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.

Friday, February 18, 2011

One day at a time

My father said:
Every day when I wake up
I'm happy I can see
Atleast as far as my hands
Have no wracking cough
Can savour my sugarless tea
Pace the ten feet
Of my room
Thankful for the heart
That still beats
The hands that can still punch out
Your cell number
Hold the tumbler
And feed myself
Glad not to have to chase dreams
My own or someone else's
Not to have to draw up plans,
Take it one day at a time
And finally understand
With the force of a revelation
What the seer meant
When he said:
"You have no tomorrow.!"

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.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grace

Films were taboo
In her house
It was sin
To even mention them,
When we discussed
During school breaks
The latest releases
In her presence
She would cover her head,
Cross herself,
Kneel down in the corridor
Tears streaming down her face
Say an instant prayer
And seek forgiveness
Of the Lord
For having heard
The bad word 'love' ---
When the rules
Were suddenly relaxed
For her to watch an educational
She couldn't stop talking
Of the 'Sound of Music'
She became like a vegetarian
Making an exception for eggs
And we ran often into her
At the cinemas
Her strict parents in tow
All converts to the movie magic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday suburban

It's been a long time,
I ask someone
Which direction
The train will come from,
I cannot put aside
The thought
It should be
From the left,
It doesn't matter
I tell myself
I can always get down
And get on the right train,
The silent tracks belie
The pellmell they have seen
The litter of soft drink packs
Shows how hot the day's been
I'm willing to wait
Though no classmate will greet me
As she comes down the stairs
In beautiful disarray.
Where have they all disappeared?
Will they wonder what happened to me
When they pass through here?
I see someone like her ---
Could be even her daughter ---
Walking down leisurely
With no train in sight,
Looking at the station
With yesterday's eyes
I suddenly realise
That all journeys
Are one way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kumbhakarna

How would you want to be woken up?
By the rooster serenading?
The ruckus of crows?
With a mother's gentle tap?
The alarm going off
In your ear?
Cold water in your face?
The smell of good coffee?
The sun reaching you through the window?
Your favourite song played loudly?
Or your child
Sitting on your chest
And drumming with his little fingers?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good times

It is the child
In the house
Who looks
At the hands
Of guests
Happy if they have
Brought sweets
Toys or new clothes ---
When he grows up
He finds the person
He looked forward to
Has turned into a critic
Spouting words of advice
Asking too many questions
About his grades
Goals, future plans
Every time leaving behind
A bouquet of fear
For the parents
Already growing grey with worry --
The fortune-teller
Who comes to his door
And predicts only good times
Is much more welcome.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Magarajyoti

It was touted
As a miracle,
Drawing pilgrims like
Insects to a flame,
Claimed to be visible only to those
Who had been the most devout
Strictly observing the rites
And keeping the vows,
Those who did not see it
For reasons of refractive error
Always pretended they had seen
The manifestation on the hill ---
The stampede shattered the myth,
Led to official admissions
That the light was man-lit,
Drew erudite distinctions
Between the star and the flame,
Many blamed the pilgrims
For panicking and pouring
Down a narrow jungle path,
Some wrote I-told-you-so articles
How the tragedy
Was waiting to happen
The fundamentalists gave the perspective
That for the believer
It was a direct ascent to heaven
A spark disappearing into the celestial fire
Dying during a pilgrimage
Like this was mass nirvana
A harvest of the chosen.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Walking with the past

Like the Van Gogh scene
In 'Dreams'
I took the road
In 'Playground'*
And found myself
In my past
Where the dead leaves
Slowly burnt
With a fragrant smoke
And the mist hung sleepy-eyed
On the thorn trees
As I set out for
My first hockey match
In the distant serpent hill venue
The heart beating faster
Already hearing the referee's shrill whistle
Cracking the ball hard
From the top of the "D"
Keeping at bay
The surging rival forwards
Cutting off the dangerous passes
Clearing the ball first-time ---
As we gathered in front of the school
To say the prayer
"Our father, thou art in heaven" ---
The song brought me back
I wished I could walk along
Those tree-lined roads again
Holding her hand
Before the others were up.

*Vetrimaran's Tamil film Aadukalam (Playground)partly shot in Madurai Railway Colony)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hero

My son worries
About the fate
Of his favourite actor's
New film
He cannot accept that
I do not fancy him,
When I point out
That his storylines
Are beginning to pall
And that his political ambitions
Have begun to overshadow his persona
He vehemently protests
Lists his hero's virtues
Pans the rivals
Then when he finds
He cannot win the argument
Gets personal,
Declares me old
I cannot but smile at him
Thinking of the hero
Whose films I patronised
At his age
And persuaded myself
Was the best in business ---
My god is better than yours!