Monday, 1 June 2009

Rati Saxena and Satyapal Sehpal in the Labyrinth

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
Everything white
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 -


  1. Satyapal, I left the poem on the table. Please forgive me. You may of course e-mail it if you wish. It was a delight to converse with you.
    Best bardic wishes, Gwilym

  2. Love that poem - not so sure about the smoke-filled cafe though - here our anti smoking laws seem to be working well. Still - all in the cause of art and all that.

  3. I must decline to ruin my health in the name of art. It is an irony that those of us who try to keep ourselves fit are at highest risk of getting lung cancer and other horrible diseases from inhaling second hand the so-called blue dust. This is because we will inhale more of the poisons with each breath than the average couch potato and with his lesser lung capcity and poorer lung efficiency.

  4. dear Gwilym,
    thanks for publishing poem. I will keep in touch, I am writing about the poets i met in this tour, and feel that our talk in kefe is important for me,
    please send your poems to

    best regards


  5. Rati, thanks for the comment. I'm looking forward to reading your piece about the poetry tour. I'll send some poems as and when time and muse permit. In summer I tend to do a lot of outdoor activities; running, cycling, walking etc. In winter I hammer the poems into shape. I think it's all to do with my internal seasonal clock.


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