Delhi’s Bandaged Heart – Jonaki Ray’s Ode to Ordinary, Kailash Colony Market
Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She is in purple palazzos and pink kurti. Her brown sling bag has her wallet, a mobile, a “chhotu” cash purse, keys to her south Delhi flat, and a hand sanitiser bottle. And she is wearing a mask, of course.
Jonaki Ray works in an IT company, but she no longer has to commute all the way to Noida to mark her office attendance—thank you, Corona! Also a poet, she especially wrote a pandemic-era city-life poem for this blog.
The Art of Not Losing Breath
after Elizabeth Bishop
At the corner of the market was Maxim’s
with its air blending butter into rising cakes.
Outside, on the crescent-shaped street, cars honking
at walkers evading rickshaws, passengers hopscotching
with potholes, the three brothers’ self-proclaiming
their ‘permanent’ vegetable store—
twenty-five years and counting—
the diners queuing for Belgian chocolate shakes,
while handing leftovers to the waiting children,
sinking like deflating balloons every night
for the langar at the temple, the open-air florist nearby—
the smell of his roses, ranjigandhas, and gendas titrating
with that of the biryani from the shop across, the smokers sneaking
in and out of the bylanes, as all lovers do all over the world.
Once, this was what you inhabited, once this was what was essential—
grandfather raising palms to salute the Sun every morning,
uncle treating you to ice-cream every Saturday,
aunt cooking your favorite doi maach,
the karaunda tree in the backyard as familiar
as your sibling—until the globe zoomed
into a country, the country into a state,
the state into a city, the city into a locale that microscoped
into these four walls, and you, alone.
But, this poem is not about loss
–of touch, of the familiar, of those that you thought of as family,
as important as the breath that expands your lungs.
This poem is about the terracotta house at the new corner from you,
where the old lady who once peered at you
and asked the guard who you were, is now Shah aunty who smiles
at you every day, the Guptas who walk three circuits hand in hand,
every evening around the park, listening to old Hindi songs on the phone,
ask if you have enough food, the children who greet you and share
their adventures while learning online and ask you questions about exams,
the guard who brings you fresh Neem leaves, the green tendriling your hand,
every morning, until you realize that even as what was your world crumbles,
and you grasp for something, anything to hold onto,
it is the ordinary that teaches you about love
—one breath at a time.
Her elegy to the ordinary