Ways of Seeing People, Poetry and the World

Poetry by Indrani Ganguly

You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it. Mahatma Gandhi

Who am I?

I am a Libran. The scales are supposed to represent balance.

I believe they represent forever seeking balance.

Some days my glass is half full.

On other days it is half empty.

I cannot predict how I will react to people, places, plants or pets

I am forever changing.

***

Ode to Crosswords

My days are like a crossword puzzle

Sometimes the clues are easy

I can fill the squares without pain

Other days I agonize

For the words that won’t emerge

From the recesses of my brain.

Easy or hard it matters not

The puzzles teach me new words

I’ve never encountered before

Long forgotten words spring back to life

Creating new connections

All part of life’s complex score.

***

What am I remembering?

Every month has something of significance.

Sometimes it’s for the whole world

Sometimes it’s for Australia or India (or both)

Sometimes it’s just for me!

***

January

Inspired by a visit to Allahabad January 2020

I stand before the bungalow

Home to us more than fifty years ago

No-one lives there now

The bougainvilleas have gone

The lawns and flowerbeds lie buried beneath a sea of weeds

Is the house pleased to see me?

Does it smile as I take a photograph

To preserve memories once it’s gone?

My old school building is still bright and beautiful

Though an ugly annex half hides the view

The nuns wear saris instead of habits

Students wear Indian garb instead of skirts

But their laughter sounds the same.

I stand before the message under Mother Mary’s shrine

Women in times to come will do great things.

I think the time has already come.

I walk the narrow streets of Lok Nath Gali

Redolent with delightful aromas

Of the delicacies my parents loved.

We nibble on puris, kachoris and samosas

Then creamy pistachio-topped dudh malai

As finely spun as the meringue

On the famous pavlova from down under.

I am pleased age has not withered childhood pleasures.

I meet an old friend

Fifty years has not lessened

Our pleasure in each other’s company.

We exchange books we have written

Memories we have stored.

I meet new friends

Gender and age are no bar

To strike new chords.

The annual Magh Mela is on.

We stroll along the confluence of two great rivers

Girding the tent city housing thousands of pilgrims

Preparing for a dip in the holy waters.

Saffron-clad holy men now ride motorbikes

And use mobile phones

One of them offers us tea

Some good old-fashioned hospitality!

I sit in the train for the journey back

The young man above sends texts incessantly

The older gentleman sitting opposite says

‘Alas, we are losing our culture.’

I say if we weren’t we’d still be divided

By gender, caste and religion.

‘True, true,’ he admits as the train jerks forward

Another journey moves to an amiable close.

***

February

Noted for Valentine’s Day

Spread the love

Fires warm

Fires burn

An incinerated joey impaled on a fence

Animals sheltering in a wombat’s burrow

Rains quench thirst

Rains sweep away

Children dancing in the rain

Elation for some, for others sorrow.

We meet in silent unity

All that we can say

Is dig deep, dig deep to spread the love

On this year’s Valentine Day.

***

End of love

The sound of your voice

Is like a moth

It flutters around

The candle of my love.

The words slide off your lips

Like a moth flutters its wings

Rustling, soothing, mysterious,

Gliding in the wind.

The sound of your voice makes me smile

But you will soon burn

The candle of love

Will become the funeral pyre.

***

March

March is dedicated to Mars, also the month of Holi, the Hindu spring festival, and International Women’s Day.

Mars

Mars gleams redly in the sky

Sweeping attention away from the pallid moon.

A shower of stars distracts momentarily.

Space is not empty

But a cornucopia of invisible connections.

Like unseen emotions

That bind us more tightly

Than any rope or chains.

The scent of your skin

Precedes your presence

***

International Women’s Day

Women are strong

Women are weak

Women are brave

Women are meek

Women love

Women hate

Women are complex people

No matter the date.

***

Holi in Australia

It is not spring

When Australians celebrate the spring festival

What does it matter?

People of many hues

Spray each other with coloured water

Or smear coloured powder

We become a multicoloured mob

United in our zest for living.

Breaks are for sweets and snacks

A time to take, a time for giving.

Then we return to the fray.

The security guards grin

White teeth gleaming through painted faces

I think they enjoy

Turning the giant hoses on us.

***

April

The month we commemorate the ANZACs (25) and No Housework Day (7th)

Is April the cruellest month down under?

Why do we have an April Fool’s Day?

We commemorate the ANZACs

There are many others to remember.

Spirits of Roma Street Parkland

In the centre of Brisbane city

Is a verdant parkland

Host to many spirits

From many different lands.

For aeons, the Turrbal people met

To hunt, camp and play

Telling stories around night fires

A restful end to the day.

Then came the Europeans

And sweeping winds of change

Buildings, markets, schools, trains

Even an orphanage.

Now the Emma Miller Place

Marks battles women carry on

Anji Ban died alone

She was not the only one.

A lone boy stands in the middle

Did his spirit hear the apology

Tendered to the forgotten Australians?

Did anyone heed his mother’s cry?

Mahatma Gandhi on the other side

Inspires with his non-violent creed

Despite his own bloody end

Shot by his own, the foulest deed.

Through the gardens we meander

As always I wonder

The murmur of the breeze

The rustle of the leaves

Is it the spirits crying together?

Or laughing in the trees?

***

No Housework Day

Ironing

Cleaning

Cooking

Gardening

Sewing

Shopping

Painting

Mending

Now why do they all

Rhyme with boring?

***

May

This is the month of Mother’s Day and our wedding anniversary

Impending motherhood

Belly swelling gently

Like the full moon

Life within life.

Your face is aglow

Like the tender rays

Of the morning sun.

You lie in wait

Hair spread across the pillow

Dark as the night.

Your tears come

Like the falling rain

Life giving life.

***

Crossing the divide

Que sera sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera sera.

My son says he’s gonna marry a white woman.

Auntie says they have no culture or tradition.

They neglect their children.

And show no respect to their elders.

Why couldn’t he follow our ways

And let me find him a fine wife?

My daughter says she’s gonna marry a black man

What will their children look like?

I dreamt of fair blonde grandchildren.

I don’t know if I could bear to touch a black tyke.

Why couldn’t you marry good old Joe Bloggs

Or that smart young Bruce that works in the bank?

What’s that you say?

He’s educated far beyond anyone I know?

I always said we gave them too much aid.

If we don’t watch out, they’ll take over one day.

They said it would never work.

East is East and West is West.

Black is black and white is white.

And never the twain shall meet.

We’ve travelled many different ways

Sometimes together, sometimes parallel

Sometimes totally apart.

But always there was a point of return.

There was pleasure, there was pain,

There was loss, but also gain.

If we went back in time

We’d do it all over again.

Our children are not black or white.

But shades of brown like this sunburnt land.

Their friends come in many hues

From many lands with many tongues.

Together they will move

To reconcile with the children of the First Nations.

Like us they will find life isn’t a straight line.

For every decision there’s a price to pay.

But they will never think what will be will be.

Just like us they’ll learn how to fight

And forge their own destiny.

***

June

June focuses include child labour, plight of refugees, music and yoga.

Bitter Bites

It’s not too much cocoa

That makes the chocolate bitter.

The chocolate would be better

If we didn’t use child labour.

The carpet’s knots aren’t flawed

Because of the weaver

The carpet would be prettier

If we didn’t use child labour.

What do squeaky shoes tell you?

Is it the leather

Or the cry of despair

Of child labour?

Simply banning child labour

Will not make it right

Teach us practical solutions

To help end their plight.

***

A Song for the Disappeared

The Bone Woman

Sifts through the soil

As tenderly as a mother

Parts the hair of her child.

What will the Bone Woman find?

Bodies clasped in a last embrace

Fragments of bone

Or just some sad shreds of clothing?

Slowly she recreates

The person that once was.

The dead begin to talk to the living

Now family and friends can complete their cycle of grieving.

As she works the Bone Woman changes herself.

Once she said ‘This is what I did’

Now she says ‘This is what I have become’

***

Nostalgia

Smoke gets in my eyes

As I rock around the clock.

I pass Eleanor Rigby

Playing with the confetti

Of another’s wedding.

Downtown

I lean on the lamppost

Frolic under the boardwalk

Then board the yellow submarine

To go play in the octopus’s garden.

***

Homage to Yoga

Some wobble in the tree pose

Some knees just will not bend

Some fingers will not reach the ground

Some pain we can’t suspend.

And yet

The stretches deepen our breath

Focus our minds

Massage long-neglected muscles

Yoga’s always our friend.

There are lots of happy babies

Right at the very end.

***

July

In remembrance of World Nature Day 28 July and my beagles’ birthdays

Nature is majestic and uplifting

The night is cold and dark

Tiger Hill looms above us

Inviting all to climb and see the sun rise in all its glory

Tourists and locals shiver in collective anticipation

Lady coffee vendors keep us warm

Men offer shawls and gloves

We pray Mother Nature will be kind

And no fog or rain will mar this pilgrimage

Crows caw, children squeal

Suddenly the chameleon sky changes

Black, dark blue, pink, red, and finally a glorious gold

Shimmering off the snowy peaks of the beauteous Kanchenjunga

Golden River Ganga, golden sky

Meld into one

Infusing our bones and hearts with warmth

And raising our spirits to the heavens above.

***

Nature is also cruel, capricious, destructive

The sun hurts my eyes

As I gaze across the sea

Hoping, hoping, hoping

They’ll come back to me.

The waves hiss in derision

A cruel mistress is the sea

The seething foam warns

Never to take her lightly.

A speck appears on the horizon

Two more are behind

A boat and two life jackets

Nothing to soothe the mind.

Neither child follows them

Boat and jackets waft to the shore

Will the sea spit my children out?

Are they lost for evermore?

***

Sometimes nature is scapegoated by humans

The apple’s caused much discord.

Paris gave one to Aphrodite

To win Helen

And short-term delight

But at awesome cost.

Another apple led to Eve’s downfall

And Adam’s too, as I recall.

Hippomenes used golden apples to defeat

Atalanta the fleet.

They loved well but not wisely.

Both became lions drawing a chariot for Cybele.

The fox maligned grapes as sour.

What fruits did Tantalus just gaze at for evermore?

Persephone ate six seeds rich and red

Of the pomegranate, food of the dead.

Now Pluto shares her

With Demeter.

***

My Beagles

My funny little beagles

Are called Bonnie and Clyde

Their tails wag incessantly

They never leave my side.

Bonnie’s beautiful brown eyes

Beguile me night and day

Even when she tugs like mad

Showing me the way.

Clyde is the joker

Forever on his back

A scratch is all he wants

And perhaps a little snack.

Indian, Western, cooked or raw

They like most kinds of food

Except for mushy veggies

And fruit is not so good.

Language doesn’t matter

English they can understand

Bengali seems to work as well

For affection or command.

Our funny little beagles

They’re such sweethearts

They haven’t stolen anything

Excepting all our hearts.

***

August

Admit You Are Happy Month, Independence Day for Indians, Ekka for Brisbane

Why are you happy?

August is the month to admit you are happy

Are you happy to be free?

Or simply to savour

Ekka’s strawberry sundae?

***

September

September is when Eastern Koels arrive in Australia from their northern winter homes to breed. It is also the flower festival season and Bureaucracy Day (29). 

Koelsong

Koel sings at the break of day

Songs of one land

Reverberate in another.

Koel lays her eggs

In another’s nest

She’s not the world’s best mother.

Drab-feathered koel

With the voice of gold

Singing ‘kuhu kuhu’

Since the days of old

***

My Floral Friends

They have no eyes to see me

No ears to hear me

No mouth to speak to me

No legs to run to me

No arms to hold me

But they have colours to entice me

Scents to tantalize me

Windy dances to beguile me

Juices to soothe me

Crisp flavours to tempt me

Some have thorns to prick me

A simple message ‘Don’t pick me’

No bars to sharing colours and scents with me

In life my floral friends surround me

In death they will cover me.

***

A Bureaucrat’s Day

The urgent brief’s finally done.

Two submissions are begun.

E-mails flash across the screen.

I hit clear, clear, clear

Almost as soon as they appear.

The photocopier emits a mighty wheeze.

The printer chews up a few more trees.

‘I’m double-booked again,’ our Director sighs.

‘No room for your meeting,’ her assistant cries.

We have Tim-tams for morning tea.

Sugar and caffeine to restore energy.

As the day marches on ominously

Phones ring incessantly.

Clients call, to praise or blame

Us for the endless waiting game.

Some suddenly the day is done.

I don my walking shoes and head home.

***

October

The first Indian McDonald’s restaurant which opened on Oct. 13, 1996 in New Delhi was also the first McDonald’s restaurant in the world not serving beef.  

Multi Mania

Hark, hark

The newshounds bark

The multinationals have come to town.

Bearing the gifts of civilisation

Adapted for people who’re brown.

Barbie in India wears saris

And her skin is a suitable tan.

Never mind her face seems Caucasian

And her legs an unnatural span.

The burger kings declare ‘you’re safe, no beef

Only goat in your buns will do.’

And the crisp barons say

‘We’ve thrown the vinegar away

We’ll give you chilli and mint and other spices too

We hope you appreciate just how much we love you.’

So we dine on the burgers and snack on the crisps

And fizzy drinks too are a must.

And when we look on high

At the global sky

It’s still only the Big Brothers that can shine

The little ones stay down in the dust.

***

November

Best known for the iconic Melbourne Cup. I am uneasy about making real creatures compete for human profit but simulated birds are OK!

Clouds flit lazily across the sky

The Brisbane River ebbs and flows,

Children laugh and scatter sand

Adults sip coffee in the afternoon glow.

Then suddenly comes a mighty roar

From the crowds gathered to see

Twenty-three thousand rubber ducks 

Jostling each other in a mad melee.

‘Come on little fellers’ the children cry

As the ducks bob and weave in the swirling foam.

Some lose their lanes, others run aground

The rest strive valiantly to reach home.

Finally, one duck reaches the winner’s post

It rides in glory, the rest are packed away.

Save a cheeky one that escapes the lifesaver’s nets.

Will it laugh with the dolphins tonight at Moreton Bay?

***

December

December is a time for many to come together and celebrate. For some it is not.

Sad Santa

The Christmas tree is brown and sere

Santa will not come this year

Is that the wind rattling the door

Or the spirits of the woman and children

Who once lived here?

Now they hide in a house far from their own

Their dog howls in the RSPCA cage

The love of strangers cannot meet

Its need to belong.

Will Santa call them naughty when he hears them cry?

Or will he bring gifts of hope and strength to survive?

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