Friday, September 30, 2011

Citizen

The school children
Stood for three hours
By the road
Before her convoy came
By that time
The garland had faded
The spirits flagged
The shoulders drooped
The faces fell
The placards rested
Against the trees
Only the teachers
Were eager
To meet the leader
Once equated
With the state
"There she is!
How fair she looks!
How simple is her saree!
How gracious!"
There was pell-mell
And some students fell
As suddenly everyone
Lost their head
And wanted to
Shake her hand
I kept away
From the fawning crowd
A proud citizen
Not fooled by the skin
Ashamed of this genuflection
To someone I knew
Had taken the country
To the brink of tyranny.

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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Past

What I like about the past
Is that it is done with
It can be put away
Unless someone distorts it
When I look back,
Yesterday's hurts
Hardly hurt
The little triumphs
May never have happened
It is good to see
That the comparisons
That once rankled
Hardly matter anymore
The one who played much better
And was greeted everywhere
Scarcely recalls those days
Now that he hobbles along
With a walking stick
Those who carry
Their possessions
Wherever they go
Can shed neither
Their past nor their present.

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.