Author Archives: Sunil Sharma

About Sunil Sharma

Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 22 published books: Seven collections of poetry; three of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015. Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA: http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html For more details, please visit the blog: http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/

The COVID-19 Sky

The birds on the top branches

of the slender trees that sway

drunkenly in the fresh breeze,

the pigeons circle in the blue expanse

the dusky clouds spread out fast, with a promise of

the delayed Mumbai-rain, this humid

afternoon,

the winged beings and nature in kinetic mode

out there, up, in happy flocks

being watched enviously by the

solitary man from behind the

grilled-windows

of a locked-down home

in a fearful city gone static

and quiet!

A City Remembered by a Descendant

The long winds sweeping across the old Badaun,

In gentle yellow October,

I can still feel singing in my ears,

Their cold breath kisses my face and

Rubs my frigid heart,

The winds

Still playful and laughing,

Run their long fingers in my hairs,

Lovingly—

Like a dead Mum calling

Her orphan child,

From across the divide of time and space.

The gray-white pigeons come circling

To finally settle on the gleaming spires and minarets,

Of tombs forgotten,

Still standing erect and tall

In the feeble sunlight,

The rays

Streaming down in rapid fall

Of golden dust

Scattering around,

That lends a magical touch

To the entire ancient city,

Where the past glorious

Intersect with mundane present,

A city,

Enshrined and etched

Permanently in my

Remembering, aching heart,

On lonely metropolitan nights

Spent caged, on the sixteenth- floor house,

Where you peer down but cannot see

Things crawling below—mere moving dots—

In the blurred lit spaces beneath.

The holy winds from Badaun,

My ancestral land, I feel within my parched soul,

And the scented air

Revives my thickening veins, dull pores and icy Arctic inside

A well-groomed body, i hear the banyan tree, once seen,

in my paternal grandfather’s outer compound, near the temple,

on the Patiala Sarai street, transports me back

to that home and community,

I hear the bells and evening chants

And a refreshed me—

Becomes a child again, in the presence

of the folks, now gone, yet

living!

@Sunil Sharma

On the Janta Curfew

This Sunday, March 22, across India

there is this self-imposed curfew by the

citizens ready to fight the COVID-19 virus

through volunteer isolation.

I hear, first time, the fluttering of the wings,

throaty sound of the pigeons, chirping of the

sparrows out there somewhere on the trees,

and,

the hissing of the warm breeze

and the leaves, clearly, as there is no traffic

and toxic fumes;

a strange tranquility descends

smog—missing

stillness prevails;

can see the crows and pigeons,

first time,

search for crumbs

in big flocks

on the quiet streets of Mumbai suburbs.

The sweet sounds unheard for last many years

are back—kind of divine music lost

and temporarily recovered for few

fleeting hours!

It is as if nature and its feathery denizens

had reclaimed the urban jungle via their

felt presence!

Dancing light

The golden orb
Lights up the
Rude parapets
Of the Old Fort
In New Delhi;

The November light
Tender and dispersed
Creates a visual
Son-at-Lumiere
On this late afternoon
Collapsing into a young night!
A flight of pigeons can be seen
Hovering in the sky,
Circling the top of the
 Royal library;
Nothing remains of the passage
Of cruel time in those ruins now,
Except the loud laugh of the young
Couples finding shelter in the
Fort of the Moguls,
From the prying eyes that ban
Love and laughter in today’s Dilli.
II
The light dances on the tamarind trees
As the travelling eyes watch the beams
Breaking into tiny particles on the grey
Evening, now coughing and groaning
On the highway to NOIDA,
The last swathes of fertile land
Survive the fat bulldozers,

And high-rises are still to arrive;
The dancing light lends magic
To a green landscape,
A soon-to-be a memory.

@Sunil Sharma

Scent of spring in snow: Travelling with Dr. Zhivago

I

 Train journeys are philosophical.

They are magical and transformative!

The black horse drawing the coupés diligently over terrain rough

The fearsome mouth belching fire that shines in the dim night

The burning coals being spread over the receding land

Embers few flying down in the outstretched hands of kids/adults alike

Train journeys—a visual delight, inspiring a canvas or a song

People getting up/down

Embraces loving and farewells warm—and teary for a mother waving only son to the battleground!

Locomotives weave their own tapestries across time-n-space

Puffing up, red-eyed, these horse-machines arrive at the termini

After a long travel across the denuded hills, vales and dusty plains;

Friendships get promptly forged, new perspectives formed over life;

From a window open or barred, the passengers watch

The rolling countryside or bustling cities and towns;

Platforms big or small have got their pull on a fevered mind

The retreating cabins; the red signal down; the sharp whistle sound

And the beckoning mountain ranges or looming forests talk to you

In that fleeting instant!

Dawns/dusks never look the same

Solitude and pure heavens paint them so different!

You see universe travelling with you on such wonderful nights!

Life is motion; not stasis—it is called evolution.

II

Mental journeys can be equally illuminating—if done with your favorite fictional characters!

You learn a lot about histories, heroic struggles and human condition in lands and time distant.

The very act of reading can resurrect such epic journeys done on trains for a promise or Promised Land.

Chapter 7 of  Dr. Zhivago details one such spectacular journey that intersects the grey realms of fiction and fact, and, a past that is present.

Travelling across the vast plains of Russia in an overcrowded train

With the Zhivagos for a distant Varykino can be an unsettling experience in 2015:

Conscripts; the displaced, the exiled, peasants, the landed gentry—all disparate Elements flung together in their compartment by the force of circumstance

Everybody fleeing from something/somebody in a nation convulsing;

The long train hurtling down through a Red Revolution not properly understood; Bewildered, anxious; a part of the stratified humanity melted as a single unit in the crammed space.

Various sights, sounds, smells and colours are seen across the Old Russia in upheaval and bloody change—now forgotten except this literary document of a crucial age.

Another crucible of our times!

Frightening for some!

Comforting for others!

Journeys same; yet so different.

III

Chapter 22.

And then Dr Zhivago, fleeing from past, remembers the spring, looking out of the window of the compartment, in the midst of a gloomy place!

Spring resplendent!

With its hint of change.

Spring in the air.

And you too recall a spring now forever lost in an urban sprawl and smog

A spring remembered looks more romantic than a real one.

Dr. Zhivago is trying to flee from the logic of history like others

A futile effort!

One can never flee from one’s destiny.

Some people get caught up in the cauldron of history and   cannot escape the effects incendiary

A family displaced, running to their old family home, stuck at many stations

Witnessing violence and change in an old system on the brink;

And then doctor-poet remembering the spring in the expansive white of the snow

Two seasons collide in a single moment!

Spring indeed had arrived in his exploited land!

On a personal level, doing this long trans-country train journey with Dr.  Zhivago,

The reader is subtly reminded that we carry our own springs within.

Some train journeys— forever remembered/ inscribed!

They are wonderful expeditions of discovery and self-discovery

On the tracks

Magical in effect—Alice-like

And deeply transforming!

(Credit: —https://www.amazon.com/Trainstorm-Edited-Amitabh-Mitra/dp/0620718307)

Evidence

in the sun-light

brightly-lit:

few yellow stains

—mere dots and tiny circles of daal-sabzi

on the glass-topped dining table

in the middle-class neighborhood

of Mumbai

provide tentative evidence:

either the young mother is not there

at home, this Sunday afternoon,

or,

she is unwell.

The stains and finer dust

invisible to others of the

joint-family members!

@Sunil Sharma

Gratitude

After the cruel, abrupt downsizing

The man leaves the office, forever

Face downcast, a bag in hand and

Few memories in a grieving heart.

The boulevard does not look like

The one experienced in the morning

Of the wintry New Delhi—crisp and smiling

And the crowded paths, pavements, similar, yet different!

Daily, years together, the man, now in 50s, walked the

Lanes and by-lanes of the Connaught Place

Afternoons, post-lunch, in the company of

Colleagues and friends from the nearby offices for Chai.

All that is past, within 24 hours! He stands at the same spot, near the

Tea vendor; being ignored by the same set; except the stray dog that wags its tail and

Yelps—in pure, friendly delight—at the forlorn man that daily

Fed the emaciated, spurned dog—bread with loving hands!

@Sunil Sharma

Reclaiming a Home in Bunyah

—Sunil Sharma

Les Murray returns from Sydney

To reclaim a personal heritage –

His childhood home

Full of memories of

Time spent on

A dairy farm;

Of a woodcutter father

Working hard there,

Mother who died,

And a feud silent

Between a grandfather

And a dad,

Unable to forget and forgive,

The trees full of white ants,

That killed one of the siblings.

The promised farm never materialized,

And his dad went back to the tree-cutting,

In order to survive;

The return from Sydney

Was reclaiming his regional

Australian roots,

And finding again there

The continent’s true face!

Among the aboriginals, farmers and authors,

The great Murray,

The Bard of Australia,

Discovered the Soul of his

Culture that was missing

In the glittering cities.

Urban centers are

Alike these days

Everywhere but the way

Farmers in rural Australia

Work hard against the odds,

Gets mirrored in poets and writers,

And like aboriginals,

These communities carry nature

Within their selves as sacred,

And that act of getting connected

With nature in a sublime way,

Makes Murray the great voice,

Booming,

Coming down from

Outback/ steppes/deserts

You hear often,

On lonely nights,

On the desolate highways,

Echoing loudly –

In the fevered,

Rational,

Calculating,

Profit-seeking,

Stock-exchange-fixed

Minds and hearts.

(A literary tribute to the iconic poet, now no more)

Why poetry in toxic times?

Why Poetry in Toxic Times?

Poetry can be discovered in most unlikely places.

For example, sitting in the atrium of a big mall, facing a gushing fountain on a hot humid May-end Mumbai evening, you say to your companion, surrounded by all the twinkling fairy lights and fir potted trees placed strategically on the white marble floor, “How poetic!” The crystalline water jet shooting up in a column against a darkening sky in the middle of a soulless glass-n-concrete and sanitized property can be a great diversion for a tired shopper left poorer by few thousands by that sexy and seductive commercial space: The vertical movement of pure drops of H2O can be a big visual relief in a place that registers the maximum footfalls these days in Mumbai or Madrid, Delhi or Peshawar. Malls are the new temples and churches for the post-modern Odysseus hunting for treasures and exotic fare and the urban tribes in Dubai or Kenya find time there to congregate. In such anonymous but identical architectural complexes— in homogenized and standardized settings, amid fake plants and plastic smiles of the overworked and grossly underpaid young poor staff; outside/inside the dazzling shops and their inviting wares, cruising along the well-preserved floors and regularly sanitized loos, gawking at the bald zero-figure mannequins under ark lamps and hunting for mineral water bottle that  costs a fortune for your recession-hit middle-class fake-leather wallet— you get a feeling of derivative power and branded kinship with others  in New York or Berlin. After gleefully splurging more than you have ever planned and secretly planning to go ascetic for a whole year in your personal expenditure, you, the tired Ulysses, decide to sit down on an empty bench and then—suddenly discover the solitary fountain singing merrily on the hot and humid evening. For the other adjacent happy chatterers on the Blueberry, it is a fixture, a prop; for you, it is sheer poetry in a pricey impersonal place, a symbol of purity and eternity. Poetry in slow motion. Water that priceless thing triggers a primeval response in a subterranean crevice of your overtaxed brain and connects you immediately with the first spontaneous priests of raw nature that wandered the earth, at the dawn of the civilization. You feel transported to a dim age when your distant ancestors conversed eagerly with early gods and twinkling stars and swaying trees and murmuring rivers, finding everything in the universe living and sacred. They talked with the gods and gods with them under starry nights and on fresh dawns, near crystalline rivers full of marine life. All this harmony was recorded in delightful and sublime verses, in epic poetry by the all-seeing ancient minds. There were few facilities then but poetry was a presiding deity of their immediate life; to-day, there are facilities galore but poetry, that musicality, that harmony, is sadly absent. Or, almost. The poetic spirit has started disappearing in prosaic times. Begun withdrawing from an age that is high on high-tech but low on basic human emotions. Bonds are brittle—you care more for your China vase or crockery or Swarovski glass than your dear siblings or pals.

Poetry is like the Golden Barrel Cacti— critically endangered, rare species in the Mexican wild, yet surviving the tough conditions. It is like Welwitschia mirabilis, another hardy plant of the Namibian Desert of the South West Africa. Poetry is a surviving link with our heroic past, with our mythological memory, with a unique moment when man and god were not yet cruelly split but were real for the other and having a continual dialogue. Like these two plants, it is endangered and becoming exotic. But it is a great survivor that adapts to most arid conditions and challenging habitats and grows in most inhospitable climes and times. It is vital to a polluting age like an oxygen mask. It can detoxify your body filled with an overdose of pills, caffeine and nicotine and other drugs, and raked with a toxic desire for More (Remember Henderson, the Rain King?).

Poetry is like the first rains over a smoggy town: It washes away all the grime and revives the dormant seedlings and revitalizes the corroded cores of your inner- life. It is a strong anti-dote to a frightening spiral of mad chasing of the deadly deadlines on daily basis, mechanically performing all the time in office and home and suffering indifferent colleagues, public venues and neighbourhoods that define social existence of competing individuals, and dreaming dollars and economic migrations inside/outside the country of your origin. Poetry is like the first rays of dawn that greet a terminal patient in a grim facility and spreads cheer in a solitary life on the threshold of cessation or a burnt-out top executive fighting for more money and promotion and his bad hangover.

Finally, poetry is coming face to face with your spiritual truths that refuse to be commodified and reified by a mass culture. It fulfills you and makes you whole, like the tiny church-bells chiming on a wintry desolate evening in the Chekhovian land.

Yes, we are the

 Warriors

Of poetry

Who

 Uphold the standards

In war zones

And never ever

Make them fall.

@Sunil Sharma

(From: Preface: Mundane, My Muse)

An old timer remembers

Sunil Sharma

Look!

The high-rises there.

Once, till few years ago,

Those were the fields

Worked by the farmers.

Paddy fields that added to the

Greenery created by

The magic of the full monsoons.

Small patches where vegetables were grown

And small ponds with the bent palm trees

Catching the gentle moon-beams.

We walked down to that paradise in the suburban Mumbai

Smelling the earth, after every first rains.

There were trees around and bird-songs

Alas!

Now—

All that is gone!

Only buildings rising up

As bald giants

Above

The untouched

Few clumps of trees

Covered in the soot and exhaust,

Only concrete roads with crazy traffic

All divine songs gone.

Floods of 2005

That drowned Mumbai.

Tsunamis, most places.

Toxic air.

Warmer winters.

Cooler summers.

And the monsoon of 2018

Almost—still-born!

Residents in metros

Pay for the crimes

Of the greedy builder lobby

That kills: The mangroves; ponds; fields

And the maternal trees that nurture cultures

But these developers, sadly,

Always forget to plant.

(Credit: Contemporary Literary Society)