Save Calcutta’s Architectural Inheritance

On a random morning as we rode a rickety bus towards Esplanade, the dilapidated warehouses (that I’ve seen a million times) lining Strand road elicited an abrupt “you can’t just let them die!” My best friend was caught unaware but he took it upon himself to show me the Calcutta of his childhood and a new love story began. Since then many an afternoon we have found ourselves gazing at houses with intricate railings and slatted windows and spiral stairwells, debating if there was just some way we could get inside and admire the red cement or black and white checkered marble floors and the long verandahs (we are yet to find the courage to ask the owners!) It is sad to see them crumbling, giving way to faceless structures that have no stories to tell, no whiff of nostalgia around them. Without her rich architectural heritage, Calcutta ceases to be Calcutta. Calcutta ceases to be the city many like us identify with. It becomes a city without a soul. It becomes just another urban maze stripped of poetry and memories and music. It becomes uninspiring. It becomes powerless.

We don’t want to lose the Calcutta we love.

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Amit Chaudhuri is spearheading a campaign to preserve Calcutta’s unique architecture. No, we are not talking about the mansions and memorials of the Raj or the rajbaris of the Bengali landowners. We are talking about the hundreds of unnamed houses that are being demolished to make way for swanky apartment blocks in the old neighbourhoods of the city. In no other city, in India or abroad, will you find structures built in what is called the Bengali-European style. For more about the cause, read this article on the Guardian.

Help us save Calcutta’s architectural inheritance by signing the petition here.

A house on Hindustan Park (Photo Courtesy: The Guardian)

A house on Hindustan Park (Photo Courtesy: The Guardian)

Paper Boats

we never discussed the rain.
this monsoon when the water threatened
to swallow us whole, you curled
like a snail inside my rib-cage; Kolkata slept.

you are 6 and i your child-bride, quarter
mother held you to her sallow frame-

i dream i have let your fingers go in the onrush.

later i trawl out seaweed, sit
braiding strands of pastel disappointment into rugs as you
launch your umpteenth paper boat into our soggy lane.
i smile through my teeth; the
tea-laced morning has caught a flu.

©Mohana Das

Date Notes, 28 Apr ’15

evening- the sky threatens to inundate-
we pack a plate of momos- chicken,
schezuan- hop into an auto:
darkness swirls over the aged buildings of Hatibagan.
trams, their toothless mouths stuffed with romanticism,
hobble unmindful. all morning, we tried
etching secrets onto each other’s skin, ears
cocked for the softest sound of feet down the
corridor: as we kissed; as we exhaled the
anguish of seven long days out on the cold red
floor. the rush is thinning spasmodically.
a cubic angstrom of my brain feels exhilarated as the traffic count
goes 5-4-3-2-1- yellow taxis zoom, i bump sideways in his chest-
everything smells of sweet,
wet earth.

at Ahiritola, we find the river weeping:
blue-black bruises blotch her swollen face,
the wind lashes, tears froth-lipped waves into
tattered skeins- i clutch his arm,
the jetty trembles and the sky is electric.
when it starts raining, we have just
unwrapped the momos- hurriedly, my mauve umbrella
goes up. our backs are slabs of ice.

evening- it pours- monsoon is an enraged
raga. the strings of her tanpura are ablaze.
leaflets engorge with ecstasy, the bloom of petrichor percolates
through flesh, bones- i feed him momos,
hungry for touch and warmth and proximity.
the bridge is a limp line of halogens
hovering ghost-like between earth and sky.
a launch bobs bearing-less in the distance.
our lips ache for a confluence.
Kolkata holds us back despite herself.

©Mohana Das

in a heartbeat

the last word i tried teaching him was deconstructed on my tongue. my larynx fumbles as i watch his primrose mouth spill language i lesson-ed:

“let me. please.”

the first time he kissed me i thought i would volatilise. daylight suddenly velvet, pin pricks of nacre assailed my sight. the concrete, magma underneath my feet, i wanted to ask him to help me breathe. hours bent in between us, the space folding itself into particle. then dust. my breasts were proud magnolias.

his heartbeats thunder across the boron-breasted sky. i laugh and the bombs in my alveoli do not explode. today, it is him teaching me to spell h-o-m-e.

i watch myself blooming in the aftermath as Anatolia chisels the way to her on my palms.

“get more piercings,” i reminisce. his scent sheathes me like a favorite song. i have tasted his smile, his butterfly frivolity. i have tasted the ache turning gangrenous in his heart, i have tasted his fidelity. the amber of his silence pools in the hollow of my neck.

breathless, i tattoo his ode on my flesh, gravitate towards light. the sinking something at the bottom of my chest has dehisced. on most days i hate love him.

our tiny star shuts her eyes as i moan. everything is on fire.

©Mohana Das

This is the third of a series of poems. Read the other two here:

Part I: from the corner of my eye
Part II: on this side of the phone

#108

little heart, will you ever learn to sing?

the twang of metal turned sour on my tongue, i fidget late nights, pulling long strings of bird-blue notes- outside the pond is tumescent.

if i write you a letter, will you write me one?

tell me a lie but tell me you will. years condense on my window like rain. along the rim, there is the fire of bougainvillea in spring. then there is summer when afternoons robed like brides jump at me from the shadows. startled, i sink in amniotic hope.

i heal.

i break.

tell me your favorite poem. tell me why it breaks your heart.

©Mohana Das

#together after a long long time

March 1, 2015: The most memorable day in a long long time. #together

Aranya, one of my best friends was home after years. And that was reason enough to celebrate.

I’ve had few, very few friends always. So after school ended, I was suddenly left all alone in the heart of an empty cornfield. Evening seemed to close in rapidly and I was frightened. Every night after returning home from college, I rang up Barsha, Ankita & Aranya and after they had reassured me and my nerves felt less taut, tiredness would overtake and I plunged into cold sleep. It wasn’t that I didn’t make new friends but my new friends were, well, new and between us were miles and miles of unexplored stretches.

I missed school. Continue reading

#107

Winter is half-way across the sea. There are butterflies on every bough. Each day, they unfold another water-colored wing. Crap. Those are leaves and this is pretentious spring.

The scent of hope between our lips. I want to ask if this was your idea of fun. I stay shut. Ask me why when fraternizing exhausts you. Days blow like cotton candy. This diaspora of virtues. I could shoot you point blank. Tell me you care.

Stain my mouth with yet another sulphur-lie. Teach me shades of pink.

But first, come here. Spell singularity.

Because if this that we drew is a map, then you darling, are an insincere home and I am just another name in your book of names. Nothing less.

Nothing more.

©Mohana Das

#106

The rivers have forgotten their way home. There is rain.

Do you ever wonder why I never ask you to spell out my name? I like the way it tastes in your mouth. The sweet of salt estuary. The salt of sweet moonmilk. Mud creeks squelch in delirium.

Let me craft you a boat.

This is mirage and wetland. Deep green puppets slither behind shadows, their voices raspy with isolation. I know you hate crocodiles. I hate them too. And I hate how you outline your trees and horizons with your egg-headed crayon. You must always let your paints bleed, percolate down to the underbelly of the paper. Tell me now, must I draw you a map back home?

The mangroves awkwardly stick their roots out to breathe. Tides swell higher. You turn the map around, pretend to read coordinates, and crash in into my homeless arms, pockets full of infected affection, talking of death and drowning and prettiness.

And before I know, the river has erupted in a blaze. The stillness is metal.

©Mohana Das

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On a side note, Sundarban is one of the earth’s endangered ecological gems. Famous for Royal Bengal tigers, this beguiling maze of mangroves is dissected by raging rivers and demure creeks. Visit it before climate changes wipe it off the face of our planet. To know more, read The Land of Man-Eating Tigers: Why you MUST visit Sundarban.

Once upon a time, there was Candy and Dan. Things were very hot that year. All the wax was melting in the trees. He would climb balconies, climb everywhere, do anything for her, oh Danny boy. Thousands of birds, the tiniest birds, adorned her hair. Everything was gold. One night the bed caught fire. He was handsome and a very good criminal. We lived on sunlight and chocolate bars. It was the afternoon of extravagant delight. Danny the daredevil. Candy went missing. The days last rays of sunshine cruise like sharks. I want to try it your way this time. You came into my life really fast and I liked it. We squelched in the mud of our joy. I was wet-thighed with surrender. Then there was a gap in things and the whole earth tilted. This is the business. This, is what we’re after. With you inside me comes the hatch of death. And perhaps I’ll simply never sleep again. The monster in the pool. We are a proper family now with cats and chickens and runner beans. Everywhere I looked. And sometimes I hate you. Friday — I didn’t mean that, mother of the blueness. Angel of the storm. Remember me in my opaqueness. You pointed at the sky, that one called Sirius or dog star, but on here on earth. Fly away sun. Ha ha fucking ha you are so funny Dan. A vase of flowers by the bed. My bare blue knees at dawn. These ruffled sheets and you are gone and I am going to. I broke your head on the back of the bed but the baby he died in the morning. I gave him a name. His name was Thomas. Poor little god. His heart pounds like a voodoo drum.

― Luke Davies, Candy

#105

Disgracefully, this iteration is emptying itself. I want to sleep. My mouth hurts from the unfamiliarity.

And I want to write you a poem about flowers. Their dyed skeletons. Their plastic tits. Instead I stuff a rag into my throat. Nothing happens. The night reeks of kerosene.

Tell me how to set fire to us.

Each of the trees that line our alley is obstinately bare. I unfold myself, squint at the brilliant slut that is my heart. Then everything is ash.

I beg. You plead. Together we dance the dance of death.

Under my skin, prickling veins burst into dawn. Tear me apart, I want to hiss. But there are promises. There is anachronism. An expletive called love. My 9 year old poem sneers at me from the corner of his eye.

I laugh.

The ceiling judders, spits venom. There are scars all along the entirety of me. I am lies and thorns and immiscibility. And I want to hold. I want to arrange. I want to align every glass thread that gives you a shape.

The moon is just a ball of lightless rock, dearest best friend. Look at my hands. Look how they bleed.

©Mohana Das