Thursday, 20 November 2014


Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. ~ Leonard Cohen

It burns intense, and it also burns slow -
great heat, a sheer blue flame, finely haloed
but it yields nothing, no ash, minimal glow
and there’s no charred heap once it’s out, no broad
smear on soil from which meanings can be clawed.

Yes, it’s poetry, that tiny rimmed blue leap,
that transparent smoke with its musky smell
though it leaves no trace of itself in the sweep
of its own wide dispersal.  Hard to tell,
to tease out the proof that it’s burning well.

Because that quote from Cohen just took my brain in its jaws this morning and worried it like a big cat with its prey.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The first lesson

Image credit

Hassana was a schoolmate, tall, clean-limbed,
dark-skinned with the smooth bloom of a jamun;
a modern Noliwe if you like, undimmed
by a Shaka, a vibrant, stunning woman.

The two-year-old, mischievous toddler son
of our tutor was often at her hip -
Hassana’s I mean, after lessons were done.
A male an almost-part of a female rib.

Is he a relative that she babysits?
I’d asked her once, she’d thoughtfully replied,
‘no, but I like him, and it’s good practice
to work with a child hanging off your side.’

He left one day. I saw her grieve, understood
the first lesson of love, and of motherhood.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Steel bridges

I could make up the crooked bamboo bridges,
picturesque as a child’s first sketch, a rustic
stretch of water lily, the hard mud ridges
between paddies- an instant airy trick;
but my truth’s in urban spaces, the street
choked with smoke from exhausts, rush-hour traffic
inching toward where the factory fumes meet
low river mist, those the facts; not idyllic.

The truth is our bridges were steel, robust
and indestructible between this side
and that. And yet.  And yet the connects just
snapped, no way to the bridge, to firmly stride
back again through the lanes of smoke and dust,
across the river and close the divide.

Because I heard Lopamudra sing Sunil Ganguly's poem, Sankota Dulche (the bridge is swaying) ....and because of a death anniversary, you'd think that these dates would slip one's notice after some years, after all so many other things do, memory isn't what it used to be, but no, they somehow wriggle into the brain...and also because a friend mailed me...and my Sundays happen to be your Mondays... a multi-pronged attack of...not quite the blues, but blueish... autumn is a time of many personal milestones, some happy, some sad, a bittersweet season.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Long, long ago

Those days too
I looked at you
and laughed off shopping lists;
and I forgot
to follow the plot
and keep the dialogue crisp.

I kissed your brows,
overlooked laws,
kept too many doors ajar.
I left every side
too open, too wide,
stayed too long and went too far.

I touched your cheek,
swooshed down oblique
planes of your body and brain;
wherever I went
my life quickened
with this mad lovesong in my veins.

I lurched and stopped
every dream that plopped
away from your lashes and mine.
Of course things change,
feelings rearrange,
but that’s same after all this time.

For the love of all my lives, this and the next six..

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Write...Edit...Publish... October 2014 : Ghost Story

Wow! where did that October go? The start of autumn is always a happy-busy time - all our main festivals are lined up one after another, beginning with the Navaratri and ending with Diwali.  Incidentally, there is a Halloweenesque festival tucked in that month of Indian fiesta too, the day before Diwali fourteen lamps are placed around the house as a mark of respect for "unsatisfied spirits".

So glad to sit down for some quiet and get back to Write...Edit...Publish, the monthly bloghop hosted by Denise Covey, wish you good health and happiness and happy writing always, Denise! The prompt for this month is a ghost story. 

Just want to mention here that a mushaira is a gathering of poets to recite their poetry, sometimes in competition, rather like a musical/poetic duel. A literary face off.  It is an Arab-Persian tradition that came to India centuries ago and survives in many parts of India and Pakistan. But Ruphail and its fair are completely fictional, of course.

The Mushaira

For most of the year, Ruphail was a village that lived in happy anonymity, minding its wheat-fields and corn-, its livestock and tractors, its library, station and a single school.  But every autumn, it was transformed by the biggest, grandest month-long fair, from the first night of the Navaratri to Diwali. 

The highlight of the fair was its annual Mushaira, where shayyers and qawwals from far-flung villages vied against each other.  For all its insignificance, Ruphail had consistently produced the champion -  Saif-ud-din Akhtar had held the trophy for several years now.  This year too, it was understood that he would walk away with it.


“Do get up, Pratap!”

“What are you doing poking people awake at the crack of dawn? What’s happened?”

“Saifu’s been bitten by a krait.  He’s in the city hospital.”

“My god, Bhule!  How is he?”

“No news still.”

“Will he be able to come back and compete in the Mushaira?”

“Pray that he comes back, Pratap.”

“Less than a week left for it.”

“I know!”


Pratap was practicing his routine for the fair – he was an amateur mimic and ventriloquist - when Bhule came in with Saif-ud-din’s notebooks.

“What’s the idea?” Pratap cocked an eyebrow.

“The idea is that you will take the place of Saifu.”

“What are you, crazy?  Everyone knows Saifu, they will make out instantly!”

“Well, actually they won’t, the judges and the other competitor-poets are all from outside, they might have seen him last year, not likely they’d remember every detail.  But that wasn’t what I had in mind.  You go as yourself, only recite his poetry there, that way Ruphail still has a chance at the trophy. Simple.”

“But that’s kind of cheating.”

“I suppose.  But no other way to the trophy.”

“And it’s very dicey indeed.  I won’t be able to respond properly to the cues.”

“Just learn the stuff by heart, whatever fresh material he’s written after the last Mushaira. Poetry’s all the same you know, moth-and-flame, wounded-hearts, blushing-rose, wine-and-Saki, same wine and same bottles, always the same blah.  Anything can be a cue, anything can be a response, and poetic licence is always there as a last resort.  Piece of cake, really.”

“I have a very bad feeling about this.  It’ll probably go horribly wrong.”

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“How’s Saifu doing?”

Bhule looked troubled, the scheme blurred and the focus moved back to the real reason for it, lying miles away.

“He’s still critical. But stable.  Whatever that means.”


Pratap finished his routine early and moved to the other marquee alone. Though Bhule was supposed to meet him, he had not turned up.  Pratap made his uneasy way to where contestants were queuing for the competition. There were around ten people in front, a woman in a green sari; a suavely dressed middle aged man, too slick by half; a man wrapped up in a great khaki blanket-like shawl three places ahead of him.  He fidgeted nervously as the queue shortened.

Naam, janab?
Saif-ud-din Akhtar.

Pratap looked up electrified, it was the man wrapped in the shawl, his profile visible past the edge of the cloth on his shoulder and head.  He wanted to call out, but checked himself just in time.  It would be difficult to explain what he was doing in the poets’ queue.  So Saif-ud-din was back! Just in the nick of time too!

Relieved, Pratap smartly moved out of the queue and into the spectators’ area, keeping an eye out for Bhule.  He would give him a piece of his mind when that worthless so-and-so came in.  Imagine not letting him know that Saifu was back! Suppose Pratap had been in front of the queue rather than three places behind? He sat among the audience and tried to compose himself.

Meanwhile, the draw of lots was over, and the mushaira started.  Someone was reciting the opening quatrain of the competition.

“Where will you go, beloved, without me?
I’m the goblet, the wine too, and the Saki;
in your quietest taverns, I am the peace,
I am your passion and your poetry.”

Before the applause had fully died away, Saif-ud-din answered:

No, I’ve come too far, can’t feel the spell of your smile
open like a music box and reveal inside
the dancers, fuzzy-white, magical, fragile,
twirling against my heart, on that final divide

between melodies of dreams and reality.
A minute’s restlessness, a door ajar, the rise
of a road in early moonlight, a silvery
trembling, a shadow-chase somewhere has meant this price.

Pratap joined in the chorus of “wah-wah” and clapping, he could not remember reading those lines in the notebooks.  The exchange of couplets and quatrains became brisker, the words flashed like jewelled daggers, back and forth.  Pratap forgot that he was keeping a lookout for Bhule, forgot his relief at his split second escape from Bhule’s hare-brained scheme, just sat entranced.  Saif-ud-din outdid all his previous performances as the evening deepened into night.  The trophy, this year fashioned like a silver inkpot and quill, was awarded again to the defending champion.


“Where the hell have you been?  Why didn’t you turn up at the Mushaira?”

Bhule raised an exhausted face, “Couldn’t.”

“You should have come.  Saifu was in top form. He got the trophy, decisively too.”

“What are you talking about, Pratap?! Saifu died last evening at the hospital.”

Pratap looked dumbfounded.  He finally said when he found his voice again, “But it wasn’t just me, the whole audience saw him, heard him winning that trophy.”


Saif-ud-din’s body had been readied for the burial procession.  There were people coming and going, his mother and sister were receiving condolers on one side, the men huddled at the other end.  Bhule and Pratap sat with them for some time, then slipped away inside to the room Saif-ud-din had shared with his brothers and cousin.  Pratap lowered his notebooks onto his rickety desk. On a shelf above it, stood a brand new shining trophy in the shape of an inkpot and quill.


*Naam, janab? - Name, Sir?
shayyer - poet
qawwal - singers of qawwali, a particular form of Sufi devotional song. The form is also used in competitions and/or a point-counterpoint format.
Saki - literally the one who pours the wine. Usually the Saki is a metaphor for the beloved, either an earthly one, or God.

Read the other entries and/or sign up  here:

  1. SUBMIT your name and URL to the list below NOW and post on October 31st, Halloween
  3. EDIT your entry.
  4. PUBLISH your entry on your blog on October 31st, stating feedback preferences.
  5. READ other entries, giving feedback as requested.
Email Denise if you have more questions:
1. Denise Covey  6. Laura Clipson  11. Trisha @ WORD+STUFF  
2. Stephen Tremp  7. Lisa Buie-Collard  12. Feather Stone  
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4. DG Hudson  9. N.R. Williams  14. Anna Nordeman  
5. Nilanjana Bose  10. doloral  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Point me to where the answers are blowing

Does the wild moth care where the flames flicker,
naked, or within the baubles of glass,
flaunted at the points of wicks and brass,
or is mud kinder? cleaner and quicker?

Some wild tale’s heard in the depths of childhood:
how peace and stillness stick to paths of light,
how plenty comes on tiptoes in the night,
and a single wick can make or break the good.

Is it that simple? does it signify
that singed-winged wild moths are of no account?
that peace and plenty finally amount
to glass and brass and things that cannot fly?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Diwali 2014

This Diwali, there’s no lamp, trimmed or otherwise;
oil always needs a wick, to soak up and burn.
The stars align for a moonless night,
a pensive Parvati  rolls her dice.
Here’s the other cheek, let the dimmest starlight
or the darkness strike and take its rightful turn.

The dark nuzzles cloudsoft against my skin, and gives
everything a rest, no shadows, no fears are rimmed.
I’m not afraid of these moonlessnesses -
stars burn out, and lamps, only darkness lives.
Surely Laxmi’s free to choose her addresses?
and if she sleeps where the night is bright or dimmed.

A very happy Diwali to you and yours if you celebrate it.  And if you do not, then I wish you a happy autumn.