In this room, the po­ems come and go

Po­ems by Ro­hin­ton Daruwala Sec­tion cu­rated by Ran­jit Hoskote

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Po­ems by Ro­hin­ton Daruwala Sec­tion cu­rated by Ran­jit Hoskote

The act of read­ing a poem can sum­mon up the same in­stincts as what an ar­chi­tect brings to the con­sid­er­a­tion of a build­ing: how the spa­ces form a co­her­ent se­quence, how the scale of the whole is matched by at­ten­tion to de­tail­ing, how po­ems work in the lit­er­ary neigh­bour­hoods they oc­cupy. In these pages, po­etry and ar­chi­tec­ture res­onate with each other. Both dis­ci­plines span across space and time, ex­plore forms of ac­com­mo­da­tion, and ded­i­cate them­selves to the ex­pres­sion of de­sires, as­pi­ra­tions, re­la­tion­ships, and life. This month, we present a se­lec­tion of po­ems by Ro­hin­ton Daruwala, which un­fold around the ques­tion of the voice, cru­cial to all po­ets as vo­cal­ity and vo­ca­tion. Who speaks through us: is it, in Marx’s haunt­ing and mem­o­rable for­mu­la­tion, “the tra­di­tion of all the dead gen­er­a­tions” that “weighs like a night­mare on the brain of the liv­ing”? Is in­her­i­tance the anx­i­ety of our an­ces­tors, which ar­tic­u­lates it­self afresh in ev­ery epoch? Or is our real voice the growl of de­pres­sion, that black dog which threatens all our as­sump­tions of sta­bil­ity and ease, and is barely kept from the door? Or can we ex­ult as we swim in the clas­si­cal ocean of nar­ra­tive, into which all the rivers of sto­ries empty out, and dis­cover un­known cur­rents? Is the el­egy, the thren­ody, the dirge our only her­itage, as po­ets strug­gling in dark times? Or might we as­pire to telepa­thy, clair­voy­ance, em­pa­thy, as forms of con­nec­tion with oth­ers, which in­vite us to step out of the small house of the heart in which we hide? Daruwala’s lan­guage is the sup­ple, en­gag­ing, al­most con­ver­sa­tional de­motic of ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence – but it is res­o­nant with philo­soph­i­cal doubt, veined with emo­tive nu­ance, com­mit­ted to the pal­pa­ble ma­te­ri­al­ity of de­tail, and rich in hope.


Is anx­i­ety coded into our genes, or stirred in with the child­hood glass of milk we swal­low? No, not the milk or the ner­vous stom­ach lin­ing di­gest­ing it, but the way of stir­ring that presents it as an ag­i­tated white sea. Surely this is just the black dog speak­ing. And yet, small ges­tures are not just a means of ex­pres­sion, they are a way think­ing, of be­ing. We might never learn sign, not for­mally yet we do sign all our lives, and if this was our own lan­guage born abo­rig­i­nal and flour­ish­ing, it would be such a good thing. But our signs are all learned ones, all ab­sorbed through the stir­ring of the milk, the hand-wring­ing, the chin-drop­ping, the re­ver­ber­at­ing si­lence. We can­not mur­der our lan­guages with­out pulling out our own tongues as ster­ling ex­am­ples. We re­peat, al­ways, where we do not have the courage or free­dom to in­vent. We are doomed to re­peat as of­ten as spoon touches glass with its muted em­bar­rassed apol­ogy.


The black dog has held your hand in his paws for so long, you for­get that he can change shape.

Slip­ping in with all those bark­ing, rolling fur­balls of ac­tiv­ity, so like them, soft and warm to the touch. You might learn to tell the smell of his pelt in time, but for now just no­tice that he is still. Si­lent, not a bark or whim­per es­capes his un­mov­ing head. In or out of the pack, he leashes you to him, con­vinc­ing you that not a sin­gle howl of yours could carry on the wind, that not a sin­gle ear lis­tens, teaches you to grind your teeth down, flat as the earth you lie on, muf­fles your growl­ing, you, that would race the scur­ry­ing morn­ing Sun down to its evening den, you that would gob­ble the moon and suck down the mar­row of the stars.

The Katha Sarit Sa­gar

Ev­ery ocean be­gins with ei­ther a rain­drop or a tear or a sin­gle drop of blood. Biswa­jeet Singh found the first plant cling­ing to his wrist the morn­ing af­ter a bat­tle where so many had died. A red dawn that should have had him count­ing his dead was in­stead filled with the rush and ter­ror of bat­tle, un­til he tore his wrist free of the plant that was re­play­ing the worst day of his life back to him and re­alised just what he had found. Tele­plants and feel­ing-fruits are cheap names for some­thing that can feed thought and emo­tion to any mind it touches, mak­ing them burn as brightly as they ever did in the brain that first grew them. On this world car­peted in Shlok whose canopies un­du­late like the crenela­tions on a thou­sand thou­sand left and right cere­bral hemi­spheres, sto­ries from a hun­dred pil­grims each day are ab­sorbed and car­ried in a slow trickle across con­ti­nents to join with a mil­lion his­to­ries and seed and grow out tall trunks of un­heard new epics and leaves of un­count­able un­sung po­ems. This ocean is boun­ti­ful and al­ways grow­ing, but there are those who say we are wrong in ev­ery­thing we do, that we fill these nat­u­ral ves­sels of sen­tience con­tin­u­ously with our own bab­ble, when we should leave them empty and sit still and lis­ten to what the Uni­verse is singing to us.

Sound Masons

They gather stone and gather wood, gather steel and cop­per and brass, tend gar­dens of sonorous clay and forests of tin­kling glass. They trap sounds young or old old men’s whis­pers, rivers on rocks sub­mersed in stone, or res­o­nant in me­tal cages, beat­ing in tick­ing clocks. Much is made of those things sound masons give away or sell mu­sic boxes that never re­peat a song, or a palm sized bell that with three rings can turn a room of stilt man­nered pa­tri­cians into a writhing or­gias­tic hell. But in truth these are all just toys for deaf dead minds, Those that hear the true call in ev­ery sound ma­son song come to learn, and they are taught that be­fore the rise and fall of waves on in­stru­ments they must learn this

One hand to the chest and the other to the trunk of a tree, to a stone wall, on a dog’s back, in run­ning wa­ter, on and within the warm, naked earth. There are only two tools a stone ma­son truly needs the open palm that lis­tens and the un­fet­tered heart, that with­out bias or pre­con­cep­tion, to ev­ery sounds pays at­ten­tion and in si­lence feeds and bleeds.

The Wail­ing

Telepa­thy is learn­ing how to lis­ten, and learn­ing how to not. Chil­dren are afraid of the voices they start to hear in a rush when they’re about seven or eight years of age. Adult­hood is learn­ing to ac­cept what child­hood and pu­berty failed to cope with, and by age twenty telepaths can han­dle a city-full of cease­less sounds. At twenty-one, they hear the wail­ing for the first time and are un­done. If you think of the wail­ing as just more voices, you are wrong. Think of a planet’s tele­pathic pop­u­la­tion as a dozen draw­ing room con­ver­sa­tions at a tea party, and then imag­ine a thou­sand howl­ing wolves sur­round­ing you in a dark­ness that never lifts or ends. Those that sur­vive the wail­ing do so in three dif­fer­ent ways Those that con­sider the wail­ing to be hu­man­ity’s col­lec­tive un­con­scious de­spair, throw them­selves into help­ing their fel­low crea­tures and wear­ing them­selves down each day achieve fleet­ing peace in their ex­haus­tion. Those that think the wail­ing is the last des­per­ate cry for help of an alien race, spread out in ships large and small to ever more dis­tant star sys­tems and each night of­fer their pain to the void. And then there are those who wan­der alone amidst the march of mil­lions of com­mut­ing feet, kept com­pany in the loneli­est of places only by the sound of their own voices. They con­sider the wail­ing a song our minds are not yet able to com­pre­hend, and there­fore spend their time tun­ing their own minds against the ca­coph­ony of the uni­verse, only oc­ca­sion­ally catch­ing a bar or note of some­thing that lights up their faces with a strange fierce joy.

I Dream of Houses

I dream most of­ten of houses whole bod­ied apart­ments or sin­gle rooms, their grey skele­tons wrapped in thin skins of paint and the fat of ev­ery­day fur­ni­ture. But ev­ery time, there’s a door some­where, and be­hind it a writhing black mass of ten­ta­cled fear. In a dream, ter­ror is far more tan­gi­ble a thing than steel or brick or mor­tar. I al­ways wake up and am al­ways still not re­lieved. I can feel it haunt­ing ev­ery shadow and crevice of my white-boned body. It some­times man­ages to trip me mid-stride or make a fin­ger or eye­lid twitch. I dream most of­ten of houses, and in ev­ery dream I study the house and its sur­round­ings care­fully. There may come a day when I am evicted from my own body, left with only those houses to haunt.

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