#DesiReads: Ranjani Murali reads from her poetry collection, Clearly You Are ESL

(available at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 38 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiReads segment, we have Ranjani Murali reading from their new poetry collection, Clearly You Are ESL.

#DESIREADS WITH RANJANI MURALIINTRODUCTION

Ranjani Murali has an MFA in Poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches at Harper College in Illinois. Their first book of poems, Blind Screenswas published by Almost Island in 2017. The book won the Prabha Khaitan Women’s Voice Award in 2019. Murali was the recipient of the 2014 Srinivas Rayaprol Prize and has received fellowships for poetry and nonfiction from the Vermont Studio Center and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, respectively. 

Clearly You Are ESL (published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective) is a collection of poems about the hybrid postcolonial Englishes that exist within the Indian English context. The attempt is to diffuse the simultaneous specificity and the vagueness of this linguistic experience (and register) using visual poems and syntactic experimentation. Popular culture characters, including movie stars, iconic Tamil cinema characters and tropes from Tamil visual and “small screen” culture intersect, collude, and speak within these poems.

Clearly You Are ESL is a collection of poems by Ranjani Murali about the hybrid postcolonial Englishes that exist within the Indian English context. Here’s an excerpt read by the poet. #desireads .@DesiBooks

The transcript of this excerpt is also up on the website.

And now, here’s Ranjani Murali.

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#DESIREADS WITH RANJANI MURALI

[Excerpted with permission from Clearly You Are ESL by Ranjani Murali. Copyright © 2020 Ranjani Murali.]


Define: Identify, or, Several Short Sentences for Our Language

Ours is a lyrical language. A classical springing forth of reticent consonants. Our vowels are edged with wholesome clarified dissent. Our faces contort into melting plastic wires. When the state stamps our petitions with yes, we will eat our paper. Then, our hairy-eared clerks will turn. Singing roadside percussionists will turn. The streets lined with silver anklets will turn. The jasmine sellers’ calls will turn. The last bell of the primary schools will turn. Our smithies and our firing coals will turn. Our paper words will turn, turn into the plastic horizon, all our sentences singeing at the corners.

“Ours is a lyrical language. A classical springing forth of reticent consonants. Our vowels are edged with wholesome clarified dissent. Our faces contort into melting plastic wires.” ~Ranjani Murali #ClearlyYouAreESL #desireads .@DesiBooks


Workbook Cursieve I

There is a bull.


It has a big head.


You have bullets in your bag.


The bull is looking at your bag.


Your bag is orange.


You are peeling an orange.


Your friend throws away the peels.


The bull sniffs at the peels.


Your friend is looking at the bull.


The bull kicks its heels.


Orange peels are lying at your heels.


Your friend is lying.


There is a gun in his head.


Yama’s Buffalo Halted and

I found him in a field of billowing
grass, stirring a pot of avial.

That which is succulent unfolds
the end, he said, cutting open

a sachet of coconut milk. Hand me a wok,
he gestured, his mouth full of pogaielai

spiked with cardamom fogging his
glasses, five strands settling on his cotton shirt.

When I picked up the brass wok, potatoes appeared
in it, already sautéed, sprinkled with freshly sliced

ears and fingertips. Must I eat this, I asked.
Why? He wiped the back of his hand on his apron,

ladled the avial and some Ponni No. 2 rice onto a plate
and pressed my right arm. The lotus stream

was tinged with beads of sweat. You cannot drink
on an empty stomach. Then he placed his palm

upon my head and I could see the counting
of each grain of rice, its white belly

sliced between my teeth, the words full
of the traces of husk.


Landing

At Peelamedu airport, the woman in the khaki pants looked at me with a twisting lower lip. Do you have any portable electronic items, she asked. Yes, I replied, though, they are mostly gifts for former lovers. She stepped closer and unzipped the sleeve running down my arm. You are not allowed to carry this through the scanner, she said, pulling out a boiled egg I carried because I had a protein deficiency. I saw her crush the egg between her fingers and her palm until the soft flesh split along the axis. Here, she said, holding up yellow-gray yolk as though she had harvested an oyster, eat it. I looked around at the gentleman in the grey safari suit and asked him to hold my electronic stilts. Then, I sat on the floor, cross legged, wiping my hands on my thighs. She handed the small crumbling glob and I put it in my mouth, pressing it down with my tongue instead of biting. I felt it stick to my teeth and tasted the stench of rusting metal. Swallow it, she said. I tried passing the goop through my throat, but the dry croissant I ate on the plane made its way up. As I vomited near her feet, the woman shook her head, turned to her colleague and said . . . maybe the shell cracked as it boiled.


Define: Dialect, or Winnowing Through

In Tamil, we challenge. In Hindi, we capitulate. In the doggerel Englishes, we conquest. Several days after the boards are passed, we celebrate the examination of the grammars by tearing apart our essay writing textbooks, divining our futures into the syllabus of emailed minimalism. Who tells our chasming registers apart, who knows why we splinter the vowels and mix up the v and w?

“In Tamil, we challenge. In Hindi, we capitulate. Who tells our chasming registers apart, who knows why we splinter the vowels and mix up the v and w?” ~Ranjani Murali #ClearlyYouAreESL #desireads .@DesiBooks


Watchman

When I first went to sell Cancercure at Teynampet, the watchman smiled at me. His face was pitted with small- pox scars and his upper left canine was missing. How are you madam, he asked, scratching his ear. I took the elevator to the fourth floor but it stopped at the third. When I got off, I noticed that the walls were made of rice flour and the entire floor reeked of something arcane. I went looking for the stairs and found an ayah sitting with a basket full of dried fish and a broom made of palm leaves. Come, she said, I am looking for Kovai Sarala’s neighbor who buys my fish to make Kongu meen curry every Monday. I held her hand, which felt like coconut shavings, and we walked down. The second floor smelled like a musty box office. You know, ayah said, when your son becomes a man, you must hold a red chili over the fire until it browns and then circle it over his head else the ghostwomen get attracted to him. When we came to the first level, she threw her broom away, saying where the scent of this thing wafts, we can leave a broom to help ward off the small devils. When we came to the lowest level, ayah removed her glass bangles and put them in my palms. I remembered watching the film Kanchana, where the transgender ghost likes to play dress-up with Sarala’s things. As I pressed my fingers around the bangles, the watchman emerged, his cane raised, and began to whip my legs. Stop, stop, I screamed, I just came to sell the latest brand of anti-carcinogenic medication made exclusively for all ladies. He paused and pulled out a beedi tucked behind his ear. Got a light, then? When I offered him my lighter and the pale green edge of the beedi glowed a deep orange, he nodded his head. I can tell from your twelve-o’clock shadow, he said. He blew a stream of thin smoke. When I shuffled to readjust my dupatta, he smiled at me and offered me a beedi. No commission, he said, for you.


Clearly You Are ESL: Workbook Cursieve III

There is a well full of water.


The girl has an empty pot.


The mother works at the stove.


The father waters the fields.


The stove is burning.


The water is cold.


The girl fills the pot with mud.


The father’s hands are muddy.


The mother wipes her hands.


The field is full of muddy water.


The mother burns the rice.


The girl breaks the pot.


The rice is boiling.


The father breaks her hand.


The mother is burning.


The girl’s eyes water.


The rice is in the mud.



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You’ve been listening to episode 38 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiReads segment was from Ranjani Murali reading from their new poetry collection, Clearly You Are ESL.

Episode 39 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at desibooks@desibooks.co. And please go to the website, desibooks.co, if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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