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What is a poem

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I often send you words, wrapped clumsily in feeling, like gifts from a child to their first love. And I wonder if they are ever enough. Can words ever replace a touch, a caress, a meeting of the eyes, a brush of the lips? Can words ever replace the warmth of another body? My words are but veneer, a gaudy coat on things that churn and roil inside like an animal caged. If only I could show you, without words, without signs, without symbols. If only I could talk to you mouth-to-mouth, so that when you breathe out, I breathe in. So that where you end, I begin.

My prose is clumsy, it stumbles and falls often. There is little beauty in these words, except for the kind you impart when you alight like a muse, like my own Maya, my Calliope. What is a poem but the sound of your laughter or when you sigh in contentment or in desire. What is a poem but the way in which your voice swells with love. What is a poem but your muted whisper as you fall asleep. Poetry is not in my words, it is in between the lashes of your eyes, the webs of your fingers and every strand of your hair.

Poetry is your language, it was never mine. All I’ve done is borrow it from you.


Written by Pranaya

May 23, 2016 at 10:34 AM

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the sound of you

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in every inkling there is a certainty, cocooned inside a heart once encased in lead, the same muscled heart you massaged into dancing again, two-step, merengue, jhyaure.

on days as hot as the inside of a tea-kettle, that same heart hops like a hare, furls like a flower, there is perverse pleasure in patience, like a face turned towards the sky, waiting for the rain, a desert in heat.

on nights as long as the waiting we do, when i confessed like a sinner, on my knees and pleading, you were giddy, ecstatic, choosing me as i chose you, and your presence wafted to me from across the seas, warm and light, so that even cold kathmandu nights now burn like falling stars.

this meeting accidental, a bump between two ants and two antennae, and like that, the damp and the cold recede like with the coming of the sun, like hallelujah, like hey ram, like goddamn.

how often do you think of kathmandu, how often do i think of lancaster,
i love you kathmandu, but i must leave you.

the skyline of your breasts, the asphalt of your stomach, the streets of your fingers, the furrows of your hair, what is a city but a person, what is a person but a city, what is the world but one person, what is one person but the world.

last night, a poem appeared, a missive from a friend, reminiscing about an empty kathmandu night and it said, what is rain to the sound of you.

what is rain to the sound of you.


Written by Pranaya

May 9, 2016 at 2:44 AM

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The Flâneur

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Published on The Kathmandu Post, March 7, 2015

Written by Pranaya

March 8, 2015 at 10:32 AM

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Stolen kisses

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When younger, spent much time in a sinister, sinewy alleyway that snaked sibilant past shops, homes and boys smoking illicit substances packed hastily into cigarettes. North end of.Kathmandu, past Chakrapath, towards Budhanilkantha, turn left into Kapan Marg, and into alleyway, come out on other side onto Milijuli Told. Frequented by menacing long-haired man-boys, smoking, drinking, and occasional stony-hearted and disapproving locals braving a shortcut. High brick walls left tell-tale crimson smears on backs.of.shirts when leaned against, like markings of adultery.

First, walk innocent hand-in-hand on main street. Then, walk closer so that hips interlock and arms wrap around torsos. Later, turn into alleyway, know all well what is to come. In semi-darkness, migrate hands to hair and pull close. Lock lips and pay heed to little else. Still, keep one ear cocked for approaching sounds, rustle of plastic bag, padding of feet on stones, hum of voices rising as get closer.

There, kissed girls frantically with passion reserved for budding libidos. Like many limbed gods, groped and grabbed, bodies straining against the other as if lives depended on exchange of sparring tongues, interrupted all too often by foot traffic. Spring apart on sound of approaching feet and walk away red-faced and ashamed, as if caught doing something illegal. Those older who passed, knew, and threw disapproving glances like empty bottles tossed after drink, drank, drunk. But youth too.discarded shame as easily as tossing back of a veil. And back at it, yearning.

Without private spaces, unsavoury gallies only refuge. Hidden from prying eyes, teenage needs forcefully ssuppressed boiled to surface. Palms against skin and hands under shirts, conjoined at the mouth, as if each resuscitating other from drowning. Almost always too chaste, too brief, little time and even less space. Stolen kisses in dark alleyways. All that was.

(A shorter, edited version of this piece was published on Nepali Times, along with a host of other great writing centered around Kathmandu, as a Dashain special. Here:

Written by Pranaya

October 28, 2014 at 3:34 AM

One Day in the Life of Pranaya SJB Rana

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To wake.

First, to the revving of pick-up truck that neighbour uses to ferry unknown things in unknown quantities to unknown destinations. Cough, catch, cough and whirr of engine. Hinge squeak of gate being opened and dull thud of door being closed.

Second, conch shell blows call to arms with first light of morning. Sound reverberates through neighbourhood like shot from gun, prompting gang of street dogs to take up impromptu chorus.

Third, roar as next neighbour kicks motorcycle engine to life. Steady whirr as bike idles and then, rides away to morning classes.

Now awake.

Like born anew. Sluggish, myopic, lethargic. Throat dry and scratchy. Cigarette smoke to taste. Drink from glass of water by bedside and drag legs of wood to bathroom for morning ablutions. The water cold, like steel in the mouth.

First coffee. Dark and strong, like aroma of earth. Water in tea kettle boils, bubbles. Coffee ground and water poured in steady stream of translucent steam. First sip burns tongue and sets fire to soul.

Taking off of clothes like shedding of skin. Putting on other clothes like growth of new skin. Legs into holes and head into hole. Socks first and then shoes. Trudge dirt encrusted sole through house on way out.

Now on street.

Take seat on empty waiting microbus. Put on headphones, read the papers. Bus fills up, driver comes by. Elderly woman looks for not-to-be-found seat. Stands anyway. Conscience dictates to give up seat. Comply. Wonder: all men and women around elderly woman lacking voices in head? Now standing, headphones off, newspaper in back pocket. Head bent, back bent. Girl offers to hold bag. Do not get chance to reply before bag is on lap, safe. Catch conductor’s eye. Smile.

On travel, bump, bump, bump. Stop. Get off. Wait. Get on another. Find seat at back, open window and settle comfortably. Off to left side, middle-aged man and middle-aged woman. Gaudy gold watch on man arm, gaudy pink bag on woman arm. Man has arm protectively around woman, body angled towards her as if shielding from outsider gaze. Fingers brush woman neck. She squirms and looks out window. I do same.

Route is same every day. Basundhara-Chakrapath-Sukedhara-Chabahil-Gaushala-Airport-Sinamangal-Tinkune. Conductor yells each upcoming stop, punctuated by emphatic bang on side of bus. Chakrapath, stop for over five minutes at roundabout. Chabahil and Gaushala, stop for five minutes for passengers. Airport, stop for five minutes till next bus comes. Airport to Sinamangal, sekuwa in the air. Tinkune, squeeze past horde of passengers lining walkway. Say sorry, excuse me. Some refuse to give way. Still give dirty looks.

Now at place of employment.

Nod to guards, make eye contact with receptionist and exchange smiles. Raise hand in greeting to acquaintances, shake hands with few, say hello to others. For next seven or so hours, type, delete, delete, type.

Take break. Smoke one cigarette. Momos for lunch. Drink weak, watered coffee. Smoke another cigarette.

End of day. Walk to Tinkune, smoking cigarette. Catch bus to Basundhara. Walk 15 minutes to home, weaving in and out of evening foot traffic, bypassing women with shopping bags and boys with guitars strapped to backs.

Now at night.

Summertime mosquitos and summertime heat. An oppressive a regime as any. Under net, window open and dog barking off in the distance. Reflect on day and realize each day almost exactly like the last. Nothing in the details, everything in the arc. The rise of the day and the fall of the night. Disposable is everything in between.

Sometimes failing, grasping for straws, legitimization of the ways things are. Offer justifications, know they are only justifications, accept them anyway. Devil in details, they say. Each repetition, a difference, they say. Patterns turn to habits. Refrain, refrain. Not hold back but repeat, repeat, refresh, refresh. Lay in bed and watch myself lay in bed.

Now another.

One night, he lay in bed and watched himself lay in bed. And although the room was dark, light streamed through nearby windows and send shadows scattering to the corners. Cries faint and animal came from near, then far, but all he could hear was the noise in his head. He thought then of how he had woken that morning to the sound of a engine starting, like every other morning for the past two or so years. And now he was falling sleeping, in the same bed he had fallen asleep in for the past two or so years. Before the haze of sleep descended, he found himself staring at himself with a clarity unexperienced, like a cut diamond reflecting all faces simultaneously. The faces of the morning, the day and the night. The faces of yesterday, today and tomorrow. And to his dismay, each face was exactly the same.

Written by Pranaya

June 15, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Two Songs for a Blood Moon

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Two Songs for a Blood Moon

The Kathmandu Post, April 19, 2014 (Blood moon: 15 April, 2014)

Written by Pranaya

April 20, 2014 at 8:25 AM

Memory as a cure for forgetting

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Today, out of the window on the bus, I saw a woman in a yellow-gold kurta kicking along an abandoned chappal. As she butted the sandal along, she sent up small cyclones of dust scattering. She did not seem to have a purpose in doing so, save maybe some childish glee in an act that has no reason. I remembered then my childhood spent at boarding school at the foot of Phulchowki. Many a time, I would wander among the trees that dotted the premises, happen upon a stick and start digging a hole. I was seven, eight, maybe nine then, crouched above a hole I was making by stabbing the ground with the point of a stick. There was no purpose there, just action.

Both these incidents are by no means extraordinary. They are the most mundane of images and yet, they stick in my consciousness as if they were something of vital import. I do not choose the memories that my brain retains, at least not consciously. It does not seem to be a question of retaining but a question of access. I have read somewhere that the brain is like an always-running video camera and memory is simply about finding one specific reel of tape, popping it into the VCR and pressing figurative play. The only catch is that there are mountains of tape and some memories are easier to find than others.

Memories sometimes come unbidden. Like thieves in the night, they sneak up on you and overwhelm you with their immediacy. These are often triggered by a smell, a sound, a sight, like the involuntary memory that Proust details in the episode with the madeleine:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.

Even now, any song off of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon reminds me of the waning end of my first year in college when I was lonely, sad and confused. A specific perfume, the name of which I forget, always takes me back to a simpler time when I was very much in love, walking through Babar Mahal Revisited with a girl more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined.

There is one incident, though, that I have tried and tried to recall. It was one cold night a year ago in January. I was inches from death then but somehow survived. There is a story to tell here, only I cannot tell it. It remains locked away somewhere and I have lost the key. I have tried to reconstruct the memory but there is nothing, not even vague outlines to fill in or dots to connect. Just a gaping void, and there is nothing scarier than a void.

Though I cannot remember what it was, it left me with my face half paralysed, a number of bones fractured and a collarbone broken. Thankfully, they have all healed now, except for the hole in my memory. It refuses to scab and taunts me with its darkness. The inability, the sheer frustration in trying to recall something that you know has happened to you is unimaginable. It is limitless, this hole. I have spent days and nights just searching my brain, weaving through people, faces, places and events. I have tried everything and still, the details of that night elude me like darting slippery fish in the stream of time.

Since then, I have revisited my favourite works of art that deal with trauma, time and memory. I have contemplated long the shattered visages and the plaintive soundless cries in Picasso’s Guernica. I have watched, rewatched and watched again Chris Marker’s La Jetee and Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. I have listened time and again to Narayan Gopal’s Yo Samjhine Man Chha and I only find loneliness at the other end, not solace or meaning. Only Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness gives me heart. There is a dream-conversation that Darwish begins with which beautifully wraps up all of remembrance and forgetting:

—Tell me, when did it happen? I mean, when did we meet? When did we part?

—Thirteen years ago.

—Did we meet often?

—Twice: once in the rain, and again in the rain. The third time, we didn’t meet at all. I went away and forgot you. A while ago, I remembered. I remembered I’d forgotten you. I was dreaming.

In the book, which is really a prose poem, Darwish writes about the 1982 shelling of Beirut by the Israelis and he speaks, both obliquely and directly, about the persistence of memory, memory as a salve, memory as a cure for forgetting. In times of trauma, as in the course or aftermath of a war or an accident, forgetting is an easy task. In fact, it is often encouraged by the victors and takes the shape of history. Only recent examples of Truth and Reconciliation take heed of the danger of forgetting. Forgetting might seem confined to the mind but once enough people forget that something has happened, who’s to say it even happened in the first place? Forgetting then is a kind of amnesia, wilful or imposed. To forget is to capitulate, to give in. To resist, one must constantly remember. There is no defiance like the ordinary. Darwish understands this best when he goes to lengths to describe the act of making coffee—the minute movements of boiling the water, pouring it into a cup, stirring the coffee. When a city is being bombed, even the simple act of remembering how to make coffee becomes an outcry.

For Darwish (and for me), writing is an anti-thesis to history, which is the history of the powerful. Writing itself is memory, an attempt to preserve memory outside of the mind and onto paper. It is a slow and painful fight against the forgetfulness of history, which so easily throws its empty bottles out the window. Unlike Darwish, whose trauma is collective, mine is personal. But it is still a struggle. Soon, I am afraid, forgetting will take over and the incident that once was will cease to have ever been. My writing, my memory, is a constant battle to stave off this forgetting.

(published on The Kathmandu Post, September 21)

Written by Pranaya

September 21, 2013 at 11:41 AM