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Counting Breath

By Bhaswati Ghosh

Once the air used to be a
sneaky wayfarer around here,
smuggling scandals, yellowed
and dank with weight. It walked into
Open-door baradaris[1] before slipping
out to bazaars to fuse with
sizzling meat smoke. Passersby
greedily gulped and spat it out.

Once, during August afternoons,
when monsoon licked the
city’s streets silver, the air
danced wearing jamun
ittr[2]. School boys envied
its pneumatic caprice. Girls
fell in love. Purkaif[3], the poet
called it in his ghazal.

Freedom fluttered atop the
air once. A thousand pigeons
rode on its wave. From the
ramparts of a fort, a blue sun
hoisted itself. The air’s laughter
archived regime changes, turbaned
pageantry, the vacuity of
promises. Its daze measured
the distance between when
freedom came to when
it became a fossil.

Once.

The air is held hostage now.
Hemmed in by a spiralling
fortress. Grey, black. It
wrestles and gasps. Dead
birds circle its grave. Little
children wear masks to school.

Painting: Carmen Alvarez

[1] A canopied building with twelve open doors on all sides, is another feature of some of the Mughal gardens.

[2] Perfume or essential oil obtained from flowers or petals.

[3] Full of intoxication.

Bio:
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her first book of fiction is Victory Colony, 1950. Her first work of translation from Bengali into English, My Days with Ramkinkar Baij won her the Charles Wallace (India) Trust Fellowship for translation. Bhaswati’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, including Scroll, The Wire, Cargo Literary, Cafe Dissensus Everyday, Pithead Chapel, Warscapes, and The Maynard. Bhaswati lives in Ontario, Canada and is an editor with The Woman Inc. She is currently working on a nonfiction book on New Delhi, India. Visit her at https://bhaswatighosh.com/

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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