Monday 30 October 2023

Time and Distance




I once thought proximity doesn’t count -

wherever I am, I’ll still thrill to the sound

of your name, be able to recreate

the feel of my feet running on your ground.


I thought if I just closed my eyes I’d see

your vast skies spinning slowly over me

the sun and the stars don’t discriminate

and yet they now appear differently.


Is it my sight I’m losing, or my mind?

The exact textures of things left behind

become harder to recall and replicate.

The thrill’s the same, but something has gone blind.


Won’t matter how far I go – I thought that once

but in the end time is the greatest distance.




I thought I’d be able to grope some recess

and find you, ever changing yet changeless.

Draw up the exact shape of fig and neem,

the acacias in the open wilderness.


Some of their limbs remain - that much is true.

The curve of highway, the straight avenue.

But the mind isn’t quite the thing it seems,

it loses the details without meaning to.  


I’m not the one to rail against the failings

of sight, and mind, of puny mortal things,

the systems of recall, blurred like a dream,

the lengthening of shadows, the last dimming.

I did think I’d carry you with me once

But time’s proved to be the farthest distance.   




The sunlight lying in thick slabs on the floor,

but I cannot recall the tiles anymore.

The cement paving in the porch and back,

the size the glass panes were on the main door.


The numbers on some of the cars and the crunch

of gravel beneath their tyres. Being served lunch

on a green table cloth. The music tracks.

The crack in the tub. The smell of the sponge.


So a few remain – the trivial, the strange,

and strange are the filters chosen to arrange

the sequence, the way the trivia stacks

and what was changeless once begins to change.


I thought I could dream you up anywhere once.

But time has morphed itself into distance.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Write... Edit... Publish... October 2023 : The Phantom of the Opera



It's October and it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... where the prompt is the iconic musical The Phantom of the Opera. It is also splat bang in the middle of the main festival season in India, I have family visiting from abroad as well as from other Indian cities, so...I'll be reading with a lag, please bear with me. 

This post continues the story of Shovan and Mukta, Sam and Janhobi that began last December. What's happened so far:

The MC finds a B/W profile picture on a social media platform intriguing. He writes on an impulse to the woman and finds that the picture is of her grandmother and was shot in a studio that once belonged to a relative, now dead. 

The MC goes back to his hometown and explores the derelict studio. He finally comes upon a series of nudes of a woman in different stages of life, the last of which he recognises as the grandmother.

He finds a letter that breaks the bombshell news that his Great Uncle Sam, the studio owner and the grandmother had an ongoing relationship in the past. 

He meets with the granddaughter in their common hometown and shares the findings...which naturally shocks the granddaughter. The MC assures her that the secret is safe with him and he will support her through this bombshell discovery. They say goodbye but he feels she will not want to see him again. 

The MC goes to Sam's ancestral house situated a little way away from the city and finds the furniture that's used as props in the Janhobi's portrait - the radio, the table etc. He also chances upon an old tree engraving that clearly indicates Sam and Janhobi spent time in the house. Mukta does not get in touch as he had feared.


Read on to find out what happens next...

Chiaroscuro VI :

It was pitch dark at the window.


My transition from dream to reality was so gradual, so seamless that at first I did not realise I was awake. The noise of the static crackled in my ear just as it had minutes ago in what I assumed was a dream, but now I was not so sure, was it?


Inside the room, the eye of the old radio flashed on and off, bathing the ceiling above in an eerie apple green. My cell phone matched it at every beat, the screen lighting up and going dark every odd second, emitting its own peculiar bluish glow. I bent and switched on the pedestal lamp someone had placed next to the bed. The light came on for a few seconds and then it too joined the strange, ongoing sound and light show. In this weird pulsing light, I could see the ceiling fan was turning one way for some seconds, coming to a stop and turning the opposite way for an equal time. I had never seen anything like it - I came bolt upright, the last traces of sleep wiped clean from my eyes.  This was no dream.




I had got back from the discovery of the tree engraving last evening and found that I had been given the room with the radio to sleep. The low divan had been made up with a formidable old three inch thick cotton mattress, spotless sheets, a pair of ruffled pillows and a traditional woven coverlet. I was quite pleased – as I wanted to have a nose around and see if any further evidence of Sam and Janhobi could be unearthed. Though why I bothered I don’t know. Mukta had not been in touch, she had probably gone back after her holiday in the old hometown.


I looked at the window again, it was dark still. The phone as it lit up showed the time, still some way to go till sunrise.  I swiveled around and put my feet on the floor, thrust my feet into my slippers. The wide verandah connecting the rooms on the floor was dark and quiet. No other room was pulsing and buzzing like mine. I paced up and down to make quite sure, there was not a single crackle of static, not a pinpoint of light anywhere.


There was no moon, no shadows, not even the friendly wink of a single star. The trees loomed against an amorphous sky on the far side of the courtyard – darker shapes in the darkness grading from a chiffony charcoal grey to indigo to pitch black. An owl hooted somewhere. Moth wings fluttered against my face for a second and ricocheted away, I felt the velvety movement on my skin but could not fathom their direction. Only my shut door was thinly outlined in a pulsing green glow – fainter, brighter, fainter, brighter, fainter, brighter – as if the beating of my own heart had been transformed from sound to light and projected into that room behind that closed door.


I groped for the switch of the verandah lights and yanked the heavy old Bakelite job on. Nothing happened, not one of the lights came on. I felt my way down one flight of stairs to the landing, where the large, multipaned window opened out on the street and peered outside, the streetlights were not on either. No joy there. I am not easily spooked, I do not give much credence to other worldly happenings – good for a fireside tale on a winter evening of course, but not much else. There must be some sort of electrical snafu, only I hadn’t come across radios switching on and off by themselves, cell phones and fans echoing them without missing a beat. Confined to one room too while the rest of the house was minus power. At least the fan inside would produce some sort of air circulation. It was muggy and hot out on the verandah and apart from a long wooden bench there was nowhere to park. I pushed the glowing doors open again.


The static from the radio had resolved into some sort of music – like a number being played at the wrong speed, slower than it should be, the words weirdly garbled, the bass too deep and way off the mark, interspersed with lucid intervals. In dreams he came…that voice which ca… do I dream again?  The fan…is there in sigh… your mind… The music went on, half unintelligible, half clear, the song just hovering on the edge of recognition.


The table on which the radio sat had two small drawers, one of them was glowing and pulsing the same way the door had, as if some light emitting source was trapped inside. I went to it and yanked it open. A bunch of pulsing pinpricks of light fluttered out and weaved across the room, finally settling on the ceiling. It took me a few seconds to figure out they were fireflies, not exactly some alien spirit beings from some other world. The sound suddenly cleared up fully and the music played out at the right pitch, the lyrics crystal clear and recognisable – the Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind… The song drew to its end and the music faded out. A couple of crackles of static and then the green power indicator went dark, the radio switched off and fell silent. I tried the light switch – it worked this time, the lamp flooded the room with dazzling light. The fan was whirring normally again. Whatever weirdness or electrical fault it was, it seemed it had righted itself. I switched the light off, heaved a sigh of relief and went back to bed. The fireflies were still on the ceiling. I fell asleep watching them glowing on and off.


I woke past eight, the sun was up and hot. Last night felt unreal. Had I dreamt one of those hyper real dreams?


Only thing was the drawer below the radio was still open. I got out of bed and walked to it. A card lay on top of a pile of papers, the whole dusty and yellowed with age. I picked it up – it was one of those fancy invites, gilt borders and lettering…The President of the Cine Club cordially invites Jahnabi Roy to a special screening of the Phantom of the Opera...

My cell phone suddenly beeped, startling me. It was Mukta.

WC : 1077


Tagline : An old radio goes berserk in the middle of the night...

Read the other entries here:


Monday 2 October 2023



Whole histories lie in torn curtains, crumbed rust

on exposed steel, in cracks on the stair treads,

in your own careless thumbprint on the dust,

a barely there spider web’s single thread

caught briefly in the beam striking the bed.

Ordinary lives summed up by the contents

of desks and drawers, by tattered bookmarks

showing where they’d stopped reading, sure they’d meant

to go on, only it had gone too dark -

pages spelling out their exits’ exact arc.


A weekly crossword has been left half done,

you can’t quite bring yourself to complete it

because that feels like a small desecration,

as if that’s tampering, it’s not your remit.

You waver, you neither write nor can you quit.


You want to clear the space out and rearrange -

the useless old teapots, the dulled silverware.

No! - you can’t bear the thought of the slightest change.

Let the lifeless represent the life lived there –

the half done crossword, the same cracks on the stair.

Not sure where that came from - except that some of our old window stays had to be replaced because they had got so rusted that the shutters couldn't be shut. It's 60 days into the homecoming? more than halfway to 100 and it's been a lively time - in a good way and also not in a good way. 

I've been to the wholesale hardware market and shopped for stays (because the style we have is so ancient that it is carried only by the bulk distributors, it's a 50 yo house). I've shopped for textiles, storage jars, frames, planters. I've got the last remaining items on the furniture wish list finally done,  I've got the passport done, I've got my first dog bite - so that last one takes care of 'experience something new' for 2023. Anti rabies shots - yum! :) 

We are still jumping through the various regulatory hoops and this time around my stores of patience, never very robust to begin with, have worn really thin. There are so many safeguards yet the mega fraudsters go scot free while ordinary folk like me are driven insane, one needs to sign forms in triplicate and a password to sneeze even. It would be comical if it weren't so uber tedious. 

It is of course Gandhi Jayanti (birth anniversary) today and the festival season in India begins on the 14th. So the good times are set to continue, as family from Mumbai and Lucknow will be visiting. And cousins are here to attend from the USA as well. There's the spookfest challenge at WEP I said, happy-busy month, hopefully. 

Happy October to you too and happy festivals, whichever you may be celebrating.