Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is a privilege to stalk an artist over a long period of time (see all the photos below).
The Delhi Walla has been following Manika Dhama’s journey as a poet and writer for many years. I once heard her recite her poem to me in Outer Circle, Connaught Place. I once watched her read a Rebecca West book on the Blue Line of Delhi Metro. I once saw her musing to herself at Café Turtle in Khan Market. I once met her with her mother and her daughter at her parents’ home in Noida (see last photo).
A year or so ago Ms Dhama moved out of our city and the trail went cold. The other day, however, I received an e-mail from her. It was a poem she wrote at her home in Dubai. This was just a few lines but it had scary forebodings about the immediate future and at least I thought it touched upon the theme of mortality. It turned out there was a long story behind that poem, which originated from her experience in the great flood of Kashmir. Detailing the circumstances that led her to compose that passage of verse, Ms Dhama subsequently wrote me a long letter:
Since the time she was born, we have guarded our (nearly five) year old girl against television idiocies with great ferocity, blocking viewing time for other adults in the house if need be.
Holidays are another matter.
It is the time when house rules do not apply with as much strictness, whether for dietary depravities or bedtime. It is the time when mamma and papa are allowed to switch off from playing conscientious adults.
These lines are from one such night, at a hotel in Srinagar.
Upon entering the hotel room your eyes would have darted straight ahead to three sets of windows that covered the area of one wall in the room, overlooking the crooked thatched roof of the adjacent building. A coffee table with two chairs lay beside the window, though any good view required standing and straining of the neck. The double bed in the center of the room was covered in a plain white sheet, like government hotels. A television, without flashboard abs and with out-of-favour rounded edges, sat opposite the bed on a rack just wide enough to hold its weighty bottom.
Nearing her third birthday, our daughter had begun to recognise Salman Khan, or “Sullmun” as she called him, not from television but from his ubiquitous presence in newspapers, on account of one pending court case or another. His songs were playing and she danced for hours, late into the night, for the first time with such gay abandon.
The next morning everything changed.
That first night in the city and what followed are slowly finding their way into a memoir I have only recently begun writing. It is going to be a long and lonely journey into the past, but there will be unexpected discoveries, memories floating up for air, like her dance, which only appeared when I looked closer.
Ms Dhama shares her poem with us.
The unnamed poetry
So she danced to “Sullmun”
Khan and his muscled troupe
to songs we had only heard
at weddings, danced
past midnight on the bed
of white sheets, where two
days later I would lie
awake, hours before she turned
three, wondering if we
would see the light of day.
The world of a poet