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Volume 18

Dead Medium - Summer 2017


Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Written by
Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer, translator and teacher of creative writing. Twice awarded Fellowships for Outstanding Contribution to Literature from the Government of India her publications include the novels Generation 14 (Penguin-Zubaan, 2008) and The Other Garden (Rupa&Co, 1995) and poetry collections Not Springtime Yet (HarperCollins, 2008) and Dialogue and Other Poems (Indian Academy of Literature, 2005). Forthcoming are Immersions Bombay/Mumbai with photographer Christopher Taylor (Niyogi Books, 2012), Indian Cinema (Harper Collins 2013) and translations of mystic Tamil poet Aandaal (Zubaan, 2013). She has curated two seminars for the Indian Academy of Literature and collaborated with artist from classical dance, cinema and painting. She’s at www.priyawriting.com.


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Word of the Day: Sister
Pronunciation: siSS–TAer
 intransitive verb

*jammed Rubic cube
*foxfires over quicksand
*jewel dust

           Usage Graph

           Did you know?

           “Sister” possible originates from the Sanskrit sneha, meaning
           bond of friendship or from the Late Latin  sympathia  “fellow-
           feeling” and  from the Greek   sympatheia  “affected by like

           History of the dead medium:

           Now a retronym it emerges on evenings of distant thunder, when
           the sky’s cauldron is stirred by its resident dragon. For example:

           When a shaken star streaks towards alien shore
           Unstoppable its hurtle towards some irresistible lure.
           this pull set to collision course despite
           the wails it trails
           in idiolects uncountable
           that converge
           as single dirge.

           Think the word’s antidote:
           amethyst burning in jade opium pipe
           a tear of mirth quaking
           the mirror’s mercury
           sapphire songs shafting copper clouds.
           But diversions
           don’t work.

           Hear the suspiration
           of a woman awaiting death
           who knows her hopes are cobwebs to be swept
           as she snakes as smoke  air  akasha
           into anamnesis sparking in synapses

           when the pyre drops an ember.
           In its smoulder
           the rune appears:
           Beware. You are un-sistered.

           Remember, rather, the word’s gleam –
           peal of twilit temple bells
           amber childhood confidences preserved like fly in resin
           mother’s helpless laugh, her throat’s lily rearing to the sky
           -and pickle this
           in mango sap spiced
           with bees
           stunned by plenitude
           that outlasts their blurry lives.

           Or be narrow in vision.
           Gaze into a well laced by tree silhouettes
           throw a stone. Peer
           through ricocheting ripples of black glass.
           Seek the word.
           There – its root of violence, the perfume
           blossoming in pleasure’s undergrowth
           beneath laughter’s lapping shadows.

           Ask your reflection that small question: why?
           did a wondrous word moulder?
           Towers climb around shoulders
           tsunamis rise
           wars’ death rattle grows.
           Ask why.
           Continue asking
           as towers crumble into rubble
           then to dust that blows in eyes.

           ‘Sister’ is now a loanword
           from no known living language
           yet its sound

           to not be your own prey.

           Time slides to show its sidereal profile
           twirls elliptical hoops around itself
           – a Sufi purling in deep space –
           and trolls your question in its wake.
           You’ll never know when this word’s death began.
           Just its end.

           Mind the mind.
           can a dead
           medium avatar anew if unwilling?
           You know the answer.

           Borrow the river’s tongue rife with rubbish
           and holiness.
           And get going.


“Untitled” by Gopa Trivedi. 2016. Cyanotype and water color on wasli. 15 x 11 cm (each).




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