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.