and easel, tell another.

 

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Awaited Letter

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The Awaited Letter
is always penned at night,
not necessarily in stealth
but in a site or manner more
cherished and rare--privacy.
Much of it comes in single
cloud-bursts of ardour or
empathy; much more than ink
flows when it is written.
Then, only words on the page
remain and the pleasure of
being spent. What actually
was written is forgotten.
Once finished, the writer is
anxious to dispatch it as if
its portents must reach their
favoured destination at once.
The eyes that read it over
and the hands that seal
the cover are wont to be a
trifle restless, impatient;
sometimes the stamp can be
askew, the flap soaked
in glue, or there's a minor
error in the address.
The act of actually posting it
is never innocent; prominent
post offices are preferred
for the security they induce.
But once in, it's out of her
hands; a certain feeling of
freedom follows but also a
familiar fear: will it reach?
All night the letter lies awake
quietly, waiting, almost smugly
because it knows how unlike
it is to its pedestrian peers.
The envelope is picked up, marked,
sorted, flung, trussed up, tossed
hither and thither, handled by
so many during its long journey,
creased, sometimes stained with
greasy fingers, or damp and
smudged in the rain. But inside,
the letter itself is intact,
a virgin, unseen and untouched
by any, snugly smiling in anti-
cipation of yielding itself
only to her rightful owner.
The latter already knows it
is on its way as if the sender
had kissed him in a dream
to inform him of its coming.
Yet a feline unease shadows him
as he awaits to repossess that
which he surrendered so suddenly
in a fond or foolish overture.
Waiting, even for what he
knows will arrive, is so hum-
bling; whom can he blame if a
promised missive miscarries?
While he cannot admit the eager-
ness of his need, it has already
reached his post office to be
dropped into his box tomorrow--
or else, it glows distressed,
like a radioactive particle,
in some godforsaken graveyard
of undelivered messages.
Having once reached, look how
teasing it can be, lurking
inconspicuously between all
sorts of junk-mail, only to
spring into his hands suddenly,
dazing him with surprised
joy, and making him shy with
pride, like a woman pleased.
Perhaps, the sender well knows
that both her hands and eyes
have left invisible traces that
rekindle themselves on contact:
some letters, like poems, must
not only be read, but smelt,
stroked, held, and even carried
like shy brides, to bed.
But life is not literature;
an awaited letter is habitually
never written; if written
it is often never posted
but recessed into that inner
wilderness which is awaste
with so many unlived or erased
wishes and sickened dreams.
Even when it is signed, posted,
and received, its comforts
eventually abate: found,
the lost beloved is revealed
as the image of one's own
self. Correspondents who
are experienced know that
somewhere the longed-for one
awaits every seeker; we watch
helpless as a strange magnetism
draws us together even over
the chasms of several shipwrecked
births: how the received letter
works its magic fusing him into
into her! Now the reply he must
write becomes the awaited letter.

Read More
In Love (At Thirty)

Prof Makarand Paranjape

To make even one single person happy,
To love her completely, to give her without restraint
All that you could if your were God himself;
Or to love, even a plant, an animal,
Any piece of life; to nurture it,
To care, to have tenderness for someone else;
Even to do this just once, fully and entirely,
Is to fulfill one's life and find heaven afterwards.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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The Love Poem Unwritten

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The poem he wished to write began this way:
Is it come to this
That I am reduced to writing love poems
To you....
There he stopped. A heavy onus
Of unresolved emotions
Seemed to gag him.
He wished to say:
How ironic it was that separation
Had revived their love,
How she still defined his existence
By absence, as she had once done
Through her presence;
How distance generated intimacy,
So that now they were in love again.
And how corny, how odd, how unusual that felt.
Like nothing they'd felt before,
In fact, almost like in the movies,
Their romance was beginning to dramatize itself.
Yes, this was the intoxication
Of not just being in love,
But of being in love with being in love.
He wanted to say: I love you.
I love myself when I love you.
I love what you do to me.
I love what my love does to you.
When I think of us, there's a tremor
Not in my heart, but in the pit of my stomach,
It's a dull fire that spreads upwards,
From my loins. It's a hormonal high
When I remember how we lie side by side,
Naked, and how we make love.
Unlike the past, now we don't even need foreplay.
We are so hot just being next to each other.
And we are so serene when we join,
We even talk and smile.
But as I push into you, in, in, in,
All words are stuck in the throat.
I feel myself dissolving into you,
My self sinking lower and lower,
To vanishing point.
By entering you, I give you back to yourself.
There you are, your face flushed, but calm.
And then there's neither you nor me,
But only a warmth, throbbing and vital,
Which says: Love, love, love,
Or Om, Om, Om--just the primordial note.
We look at each other like this,
And an eternity passes away
As time forgets itself.
He wanted to say:
Now that we're apart once again,
I think, how strange it is to be in love
And to write about one's love,
To write poems to you,
Telling you how much I miss you,
How I am pining away,
And yet how delicious the pain is,
How exciting, inviting, welcome.
To reinvent language to say all this
To call back to oneself the sighs and tremors
Of love, to talk of your eyes and lips,
To celebrate your face, to get lost
In your fragrant tresses, to seek refuge
In the shade of your eyelashes, to praise
The softness and warmth of your touch,
To talk of the scent of your breath,
To remember your intimate gestures,
To cup your breasts in my hands
Like two panting doves,
To nestle my face between them,
And to remember all the noises you make,
And how you clown around, making faces,
And how we invent silly names for each other...
To talk about all this and much more.
In words, words, words, to project myself at you.
Then after this burst of verbal energy, fear:
To think that the person I am in love with
Is not you, but something that I have created myself,
An image of what I love. To think that I have made
An idol of you which in my loneliness I adore.
And how such love fills me with both
Ecstasy and dread, lest you interrupt these effusions,
Breaking through the image, declaring
Your real self, shattering the mirror of dreams.
How all this fits in with the poetry reading
In which I read love poems to you,
Thus becoming a poet in love,
Wooing you with my poems,
Making public our passion,
And in the process, making you my dream, my love, my muse,
Always passive, the recipient of all this homage,
The silent deity to which the priest-poet
Lights his lamps, pouring out his devotion.
And so the recurrent fear:
It's so easy to love one's own creation,
But how difficult to love a real person.
O God, how scared I am of loving you.
He wanted to write all this,
But how awkward and unconvincing it sounded,
And a silent onus seemed to gag him.
He felt saddened at his inability to love.
He thought: being in love is easy,
But to love someone so difficult.
He wondered if he could ever love,
If there was any hope for him,
If his heart heart would melt,
If he would be saved.
How important it was to find love:
It was the perfume of existence;
And life was arid without it.
He examined himself and his own life,
His compulsions to write,
To project things, to become something else,
To alter life, to change reality,
Always the drive, the ceaseless flow of words, words, words.
And now, the onus on his heart,
The inability to write, to express
His stirring love for his own wife,
The inability to force all this into words,
The fear of being found out as a liar,
The anxiety of being exposed and branded,
The dread of discovering his own changeability,
To find out, alas, that he couldn't, didn't,
Was unable to love, to love her.
At last he wrote:
There are those who love;
And there are others who only write poems.
It is you who love;
And I only write poems.
Did he then realize
The simple release of love
And the bitter doom of having to write only poems?

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
College Days

Prof Makarand Paranjape

In the grilled window overhead
Before ringing the bell
I see your face.
It is only love, nothing else.
You rush down the stairs
You hold my hand,
Your cheeks flushed with excitement.
It is only love, nothing else.
We sit on the lawn
In cushioned wicker chairs.
The night queen exudes its scent.
It is only love, nothing else.
You smile at me,
I lean over,
The world blurs out of focus again.
It is only love, nothing else.
At the sound of the car
We hastily disengage,
You rearrange your hair.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
Then, your parents suspect.
They inspect your mail,
They take counter measures.
It is only love, nothing else.
We meet elsewhere
Whispering in dingy cafes,
Under the waiter's suspicious gaze.
It is only love, nothing else.
Or else outside your college,
Or on a park bench,
Or in a shopping centre on a weekend.
It is only love, nothing else.
On your birthday, before the final exam,
You lie you're at a friend's place,
We meet in an expensive restaurant.
It is only love, nothing else.
In the dim light you say
We can't go on like this.
In silence I stare ahead.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
At last it is time to graduate.
You hold my last letter,
Now smudged, tightly to your chest.
It is only love, nothing else.
What will become of me, you wail,
My throat catches too,
The sari slips off your heaving breasts.
It is only love, nothing else.
In a flash, all the memories--
Letters, phone calls, innumerable meetings--
Dart by as we watch, helpless.
It is only love, nothing else.
You resist my caress, at first
But suddenly yield, with vehemence.
It is to be our last embrace.
It is only love, nothing else.
I leave town.
You settle down,
Marrying somebody else.
It is only love, nothing else.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Getting Outside Patriarchy

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Our distances are intimate,
We grow vast in our silences.
In freedom we have blossomed,
Not having thwarted one another.
How unrestricted are our movements:
We have never tried to trim each other to size.
You come back, asynchronious,
Twisted by your concourse with others.
I react to your divergences.
How we have fought,
With no holds barred
Tearing at each other fiercely,
Until our brains nearly exploded.
Then, all anger spent,
Not one word or hit, left unstruck,
We gaze at each other mutely--
Astonished at the devastation
Each has wrought on the other.
Standing forlorn amidst the debris of our selves,
We heal, and once again
Stretch towards each other,
All our crooked places straightened.
We are the enemies of each other's egos
Ruthless in hunt;
Thus we destroy and recreate each other ceaselessly.
Yet our eyes talk and understand
The subtle signals of love,
The open smile of happiness
Wrapping the other in a warm embrace.
Indeed, our gestures are complete.
My curses have failed.
The blows that I struck you
Drained me of all violence.
Even memories have lost their sting.
Instead, eternal be my blessing
Overflowing all the harsh sayings,
Washing them away like loose dirt.
So go, you are not mine--
Prosper and flower wherever you are.
And yet stay,
Grow strong and straight
Like a companion eucalyptus,
Tall and elegant,
And restless in the breeze.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Apostrophe to Poverty

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Poverty is not so easy to attain.
It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,
motherless, naked and dirty, let loose
among garbage heaps on squalid streets;
it is not always a toothless importunate hag,
shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,
clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;
it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay
where during the monsoon, the pus of the city
oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts
wade across filthy gutters by the roadside
to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always
some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,
a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between
stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.
We, for whom poverty is the only sin,
miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.
Regard myself in my own comfortable cage
twenty concrete floors above the common street
surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:
my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,
air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,
dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--
wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--
fabricate my secure and happy delusions. My day
which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm
of a chronometer made in Japan. Wired to a shaver,
I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,
automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages
from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,
open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,
breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,
shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,
descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting
in the bowels of the building. After I leave,
the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows
preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants
on display, strategically placed for effect, languish
for want of sunshine and air.
Regard myself among
all these, my indispensable possessions. Can I
one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?
can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,
disappear into the night to find all the answers?
"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--
can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark
without even a note, as over two thousand years ago
Gautama did? With all my engagements, can I
without notice, even take a vacation? No, impossible.
I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.
The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers
announcing a reward for my capture, will print my
picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,
and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,
suing me for desertion and maltreatment. Afterwards,
endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.
No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.
Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;
it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.
Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.
It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.
He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks
upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,
he is the essential man, without any superfluity.
Or, consider another angle:
we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.
some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,
some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.
Some die of too little, some die of too much,
and all those who die are equal. Hence,
privation and repletion are variations
of the same illness. So don't think that
being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,
for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,
can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?
Beyond a certain point,
I do not care to prolong this argument.
These words formed in indignation
always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.
My philosophy is simple
though some consider it partisan and limited:
the poor define their opposites;
without them none would be rich.
Hence, if nothing else,
let me here declare
my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,
however unlike them I may be.
Let poverty be my lot,
let me make this meagre offering
at the shrine of indigence.
Having now come out into the open,
taken sides for the rest of my days,
let me end,
on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:
we mustn’t extend our judgements
to what we do not comprehend;
we should accept each other,
as we are—rich or poor--
or mind our own business, please.

Excerpts from "The Used Book"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
Mermaid

Prof Makarand Paranjape

I dreamed of bumping into you suddenly,
say, at Teen Murti house,
or at the Times of India building,
and imagined what I'd do then:
give you a big hug and a kiss,
unable to restrain my happiness
on seeing you after twelve years?
Your long, straight, glossy hair
would have done a shampoo commercial proud.
The hooked nose
only added character.
You had a grandmother's benign smile,
but such petulant eyes.
Though terribly insecure,
you always seemed so sure of yourself.
I still remember some of your famous lines:
“Are you asking me out on a date?
Then say so, don’t say ‘Do you see movies?’”
“Incidentally, I don’t go out on dates.”
"I know I'm attractive, though not beautiful...”
“Just because I'm liberated doesn't mean I'm available...”
All your admirers had them by heart—
we rehearsed them and laughed.
At last, you held my hand on the abandoned stairway
leading to the roof of your college.
Before I could begin to appreciate the sensation
we were surprised by a puritanical lecturer
on the prowl, who threatened to report us.
You told him off with characteristic confidence:
"We know what we are doing,
we don't need you to guard our morals."
The poor man was too taken aback to answer.
Yes, the Hauz Khas poem actually
belongs to you, though it occurs in her book.
Remember how we visited the village
before any of the boutiques had come up.
There were reams upon reams of dyed cloth,
in myriad bright colours,
stretched to dry in the sun,
like swathes of a rainbow, descended on earth.
We also visited Mulk Raj Anand's famous house,
but found that he was in Bombay.
Then to Feroze Shah's tomb and madarsa
which was our favourite haunt.
How proud you were when I took a taxi
from the University all the way to your place
just to wish you happy birthday.
I picked up the flowers at C.P.
and called to ask if I could visit at 6:00 p.m.
You told your dad, "You can set your watch
by him. It has to be six o'clock now"
as I was announced and introduced.
You were the happiest that day.
How intensely as we talked, dreaming
of great things: “We’ll change the world,”
you boasted: “you'll be like Sartre,
and I, Simone de Beauvoir."
Of course, I proposed to you.
Then why did you not accept me?
"I’m not sure I love you--" you often said,
"don’t you know how badly Sartre treated de Beauvoir…?"
You went off to the U.S. with someone else
but that broke up too, I heard.
Finally, it was clear
that you'd never really be able
to let go of yourself. You were too
scared of losing control, of heartbreak,
of needing somebody else.
I once wrote to you
just after I'd married her
that I loved you and only you.
I showed her the letter and hurt all three of us.
But time passes and with it
what once was so precious
is hardly worth preserving now:
“I’m just an aging spinster,”
you say when we meet,
“do you still want to be my friend?”
You’re tone is light and ironic,
but why is there a wistful look in your eyes?

Excerpts from "Partial Disclosure"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
Free Fall

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Let me forget myself momentarily
as the divine did itself when it made this
beautiful world of sound, light, and colour,
and peopled it with all kinds of creatures,
great and small, peaceful or violent.
So let me find myself completely in the object
of my desire, let my self be totally lost
in the other, let me thus become a woman,
and fall hopelessly in love with the man
in her. Let this love have no destination,
no hope of fulfilment or consummation;
let it be entirely futile, pointless, even
inconsequential. And let my heart be riven,
broken, crushed, scattered beyond all
retrieval or recognition, let all my poise
and self-control, my pride of manhood
be totally undone in this all-consuming
passion. O victory, I shall seek you
in my utter ruination, like a desperate
soul seeking solace in everlasting annihilation.
My obsession brooks no restraint or moderation;
I must be totally destroyed before I'm done,
no particle of me left safe or untouched.
I risk all to gain all; I am reckless in love
because I know that the one I love, after all,
is not I or you, but the lost whole of which
both are parts. I am willing to wager all
because I know that my love will be as safe
with you as it is with the Mother of God.

 

Read More
The Original

Prof Makarand Paranjape

She no longer poses but is just herself,
this woman, who is an artist's model.
Undressing for a living, she's stripped
daily of much more than her clothes.
Now there she sits totally defenceless,
not even comfortable in the straight backed chair,
but twisted, drooping, cold, and naked--
her sagging breasts, thin and sad,
and her subdued sex, timidly peeping
from between her thighs,
like a small, quiet mouse.
Her fleshy lips and empty eyes tell one story;
the artist's brush, paints and easel, tell another.

 

Read More
Awaited Letter

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The Awaited Letter
is always penned at night,
not necessarily in stealth
but in a site or manner more
cherished and rare--privacy.
Much of it comes in single
cloud-bursts of ardour or
empathy; much more than ink
flows when it is written.
Then, only words on the page
remain and the pleasure of
being spent. What actually
was written is forgotten.
Once finished, the writer is
anxious to dispatch it as if
its portents must reach their
favoured destination at once.
The eyes that read it over
and the hands that seal
the cover are wont to be a
trifle restless, impatient;
sometimes the stamp can be
askew, the flap soaked
in glue, or there's a minor
error in the address.
The act of actually posting it
is never innocent; prominent
post offices are preferred
for the security they induce.
But once in, it's out of her
hands; a certain feeling of
freedom follows but also a
familiar fear: will it reach?
All night the letter lies awake
quietly, waiting, almost smugly
because it knows how unlike
it is to its pedestrian peers.
The envelope is picked up, marked,
sorted, flung, trussed up, tossed
hither and thither, handled by
so many during its long journey,
creased, sometimes stained with
greasy fingers, or damp and
smudged in the rain. But inside,
the letter itself is intact,
a virgin, unseen and untouched
by any, snugly smiling in anti-
cipation of yielding itself
only to her rightful owner.
The latter already knows it
is on its way as if the sender
had kissed him in a dream
to inform him of its coming.
Yet a feline unease shadows him
as he awaits to repossess that
which he surrendered so suddenly
in a fond or foolish overture.
Waiting, even for what he
knows will arrive, is so hum-
bling; whom can he blame if a
promised missive miscarries?
While he cannot admit the eager-
ness of his need, it has already
reached his post office to be
dropped into his box tomorrow--
or else, it glows distressed,
like a radioactive particle,
in some godforsaken graveyard
of undelivered messages.
Having once reached, look how
teasing it can be, lurking
inconspicuously between all
sorts of junk-mail, only to
spring into his hands suddenly,
dazing him with surprised
joy, and making him shy with
pride, like a woman pleased.
Perhaps, the sender well knows
that both her hands and eyes
have left invisible traces that
rekindle themselves on contact:
some letters, like poems, must
not only be read, but smelt,
stroked, held, and even carried
like shy brides, to bed.
But life is not literature;
an awaited letter is habitually
never written; if written
it is often never posted
but recessed into that inner
wilderness which is awaste
with so many unlived or erased
wishes and sickened dreams.
Even when it is signed, posted,
and received, its comforts
eventually abate: found,
the lost beloved is revealed
as the image of one's own
self. Correspondents who
are experienced know that
somewhere the longed-for one
awaits every seeker; we watch
helpless as a strange magnetism
draws us together even over
the chasms of several shipwrecked
births: how the received letter
works its magic fusing him into
into her! Now the reply he must
write becomes the awaited letter.

Read More
In Love (At Thirty)

Prof Makarand Paranjape

To make even one single person happy,
To love her completely, to give her without restraint
All that you could if your were God himself;
Or to love, even a plant, an animal,
Any piece of life; to nurture it,
To care, to have tenderness for someone else;
Even to do this just once, fully and entirely,
Is to fulfill one's life and find heaven afterwards.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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The Love Poem Unwritten

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The poem he wished to write began this way:
Is it come to this
That I am reduced to writing love poems
To you....
There he stopped. A heavy onus
Of unresolved emotions
Seemed to gag him.
He wished to say:
How ironic it was that separation
Had revived their love,
How she still defined his existence
By absence, as she had once done
Through her presence;
How distance generated intimacy,
So that now they were in love again.
And how corny, how odd, how unusual that felt.
Like nothing they'd felt before,
In fact, almost like in the movies,
Their romance was beginning to dramatize itself.
Yes, this was the intoxication
Of not just being in love,
But of being in love with being in love.
He wanted to say: I love you.
I love myself when I love you.
I love what you do to me.
I love what my love does to you.
When I think of us, there's a tremor
Not in my heart, but in the pit of my stomach,
It's a dull fire that spreads upwards,
From my loins. It's a hormonal high
When I remember how we lie side by side,
Naked, and how we make love.
Unlike the past, now we don't even need foreplay.
We are so hot just being next to each other.
And we are so serene when we join,
We even talk and smile.
But as I push into you, in, in, in,
All words are stuck in the throat.
I feel myself dissolving into you,
My self sinking lower and lower,
To vanishing point.
By entering you, I give you back to yourself.
There you are, your face flushed, but calm.
And then there's neither you nor me,
But only a warmth, throbbing and vital,
Which says: Love, love, love,
Or Om, Om, Om--just the primordial note.
We look at each other like this,
And an eternity passes away
As time forgets itself.
He wanted to say:
Now that we're apart once again,
I think, how strange it is to be in love
And to write about one's love,
To write poems to you,
Telling you how much I miss you,
How I am pining away,
And yet how delicious the pain is,
How exciting, inviting, welcome.
To reinvent language to say all this
To call back to oneself the sighs and tremors
Of love, to talk of your eyes and lips,
To celebrate your face, to get lost
In your fragrant tresses, to seek refuge
In the shade of your eyelashes, to praise
The softness and warmth of your touch,
To talk of the scent of your breath,
To remember your intimate gestures,
To cup your breasts in my hands
Like two panting doves,
To nestle my face between them,
And to remember all the noises you make,
And how you clown around, making faces,
And how we invent silly names for each other...
To talk about all this and much more.
In words, words, words, to project myself at you.
Then after this burst of verbal energy, fear:
To think that the person I am in love with
Is not you, but something that I have created myself,
An image of what I love. To think that I have made
An idol of you which in my loneliness I adore.
And how such love fills me with both
Ecstasy and dread, lest you interrupt these effusions,
Breaking through the image, declaring
Your real self, shattering the mirror of dreams.
How all this fits in with the poetry reading
In which I read love poems to you,
Thus becoming a poet in love,
Wooing you with my poems,
Making public our passion,
And in the process, making you my dream, my love, my muse,
Always passive, the recipient of all this homage,
The silent deity to which the priest-poet
Lights his lamps, pouring out his devotion.
And so the recurrent fear:
It's so easy to love one's own creation,
But how difficult to love a real person.
O God, how scared I am of loving you.
He wanted to write all this,
But how awkward and unconvincing it sounded,
And a silent onus seemed to gag him.
He felt saddened at his inability to love.
He thought: being in love is easy,
But to love someone so difficult.
He wondered if he could ever love,
If there was any hope for him,
If his heart heart would melt,
If he would be saved.
How important it was to find love:
It was the perfume of existence;
And life was arid without it.
He examined himself and his own life,
His compulsions to write,
To project things, to become something else,
To alter life, to change reality,
Always the drive, the ceaseless flow of words, words, words.
And now, the onus on his heart,
The inability to write, to express
His stirring love for his own wife,
The inability to force all this into words,
The fear of being found out as a liar,
The anxiety of being exposed and branded,
The dread of discovering his own changeability,
To find out, alas, that he couldn't, didn't,
Was unable to love, to love her.
At last he wrote:
There are those who love;
And there are others who only write poems.
It is you who love;
And I only write poems.
Did he then realize
The simple release of love
And the bitter doom of having to write only poems?

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
College Days

Prof Makarand Paranjape

In the grilled window overhead
Before ringing the bell
I see your face.
It is only love, nothing else.
You rush down the stairs
You hold my hand,
Your cheeks flushed with excitement.
It is only love, nothing else.
We sit on the lawn
In cushioned wicker chairs.
The night queen exudes its scent.
It is only love, nothing else.
You smile at me,
I lean over,
The world blurs out of focus again.
It is only love, nothing else.
At the sound of the car
We hastily disengage,
You rearrange your hair.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
Then, your parents suspect.
They inspect your mail,
They take counter measures.
It is only love, nothing else.
We meet elsewhere
Whispering in dingy cafes,
Under the waiter's suspicious gaze.
It is only love, nothing else.
Or else outside your college,
Or on a park bench,
Or in a shopping centre on a weekend.
It is only love, nothing else.
On your birthday, before the final exam,
You lie you're at a friend's place,
We meet in an expensive restaurant.
It is only love, nothing else.
In the dim light you say
We can't go on like this.
In silence I stare ahead.
It is only love, nothing else.
* * *
At last it is time to graduate.
You hold my last letter,
Now smudged, tightly to your chest.
It is only love, nothing else.
What will become of me, you wail,
My throat catches too,
The sari slips off your heaving breasts.
It is only love, nothing else.
In a flash, all the memories--
Letters, phone calls, innumerable meetings--
Dart by as we watch, helpless.
It is only love, nothing else.
You resist my caress, at first
But suddenly yield, with vehemence.
It is to be our last embrace.
It is only love, nothing else.
I leave town.
You settle down,
Marrying somebody else.
It is only love, nothing else.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
Getting Outside Patriarchy

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Our distances are intimate,
We grow vast in our silences.
In freedom we have blossomed,
Not having thwarted one another.
How unrestricted are our movements:
We have never tried to trim each other to size.
You come back, asynchronious,
Twisted by your concourse with others.
I react to your divergences.
How we have fought,
With no holds barred
Tearing at each other fiercely,
Until our brains nearly exploded.
Then, all anger spent,
Not one word or hit, left unstruck,
We gaze at each other mutely--
Astonished at the devastation
Each has wrought on the other.
Standing forlorn amidst the debris of our selves,
We heal, and once again
Stretch towards each other,
All our crooked places straightened.
We are the enemies of each other's egos
Ruthless in hunt;
Thus we destroy and recreate each other ceaselessly.
Yet our eyes talk and understand
The subtle signals of love,
The open smile of happiness
Wrapping the other in a warm embrace.
Indeed, our gestures are complete.
My curses have failed.
The blows that I struck you
Drained me of all violence.
Even memories have lost their sting.
Instead, eternal be my blessing
Overflowing all the harsh sayings,
Washing them away like loose dirt.
So go, you are not mine--
Prosper and flower wherever you are.
And yet stay,
Grow strong and straight
Like a companion eucalyptus,
Tall and elegant,
And restless in the breeze.

Poem from "The Serene Flame"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Apostrophe to Poverty

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Poverty is not so easy to attain.
It is not all misery--belly-pinching brats,
motherless, naked and dirty, let loose
among garbage heaps on squalid streets;
it is not always a toothless importunate hag,
shrunken and gaunt, who, accosting you on the footpath,
clings and clings, pleading she has no other refuge;
it is not always the slum in Calcutta or Bombay
where during the monsoon, the pus of the city
oozes, and women, with babies at their breasts
wade across filthy gutters by the roadside
to reach their dissolute hovels; it is not always
some leper on display, limbs arranged on a cart,
a wrinkled begging bowl of tin balanced between
stubs of arms, pushed by his bandaged companion.
We, for whom poverty is the only sin,
miss the true meaning of what it is to be poor.
Regard myself in my own comfortable cage
twenty concrete floors above the common street
surrounded by my solacing clutter of machines:
my washers, dryers, heaters, coolers, mixers,
air-conditioners, refrigerators, cookers, grinders,
dish washers, vacuum cleaners, hi-fi stereos, CD-Roms--
wonderful possessions, too numerous to mention--
fabricate my secure and happy delusions. My day
which ended with a sedative, begins with the alarm
of a chronometer made in Japan. Wired to a shaver,
I adjust temperatures, turn on the coffee maker,
automatically dispose garbage, receive recorded messages
from the office, blip the tube for the Morning News,
open refrigerator, collect dishes from the washer,
breakfast instantly, and if not constipated, defecate,
shower, shampoo, condition, blow-dry hair, dress,
descend in the elevator to my automobile, waiting
in the bowels of the building. After I leave,
the fluffy carpet smothers the floor, bolted windows
preserve the air-conditioning; pets, and potted plants
on display, strategically placed for effect, languish
for want of sunshine and air.
Regard myself among
all these, my indispensable possessions. Can I
one muffled night, walk away from all this that ties me?
can I, oppressed by my fears and uncertainties,
disappear into the night to find all the answers?
"I shall not rest until I have found the truth"--
can I take such a vow and simply leave in the dark
without even a note, as over two thousand years ago
Gautama did? With all my engagements, can I
without notice, even take a vacation? No, impossible.
I will be registered with the Missing Persons Bureau.
The media will blare my absence; the major newspapers
announcing a reward for my capture, will print my
picture; my wife will hire detectives to track me down,
and if I am found, she will probably file for divorce,
suing me for desertion and maltreatment. Afterwards,
endless alimony payments will follow as a matter of course.
No, my friend, even if I want to, I cannot be poor.
Poverty, the plain fact is, cannot be inherited;
it has to be acquired, for it is a quality of the mind.
Poverty is the lack of need, not the want of possessions.
It cannot be forced, because it is voluntary.
He who knows what it is to be poor, always walks
upright; using only what he needs, refusing all excesses,
he is the essential man, without any superfluity.
Or, consider another angle:
we humans are beings of spirit and flesh.
some stuff the spirit, starve the flesh,
some starve the spirit and stuff the flesh.
Some die of too little, some die of too much,
and all those who die are equal. Hence,
privation and repletion are variations
of the same illness. So don't think that
being rich, in itself, is better than being poor,
for in the ultimate analysis, despite your wealth,
can you deny, that in truth you own only yourself?
Beyond a certain point,
I do not care to prolong this argument.
These words formed in indignation
always dissolve in a calm beyond comment.
My philosophy is simple
though some consider it partisan and limited:
the poor define their opposites;
without them none would be rich.
Hence, if nothing else,
let me here declare
my allegiance to my deprived countrymen,
however unlike them I may be.
Let poverty be my lot,
let me make this meagre offering
at the shrine of indigence.
Having now come out into the open,
taken sides for the rest of my days,
let me end,
on a note of uncharacteristic bluntness:
we mustn’t extend our judgements
to what we do not comprehend;
we should accept each other,
as we are—rich or poor--
or mind our own business, please.

Excerpts from "The Used Book"
Read More at www.makarand.com

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Mermaid

Prof Makarand Paranjape

I dreamed of bumping into you suddenly,
say, at Teen Murti house,
or at the Times of India building,
and imagined what I'd do then:
give you a big hug and a kiss,
unable to restrain my happiness
on seeing you after twelve years?
Your long, straight, glossy hair
would have done a shampoo commercial proud.
The hooked nose
only added character.
You had a grandmother's benign smile,
but such petulant eyes.
Though terribly insecure,
you always seemed so sure of yourself.
I still remember some of your famous lines:
“Are you asking me out on a date?
Then say so, don’t say ‘Do you see movies?’”
“Incidentally, I don’t go out on dates.”
"I know I'm attractive, though not beautiful...”
“Just because I'm liberated doesn't mean I'm available...”
All your admirers had them by heart—
we rehearsed them and laughed.
At last, you held my hand on the abandoned stairway
leading to the roof of your college.
Before I could begin to appreciate the sensation
we were surprised by a puritanical lecturer
on the prowl, who threatened to report us.
You told him off with characteristic confidence:
"We know what we are doing,
we don't need you to guard our morals."
The poor man was too taken aback to answer.
Yes, the Hauz Khas poem actually
belongs to you, though it occurs in her book.
Remember how we visited the village
before any of the boutiques had come up.
There were reams upon reams of dyed cloth,
in myriad bright colours,
stretched to dry in the sun,
like swathes of a rainbow, descended on earth.
We also visited Mulk Raj Anand's famous house,
but found that he was in Bombay.
Then to Feroze Shah's tomb and madarsa
which was our favourite haunt.
How proud you were when I took a taxi
from the University all the way to your place
just to wish you happy birthday.
I picked up the flowers at C.P.
and called to ask if I could visit at 6:00 p.m.
You told your dad, "You can set your watch
by him. It has to be six o'clock now"
as I was announced and introduced.
You were the happiest that day.
How intensely as we talked, dreaming
of great things: “We’ll change the world,”
you boasted: “you'll be like Sartre,
and I, Simone de Beauvoir."
Of course, I proposed to you.
Then why did you not accept me?
"I’m not sure I love you--" you often said,
"don’t you know how badly Sartre treated de Beauvoir…?"
You went off to the U.S. with someone else
but that broke up too, I heard.
Finally, it was clear
that you'd never really be able
to let go of yourself. You were too
scared of losing control, of heartbreak,
of needing somebody else.
I once wrote to you
just after I'd married her
that I loved you and only you.
I showed her the letter and hurt all three of us.
But time passes and with it
what once was so precious
is hardly worth preserving now:
“I’m just an aging spinster,”
you say when we meet,
“do you still want to be my friend?”
You’re tone is light and ironic,
but why is there a wistful look in your eyes?

Excerpts from "Partial Disclosure"
Read More at www.makarand.com

Read More
Free Fall

Prof Makarand Paranjape

Let me forget myself momentarily
as the divine did itself when it made this
beautiful world of sound, light, and colour,
and peopled it with all kinds of creatures,
great and small, peaceful or violent.
So let me find myself completely in the object
of my desire, let my self be totally lost
in the other, let me thus become a woman,
and fall hopelessly in love with the man
in her. Let this love have no destination,
no hope of fulfilment or consummation;
let it be entirely futile, pointless, even
inconsequential. And let my heart be riven,
broken, crushed, scattered beyond all
retrieval or recognition, let all my poise
and self-control, my pride of manhood
be totally undone in this all-consuming
passion. O victory, I shall seek you
in my utter ruination, like a desperate
soul seeking solace in everlasting annihilation.
My obsession brooks no restraint or moderation;
I must be totally destroyed before I'm done,
no particle of me left safe or untouched.
I risk all to gain all; I am reckless in love
because I know that the one I love, after all,
is not I or you, but the lost whole of which
both are parts. I am willing to wager all
because I know that my love will be as safe
with you as it is with the Mother of God.

 

Read More
The Original

Prof Makarand Paranjape

She no longer poses but is just herself,
this woman, who is an artist's model.
Undressing for a living, she's stripped
daily of much more than her clothes.
Now there she sits totally defenceless,
not even comfortable in the straight backed chair,
but twisted, drooping, cold, and naked--
her sagging breasts, thin and sad,
and her subdued sex, timidly peeping
from between her thighs,
like a small, quiet mouse.
Her fleshy lips and empty eyes tell one story;
the artist's brush, paints and easel, tell another.

 

Read More
Awaited Letter

Prof Makarand Paranjape

The Awaited Letter
is always penned at night,
not necessarily in stealth
but in a site or manner more
cherished and rare--privacy.
Much of it comes in single
cloud-bursts of ardour or
empathy; much more than ink
flows when it is written.
Then, only words on the page
remain and the pleasure of
being spent. What actually
was written is forgotten.
Once finished, the writer is
anxious to dispatch it as if
its portents must reach their
favoured destination at once.
The eyes that read it over
and the hands that seal
the cover are wont to be a
trifle restless, impatient;
sometimes the stamp can be
askew, the flap soaked
in glue, or there's a minor
error in the address.
The act of actually posting it
is never innocent; prominent
post offices are preferred
for the security they induce.
But once in, it's out of her
hands; a certain feeling of
freedom follows but also a
familiar fear: will it reach?
All night the letter lies awake
quietly, waiting, almost smugly
because it knows how unlike
it is to its pedestrian peers.
The envelope is picked up, marked,
sorted, flung, trussed up, tossed
hither and thither, handled by
so many during its long journey,
creased, sometimes stained with
greasy fingers, or damp and
smudged in the rain. But inside,
the letter itself is intact,
a virgin, unseen and untouched
by any, snugly smiling in anti-
cipation of yielding itself
only to her rightful owner.
The latter already knows it
is on its way as if the sender
had kissed him in a dream
to inform him of its coming.
Yet a feline unease shadows him
as he awaits to repossess that
which he surrendered so suddenly
in a fond or foolish overture.
Waiting, even for what he
knows will arrive, is so hum-
bling; whom can he blame if a
promised missive miscarries?
While he cannot admit the eager-
ness of his need, it has already
reached his post office to be
dropped into his box tomorrow--
or else, it glows distressed,
like a radioactive particle,
in some godforsaken graveyard
of undelivered messages.
Having once reached, look how
teasing it can be, lurking
inconspicuously between all
sorts of junk-mail, only to
spring into his hands suddenly,
dazing him with surprised
joy, and making him shy with
pride, like a woman pleased.
Perhaps, the sender well knows
that both her hands and eyes
have left invisible traces that
rekindle themselves on contact:
some letters, like poems, must
not only be read, but smelt,
stroked, held, and even carried
like shy brides, to bed.
But life is not literature;
an awaited letter is habitually
never written; if written
it is often never posted
but recessed into that inner
wilderness which is awaste
with so many unlived or erased
wishes and sickened dreams.
Even when it is signed, posted,
and received, its comforts
eventually abate: found,
the lost beloved is revealed
as the image of one's own
self. Correspondents who
are experienced know that
somewhere the longed-for one
awaits every seeker; we watch
helpless as a strange magnetism
draws us together even over
the chasms of several shipwrecked
births: how the received letter
works its magic fusing him into
into her! Now the reply he must
write becomes the awaited letter.

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