Seeme Qasim’s third book, like the previous ones, ‘Beyond October’ and ‘After Gujarat and Other Poems’, touches on serious contemporary topics. She says in her introduction, that she jots the thoughts and words as they come to her, wherever, whenever, like in “the waiting rooms of doctors and functionaries. Some were keyed into (her) mobile, others were developed from outline fragments… about love, memory, health issues, fear, pain and nostalgia.”

Qasim has lived a childhood or young adulthood in Goa when the state was still innocent and charming and presently lives in Delhi, the queen of cities polluted. During the ‘midst of death and disease’, she was suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of an old Gulmohar, which led to the title of the book.

Her description of the Corona-Lockdown experience, “seconds marked by rising infection” is precisely what many of us felt watching the news when the pandemic was at its worst.

Tears are: “the lava… Suddenly in your eyes.’ In ‘Unsaid’, she clubs together dementia, Alzheimer’s, Corona.

This is how her city gets back to normal, in ‘Survival’:

“in Khan Market

a young one-legged

amputee hops


clutching polythene

packets and

shouting, ‘Socks’

for sale”.

Ill health is a unifier. Hospital experiences make interesting stories. In ‘Poetry’, Qasim notes hers whilst undergoing a diagnostic test:

“Like prisons,

things begin early

in hospitals. Doctors

and nurses

walk the corridors

checking groggy patients.”

Apt. But I wished there were longer sentences, some rhyme, some rhythm, to suit old tastes like mine. Yet, in other poems, words linger, as in describing probably a torrid romance one young afternoon:

“… and that careless touch

we both know

is not innocent

in intent”.

Her Delhi, like old memories of mine of nearby Ghaziabad are like these:

“A man on a cycle remarks,

There’ll be another

dust storm tonight.

If it doesn’t get hot,

what’ll the fate

of mangoes be?’’

‘Games in the Park’ is a poem about predators in lovely, lonely parks where scents of beautiful flowers and joyful people, and stealthy, unhealthy sex exist side by side, sometimes unnoticed:

“… as he watched

children in this place,

or perhaps

he’d done terrible things

and wanted to forget…”

This is one of the several poems on her tenure in Goa, like ‘Your Brother’s Mercedes’ where imagined and real experiences mingle with memories and descriptions of nature.

A thread of melancholy runs through the text. She tells us what happens in a ‘Parlour’:

“Male personnel

with gelled hair

and silver earrings

give the American look

a go. Their waist bags

crammed with scissors

and combs.

To their clients

they proudly say,

‘Everything’s imported

in this place, the chairs here, they vibrate.”

Qasim ends the poem like this:

“From a sofa

near the Bollywood


I sift through

the newspaper

with the headline

of yet another

bankrupt farmer’s


There are 36 small poems, haiku-like short three or four line verses, at the end of the book. Some of these bring home Qasim’s frame of mind clearly:

“The news

of his suicide

hangs over me.”


“They wait for the bus

near the comatose

man – oblivious.”

And then again sneaks in the romantic bit of Qasim’s persona:

“Passion turns surreal

in the

siesta hours.”

In a quick tele-conversation, Qasim assures me that she wasn’t in a particularly sad or low mood when she wrote most of the poems, although the Lockdown phase, and that of her own health condition at the time, might have contributed to the dejection in some of the words.

On re-reading, I find I had missed out some steamy moments: in ‘The First Hot Day’, she says in one verse:

“I want to talk

about fierce desires,

about fallen petals

near flower pots,

of ants rushing about.”

Perhaps I read more into these lines than Qasim meant, for this isn’t a poem about a lover at all.I stop at another title, ‘It’s That Time’, which begins like this:

“It’s that time

when cockroaches scurry

from their crevices


when izards weave

invisible patterns on walls

when insects buzz

around tubelights

and rats, toads

hiss and croak sporadically

in the background

at night.”

Then the poem goes ahead to say,

“It’s that time

when the hours become

marble statues

waiting for things

to happen.”

And it ends with these verses:

“It’s that time

for street stories

in congested gullies

with trash and stray dogs

growling at a dishevelled

old man on a bicycle.

It’s that time

on stained pavements

where shopkeepers remark, ‘Even dogs here grow

more class-conscious

by the day.”

Some illustrations would have helped bring alive the words, like to accompany ‘Roshandans’.Like in her previous collections, ‘Beyond October’ and ‘After Gujarat and Other Poems’, Qasim uses gentle language to bring out serious emotions.

No sarcasm, no malice, just observations and to the point, brief descriptions. That brevity, preciseness and insight has no doubt come from years of journalism, of covering difficult areas like Gujarat, as a Muslim woman.

However, none of the experiences or writings of the past are reflected in any of these newest poems. These are, as the title suggests, about a pandemic and the changes it brought about in her, or what she saw, felt, heard, thought of it, and about Nature, its glory, her memories of it in Goa, and in Delhi. One easily relates to her experiences of the ordinary, even if one has not visited either of these places.

On visiting the Har-Anand Publications site and skipping down the menu to ‘poetry’, an error came on screen. On visiting ‘literature’ on the same menu, there were other books listed, not this one.

Considering ‘Corona and Gulmohar’ is only a few months old, there is a possibility that the site is not regularly updated. A pity, because a link to the book on the publisher’s site is nearly mandatory these days.

A little more about Qasim: an essay by her is part of ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Journeys’ (2001) and ‘City Improbable’ (2001), edited by Khushwant Singh. She is one of the ‘Women Poets of India An Anthology’ edited by Vijaya Goel (2000). Her work is also part of ‘We Speak in Changing Languages Indian Women Poets 1990 –2007’, Sahitya Akademi.

She is able to cover, in very simple language, a variety of topics: flowers, seasons, a virus’ impact, health, rain, empty rooms, pilgrimages, ship travel… and she explores emotions and thoughts as she does it.

A good read for velvet summer afternoons, for rumination over beverages hot or cold.

‘Corona and Gulmohars’

Poet: Seeme Qasim

Publisher: Har-Anand Publications Private Ltd., 2023,

Pages: 104

Price: Rs 250.