Monday 23 September 2013

The little I know

Whatever I know, whatever I’ve known 
of contentment and being alone 
is summed up in a few words, and you.
One upturned palm resting upon
the other with nothing to do


and nothing special to be done.
Solitude as deep as the ocean
and this self a ruffled seashell;
the skim of a jet-ski on the horizon
or maybe a ship, a larger vessel


made small due to distance and blurred.
Solitude. Rich, resonant as a word
proud and unrhymed at the verse’s end,
and my self loosely tethered
in you, immortal for this second.


Friday 20 September 2013

Write....Edit....Publish - Moving On - (and Staying Put) - in Cairo

It's  time to head back to Write...Edit....Publish for this month's prompt, which is Moving On.  My flash is based in Cairo, where life has been harder than usual for ordinary Egyptian people for a couple of years now.  This is the story of Doa, and her struggle to keep going. Sometimes a step backwards is the only way to move on.

One Step Backwards

It is a glorious day and the trees on Sharia Moustafa Kemal are still ablaze with flowers.  A sprinkling of petals lines the pavement under Doa’s feet as she walks.  It is early still, the sun is soft and warm, with a fluorescent quality to the light.  She turns off into Road 84, and a few steps later reaches her destination; unlocks the back door of her workplace, gets in and puts the kettle on.  Her employer, Leila, will be here in half an hour.  Doa has come in especially early for some private time.

She is no longer young, but she still brings a fierce passion to work, a sense of integrity beyond just dry duty, trained to a level of skill and single-minded diligence no longer common.  Her Great-aunt Hayat was once part of the Ma’adi household of Princess Fawzia, and Doa was brought up to those strict benchmarks.  She is no ordinary worker.

She works now for a boutique confectionery in the upmarket neighbourhood of Ma’adi.  For years she was in service at a waterfront restaurant on the Nile Corniche.  But then the revolution came, the world withdrew, the tourists stopped coming, and the restaurant trimmed down its staff.  Doa lost her steady job.  But alhamdulillah, she has found this one not too long after, many of her co-workers still haven’t.  Her nephew, Karim remains unemployed too.

She mentally rifles through her to-do list while the tea brews.  A profusely blossoming branch of cassia taps against the facing window, a hoopoe pecks at the lawn in the early sunshine.  Doa hums a little and then stops abruptly.  Too many problems, the old order upended, the changes so fast that she doesn’t know what to make of them.  The revolution came like a sandstorm out of the Sahara and blew away everything.  The whole nation drunk on its promise, heady with optimism - things would get better after the dust settles.  But all she knows is that it hasn’t settled yet. 

And she knows that Karim has not worked for months now, he used to give camel rides at the Giza Pyramids, but the tourists don’t come anymore.  One of his friend’s animal died because he couldn’t afford to treat the strange illness she had picked up.  Many camel owners have had to just let their animals go, leave them to wander bewildered and forage for food, because the men couldn’t feed them indefinitely.  They died in the desert, unused to fending for themselves.    

She had advised Karim to sell, and he took Abu’l Hawl, named after the Sphinx, dragged him off to the Friday market at Birqash but then brought him back again.  The trade in camels fares no better than tourism, Karim had mumbled.  Whereas sellers used to come from as far away as Somalia and Sudan, now they are only a handful, their animals starved and lean, the bargaining desultory, the prices, and the traders themselves, depressed. 

Doa doesn’t know about that, she hasn’t ever been to Birqash.  Probably some butcher from Imbaba had bid for the animal, and Karim didn’t have the heart to sell.  Abu’l Hawl might have shed a canny tear in the way of camels, and Karim had turned back home.  Depressed prices indeed!  Is the price of anything else down?  Ya Rabb! Carrots at ten guinays the other day, she has never seen that before!

She has suggested Karim set up a roadside stall, but then, stiff competition there too.  The refugees keep pouring in from Syria, their men set up impromptu shops and sell incredibly cheap, their women marry local men with some paltry guinays for mahr.  That country is in far worse quandary.  Doa doesn’t grudge them whatever shelter they find here, poor souls, but does every catastrophe have to happen all at once? Life has been uncommonly hard lately, no reason to sing. 

Doa plans on asking Leila for a favour, and though she feels embarrassed, she hopes it won’t be refused.  They will pool their resources together, she and Karim, and set up a small shop.  They have already scouted out the place, and paid a deposit.  There is no-one but Karim she can call family.  Her brother and sister-in-law, Karim’s parents, died years ago. Her sister Huda migrated to Canada soon after.  In fact, lately Huda has been pestering her to leave too, but Doa can’t take on the added hardship of an alien land.  No, aunt and nephew must stick together, and insha’allah, Karim’s new shop will keep the camel in fodder, and the humans too, till the times change back again. 

The tea is ready, and she pours out a dainty china cup for Leila, a teaglass for herself.  Her timing is perfect.  The door swivels open, Leila enters as Doa sets the cup down.

“Good morning!”

“Good morning. You’re early! How’re things?”

Doa hesitates, then bravely plunges in, “Everything’s good, alhamdulillah.  You remember Karim Madame? He needs a small loan, to set up a shop –” 

Doa has never before asked for a loan in all her life, why has fate chosen this particularly craven humiliation for her? She keeps her eyes firmly on the teaglass as she explains the details, and finally looks up to find Leila singularly grave.

“Of course I’ll give what I can,” Leila speaks slowly, “you’ve worked hard I know.  Take it as a gift, habibti, no need to repay.”

“Oh no, I can’t do that, it’s a large sum! We’ll pay back as soon as we can, as the shop starts paying.”

“No, that won’t be possible. You see, we’re going.  Things have been –rather difficult.  You know how it is. The uncertainty, all this street violence.” The younger woman sighs, “So we’re moving –.  Back to Beirut.”

Doa finishes her tea in silence and gets to work. Other employees trickle in. The cassia branch still tap-taps loudly against the glass, but the sun looks harsher now, the lawn empty.  The hoopoe has flown.
WC - 1000.  All feedback welcome.


Monday 16 September 2013

Just a couple fours and a sixer

the deeper the feelings run, tumultuous -
the fewer words they use, withdraw the fuss
and more serene the slow half-smile they choose
to wear, and the crisper they write their verse




broken ice floes, meaninglessly adrift
on a polar sea; if there are any gifts
they lie underneath hidden from the light
even when the long darkness deigns to lift




that’s likely as complete as that will get -
the scribbled half, one line of a couplet
scrunched up on a desktop, but if I smooth
it out perhaps I will still get its truth
not every line finds its rhyme or its pair
but the poetry is still hidden in there


Wednesday 11 September 2013

More than just a kiss Blogfest.

This is my entry for the "More than just a Kiss" blogfest hosted by Christine Rains and Cecilia Roberts.

This excerpt is part of a long short called "The Return".  The story opens where a woman called Nisha has come back home from abroad after ten years.  The flash here gives the reason for her leaving home and staying away. 

A few words on the context:

Rakhi - is an Indian ritual celebrating the bond between a sister and brother, but is often extended to cousins and sometimes between  a young man and woman who are close but may not be related by blood. Sisters tie a thread around the wrists of their brothers on the day, pray for their long life and success, and brothers promise protection.  The ritual is sometimes used to fend off unwanted advances.

Nisha, originating from Sanskrit, means night and is used as a name for girls. Nasha means intoxication, and is not commonly used as a name.

The Flight

Neev refused Nisha’s Rakhi that year.  She was confused, distraught. So he stopped Nimmie also from tying one.  He said it was childish. He would take her hand casually on the way to the cinema, on the road, on the beach; he would take Nimmie’s too on the other side.  And Nisha would feel him searching for a handhold somewhere unfathomable. 

Nimmie left for university.   Nisha alone negotiated the beachfront with Neev.  He would link his arm through hers, walk for an unconscionable time in silence, nothing concrete to object.  He grew reckless, his eyes frankly adoring, a secret smile lifting his mouth; she grew panicked, withdrawn, fed-up at her own lack of control and confusion.

One night she stumbled.  He reached to steady her, and she ended up against him, with his wildly beating heart under her cheek.  She felt his sharply in-drawn, ragged breath in her hair; his hard nipple brushing against her earlobe through the thin tee.  Then the texture of his lips on her skin.  He tasted of the sea, and freedom; the seconds and the skies spun in a dizzying melee.

She recovered at his whisper,“Nasha, –Nasha?”  

When exactly had he distorted her name? Why hadn’t she noticed it at the time?  She wept in great dry sobs as she stepped back and dealt him a ringing slap.
“This is wrong. You’re my –”
“No.  You know it's not. And I don’t feel the least like your brother, haven’t ever felt like it.”

 WC - 248.

"A kiss, when all is said, what is it? 'Tis a secret told to the mouth instead of to the ear." ~ Edmond Rostand.

The wonderful Cecilia Robert and Christine Rains would like to invite you to the MORE THAN JUST A KISS blogfest!

Sweet, sizzling, fiery, awkward, mind-blowing. They want to read your kissing scenes.

The rules are simple:

1. Sign up on the linky list and post the badge on your blog.
2. On one of the days of the week of September 9th, post a kissing scene on your blog. It can be either fiction or non-fiction.
3. Please do not exceed 250 words.
4. This is a blogfest, so visit the other participants and have fun!

But wait! This is more than a blogfest. They're offering prizes!

The scenes will be judged by these amazing romance authors:
Cecilia Robert, Laurelin Paige, Kyra Lennon, and Christine Rains.

They will choose three posts to win these awesome prizes.

Prize 1 - A critique of a kissing/intimate scene from your WIP (not exceeding ten pages). Critiques will be done by Cecilia Robert,
Kyra Lennon, and Christine Rains.

Prize 2 - A critique of a kissing/intimate scene from your WIP (not exceeding five pages). This critique will be done by
Laurelin Paige and Christine Rains.

Prize 3 - A critique of a kissing/intimate scene from your WIP (not exceeding one page). This critique will be done by
Cecilia Robert and Christine Rains.

Cecilia, Christine, and Kyra will each choose one of their favorites to give out some fantastic ebooks.

Cecilia –

Kyra -

Christine – All six volumes of
the 13th Floor series.

Write a kissing scene and win prizes!
Sign Up at Christine Rain's Blog!



Sunday 8 September 2013

One night

The moon is a moue of silvery gloss
above the remains of the camp;
no sounds of footsteps, they’re muffled by grass
and I’ve put out the single lamp.


He presses together my palm and thumb
and gently tugs off my bracelet;
unbuckles his holster, but still the gun
is left where it’s easy to get.


A pebble’s sharp under bare shoulder blade
it slices flesh open - love hurts;
the air aches in darkness and wrings the shade;
the barrel’s too close for comfort.


The day comes awake, he’s already gone -
the grass is flattened where he’s slept,
disturbed earth shows where the holster was thrown
and a deep mark where the gun was kept.


He rides somewhere with the gun at his belt
and my fears here weave talismans;
but victory and glory can’t be compelled,
nor peace at the point of a gun.


Wednesday 4 September 2013

Foreign lyrics


Who will teach me to understand? to recite
the poetry of languages I don’t know?
I feel the songs glowing in the darkness
the voice of raindrops falls into the night
a catch in my throat, and I can just guess
snatch at half meanings of what I can’t follow.


Someone plucks a tune from one single string
and softly croons as he goes by unseen
hidden by fuzzy lines of fields and slopes;
far away an urban amplifier is pulsing
a different message of loneliness and hope
and I’m caught, yanked baffled in between.


Tell me if you’ll come and ferry me there
across the hazy stone edge of those schisms
thick tree canopies meet raging dust storms
the wind whistles unconcerned, unaware
of flying sand patterns, seconds’ sculpted forms
flash out like lightning, forked but lissom.

Wish I'd learnt Punjabi while I had the chance.  And French. Spanish. Italian. And of course, Arabic.  A couple of numbers that I love but can't follow:

Another contemporary Arabic one


Sunday 1 September 2013

Up and down NH 31A

I saw nothing much of the peaks -
the monsoon weeks
are not the best viewing time.
But the climb
showed me a few other things:
hope, misgivings
happen at every altitude
whatever’s viewed.


Sometimes it takes the mountain mists,
covered summits,
obscure skies and clouds heaped up
to clear the nub;
sometimes a diffuse, dimmer light
shows up the heights
so much sharper; clearer than
clear sunlight can.

Back at my own breaking-down-every-minute workstation, (or maybe I should call it an idlestation?) after a two month break in India. Happy with the holidays, happy to be back.