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.


 





Sunday, 15 August 2021

The friendship of memory

 




A tricolour flag flutters over the fort.

Half the heart’s shattered, the other’s stoic stone -

it’s done this half-n-half many times before

so it knows it won’t mend, but can still go on.

 

The strangest moments populate memory

and the strangest, most insignificant stuff -

feather on peacock feather the noon’s layered,

softly storied and blended sandpaper rough.

 

There are kites and river banks where it’s standing

and long beaches where the casuarinas end

and whole childhoods laid out like a silken fringe;

but it knows memory isn’t always a friend

 

and it knows all footprints wash out with the tide

this side of the Arabian and that side.





Happy Independence Day to all those who're Indian by birth or at heart. Wishing all of us freedom from fear, repression and poverty. Of spirit and simple comforts.







Sunday, 8 August 2021

Umbrellas on my landing

 



When you can own your sorrow and can contain

it, you will come to realise that this rain

too is a boon - umbrellas on the landing,

this diffuse, lacklustre light like a curtain

 

of gossamer dark. The stairs where the old floor’s

pitted, the peeling paint on the walls and doors.

The soul knows to recreate its own housing

but it’s a blessing that it’s been here before.

 

The headlines are full of a lad called lotus

who’s bagged a gold. You’re too far gone to focus.

Immersed in a celebration of mourning

rain or gold, you’ve decided not to notice.

 

Tomorrow may be clear but you mayn’t be there

to witness wet umbrellas left at the stairs.






I'm back where I started out from twenty five years ago and I'm back here, writing. The relocation is going, well...as all relocations go - vaguely tumultuous and unendingly interesting, if you know what I mean. 

Everyday I miss the Arablands sorely, the beauty of the deserts, the quiet magnificence, the close knit sense of community, of hospitality. 

India is magnificent too in a different way, an 'unquiet' way, sometimes in a hilariously difficult way. It is a different kind of adventure. I'm not sure where it is going, but I'm determined that I'm going along with it.

And I'm going to be mindful and notice each day as it happens and if poetry happens then I'll hang it out here to dry.  Glad to be back and so very glad to be here finally! :)


Sunday, 18 July 2021

Imperfect

 




Practice does not make all things perfect –

grief; loss; and leave taking, for instance;

the emptying of rooms till nothing’s left.

A thousand times is as fraught as once.

 

Every grief has a unique thumbprint

like a sonnet’s singular context –

this verse will skill you, or so you think.

But this one’s no practice for the next.

 

There’s no template for it you can use,

no guidelines to build for reference –

keep at it but don’t you expect fruits,

and don’t count on past experience.

 

Practice cannot make perfect all things –

isolation; age; lonely evenings.




The last countdown has begun. Upsticks time, this time for good. Moving back to India now after twenty five years in the MENA, these are my last few days in Bahrain. Not sure if I'll be able to post next week - if something gets written, I will. (I do so dislike offline life interference in my online spaces :) But if not, my next post will be from Cal. See you soon. Till then, stay well. Happy summer/winter!







Monday, 12 July 2021

A case or two

 





There’s not much in this house that can be packed –

not the wall where a child’s milestones were tracked,

the books yes, but not the afternoons when

they were read. A knife, not what it’s cut open.

That’s always sliced solely to be left behind.

There’s nothing much really that can be taken

however small they’re chopped and folded compact,

however ruthlessly downsized and streamlined.

 

The fruit's consumed, the tree can't be uprooted -

taking a few cases  will not recreate

the skin, the existence you’ve moulted out of.

What’s here is here, it cannot be rerouted,

moved smoothly to a different plane and state.

All you’ll carry is faint memories of love.










Monday, 5 July 2021

Clean windows

 



The window cleaners visit and squish soap

and the foam spells out your name on the pane

but when I stop to look closer, it’s wiped off

just a few faint watery streaks remain.

 

Meanwhile, the doves have abandoned their nest

two dead eggs lie on the sill on their own

a few scattered twigs, a faint streak of dust

the cleaners brush off the rest – the doves are gone.

 

Your name’s in the birdsongs, the doves and pigeons

that perch to shelter from the midday heat

but when I lean in closer to listen

it’s just the sounds of urban homes and streets.

 

An airplane’s overhead and in its contrail

your name glimmers once, before the light fails.







Monday, 28 June 2021

The Story of a Week and Handwritten

 




Today was special. A hand written card

arrived in the post. After many years

of nothing hand written. Just a few words -

but the weight of precious friendship, unmeasured,

carried intact from a distant hemisphere.


The ones who used to send me handwritten stuff

have departed. The post is mostly ads

and bills. Hardly glanced at, paid, scrunched up.

Anyway the stack is thin. Times are tough

on letters. And this week too would have passed sad.


But then a yellow envelope slipped in

and it lifted the week, just a few words

can do that - when they are handwritten.

The universe sends exactly what's required.



Thank you!!






 

 

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Hands in my hair

 


I can’t begin to count the times I feel

your shadow in between me and the sun,

shaped and adjusted minutely to shield

me from the scorching midday explosion

when the heat haze shimmers on asphalt and steel -

a small bubble of coolness,  just a smidgeon,

though I can’t spot anything in the distance.

 


I feel your hands braiding my childhood hair;

on my forehead, soothing away life’s migraine.

I hear you call my name, though no-one’s there

when I turn - a passing stranger, or the rain

or just an inexplicable rush of air.

Our paths will never cross again on this plane.

But knowing that makes hardly any difference.






Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Write... Edit... Publish... June 2021 : Great Wave

 



'Fractured' seems the right thing right now. So here's another one from far away and long ago - repurposed to fit the Write...Edit...Publish...Lite - 


The Hearthopper and the BusyBody


Take the heart.  The heart’s the dragonfly. It’s the grasshopper, that sings all summer and takes leaps of faith, from grass to leaf, from leaf into sky, halfway to the stars and falls back to the grass again, nonchalant.  Who vaguely knows that winter will come but will take care of itself.  Meanwhile the ant, oh god, the ant plods on.  Eat.  Sleep. Hoard.  Clean.  Eat.  Sleep.  Hoard. Clean.   The ant is the body, and her demands must be met, at all times.  Punctually.   To-everything-there-is-a-season-and-a-time-to-every-purpose-under-the-heaven kind punctually.  You know the type.  There’s one in every neighbourhood.  Earnest.   And sternest.  And lectures everybody far and wide about the importance of being both.

 

Now that winter’s almost here, she is rubbing her forelegs together in glee, waiting for the heart to turn up in her somewhat shabby but comfortable pad so that she, the ant, can tell her, the grasshopper, royally off for dereliction of proper duty.  She even tries out her lines with different inflections – you sang all summer? now go and dance all winter, and then tries it out with the emphasis on “sang” instead.  She has both of them pitch perfect.  She’s so conscientious, she doesn’t know when it’s enough.

  

But the hearthopper doesn’t turn up, she’s MIA.  Making most of the summer before it fades.  Rocking the equinox.  Living it up and down and sideways, burrowing real deep into the moment.  So the ant goes out in search of the grasshopper. Besides being the body, the ant is also a busybody.  And when she finds the grasshopper this is the conversation they have, the hopper and the ant, the heart and the body.

 

 

A:  What are you doing?  It’s going to be winter soon.

G: I know!  I have to finish this before the season flips,  this tune is for winter.  Requires some – um - fine tuning hunh?

A: What are you going to do for the winter? Have you got any food?

G (stops singing for a minute):  Food? Food?  Music is food, you illiterate nutcase, haven’t you read your thingamajig?

A: No, I mean really, what are you going to eat? How are you going to keep warm?

G: Listen, I got warmth completely sorted.  This tune? This tum ti ta tum tum ti ta? It’s to learn the shiverdrivel dance with. Dancing is going to keep me warm.

A (flustered and angry because the grasshopper keeps going off script) :  What the hell’s going on here? That’s supposed to be me telling you to dance all winter.  You’re being very irresponsible!  No food, no firewood, and dancing to keep warm. Jeez!  You’ll freeze to death!  Look at me, I’ve worked hard all summer and gathered everything, and now I am all set for the next three months.  You’d better do something fast.  Because I am not sharing any of mine.  Food. Or wood. 

G: No-o-o! You wouldn’t do that? You would? Not even wood?

A: No, certainly not.

G:  Okeydoke.  Keep it all to yourself.  But you do know that food tastes terrible when you eat it on your own alone, don’t you? Turns to ashes in your mouth.  That’s a scientifically researched fact.  Something to do with horrormoans.  Or is it pheromoans?   At any rate, some kind of moan interferes with the taste buds and messes up the entire chemistry of your oral cavity.  Tum tum  ti tum, tum tum ti tum.  Food’s in one end and out the other/memories are the thing to gather. 

A: Oh, you are incorrigible!

G:  Yup, that’s my first preference.  Corrigible is horrigible.  Not at all my cuppa. Or suppa. As you like it.


The ant finally sees she is making no headway and goes back miffed to her pad in the anthill.  In spite of being so well provisioned and warm, she doesn’t really enjoy her winter much because she has this nagging suspicion that the grasshopper is having way more fun. 


The grasshopper meanwhile learns the shiverdrivel dance and dances her way a little closer to the equator, where the grass is still green, and the trees are still in leaf; where the ocean raises great wave after great wave; and the river flows sharp and silver like the glint in a rascal’s eye; and the keenest stars hang like crazy huge fruits from the sky in the early evening even before the light has flickered completely out.

 

 

WC – 737

FCA


Read the other entries here

 


Monday, 14 June 2021

Clutching at straws

 


IV.


We spy on her constantly, lest she fly

and this too falls apart, this omen of sorts

where meanings of home and growth crystallise

in this strange space between landing and goodbye

amidst the dire pandemic news reports

and what a dove and her egg can symbolise.

The mundane can be charged with so much hope.

 

She clutches at her straws as I clutch at mine

and we’re both doing what needs to be done;

setting up a home is also dismantling

another in some other space and time,

till the final stop is given, or won

at the very end of all the travelling.

But for now the egg’s a straw and helps to cope.