In this room, the poems come and go
Poems by Rohinton Daruwala Section curated by Ranjit Hoskote
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.
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.
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.