Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Write...Edit...Publish... + IWSG October 2020 : Grave Mistake


Cutting straight to the chase without the usual preliminaries, in keeping with the spirit of WEP Lite...

Blind Mole in a Black Hole

To be or not to be, that is the question…

~ Hamlet, William Shakespeare.


Mistakes. Grave ones. Yes, the mind makes them. The shape-shifting wondrous and wondering mind, capable of morphing from a homing pigeon to grasshopper and bulldog, capable of holding the most unimaginable thoughts, the most inexplicable, avantgarde visions, the most speakable and unspeakable ideas – that exact same mind can summersault and do a strange blind-mole-in-black-hole on itself. The same mind, which can drive the body to achieve peak success, can also torment it and goad it to blow its brains out or immolate its living self on a pyre. It can, in one catastrophic, grave moment, destroy its own housing and so annihilate itself.


Suicide - it’s as old and as human as civilisation itself. The first recorded suicide note goes back to 1900 BCE to Ancient Egypt (even this started in Africa, why am I not surprised?) – it is housed in a museum in Berlin and its title translates as The Dispute with His Soul of One Who is Tired of Life. Attitudes to life and death and the taking of life, whether by own hand or by some other means, were different in antiquity – some would call it more callous, some fatalistic, some maybe relaxed. It was not abhorrent in many societies. The pagan world was generally less hassled about suicide than we are now.

For instance, some Ancient Greek states allowed citizens to end their own life with a state sponsored cup of hemlock, if the said citizen dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s correctly in the application form. In general, suicide was frowned upon if it was uneconomic for the society, such as slaves or criminals prior to trial (criminals forfeited their property to the state). But suicide was perfectly acceptable if the alternative was a dishonourable death. 

In North Western India, Rajput women followed the practice of Jauhar, a ritual mass immolation, when defeat in battle became inevitable for their menfolk, so as not to be taken alive and abused by the enemy.  The first Jauhar is said to date back to Alexander’s time when some north western tribes committed mass suicide to avoid certain capture by him. Similarly insurgent Jews in Masada committed mass suicide rather than face capture and enslavement by the Romans in 74 CE. Famous individual suicides from antiquity include Cleopatra VII and Seneca the Younger.

With the rise of Christianity, attitudes towards suicide hardened and the practice became unacceptable. Suicide became stigmatised. The church excommunicated those who attempted it and the bodies of successful suicides were not permitted burial on consecrated grounds.  That started changing again during the Renaissance and by 18th/19th century the cause of suicide had stopped being perceived as sin and instead shifted to insanity, though it remained illegal in most of the world. Suicide was decriminalised in most countries in the 20th century. However, there is still much stigma attached to it.


It is better to burn out than to fade away.

~ Kurt Cobain.

Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, John William Godward, Mark Rothko, Robin Williams, Sushant Singh Rajput. Is there something within the artistic temperament that predisposes it to suicide? Does the creative brain come hardwired with the seeds of its own annihilation? There have been reams of studies out to prove or disprove this premise. No definitive answer, though. What has been established is a connection between mental health and suicidal behaviour. Our understanding of so called ‘insanity’ has deepened. But it has also become equally clear that mental disorders are not the only cause, the reasons are varied and many. We now know that there are signs of suicidal tendencies long before the person takes any definitive action to end life. Suicide prevention is possible if communities are sensitive - they listen and act proactively.  


Worldwide, there are around 800,000 lives lost to suicide annually. These are only the recorded deaths, many are suppressed due to the stigma or to avoid legal issues, so likely the actual figures are much higher. A majority are males, it is estimated that twice as many men take their own lives as women.  Not all have any history of mental health issues and/or substance abuse, although it is thought that in more than 50% of the cases depression/mental health/drugs have a role. Other causes of suicide include financial distress, romantic and academic/professional disappointments, terminal disease. In nearly all of the cases, the suicide is to avoid the resulting torment rather than to end life per se.


In the last decade or so, suicides among younger people have shown a disturbing, upward trend globally. The current pandemic has created its own horrific spike as well – in India for instance, suicides have risen among the youth in all segments due to job losses and academic uncertainties, for all that the public has been obsessed with the particular high profile suicide of Bollywood celebrity Sushant Singh Rajput recently. 

In some ways, a suicide of this kind opens up a whole can of worms about the wider society it happens in. What it has revealed about Indian society is not pretty. What is even more regrettable is that there were hardly any serious conversations on any of the underlying issues, instead the whole spiralled into a misogynistic witch hunt, trial by social media and an avalanche of hashtags. 

It is not just the suicidal mind that makes grave mistakes, unfortunately. The mindless public in many cases makes equally grave ones. A picking over of things in which all sense of privacy and decency are lost. Shameful!


Each one of us leaves an unfinished life.

~ Mary Oliver.

But that’s neither here nor there. Because this here is not about an error of the present, but one of the long ago past. A grave mistake that robbed the world of a genius. Whose mistake was it? And how did it come to be made? We still don’t know (WC 1000. FCA.)

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Lime and sandal


The kaffir lime’s canopy in G-block -

my mother’s friend grew it in her backyard

and broke off a few every time I went there

and gave them to me, but always in pairs,

the empress of fragrance, acid green and hard

their smell lingered, like sandal incense smoke

used in her shrine and down the lane somewhere.

Just a small, unpaved patch, yard’s too grandiose

there we played in the mud, her child and I

and there was the first tree I saw up close,

learnt what leaves, barks and seasons signify -

perfume entire lanes as the canopy grows.

Houses. And childhoods. Discrete blocks of time

characterised by sandal and kaffir lime.

I've finally managed to travel back home - the pandemic has meant the skies were shut for the last six months. Home leave is never easy but this one is a level of difficulty all by its own self...back here again on Wednesday for the fear fest October Challenge of Write...Edit...Publish...  See you soon.

Monday, 12 October 2020



A glib sky that changes from dark to red,

forests that burn, rivers that turn at the bend,

seasons come and lapse as if nothing’s happened

people post their stuff on social media threads


The cars roll past on the roads as usual,

maybe the peak hour traffic’s a little less,

the masked folks go about the day’s business

and the quid pro quo still remains mutual.


Am I supposed to take this in and to think?

to organise the leaves into days and weeks

I’ve lost the threads of myself, those neat techniques –

I’m less tidy at the edges, less in sync.


Since you’ve left, life’s unravelling from the fringe –

come undone knot by knot, loosened inch by inch.

Monday, 5 October 2020

This cannot be titled


Not every feeling can be caught

in the fine mesh of poetry

sometimes they're too trivial to note

at others they're too huge, too fraught

so the words knot up in the throat

and the hands can't yank them free.

You explain, you mother goddess

with your array of weaponry -

in your own worship season, no less,

those very ones who're you made flesh

why they're raped, killed, burnt to ashes

by flagrant hate and bigotry.

The news out of India has been abysmal. Reeling. So much violence and hate. In a season meant for worship, introspection and cleansing. News from the ROTW isn't any comfort either. Exhausted, but trying to keep head above water. Poetry, as always, is the first line of defence. :) 

Take care, stay safe and well. 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Second Going


I felt my father’s hand again on my forehead

and saw my mother’s face like a badge of courage;

all around was barren, the sun pouring its fire

and every foot was bleeding, its sole torn open.

The rocks were naked, parched, the oasis was red -

shrivelled, scattered skeletons lay around its edge,

the horizons were hazy, a cloud of barbed wire,

and time a measured beat, a slow stifled poem.


My mother untied her apron, the winds snapped it up.

The caravan stopped dead like still statues in stone -

they’d come as far as they could, now had to turn back.

My father gave me a drink, the last from his cup

and pointed me due west. So I went on alone.

The sands behind me dribbled and filled in my tracks.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Even then


Till the rivers run up backwards into the hills,

the ocean currents come to an abrupt standstill

and stars lose their bearings, planets drop dead, blacken,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.


Till the clouds go purple in the face blowing hard

and the wild old trees quietly standing drop their guard,

the grass sheathes its blades, swaps places with the lichen,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.


Till the north winds stop unspooling their razor wires,

and the springs stop water, the volcanoes their fires,

till the earth itself implodes and stops being earthen,

I’ll never forget, never forget even then.


You’re woven into my veins, there’s no moving on.

It’s you who glows under my skin, throbs in my bones.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Not a reset


Today I remembered the bugle’s plaintive notes

somewhere near the bungalow, from across the road

every day at sunset. Some high official lived close -

his flags were raised and lowered as the bugle played.

It calms things down a bit to get into childhood,

to thumb old music - of bagpipes and Irish flutes,

this time demands a retreat into those tunes and books,

those long ago textures when she moored my decades.


Verses the world over, the texts have the same sting

all that’s born must die, there’s no point in suffering -

as if it’s an option, as if grief’s a reset.

There’s no preparation, no going out of mind,

no way to carry forward or leave it behind,

no knowing if memories will help or how to forget.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

I'll Stay Home


I do not like the shape of your temple.

The doors and arches are too narrow

the steps are too high, the halls aren’t ample

it thrusts me aside, it does not invite

something about it doesn’t feel quite right

the pillar’s all wrong, the walls don’t seem strong

the chants don’t carry the public along

and the whole foundation’s shallow.

I think I’ll stay home. I’ll look for my deity

in some other place outside your city

less discriminatory, with a kinder story,

where exclusivity isn’t mandatory

and anyone can come and go.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

D'you Know What I Mean?


A certain perfume of sunlit clothes, a soft hand

rested against the splayed green leaves of aubergines;

deftly weighing the merits of flours and sand;

weaving through the sections of old magazines.

Take a perfect stranger’s knuckle, or garment’s fall,

a cloud shape, a landscape. And it’s instant recall.


I turn eyes off, I turn myself to face the front

and suddenly the front reels back to a time past.

Though I am strong and resolute, I do not want

to burrow back into times with her. It doesn’t last.

Even when I’m quite convinced it’s under control,

a patch of sound, a pixel, equal instant recall. 


Low burning flames. And flares of nothing at all -

a swish of breeze, rainbow grease, that’s instant recall.

Monday, 24 August 2020



Anywhere on earth, in the hills or plains,

when the last one’s drawn, and no breath remains - 

lay the withered grass down on any terrain

and there’s no need to disturb the gods.


Feel free not to chant prayers at the pyre -

and by the way, either would do, soil or fire -

home isn’t a point, a place to retire,

because home is, after all, a road.


And if you’re feeling brave, when I’m gone

let the birds have the flesh, the sun bleach the bones,

neither fire nor fuss, nor digging nor stone,

just a slow collapse into the clods.


Like a small footprint washed off by the sea,

a paper boat sunk after its short journey,

atoms imploding into eternity

without markers for where they implode.

Don’t disturb the gods, don’t disturb the soil,

don’t sully the air with heat and huge turmoil

don’t light up the lamp, don’t pour out the oil,

lose me gently to this bay that is broad.

Keep it light and soft, keep it natural

both the print and tread quiet, and erasable,

the end a laying down, no special disposal,

let me scatter where I fall with my load.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Write...Edit...Publish... + IWSG August 2020 : Long Shadow

Write...Edit...Publish... is sticking to its Lite version for now...and I am sticking to the essay format...

Breath and Shadow

A human being is only breath and shadow. – Sophocles. 

The mind is a shape shifter. Like a shadow – squat at midday, long by sunset. One minute it is a grasshopper, all chirpy multitasking cheerfulness, juggling a million thoughts per second, leaping off one to the other, unable to stick with just a single. The next it is a bulldog, just lugubrious folds and salt-of-earth tenacity, focussed sharp and a serial stickler for one at a time.  Yet again it is a pigeon, slicing through the fluff and zooming home to what matters.  As mercurial as a drop of water on a lotus leaf, huddled into its own rounded self, concise and self-contained and tiny, unable to wet anything yet reflecting a whole skyscape of clouds above it.

The mind can contain a whole skyscape of grief and loss and stressful pandemics, yet go about working cell by cell on spreadsheets, or writing word by word, an essay sparked by a prompt. It can imagine the universe is its oyster, it can blithely go about seeing multiverses in a grain of sand.  Smoothly glide back and forth along the continuum of time from history and art history to sci-fi and fantasy. Between truth and fiction, between the abstract and concrete, between the painfully personal and the monumentally universal. There is no end to its skittering about.

Today it’s vaulted back to the first seat of Western higher learning, to Athens. That’s where the history of the cast shadow in Western art goes back to - ancient Greece. They were the first to develop and use ‘a geometry of light’ and cast shadows in art. Apollodorus, an Athenian artist, introduced a shading technique called skiagraphia (lit shadow-painting) to create the impression of volume, depth and space on a flat plane. However, in the Allegory of the Cave, Plato set up a shadow-reality dichotomy that continues to influence all spheres of Western culture even today. That Greek perception of shadow was negative – associated with ignorance, illusory, unreal. 

A counterpoint can be found in the Natural History  in which Pliny the Elder, the Roman historian, recorded the Greco-Roman origin myth of Western art: a young woman – the clay modeller Butades’ daughter, who captured her lover’s shadow on a wall as he slept on the night before his departure as a romantic keepsake. This was a far more positive angle, a love story, but it could not throw off the Cave’s, um…long shadow. Cast shadows in art dwindled from the classical period onward, with their dodgy impression of ugly, gloomy, negative, deluding the viewer with trickery and deception. Shadows in art remained a no-no for centuries. Till the Renaissance upended everything. 


Darkness is the absence of light. Shadow is the diminution of light. – Leonardo da Vinci.

The grasshopper meanwhile, as is its wont, has leapt down a rabbit hole. What exactly were the Easterners doing to their shadows? Eastern art, the Chinese, Japanese and Indian traditions are deep and ancient, but they always were more stylised than Western art. No space for cast shadows there historically. From the Renaissance onward Western art explored the exact representation of experienced reality through linear perspective, shading and shadows.  Eastern art by and large remained moored in tradition however, and experiments with realism came later, mainly due to European colonisation. But the converse is also true, Eastern art diffused into Europe and inspired Western artists too. In particular, Japanese art crossed the oceans and left its indelible mark on one particular, much celebrated artist.

A landmark Renaissance work, where  linear perspective and cast shadows were first used, was a fresco in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. The artist, Masaccio (1401-28) was one of the pioneers in Renaissance art - he used cast shadows masterfully. 


In another Masaccio artwork – St Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow, the shadow of the saint dominates the core message, but visually the shadow does not hide the sick. 

The vocabulary of shadows continued to develop through the work of later artists - Caravaggio, Bernini, Gianlorenzo and others.  By the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer, the techniques of perspective, chiaroscuro and cast shadows were quite established. And then Impressionism with its soft brush strokes, stunning colours, subtle movement and shimmery reflections  shredded all the rules again.


Like a shadow, I am and I am not. – Jalaluddin Rumi.

An evolution of light. Looking at the body of work this artist left in his short career, there seems to be a progression from the shadows into light, both literally and figuratively. In his early works, he used chiaroscuro to marvellous effect. His palette and perspective changed radically midway when he came to Paris. There he encountered two forces which would change his art. One, the Impressionists, and second, Japanese woodcuts. His palette became lighter, brighter, more colourful. His perspectives became flatter, and his art avant-garde,  by repurposing the ancient.

Japanese art was a major inspiration for Vincent, he wanted to find a take-off point for a more modern, more stylised vibe, and Japanese prints – with their bold patches of colour, prominent contour lines, lack of horizons and shadows, truncated frames and focus on nature – fitted admirably. He went south to Arles looking for the “clearness of atmosphere” and “colour effects” of Oriental prints. Even his idea of an artist’s commune was based on Japanese monks living and working together. His painting of his bedroom at Arles is the epitome of the Japanese influence – bold colours, a subtly distorted perspective and removal of all cast shadows. 

Unfortunately, what happened on canvas did not translate into personal life. The more his external work exploded with colour and creativity, the greater was the turmoil in his inner workings. The artists’ commune did not materialise, Gauguin came and left after a major disagreement. Vincent had a series of mental breakdowns. His neighbours petitioned for him to be removed on account of ‘insanity.’ An abject sense of failure dogged him. Like some Gothic horror story come eerily to life, for every burst of brilliance on the easel, his life seemed to become a couple of shades darker, regress into the terrible shade of mental illness. Despite his efforts, he was wholly unable to shake that off. Till all that remained was a shadow, without breath.

WC - 1051

Read the other entries - 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Independence Day 2020.


This heart is still tricoloured, as always

but it does flutter at half-mast these days.

Whatever may be raised – in stone, in brick,

in pride, revenge, tit for tat politics –

in time all will be levelled. Nothing stays.


Neither your chair, nor my personal grief,

not these elaborate cons, these strange motifs,

the deluge of tinsel and marigold

the optics, the updates tightly controlled,

will ultimately fade. Our time is brief.


As uncertain as it is – who’ll outlast

whether you,  I, or the heart at half-mast -

it’s quite clear this pseudo justice can’t stick

mills have an odd habit of being cyclic

and fates are fickle, hardly ever steadfast. 

Greetings on Independence Day to all those who are observing it this month. Not sure about using the word 'celebrating' with all the various on-going challenges.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Oceans apart

Sometimes you don’t feel the distance, you talk
through the stretched time zones, nearly every day,
carefully aligning your staggered clocks.
Sometimes it’s just a text – ‘okay?’ ‘okay.’

At other times, the distance is a log
from here to the vanishing point, its weight
unwieldy, no language, no dialogues
to lift it, to break through, communicate.

So you leave it hanging, leave things alone,
you wipe off the scary scenes in your head.
You keep mumbling, it’s nothing, it’s the phone.
It's not him. It’s just the phone that’s gone dead.

Nothing’s golden at a remove, silence
equals no rare metal beyond a distance. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Blanking the Verse

All I see is a sparrow, and a dove
perched on the windowsill against the glass
and the sunfilm lets me get quite close up.
All I read is that the deaths have gone flat
even as the cases fizz and spiral
I don’t mean to disregard any pain –
yesterday I heard a friend of a friend
has passed, a colleague of a cousin lost
both her parents within weeks while away,
her mapped mother had slammed the borders shut
and so she wasn’t in on the last rites.
I’d heard in childhood even walls had ears
but now they’ve evolved into empty eyes
in which one screaming headline’s reflected
briefly followed by another, graver -
that chokes off the ability to scream.
Only the glass shows me a pair of birds
perched to avoid the worst of midday heat,
on the wall a death curve that has flatlined
somehow bends into the outline of hope
even though it’s probably transient
even though the numbers are enormous.
For  now I have the dove and the sparrow
and no guilt in choosing a narrow frame.
I have  for now much less than a blank wall
and to blot it out, I have this blank verse.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Far away

In some far away and long ago
my hands were sand and mist
and chimneys breathing bone white smoke
curled around my seablue wrist
and my eyes were cracks in the road
my feet leapt over and missed
tied together with rigging rope
they’ve learnt to coexist.

As of now they have the knowhow
to do up laces and things
and my knees of leaning towers
figured out straightening
but long ago had a sequinned glow
and far away was king!

Monday, 6 July 2020

No entry

With a milestone for a pillow
with hard asphalt for a mattress
I’m ready to make my way home
through this midday heat, and darkness;

the borders are closed to traffic
they have slammed shut their gateways
and a mushroom cloud is churning,
turning the hamster wheels of days.

But I wear my face lighthearted
I keep the talk convivial
and the laundry colour sorted,
a close focus on trivial.

For the rules mustn’t be broken
and life must always go on
though home’s no longer a shelter
all meanings and routes are gone.