Wednesday 27 February 2013

Not quite a ghazal yet

The cups are set, so pour the wine, my love
doesn’t matter if it’s cheap or fine, my love
under the ashes, the embers are warm still
and the stars switched on, but their fires chill
not all warmth must glow and shine, my love
the moon’s too full but nothing’s resolved yet
the skies held hostage to a dawning threat
each circle must first wane to a line, my love
and have you touched that cold silvery steel?
dipped into things that it chose to reveal
and felt the shiver go down my spine, my love?
the steel that hones, the whetstones may be his
that sharpness wasn't for me, but know this
the silence and the hands are mine, my love
swap the work and the words as you please
in time, both the sharp and stoke must cease
when it’s finished you’ll know the sign, my love

I did so want to post a ghazal today, but then an extra rhyming line got in the way. Kya karein?

Thursday 21 February 2013

Romantic Friday Writers Fanfiction Challenge: We Love Lovers

This time the challenge over at Romantic Friday Writers is to write fan fiction.  A quick definition of that is an original story based on well known characters created by other writers, from literature, theatre, films etc.  Since it is the Valentine month, RFW has created the challenge based on well-known fictional lovers.
And here is my entry:

I’m NOT Wearing Your Ring

Anu was looking distinctly upset when Priya came in and put down her baskets of plucked fruits and flowers carefully, the flowers to be threaded into garlands, the fruits offered before the deities and then distributed in the ashram, a job they were both supposed to complete before dawn.  But Anu had refused to get out today.  Priya had heard her muttering in her sleep and waking up suddenly even before the sacred moment for the pre-dawn rituals.  Today, of all days!  When there was so much to be done!

“Alright, out with it! What’s bugging you now?”

“I had the most disturbing dream.”

Priya rolled her eyes.  Anu was always getting these odd dreams, and always at the most inconvenient times.

“Shunckoo had gone bathing,” Anu spoke rather disjointedly,” The ring slipped off, then a huge fish swam by and swallowed it up. And the King was smirking in the most insulting way!  What’s with this sudden wedding anyways?  Why this indecent hurry? Like he just wants to get into her bed.”

“Shame on you!  And when did kings have to marry anyone to do that?”  Priya sounded thoroughly fed up. “Now c’mon.  We have to get her ready.”

“I just don’t like it, Priya!  I know you don’t believe me, but dreams are important.  I saw a Great Sage too, in an awful fury. Something dreadful is going to happen!”

“Just zip it, gal! If Shunckoo hears you, she’ll be terribly hurt.  And if the Great King hears you, then your head will decorate the ramparts of his fort.”

Anu fell silent, but her lips were pressed mutinously together.  She was going to warn Shunckoo, never mind the greatness of kings and their rampart decorations.

The bride was ready, they had had to keep things simple. No traditional finery in a forest retreat, and that too without any notice.   So she had wristlets and armbands made out of hibiscus and oleander; hair-part embellishments, and earrings of red rangan, a girdle of heavy bunches of ashoka flowers.  She wore a coarse, homespun silk that had been dyed mud-red with lac.  She looked breath-taking, Anu thought privately, far too good for any mortal king.

“Priya, dear,” Shakuntala’s voice showed the slightest tremor,” I think it’s time.  Will you please request Great King Dushyant to come to the grove?”

“Let Anu go, I’ll stay with you.”

“No, no,” the bride insisted, suddenly and uncharacteristically astute, ”Anu doesn’t like him much, you know.  She’ll probably say something to make him get all upset.  You go.”

Priyamvada smiled and left, and Anusuya sat dumbstruck – had she been so transparent?  Shakuntala smiled upon her childhood friend,” There’s no need to look so upset.  I know you don’t approve of my relationship.  You’ll fall in love yourself one day and you’ll understand. Till then no hard feelings, alright?”

“I’d never allow any hard feelings between us,” Anu said lightly, and then her tone turned serious. “I don’t dislike your relationship. Just that I’m uncomfortable with this gandharva marriage caper.  Why can’t you guys wait till Rishi Kanva comes back and gives you away as per regulations?”

“He’s been gone for ages already, who knows when he’ll return?” Shakuntala sighed and coloured, ”Neither of us is prepared to wait indefinitely.”

“Listen, Shunckoo,” Anu talked urgently, her voice frantic, ”Priya doesn’t like me talking of dreams, but they show the future.  They foretold the king coming here, about this very love beforehand, didn’t they? So listen to me – I’ve had a very troubling dream last night.  Hear me out and then make up your mind.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s all a little fuzzy, but I dreamed of a royal ring on your finger; and a Great Sage in a fury cursed you.  And the King forgot you, he didn’t come back, though you waited for him.  I saw the ring slip off.  And a huge fish swallowed it. And you were humiliated in the royal audience chamber, and your son ran into the forest with a lion. I haven’t had a wink of sleep Shunckoo, I don’t know what all this means. I wish you’d wait till your foster-father is back.”

“Oh, Anu!  You poor thing! Of course the king will come back.  He loves me beyond any doubt.  Why would he marry me otherwise? Just calm down and stop worrying.  Everything will be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I will make it quite sure.”


Shakuntala woke up with Dushyant’s sleeping arm across her, his fingers still loosely cupping her left breast. The flowers were strewn all over, the cottage smelt of stale flowers and hours of glorious lovemaking.  She drew in a deep breath, her cheeks tingling slightly at the memories, and wriggled till her breast fitted comfortably into the hollow of his palm, the swollen nipple just brushing against the calluses made by hilts and bow-strings.  Who knew that just breathing in and out could become so intensely, impossibly pleasurable? She nuzzled into his flank till he woke up, and gave in.

Outside the cottage, a white mare stood stock-still, her polished harness glinting in the slanted soft dawn light.  She waited till  the rough door opened and her master came out; she whinnied a little in greeting, but didn’t move.   He came and stroked her nose, and Shakuntala followed him a little after, her hair impeccably done up, the folds of her outfit faultless; but her face was a strange mixture of languorous and panicked.

“When will you come back?”

“Soon, beloved.  As soon as I can.  Till then,” he took off his ring and made as if to offer it to her,” this will remind you of me.”

Her eyes suddenly held a far-away look, then came back shrewd and cool.

“I hate to say this, but that’s way too loose for my finger.  It might slip off, and then some nasty character might misuse your royal insignia.  Give me your angad instead, will you beloved?”




Gandharva wedding – One of the eight forms of marriage recognised by Hinduism which is based on the consent of the bride and groom alone, without the consent/involvement of either of their families. The man and woman take the vows themselves without priests presiding, and the rituals are condensed to an exchange of garlands. 

Angad – an ornament like an armband, worn either on the forearm or upper arm, usually by noblemen/kings.  Like rings, angads could also be signature pieces, used to conclusively identify the wearer.


Some of you may be familiar with the Mahabharata already.  For those of you who aren’t, it is an Indian epic that has a tale-in-a-tale format, originally written in Sanskrit.  Several very famous romances form part of it.  Shakuntala and Dushyant’s love story is one of them, told and retold and translated many times over for more than two and a half thousand years, not just in India but right across the world.  Read a translation of the full text of Kalidasa’s Sanskrit play based on it here, and/or a synopsis here.

The original story in short is this - Shankuntala is abandoned at birth and brought up by a sage, Kanva, in his forest retreat.  She grows up with two other girls, Anusuya and Priyamvada, and all three become fast friends.  The king of the region, Dushyant spots Shakuntala while out hunting and the two fall in love.  They decide to marry, in the absence of Kanva, who is out on a pilgrimage.  Afterwards Dushyant returns to his capital, but promises to come back as soon as possible, giving her his ring as a token. Shakuntala pines for him and neglects her duties at the ashram.  One day, a very hot tempered sage visits them, but Shakuntala taken up with her own problems, forgets herself and does not greet him in the traditional manner.  The sage is angered and curses her - the person that occupies your attention such that you forget to greet me, he too will forget you.  Shakuntala's friends intervene and he can't take the curse back, but he relents enough to say that if she can show him some token of his affection then he will eventually remember. As per the curse, the king forgets his love, so after many days Shakuntala travels to find him. On the way, she stops to bathe in the river, and the ring slips off and is swallowed by a fish.  She arrives at the palace, but of course the king can't recognise her, and nor can she produce the ring.  She leaves humiliated.  However the ring is found finally by a fisherman, and the insignia recognised, is taken to the king. And so the king remembers.  She finally wins him back and does get to be queen.  My story is a twist of this original, based on the fact that exchange of rings is not a formal part of Hindu weddings.
Today is also Bhasha Dibosh observed by Bengalis everywhere, and as International Mother Language Day elsewhere in the world.  So it feels entirely apt that my post should be based on something from my own culture.  If you are celebrating your language, Happy Language Day to you! And thank you, RFW, for the opportunity to dovetail the two celebrations into each other.

Read all the entries here:

1. Nilanjana Bose 6. Michael @ In Time ... 11. J.L. Campbell
2. Donna Hole 7. Dawn Embers 12. Denise Covey - Direct Link
3. Rekha Seshadri 8. Writing Worlds 13. Charmaine Clancy - Wagging Tales
4. Linda Katmarian 9. N. R. Williams 14. Anna of Annas Adornments
5. Sally Stackhouse 10. Erin Kane Spock 15. Yolanda Renee

(Submissions close in 3d 20h 56m)

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Tuesday 19 February 2013

Preparing for the sale

Late in the day she decides to locate the silver      
and find the brass, and so opens the cupboards -    
a hodgepodge of old style metal utensils,   
worship-ware, plates faintly holy with sandalwood marks still           
and stacked, outdated candles for the water filter
who uses them now? how absurd!     
to keep them taking up space and possibly, time; 
and love letters from years ago! broken bird-wings        
of affection, handwritten line by line           
tongue-tied emotions hyperventilating        
in laboriously well-formed words.       

Some of the metal’s so discoloured, it’s difficult
to make out the material, its probable value
only gauged by the weight upon her wrist
she’s hardly planned for this. The sudden surface of tarnished
plates, hidden nuances of dulled
reverence, the decayed bones and sinews
of silver, brass; in secret closets of skeletal
houses whispered away long ago, an unflattering past stalks
the present, fingerprints on smudged metal
cracked ivory candles, panting words caught
undressed in love’s crosstalk, vaguely violated taboos.

She can hear the cycle chap on his weekly rounds         
calling out to no-one in general “Repairs?”  
the silence babbles; there are no coherent replies.
On the opposite terrace, the retired clerk sighs     
for the gaunt work years; cars abound        
two to each parking slot now everywhere              
only the children possess posh all-terrain     
machines of predatory aero-dynamism, whose parts       
never need mending; anyway they don’t deign
to use repaired things, they just discard.
Cycles, filters, skeletal houses. Tarnished silver worship-ware.

Shared for OLN @ dVerse

Wednesday 13 February 2013

You know it anyway

Time again for re-telling, there’s nothing new to say
and that too feels fine, the melted blanket comfort,
the same tangy taste of faint peppermint words
the great affirmation of an everyday cliché.
And I have loved you so, that I have given away
every puff of breath, and each spike and spurt
of billowing delight, likewise the cracked hurt
till the heart is zilch, and zilch is halfway
to some infinity, unseen and unheard,
to some stone-etched heaven dancing inert;
a temple by an ocean trapped into being a bay
and everything is itself yet fluidly converts,
wriggles into a symbol, into a fully figured
thing of flesh and blood, yet too of foam and spray.


Sunday 10 February 2013

Of farewells

We cannot be sure if we’ll meet again -
who can know beforehand which one is final?
and both of us have learnt to say this farewell
many times over, without the groundswell
of emotions, dramatic formats of love overdone;
her smile’s still radiant, eye-sockets hooded with pain,
her voice rock-steady without a tremble,
“It’s done me no end good, my dear. When
do you come back?”  My voice too is strangely even,
“Maybe next year? I really can’t tell.”
I leave without looking back, and she remains
unyielding in her chair by the window as usual.
The cab-driver knows from my face the terminal
and drives me straight there where they end and begin.

Shared at dVerse where the prompt today is the art of letting go.


Sunday 3 February 2013

Here the shadows of your language
dance on each page I read
a raucous hawker finds new means
to sell outside on the street
the ceiling fan’s mirrored at the edge
of broken glass, the newsfeed
still and frozen on the screens
winter’s coming to an end
a season draws to a dazzling point
but nothing else begins


your hands the way they were
before they got cross-thatched with disease
your parched-earth heels strike the floor
oblivious to all defeat
the terrazzo’s chipped, indistinct colours,
worn divider strips, stiffened debilities;
rusty, weak hinges on open doors;
winter’s crumbling to an end
a season ducks to a frazzled point
but nothing else begins


there’s talk on the ledges of buildings
that you and I can’t understand
there’s no harm though in keeping ears pinned
while I read the shadow-dance
urban pigeons beat their wings
your house is quieter than we planned
just hawker-calls threaded on the winds;
winter’s stumbling to an end
a season drains to a senseless point
but nothing else begins


the radio tunes that I’d heard once
are no longer turned up at dawn
maybe it’s broken, or there’s a difference
in the music that comes on
your lobes hang heavy, a little misshapen
your senses a little withdrawn
your love’s stilled to a jangling silence;
winter’s fumbling to an end
a season clots to a clenched, tight point
but nothing else begins


love and anguish both masked easy
and pasts dance crisp on pages
your magazines are fragile, paper thin,
their editorials strange and dated
but flipping the corners keeps hands busy
and empties all mindspaces
of love that is, and can’t be, sanguine;
winter’s rustling to an end
a season falls to a tattooed point
but nothing else begins

Shared for OLN @ dVerse

© 2013 Nilanjana Bose