Mr Roy’s Obsession

By Swagato Chakraborty

I knew about Mr. Roy’s obsession, ever since that day on the beach. We were out to attend a meeting, and at the end of the day we decided to unwind at the beach. In the dying light of the day when the horizons of sky and the land unite in the distance, I saw Mr. Roy suddenly rushing into the sea. He lowered himself in the water and stopped for a moment, before thrusting his hands in it. After a second or two, he pulled out his hand holding a fish.

The whole thing happened so swiftly that it left me flabbergasted.

“Mr. Roy,” I said. “What are you doing?!”

He looked at me with a riant smile on his face and said “Look!”

I looked at the fish. It was wriggling in his hands, struggling, grasping for breath.

“What about it?”

Mr. Roy pointed me to stop. He ran his finger along the spine of the fish. Then, not giving me any time to prepare, started to dig out the flesh with his bare hands. I saw the fish wriggle out once and then fall limp, but it did not stop Roy. Soon, he had finished his work and triumphantly held the fish bone in front of me.

“What is going on?” I asked, bewildered.

“Well,” he explained demurely, tucking the bone in his pocket. “This is my hobby.”

On the train back the same day, I came to know more about Mr Roy’s ‘hobby’. It seems some time ago, at lunch, he had been served a preparation of hilsa fish. While savouring it, a bone stuck in his throat. Rather than trying to get it out or be frustrated, Mr Roy was enamoured of the situation. Since then, he had started collecting fish bones.

“So, you are interested in ichthyology?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “This is just a hobby.”

 However, by the way in which he described the incident, it seemed to me more like an obsession than a hobby.

Some days passed and I forgot all about the incident. One evening, while preparing to leave work for the day, Mr. Roy asked if he could walk with me to the station. He wanted to head to the general store, and it was on the way. I agreed.

It had begun to drizzle by the time we were on the street.

“What do you make of the weather?” I asked looking above.

“Fine!” He said, “Good for fishes.”

“Yeah, I too like –” He did not let me finish. Mr. Roy ran to the nearby bin. A cat was trying to look inside but Roy gave such a squeal, that the feline ran for its life. Roy put his head inside the bin and then stretching his hand inside, retrieved a fish bone.

“A pomfret bone,” he said. “The cat was about to run away with it.”

“Mr. Roy what–”

“I am sorry,” he declared, “I need to store the bone safely in my home now.” And he left me dumbfounded on the street.

A month later on a busy day at work, a parcel bearing the name of Mr. Roy arrived in the office. It was a large box and piqued the interest of more than one of us colleagues. We kept guessing what could it possibly contain – books, computer parts, perhaps a new juicer-mixer? When Roy arrived, we surrounded him with questions about the parcel.

Pleased, Mr. Roy gathered us around his table and unsealed the box with a paper-cutter.

Immediately, a putrid smell engulfed the room.

Inside the box, wrapped in a plastic bag, were dead fish. A few of them were in skeletal form, but most of them were in a state of rot.

Mr. Roy seemed happy and remarked “Just as I wanted them.”

Mr. Roy’s obsession with fish bones had another aspect. When one day he called in sick, I was given the task to deliver some important files to him.

Roy thanked me for my help and invited me in.

“You know,” he said. “I am not sick…it is just an excuse.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, intrigued. “Do tell what the real reason is.”

He told me to wait and retreated into his kitchen. It was then that I got a chance to look properly at the walls. On each wall, in a series, were framed fish bones of all shapes and sizes.

“Hey!” Mr. Roy called me from behind “I see you have discovered my collection.”

“What is all this?” I asked.

“Well,” He said demurely “Just my hobby. Anyways, here is why I called in sick.”

He placed a large tray on the table. In it was a large, half skeletal fish. Beside it were several tools – scalpel, forceps, knife, a fork, and a small motor drill. Then, with great enthusiasm, Mr. Roy explained to me why he needed them. Apparently, just any fish bone was not sufficient for him. He needed to replicate the same bone that stuck in his throat on that fateful afternoon. Equipped with these tools, he first retrieved and then shaped the fish skeleton, to make it into a skeleton of the fish that held his desired bone. Any fish bones that failed to achieve this form would be thrown out without consideration. “They are vile and useless,” he explained.

“I have a lot of dealers,” he said. “Who give me a steady supply of fish-bones.”

“Why do it at all?” I asked.

He fell silent for a moment and then said “I don’t know. Perhaps because that primal bone was the best of all.”


“That bone” He whispered “Was superior bone. All others are inferior.”

How can there be a ‘superior’ and an ‘inferior’ fish bone I could not figure out. I did not know what he meant and neither did I wanted to know.

Shortly after this bewildering visit, Roy left town to attend a meeting. It was on a hot afternoon that we received the word that Mr. Roy was dead. Apparently, he had died from choking.

The official report was that they found him dead in his hotel room. He had swallowed a fish bone, which the authorities thought was intentional, given that no trace of any other fish or food material was found in the room. In his belongings was found some medical equipment – scalpel, forceps, knife – strange things to be discovered in an office worker’s suitcase.

Mr. Roy had found his perfect fish bone. The same ‘superior’ fish bone from the afternoon. However, it cost him his life, much like all those fish. At the end, Mr. Roy, the fishes, and the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ fish bones, were all equated the as same at the sunset of their lives.


Swagato Chakraborty is an undergraduate student from Kolkata, India. He is currently pursuing a BA degree in English Literature and has had a nag for writing since childhood. His work has been published in Aphelion Webzine. 




A Stroll through Kolkata’s Iconic Maidan

Fort William was constructed by the British from 1696 to 1706 with permission from Emperor Aurangzeb. The old fort was damaged during the Siege of Calcutta. A new one was rebuilt (1757-81) near the restored building. The old one became the customs house from 1766 and a post office post-independence and the newer one went to the Indian army. Nishi Pulugurtha roamed the grounds near the fort or the Maidan with a camera & recapped a post covid world as it was in December, 2020.

It is a strange time that we are living in. And it seems to be getting even stranger with every passing day. It has become difficult to concentrate, to work, to deal with things as news keeps coming in. Suffering and death all around, the very sound of the ambulance last evening shook me as I was dealing with the loss of two dear friends. Both gone too early, both to the virus that seems to be wrecking lives in these times.  Staying at home is not an option for all, staying safe and doing things that would keep each safe is difficult for many. The bizarreness of the world we live in haunts and troubles.

As each of us struggle trying to hold on, my mind goes back to a walk one winter morning, towards the end of 2020 (I have been looking through older photographs these days, trying to hold on). One morning last December, I decided to go out for a long walk. Not in my neighbourhood, but a little further away. The city has a few places that one could be in the morning — places that are very familiar and have a charm of their own. Winters in Kolkata are crisp and pleasant. In the heart of the city is what is called the Maidan, a huge expanse of green. It is called Gorer Mathh in Bengali which translates into fort’s grounds. These are the grounds of the Fort William which is just across. The Kolkata General Post Office (GPO) is located near the site of the old Fort William.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

The Maidan is an iconic Kolkata location, one gets to see it in films, songs and photographs. The tram trundles along the grounds. It is one of the most scenic tram routes in the city. I have travelled past it myriads of times just to enjoy the ride along so much of green in the heart of the city. However, I do not recall walking there at all.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Well, there I was finally, that December morning. As I walked along one end of the Maidan, with the Chowringhee skyline clearly visible and the tramline running past, the scenes that I saw felt nice. There was the lone milk man on his work routine. No rest for him.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Quite a number of branches were lying around, most of them dry. They create strange shapes here and there. As I walked down from the northern side to the southern and back again, feeling the breeze, sitting down on a broken branch for a while, it sure felt nice being out in the open.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

There seemed to be a sense of calm with the sheep out for grazing with the men herding them, the sound of a few jingling bells, the men catching up on some conversation – all in a day’s work.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

In another part of the Maidan, a few young people were at a game of football.  A couple of cricket matches were on somewhere else, as the tall buildings look over the green.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

A few horses were grazing in another part of the open ground, before being yoked to the carriages that are used for joyrides.

Courtesy: Nishi Pulugurtha

Three men in orange were out on a mission it seemed as they walked real fast cutting across the vast expanse, through the shade towards the road lining the tram tracks.

On some other parts of the Maidan, one could see people resting. On a concrete platform someone was enjoying a siesta.  A jhaalmuri vendor with his spicy, savoury snacks and the tea seller walking around looking for customers provided a respite from languor and more activity as life moved on.


Nishi Pulugurtha’s works include a monograph Derozio, travel essays Out in the Open, edited volume of travel essays Across and Beyond, and The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems



Ghumi Stories


By Nabanita Sengupta


He spends his days painting his beloved Ghumi – a riot of colours bursts upon his canvas, pouring out the passion he has for the place. I admire the way his brush moves, the way a picture takes shape yet I feel sorry for him. For the solitary life that he has chosen for himself, though he is happy in it. His paintings too have attained a maturity that his clients all over the world much appreciate. Also, it is because of this quirk in him that I have got this lucrative job as a caregiver and my future is almost taken care of. Not just that, I enjoy taking care of him too! It gives a purpose to my lonely life.


I have to revisit my origin — the place that had nurtured me for the first fifteen years of my life before I plunged into the real world. Yes real world I said. Because Ghumi was not exactly real. It was almost like a simulation for the real thing — like those driving lessons you know you can take on your computer screen before the actual driving? It was like that.

Rough edges of dangers padded off in a very large extended family. That place was my whole world and a place that I had to leave for the real one; because Ghumi did not hold back anyone. It trained you, taught you, helped you with important inputs for sustainability but ultimately let you go. And exactly at sixteen! That age when the world was either pink or black and very rarely white or grey. That age when either you could be wallowing in romance or rattling off revolution or even both, in a mission to change the world. So it was at that volatile age that we were all simply shot out of Ghumi high on ‘we are the world’ motto to various higher educational institutions across country. And we did survive.

Ghumi, I knew had the solution to my problem. A place that I had not visited for almost twenty years! A place where I had painted the first canvas of my life — a hill with many greens. Ghumi had taught me colours in a way no art teacher could. She lovingly made me aware of the nuances of various shades of a single colour. She was the muse for the budding artist within me. In fact, I feel that the artist in me was Ghumi’s gift. Even now that I am successful as an artist, I feel Ghumi’s colours predominate my palette. My canvases carry a madness of mahua, a glimpse of the huge saal, dark green of the jamun and so much more. 

So much has changed since those early days — in the world, in my life. Yet I have not been able to unhinge myself from her. Of late the association with that place has grown so strong that it is becoming difficult for me to ignore. I have begun neglecting my paintings, my studio and even my wife.

There are spans when I would drown in a deep melancholy, stretching even to days. Neither medication, nor counseling helped much. Geeta, my better half, had been quite understanding and patient to my mood swings and neglect. Initially she had tried to talk it out with me but after a few attempts, she left me to myself. So when I told her that I must go to Ghumi to find a solution, she too supported me. In fact the idea had been initially suggested by her.


That was a moment so special — the moment when my feet touched Ghumi after such a long time! What happiness! I felt energised. I wished I could be all around the place all at once but of course my emotions needed to be controlled. Geeta did not come, in spite of my repeated requests. Instead she asked my assistant, Rohit to accompany me. I was grateful for Geeta’s motivation behind this entire Ghumi idea, for inspiring me to embark on it. After a long time I passionately made love to her that night after I booked the tickets. It was overwhelming, and when she was almost spent, I could smell in her the mahua, that intoxicating scent which was so much a part of my Ghumi days. Her face was flushed with the colours of flaming Palash. For one last time I inhaled her deeply and fell into one peaceful slumber. That night, I had one of the most restful nights — soundest sleep in my life.  


Ghumi hadn’t changed much. The factory, the school, the pond — they just looked the same. Even trees had an ancient charm. Like the Lotus-Eaters of Homer, they wove their magic spell upon me. I was mesmerized, forgetting almost everything of my city life. My studio, my wife — they remained a faraway reality for me. I relived my childhood with a gusto that was almost unthinkable. I put up at a guesthouse that had come up in the recent years — one of the few changes that marked the face of Ghumi. The other new additions that I saw were a quaint little cafe, a print-out and photocopy shop, a private bank and a few ATMs. 

It was a three-day trip that I started finding inadequate. But of course, there was Geeta and the studio to return to. Caught in the web of a modern lifestyle, how long a holiday could I afford! But what if I stayed back! I was hit hard by this sudden thought — staying back, and why not. But of course, there was Geeta who was waiting for my return. In the soft afternoon of Ghumi, amid the eucalyptus and sal trees, she seemed to belong to another life. 

I pushed back my fanciful thoughts and putting on my track pants and tee, ventured out alone. Though I had Rohit with me, I was planning to do more of self-exploration. What did he know of my love affair with this place! I wanted to visit those new places that had sprouted upon the face of my old Ghumi and see how much change they had wrought upon her character. 

A desire for a steaming mug of coffee took me towards the cafe. ‘Ghumi Tales’ — that’s what it was called. In the low light of the setting sun it looked more mysterious, as if there was a lot hidden within it. I was drawn towards it. Though a new addition, it had somehow blended with the character of Ghumi. 

That night I made a call asking Geeta to cancel my return tickets. I needed to feel the place a bit more. I would perhaps, one day return to her, after I have made peace with myself.


I am Geetanjali, Arun’s Geeta. We have been married for the past six years and I could feel this coming gradually. At first it was nostalgia, a general remembrance of the past. But slowly it turned into an obsession. He stopped most of his activities, spoke only of Ghumi and lived in it. I changed my role in his life — from friend to lover to wife to a caregiver. I knew he needed support, I needed help too. There was no one I knew who could help me — psychiatrist visits were out of question — I knew I could not convince him. Rahul appeared as a Godsend.

As a psychologist and a childhood friend, he listened to my problems attentively. It was he who first made me aware of the terms ‘terminal nostalgia’ and ‘restorative nostalgia’ in which a person wants to recreate his past and wants to live in that period. He said Arun’s was a case of such extreme ‘restorative nostalgia’ which was pushing him towards clinical depression.

I looked at him aghast! How could Arun, one of the most successful artists of his times, one whose career graph was showing a steep rise, become like this? I raged and ranted and cursed my luck — all through Rahul held my hand. I loved Arun but was becoming dependent on Rahul.

The last straw in our relationship was when Arun made love to me comparing me to Ghumi! I could not take it anymore. I refused to go to Ghumi with him but made my secret preparations with Rahul to keep an eye on him from here.

Once there, I could feel the calmness in him, the distractions much lesser. The phone call regarding extension of his stay at Ghumi was as anticipated one; hence I had made arrangements with one of the local elderly women to take care of him during his stay there. For a long-term stay, he would need a proper house with a set up for his studio. Reena aunty, the woman I spoke to had assured me that she would take charge of everything, I would just need to pay for the expenses. I am more at peace now. I have understood that Arun does not need me — we would merely be hindrances in the lives we want to lead. He has found the Land of Lotus Eaters. Nothing perhaps can take him back or make him happy if not Ghumi.

Dr. Nabanita Sengupta is an Assistant Professor in English at Sarsuna College Kolkata. She is a creative writer, a research scholar and a translator. Her areas of interest are Translation Studies, Women Studies, Nineteenth century Women’s writings, etc. She has been involved with Translation Projects of Sahitya Akademi and Viswa Bharati. Her creative writings, reviews and features have been variously published art Prachya Review, SETU, Muse India, Coldnoon, Café Dissensus,, and Different Truths. She has presented many research papers in India and abroad.





In Quiet & Conversation

By Anasuya Bhar

In quiet

You and I have not laid our

Eyes, on each other

For days, months, now

You and I have changed,

Both to the world, and

To us, unknown.



Two glasses

Sit in eager anticipation

Two chairs

Sit in mute expectation.

Twinkling lights

Empty tables, slow music


All wait for us –

Now drifted,

Now apart.


Dr. Anasuya Bhar is Associate Professor of English and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata. She is also a Guest Faculty at the Department of English, University of Calcutta. Dr. Bhar is the sole Editor of the literary Journal Symposium, published by her Department. She has various academic publications to her credit. She is also keen on travel writing and poetry writing. She has her own blog




Cyclone Amphan & Lockdown

As cyclone Amphan fireballed and ripped through Kolkata, Nishi Pulugurtha gives a first hand account of how she survived the fear and the terror of the situation

Forecasts and news did not prepare us for the actuality of it all till it actually happened.  We had taken all necessary precautions but what happened on the evening of the 20th of May 2020 rattled and disturbed a lot. Cyclone Amphan was moving slowly over the Bay of Bengal and was expected to make a landfall in the southern parts of Bengal and lash the city of Kolkata as well.

News of this nature is troubling and more so in times of the pandemic. As it is we are all at a loss, stuck at home, worried about how things would turn out. As news kept pouring in about the cyclone which turned in to a super cyclone, the common refrain was why now. Things seem to be getting worse. At a time when we needed to maintain social distancing, people were being evacuated into cyclone shelters. This had to be done, the cyclone would wreak havoc and arrangements had to be made for lives to be saved.

At home, I heard my mother’s carer, Kajal, talking constantly about it over the telephone. She was calling up home and talking to her family members about it. Her home is in Namkhana, South 24 Parganas which would bear the brunt of the cyclone very strongly. Her sister who lives in Bakkhali by the coast, had been evacuated well in advance before the cyclone made a landfall. 

Kajal kept telling me that this was worse than the cyclone Alia as there had been announcements in Namkhana and Bakkhali about how high the waves of the Bay of Bengal would lash out as well. As it began to rain she spoke to her folks, they were all at home, and expecting the river waters to rise had moved everything at home to higher places. Her home is just beside a river. The last time she spoke to her family members was when it was lashing the place. The asbestos sheet that was their roof had been blown away and they were unable to move out of the house as three trees had fallen on the house and one was blocking the door. There were tears in her eyes as she said there was no way anyone could come to rescue her folks.

At about four o’clock I decided to venture out a bit just to have a look at what was happening outside and that is the first time I heard the sound of the wind. It was loud, real loud, of the kind I do not recall hearing in recent times.

It began raining heavily in Kolkata and at home we began securing the glass windows. The intensity of the wind began increasing and we readied candles and match boxes. I even made dinner early as I was sure the electricity supply would go off. I made arrangements for water, both for drinking and use too. Living with someone who is in an advanced state of Azheimer’s, I needed to be prepared with how to deal with things. Living in the moment is something that dementia instills into us.

Friends and cousins started enquiring about how we were holding on. Holding on is something that Amma and I have been doing since her diagnosis had come in. And it is something that every one of us is doing in times of Covid-19. As the storm raged on, the sound and intensity kept increasing.

The tumult of it all was frightening and scary. I opened a window to look out to see how things were outside and that is when I could hear even more loud noises. Many houses in the neighbourhood had fibre sheds on the terraces and as the wind raged, the tins intensified the roars. The sound was fiery and nightmarish. Within our compound was a two storied house that had such a shed on its terrace. As I looked out from the window, I saw a fibre sheet rip off and fly. It frightened me out of my wits.

What if it should hit someone outside. It would lash against electric poles and wires too. It was getting dark too. It was a scary scenario. I closed the window and rushed to be with Amma. She does not speak at all now for some years, the ravages wrought by Alzheimer’s, but it was clear that she was very perturbed. We were enclosed in darkness. I started speaking to her and sat beside her, comforting her. We sat huddled up together not knowing what would happen.

At about 7.30 pm, it seemed that the noises were less. I opened a window again to look out. The wind was no longer raging though it was still raining. My neighbours were out in their verandahs, torches and mobile flashlights on, trying to make some sense of the damage that had been done.

It was too dark to make sense of how things were but we did see our whole compound was waterlogged.  It was important be indoors, to try and be calm. I asked Kajal for news about her family and the state of her village. The last she heard of them was when they had been evacuated and were lodged in a neighbour’s house, all safe. That was at about six in the evening. She said she was unable to get in touch with anyone after that. She tried calling all those whose numbers she had, not just of her family members but also of local villagers, but to no avail.

We had dinner in silence, the electric supply was restored. Amma was taken to bed but she was awake for most part of the night, making noises once in a while. She usually sleeps till twelve, is awake for some time and then falls asleep again. She slept in the wee hours of the morning. I went out to have a look at things in the morning, water all around, my small garden in a mess, the plants mostly bent, fibre sheds strewn around in the compound, glass pieces on my car parked outside.

Thoughts of the pandemic were pushed back, all of us in Kolkata and all over Bengal and Orissa were more concerned about the cyclone and all the devastation it has brought.

I got a call from the local grocer at 6.30 in the morning, I had ordered a few things yesterday before it started. He called up to say that they were on the way. I told him that he could wait. He replied that things were all ready for delivery, moreover I might be in need. The young boy who delivered them told me that there was knee deep water in places.

I asked Kajal if she had any news of her family. She said she had been trying throughout the night but to no avail. There was no news at all. She was with Amma as she usually is. They were holding each other’s hands.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.




Kolkata Diaries: Lockdown


By Ketaki Datta

Lockdown! Stay at home!

I know not how long this period of incarceration will continue! More than a couple of weeks have already sped by!

But believe me, days are not appearing long, neither the nights.

The self, I was groping for in the closet of my being, peeped out and hollered to me, “So finally we meet!”

I cheer up, eyeing a happy prospect of getting a friend, though supernatural, ‘otherworldly’ , or non-existent to the ordinary mortals like me! But I get a friend here, in this apartment, where stay I and the Self!

 Last evening, just after I slurped the last drop of soup from my tureen, I saw her sitting in front of me, asking me, “So are you happy?”

 She is my lookalike. I feel uneasy, sometimes, to talk to myself. But, when I see her crooning old, long-forgotten numbers to me, when I find her analyzing my past deeds with a serious face, I simply sit back, relaxed, thinking that I am in good hands.

Last evening, my next-door neighbour, rang me up to inquire about my whereabouts and said, “I find you in good mood these days. Yesterday, in the afternoon, while I was having my siesta, I heard you talking loudly to someone. But in these lockdown days, who has dropped in at your residence? Please ask him/her to leave at the earliest. You may fall ill. It may even turn fatal.”

I told her, “I was taking classes, online.”

“I see, then it’s fine.”

I am not just working from home, but I also love to indulge in exploration of the self and the world around me. I did not know that the afternoon sky has so many shades, apart from azure. I was not aware of the morning breeze that has a fragrance latent in its being. I had no idea that the cuckoo that coos beneath my balcony has a companion who answers its call from the coconut tree, standing tall in my neighbour’s courtyard. I was blissfully ignorant of so many things, how could it be so? Why was it so?

A few weeks of the lockdown are over by now. I keep wondering how a virus goes raging across the length and breadth of the world, claiming lives, taking pride in a large toll, escalating with each passing day. Just a microbial being and all experiments in all world-class laboratories are failing to discover a vaccine, let alone an antidote! All sorts of primitive measures are being followed: Wash hands again and again, as though an indelible mark of wrong-doing gets stuck in between palms of each inhabitant of this planet, which “ all the perfumes of Arabia” cannot sweeten, not to speak of washing it off!

Why are we being fooled by a virus, which if contracted, or smitten with, will land us straight before the gate of Paradise, nay Hades? Or if spared, may leave us crippled with a pair of weak lungs? I cannot think any further.

At one point of time, I kept toying with the idea of going out. Yes, I am running out of provisions. I have curtailed many a thing, putting embargo (self-imposed) on luxuries; for example, I am not casting a glance even at the chocolate bar, the last of its kind, lying at one corner of my fridge, trying to lure me with its tantalising taste whenever I fling open the refrigerator-door! I am now going to curb all of my cravings, it seems.

My mom used to say, “You can attain nirvana by saying ‘no’ to all sorts of temptations but winning the allurement of chocolates would be the Achilles heel, for which your nirvana might have to wait or be deferred to an unknown date in future. You may even cease to exist without tasting the nectar of nirvana!”  Nirvana or no nirvana, I was happy with my irresistible love for chocolates! But these days, I am trying to say ‘no’ even to chocolates! If by any chance, I nibbled at the last bar, what would happen if I felt a craving at midnight with no chocolates around? So, I have to save it for some unforeseen desire for it!

  When through my balcony I cast a glance overhead at the purplish-black sky, I can see a few stars, a few dim celestial bodies but I cannot tell one apart from the other. I try to trace the Milky Way, but a zigzag row of stars pop-up, which might or might not be the one. Standing there, for quite some time, I was trying to empathise with the people from all walks of life, who are terribly affected by this lockdown, a 21-day-period of total collapse of social life, gregarious existence of the populace, beyond home, even normal buying-and-selling in the shops.

The picture at a medicine shop may be different, chock-a-block with people, who are queuing up mostly to buy Vitamin B or C strips or even expectorants or common medicines for cough and cold or diarrhea. I went out only one day after a gap of about fifteen days to buy essentials, mainly eggs and biscuits. That too, at about seven in the morning. I was astounded to see the busy thoroughfare, which generally teems with life at cockcrow was desolate. Absolutely secluded. The old man who used to sit and beg outside the metro station was not there anymore. I was worried as I used to buy him medicines for his heart condition.

I found the dog, who is generally sprightly and feisty, sitting dejected, in front of the closed shutters of a shop. I was happy to see the birds chirping on the trees. They trilled, crooned, twittered, whistled as they pleased. They were probably so delighted to find a sky — clear, above their head, with not a speck of smog in it. The greenery outside got a shade extra, it seemed.

The air outside also seemed fresh. The roads were just devoid of the shouts and screams of the jostling crowd, there was no sign of any sick hurry of the regular commuters to distant places. It appeared as though, life needed a respite, the thoroughfares needed a break from daily schedule, a nagging routine. The small lane that leads up to the main road usually stay crammed with vehicles since 6.30 a.m., but the serene road seemed to enjoy a breather with no vehicles honking or waiting in a long queue. The traffic light changed colours as usual, but there was no hurry, no avid wait of people for the ‘red’ changing to ‘green’.

  The sweet shop was about to open its doors. As I looked at it like a sleuth with my surgical mask on, the man drew a cloth mask from the counter and kept tying it round his nose and mouth. All of us, who came out risking our safety, were behind masks, as though to conceal our identities. A terrible something was about to transpire, it seemed. Only Nature and its feathered creatures seemed to have a field day. I could not sing within, I caught myself unawares, praying for the corona-affected patients who fought for life on the hospital bed, “Oh Lord, give them life! Let all the people come out unscathed and come around soon. Let others who are yet not affected by the viral attack enjoy health and secured existence. Amen.”

I was coming back that day with a vow to stay indoors from then on, and not to come out at all, howsoever necessity it would be. I haven’t reneged on my resolution as yet.

Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry-book, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She has interviewed American novelist, Prof. Sybil Baker, recently for Compulsive Reader. She is a regular reviewer of poetry volumes with Compulsive Reader, USA. She interviewed poet Lucha Corpi of San Francisco, in 2018. She is the Regional Editor, India, of, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A.


COVID claims jobs

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Covid-19 seems far away from the district I live in. But deprivation has already set in. On my way home with a bag full of grocery items from the nearby kirana store (minimart), I was stopped by two masked women outside the park. One of them flashed a weak smile that disappeared as soon as she measured from my bag and body language that I was not the person she was waiting for. She asked me whether the distribution of food grains was scheduled in the park – whether they should queue up and wait. Being absolutely clueless regarding any such distribution plan and feeling a sense of remorse for carrying something these women were eagerly waiting for, I chose to suggest the adjacent house for reliable information in this regard.

I replayed her question in my head to assess her plight. Her voice did not quake with any sentiment of doom. But her face did carry a disproportionate mix of hope and worry. From her readiness to wait, it appeared she was expecting recovery and normalcy to return soon. Just like her, the entire nation was pregnant with hope of a turnaround. Except the corporate world that had already aborted it.  

Despite chanting mantras of positive mindset and chewing the motivational gum year after year, there seems to be a well-orchestrated unanimity in the prediction of business slump. Salary cut sounds a pretty neat term – quite like a bearded guy choosing to become clean-shaven and still looking dapper. Nobody seems to grudge pay cuts and there is a smile on every face if you mention it, as if it is an increment or Diwali bonus.

Weighed against the other alternative of job loss, this seems like a life-saver. While we are still a long away from finding the vaccine, it seems we have already found the cure that keeps us immune from lay-offs. Thousands of employees and workers are going to serve with renewed motivation because they have families to feed and regular debts to service. The vicious cycle continues.

It is barely a month of lockdown in India and companies are feeling the heat. They have to pay salaries when there is no cash flow. It pinches them hard. This comes as an ideal opportunity to downsize the workforce. Instead of waiting for two months to see how the situation evolves, companies have already started communicating their new human resource policies through email and phone. Seems there is no contingency fund to tide over the crisis and emergency credit lines will not meet their requirement.  

Before the Covid-19 crisis set in, I met my employers for a raise and the first draft of their script was ready. Every single line suggested they were waiting for the pandemic to blow up before they unfolded their mega plans in front of employees. It was a clear indicator that they were going to release a voluntary retrenchment scheme, or they would come up with a revised plan of salary packages.

After the 21-day lockdown ended and the extension happened, the advertising agency began its trial run on me. To be honest, I had an inkling that this exercise would begin with me. The owners communicated their decision to flatten my salary curve – slash 50% of it from next month. It was cold, insensitive, and brutal. The email exuded the same indifference. Since I was not ready to accept the new offer, I communicated my decision to quit my job in the next three months and served them my notice period.

Some friends called me to know about my job status. Did you get hit? The urban workforce hides its collective shame in this clever expression that helps salvage pride and dignity by playing the victim card — as if it was an enemy bullet that hit us while we were serving our corporate dukes in the battlefield.    

During Covid-19 times, the chutzpah to leave a job is certainly not what any employer would expect. A meek, timid acceptance would have warmed the cockles of their hearts. What I delivered was a bitter pill of gross insubordination and rebellion. I knew all their domestic clients were on board, and several of them were government clients. This was a temporary setback and the clients would resume operations after the lockdown. What was the tearing hurry then?

Imagine what happens to hordes of employees in the private sector in the coming months. People are going to suffer heart attacks, strokes and even contemplate suicide. And the organisations have no humanitarian approach or policy to address such a major problem. If they do not wish to utilise the resources acquired over the years of operations for the benefit of employees, it shows their rank opportunism and insensitive disposition in such trying times. 

Most of the companies operating in India have not existed since 1971. The corporate boom is a fairly recent phenomenon that arrived after liberalization was introduced in 1991. They have not seen wars or famines during their lifetime. All they are busy doing is axe, axe, and axe. As if jobs are like overgrown branches that need to be pruned from time to time.   

Corporates have a fairly typical mindset: expand hiring processes when business grows and contract when business shrinks. Remember the faces of those animals that perceive the slightest danger and curl up for protection – corporates are like that. Unreliable, fair-weather friends you can go on a date with provided you carry an umbrella or a raincoat of your own. When it starts pouring suddenly, do not expect them to take you under their umbrella.

Covid-19 crisis is yet another eye-opener that reveals the real predatory nature of corporate entities. Sadly, this realisation will soon be forgotten as the corporate juggernaut resumes its roll.   

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel. 


Pidgin, Pockets & more…


We have no language 
in common, hence, turn
to pidgin. Pitch makeshift 
tents on half-hearted 
ground. Peg raw, jagged

adjectives, broken verbs
on stubborn clotheslines
of need to offer damp
confessions to the watery
sun of our understanding.

Some significations fall
into place like punctuations
well-meant. Others are lost
like winged seeds as they
spin towards uninviting

ground. For the rest, silence
rules; eats its way with acerbic
faith into the hesitation of 
spaces. We meet in pidgin's
transit; part without memory.

When it comes to
chests, drawers, pockets,
I can be a nuisance.
Given one to myself
I pile an entire life in it
sans a sense of order.

Staples, clips, buttons, a
watch perhaps will jostle here
with currency notes, pencil shavings,
a chance leaf, an unfinished letter,
some candies for you, a book
I am trying to read. 

Their nature hardly matters
save they each matter to me.
In the way that sharing every
morsel of my hours with you
matters and I thoughtlessly feed you
with pieces of myself the day through.

Putting in guilt, memory, sorrow,
laughter all together, unsorted,
a mosaic of myself, a mess.
Is that why you left?


We grow up taking
too many things 
for granted - hems,
shores, rivers, knots,
words, locks, walls.
Yesterday, I
felt betrayed when
a door that had
promised to stay shut,
unwarranted, gave way.


In teeming landscapes of
punctiliously ordered signifiers,
I strive to break free of grooved
meanings to rebelliously create

my own. I knife through
assumptions, dig into inferences,
plunder synonyms, claw allusions.
But, on diet, it is futile to want

to turn words into salt-shakers
in the concrete hope of sprinkling
salvation. Some texts, perhaps,
are best swallowed, uncritiqued.

By Basudhara Roy





Basudhara Roy is the author of two books, a monograph, Migrations of Hope: A Study of the Short Fiction of Three Indian American Writers (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2019) and a collection of poems, Moon in my Teacup (Kolkata: Writer’s Workshop, 2019). She has been an alumnus of Banaras Hindu University where she was awarded the gold medal for academic excellence at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. She secured the UGC Junior Research Fellowship and has earned her doctoral degree in diaspora women’s writing from Kolhan University, Chaibasa.  Basudhara’s areas of academic interest are diaspora writing, cultural studies, gender studies and postmodern criticism. Her research articles and book reviews have widely appeared in reputed academic journals across the country and as chapters in books. As a creative writer, she has featured in an anthology, Dancing the Light: Poems from Australia and India,  and in magazines like Muse India, Shabdadguchha, Cerebration, Rupkatha, The Challenge, I-mantra, The Volcano, Gnosis, Daath Voyage, Das Literarisch, Reviews, Triveni, Setu, Hans India and on the Zee Literature Festival Blog. She is Assistant Professor of English at Karim City College, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand and can be reached at


Hope in Troubling Times

By Nishi Pulugurtha

My college is closed, classes are off and examinations have been deferred. We need to go in only if and when there is a need. It is not a holiday as I keep telling all my students, it is a shutdown, done for the sake of social distancing and isolation.  It is difficult convincing all about the seriousness of it all, how important it is to take precautions. There are many who dismiss it as media hype, as unnecessary, as India is safe, etc. Convincing does not seem to work, nor does rationale, some just refuse to see logic and reason.  No, I am not in a state of panic, just being careful. Trying to do my bit. As I began writing this. news came in of the first case in Kolkata.

As I was reading news about COVID_19 a few days ago it seems like some dystopia, a sci-fi movie or novel, only this time it is not fiction. It is for real and the earlier we realize it and take all necessary measures the better. Life for the daily wage earner could be even more difficult. The driver who came in yesterday morning told me that since many like me who will not be needing their services for sometime, his income is going to fall sharply. What happens to people like us, he said. I did not have an answer.

The shutdown gives most of us time to slow down, to work at other things that we can. I recorded my first lecture last night, a brief one, a test one. I shared it with my fourth semester students in a group that we created, our virtual classroom for the time being. I need to make sure that they are connected to their books and studies. Some of them did watch my video and even asked pertinent questions. I am sure many more will do it too, will take it seriously. Yes, we are angry and disturbed that so many of our plans, our schedules, our trips, our holidays, our getogethers, our parties, our functions, our movie dates, our programmes, so much of our lives that we looked forward to are all cancelled. We need to make the best of a bad situation. We are all in it together and maybe that is what will help us tide over it all.

Yesterday I noticed a post by a young dentist interning right now, miles away from home, she spoke about restraint, about taking precautions, about being careful. That post gave me hope, that in spite of the many who are throwing precautions to the wind and taking things very casually, there are sane voices. I know things sound depressing, who wants to be stuck at home. Even though I have prepared a long list of things I plan to do during this shutdown, I am not sure how much I will actually get down to doing.

It is going to be difficult for the elderly and for those with other health issues and ailments. My mother is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s Disease and is immobile now. I have been writing about our journey with the disease for some time now so as to create an awareness, just to talk about it, to give voice to those who are no longer able to speak for themselves as the tangled nerves in their brains prevent them from doing so. I need to be extra cautious as a result. She needs constant supervision, her hands need to be washed as she very often puts her fingers into her mouth, just like a baby. The caregivers at home have been instructed to take precautions.

A group of friends came up with a brilliant idea to reach out to those who need help. The Facebook post which I then shared spoke of reaching out to parents of friends, colleagues and acquaintances living alone in Kolkata as their children are abroad or in other parts of the country and are unable to come back now. It spoke of reaching out to them, checking on them to find out if they are alright, if they need anything, of making arrangements so that they have basic supplies, medicines they need. Work on it has already begun, people on both sides have begun to reach out, help is reaching homes. A friend is worried about her father undergoing dialysis at a city hospital and the worry is absolutely justified. The most I can do is to reach out to her. A word of help, of consolation, I believe work.  That friend, too, is part of this group reaching out to the elderly. There surely is much hope and compassion in times such as these. Let us look out for them, reach out, just be there.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film and has presented papers at national and international conferences in India and abroad and published in refereed international and national journals. She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.


Witness to times past and Yellow Bird

By Nishi Pulugurtha

Witness to times past

A garden tracing its time back


The river flowing by

As it had always done

They have been there together

For years now

Bound by geography, by place

Witness to all that has changed

Witness to all that is changing now

Huge trees, overarching branching

Creepers, shrubs, foliage

Dry leaves – red and brown

Rustling, now quiet

The wind blowing through the green ones

Leaning on, some bent

Broken too,

Twisted and curled

Cut down, decayed

Banks derelict too

The river’s course has changed

Mud flats with debris

Muddied waters.

Glistening in the winter sun

On the broken bench a lone figure

Asleep in the winter sun

Some rest amid all the noise and bother

Before life resumes all over.

Yellow Bird

That yellow bird with a black band around its neck

Perched itself each year


Its winter haunt, I guess

It sits for a while perched on the branch

And flies off

To land on another branch

The little leaves barely a camouflage

Solitary on its perch

Chirping for a while

To soar away

It is back soon

Almost each morning

The pleasant winter sun seems to be just right for it

It feels nice

It makes me feel nice

The colour, the motion

The flight.

That happy yellow bird

With the black band around its neck.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film and has presented papers at national and international conferences in India and abroad and published in refereed international and national journals. She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.