Prose | The Face Reader | Bhaskar Caduveti Rao

It was my third session with Peggy, the Psycho-Freudian/Jungian analyst with prescription pad, who charged two hundred seventy-five dollars an hour for chitchat. Sitting in her cold, minimalist, all steel and glass office on a stark Bauhausian black leather couch stripped of all edges and meaning made me shrivel and so I took a deep relaxing breath pulling in the prana and spreading my arms along the length of couch. Peggy returned from the kitchenette and handed me a steaming cup of coffee - its warmth was comforting - and sat across from me in a rectangular leather armchair with a polite plastered smile.
Last session, Peggy asked me to write down five rules, spoken or unspoken, that was obeyed by me as a child at home.
“Let start,” she said while I fidgeted around my five denim pockets looking for the list I had scribbled on a torn sheet on the cab ride over here.
Peggy was in her fifties with brown hair, grey dispassionate eyes and the voice of a strict Catholic pre-school teacher. She was dressed in a black suit with a brown-striped top underneath and a golden bracelet with tiny oval watch.
“#5 Do well in school.”
“Was it spoken or unspoken?”
“It was not unspoken,” I replied after some thought.
“Next?” she continued.
“#4 Eat everything on your plate.”
Peggy just nodded. She now seemed as bored by this exercise as I was. I should have prepared better, I thought. I am wasting money by not taking this seriously.
“Your mother enforced it right?” she asked.
“Yes, she did. Where is your mother now? Do you speak to her often?”
“She lives in a small town in South India. Yes, I do still speak to her but not often.”
“Why not?”
“I could never stand the way she looked at me, as if this was my fault,” I pointed at my ankle. “Her pitying, helpless, dog-eyed look. She was so afraid for me. So afraid of me. I couldn’t understand why she just wouldn’t let go. And treat me like she treated Vishu.”
“Why do you think that? Why was she afraid for you, I mean.”
“I don’t know. I just can’t stand pity. It was worse than the taunts of the kids of my colony. So sad, so solicitous. It drove me away.”
“So you left,” she said.
“I did.”
She went back to scribbling in her notebook.
“#3 Avoid bad company.” This was turning out be a snoozefest. I could spice it up, I thought and told Peggy about how my father discouraged my friendship with Sapan because he visited video game parlors that were fronts for gambling dens.
“He was right as usual, father always was. Sapan flunked tenth grade twice and soon after we drifted apart.”
“Your dad mellowed since, you said last time. Where is he now?”
“He is dead,” I snapped. Didn’t she know this already?
“I am sorry,” she said lifting her arms and sat further back in her chair.
“No, no, no I am sorry.” The apology came out as soon as I saw her recoil, ”I am just angry remembering how I wasn’t even allowed to attend his funeral. My visa had expired, and I couldn’t leave the country, if I did I couldn’t have come back.”
There was an awkward paused before we moved on.
“#2 Be disciplined.”
“What do you mean — oh! was your father very strict?” she said.
“Yes, he was like a drill officer.”
Peggy just nodded when a face floated before my eyes. Large swathes of silver hair, shining under an airplane’s reading lamp — the Face Reader! It took Peggy three sessions and 925$ to get where the Face Reader took three minutes.
It was the summer of 1993 —  I was in eleventh grade. I remember father coming home one day with a surprise: three plane-tickets to Madras to visit Grandma. It made Amma smile for the first time in months. No more twenty-four hour train rides in the Madras Mail in the heart of summer. But I loved the Madras Mail. I liked staring for hours at the barren rice farms, at the dry riverbeds and the brown trees coated with dust, at the telephone poles with lines of black crows. I would see the skin of the earth broken under the harsh scrutiny of the sun, the mighty Godavari river that had shriveled into a stream. But not even the sun, hotter than the devil’s cauldron, could stop the peddlers at the railway stations; the chai-wallahs, the bhel-wallahs, the juice-wallahs who would besiege the passengers. Each station had a different specialty, a different treat for me — masala chai in earthen cups, icy watermelon juice and my favorite: sugarcane juice with lots of ice and a hint of lime. As the train progressed into the heart of south India, the treats would change. Now they became brown vadas with red and green chutney, coconut water, curd-rice with red pickle, sweet-meats, and all of it downed with cold buttermilk spiced with green chilly and cumin. The treats shortened the train journey and our full stomachs put us to sleep.
All of that was replaced by the Bombay airport — a giant white building with pockmarked ceilings and gleaming floors ablaze in white fluorescent lights. In the Madras Mail local villagers, fare-dodgers, would hijack our seats with impunity; but the airport was full of policemen with rifles. I remembered the air-hostess, who perhaps sensed my anxiety, flashed me a pearly-perfect smile. The brass name-tag pinned on her orange blouse said: Ranjeeta Nair.
“You know, I can read faces,” she had said halfway through the flight after some small talk, “Can I try?”, she was sitting next to me while Amma was across the aisle.
“Sure? Is that like palmistry?” I remembered Saurabh claiming he could read palms. I didn’t believe him. I thought it was an excuse for him to hold a girl’s hand. All Saurabh said after looking at my palm was that I would have a long life and become rich. They all say that. Astrologers. Palmists. Numerologists. Mother has seen them all.
“Your father is very strict, isn’t he?”
“He isn’t strict anymore,” I retorted turning away as if hiding my stripped self.
“I am sorry, I am sorry,” she mumbled a few words of apology while I wondered what else was etched on my face?
I asked Peggy, “Do you think someone’s past can be reflected on their face?”
She was silent for almost a minute, while I began daydreaming about life back home, before the money, before the planes.
“Hmmm. I don’t think so,” She finally said, “Perhaps in case of serious trauma. But even then I doubt it — Okay, so, what’s number one?”
“#1 Never hit Vishu. Unspoken.”
“Oh! interesting, Why? Did you bully Vishu a lot?”
“Then why was it a rule?”
“You see, when we were young, Vishu was devoted to me. Vishu followed me everywhere and did anything I asked. This made my parents worried that I would take advantage of him.”
“Did you?”
“No, wait yes, a little; but nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Ok, can you elaborate further on what you exactly understood this unspoken rule to be?” I caught her gaze flickering at my gimpy leg.
“It was understood, time and again that if I ever hit him, I would suffer twice as much. And I did.”
“Did you often suffer the consequences of violating that rule?”
So now we finally come back to my parents, I was dreading this not- your-fault-your-parents-fucked-you-up psychobabble.
“Well not often,” I replied, “but sometimes, but what he did was normal. Parents hit you, it’s not a big deal. I was hit aat school as well.”
“You know,” her voice sounded indignant, “the trauma is the same whether you are Indian or American.”
No it's not, I thought. We are not the same. I thought. I was sick of being fitted into their little boxes. How many Indians, Chinese or Africans did Freud treat before he came up with his ego, superego, Oedipus crap?
“Tell me about a time that he hit you,” she continued
“Any time?”
“Okay, I just want to say, most kids in my colony got beaten up by their parents much more than I ever did.”
“Just tell me one incident.”
“Well, there was this time he beat me with Mom’s powder puff.”
“A powder puff?”
“Yes, but this one was pink with a long plastic handle, it was used for applying talcum powder on your back. We found one in her room that evening, and started hitting each other with it. With the puffy side, I mean.”
Peggy still looked confused.
“We then powder-puffed the walls of the bedroom making fuzzy six-inch white circles all over. The harder we hit, the more distinct the circles got.”
“I then convinced Vishu to take off his shirt, so I could powder puff him. I will make the perfect mark I told him.
 I saw Vishu’s naked back. It was soft, and unblemished — like him. As I swung something perverse, an anger, a tamasic impulse, took over and I hit him harder than I should have trying to make the perfect circle of powder.”
“With the powder puff?”
“Yes, of course with the puffy side hitting his back; the branding came out perfectly on his back, a distinct circle of white talcum powder on his dark skin. I smiled at my success, but then oooooooooOOOOOO Vishu started wailing. Sshhh shhhh I said, afraid that father in the other room would hear. It only made him cry louder. He was mad at me, he wanted me punished. Our parents rushed into the bedroom. Father took one look at the scene, and his eyes turned red. He grabbed the powder puff from my hands and began beating me with it.”
“With the puff?”
“No. With the plastic handle of powder puff. I was on the bed, my hands and legs were up in the air, I kept saying: I am sorry, I am sorry. But the blows didn’t stop.”
“And then?”
“Then, what?” I said.
“What happened next?”
“Nothing. That must have been it. I don’t remember anymore,” My arms came out from somewhere. I looked at them like they were some strange appendages. I folded them neatly into my lap.
“No, tell me. This is important,” Peggy eyes will drilling into me.
Suddenly a dam within my head. Images crowding my skull.
Amma was trying to stop him. She couldn’t; his rage volcanic.  Minutes passed, perhaps hours. The blows kept coming. Amma finally managed to grab his hand, “You will hurt him!” she said; Meanwhile I leapt out of the bed and fled out of the house. Out of the gates, into the main road. Running as if he were pursuing me, pink powder puff in hand.
“I fled the house,” I finally replied to Peggy.
“And what?”
“What happened next?”
“Then it happened.”
“Oh, nothing,” I said, “I don’t remember, I was really young.”
“How young?”
“Like thirteen.”
“Then you must remember.”
“I don’t”
“You do. What happened next?”
The room felt colder. I could hear the rain start anew. I could hear it drum against the window, like Peggy’s words drumming against my skull — prying it open.
“I hit a bus,” My breath began to feel constricted.
“A bus!”
“Or something, I don’t remember, I ran into something, and woke up in a nursing home the next day.”
“What happened?”
“I don’t remember, like I said, I hit a bus or something.”
“Why were you in a nursing home? Is that like a hospital?”
“Yes, it’s a mini hospital run by a single doctor.”
“Why were you in the hospital?”
“It wasn’t a hospital, we call it a nursing home,” I snapped.
“Fine, nursing home, what else do you remember? What happened?”
I was in her grip. Her gloved hands were tearing into my flesh, like a surgeon with a knife, probing, cutting open the flesh to get to that ulcer, that rotten tissue, that cancerous tumour, that boil needing extraction, irradiation or cauterisation.
“I just remember my leg in a cast. That’s all I remember.”
“Your leg, which one?”
“Does it matter?” There was a glass wall inside of me was trying to push her away,
My head began spinning.
“It was not his fault.” I cried.
“I never said it was.”
“You did, but it was not his fault, I was born like this. I am this.” I pulled my pant up, to display my banged up ankle.
The rain had stopped. Peggy began scratching in her diary. The room seemed to echo her words. The patient hit a bus. The patient hit a bus.
“You mentioned meeting a Face Reader,” she said, flipping back a few pages.
“I was careless as usual. Never looking around, irresponsible, undisciplined. I ran into the bus. It was my fault.”
“The face reader,” she continued as if she hadn’t heard me, “Was that before or after this incident?”
“It wasn’t a bus. I would be dead if it were one.”
Peggy got up from her seat and walked to the kitchenette.
“I don’t remember what it was that hit me.” I said to her back as she grabbed a glass.
“Would you like some water?” she asked. The bitch. I hated her for sounding smug.
She poured herself a glass. I took the one she offered me.
“Do you feel better?” She asked after I gulped it down.
“I feel fine,” I said, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”

 (image credit: societyforpsychotherapy.org)

TSC | Editorial | On the Issue of Tactics in the Face of Fascism

At its 22nd Party Congress, the CPM made history by amending its Draft Political Resolution, where it states its Party Line for next three years at every Congress. The beleaguered party, which lost Tripura earlier this year to the BJP, decided to not preclude the possibility of an Understanding with the Congress in the Parliament and in an electoral sense. The political resolution adopted by the 22nd party Congress also added a new clause that clarified the party’s political position, going forward. It said, ‘There can be an understanding with all secular Opposition parties, including the Congress in Parliament on agreed issues. Outside parliament, we should cooperate with all secular opposition forces for a broad mobilisation of people against communalism. We should foster joint actions of class and mass organisations, in such a manner that can draw in the masses following the Congress and other bourgeois parties.’” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cpm-open-to-understanding-with-congress-to-fight-bjp/articleshow/63852434.cms
This has caused consternation among the intelligentsia which follows the CPM’s political activities closely, although the masses probably do not care so much about what appears to be prima facie a semantic quibble, which some would say is typical of Marxists. (The party has shown its mettle, to be fair, recently in mobilising thousands of farmers in different parts of the country – especially with the Farmers’ protest in Mumbai. It did the same earlier in Rajasthan. Is this a turning point for CPM after the debacle of Nandigram-Singur? It is still early to say that, in my view.) 
Meanwhile, there is indeed more to it than just a semantic quibble. The CPM needs to get back on its feet, as soon as possible, since it is staring into the abyss of political oblivion for quite a while now. The party has faced rout after rout in elections for almost a decade now, with the exception of Kerala, a small state electorally. It has still not been fully analysed, in the view of this correspondent, what initiated this process, since it was only in 2004 that the party won its highest number of seats ever in Parliament, the total crossing sixty, including seats won by partners in the CPM-led combine. Of course, Nandigram-Singur played a very important part in it but was that all?
The additional explanation appears to be that the CPM’s hardline position on the Nuclear Deal, in light of information that has now become available, spooked the middle-classes who did not like the CPM asserting its authority too much. Marxist movements have always had a terse relationship with the middle-classes who have grown substantially in India over the years, to become a decisive political force, in the electoral arena. An opinion piece in a leading daily recently surmised that it was primarily the surge of middle-class vote, along with youth, which brought Modi to power in 2014. It is quite likely that the same demographic dividend which found the CPM’s assertive dominance over the UPA-I’s policies unpalatable was further scared by the 2008 Economic Depression, and chose Modi who, like Fascist politicians throughout history made use of a phenomenon of despair exacerbated by threat to National Security, which followed the Mumbai terror attacks in India particularly. In his seminal work the Destruction of Reason, George Lukacs, (first published in 1951 as a ‘grim warning’ to all individuals and nations,) the Hungarian Marxist philosopher cited the mass feeling of despair to be the chief cause for the takeover of the Weimar Republic, by Hitler. Like The UPA rule, the Weimar Republic was also a liberal bourgeois regime whose prospects of survival were weakened tremendously after the Economic Depression of 1929. Germany itself however had done well economically in the period between the two World-Wars which had made it naturally consider imperialist policies to sustain the Capitalistic growth. India too in this period has done well by world-standards and the shift to Modi echoes the choice made by the German middle-class of the time which favoured more of the same capitalistic policies, implemented in a no-holds-barred way, possible only in a Fascist regime or Imperialist regime as Lenin has shown in his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.  (Early signs of Fascism are quite evident now, in the systematic targeting of Communists and Muslims as anti-nationals, for example, and discriminatory legislation on beef, emphasis on the persona of a strong leader, a 'doer', anti-intellectualism, and reliance on the ' genius favoured by God' - as Luckacs puts it - who would solve problems facing the country through  'creative intuition.' Growing reverence of the military can be added to the list of symptoms. The killings of Muslims are of course its most gross manifestation. Al ot more can be added)
To come back to India and CPM of present times, the party does not have too many options left and its decision to ride two boats at the same time speaks of its desperation to stay relevant; in a normal circumstance, the stance of the Party would be considered a form of political chicanery. Electorally, it seems to believe that the middle-classes will return to the Congress eventually and a repeat of the 2004 scenario can be attempted. This is more optimism that  an objective analysis of concrete conditions. The Congress exists in only one major state currently – Punjab. It may win in Karnataka but we can’t say for sure, as the BJP is contesting the elections after having managed to bring back Yedyurappa who played the spoiler last time. Even if some of the middle-classes do realise their mistake and return to the Congress it is unlikely that they would abandon Modi wholesale. A Faustian pact that it is, it would not be unraveled so easily.  And in the final analysis, the middle-classes will not allow CPM to assume a dominant role, as they do fear that the Party secretly harbours  a desire to install a Dictatorship of the Proletariat ultimately, no matter the revisionism of the party over the years.   
The only road left to the Left is the path of mass struggle and Karat, the former general secretary appears to be quite sanguine about it. Whether the party has the wherewithal to do this for a long period of time without breaking away into smaller factions or withering away totally, as seems to be happening in West Bengal still remains to be seen. The CPM should of course participate in the democratic process but it should focus more now on building the mass solidarity on the ground that it has spoken of in the Draft Political Resolution, with much greater urgency. If they do win a few elections in the process and lose most, they should still soldier on because Fascism activates all the fault-lines of a Capitalist society, as Trotsky wrote in his History of the Russian Revolution (Vol. 1). We see some of it happening already and the Left, due to its organisational model and ideology, is best-suited to make use of these fissures in the body-politic and push its own agenda forward.
 - AK


Contents | TSC 2018 Special Issue- Guest Edited by Amrit Ghosal

Editorial | TSC Special Issue- 11 new poets | Amrit Ghosal

Credits : Amrit Ghosal

The curious thing with creative pursuits is that if you do not push the boundaries of expression, you collect slime. Soon enough, the standing waters of rhetoric begin to decay and no amount of congratulatory echo-chambers can manage to contain the bad news: the trick has gotten old.

Usually, poetry written in any age is unique in terms of subject-matter, tone and style. It evolves with every passing generation, by giving words to unprecedented anxieties, hopes and longings. The gifted voices of every generation build upon the works of their predecessors and most importantly, add insights of their own, providing contemporary relevance.

 Ironically,  the new form of expression soon becomes  a sort of formula to set words to. Only a few are able to push the envelope in the any sense.  Suddenly, everybody starts to write Formula Poems and everybody is happy! To this I say- Fine! Do whatever you want. Follow the formula as much as you want! Be safe in your little cocoon of predictable identity and expression! It is your ignorance of what art can do, of how all-encompassing  it is.

Soon enough, a market begins to grow around the new scene.  Books, readings, festivals and so forth; but as we all know, there is no big money in poetry.

However, political situations change, new social contingencies arise, the young folks start getting impatient and the old ways just do not cut it any longer. Everything looks stale, blunt, far removed from reality.

As the urban upper-middle class’ post- liberalization wet dream of the new millennium begins to flake away like paint from a crumbling wall, the new-found nightmare of disillusionment, broken hearts and muffled screams of alienation proceeds to inform and reshape poetry entirely. However, this awakening does not occur in the hardened ways of Formula Poems.  When, if at all, was creative expression expanded into new spaces by artists who were afraid of losing their reputations?

With such thoughts in mind, this edition of the Sunflower Collective is publishing fresh voices in English poetry in India. The poems collected here do not seek approval or try to fit in. They exist simply because they had to be written. These are testimonials to the fact that the Inside and the Outside  are blending into a paranoia of invasion. The doorstep is an illusion when all spaces have been encroached by the political and social unrest of our times.

Back in the day God died, then died the man/woman. Politics died about three decades ago and now people say that we have reached the age of Post-Truth as we stare into the debris collected from history: plastic, blood and arid land. A nuclear apocalypse seems more popular in the collective imagination as the fate of humanity than structural changes in human affairs – for example, the need for privileged communities to share the spoils with lesser-endowed ones. When the hope for truth is abandoned, disaffection sets in. Where is the ground beneath our feet now?

Metaphysical speculations seem redundant because we face unimaginable ecological destruction, nuclear threats, continuous wars and death-battles between communities.As these battle cries ring across the television sets and WhatsApp messages, a Baudrillardian phantasmagoria of confusion spreads its wings and talons. You grapple in the dark sea of (non)-(mis)-information. No wonder disillusionment is an inheritance our generation has to bear with. What faith can one have any more in any part of the present political spectrum? Yet the absurdity of it all is that there are many who are full of the Yeatsean “passionate intensity”. Guns and swords and Molotov cocktails are brandished in the streets of major capitals of the Western and Eastern worlds every other day. As Bukowski had foreseen, this is a time of open and unpunished murders on the streets. Educational system has crumbled under a systemic dismantling of progressive policies and the academicians are pushed to self-preservation with their backs against the wall. The rest adjust themselves and turn into torturous snobs. Through it all the "vast lamb of the middle class" winces in pain and smiles in hypocrisy.

In this severely debilitating condition of alienation arising out of our inability to connect whole-heartedly with any political alternative, we look towards poetry. However, we do not want poetry that toes the line of Opportunism as a culture. We do not want poems replete with with the same old images and diction. Most importantly, we do not want poems that play safe to build a career in the age of the commercialized consciousness.

Poems | Atri Majumder

Credits: Amrit Ghosal

New Clichés

Rivers of agitated ecstasy
Crawled on the glass pane;
Where was I
In my rehearsed dreams?

The scars on the sky are leaving
In that patient hurry,
Craving for anonymity.

Those who can see me are not me,
They merely know what I can’t see.

New clichés possess me,
Every time I confess,
 I lie.

Finally, I am alone
In my loneliness.
Waiting for numbness,
Waiting, for indifference.
What for?

Insomniac Dreamers

Whispers of the shadow
Crept into the light-
I don’t have a beginning,
I don’t know
How to end.

I am disappearing,
Fading away,
Out of nowhere.

A Curious chiaroscuro-
Like a curtain revealing more,
Much more than the window.

And you thought
You will never go back,
While you were returning?

At some point,
You’ll get back
Good times
Are just
Around the corner;
And all those clichés-
A shameful escapade.
But you never reconciled 
With that omnipotent despair,
You overruled reality
With future-
A happiness weaved
Out of hopelessness.

You were right,
And you knew it.


A crystal ball shattered in the sunlight ;
You just couldn’t keep yourself 
From turning back,
From devouring another glance.

It wasn’t forgotten
It never did it wither away,
It was denied its presence.
Existence can’t be clinched,
Its essence merely submerges.

None of us knew time;
What we were leaving was
What we have lost.  .

I was just reminiscing ,
While you were predicting.   

Missing Diary Complaint

The evening was stoic like the eyes of the lizard;
The old man at the gate wasn’t aware of anything.
The door was closed
But not locked,

Leftovers on the kitchen-sink,
Cold ruffled bed,
Tablets and a whiskey glass
An ashtray of promises.

Uncalculated excuses,
Silently accusing the mirror.

And a note on the refrigerator;
“Come back and leave.”

Beaten Blues

She led me to the place
Where they sell innocence;
She told me what to expect,
And taught me how to forget.

The silence of the insects
Invades the light in the cobweb;
The pebble moon flickers,
Twisting stars in the staircase.

I took her away from there
Where they buy despair;
And I made her realize
She was rolling an empty dice.

White Stains

A half-melted sun sputters,
Restrained to a diseased night,
Like ink dissolves into
The veins of water.

Baffled hands seek the fingers,
In this last of all places-
It’s all about leaving
All that’s left behind.