Saturday 31 August 2013

Under an urbane sunlight

Midafternoon. The sunlight’s hard.
Intractable. Like raised placards
in the hands of silent citizens
pushed beyond frontiers of words,


far beyond bafflement and ken.
Exhausted men and women,
clock hands, numb bells, boulevards
ringed into rallies. Some broken,


bent contrails, spent smoke, and yards
of straight gun barrels and guards
and this hard smiling sunlight, fallen
on random faces, slogans, and hazards.


I’ll paint you a picture - easy dozen
birds to a cloud, speckled, sullen,
twisting in the sky, tugged homeward
under an urbane sunlight. And omens.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Write...Edit...Publish.. - the inaugural entry - A Tough Customer

Feels great to be part of the brand new bloghop over at Write..Edit...Publish, created by Denise Covey.  The prompt for this month is vacation, and I am here with a flash, condensed from a much longer story.  

A Tough Customer

The Rajdwar is no ordinary hotel, she feels lucky to have landed this job.  Savera pulls her bag onto her shoulder with a frisson of smugness, and checks her hair once more, pats a stray strand back as she calls out, “Amma, I’m leaving.  Bye—e –e.”

The lobby will be crowded today.  The vacations have just started, so people are either moving out or moving back into the city.  It’s only a filler job, a trainee’s assignment for the weeks of the vacation, but it will polish up her résumé another shade.  She enjoys people-watching, especially children, so it will not be any hardship.  Rather fun getting an insider view of a hotel this large, this luxurious.  There is a swing to her step, a jauntiness to the way her head sits on her shoulders. 


It has been easy this far. For a city with such a record, no extra security measures are in place. 

“Have they already forgotten? 1993? 2006? Not even a metal detector in the whole place. Really!”  He jostles into place at the queue for the unreserved carriages, holding his single case carefully close, disguising its heaviness with a light, three-fingered grip.   No-one gives him a second glance, another unshaven college kid in a scruffy T-shirt and large shades, going home on an impulse without advance reservation.   He smiles a little.  These people are such fools, they imagine they are invincible, when no-one is.  Well, they’ll find out soon enough, he thinks to himself; and then wipes the smile off his face swiftly. 

The queue moves forward as the train pulls into the platform.  He notes the route, the next stop will be at another end of the city on the long journey east.  He can recollect the map faultlessly, though he has never stepped here before.  The trainers have been strict and his training is superb.

He is in some amount of shoving later, and finds a sliver of an aisle seat by requesting an old man, “Uncle-ji, a little space?”

The man looks at him with milky, cataract-filled eyes, he is old enough to be the younger man’s father, “Come son, sit.  How far are you going?”

He grunts and sits down, opens a newspaper out to discourage talk.  The usual stream of passengers and hawkers of tea and meals, of cheap plastic toys and miracle portions pass through the carriage till the train finally draws out of the platform in long interrupted shudders.  Later, when the train has picked up speed, he walks through the vestibule into the first car, and enters a toilet with his small case.  Inside, he gets quickly to work, and by the time he finishes, a small black oblong shape is clipped below the lavatory opening, well out of sight on the back of the soil tube.  He flushes twice to make sure it is secure and invisible and dry.  He then shaves, changes into a business suit that instantly ages him a decade, and gets off at the next station. There’s work to be done at Rajdwar too.  He takes out a phone and sends a clipped text.  “Gone east.”


Savera puts down the telephone and looks at the guest, “Good evening, Sir. How may I help you?”

“I haven’t seen you here before.  Are you new?”

“Yes.” She keeps her smile smooth, even though she is bristling a little, “Do you have a reservation, Sir?”

He mimics her tone sotto voce, “No, I don’t have a reservation, and yes I need a room, and I am sure you are full up.  I need to see your manager, is Singh around?  Now be a sweetie and run and get him for me.  I am not a customer you can handle.”

“If you will provide an i.d. Sir, I will do my best.  As you know it’s the start of the holidays and you may not get the choice you want, Mr Singh is a busy man.” Her shift was nearly over, her feet were hurting, it was only her third day at work, she didn’t want to run to the manager bleating like a clueless lamb because she couldn’t face a tough customer.  Deal with this odd fellow, too bold by half, bung him into a room and then straight home.

“Have it your way sweetness.  Here’s the i.d.”  He’s got through this far without a hitch, the room matters nothing now.  He just needs to kill time till the others get in.  Kill time first, and then zoom in for the real thing.

The passport feels light, she looks it over dubiously, but can’t pinpoint any flaw exactly.  She photocopies it and goes through the forms; allocates one of the less-prized rooms.  He takes the key, but she notices that he saunters over to the lobby and sits there waiting.  Anyway, it’s none of her business, she winds up her work, and leaves.


Outside the streets feel jittery.  The shops which should be open, are closing their shutters early.  She wonders what’s happened as her autorickshaw crawls towards the station.  The streets are choked.  

“Kya baat hai, bhaiya?”

“Pata nahi.  Tirayn ka kuch gadbad .” *

Trains being disrupted isn’t anything unusual, she slumps back into her seat.  But she is stopped from getting into the Samrat Ashok Terminus by a cordon and a senior looking official, “The terminus is being evacuated.”  

Then he looks at her puzzled, young face and drops the offialese.  “Daughter, the city is under attack, go home some other way, get somewhere safe fast.”

“How? What?” her bewilderment knows no bounds, but he just waves her off resignedly.

She walks back into the milling crowds and turns to face the station.  Above the ornate entrance the large news-screen blinks the headlines out in dotted green lights.  Breaking News.  Synchronised blasts in long distance trains.  Rajdwar under siege.  Terrorists occupy landmark hotel.  

Not a customer you can handle.  The words and the passport pages swim into her mind, and she finally realises the flaw in them in one stinging flash of remorse.
WC -1013
All feedback welcome.
* "What is the matter?"
   "Don't know.  Probably a problem with the trains."

India, where I come from, and where I come back to every year for home leave in July-August, has long been a target for terrorists. Many of the vacations I have spent here in the last decade have been disturbed by news of blasts and attacks and high alerts all across the Indian cities. This flash is distilled from all those vacation headlines. 
Updated as per suggestions in the comments.
Read the other entries here:

Friday 16 August 2013

Different transit

I thought I knew where to go when I started out -
the road lay straight, but there was spilled mud on it
in strange smiles, and grasses shook their beards in laughing doubt,
a flock of birds shrilled a tune and wheeled about
overhead, and underfoot a track slid off from the main
and vanished in the woods in a longer circuit
unknown and inviting in the frail mists of rain;
so I stepped off-road beyond the hard, painted limits
into the whispers of light and shade, into silk-soft soil,
its red mouth against my skin. Into a wholly different transit.
The narrow, dimly-lit mud track cracked and split,
doubled up on itself, wound back and forth through the terrain
climbed into different levels of peace and turmoil
and then returned me to the same wide road again.


Monday 5 August 2013

No explanations

I snap a flower with a trembling raindrop

folks admire the colours, applaud the whole job

so I don’t really have the heart to explain

that there is no colour to a drop of rain.


Thursday 1 August 2013

Narrow roads open to broader horizons

Much broader my loving because of this love,
much wider my world because I travelled this lane -
narrow and steep from the valley on rough,
loosely scattered scree, the tarmac quite worn off;
an interrupted trickle of gravel and mud
sliding slowly down from the hills to the plain.

Not just the horizons that change in travel
and here the hills clipped them, whipped them into piles
somewhere foreshortened, elsewhere invisible
and yet they broadened, on narrow paths and tunnels,
on stilts of bridges that looked like they’d fall
but stood still, when I glanced back, with skeleton smiles.

Narrow roads open to broader horizons
and clear the view of the mists and the rains;
and one slender bamboo grove, some fronds of fern
droop over the road, secret arches of caverns
and a stripped knuckle of stone imperiously summon
some shift of pulses in the extremes of veins.