Saturday, 28 July 2007


It was open warfare. Crash of tin pots, clatter of cutlery flung asunder, shrill cracking of glass, thump-thump as something rolled down the carpeted stairs, finally ending up in a scuffled tumultuous heap in the courtyard. Laughing, panting, the two children surveyed each other warily. Right on cue, both jumped up and prepared for the final duel. A few minutes of struggling, a muffled shriek, the world flying upside down in a tangle of bare limbs and swirl of green-gold-brown, and the smaller of the two boys was sitting astride the other's chest, grinning widely.

Neer squirmed ineffectually and then deflated. "Get off me, Chhotu!" he said at last, "You've forgotten what I told you!"

The boy called Chhotu looked at the other doubtfully. "But you said we were playing War! I won!"

Neer managed to shake his head. "No, you forgot. I said I'm the Americans and you're the Japs, remember? The Americans always win!"

Chhotu looked unsure, his hands loosening slightly on Neer's chest. Before either could move, a barefooted woman came out of the house. With a loud exclamation, she lunged at Chhotu, hauling him up by the arm and whacking him so hard that it was uncertain whether she was brushing the dust off him or attempting to give him a thrashing.

"Can't take my eye off you for a second! Rolling in the dirt like pigs... and why were you sitting on Baba Sahib like that? Get inside!"

Neer got up and dusted himself off while Chhotu wriggled away from the woman and tried to get the feeling back into his arm. The two boys trudged back to the house together. Inside, Neer ate his favourite puris and talked loudly about his conquests in War. The woman we have met earlier praised his bravery and filled his plate again and again. Chhotu hovered in the background and collected the dirty plates when his mother had taken Baba Sahib upstairs for his bath. He washed the dishes slowly, reflecting on a day of boyhood glory. He waited impatiently for Neer to return so they could play again. Even though he knew by now that he would never be allowed to win.

Friday, 27 July 2007

These are the days

These are the days when we fight wars to end violence. Sit back and watch murder, live, coming to your homes. All for the greater good. And later it is so easy to point at The Boss, The Media, The System as the root of all those problems no one is willing to define. As easy as drawing a pair of horns over a picture of the Headmaster, a couple of hasty giggles, then the board is wiped clean. And you know that you have been clever indeed.

Not many people saw him fall, and those that did pretended they hadn't. He didn't look disfigured at all when I last saw him, sleeping there on the cold pavement. His arm was bent behind his back and his chin tilted up towards the broken window nine storeys above. There were yellow cordons and the jarring scream of sirens in the night. The body was carried away in the early hours of the morning. The police crew grumbled about the paperwork.

A three-inch report on page seven covered the robbery, squashed between the matrimonials and the civic letters. My neighbour used it to manure her begonias.

He worked for a small eatery part-time, delivering Chinese food to the IT sector. Used to ride that secondhand motorcycle down electric wire roads in the dead of night. Someone replaced him that evening. The last paycheck was labelled 'Return to Sender'. You see, he had become just another one of those persons who get snuffed out every other day, caught in the crossfire between behemoths like The Law and Crime and Politics, entities so much bigger than the individual and obviously much more important.

At least India's population is being kept in check, they said.


The portrait had been waiting for many years now. Through biting winter rain and sun that scorched the very sands, it waited. Standing on tiptoe, it peered down into the sprawling multicoloured city where overloaded buses trundled along and thin streams of people kept trickling in and out of many crevices at all hours of day and night. And it waited for a clue. Any odd inkling thrown its way.

Paid hands wiped the fresh mask of dust off the portrait every day. Smell of wilting marigold garlands. Taut fluttering of the green and white flag above its head. Almost every other day a uniformed gaurd would bring up a party of tourists, the adults fanning themselves with yesterday's newpaper, the kids with their mouths glued to ice lollies. They would take pictures, laboriously decipher the inscriptions etched in black on the granite wall, and finally stare at the portrait with self-righteous pride before going down the stairs. The same expression in thousands of eyes.

The portrait screamed as best it could. Through the salaams and the independence day speeches and the 21-gun salute, it screamed. For sixty years it had been subjected to blank looks of reverence on countless faces, adulation and honours and ceremony for it knew not what. Sixty years, and it still did not know its own identity, did not know what meaning it could possibly hold for so many humans. Vanity had seeped away, and all that remained was a desperate doubt as to its own integrity, growing like a cancer bite. If you looked closely you could have seen the frustration rippling behind the smiling canvas.

Lonely Paradiso

Tumbleweeds kept raining down
And we couldn't find a place to stay.
Last hotel on the dusty road
Stretching starkly white to the horizon.
Lanterned windows pulled us in,
Arms coarse with the smell of paraffin
And strange men who only ever stayed one night.

Pinewood bar, worn-out graffiti,
Piano riff, marching,
Pull up a chair, mate,
Happiness comes cheap at two shillings each.

Amid the laughter of strangers,
Men of the highway wind,
Unchanging, like desert dunes
That carried their touch to brush grainy in our nostrils.
While bawdy women stared
Their frank sweaty-eyed stares,
While moths swayed drunken
To the lure of the yellow wick,
Hard-shod feet scraped on wood.

Creak of bedsprings.
Scarlet-lipped smile
Of a man called Delilah.
A hand that I took
Without looking at its eye.

Lonely Paradiso
That's what they call it.
Where you can be a man out loud
And look at a conscience with scorn.

Lonely Paradiso
Haven for uneasy thoughts.
Naive happiness at two shillings each.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Rain, still

Hush the hiss of morning rain
Can you hear that crazy laughter?
The elves they keep on dancing
Though they know they should know better.
And my ribbon's running dry,
There will be no ever after
'Cos the sandman's come and gone away,
And he didn't leave a letter.

Were you watching while the shadow girl slept in the garden?
Must've missed you; do come by again.
I'll have tea and biscuits ready, keep the doorbell polished,
And I'll listen for your voice in the rain.

See that stubborn little boy
With the broken mandolin,
He remembers to forget
'Cos it's an easy place to be.
Now he's smashing all the windows
Just to let the sun come in,
And all he gets is summer rain.
No one told him so, you see.

Were you watching while the shadow girl slept in the garden?
Sure I've missed you; do come by again.
I'll have tea and biscuits ready, keep the doorbell polished,
And I'll listen for your voice in the rain.