Poems by Anju Makhija
BLACK ‘N WHITE
(for Dom Moraes)
‘Life gets darker as we grow older.’
We had shared a cigarette at Indigo--
his crop of white hair made him look boyish.
White was not the colour of ageing,
for Dom, it was a colour alive!
He had climbed the stairs, ladies on either side;
ordered oysters, tied the napkin at the neck tight
and digested literary issues.
Late night, he staggered down the steps,
we held on as if to precious china.
That night I prayed:
keep a special place for him, God,
as you surely do for all great poets.
His number is still in my mobile directory.
To delete it would be to concede
Dom’s pen no longer slides across the page.
He had once advised me:
your poetic voice is adventurous,
the chiseling will come with patience and age.
My dark hair peppers with white--
white became the colour of ageing.
As I witnessed death at close quarters,
the darkness he described comes alive.
I resorted to Kundera, Krishna--
sometimes even to a bowl of oysters, wine
and Dom’s verse. Occasionally,
I attempt to write a poem
that will die on the page,
never giving birth to another.
A BLANK SHEET
(for Nissim Ezekiel)
‘Writers have mulled over
heaven and hell…do they exist?’
asks the poet, tugging his sleeve,
leaning back in the rickety armchair,
even as papers pile up
and deadlines languish.
‘Heaven and hell…
let’s talk more about it, shall we?’
He repeats questions
like one obsessed.
Then a few months later, I hear
that his memories have been erased
as if by a tidal wave.
I see him on the hospital bed.
‘Was I really your teacher…when…where?’
He notes the dates from acolytes.
His forgetting seems to be
a way of saying goodbye--
that his thoughts have run off the page,
and the note pad is full.
Has he forgotten heaven and hell,
now that the mind hovers
somewhere in between? I ask him.
Looking at me, he says simply:
‘shall we go across for tea and idli?’
About the poet
Anju Makhija is a poet, playwright and translator. She is the author of several books including: Seeking the Beloved, a translation of the 16th century sufi poet, Shah Abdul Latif; The Last Train & Other Plays; View from the Web and Pickling Season (poems); She has co-edited a collection of partition poetry, Freedom and Fissures; an anthology of women’s poetry, We Speak in Changing Languages; a poetry collection for youth, To Catch A Poem; and a 3-volume series of Indo-English plays. Makhija has won several awards including the Sahitya Akdademi English Translation Prize (2011) and the BBC World Poetry Prize (2002).