Nina Simone wasn’t Nina Simone. She was born Eunice Waymon. I only mention this because I’ve been having one of my Nina phases of late, when nothing else seems to stick. Even in the throes of her majesty—rasp rising in ferocity, those words sewn in a different kind of silk, that sensual vigour laced with pride and carelessness—you can hear her, you can sense her, trying to get away from herself. Where she gonna’ run to? Maybe Nina had no desire to be Nina either. But she could only ever have been Nina. Allow the needle to fall on Sinnerman. Then To Love Somebody. Then Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Where she gonna’ run to? The legend goes that during performances, especially those in her favourite hunting-grounds of Paris, she would stop midway during a song. Hush. Even time holding its breath, never mind the crowd. She would walk up to her guitarist, whisper a little nothing in his ear, anything really—wanting to take a song somewhere else, the fickleness of a broken heart, the weather, anything—before returning to her place in the cosmos and picking up from where she had left off. Just like that. On a whim. The drama. Where she gonna’ run to? I run to desire, and the way it feels on my skin. I run to the love I’ve made, left behind in hotels and apartments and coastlines and those parts of the memory that seem hell-bent on redemption. This is an accumulation of life, across exiles and the soft assurances of a hometown. This is a poem of life, with stanzas gathered from the humans and the addresses of the past, and stanzas lying blank for the humans and the cities of tomorrow to drop, as destined petals. Where she gonna’ run to? To whoever knows the song. To whoever memorises the words.
Ah spring, aimless
In a Paris of drunk myth
So here a song, sip.
Calcutta: A Ghazal
Could we speak in Bangla tonight, though I’m illiterate at the best of times
Could we barter in the sugariness of melody, illegitimate at the best of times
There’s a ballad of freedom floundering in the fragile air somewhere. A lyric,
A chorus, anything that sings in the tongue of belligerence, at the best of times
A single leaf holds as many veins as I do, it dawns on me in evening’s stupor
I gather stories, transcribe them on leaves. Commensurate, at the best of times
Somewhere an old ditty plays, leaving pools of nostalgia on remembered earth
Life is this harmony—the dancing drink, the unlit cigarette at the best of times
There is no going back anymore, a poster on the wall reads in broken letter
A city robed in the fineries of dusk, the light a testament at the best of times
Water chooses to behave like love, whenever the Indian monsoon settles in
It kisses those places left blank by a lover; a figurant, at the best of times
Freedom occupies a corner at the India Coffee House, savouring dusky chai
Amid profuse smoke, murmurs of homelands proliferate at the best of times
Siddharth will speak in Bangla tonight. He’ll keep it discreet, quietly delicate
Nocturna recognises no lie. In chlorophyll, it obliterates, at the best of times
Siddharth Dasgupta writes poetry and fiction from lost hometowns, cafés dappled in early morning light, and cities inflicted with an existential throb. His fourth book—A Moveable East—has arrived in March ’21 from Red River. Siddharth’s literature has appeared in Epiphany, Lunch Ticket, The Bosphorus Review, The Aleph Review, Kyoto Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in the city of Poona, embraced by Irani chai and an always fickle muse.