Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Still feet

Death stopped me at the door
Went away without answering the questions
I could only throw at what he left behind ---
That is not who he was
Lying still, with unseeing eyes
Not breathing, or complaining any more
Only the shell, the empty pod
The nest needed no more
The shadow of the flame
Headed for the funeral pyre
And what will be left over
Will be given to the restless sea;
Before he called time
What was the wander lust
That tugged at his feet
Took him back to his native haunts
Deities he could not take his eyes from
Rivers that suddenly sprang to life
He traveled miles to see
Afterwards, he couldn't remember his way back
Perhaps, knew what was waiting for him at home
Like a creditor, whose patience had run out

Monday, October 26, 2015

A certain death

You are now defined by what you do not have
What the world wants is for you to quietly die
The old man said, sitting by my side
On the park bench, glad to see someone
Who didn't turn his face away
Even took his skull candy off
To listen to him or at least pretend to
He could well have been my father
Complaining of the very son
Perhaps taking good care of him
I've seen him talk to strangers like this
Stoically taken glares thrown after
As if reading my mind, he said ---
Those in the midst of their winter
Having weathered a long life
Have a right to be heard
Even if they mix up facts a little
Taking liberty with personal histories
For a touch of sympathy ---
He dusted his past
For another telling 
I've overheard him narrate the story of his life
To others like this
In this well-tended park
Of pruned hedges and avenue trees  
How similar all our stories are!
Of fathers, sons and daughters
There were no inhibitions
To make him keep out
Things he would have kept out
Probably In his younger days ---
What is there to hide now
When time has had its say, he said
Nothing hurts or shames now;
Anyway, you are now marked by what
You have not done
What you do not know
Though what you had has been taken away
Without asking, for as they say
Time will have its way
Now, all you have and do not have
Is what has passed away
What you keep retelling
Is a tale that turns more incoherent
At every telling
As footloose as the aadi wind
That some say speaks of
The sea, rain, seeds and a certain death
That is not a death

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Roots

I come from a town
Where the rain keeps coming down
Like an interminable monologue
Where the houses are so far apart
That they are often found
Talking to themselves
Where the roads cannot keep straight
But wind and rise and fall away
Keep disappearing from sight;
The few people who are out 
Seem incapable of smiling
Even carry the umbrella like a cross;
I was born there, so it makes me an outsider here
Though I was much more an alien there
Shunned for inheriting my father's dark skin
For reminding them of his black soil, 
Rain shadow, eastern roots
Speaking the same language
Hardly makes someone feel at home
When one could have done with kinder words
Less of the contempt-dripping stares
The stopping-at-the doorstep frowns
However unwelcome, it's still home,you say
How can it be home, when
Home is something you want to go back to
Or hate coming back from
Not some place, you are reluctant
To go back to
Or readily leave
Without so much as a glance back

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Map of memories

I went back to the city
With a map of memories
That one couldn't ask anyone
For directions with
Beside the church, there's the tree,
We visited for a botany lesson
Its flowers known
To set a forest aflame;
There's the house
Where a playmate saw
Flames erupt when
There were none;
We were told
She had brought home
A fear she caught in school
The nights were never the same again
Though nothing was seen;
In the teens, the talk
Was of the nocturnal god
Who smoked a cheroot
And tossed sleepers
In his way;
I've always found it
A sleepless city
And think it has been one
Ever since it was torched
By a wronged woman




Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Waves

Between the make-believe home
And the waves
Only tiny little fingers
The sea knows the child
Will raise her dreams again and again
No matter how many times
He washes them away
Still he wants to watch
The pretty mess
The miss makes
Of her face and frock and feet
And the way she beats the water back
Scolding a playmate
Who doesn't follow the rules
Then forgives him, at once
If he keeps away
Then invites him
To come and wash the home away

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Questions

What are the lines
What's the cue
What am I playing
King or fool
Who's listening
Who's watching
Is this darkness
The one that
Vanishes with the sun
Or the one that
Has known no sun
Is this soliloquy
Meant to bare one's soul
Or the protagonist's
Is this the beginning
Or the end
Or somewhere in between
Are these the questions
That brook no answers
Or the questions
That question questions
Is the heart singing
Or listening
Or both
Am I, am I, no more
Or here, there and everywhere 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A city of memories

The city left behind
Sneaks up on me
When least expected
It seems the aroma
Of its evening mutton stall
With its heavy metal music
Can travel miles
This street could be the one back there
Where the temple chariot
Encased in a tin shield
Hibernates before the next festival,
When the god sets out for a wedding
He can never attend, year after year
Steps into the river that hardly stirs ---
Then we dreamed of floods
Turning the water salna brown
Filling the sand bed, bank to bank
Keeping off the causeways the crowd
Come to watch a river flow

Monday, June 29, 2015

Attachment

After three days the feet
Are reluctant to leave
Even the peepal preaches
The virtue of staying
The birds sing of a home
To come back to
When the sun is down
This is the temptation
I've been warned of
The lure of places
Like the tiny fingers
Of newborns
Latching on to strangers
Not letting them go
The tinkle of anklets
Coming with offerings
Turning into a refrain
The scent of jasmine
Staying in the nostrils
The sweet laughter
Echoing hours after
Now, I'm back on my feet
Do I remember
Last night
Or the last dream?
All I see
Is the beaten path
And the sky swept clean

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Feast

I think of my mother
In her sunset years
Wanting to be useful
Even when she was not
Getting in the way
Trying to serve the guests
With her trembling hand
Shouted at, asked to go
Sit quietly aside
Watching the others
Wield their measured ladles ---
Strangers feeding strangers
With no common memories
Of going hungry
Of having been a have-not

Friday, May 29, 2015

Aadi

This wind which takes its name
From the month when it keeps on
Like someone
Learning to speak
Tries to say something to me
Year after year
But goes undeciphered;
For some it is more
Like a footloose lunatic;
Who has come back again
With the same incoherent story;
Walking is now like toddling
Or moving on drunken feet;
I hear the wind cursed, at first
By women for its wanton ways
When it snatches at their clothes
Like a voyeur's minion
And messes up their hair
As would an envious in-law;
After a few days
It becomes a naughty child
Whose antics bring back smiles
And memories of the butter-thief;
It is at night the wind breaks down
Rattles every door and window
Crying to be let in       
  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A car too far

My distant relative
On his rare visit
Cannot sit still
In our best chair
Every few seconds
He strides out
To check on his car
Fearful of its safety
In broad daylight
Even with the driver
Staying put in the vehicle
To keep imaginary
Urchins at bay
We tell him
Not to worry
It's not a no-parking zone
The street is broad enough
To let two water tankers
Pass his SUV
And still give it
A wide berth
After perfunctory enquiries
About our well-being
He goes back
To the door
To look at the wheels
I am reminded of a robber
In a heist film
Keeping an anxious eye
On the getaway vehicle
When he drives down himself
It's even worse
He hardly sits down
Walks out with the refreshment offered
You would think
He was going to share it with his transport
Gulps it down with one eye on, you know, what
Then makes a quick exit
I heard he has got a dog now
He takes with him everywhere
I dread his next visit  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Temblor

When the earth turned
As infirm as the sea
Little was left standing
Of hubris or faith or hope;
The sky, indifferent as always
Looked at us
As if we were interlopers
Then shed crocodile tears;
What we thought watched over us
Was also amid the rubble
We salvaged a benedictory hand
Of the household deity
Sticking out of the debris ---
The tremors refuse to die down
We've seen such convulsions before
On a fragile child, and partly died
Every time the body shuddered
When the fever rose ---
What drug or prayer will cure
Our mother, child, mother-child,
Stop this shaking, trembling
End her febrile nightmare? 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Better than death

First came the lies
That did not look like lies
Lies that had
The whisper of truth
Lies whispered
From ear to ear
Instilling the fear
Of the worst
So that when the blow fell
As painful as it could be ---
Everyone sighed
Relieved it was not
What they feared
What the whispers
Had hinted at --
When the blow itself
Was neither moral nor just
And later understood
After everything was lost
To be the crime it was
Though the chorus
At the time
Kept harping
It was better than death


Friday, February 6, 2015

Half-dream

When I woke up
Half-way through that dream
I told myself
I'd pick up from where
I left off
Next time I slept
But I've not been able
To go back to the same dream
It remains like that half-browsed book,
Whose title I can't remember,
With the father
Watching his estranged son
Boarding a train
Somewhere in the middle pages ---
Did they meet again
Salvage something from the ruins?
Dreams are meant
To be broken
Wake up the sleeper
As I catch up
On my sleep
During their night
It's often someone
At the door
Who interrupts
Wanting to sell dreams
In easy instalments
Still beyond my reach

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Purpose

There is always something
To wake up for
Every morning
Even when there is
No one to wake up
And pack off to school
College or office
And the house
Is as silent as
An empty nest
The crow with the broken beak
Is calling me in his hungry voice
He will not go away
Till I've fed him
There is always someone
To wake up for
Every day
Even when everyone else
Is so far away and say
They cannot get away