Tuesday 27 November 2012

"At the end of the Parade": My entry for the Get Published Contest

The story

The story is about Pallavi, a young woman who isn’t looking for love or marriage, happy to be a singleton.  But she reluctantly agrees to meet a prospective groom to save her favourite aunt from embarrassment.  Her idea is to meet the guy once and then dump the whole incident in the garbage bin of memory.

Onkar is a sensitive man, unsure around women, here with his father from a small university town. The father-son duo meet Pallavi at the appointed time, but things don’t work out as she planned.  Pallavi shocks everyone and her own self - she finds love at this very public “parade” as she calls it, but the road to attain it turns out hard and long.

The reason for wanting to tell a certain story often lies in the story itself.  That’s why readers go back repeatedly to their favourite tales.   And that’s why words shift and smoulder restlessly in writers’ minds, refusing to lie silent.

What makes this story real?

Pallavi’s story is no ordinary wishy-washy account of an arranged match and married love, though the first part does look deceptively like it.  It’s a gritty struggle of overcoming societal and parental opposition, of going against every established norm.  Of an unflinching love triumphing over petty mindsets in an inspirational and heart-lifting real-life tale of a modern Indian woman.  It carries all the characters and the readers along on a complex tide of fearlessness, and love.


“Hi Onkar! Pallavi here.  How’re you all?”

“Hi Pallavi.  We’re good, thanks. How are you?” Onkar’s surprise and a slight guardedness trickle through as he responds to her telephone call.

“Found the perfect girl yet?”

“Ummm...ahhh....well, actually, yes.” Pallavi can almost see the blush on his face.

“Good, good, congrats! So glad your trip didn’t go waste.” She is bubbling with laughter but checks it, ”Listen, I need to talk to you guys.”

”You mean, you want to meet?!”

“Okay, what I mean specifically is, will you both have lunch with me at the Riverside?”

“I’ll ask Dad and call. But why?  You do know...I mean...you....” Onkar fumbles miserably. 

Pallavi can no longer hold her laughter back, ”Yeah, yeah, I know I didn’t make the grade.  And I still want to take you both out, okay? Let me know, please.”


The Riverside Walk is deserted midday, she knew that when she decided on the restaurant.   It is too classy for the university crowd and too out of the way for office goers.  The father and son arrive punctually, and the atmosphere turns a little uneasy for a spell, Onkar is visibly squirmy.  His father’s eyes are still smiling, but his lips are grave.  Pallavi herself is outwardly calm, but feels edgy and restless.  Even the most self-confident woman must be allowed to feel a little nervous under these circumstances.

This is my entry for the HarperCollins-IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal and HarperCollins India.

Friday 23 November 2012

Did you hear the bell toll?

Does the bell toll for the ones who kill
without the consent of kings and generals?
I hear birdsongs become terribly still.


We organise the queues to heaven and hell
segregate the saints and shove the criminals.
Does the bell toll for the ones who kill?


The bullet’s picked out from flesh, but until
the trigger’s broken the gun is functional.
I hear birdsongs become terribly still.


The puppets just show the puppeteer’s skill,
snakehoods sway at the charmer’s recital.
Does the bell toll for the ones who kill?


No women keen when he leaves his cell
the news despatch is clipped and official.
I hear birdsongs become terribly still.


The young must die as old men turn to evil
there is no peace, unbroken storm no lull.
Does the bell toll for the ones who kill?
I hear birdsongs become terribly still.

Shared with poets for OpenLinkNight @ dVerse

Sunday 18 November 2012

Glow in the dark

Credit: Terry S Amstutz

The house in the distance
its pumpkin-warm windows
flash out over an expanse
of naked fields, mown rows,
the crops gone, and an autumn
of fluorescent lilies floated home.


Did you swing by my haunts,
did I stop at your windows?
it’s not really important
but they’re all good to know
why lilies replace the crop
and what lily-pads choose to cup.

Credit: Terry S. Amstutz

This makes it a little awkward
to keep warmth in, all windows -
their metal must be weathered -
their polished panes must close,
show a glow-in-the-dark façade
but the warmth cannot be shared.

Shared at dVerse where the photography of mobius faith provides the prompt this day.

Friday 16 November 2012



I have learnt yours off by heart and recited
each one of them outside and inside my head
till the curves of skulls were shaped by their echoes
and spines altered to hold the words they said.


Your moving finger has crept down centuries
touched pawns and queens; and greater pens and keys;
and touched me too sitting in the darkness
with my hair rippling a little in the breeze.


Then there are those, whose delicate rubaiyat
I forget, at least, can’t recall all their art
but they get mixed in with the mortar of life
and they are in the paving of the path. 


And sometimes I’m caught quite unawares
as to what I read, whether it’s yours or theirs;
all verses appear to blend in at the source
into one great poem, echoing everywhere.



Has this or that been perfect, and origins
marked out mindfully as each thing begins?
and has it been spun to its logical end?
Endless questions remain scratched in the margins.


I have often found most answers in a verse,
sometimes yours, and sometimes also the others’
and nothing so pleasing as a shred of silence,
a trapped morsel between the teeth of words;


and whether it rhymed or not, was left blank
where I chewed slowly on the lines, where I drank
the verses up in one long breathless draught
lost in the wilderness, or in databanks -


in the end they just spelt out the same things
the dry desert, the dry data, the readings -
yours and theirs, wherever I happened to be,
my ends looped back and touched their first beginnings.



I have not written it down, I can’t explain
how another life, its separate bliss and pain
frisbees into mine without any distortion
thrown across centuries through just one quatrain


even when I have not been able to catch
their exact sense, and there’s a mismatch
in the shapes of chasms in my life, and theirs,
they have still found a slot, a place to attach.


Like a pebble in a pool, that’s been thrown
by some playful hand, famous or unknown
and the ripples show just once at the surface
but what remains at the bottom is that stone.


I have watched each ripple closely as it formed
but also sifted that mud-bed as it swarmed
with the pebbles and the frisbees that you’ve tossed,
and each of the starts and ends that you transformed.

Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat was the first "complete" book of poetry I read as a teen and totally fell in love, and decades later I still feel the same. The first part of my rubaiyat was posted earlier in May as a tribute on his birth anniversary.  I expanded that today to share at dVerse, where the subject for the prompt is literary allusion.



Tuesday 13 November 2012

Anything hollow

Flames are rarely flame-shaped; winds put them out
or stretch them into long licks of tongues, rude
and pert; squash them with fear; force them to brood
crouched low, trembling under stars. Slap them about,
make them gulp. Fluttering hearts against mouths
of open darkness. Coerce servitude
as they want – wilful, arbitrary.  Skewed
and sharp gusts brushing past from north to south.


So, I never see the tents come alight
with the right tear-drop flames, row after row;
there is nothing to see, hardly a spark
to my festivity; sit content, quiet;
my lamp too is no lamp, but anything hollow
filled with oil and a wick burns in the dark.

It is Diwali night.  Back in India, my hometown and every home would be draped in lights, sparkling with fireworks and noisy with loud crackers and hissing rockets, quite deafening.  I am in a different place, and here it's impossible to light the traditional oil-lamps, even if I had them as it is too windy for unprotected flames.  So my Diwali consists of a single brass lamp lit inside my room, and silence, and peace and poetry. And that feels uncommonly good and right. Happy Diwali to you if you're celebrating.

Shared at OpenLinkNight@dVerse

Friday 9 November 2012

Happy Diwali!

I write your name
in lamp flames and
card game winnings;
the moth-wing night
flaps, clings to light.
I still write you
in bright gold hues
in star-blue cues
into the dark.
The fire sparks flare
their marks above
I write love in
each rough moment,
each event, all
that’s sent is blessed.

It's Diwali in a couple days and this is my attempt to celebrate it in Than Bauk, a Burmese poetry form.

Shared at FormForAll @dVerse

Wednesday 7 November 2012


Image courtesy Rashmi Bhatnagar

the year has suddenly paled to november
the sun wears comical visors to the front
the palm wearies of the weight of her fruits
shakes down the dates, red and oblong


evenings drop in on silken feet, rake their fingers
through the last strands of golden hair
nights harden but can’t nail their hearts
I’ll spear mine though with pigeon-throat songs


the sacred figs sharpen their leaves and remember
to observe ancient ratios of points to lengths
autumn colour grass somewhere in richlands
itches in yellow splashes on the ground


the seagull unravels a wave, and pretender
horizons masked in grey scarves of time
roll in, roll in and then recede and go home
I’ll  go find mine in a verse of woodwind sounds.

Shared at dVerse

Sunday 4 November 2012

Another day

I forget.
Another day -
a blanked out sky
the light stretched
taut and fine
as tortured muslin
on a loom.


the wind whistles
and whips
massed barbed-wire branches
of thorn trees
against the panes
like trapped birds.


There’s the trip
you must make alone
well, not with me
at any rate.
Oddly bereft
that I forget
to be peeved.


A burnt stub left
in the ashtray
otherwise clean.
You cleared away,
then lit up, it’s black now
just a faint burnt smell
in the room.


Nothing on the fridge -
no splayed open note
of squirming insects
waving cheeky legs
under the magnets
in tangible
four letter words.


Oddly bereft
that you did not
disturb my rest
a short message
flashes and beeps
on the phone -
safely reached.


Years ago
I’d be upset
at this lack
of parting fuss
I would have
called it unfairness
that we forget.


Now I just
pick up the stub
look at the phone
bereft and yet
not alone
breathe you in deep
and answer the text.

Shared @ dVerse where the prompt is enriched today by SueAnn's images.

Friday 2 November 2012

Tagore and Bollywood and me

Well, Tagore did have a lot to say
about injustice. And also the Pathan.
For sure he would have enjoyed Ray.
Because Teen Kanya and Ghare Baire
are Tagore’s own. But suppose
he’d been given a chance at both highs and lows -
like Bollywood, and My Name Is Khan?
He’d probably be able to fuse the views
in a nonchalant “Question” that answers itself.
He’d probably say, “My girl, don’t lose
your cool or perspective, we each choose
different routes, but then each arrives
in the end to the same screening. Stereotypes
are just a simplified way to help.”
And I of course would be rendered speechless
if the man himself were to speak to me
but let’s suppose I’m more than I am, or less
aware of his works and greatness
and I’d find my tongue and endlessly argue
“How can you, Sir?! Promote this view
that Bollywood is all there is to see?”
“There’s so much more to us than the syrup,
the frosted fairy tales, glitzy but shallow
that Bollywood routinely dishes up.”
He’d say, “The truth, my child, is always tough.
A part is always taken to mean the whole -
See, I’ve become the sole poet, the soul
of Bengal, and every poet stands in this shadow.”
And I’d argue back, “But that’s right and good”
(we’ll persist with the pretence of my cheek and nerve)
“anyone would choose you, I know they would
because you are very different from Bollywood
Those films, what they portray is all wrong
Our lives are not just catchy song-
and-dance numbers, and pretty curves.”
He’d smile a tired smile, the old easily tire
he’d say, fed up of the arguments
“Listen woman, just hold your fire
We never sing solo, it’s always a choir
though one voice may seem louder. A stereotype,
a snatch of song, may serve to whet the appetite
and lure in viewers to other songs, other events.”
“What do you call him? this chap SRK
seems to have got an interesting review,
and yes K Jo is certainly no Ray
but then should he be? A million ways
to sing and live, that’s what we’re about
the audience will realise that beyond a doubt
someday soon, and so my girl, will you.”
Over the last decade or so, Bollywood films have been feted and celebrated in the West. They have always had a very admiring audience across Africa and the Middle East, and many Indian actors have a fan following among these countries to rival those at home. I enjoy a good Bollywood masala movie as much as the next person, but I am a little bemused at the increasing typecasting of Bollywood movies as the representative of all Indian films, and extending that further to Indian culture as a whole. India produces films in Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, and many other languages; and in regional film studios away from the big money and muscles of the Mumbai film industry; it has a growing and vibrant parallel cinema where film makers of great talent showcase a different India from what is depicted in most Bollywood movies. But these are not as widely known let alone celebrated.

Tagore died while the Indian film industry was still taking baby steps, before many of his stories/novels were made into films, his songs used to augment many film scores.  Tagore was a polymath, not just a poet.  He justifiably casts a long shadow on Bengali literature, so much so that very few of the subsequent writers/poets are known to other communities in India or outside of it.
  "Question" (Prashna in Bengali) is one of his poems, written after the Jallianwala bagh massacre.
SRK - Shah Rukh Khan is a very popular Indian actor, and K Jo  refers to Karan Johar, a director and  TV celebrity host.  Satyajit Ray was a world famous Bengali film director with many foreign  awards to his name.  He made some of Tagore's works into films.

Shared at dVerse