Nagaland and other poems

Hornbill Festival


Conversations with old friends
Remembering the good old bad old
Days in Nagaland.
Bonding and exchanging of views.

Talking of the Hornbill festival,
Weaving and craft traditions,
Bamboo and indigenous knowledge
Folklore and folk songs.
Rice beer and dried pork
Dal, chaawal and laipatta.
Having squash and kachu
And fish pie.
Christmas songs and blessings.

Graduate School

Reading Structuralist Poetics
And Writing and Difference
And S/Z by Barthes brings up
Old memories of
Graduate school in Syracuse.

Poetry workshops,
Celestial Seasonings tea,
And Fig Newtons.

Chinese New Year

Celebrations in Syracuse
With friends from Mainland China
And Hong Kong.
Dances and food and cheer.

Walking to Westcott store
To get groceries.
Walking back on icy sidewalks.
Going to the International Student’s House
For get-togethers and celebrations.

Working Women’s Hostel and other poems / Rachna Joshi

Working Women’s Hostel

High walls, unkempt lawn—
Inside the lounge, a dusty picture of Adhya Jha hangs
Covered with cobwebs.

From the mess, Rajrani waddles through the door
While Jaswant and Babu Lal laze in the sun,
It’s the month of Magh
The coldest of the year.
Freezing in heaterless rooms;
Fingers numb with cold, Sheela and Sonia
Wring socks and undies in dingy bathrooms.

Togged up for outings to Hauz Khas village
We drink orange juice at wayside stalls
And splurge on a bandhni sari for lohri
Or the occasional party where you meet the bohemian crowd—
The bearded painter delighting everyone
With an impromptu sketch;
Visits to Belu mamu near Sangam cinema.

Glued to Aap ki Adalat on TV
We hide the hair dryer
From the snooping eye’s of the warden’s pet.
Forging signatures in night-out registers;
We eat Manipuri chicken and dosas
And drink beer in camaraderie
Behind closed doors.

Late at night, when all are asleep.
I can hear Dhaneshwari sweeping the floor,
Rotting food, and cats overturning the garbage bins
As Rajwati bunks the third day.

Everyone waits for release
From the hostel,
Which comforts and cramps
Stifles and protects
Sanctuary or cell.

(From Crossing the Vaitarani, Rachna Joshi, 2008, Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata)


Twelve ancient temples in Jageshwar.
The initial pines lead to the inevitable deodar.
Its green, dark needles—vertical layers moving in wayward lines.
We tramped (modern half-breeds, urbane, mixed-up),
To seek the benediction of the ancient world.
Like plants that become deformed in their reaching back,
The roots entwined, the leaves losing sap.

The constraints of caste and region have feathered
And tarred our faces. We are the pariah Indians,
The few idealists,
Who seek oneness in a country torn
By every known difference.

Could I say when I reached the humped group of temples
Guarded by the sentinel wind of the Himalayas
That I desired union?The lingam leering at the obscenity of my prurient soul,
The world, yes—the flesh and paradise,
The same old grind-show of everyman and god.

I have tried to taste of the tree of knowledge,
Have aspired beyond the limits
Of an Indian Brahmin girl,
Born with a bewildering array of puritan forefathers
Who recited hymns and shlokas
For all occasions.
For birth, marriage, childbirth, fornication
Adultery, murder and what have you.
With sacred threads and grey ashes,
They broke the coconuts of inauguration.

I rise like a throwback—I muck up everything down the line,
The generations-old intellect, the strict decorum.
My blood wants the palpability of earthly love,
Not to obscure the predatory passions
Within the sanctified code.

Till I passed Jageshwar,
The clotted deodars, the smokewood huts,
The scattered pines, the humped shrines.
Shaggy closeness of rhododendrons, smells of raw peaches,
The leopard-tracks, the wild bird’s cry
The pit-viper’s slither, the pariah’s bark,
The mountain streams and the twisted trees,
The wooden mounds that burn the dead.
I felt like a girl going to harvest new green stalks,
The first of the season,
In an old village set in the pines—with twelve ancient temples
And the bells chiming for the snows across the valley.

(From Configurations, Rachna Joshi, 1993, Rupa & Co., New Delhi)

Writing Poetry

Those days I wanted
To write big poems,
Full of words, blood images, multiple voices, epilogues
And prologues.
It was the first flush of love
After reading the Waste Land.
I wrote about violence, assumed roles, hammered out
Universal truths
In short, I was prolific.

And then condensation—
Like the tower we saw from the cockpit.
Imagining from it Delhi’s green trees, yellow laburnums,
Neat roads;
Leaving out what passed between
Your strange disheveled being—my robust, fanciful self.
And now it seems such a marvelous paradox,
Like a dinosaur that has lived on.
Poetry is dead, Marxism defunct, what survives is computers.
I’m going to California to be a beach bum.

Why has the fragile, the knotted, the perplexing gone?
Einstein who could put e=mc2 on a sheet of paper
And still play the violin.
Words engulf me…intertextuality, semiotics, phenomenology.
Maybe writing was not what I thought.

It is to me warm and moaning, like Gilbert’s Pewter,
The Science of the Night, The Fly, The Seagull.
It is so many things…so many sacraments.
It is Tuesday afternoon…reading what Kath or what Karen
Or what Ruth has to say.
It is Yeats…it is Sheila invoking the loons.
It is my mother at home,
To whom I write of my attempts, my trials, my failures
It is hysteria at times.

And when I glance out…the world has moved away
My childhood has come again…the words I heard
Are still true.
The red mud and dry pine needles of Shillong Peak
Still flow down while I, ten years old, and my brother, fourteen,
Squabble up the mountain trail.

Our boots are muddy, and this is North America.
There is still a blue lake, the leaves are withering.
O look! They fall…and the orange sunlight
Falls full on the trees—the leaves yellow, and brown and red.
And you, my friend, talking of Walden, of Relativity, of intuitions,
Showing me at other times your paper machines, your laboratory,
Your crazy oak tree from the forest of Sherwood.
The trail never ending…the low voices of otter.
It is a deerslayer country, it is the land of the Mohicans.
(From Configurations, Rachna Joshi, 1993, Rupa & Co., New Delhi)


The Yamuna swells
across field and marsh
as wind and water lash the city.

A curtain of rain
catches scooter and cyclist
in its wake.

Rain falls through me
Through my past
Through memory
Through grandmother’s eyes
When they would water.

The magnolias fall to one side
and the Ashok and Eucalyptus
shine with silvery glow.

Telephone lines go bust
electricity and power surge and wane
and connectivity is a poor Morse Code.

E-mails dysfunction
Friends blotted out
News blotted out
What happened to Khashoggi
Did Obama get elected
Or did Urijit Patel resign.

Rain flows out
washes the roads
and fuses the landscape. 

The rain unravels like music
Mallikarjun Mansur singing Megh Malhar
Fuzon belting out Saawan beeto jaye piharwa
Jagjit Singh singing of saun da mahina
And woh kaagaz ki kashti, woh baarish ka paani.

A loving refrain
it inundates my being,
envelopes the spirit
washing out the day’s drudgery.

Crossing the Yamuna by metro
I see again scattered hutments
and withered fields of grain
needy farmers waiting
for the river to replenish their fields
by forgetting its banks
and spilling itself widely.

The river will withdraw into its channel,
silt-laden banks will sprout again
lush and green.

I too feel like rich accumulated
silt, ready for the language
of change to grow in me, say
things I’ve never said before. 

(From Monsoon and Other Poems, Rachna Joshi, 2020, Tethys, New Delhi)

In The City Alone … and other poems / Rachna Joshi

In the City-Alone

The lone Tesu tree at the edge of the road,

hardy survivor of many city beautification drives

throws the morning shadow over the mazdoor


breaking stones.

Half-erased signboards written in Hindi

flank her.

Yahan Malba Phekna Mana Hai

‘Do not throw rubble on the road.’

Undeterred, she keeps pounding rocks

breaking them into pebble-size,

the sidewalk is cluttered.

There is a bulldozer parked on one side

and also a scrawny boy with a limp hobbling by.

 Girl on the Bulldozer

Oh!  Thin girl on the bulldozer,

your faded sari, shriveled plait,

your bold attempt to stand erect

have stilled me here.

Is the beefy driver-lover

exploiter, employer?

Have your desires, loves and life

Been pounded into

a sick and suffering body.

Ensconced in my sunlit terrace

like the maker of a documentary film

I see you still.

Elvish , wispy, forlorn

spirit: I gather you,

in my thoughts.

That Boy with a limp

He had shorn off

his hair after 1984

yet the limping boy

still feels cornered

by innocent stares.

Pulled apart by two sets of conditionings

split by the riots

in Byronic despair

he thrusts his fascinating profile forward

his trembling limb held firmly in check.

He is iconoclastic and outrageous

his voice fierce, eyes black

he seeks clarity and meaning

identity and success

in an increasingly incomprehensible world.

Images of carnage haunt him

scared, wary, suspicious,

he will rather starve than beg.

(From Travel Tapestry, Rachna Joshi, 2013, Yatra Books, New Delhi)

Rue de Rivoli, Paris

A cobbled street merges

into the paved road.

I see the old Paris

old buildings, worn and used entrances,

people dressed in quaint clothes.

I am drawn back to India.

India as a dark, vibrating womb

which maintains at its core

a primal rhythm.

A fragrance arising

out of old manuscripts, statues

rock carvings, leaves, bricks, dust.

Buried in nooks and crannies,

in forgotten places.

(From Monsoon and Other Poems, Rachna Joshi, 2020, Tethys, New Delhi)


In the bus, people move among goats and sacks of grain.

Women in flaring skirts

seamen on leave

sick children.

Across the ridge, the sun rises

Nanda Devi, Trishul, Pancha Chuli,

they appear in different colours.

I walk through the old market

fascinated by cowbells. Himalayan cedars

and pines cover the slopes around.

Dew soaks through the foliage

and the cold vapours settle everywhere,

branches and leaves hang in a myopic mist

green, white and light blend.

In the wooden house, the harmonium is playing.

someone is singing ‘Sivoham, Sivoham.’

His brow is covered with sweat

and there is a sandal-silver dot in the middle of it.

(From Configurations, Rachna Joshi, 1993, Rupa & Co., New Delhi)

Worli Sea Face

Rain flies across the pavements,

and smoke rises from the road,

wet, sticky odours linger…

one streetlight flickers,

one mangy pie dog barks,

but…the onslaught continues.

The churning sea comes inwards,

With deafening crashes, tumultuous breakers,

foam, froth and water boring every shattered rock.

Haji Ali, bathed in some celestial light

stands alone…distant…a tower of silence.

Smoke rises from the Bhel Puri vendor’s stall,

it hurts the eye.

Something drifts in the air,

something…reflected in the restlessness of the sea,

something felt as the rain drums the tarred road,

something felt as Sunita and Sujata discuss the language of the waves.

‘The sea dances,’ they say.

‘It joins hands to dance among the stratified remains of some land,

it breathes, it heaves, it wants to say something.’

I stare up at those tall, towering giants,

those muted high rises, the forlorn penthouses,

they look back, with conscious irony.

Then the sea decides to speak,

the rain beats faster, the sea leaps up,

the fast, co-ordinated dance breaks,

the waves lose step, the water screams,

screams out, too clear…

and we walk back,

unable to understand the fathomless, changing, unpredictable dance.

The sea has warned us,

the sea has warned us.

(From Crossing the Vaitarani, Rachna Joshi, 2008, Writer’s Workshop, Calcutta)