Born in Africa, Sampurna Chattarji started her writing career as a copywriter with J. Walter Thompson, India. An award-winning poet and short-story writer, her work has appeared in Poetry India: Millennium Voices and 100 Poets Against the War, among others. Some of her other occupations have been as creative director of a Singapore-based website, and writer of her own brand of nonsense for a forthcoming anthology on Indian Nonsense to be published by Penguin India.
Chattarji’s translation of Sukumar Ray’s poetry and prose titled Abol Tabol: The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray* was published by Penguin under the Puffin imprint in February 2004. Forthcoming titles include a book of stories being published by Puffin. She is currently working on her first novel. Sampurna is married, lives in Mumbai, and is known, mysteriously, to answer to the name “Shampoo.”
The sugar on the tongue
the poison in the eye
shedding sweetly the venomous tears.
The prayer on the lip
the gun on the hip
marking zealously the blood-fresh map.
The bread trucks in front
the battle tanks behind
rolling deftly the bitter pummeled land.
The dove on the sleeve
the hawk in the heart
calling clearly the faithful to arms.
The flag on the mast
the shovel in the dust
digging deeply the glorious stolen gold.
The stride in the foot
the fist on the jaw
breaking swiftly the face of the earth.
Questions for Reflection: “Sugar”
- How does Chattarji use contrasting opposites to make a point?
- How does “sugar on the tongue relate to poison in the eye?”
- What can you say about the “venomous tears?” Are they tears of anguish? Of acknowledgment? Of acceptance?
- What does the image of the “blood-fresh map” mean to you? What does today’s map look like?
- Chattarji presents contradictions in her poem. What other contradictions can you think of that are associated with war?
- Name a war, in any historical period, and reflect on the phrase: “digging deeply the glorious stolen gold.” How can the phrase be explained by your example?
- What is the significance of this poem being called “sugar?”
Death is easy to pronounce.
He deserved to die.
They ought to be shot.
Hanging’s too good for him.
The words fall glib.
sentencing them to death.
you speak without guilt, or fear
of misplaced allegiances.
You just need something to say,
The right sentiment, rightly declared
whichever way your loyalties blow
in the gust of the smoke-filled air.
A country burns.
The death-dealers deserved to die, you say.
Death is easy to pronounce.
It’s the smell of burning children that’s hard.
Questions for Reflection: “Easy”
- Who are these people who deserve to die, of whom Chattarji speaks in her poem? How do they represent the enemy?
- Why is it easy to speak so negatively about human beings who may be the enemy?
- Who are the distant observers? How does Chattarji mock them?
- What is right, the correct, sentiment to be made about war? About victims? About the reality of war? About the possibility of peace?
- What are the hidden realities of war that are not often considered? How might these realities, if acknowledged initially, make war more difficult to initiate?