Thursday 27 June 2013

Speech Day

The lit up stage is way down front
the last row’s cramped, no leg space
maybe an afterthought just meant
for children, or those who came in too late


to find a spot in the coveted aisles
and I should fit, but I don’t;
the names are called of each child
and each one carries something to flaunt -
deepens a father’s applause, a mother’s smile


some things my son you’ll learn from books
others you won’t find on your page
you’ll have to go elsewhere to look
the speeches are made on the stage
the awards given, small and huge
markers of childhood, and coming of age


a sibling sits filming an event
with shaky hands and a steady pride
a polished routine draws to an end
then you are called to collect your prize
you walk down, gawky angled, unkempt
hair spiked, beautiful innocence
looking back once to catch my eyes.


Friday 21 June 2013

RFW June Weddings

June.  The end of spring, the start of summer.  The last bit of the transition.  I always feel the seasonal cusps more than the seasons, and this one’s been a bit hectic.  So I am glad of the chance to get back to Romantic Friday Writers, where exciting changes are afoot and the challenges get more sumptuous with each passing month. Who doesn’t love weddings, or prizes? Only I am stuck in some sort of medieval melodrama mode which I keep stumbling back to, can’t seem to snap out of it. And I seem to have lost whatever little grip I had on word counts too :) so I guess that rules me out of the race, but I’d still love your critiques!


A bit about the context – henna tattoos are applied to the hands of brides in many parts of North India. An ancient tradition still observed today, the designs very elaborate, very beautiful!  It is commonly held that the deeper the colour sets on the bride’s palms the more deeply she will be loved by her groom.  The Indian Hindu wedding ceremony at its core consists of vows made in the presence of the sacred fire-god, Agni-dev, and sealed with sacrifices and libations.


Here is my entry for the challenge:
Hennaed hands

The groom’s name had been hennaed, hidden, discreet
within the exquisite design the bride wore,
and the women joked they’d bar the bridal suite
they’d allow him in, only open the door
if he could find in her hands something his own;
else he’d have to spend the night outside alone.


The bride flushed and looked away, then anxiously
sneaked a look at her palm, would he find his name?
Oh, it was done too fine, this filigree;
it wouldn’t do, she’d never live down the shame!
She cursed the henna-woman, and the age-old jokes
played on bridal couples by rowdy womenfolk.


The wedding was quite out of the common run,
it’s not every day that a princess weds;
and this one was a brave heart, a young woman
who could ride and fence and drop her enemies dead
at thousand paces with her unerring aim
and in her hennaed hand was her groom’s name.


The Senapati’s son, Samir – beloved of the gods,
his eyes blazing coals, his skin, dark and tanned,
sheathed a supple body keen-edged like a sword
and his was the name hennaed on her hand
and his the face on her throbbing heart tattooed.
They had trained and played together since childhood.




First met when she was six and he was eight,
at the royal armoury choosing their bows.
Together they learnt to shoot their arrows straight;
they fenced and parried and evaded deadly blows,
they honed their arms and their weapon skills
to a fearsome point able to defend and kill.


There were other children there, but somehow these two -
the young, fearless boy and the little princess
formed a natural team when they were required to,
then fought duels amongst themselves with ferociousness,
relished a deep friendship off mock battlefields,
and on them fought to win, to make the other yield.


She dealt him a blow one day in a late teen year
the wound too shallow to do any lasting harm;
his blood made her drop her blade and some strange fear
unnerved her heart and petrified her sword arm.
The cut was his, but hers felt the painful sting
and a poignant epiphany that only love can bring.


The days went on and he came back, his wound healed
and she who was whole never again felt whole,
she thrust and parried in the arena, rode the fields
with the same ruthlessness and superb control,
but distracted, she slipped whenever Samir was close,
she never dealt him anymore those hard blows.




They fought one day paired again in a free-for-all
and a weapon point flashed too near Samir’s face;
she turned pale, and intervened with a concerned call,
her demeanour, and the words, left no trace
of doubt and so finally she stood revealed
and he knew her yearning heart in that field.


He didn’t speak, but his coal-black blazing eyes
burnt a hotter flame, a sparking, leaping light
pared his soul during an arms exercise
and awakened to love through sudden insight;
and so the two who were once childhood friends
came to be lovers suddenly at its end.


The king was pleased to bless their union
for the Senapati was a friend both noble and staunch,
the two old men had seen many battles won.
And so  the palace hung garlands and blew the conch;
and so the henna-woman piped paisley designs
and hid Samir’s name within the saffron lines.




Seven vows the groom made to his princess bride
and sealed the pledge with libations for entire life,
seven circles around the sacred fireside
their garment ends knotted tight as man and wife,
palm upward, within it his hennaed name
she gave him her hand before the holy flame.


The news came a lightning bolt from the blue
the messenger ran panicked in disarray -
a rebel attack on the fringe, what to do?
they must be stopped at all cost without delay!
The old king left to strategise and oversee
and he was followed closely by his Senapati.


The shehnai took on a newly mournful strain,
Samir undid the bridal knot and laid it flat,
“Princess, you will understand I cannot remain
while our fathers lead soldiers into combat.
My darling, please let me go with them now,
I’ll come back to you if the gods allow.”


The merry pace of a happy wedding band
the fates can flip in an hour to battle march -
a groom came at dusk to claim a hennaed hand
and left a soldier ready to face the enemy charge;
his bride watched him go, her heart aflame
and tight her fist gripped around his hennaed name.




Battles end, soldiers return, lovers reunite
but none return the same, they come back scarred,
and Samir of the blazing eyes, coal-dark and bright,
returned at last after the gods treated him hard;
six slow days and nights he rode on his horse
held steady by kind men on homeward course.


The henna-woman wept aloud, the rest too shocked
eyed his many grievous wounds on breast and thighs;
just one whisper rose and fluttered, then was choked,
“Alas, Samir of the blazing coal-black eyes!”
Wordless his bride the princess stood and gazed
disbelieving, at his eyes that no more blazed.


She looked at him then at her hands hennaed deep,
the designs refreshed every day since he’d left
and still she didn’t speak, nor did she weep,
though one by one her women lost control and wept,
“Alas, O Samir, beloved of the gods!
Their love counts for nothing at the point of swords.


“And how will he find his name written on his bride
and who will press his warm lips to that pulsing spot?”
The bride meanwhile drew a dagger from her side,
and held the point to a torch till glowing hot.
On deeply hennaed hand she branded his name
with scorching steel, in letters of blood and flame.


“Yours the name, my love, my hand will always bear,
trace the blood and find yourself in my palm;
and in its corded burn scars too you’ll be there.
Beloved, I‘ll be your eyes and your weapon arm.
Women, hurry, now open and deck the rooms -
he’s found his name, and tonight I have my groom.”

WC  - 1049

Senapati - Defence chief (Sena=army, pati=master/lord)

shehnai - a flute-like instrument played during weddings


Wednesday 19 June 2013

I can call it a ghazal if I like

You read it only when a spotlight shines on it,
and it’s the light itself that fades the lines on it


so should I fix this light or switch to pitch dark
and will you find the sense without clear signs on it?


nibs scratch the surface, silence leaves a deeper mark
so ink or blank? and now they both look fine on it


can’t say for sure which fades first, which stays fast
nuances its meaning and goes on, refines on it


who stands by me while I make the darkness last
no matter what the blank white light defines on it?

Monday 17 June 2013


It’s good again to be back on the road
my roots and skirts in my arms, horizons broad;
the moon-cool night at my back, silver-soft
flimsy clouds overhead in travel mode,


free again from what’s lost, both odds and gods,
weave the roots into cloth and pin with clods;
the moon hushes whisper light and all talk’s stopped,
sapphire fire’s in the stars, the breeze an ode.


Friday 14 June 2013

The small print on the wall

You built a den, and I rented it for some time,
and I hung a picture that I liked on a strip;
as I looked at it suddenly the wall felt mine,
yet I knew the truth - rights of use and ownership.


The print was mine, and what lay behind the print
was never mine, but it held the string and it pegged
something dear; and so the wall, inch by inch,
moved closer to me through the fragile connect.


You asked for it in due course, the lease was up
so I took the picture off the wall and out I came;
but all day long all I could see was this smudged
faint dark line on the paint rubbed by the frame.



Wednesday 12 June 2013

Fine, just leave it blank then

You feel and think, and write the stuff you must write
a few dark drops of allotted ink, then mostly white.
The longest poems still leave half the paper blank,
and blanks within the verse however crisp and tight.


I read and think that a mass of ink spattered dense
without those very blanks and spaces makes no sense;
there have to be the loops and gaps, they must soak in
before the meaning dawns like a lotus opens.


So leave the blanks as you please, don’t ink each bit
and I will find my way to the meaning of it
easy perhaps due to the gaps, what you don’t write
the inferred words more poignant than the explicit.

Monday 10 June 2013

The big reveal

No tree falls, so there’s nothing to hear
just a shrub of lilac flowers, they appear
pale, bleached to white in the harsh sunlight
the fragrance too delicate to be clear


even when breathed in deep and long. Outside
the four winds quickly disperse it wide.
I bring an offhand handful in the room
and a dimmer light reveals what sunlight hides.


Friday 7 June 2013


The eye adjusts to all dark, star loss, moonset;

and it can drop its lid on things when they get

too dazzling, too complex their luminescence,

too intricate their outlines in silhouette.

Bitten by some sort of short verse bug here. Otherwise aal is well.


Wednesday 5 June 2013

Maybe you’d come back to me if I didn’t try so hard

to find you everywhere, in ribs of leaves,

in ruffles of afternoon petals, in the textured dark bark

of night, in the fuzzy days of windblown grass,

in the dim muddy alleys of my own grief.