Sunday, 29 November 2020

Post-Diwali

 

It’s happened before that I haven’t put up

lamps for Diwali. The winds, grief or love

have stopped the flames and the darkness has been

my deep solace and festival enough.

 

It’s an odd goddess that discriminates

and does not step in through unlit gates.

Does her omnipotence flail in the dark?

Does her third eye need lights to navigate?

 

Surely those who could not afford the oil,

the homes left dark by personal turmoil   

have the greatest need for the gods to step in,

lift faith and fortune rather than recoil.

 

I’ll continue to let emotions strike

the match, the gods too may step where they like. 






Monday, 16 November 2020

Star fall

 

Time spots the mirror and the photograph,

creates the marks and also wipes them away.

A silver moon statue, mug of half-n-half;

a much loved profile, a rather well known laugh

tapers and stills. Dead flowers in a bouquet

make their way to the river piled on the hearse

and a certain star shaped void’s our universe.

 

What will patch it up, make good the damage -

no-one has a clue, no-one takes a guess

the wise men proclaim so, all the poets pledge

wait for the ones to come, they’ll be cutting edge;

but now’s a gun salute, now’s a grieving mess

for every star must fall, even stars must fall.

The universe must shrink to a star shaped hole.


Monday, 9 November 2020

The Heft of Memory



 


I think of you at odd times, the templates

are not a convenient protocol –

and sometimes I don’t think of you at all

as the mind hardly differentiates

 

between the minute grains, the separate heft

of conscious and unconscious memory.

Every time I return to a story

you’re in it somewhere, to the right or left

 

of each chapter. And the city spools in

your laughter like an angler’s line, your face

a mirage of leaf shadows, just a faint trace

of your voice when the peak hour traffic thins.

 

In every courtyard I visit, every square,

in every vanished landmark - you’re there.






Sunday, 1 November 2020

Tar and Cement and Javed Akhtar

 


Go back to the stream where paper boats plied

after school, where a plume of smoke rose alone

over the wood that was the entire hillside –

that’s now a resort, every inch occupied.

Rows of crafts for water sports, mobile phone

ads, leftover hoardings from spring sales, rides

on animals and machines. The hillside’s gone.


The busker coaxing tunes from a flute - the old folk

have vanished like that single plume of smoke.

 

Go back to those villages of childhood

you’ll find cities settled there now, yellow lined

roads ordering your movements. Panicked, crude

graffiti in public spaces. Turn and look, you’ll find

nothing of the hillside you’d left behind.



Javed Akhtar is a contemporary Indian poet who writes in Urdu, I was listening to some of his poetry - tum apne qasbon mein jaake dekho/wahan bhi ab shehr hi basein hain - the lines reminded me of this song 




...and from there the above lines kind of diffused out. Not that I am saying ubanisation or tourism should not happen and we should all go back to drawing water from borewells and threshing grain manually and so on. Sustainable progress is what I'm after, if you know what I mean. :) Have a good November, and a great NaNo, those who're going for it. Keep safe, keep calm, keep fit.




Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Write...Edit...Publish... + IWSG October 2020 : Grave Mistake

 

Cutting straight to the chase without the usual preliminaries, in keeping with the spirit of WEP Lite...






Blind Mole in a Black Hole


To be or not to be, that is the question…

~ Hamlet, William Shakespeare.

 

Mistakes. Grave ones. Yes, the mind makes them. The shape-shifting wondrous and wondering mind, capable of morphing from a homing pigeon to grasshopper and bulldog, capable of holding the most unimaginable thoughts, the most inexplicable, avantgarde visions, the most speakable and unspeakable ideas – that exact same mind can summersault and do a strange blind-mole-in-black-hole on itself. The same mind, which can drive the body to achieve peak success, can also torment it and goad it to blow its brains out or immolate its living self on a pyre. It can, in one catastrophic, grave moment, destroy its own housing and so annihilate itself.

 

Suicide - it’s as old and as human as civilisation itself. The first recorded suicide note goes back to 1900 BCE to Ancient Egypt (even this started in Africa, why am I not surprised?) – it is housed in a museum in Berlin and its title translates as The Dispute with His Soul of One Who is Tired of Life. Attitudes to life and death and the taking of life, whether by own hand or by some other means, were different in antiquity – some would call it more callous, some fatalistic, some maybe relaxed. It was not abhorrent in many societies. The pagan world was generally less hassled about suicide than we are now.


For instance, some Ancient Greek states allowed citizens to end their own life with a state sponsored cup of hemlock, if the said citizen dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s correctly in the application form. In general, suicide was frowned upon if it was uneconomic for the society, such as slaves or criminals prior to trial (criminals forfeited their property to the state). But suicide was perfectly acceptable if the alternative was a dishonourable death. 


In North Western India, Rajput women followed the practice of Jauhar, a ritual mass immolation, when defeat in battle became inevitable for their menfolk, so as not to be taken alive and abused by the enemy.  The first Jauhar is said to date back to Alexander’s time when some north western tribes committed mass suicide to avoid certain capture by him. Similarly insurgent Jews in Masada committed mass suicide rather than face capture and enslavement by the Romans in 74 CE. Famous individual suicides from antiquity include Cleopatra VII and Seneca the Younger.


With the rise of Christianity, attitudes towards suicide hardened and the practice became unacceptable. Suicide became stigmatised. The church excommunicated those who attempted it and the bodies of successful suicides were not permitted burial on consecrated grounds.  That started changing again during the Renaissance and by 18th/19th century the cause of suicide had stopped being perceived as sin and instead shifted to insanity, though it remained illegal in most of the world. Suicide was decriminalised in most countries in the 20th century. However, there is still much stigma attached to it.


***


It is better to burn out than to fade away.

~ Kurt Cobain.


Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, John William Godward, Mark Rothko, Robin Williams, Sushant Singh Rajput. Is there something within the artistic temperament that predisposes it to suicide? Does the creative brain come hardwired with the seeds of its own annihilation? There have been reams of studies out to prove or disprove this premise. No definitive answer, though. What has been established is a connection between mental health and suicidal behaviour. Our understanding of so called ‘insanity’ has deepened. But it has also become equally clear that mental disorders are not the only cause, the reasons are varied and many. We now know that there are signs of suicidal tendencies long before the person takes any definitive action to end life. Suicide prevention is possible if communities are sensitive - they listen and act proactively.  

 

Worldwide, there are around 800,000 lives lost to suicide annually. These are only the recorded deaths, many are suppressed due to the stigma or to avoid legal issues, so likely the actual figures are much higher. A majority are males, it is estimated that twice as many men take their own lives as women.  Not all have any history of mental health issues and/or substance abuse, although it is thought that in more than 50% of the cases depression/mental health/drugs have a role. Other causes of suicide include financial distress, romantic and academic/professional disappointments, terminal disease. In nearly all of the cases, the suicide is to avoid the resulting torment rather than to end life per se.

 

In the last decade or so, suicides among younger people have shown a disturbing, upward trend globally. The current pandemic has created its own horrific spike as well – in India for instance, suicides have risen among the youth in all segments due to job losses and academic uncertainties, for all that the public has been obsessed with the particular high profile suicide of Bollywood celebrity Sushant Singh Rajput recently. 


In some ways, a suicide of this kind opens up a whole can of worms about the wider society it happens in. What it has revealed about Indian society is not pretty. What is even more regrettable is that there were hardly any serious conversations on any of the underlying issues, instead the whole spiralled into a misogynistic witch hunt, trial by social media and an avalanche of hashtags. 


It is not just the suicidal mind that makes grave mistakes, unfortunately. The mindless public in many cases makes equally grave ones. A picking over of things in which all sense of privacy and decency are lost. Shameful!


***


Each one of us leaves an unfinished life.

~ Mary Oliver.


But that’s neither here nor there. Because this here is not about an error of the present, but one of the long ago past. A grave mistake that robbed the world of a genius. Whose mistake was it? And how did it come to be made? We still don’t know (WC 1000. FCA.)

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Lime and sandal

 


The kaffir lime’s canopy in G-block -

my mother’s friend grew it in her backyard

and broke off a few every time I went there

and gave them to me, but always in pairs,

the empress of fragrance, acid green and hard

their smell lingered, like sandal incense smoke

used in her shrine and down the lane somewhere.

Just a small, unpaved patch, yard’s too grandiose

there we played in the mud, her child and I

and there was the first tree I saw up close,

learnt what leaves, barks and seasons signify -

perfume entire lanes as the canopy grows.

Houses. And childhoods. Discrete blocks of time

characterised by sandal and kaffir lime.





I've finally managed to travel back home - the pandemic has meant the skies were shut for the last six months. Home leave is never easy but this one is a level of difficulty all by its own self...back here again on Wednesday for the fear fest October Challenge of Write...Edit...Publish...  See you soon.











Monday, 12 October 2020

Loosened

 

A glib sky that changes from dark to red,

forests that burn, rivers that turn at the bend,

seasons come and lapse as if nothing’s happened

people post their stuff on social media threads

 

The cars roll past on the roads as usual,

maybe the peak hour traffic’s a little less,

the masked folks go about the day’s business

and the quid pro quo still remains mutual.

 

Am I supposed to take this in and to think?

to organise the leaves into days and weeks

I’ve lost the threads of myself, those neat techniques –

I’m less tidy at the edges, less in sync.

 

Since you’ve left, life’s unravelling from the fringe –

come undone knot by knot, loosened inch by inch.






Monday, 5 October 2020

This cannot be titled

 

Not every feeling can be caught

in the fine mesh of poetry

sometimes they're too trivial to note

at others they're too huge, too fraught

so the words knot up in the throat

and the hands can't yank them free.

You explain, you mother goddess

with your array of weaponry -

in your own worship season, no less,

those very ones who're you made flesh

why they're raped, killed, burnt to ashes

by flagrant hate and bigotry.



The news out of India has been abysmal. Reeling. So much violence and hate. In a season meant for worship, introspection and cleansing. News from the ROTW isn't any comfort either. Exhausted, but trying to keep head above water. Poetry, as always, is the first line of defence. :) 

Take care, stay safe and well. 


Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Second Going

 


I felt my father’s hand again on my forehead

and saw my mother’s face like a badge of courage;

all around was barren, the sun pouring its fire

and every foot was bleeding, its sole torn open.

The rocks were naked, parched, the oasis was red -

shrivelled, scattered skeletons lay around its edge,

the horizons were hazy, a cloud of barbed wire,

and time a measured beat, a slow stifled poem.

 

My mother untied her apron, the winds snapped it up.

The caravan stopped dead like still statues in stone -

they’d come as far as they could, now had to turn back.

My father gave me a drink, the last from his cup

and pointed me due west. So I went on alone.

The sands behind me dribbled and filled in my tracks.








Friday, 18 September 2020

Even then

 

Till the rivers run up backwards into the hills,

the ocean currents come to an abrupt standstill

and stars lose their bearings, planets drop dead, blacken,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.

 

Till the clouds go purple in the face blowing hard

and the wild old trees quietly standing drop their guard,

the grass sheathes its blades, swaps places with the lichen,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.

 

Till the north winds stop unspooling their razor wires,

and the springs stop water, the volcanoes their fires,

till the earth itself implodes and stops being earthen,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.

 

You’re woven into my veins, there’s no moving on.

It’s you who glows under my skin, throbs in my bones.







Sunday, 13 September 2020

Not a reset

 

Today I remembered the bugle’s plaintive notes

somewhere near the bungalow, from across the road

every day at sunset. Some high official lived close -

his flags were raised and lowered as the bugle played.

It calms things down a bit to get into childhood,

to thumb old music - of bagpipes and Irish flutes,

this time demands a retreat into those tunes and books,

those long ago textures when she moored my decades.

 


Verses the world over, the texts have the same sting

all that’s born must die, there’s no point in suffering -

as if it’s an option, as if grief’s a reset.

There’s no preparation, no going out of mind,

no way to carry forward or leave it behind,

no knowing if memories will help or how to forget.







Sunday, 6 September 2020

I'll Stay Home

 


I do not like the shape of your temple.

The doors and arches are too narrow

the steps are too high, the halls aren’t ample

it thrusts me aside, it does not invite

something about it doesn’t feel quite right

the pillar’s all wrong, the walls don’t seem strong

the chants don’t carry the public along

and the whole foundation’s shallow.

I think I’ll stay home. I’ll look for my deity

in some other place outside your city

less discriminatory, with a kinder story,

where exclusivity isn’t mandatory

and anyone can come and go.