The deadly poetry of Rohan Chhetri - Siraj Syed

The deadly poetry of Rohan Chhetri  - Siraj Syed


And it had to rain! Organisers American Consulate General, Mumbai, and Poets Essayists Novelists (PEN) were unrepresented at the Hive, Khar, Mumbai, on 19th June, where young Nepali-Indian poet Rohan Chhetri was to read from his new collection and be in conversation with another, much senior writer and poet, Jane Bhandari. 


A Difficult Mountain


A few days ago, since I had just received a paycheck,

I offered to fund my mother's visit to the city.

Yesterday when I told her about the theft, we decided

to cancel the trip for now. She wasn't surprised.

She told me how every little grace that comes

her way is levelled by fate, how she keeps coming

back, razed right down to where she started from.

Years of defeat have taught her humility. Like

my discomfiture, at the thought that the thieves

looked right into my sleeping eyes and left,

is almost a feeling of violation. She tells me,

these days her dreams are of climbing uphill

on a difficult mountain where she is always falling

short of footholds, or of climbing an endlessly

long flight of stairs. And if she gets to the top

somehow, she realizes there is no way back down.

I try to tell her it should be fine, half-pleased that

she connects the metaphors, half-scared she will

understand their immensities suddenly one day.


"A Difficult Mountain" - was first published in a slightly different form in Eclectrica Magazine.


The Hive is a quaint place, a kind of semi-detached bungalow in one of the by-lanes of Chuim/Union Park, and any debutant would have a tough time trying to locate it. One lady member of the audience, on an earlier occasion, had to drive back to her home after a harrowing ordeal, because nobody in the vicinity knew about a place with the odd name of the Hive. The place is part ‘fancy’ restaurant, part auditorium for hire, part venue for poetry sessions, and part hang-out. 

Having made my Hive ‘debut’ a year ago, and living a bare 3 km away, I sauntered in, before time. There was no mention of the organisers or of poetry in the programme on the white board, nor any sign of their presence. Worse--Hive staff had no clue about the event! But on second reading, the marking on the wall-board did indicate that Rohan Chhetri was to be in conversation with Jane Bhandari, at 6.30 pm. And it was just 6 now. 

The mailer from the American Center had indicated 6, but never mind. Better early than late, the obvious advantage being the choice of a vantage seat. Then, a burly young man called Samir Alam took over as emcee, identifying himself as a college friend of Rohan, who had stepped into the position of ‘compère’ because of the absent organisers. He did a very good job, though. I was to discover later that he has studied at Jamia Millia, New Delhi, too, worked in advertising and currently does some script doctoring at Breakthrough Productions, a film company, in Mumbai.

Jane Bhandari is a Scotswoman, who married an Indian when she was 21, and came to live in this country almost 50 years ago. Bhandari passed away when she was in her 50s, and Jane re-married another Indian, Kamlesh Puri, son of yesteryear Hindi film villain Madan Puri, after a five-year romance, when they were 68 and 69 years old, respectively! She’s 72 now.

In Jane’s own words, with minimal editing, “I studied painting and textile design before I married, and became an Art and Craft teacher while my children were at school. In the seventies I wrote two collections of short stories for my children, The Round Square Chapatti and The Long Thin Jungle, published by India Book House. I began writing poetry in 1997, and have published several volumes, including Single Bed, and Aquarius. My poems have been included in various anthologies, including 'Fulcrum'. I review poetry, and co-ordinate ‘Loquations’, a Mumbai poetry reading group.”

Educated at St. Thomas School, Kalimpong, and K.C. College, Mumbai, Rohan Chhetri is a native of Doars/Dooars, West Bengal. He was a Toto-Sangam Fellow at the Sangam House International Residency (2014-15) and worked for about four years as Assistant Editor at Hachette India, Gurgaon. Rohan joined the graduate creative writing programme at Syracuse University, as a University Fellow, in August 2015. Slow Startle has been published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective.

Slow Startle is the fifth book from the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, founded in 2012, in Bengaluru. It is not the title of any of the poems that feature in the book, but the phrase does occur in one of the poems. Under a peer mentorship model, the Collective publishes books by innovative, diverse poets, with a connection to India and curates the inPoetry mobile phone app, available in the Google Play Store.

On the occasion, Chhetri read about a dozen of his poems, most of which showed an obsession with death. When asked by an attendee, he admitted as such, and agreed that he might never, ever write happy poems. His poem about a taxi hitting a dog one night, and two suicides, one fatal and the other turning out be an unsuccessful attempt at hanging from the ceiling fan, provided ample evidence. As did his comparison of a flock of birds to a funeral. Chhetri exposed the underbelly in a work called Pompeii. 

Father, III


Outside the window the rooster crows

in five sharp syllables. An orchestral cue

it is following from another, two houses down,

volleying the old message back and forth.

This is how they are making the whole valley

visible this broad sunlit morning, while

my father lies febrile on the bed. He coughs

and I help him empty his lungs in a canister

half-filled with sand. When he breathes,

the whirring in his chest tremors across the hand

I place on his back. Outside, a field of marigolds fold

their heads in the breeze. The vagrant seeds

the rain stole from the neighbour’s garden on the hill

have woken up on our lawn this morning.

My father awakes and for a moment his eyes

eclipse the room. I place a chair on the grass

and watch him step into the light. Do you see, he tells me,

how the autumn is turning everyone beautiful again?


"Father, Ill" - was first published in The Four Quarters Magazine.

This writer was fascinated by his descriptive detailing, which remained largely economical. But there seemed to be a clear influence of cinema on his compositions, with abundant use of the thesis/antithesis and parallel cutting styles of narrative. “You’re right,” he confessed. “I am highly influenced by films too, particularly by the work of (Andrei) Tarkovsky (the Russian cult director).” From literature, his first influences include The Old Man and the Sea.

After New Delhi (16 June) and Mumbai, Rohan Chhetri’s next stop on the book launch tour is Bengaluru, where the date is 24th June. Gangtok comes up a little later. There too, I am sure, he will read in his lucid, clear delivery, swaying from side to side, and will respond to questions in a trade-mark choppy, laid-back manner, his sentences punctuated with regular catch words “I don’t know”s and “”. Don’t be fooled. His poems are deadly. Slow, only to startle.
Siraj Syed is the Consulting Editor of see profile
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