Ankita Shah

Politics of Speech

From when I begin to listen,
It takes a whole year to make a sound.

Mother chisels my tongue with spices
That is how I say my first word.

Six more months
And I form the first phrase
Part meaningful, part misplaced.

It takes a whole decade then to tell mother
About the bully in school.
I want to tell her of the men that touch me
But I do not know the words yet
I never learn them.

But less than a year later,
I will tell my father that he does not deserve my mother
This time, I know the words,
The outgrowth of my adolescent angst.

When I learn to scream,
I’m almost twenty and it’s cloaked in metaphors.
I say everything I have to say
Without having to say everything.
My mother understands this tongue
Of pause and precision,
A prayer to memory.
She doesn’t speak English
I don’t speak Nepali
And for the first time it stops to matter.

I’m twenty-five
I hear rumours
That everything supposed to be said
Has been said.
I hear: wait for your turn Ankita.
I hear: don’t ask too many questions.
I hear and slowly
Find my tongue curling back
To the time when I didn’t know the idioms
Of hope.

I’m twenty-six.
My broken poems
Have nothing to do
With the pauses
You hand me to fill.

Ankita Shah is a Bombay-based poet and co-founder of a local outfit called The Poetry Club that enables accessing & learning poetry, through discussion-based readings and workshops. Her new poems introspect life, death, and wormholes, negotiating the space between the seen and unseen, past and present, memory and mortar. She’s worked as a program curator and arts administrator for the last six years, mainly in the space of poetry, but more recently, also in the space of theatre, music, design, inter-disciplinary work, and art-based engagement with local communities in Mumbai.




Mihir Vatsa


From today till December
there will be clouds.

The sky will know first
possibly then the bees.

The land itself will suspect
through shadows
trespassing over it

yet won’t know –
not until the rain begins
to fill it up.

In forest,
shallow trees scorn cousins
for light
as one dense mass
invades the sky:


It’s kind of a big cloud
layers upon layers, weight
upon weight
each bulging arc
a lightning not yet

Pilots fly around it.
Its tantrums create weather.
And now that it’s pouring
the rocks too have weathered.

This evening
we may watch them grind
slowly into sand
& forget

how we had
to mourn
a tree stripped by lightning
not long ago.


The night seven trucks
in the valley crashed into each other
quieter hills rose beside the tanker
flaming out its steel.

At dawn, a low mist
parted one blue from the other
& a new road hauled us up
the plateau.

You couldn’t smell the burn here.
This was the scenic route.
There was word of a waterfall

In the bus, played by sunlight,
I adjusted – resigned to watch
you appear online on the screen
then watch you quietly

When mist cleared
it showed as a promise
cliffs and peaks
unspoiled by traffic.

Last time I checked
the mountain was still only
an outline
against the mist

but it had taken
all the water in the city
to douse on the old road
our accident.

Mihir Vatsa lives in Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography. 




Prachi Patel

– Ten Step Vagharelo Bhaat –

fried rice, prepared with turmeric and vegetables
often served with a side of plain yogurt

(1) Flip the switch, twist the knob. The yellow bulb over the strip of kitchen in your one bedroom apartment will flicker on; a hiss of gas and a halo of blue flames will erupt over the stove.

(2) Tip the oil. Let it spill, enough to coat the bottom of the blackened pot. Creak open the cabinet under the sink. Stick your arm in and rummage until your hand grasps the round dabho of masalas, the metal cool against your palm. Inside, you will see bowls of cumin, turmeric, and mustard seeds nestled around a tin of red chili powder.

(3) You watched two years ago, before you left home again, as your mother measured out spoonfuls of spice for you. She reached for the plastic bins stored so high, you can only reach them by hoisting your body onto the granite countertop. For each dish, the masalas are the same, she said with a laugh, her tight curls shaking. Learn them, and you can make anything.

(4) She is right: cooking is malleable— but laden with patterns that work. Now, you wonder if this is the immigrant way: teach your tongue to cradle the English, learn the anthems of excuse me and please and thank you, educate yourself, choose a responsible career, marry wisely, and you, too, can become anything.

(5) Heat the oil to begin the vaghar. To vhagar is to renew. If our rice, our rotli, our savory cake-like dhoklas, our handvo sits in the fridge for more than a day, we pull it out and vaghar it, coating it in oil and blending in fresh garlic and spice and salt, serving it as a new meal. You do not waste in this household. You transform.

(6) Drop spoonfuls of cumin into the oil. Wait for the sizzle, for the seeds to be encased in oily froth and bubble. While you wait, open the freezer and squeeze frozen cubes of garlic from Trader Joe’s into the pot. Before the garlic burns, scrape your knife against the wooden cutting board to push in slivers of yellow onion and cubes of diced bell pepper and a handful of peanuts. Cook until the onions grow dark.

(7) Add turmeric, chili powder, coriander/cumin powder, and peanuts. Quickly, stir in the jasmine rice and quinoa you prepared in the rice cooker. Add salt, being careful to not overmix.

(8) If it still doesn’t taste right, call your mother. Put her on speakerphone. Wipe away the sweat beading on your upper lip, and explain to her how it tastes bland and god, the onions are burnt and the rice is overcooked and— add meetu, marchu and dhana jeeru, she’ll say. Don’t worry. The masalas take time to learn.

(9) Serve hot, for one. Take a picture of the yellow rice, and WhatsApp it to your family.

(10) Store leftovers in Tupperware. You are learning. Perhaps, next time, you’ll experiment— shred some fresh garlic, toss in a handful of peas. You’ll make it for your mother one day. When you take the rice to work tomorrow, your co-worker will compliment your dish. You will crack a smile, offer a spoonful, and think: this is progress.

Prachi is a writer and student based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a background in anthropology and migration. She has worked as a culture reporter for The Pitt News, and as a writer for both Sampsonia Way and Pitt Med magazine.




Nina Sudhakar


Kali, a Hindu goddess of destruction, is often depicted with a lolling tongue, which she may use to swallow warriors or drink the blood of demons.

Would you accept a gentle swallowing?

Assuming tenderness     of course       because 
    sometimes an open mouth says       welcome 
    sometimes a void waves us into      the glistening sheen 

Imagining a space       outside of time where forever means 
    ruination       where we stand before an event horizon 
    & do not pause      before crossing the threshold 

Whirling round and round        premeditation:      how to devour 
    back the rushing loom           on which the universe was          strung
    fingers gliding across                 the tautness —      plucking a sound 
    to last long after it lies                deep in the belly of           a black hole. 

Knowing the impact of a body    is only the sound of        a dislodged soul
                inside the ossuary          of a ribcage              something calcified
                unhardens       like a coral reef becomes bone-white       upon death
                ready for dissolution       every knob of the spine opens
                        onto an unlit doorway

Wading through sloshing marrow      a key glimmers ahead
    the serrated edge of teeth clicking into place
    amber could hold an ancient secret        for a thousand years & 
        I am wondering                what the blood could bury

Taking a mouthful of abyss           listening for the unclenched          teeth
           the labor of feeding               the tongue slithering             belly-first 
     for scraps  the rust growing    like moss   on buildings      the tunnels spiraling
      lights into infinity         any one of these —      your mouth, also — 
                          a portal        & your body         itching to barrel through.


I became fused to potential futures, heritage of some
unborn daughter, or else razored teeth cutting through

decades of distance. I felt the coming of a contagion,
as if my body were gestating a fatal plague. I looked

inside myself & grew to worship the rage thickening
my blood so that it mounted my heart & unfurled its

ribbons unto the earth. I wanted to throw blades into
the rifted past, feeling that this power, harnessed, could

outlast us all. I imagined, in the end, that the earth’s core
could be coaxed out of its sodden cave to see all that had

transpired in the name of the half-lives, bodies alive &
presently decaying. Long after the descendants had left

the days to fester, begrudging the earth even a soft tilt
to its rotation. What other end to a world built from all

bend & pillars of break? Every beast has a belly & all of us
here were still animals, once-conjured contours of swollen

desire. I filled mine to loom large, to one day be an heirloom for
myself, still yearning to gift the future some recognizable shape.

Nina Sudhakar is a writer, poet, and lawyer. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Matriarchetypes (winner of the 2017 Bird’s Thumb Poetry Chapbook Contest) and Embodiments (forthcoming from Sutra Press). Her work has appeared in The Offing, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Reservoir; for more, visit




Rochelle Potkar

In that land under the sun, where dry heat hits bone
and in your pocket you keep a red onion
to peel flakes at 46-degrees centigrade,
male poets speak of Kamala Das and her feminist poetry,

entering a friend’s wife’s kitchen
and directing her to abandon her breakfast preparations.
They are getting late. There are no cafes in the neighborhood,
yet they depart with a caravan of 15 ravenous townspeople.

Under an angry sun, hunger hitting inside their guts,
Pied Pipers talk of timeliness, reaching a nowhere-wilderness,

while the woman in her four-walled, steeled cliché
keeps away a mountain of grated coconut over flattened rice,
sugar, coffee, and unused milk, par-boiled.
Her father was a village radical… but she tucks her wet sighs
at the edge of her sari.

As onions shrivel in our pockets with intense upheaval,
men use Urdu and Marathi verses to fight God

and the women can’t even fight the men,
who are not their husbands
because they know no poetry.

Three Women on Liberty Bridge

As the light dims, travel stills,
the bridge aligns itself to darkness,
we talk of the unveiling
of the Statue of Liberty…
after the Communist regime
(also, because she wasn’t a desi).

India, Columbia, Hungary…
through seasons of Satyugs ‘n Kalyugs
of socialism, dictatorship, democracy.

We speak of womanhood
as lovers ahead, deluded by time
track the sunset, moonrise, clasping steel locks
with catholic promises whispered over iron railings,

the stars slipping like rings around their irises
the wind blowing urgencies over the Budapest river
rippling the mirage of the parliamentarian building.

And tearing the jugular vein of centuries
we hear
all the statues of the previous regimes
were uprooted
from their old stumps and
made to stand near each other
in Statue Park,
where they are still sparring
over their beliefs
in a crossfire
under the frozen eggs of civilization.

Investigation: a report

Long before the bomb blasts
at Plaza Cinema, Zaveri Bazaar, Century Bazaar,
parking lot in Katha Bazaar, Sahar airport,
Air-India Building, Taj Mahal hotel,
Dhanji street,
the thing called kala sabun
like what my missus uses to wash our dirty utensils
was found.

We saw what we saw only in movies –
grenades, rifles, magazines, pistols,
by men we never saw on our coast
opening cartons without a smile

when their cars, jeeps, trucks
were stopped at the toll –
by customs officers
with false alerts.

And after the noise shattered
our eardrums
the police found Dr. Sapatnekar

His deep-sea divers
ebbing into 25 feet of darkness
to find brown cakes
at the bed of the Nagla creek.

They picked a broom maker,
porters, loaders, boatmen like me
who loaded sacks of iodex into jalopies
(ofcourse for minimum wages).

And two kilometers off Srivardhan
rocket-like objects, projectiles,
pipe bombs and ammunition floated
in a lake.

The men from the nearby houses were
stripped, burnt with smoldering butts,
beaten at the police station

until those turned out to be spindles
of a textile mill, overturned by a truck and
ignored by villagers who feared the police.

How none of us could say RDX.
Neither see the hindolas of revenge
for the riots of December 1992, January 1993,
were an answer to innocent Muslims killed
to avenge innocent Hindus killed
to answer innocent Indians killed.

in many Indias…

*hindola – merry-go-round


Like light leaves after years,
iterating the static of spheres,
the orangutan exhales warmth
monographing embrace
into winter’s foliage, as time loses scope.

Young as a blank square, nurtured for years
at its mother’s teat, beat, emerging from dark art
growing from snugness, luxurious as a shaft,
it goes deep into the forest: light into cave
to live alone for a thousand years.

No ruffle, or safety of spring meets its spirit
yet as strong as an inflorescent flame
it cinders
while winter speaks in autumn’s barbed tongue.

Rochelle Potkar’s books include Four Degrees of Separation and Paper Asylum, while The Inglorious Coins of the Counting House is longlisted at the Eyewear Publishing, Beverly Prize UK. Her poem To Daraza won the 2018 Norton Girault Literary Prize. She will be a mentor at Iowa’s Summer Institute 2019.




Mrinalini Harchandrai

Jazz Asylum

I dusted off two generations
of fingerprint play
scored like banana leaf veins
in Etta’s shellac grooves

like old lightning
behind the ghats
vinyl black gleams taunting
in solid tones the Armstrong
loss of the gramophone

can’t hear no ‘mo
the chappal-slapping squee
and squidge of Dolphy who smiled
from a paper label
measured in diameter
and global revolution

they were once cranked up,
the stylus like a conductor
sending horns out the verandah
and vibrating The Doors
among other stored music

too bad, the world turntabled
stacked, they get wrapped
in dhobi cloth
harbouring all ticks and pops
and Beatles quietly now

no more rolling the shastras
of the Stones
to make our ears ring
in sepia, and life
doesn’t pour through the cracks
as they once did.

Mrinalini Harchandrai is the author of a poetry collection A Bombay in My Beat. Her poetry has won first prize in The Barre (2017), and was a finalist for the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize 2019. Her (as-yet unpublished) novel was selected as Notable Entry for the Disquiet International Literary Prize 2019. Her short stories have been longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2018 and selected as a Top Pick (2018) with Juggernaut Books, India. Her work has been anthologized in The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018 and RLFPA Editions’ Best Indian Poetry 2018.




Rushda Rafeek

Homeward Himalaya

Years from now, women become vermillion inferno,
the afterbirth of cunt-deep forest where your fingers
cede the pleasure I once promised to wear for you:
the silk of Sanskrit smoke, sapphires frosting
my mouth, Ganges garland, the begum’s bedspread
of dreams in the hope to return like a theatre of arrows
where I can’t be loved. I could leave — as we filch
a teeth of icicles stunned to glass swallowing
the saffron’s ode. I could leave
when your breath wrestles a body of indigo-night
built into god statues with ash-filled avarice.

After the Hagiography of a Garden Lover

In Farsi, you disappear into a Hafizian moon. This is
the greening of my slit zubaan. I say it slowly —
misplaced as far as oblivescence in the urdu conscious
struck by nymphs. This night, a night brimming
with breasts of liquid shiraz. I press your lithe of panthers
to belly-sweat lucid as onyx on tambourine. When God
is a wet crescent, each prayer wakes us into mysticism.
Each collapse so mute yet finds you ravish the courtyard
with rainbows. And I know pride is primal, dangles like
honeycomb tricked into fretwork of your own desert dark
where my arms are august and starry hunger.

Rushda Rafeek is currently based in Sri Lanka. Among the works published is a nomination for the Pushcart Prize, finalist of the Wasafiri New Writing Prize (2017) and winner of the Annual Nazim Hikmet Poetry Contest (2018).




Art Currim


In a tribal hamlet near Karjat, a hut’s vacated
so our scout pack may rest up for the night.

We’re invited to dine with our displaced host;
milled grains cooked on a clay stove fueled

by wood chips and dry cow dung pats. Squatting
on hard-packed earth, we share canned offerings

that prove unpalatable to our patron’s brood;
their own are tinged with soot and generosity.

We avail of nature’s facilities out in the fields,
hand-pumping well water to brush our teeth;

then, turning down the wick of a soot-lined oil lamp,
we swing shut the thatched door of our mud chalet.

The next morning, Sunil risks the skills of the barber;
taking the high chair in the square by a banyan tree

under which the local elders convene, smoking biris,
chewing paan, to pontificate over disputes and tithes.

Two passing village belles stare and giggle at his shorn
embarrassment; hazing his bowl-cut as ruthlessly as we.


Rustled and roused from slumber on lumber,
railway tracks cracking dawn’s amethyst glow;
we trusting travelers – we takers-on and
we choo-and-hiss thiss and that-at-at as
the Express eases into Guntakal Junction.

Holed up in my upper bunk, I’m the invisible Man –
eavesdropping on my parents’ hushed concerns
for the future – through the rumble and hoot,
I absorb a simplified message, the scale of
our journey embarked into the unknown.

All day yesterday, the towns rolled by; each
station stretching my tongue further afield
as I tried to pronounce it – Thane, Kalyan,
Karjat, Khadki, Daund, Kurduvadi, Solapur –
every grinding halt to the calls of tea-vendors,
shouting “garama-garam! hot hot chai!!
poured with panache from weathered flasks.

While we slept, the train crossed
an invisible divide into the South –
we halt at a tropical mélange, vibrant
new palette of blue, red, mango;
indecipherable signs, a vibrant intensity
of chatter and crowd, the clatter and cluck
of local hoppers transporting poultry to market.
No more calls for chai – instead, the brewy aroma
of filtered chicory coffee wafts, milky and sweet –
the South’s true miracle!

Dad has stopped at the idli vendor, buying them
steaming, dipped in butter and served on banana leaves;
spicy coconut chutney, sambar, and some of that hot coffee
to wash it down – he returns with the steaming savory cakes
and the beaming smile and twinkle he reserves only for us.

He points to the hills that crest the outskirts of town –
resting among ancient Jain and Hindu temples
and a Catholic shrine, he says,
lie the century-old tombs of two Sufi saints.
It’s known that their poetry often served to keep
the peace between rioting Hindus and Muslims;
their tombs are now a popular daytime destination.

At a discrete distance along the platform,
a group of pilgrims roll up their prayer mats;
embracing wordlessly, and only love.

Here on the platform,
everything meets everything;
everyone touches everyone
moving, mingling, connecting,
we touch and then journey apart.

With a jerk and a shudder, we’re rolling again –
picking up fast past a waking wayside world;
past ox-carts piled high with produce
picked fresh by farmer’s hand – look,
Rickshaw Max is racing us to the approaching
railway crossing, and will likely beat us to it,
whooping and grinning as he must each day.

At the daily dairy depot, milkmen
attend cascades of fresh-boiled milk
poured into their beat-up canisters,
then strapped saddle-bag-style
on their bicycles. They clamber on,
fighter pilots on a morning sortie –
a practiced wobble, a gunning of speed;
puddles and potholes skillfully cleared,
they fly off into who knows what new day.

Homeward, Bound

Mumbai 2014

I’m thrust into a world of diesel fumes,
air brakes, and rickshaw honks;
the catcalls of vendors hawking
loose smokes, coffee, cola,
and currencies of every hue
to the cargo cult that throngs the
Arrivals terminal at Sahar Airport.

Veering clear of polyester pantsuits
and sugar-fingered kids,
I coax a squeaking luggage cart
past lolling cops, buses, touts,
and double-parked taxicabs;
following unwillingly the once-familiar
noxious trail of sewage, and brine.

Toxic gusts of lead, chrome,
and lung-lining particulates
waft in from the sweat shops that
populate Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum –
a sprawling maze of sheds and pathways
where children raised amidst shit and
sulfides pack happy-faced toys bound
for fast-food hooked girls and boys.

Labor is on clearance here
every day of the year.
The cost of my living hangs like
a cloud over those who live
without plumbing or mattresses;
yet tend hope, nurse dreams,
and gaze up nights
at the same stars.

Soon, I am ensconced in my
South Bombay family’s digs –
Darjeeling tea, home-made snacks,
afternoon naps, salt-lipped breeze.
But when I step out,
I’m reminded that all trace of me
and the connections I knew are erased.

I’ve spent decades in exile,
letting go of family and friends.
Old buddies hold court at lunches
set and served by inscrutable help;
chat rotates around German SUVs,
Bollywood galas, weekend digs
a speedboat dash across the bay.

I don’t quite click in this crowd;
our shared memories long replaced
by seasons weathered,
parents passed, children born.
Building a new life in the U.S.,
obsessed with survival, then success –
I slowly forgot them all;
and they forgot me, too.

Kids of the kids I played with
now rule our street corners,
fathers’ve handed over to sons.
I pass my old neighbor Remu – watch
him double-take, furrow-browed,
and rack his brain; stirring up
something that has to have happened
once upon a time.

Born in Bombay, Art Currim emigrated to Canada in his 20’s and has since led a multifarious life as a video game director, composer, industrial designer, and entrepreneur. He is these days a writer and poet with pointed opinions on displacement, immigrant identity, and the purpose of it all. He splits his life between Los Angeles and Vancouver, and dallies around the Rest of the World as if it were a used bookstore. Art’s work is published in Tia Chucha Press’ “Coiled Serpent” Anthology, Entropy, Yay!LA Mag, Dryland Literary Magazine, and The Women Group, among others.




Kanya Kanchana


In the dark cavern
older than knowing, I
asked her, my Queen, what
the measure of this world?

Rose from her left
palm a black thunder moon,
thrilled an arc in the air, set
bright in her right.

I was
before I was.

First things first, I
devoured her sigils, ह्रींhrīṃ
, her thresholdic runes.
Rolled up the matrix
like a carpet, closed
the space between us.

It is what it is — she
threw back her head.
It is what it is — she
knocked on my chest.
It is what it is — and
we have things to do.

Kanya Kanchana is a poet and translator from India engaged in practice, teaching, and Sanskrit philological research at the intersection of tantra and yoga. Her work has appeared in POETRYAsymptoteThe CommonExchangesWaxwingMuse India, and elsewhere. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2019 Disquiet Prize.




Yamini Pathak

Ghazal for The Children Born Far From Home

to my sons

Gather rotis for stray cows, scatter rice for the ragged crow
I’ve severed you from old ways, this is my sorrow

It takes practice to scoop daal with your fingers, taste spice on the honey
of your hot skin before you swallow, this is my sorrow

Rama scaled the ocean/Bheeshma died pillowed on a bed of arrows
Their ghosts in your marrow unstirring, this is my sorrow

In the bazaar you petted unblemished baby goats, you didn’t know
they were meant for slaughter, this is my sorrow

Exiled from a language where yesterday also means tomorrow
You wander thirsty with no tongues, this is my sorrow

I will be your compass, my bones are yours to borrow
My body your only true country, this is my sorrow

Yamini Pathak is a former software engineer turned poet and freelance writer. She was born and raised in India and now lives in New Jersey. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in WaxwingThe Kenyon Review blog, RattleJaggery, and elsewhere. She writes a monthly art column for The Hindu newspaper’s Young World publication. Yamini received much of her writing education at VONA/Voices (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation), Community of Writers, and workshops run by The Speakeasy Project and Winter Tangerine journal.