The smoke-filled air in Cafe´Kafka the home of Vienna's English-speaking poets becomes more unbreathable by the monthly session. On Friday evening the clouds of tobacco smoke, known affecionately in Austria as 'the blue dust', were denser than usual because of the bad weather we've been having in Vienna lately. Temperatures are barely rising into double figures on the Celsius scale, which means that the large cafe´ window facing onto the street cannot be opened for ventilation. In fact so strange is the weather for the time of year that snow was falling in nearby Burgenland, Austria's sunniest spot, on the penultimate day of May.
Labyrinth's polite and friendly Indian guests did not object to the bad air in the cafe´. I suffered afterwards for 2 days with ill health induced by passive smoking. Perhaps the visiting poets were simply too polite to complain. They had travelled to Vienna from smoke-free Rome which Satyapal Sehpal described to me as "a lively city where one can sit outside, just like in Dehli". Vienna was the last stop on a European trip which began in the Norwegian town of Stavanger.
The anti-smoking laws in Austria must be the European Union's most complicated, nonsensical and ineffective. One so-called law speaks of premises of so-many square meters and non-existent doors. It has not yet sunk in in Austria that breathable air should measured in cubic meters! It could be a long time before I re-enter a Vienna coffee house where passive-smoking is the order of the day.
On the subject of political chicanery and its consequences I was quite taken by a poem of Kritya* editor Rati Saxena's titled The Love of Big Black Ants. She has given permission for it to be reproduced here.
The Love of Big Black Ants
One doesn't know from where the big black ants
Spread on the floor like black stars on rainy evenings
Will attack their prey
They do not believe in
The line discipline of the red ants
Nor in their Queen's orders
They catch and swallow
Like sugar, rice, moths
If they want to carry a big dead body
They are united like labour unions
They can live anywhere -
The wrinkled skins of trees
Houses of leaves
Roots of any thing
Those whom they love
Change into them
Of the trees they live on -
Not a single fruit can remain
Nor bird live
Their kiss is
Sharper than their sting,
Which changes them into pieces
They are greater lovers than humans
Rati Saxena 2009
*Kritya - http://kritya.in/