Sunday, 26 December 2021

Unvarnished

 

From Unsplash


The red’s a little tired, the green’s somewhat faded

the heart is still staunch though its palate is jaded

the eyes still seek the stars and the gifts the magi bring -

this broken day, my father, still feels like your blessing.

 

The gold’s gone a bit dull and the silver’s tarnished

and the truth’s hard to take when it’s left unvarnished.

But the mind still cups its ears to hear the north winds sing -

the seasons that split me open still feel like your blessing.

 

I read that the sky’s filthy and the earth is soiled

the land’s overcrowded, the rivers are hardboiled.

I stand at the threshold of your dusty dwelling

and the dancing motes morph to your hands raised in blessing.

 

Know that wherever you are, you’re the gift, and the kings,

each and every festival. And worship. Everything.





Wishing all who stop by here peace and joy and good health. And a tranquil New Year 2022.









Monday, 13 December 2021

Write... Edit... Publish... December 2021 : Narcissus

 



Hi, folks! I have been a stranger to my own blog for the past few weeks :)  Life offline has been super but super busy too -  niece got married last month, big fat Indian wedding - lipstick on my party masks and all that, anyway that was pencilled in long back in the planner.  But also there was a sudden breakthrough in the matter of the parental property, did that consume a whole heap of time or what? Upshot - stranger to blogging! - life can spring pleasant surprises and rev up even during a miserable pandemic with never ending variants. 


Anyway, here I am for the last 2021 gathering of the WEP clan. With another retelling - this last a Greek classic. 


Let me also take this chance to wish you  peace and joy and a merry Christmas if you're celebrating. To your good health and the world's for the remainder of 2021 and to better times all around in 2022. Check out the Challenges 2022 page for even more luscious prompts in the New Year. Keep fit and keep writing. See you there!


Reflections


I and the public know,

What all schoolchildren learn,

To those whom evil is done,

Do evil in return. 

~ W.H. Auden


Once upon a time and place far away – but close enough still to rattle, so don't get too comfortable  – once upon such a time and place, an unclaimed child grew up in the blind lanes of human indifference. Like a weed he took root in the cracks in the paving stones of ruthlessness and grew on a staple diet of mockery and offhand cruelty – daily kicks and cuffs and brushoffs. He was soon adopted by a petty vendor on the lookout for free labour in exchange for the meagrest of keep.

 

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Transplant

 

The heart has a wholly separate system -

it doesn’t root as quick as the feet transport

the body, its mask and its complex garment

across walls and borders, from port to port.

The body has its cravings and its comforts -

it finds its substrates and grows its meristem

 as its bent for melancholy is short.

Not so the heart. Less neat, more insistent

 

on taking its time for both sad and happy,

on culturing its own substrates for growth,

on waiting by dark walls and strange, perched moths.

It suspects clean ends, prefers old and shabby –

stays with the frayed threads of the well-known cloth.

Turns on its axis to make its own true north.


Tuesday, 16 November 2021

At home

 


There are a thousand roads and each one takes me home,

a thousand rivers flowing and each one is you.

A thousand leaves falling and every one’s an autumn,

the same tune’s playing on a thousand screens of blue.

The roads are made of smoke, the rivers made of distance

and home’s just exposed bricks in an ancient ruin,

a thousand ways to measure, and all beyond fathoms

- beneath bricks and rivers old history’s brewing.

There’s a huge swarm of wings and each one’s a prayer

and every tree is a roof, every stone’s a shelter.

Each swoop is auspicious, every turn, every tier,

and each cloud overhead is shaped as the delta.

I’m home on each road, beneath every stone and tree

wherever the road winds, wherever the stones may be.




Saturday, 6 November 2021

Not a one night fest

 




Because there was nothing lit, don’t imagine

I didn’t mark Diwali, that I don’t like

light. But there’s also a love for the crosswinds

that put out glowing flames. Pitch darkness strikes

the dark earth like lightning. Grief’s not equal

to an absence of lamps and festivals.

Grief too, can be a many-splendoured thing.

 


Grief too is a densely petalled flower

with its own lights nested within its folds -

they burn steadier though a bit lower,

of a much higher temperature threshold

and carry a much longer burning fuel

than a few earthen lamps and their ritual.

And it takes more than one night to get over.





Monday, 1 November 2021

A change of metaphors

 

A moth flies in, and instead of the light

chooses the darkest wall to perch upon.

All metaphors are shaken. That too has died -

the firm, solid base the world rested on.

Something has shrunk - beyond borders and mind,

more central than hardship, hardened and gone

the capacity for joy, to flow, to right

errant metaphors. It’s vanished, withdrawn.

 

But still one must light the lamps at sundown

switch on the porch light in a mindless flick

and if the moths choose not to circle around

but sit rather on dark concrete and brick

not radiant white light but dark chocolate brown -

the established must bend to the new logic.




It's Diwali in a couple of days. For those who are celebrating - happy Diwali, may your festival and your year be blessed. And it's also NaNo month, best wishes to all those participating. Have a great November!




Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Write... Edit... Publish... October 2021 : The Scream

 


It's horror fest time at Write...Edit...Publish... this Halloween month but I, as is my usual practice, am giving the ghosties and ghoulies a miss. Here is another retelling of a beloved old tale...any resemblance to people and/or events is purely  coincidental...

Life has been uberhectic - the wheels of relocation grind super slow and pay no attention to posting dates or writing time. Consequently my editing has been last minute rushed and the less said about word counts the better, for which I most sincerely apologise. 


Tangerine



A gasp of collective anguish came from the confinement room. The whispers started in the women’s quarters and reached the outer room where the grandfather was waiting for news. The sound of his walking stick could be heard crossing the inner courtyard. He stopped opposite and demanded to see his eighth grandchild. The weeping women brought the baby out.

“Sir, there’s a wound on the forehead. And the eyes…”

The old man gave silver coins to the midwife. “Stop snivelling. That’s God’s own thumbprint on the child. The little one’s come  with His blessings. Call him Rudraksh.”

My grandmother repeated the story often in the afternoons, the room darkened by the woven reed screens dropped over the great arches of the verandah, her voice raspy with age but still soothing, blending in with the birdcalls.

Not that I needed to be told. I’ve always known it. Because sometimes I am born as Abu, driven to a life of crime because I’ve voiced an inconvenient truth, sometimes I’m Rudraksh destined to witness evil, disguised as a divine plan.  I am the match girl who froze to death on the streets of Copenhagen, I’m the child worker scarred for life in the fireworks factories of Sivakasi. I am the refugee toddler whose drowned body has washed up on an island beach time after time. There is no end to my suffering. And to my resilience. My mothers’ agonised screams echo down from the beginning of time.

 ~*~

The man wore nothing multicoloured, all a solid shade of cream from head to toe, only his scarf was tangerine - and he played upon the heartstrings of the crowd.

“Rats!” he thundered, ”Rats have riddled your society. Unless you do something now, they will eat you out of house and home, there’ll be nothing left for your children.”

The buntings on his vehicle fluttered in the breeze as he took up his tune again after a brief breather. “Come with me, brothers. This chariot takes the road to the Lord’s birthplace on the riverbank. Come with me and reclaim your pride, correct the wrongs of history.”

And so a thousand mile journey began, the chariot with its belligerent flag leading a rabble, converging - from Somnath and Samastipur, from Rohtak and Ramgarh -  to the small hillock on the riverbank. Where history and legend and myth blended into one in the waters and lapped against the ancient steps of the ghats.

~ * ~

I was born with mismatched eyes, the right dark, the left an indeterminate blue-green-amber mix. No one had ever seen such a thing in our village before, and combined with the birthmark – I was a miracle or a freak, depending on who was looking. The doctor said it was a rare condition but he assured my parents my sight was perfectly fine.

My eyesight or colour didn’t bother me much. The thing that sometimes did was that I could see beyond the merely visible. That too, is something that carries over from birth to rebirth, this extra edge to perception.

~ * ~

“This vehicle has started out with a holy purpose, a sacred duty,” the man of the tangerine scarf shouted into the microphone. “Who will dare stop it? It has the Lord’s name on it, the people’s will fuels its journey, and our collective devotion will ensure its purpose is achieved. What the invaders tore down will be rebuilt, on that very same spot. The Lord’s temple will rise again."

 

The preparations had taken two years –  many thousand avid volunteers had shaped and fired bricks for the dream temple, each one with the Lord’s name inscribed on it. The contributions from each neighbourhood, each town, each province had been taken in triumphal marches, often leading to sectarian clashes. For to build the temple on that very same spot meant the opening of ancient wounds. It meant the demolition of an existing structure, a huge conflict between two different communities that had lived together for more than a millennium.

But now everything had aligned for this new temple  - the tune, the pipe, the piper and the route to the mountain. The chariot rolled on like a juggernaut squashing all in its path.

~*~

One December day, Shankar, Momo and I went to the riverbank. Momo was a crack shot but today his marbles kept leaping down the steps out of control. A green and white one fell. I lurched after it when it suddenly morphed into a wheel and magicked three others like itself and towered into a chariot.

I could hear Shankar muttering, “he’s off on one of his fits again, here - sit him down before he falls into the water or something.” I wanted to tell him that I was perfectly capable of staying clear of the river, but everything vanished before I could utter a word. I was standing in a huge crowd with my father.

An old, domed building was a little way behind a low dais. A man in  a tangerine scarf was giving a speech about the wrongs of history.

He brandished a fierce trident, pointed it towards the central dome and roared, “We’ll build it here!” and the crowd roared back,” Build it here!”

A huge wave of people surged forward and started running towards the structure. My father too was running with the crowd. The noise was like an avalanche right inside my head – thudding feet on ground,  metal on stone, stone on stone, metal on flesh. People fell and were trampled underfoot in the stampede, it was a struggle to keep upright. I was being inexorably borne towards the ancient monument by the momentum. Clouds of dust rose all around and obscured everything, but the trident flashed overhead, its three points now tipped red with blood. Father had vanished completely in the melee.

When the dust settled, there was nothing and no-one. Just  a single white waterlily in small pool and Momo’s green glass marble on the edge of it. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.

~~*~~

“Hey. Hey, Rudy.” Someone was patting my cheek gently. “Rudy? Rudy!”

I blinked and said,” Take it easy, pal. I’m not dead or anything.”

Momo’s face, pinched with anxiety, relaxed a little. Shankar said, “You were out for ever so long. What happened?”

The memory of the event was already shredding away into a massed confusion.

“Chariot. Trident. An old domed building. A mob intent on building a temple.  On a foundation of destruction. Father – I lost him in the crowd. A white waterlily in a pool. And this marble – yours.” I took the marble out of my pocket.

“What does it all mean?”

“Nothing good,” I said, standing up. “C’mon, I’ve got to find my father.” 

~*~

I couldn’t find him so I took my apprehensions to Grandfather instead.

“I’ve just seen a building being destroyed. And Father disappeared into the crowd intent on razing it.”

He wasn't overly upset. “Yes, he’s going there, the journey of the chariot concludes the day after, it’s come a long way from Somnath. He’ll be witnessing history.”

“Stop him! The trident was blood tipped. There’s going to be violence. The white waterlily will bloom there for peace after much bloodshed.”

“Silence, child! You see but you don’t understand. The waterlily is the temple. It must be built.”

Grandfather, I saw, was wearing a tangerine scarf. I came away.

~*~

So my father went to the rally. And never came back. One of the hundreds killed that December.

Not all pipers are honest. Not all lead evils away, some lead it into the very heart of cities, and of men. Not all tunes are worth following. And a place of worship built on a foundation of hate is not acceptable in the sight of a just God, by whatever name He may be invoked.


WC - 1317

FCA

Tagline : Not all pipers lead evils away. Some lead it into the very heart of cities, and of men.


Read the other entries here :


 







Sunday, 3 October 2021

No wrong road


Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. ~ Matsuo Basho. 



A yellow cab’s parked at the crossing, it glows

like a bedraggled moon under the nightskin,

the real one’s greyed out by unseasonal clouds.

The flamboyant’s where it was, the mosquitos

thin, maybe because the virus has stepped in -

your perspective’s changed, maybe your thinking’s flawed.

 

Sometimes a different moon. And always the road

equals home. Gubi’s eight thousand km from

here, Mahooz is nearly four, about halfway

in between. The world’s as long as it’s broad

and everywhere there’s a peg, a track, a crumb.

Maybe home’s the end of a different pathway.


Sunday, 26 September 2021

Across time zones

 




I wish for you a patch of blue, however small,

a climbing vine in a clay pot against the wall

and the sound of unfettered water somewhere close,

the ancient signature tunes of radios,

peace drizzling through tree canopies with the starlight.

I wish for you to trust the rivers out of sight,

the justice of the harvest and the golden barge,

the trapped beauty in the smallest things found at large,

the serendipitous kindness of the offhand -

the same across the seven seas and every land,

the spirit of the endless urn and sacred fig

the eternal looping of the small with the big.

I wish for you to know this in your veins and bones

that you are you and I am me in all time zones.

 


Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Waiting

 




You’re waiting for news but it does not come,

the rain is hard needles, yet still lissome

the cobbles are worn, the bricks are a ruin

a hair’s breadth between right and wrong doing.

You want to escape the nonstop urban noise

the jangling of nerves and the shattered poise

but you end up where you’d rather not be

walking the bleak footpaths of a sob story.

It all looks so pretty at the eye level,

the flower garlands, the bass of the conch shell,

but under the skin of the red mud pathway

it turns different -  right, might and power play.





Sunday, 12 September 2021

Finally...

 




All those roads, even those I didn’t travel on

the nooks and crannies of those creeks, each turn and stone,

those signs in foreign scripts, mostly beyond my ken

but still they felt...they feel like mine every now and then.

I’m home at last, then why does home feel so far away? -

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.

 

The passport clearly states my permanent address,

has stated so for a lifetime, not a moment less.

I’m sitting grateful under those same roofs of youth,

but there are more where I sat too, that’s the honest truth.

I’m here at last, but why does here feel so far away? –

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.

 

For years and years, a whole career worked towards this end -

to come to rest at this corner of this continent.

I’m held snug behind the doors I started out from

and it’s a blessing they still stand, their firm, warm welcome.

I’ve come to rest. But why does rest feel so far away? -

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.

 

I’m glad of the old flamboyant, green in the monsoons,

vendor calls in the mother tongue, rainy afternoons.

Yet even as I breathe in the rain some parts somewhere

seek a certain turquoise sea, a certain city square.

I’m at the river, yet my rivers feel so far away -

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.

 

The documents and the QR codes in black and white

spell out who I am in a couple of kilobytes

tell me what ought to be my final coordinates

and indeed I’m glad to be as convention dictates.

So it’s settled. But my settled feels so far away –

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.

 

And all through I thought I knew my moorings and my place

birth and death – the final breath, the end of the rat race;

yet one glimpse of an inch of a distant azure sea

yanks me back and yanks me awry from this certainty.

I’m home at last but why does home feel so far away? –

left behind in the last sunshine of a summer day.


Sunday, 5 September 2021

Hands, rings and work

 

Yes, still have a few grains of sand between

the prongs of old rings, a mirage of green

their central jewel. A lop-sided, map like stain

that won’t be washed off however hard one tries -

sits on the metal, can’t tell if it gains

or loses  – do metal values remain

proof to mirages, things that characterise

 

evanescent? Bits of grit still crumbs the toes

and won’t be dusted off. In pockets of clothes

suddenly against fingers looking for

something different. A stab, hard to understand -

easily confused with pain, gone before

it can be classified. Just once and no more.

They turn to what they must, the work in hand.


Sunday, 29 August 2021

Reshaped

 




You stride back home. The grass is green. And soaking wet,

horses dotted on it. The smells of manure and sweat

rise in the air. The melee of muddy football,

rough, closer to the ground. Not the time for cricket.

 

The dog decides to pee against a vendor’s cart

the owner’s embarrassed, but you are, for your part

surprised there are vendors this early. Free for all

to the west – more than just your world’s fallen apart.

 

The sun’s veiled, but eye to eye with The Forty Two,

twenty years have come to a head – for them, for you,

two long decades of a low boiling, hard conflict

and neither they nor you alone know what to do.

 

Home’s not the rain, a field, a game, the land of birth,

- it’s where your heart finds its place and peace on earth.







Monday, 23 August 2021

Newer worlds

 



Out of the death of stars, new worlds are born

often much harsher, harder to navigate,

to settle into - they have no comfort zones,

no plush wildgrasses. But that’s how worlds mutate.

 

And not just worlds. For anything to grow

something else must wither. The wildgrass must die

for the leaping gazelle and the carnivore.

Creation and growth need deaths as stimuli.

 

To maintain the order of the universe

to create, recreate, transform and renew

the stars self-destruct and the wildgrass withers,

the river vaporises then drips as dew.

 

Yet how difficult! - it is to accept

the imploded star, the shrunk river that’s left.





Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Write...Edit...Publish... August 2021: Freedom of Speech



 

Changes are afoot...exciting ones...at Write...Edit...Publish...click on the link to find out more. 

My offering for this month's prompt is another retelling of a well known tale...please note that all characters and events in this flash are totally imaginary and any resemblance to any leaders  oops, I mean persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental!

I'm tad over the word limit, but I'm hoping you all will forgive me when I tell you I've whittled this baby down from an initial draft of over 2200, phew! 

  

A Fine Yarn

 

The truth, they said, will set you free. In this case, it did just the opposite. Abu’s fate was sealed the moment the truth was uttered - he was 7 at the time, not old enough to realise the benefits of lying.

 

The Books of Wisdom, the Fabulists, the Clan Elders, the Keepers of the Lore - they tell you only half the story, half the truth.  They truncate beginnings to hook the listener. Fob him off with a neat ending where poetic justice is seen to be served. The whole truth never makes a good tale, it’s too boring, too inconvenient, doesn’t deliver the critical mass of dramatic punch.

 

You probably know that the ruler carried on without batting an eyelid. Have you never wondered what happened to the boy? Hasn’t it ever occurred to you to do so?

 

***

 

The ruler had come at a tumultuous time. The two main communities that had lived amicably for centuries in this town were at each other’s throats. The landed Bhumiputra had somehow been convinced that the Musafireen, a minority, were out to ruin the larger community.

 

Into this tinderbox had stepped this tiny Purvi man. He went to the Bhumiputra and said – my home is in the east, I have no interest in your lands. Choose me and I’ll lead you back to the glory days when seven nations bowed to us and our ships knitted up the coastlines of the seven seas. To the Musafireen he said – I’m a traveller like you, a stranger among the settled. Who will understand your sufferings better? Choose me and I’ll make sure your rights and freedoms are safeguarded. And so the communities, both the Bhumiputra as well as the Musafireen said yes, you shall be our ruler.

 

But once he was seated, he brought in councilmen from his own hometown. Neither the Bhumiputra nor the Musafireen were prioritised. When a few of them went to air their legitimate grievances, the Purvi snapped – be patient! - it takes time to rectify the huge blunders of an ancient past. When their leader persisted, he had the young man placed under arrest for obstruction of peace. More delegations – newspapermen,  entrepreneurs, historians – met with the same fate. The jails became standing room only.

 

***

 

A great procession was planned for the 100th National Day. A new boulevard was to be made, complete with exotic landscaping and impressive public buildings. Street parties would span a week, with an explosion of food and fireworks, mountains of merchandise and memorabilia.

 

Kavista and Shopnek strode into the town on the crest of the announcement. They claimed they spun thread and wove fabric so fine, so pure, that only the virtuous could tolerate its dazzling lightness upon their person. Only the sinless could admire its exquisite weave.

 

The Purvi forthwith ordered a magnificent suit. Rumours soon circulated about yarns of gold more valuable than rubies and the ruler’s name worked into the pattern in fancy calligraphy, as if he were not an ordinary mortal but the Almighty Himself.

 

Kavista and Shopnek set up their workshop on the outskirts. Massive advances were given, but they bought nothing locally. The looms could be heard early in the morning and in the darkness beyond sunset. However, when the curious went in, all they saw was great looms empty of either yarns or fabric. Questions were discouraged.

 

***

 

The 100th National Day dawned bright and clear. Abu rose early, peeked out of the small window and called to his father. You promised! The father sighed.

 

Abu’s father was a master tailor with a workshop of 20 assistants. When the festivities had been announced he had hoped for orders. Even after the grand commission was given to total strangers he was unperturbed. After all, there were the councilmen to dress too, and their families, the rich and famous. But as time ticked on no commissions came his way, not even a bunting.

 

***

 

A hundred white horses, caparisoned in red and gold, came first - the clip-clop of their hooves perfectly harmonised, the sun glinting off the metal of their riders’ weapons.  Ten guards marched on both sides of the special chariot, the flawlessly matched black stallions moving at a slow trot. The ruler stood and waved to the crowds with both hands alternately, like he was semaphoring some message. About twenty feet behind four pageboys followed, their hands all at the same level holding onto something that appeared to have spilled over from the chariot - Abu screwed up his eyes but couldn’t see clearly, was it a cape? a train?  Whichever way he tried, he couldn’t make out the pattern, or the colour, or anything else.

 

When the horses drew closer,  Abu saw that the pageboys’ hands were clutching thin air. Father, look, there’s nothing, he’s not wearing a stitch! I can see everything!

 

The father said hush! Too late. The crowd around them had heard,  had already split into two.

 

One group shouted yes, there’s nothing, this is the biggest con that ever was!

 

The other shouted back louder, swearing the ruler was wearing the most exquisitely worked fabrics. The boy’s a liar and a troublemaker! - stirring things up on behalf of disgruntled adults. Clearly, what else could you expect? The father’s a tailor, isn’t he? Come to vent, what else?

 

It soon spiralled into a full-fledged brawl. Abu stood bewildered as hefty men descended on his father and pummelled the poor man. The melee spilled over onto the boulevard, just in front of the ruler’s vehicle.

 

The ruler stood impassive through it all. The guards had the crowd under control in a while. The Purvi went on, his tiny frame held very straight, his face as inscrutable as before, his arms rising and falling in his strange semaphore-like waving. Abu still couldn’t see any kind of clothes on him.

 

Four horsemen from behind the chariot fell away onto the grassy verge. Where’s the young lad? Where’s he? they called. The crowds quickly pointed to Abu and his roughed-up father.

 

You’re under arrest, the uniformed men said. Abu’s father said, he’s only 7 huzoor, just a boy! So they said no, it was the tailor they were arresting. For obstructing the National Day celebrations, jeopardising the ruler’s security. The boy would go to a juvenile home.

 

***

 

So the tailor rotted in prison for the next umpteen years as an undertrial. Abu was sent to a remedial home, let out only after 18. The ruler was still seated, the town was still edgy and polarised, no-one would give Abu an honest job for fear of giving offence.  He took to crime and fetched up in prison like his father, on solidly real charges this time. The truth never did set him free. The more he stuck to it, the deeper he worked himself into a trap.

 

And what of Kavista and Shopnek? They got  the Mumtaz Designer Award and were appointed the official clothiers to the ruler. You can still hear their looms going in the workshop on the outskirts of the town.


~*~*~


WC - 1181

FCA


Bhumiputra - from Sanskrit, bhumi = land, putra = son(s)

Musafireen - from Arabic, safar = journey, musafir = traveller, pl musafireen 

Purvi - from Sanskrit, Purva = East, Purvi = from the East, Easterner

huzoor = sir


I have omitted inverted commas/quotation marks for the dialogues above, so as to 'age' the narrative and blur the exact setting. I'd value your feedback on it. Did it work for you? Did you find it irritating? Did it achieve its purpose? Thank you as always for reading and critiquing.


Read the other entries here.