The Usawa Newsletter November '23

    The Ornaments of Silence

    by Tabish Nawaz


    The birds set loose
    at daybreak
    cooing, pecking at the walls
    invite us – in strange languages.

    Awaiting a wave on its way
    – peeping at a future – the past
    flies from all directions.

    Time – like a shrapnel – strikes,
    lodges within, breathes.
    The city makes its heat
    festering the heartbeats.

    Flowers blooming everywhere
    honouring their springs,
    oozing colours – bright and crisp –
    from their petals, your smile
    of last summers, dried
    rasping on the road, breaking
    on a little movement.

    Each day the house opens
    like a jaw
    and shuts us within.


    Leaving the city, unacknowledged
    without a farewell,
    carrying within my shoes
    the sweat, the rain.

    The footsteps like twin falling leaves
    swirl wayward, stumble
    into melancholic memories,
    constructing monuments to the restless days
    spent sitting with bare feet
    dipped in the flowing river,
    thinking how much of life
    I wasted in your bosom, dear city,
    convincing you that is how
    the nature of the life was –
    grafted, never feeling secure
    always looking elsewhere,
    never belonging,
    soaring into the sky
    of longings.


    On a rainy evening, returning home.
    Light wearied of its rectilinear paths
    leaps off the lamp posts, spreads
    over the street, wallowing in
    the footsteps of strangers.

    The vehicles’ headlights stretched
    like a pair of hands
    running to catch the rain
    falling as fireflies
    on the windshields.

    The twin wipers swatting them away
    like Sisyphus chases after his rocks.
    Imagine them happy
    whispers a friend, diffusing
    into the heart
    the melancholy of the rain.

    Imagining them happy
    I returned home
    Drunk, tired
    of the weight
    I slept
    while the rain outside
    poured the light,
    untethering from the sources
    over my window
    to let itself in.

    The darkness in the room
    with each flash of light
    shoos light away.

    The Anguish of Unrequited Love

    by Aadi Jeev

    I can’t help but feel like I’m waiting to catcall you. Like I’ve watched you pass by the same street every night, smoking in the corner. I feel like I’m stalking you. Like how I keep hanging around here on purpose thinking you might show up at 8:05. I don’t know if you’ve seen me at all in the dark. Or perhaps you’re extremely aware that I’m there, watching, waiting. When you hurry past me, your pace quickens, a key wedged between your fingers, ready to rip me apart if I breach your boundary. Why wouldn’t you start taking a different route then

    I think about the things I could say to you as you pass through my cigarette smoke and I’m sure I’ll just scare you. I’m scared you won’t get it- what I mean by the things I might end up saying. There’s so much distance between us. So much space for words to float, deform & contort. You won’t get it.

    Or worse, maybe I don’t have anything special to say. I’d call you “beautiful” at best. But you might already know that. Perhaps you have a girlfriend who tells you that every day, in a way that makes you feel safer. Safer than out here on the street. Safer one feels in their own skin. Perhaps you’ve forcefully slipped it into your morning affirmations in front of the mirror and gradually learnt to mean it. Perhaps your mother has always told it to you & you used that as an excuse for shawls & bras. Or you already know and don’t bother about it

    With every passing hypothesis, I swear the cloud of smoke around us thickens. You seem impenetrable. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t have a say at all. So much smoke separates two people. So much structure & purpose. We thrash & grope through the fog trying to feel each other. All through the cloud stacks that choke the air that divides us. We block each other’s paths to chat for a while, get late for work, or try to hold each other in the currents that sweep us away and onward. I know you’re tired & just want to go home. I’d have come in the morning, but my shift starts at 6. It’s impossible to live in a world that makes no time or room for

    But we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have without love. So, our sly world makes space for it. Little channels & pockets within the smoke- spaces where our love was allowed to quietly slip through and suffocate without much of a fuss. In the daytime, at home, with courtesy & grace. In marriages, in economies, in hospitals & taxes. We know where to look for love- our dating apps, our castes, brokers & bars. All marriages are arranged. All social love is arranged, organised & rationed.

    The air that hangs loosely off your hurrying body is yours, not mine. It rests on your tympanum and doesn’t deserve to be shaken up with my holler. Especially when I have nothing to say.

    Does anyone ever though?

    Is not love our one shot at diffusing this smoke? When we stop & talk & tell each other about our day, where we’re headed & going? Maybe I will have something to say then. I could tell you you’re not beautiful in a way that has any value. You’re not beautiful in a way that could be turned into capital, bought, turned into a magazine cover, or be thought of as something that a nervous pervert in a dark alley has any right to. You’re beautiful in a pretty useless way, & isn’t that great?

    Again, maybe you knew that too. But does it matter?

    Love is our one shot at diffusing this smoke. Reaching across the structures & stories that define & divide how we’re allowed to live & keep moving. In a world like ours, love is always unrequited.

    It disrupts, disorders, & disillusions. We aren’t allowed to love that would be true to the meaning of the word. We’re only allowed to define our social relationships in the way of usefulness to society.

    What’s interesting is how blind we’ve turned to the lines and divisions that decide who, when and where we share our space and time with. We’ve got rules, maps, and timetables right from boys and girls sitting separately in kindergarten to ‘pure veg’ restaurants. We move our programmed bodies through these defined, gendered, & divided spaces. We barely clock how much it restricts who we “happen to fall in love” with. It’s a lot less to do with luck than it might look like. There are just so many layers of difference & math written into the smoke.

    So, when I look at you through this smoke, I know I can barely make you out. The fog is thick, & there are no cleared-out pockets at all for our love, but I’m determined to make it through everything that defines us.

    But I wouldn’t want you to feel unsafe though.

    So, I let your love disrupt. I take the next day off work, & wait at that street, 7 am. I don’t smoke. You walk by and I stop you and say, “Hey, I love your style. Where’d you get your skirt from?” You stop and smile.

    You get a little late for work.

    Nigerian Journal of Poems and Short Stories Submission Guidelines

    Call for Submission in Nigerian Journal of Poems and Short Stories (NJPSS) is now open! (ISSN: 2814-3752)

    Publication (online) is Free if your Poem or Short story is Selected!

    Nigerian Journal of Poems and Short Stories (NJPSS) is a journal devoted to well-polished poems and short stories. The journal has an editorial team and international reviewers who are dedicated to promoting literary readership and creative ingenuity through thorough review. This is an online journal which is indexed on Google scholar! See the link below!

    Submission should be done on the Facebook page (Dr. Ifeoma Odinye’s Literary Forum).

    Submission Closes on 15th December, 2023.

    Submit on the above Facebook page with your original name (Name in Full)! Once your poem/short story is selected, other details will be required from you. Kindly follow and like the page to register your presence!

    Guidelines for Submission
    All poems/short stories must have titles.
    All poems/short stories must be original and well-written.
    The length of poems must not exceed 1000 words. Short stories must not be more than 2000 words.
    The poems and short stories must not have been submitted to other journals for publication.
    No group submission!
    Only one submission from an individual is acceptable for this call!
    NOTE: All submissions must be written in English.

    Young and Hungry- Malay Roy Choudhury, a Perspective

    By Maitreyee B Chowdhury

    I first chanced upon the Hungryalists while reading Deborah Baker’s book, A Blue Hand, where she recounted Allen Ginsberg’s journey to India, his stay in Calcutta and made a small mention of Allen’s meeting with the Hungryalist poets. Intrigued, I started reading up more about this fiery brand of poets. As a Bengali born and raised outside Bengal, I found a certain resonance with poets like Malay Roy Choudhury, Subimal Basak, Subo Acharya and Pradip Choudhuri, who wanted to break through the annals of traditional Bangla literature in trying to produce something new and exciting. Their outsider instincts gave them an edginess, that was attractive and rebellious, adding a different perspective into Bangla literature and culture that one had read till then.

    The Hungryalist Movement was initiated in 1961 by the Roy Chowdhury brothers, Samir and Malay, and Shakti Chattopadhay and Debi Roy. It was a call at rebellion of sorts, aimed at a change of guard from the old colonial canons. This rebellion eventually became their way of challenging governmental policies, prevalent Bangla literature that denied young writers a chance at experimentation, and existing societal norms that seemed outdated. One must take into account the fact that the political and cultural climate in the country in general, and Bengal in particular had also contributed to the circumstances leading to such a rebellion. Fuelled by partition woes, unemployment, hunger and dissatisfaction, this was almost a precursor to the much bigger Naxalite movement of 1970s when an entire generation stood up against the establishment and much like the Hungryalists, had to face the brunt of being mercilessly wiped out.

    I realised that the Hungryalist spirit was an embodiment of the boundless faith the youth had in change, particularly in a post-colonial society fraught with post-partition agony, anger and disillusionment, and a sense of helplessness that was allied with the social and political crisis brewing amongst Bengalis. While refugee crisis, and post partition migration might have added fuel to the situation, it must be remembered that hordes of refugee families from the then East Bengal had also displaced many families in West Bengal, adding to the already restlessness environment.

    I initiated a conversation with Malay Roy Chowdhury around 2014, when I conceived the idea of a book about the Hungry Generation. As a founding member and central figure of the movement, Malay da, was welcoming of the idea and guided me very generously towards books, literature and people who could help me in my research. Over a period of the next five to six years, we corresponded regularly, during which I found him vibrant, informed and intuitive in his discussions on world literature in general and the Hungryalist literature in particular. He was thoughtful and frank, and most generous with his time, and I felt that he had a vision that would have been ideal to bind together the Hungryalist poets, had they survived the crackdown from the authorities. Malay da, was also acquainted with many of the Indian language poets, who had stood by the group during the turbulent Hungryalist days.

    A curious trend one notices over the years though, is the fact that even those acquainted with the Hungryalist revolution, often tend to forget that Malay Roy Choudhury was a prominent name in Bengali prose writing too. He wrote more than fifty books, many of which were novels and dramas that have been well received. Other than being a prominent poet, he was also a Sahitya Akademi winning translator, an essayist and an icon for the youth, many of whom he guided through the years. Added to all this, he also had the advantage of being acquainted with some of greatest literary giants of the time like Allen Ginsberg and Octavio Paz.

    Born to a prominent Hindu family, Malay Roy Choudhury grew up in Patna, studied in Catholic and Brahmo schools, and was exposed to the infamous neighbourhood of Imlitala, where he and his brother Samir were exposed to drugs, petty thieves, lower caste people, and sex workers very early on in their lives. He had said to me during an interview, ‘if one has to understand my work, they will have to go through these many layers that have shaped me.’

    In 1963, during the heydays of Hungryalist writing, Malay Roy Choudhury published a poem titled Prachanda Baidyutik Chhutar (StarkElectric Jesus) which made headlines and stirred a huge controversy, eventually also leading to his arrest, along with simultaneous raids across the country in the homes of other Hungryalist poets. Malay’s poem was confessional and personal in nature. It also had sexual overtones and used explicitly sexual language, which led to public condemnation, outrage, and a court case based on the charges of obscenity. Interestingly enough, the original Bengali version of Stark Electric Jesus is no longer considered obscene. In fact, the poem has been reprinted numerous times in many publications around the world, and in Kolkata. Many bloggers and poets have also put it up on their websites.

    When Malay was arrested from his Patna home, he lost his job, and was even jailed for two months. This had a terrible impact, and changed the course of his life in many ways. He eventually left Bengal, for good and shifted to Mumbai, and even stopped writing for many years. It was only after 1983, following the death of his mother, that he returned to writing again.

    Malay’s arrest served as a death knell for the Hungryalist movement. His brother Samir was arrested in Chaibasa and suspended from his job. Others poets, like Utpal kumar Basu and Pradip Choudhuri had to go underground for a while, while many others stopped writing altogether. The handwritten poems, drafts of various books by the Hungryalist writers, etc were also seized by the Kolkata Police during the interrogation, but never returned once the case was over.

    While the movement itself was short lived, the impact it had on the Indian literary scene was quite powerful. The movement had spread to other languages such as Hindi, Assamese, Nepali, Hindi, Telugu and Marathi. As a result, when the leaders of the group were arrested, poets from across India and abroad spoke in support of them, and stood together in solidarity.

    In retrospect, there has been growing interest in the movement and their work, as a group that spearheaded Avant Garde literature at a time when society was ripe and ready for change. It was a time for unrest throughout the world in fact and across the oceans, the Beat Generarion had sized people’s imagination with Allen Ginsberg’s reading of his poem Howl. As a result when Ginsberg visited India, and choose to stay in Calcutta, and then travel to stay with the Roy Choudhury brothers in their Patna home, it felt like an affirmation of kindred spirits that had managed to spark the same flame of revolt across continents.

    Long after Ginsberg and the Beats left South Asia, the Hungryalists suffered from talk that they had been influenced by the Beat Generation. But Malay Roy Choudhury even while acknowledging Ginsberg’s help in spreading their work, has categorically denied any direct influence of the Beats on The Hungryalists. In fact, he specified that their movement and initial manifesto had already been set in motion long before Allen Ginsberg set foot in India. The Hungryalists also made it clear that though they did use intoxicants like Hasish and Ganja, it was never during the course of their writing, nor did the hungryalists ever use psychedelic drugs. At the most it might be said that they had a mutual admiration of sorts, which would have been natural with two well-known poets coming together.

    The Hungryalist movement might have died down, many of the trail blazers now dead, but such movements, and the questions they raise, the kind of literature they inspire are perhaps forever. And the success of the movement lies in the interest such work gives rise to for future generations to come.

    Till the end, Malay Roy Choudhury continued writing, and inspiring younger generations to read, think and to revolt, while also producing Avant Garde literature.