Monday, 5 March 2012

Stalking the alleys


The wind maims the sky with dust. An old woman
Refuses to be photographed, instead insists I buy
Fat lemons dripping yellow from her basket.  The question
Is well-thumbed but hard to fathom still. “Caravanserai?
Mish fahima. Wikala yani?...mesh, shimaal.”*  One more try
At capturing her face against the yellow of the lemons.
Foiled, once more. “La, madame.” The wind, a dust-scratched sky
And resolute refusal standing in for omens.

The left lane’s narrow, many days of dust lodge
In the lines between cobbles.  Deserted after the turn.
Is my person safe, are my things? There’s just one guy
Blowing at a charcoal fire. A sudden smudge
A sharp spiked shadow of petty, personal concern
Under a faded awning flapping against the sky.


 The lane meets another, widens; and clumps of men
And lone, possibly unemployed, their eyes listless,
Sit sipping tea to keep hands busy with some option.
A group of university students animatedly discuss
If the country’s got into a hodgepodge of political mess
Or just an economic one and if that’s so, then
Which spring green step to prioritise? The exact focus
Needed to secure the sky and deserted alleyways again.

The wind has whipped their hair into fluid haloes
Around their heads. The break in talk is quite abrupt
At my presence.  Jaws harden a little, perhaps hostile.
Is a foreigner who’s not a tourist welcome now? No-one knows.
Old rules of warmth, are they to be broken or kept?
A revolution swats at tiny transactions of lifestyle.

Their manners impeccable, their faces tender, eyes chill
They show me the way readily enough, no disrespect
Creases the border of coldness. Nothing’s changed, but still
Not one of us on either side knows what to expect
Circumstances set up their own insidious codes of conduct
Fit monumental changes into the trivial drill
Of daily tasks. Of getting through small, moral dilemmas. How to direct
A foreign woman on the streets with time to kill.
The path ahead narrows again, an archway and then
The lane an unlit off-white candle tapers into the gloom
The doorway seems much further than I’d thought
Should I turn back? Or press on forward again?
Between the two, there is hardly any room
To manoeuvre, and I am squeezed and caught.


 Maybe it was sound advice after all, given somewhere –
Those stern directives of stay-at-home-crime’s-on-the-rise.
Perhaps it’s indecent to ogle, come out and avidly stare
At history being made. The whole enterprise
Undignified. To stalk the alleys without averting eyes
From jobless youth swallowing their tea of despair.
Vaguely voyeuristic.  No use the repeated cries
About solidarity and you-don’t-know-how-much-I-care.
Feet have a way of marching on while the brain’s
Busy unravelling complications and their intricate motives.
The edifice is here with its huge vaulted portal.
Deserted but for the guides, and the remains
Of an artist’s painting.  The nation outlives
Revolutions and petty voyeurs. Stoic.  Immortal.


Walls are good sometimes.  Walls are the only barrier
Blocking listless eyes.  An ancient room in a merchant inn
Now a studio, where the artist’s left pieces of his career
Hung on walls, and incomplete on the easel. A guarded grin
Of dried up colours still smears his palette, a possible skin
On muddy water in a blue ceramic cup left for the voyeurs
To peer at and see their own tentative reflections in.
The whole in photogenic disarray, colourful yet severe.

The mocking laugh of red on green, the scream of banshee blues
Still carry on the protests here as do the street graffiti
The subjects are traditional, old archways, carpet-sellers, the usual.
Only a trembling line, suppressed emotions give away the clues
And bring in silently what’s being discussed in the city.
The heated talk of young men, and a lemon-seller’s refusal.

*Caravanserai? I don't understand. You mean the merchant inn? Okay, go left.

La - no.

Sometimes events shift the co-ordinates of familiar places and they must be re-explored from entirely different perspectives.  This one,  posted sometime back, is based on an amalgamation of events and walks in the Islamic Old City after the Revolution.


Linked to Open Link Night @ dVerse


  1. interesting...i like your footnote as well as it puts us in the frame of mind you were in in writing it...i love to watch people....but they does not mean they like to be is less intrusive than a camera maybe but...and walls do have their purpose though....i like all the people you captured and it made me stop and think...

    1. I love centuries old places/cities, cobbled alleys laid down some 5-600 years ago, and the local residents using them everyday w/o being burdened by the history and beauty and preciousness of it people watching too...but of course nobody likes being watched..especially when times are hard and ones guard is down...thank you for reading and the feedback.

    2. i love old places like that as much in the states our history is much more shallow, so we dont go as far back...would love to visit the old(er) world and get lost for a bit...

  2. You paint a precise city. I stayed curious throughout the read "which city?". The view was well recorded, a depth of field as though shooting through a pinpoint - color and contrast well noted, but where and when, still needing where and when to end the tension held in the shutter button. Very effective.

    1. Thank you. When it was written, any one of the ancient Arab cities could probably fit the descriptions - sadly the ones in Syria don't any more...

  3. wow ...very interesting write...i agree of how events shift the co-ordinates of familiar places sometimes and we must look at them from another perspective...with an open mind and respect for the history and people...really cool write nilanjana

    1. thank you Claudia...those events can be very public large scale ones or invisible ones in the inner mindspace...hard to know what shifts the co-ordiinates...indeed openness and respect are key...agree there completely

  4. "And resolute refusal standing in for omens."
    great line...

    1. thank you for the visit and the comment...appreciate it

  5. this is quite a capture... "to avidly stare/ at history being made..." that's it in a nutshell... thank you for sharing.