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.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hungry night

You begin to hate food
If you have gone to bed hungry,
With the home coffer,
Rice vessel empty,
With no vegetable
Not even a plantain left
In the house;
To quell the gastric juices
Slowly rioting
You pour water
Hoping to kill the secretion;
With the neighbourhood
Credit exhausted
The breadwinner has gone
To tap distant sources;
You lie down on the floor
Silently crying in the dark
Face averted from mother's
Who had never let us starve
You wonder how long it takes
To die of hunger.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Barbed heaven

It's good to be alive
Even if you are not free
You do not have to think
For yourself or worry
About tomorrow
It cannot be worse
The defeated like the dead
Have no fear;
You only have to do
As you are told
Deny your language
Your people
Your dream
Be grateful for the handouts,
Ignore the cries of your women
You cannot protect
Of the men tortured
To find traces of treason;
Learn to still the roar
Of the jungle
No longer yours,
Learn to look at
The moon beyond
The barbed fence
Learn to be a slave
Till the blood-weaned one
Turns against his own

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 19, 2011

Between two channels

It is difficult
To wean my father
Away from that channel
Which apparently sees reality
With blinkered eyes
True to an opposition party;
It sees the hand
Of the leader it hates
In every crime
In the state
From chain-snatching
To sand-mining
And goes on and on
About his lack of a genuine mandate
And keeps airing the allegation
That he would not have won
But for rigging
The foolproof voting machines;
I suggest that my old man watch
The other channel too
Then he'll know
Like the blind protagonist
Of the epic
That the truth lies
Between the two

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Break

She started with the slate pencil
Before moving on to scales, pens
Cell phones, even a television set
We were always wary of
Upsetting our only child
She ended arguments
By breaking things
And storming off
To her room
Where she shut herself up
And refused to come out even to eat
We did not stand in her way
Let her marry the one she wanted
And fly away for good
As we look at
The two of them waving to us
Through the web cam
I cannot but wonder
What all the one-year-old girl
She is holdng in her arms
And born in that land of opportunities
Would break as she grows up?

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!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ears which hear not

My neighbour kept on bemoaning
The cost of the hearing aids
Voicing the suspicion
That the audiologist
Had made him believe
That one would do
And then made him pay for two
The simple logic was
"How would you feel
If you had sight only in one eye"
When he was asked to try the model
I walked him through the noisiest road
Asking him again and again
If he was hearing everything
And the volume was right
He still did not seem convinced
That one would not have been enough
Though I pointed out how fortunate he was
He could afford the trendiest
That he could easily tuck away from view
And be able to talk to his daughter
Living on the other side of the globe
Without shouting for all the world to hear ---
How nice would it be
If I did not have to hear
The verbal darts I seemed to draw
The talk of the evil
That others were always up to
And had ears for nothing
But the shepherd's song
That took the cattle along.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Magic

Where these words
Come from
I do not know
They do not say
What I mean
And what I say
Is not what I meant
Yet, once they leave my hands
They change shape
As if touched by magic
The crows turn
Into kuyils
The duckling
Becomes a swan
The sleeping child
Wakes with a smile
And describes the gods
It has seen
Before it feels the pangs
Of hunger and howls for milk.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Comedy track

It seems easy when
You can make people laugh
At rival candidates
Reducing them
To objects of ridicule
Making fun of
Their apparent fantasies
Their motives
For entering politics
As if yours
Were absolutely altruistic;
Suddenly a leader's
Drinking habit
Becomes a campaign issue;
In a state
Where liquor
Is the only perennial river
The debate rages over
Whether he canvasses
For votes drunk,
Whether he is sober
Any time of the day,
Whether he beat up a candidate,
When he pointed out a gaffe over his name
Whether a man
Who cannot face his electors
Without a pint or two
Is trustworthy,
Or his word just as empty
As a drunkard's promise?