Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr is the author of a poetry collection, Bearings (HarperCollins India). She lives in Paris, and works as a producer in performing arts. This proximity to performing arts and to dance, in particular, is refracted in much of her poetry, which has been published in several anthologies and journals including Indian Literature, Caravan India, Penguin’s 60 Indian Poets and Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, The Literary Review (USA), Terre à Ciel (France) and The Poetry Review (UK). Her poems have been translated into French and Italian.

She wrote the stories and text of British-Bangladeshi choreographer Akram Khan’s new full-length piece, Desh (2011), along with performance poet Polar Bear and Khan himself. Young Zubaan will soon be bringing out The Boy, the Bees and Bonbibi, one of the stories she wrote for Desh, as an illustrated children’s book. Nair is currently working on her next collection for HarperCollins.

Please visit her blog: wordswordswords-kn.blogspot.com

Jasmine and Pepper

V is back again
my wheelchair revolutionary
with little body left
this time to kindle
in hospital or council
square – and unsteady
souls disallowed
at dances – he first sheds

  i f a a e
  r r n m y
  i o a e
  s m u


an arm a leg long
dead unburied
by the Dorsal
fine parchment healers had marked
as skin to line the Sahel.

Then resurges effulges
in a dozen distinct cities
at once




yesSidi Bouzid

the calligraphy of smouldering
protest rising from breath
toloneoutstretched hand
then handed and lit

Alongside this trace of a jasmine
spring, his self outlines in 4H
(more clay than graphite)
fine hard and scarcely seen.

Bouazizi, El Hajri, Ammari,
Naji … names more names more
lives more deaths all threading
the jasmine and other flowers an
invocation of lost things limbs
or sight or futures.

V only says i found
some of the currency lost
in our Hexagon
adds they could still be
screwed but we already are.
I picked up fraternité all over
(save from the cobbled
streets for sad wheelchairs)
less liberté alas except to dream
and hope and die the last
of which you never let me.

And égalité why more égalité
than anywhere else i have
been all through riots
Oleoresin capsicum
tear gas flavoured
pepper recognizes
no colour sex age
health wealth

I was normal for just that while.

Karthika Naïr, 03/06/2011

Meridians VI.

Then a caravan of cities, some swathed in night,
in monsoon’s ashcloth, or blinds of celluloid light.
Hasty capitals, soft-footed towns like Roubaix:
their outlines beckon, elliptical, just in sight.

Some meet as would stars across galaxies – essay
distant courtesy; others, familiar-strange way-
farers at roadside inns, share a tale, a table;
some glare, with fears no papers nor prayers allay.

These polaroid impressions – single, unstable –
do we montage onto a family fable;
else catch their straying shadows and cast them in clay,
glass – or bronze, to make memories less friable.

So, Beijing, last spring, flew by in regal array –
Li Xinggang’s bird’s nest its crown of crimson and grey,
while we looped the endless realm of Terminal III
seeking ten mountain-born bamboo staves gone astray:

zigzagged a million square metres of duty free,
washrooms, walkways and sceptical security
(with two dancers and no Mandarin) to retrieve
peace, props and the future of choreography.

Berlin at summer’s peak stood in standardized weave:
entre le chien et le loup all through, to grieve,
perhaps, its colours fled southwards for the solstice.
Obsidian night, tasselled with streets, could not reprieve

the uncut basalt of day, the relentless hiss
as rain exodussed from every interstice
in the sky – invading earth, skin, eyes, hair and thought.
That, with chocolate fountains and the midnight fizz

of critics champagning success on your myths, wrought
surreal shots – Burton-meets-Bushnell: you stood, taut,
Edward without scissorhands to slash through the frame
till Guy wielding humour, reduced the reels to nought.

Calais – or Douai? They both tend to smell the same
on wintry nights – of asphalt and mist, and the flame
(blue-eyed, bitter) from squat streetlamps that lie in wait
by doorways swollen with damp longing for a name

on their breastplates. No, it was Douai and a date
at its Hippodrome, where an End would generate
a crystal – hard-edged, painful – just below the heart.
One more ballet, unannounced, was to coruscate:
a few thousand red-tipped maple leaves, with upstart
ease, took centre-stage Place du Barlet to impart
fouettés, jetés, random entrechats … thus enthral
the roving streets, the stars above, an orphaned mart.

In November, Cannes secedes from the rest of Gaul.
With celestial skill, it churns a migrant Mistral:
pitchers of melted sunshine, pure, pounced cobalt
for sea and sky, garlands of palm trees (curtain-called

from summer) appear. Or so they say. With work’s Alt
key activated, we must have missed heaven’s vault:
a chauffeur awol with the sets, the untuned lyre,
no vegan meals in sight … there’s little to exalt.

I find strands caught in a jacket, though, from sapphire
bights, the crew’s laughter at 2 a.m., awestruck tiers
and ovation. Au ’voir, then, not adieu, despite
this awkward tryst: next time, I’ll leave behind the ire.

Karthika Naïr, 10th October 2008

Meridians VI from Bearings (HarperCollins India, 2009)

Far from Chagall

Montreal: Fall
Tell me it must be the weather
that dyes my mind white, congeals thought –
not meltdown of that myth: Together.
Tell me it must be the weather
not your ire, nor eyes that ether
memory, blaze the words we wrought –
tell me! It must be the weather
that dies: minds in flight can seel thought.

Rome: Winter
We drove to Rome to unreel pride
and pain, staunch the blame, drain dissent,
graft content. The last galactic tide:
we drove to Rome to anneal pride
with ’art and rain. When the Tiber died –
riven blue-black by rage misspent –
we drove from Rome to unreel, ride
the pain, staunch the blame… feign consent.

New Delhi: Spring
As you move into yesterday,
the sky runs copper; trees stain blue
on sleeping earth. But seasons stray
as you move. Into yesterday
spills blood from my breath: I must pay
for the ground sunshine, for these hues.
Then you’ll move into yesterday.
The sky runs copper, stains trees blue.

Rome, the return: Summer
I’ll come alone this time, serene
if songless. I’ll have lambent night
to bathe the pines, restore life’s sheen.
I come alone. This time – serene,
knowing you gone – breathes, slight, between
relief and grief. No wraiths alight.
This time, I come alone: serene,
for the songless have lambent night.

Karthika Naïr, 15th August 2010

Far from Chagall first published in Asia!Mag,
these poems will also feature in the forthcoming
The HarperCollins Book of Modern English Poetry by Indians.
Rome: Winter first appeared in The Mint.
Montreal: Fall and Rome: Winter both
appeared in The Poetry Review (June 2011)

Poetry in this post: © Karthika Naïr
Photo: Mujib M.K.
Published with the permission of Karthika Naïr