Uttaran Das Gupta (India) is a New Delhi-based journalist and writer. He has published a book of poems (Visceral Metropolis, 2017) and writes a fortnightly column on poetry (Verse Affairs) for The Wire. His novel Ritual has been optioned for a film or web series. Das Gupta teaches journalism at O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat. 






“They want to say something, the dead” —Tomas Tranströmer[2]


Wooden scaffolding holds up rain-

-heavy clouds—their shoulders appear

like a ship’s mast in the clear

patch beyond industrial smog. Ropes strain

with the load of blocks a bricklayer

pulls up to his perch. The prayers,

incense, of priests isn’t insurance

enough against pillars sinking

into sand. This unthinking

project of pride, endurance

—falsework arches, concentric vaults—

rises like a monument to faults.

Lower still, on the cobbled street,

an artist on his knees pulls out

stones like a dentist.[3] In the dugout

patch he’ll plant stumbling blocks—your feet

will find its flaneur instincts checked,

as you—curious—bend down to inspect:




JG. 1864












“Wiener seid’s froh! Oho! Wieso?!”[5]


The Danube in Vienna is green:

is this a riverboat? A space-

-craft? All that remains unseen


at daybreak is like a staircase

into darkness—a promise:

we will come back, we shall retrace


this sojourn, less like a novice,

more like an exile, perhaps.

Voluntary exile. The office


of immigration services maps

our hobo desires, our fears—

their city mustn’t collapse,


like Babylon. Waves and waves

have washed up over the years,

too many tongues. Those who gave


bread and milk have put out their lights.

Caravans are turned away at night.[6]




We’ll have a home in Tübingen:

clean air making it easy to cycle uphill from Neckarbrücke.

My nose in your black hair, we’ll stare out the attic window,

lay still on wet, cold afternoons as the Shift church

rings crucifixion at three.

Your research will expand, nourished by the mellow light,

my translation of Celan, Hölderlin…

Running will help us build an appetite for brunch,

or a canoe ride.

We’ll begin to frequent the Imbiss, the farmers’ market,

and drop in at the Heckenhauer Antiquariat.


But all this won’t happen, can’t happen, can it?

Your summer and my summer are like spheres rolling away from each other.

We admit only the temptation:

the skies are clear.

In the cracks between cobbled stones there’s grass,

someone is playing guitar at Holzplatz.


[1] The (Great) Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depicting the Biblical tale of the enormous tower in Babylon, can be seen at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. Bruegel based his painting on his own study of the Colosseum in Rome and woodcuts available during in the 16th century. Like the Biblical narrative, Bruegel’s painting is also a critique of human pride and ambition. Art critics have commented on Bruegel’s eye for architectural details such as scaffoldings, cranes, and falseworks.

[2] Quoted from the poem “Deep in Europe”, included in Tranströmer’s 1989 collection, För levande och döda. Translation: Robin Fulton

[3] Since 1997, German artist Gunter Demnig has been commemorating the victims of National Socialism by placing stolpersteines “stumbling blocks”—small brass plaques—on the roads in front of homes that formerly belonged to Jewish, Romani or Cinti people. Till now, he has placed 1,200 such plaques all over Europe—the house in which I lived in Vienna had several such plaques in front of it.


[4] Translation: “Here lived Jette Eklan, born: 1864, deported 1942 to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Murdered.”

[5] From “The Blue Danube”—Words: Josef Weyl; music: Johann Strauss II. Translation: “Viennese be happy! Oho! But why?” When Weyl wrote the poem, the Viennese had little to cheer about: Austria had just lost the Seven Weeks’ War to Prussia and the economy was down. In 2018-2019, however, Vienna was judged the best city to live in the world for the 10th consecutive year, according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.

[6] In 2015-16, Austria—like Germany—welcomed millions of refugees from Syria, north Africa, and Afghanistan. However, by 2017, the mood had changed, and the Austrian government was actively trying to restrict the entry of more refugees.