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 :)  

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Reflections on the painting of an unknown artist in the previous exhibition at Harbour Gate

Imagine first a rusty strand of barbed wire,
then a bird sketched in soft russets and sapphires
perched beside the spines, painted against the sky -
just inches from pain, yet also free to fly.

This week I am a participant at Confluence – an exhibition of collaborative art and poetry at the Harbour Gate, organised by Bahrain Financial Harbour and the Bahrain Writers’ Circle. The exhibition is the first of its kind on this island where poets and artists have got together to make some awesome artworks combining images and words. This is, of course, not the first time I've done this kind of collaboration, check out this post and this too, but putting poems up at an exhibition? - that's a first for me....However, it's not what I wanted to tell you today. 

What I wanted to tell you is that I was at the venue last Wednesday. The artworks were being dropped off in preparation for the display to be set up on the next day.  And the previous exhibition, a large one of some 40-50 artists from Philippines, was being taken down to free up space for us. One of those paintings caught my eye and inspired this quatrain. 

Life is about perching on barbed wires and knowing when to lift off, about balancing the risks with the toeholds. I guess I am that bird in some ways. And goes without saying, I am also a tube light - wasn't nimble enough to take a photo, or the artist's name, before they whisked it off the display, otherwise you wouldn't really have to imagine the barbed wire or anything...

BUT...on the other hand - think I'm on target as far as the writing of teeny tiny with superlong titles goes :)  

I'll let you know how the exhibition turns out - wish us luck! 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Locked rooms

There's a room somewhere, locked up, left alone,
an empty corridor furred thick with dust;
no chink of sunlight, no winking cell phone -
days grow a skin in there, curdle and crust.

The guitar stands abandoned, falls out of tune,
no hand even offhand touches the frets,
the lamp's straight, the table's no longer strewn
with papers and sheet music and headsets.

The silence spins its own threads and curtains,
the paint in a corner sags by degrees,
months scab over, the door's harder to open,
locks won't yield to a bunch of rusty keys.

Neither you nor I go there too often,
the dust of silence is layered, and thickens.

Still kind of wrapped up in the 'house' metaphor. Too many locked rooms, too many subjects that we are silent about. Need to be aired out with a bit of straight talk. But meaningful dissent is being slowly stifled, it's being equated with a lack of patriotism or even criminality. Activists are raided and harassed. History is being revised to suit political agendas. 

Last week, an archaic law criminalising homosexuality was struck down by the Indian Supreme Court. Still a lot of inequality in my world, a lot of marginalisation and discrimination based on gender or sexuality or appearance or where someone was born. But one step away from that. Every step is a landmark and aids the slow march to the destination.

Friday, 7 September 2018


Image credit

মাঝে মাঝে তাই  শুধু বাংলায়  বলে  -

অন্যের থেকে ধার নেওয়া কথার ধার

বেশি  লাগে, ছড়ে হাত, মন, স্বপ্ন,

শব্দ শুনতে পায়  রূপক ছেঁড়ার।

অনেক কিছুই গাঁথা  এই ঘেরাটোপে

অনেক কথা দিয়ে ছাউনি ছাওয়া,

কিন্তু সেখানেও অবসাদ নামে

গাঁথনির ফাঁকে ফাঁকে হিমেল হাওয়া

সুঁচের  মতন বেঁধে মাথায় কানে,

বাতাসের ঝাপটায় সব অগোছালো,

শুকনো পাতার মতো  টুকরো কথা

না দেওয়াল, না ছাত ছাওয়া যায় ভালো।

অন্যের জরি, ফোঁড় - ছন্দের মখমলে

বেমানান  ঠেকে - তাই বাংলায় বলে।

in bengali

that's why it only speaks in bengali sometimes -
the edge of borrowed language feels too sharp
ends up scratching hands, hearts, dreams, it hears
the sounds of metaphors being torn up

many things are pinned down in this enclosure
the awning's made of many stories, words
but even so, exhaustion trickles in, 
spaces in between let in icy winds

which prick ears and minds like sharp needles,
gusts of wind ruffle and mess up everything,
fragments of words like withered, crisp leaves,
they can't be used to build walls nor thatch roofs.

someone else's stitches, threads on the velvet of rhymes
feels awkward sometimes, so it speaks bengali.

The first difficulty in translating Bengali to English I face is that Bengali does not have any capitalisation. Whatever line breaks one might use, the eye travels smoother over the lines, there is less of a 'break'. Apart from the other word to word losses in translation that is.  

The word Bangla is used by native speakers for both the land and the language so 'In Bangla' can mean in the language or in the region/space - can't translate those shades of meanings. The word 'dhaar' means both 'sharpness' and 'borrow' so 'dhaar kora kothar dhaar' - how to get that to transition into English? 'the edge of borrowed language' is the closest I thought but the alliteration becomes different, more of an internal rhyme - the end syllable of language and edge rather than the phonetic sounds at word beginnings. 

The translation is a bare bones word for word sense. Or maybe senseless. But thought I'd just bung it in because most of my visitors here don't read Bengali. What do you think?

Sunday, 2 September 2018


The sky turns its face towards me
and raises a brow in a question mark
will you know me wherever I am
and wherever you are? Without
the fingerprints of a single star?
I don’t know, I whisper. But I am
being diplomatic. The sky’s the same
everywhere. I don’t wish to hurt
any feelings. Probably meet again
unexpectedly in another city
somewhere. The smoke of evenings coils
around me upwards, the factory
whistles its workers slowly home.
Nearby a stripped tree wears nesting
sparrows like sparse winter foliage.
The shoeshine man sits at the crossroads
of darkness and cobbles the soles
of scuffed daydreams.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

This one is for you, Anonymous

If you do not sign your name,
never mind what you’ve praised -
the blog, the poet or poem,
your comment gets erased.

All those garbled adverts for
the stuff that you want clicked
will stay hidden where they are
the rules are firm and strict.

So don’t bother commenting
if your name you won’t sign.
Jane and Anne, Joe and Justin,
Yusuf, Lakshman, Benyamin,
Juhi, Roohi, and Yasmin,
from human to feline,

all are welcome, read and write
whatever you wish to,
please keep the tone here polite
as civil people do.

But Gus who comes Anonymous
and the guy who is sly
won’t get their nefarious
scheming words to fly.

The delete button’s merciless
and the spam folder’s huge -
that’s where they all will languish
minus the subterfuge.

Spammers have been superbusy here lately. Some of them are quite hilarious actually. One cheeky comment asked if I'm having problems with spam this month?  Nope, not me! Thought they deserved a poem for the hard work. :)

Sunday, 19 August 2018


It takes less than a star strike
for worlds to break apart
for rooms to stop breathing
for windows to go blind.

What did you think it was like? –
the starless and their smarts
just like rhyme cubes freezing
in ice trays of the mind

heart shaped, and spear, and spike,
and the full suite of art
in some crook of evening
uncombed unpolished unshined.

Greater than the conceits
of plastic trays and heartbeats.

I just wanted to say here that Kerala in South India, in peacetime known as 'God's own country,' is reeling from floods. Hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands displaced and/or homeless. Hospitals have had to shut down for the first time. People are marooned in their own homes. The news is beyond distressing. Here is how you can help.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Write...Edit...Publish...+ IWSG team up to write together! August 2018

This month is a milestone for Write...Edit...Publish... as it teams up with Insecure Writer's Support excited! I'm here with a flash, which is only very slightly over word count. Thank you for reading.

The Recovery

What can you do?

He comes back from the hospital after the transplant, a chance at a second life, and you are afraid even to smile, to show how happy you are in case you attract the wrath of the gods.  The post-op at home goes well, except you are still in the adrenaline-charged ultra-vigilant mode after it has stopped being necessary. You are afraid to let go of fear, that’s your comfort zone. The Lakshman Rekha beyond which you haven’t ventured for a long, long time.

At first you don’t notice anything different, if his manner is a shade brusque at times you think nothing of it, attribute it to the cascading pain that's part of recovery. But as the pain diminishes, the difference escalates. The way he brushes off your hand tucking his sheet, the way he brushes off your suggestion of sitting in the garden. But still, you make allowances. You are used to making allowances. That too is within the Lakshman Rekha, well-trodden, familiar territory. You are filled with a love that can forgive anything. You're too happy to sweat the petty stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there. The eyes on the pillow change subtly, a totally strange patina of roughness, direct, bold, searing. They follow you round the room silently and you end up feeling as if a hundred eyes were on you. They are on you those hundred-irises, a weirdly red-eyed Indra, when you are upstairs on the terrace, or in the back garden hanging out the laundry, even when you are in the bath. You feel his eyes and suddenly turn around when you are out alone at the pharmacy one morning.   

He starts speaking a language you’ve never heard before.  The characteristic laid-back gentleness is gone, its place taken by rudeness. The tone changes, peevish and complaining at the slightest perception of ill-use. You have no idea what you have done to deserve this behavior, the constant accusations of neglect. The brushing off of your hand changes to a sharp smack one day as his strength improves. He shoves you out of the way on another. In a fit of pique at some triviality he calls you a name so offensive  that you are stunned to silence.  But he denies it when you do speak up finally. Looks at you as if you are deranged.

You leave the room, he doesn’t call you back. You cry yourself to sleep that night in the spare room for the first time in years. For the first time you wonder if life before this was better? Is a precarious, medical crises-ridden life worse than this stable recovery and a future wrapped in roughness? Is this how a quarter century of love ends?

He begins moving around independently. At the follow up the doctors are pleased with progress. He speaks like his old self in the consulting rooms and you feel you must have imagined the whole thing. The atmosphere is so normal that you can’t figure how to get the consultant alone, to broach the subject at all. You both drive back home, in the car he criticises your driving nonstop, your tongue-tied demeanour at the hospital. You can’t believe the change that happens in half an hour, a complete flip.

You can’t believe it either when you come upon him in the garden, holding a pair of secateurs, running his finger along the cutting edge. He says you need to buy a new pair.  You don’t tell him that you got the odd-job man to buy one just a few weeks ago. Days later he is in the kitchen sharpening the cleavers. He looks at them and then looks at you and you don’t know what to think anymore. A new fear clutches at you, fuzzy, unfamiliar, beyond the farthest borders of all the Lakshman Rekhas you have ever known.

You stop crying yourself to sleep in the spare room, you lock the door at night. You visit a friend and talk about the problem in the vaguest possible terms. What if the donor was...a certain sort? She looks at you quite baffled and you can’t bring yourself to articulate anything more.

You finally find the courage to call the doctor privately and are less reticent with her. But she too is baffled. No, that’s impossible, she says in a tone that makes it clear she thinks you’re the one who is slightly unhinged. She suggests counselling, she knows this most discreet therapist you could consider. It’s stressful looking after someone who’s been an invalid for so long, Mrs Sen. Call if you need anything. Don’t stress yourself. Goodbye Mrs Sen.

At dinner he is more than usually irritable, questioning your whereabouts. He yells at you, nags you for being gone the whole evening when you weren’t. But you jump when he raises his voice, your hands tremble while serving the vegetables. Your nerves are shot. He smiles smugly as if the tremors prove your guilt. 

“Who are you seeing, why are you away so much?” he shouts and tears into the bread with unnecessary force, while you sit there incandescent with fury and heartbroken at the same time.

“This is insane, Mohan!” you barely manage to whisper.

He yells even louder at you. And he’s saying the same thing as the doctor only much less politely. You are the one who is insane, not him.

“No, it’s you Mohan. Stop yelling, it’s bad for you. It’s you who’ve changed. Your heart has changed towards me. I noticed it right after you came home,” you finally screw up the courage to say it. And as soon as the words are out you feel calmer.

“You crazy woman! A heart transplant doesn’t change feelings! What’s your game exactly?”

Yes, Mohan, it does. It has. They’ve put some unknown criminal’s heart into you and you’re behaving just like one. Who knows the chemistry of transplants and what affects behavior? The ancients thought the heart was the seat of reasoning and emotions, the source of all life force. But you don’t say anything. 

What can you do?


WC - 1021

A few explanations for those who are not familiar with Indian mythology

Lakshman Rekha – lit Lakshman line. Red line, a line that must not be crossed. From the epic Ramayana (composed around 500 BCE). Lakshman the younger brother of Ram, drew a ‘safe’ boundary around their cottage in the forest to protect Ram’s wife Sita, while she was alone. She stepped out of that boundary and was abducted and the whole epic hinges around the battle to rescue her.

Indra – is the king of the gods in the Hindu pantheon. While viewing a most beautiful celestial nymph called Tilottama, Indra developed a hundred red eyes on his body. From the epic Mahabharata, composed after Ramayana.

This flash is an excerpt from the story I'm developing at an ongoing MOOC from the International Writing Programme at University of Iowa - Moving the Margins : Fiction and Inclusion.  

Read the other entries here:

Monday, 13 August 2018

Poetryless and up to my eyes

Long time readers here know that I'm hooked to the A-Z, and the Write...Edit...Publish... blogfests. And I'm hooked to MOOCs, I'm a compulsive MOOC-taker, they have become a part of my summer since I did the first one in 2016. But this year was different, I knew I'd be away for a large chunk of time bang in the middle of it, moving around every 4-5-6 days without much chance of you know, writing things down...So of course I signed up, for this one here!  

Predictably, I am now up to my eyes trying to catch up. I am a retreating speck in the rear view mirrors of my coursemates, if I may borrow my own phrase from last week :) Therefore, no poetry here today. Just an excerpt from the story I'm developing over there, and a hint of what is to be my entry come Wednesday for the writing challenge at Write...Edit...Publish..., teaming up with the Insecure Writer's Support Group for an exciting partnership. 


The heart never sleeps, there is no rest. And the heart of the city certainly never sleeps, even in the smallest hours of the night. You have spent your whole life here but have only now fully realised it.  Because you can’t sleep a wink tonight, can you? how can you sleep when years of a monumental struggle are finally drawing to a close? What if you close your eyes and then when they open again, the entire prospect has vanished like the dream it feels it is? You can’t take that risk. So you listen for the heartbeat of the city, imagine another heartbeat on a monitor, steady, evenly fluorescent green lines sweeping across the screen while you listen to the sounds here and now – the noises of the ever-awake, insomniac inner streets.

Everything has its own sound here, the day and the night. Nothing is perfectly silent. Especially not the night. Even the streetlights are not silent, they hum with a quiet hum as they burn, each in its own whirlpool of flying insects. You aren’t sure if that noise is the electricity changing to light, or if it is the bugs flying around them.

You have gone along with a false notion mindlessly – silent night, no, it is not silent.  Just because the cars are parked and shut away in garages, only the night buses run and the metro stops throbbing through the subterranean veins of the city - that doesn’t equal quiet. There are the cicadas. Nothing silent about them.  As the vehicular noise recedes, they come into their own, their choral songs becoming louder and more attention seeking. You notice a night jar calling, a sparrow flaps its wings at its roost, disturbed by something. Do sparrows dream, you wonder. Is there any way of knowing the dreams of birds? Does a racing heart mean the same thing in birds as it does in humans? Your heart is racing tonight, equal parts excitement and fear. You try to breathe slowly, breathe in, hold, count, breathe out. But your heart doesn’t pay any mind to your exercises in control, it beats independently at a rate of its own choosing.

The night watchman blows his whistle right under your window every half hour as he completes his beat. His stout steel tipped stick rings on the asphalt and on the pavers bordering the kerb in a steady rhythm. It recedes as he moves to the outer edge of the block and then washes in as he completes the loop again. Somewhere a leaky faucet’s dripping – drip, drip, drip-drip. It is too faint to be one of yours, but you still get up to check, it is something to do, a diversion and a relief from your relentless, intense happy-panicked state of mind. You tighten the faucets quite unnecessarily before you come back to bed. The wood creaks as you lie back on it.

A street mongrel barks at a carful of revelers retuning from some late celebration, their audio is unnaturally loud in the absence of traffic. The glow of their headlights strafes the darkened walls of your room in an eerie sweep. Someone’s grandfather clock chimes the hours – the sound wafts in weakly through your open window. You count them up first – one to eleven, one to twelve, it drops to one. And then it rises again - one two, one two three, one two three four, you hear the first tram go clanging past at half past four. Someone is chanting the Krishna-naam rather loudly on it as he goes down to the river. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

You pick out that chant and give in to the impulse of touching your hand to your forehead in reverence to gods till now unknown to you, because you must take every opportunity to appease them. Is this hypocrisy? Praying only at a crisis? Maybe it is, but you don’t care. The second tram clangs past. There is no-one chanting on it, you can make that out as well. You didn’t know you had this acute a sense of hearing. You are hyper-alert to each sound, and the sound of your own pulse in your ears is the loudest of them all. 

The sunlight is just tickling the window now, the curtain cracks open in a hairline smile. The sparrows are stirring in the nest they have built in your skylight.

You were gone for so many days, toing and froing from the hospital, panic-stricken and hope-stricken and disbelief-stricken by quick turns, can it really end – surely you were not destined to be this happy? Skylights and birds and the general cleanliness of the household were very far from your mind, so that by the time you returned to yourself and your balcony, and you chanced to look up, oh heavens, the female was already sitting on the eggs and the male was hovering around practicing helicopter parenting.

You have a staunch heart but it balked at having to break that nest.  So you left it there.

And all this time, with the screens of the fluorescent green lines bleeping in rooms far away, your home has been empty of you, but home to new hearts beating. Your balcony is now fouled with bird droppings and sundry other messes.  You don’t really mind, who has time for fussing when something this big is happening in your life? 

You’ll take balconies with or without birdshit now, forever. You’ll take whatever other shit the balconies have in store for you. Just let this one thing be true. Just let this not be a dream. Just let Mohan come home. 


And if I may, I'd like to ask you some of the questions that I'm facing from the TAs in the forums - does the use of vernacular terms put you off? Or does it make the writing feel more authentic? Should we as writers consider the readership we are writing for, or should we just forget about them and create the art we want to create? 

For those who write in a second language, as I do, should they be cautious about first language interference, or even first culture interference?

Thank you for your patience with this one. 

Monday, 6 August 2018

The death of a poet, no, two, in August

Everything doesn't please me, but some things do.
Granted, the station's lost its coordinates,
the road is a conceit of dirt, and yet -
it pleases me the old bus contains you.

You draw a single, quivery thread of pain
from my blood – weave a tree canopy
overhead; the pride of a flag flying free
from the direction of winds; a quatrain

that's also an anthem of olives, a dirge
for the lemon leaves, for fallen lintels,
ruined doorsteps. You shatter walls of cells
into a lilac leap where stars and hope merge.

Even though the old bus sputters and stops,
then dies. And the station's a long way off.


Last time I looked you were a tiny dot,
the bus-stop receding in the rear-view
and then vanishing, like things always do.
But I'd marked, and caressed the exact spot

in the dusty mirror where you had stood.
And it was more than enough to drive on.
But then a passenger screamed. A cell phone
squawked, and all canopies turned to deadwood.

The mirror's empty now, the bus is a wreck,
no station or stop, the horizon's bare -
breathe deep, breathe deep, but there's just no more air!
The flag's an ache because the shape of a speck

in glass will never again be seen, nor heard -
how will this longing ever be measured?

This is a response to "Nothing pleases me" by Mahmoud Darwish (13.03.1941 - 09.08.2008). The second death is Tagore's (07.05.1861-07.08.1941). Both are poets I deeply revere. Both became, in their lifetimes, the voice of their peoples' struggles against foreign powers/occupation. Both shaped identities, both, when they died, convulsed their nation/peoples, both transformed the prevailing literary landscapes, and both died in August. The aftermath of one death I have witnessed personally, and the other I have heard about from my family/community.


The diptych above was written as part of a MOOC I took last year and forgot about till now. My homage to both poets with it. 


I am finally back to blogging on a regular lappie instead of pebble-sized screens where 'nothing pleases me' in terms of the font size, if you know what I mean. Squint till cross eyed and then manage to decipher half a word, no, I think not, thanks very much.  Sticking to the bigger and less sleek devices. I have a pile of posts and emails to catch up on which will happen over the next week as I settle back into my old mouse potato mode...

Meanwhile, this month there's big news at Write...Edit...Publish... which is joining up with Insecure Writer's Support Group - excited to see where this partnership will lead!

Click on the links and read about the antho contest that'll run from Sept 5 to Nov 4, and the WEP Aug Challenge open right now - join us and sign up, because ooh, the fun is getting thicker!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Changes and constants

The flowerpots brimming just the same,
the late light in the long evenings,
the urban landscapes, river Thames;
but change still touches many things.
Fish and chips in newspaper cones -
the cod’s still there, but the paper’s gone.

Less rain, more sun, and fans in rooms
that knew only heating systems.
Fed up commuters fret and fume
in the trains, getting out of them.
The subways swelter, few buskers play
at the station on a sizzling day.

The river’s eternal, riversides
get modified by men, and piers,
millennium eyes, cable rides,
smart cards to swipe at smart barriers.
Three glasses forty years before;
three glasses at mine now once more.

Ive been to UK several times. Each time something on the wishlist gets left out, and equally, something unexpected gets lobbed in. In the last forty odd years that I’ve been visiting, there’ve been some changes...some small, some hugely noticeable...

But, in all the tours and detours, it’s almost always been a group of three. In childhood and teenhood it was my parents and me, and now it’s my own teen and his parents...that too, will change by next year if all goes well.