Wednesday 18 December 2013

Write.....Edit......Publish..- Is it December already?!

It’s always nice to be here at Write...Edit....Publish, for the last time this year, wow! That 2013 went quickly!  I am posting a flash and since I have written several posts on seasonal festivals in India, and some of them have been for RFW, time for sharing something that isn't seasonal.  Hope you enjoy this glimpse of a living tradition that goes back unbroken for thousands of years. 

I will be travelling shortly, and possibly offline, so will catch up with you all as and when I am able to hook up.  Meanwhile, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014!


Seeing Red.  And White.


Kushal woke uneasy, as though a dream had laid a huge weight across him that awakening wasn’t meant to shake off.  The ceiling was unfamiliar too, and flustered him before he remembered he had come away from home, and Maddie.   Maddie.  Madhavi.  They had bickered, a perfectly pointless disagreement.  It seemed incredible as he lay in the mussed but clinically impersonal hotel bed. When had he started caring about such nonsense? what she wore, the way she dealt with the baggage of a gen-next immigrant, whether she wore her marital status on her sleeve. 

But there was no time to brood, the workshop was to start soon, and there were the Mughal miniatures, the museum to check out.  He was in the city of his forefathers, much to explore, maybe some explanations, some connects to take away.  The phone rang as if on cue, Kushal jumped.  Maddie!

“Hey, wake up! When does it start?” It was only Pete, a fellow artist.

“Nine.  You ready?”

“In fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, see you at breakfast.”

He cut himself shaving, bled a drop onto the spotless washbasin.  Red on white.  Red and white.  Just like the bangles.  He still couldn’t believe the stupidity of the whole thing. 


The sound was annoying, the jingle-jangle of metal, combined with a hard to place clacking, neither stone nor wood.  He looked across again to where Maddie was sitting for him, reading.  She had an arresting face - a childhood accident, and reconstructive surgery that had not been able to wipe out all the traces; her flawless skin faintly patchy, puckered in a band across her left temple and cheek, her lips lifted by a hairsbreadth in a lopsided secretive smile – they made her face at once irresistible and intriguing.  The rest of her was draped on a slouchy armchair, her back against one armrest, her legs thrown over the other, her skirt swished sideways and trailing, almost touching the floor. The sun slanted in through the large bay windows and highlighted the planes of her face, deepening the hollows of her collarbones and waist.

“Take those bangles off, will you?” he sounded impatient, brusquer than necessary. “I can hardly see your arm.”


“The bangles. Take them off.  Can’t do the sitting with them.”

She put down her book obligingly and took off a mass of silver bangles, laid them in a heap on the floor.  All except the last two, a white, carved conch-shell one paired on each wrist with another deep red; the source, he realised, of the clacking noise as she moved her hands to pick up her book again.

“Take those off too, please.”

“No.  Can’t.” She didn’t lift her eyes from the book. “These stay put for the time being.”

“Wha-a-t?” He let bafflement slide into a sneer. “You believe that crap about ‘harm to husband’ if they come off?”

She glared a warning at him, “Kush! Paint me with them.  Or leave them out as you wish.”

“How does a girl who refuses her husband’s surname, wear red-white bangles signifying holy matrimony?  What happened to unfettered freedoms?  How come this sudden love for tradition, aren’t the bangles a tad hypocritical under the circs?”

Hypocritical.  One word leads to another; that word led to a few more. The tone suddenly turned vicious midway, the talk bitter.  His resentment surfaced perhaps, his neediness - as red and bone-white as the bangles on her wrist.


“This is how it is. Red-white bangles. Maiden name. Muddled up traditions.”  She had snapped the book shut and whiplashed straight up from the chair.  “I thought you knew me better.”

And she had walked out. Walked back to that husband no doubt, whose last name she shunned, but for whom she still wore the mandatory bangles for a long marriage, good health and fortune.  Were all women this strange or was it just Maddie?  Kushal had tried her cell several times, she ignored the calls.  The next morning he left.


The traffic was terrible, but the roads much wider than the childhood impressions formed as his mother had reminisced about the alleyways of Daryagunj.  He wished he had paid more attention, remembered the address of the old house she had described.  There was no way to retrieve it now, she had died some years back. But he mentally made vague plans to visit the neighbourhood one evening; asked the driver, “Daryagunj?” embellished with a hand gesture that universally meant ‘where’.  The response too came in a similar gesture that could only mean ‘not nearby’.

There was little time to feel hard done by or reminisce at the workshop, it absorbed all his attention.  Afterwards, they went to the Mughal miniatures gallery.  He had of course studied the ones in the British Museum; but a different experience to view them in their natural home.  The group had been allocated an enthusiastic docent - one Purnima Sen - who knew the paintings inside out.  Kushal couldn’t help but notice that she wore thin red-and-white paired bangles on her wrists.  The same clacking noise as she waved her hands around explaining the exhibits.  Also the natural home for them bangles, he wryly thought.

“Let’s go through to the Harappan galleries,” Purnima said once they’d finished.  “Really, the grandmother of all our sub-cultures.  You can’t leave without taking a peek –”

He browsed the exhibits lining the walls, the ancient pottery, the bronze figurines.  A child’s terracotta toy behind glass – a crude figure atop a wagon, but the wheels smooth, the axle perfectly balanced - clearly for pulling along.  Strangely touching.  His mind flashed back to a wooden engine he had got Maddie’s child. 

As he walked to the opposite wall, a burial site from millennia ago came into view in the centre, a skeleton on its side lay with bits and pieces around.  He drew closer, fascinated.  The label alongside identified it as a female, a married woman who had predeceased her husband.  The evidence, he read and his heart lurched, lay in the shell bangles still encircling the dead bones of both her forearms.


WC – 1015
All feedback welcome.
Red and white (shakha-pola) bangles - image courtesy Anindita Khamaru.

Incidentally, the colours red and white have a very special significance in Hindu culture, red is the colour of "Shakti" the divine feminine force, it denotes prosperity and fertility, white is associated with purity and spirituality. The red and white colour pair occur as a motif throughout Bengali/Hindu culture - a bride is dressed in red, while her groom's attire is white; women wear white sari's with red borders for religious occasions; married women wear these special red and white bangles; Hindu monks wear red and white markings on their foreheads and many other instances.

Read the other entries here

1. Loren Mathis 4. Nilanjana Bose 7. Jenny Brigalow
2. Lisa Buie-Collard 5. J.L. Campbell 8. Trisha @ WORD+STUFF
3. Denise Covey 6. N. R. Williams 9. Roland Yeomans

Monday 16 December 2013

Min Zamaan

Yeah, I know you’re surprised that there is no poem here today.  That’s because I am guest posting on Some Facts, Some Nonsense, and mighty thrilled I am too, to be doing so.  If you are here from IndiBlogger, then I don’t need to say anything more.  You already know this fantastic blog and Debajyoti’s tongue-in-cheek take on blogging and the blogosphere in general, his perfectly hilarious cartoons and commentary.  If you’re not from IndiBlogger, then I must tell you that SFSN has been on my blogroll for the longest time, so you can imagine how pleased I am to be guest posting over there with Min Zamaan, a story about Trishna coming to Old Cairo and antiques than she had bargained for.  Go on over and read it - click here for the link.

Getting back to the sudden lack of poems/stories, I came across a forum discussion recently where the majority view was that a hotchpotch of poems and flash fiction does not even qualify as a blog.  Having a blogspot attached to one’s space doesn’t a blog make, apparently, unless personal opinions and life events are showcased therein.  And all this time I thought I was blogging! Anyways, be that as it may, I have now remedied this dismal situation by posting my opinion of SFSN.  And finally, to twist a well-known phrase, hopefully beyond recognition – facts may be sacred, but fiction is not; and comment is free.  So do please add yours, here or over there.


Saturday 7 December 2013

Filling up the pen

There’s no innate poetry in the pen, the ink is drawn
from outside, the mind’s a blackened blank till one mystic dawn
stumbles and drops its colours all over the sky
for one gasp of indrawn breath, and then is forever gone.


And each dawn that comes afterwards, trailing the half whispers
of peacekeepers and warkeepers, vanquished and victors,
is filled up with that absence. No complaints, just a sigh.
But that too can fill the pen, that too can drive the fingers.

Monday 2 December 2013

Seven stanzas and a garden

The garden hedge has been grown
tall and tightly knit;
the early morning light takes on
leaf-colours minute by minute,
not much light  gets through to the lawn
till the sun makes the summit.


A small blue rag of a sky is seen
if the eye’s raised right up.
At ground level it’s only green,
fresh or dry as seasons dub
some flowers let into the scene -
a few blooms on a shrub.


How simple it is! to grow things high -
a decade and that’s all;
a few seeds thrown down and the sky’s
portioned into small;
some trees in a garden trained awry
morph into a wall.


Some trees grown too close, too straight
twist into a fence.
Did the gardeners know what they’d create
by planting them so dense?
That a screen can also isolate,
slice skies into small fragments.


The gardeners step back and feel proud
of hedges straight and even
and round the world without a doubt
trees in a home are a given
but then a high hedgerow shuts out
as it shuts in an Eden.


Think of a garden green and cool,
shaded early from the sun
the hedge at the edge is a natural rule.
When it's tall and overdone
breaks up the grass into modules
and obscures horizons.


Think of Queen Sita in a garden
abducted by a King
and guarded day and night by demons
and that’s the one true thing -
trees and leaves are as much a prison
as a high-walled building.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Knick Knack

A snap hung crooked on the wall
a chipped terracotta figurine,
an old, dented enamel bowl
a bit of batik, a pashmina shawl
a good luck charm in aquamarine -


a few knick-knacks left scattered around
as the sands and winds have spun
their own fine scarves, batiks of sounds,
tracery of shawls on the ground.
Home is just a talisman.


Tuesday 26 November 2013

Not reaping what I sow

Some I will reap,
though not of my sowing.
The others will keep.
There’s  no knowing
to whom the last fruit will fall.


Maybe birds peck it
or maybe a squirrel;
a child could visit
and tear off and swivel
it over the garden wall.


Seeds I plant here -
if they’re coaxed to sprout -
with the passage of years
will fruit no doubt.
But not for me those harvests.


For all and one
welcomed to the orchard,
the fruits will ripen
and will be offered
after me to future guests.

In a specially jelly-kneed thanksgiving today for those who have sowed for me for years and years,  and the grace and favour I reap consequently.

Friday 22 November 2013

Write....Edit....Publish - Sharing this one for November

Great to be back at Write....Edit....Publish again, this time for the prompt “Sharing”.  I am here with a flash, a teeny bit over word count, but I can’t pare it down any further without going crazy.  (If you are pressed for time or patience, then you could just cut to the story from here by ignoring the next two paragraphs J thanks!)

Writing poetry in the first and second person pov is much easier for me than fiction/prose.   Most of my poetry is written in the first anyways, not because it is autobiographical or anything, but simply because I feel it has a greater immediacy and connects more deeply with the reader.  But I am not as free and easy with the first person in prose.  The whole thing becomes a pile of I, I, I and it is incredibly hard/tedious to wrestle the monotony out of it.  Writing second person is probably even more awful.

However, what RFW and now WEP has done for me (thank you!) is to encourage me to venture out of comfort zones.  So I have attempted a second person pov in this flash.  I would love to hear your views on using it, how do you make it work, do you like working with it, any tips and tricks.  Above all, whether you think it can tell a story more effectively than the others? 



Strictly within limits 


How do you know where to draw the line?  Time out of mind you have been hearing it, “Play nice. Take turns.  Share.” And honestly? What choice is there when you are the eighth child?  True, treated a little special initially because eighth children are special, particularly if they are sons.  Well, you know the story about Lord Krishna being the eighth child.  But you are the youngest, and resources are stretched, your father’s business of jute sacks is failing because there’s a growing world of plastics out there. You learn from the very beginning to make do.  With hand-me-downs.  Books and shoes.   Coats with holey pockets.  You make do with sharing spaces. Affections.  Attention. 

The job of raising you is delegated to your elder sister, a child herself.  Your mother is often tired, she works two shifts that add up to more than the sum of their parts in exhaustion. Your father is mostly away resurrecting a dying product.  The insecurities trickle into the family somehow.  Holey pockets, worn soles and stretches of loneliness surrounded by the sea of an extended family; sharing things that are never enough.  You don’t know any other ways of growing up.

There are others like you at school, but you don’t know them either. You always feel the weirdest, most impoverished, clinging onto some precarious pretence at normal life.  You furtively compare your books with the crisp new ones that some students buy, and yours look the most dog-eared, with so many generations of scribbled annotations in the margins as to be useless and illegible.  You never make any annotations yourself. You are a passable student with a meagre scholarship that guarantees you will finish school, no matter what destiny decides about jute sacks.  You volunteer little of yourself in classes, blend in between the last bench and the first somewhere.  

A couple of students bully you.  You deal with it. Do exactly as asked with aloof impassiveness.   You volunteer nothing of yourself here either.  It is an effective defence and makes the bullies, and other people as well, quickly lose interest.  You get by with a carefully constructed carapace of self-sufficiency over a jelly-like self-esteem.    

The jute business finally crashes, your father is now at home, frustrated, boiling with rage and seeking the softest target available.  That of course is your elder sister, who is also your mother.  Your real mother takes on some more extra hours at work, that makes her practically disappear from home and your father angrier than ever.  He spends most of his time yelling at everybody within earshot.  Worse things than yelling happen too, which you witness from the shared bed, pulling the tattered covers over your ears.  The bread becomes chewier, the lentils more watery, the beautifully rounded scoops of steamed rice are shaped with smaller ladles.  You’re always hungry, there is never enough food.  The hand-me-downs hang looser on your frame.  Your carapace becomes harder, your self-esteem more fragile.

An older brother escapes with the housekeeping money, no-one hears from him again.  Another goes away to the Gulf to work, promises to send money home.  But he tumbles off a twenty floor high scaffolding, and then it comes out he was illegally there so there’s no compensation.  A sister escapes too, elopes with a much older man, one of your father’s former customers who’s transitioned now to modern packaging.  This makes your father incandescent with fury. He is openly violent with the women, when you try to intervene he cuffs you so hard that you have to be taken to the hospital. 

Home becomes intolerable, you hang around the street corners and the old park more than you need.  The park particularly, the grass there is balding in patches, the benches are either bent or broken, only a couple of lights work. Petty crime and clandestine romance are what mostly go on there.  But it’s comfortable - no-one will disturb you - you don’t carry anything that could lure pickpockets or prostitutes.

On a day of feeling especially raw and fragile, a stranger asks if she can share the bench where you are grappling with your maths, and then offers to split her parathas in exchange. You have to suddenly blink back embarrassing, unmacho tears.  She doesn’t pay any mind to your efforts at brushing her off, insists you try some. So you do, just to shut her up. She watches you wolfing down a paratha at top speed and then offers you another in silence.  Your mouth is too full of saliva, and your guts twist too tightly to articulate a refusal.  You take it and wolf it down again.  She doesn’t ask many questions.  She is back the next day.  You are reading – “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.  He thinks too much.” - and trying to pretend you’re neither hungry nor thinking too much about her or food. The pattern repeats. Some kind of shaky friendship results; it will last till you graduate school, and the park, and the city.

A few weeks later she lights up a cigarette and passes it to you, ”Try it, it’ll help you focus,” and you cough and cough in the beginning but it does feel good. It’s just another thing to share, you think nothing of it when she offers another.  Because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do, share and take turns?  During a slightly murky dusk, the light above the broken bench flickers on and then a long off - the couples have withdrawn into the shrubbery, and the pickpockets haven’t yet descended on their beats - she offers you a syringe.  “Try it. Bloody wicked, man.”  Your fingers fumble, you have never injected yourself before.  She takes it from your hand and plunges it into herself first and then into you in one swift, practised movement.  You wait for it to kick in and you think nothing of it.  Only remember it years later at a clinic as a piece of paper flutters in your trembling hand and your world comes crashing down.  How do you know where to draw the line?


WC -1025
All feedback welcome.

Read the other entries here

1. DeniseCCovey 2. Laura Clipson
3. Chrys Fey 4. The Armchair Squid
5. Jen Chandler 6. Trisha @ WORD STUFF
7. Lisa Buie-Collard 8. Nilanjana Bose
9. Michelle @Writer~In~Transit 10. Adornments for Dreams
11. 12. Jenny Brigalow
13. PK HREZO 14. Sharing
15. Li @ Flash Fiction (Direct Link)


Sunday 17 November 2013


The small sweep of lives, the orbit
of gravel on string, moons as white
as unused pillows, the infinite
squeezed into tiny and tight,


as tense as a crude catapult 
in the hands of giddy adolescents.
A supreme nothingness result
from minute spasms of moments.


What else can I have witnessed?
Whole galaxies stripped bare,
an entire eternity undressed
a white hot radioactive flare;


and then all has gone ominous
the silence swells with its own ring
that can’t be shared between us
with the same degree of meaning -


like peanuts from a packet
while watching a furtive movie
scenes and seats heavily padded
with a raucous ambiguity -


and so I’ve have come back to it,
back to the small sweep and sphere,
shrunk, flung back into these orbits
of my lives and my gravel here.


No-one ever speaks anything
a languid angst burns up space
and keeps the moon from yellowing
nudges the status quo into place


keeps the gravel turning around
fingers of centrifugal force
and skims meanings off sounds
and ruffles pages to find their source;


but the meanings can’t be made
by turns of page, by the swivel
of stone and clock, empty decayed
stars in their tracks. The lights shrivel,


while you witness the same events
and even call them similar names
and yet the meanings fall different,
haphazard, and nothing’s the same.



Beyond the one-dimensional
silence and its disconnects
there’s no orbit that threads it equal
smoothes the jerking, turns defects


into a light-hearted anecdote
shared on cocktail-cold evenings
“this I’ve written, just a small note
on catapults and sundry things,”


with a deprecatory shrug.
The hesitation and the fear;
the difference, much-abused drug,
mutes the impulse, we quietly steer


the moment away and each
smile a little uncertainly
understanding sways out of reach
neither of us can quite break free


to enable a common template
for catastrophes we witness.
We spin at our co-ordinates
once or twice we snatch a guess


look through the other’s lens
feel the other’s pebble and string
there is a tiny flash of sense
and then we are back to nothing.


The night trickles a little colder
now the moon’s a wrinkled pillow
hard as rock against shoulders
there’s nothing to be said, we know


the limits to word definitions
each perspective sharp, fine tuned
to what’s been seen, done, and undone
but in the end, mired and marooned


within our own discrete islands
of silent helplessness, tongue-tied;
turn away and understand
perspectives rarely coincide.


And that too is fine, my friend
that we could not articulate
all that we’ve seen, all that’s happened
that we can only stand and wait


watch and serve just one purpose
without any gods to oversee
that we each stood up to witness
the lexicons of plurality.


Wednesday 13 November 2013

A long blooming flower fades and falls from a faraway tree
And here in the garden another blooms to try and comfort me.


Monday 11 November 2013


A verse planted in foreign soil.
A lantern hung on a foreign tree
blooms with the same light and shadows
wherever its hung, there it glows;
no foreigners here, it’s only me.


Not many who cannot follow the script;
never mind, it grows where its thrown or sung
plays out its meaning, whatever gift
it has to give, disbursed slowly or swift
burns out and rolls away, off the tongue.

Thursday 7 November 2013

The world is not a pie either

The world isn’t a pie gone cold,
the landmass and the sea
are finite of course, but can still hold
heaps of dross and the gleam of gold,
and a place for you; and me.

The world is broader than we know
and deeper than we can surmise;
there’s no need to prod and burrow,
to turn each stone wherever we go,
to peg a number to its size;

mark it into plot and square
fence the garden tight and strong,
sweep the courtyard clean and bare;
and still the leaves will pile up there,
seasons pour out their songs.

There’s no need to set a beat
to each song that they hum -
not every garden is square and neat,
the banyan bends at its own feet
in splendour and in freedom.

The world is not a slice of pie
we can loosely say, or exact,
who’s got the larger, you or I;
slice it up and it goes dry
let's leave the mystique intact.