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  • Sthira Bhattacharya

Surrounded


Pakhi's piece thinks back wonderingly to a home in Goa as well as her growing self that has both known it and has passed it through her mind. But not only does the Old Pereira House shift colours and shape across her two images- so do the surrounding forests depicted with care and precision yet left largely unremarked upon. In my response piece I shall begin with such uncertain spaces that lie between home and the unknown - lush vegetation, unweeded gardens, rubble, ant-hills. How do we remember those which we have neither made nor disowned? Over which our claims are far more fluid? What part of memory do we apportion to them? And do they ever startle us by not resting content with the speech bubbles we trap them inside?

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I

one’s memories so often slowfloat

transparent beneath

the rising floods of voices

(noisy as water is, and just as ancient blue)

songs replayed in deepening furrows of hurt

conversations swinging

to absurd operatic reaches

a remembered home is hung

with giant fateful festoons such as these

II

your verandah is a flat fluorescent blue

its billowing curtains of grass

(each orangetipped filament

worrying the air in vertical play)

set the scene for a vanishing act:

what colours does the house dream in

when it lies emptied of people’s walks and pauses?

remember (as you often do)

there is still the grass

the overwhelming forestlife

leaning into its memory

like a long expected letter

arrived at last and held close

III

whether one likes it or not

there surround our houses

things halfowned

(and no less strangers for that reason)

living within comes with its own

paraphernalia, the wilderness changes shape

your casements in cities

overlook empty rubble and beside them

sleeping forms that line pavements in anticipation

anthills in the backyard

thickening against the plastic legs

of your father’s chair

or those moving queues of women watched sleepyeyed

walking through early morning mist

trespassing on your campus land

with their trade cries of pumpkin blossoms-

IV

they watch over all sorts of

dreamstuffed houses

with the knowing air of weeds

growing past your mossveined calves

waiting to be pulled up

(but no less settled for that reason)

they know there are memories

and desires and fantasies of perfection

had within shut doors

arbiters of their uncanny lives

they know where to hold fast

and how much to let go

‘what they are to do

with all this living’

the question

is do you?

(with thanks to D, and Philip Schaefer’s “Suture”)


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