Cauldron } 5th

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Cauldron } 5th

We dedicate this edition of The Cauldron to Muhammad Ali. We commemorate the truths he emblematized. His attainments enhearten us with persistent sublimity.

Joie Bose


The term ‘Diaspora’, today is as important a term as is, the term  ‘subaltern’ in the field of post-colonial studies for it is a living social reality that can’t be ignored, especially at the onset of globalization where economic gains and easier accessibility have opened up newer avenues. Geweke considers Robin Cohen’s expansion of William Safran’s definition of the term Diaspora and lists the basic criteria for qualifying as Diasporic to be, “the following features: forced or unforced dispersal from an original homeland; retention of a collective memory or myth about the ancestral home, which is idealized and to which the diasporic subject may wish to return; a distinct ethnic group consciousness and sense of solidarity with co-ethnic communities in other places, most often coupled with a troubled relationship to the host society.” In the present context the term brings forth to the mind not the ancient Jewish, Greek or Armenian diasporas but what we understand by “new diasporas” which Gewecke locates as those “resulting from the mid-20th century decolonization process and the ensuing postcolonial migrations” which in the wake of proliferation of globalization and contemporaneous mass migration could be deliberated as, quoting Tololyan, “the exemplary communities of the transnational movement.” (Tololyan, 5). The tension between isolation and community is highlighted in their silent battle to sustain their cultural identity and it becomes a recurrent theme which is a cause of melancholy which overspills into other spheres of their lives. It is most prominent in the female characters for whom, the culture clashes are most pronounced who according to Simone de Beauvoir are not born, but made, being a cultural product of civilization. Their lives begin to unfold in the direction where they have to understand what feminist relational psychoanalyst Carol Gilligan beautifully explains,
Within the context of US society, the values of separation, independence, and autonomy are so historically grounded, so reinforced by waves of immigration, and so deeply rooted in the natural rights that they are often taken as facts: that people are by nature separate, independent from one another, and self-governing. To call these “facts” into question is seemingly to question the value of freedom. And yet this is not at all the case. The questioning of separation has nothing to do with questioning freedom but rather with seeing and speaking about relationships. (Gilligan, xiv-xv)
Relationships which ultimately govern the lives of people are broken and the loss of them is what governs the psyche of the characters of the Diaspora.
As a violent colonial history looms large overhead the entity called India, the presence of the West is still felt in their absence, when we try to interpret the postcolonial condition using Lacan’s concept of presence in absence. Interestingly when Edward Said’s concept of ‘orientalism’ is extended from the middle-east to India (considering that both the middle-east and India are/were viewed as culturally inferior to the west ) it is seen that India too is viewed as exotic and enigmatic, primarily, a culture unknown. Perhaps this is why we find Indians being subject to abuse in the form of slangs such as ‘dotheads go home’, as is apparent in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Unknown Errors of Our Lives. This notion is not only espoused by western scholars but has become a part of the discourse since representations from the other side was relatively scarce, until recently.
A wide variation of factors, ranging from political activism to socio-economic factors has spurred transnational migration, mainly from the East to the West, resulting in a metamorphosis of the subjects’ pattern of existence breaking the concept of absolute territorial fixity. Self and identity become problematic and a deep sense of melancholy becomes characteristic of the subjects’ existence since relationships and home are associated more with emotional territory than spacial territory. Critics like Avtar Brah and Stuart Hall feel that this questions the subjects’ conception of home, family relationships and identity for they are always in a state of flux, existing in the unaccustomed Third Space, Bhabha talks about. This often gets characterized by a deep sense of sadness.
Modern Indian migration to America happens mostly when subjects chase the American Dream seeking economic fulfilment or better living. Literature shows that mostly the initiative is taken by men and women follow once the anchorage has been set up by their men. Coming from cultures rather orthodox in nature, the Indians feel alienated in the new culture and by its dominant freeness and the culture clashes continue. It is interesting to note that melancholy looms large overhead the immigrant and this subjectivizes their very being, by bringing under the microscope the Indian Diaspora in America and the Indo-American Identity.
Freud states that ‘distinguishing mental features of melancholia are a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance and self reviling, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.’ (Freud, 244) This melancholy characterizes literature that emerges from most marginalized communities and is particularly pertinent to the women of the Indian diaspora, since they are twice marginalized- coming from a largely patriarchal society. Taking off from Antonio Gramsci’s declaration of calling the subjected underclass in a society on whom the dominant power exerts its hegemonic influence as ‘subaltern’, Spivak developed it as a term applicable to the colonized people in the imperial narrative which extends to in this case, to the narrative that involves the creation and subjectivization of the Indo-American identity.

Anna Karenina’s famous opening sentence was used by Vijay Mishra in his critical works- “All diasporas are unhappy, but every diaspora is unhappy in its own way”. So which way is the Indian Diaspora unhappy in? Thus the root cause of the migration which had been to seek happiness gets nullified for the women, as they get melancholic. This aspect is elaborated upon and is quite pronounced when we take into consideration diasporic fiction that emerges in the field of Anglophone postcolonial literature of India and is loudly heard in the silences of the women characters created by Jhumpa Lahiri and melancholic strains are felt in various aspects of their being. The feeling of isolation, disintegration of marriage, the concept of a home as a place where one has their roots and how the characters negotiate their newfound American Indian becomes quite interesting.



Steven Stone


I know how the moon works.

I know the far-gone
The bleeding sparks

the roaring quills of light

How should the novel end

I am loafing on my
ancestors’ couches

Or shall I say sofas;

Rather, I say,
make a fulminating
leap at love

They were everything
I thought I wanted.
I looked at them through
the windows of rain

the lights were fooling
with my eyes

I knew how everything worked.

I approached them with nervous
desire, my hands trembling in
preparatory ecstasy;

One woman on either side of
me, as I lay flat and sucked
my loneliness dry;;

A deep-cut pleasure spread
over my skin like the sun
at dawn; there was nothing

mellow, but a fierce glow
that bordered on delirium;

As soon as the moon is halfway
up, beyond any blue silence or
the foaming tides, I can see
how things will all turn out.

I will. Those two words are
all I need. All I say.

Tributes in the fiery night,
Stars that know no death
but the deaths of others;
Storms that breathe out
our dreams, that breathe
in the greys of their shades;

from the darkness we will
rise, and shed the skin of
the long-denied;

my 1940s-issue heart
lurks in the shadows
of a revolving film noir;

I am the detective in the
purple night; I carry a
screeching bird that knows
your secrets;

In the litmus test you gave
me, you stirred it well; I
came out pure and clean;

I am the bit of pink in
your dreams; the fibrous
clouds that storm your

In this forest they scratch
for mysteries. I approach
with care.

I prefer the cold, I said.

I prefer the image of
my soul in the moon.

There is early night,
ubiquitous cold;
pretense unravels
its chains.

Pray in our shackles.
Pray that I enjoy the
liquor you kiss me with,

as it whitens my blood.

I am sold, blind, on
midnight and its inkwell

I know how the moon
loves, its pale charm
churning in the speckled
sky. There is no steel
in the butter; no steam
in winter’s frown.


through the filters
of my eyes

the passion, a ray
of blinding light

on the spot that
pleases you

in the waters

we speak of rocks
that hear their
own silence

the un-death
the endless syllables
of madness

parsed into one
look of mad love

a tincture of
mercury, flash
of silver

bolted sparks


You are porcelain
you stand at the
to all my floods

the viaduct conducting
your electric gloss
adorned with
the sumac, oak
and ivy climbing
walls of spring

I understand your

the very tips of
the pines you touch

I am blinded by
your blessings

I do not set a
clock to you; I

possess no clock
nor hourglass,
nor hope-clouds

of cryptic mass
and greyness;

I steal a secret
from you, and
no weight of pearls

can break the string
or sink my seas


What do you say?
Where are you
standing? You can
look at the river
from the bridge,

watch the sun in
its slow cruise
across the sky.

What do you want?
Who must you be
to make the
dreams happen?

When the eye of
the needle can be
threaded from miles
away, your eyes,

In the dark shimmer,
manufacture this
love, mechanical
dream set of gears,

in the night of
brooding lights,
the ink-stroked

Between moon
and its dark throne,
my Pegasus of
the sunset, my
mirror on the
Gorgon; the
sweaty backs
that groaned along
the Nile – there was
passion flung to
the ground, licking
the dust;

In every age you set
me aflame; when
the mounted rage
stormed across the
plains of Earth, I
was there with you.

I picked you for
the pink of your
charms, the rainbow
of your pedigree.

Through a glassine
window reeking of
memory I see my needs
reflected. I stood
inside your soles
and what remains
of your long suffering;

I saw you through
mirrors, your face
on both sides;

The heat shimmer
rises from your heels
as they clack against
concrete; everything
about your stride is

the sudden promise
is your sun; your
scalding afternoon;
your mouth, my Egypt.

Anurima Sen

There is a catastrophe in the offing:
Foaming, seething, splendid.
And I can count the casualties on my fingertips:
Fools like us, you and me,
We've got it narrowed down.
We are going straight to hell.

If you believe in coincident absorbing and festering,
(Think: the past, the present, the loves, the losses)
it has been a beautiful fight.

And there is no darkness,
This is not a slow burn.
The broken are stoking their honest inferno.

I tumble headlong into age-old conversations.
And it is difficult to navigate,
When you spin words into cages,
Cages into ribs,
And ribs into shelters
For desires that should have departed.

So, we start where we have always started, and we end where you want us to end:
The measured swing of a pendulum.

A chink in your armour, this endless expiation.

I kneel at your altar - supplicant palms pressed on pillars of
flesh, bones, holy skin stretched taut. Breathing in phantom incense, I demand the promised land and ask you to preach. My aching mouth stretches wide -  this hollow receptacle of your deliverance, my incarceration; the vehicle of your glory.

My shepherd, let me not want. I am finite, I am shrinking, I am dead desire pooling at your feet. My perfect faith is imperfect.
If only I could lift my eyes, I would know the script: Your vacant eyes skim over walls, clocking time, timing love.

Yawning widetoothed persistent mornings swallow whole the 4 am pauses, the ellipses, the omissions.
And here, as always, we stop short of
dicing, chopping, scrambling, uncluttering words, filtering remembrances. Here, as always,
awkward choked peacemaking measures of the soul.
With mornings so blue, so bright, so unreal and disengaging, we quietly unfasten; we wash, clothe, mummify loss, we stitch, stow, hide, disguise, we untie.

Between darkness and sweetness, the wounded are alive.

Swatie Chawla


There is music in war— a bereaver of silence.
Streams of bullets throttle
a poor ant’s larder.

Sons and daughters,
whom loving bayonets have curled
await Sir Moloch’s gratitude.

A generation has fought,
the makings of a stubborn man.
His commander—dark, deep and prepossessing,
Blithe in his suit,
Pacifist in thought,
is loaded with souls – black, blue, green, brown.

His follower – called Dastardly, surnamed Silence,
haunts that monstrous nail on the coffin,
so uptight, in his task,
in sealing destinies.

I, too, must have lost someone to war.


(Background: A soldier picks up the leftovers of war - elegies and prayers of people who have lost their everything. Only the battlegrounds are different)


Cracks on riverbeds
and quagmires filled,
with hearts broken.


My Quran is gutted,
Remove the stains if you find it
Sing to it,
Allah listens.


It was my war
It was your war
It became our war.
Its remnants lay plain in my backyard.
I like my wall in carmine
No more spatters,
No more patterns.


War-time alliteration:


Peace is never an accomplice of war.
To emerge from a war is
another, long, impending war
You won’t find gods at synagogues anymore.

My Gaashaji (), a nabob in his 80s,
a conceited young man
made old in memories.

Memories folded in a loop.
Begum Akhtar’s voice
Screeching repeatedly,
Through AIR FM Gold.

Memories held succinctly
In the last wisteria.
Its purple shred,
across villages.

Memories spanning generations.
Muslims chanting; as Hindus in a temple.
Muslims chanting as Hindus in a temple.

Now death is commonplace
and memories,
a long burden of time.
Only the hastily contorted wrinkles
of my Gaashaji’s face contain,
the answers of time and,
the secrets of beauty and disdain
of his Kashmir. 


My grandmother’s twin sister was left in Lahore.
My grandmother stays with us,
but lives on memories; a caviller.
So solemn: her childhood in Qadiyan.
The internet has a description of that place
Decrepit and dying,
as her.

Her forlorn stick speaks of her athletic muscle
that rummaged through mango trees.
Her beautiful hands
weave boundaries
that time has eroded.
She is ahead of her time.
.  .  .  .

Today, she has left me,
a piece of her Lahore
in her will of memory.
A piece of Sindh too,
Napier’s peccavi as a con joke
the paradise of time.
I now live through her songs in Delhi
and she lives in the threads of pashmina
that wrapped her twin sister back in Lahore.

But before all things
Turn to winter,
We must suffer the
Arrogance of the summer
And the madness of the fall
For a lover's dream
Comes to ripe
In October,
Between the moonlit beams
Of its iridescent sky.

O! October moonlight,
A winter's length cannot compare
The dent you leave
On my heart!

I dreamest of thee,
A saintly cyssan/kiss,
My unholy lips.
The might of your body on mine
I ail no more. 
With thee 
Even ailing gratifies. 
So chastising,
PS reconsidering the use of the word cyssan. The word chastising has been used in the archaic sense to mean 'punishing.' 


Your travel travails hung on the walls
My pictured bosoms too,
That you clicked.
Clay pots that I made,
Marinate over my longing for you.
Sickly clocks haven’t ticked
Since that infinitesimal minute
When you kissed the nape of my neck.
Must you be gone?

Our rainbow imagination
 too much,
 for a generation so aggrieved. 

Ever since the white butterfly stopped swirling and whooshing, and the buried antlers of a deer was discovered by his doe, I have flown my home.

Where is your home?

Now I sit tall on a pyramid of white snow, near the lake, atop a bed of stones. In my kip I build a home, a place where the snow does not turn color and the lake remains colorless. I am a relentless guard of the lake. But the carmine doesn’t stop to splinter.

Do you remember, my Melluda,
The tic-tac-toe of love
On your red sweater?
And my white socks,
Of my labour’s toil?
How you scoured the dirt
Off my winter’s glove,
circa 1965?

My overcoat, you remember?
full of restraint…
O my Melluda, how you bring me back
Memories of cooking.
The black burner that your father gave
At the altar…

You remember how I gained little by little,
your sweltering heart, Melluda?
On a cold day,
1945, circa?

You remember how I wept
over scores of disloyal friends,
but wrapped truth’s ring
on my shoulders,
with your hand knit wollen scarf?

With the angel’s wings (yours),
I look around for clues,
In the London fog
of how this world had turned into a written letter,
In niveous white!

I wrote this song, Melluda,
With nothing but the warmth of your hands,
And memories of this mad, mad world,
Without you… 

Over heaps of betrayal 
You stand firm.
Flouted, raped, desolate...
O! My city of prince and princesses
Who hurt you today?


Rochelle Potkar

The point of Irish coffee

It was Mistress and him by the moonlight. She sits with her hair flowing, body forming a silhouette like a picture in an old album. He sits with his ears slack, tail between his legs, watching flecks of ash fall off her cigarette. They watch the moon traveling through the clouds together.
She is listening to the noises coming from next door. He is waiting for his next meal. Some nights he will not get dinner at all. She will forget to give him any. The dog will then stave off his hunger whimpering and watching the spirits passing over the balcony.

She begins with a slow chuckle now that sounds like the low grumble of a bitch, till it becomes a loud laugh.
“They are fighting!” she declares in her raspy voice. A frown collects over his forehead and his ears go up. He can now hear the neighbor’s threatening voices trying to outdo each other’s. The voices reach a crescendo and Mistress flicks her cigarette in a gesture of marked victory. The smoldering cigarette somersaults 250 feet below.

Earlier in the day, Mistress had called the maid who worked in the adjoining flat and had asked her to do a kind favor. She gave the maid an embellished, perfumed kurti and told her to place it in her sahib, Mr. Mehta’s, wardrobe when no one was looking. The maid, who smelled of detergent and dampness, had stared at Mistress with questioning eyes and Mistress had answered her with a wad of crisp, crackling cash.

The maid left in the pursuit of Mistress’s plans.

The dog had seen how Mistress had stitched a small cloth with embroidered initials onto the kurti the previous day and sprayed it with a sweet and sickening, floral perfume. She had then sniffed it over and over again like he sniffed for familiar smells amongst old shoes.

The maid must have done her job, because Nischella Mehta stormed out of her husband’s house the following morning. Mistress tiptoed to the edge of the balcony and, leaning her stomach softly over the railing, watched her go.

She then did a slow waltz.

The dog could not convince her then of his hunger pangs. He lay low with his triangular face placed on the carpet, waiting for the lights of the house to be turned off.
Instead, Mistress rocked herself on her favorite chair, eyes blazing in victory. “One down, two to go…,” she said, reaching for the fridge.
“This calls for celebration,” she exclaimed and poured some strong-smelling Irish whiskey into her glass and his bowl. She then mixed into it rich-smelling cream and snuffy-odoured coffee. “Irish Coffee,” she whispered into his coal black eyes, stirring the contents in his bowl, unmindful of the thick layer of cigarette ash that floated on it.

The drink smelt corrosive. Not thirsty, but very hungry and grateful, the dog laps it up. The drink hits him in the head like a bullet. He curls up for the night, in a corner of the balcony dreaming of distant places, full moons and war cries. From behind the sheen of sleep, he can hear the chanting of Mistresses’ mantra.

“I will ruin them all,” she says again and again.

The day Master left floats by him in a dream. He remembers the day only too well. Master had left with a young girl, smelling of raw fruit around his arm, never to return. Mistress had screamed till her voice sounded like a bleat of a dying animal. In the evening, three women wrapped with thick perfumes had come to sympathize.
“Oh, Poor you! “Oh, Poor you!” they kept saying.
But the moment Mistress turned her back they chortled, chuckled and shrieked. The house reverberated with echoes of their backslaps. The cackling women were none other than their neighbors - Mrs. Mehta, Mrs. Kapur and Mrs. Waacha.

Mistress had grown old in days after that. Her hair had turned white. Her face had become a film of wrinkles. She stopped looking into mirrors. They made her wince. The dog stayed close on heel, to watch her every twitch. But that was all he could have done then to help.


The morning appears late to the dog. His eyes feel puffy and sticky and all his fur has shed. His spine twists inside his back and hurts with the slightest of movement pulling him backwards. He stumbles along searching for Mistress.

“Now we teach bitch Kapur a lesson.” she mutters. “How about making the wretched woman have an illicit affair this time? Can’t we have their driver involved?” She cackles hysterically before removing a heap of crisp, ink-stinking notes.
“We can have a lover – a pudgy man or a handsome dwarf - run down the steps naked just when Mr. Kapur is coming back from work...”
She laughs raucously and the dog watches as her eyes recede into weary eye bags.

She hadn’t noticed that his tail had reduced to half its size or that his pointy, velvety ears had almost vanished leaving behind gaping ear holes. He hadn’t barked since morning.

The foul-smelling Kapur’s driver was called and given a crackly envelope with photographs. “See that you give it to Mr. Kapur when she’s not there,” hissed Mistress. She gave him the wad of cash.

Next week, the driver came announcing that Mr. Kapur had slapped a legal notice on his adulterous wife.

Mistress and dog celebrate with their shared concoction of Irish coffee and her laughter resonates around the house. The dog knew she was happy, just like he would have been, had he got to eat his favorite lamb chop.
He would have wagged his tail to compliment her but it had dropped off. He had collected it along with the fur in the corner of the room so it didn’t get in Mistress’s way – a soft brown mountain, it was.

He tugged instead at his new ear lobe that had been growing now from under those gaping ear holes, just like the thick curves of hair that had been growing above his eyes.

He couldn’t show Mistress how long the toes on his forelegs had grown, almost like fingers, or convince her of the difficulty he faced in slurping up the drink from his bowl. His face was now not triangular but rather flat and square-ish. But what surprised him the most was that he could now walk comfortably on his two’s instead of four’s.

It was Mistress and him by the moonlight. He sat on a low stool, a leg crossed over the other, back upright. She sat on her customary couch, her hair making promises to the wind.

“Mrs. Waacha now,” she muttered through clenched teeth.

He drew circles of smoke from a cigarette into the air, his mind wagging with an idea. He had learnt to smoke. It aided in thinking.
He had taken Mistress’s hatred in all his faithfulness and made it his own. He now inched closer to her. Slowly forming words and separating them from growls he said, “How about having her daughter’s guitar teacher involved? He is a junkie and seems in need of money.”

“Good idea!” she says, squinting her eyes, as though reading a distant sign-post. She stretches to pat his mane. Instead her fingers entangle into soft curls.
Sipping their drink, they zero in on their plan.  
He is her best friend now. Something he could never be when dog.

He had indeed taken all her hatred and made it his own.
It had converted him to man.

*This story won a gold place and was published in the Revenge Ink Anthology of Real Indian writing, 2012.|

Photography: Promit Bose