Season of Verses

I haven’t been on the blog for quite a while. 2021 is proving to be a year of elusive concentration, spiralling exhaustion, sadness, and intense physical pain. I have re-acquainted myself with some drawing, although I have been reading about the state of the world and am often disturbed by what I see our little planet coming to. But visually, October, and the autumn in general, is a beautiful time– as in this part of the Americas, foliage puts on a show as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the northern lights. Thousands of stock photographs and painters can attest to the power of fall’s colours in the northern hemisphere.

Poets like the U.S’ Mary Oliver, whose primary inspirations were self and nature, give us an idea of the feelings evoked in this season of impermanence and darkness. Cultures all over the world celebrate the vanquishing of the long bleak night of winter and pay homage to those we love who are journeying beyond this life. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead on November 1st is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone– their favourite foods and music, flowers and marigolds to adorn their visit between the worlds. Offerings and altars, graveyards and candles, photos and colours, not for nothing are Mexicans famed for being detallistas! And the lived-in voice of Chavela Vargas reminds us that the passion and drama of artists live on in all of us who hear and read the works of those who have gone before.

Black Velvet Autumn, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Fall

the black oaks fling
their bronze fruit
into all the pockets of the earth
pock pock

they knock against the thresholds
the roof the sidewalk
fill the eaves
the bottom line

of the old gold song
of the almost finished year
what is spring all that tender
green stuff

compared to this
falling of tiny oak trees
out of the oak trees
then the clouds

gathering thick along the west
then advancing
then closing over
breaking open

the silence
then the rain
dashing its silver seeds
against the house

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

A Neighbourly Appearance, Halloween 2021, Kaushalya Bannerji
Chavela Vargas, La Llorona
You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by.You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by. You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman, I even thought you were the Virgin.You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman,I even thought you were the Virgin. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman from a field of irises.Woe is me, Weeping Woman.Weeping Woman from a field of irises. 
He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony.He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony. 

I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery.I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery. When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying.When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river.Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river. Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman, because I'm freezing to death.Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman,because I'm freezing to death. (Trans DaphneKarina PG)
Autumn Leaves, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Who’s Your Troubadour? Fifty Years of Chico Buarque

More than fifty years ago, a young singer songwriter burst on to the exciting and boundary breaking music scene in Brazil, a country grappling with the legacy of cruelty, colonization, migration, and above all, enslavement. Burgeoning movements for racial and regional equality, along with student and feminist movements, workers, and small peasantry, found themselves clamouring for both more and just representation in Brazilian social, economic and political life. In response, the ruling oligarchs and their allies and offshoots in the media, banking, land-owning, and other sectors brought in a military junta whose tank-laden shadows lay heavily across the streets of Brazil for twenty long years. Those were years of active repression of progressive social movements and artists and intellectuals. 

The period 1964-85 saw Brazil, Chile, and then Argentina, in the grips of  repulsive comprador elites who could not hurry fast enough into the arms of the U.S. military-industrial complex. During this period, we may have heard of the many Chileans and Argentinian artists and musicians who were persecuted or even assassinated for their political views, such as Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Quilapayun, Inti-Illimani, Fito Paez, etc. To this list, we must add some of the greatest proponents of the Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) group, loosely comprised of Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimiento, Gal Costa, Maria Bethania, and so many others. The fusion of African, Indigenous, U.S. and European influences found in the Tropicalia music scene, was matched by a desire to write lyrics which resonated with the public and youth of the time. 

Censorship, military crackdowns on the left and student organizing, inattention to the needs of the poor and the landless, over-policing and under- provision of social services were the norm under the Generals.  Meanwhile, artists and intellectuals were also challenging ideas about race, racism, and class and respectability, ideas of gender and sexuality; all of these were part of a dynamic and vibrant wave of Brazilian culture in the 1970s. The chanson traditions of France and Europe migrated across the Atlantic ocean as troubadours and folk-singers brought styles of music that melded over time to local sounds and rhythms, producing a musical syncretism that sets Brazilian music with its nasal vocals and complex rhythms into a distinctly recognizable sound of its own. Samba and Bossa Nova are only parts of a vast spectrum of Brazilian music comprised of rock, funk, jazz, forro, rap, and other influences. But they are hugely important because they gave rise to a new understanding of nation-state in the minds of Brazilians themselves– a nation comprised of ethnic plurality in which African elements were inescapably tied up with Brazilian popular expression and identity. This admission of biracial demographic composition or mestizaje in national identity forced a constant confrontation with the past, as Brazil was the last country in the Americas to forbid slavery, as late as 1888. This preoccupation with racialized and national identities characterized many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, along with the great economic upheavals that reliance on mono-crop agriculture brought with the Great Depression, in the world economy. By the 1960s, racialized and classed stereotypes about afro-descended peoples and aboriginal nations, abounded, along with regionalist stereotypes. The young artists of the era hoped to dismantle and deconstruct the elitest image of Brazil as a land of playboys and trophy girls, drinking caipirinhas and swaying to the sunsets of Rio. Indeed, novelists like Jorge Amado had already begun articulating a new vision of working class and racialized Brazilians as the real heirs to the nation through their blood, sweat, and tears. Musicians were part of this rich contestation of the meaning of the “popular”, as they tried to portray a culture of the “people”, in opposition to the massification and commodification of shallow and superficial cultural values.

In 1971, poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter, Chico Buarque de Holanda (1944) wrote the song “Construction”, a homage to the every day construction workers and working class men of Brazil. This song’s  own amazing construction is beautifully expressed in the original Portuguese and also in Spanish translation. Each line is repeated in the next verse but given a different last word. It’s a marvel of symmetry, compassion, and cadence in the original Portuguese, with a dramatic  musicality that characterizes Chico Buarque’s songwriting. Even Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez pays homage to his fellow musician and poet, in his beautiful song, Quien Fuera? or Who’s the One? The two songwriters share a love for surrealism and social justice that does not lend itself well to translation! I’ve tried to convey some of the meaning of this iconic song, on it’s fiftieth anniversary; when Brazil is again confronted with a choice between popular democracy (Lula) and dictatorship (Bolsonaro). I’ve shared a recent version by Chico and a version in Spanish by Pedro Aznar, that showcases the guitar’s rhythmic capacity.

Wikipedia tells us that 

“ (Chico) wrote and studied literature as a child and found music through the bossa nova compositions of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. He performed as a singer and guitarist  during the 1960s as well as writing a play that was deemed dangerous by the Brazilian military dictatorship of the time. Buarque, along with several Tropicalist and MPB musicians, was threatened by the Brazilian military government and eventually left Brazil for Italy in 1969. However, he came back to Brazil in 1970, and continued to record, perform, and write, though much of his material was suppressed by government censors. He released several more albums in the 1980s and published three novels in the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2019, Buarque was awarded the Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language.”

Construcao, Francisco Buarque de Holanda 1971

Amou daquela vez como se fosse a última

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a última

E cada filho seu como se fosse o único

E atravessou a rua com seu passo tímido

Subiu a construção como se fosse máquina

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes sólidas

Tijolo com tijolo num desenho mágico

Seus olhos embotados de cimento e lágrima

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse sábado

Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse um príncipe

Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse um náufrago

Dançou e gargalhou como se ouvisse música

E tropeçou no céu como se fosse um bêbado

E flutuou no ar como se fosse um pássaro

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote flácido

Agonizou no meio do passeio público

Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o tráfego

Amou daquela vez como se fosse o último

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse a única

E cada filho seu como se fosse o pródigo

E atravessou a rua com seu passo bêbado

Subiu a construção como se fosse sólido

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes mágicas

Tijolo com tijolo num desenho lógico

Seus olhos embotados de cimento e tráfego

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um príncipe

Comeu feijão com arroz como se fosse o máximo

Bebeu e soluçou como se fosse máquina

Dançou e gargalhou como se fosse o próximo

E tropeçou no céu como se ouvisse música

E flutuou no ar como se fosse sábado

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote tímido

Agonizou no meio do passeio náufrago

Morreu na contramão atrapalhando o público

Amou daquela vez como se fosse máquina

Beijou sua mulher como se fosse lógico

Ergueu no patamar quatro paredes flácidas

Sentou pra descansar como se fosse um pássaro

E flutuou no ar como se fosse um príncipe

E se acabou no chão feito um pacote bêbado

Morreu na contra-mão atrapalhando o sábado

Construction,  Francisco Buarque de Holanda (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021)

He loved, that time, as though it were his last

He kissed his wife as though she were the ultimate

And each child of his, was like his only one.

He crossed the street with his timid gait

Climbed the construction site as if he were a machine

He built four solid walls on the landing

Brick by brick in a magical design

His eyes encrusted with cement and tears.

He sat down to rest like it was Saturday

He ate his beans and rice as if he were a prince

He drank and sobbed like one shipwrecked

He danced and laughed as if he heard music

He stumbled across the sky like a drunk

He floated in the air like a bird

He ended up on the ground like a limp package

He agonized in the middle of the public boulevard

He died against the grain, hindering traffic.

He loved that time as though it were the last time

He kissed his wife as if she were the only one

And each child of his, was a prodigal son. 

He crossed the street with his drunken gait

He climbed the construction scaffolding as if it were solid

He built four magic walls on the landing

Brick by brick in a logical design

His eyes encrusted with cement and traffic.

He sat down like a prince to rest

He ate beans and rice as though it were the best

He drank and sobbed like a machine,

Danced and laughed like he was next

And stumbled across the sky as if he heard music

He floated in the air as if it were Saturday.

He ended up on the ground like a timid package

He agonized in the midst of a shipwrecked ride

He died against the grain, disturbing the public.

He loved, that time, like a machine

He kissed his wife as though it were logical

He built four flaccid walls on the landing

He sat down to rest like a bird,

And he floated in the air like a prince.

And he ended up on the ground like a drunken package

He died against the grain, disturbing Saturday.

A Little Somethin’ for Megan Markle?

I’ve not been able to watch the fall of the British Monarchy and the Republican Revolution as televised by Oprah. Just not happening! Every time I think of the British royal family, I am reminded of Sue Townsend’s classic, The Queen and I, a masterpiece of Republican humour. As you’ve guessed, I haven’t succumbed yet to the Crown!

Instead, I returned to the influences of Black culture in my own life. The poetry, music, and yes, real struggles, of the hoi-polloi! Struggles that are in flux , ebbing and flowing at particular historical moments, like these blood-stained times we live in. Bob Marley told us, “if you know your history, you won’t have to ask me, who the hell do you think I am?”. So it’s in that spirit I share what’s on my mind . A reaction to the current mainstream furor over the shock about racism in the British monarchy. If you want to check out an insider’s view of the British aristocracy, you can check out Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, an autobiography of opposing political views and dedication to fascism among the lords and ladies!

Without further ado, I want to share the poetry of Georgina Herrera , a contemporary poet living in Cuba. This writer assumes her Black identity both as humanity and as a weapon, forged in the resistance of rebellion to enslavement. Cuba experienced the end of slavery as late as 1886. I have complemented the words of Herrera with the contemporary music of Ibeyi, an AfroCuban/ French duet of sisters, daughters of the renowned Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. And to these I have combined my paintings inspired by these songs, poems and struggles. I hope you enjoy thinking about the multifaceted nature of women’s contribution to history, in this Women’s month!

Oral Portrait of Victoria by Georgina Herrera, Cuba

(Translation by Kaushalya Bannerji)

What a great-grandmother of mine, that Victoria.
Rebelling and head-down,
she passed her life.
They say I look like her.
That fifth of November
of 1843, Fermina, when all those
downward gazes were not
able to lower her spirits…

What love put that astuteness in her brain,
that fury between her hands?
What memory
brought from that land where she was free
like light and thunder
gave strength to her arm?

Valid is the nostalgia that makes powerful
a woman’s hand so
that she can cut the head off her enemy.

Tell me, Fermina. Then what
did you miss most?
What happiness did you recover, when
you flew more than ran, over the green abysses of cane
where you were defiled?

A pity
there doesn’t exist a photo of her eyes
They would have shone so hard.

Obeisance, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Retrato oral de la Victoria

Qué bisabuela mía esa Victoria.
Cimarroneándose y en bocabajos
pasó la vida.
Dicen que me parezco a ella.  
El cinco de noviembre
de 1843, Fermina, cuando
todos los bocabajos fueron pocos
para tumbar su ánimo…
¿qué amor puso la astucia en su cerebro,
la furia entre sus manos? 
¿Qué recuerdo
traído desde su tierra en que era libre
como la luz y el trueno
dio la fuerza a su brazo? 
Válida es la nostalgia que hace poderosa
la mano de una mujer
hasta decapitar a su enemigo.
Diga, Fermina. ¿Entonces
qué echaba usted de menos?
¿Cuál fue la dicha recuperada, cuando
volaba más que corría por los verdes abismos de  las cañas,
dónde tuvo lugar su desventura?
Lástima
que no exista una foto de sus ojos. 
Habrán brillado tanto. 

Blue Moon, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021
Amazing Musical Sisters
River, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Solstice 2020

Today marks the shortest daylight in our hemisphere, and the arrival of winter’s official season. But as of tomorrow, the days will lengthen again imperceptibly, and for those of us who need the light, like morning glories or sunflowers, hope will gradually be born anew. Indigenous and pagan peoples celebrated and celebrate the energies and magic of this day when the darkness must be propitiated for the sun to rise again. I share a poem by Wendell Barry and some drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve added a musical interlude, Victor Jara’s haunting instrumental La Partida / The Departure. A gentle honouring of this moment in our earth’s revolution!

TO KNOW THE DARK BY WENDELL BERRY 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
 
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Victor Jara, La Partida
Messenger, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Northern Lights, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Winter Swans, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019
Night and Day, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Post-Equinoctial Saudade

No much up to writing lately, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

5 Septembers ago, the equinox gave me the gift of a new face. I was afflicted with a virus called Bell’s Palsy. It changed my life. We are all judged on first appearances. I used to be excruciatingly self-conscious after my face became paralysed. Even today, eating in front of people is an embarrassment. Self-esteem is a’ thing’, as they say, and for myself and many others with facial disfigurement/paralysis it is very easy to be judged and pigeonholed, leaving our self-worth hugely destroyed.

Selfie, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020

I mention this because medical science doesn’t even know how to treat/help viruses that are already here. Let alone one that was supposedly released/found in humans a year ago. In the midst of this pandemic, my pre-existing conditions are acting up too. And corona counts are surging where we are., though nowhere close to the U.S. India, Brazil or Mexican rates.

I’m too exhausted by, and weary of, words. Pandemic fatigue, citizenship reduced to disposability, rumours of electoral– and beyond– violence, in the southern neighbour; hundreds if not thousands living around us in parks in the advent of winter, climate catastrophes, and plague profits/prophets abound. 38 million people will die from hunger in India alone due to government private sector mishandling of public health measures and food security. In Canada unemployment is hitting 30 percent with little relief in site. Lockdowns without food are useless.

Below, I share some of my newer creations, tinged by both personal grief, and grief for the suffering wrought by governmental /corporate responses to human suffering on a scale unmatched in peace time. Seems more like piece time–those who can will grab what they want and the rest of us will get the pieces. Don’t need horror stories for Halloween this year.! We’re living it. I’ll let Jay Gould’s Daughter have the last word. After all, who better to bemoan dignity for the working peoples of the world than another old-times tycoon’s daughter!

On a Monday morning it begin to rain
‘Round the curve come a passenger train
On the blinds was Hobo John
He’s a good old hobo, but he’s dead and gone
Dead and gone,
He’s dead and gone,
He’s a good old hobo, but he’s dead and gone
Jay Gould’s daughter said before she died
Papa, fix the blinds so the bums can’t ride
If ride they must, they got to ride the rod
Let ’em put their trust in the hands of God
In the hands of God
In the hands of God
Let them put their trust in the hands of God
Jay Gould’s daughter said, before she died
There’s two more trains I’d like to ride
Jay Gould said, “Daughter, what can they be?”
The Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe
The Santa Fe,
Oooh the Santa Fe
The Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe
Jay Gould’s daughter said, before she died
There’s two more drinks I’d like to try
Jay Gould said, “Daughter what can they be?
They’s a glass o’ water and a cup o’ tea
A cup o’ tea,
Eeer, the cup of tea
They’s a glass o’ water and a cup o’ tea
Charlie Snyder was a good engineer
Told his fireman not to fear
Pour on your water, boys, and shovel on your coal
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
See the drivers roll,
See the drivers roll
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
See the drivers roll,
See the drivers roll,
Stick your head out the window, see the drivers roll
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: A. Lomax / J. Lomax
Give a Man a Fish, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Homeless in the Park, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Icarus, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Snail among Aspens, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Broken Dark, Kaushalya Bannerji, September 2020
Jump/Push? Lockdowns without Food , Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
It could not have been the blue bird of happiness, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Poetry for the Peeps!

Just this past week, Cuba had its Saint day, as La Virgen de la Caridad de Cobre, her patron saint, was celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on September 8th. On the 12, Yoruba deity, Oshun, the syncretic counterpart of Cachita (Caridad), daughter and goddess of rivers, love, femaleness, guile, and beauty, is celebrated. One of her symbols is the sunflower, and among other things, she loves honey!

.

Sunflower, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Below I’ve translated 2 poems musicalized by 2 of Cuba’s most renowned trovadors. Pablo Milanes’ exquisite rendering of Nicolas Guillen’s poem is part of a series of poems by Guillen that he musicalized.The second piece, by Pedro Luis Ferrer, is part of the soundtrack to “Before Night Falls”, the cinematic tribute to Reinaldo Arenas’ book of the same name. Can’t say I am a big Arenas fan even though I am a fellow queer (and have experienced homophobic and racialized violence in Cuba). But the soundtrack picked by Julian Schnabel is pretty amazing. And this song resonates whenever times are hard, which they seem to be lately!

Key Words, Nicolas Guillen, Cuba (Translated Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Make of your life
a bell that resonates
or a furrow— in which flowers
the luminous tree of the idea.
Raise your voice over the voice without name
of all others, and make visible
the man, along with the poet.

Fill your spirit with flame,
see the peaking of the summit,
and if the knotty support of your walking stick
discovers some obstacle to your will—
spread your daring wings
before the daring-filled obstacle!

Jacob Lawrence, Barbershop, USA

Palabras Fundamentales, Nicolas Guillen ,

Haz que tu vida sea
campana que repique
o surco en que florezca y fructifique
el árbol luminoso de la idea.
Alza tu voz sobre la voz sin nombre
de todos los demás, y haz que se vea
junto al poeta, el hombre.
 
Llena todo tu espíritu de lumbre;
busca el empinamiento de la cumbre,
y si el sostén nudoso de tu báculo
encuentra algún obstáculo a tu intento,
¡sacude el ala del atrevimiento
ante el atrevimiento del obstáculo!

Kaushalya Bannerji copyright 2018

Mariposa, Pedro Luis Ferrer

Mariposa, me retoza
la canción junto a la boca
y tu imagen me provoca
florar en ti, mariposa.
Un lamento me reposa
como un mar de juramento:
en tu figura yo encuentro
la existencia de las flores
porque perfecta en amores
te siento como un lamento.

Mariposa, cual llorosa
canción que en ti se hace calma,
vienes calmándome el alma
con tu volar, mariposa.
La libertad de una rosa
es vivir en la verdad.
Bien sé que hay felicidad
en cada flor que te posas:
me lo dijeron las rosas,
eres tú su libertad.

Tu paz me llena, no hay pena
que pueda acabar contigo:
el amor es un amigo
que trae paz y que te llena.
Por mi aliento, cada vena
que por el cuerpo presiento
es como un sol que no intento
apagarlo con tristeza
porque pierde la belleza
del amor y del aliento.

Soy tu amigo, soy testigo
de cómo sin daño vives:
eres la paz, tú persigues
al que te mata al amigo.
En tu dulzura me abrigo
y entrego mi mente pura:
así la vida me dura
eternamente la vida
y no hay una sola herida
que no te tenga dulzura.

Ay, mariposa,
contigo el mundo se posa
en la verdad del amor:
sé que en el mundo hay dolor,
pero no es dolor el mundo.

The Lovers, D’Angelo Williams, U.SA , 2019

Butterfly, Pedro Luis Ferrer (Translated, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020)

Butterfly, you frolic song
against my mouth.
Your image arouses

my flowering
in you, butterfly.
A lament rests me
like a sea of vows:
in your figure I encounter
the existence of flowers
because perfect in love
I feel you like a lament.

Butterfly, how a tearful song
is calmed by you;
you arrive, calming my soul
with your flight, butterfly.
The freedom of a rose
is to live in truth.
I well know that there is happiness
in each flower on which you alight;
the roses tell me you are their freedom

Your peace fills me, there is no sorrow
that can finish you off.
Love is a friend
that bring peace and fills you.
By my breath, each vein
which I feel in my body
is like a sun that I don’t try
to put out with sadness
because then I would lose
the beauty
of love and breath.

I am your friend, I am witness
of how you live without destruction;
You are peace, you pursue
he who has killed your friend.
I surrender my pure mind
and thus endure life eternally.
There is not one wound
that doesn’t bring you sweetness.

Oh, butterfly
with you the world alights in the truth of love.
I know in the world there is sorrow
but sorrow alone is not the world.

Butterfly Migration, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Many people have started to ask me why I have not put anything on this blog in more than a month. Since I started this project a year and half ago, I have tried to respond to issues that have moved me deeply, created a moral restlessness, and an artistic response. I believe that art– visual, poetry, story-telling, music– has a great and necessary role to play as we enter a global crossroads regarding poverty, climate crisis, and social inequality, in which we are consuming a heartless and profit-driven internet and mainstream culture, driven solely by profit.

But life and love got in the way, as my dear father became ill–necessitating hospitalization, and then contracted COVID19 in a hospital in India. Today’s post is a tribute I wrote for my father, as I was stuck due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a world and oceans away. I have had difficulty finding the focus to write on other things at this time, when we are already so isolated due to the pandemic. But the love so many students, artists, writers, colleagues, and friends have shown my father, and to me and my family, through their tributes to him, has been a heartwarming experience in the middle of so much grief.

Sometimes, it seems to me, that my grief has merged with so many others’, and my loss is both magnified by others’ and also shared. Many people are losing their loved ones due to COVID19 directly, or indirectly, as they are unable to seek help due to limited medical contact during this time of quarantines, lockdowns and widespread fear. For many of us, Facebook has become an obituary page, rather than a source of trivia or news. Honouring these strange times, I am sharing what I wrote about and for, my father.

My father and I, 1970s, Kaushalya Bannerji

The Swan Will Fly Away All Alone,

Spectacle of the World Will Be a Mere Fair

As the Leaf Falls from the Tree

Is Difficult to Find

Who Knows Where it Will Fall

Once it is Struck with a Gust Of Wind

When Life Span is Complete

Then Listening to Orders, Following Others, Will Be Over

The Messengers of Yama are Very Strong

It’s an Entanglement with the Yama

Servant Kabir Praises the Attributes of the Lord

He Finds the Lord Soon

Guru Will Go According to His Doings

The Disciple According to His.

My father, Manabendra Bandyopadhyay, was born in Sylhet in the mid 1930s, in what is now Bangladesh, but then, was British India. He came from a large family, and his mother, my grandmother, was the mother of many stepchildren as well as her own. 

A few years after the Partition of India, my father’s family left Bangladesh and settled in a small town on the edge of Assam called Karimganj. There on the edge of a river, in a small tropical town like so many, described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he became a student and developed friendships that lasted forever. 

I accompanied him back one year, and he was amused at my amazement when i saw elephants plowing the fields like humble oxen. My father was welcomed and feted when he returned to Karimganj, Assam and read his poetry and his work on translation. I remember we were accompanied by a group of admirers who took the bus for hours back to Guwhati, the state capital, with us, in order to spend more time with my father! He supported his own fatherless family for many years through his translations of Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, and others, as my grandfather passed away when my father was young and had many brothers and sisters to look after. 

He studied Sanskrit formally and was already reading and translating from English by the time he started teaching in Yangon, Burma/ Myanmar, and then eventually at the Comparative Literature Department of Jadavpur University in 1956, which he helped to shape with a group of young scholars. 

It was where he taught for the remainder of his work life, pushing his retirement back to keep teaching a couple of years more. Jadavpur University was where he challenged thinking about story-telling, translation, and language.

He was always a fighter for mother tongues and for decolonization, and a big supporter of Indigenous and so-called “Minority” rights. As a foreign student in Canada in the early seventies, he sought out and learned from Indigenous history and culture, bringing me many books and posters and giving me a life-long awareness of the land to which my mother and I emigrated. He was the first to show me the work of Norval Morriseau who he met sometimes during his years in Vancouver. 

My father loved children’s literature and knew a lot about it! He started bringing me books from the time I was a few months old, preparing me for the incredible mutliverse of literature he shared with so many, through his belief in, and love of, translation. One of my favourite books, that he gave me when I was about 8 years old is the fantastic “Happy Islands Behind the Winds”, part of a trilogy by James Kruss, a masterpiece of fantasy geared to children of all ages! 

I also was introduced to historical fiction and mystery stories, as his love of Sherlock Holmes, shared with me when I was young, underpinned my later devouring of the genre. And he introduced me to the best of police procedurals, Maj Sjwoall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series. 

My father was anti-islamophobic and committed to a just, equitable, secularist world where culture would flourish because common people would flourish. 

I remember his belief in regional and south asian literature being just as fervent as his love of international humanism and peace, his belief that culture, and especially poetry and story-telling, could make a difference in our lives, that goes far beyond the page. 

My father committed to translating into Bangla, the stories of well known Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, at a time in India’s history when the fascist gang led by the BJP was flexing its muscles by destroying the Babri Masjid and Islamophobic violence directed by Narendra Modi, among other criminals, was on the rise. I remember the nervousness of the publishers, who feared they might be targeted by Hindu nationalists for publishing his translations. But he remained steadfastly committed to an India of diversity, peace, and inclusion which did away with caste, religious, gender, and class oppression. He could often be found in the early 90s, blasting the beautiful voice of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan or the Warsi Brothers, or the songs of Sant Kabir, on his cassette, and later cd, player. 

In his time in Canada, he enjoyed Caribbean music and culture, sharing a love of cricket with many people from the islands. He loved Bob Marley and Dave van Ronk, Osibisa, and many popular musicians he heard in Canada. 

He grew up amid the “hot winds” of independence, grief, and nation-building and never forgot to wonder at the world the city laid before him, full of ideas, talk, chess, endless cups of tea and coffee at the coffee house, or faculty club. The ability to engage with other intellectuals and artists! Bengalis do love to pass the time through adda, which is the nexus of anecdotes, philosophizing, and gossip!

He was not shy with his views and opinions and was know as a lively, engaging and perhaps, sardonic, teacher to many generations of students at Jadavpur University. Tributes from Comparative Literature Colleagues, students and other writers have poured in, from the Bangla speaking population. It’s very beautiful to feel that so many were positively touched by his work!

No mention of my father’s passing would be complete without the ugly reality of Covid19. It is devastating to have joined those hundreds of thousands of people who could not be with their loved ones in their time of need. I found a poem he had translated that speaks to my feelings about this.

A Song on the End of the World

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends

A bee circles a clover,

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing

And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet

Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,

Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:

There will be no other end of the world,

There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

And finally, although I have a lot of work to do, I try to believe my father’s departure from this life means that he is once more among us, in everything I see, and try to create, myself. Because the loss of his eyesight and autonomy gave him a great deal of pain, I am grateful that his physical and emotional pain are now over.

As a Bengali, my father was also an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore, and I want to end with a verse from him.

Tagore:

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.

Let it not be a death but completeness.

Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.

Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.

Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.

Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.

I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light your way

Additionally, I include some poems I shared in honour of my father at memorials for my father organized by the Comparative Literature Department and the African Studies Department at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

The Word

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brazil

I no longer want to consult 

dictionaries in vain.

I only want the word

that will never be there

and that can’t be invented.

One that would resume 

and replace the world.

More sun than the sun,

in which we all could 

live in communion,

mute,

savouring it. 

Agha Shahid Ali

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—

There is no sugar in the promised land.

Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love, 

I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?

If home is found on both sides of the globe,

home is of course here—and always a missed land.

The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?) 

in Fate’s ‘Long years ago we made a tryst’ land.

Clearly, these men were here only to destroy, 

a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.

Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy, 

when springtime returns to our dismissed land?

The prisons fill with the cries of children.

Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?

“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”

I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.

A hurricane is born when the wings flutter … 

Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?

You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there 

though summer had finished in that tourist land.

Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes 

when we steal their gods for our atheist land?

Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels 

so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.

At the moment the heart turns terrorist,

are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land? 

Wislawa Szymborska, Poland

Possibilities

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here

to many things I’ve also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska

From “Nothing Twice”, 1997

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city

running as well.

your neighbours running faster

than you, the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind

the old tin factory is

holding a gun bigger than his body,

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home

chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about

doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath,

waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that

you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side

with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they’ve done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, insults easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child’s body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home tells you to

leave what you could not behind,

even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don’t know what

i’ve become.

Dawn of Darkness ngugi wa thiongo, Kenya/UK

I know, I know,

It threatens the common gestures of human bonding

The handshake,

The hug

The shoulders we give each other to cry on

The Neighborliness we take for granted

So much that we often beat our breasts

Crowing about rugged individualism,

Disdaining nature, pissing poison on it even, while

Claiming that property has all the legal rights of personhood

Murmuring gratitude for our shares in the gods of capital.

Oh how now I wish I could write poetry in English,

Or any and every language you speak

So I can share with you, words that

Wanjikũ, my Gĩkũyũ mother, used to tell me:

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa:

No night is so Dark that,

It will not end in Dawn,

Or simply put,

Every night ends with dawn.

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa.

This darkness too will pass away

We shall meet again and again

And talk about Darkness and Dawn

Sing and laugh maybe even hug

Nature and nurture locked in a green embrace

Celebrating every pulsation of a common being

Rediscovered and cherished for real

In the light of the Darkness and the new Dawn.

Rainbow at My Back, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

https://frontline.thehindu.com/dispatches/eminent-writer-translator-manabendra-bandopadhyay-dies-of-covid-19/article32278845.ece?fbclid=IwAR2OS2iEDCQ3KYtFTaznmj__VIxdFG9GM8VqV6sS3b2FJUg1IAjREsaW_9Y

Jazz Cats! Music to Explore and Enjoy!

Throughout the last year, since I started this blog, I’ve been delving into the weighty topics of racism, profits before people, the colonization of indigenous peoples, destruction of the environment, and the like. But sometimes I need to refresh and recharge. Music is a key part of getting through being isolated, as the coronavirus rages on, while politicians and businessmen and doctors are at opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to “re-opening” economies and social interactions…

Black music has shaped the Western world’s ear for melody and rhythm, and jazz as an ever-changing genre is born of Black experience in the Americas. It’s been attractive as well, to many Othered”, and outsider musicians. From the light to the contemplative, jazz notes resonate like the words of Langston Hughes, whose “Weary Blues” brought poetry and jazz and even the poetry of jazz, to the foreground.

Jazz has long been an expression of life that defined American music, in spite of white supremacy. It was both the blank page and the story, the pen and ink, of the musically inclined. Jazz, more than any other music, was responsible for breaking down what used to be known as the “colour bar” during a time when the United States was inventing a story of nationhood designed to keep black rage in check. That is why the truth can sometimes be found in sound more than in reading. Jazz can sometimes be the truth which provides a counterpoint to hegemonic fictions!

I’m sharing a playlist of some great jazz musicians and vocalists, as well as some visual tributes to the cool cats of jazz. Drawing on some Indigenous, Black, Latin, and contemporary jazz sounds, I hope this music will help keep you as cool these cats during these blistering summer days!

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020
Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020

 

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020

 

Jazz Cats, Kaushalya Bannerji, July 2020

The Soloist

I’ve been having a hard time with this solo-self-isolation. All members of my family are thousands of miles away, experiencing their own lockdowns. Music, books, cleaning, and cooking are losing their charms after the 2 weeks I’ve been doing this! And I fear there will be weeks more. 

As a person with disabilities that make life unpredictable at the best of times, getting sicker and sicker has already meant losing my social life, long before this coronavirus even hit. 

People do not call you if you’ve cancelled at the last minute, or don’t even have the words to articulate what you’re feeling after a while. Causation is tiring to constantly explain or reason out,  when you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, active arthritis, and bell’s palsy. As such, navigating this time with the few good friends I have is crucial. 

Trying to figure out the every “why” of my body’s reaction had me going to doctors for years with questions to which they did not have answers. Things have changed a great deal in ideas about fibromyalgia and ME or chronic fatigue syndrome since I was first diagnosed in 1998. 

But the symptoms have not. In fact, they’ve gotten much worse. And sadly, I suspect as a woman of colour, I have probably not gotten the help I might have. I know very clearly that privilege and hierarchy play a huge role in accessing adequate healthcare. The best health care I ever recieved was when I was a law student, and the words engendered respect in doctors! However, that feels like another lifetime ago. 

Being in this situation has meant that all systems are go! Both the physical activity of carrying on solo life and disinfection under self-isolation, and the emotional stress can be a trigger to increased pain, fatigue and brain fog. 

The protocols of this COVID 19 time are alienating and isolating. Staying strong means breathing, eating twice a day whether one’s hungry or not, going out on the balcony for air a few times a day, and walks, weather permitting.  Staying hydrated. Getting vitamins. And listeneing to some other beautiful soloists! 

Staying strong means listening to some beautiful jazz in an impromptu concert by piano maestro Chucho Valdes! 

Staying strong means listening to the wondrous voice of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Staying strong means listening to the  intricate and soothing ragas of Indian classical music and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. 

Staying strong means listening to the beautiful cello solos of the imimitable and compassionate Yo Yo Ma!

Staying strong means listening to the latest piece from Chilean Popular artist, Ana Tijoux

Staying strong means listening to the wonderful contemporary Cuban-Mexican singer-songwriter, Leiden!

Staying strong means clanging pots and pans with my neighbours to honour our health care workers, and all those working and risking their health and lives— so people like me, and the elderly, who are most vulnerable — can stay home. 

Staying strong means signing petitions against homelessness, hunger, lack of basic human rights, and drinking water on First Nations lands, not only in the time of the Corona virus, but for all time. 

Staying strong means demanding those who rule us are accountable in making domestic policy that is fair, equitable and just for the most vulnerable in our society! 

Staying strong means supporting alternatives to our current way of cruelty, I mean, life, under profit and the cash nexus.

I wish all of you a safe and well time during these uncertain and dystopian days. May you be surrounded by the love you need!