By Ananya Dutta Gupta
Modelled on those of Samuel Johnson, this verse satire takes a wry survey of the vanity of nations and peoples clashing over the very walls and borders that nature’s elements – endangered, enraged – wait to raze and swamp into nothingness. Originally written in a summer of regional, sub-continental and global catastrophes, it is shared here in solidarity with an India crushed under a winter of discontent.
Where shall you go, my son,
To Kolkata or to Burdwan?
Blood’s spattered all around
Hospitals in cities and towns.
Perhaps you were thinking of
Christchurch or nearby Colombo?
Did you not know
Of charred skin plastered on church door?
From Indonesia to California, there’s a sweeping wildfire;
And the Arctic wall of ice is very nearly all water.
Plastic mountains rise at Mariana Trench,
And Notre Dame is spewing leaden stench.
The Promised Land shall wall up Mexico
While Good Old Britain is almost in Limbo.
Would you join in remembering Columbine?
Sadly, in the States it’s all horribly routine.
Cinema noir on Prime and Netflix, do you fancy?
Why, it reeks of ennui in famed ‘Happy Valley’ –
Be it sunny Provence or icy Reykjavik.
Would you rather retire and sulk,
Like a Thanos or the Hulk,
Deep into the heart of the Amazon?
Alas! Realtors have turned it raging crimson
With their no doubt grand incendiary mission.
Better still, some picture-postcard Italian county?
Beware! Don’t count on their placidity.
Didn’t you read of tumultuous seismic activity?
China, you remind me, is causing quite a stir.
Wait till you breathe Beijing’s stifled, surveilled air.
Take Gauguin’s route? Only remember:
Hurricane Irma and its furious followers
Shan’t leave scope for smooth sailors.
Those still swearing by Fidel Castro,
Can sanction-stifled Cuba afford you?
Argentina and Greece are on life support,
Turkey and Brazil are quite a volatile sort.
Israel is the Shangri-La of science and high culture;
It’s also the new Sparta with conscription for two years.
For the quaintly cosmopolitan, there’s Iran and its cinema,
Don’t apply for visa though
Or you’ll never see Niagara.
In Iraq, Syria, Libya, Gaza,
Beware of chemical gas or human bombs.
Putin’s Russia is exclusively for oil tycoons …
Who but they swallow up London’s estate homes?
Japan is an admirably viable destination,
If work or Manga is your automatic passion.
Do you mind sleeping in a capsule pod?
And commuting in a can far and wide?
Grim green Africa has room for us all,
Despite its surviving wild animals,
History, though, is still hounding it,
Who else will keep the gun-peddlers rich?
Best to remain, you then hold forth,
Honourable citizen of one’s land by birth.
Yet tarry before you take the patriot’s path.
In the sub-continental North,
You’re veritably spoilt for alternatives.
There’s raging heat wave, if not the human shield.
Exploding soldiers, or some blast to blight festivity,
And, for us women, the ubiquity of brutality.
And if you’re so inclined, join the field
For queues past the dead
Up to the summit of the Everest.
In the East you never had much to choose
Between Partition, Fani,
And detention camps for the unwanted ‘refugee’.
From Malabar to Mumbai,
Deluges are frequent,
And surely you haven’t forgotten
The fatal stampede and the hotel siege?
Bengaluru’s lakes are frothing at the mouth,
While Kodaikanal spews liquid silver pollution.
Chennai swam all the way home.
And though T.M. Krishna sings,
Poromboke chokes on toxic fumes.
Siberian permafrost was once for banishment,
Now it might just be right for en masse resettlement.
Greenland shall soon be an island of greenery,
When Kostner’s Waterworld inundates Anthropocene.
Mars has water, the only silver lining,
And Branson has begun Virgin Intergalactic.
Pray, yet keep your hopes from soaring:
Even if NASA deems you fit to fight gravity,
You must first pass the eugenic expert’s muster
Before you embark on a Terra Nova orbiter.
Surely you know all elements have been bottled or sealed,
Black holes, even the fifth dimension, so to speak?
Where on earth then shall you stay, my son,
At airports, on ferry boats, or a hot air balloon?
How many numbers have you sewed onto your skin,
To establish that you are an obedient citizen?
How many identities can you flourish and brandish
To confirm you are the patriot’s true copy?
Ananya Dutta Gupta has been teaching at the Department of English & Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, for over sixteen years now. In 1999, she was awarded a Felix Scholarship to pursue an M.Phil. in English Literature, 1500-1660 at the University of Oxford. She was awarded the degree of M.Phil., in part, for a dissertation on the philosophy of war and peace in Renaissance European and English Writings. In January 2014, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, awarded her a Ph.D. degree for her dissertation on Renaissance English representations of the city under siege. Her revised Orient Blackswan Annotated edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Book I (2012) is currently in worldwide circulation and she has several other scholarly articles published in national and international journals to her credit. She was Charles Wallace India Trust Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Cambridge, in 2015. She has also published book reviews and translations of essays, poetry and short stories. Her creative non-fiction and travel writing may be found online at Pratilipi, Cafe Dissensus, Muse India, Caesurae and Coldnoon Travel Poetics. She sings Rabindrasangeet, writes poetry and does digital doodles in her leisure.
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