An Imagerie (of Summer Afternoons) by Chetan Ashish (June 2021 Issue)

Three regrets sit outside my house and start arguing;
they make up eventually and share a cigarette.
A plume of cigarette smoke turns into a swallow,
it flies into a house being built and is trapped forever.
The ghost of a knife sharpener roams the streets,
he cries out his services — unheard then, and now too.
Five children look for a spot to resume playing cricket,
they find a severed ear and disappear into it.
A sanitation worker sits in a shade formed by lilies
and shares his lunch with a missing afternoon dog.
Grandmother hums and breaks down a chicken
while a group of cats waits outside for the gizzards.
You hang two chikankari kurtis and last night out to dry
and look at me with eyes carrying a composite sorrow.

___________

Chetan is a BTech graduate and a subsequent IT employee, who is actually a wannabe arts student. Poetry is his window to that world, supported by a passion for consuming and discussing cinema, literature, and music (mainly through an anti-caste and Marxist lens). It is also a means for him to understand his place in the world better, both personally and politically. He can also be found sitting by the window in his room sipping coffee, in the company of his best friend and pet shih-tzu Albus. You can find him on Instagram.

Torpor by Chetan Ashish (June 2021 Issue)

The summer that has squatted outside my house-
trudging through a mix of last night’s nightmare
and the heat already in the air.
I run towards a vague morning light with leaden legs
avoiding garbage strewn in cryptic patterns
and diseased dogs appearing at every turn.

Our dying conversations settled on the various objects in my room-
wading through used up words,
fallen like yesterday’s flowers atop the shed.
We indulge in passionless sex
As you stare without blinking at the grime on the ceiling fan
And I, at a couple of kites stuck in electric wires outside the window.

The day’s torpor stretched like a tundra-
swimming through the frozen moments
stuck together in the shivering hands of the clock, broken since December.
I descend down a blue screen
with an icy indifference both to the latest celebrity gossip
and the number of people who have died in the pandemic.

The city’s cement atmosphere-
passing through masked faces moving in unintentional unison
as if fated to the same destiny, if only until the next junction.
I wait for my bus to arrive
as I breathe in the dust of the human condition
that mixes with the lump in my throat from last winter.

The black and white television sand-
staring finally at the analogue of the absurd,
boxed in place by the night’s looping drone.
I try to move for that was my only rebellion against this
but all I can do now is pick at my nails
only conscious of them falling on the floor
and disappearing into its stagnant surface.

The viscous morass of reality-
sinking into the quicksand of my bed and blankets
and my syrupy cold sweat.
I try in vain to remind myself that stopping does not equal dying 
as I turn into abstract mosquitoes
and dissolve into a dream with polar bears playing on a beach.

_________________

Chetan is a BTech graduate and a subsequent IT employee, who is actually a wannabe arts student. Poetry is his window to that world, supported by a passion for consuming and discussing cinema, literature, and music (mainly through an anti-caste and Marxist lens). It is also a means for him to understand his place in the world better, both personally and politically. He can also be found sitting by the window in his room sipping coffee, in the company of his best friend and pet shih-tzu Albus. You can find him on Instagram.

Print Areas by Dr. Ashley Tellis (June 2021 Issue)

(For Somesh Dahiya)

As I lay beside you,
felt the heat of your body,
felt the print areas you placed between us,
the minutes ticked by and I saw how
even a night might have so many chapters,
how it can be so difficult
to turn a page, even one page,
to make us reach any closer.

But what struck me as even madder
and somehow more beautiful
was that I still wanted to edit the pages
between us:
place a comma here,
a colon there,
add a word here
cut some there
and never
let a full stop come between us.

______________

Dr. Ashley Tellis is a gay activist, poet, journalist, academic, editor, and general troublemaker. He is from Bombay, lives in Hyderabad, and longs to leave the country.

https://independent.academia.edu/AshleyTellis

https://linktr.ee/ATellis

Summer Scenes by Ankur Jyoti Saikia (June 2021 Issue)

Steadily discarding
it’s twilight robes
to the tunes of
rice planting songs
—the Sun ascends

Clouds rumble
heralding a shower
cows moo
goats bleat
—a wonderful chorus

The breeze of Spring
riding upon the fan
greets the trickling sweat
on a summer day
—a shudder passes

_________________

Ankur Jyoti Saikia (he/him) is a researcher at a forestry research institute in India. His work has been published in the Minison ZineBluepepper, Sledgehammer Lit, and Openwork Mag. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

The Little Red Balcony by Akshay Balan (June 2021 Issue)

Summer feels starting
Sundays are now stay-at-home days
And step-outside nights,
And nights are now shorter than the clothes we wear,
And afternoons,
We sit by the aloe vera in my little red balcony.
Tender coconut water from Prabhakaran’s cart in one hand, Still in their shells, straw-less and doused in lemon
Spill over the sides of our mouths,
While on the other hand our cigarettes burn with envy, Spilling their ash into an unplanted pot,
for once craving our attention more than we crave them. Summer feels starting in my little red balcony,
Our mouths never resting
Sharing our collective need to run,
And recollecting all the times we ran.
Sat on the cool floor,
We sing things. Our neighbours don’t complain.

______________

Akshay Balan is a 24-year-old writer. He has worked as a journalist, but at present, is completing his master’s in Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. His work has appeared in Agora Magazine and has been published in the anthology titled A Letter a Poem a Home by the Airplane Poetry Movement. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

Breakfast Plan, Summer 2019 by Akshay Balan (June 2021 Issue)

In the morning, I will have oatmeal,
And pretend to swallow the stars—
Each grain in my mouth feeling as heavy as giants in the sky, Bananas in asteroid cuts mixed into orbit;
Pomegranate seeds dotted like red stars in the Milky Way, Will explode under the weight of my teeth.
My coffee will be unsweetened,
Will blacken the bright colours of my breakfast,
And brighten my mood for a short burst.
If I close my eyes,
I will hear the sunlight outside.
If I listen closer, I can even taste it.

_________________

Akshay Balan is a 24-year-old writer. He has worked as a journalist, but at present, is completing his master’s in Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. His work has appeared in Agora Magazine and has been published in the anthology titled A Letter a Poem a Home by the Airplane Poetry Movement. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

Let Us Sleep

– Ayatree Saha

“तू मुझे मार डाल… लेकिन मैं नहीं उठूंगी। ख़ुदा के लिए मेरे हाल पर रहम कर।”

“उठ मेरी जान, ज़िद न कर। गुज़ारा कैसे चलेगा।”

गुज़ारा जाये जहन्नम में। मैं भूकी मर जाऊंगी। ख़ुदा के लिए मुझे तंग न कर। मुझे नींद आ रही है।”…

“देख मैं हाथ जोड़ती हूँ… मैं कितने दिनों से जाग रही हूँ… रहम कर… ख़ुदा के लिए मुझ पर रहम कर।” (Manto)

The cry of the woman was loud and stern. She begged, she demanded sleep. She was a woman whose labor constituted an important aspect of the economy. She was a woman who was sleep deprived. She was a woman who wanted to respond to her bodily needs, rather than earn to survive another day. She was a woman who lived in a room with a bright light that blind-sighted men. She lay on a floor mat with a dupatta-covered face, unaffected by her starving body. The labor that she had to put through acknowledged neither time nor space. She had marked a space of her own enclosed in darkness, only to be lit by a bulb powered like a hundred candles.1

Poetry, play, art and many other forms of literature have depicted sleep in myriad ways, with multiple interpretation, as necessary, associating sleep with darkness and even death. Medical and scientific studies have explored the process of sleep extensively, so much so that now there are sleep clinics and health associations dealing exclusively with the domain of sleep. However, this does not reduce it to a mere biological phenomenon; the very occurrence and reproduction of sleep, the multiple ways of enactment, and thereby the effects also make sleep what Vilhelm Aubert and Harrison White proclaim as “social event” (Aubert & White, 1959, p. 46).

Saadat Hasan Manto in his short story “सौ  कैंडल पॉवर का बल्ब”, narrates an event of a February evening when things went haywire during an encounter with a stranger. The story revolves around a prostitute, the pimp and the customer. The prostitute incessantly demands to sleep but is denied by the dalaal (pimp) as her labor is the mode of survival. The story evades clarity — the characters have no names, the ending leaves questions unanswered, and the beginning doesn’t give any hints at the unexpected turn in the story. The story ponders over fragmented pieces and ruins that speak of bloodshed. The colour red present throughout the story, whether it is being washed off or worn, hinted at the aftermath that would continue haunting.2 The woman upon continuously begging for sleep, finally gets to sleep, with the dealer dead beside her and a brick covered in blood. It speaks volumes of the labor of women, in this case a prostitute, as well as the kind of inequality and exploitation that prevails. She is the person who meets the needs of survival by selling her labor, which, however, is controlled by the man. Despite that, it is the woman who is sleep deprived and the man continues to have the luxury of sleep. This is true in the context of working class women, who might work as an equal in factories (for instance) to their male counterpart, but the inequality is visible within the domestic space, where not just the emotional labor but every other household chore becomes her duty and responsibility, and the men continue to sleep in front of television (based on Franca Rame’s play “Waking Up”).3 Franca Rame, an Italian playwright and theatre actor, in her monologue from the performance “Waking Up”, portrays the frustration towards her husband, who continues to sleep, without bothering about cleaning, cooking, washing clothes or even talking to her (Fo & Rame). The laughter-inducing performance brings to light the inequality of labor that constitutes the patriarchal structure. 

Both these events are from the previous century, but continue to make statements that are relevant today. With conversation around sleep gradually gaining prominence within the popular and digital culture, the importance of time comes to play. The quotidian of every individual is different, which allows construing different forms of the mundane. The banality of sleep that is embodied and is intrinsic to our everyday lives has been portrayed beautifully in the Bengali film Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labor of Love), directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. The film includes no dialogues but rather reflects on the mundane that we all experience, by lingering on details that we more than often miss. The movie depicts a day of two factory workers (husband and wife here), throughout their day, the woman in her day shift job and the man during the night shift. Their daily chores are similar to any Bengali household. Their sleep is scheduled by the industrial time and job that demands the characters to shape their lives accordingly. Our lives have intertwined with this industrial time, often making the physiological time obsolete. When we sleep is no more determined by sunrises and sunsets, but rather the late-capitalist enterprise that has moulded time. 

Scientifically, sleep has moved from being considered a dormant act when little happens to something that is an active process (Sloan & Shapiro, 1997, p. 7). Sleep deprivation has become one of the foremost areas of research, especially in a society driven by a 24/7 demand for labor in this late-capitalist enterprise (Crary, 2013). Sleep does not evade governance nor does it escape negotiations on part of practising sleep. Sleep can be a privilege for some, in who sleeps when and how. But sleep also allows subverting the expectation of constant labor and productivity, rationality and activity. The expectation of women to sleep less and work more in a patriarchal household, requires the need to bring attention to sleeping as an act of resistance. However, it still would entail only a minuscule fraction being able to do this. Sleep has not only been capitalized now, as seen through the entire market that has come about, intending to regulate and govern sleep, but it has also provided the package of “efficient sleeping”. This is where individual and collective negotiations allow liminal spaces of resistance in the intersubjective world. 


1This is based on the story “Sau candle power ka bulb” by Saadat Hasan Manto. The particular scene has also been portrayed in the Movie “Manto”, directed by Nandita Das. The scene remains as powerful in its screen interpretation, depicting the prostitute in dire need of sleep and the pimp demanding her to wake up and meet the client.  

2Here, the friend of the client, who witnessed the scene of death and blood, was literally haunted in his dreams.

3In ‘Waking Up’, Rame mocks how men tend to get rid of their responsibilities and rather burden women with more work, which isn’t even considered work as all of this continues to be unpaid labor. As Marxist feminists argue, the economy would fall if women started demanding for the unpaid labor that is constituted as part of their “duty” and “responsibility”.


References

Aubert, V., & White, H. (1959). Sleep: A Sociological Interpretation. I. Acta Sociologica, 4(2), 46-54.

Crary, J. (2013). 24/7 Late Capitalism and the ends of sleep. London and New York: Verso.

Fo, D., & Rame, F. (n.d.). Waking Up. 62-63. Retrieved from http://www.michelledanner.com

Manto, S. H. (n.d.). Sau Candle Power ka Bulb. Rekhta. Retrieved from https://www.rekhta.org/stories/sau-candle-power-ka-bulb-saadat-hasan-manto-stories?lang=hi

Sloan, E., & Shapiro, C. (1997). An Overview of Sleep Physiology and Sleep Disorders. In C. M. Shapiro, & A. M. Smith (Eds.), Forensic Aspects of Sleep (pp. 7-28). John Wiley & Sons.


Ayatree is from Durgapur, West Bengal. She prefers calm and quiet, but indulges occasional noise from people around. She is a sociology major and research scholar with interest in gender, body and everyday life. Currently, she is working on sociality of sleep at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. You can find her on Instagram.


The essay was published in our April 2021 Issue. Read the full issue here.

Sleep: Two artworks by Coco Spencer

Sweet Dreams

Water Bed

________________

Coco Spencer is a mixed-media artist who specializes in analogue collage. She is originally from California, now based in Chicago. To see more of her work, visit cocospencer.com

You can also find her on Instagram.

_______________

Sweet Dreams and Water Bed were published in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill magazine. Read the full issue here.

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Loneliness Is a Half-eaten Energy Bar

-Ankur Animesh Surin

The half-eaten energy bar 
peeks at me when I 
open the fridge 
at night.

Cold escapes in a wooly flight,
disappears around my ankle.

I could have sworn it swirled 
an anklet around, 
tying my fate to the bar,
before disappearing in search of shadows 
in my LED-flushed room.

Domestic adventures that last 
less than two minutes 
deserve no post-it mentions 
on refrigerators, so
I take time and care 
to boil my noodles 
— self-love doesn’t conquer carbs.

The cool of darkness is reassuring.
A room bereft of memories
is a sore sight. 
My eyelids scrape off what remains of 
the emptiness lit 
by nosy street lamps projecting 
silhouettes of restless mosquitoes.

_________________

Ankur is a cinephile, photographer, and writer-editor. He loves Asian cinema and swears by Tsui Hark and Johnnie To. He is working on a fantasy novel.

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The poem appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April Special Issue. Read it here.