Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stories

I wonder where they were
Before they came to
In those unforgettable books.
All those characters
So real that their tears sting
And eyes still shine
The school boy
Standing alone on a railway platform
Unable to bid goodbye
To an estranged friend
He may never see again
The father who wanted to be well-liked
Dying unloved and heart-broken
His great dream turning out to be a big lie
The woman who pretended to be in love
But only wanted the man to hurt,
When the end came
You did not want it to end
Though you knew stories never end
Only they are not all told.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Between cities

When I travelled
Between the two cities
I used to know where home was
I could tell you
Where I was returning to
Where I was leaving for
I could sigh with relief
That I was back
To my dialect and dust
When the temple towers
Bobbed into view
As the train chugged in.
It all ended
When my daughter
And grand-daughter
Relocated to the other city
What can I tell you now
Am I coming home
Or going home?

Gods in the way

When I saw you I became blind

To the world, lost my tongue

When you spoke, stood still

If you walked

Forgot where I was going

As you crossed

The smiles you tossed I caught

And stored in my heart

Sighed I couldn't walk by your side

Share what you thought and sought

Yet when you entered temples to pray

I knew I had to walk away

For your gods came in the way

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Childless

In our minds
You are still the child
Throwing a tantrum
When we visited your place,
Only when we see you now
We know how old we are,
Even when we enquired about you
With our common friends
It was always
"How's the child!"
Not realising that
So many years had passed
Refusing to admit
You were in college
Or that you were working
Or that you were married
Or that you had children
Of your own
Perhaps wanting time to freeze
In our best moments
Where you will forever be the child
Where we will be just married
Looking forward to the addition
To the family
That never arrived.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Night

There is a night
You do not want to end
Like the one before you leave your home
For the wedding with a stranger
Knowing it will never return,
You cannot sleep,
You do not want to,
Sitting all by yourself
In your room
With a slight tremble
Wondering what you are
Letting yourself into
Wondering why you cannot go on
As you have been so far
In the little corner of the world
You have made into a paradise
The walls lovingly decked up with your own hand
Funny stickers, hangings, flowers
The colour scheme your very own
A sanctum very few were allowed into --
You wished you could go to sleep
And wake up years after
Still the same
But on a happy night
You did not want to end.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Evening

If you have lived
In a place for long
And wait for your daily bus
At a particular stop
Sometimes you don't know
If it is yesterday or today
Especially if you are setting out
When the birds are coming home
It is as if you are caught
Between day and night,
You try to remember
What number you took the previous evening
Whether you switched routes
Got down at the signal
Walked to work
What time you logged out
Trying to find certainty
In what you've done
Then think the better of it,
What is there to recall in routine
When one day is just like another?
Out of sheer habit
You look over your left shoulder
At the ageless mango tree
Beautifully silhoutted
Behind the hardwares shop
And watch almost with an ache
A weary crow land on a darkening branch.

Golden age

Let me tell you
What a safety net means
Have you been to the circus
Seen the trapeze artistes perform
What happens when they fall?
The net protects them from injury!
This is something like that
Though the people do not know
That they are more likely to fall
That there is no guarantee
That the net will save them
That we do not care if they survive
That they have nowhere else to go
That there are more people dying to take their place
That history will call this the golden age
Of the country
When growth touched double digits
And there were four billionaires
From our ranks
In the global top ten.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Time

It never gets done
When you think it's done
Dawns come too fast
Tumbling over one another
Like children.
Before the dreams arrive
The alarm goes off
Like a wakeful child
Wanting company.
The broom seems
To have hardly left your hand
When you picked it up
So many years ago
To help your mother.
How nice it would be
To sweep time away
Like this
And draw a new kolam
After your heart.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mullai

I must be carrying in me the silence
Of the forests
My forefathers have lived off
Tended their cattle by
Keeping an eye out
For the striped man-eater
Too old or injured to hunt its natural prey.
I must have a memory somewhere
Of the fragrance of flowers
No hand has plucked
No woman has worn
No deity has been offered
I must know the calls of strange animals
And songs of birds no more seen
And may even have died.
I may have once sat entranced
Under a tree
Listening to the flute
That only a god could have played.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Success

When your child triumphantly says
She has secured the 34th rank
In a class of 35
She doesn't know that
Sometimes more is less
And she shouldn't feel sorry
For her friend
Who has got only the first rank.
Soon she is taught that her best friend
Is her arch rival and she must catch up with her
That only podium finishes matter
That to be 'also ran'
Is something shameful
That the 'joy of participation'
Is a loser's line
That to fail is to lose
The love of those you love
And make them cry
Like you have died.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ghosts

The dead flit in and out
Of our daily lives
They follow us
Live with us
Years after, generations together
Evoking memories
In the shape of a nose
In a gait, posture or colour of eyes
Some still blessed for the riches shared
Many hated for their foibles
Travelling with the genes
Things you cannot break off
Some cursed again and again
With eternal damnation
By the heirs
For the diseases bequeathed
For their implacable hatred
That has driven progeny
To distant climes
Where they still live
Like ghosts
In shimmering limbos

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The window

At the time
When girls were
Not allowed to be seen
Confined to the kitchen
And the backyard
Till they were married off
They saw the world
Only through the window
They lived in the dark
Moved in the shadows
If they had to come to the front door
They had to switch off the lights
Many hardly went out
Did not know
What it looked like
Beyond their street
Where the railway station was
What a train looked like
What it ran on
Where it went
They only knew that
It travelled
Long distances
Visited new places
And envied it for that.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Visitor in the dream

I woke up and found my father
Rummaging among his things
Like he used to
When he was alive
When it was too early
For him to be up
When there was no need to
As he had retired long back
And had the whole day
Ahead of him
To search for anything.
He apparently did not find
What he was looking for
As usual cursed mother and me
For the way we messed up things
How difficult it was
To find anything in this house
Where what was lost remained lost.
Was he looking for something
He did not remember
As he often did
Hoping to remember, as he went along?
He emptied the bookshelf
The drawers
The suitcase
Keeping the light on
As we tried to sleep
Without uttering any words I told him
"I'll search for whatever it is you want
In the morning, now let me sleep."
He didn't listen
Only muttered, without turning
"Some things disappear with first light
You can find them only at night."
Suddenly he turned, his face still young
Whispered in my ear
"One of our clan
Bare-handed killed a tiger
When it attacked him,
Then dragged it to the village
All the way from the side of the canal
Where he fought it.
He refused the cash award
For his valour
Instead secured the title Tiger Alwar
For himself and his descendants.
I'd written down his original name somewhere
I can't find it."
When I woke up, he was gone.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Predictions

Mary came to me
Before any class exam
Pleading that I choose
The chapters she must study,
She had immense faith
In my divining abilities.
"Your tongue is full of black dots
Such people have mystic powers!"
I couldn't disabuse her of her superstition
As luck would have it
I had picked out the right lessons
The first time
Making her my ardent devotee.
She was very deferential to me
Afraid I would curse her,
Like those ancient rishis
Quick to take offence
And swift on the draw.
I never did that
I played the angel
We had read of,
Forever granting boons
Wishing people well
Saying nice things
And watching their faces bloom
Invoking a shower of petals
And set flowing
A river of smiles.