Vignettes of a South African Township called Mdantsane

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chandni Chowk Rain

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Remember that rain from a lawless sky when rivers broke unevenness of many warnings. The Chandni was draped in a sinewy blue grey platform on which we stood and saw the rain running beneath us. We believed then, we still ruled. Between us remained only a tiny sliver of your Baluch inheritance, sand that refused to grow in time. I remember touching a rivulet cupping it in my hand as it flowed down your hair. Look there, those people, you said, they are going back home again. Home is the nowhereland within each of us. The rain here lives within barricades and lightening resembles gunshots in hills. The Chandni with its shutters down was just another land where people once again forgot to live. Hunched in a living memory of the long walk, it shivers sometimes in its mortal thoughts. Lets now have chai rain today; you smiled, after all not many can mix so smoothly the tea with rain. Looking; a one eyed pirate in a pelting rain, sipping tea from a cracked saucer, the rain on my retina suddenly clicked a picture of you on an unveiled moment.

Poem and Drawing by Amitabh Mitra

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dariba Kalan, Old Delhi, Excerpts from Stranger than a Sun

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And as I faintly remember you coming out of Fatehpuri Masjid, it was an evening of prayers and colours crashing against a rebel sky. A sky believing in anointing an old belief stretching all the way to the Hindu Kush where it turns bleak. At the Khyber pass or further at Chitral the same sky seems to disappear. They tell me a sky here died long back riddled with bullets from AK 47 shot by her own people. Somewhere in a Dera Bugti hill side, Nawab Akbar Bugti too died in a hail of bullets dreaming of peace and coexistence. You told me many stories of the Lahori Gate which doesn’t exist anymore and your generations that believed in India since then. Like many other evening even refusing to comprehend, I always waited, feeling the aroma of your itr as you came nearer. It was this clever stroke of losing ourselves in a crowd of loud thinkers, without talking till we reached Khari Baoli, laughing all the way till the spice filled air evoked cough, laughter and cough again. The cashew seller, Arif Chacha, participated in this grand plan every week, munching cashews we just looked at each other and only sometimes you would touch my ears as chacha jaan arranged to become busy. The sky reddened as if it will explode any moment crushed by an evening closing in to our breath. I had told you many things, rambled off to inconsequential endings like the havelis, its filigreed windows abruptly ending in long shadows, longer secrets. When we did finally part every Friday evening, Arif Chacha always insisted in forgetting to take any money, you forgot to put your veil down and I as usual forgot the way back home.

Drawing and Poem by Amitabh Mitra

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Migrant Poetry of Raphael d’Abdon


migrant blues

crossing a land grooved
by the presence of dauntless signs

sighs of solitude hovering
over the aching night

there are answers hidden
in these moonlit memories

at the centre of the margins
a quiet view
of places left
and paths imagined

sunnyside nightwalk

a rusty lamp throws a weary towel over the street corner
i sit on a bench and share some words with alain,
my brother from burundi
he’s a street vendor
he’s got two public phones
sells candies
and even single rizlas
in case of emergency

he’s trying to make a living and raise his two kids
between the cops’ raids
and the xenoidiotic threats of some local afrophobiacs
(king shaka would be ashamed of these modern age fighters
and don quixote would pity them)

apart from this
alain’s doing fine
his babies are sleeping now
they’re dreaming of tomorrow’s crèche
where they’ll be playing all day
with the policemen’s kids

i salute alain as
three skinny cats jump out from a deserted building
look at me with disdainful indifference
it must be my long beard and my tattered shirt
or maybe
they’ve more urgent things to think about
like finding a way to catch that bloody bird

they’ve skipped too many meals this week
ribs don’t lie
and the night cutting wind reminisce
of how fragile they are

i kick dreams away as a
washed out pack of nik naks swirls down the sidewalk
and arrogantly lands
over my rugged takkies
littering is fascism
and i just can’t stand ignorance
and dirt

drunk screams from the flats across the road
from under a leafless tree the glittering shadow of a knife
blinking in the shrieking winter fog

“business as usual” smiles the flashy nedbank billboard
over the razor-wired fence

the umpteenth sickening sound of police sirens
rips the moistened sky in two
it stiffens the mallow along my squeaking spine
while needles
sting the midpoint
of my frozen anus

it reminds me that it’s time to go home
and i agree (even if i don’t have one).
i walk around the corner
find a seat at sipho’s tavern
pull up my overcoat
pull down my beret
and order another beer

it’s the penultimate one
for today

Dr Raphael d’Abdon is an Italian scholar, writer, editor and translator. His essays, articles, poems and short stories have been published in volumes and journals. In 2008 he moved to Pretoria, where he lives with his wife and his daughter. He is a vegetarian and his hero is Prince.

Hillbrow, Poems from Stranger than a Sun


The Pakistani doctor from Faisalabad practices on a busy street at Hillbrow. His surgery is full of people, white, black and coloureds. They all want to live. Like an overshadowing doom with scratches of light now and then he tries to pick and choose. Hillbrow is in his vein too. It runs in virulence, speeding in hopeless strides. His patients too change their gasps before moving on. I think of him. In days bloodied with endless motorcades and streets hanging on desperately to a fast moving train, he sometimes tries stretching himself to people he had left. The Nigerian mafia at times pushes an unwilling customer from the seventh floor. The train doesn’t stops. There is a big hole in the sky here. The sun always forgets to pass by. I live a life somewhat closer to breathing somewhere close by. In evenings when a storm takes familiarity of a lost vengeance, I believe I am still alive. The heart throbs bridging living with those dying and the dying with those who have just survived. In our many lives, we always shared this beating heart, dying is the stream of light, a train running over a slumber unhinged to our other lives. We do wake up finding ourselves cornered by time’s insistent pursuit. Living and loving at Old Delhi was not just an end to a despairingly belief. I still see them through window panes when evenings rush in colouring your whispers again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Excerpts from Stranger than a Sun

Old Delhi

To be free is all we ever need. These age old streets at Johannesburg are the same as in Delhi. One reflected its own reflection of the conqueror and the vanquished and the other spoke of once rusted rivers now barely an overcrowded thread. Each in its own way remembered their ancient strife; season in layers resented the estrangement of evenings and darkness. Today as I stand on a Dutch sounding street at Johannesburg, evenings of jacaranda flowers reminds me of its age and many such lost livings. Like me, you too might have been on an endangered street; saturday reasoning at dusk might even have the aroma of karims at chitli qabar. We once talked about freedom here while watching pigeons fly. You said how can we have freedom when there are so many threads pulling the kites and so many skies living our lives. Brimming with tears from the hot kebab, we laughed the sunset of many such small beginnings.

Watercolor Drawing of Old Delhi by Amitabh Mitra