Four Watercolours

By Sudeep Sen

     for Alan Ross & Jane Rye



The coolie’s red jacket

partially hides

his blackened bones,


ones that show their fate

under white wrappings

of dhoti and turban.


He leap-frogs at you

with an electric sense

of urgency,


as you stumble out

with your own baggage.

Preconceptions rage


rampant here,

thick and heavy

in the stale humid air.


Slavery and commerce

jostle for their own

space. There is no room


for small kindnesses.

Only images captured

by sable-hair’s


trained ends, stroked

on hand-made paper

and glazed lacquer,


can afford to drown

their sorrows

in water and dye.






In this medieval

burial ground, a dynasty

preserves its fading


grace. The grass, smooth

as a pashmina shawl,

carpets the brittle soil.


Here, under the watchful

eye of the mausoleum —

now lonely with disuse —


young lovers make out

their own space and

sense of new history,


lie in each others arms,

calm and agitated,

in the dead still of heat.






On the desert sands,

a man and his wife

balanced tentatively


on a riot-torn bicycle,

chance a ride —

its precariousness


safer than the routine

gamble of their own

lives. The only solace


resides in the invisible

folds of the night-wind,

one that erases the daily


tread, hiding their story.

In the distance, across

tinted glass-mirage,


Udaipur Lake reflects

its quiet fate,

as dusk pastel-coats


the fort’s Rajput façade,

to make some sense

of its own past.






Amid the studio’s

book-stacked warmth,

finished images


cry out to escape

the posh transparence

of silicate-safe


confines, their own

colour-washed truths

defying the framed


uneven matt

of varnished wood.



by nature, are born

to bleed —

to accommodate secrets


incomplete pictures

leave untold —

to allow for our own


unstated desires,

and the blood’s

inadequate crimson.

Sudeep Sen is a major new generation voice in world literature and ‘one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene’ (BBC Radio). His prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Ladakh, and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor). Blue Nude: New Poems & Ekphrasis (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and EroText (Penguin Random House) are forthcoming in 2016. His poetry has been translated into over 25 languages; and his words have appeared in the TLS, Newsweek, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Herald, Harvard Review, Hindu, Times of India, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on BBC, PBS, CNN IBN & NDTV. He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas. Sen is the first Asian honoured to participate at the Nobel Laureate Week, where he delivered the Derek Walcott Lecture and read from a commemorative edition of his work, Fractals: New & Selected Poems|Translations 1980-2015. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture/literature”.

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