Category Archives: Travel

Poem Unlimited, Augsburg

Over the weekend I attended and spoke at the Poem Unlimited Conference at Augsburg. The venue, the Augsburg University, has a beautiful campus. The trees were in Autumn hues. I was narrated the story of a duck family in the University pond. A ledge was removed from one of the campus buildings so to lessen diving deaths in ducklings. The Augsburg University has its own resident cat with its Facebook page. A selfie with the cat is a must-do. I did see and pet the cat, however, missed taking a selfie.

Prof. Wai Chee Dimock gave the Key Note lecture on “Recycling the Gilgamesh.” The body was described in all its fragility. The violent element of death, and the processes we undertake to recycle the body were analyzed. The aggressive factor in recycling as an act of degradation offered a new way to look at biodiversity. After all, everything natural disintegrates, it is that which is man-made persists. What then happens to poetry as it ventures into art and theatre. In order to stay, we must recycle, to use again provides longetivity. But something, the person, object, aspect, gets lost in the act of recycling.

I enjoyed listening to talks about the Romantics, Czesław Miłosz, the African-American sonnet, and Walt Whitman’s Sufi side. I presented a paper on Agha Shahid Ali and Roger Sedarat’s ghazals, in which I explored how the beloved and witness lie entangled in their identity within the form.

The conference offered moments of insight and also a vision of what the future might hold. As we discussed and debated the transcience of physical matter, the regenerative spirit of nature, I left Augsburg sensing a hopefulness. Perhaps, the season, the theme, and my state of being mingled to create a mind that was prepared for Winter and the promise of a Spring – that always follows.

Friday Book Market at Spui

Every Friday there is a Book Market at the Spui, Amsterdam. On this day there is a peppy vibe to the place. Antique books, quirky books, second-handbooks, new books and forgotten books all find their way to stalls here. The keepers are friendly. People seem to have time. A certain stillness. Browse and be. No hard sell. No interruptions. The only contact is between you and the books. You touch, you flip pages, you read a page here and a blurb there, and you move on.

I come here to absorb the spirit. Often to remind myself why I made the choices I did. Words become dust motes. People fade to the background. Sounds filter to a muffled white state. I leave parts of myself in the corners. And I collect new ones that I want to carry.

Of all the things I have experienced in this city – this market is closest to my heart. Along with the OBA. That I will save for another day. When it’s not Friday. Till then you will find me here. 


Dilruba Pe Dil Aaya

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I discovered Dilruba Ahmed’s poetry in the early part of this year and it has stayed with me.

The first poem I read was: “Snake Oil, Snake Bite” and it lingered over my days, making me smile at odd-moments as I remembered its tender irony.

Imagine my joy when I discovered she had written a ghazal. Each couplet such a nugget to carry around. Don’t miss the witty: “In Ramadan, we’ll break our fast with dates and wine— / Must we pray in one room and dance in another?” Well, must we?

[Click on the image to read the complete ghazal.]

Talking to strangers

A few days back my aged taxi driver Abdullah informed me of how Hafez was far from being a purist, he was a diluter of true Persian culture, writing in an Arab form. He quoted Ferdowsi and said, “now he is the man to study for pure Persian literary gems – go read Ferdowsi and take some time away from Hafez.” I nodded remarking that maybe my summer read should indeed be the Shahnameh. He smiled, “It has no words from Arabic in it, not even remotely.” “Yes, I must immerse into it, not just the bits and pieces that I pick and choose like Rostam and Sohrab.”

After some chit-chat about Dutch weather and an Indian Summer, he started nodding his head to some internal music: “No don’t spend time on kings this summer,” he said, “read Khayyam and go all romantic.” I laughed, “Nightingales, Wine and Roses!” I exclaimed. We chuckled like conspiring children.

In the meantime my eight-year old looked out of the window.

The moment we got off, Bambi crossed his arms, “Listen Mom no talking to strangers. How many times do I have to tell you?”

The dance of Gods

The blood of Mahisasura dripping from her wrists
His decapitation each year, year after year

I like that story of Krishna
At the back of his throat, she could see, the whole universe
The sun, moon, stars, asteroids and meteors – his tonsils and uvula
Did he eat them all?

You offer aparajita and bhel leaves to Shiv
And, hibiscus for Ma, mandaar, here touch the petals gently

All this jasmine I sit threading into gajras for her hair
Every summer – the smell of heated cement and sleeping tulsi
Look at how the saptrishi glow, they call it the Big Dipper here
And, what do they call matsya? Oh, he’s the big fish

Streets coiled like the braids of his hair
Ganga gushes forth
Will a tandav redeem this world?

They don’t let you take pictures post visarjan
All those floating body parts

Did he say the world went on unashamed?
Mahisasura needs to be killed yearly
Flowers offered daily
I tell her I like Krishna
He laughs
Nothing more melodious than the sound of anklets on little feet

Light and Water: Visual Poetry

Video: central Amsterdam under water in a poetic light display.

After having us cycle along starry night bike paths, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde has now turned his attention to the power of water. Just over one quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and the sea is kept at bay by a network of dykes, dams and other water defences. But what would happen if they weren’t there? ‘Waterlicht is the dream landscape about the power and poetry of water,’ Roosegaarde says on Studio Roosengaarde website. ‘Innovation is within the DNA of the Dutch landscape via its waterworks and creative thinking, yet we almost seem to forgotten this.’ The installation Waterlicht consists of wavy lines of light made with the latest LED technology, software and lenses. It was created for the Dutch Rijn & IJssel waterboard and was at the Museumplein in Amsterdam for three nights earlier this month.”

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