This year has been an eventful one for India, with respect to haiku and related genres. A new journal, an actively subscribed kukai, a forthcoming conference and several individual activities have meant that India has been an exciting country to be in if you are a haijin.
Activities in the past year:
The year began with Dr. Angelee Deodhar, the doyenne of India haiku (who has been writing since 1989), giving a talk to the Poetry Society of Hyderabad, which was very well-received. On the following day, assisted by Paresh Tiwari, she conducted a day long haiku workshop in Hyderabad. The workshop was dedicated to Bill Higginson and she told the participants that they should use The Haiku Handbook as a Bible to learn haiku. As Ireland was the guest nation, Gabriel Rosenstock was there too.
Then in New Delhi on the 27th of January, Dr. Angelee Deodhar conducted a two and half hour bilingual workshop in a school meant for slum children. 45 children sat on a thin durree on the ground and list…
What the six Brandenburg Concertos do to me is this.
They simply fill me with music, surround me, isolate me, gently tease me away from my cares into their Elysium; they permeate every nerve, till each has become, as Khusrau wrote, a taut string vibrating with the sound of the universe itself; they at once excite and becalm, distress and elate, arrest and move; they hurt me, they make me feel small before the universe and then they heal me and make me one with the universe.
Add to the experience my hormones coursing adrenaline and testosterone, and sleep deprivation and the flush of success and the inebriation of starvation mixed with coffee—something strange happens, I am at a sudden high of consciousness, at once depressed and euphoric, for a fleeting minute—nirvana.
. . . the ghostly outline
of my turntable
(Published in Haibun Today September 2014)
Cattle are important. And because cattle are important, cowherds are important. There has to be someone to milk the cattle and clean the dung. It doesn't benefit a king to kill cowherds.
Which is why, when the rebellion comes, it comes from the cowherd. He may be dark-skinned and wear feathers in his hair and play bamboo flutes and spend the day far too alone to gossip and plot, but he observes. He watches the oxen drag the plough, the crack of the whip behind them. But he also looks at the same bulls in the spring, locking horns in fierce combat. He watches the cow obey the hurr-hurrs as she is led along the road, but he also sees how she becomes a tigress when her calf is in danger. The same bullocks that solemnly drag the overloaded cart, now maddened, gore the drover.
The cowherd observes, and he learns that the weak can become strong. He learns that sickles can become swords, that the humble wooden stick can break a spinal cord. He may be a king's human beast; but listen …
The orchestra played Mahler's 4th Symphony. Timing is everything in Mahler, yet immeasurable, like the water in a leaking clepsydra. The audience sat entranced, glazed eyes peering. It was surreal, like a Homo habilis skull in the hands of Richard Leakey, glaring impassively from its eyeless sockets. Trying to tell, perhaps, of its timeless irrelevance. Irreverence even, as I come to think of it. A kind of gleeful mockery, saying that you too shall be mud in the course of time. Perhaps covered in an old cover of Rolling Stone and pissed on by passing hippopotami. You will disappear, like Basho's frog diving into its pool, and you might yet live forever, like Basho's frog diving into its pool.
the train whistles by
(Published in A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
and republished in contemporary haibun Volume 15)
What an interesting number—ninety-nine! One short of the most magical number ever, one more than the most nondescript of numbers. Ninety-nine, the number that judges everything, from the sincerity of a lover to the contamination in a bar of iron. Ninety-nine, a hungry number, besmirched by an accusation of incompleteness, yet perfect in form—its twin members so beautifully illustrating its two divisors. The first one less, the second one more than that other fabulous number, ten. Ten, which multiplied by itself yields that magic figure all men yearn for. Perfect and yet always incomplete. Ever hungry, ninety-nine.
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in one drop
(Published in Frogpond 37.1 (2014)
Republished in South Asian Ensemble 2014)
My interviewee is a person I share much with - a biology education, a stint at TIFR with K S Krishnan, a love of nature and now haikai literature. Though his association has been much older and much richer than mine, to emerge over time as one of India's leading haiku and
As he describes himself, "Johannes Manjrekar grew up mostly in Mysore, South India. Childhood love for mucking around with insects and birds eventually led to a PhD in molecular biology. Has been teaching at the Microbiology Department and Biotechnology Centre of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda for many years. Speaks six Indian languages (counting English!) and one non-Indian. In addition to haikai style writing, very enthusiastic about photography."
Interspersed with the questions are Johannes' haiku and haibun (reproduced with his kind permission).
The grubby boy washes out the steps of the half-closed eatery. A dog stands by; tail a-wag in expectation. In the next shop, a light peeps from beneath a nearly closed shutter. The butcher's shop is still open where a gaunt attendant scrubs a knife. Blood mixes with grime as it flows out to the gutter, only to be dammed by cabbage and mango leaves.
The marigold and jasmine seller cries out to the hurrying passers-by, “Three for the price of one.” So does the vegetable woman, her head half-covered, as her voice shears the silence. Eloquent and persuasive, the cadences rise and fall as she plies her rehearsed pitch.
A shutter closes with a clang, followed closely by a motorcycle roar that soon groans away into the darkness. The clock-tower rings and I quicken my pace. I can hear the hum of the last bus' engine, and the whines of the drunk I shoved and sent swerving across the street. Elbows clash as I run through the customers of the busy, busy cigarette shop, but the bus has b…