A Review of Prerna Bakshi’s Burnt Rotis, With Love

This review will appear in Whirlwind Magazine issue #6 due out in mid-November.

At Whirlwind we like to support our contributors even after publication. We’re honored to be a part of an international community of diverse writers and artists focused on social justice and human progress. That being said, we’re happy to announce that the talented sociolinguist Prerna Bakshi, a poet of Indian origin currently based in Macao, is publishing a collection of poems called Burnt Rotis, With Love that will be available in December through Les Éditions du Zaporogue.

Prerna Bakshi graced page nineteen of Whirlwind Magazine Issue #5 with her moving poem “Let it Rain!” The title of this piece serves as a refrain at the end of each stanza, culminating in an effective repetition of the phrase. Bakshi laments at the state of her poverty stricken home-country, as well as her new adopted home in China. Through the eyes of this poet it’s apparent that the world is on the brink of environmental catastrophe. In “Let it Rain!” Bakshi beckons the sky to open up for “…the drought stricken land…” as she bears witness to the struggles of people with disabilities, children, and factory workers, as she listens to “…a farmer’s outcry…” and also the “distant scream” of indigenous people fighting “…against the state’s repressive forces.”

Along with the aforementioned poem, there are over a hundred pages worth of urgent and meaningful poetry in Burnt Rotis, With Love. For the book’s themes Prerna Bakshi says that she “…will explore and interrogate the narratives of Partition of India/Punjab post British colonialism, women’s identity, gender and class struggle. The poems in this collection will cover themes of violence, oppression, exploitation, abuse, struggle, survival and resistance.” The advance reader’s copy certainly attests to this, and it makes for a powerful read.

Other highlights in the book include the dramatic “Guns and Graves,” where Bakshi writes an elegy for the many innocents killed by the Indian state in its dispute with China over a relatively unheard of area called Arunachal Pradesh. It’s poems like these that stand out to the reader, especially because they shed light on topics and events that too often remain shrouded. The further one gets into Burnt Rotis, With Love the more one begins to fall in love with not only the poems in the collection, but also the invaluable footnotes that accompany some of them. After “When the Poor Woman ‘Leans In’…” Bakshi writes that the “poem is written from a critical, Global South Marxist feminist perspective, in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate feminism of ‘Lean In’ and its approach to feminism and work.”

One critique of Bakshi’s work could be that she’s often very forward and unequivocal in the points of views that she displays. However, that more often than not makes her writing accessible and heightens the clarity of her poems. What’s important about Prerna Bakshi’s poetry is that it can be easily read by anyone. The messages that she delivers are vital stories about oppressed people around the world that Westerners should especially be made aware of, and it’s clear that Prerna Bakshi deserves critical praise and recognition for her brave and touching new work, Burnt Rotis, With Love.

projects projecting

sitting on a metal bench with hands clenched
without anything inside on the speeding SEPTA
train Broad street line traveling north destination
Dauphin Susquehanna Station there’s something about the old pale man
shaking his cane across from me mumbling about the weather
reciting incantations in order to halt the impending snowstorm
my stomach is an empty shell
my head a cauldron
my chest deflated
“this journey can only end badly” I think
the disembodied female voice names my stop
I get out and even the station is falling apart puddles of rusty water
decaying walls slowly dying trudging humans inanimate death
everywhere and above ground
is no better I’m not used to this land
I walk up Broad two blocks while chewing gum and looking back
trying to find the skyline it’s not the same
I’m in a different world North Philly I’m fine with being
the only white person around got nothing to hide not even my skin
once I get to Cumberland I make a right and pass the auto body shop
filled with broken cars and only two men fixing them they look at me vacantly
most are abandoned get ready for everything abandoned
razor-wire on all fences dark red row-houses not homes
dark red decaying spaces
the corner of 13th street is oppressive w/ 4 story toppling warehouses empty
like everything else
a man walks toward me diagonally with a trash bag
now I’m afraid I’m not used to human contact
he stares and somehow sees me thru the wasteland
a man picking up bottles there are too many to pick up
too many punctured mattresses and plastic bags in vacant lots
piles and mounds of trash where does it come from there are so little humans
only trash
I only look back for so long now I’m underneath an overpass it’s dark and the hill is ominous
the bridge is green and I can’t hear any traffic there’s ice and black snow from weeks ago
all around and it’s nowhere else in the city only here with all the trash
how long is this gray wall
more abandoned lots and vacant buildings why am I here I should turn back I will turn back I’m lost
no I can only go ahead
tall boarded up buildings but now in different colors it’s beautiful a cat leaps down
the steep front stoop and stairs and comes toward me it’s pure white and it’s an omen it disappears underneath
another block I look down the street it’s taped off
there is a big dark stain in the asphalt only 20 feet away
nothing else
I walk faster a parked car there’s parked cars around now I walk and now I hear people
I’m happy to hear people but when I look
they see me as something else and I don’t want to intrude I’m sorry
I’ll just keep my head down
I see the high rises many stories tall brown and uniform there are two of them
parallel buildings I know exactly what they are at first sight
the projects projecting oppression
looming over me now but also over everyone else living here on every other day
I’m afraid but I don’t show it
I wish I could peer into this desolate landscape

but I can feel the stares

I want to hide my skin so I just keep walking eyes down seeing broken

pavement all of a sudden out of my peripheral there are children speaking violently with pre-pubescent and adolescent voices

they’re saying that they’re strapped are they talking to me I keep my pace

I feel the bullet pierce my back in microseconds
don’t look

am I dead it’s only imaginary why is it imaginary am I imaginary why
I don’t belong here no one does

Tracing Emptiness

Release trepidation

when crossing

splintered

wooden beams

spaced three feet apart

at the rusty

trestle bridging nowhere to never-ending

nowhere, in the small town I grew up in

next to the now abandoned city of my father,

at the site of a childhood

beating by an older boy with a 2 x 4.

 

Was it by chance that the nails protruding from the wood

were bent? Was it strange how I noticed, while raising

my bloodied hands in defense, how his weapon

matched the setting?

 

Years later,

the same splinters

tore through love

and fatherly flesh

via PCP disguised as weed.

A Sudden Nothing

My heart is beating a little faster

After listening to the night

Then hearing gunshots

It comes every now and then

But I never really notice

I wonder if those bullets

Made their mark

But most likely bouncing off alley walls

Never mind now I hear the sirens

That could only mean one thing

And it’s only midnight

At least the police responded

Ashamed it gave me such a rush

And that now I’m not despondent

Since something happened

Someone is dead or dying

The sirens are still blaring

No one has a seatbelt to fasten

And now it is silent again

Lead pulverizing flesh

Men finding quicker ends

If I Had a Gun

the exit sign has been lit in vain for decades

a founding father has finally been forgotten

scream into the pitch black

a feminist obsessed with Bukowski

an insect on the wall passing up morsels

holding out for a feast

angst and sex on a day of rest

she cannot see the forest for the trees

laws know not necessity, breaking blood and bread

her thoughts are an endangered Bengal

these words are final and accustomed to failure

as we are certain of our graves