Monday, 17 December 2018

Separate windows



If I lived somewhere close enough to you
I'd go round in the evenings, yes I would -
watch the stars pin the sky to your window
if I lived near by in that neighbourhood.
Sometimes we'd play at checkers or ludo,
reminisce over the old carrom board.
But we'd mostly idle. Nothing's left to do
but sit with you, beyond all games and words.


Oh, don't you think I'm a romantic type -
I know the exact count of miles and years
that keep your windows separate from mine.
Diverging's an intrinsic part of life,
the lights that pin your sky aren't in my sphere,
neither the neighbourhood, nor the starshine.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Write...Edit...Publish...December 2018: Ribbons & Candles





It is time for the last post at Write...Edit...Publish... and to wrap up the year I have another part of the same story I posted for the last two challenges. You’ll find the previous posts here (Change of Heart) and here (Déjà vu or Voodoo) in case you wish to reread. Now, for the whole backstory of the bloodstained rug...here’s my entry for Ribbons and Candles :

Small windows 

It takes only a few years. For worlds to fall apart. For rooms to stop breathing. For windows to go blind. The climate is unforgiving. The land is too fertile for its own good. A banyan can take root anywhere. In the cracks. Beside the exposed pipes. Wherever there is a toehold.

The garden used to be fragrant with jasmine. Not any more. The squatters were here till last Monday. It took endless visits to the thana. Under the table, over the table, sunlit, bulblit negotiations.  The local AdSP finally had a word with the goons. The squatters magically left the next day. But traces remain. Ugly blue plastic awnings. The smell of stale urine and unwashed bodies. Stink pressed hard into the cracks. Bald patches on the ground. Where the lawns once were. Deep holes in the earth for bamboo. The marks of tent pegs and scaffolding. Holding together canopies of borrowed space and time.

The front door has still not been breached. It is teak gone black with age. The shutters are nearly three inches thick. The wood logged out of the forests of Burma. In some dim past when trees had solidity and girth.  And a lifespan greater than men.

But one cannot be too cautious. The sisters have got those ugly collapsible gates installed. Two heavy locks. Chains with fat links on the backdoor as well. The interiors remain secure. For now.

It used to be a happy house. Oil lamps around the porch at Diwali. Ribbons of smoke from the sugar snakes, ribbons of sparks from the Roman candles. Children in the garden messing up the beds. Paper lanterns and streamers at birthday parties. A pair of hilsa fish brought in. On the day for the worship of goddess Saraswati. The faded marks of vermilion on the walls. From the offerings to the deities. They always showed faintly through. Even after the painter's quick job of cover up. No amount of repainting seemed to help.


No-one passing by would guess. An ordinary house. Washing strung out on wire clothes lines. Pegged with wooden pegs. Little frocks and shorts gradually giving way to bigger and bigger sizes. Frocks replaced by saris.  Shorts replaced by trousers. Then a sudden fall in the feminine items. Two daughters married and moved away. No daughter-in-law to replace their presence. Only the mother’s sari flapping lonely in the wind. First in multicolour. Shading to pale pastels shading to white. A new one joined it. Both like the start of an oversized prayer bunting. All traces of red on the white ones’ borders vanished.  Then the white one vanished altogether. The coloured one billowed lonely again. But there is more heartbreak and loneliness layered into the rooms inside. The clothesline can only tell a partial tale.

The rooms are closed now. But the air stirs an uneasy dust inside.  The dining room rug has a patch of discolouration. It is an old Turkish kilim. The cleaners tried the strongest agents they dared. But they could not get the bloodstain off. The patch is quite prominent.  The sisters cannot bring themselves to throw it away. A valuable rug.  Sentimental. Brought back from Istanbul by the grandfather. They cannot agree on its disposal. But it needs to go. If they are ever to find a tenant. Or a buyer. They are not agreed on that either. One of them favours selling. The other is reluctant. 

The stories hang like the cobwebs. They are like the bloodstain. Faded but still distinct. Recognisable for what they are. No polite pretence is possible. The mésalliance. The resentment. The brother’s stubbornness. The long illness through which his wife nursed him. Losing her own balance a few times. Then the sudden heart transplant and heady hopes. Which came crashing down with the death. The killing. It was not deemed murder. She was judged ‘not criminally responsible.’ The trial was endless. So was the gossip. The family name in tatters. Splashed luridly across the tabloids.

She died later in the institution. No one claimed her body. No one performed the last rites. Given a shoddy send off by the penny-pinching government. Not exactly a tragic heroine.

The unsavoury stories still keep tenants away. Not much talked about these days. But enough to cast a shadow. It must be handled delicately. Easy to scare off prospects. Only the squatters do not scare easy.  They will probably be back in a month. There is only a small window. Always too small a window. And such a lot to address.

~~~

WC- 757
FCA

This is part of the same story I developed for Moving the Margins, a MOOC from the International Writing Program at Uni Iowa. Totally a fan. 

In this exercise I tried 'moving the margins' of my language by using parataxis. The idea was to keep it a little stark, spare. Thank you, as always for reading. 

A very happy Christmas to you who are celebrating and happy holidays/December to you if you are not. Wishing you peace, joy and love this festive season and all through 2019.

Read the other entries here and join in with your own. 






Sunday, 25 November 2018

What Absence Shapes


Rickshaw van in Taki



We are on a three wheeler, my cousin and I - three bicycle wheels with a flat wooden platform for seating, the front wheel connected to a saddle for the ‘rickshaw-van’ puller.  A common mode of transport in most of rural West Bengal, in India. The road, after a feeble attempt at being macadamised, peters out to a rich brown, wet mud track. It is mid-monsoons, the season of rains. The growth all around is so lush that the diffuse light of a cloudy day is filtered green through it. The road runs parallel to the river, the glimmer of water breaks through the dense foliage from time to time, sometimes the branches clear up to reveal the waterscape. There are small, pointy boats out, each one with the Indian tricolour flying. We are at Taki at the border - the far bank of the river is Bangladesh. Debhata, Satkhira, Khulna. The names are just as familiar as the Bengali ones this side of the river – Bashirhat, Taki, 24 Pargana.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

What does this need a title for?





Everyday's a pasted famous quote -
Al Prufrock or Tagore's Paper Boat
on it's timeline, just in case you think
it's a dead end, dead pen pushing ink,
not a solace, just a flimsy dream
the escape hatch of a digital scream
before it burrows back into the day
and ponders if anything gold will stay
and are there any rare metals at all
in the million, billion plastic dolls,
in the slow pulse of chronology,
in the cell walls of soliloquy.
A sudden buzz on the telephone -
just alive, but also a dead zone.




Sunday, 11 November 2018

Um...lend me your ears...maybe...??








I've been reading my poetry lately - first for the Colours of Life Festival last month, and then for a Diwali poetry fest this past week. So I thought I'd try doing it here as well. Let me know what you think...if you'd rather read...or if this is moderately tolerable? 

Incidentally, in Bengal, a tiny rag dipped in a runny rice paste is used to draw patterns on the floor on major festival days - mostly auspicious symbols such as (goddess) footprints going in, overflowing pitchers etc. The folk artform is called 'Alpona,' done by women with great artistry. You need dark earthen or plain cement floors to show them off.  Also need knowledge of the traditional designs. And of course, massive rag control. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Diwali 2018 - Seeds of Light




The sky flows like a river into these eyes,
there’s a golden mean and meaning somewhere -
but not right now, not in the city square,
not in the swoosh-words hoardings advertise.

But there’s no place where the river doesn’t flow,
and gold is hard to get and hard to keep;
unless you count the sodium streetlights’ sweep
and signage blinking in LED glow,

and this darkness that’s some percentage light -
partly wakeful crickets, partly starshine
the horizon a faint fluorescent skyline
the towers vanishing into their own height.

Nothing extra anything else can impart –
the seeds of light sprout deep within the heart.



It's Diwali week - the festival of light, which is on 6th and 7th - I'm celebrating with some more poetry readings at a local Diwali fair. Apart from the traditional oil lamps of course.  Happy Diwali to you if you are celebrating. Have a brilliant week and November.


Sunday, 28 October 2018

Don't worry, it's only poetry, it's all poetry





While I'm letting the ink dry on this verse,
come sit with me a minute. Nothing worse
than being forced to face an abstruse rondeau 
when you are not in the mood for those words.
So I won't recite anything to you.
Just rest yourself, do what you want to do -
feel, listen to this silence between us
because, after all, that's poetry too.








Yesterday was the local Poetry Festival - The Colours of Life. I was there with two of my poems. This is a yearly highlight for the Bahrain Second Circle poets, an evening of fun, sharing poetry that's sometimes serious and at others lighthearted. Smug as a bug in a rug - the final time this year methinks...or maybe not quite final...

November is the Writer's Retreat for NaNo, I don't do NaNo, but I go along for the retreat each year and get a short or some poetry out of it...inspirational to be in the same space as a bunch of dedicated writers at their craft. There's usually wine and bottomless coffee...a balcony with a seaview...a 5 star sunset...what else does a poet need?




Monday, 22 October 2018

On happening to watch video instructions on hairstyles irrelevant to the present situation





A Youtube clip on how to do a French twist -
I don't know why I watched it - my hair's cropped
for years now. No long plaits twirled around my wrist
into updos, no chignons, all pins dropped.
And neither the length nor the weight is missed,
the mess of herbs and rinses - all that's stopped.
Not a Samson nor, I think, a narcissist 
whose strength or beauty lay in hair that was chopped.


Yet I watch women twirl young hair into buns
without quite knowing why, and I reminisce 
minor things - lost barrettes in faux tortoiseshell.
Sundays stacked with a certain shampoo-smell.
Undoing, loosening it all, oh the bliss -
tugging it free, finally, when the day was done.





Writing it as it comes and still on target with the title-heavy teeny-tiny though I've no idea where that came from. Is it just me? Or does anyone else watch/read instructions for things they know they'll never have the least urge to do? Hairstyles, recipes, skydiving? :) 




Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Write..Edit...Publish...October 2018 : Deja Vu or Voodoo








To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven...

Time for the funnest  Write...Edit...Publish... post of the year! Also, time for the autumn festival season in India, the Navaratri-Durga Puja-Diwali month, am plonk in the middle of right now in fact, with a very special house guest visiting from Kolkata, so a little taken up with happy stuff offline... but I'll be around to read as and when...

A time to get, and a time to lose...A time to weep, and a time to laugh...

This month it's also time to say goodbye to Yolanda Renee...she has co-hosted WEP for years and I have known her since the RFW days, that's more than 6 years. So this is going to feel a little strange. Thank you for all the work and all the brilliant entries and above all, your friendship and support, Renee! I wish you all the very best for your future writing projects and hope that you'll pop into WEP with one of your done-to-a-turn flashes every challenge month, or at least as often as you can. 

Here's my entry for the Challenge -




The preference for sons


This move sucks. Big time. Even Tofu – that’s my dog, hates it. But grown-ups! They must pretend. Some crazy idea to always say it the way it should be. Everyone’s pretending they’ve been waiting to come here like, forever.

I keep hearing that our people prefer sons. Complete bullshit, man. The minute my sister gets into NUJS, the entire family comes trooping here. Why? Because her fastidious highness can’t stay PG like the rest of the world. Can’t put up with the public at the hostel. The mattress isn’t thick enough for the princess, you see. I said it over and over again. I didn’t. Want. To move. Did anyone pay any attention? So, who’s got the preference? Sons, indeed!

And my school sucks too. Except Vishal. He’s in my music class. But for the rest – oh, god. Unbelievable. No pool. The field’s half the size. The buildings are so old. Probably built when the Brits were here or something. The whole freaking city looks like it’s a smelly leftover from the Raj.

Vishal’s okay though. Magic fingers. Can work up a wicked drut. Vishal’s the one who told me about the house. Apparently, some batty lady stuck a knife into her husband here. Because she thought he was going to kill her. So she pre-empted him. Some garbled logic! – a heart transplant had apparently made him homicidal. She died too, in the end. In some asylum.

The heirs pulled the original house down and rebuilt. But they both haunt the place still. The husband and wife, I mean. That’s what Vishal said. I’m not scared of ghosts, I told him. They don’t exist anyways. Just superstitions.

I mentioned the story to Thamuli. She read me a lecture. It’s gossip. Poor taste to repeat it. Besides, don’t they teach me science at school? There are no ghosts. Why was I out to make everybody unsettled? Didn’t I want my sister to be successful? This is our home now, we can’t move back. Blah blah blah. Unbelievable.
 
Nothing computes, man. You’d have thought she’d pay attention, being so old and into antiques. Into all these rituals. She’s always fasting or rushing off to some shrine or other. Oh, no. Can’t bear to have anything said against the move. Or against her highness, her precious granddaughter - the one responsible for this whole mess.

Okay, let me tell you the whole - there’s this old, stained rug next to my bed. I don’t know where it’s come from, it’s always been there in my room. Thamuli must have got it sometime, she’s heavily into picking up tattered, second-hand things for their ‘history.’ I don’t care much for that piece of junk. Would have gladly left it back. But the packers rolled it up along with the bedding. And it was back in my room after the move. I mean, it wasn’t a big deal either way, you know?

Anyways, there’s this patchy mark right in the middle of it. A few days after Vishal spilled the story, I got up in the morning. The stain looked vaguely darker. But there was no time to check properly. And I forgot all about it at lessons. It was still there once I got back. So I looked closer. It did feel darker. I thought it was a mistake at first, eyes playing tricks. And after my last session with Thamuli, I wasn’t saying anything to anyone.

But the next Sunday when I got up, it was much darker again. And damp this time. I touched it and my fingers came away wet and smeared with weird, brownish stuff. A bit like, you know, blood.

I wasn’t scared or anything. I just mentioned it at breakfast.  Casually, like. Not to create any drama or put anybody off their food. Thamuli was there, my father, mother, her highness herself was sitting right next to me. They just laughed. Said my friend had been filling my ears. Because he was jealous or something. So Thamuli had mentioned the story to others. Talk about not repeating gossip. And why on earth would Vishal be jealous? He’s much better than me at any percussion you can dream of. Unbelievable. Grownups make no sense. I told them they could check if they liked.

But it wasn’t wet when we went back. They laughed all the harder. Ma was the only one who didn’t laugh. But was that because she believed me? No freaking way. She stayed back and read me the same lecture as Thamuli had a few days back. That I mustn’t try to make up stories. I must try and think of this place as home and so on till my ears nearly fell off my head.

The next time it happened, I didn’t wait. I got the stuff on my hands and went straightaway. That would show them. This time no one laughed. Not that they believed me either. Her highness said it looked like Cherry Blossom. That was it. They were convinced I had slathered shoe polish on the rug. To scare them into moving back. Of all the insane ideas! I got a serious grilling from my father. No music for a week. Ma put on her stern face every time she had to speak to me. Even Thamuli went around with a pained expression. Unbelievable.

So that’s it. I’ve stopped talking about it to my folks. The stain keeps filling up with blood or whatever it is, every few days. I’m not scared, I tell you. It’s just super-annoying no one believes me. So much for the preference for sons. I just wish I could go back. Like I said, this move totally sucks.

~~~
WC - 950
FCA

PG – Paying guest
NUJS – National University of Juridical Sciences
Drut – u as in put, lit ‘fast,’ a qualifier of tempo and rhythm in Indian classical music.

This is the epilogue of the same story I posted for the August WEP challenge. First developed for Moving the Margins, a MOOC at Uni Iowa this summer. 

Read the other entries here:

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Always more than the sum of its pieces



A glass breaks, snaps in pieces just like that
and brings back the distant space it was bought -
memory and wistfulness in the format
of a raw, jagged rim. A morning caught

between the smells of the dust and diesel,
between the crosshatches marked on the road;
the mood chasing its own tail like a mongrel,
the vendors already in touristy mode.

The traffic in the cloak of peak hour rush,
the more the haste the more viscous its gait -
the whole day an indeterminate slush
of bleached sky and earth in a grudging wait.

Now that the glass's broken it's got the sheen
of a greater truth, more than what glass should mean.





Tomorrow marks the start of the Indian autumn festival season - the Navaratri or nine nights culminating a month later on Diwali, the festival of lights. I have family visiting from India during the Durgapuja (yay!) - so I'm going to be a little occupied with stuff offline, but will be there for the WEP October Spookfest. Online and off, it's going to be a megablast! 





Sunday, 30 September 2018

Paper boats



Photo by Artak Petrosyan on Unsplash 




Paper boats on the river,
house of cards on the sands;
love walks on calloused feet,
winds wipe off the prints inland.
It stops sometimes, slumps and limps -
that too shows up in the prints.

Parchment leaves on the water,
fragile webs on a twig;
hope’s hands are slowly bleeding
popping dreams far too big.
The glass is cracked, the ice melts,
the heat is high, there is no help.

The brands are stocked in the shops, 
contract’s signed on dotted lines,
the top’s all yearly bonus,
the bottom marks overtime.
This glass ceiling’s pretty cute
depending on the side that’s viewed.

Fake and antifake uptrend,
history is just a hashtag -
edit, crop, rotate to suit.
There are two sides to each flag.
Several stripes, wheels, rockstars,
each with its own piece of war.



Back to writing it as it comes and keeping it short. Less agony for all concerned parties :) Still a little hungover, seem to be obsessed with rivers and riverine stuff such as confluences and boats, wonder why?  

The day's already getting noticeably shorter, light's failing by five thirty. I love all seasons, but autumn is my favourite, except I miss the long daylight of summer. But happy to do without the heat. The festival season is round the corner. Always a time for quiet glee. 

And it's also time for the spooky challenge sign ups over at Write...Edit...Publish...nothing quiet about that, I assure you...







Sunday, 23 September 2018

The artwork on the panel and on target with the title heavy teeny tiny



Peace starts with an absence of hate and prejudice


Peace is not simply an absence of war,
an absence of violence. It’s something more.
Not just arms down but arms open in love
for the stranger and the neighbour next door.

Peace breaks out when love labours to be blind
to our differences, and tries to be kind
even when angered it does not give up.
And it starts with an open heart and mind.




Confluence in the Arabic Press - here in Al Ayam, 
one of the largest circulating local newspapers.
Well, Confluence is over, the photos have been clicked and the reviews are in and it was all a great success. Footfall exceeding expectations, wide coverage in the local press and much feel-good vibes. The variety and breadth of artworks were mind boggling - watercolours, acrylics, photos, pen-n-ink, mixed media, even a couple of installations, one of them an interactive one, and words, words, words in long poems and short. There were artists and poets there from Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, Germany, India and Pakistan. And the age range varied from 12 years to 70+ - we at the Bahrain Writers' Circle are a diverse crowd.


Confluence in the Gulf Daily News - the oldest English language 
paper in Bahrain.

I was there with my Bahraini art-partner, Herz Al Banki, an award winning photographer-artist. We had four artworks up for this exhibition, his photographs used as prompts and then combined with my poems.  Thank you, Herz!  Here is our collaborative art on display at Harbour Gate.

Photographs : Herz al Banki Poetry: moi

Viewers at Confluence
I was quite sure initially that people would only look at the images and ignore the poetry - I mean, who reads poetry at an exhibition, right? But I stand corrected. And pleasantly surprised. Both the Chief Guest and the CEO of the Bahrain Financial Harbour read my 'art' too and commented on the poems. I saw other viewers take time to read as well. I got some positive reviews on the verses, so came away feeling chuffed. Herz and I were told, more than once, that we make a good artistic team - not exactly the most terrible thing to get inside my ears this entire year. 


Visitors at the exhibition.




Visitor reading the artworks. 

One of the writers, who volunteers with a local school for children with special needs, brought in the poems from a school-group to the exhibition and the children had their own panel where they depicted their take on 'Peace' for the International Peace Day on the 21st. They inspired my rubais up there for this post. 

Peace panel. Artists and poets - children of RIA Institute.
The exhibition included an interactive piece - an oil colour of a girl in pink ballet shoes and an invitation to visitors to add a line or two to take forward a poem about the artwork. Here's the installation at the beginning of the exhibition.


Interactive poetry panel for visitors. Artist :Sarah Madan.
The organisers are already planning a bigger event next year based on the success of this one. And guess who's going to go jump back in there? Yup, that's me. 

~~~

'Go someplace new and/or try something new' has been my unchanging, rolling New Year resolution for decades now. However difficult 2018 turns out to be, I can safely say I'm on target with the res. Phew! Also bang on target with the title-heavy teeny-tiny too. And you know what? Tomorrow is the 7th birthday of this 'ere blog - didn't see even a glimmer of all this happening seven years ago.  The level of relieved/smug/jubilant/grateful here is probably illegal, but I'm running with it anyways :)