Sunday, August 28, 2011


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.


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


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


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


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 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


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


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


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


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


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"


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


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?"


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.