Sunday 27 October 2019

Diwali 2019

A lamp my son painted many years ago which is lit every Diwali since.

My moon is rising somewhere far from me.
All nights are moonless darkness over here
and not one lamp in brass or clay's ready
to take on its obligations this year.

Phases, waxing, waning, it's all the same -
the days weave into nights, nights into days,
the wicks are peeved and won't take on a flame
and neither be ordered into arrays.

Without my moon what do I celebrate, 
what occasions on the calendars to mark?
and how to observe rituals of this date
with lamps that are hellbent on being dark?

Teardrop shaped darkness instead of light;
empty clay; and rebel wicks in white.

Strange sort of Diwali this year. On the one hand, everyday  I celebrate the son who's gone off to uni. But on the other, there's no reason to celebrate Diwali with a gazillion lamps and the usual paraphernalia. A single lamp and a darkened house feels appropriate. And celebration enough. 

Happy Diwali to you! 

And happy autumn! to you, if you're not celebrating this specific festival.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Write ...Edit ...Publish ... + IWSG October 2019 : Horrible Harvest


That, dear Writers, was the sound of the October Challenge opening at Write...Edit...Publish..., so click ye forthwith and link up with your post URL directly over there. There are multiple prizes this time. Quick!…the linky closes on the 18th…What’s that? you don’t do horror…you have no dealings with zombies…nor vampires…and...supernatural beings just don’ your socks? 

Not a problem! Write what you fancy and interpret the prompt whichever way your heart dictates. I am doing that myself and sticking doggedly to the photo-essays … :) Because there are only three rules at WEP – no genre restrictions, no genre restrictions, no genre restrictions (except erotica). No, four - another one re word count.

Come  join the fun!

Grow. Yield. Reel.

Memory is a late afternoon shimmering in the backyard, if it could be called a yard, because there was no fencing, no boundaries. The front of the house came with some kind of a rudimentary driveway at least.  The backyard ended where Matthias the gardener had decided to stop hacking the scrub bush, marked vaguely by a giant wild fig.  The bungalow style quarter had an oddly  long, narrow footprint - memory is that house in all its minute detail though I spent most of my waking hours outside – either at the front gravelled driveway, or in the back, watching the antlions’ dens…the comings and goings of tiny animals…the young household help inexpertly slaughter a chicken.  I would come back from school, slip into a muslin chemise which for reasons unknown was called a ‘penny’, have some lunch somehow and  rush outdoors as soon as the ‘sun’s-too-high’ curfew was over.

After the first tumultuous year, Matthias and my mother planted a kitchen garden between the back patio and the fig. I was not too fond of vegetables – the Indian bitter gourds, the terrible bitter dishes of neem-aubergines which were cooked with shoots freshly plucked off the neem tree on the far side of the garage. The pale squashes and cauliflowers and squat looking cucumbers – I mean, what self-respecting kid likes those? That harvest was as horrible as it could get.

My mother spent a heap of time in lynx-eyed vigilance against creeping and flying pestilences that might descend on her beloved veggie patch. The budding of the aubergine, both flower and fruit, were Events – marked with the quick spontaneous parody of famous Tagore songs, much laughter and general celebration. The garden cramped my style a bit, because I had been used to setting up my own games under the shade of the fig, but now Matthias had flowerbeds in front and this densely planted veggie garden in the relatively well-shaded, more private back. Around which I had to tiptoe lest the plants get disturbed and stop growing.

He told me off for stepping on a squash vine once and when I complained to my mum, she heartlessly sided with him and said I should stick to the porch. And why was I roaming around outside in front of the gardener in a flimsy, strappy chemise without a proper dress on anyway?  Don’t do that girl, you are not a child anymore. But though I learnt to put on and keep on a dress over the chemise, even on shimmery hot afternoons, I remained a child for a long time after.

As every parent knows, growth is a step function, it happens in spurts. My growth was signposted by deaths in the family. The first was catastrophic – though I was too young to appreciate its overarching implications at the time. A few months into our relocation in Nigeria, my father’s young brother-in-law, the youngest son-in-law of the family at Dover Lane, died in his early thirties.  It reset the family dynamics forever and tightened up my relationships with Dover Lane and its residents subsequently. The second death was that of my grandmother, the one who left a legacy of pickles, priceless lessons in grace and minimal gold value. Life and death both have their own strange, irrevocable ways of growing people up, wherever the individual may be on the learning curve. Witnessing grief is the first step to navigating it  - an education in itself. But the scariest growth spurt, the most horrible of the harvests was still to come.


The kitchen garden disappeared like a puff of smoke when we moved to Bauchi. That tiny town-suddenly-elevated-to-state-capital was wholly unable to cope with the rapid and massive influx of the relocated personnel. There was no place in the government facilities, there were no starred hotels in Bauchi then, only the government rest house. Which was full up with other officers, come in from the trifurcation of human resources. Only one of my father’s Maiduguri colleagues was allotted quarters. I have no idea why, but my father was accommodated in the guest annexe of the bungalow of a British officer,  at that time possibly the seniormost expat in Bauchi. There was no kitchen, I’m sure the lady must have made an offer to my mum about dining arrangements, but neither party knew the other, so obviously my parents did not want to intrude more than they already were. We ate at my father's colleague's quarters, and slept at the Brit officer's. Seriously weird system, but the discomfort of sleeping under a perfect stranger’s roof kept my resentment at the relocation simmering pleasantly along.

Courtesy: Malini Mehan
In time we were moved into a house, three bungalows away. It was a complete contrast to 46, G.R.A., Maiduguri – an ancient, stone-built three-bedroom colonial property dating from the 40's or 50's maybe. My bedroom was really a wide passageway - it had no door, and no washbasin, unlike the one I had just come from. No wrap around balconies here either, no ceiling fans, instead a fireplace in the living area! Also a driveway lined with a row of mature, tall, pale-barked, probably gmelina trees. They would fill up with caterpillars once or twice a year. Apart from the trees, the rest of the compound was bare, beaten earth. I’m sure it must have been landscaped originally, but nothing of that was in evidence. There was no question of our planting anything, because there was no extra water. The supply was brought round by tankers at periodic intervals. The taps would often run dry before the tanker called. I hastily learnt to be economical. My mother gave up all notions of growing Indian veggies pronto – the only good thing to come out of the move from my perspective.  

But unbeknownst to all of us, she was growing a far more sinister crop. That, when it ripened, grew me up completely and sent me reeling into adulthood.

WC - 986

Read the other entries here: 

Sunday 13 October 2019

Out to Harvest

This is just to say

I’m out to
harvest, maybe the
plums in the icebox,
maybe not

if you’re saving
up your plums
for breakfast
please don’t,

the challenge
is almost here,
plums and pumpkins
all welcome.

Come join me -
they’re so delicious
so horrible
and so cold. :)

Read the original

The October Challenge at Write...Edit...Publish... opens on 16th, are you ready for the horrible harvest? 

Monday 7 October 2019


I think of Giza often, I think of how
azure the river runs between those banks
as the brimming desert pivots on its flanks,
and the distance covered between then and now.

The way the trees shred themselves in season
and carpet the walkway by the riverside;
skies convulse with colour, the sun ends its ride,
and they map distances done, then undone.

The sleepy movements of waters and winds,
the mosque in silhouette on the far shore,
the angles of sails I don’t see anymore,
and distances that can’t be imagined.

I think of Giza often, somewhere westward
and distances that can’t be mapped and measured.

Once upon a time I lived in 6th October, which is an important date in the history of Egypt and gives its name to a place in Giza. Need I say more?