Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fire worship

In the puja room
The lamp is lit
With a prayer,
When it is time
To put out the flame
No one talks
Of dousing it,
The teardrop of fire
Is calmed with a flower,
There is no need now
To carry over
Ash-sweating embers
For next day's meals,
However, yesterday's rage
Is never extinguished
It flares up elsewhere
Flashing in wronged eyes
Which once brought a king down
And torched his iniquitous city

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steps

Do not count the steps
That have to be climbed
To reach the shrine
Counting will make it harder
The distance covered
Pales before the distance
To be covered
Eyes covertly envy
The feet going down
As the path gets
Steeper and steeper
It's the vision
Of the deity
Seen in the dream
That drives me on
The hand
Holding nothing
Signified something
The shorn heads
Glittering with sandal paste
Returning from the temple
Seem happy to have kept
Their end of the bargain
I do not believe in barter
I do not want gold
All I want is to be told
Nothing matters
Before or after
Here or hereafter

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sun

I've not seen for long, the sun rise
Like this, before my sleepy eyes
I had almost forgotten
It could be as red or as swollen
Or as fiery, stepping out of the horizon
I almost want to stand like the boy
In the textbook, looking with joy
At the east, arms stretched out
Like one who has no doubt
Which pointed north and south
I still do not know one from the other
To get about here all you need is the right address
Get into the right bus
Be able to tell left from right
Find the nearest landmark
I cannot see places
In terms of the four directions
I do not believe one brings luck
And allows anyone to escape from life
Though I like the west
When the sun at journey's end rests.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Decoy

What is it I'm panting after?
A spotted deer, a peacock's tail
A secret cure or the holy grail?
Sometimes, there's only laughter
Only eyes that cannot be looked at long
Only a smile that strings one along
A toddler's footprints, unearthly fragrance
Words in a strange tongue, a mere presence
Sometimes a name kept up like a chant
Soon sounds like the rant
Of those who have gone before
But see now neither sea nor shore
Was there anything to hunt at all?
Or was it all meant for somebody's fall?
It's all coming back; a deer full of lies
A false cry from a false prey
The lone guard lured away
And desire coming again in disguise

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death

It is getting harder and harder
To take leave of people,
Shake hands, perhaps,
For the last time,
Say goodbyes
Turn the back
On a home of yesteryear,
Friends on their last legs,
A town raised in
Fading like a dream
Often the feet refuse to turn away
Like a rejected lover
Tarrying at the door
Hoping to be taken in
And all sins forgiven.

Distance

The feet grow weary
As the distance grows
Between dream and reality
The peaks grow taller by the day
The more you climb
The farther they are
The queue grows longer
With privileged pilgrims
Joining the stream midway
The shrine is stepping back
The roundabouts are as clogged
As the direct roads
And the city lights
Are still not in sight
The head and feet
Keep moving away
And the envious god
Who will go unworshipped
Is still soaring
And the flower is still falling
The fragrance yet to spread.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mob

The faceless mob is near
This land we thought was ours
Begins to slip from beneath us
The words we were born into
Have been held against us
We knew what was coming
When once-friendly eyes stared at us
As if we had grown horns and fangs
And the lies feeding on lies
Soon made monsters of us all
We could no more speak our tongue
Flaunt our god we opened our eyes to
Or wear clothes that showed
Where we came from;
We looked at the mirror,
Hated what we saw
Rued the telltale complexion,
The locks of fate
Wondered which side
Of the night would hide us,
The women and children
Cower in the corner
The ears faintly hear
The dam burst of hate
Heading this way
We are like trees,
We cannot flee
When you try to tear us away,
You'll know how entwined we are
When together we bleed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Star

Illuminated paper stars
Dance joyously
Above a few doors,
Heralding a birth
That conquered death,
Just a few nights back
We put oil lamps
Along the steps
Often cupping the flames
Against the wind
Nursing hope
In adversity
Knowing how soon
They will be calmed,
All the while
Praying to be one
With the six-faced son
Of the immeasurable one
And end for ever
The searing dance of desire.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Order

In my house
Someone has
Assigned a place
For everything
Footwear without exception
Cannot cross the border
Of the shoe rack
There are hooks
On the wall
For bike keys
The teddy bear
Is allowed to wear
The ID cards
Round his neck
Through the night,
The driving licence
Has a box to go into
In the morning
As the clock starts ticking
And the search begins
For things not found
Because one was too tired
To put them back in place
The previous evening
It is the things
That are blamed
For somehow disappearing
As if wanting
To see chaos reigning

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rambo

You shall not
Call Rambo a dog
He is like a son to us
Next time you visit
Bring him something
Nice to eat
He loves badam halwa,
Ice creams and colas
You shall not shoo him away
When he jumps on you
That's how he shows his affection
You will have to learn
To enjoy his attention
You shall not call on us
In the afternoon
When he snoozes
On Wednesdays
When he has to see the beautician
On the fifth of every month
Between eleven and twelve
When the vet comes for check-up
On Saturday evenings
When we take him for a drive
If you know of a good groom
For our daughter, let us know,
The only condition is that
Rambo will come with her
And he must not grudge his expenses

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A queue with a view

Before you start waiting
Do not ask the others
In the queue
What they are waiting for
Like you they may have made
A virtue of standing still
Joining a line
That does not look like moving
Preferring the one
More serpentine
Than the others
Flowing outdoor
Offering a view of a peepal tree
The frenetic road
And weary feet
Wanting to join
A line that never moves

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blood-stained

It's the same old story
Being told and told again
The characters
Seem different
Born in different climes
Set in various milieus
Yet saying the same things
In different words
Mostly complaining of life
Of dreams floating
Out of reach
Of smiles disappearing
Before they catch the eye
Of man-made misery
Masquerading as fate
Of death coming early
Like winter's night
Of things
Taking wrong turns
Like a story writing itself
As you watch helplessly,
When the tale
Is told and without lies
You know it's
The same story everywhere
Priests terming truth heresy
And rewriting stories
In people's blood

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ghost

I feel like a ghost
If I could call it that
Looking with longing
At a house
I have lived in for years
And can no more enter
The eyes have to be
Plucked away
As the bus rolls past
The street which used
To be mine, though
Overflowing with sewerage
Every monsoon, and erupting
Into murderous rage
At the hint of a slight;
It is strange looking in at
Something looked out from,
Faces known but not known
Known to rarely smile
Seen more often frowning
Or barking into phones,
It was the drought
That briefly brought
Together the neighbours
Keeping a vigil
For nocturnal tankers
And sounding alerts
When the hand pump
Yielded water,
When the heavens opened up
And the reservoirs brimmed over
We went back
To our unseeing ways
Spinning away
In our desolate orbits,
It is difficult
Not to enter the old address
When filling out forms
Though the pen
Pauses as always
At the permanent address column
Wondering if anyone ever had one.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rooftop prayers

I keep waiting
For the buzzer
That never rings,
For the call
That never comes,
For the footsteps
Climbing the two floors
To my door,
Instead a patter
Of feet goes past
On to the rooftop
To pray to the one
Betrayed, tortured
Crucified, forsaken
And left to die

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pigeon

After a long time
The sun looks
Into my house again
Through the window facing east
Reminding me of a birth
That can only follow death,
There is more sky to look at
With no tall buildings
Standing in the way,
Clouds seem to pass
Just outside the open sitout
More stars seem to be out
This night just to see me move in
I'm startled by the strange groaning
Coming from the sun shade,
I find it is only a pigeon
Complaining of a storm coming.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cup and saucer

This stainless steel
Cup and saucer
Once a novelty
Is older than me
It has travelled
Thousands of kilometres
Seen as many houses
As we have lived in
Offered tea
Ice cream
Sweets and savouries
To countless guests
Who have now bowed out
As I look at the survivor
Of our wanderings
Still sitting in our kitchen
I want to ask
If it will survive us too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A new house

We're strangers still
The feet remember
Only the old place
Out of habit
They go and stand
Before a blank wall
Where a mirror used to be
In the other house
The hands reach out for things
That are not there
Search for switches
At old corners
The eyes keep looking
For the abandoned plants
Wonder who's watering them now
Miss the coconut palm
Outside the balcony
Where the night always
Came to sit with you
Like a confidant
The smell of paint
Hangs in the air
Like a dead man's scent

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Relative

As spacious as
An empty house
As crowded as
An agitated mind
As lovely as
A happy flower
As ugly as
An unhappy moon
As wide as
A city road
In the early hours
As cramped as
A journalist's notes
On the run
As generous as
A politician
With public money
As miserly as
A lover with her kisses
As real as
A wish fulfilment dream
As unreal as sudden death
As desirable as death
When the listener is the song.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Devotee

Down the office corridor
Facing a passage
Intersecting another
Hangs the image
Of the elephant god
Wearing different flowers
On different days
And an inscrutable smile
Always I have something to say to him
On a bad day I put him down
"What are you there for?"
When I am happy
I give him a pat
"You are doing well!"
Just like me he's more often
Pilloried than praised

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Film scenes

For a three-year-old
She told film stories fairly well
Without leaving out any scenes
The salacious ones
She remembered in detail
Especially the famous
Bathroom sequences
Where the hero reveals himself
To the heroine
Making her scream
Or the variation
Where it is the leading lady
Who gets to be seen
Leaving the other so dazed
That the exorcist has to be fetched;
Her descriptions of domestic love scenes
Made male neighbours scatter
As we girls rushed
To silence and distract her ---
The moment she began
My father and mother...
We knew what was coming
Picking her up in my arms
I take her to the terrace
To tell her the children's stories I know

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New saree

With a crest of jasmine
The framed photo
Of her as a child
Stands against the wall
Her favourite sweet dish
She had rarely
Even on festive occasions
Is placed before it
Incense that evokes temples
And prayer time at home
Suddenly smells of death
It is the shop fresh
Synthetic saree
The colour of brinjal flowers
That brings her image
Before my eyes
How fond of clothes she was
And how few she had!
How I want to see her
Wearing this new one
And asking me
With a happy laugh
How she looks in it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Helpful brother

The younger brother
Who refuses to get up
To go to college
Till the last moment
Is up early,
Turns very helpful
In the morning rush hour,
Offering to run errands,
Buy vegetables,
Not once complaining
To run back to the shop again
To get some ingredient
Mother as usual forgets,
As a sister
My suspicions
Are aroused,
To test him
I ask him to give me
A lift to the bus-stop
On his bicycle
He readily agrees
After dropping me off
I catch him lingering
Till his eyes light up
On seeing someone in the bus
I am not surprised
When he offers me his services
The next morning too

Nocturnal preacher

Like someone dressed for the church
He stands on street corners
At bus stops, even before temples
With his right hand raised
Calling upon people to repent
Before the second coming
He warns is imminent
The words rise and fall
Like a seasoned preacher's
Only the incoherence gives him away
Even at night I see him sometimes
In his characteristic pose
Standing under the saffron lamps
With no one around,
Not even the odd tippler
Slowly snaking his way home,
Speaking of his terrible vision
In his garbled style,
With no one to hear him
Ignored even by the street dogs
Who sleep through his call of distress

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Somewhere still

I cannot believe
He will not return
Out of nowhere
Like he used to
With his broad smile
As if he had not been away
For so many years
And there was no need
To explain himself
To friends who knew his ways
He drops into a chair
Sitting quietly for a while
Eyes gleaming with mischief
As he gives his sketchy updates
With long pauses, shakes of head
Arching of eyebrows, shrugs,
"We are separated, I have someone else"
Some more silence, some more smiling
No names, no further details
"I'll come back soon
Give you the full story"
Off he was again,
Leaving no address,
No phone number
Disappearing from the story
Like a dumped character
I still like to think
It was someone else who died.

On death row

We make it easy for death
There are all kinds
To be plucked at will
Female foetuses,
Malnourished infants
Children in hazardous work
Dream-dead youth
Farmers in the red
Despite a bumper crop
Women who cannot pay dowry
Innocent villagers lured
To borders for fake encounters
People who speak
The wrong language
Worship the wrong god
Tribals sitting on
Rich mineral deposits
Residents close to
Atomic plant sites
And nations with oil
Refusing democracy
Of the kind
That comes with
Depleted uranium
And uninvited forces.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Commercial break

All look so impossibly white
Even the old have no wrinkles
The young mother
Looks like
The toddler's sister
The roads have no traffic
The houses
Spotlessly clean
There is nothing
That cannot be cured
From headache to fatigue
Nothing that cannot be fixed
Even a job can be landed
With a cream
Love is just a scent
Fluoride is fluorescent
And happiness effervescent

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beautiful

As beautiful as
The tears
Of a happy man,
A friend
Who has not
Forgotten the past,
A letter bearing
Such kind words
That it is treasured
Like the scriptures,
Laughter when
Everything seems lost
And lifts everyone's spirits,
As a hen taking on a kite
In an unequal fight
And making the hunter take flight

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Terrace

It is where you can
Stretch a hand
And pluck a mango
If you want,
From the neighbour's tree
Discover where the coconut sprouts
As you watch a palm-top close-up
Find there is so much room and shade
In the netlinga
That looks like a beanpole
From the street
Meet the sky half-way
With a kite,
At night,
When the darkness
Hides you from the world
And the noises subside
The potted sambangi blooms
Smelling of the unseen moon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meditation

Will gazing at the wall
Make it go away?
The paint brush pause
Over the child's scrawl?
The mob's daggers be shamed
By folded hands?
The builder skirt
A peepal tree?
The house spare space
For the sparrows?
Pious feet keep away
From temples
Not everyone can enter?
The eyes turn away
From the outstretched hand
Not remembering the starving nights
When one woke up dreaming of food
Lay staring at the wall
Wishing it would go away?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Waiting

I watched a white cloud
Float silently overhead
Making the sky bluer
Than it was
I kept looking up
For the next
Even letting my bus pass
Did the poet
Who lived here sometime
Stand at this stop
Watching the sky like this
Looking at the mango tree
Across the road
Wanting to see
A parrot or two alight
And suddenly worrying
If he had enough
For the to and fro fare
And for a tea, to spare

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The wall

A wall not seen as a wall
Is the one difficult to pull down
It was the god's bull
That was blamed for being in the way
Blocking the view of the devout outsider
It was hailed as a miracle
That faith could move stone
And not hearts
A wall could even be a veil
Keeping eyes out
Keeping eyes in
Keeping the horse
From thinking of meadows
It often dreams of
Hatred is a wall
That is called a different name
Along national borders
Backed by force multipliers
Ready to scramble
Sometimes the writing
Hides the wall
By turning antonyms
Into synonyms
Calling war, peace
And slavery, freedom,
Putting daggers
In innocent hands
To slay a sleeping man.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Now

I can now look at you
Without any longing
When the eyes
Are no longer fire-flies
The cascading tresses
Having thinned to a fizz
The sinuous walk
Turning mock
The bewitching smile
Gone a while
Both now level
Caricatures of ourselves
Almost where we started
Empty-handed for all the travel
Having seen only the same
Pretending they were not the same
The feet now weary of leaving
Knowing there can never be any leaving.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just a mile away

When we missed
The last bus
To the village
Some miles away
We decided
To walk the distance,
It was a January night
Just right for young feet
To fall back on
The first transport
Only one knew the way
To our destination
And exactly how far it was,
We appointed him guide;
The trek extended into the night
As hamlet gave way to hamlet,
And agitated dogs gave chase,
Guards smoking cigars
And looking very much
Like nocturnal gods
Believed to toss
Anyone in their path
Stopped us on the borders
Questioning our wisdom
When the early morning bus
Would have been a better option
The lure of watching
Glow-worms on the velikathan
Drew 'you-city-fools' smiles
The journey seemed endless
Though the friend kept saying
As we passed village
After ill-lit village
"It's just a mile away"
Finally when we flopped
On our host's doorstep
We had walked ten miles;
When things do not go my way
I still say, "it's just a mile away"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gloaming

It was as if morning light
Had missed a cue
Returned onstage before
Not after the night
Leaving everyone smiling
Happy to be bathed
In a yellow glow
Like seen in movies
Shot in hill stations
Everyone looked lovelier
Than they were
Like everyone would
When they were happy knowing
They were lovelier
Than they were
Like those who loved
And knew they were loved
And saw the world
In a twilight
That put off the night

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Squirrel

It is after the room-mates
Have gone to sleep
After dinner, gossip,
Jokes and laughter
That the night turns sick
Voices from home
Despite the distance drift in
Father sitting in the front-yard
Asks mother if I have had my meals
While my sister misses no detail
Of what her classmates
Were up to in college
It is so like
A half-remembered dream
From a different life
That I know
The idyll is slipping away
And soon it can never be
It is like the squirrel
We nurtured like a child
During the storm
And abandoned when we left
The cyclone-prone town.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Freedom

The girl said
It is coming to school
Without being shadowed
By my maternal uncle
I will have to marry anyway;
Bribing the watchman
To go to an afternoon movie
With friends and boo
The aged hero
Romancing the teenage heroine
Not having to study
Just about enough
To get a pass
To not hurt a male ego
When I know
If I answer all the questions
I can walk into a professional course
Not having to wear this sack cloth in the sun
And moving about as if in fetters.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Doomsday

Every time our homes
Catch fire or are set ablaze
Even as we sleep
So many die
As they lie dreaming,
The favourite clothes
More looked at
Than worn
Are reduced to rags,
Savings, ration and voter cards,
Proof of our existence
Are swallowed by the flames,
Already on the streets
Barely hidden from eyes
By the thatched walls
We are on the streets yet again
In the dead of night
Even the hovels taken away,
Yet you tell us
Those who have died and died
So many times
And risen from the grave
Again and again
That Doomsday is near.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rationalisation

The dying weep for the dead*
Or more for themselves
Than for the prone figure
Stretched out on the bier
The mourners come near
With a trace of fear
Stunned by a blow
That has fallen nearer
Something that cannot be dismissed
Like the funeral procession
Of a stranger
One meets on the way
The final moments
Are told and retold
There is the veiled criticism too
That he ignored the symptoms
Did not take treatment earlier
That he was somehow to blame
For his own end
It makes the dying
More comfortable
To think that this
Could have been avoided
As they listen
To the chatter of life
The birdsong
And savour the warmth
Of the sunlight
Filtered by the trees.

*Naladiyar

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

House gazing

Sundays when the TV movie
Was not worth watching
We went house gazing
Along the avenue roads
Admiring their sheer sprawl
The lawns, the swing, the opulence
Sometimes dividing them among ourselves
Like toys for the taking
The blue painted ones were always mine
I allowed Maalu and Viji to have the others
The elderly inmates sitting in the open
Taking tea and biscuits and chatting and laughing
Often drew derisive remarks
So rich but probably barred from richer fare
That thought made us feel better
Maybe, they got asthma too,
Cannot eat ice cream
Cannot take a walk like this
Without worrying about
Chain-snatchers or kidnappers
Maybe pay a fortune
To maintain such a huge place
Perhaps even unable to sleep
Wondering what the daughter or son is up to
All the negatives we could think of
Made us quite happy
As we went laughing home
To our one-bedroom rented apartments.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Exit, laughing

After sometime, it seems
Life stops outside the door
Unwilling to step in
Occasionally flitting in and out
In shadows, half-heard, half-understood
Questions thrown at footsteps
Go without answers
Why do you want to know?
Where is she?
(I can't even remember her name)
Has she come back from college?
Is she getting good grades?
What are her future plans?
Why do I want to know?
What are they laughing over?
I could never stop laughing
Once I started
Often I ran out breathless
From the class or movie hall
I cannot remember
What was so funny
That made me reach for the exits
That's how I would like to go
Going ho, ho, ho at a remembered joke.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Unwilling

I sat up all night
Listening to the rain
Chatter outside my window
It's how it is this month
When it's time for
The monsoon to leave
And it doesn't want to
Like a reluctant guest
Stopping at the door
To reminisce some more;
The clouds huddle after sundown
To cry some more
Like brides
Unwilling to leave
The parental home;
Looking at the bare blue sky
Swept clean of the last wisp,
Like a migratory bird
Which follows the sun
I want to go someplace
Where it rains still.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Moment

I never want to lose
This moment when
I can breathe normally
Walk briskly
Away from home
Without worrying
About returning safely
Relish the damp breeze
Caress the face
And look with wonder
At the fallen yellow flowers
Make a perfect circle
Around the tree
They had just adorned.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Malice

She stood outside the window
Listening intently
To the couple quarrel
Trying to gather
The details of the dispute
To trade with her friends
Passing the woman later
On the stairs
She looked for signs
Of violence on her
A black eye
A swollen lip
A bump in the head
Was disappointed
If she couldn't find any;
The misfortunes of others
Made her visibly happy
She made sure everyone
Was kept informed
"They sold their house
So their son could study abroad
Now, he has settled there
Doesn't send any money
Doesn't even speak to them"
I wonder if she has ever cried
For anyone but herself
Watched others shed tears
Without a smile.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Absurd

Your diary
Of the absurd
Full of details
Of a life
Where nothing happened
Was a mirror
Of all of us
For someone like me
Always living in dread
Of the day
When there was nothing to eat
Not having to go hungry
Was a freedom hankered for,
Everything else was an absurd luxury
All desires were decoys
That vanished in your hands
Leaving you as empty as before
I watched you chase sirens
Come back empty-handed
Then go after others
With the smile of an eternal hunter
Who knows the futility of the chase
But cannot resist the call of the trail.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mute night

The sleepless night
When you find that breathing
Is not something
You can take for granted
Is also when you discover
That television channels play
The same songs
The comedy scenes
And the game shows
Over and over again
The song and dance
Without the sound
Is so comical
That it parodies itself
Suddenly the image
Of the next-door child
Raising the volume
Of the idiot box
When her parents quarrel
Pops up like an unwanted ad
You switch off the stale fare
Hug the pillow
And brace for a long haul.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letters to the dead

The dead are those
You do not receive
Letters from
In reply to yours
Even once in a while
Leading to suspicion
They are no more
Until you know for sure
You continue to talk about them
As if they are still alive
You laugh about the time
This one slept in the exam hall
After staying up to cram
The previous night
How the other vacated his house
In the dead of night
To dodge his creditors
More and more of them
Exist only in your mind
Brought alive
By a common friend's reminiscence
An old song
Mention of a favourite author
In the morning paper
News about the native place;
Calls to their last known number
Elicit the recorded voice
"Please check the number you have dialled
Or this number does not exist"
Finally it is confirmed
They are really no more
And that your letters
Were actually to the dead.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday morning

All days are
Not the same
For everyone
Unlike Tom and Swami*
The tamed student
Looks forward to
Monday morning
There is no need to play truant
When only praise is due
There is the promise
Of food in school
For those who have
To go hungry at home
The husband
With the suspicious wife
Is keen to be the first
To arrive in office
The lover who wakes
With only one face in mind
Lets bus after bus go,
For over two hours
Before the only one
That matters arrives
The favourite day
Keeps changing too
From the day
When the music show is aired
To the day of the family outing
To the day of the weekly off
When the noise never reaches
The pitch of the inebriated bar.
*Tom Sawyer and Swami (R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Back

After a week
Of enforced rest
It was like stepping
Back into life
To just take a walk
Through the streets
Lined with rain
Neem, peepal and asokas
The green had never looked
More rejuvenating
The blue sky lovelier
Or just as lovely as you
Standing against the sea
Your blue saree fluttering
In the evening breeze
And imploring me to capture
The frame, as the waves
Came bounding like hounds let loose!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Sharing meals

While we talk
My daughter and I
Living on either side of the globe
Often sit for meals
On either side of the screen
She, brings her breakfast
I, my dinner
It is almost like
Being together
In the same room
Only we can't share
The food that looks
So inviting from here
I would like to taste
What she cooks
See if she's got my flair
The little one's mouth is watering
As she taps the screen
Demanding a morsel for herself
Till she grows up
And understands,
The computer screen
Will be her grandmother
Who appears every morning
After her father has gone to work
And talks, plays and laughs
And sometimes inexplicably cries.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Memories

Memories have to be kept alive
Like fires which cannot be allowed to die
Secret lore which cannot be written down
Books that can be no more read
But have to be passed on
Hoping they would lighten some dark moments ---
Did I tell you
That when you were young
You pitied the ceaseless waves
And asked if their feet would ever ache
And who would play with them at night
After we had all gone,
I pointed to the moon and stars
And the lighthouse beacon
That would give the sea company ---
Before I forget I have to hand all such nuggets to you
So that you can always think well of yourself
Remember who all we owe such kindnesses
And return them
Like you would jewels
Given to you for safe-keeping

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fear and fascination

The child
Has to be
Dragged away
From the sea
With promises of ice cream
And new adventure books
Though darkness
Has long fallen upon
The beach
And crowds have
Started turning home
Leaving the lovers
To snuggle happily
In night's anonymity ---
Was this the one
Who screamed in fear
On first seeing
The heaving waters
Refusing to leave my arms
Even wet his feet
In the frolicking waves
As being more used to docile toys
That did not come bounding
At him like this
As if it wanted
To sweep him away
Like some helpless doll.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Questions and answers

Some questions
Have no honest answers
Before you ask them
Do you ask yourself
What answers you expect?
Do you ask them
Just to see them squirm?
Relish the flash of impotent anger?
The indirect reply?
The evasive retort?
The silent smile?
The plain lie?
Do you ask them
To put the other down?
To make you feel better?
To avoid questions yourself?
Do you have answers
For all the questions
You can be asked?
For all the queries
That life poses?
How many times
Have you hid
To avoid them!
Pretended you had not heard them
And slunk away shamefaced!
Only true friends know
What to ask and when,
And often are answers
To questions themselves.



Violence

It was not violence
When homes were drowned
For a dam to be built
When slums were torched
For view cutters
Along the sewer of a river
When catamarans and fishermen were removed
To beautify the beach
When pavement vendors
Were swept away
For shopping malls
When the poor
Were driven away
And hid from visitors
When food rotted in godowns
And millions went hungry
When thousands of cotton farmers
Took their lives
As imports turned cheaper
When a child was told
By a teacher
He was fit
Only to tend cows




Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Drops of time

Sun drops trail ink drops
Across the class floor
As agonisingly slow
As garden snails
Marking time
For the final bell,
Before it rings
How many times
Have I pattered
Down our street
Flung down the schoolbag
Kicked off the shoes
Raced out to play!
How many times
Have I not wanted
The sun drops to move
Willing to stay put
And listen for hours
To date-filled chronicles
Of distant, war-thirsty kings,
Or taken the circuitous route
Braving streets with
Lecherous eyes
Dreading to go home
To a demented face
Sword-sharp tongue
And whiplash hands!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reality

After I had walked
Round and round the place
Up and down every street
Looked at houses
All looking the same
With impersonal faces
Looking through me
With no plants or trees
To soften the implacable sun,
Invite songbirds or butterflies
No hint of laughter or babies crying
I had almost turned back
When he came towards me
Eyes shining, hair streaming
Asking me, where they were
Those who were selling bubbles.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Steps

When I look at the steep steps
I have to climb
Before I can near
The less steep ones
Leading to the shrine
I feel as tired as a trekker
Facing one more stubble-rock
To clamber up;
They have a name
For this stretch too
The shin-twister flight
That tests pilgrims on foot
A veteran of the footpath
Who has taken me along
Tells me like a coach
"You have to take it step by step
Not count how many more there are"
After every five I want to sit down
Relax my muscles to keep away the cramps
It is getting more and more
Like doing sit-ups at a stretch
My guide is hardly breathless
Looks as cheerful as when he started
I don't know what vow he is fulfilling
For me it is merely a tryst
With the undulating hills
Where my father saw his father last
I have come without any prayer or vow or wish
How do I know what to wish for
If he doesn't know what I need?



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Languages

In a language
How many words
There are
In a word
How many languages
In a word
How many meanings
How many
Want to kill
A word before it spreads
Ban books with words
That are inflammable
How many repeat
Just one sentence
With just three words
Before the mirror
Only to turn speechless
Where they have to be spoken
How many want
To choke a sapling
With venomous words
But want to stand
In its shade
When it rises
How many words die
Because they are not spoken
How many die
Because of the words they speak
How many lose one another
Because they do not speak
How many are left talking to idols
Because they are not on talking terms with anyone else

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Night

Night is when words go to bed
Sharp tongues are tucked in
Carping eyes turn blind
Ears battered all day
Listen to silence like a song
That fetches mute rain, mist-wrapped hills
And a woman as diaphanous as a dewdrop
Night is when
Dreams preen before mirrors
Like teens filling out
Hyperactive children
Taking pity on their parents
Deign to sleep
When faces turn soft
After a love contest
Where losing is best

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our own houses

Could it be this house?
The one with the tree?
That one painted blue?
We tried to guess
What could be our new home
As we entered the street
The empty house
Greeted us like an old friend
Throwing open its windows
Revealing its secret spaces
To us children first,
Giving us new playmates
New trees to climb
Little gardens
To raise our own plants
The moon beams streaming in
Made bashful buds flower
Those houses we did not own
We still think of as our own.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Greeting the rain

When I race up the stairs
With an umbrella in hand
To fetch the clothes
Hung out to dry
On the terrace,
The bunch of kids
Who have come for vacation
Overtake me
To soak wet in the rain
As I shout at them
After enjoying their
Screaming and dancing
Like frolicking with a long-lost friend
My neighbour who has just come up
Stops me, pointing out:
"In the desert city where they live
They cannot greet the rain like this!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Circuitous

These feet are not meant
For all streets or roads
They must know the circuitous route
To places, go round houses
Learn to step off
Give right of way
When the high-born pass
Not step into temples
Of gods believed
To be without likes and dislikes
Beginning and end
But discriminating
Between head and feet
What holy water will wash away
The dirt of the heart?
What colour is the blue blood?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sleep

Before you can sleep
You have to
First switch off the lamp
Swish away the flies
In your head
Torch the mosquitoes
Buzzing around it
Make a mental note
Of tomorrow's outdoor chores
You can no longer put off,
Curse the light
Pouring through the glass
From the neighbour's window,
Immediately contrite
Being on a vow of non-hatred
Seek his forgiveness
For the harsh thoughts
And throw a blessing
In his direction
"May you prosper!"
Smile at the images
Of the godman's devotees
Hopping towards each other
All hoping to levitate ---
I only want to sleep.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Five fingers

It was once a game
Handed down
From generation
To generation
Where the child
Was taught to share
His food with others
And leave the leftovers
To the pet,
It ends with tickling
And much laughter;
The house I am visiting
Has a single child
I once helped raise,
She is now quite grown up
Hardly recognises me
As I enter,
And continues
To watch television
Typically with a packet of chips,
She has no sibling
To stake any claim
To her snacks
She doesn't offer me anything
Her mother appears sleepily
Soon becomes wide awake
As she offloads all the local gossip
I am least interested in
The misfortunes of others
Do not make me happy
I have little news to tickle her
The long bus journey
For this courtesy call
Has made me thirsty and hungry
I suddenly want to grab the hand
Of my hostess
And play the game
Of the five fingers with her.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Suyambu

A few years hence
No one will remember
That his sire
Worked ten hours
Every day for 10 years
After superannuation
To put him in college
Even he does not admit
That his lamp
Was lit by other hands
That his tree
Was planted by someone else,
Do rishis, rivers and the rich just happen
Like idols that just appear?


Monday, August 8, 2011

Moon landing

The face blooms
Like a flower
When the moon appears
Stealthily like a lover
As if from nowhere
I do not remember
When my mother
Fed us both
I can only imagine
How it must have been
When I watch the toddlers
Now sharing their dinner
With Mickey Mouse
Tom and Jerry
And Donald Duck
Darting about
On television;
I still cannot
Forget the lip-smacking orb
That shone over
Huck Finn in the comics book
As he set out on the river
Or your smile
As we stole a moment
On the terrace
And with a touch
Landed on the moon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sky-clad

Behind the high wall
Near the bus-stop
Still stands the tree
Carrying a crow's nest
On its crest,
Though now a bare sculpture
The leaves all gone
The bark coming off
From branches and torso
Giving it a leucoderma look,
In the evening
It makes such a silhouette
That even the weary eyes linger
On the river
Spread on the darkening map,
Black lightning
Frozen in the sky,
A metaphor, half-understood,
Hope, still hoping
Penance, awaiting
Perhaps, the next rain
To rise again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Twosome

He wore only a loin-cloth
And a towel around
His neck like a tie,
Sat on the pyol
Opposite our house
Saying 'good morning'
To everyone passing
After this routine
For over an hour
He'd look at his wrist
Like he had a watch on it
Gesticulate to himself
He had somewhere else to go
Then leapt onto the street
Went away, greeting
Everyone on the way;
The other one
Came thrice a week
To curse his brother,
My neighbour,
He accused of
Grabbing his property,
Once I followed him
To his house
Where he wrote on his door
With chalk, homilies for humanity:
"The most fragrant flower may hide a venomous snake
Squabbles over land families break"

Happiness

Overnight everything changed
Everyone smiled at everyone else
As if all grudges, insults, and debts
Had been written off
As if everyone had realised
That differences were only so deep
That inside it was one deep-breathing ocean
That nothing need be hoarded
Hidden, buried and stashed away
As whatever was asked for was given
And nothing was wanted
As everything could be had
As if everyone saw as if in a flash
That this could be the last day
They were meeting
And tomorrow they could all be gone

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Saying goodbye

Why do you want to travel
At your age, and so far?
Have they returned
Any of your calls?
Have they visited you
When they pass here
On their pilgrimage and back?
Do you think they would like to see you
Their father's brother's son,
When even their father's gone
Though you might have grown up
In the same house, the same place?
It is not what they want
It is what I want!
Do you know how many times
I have seen in my dreams that house,
Those streets, that bakery
The bookshop, the library
The sun rising over the lake
My cousins so happy and loving
Like when we were young,
The soft light over the town
With the mist refusing to lift? ---
It is that time I want to walk by
Saying a formal goodbye,
A ghost back to a haunt
A dog to his deserted home
An old student to his alma mater
A bee to a fallen flower.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

False voice

The wind in the palm tree
Outside my balcony
Sounds like rain,
The quartz clock
Mimics a dripping
Water tap,
The cat feasts
On the fish bones
Left in the bin
With the air of one
Who has hunted down
A fleet-footed prey,
A man who moves
From air-conditioned car
To air-conditioned cabin
Complains of the sun,
A saint who sees births
As high and low
Speaks of the oneness
Of the soul.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Survivor

The 80-plus is grateful
For the train tickets
I've booked for him
He makes sure
That he has got lower berth
In both directions
I do not know
If the doctor
Has allowed him to travel
Even if on sleepers
He tries to tell me
Why it is so important:
"I could not be there
On his last journey...
He stood by me
At every turn
Though 20 years younger...
How can I not go there to condole him?"
The last man standing
Among his friends
He asks me,
"Why is there no order
In our departures?"

Buzzer

You can guess
Who's at the door
By the way
The buzzer's pressed
The grand-dad after climbing
Two flights is so winded
He can hardly wait,
Never takes his finger off;
The children returning
From school or tuition classes
Do not trust the bell
To get the door open
They will knock it down
If you do not hurry
The salesman often fools you
With an authoritative burst,
It is the breadwinner
Who knows his home-maker
Who pauses between rings
And worries if she is not answering.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Indulgent

I never complain
About running feet
Television screaming
At odd hours
Going to bed late
Getting up at lunch-time
Taps not closed tightly
Pizzas ordered over phone
Home meals wasted
The living room
Looking storm-struck
Newspaper pages lying around
Wet towels ensconced on sofas
Barbie dolls, teddy bears
Sprawled on the floor ---
I never complain
When my grand-children
Living abroad
Visit me once a year.

Fire

It glows
So edibly red,
Frozen fire
Waiting to be kindled
To douse hunger,
Undying desire
Dreaming of virgin forests
Wronged woman's eyes
Still glowering
After reducing
A city to ash,
Tame as a flame
In a temple
Raised on a hill
Once a volcano,
Like Krishna
It can hide
From tyrant's eyes
Before it can rise

Always

Even when the last friend
Hangs up on you
The moon, though it be broken
Full or hidden,
Looks out for you
As if it still remembers
The tender hand
That fed you both,
The neem stands sentinel
At the window
Listening to the words
You whisper to it
When no one is around,
The night never deserts you
Hiding and healing as it has always done
Till you are ready for the sun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Momentous

The child rolls over
Crawls on the floor
Stands up on his own
Stumbles forward
Taking his first steps
Fearless, catches a lizard
By its tail
Plucks the farmer's friend
From the earth
Calling it a snake
Learns the alphabet
Identifies the colours
Says he understands
Everything in class
Doesn't need your help anymore
Leaves for work
You wake up
And cannot believe
It is twenty years hence.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Failure

It is an
Unwanted guest
The house skirts
As it goes about its chores;
The intruder rat
Which finds a way in
Eluding the trap and cat
Scurries around
And hides where
It cannot be found;
The migraine that won't go away
And wants one to go headless
The news that makes
Neighbours chuckle
As you pass
And little-known relatives
Suddenly call angling for details;
The night when no one can sleep
Toss around and quietly weep

In a stranger's dream

I have walked
Into a stranger's dream
The cavernous house
Takes me from room
To room to room
Full of unfamiliar objects
The fluorescent light
Glows on the other side
The curtains are a dark hue
A child is playing all by himself
Making toys of his fingers
He looks like no one I've seen
Talks in a strange tongue
I'm in the wrong house I know
I wonder how I came there
Carried by what midnight muni
Like a green grasshopper
Caught in a room
I crash into wall after wall
Before I find an open window.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Elephants talk

Grown-ups cannot wait
For children to grow up
Especially those
Of their neighbours
Or reprehensible relatives
They want them
To be like those monsters
In the movies
Precocious and poised;
They want them to run
Before they can walk
Sing before they can speak
Speak before they can cry;
"Why is he walking like this?
You should teach him to walk erect
Like a soldier marching."
A three-year-old child
Talking to his toys,
Making his own universe,
Is not a scene
That brings a smile;
"Tell me, do animals talk?"
Ofcourse, they do
See, the elephant
Is asking the horse
To bring him something to eat.
"How is it possible?
Only human beings have speech!"
He pounces on the mother
To give more instructions
On bringing up a child;
I do not want to tell him
That it will be a sad day for me
When my son stops talking
To his elephant and horse.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deja vu

All these words
Have been heard before
This place I'm visiting
The first time
Looks familiar,
As if I've lived
Here once for long
I look out the window
To see the mango tree
I always wake up to ---
I have become like the hack
Who sees only what he has seen
Because he thinks he has seen it all
And reduces with a ready word
Everything new he sees ---
The new may look like the old
Like the flood which starts with a raindrop
Like god in a beggar's garb
Like the secret of the veiled shrine
That's revealed when there is no word left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

City

It keeps bursting away
From itself, like the universe,
Suns like prices
Rise faster
Than in other places
The hours seem fewer
Than twentyfour
The return home
Takes longer
Than the arrival
Hot words are
Exchanged with strangers
On the run
The face and fury
Forgotten at the next signal
Buses, trains are remembered
For the eyes you look out for
And the eyes which look out for you
Sundays seem sweeter than anywhere else
When you can sleep a little longer
Set the clock to your village pace
And savour the slow dance of the city.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sinner

I was taken aback
To be called a sinner
By my niece
For worshipping gods
She once stood before
Praying fervently;
The very same
Had become suddenly false
For her, and her husband's
The only true one
Who'd forgive us all our sins;
She seemed genuinely concerned
About saving my soul;
I was her favourite aunt
She could not visit openly
After taking to the Cross;
She looked like someone
Who had been possessed
By the Holy Ghost
Her impassioned appeal
With eyes closed
And quotes from the Book
Had me worried;
I had just seen off
A school teacher
Moonlighting as
Detergent seller:
"Where other powder
Need soft water
For a satisfying wash
This can use even sea water
And give the same results
It washes away all stains."
Somehow my sister's daughter
Giving me the good tidings
Reminded me of her;
I thanked her for her visit
Made her some filter coffee
And sent her home
Asking her to pray for me
As I would for her.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Serpent

There was no word then
For opposites
For the other
There was no neither nor
Or either or
Looking down upon
Or looking up to
The water mirrored
The sky
The face the eyes saw there
Was not carried around
You and I
They and us
Were not known
Everything was felt
To be everything else
Before everything
Began to be named
Turned away
From one another
The serpent stirred
Came out of the hole
The face smiled at itself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Transmigration

I want to be like you
Especially change
My wheatish complexion
For your ebony skin
My cat's eyes
For your black
That sparkle like
My deity's nose-jewel
Your dark flowing hair
With those jasmine festoons
For my brown
Which stop at my shoulders
Your voice as sweet as a kuyil's
For my fog-horn
Your walk
As sinuous as a breeze
For my martial steps
Your smile as luminous
As moonlight
Your outlook
As sunny as a wayfarer's
But I can never be you
For if I were you
I would never want to be you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Only one way

I find every other person
Turning more and more
Dogmatic these days
As if they are sure
There is only one way
Of doing things;
It turns out
I have not learnt
Even to walk
After all these days;
Someone stops me
During my morning ritual
"You take either long steps
Or short ones
Not alternate like this,
That is not how it is done
You take steady strides
So that you sweat evenly
And burn calories uniformly"
I try out the new style
For a while
Find myself tottering
Like a drunk who's started early
Then go back to my normal routine
Just wanting to finish
My half-hour quota
The way I've always done ---
My new coach passing me
On my way back
Shakes his head disapprovingly
As if to say
"These guys never learn
Even when you teach them free"
At the water pump
My neighbour watches
My frantic strokes
Like a mother-in-law,
Soon I begin to fumble
And keep spilling
The water around,
I know what is coming:
He pushes my pot aside
Keeps his in position
Tells me, in the manner
Of a cricket coach
Showing a rookie batsman
How to grip the bat
"See, you should keep
Your left hand like this
On top, grip the handle
With the right like this
And pump steadily."
When I reject his offer
To bring some more pots
For me to practise
He goes away muttering
How people these days
Never listen and never learn.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jasmine in the air

With the window
Open a wee bit
It is the night
I keep watching
Though nothing
Seems to be happening
On the street
Only a few stragglers
Turning in late
With reluctant steps
Afraid of questions
With no honest answers,
Dogs run up and down
Like children let out to play,
Beyond the street lights
Trees toss their heads
Like wanting to shake off
The last sundrops,
Craning my neck
I can see a few stars
Like beacons on
A waveless sea
Beckoning restless feet,
A whiff of jasmine
In the air
Makes me shudder,
I pull the blanket over
My head, chanting the names
Of all the gods I know
Not wanting to see
What was scary even in stories.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mara

It is only desire
In various disguises
Dressed up
As dream destinations
Rainbow raiments
Glittering garottes
Heady fragrance
Glowing skins
Moonlight smiles
Soft voices
That seem to sing
When they speak
Touches that could
Waken even the dead
Food that becomes a craving
Drinks which make you thirsty
Power that turns angels to demons ---
There is only shadow
In the shrine
A serpent in the empty vault
Tree branches
Reaching out to the sky
Only end up
Groping in the air.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Counselor

As a neighbour
Always willing
To listen
I am often
Roused from bed
At odd hours
To settle disputes;
This one was over menu.
The eldest of the family
Together with her two siblings
And doting mother
Insisted that the bread-winner
Ensure mutton for lunch
Every Sunday,
When the father
Was finding it difficult
To even afford eggs;
At eleven p.m.
There I was standing
In that hall
With well-fed teenagers
Glowering at their father
Almost cringing
Behind my back
As they accused him
Of not fulfilling
His duties by them;
With meat prices
Ruling so high
I could imagine
What it would cost
To meet their demand
Four times every month;
In their better days
They used to give
Non-vegetarian lunches
To friends and relatives
Plying them with generous helpings;
Children raised on such carnivorous diet
Obviously cannot settle for herbivorous meals;
I pointed out
That prosperous days
Would always return
They would soon finish college
Take up jobs themselves
When they could gobble
As many goats as they wanted
Without worrying about the budget;
I told them how hurt
Their sire would feel
To be put in the dock like this
When they should stand by him;
I also suggested that they convene
Their budget meetings early
And think of the poor lambs
Every time they had a craving.

Black and white

Wnen black was declared
The official complexion
With special entitlements for eves
Those with fair skins
Rued what they once flaunted
Like an accomplishment
Mothers worried over
Marrying off pink daughters
As the market preferred
Dark brides
Firms which made a fortune
Out of selling
The sun-screen paste
Came up with creams
That made you
Dusky and desirable
Umbrellas were used
Only during the monsoons
Or during high noons
With everyone
Saluting the sun
Like a deity
Even poets wrote
She was as comely
As a crow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

At a family wedding

Every time I'm confronted
With a relative's face
I'm supposed
To know and don't
I see that the other person
Is surprised
That I do not really know him
When he is so well known
And cannot believe
Someone has not even heard of him;
I often find the other
Reeling off impressive
Statistics about himself
Like a poll candidate
Declaring his assets
Wanting me to be
Conscious of who
I am talking to;
I can even imagine him
Breaking into commercials
Like a television
And suddenly flash on his shirt
Logos, stickers and sponsors
Like a brand ambassador;
I find simple questions
Like how are you
Being interpreted
As how well off are you
And what are you
Misheard as what are you worth;
I keep looking for the one
Who says with a smile
That he is just about solvent
And talks of people he misses.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The wheel turns

Words have a way of coming back
Like dogs you try to lose
Like curses you have hurled
At others in the manner
Of hotheaded holy men
Interrupted in their penance;
Like advice given gratis
When you want for nothing
And you pretend everything
You've got is your due;
Like invoking fate
To gloss over
The pain of caste
Colour, disease or death;
Like breaking confidences
Making sure that others
Know when others fall
Like a letter
With the wrong address
Coming back to you.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Retreat

For a while, I want to be
Where no one knows me
Where no one will stare
At me as if I were a rare
Bird sighted when long thought dead
Where I'll not hear my name chanted
By those who follow me like they were enchanted
Where I would not feel taller than I was
Can sit with myself and watch for hours the clouds pass
Where I would not have to sit and hear myself praised
Painted, inflated, padded, and raised
Where I can look at the image in the eye
Laugh at the lies, and for a while, die

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Smitten

She was his heart throb,
At his desk
He had her signed photo
That he often kept looking at
Much to the amusement of his colleagues,
He did not try to meet her
Like other fans
You would only find him repeatedly
Going to films
Where she usually played the moll or vamp
He kept his passion secret
From his wife who did not know
About his record viewings at matinee shows;
Where everyone talked of the heroine
He had eyes only for her
If his mate was not around
You could see him fervently watching
His deity's song and dance sequences on TV;
When the celluloid goddess took her life
He was grief-stricken
Kept off films for a while
Mourning her untimely demise,
Before falling in love
With another screen siren
Whose smile left him speechless
And lit up his dreams.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Perjury

If you can find the fragrance
You can find the flower
If you find the flower
You know where the head will be
Though it recedes farther and farther away
On an ever-swelling torso
With limbs which cannot stop growing
If you can hear the tinkle
You can find the anklets
If you find the anklets
You can find the feet
If they stand still
And not stop growing
And not recede
Farther and farther away
Before you can measure them;
There must have been
Only a whisper of nothing
Before the blooming of thought
The stirring of desire
Before the word was born
To spawn gods
In man's own image
And asking a flower
To bear false witness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unanswered

My feet keep taking me
To where we used to meet
Though I know it cannot be
Everyone looks like you
Answering my searching eyes
With outraged stares
And a few pitying smiles
I feel like the pilgrim
In the serpentine queue
Unable to find his glasses
When he gets near the deity
And is thrown out
Before his darshan;
I never thought death
Could come so early
With such speechless eyes
And heart-breaking smiles
And take away my cerulean skies;
I cannot pray at this shrine
Where we have stood with tears
I'll rather sit on the steps
Of the fabled tank
Its water green with moss
Watching with pity fervent feet
Rushing to the goddess
With more unheeded prayers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

View cutter

When guests come without notice
What can be hidden is quickly hidden
Some things are kicked under the furniture,
Asking the visitors to wait awhile
Persuading them to take seats
Facing the front door
You rush inside
To make the bed
Fold the blankets
Left in a heap
By the brats
Rushing to school and office,
You switch on the fan
Suddenly noticing how dirty it is,
The unwashed plates in the sink
Stick out like in an ad for cleaning powder
You quickly close the kitchen door
Put the latch on
Pour out some soft drinks
Hoping to soften any snide criticism
At the chaos of the house
Fortunately as it turns out
These people have come for a favour
So they are unlikely to be too critical
You make a note
To buy a curtain at once
To cut off the view of the hall
From all future visitors
As a nation
We are good at this
We even know how to hide our people
All the while pretending
We have nothing to hide.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chameleon

It seems we are not
Talking of the same days ---
There were only
The little dreams then
Not the grandiose ones
Only the grown-ups have
All we wanted was
A new top
That orange striped shirt
A few more marbles
Matchbox labels
More and more sweets every day
We stood looking
Longingly at posters of new films
We would have to wait
At least for a month to see,
There were different versions
Of what the story was
From peers who had claimed
To have seen it the first week,
Finally when we got to watch
The real thing on the silver screen
We waited in vain
For the scene
The friend had described with relish
Complete with sound effects,
He refused to admit
It was all his own
Insisting it had been cut
To reduce the length ---
All you remember
Is the chameleon you killed
Invoking the myth
To justify the wanton slaying,
The past has changed its colours
Disappearing into the undergrowth
I keep looking for the boy
Happy with a new top
You do not know him ---
Before you leave
Switch off the light
Take your words with you
I love the darkness.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Shooting star

I'm happy with you
Because you do not
Tell me how well I would look
If I had a straighter nose
Thinner lips
Curlier hair
Smaller eyes
A less horsey gait
A sweeter voice
A lighter skin,
Because you do not
Lose sleep over losses
You cannot help
Do not worry over
What others have
And do not wake up every day
With covetous thoughts
Because we can look up at the sky
And together watch with delight cotton candy clouds
Being tweaked into a childscape
Before disappearing as if they never were
We are happy
Because we do not have
Anything to wish upon
A shooting star
As we spot it
Fall in a flash.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Eating stealthily

Since we offered a rent higher
Than the market value
He took us as tenants
Even though we were pure non-vegetarians
And he was a pure vegetarian
Refusing to even eat eggs on the sly
Like others of his ilk;
He ordered us to keep the doors and windows closed
When we cooked meat or fish
"The stench is so terrible"
He snapped at us going red in the face
All the time covering his nose with a towel;
I was an asthmatic, he didn't care
If we choked on our sin;
We put up with the fumes from the cooking
The hot smell of masala and meat
As we could not forgo our favourite dishes;
What we feared more
Were the sacrificial fires he raised
Spreading a smoke that smelt of cowdung and death
Forcing us to close doors and windows
Trying hard to believe religious smoke is good
For the soul, even if it makes you wheeze ---
I cannot order my landlord to keep his smoking indoors.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

False flowers

They were called false
The yellow shuttlecock-like
Pumpkin flowers
That would not yield fruit
They were sought after
By pubescent girls on austerities
Praying for a mate after their heart
During the misty-eyed Margazhi;
The flowers turned up
Planted in cowdung
At the centre
Of elaborate kolams
Drawn with fingers
Shaking in the cold air
I think of my friends
Who fasted with me
With fond hope
And false flowers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I miss you

Who's the caller
I wonder as I answer
The unknown number
When the girl
At the other end
Suddenly starts declaring
Her love for me
In poetry
"When I cannot see you
Even for a day or two
I do not want to wake
Do not want the day to break
Without you where is my spring?
Come back, before I begin withering..."
I listen enraptured
Flattered that someone's
Pouring out her heart in my ear
When the operator
With a "there-I-gulled-you" voiceover
Cuts in, with the "I miss you" service offer

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ghosts, gods

My maternal uncle from Kerala
Was full of ghost stories
He turned out to be an expert on ghosts
Especially of the female variety
He ran into them quite frequently
When coming home from late-night film shows
Like a male ghost asking for light
These white-clad loose-haired dark-eyed creatures
Confronted you for betel lime
Then vanished if you brandished anything made of iron
He particularly praised their wardrobe
"Nothing human can wear such dazzling white!"
My mother pitched in with her own anecdote ---
The night when Lord Hanuman manifested himself
"I suddenly woke up and found this huge dazzling green monkey!
It was so tall its head was hitting the ceiling!
It lowered its head and then darted out the door!"
Uncle intervened: "Immediately it came to my room
Placed its huge green paw on my head and blessed me!"
The two went on and on
About how no one else saw it;
The god's appearance sparked a furore
Neighbours poured in to touch the spot where he was seen
Priests were called in to perform special poojas;
After my uncle left
Mother started seeing things
Which we couldn't see
Often spoke to them
Shouted at them
Fought with them
We stopped believing in ghosts or gods.

Telephone booth

It is where lies come readily
Without any prompting
As there are no eyes
To belie the words
No eyes before
To see through them
Like a quick scene change
Without resort to props
It turns into a college
A tuition centre
A classmate's house
A movie theatre
You cannot but worry for your daughter
When you watch a college girl
Tell her mother
That she'll come late
As she has special classes
Then hop onto her boyfriend's pillion
Urging him to drive fast
"Or we'll miss the opening song!"
Next time the guy comes with another girl
When you tell the first one
She breaks down
"He said he could not live without me!"
Sometimes the youths carry on fake conversations
While trying to hit on you
"You are plump in a very desirable way"
(When I know I am fat and fighting it);
Every night before I close up
I tidy up the place
But cannot sweep away
The lies heard all day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Flashback

It is only in films
That characters
Meeting after a long time
Remember every moment shared
In graphic detail
Even sing a song in full
Without missing a word ---
I could not recall even the name
Much to the fury of this intruder
From the past I vaguely knew
As having shared the same campus with
His best memory of his college days
Was when he turned up in shorts
And was asked to leave the class
He shouted at me
As if I had robbed him of his glory
Or not backed his alibi
I sympathised with him
And immediately apologised
For my lapse
The past cannot exist
If it is denied
Like my teacher did
When I met him after so many years
And all he thought to ask
Was if my handwriting
Was still as awful
When it was the envy of the class
And the only thing
I could ever be proud of.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Images

My five-month-old grand-child
Is on the other side of the screen
She has been put on a rocker
With toys for company
When I speak to her
She doesn't look at me
Turns to her companions
And smiles at them
While I coo over her cuddly image
My daughter's daughter;
I follow her every move
The way she smiles
Crinkles her eyes
Imagining something of me
In her somewhere
It is funny the way she prowls
On the floor
Keeping her behind raised
Turning on her axis seated
Suddenly putting some object
In her mouth
Sending me into a frenzy
Yelling excitedly at her mother
Busy in the kitchen;
I never tire of this
Every day waiting like a serial addict
For the afternoon three-hour session
Of this long-distance baby-sitting
The paternal in-laws do not know about;
It has always been like this
Playing with images,
Turning into images
Fading into images,
To be remembered every month
With favourite offerings
Perhaps named after
For form's sake
Then never called after.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

First time

It is not
Like the first time
Every time,
Though I want it
To be like the first time
Every time I watch the moon
Rise through the foliage
Like hope in the darkness,
The green parrots
Change into blue plumage
In the evening sun ---
As if all colour was an illusion ---
Before they vanish into the trees;
Every time I hear the kuyil sing
Like it is dying
I think of the first time
When I thought
It was a bird's way of crying

When you visit

Before you step into my house
Read these instructions carefully:
Do not touch the walls
With wet hands;
The door and window curtains
Are also not to be fingered;
Do not open the fridge
Or help yourself
To the mineral water
Or soft drinks;
Do not expect to be
Welcomed cordially
Even if you have brought gifts;
You may sit down
On the chairs upright
Without disturbing the cushion covers;
This is not a museum
To go around and peer,
Exploration is strictly forbidden;
You may not switch on the fans yourself
If you feel the room is suffocating
You may request us
To put them on
However, we reserve the right
To oblige you
Or reject the plea;
Under no circumstances
Should the television be used,
The same goes for the telephone too;
Refreshments may or may not be given
They are not to be expected
As a matter of right;
We may or may not
Engage you in conversation
It all depends
If we are socially inclined
At that particular hour
We may even go about our business
As if you didn't exist,
However, you are free to leave anytime
We will not insist that you stay for lunch,
Thank you, visit us again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Orangutan

The new girl
Became the object of envy
In the class,
She spoke so fluently
In English
That she was treated
With deference
Even by the teacher,
We were wary
Of getting into arguments
With her, as our vocabulary
Was soon exhausted
And she used words
We often needed
To look up in the dictionary,
Once the two of us got into a fight
When we were going home
It was over our favourite film stars
She was a fan of the action hero
My family and I hated with all our hearts,
Standing at a safe distance
We threw hot words
At each other
We soon ran out of
All the names
Of the animals we knew
Suddenly she threw a strange creature at me
"Orangutan!Orangutan!Orangutan!"
I didn't know what it meant
But I felt so humiliated
I sat down in the middle of the street
And cried and cried ---
I never spoke to the orangutan again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Playtime

There was no one around
As I ran up and down the stairs
No harsh adult voice
Shouted not to make noise
The thud of feet
Was sweet music
To my ears
I yelled, yelled and yelled
With no one yelling at me
I beat on the walls
Banged the gate
Climbed the compound wall
Stood on it
Imagining myself to be a cat
Then leapt on the pile of sand
Rolling in it like a dog
Laughing and barking at the other dogs
Passing by with stern faces
And walking stiffly on their hind legs

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Not funny

It is like Cinna
Being torn up
For his bad verses
When a mob
After tasting success
At the hustings
Hunts a comedian
For poking fun
At its leader
During a no-holds-barred
Poll campaign
Where the hero-turned neta
Dismissed the funny man
As a mere clown
And the other hit back
At his suspected Fink Nottle ways
And graphics-aided stunts;
In the films
The popular gagman
Gets thrashed
In most of his scenes
In true slapstick fashion ---
His most-hilarious role
Is a wannabe toughie
Who routinely gets roughed up
For his false bravado;
Where else can you see
A celluloid gag
Spill into the street like this
Threatening to spill real blood
And everyone finding it highly comic?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Copycat

I used to wear
A cricket cap everywhere
Even when I had stopped
Putting bat to ball
And turning the arm over;
As it was considered unmanly
Or elderly not to dare the sun
With a bare head
My appearance first drew
Smirks and derisive comments
However I wouldn't step out
Without it even once
I did not feel presentable
If I didn't have it
I was not trying
To hide anything
There was no receding hairline
Or bald patches to cover up
Without it, I told myself
I would feel like a bank robber
Going to work without a ski mask
I only had to remove it
If I wanted to go incognito
I did not add a wrist watch or bracelet
Or ring to my costume like so many others
Friends began calling me
'Maroon cap' after a while
They even dropped the 'cap'
And began punning on maroon
They finally quit
Trying to uncap me
As I shunned their company
And starved them of funds
For their nicotine supply;
It was my neighbour
Who at last made me hang it up
He started sporting one just like me
Robbing me of my identity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Playing house

I was always the doctor
In our little afternoon pastime
My younger cousin
Played the nurse
Who often needed
To be told her lines
"What should I say now?"
She was eager
To do justice to the role;
The willing patient
Was the boy
From next door;
He was a good actor too
And howled like in real pain;
I was a no-nonsense doctor
Going in for surgery
For his usual complaint of stomach pain,
I sent him home with some rough dressing
And ofcourse his regular fee of a toffee
"Call me every time!"
He generously offered;
After I fared badly in science
I shed the doctor's garb
Moved on to other careers,
Teaching was the favourite
Where you could be
On the other side of reality
Dictating to everyone, silencing others
Sending people on errands
Even failing them with red ink;
Finally I dropped out,
Stopped dreaming,
Settled for playing house.

Kuruvikaran Salai

When you lived there
You never thought to ask
What the name of the road meant;
It must have been
A hunter's trail
In the distant past,
Now turned into a causeway
Across a once-roaring river
Reined in by a reservoir;
You do not remember
The names of the streets
You've haunted at all hours
You do not know
The whereabouts of the friends
Whose every caper you knew
Whose every thought you once saw
As it rippled across their face;
What did you hunt down
In that town you left
Without so much as a glance back?
What did you gather?
You learnt to trap
Fleeting little truths
In just a few words
And found what lay
At ends of trails
All thought led somewhere.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the Cross

A town is not its deity
Its palace, perennially dry river,
Well-planned streets
Always taking you to a temple tower
Dust hanging in the air like haze
Or hatred simmering across generations
Waiting to spill blood,
It is not its eateries
Open round the clock
For a famished place
Which never stops feeding
Or can ever go to sleep
With avenging furies
Their hair let loose
For a blood vow
Stalking their quarry
Praying for less-planned ways
That will not lead him back to his hunters,
A town is not its officials
With whom you have little to do
As they can do little
Not its bravehearts who will not baulk at murder
Stare at you from cutouts and flex banners
Not its walking spaces where hired assassins
Lie in wait at dawn ---
It is only a chapel porch
Where you sit, with no one around
But the bleeding trees,
And cry like
Christ on the Cross
"Father, why did you abandon me!"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mother Teresa

Here Christan names were taboo,
In the question paper set by a newcomer
A comprehension passage
About a boy in a British home
Taking breakfast
Then going out to play cricket
Had the saffron brigade up in arms;
As it was an internal test
The text was purified
Without the teacher's consent;
Sam became Somu
The pudding became parotta
Cricket became kabaddi
Played under a tamarind tree;
The diabolic deviant
Had also made the students believe
That Mother Teresa
Could be 'The person I like most'
And not the Kanchi acharya
Or Swami Vivekananda;
The saint of Kolkata
Was struck off the list of likeables
And the infiltrator
Asked to give notes
On Adi Sankara;
He was also duly warned ---
The proselytising plot was busted
Even before it could be hatched.
The cultural police didn't let on
That their daughters and sons
Were routinely rechristened
At call centres
And answered to names like Jessy and John.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Muse

Give me words
That are cooed over like babies,
That children love to recite
And like the first kural, hardly forget,
That bring to life a woman with eyes
Which can turn men's knees to ice,
That melt frozen hearts
And make them weep for long-dead mothers,
That when uttered burst into flames
And burn for years like the first ardour,
That open a window to a heaven
None has seen and most believe in,
That the life-weary turn to with a sigh
And smile on learning everything is a lie,
That bring the estranged together
When they see the stalker is nearer,
That the lonely take everywhere
And the dying take with them, to meet the Stranger.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Beware of us

First they said
We were only to be seen
And not to be heard
Then did not allow us
Even to see the light of day
Even when we were born
It was the male who was feted
We the ones trampled on
Then told to hide
Even inside the house
When strangers came
Hide from the gods
When the monthly visitor came
We cannot be hidden anymore
We will be seen, heard, respected
And feared like the fury.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Tongue-tied

He spoke in a tongue
That seemed familiar
Similar to my own
But so unintelligible
It could have been gibberish
He spoke in signs
Asking me to repeat
The words after him
He pointed to the sky often
As if to say
He learnt it from the gods
"Just listen to it"
He gesticulated
"That itself will benefit you!"
Soon I could not remember
My own language
Started speaking in signs
Could mouth only the words
Of the other
I wondered where mine had fled
Leaving me alone with this sorcerer
I frantically searched with my eyes for any sign of them
When he suddenly opened the bundle he had
And tossed them out like he would garbage
All had been hacked, dismembered,
Eyes, hands, torsos promiscuously mixed
You've nothing left, he said, and left.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lost

From end to end
A green vastness
The unseen breeze
Traces its fingers
Across the sameness
Unrelieved by wing of bird
Or a voice raised to be heard
Or an answering word
Or turbaned head
For someone like me, city-bred
There is a shiver of fear
As there is no one near
No road in sight
No bus plying
I feel lost,
Like a distracted swimmer
Far out into the huge lake
Suddenly turning back
And finding no shore,
Only, here I am standing on firm ground
Though I am too young to comprehend
That this is where my food is grown
Where people kill themselves like they do pests
As they cannot feed their own

Monday, April 25, 2011

Diarist

Esther started writing a diary
When she was just ten
She allowed us to read it
As soon as she returned to school from vacation
The entries were
More fictional than confessional
Her explanation was that
It was meant to be history
Most likely to fall into the hands
Of her husband, in-laws, children
So it must show her in good light;
One entry we laughed over went like this:
"I was able to score
Only 98 this time in maths.
I refused to have dinner
Though mom had made mutton biriyani
With chicken sauce and omelette to go with it"
None of it was true
She had scored only 60
The dinner was cold rice
Left over from lunch
With just a piece of pickle as appetiser.
She dropped out soon after
We never got to see her
I hope she married well
Could afford whatever she wanted to eat
And didn't have to cook up her diary for posterity.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Toys

I have long moved away
From this infantile game
Idle or insidious
Grown-ups play
With idols
Which they wake up
With songs
Bathe with milk
Deck with flowers,
Clothe in silk,
Show the mirror to
Marry, put on the swing
Take out in street processions ---
Sometimes to the river
Even to the mistress ---
On horses, palanquins, chariots
Praise like courtiers
Sing lullabies to,
Put to bed ---
Toys always play along
They will be decoys
Diversions, side shows, red herrings
Scapegoats, causes, effects
Silent accomplices, abettors, accessories ---
They will be anything
If you want
They will sleep through anything.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recipes

It is not as if
They are soft drink formulas
That need to be guarded
Like classified secrets
And cannot be given access to
For unauthorised personnel
They have been handed down
From generation to generation
Mother to daughter,
Daughter-in-law to your son,
Sometimes shared with neighbours
Serving apprenticeship at home,
Now there are the channels, websites and books too
But they will not give you
The insider tips to make your dish
Delicious not merely palatable ---
As for me, I am still grateful
To one or more mentors
Who did not laugh
At my early attempts
To get the ingredients right
For the standard dal gravy
To go with rice
And encouraged me
To venture out to sweets and savouries
This is not about them
But about that woman
(I do not want to take her name
May her rice be always overcooked)
Who tells me how to make chutney
Casually over phone the other day
(She must have been showing off
Her culinary skills before some visitor)
Reads out the entire recipe
I gave her in the first place
Tells me she discovered
How to do it all by herself
Repeats my dialogue back to me
"It's just adding one onion here
And taking away one chilli there"
Then ends her conversation
Helpfully suggesting
"You can always ask me for tips!"
That did it! I will not give anyone
Any recipe anymore,
I know how to make your idlis softer
But I will not tell you
Not on your life!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dead flowers

Bees hum around
The dead roses
Being strung
Into garlands,
The flower-seller
Has kept aside
Two of the best blossoms for me,
She knows what I prefer ---
Something not fully awake
Something between bud and flower
Something wanting to be loved
Yet not wanting to be violated
As I walk away from the heady fragrance
With a half-flower planted in my hair
The bees like eyes
Follow me unrequited
Drawn by the smell of death

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fiance

I never got to see her fiance
Her description of him
Was like what we see
In the matrimonial ads ---
Tall, fair, handsome
Handsome salary
Employed in Dubai
Broad-minded, well-travelled
Fun-loving, good company ---
"As soon as I finish my B.A.
I'm going to join him
Probably we'll get married there!"
She didn't show any picture
But there were many discrepancies
In her portrait of him
The eye-colour kept changing
It was sometimes black,
Sometimes cat's eye
The letter she secretly laughed over
And hurriedly hid
Looked only like an inland letter
Our suspicions about his whereabouts,
Looks, profile and career persisted
We did not probe further,
It was too personal
It was a year later
After we finished college
That I ran into them
At the Mount station
"This is the fiance
I was always talking about!
We got married only last month."
I still don't know why
Somebody would lie about her beloved
Be ashamed of her own kind
Pretend he looked like someone else.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Freedom from words

When I look at the 'fire' bucket
With the single Tamil letter on it
I want to say hello to a word
Whose variation once was
College lingo for very good;
It is passe like many others
Of my generation;
What my heir uses as equivalent
Is something that means everything
From upset to upbeat;
Often it is more of the former
As teachers are not up to the mark
The college canteen serves unpalatable food
And favourite film stars specialise in flops;
I am freed from many words now
They have ceased to hold any fear for me,
I will not blanch anymore at teenage bugbears
Like maths, principal's room, or progress card;
How many more new words
Will make my heart sink
Before the flames dance nearer?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Water bearer

I cup my hands
To fetch water
From the nameless spring,
What I bring
Is what I have not spilt
What little passes
Between your lips,
Like an elixir
Sends the blood
Coursing again
Lights up your eyes
Puts you back on your feet
I cannot rest
Till no is left.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pillow

How do you translate
This word that in my language
Means something
That calms the head?
A place where women
Weave their spell
To wean men away
From their mothers;
Children fight
For the new ones
Before they are hardly unwrapped
It is always the other one
They find attractive;
When guests arrive
The best ones are given to them
And it is invariably the house queen
Who sacrifices hers
And sleeps with a makeshift pillow
Of bedsheets and clothes;
Blessed are those
Who have no need for pillows
And travel far on dreams.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tiger's milk

The five-year-old
Ensconced on his grandfather's lap
Listening to the story of the boy
Sent to fetch tiger's milk
By his foster-mother,
Asks the milkman
Why he can't bring
Something as exotic as that
And helpfully suggests
That he can find a tigress in the zoo;
His questions grow weirder ---
During a visit to the temple
He finds the silence oppressive
Devotees give him stern looks
When he speaks loudly
It is the school all over again
Or like the landlord back home
Wanting him to be
As noiseless as a cat,
He wants to know
Why the priest alone can talk
Why he can't run around
The vast courtyard
Clap, jump, yell, laugh
Play pranks like the god-child
He had heard extolled
In the stories he had been told
What do you tell him?
That wild ones
Are banished to the forest
And only tame ones can live here?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hush

You can hear the hush fall
Over the city on Sunday evening,
The roosting birds whisper
On trees yielding to the night,
The road looks broader
Than during the week days
When you can hardly see down it
The odd vehicle plies leisurely
Savouring the ride;
Even the feet know
There is no need to hasten
At least till morning
When the city
Will wake up with a jolt
And start screaming
"I am late!"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Similies

Like moonlight on a gutter
Beauty before the unseeing
Music where no one hears
The Bible for a pillow
Silence to the noisy
Mansion without a child
A faceless mirror
Blossom without fragrance
Letter with no address
Historian who has lost his memory
As tasteless as cold sugarless tea
As tedious as a daytime passenger train
As vain as wearing flowers
To a lonely night
Or putting jewels on a deity
Or saying a prayer to stone

Monday, March 7, 2011

March

March is when
The day begins early
And lasts longer
The night like a jilted lover
Stands in drunken stupor
Under street lamps
Groping for December,
The neem tree
Rocks on its feet
Like a punch-drunk boxer
Refusing to quit
Though it bleeds leaves,
The air cracks show on the plaster
Shadows look for shade
The feet stop
Without asking
At tender coconut stalls
And eyes look gratefully
At the rain tree
The builder has spared

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Foster-mother

When we have to tell the truth
Can we bear to tell him?
Before he enters his teens
That's the deadline given us;
There's a story they said we can use ---
Of the divine heir to a throne
Spirited away from his killers
Growing up with a foster-mother
Till the time was ripe ---
I feel helpless like Yasodha
When he makes my head spin
With toys, stainless steel cups and spoons changing avatars
Becoming one character after another in the stories
He retells like a mythological tale;
Before my very eyes
He changed from a babe to a toddler
Suddenly standing up, holding the wall
Then stumbling forward, falling, getting up, trying again
It was like a Viswaroopa.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What the stork brought

Every time I look at him
As he prowls around on all fours
With milk teeth biting on a rubber toy
I cannot believe
He was born somewhere else
That he has not been here from birth ---
How many strange hands
Must have kept him alive
For a year
Before we found him!
If he could remember so far back
Will he think about those
Who tended him
Smiled at him
Fed him, sometimes cursed him
For disturbing them at odd hours ---
No, no, I don't want him to relive those early days
I believe he was meant to be born as mine
Only the stork blundered and stopped at the wrong address
Before someone intervened and brought him home.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A strange lullaby

This lullaby of the folk-singer
Sounding like a dirge
Speaks of the shadow
That stalks some, from the womb
Of births deemed inferior
Fates said to be inherited
Of temples which cannot be entered
Waters that are off limits
Of seeds not allowed to sprout
Plants culled when young
Of buds plucked before they flower
Sleepless nights
That dread the break of day
Of the wordless song
That brings the cattle home
Of the child who lifted
The veil off the world
And promised to come again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Godwoman

As our neighbours
Were unlettered
Mother who had been to school
For a while, and listened to the stories
Of well-travelled father
Became the authority on places,
For most of the women
Whose feet had not gone farther
Than the temple and market.
Though she had not been
To the beach herself
She would pretend
To have played in the waves
Seen catamarans setting out to fish
And walked with her cousins
On the mile-long shore:
"Such vast stretch of golden sand
Such vast expanse of blue water
And nothing between
The panting sea and the pale skyline
But waves chasing waves
Dying at my feet!"
Her imagination often took wing,
Standing on the mountains
She said she once saw the entire country
And there were higher mountains
In other remote countries
From where you could see the entire world.
Soon she moved to esoteric fields
Claiming to have visions of the goddess
And to have been bestowed with clairvoyance:
Mostly shots in the dark
She predicted pregnancy,
Gender of the baby
Job for the collegian
Patch-up of the estranged couple
Location of the lost jewel ---
She almost became a godwoman
But for rationalist father,
Who shooed away the gullible visitors
And ended a wouldbe witch-doctor's career.