Deed of Gift: Amar Mitra
Deed of Gift (drafted by Sahebmari Baske)
Beneficiary: Sahebmari Baske, s/o late Muchiram Baske, race Santhal, Indian in an extended sense, address Mouza Sonarimara, in other words, the Indian republic.
Benefactor: Sahebmari Baske, s/o late Muchiram Baske, race as above, address as above.
Whose encroached rightful property, ancestral house and farmland etcetera, movable and immovable property, keeping in mind the interests of the family, social deed to myself, of Pargana Santhalibasan, scheduled property of the Indian republic—
I, Sahebmar Baske, resident of Sonarimara mouza, part of the holy land of my birth, my motherland, the Indian republic, grandson of the late respected Sahebmari Baske and son of the late respected Muchiram Baske of the same Sonarimara, bequeath on this auspicious Karamparab day in the month of Bhadra, all movable and immovable property as catalogued in this deed, to Sahebmari Baske, resident of the same Sonarimara mouza. After my death, all rights to this scheduled land will rest with the beneficiary as named in this deed. All rights to settle on this land will rest with Sahebmari Baske. I cease to have any attachment whatsoever to the land described in this deed of gift from today. You, Sri Sahebmari Baske, are henceforth morally obliged to share the fortunes of this land in good times as well as in bad.
Yes, truly, all responsibilities accruing out of this land are transferred to you from today. I am Sahebmari Baske, your grandfather; you are well aware of the terrible story of my life. I have now reached the twilight hours of my life; this body is riddled with disease and the gift of sight has almost faded from my eyes. I do not see the possibility of doing the things I have wanted to do in my life. Still, I have not run out of hope, hence this deed. I live in the hope that your activities as allowed and encouraged by this deed of gift will make me happy in the days I have left. My eyes will sparkle with light and this body of mine will turn warm with life again and the solidity and strength of trees will buttress this gnarled and stooping body even before I go to Sermapuri, the abode of the gods.
Some confusion regarding the identity of the benefactor and the heir might arise in the mind of someone perusing this deed of gift. Our confusion spells happiness for many; that happiness is the cause of our sorrow. Therefore the first priority for the benefactor and the heir would be to remove all confusion. Otherwise, the future is far from secure.
In terms of ethnic identity, the benefactor and the heir of this deed of gift are Santhals. Their complexion is stone-black. The benefactor, Sahebmari Baske, has a missing right hand. I shall narrate that story a little further on. You, Sahebmari Baske, the heir, remember that this Indian soil, this republic of India is the land of your birth. Your ancestors were the original inhabitants of this country. Therein lies my right to pen this deed of gift. Your happiness lies in accepting the will.
I am Sahebmari Baske, your grandfather; you have been named after me. Sahebmari Baske, the benefactor, had been named after his grandfather. In this way do we remember our past. In other words, our names have been chosen with the intention of immortalizing some ancestor of ours. You, Sahebmari Baske, my grandson, must remember that the blood of Sahebmari Baske, that forefather of ours whom we have never seen yet whose life we commemorate, that Santhal father, runs in your veins.
Sahebmari is our first forefather. You must remain true to this tradition so that we may continue to remember him and derive inspiration from his life.
Let us now take a look at that life. May it enhance the keenness of our vision and rid us of our illusions regarding life.
Remember that this Sahebmari Baske was born sometime in the past in this very Sonarimara mouza. No one remembers what his name was then, but I do know that he had earned the name Sahebmari by killing a saheb, a white man.
The babus, the educated people, find this naming offensive. They say the memory of a terrible murder is associated with this name. It carries an element of violence. Using this name is, in a way, an encouragement of barbarism. This makes it difficult to think of our life as simple and uncomplicated. For them, the Santhals are an extremely innocent race; their minds are as transparent as the mountain spring. This name is like muck in this body of crystal-clear water. The use of this name robs the Santhal people of all their innocence.
My dear grandson, we know from our experience in the material world that this innocence identified with us by the babus and respectable people is the source of much sorrow for us. In a way, it is this innocence that results in losing all one’s rights. Therefore, there is no reason for us to be worried about what the respectable folks find offensive. If innocence is the inability to understand and fight for one’s rights, let us rid ourselves of that innocence and remember the life of Sahebmari Baske, our first forefather.
The fact is that this Santhal ancestor used to live his life as a bonded labourer in the house of Ishwarbabu, the wealthy Bengali moneylender. What can I say about the tough life that he led? He was forced to barter himself off to Ishwarbabu in exchange for a few morsels of food and a few shreds of cloth because of his debt to him. In a sense, Ishwarbabu became the ishwar, the lord and presiding deity, of this Santhal forefather of ours.
This land had more forest cover in those days. Ishwarbabu was the most intelligent fellow in that jungle, therefore he was king! At that time, India was under the rule of the white men from England. There was a white businessman who used to live in the sadar town. At some point of time, he had come to this land on work. He put up in Ishwarbabu’s house. The moneylender gentleman was quite overwhelmed. It became apparent that even Ishwar was open to worshipping anyone more powerful than himself as his lord. He was not the one and the only one. It was that ancestor of ours who did not have any peer.
My grandson, Ishwarbabu, the moneylender, invited misfortune to his own home. The white man’s English eyes began to mist at the sight of Ishwarbabu’s sixteen-year-old daughter. He secretly proposed to Ishwarbabu’s daughter. She could not understand the white man’s language, but she managed to make out his intentions. She panicked and told her father everything. Ishwarbabu was aware of the true nature of his ishwar. He got worried. He then proposed to gift a Santhali girl to the white man. The cunning white man understood everything. His face turned grim. The businessman’s eyes suddenly became the eyes of the police and the military.
Ishwarbabu began to search for desirable Santhal, Bagdi and Dom women thinking that the matter had ended there. That night, that forefather of ours was awoken from his sleep by a woman’s piercing cry. He had gathered firewood in the forest during the day and grazed the cows and was feeling exhausted by evening. At that time, that fair-skinned deity of Ishwarbabu, the wealthy moneylender, had turned into a Gopiballabh near the well. He had begun to pull at the girl’s clothes. Ishwarbabu’s beautiful daughter was in danger. The Santhal man let out a roar. One blow, and the white man’s soul was flying across the kalapani. Our forefather thus became Sahebmari, killer of the white man.
The consequences of this incident were terrible. The facts were turned on their head. Nobody knew of what had happened; the people were enchanted by ballads about the deeds of this white man. A marble statue of the white man was installed in town. It still stands there in all its glory; I have seen it, and so have you. I shall come later to how all this came to pass.
It is your immediate responsibility to listen to the history of the land and property listed in this deed of gift. Just as knowledge of the composition and nature of the soil enhances the yield of crop, so does the possibility of proving your claim to your land become stronger if you know the history of the land. The history of land is the tale of transfer after transfer. The story of a series of changes of ownership. The history of defeat for the rightful owners. Documents will not tally with registration deeds unless one looks at how property has moved from one person to another. Government documents preserve the history of land. They are extremely terrible things.
This deed of gift registers catalogues and gives the numbers of all the settlements and agricultural land of Sonarimra mouza. That agricultural land is of the auwal category. Though this is forest land, all this auwal land has been formed as a result of ages and generations of painstaking cultivation. Our forefathers have honoured this land by making it produce crops. Our forefathers had learnt the secrets of this land; that was why they had concentrated their attention on this land. Once the land had been honoured thus, the gentlefolk, too, began to cast their glances at our land. The land passed from our hands. Government documents, too, were changed accordingly. The gentlefolk benefited from our innocence.
My grandson, since this deed of gift is apparently full of contradictions, tracing the narrative of the repeated transfers of land will make everything clear. It will make it easier for you to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to you in this deed of gift.
You know that there is a dense forest of sal, mohua and kusum at the edge of Sonarimara mouza. We used to cultivate a one-bigha plot of land beside a spring deep in this forest for generations. My father used to work those fields. For generations we had toiled on that land; the land with reward us for our toil with her crops. We understand land, but not documents. We used to have the idea that documents were incapable of producing crops. My grandson, that idea was definitely not correct, or at least that was what the later chain of events was to prove.
We learnt that this was prime land whose ownership rested with the government. One day we saw a labourer of Babu Chaitanya Mahakur Mahasay on that land. We asked for an explanation and were told that the land had been leased in favour of the respected landlord. We learnt that the land had once passed into the government’s hands from Chaitanyababu as excess land (as his landed property had crossed the ceiling as defined by the law).
The government had once taken this land from Chaitanyababu; in return, Chaitanya Mahakur had received compensation. After the compensation was paid, the land was returned to Chaitanya Mahakur Mahasay according to the patta system. Chaitanyababu had taken the patta in his labourer’s name. The labourer knew this was his master’s land, taken in his name. He did not have any right on it.
I did not know about all these documents. For years, this land had been cultivated by us. I had no idea when it became Chaitanya Mahakur’s, when it passed into government’s hand or when Chaitanyababu got a hefty compensation for it. All this was made possible by the documents. Thus was made possible the transfer of the land as per the patta system.
I protested, my grandson. This is the land of my ancestors, I said. The government officer smiled and said, don’t lie. This was once the property of Chaitanyababu; thereafter it had become government property.
I understood all this had to do with documents. The respectable Chaitanya Mahakur had never set foot on the land in this birth. Nevertheless, he had managed to extract compensation for the land from the government; nor had he found it difficult to arrange for the patta.
I said, I don’t understand documents; this land is ours.
Babu Chaitanya Mahakur began to wave the blue patta in front of my eyes. Thus did the law enforcers of the land arrive in this jungle.
Documents, my grandson, are more valuable than human lives, irrespective of whatever lies and half-truths they carry. Blood was shed in the land of our forefathers. My right hand was blown to smithereens by a gunshot.
In the end, it was government law that emerged victorious. Chaitanya Mahakur gained control over the land! Hari Ramey Bagdi was killed in the police firing over the dispute regarding ownership of that land; he had been standing defiantly on the land in my support! The law enforcers were not guilty as they had shown due respect for the law and the relevant documents. That was what the judge said. I was forced to sacrifice my right hand in order to save the honour of the land. Hari Ram Bagdi laid down his life.
Today, those documents are yielding their harvest in Babu Chaitanya Mahakur’s house.
At one point of time, all the scheduled plots of this Sonarimara mouza were under the control of the benefactor and his relatives and friends. A perusal of the old documents will bear out my claim.
The documents themselves have changed after that. This change is quite astonishing. That is why documents sometimes seem to be like living creatures. It seems as if they are like the chameleon. They keep changing their form every now and then. How has this creature which used to inhabit the green jungles stepped out unnoticed towards this grey and dead tree? It has taken shelter under that tree. It has changed colours after that. Perhaps the creature has changed its colours and merged into the tree.
As a result, I do not see the possibility of the documents changing on their own. Even though some have dreamt of freeing the chameleon from the trunk of the tree and flinging it out into the green forest.
Therefore, let me remember that man. A young Bengali man from the sadar town. A man with bright, defiant eyes. Sympathetic towards us. I had learnt the alphabet from him at night school. He was a dispenser of education; I was the beneficiary. Those memories are no to be forgotten even today. He made himself immortal by revealing the mysteries of the human world and society. I learnt about the origin of the world, economics, and about the climate and topography of other lands.
These black men are the original inhabitants of this world; you do not know, but you were born out of the earth, that Debendranath once said.
We were filled with a sense of wonder.
He said, Just as our god, Shiv Sambhu arises out of the womb of the earth, his body a mass of black stone, so have you, too, emerged out of the earth. You have a natural right to this land from the moment you are born.
My grandson, I have heard of the frenzy of Shiv Sambhu, the god of the Hindus; I know of his destructive nature. Debendranath compared us to that great and powerful deity. You have an inalienable right to the land, he repeated. Was this land yours once? he asked.
I nodded my assent.
How did it get transferred? he asked.
The story of the transfer, my grandson, is not unknown. Debendranath has put a question mark against one of the links in this story. I have been exposed to the light of education. But the other links! Everyone is landless and homeless since birth. Even our forefathers. Yet what is surprising that each plot of land is named after a person or a tribe who have lived unbearable lives and have gradually got frustrated and disillusioned with life.
You are aware that the best and most productive ten-bigha plot of land is known as Nimey Santhal’s land. Who is this Nimey Santhal? Nobody knows. Must be one of our forefathers. That land is now under the control of the Utkal Brahmans. The thirty bighas adjoining this area, divided into little plots of land, is known as Santhali Sont. They no longer belong to Santhals. The same is the case with Bagdir math, Domer math, Mahalishol, Dharopayjora—and so much else! All the land of Sonarimara is named similarly.
Debendranath said, The names of these plots of land contain clues about their real ownership. Just as the name of India has not become England even in two hundred years, so have Bagdir math, Mahalishol and Santhali Sont remained intact.
Nobody said a single word. There was wonder in the eyes of the Bagdis, the Bawris, the Doms and the Santhals. The decrepit old Hori Dom cried out and said, yes, that’s true—Domer math used to be ours; I have heard as much from my father.
It is a few hours after dusk. Everything is absolutely still. Those words seemed to echo in the forest nearby. I heard the forest say, True, all this land is theirs; we are very ancient; we bear testimony to this fact.
I felt depressed. This forest cannot speak; all these ancient trees cannot go and testify in our favour in courts of law.
In any case, courts of law are very dangerous places. When I have tried protect my life by giving true testimony in cooked-up cases, the interrogation of lawyers have made witnesses corroborate false testimonies and they have heaved a sigh of relief after fleeing the place. When the poor accused man was sentenced by the court, that scared and poor witness had returned to his village and had broken down. He has said repeatedly, One’s tongue feels heavy in that weird place. One’s head begins to ache in the presence of the lawyer. One’s blood pressure goes up in fear.
Therefore, even if someone has been witness to the truth, I see little use in it. Such men were like speechless trees.
Debendranath began his search. He visited the district town. Then, one day, he came running to Sonarimara, shouting with glee. So many documents he had with him! He had gathered much information that was the source of his delight.
Where were you? I asked.
In the mehfezkhana in the sadar town, he replied. The mehfezkhana is where old government documents are stored.
Hori Dom asked, Is it possible to access the history of all the land in the district there?
Thus, I learnt the history of the mehfezkhana from Debendranath. There, covered by layers of dust lies hidden the history of our land. All the old documents and government notifications, etcetera.
Aren’t there rats there? Lakhon Murmu asked.
Lakhon Murmu goes searching for rats all over the land. He does not have any land or house. Sustaining himself on rats all year round has given him some kind of a skin disease.
Lakhon Murmu said, I know the taste of the rats that eat the crops on the land of the babus, but I am curious to discover the taste of the rats who feed on the history of land.
We learnt that Debendranath had bathed in the dust of the mehfezkhana and that he had read the Bangiya Projasatta Ain and so many other laws. He has copied the District Settlement and the Permanent Settlement documents and so many other manuscripts.
What lay behind the transfer of land? he questioned.
Hunger? Ravan Soren asked.
I supported him. Yes, it must be hunger; there is unlimited hunger eating at the poor man’s body; the learned folks muse in amazement—They sell their wives and children to fill their stomachs. If it was possible, they would stuff the whole earth down their throats.
Debendranath asked, Would you be able to survive if all the land of Sonarimara were to become yours?
Yes, it would be possible to survive. Our only desire is to survive.
When this land was yours, the population was also much less, said Debendranath. Still, the land had to change hands in order to satisfy one’s hunger.
Everybody became silent. Did one person need to eat twenty people’s share to survive?
Debendranath rushed to the district headquarters. He appealed to the honourable judge. Documents show this land to belong to others. They are now landless and deprived. The documents do not mention, either, how the land slipped out of their hands and became somebody else’s. The documents are not transparent enough. Therefore, let the land be returned to the rightful owners and let proper respect be thus shown to the spirit of the law. Let the land delight in being returned to its rightful owners.
My grandson, what an inhuman task did Debendranath take upon himself in trying to return to the lush green forests the chameleon that had changed its colours to merge into the sheltering grey tree trunk and had become a withered and colourless carcass! He sustained himself in the perennial hope that the documents would restore to us the right over the land.
Alas! That glorious court of law was filled by the unbearable stench of the rotting chameleon. The ageing documents began to crumble into dust. Thus did time pass by. The honourable judge got up and enjoyed his lunch and a nap in the inner chamber. He came back again. The lawyer’s clothes were bathed in the dust of the ancient documents. The arguments and counter-arguments reached a crescendo. The judge consulted each person and repeatedly interrogated arguments that were presented. He clutched his head. He was just not being able to reach a convincing judgment. This is how the world goes, he thought.
The chameleon’s colours were not to be changed in this way. A harassed Debendranath did not return to Sonarimara. The honourable gentlefolk were as incensed with him as with us. The consequences were not happy. For, as we have already said, we are born from the land. Our right over and ownership of the land is a natural fact. When we returned from the court, we were evicted from the land. This used to happen very often. The land began to bleed. This world was one where one had to struggle, we realized.
My grandson, Debendranath was a highly educated and sympathetic gentleman. But he was perhaps not aware of the laws of nature. The only laws this unbearable life has introduced us to are the laws of the clouds and the forests. It is not possible to understand the laws of the forests unless one is born in the forest! Who can tell when the land wants to smell the clouds!
It is not possible in this way to resuscitate a creature that is already dead. The laws and the documents are the poison that is responsible for the change of colour. Debendranath knew that it was possible to use the poison that had killed to bring life to the dead because like cures like. But the simple and natural fact that the poison can kill if applied again after it has helped counter its own toxic effects is not to be forgotten.
How to believe that even if the documents that had changed colour before were to undergo another change because of this case, that change would be permanent? Who can promise that they would not again legally find their way into the hands of the diku mahajan, the honourable moneylender?
Debendranth had thought that the judge would restore to us our ownership of our land. That we would receive our right of ownership of land as someone else’s gft to us. At this twilight hour of my life, I feel the urge to meet once more that naïve and sympathetic Debendranath. I do not know where he is now.
Debendranath deserves our respect. He had pursued the truth. Indeed, if one goes back to the roots the way he did, it will be found that all the land of this planet belongs precisely to those who do not have any right over it at present. Dig deep into the land and you will find the names of people like us buried all over it. Like Santhali Sont and Domer Math, the whole earth belongs, without a shred of doubt, to the dispossessed.
This truth lies buried in the dust of the mehfezkhana. I have thus become a pauper by giving you this knowledge.
Remember, our forefather had killed the white man and become notorious to the gentlefolk, to people from far and near. As a result of the court proceedings, it was proved that that Santhal forefather of ours attempted to assault that girl and the white man tried to prevent it and was killed in the process! Ishwarbabu became the government witness. His daughter, too, was saved, and he, too, was honoured by the honourable government. That white-skinned saheb had his statue installed in the sadar town. That is why our tradition of naming our children ‘Sahebmari’ is an instance of barbarism to the gentlefolk.
My grandson, I have seen that statue every time I have gone to the town. That statue still stands there in this land trampling over everything that is true. The old story is history. Hoarding up that history in the mehfezkhana, a false story has been propagated in this country. The tale of our valour and our virtuousness has not been revealed to people. This false history has labelled us barbaric and uncouth. The true history of Sahebmari has been narrated here, ignoring that history.
Remember, that forefather of ours was put into jail for killing the white man. Sahebmari Baske was born in prison. Ever since then, Sahebmaris have been regularly born into this family in this Sonarimara mouza. Born in prison.
The Sahebmaris cannot experience the true nature of this world because they are born in prison. How many attempts have there been to raze this prison to the ground. Ever since birth, poverty and humiliation have made this world a prison for me and Sahebmari Baske my grandfather.
I, Sahebmari Baske, the benefactor in this deed of gift, have tried to break down these prison walls many times. I have not succeeded. That is why our bodies have not been exposed to the light and the breeze of his world. Yet these are not in short supply. That much is clear. Sahebmari Baske, that ancient forefather of ours, would grip the iron bars in his cell and try to see the sky outside. He would think of his crops. Of rescuing the honour of the land. Of protecting its chastity. Thus has every Sahebmari lived out his life.
You, Sahebmari Baske, the beneficiary of this deed of gift, must reach out spreading your arms. From experience, we know that bars are fragile entities.
The practice of executing such deeds of gift is natural to the gentlefolk, the honourable men. They amass wealth by resorting to various tricks and strategies. We are reduced to penury in the process. Amassing of wealth is the mark of success for them. Therefore, deeds of gift are executed in favour of someone dependable in order to protect the wealth amassed and to keep us deprived and dispossessed. The honourable gentlemen execute deeds of gift in the hope that the heir nominated by him perpetuate and replicate the way he has spent his life and the way he has accumulated the wealth of others in his own house.
I have no such desire. Let the life I have led not be visited on anybody. Let no one have to encounter the terrible world I have faced. It is with that end in mind that I have executed this deed of gift.
My grandson, today is the auspicious Karamparab day. The skies and the earth have wilted under the weight of the clouds and the crops. Legend has it that it was on this very day that Kormu had embarked on his journey to Karam, the god. What dangers lay in wait for him on that journey. The terrible fire, the venomous serpent, the crocodile, the sea, the river, the mountains. Kormu reached Karam, the god, with the help of all of them. He thus managed to rescue the treasure that had been taken away.
Befriend the terrible powers that can be of help to you. That is the moral of the Karamparab. Thus will you be able to make this deed of gift legitimate.
Remember, some are deprived by the documents drafted by the gentlefolk (let me not repeat my talk of our deprivation), and some others benefit from them. Suspicion and fear are closely associated with their deeds of gift. That is why those deeds of gift or koblas lie preserved in trunks and gradually decay into nothingness.
I hope that this deed of gift will not be preserved in the mehfezkhna like government documents or in iron trunks like the kobla of the gentlefolk. Remember this, Sahebmari Baske. No suspicion is associated with this deed. After all these years, I do not see anything I should fear. That is why this will not decay. It will not become food for the rats in the mehfezkhana.
I hope that the words of the deed executed by Sahebmari Baske will forever be etched in every ray of light that bathes this world, in the wind, in every colour, in every smell, in the clouds and in the crops that spring up from the earth. From the moment one opens one’s eyes for the first time after birth, one will understand the message of these words. He will understand that the beneficiary is Sahebmari. He will understand that the world with all its land will revert to the people who have been born from the land if Sahebmari’s shackles can be broken. He will understand that this deed of gift has the story of the birth of Sahebmari written into it, a birth and a life that can only be honoured with blood.
At this twilight hour of my life, I, an ageing Sahebmari Baske, execute this deed of gift. My hope is that when you see this light and this land, you all will become Sahebmaris in order to claim this land as mentioned in this testament.
I hereby execute this social deed in sound health, of my own free will, in all sincerity and without any pressure from anybody on this auspicious Karamparab day in the presence of witnesses in front of whom this testament has been written, read out and executed.
Clouds, the land and its forests, and Mother Earth Sahebmari Baske
The Indian Republic
(The schedule of the land is described on the next page).
 An epithet attributed to Krishna as he was dear to the gopinis or milkmaids.
 Kalapani literally means ‘the black waters’. People believed that whoever crossed the seas and went abroad became outcates.
 Prime or best-quality land.
 A document of purchase or leasehold of land.
 Tautology, both being epithets of Shiva. Usually a man in distress calls out ‘Shiv Sambhu’ for redemption.
 A Santhali word for sharecrop.
 Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885
 Registered deed
Translated by Seemantini Gupta
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