Poems by Gábor Lanczkor
(Translated by Rita Malhotra)
Amrita Sher-Gil the Indo-Hungarian painter’s mother
says of her coming into the world:
we were living in Buda, in Szilágyi Dezső Square, below the Castle
where there’s that brick church with a single steeple.
Later, in the 20s Bartok also lived there,
in the same block of rented flats where Amrita was born.
It may have been around the time we came to India that he moved in.
But as to what he composed during that period
I don’t know and I’m not interested,
we lived in that house in a different era, before 1914.
We lived in so many places in Hungary in those times,
I distinctly remember we lived the age
and not our rooms. Icy winds from the frozen Danube on our windowpane,
seagulls above the stained ice, in the narrow streets the snow reached to our knees.
Amrita’s birth. Summer came. Autumn. Earlier the Spring.
The black outline of the bare tree branches on snow-covered Gellért Hill
like fine root hairs in the soil.
The bedroom wall glittered in the sunlight reflected from the snow’s surface
Amrita was born at mid-day, and outside, from the
pointed steeple of the Protestant brick church, the bell rang out.
I clarified to Amrita that
she is still an intellectual virgin.
The day before yesterday we shared lunch in the Cecil.
By the end of lunch her mother appeared at our table,
an extraordinarily vulgar Hungarian Jewish woman.
They conversed in Hungarian.
They went shopping.
At quarter to seven I bathed,
put on my light grey suit,
a blue tie and a light shirt,
the one that Amrita liked so much.
She arrived at eight, in green sari woven in gold and red.
She spoke in one breath while taking off her heavy Tibetan jewels
and letting off her hair
under my fascinated male gaze.
It was like re-watching a mesmerizing performance of a great play
to see her on that day.
I coaxed her to return home
so as not to anger her mother
she was sad.
I felt a cruel gentleness for her.
I sat as a model in her studio.
With her short, quiet breaths,
with her brutal concentration she watched me
a thin line of perspiration
on her pale dark upper lip.
She liked her steak almost raw.
I escorted her home, then walked back,
past fragrant pines in the chill of the Simla air.
She came to see me off
we walked to and from on the station platform
near the hill train on the narrow-gauge
we conversed in French.
I waved at her from the window
until she disappeared.
I knew I would never see her again.
Indeed, as I heard later,
she died mysteriously in 1941,
only twenty-eight years old.
I also learnt that her mother committed suicide.
Neither of these deaths surprised me.
My tummy hurts badly,
it’s like the shooting pain of the first day of my menstruation,
it’s close to that scale, gripes, I would push but I lack the strength,
oh the pain yet to no fruition
why should I get pregnant all the time?
Why abort my child each time,
why can’t I keep menstruation at bay for a little while,
surely this one is yours Viktor
for you’ve been my only one this year long.
As dawn descended yester-morn before the procedure
and the washroom light I turned on
it felt as though the space was already invaded by light.
The two of us bled a deep red.
“Colour is My Domain”
Where the dark crumbled soil
of the bare forest
the trees with the contour-lining
in the thick forest of Vrindavan,
where riverside bushes
are woven into a pastoral: from broken branches,
Amrita collects the torn hair of sheep.
Then finds a small grass-laden meadow
And restfully lies down as sleep embraces her.
She is awakened by the scream of a peacock.
Its patterned plumage spread out in a fan,
the bird stands before her.
With its bill it pulls the sari off her thighs.
Amri spreads her legs, screams
and gives birth to her only son –
then she chokes and devours him.
The inordinate use of turpentine
and the original underpainting
for the one-time mat effect of the light of colours,
as the surface of the pictures begin
to darken and crackle rapidly.
After Amrita died,
her husband and father left the pictures
(except for the portrait depicting Viktor)
at the national gallery of Delhi
where they still find place
in their true painful glory.
As colour came to be my domain,
I truly believe,
that it is only me that can embrace
only me, only, only me.
Gábor Lanczkor (1981) was studying in Budapest, and spent longer periods in Rome, Ljubljana and London. He is an award-winning author with twelve published books; novels, poetry volumes, children’s books and essays. He is the guitarist of the band Médeia Fiai, and is involved in the musical project Anarchitecture. His selected poems in English were published under the title Sound Odyssey in 2016 (Poetrywala, Mumbai).