Sunday, 23 July 2017

Street Urchin

Happiness comes in narrow corridors
where no furniture achieves the right fit
and wall art doesn’t improve the décor -
nothing manages to lift the minute.
It arrives unbidden - a street urchin
who you nearly shoo away before
you understand what the ragamuffin
carries in his pocket that could be yours.

Even the child doesn’t know the value
of the stone he’s picked up from the trash heap,
he holds it out in exchange for a meal
and its gleam’s a thousand dancing lives deep
in its heart slowly pirouetting and you
forget narrow corridors, walls and chenille.

Since I'm travelling, my posts through July and August are scheduled, but I will check in whenever I can and respond. Meanwhile, you have the happiest summer/season!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Vacancies 2017

The monsoon and I arrive, every year
about the same time, and the sky’s shampooed
with sudsy clouds, the asphalt’s rinsed in mud,       
all the way through the city up to here
awash with reflections, the tree leaves clear
of past dust, debris. But change’s accrued
in infinitesimal moves of blood;
in tiny degrees mapping atmosphere.

A house has fallen vacant on a street -
overgrown, greedy vines snap at its heels.
A locked cupboard somewhere, an empty chair,
a pair of old, worn slippers minus the feet.
The city commute’s the same, the same rain wheels
across the road, just that you aren’t there.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Night sky

This too is a kind of happy -
just briefly preoccupied -
that the night sky is forever
though one pole star has died.

This too is a kind of happy
that others close ranks on the map
even if it’s momentary.
Not one night permits a gap.

This too is a kind of happy -
that the sun’ll rise tomorrow.
That day skies include all stars,
happiness includes all sorrow.

Last month I lost a close and crucial member of my extended family. This is a thanksgiving for his life and a memorial. Always in the midst of our hearts and our lives - all elders.

Since I'm travelling, my posts through July and August are scheduled, but I will check in whenever I can and respond. Meanwhile, have the happiest summer/season!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Sea, the Mountain, and the Old School Route

A couple weeks back I did some collaborative art here – used a friend’s artwork as prompts to my poetry, and the results were amazingly pleasant for both sides.  Read more about that effort here. So today I am back with some more – two of Mira’s delicate watercolours of Mauritian seascapes. 

The first is of Blue Bay – a well-known picnic spot and a popular beach destination.  And the other is of a mountain called Le Morne. Legend has it that slaves under the French colonial rule escaped here (hence the French appellation) - runways, maroons sheltered in its caves, and hid from their masters. Some also dived from the cliffs high above into the sea when they learnt they had been located, and killed themselves to avoid capture. This mountain has been chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of these tragedies. This particular location is also mentioned in Amitav Ghosh's Ibis trilogy as the site of Deeti's cave shrine, which is where I first came across it.

Both of these watercolours took me back in time and place, the Blue Bay to the Blue Beach in the North Coast of Egypt, and the mountain to a much smaller, much less important inselberg parked on the horizons of my school route in Northern Nigeria many years ago. Everything reminds me of something else, deja vu overload. Or maybe I'm just getting old :)  Anyways, here they are - Mira's fingers with the paintbrush, and mine at the keypad -

The Blue Bay, Mauritius by Mira Boolell Khushiram

Wherever I go I can see your face -
in mountains, in cloud forms, in cloudless skies,
in the colours of a sailboat, in the shape
of a triangular sail - the rise

and fall of its movements mirrors my own.
I can still hear your voice in the winds,
suede-soft against the harshness of stone,
calling down years into the labyrinths

of time and memories and joyful verse.
I can still feel your hand right next to mine
a slight tremor, a pulse saying more than words,
your smile transformed into this new shoreline

as if I’d never left, as if you and me
were together still, sailing that same jade sea.

Le Morne by Mira Boolell Khushiram

Everything calls to me, as though it’s a sign
to turn and face the way I came again -
a certain mountain brings back a lost terrain
an inselberg that wore the same outline

in thick sunlight poured on the horizon
beyond the vanishing point, where the road
hid behind distant trees, silken winds rode
acacias, deep grass, Fulani herdsmen.

Too many miles have lapsed, too many autumns
fallen in heaps of leaves. And when I look
closely it’s just something else I mistook -
different mountains, different outcomes.

The track itself turns to mud as I glance
behind, there’s no option but to advance.

I have loved working with Mira's art, so proud to have her paintings lift up my 'walls' to an altogether different level here! Thank you, Mira! Hope the readers will enjoy the colours and words as much as we both have.

Since I'm travelling, my posts through July and August are scheduled, but I will check in whenever I can and respond. Meanwhile, have the happiest summer/season!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Malfuf wa Malik : ...and Backstories...

Sometime in the mid-noughts, this song by Nancy Ajram was released. Nancy comes from Lebanon and is a very popular singer in the Arab world. She started her singing career in the late 90's while she was in her teens, and has sold many millions of records since. She has been the World Music Awards recipient multiple times, mentioned by Oprah as an artiste of note, and has also been the UNICEF ambassador in the ME. By rights she should have totally been part of the A-Z series, I don't know how she never made the cut, very remiss of me! Correcting that now - take a listen -

Finding Bernie

Around the time this song was released, we were relocated to Dubai after eight eventful and memorable years in Bahrain. Much had happened here to make me feel settled. The arrival of my son was the biggest life event of them all, I went back to India for the birth and stayed for a longish time. And realised how much of me felt out of place away from Bahrain even though I was technically ‘at home.’

Therefore, it came as a shock how pleased I was at the news of the new posting. I loved our life in Bahrain, we had each slotted into our individual places. It was weird, this pang of pleasure we were going to a new city, albeit not too far from Bahrain, but vastly different in terms of the looks and the vibes. Dubai had been for all those years our transit hub, we changed for the flight to Kolkata there every time we went back.  We had visited there too a couple times, and I hadn’t liked it much. Even weirder, considering.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Because Memory is a Bridge: Write... Edit... Publish...June 2017

It's time to return to Write...Edit...Publish... hosted by authors Denise and Yolanda, the sumptuous badges designed by Olga, and psst...prompt inputs by yerse troolee. Posting early to co-ordinate with Brisbane time. 

Gosh, I feel it's been ages since I was here last! The April challenge flew past and May and June I kind of tuned out, insanely out of routine. Kiddo's study leave/examtime is not good for mum's poetry writing, neither is Ramadan - the Muslim month of fasting, when working hours are reduced to six here. The males are home at unusual times, and I'm busy revelling in that rare commodity called family time, serving and being served coffee, and rather fattening snacks, at the oddest possible of hours. Oh, and we moved house, in the same neighbourhood, not across continents, merci bon Dieu for small mercies! School's out as of today, Ramadan's 3/4rs over, and summer's here, that's a bridge every year to go and visit family in India, we leave soon.  

The challenge for June is 'Bridges' and I'm back with a mixed up two-part post,  a bit of poetry, and mythology, and geology, and geography and folk traditions thrown in. Please read just the poem if you're pressed for time. Unless you're Donna, in which case you're requested to read the second, non-poetry, part :)

And I can't really think of the word 'bridge' without this song whooshing up instantly in the headspace. Because music too is a bridge...

Because memory is a bridge...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Fruit-seller and the Gita

The Fruit-seller by Mira Boolell Khushiram

His watermelons in an offhand heap
by the roadside under vivid blue plastic
sharper than the sky. Casual symbolic.
‘Just the action, mind. The fruit’s not yours to keep.’

But he hasn’t read those specific verses.
He peddles his wares wholly unaware
of hidden meanings, symbols, faiths and their
connects to the fruit that he disburses.

I often stop at his stall, it’s on my way -
he cuts me a juicy watermelon slice,
quencher of thirsts, symbolic and otherwise,
but he doesn’t know it. He picks and weighs

his wares, and allows me to attribute
a deeper meaning to both verse and fruit.

I am trying a collaboration today - letting the art of a dear friend unlock words in my head. The watercolour above is by architect Mira Boolell Khushiram, from Mauritius. Mira and I met in Cairo through a ladies group - she had moved in from Tunis and I from Dubai the same year, and we soon found we shared common interests. Many trips followed - to art galleries in Zamalek and the old Islamic monuments and bead and handicrafts shops in the Khan. She and I both moved out of Cairo the same year too. Expat lives, expat friendships, characterised by transience and more goodbyes than any normal heart should be allowed to handle. We keep in touch, thank goodness for technology!

Mira's interest in art goes back to her childhood, and she has worked with charcoal, oils, pastels and watercolours. While away from her architectural practice in Mauritius she worked in the studios of eminent Tunisian and Egyptian artists honing her skills further.  She is now retired from her profession and pursues her art full time, showcasing Mauritian life and the beautiful seascapes around her through her paintings. 

Her fruitseller invoked a very well known verse from the Bhagavad Gita in my mind - which basically exhorts folks to focus on what needs to be done and do it, without hankering after any benefits. 

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ||

karmay-evādhikāras te mā phalehu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te sago ’stvakarmai

'You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.' ~ Bhagavad Gita, 2:47.

The fruit-seller's cart - rather a poignant metaphor. Look forward to your feedback on this collaborative effort and thank you, as always, for reading.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Forgotten cooled

Sometimes I forget to drink while it’s hot,
and later when I peer into the cup
it’s gone halfway down and a skin has formed,
marred the creaminess and puckered it up.

I could pinch it between finger and thumb
and remove it gently, reheat and restart
and finish it to the dregs as usual
but drinking halfway cup’s also an art -

not everyone can remove those skins
to lift them seamless requires expertise
and put that exact heat back in the drink -
preference is a matter of degrees.

So I pour it off, let the half go waste
the temperature makes or mars the taste.

Does it happen to you sometimes too? :)  The cup, the glass, the cafe, tavern, inn etc, someplace with lots of comings and goings is a staple of Eastern metaphors. Comfort food. Or rather, drink. I have a craving for it right now :)

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Tell me, where is poetry bred?

This is where poetry comes from -
the textured silk of the sea.
The sunset hitting a window frame
quiet iridescence of beauty.

The abrupt blinking of small screens.
Spider webs of unused rooms.
The stab that makes the silence scream.
Empty bottles of perfume.

The yellow ribbons of the road,
the white ribbons of contrails,
the silver shined parallel ropes
of long-distance vanishing rails.

The mists quivery with early light,
a lone boat returning late.
The scattered shrapnel of a life,
the shudder of a mangled gate.

The strange geometry of geodes.
Comfort zones of shaggy mundane.
The footwork of slow dancing blood
in the long corridors of veins.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Malfuf wa Malik: Authors, for example...

Ali Bahar (1960-2011) was a Bahraini musician who rose to fame in the 90's with his band Al Ekhwa (The Brothers), arguably the most famous Bahrain has produced. He was called the Bob Marley of the Gulf and also the ambassador of Bahraini music. He died at a tragically young age, but his music lives on here. Listen to one of his pieces while you read -

Arrival. Adjustments. Attraction.

When we look back on anything - any relationship, the current state of it feels perpetual, but that's often incorrect, we are experts at cherry picking stuff to suit us. At least I am, shouldn't really be speaking for anyone else. Looking back at 20 years in the MENA, I can't seem to remember a time I was not interested in Arab culture.  But of course that's rubbish. It takes time to fall under a spell, whether a person, a land or a culture, barring a few rare cases of love at first sight...

The first couple of years in Bahrain were spent being somewhat clingy – rereading old books and working out how to keep cultural headspaces intact in this avalanche of new experiences. Of a totally different language being added to my environment. Adjusting to traffic on the right, to a sky that hardly ever rained, to being a trailing spouse - which was the biggest lifestyle change of all. My childhood shot at being a trailing daughter stood me in good stead. No panic attacks, lots of cable TV, coffee, piles of books and long letters home - telephone calls were way too expensive if I converted the currency.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Malfuf wa Malik*

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
        ‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
        Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
        And whether pigs have wings.’

This is a bit of a departure from the usual poetry trip that characterises this blog. Though I do realise it is not an auspicious start to begin a non-poetry post with a quote from a famous poem. It is inappropriate to appropriate verses from a renowned writer to do the work of your prose. Inappropriate and ironical and cheeky. Not a good beginning. Let’s start over.

Monday, 15 May 2017



She no longer knows voices on the phone
you had to say your name last time you called
faced with a blank pause - this too a milestone
of growing up and away and growing old.
A tremor perhaps, but quickly controlled
and the conversation curled but went on -
reset somewhere in the depths, overhauled
minds and meanings, the smallest shifts unknown.

Years knit up things and years unravel too -
the threads meshed together day after day
till the weave’s a habit you’ve slipped into;
but one thread snags, it all stops running true
and puddles at your feet, whichever way
you go on, the knot’s formed, and it’s here to stay.


You wish the memories were yours to choose
and keep in a glass vase like bunched orchids.
As she loses her bearings you too could lose
the high recall of tremors and get rid
of the blanks in telephone calls, and visits
when she asked your name, but the residues
chafe under your eyelids like sand and grit
and the orchid’s face twists into a bruise.

That’s all you have in your hand to display -
some bruised flowers, the colours imperfect.
You can choose just the vase, don’t have a say
in the composition of that bouquet
fresh or faded, the long stems whole or wrecked,
the deviant petals not yours to correct.

Double dose and regular forms today, as least as regular as I can get - 2(8x6). Last month I met an elder with Alzheimer's - it's a difficult disease for the victim, for the caregivers, even more so when they are family members taking care of sick elders without any support far away from home. Last month also we had the local poetry festival, which I don't think I've mentioned.  We did, had great fun there too, I presented two of mine. Read and/or view.