Delhi's Bandaged Heart - Jonaki Ray's Poem on Heatwave, South Delhi

Delhi’s Bandaged Heart – Jonaki Ray’s Poem on Heatwave, South Delhi

Delhi's Bandaged Heart - Jonaki Ray's Poem on Heatwave, South Delhi

Season’s poetry.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

It is her first summer without “baba.” This time last year, poet Jonaki Ray’s father was “very happy” on receiving a copy of Firefly Memories, her debut collection of poems. Professor Bikash Raymahashay passed away in January. Jonaki’s mother, Deepali, died some years ago. These days, well-meaning acquaintances, including her cook, gently nudge her to quit Delhi for a city in the south, because that is home to her brother and his family, and they imagine there she will feel more at ease. “But my world is here—my friends, my day-job, my colleagues, my poems.” Jonaki amusedly wonders if such an unsolicited advice would have come her way if she were a woman with a husband and children. As the afternoon heatwave rages outside, she retreats deeper into her south Delhi apartment, writing a poem on this unbearable season.

Who Shall I Say Is Living?
after Leonard Cohen

The last time I wrote a poem, the city
of Dilli had turned into
a tundra of ghosts. Those taunts of
the past have come back to haunt
us now. Bodies like sizzling barbed
wires, we snarl and scowl, as the sun
raises flames around us. The roads
shimmer, mocking the rivers turning
dry.

Some escape to their summer
cottages, and talk about buying new
ACs, ordering new water purifiers, and
more and more water. Some combust
in the sanctuary of their living rooms
worrying about their wealth and
health.

Some seek shelter in the shadows
beneath those AC framed windows,
homing in by
curling on narrowing patches of
streets, bundling on top of their
rickshaws, beneath the crumpling
hoardings, and around leftover
garbage heaps.

Some complain, “The mandis have
become so expensive! Everything—
papayas, mangoes, watermelons,
tomatoes—rots so fast”, while their
eyes slide past the daily maalis, the
food deliverers, the presswallahs, the
ayahs, the guards, the cooks, all those
that make their life comfortable.

The last time I wrote a poem was a
week before I turned rootless. When I
clasped Baba,
my father’s hands, for that last time.
When I had not yet been orphaned.
And summer was a symphony of the
gold of the Amaltas, the greens of
Neem, and the fire of Gulmohar. And
like all Dilliwallahs, I too was a part of
the chorus that sang paeans to the
beauty of the city.

Now, how does one account for the
grief that thorns the smiles of
everyone who keeps moving, keeps
living? Still, what right do I have to
mourn when the world is burning?
When children are turning to ashes,
homes into rubbles, the sky into a
furnace, and oceans into carriers of
bodies. And Dilli, along with our
planet, is sliding us, the heedless us,
towards extinction.