Saturday, 27 December 2008

"Come forward, my sons," said the old master, "Come tell me what you see."
The first young man in line stepped forward and scrutinised his surroundings.
"I see crowds of people, an unguarded entrance, an express train drawing into station. I see you, my master, and my brothers standing beside me. I see two coolies haggling, an overweight stationmaster, a shop selling newspapers and lemonade, an abandoned luggage trolley, a queue at the ticket counter- "
"Stop," said the master. "You see too much and not enough."
The young man fell back, confused, and his brother came up to take his place. "Tell me, son," said the master again, "What do you see?"
The second young man took a deep breath and began. "I see a great city, awash with light and rich with commerce. I see its giant throbbing heart, fed off the lifeblood of the peasants and the sweat of the poor. I see exploitation in every mighty building, and I see the greed of the oppressors who have denied us for too long- "
"Enough," said the master. "You are not yet ready."
The young man looked as if he was about to protest, but the third brother had already run forward eagerly.
"Well," said the master, "What is it that you see?"
The third brother spoke, and his voice was shaking. "I see infidels and traitors, idolaters and heathens. I see the filthy foreign dogs who have murdered our brothers, raped our sisters, and invaded our motherland. I see those who hate us, those who persecute us, those who would kill us. They are the enemy..."
"I see," said the master, "that so far you have learnt nothing."
The young man stopped, stunned, then spat angrily upon the ground and turned away.
"Do you see anything different?" said the master to the fourth brother.
The fourth brother hesitated, then spoke softly. "I see... a young executive calling up his wife to say he'll be late... I see a group of girls out on their first college trip... I see a shoeshine boy counting out coins to buy a cup of tea... I see a family travelling to a hard-earned vacation, though they only have second-class seats. There is a child with a red balloon..."
He stopped short, embarrassed. He was the youngest in the group.
"I see," said the master, more gently than before. "This work is not meant for you."
Then the last young man in line stepped forward and the master repeated his question. "And you, what is it that you see?"
The fifth brother looked his teacher in the eye and replied, "I see my target. Nothing else except my target."
"Nothing else?" persisted the master, "You don't see their different histories, their social backgrounds? You don't see their faiths or their nationalities, their prejudices and their flaws? Do you not see each as a representative of the greater system, a symbol of a greater evil? Do you not see the different faces or the different names, the men who rule them or the gods they bow before?"
The young man's face remained impassive as he shook his head. "I see nothing but my target," he said quietly, "And I know what I must do."
The master was satisfied. "Go then," he said. "Shoot."
His brothers stood watching, disbelieving, full of awe. The young warrior, his pale cheeks faintly flushed with triumph and a hard glitter in his eyes, walked forward a few steps, raised his weapon, and took aim.
At the other end of the platform, the child with the red balloon had begun to scream...

Monday, 22 December 2008


Did Cinderella 'accidentally' lose her glass slipper or did she chuck them because high heels are always infernally difficult to run down palace stairs in?

Did all those various woodland animals- toad, woodchafer, mole- really wish to marry Thumbelina or just have her for a between-meals snack?

Did the Ugly Duckling have to become a beautiful swan to give the story its moral? Did its name suddenly become Glorious Swan with the metamorphosis? Did it even have a name?

If Aladdin was originally Chinese, why did Disney transport him to Arabia and give him a harem pants-wearing princess called Jasmine?

Doesn't the fact that the Handsome Prince kissed Sleeping Beauty despite her surely having terrible morning breath prove that men are unhygenic pigs?

What would happen to Little Red Riding Hood's identity if one fine day she lost her red riding hood and no longer remained little?

Having very smartly destroyed the wicked witch, why did Hansel and Gretel leave the gingerbread and candy cottage and skip along home to their cowardly father who had abandoned them in the woods in the first place?

Why did Pinocchio ever want to become a 'real boy' anyway?

Oh well. They all had their happy endings though.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Except for the balloons, it looked like anything but a five year old's birthday party.

The lot of us arrived just as the cake was being cut. The lady of the evening, buttoned into a pink frock with matching scarf tucked around her ears- well, she was running around somewhere below eye level, weaving around adult legs, chased by a shrieking train of daddy's friends' kids. I handed her the present we'd picked up on the way, and although mummy urged her to say thank you, all she had for us were beaming hugs. As I was about to concede that some kids can be nice, she wondered loudly why this box was lighter than the others. Ran off again to stow away her new treasure in the next room where a towering pile of packages was collecting on the bed. Branded bags and cascades of ribbons and lurid birthday cards from Bulbul Pishi addressed to a kid who couldn't read yet. I began to regret having wrapped ours in "classy" newspaper.

The population was now drifting towards the buffet table. Haggling over the size of the biryani chicken- "no, smaller, smaller please." Pink paper napkins certifying that our mutton chaap was, indeed, courtesy Nathuram Caterers. We wandered around, plates in hand, following my more self-assured friend at a safe distance, watching in admiration as she flitted from cluster to people cluster, dropping a comment here, a smattering of laughter there. I theorised in my mind as to the origin of the phrase 'social butterfly'. Jeweled heels crossed smartly over trousered knees. Lipstick stained the rims of crumpled plastic glasses in the dustbins. A little girl sobbed because someone had stolen the toffees she got out of the khoi bag. The cake was pink too, with inch-high sugar people dotting a strawberry landscape. We washed it down with discreet swigs of something stronger.

As the night wore on, it was the grown-ups, however, who started drooping rapidly. Rubbing of kajal-ed eyes; someone grumbled about a deadline the next morning. At any given moment the verandah was found to be crammed with people out for a quick smoke. The kids were still having a ball. Probably all that sugar. The streamers had come off the walls; the khoi bag was reduced to a bedraggled glittery wreck that a group of toddler boys, with typical machismo, were using as a football. The toddler girls, led by the aforementioned lady of the evening, were ripping balloons off the furniture legs and jumping on them with no obvious intent. When they succumbed and flatly exploded, they were not discouraged. Didi, please get me another. Here, tie it for me, didi please.

I reached up obligingly and pulled off some more, handing them to the jostling throng. A particularly expressive friend of mine, watching, with evil intent growing in his brain, suddenly leaned forward and snatched one out of my hands. "Here, let me show you how it's done."

Wham. Full force of a size 10 boot down on red elastic. Stunned silence. Open mouthed wonder. Then, slowspreading delight. Excited grins. Do it again. Again, again.

No stopping us now. Through a tiny hole in that tight stretched atmosphere, a whisper of recklessness, a whiff of juvenile joy had escaped, and nobody wanted to plug it up. We were grabbing, ripping, wrestling down whole streams of balloons to the floor, fighting to see who could destroy them fastest. Bang. Wham. Stamping with shoes, stabbing with stilletos, smothering in your arms, somebody enthusiastically elbow dropping his victim into submission. The kids screamed with glee, and we showed them how to join in. That's it, harder sonny, jump with both feet, you can do it, come on, it's just a balloon, and it's fun isn't it, you want more, of course, there's plenty, go crazy. More, more.

Soon, the dropouts emerged from the verandah, drawn either by the series of explosions or the sudden loud laughter that no children could make. And this is the part of that evening that I remember best. They came in, a little groggy, a bit bemused, but nobody wanted to know what's going on here. A few sheepish smiles did the rounds; an adventurous kaku cheered us, and soon all was pandemonium. Of course they joined in- they didn't have much of a choice. Elegant chignons came undone, sari pallus flapped, elderly uncles romped with ten year olds, parents exhorted their offspring on in the mad frenzy. It was better than fireworks, and probably louder than the stipulated decibel level imposed during Diwali. Irate neighbours complained later about those horrible noisy children keeping decent people up at unholy hours. The children themselves maybe learned a thing or two about the techniques of anarchy. But nobody stopped until every balloon in that apartment had been punctured and given way to a satisfying bang. When it was finally done, we stood and looked around at the awful mess- the smears of cake all over the floor, the tattered bits of elastic floating everywhere, the rented chairs overturned- and the gaggle of bright-eyed children, breathless, bubbling over with giggles, hardly able to believe that adults could be so cool. 

Somebody glanced at a watch. It was getting late. Parents rounded up their offspring, others collected shoes and coats. One by one we muttered our goodnights, filed out of the room and down the narrow stairs. "You could have saved a few for me," the birthday girl's grandmother was heard remarking. I knew I ought to be tired, but I couldn't stop smiling. The friend who had started it all winked at me. "Lucky bastards. I never had such a brilliant birthday when I was a kid." He only looked puzzled when I squeezed his arm happily and spun twice on the spot. For how could I explain to him or the laughing stars above how wonderful those few words sounded... "When I was a kid."

I try to grasp pictures but all I get are words. Words that somehow seem terribly inadequate.

Who would have thought the walking thesaurus would ever have a problem with expression? Although, to be honest, I never found my own copy of Roget's particularly useful. Draw the parallel, if you can.

This space shall be in memoriam of one that I couldn't quite save. Mea culpa.

The afternoons here used to be hot, very hot. Outside the iron-grilled window koels uttered thirsty calls from the branches of the guava tree. The boy, barefooted, swaddled in a white towel, took his time. One of the servants would already have carried up two steaming buckets and hung up a fresh kurta on the hook behind the door. But the boy did not notice these just then. A glance up and down the empty corridor, the door creaked shut behind him and a wooden bolt fell into place. Bare feet slapped against the red stone floor and a hand reached up to pull down the window shutters. Barred sunlight glanced off his dark shoulders as if in mild reproach and, so denied, stealthily picked out other details of the room- the cumberous marble throne, dust motes dancing in the corners, the gentle bobbing of the plastic mug in one of the buckets. Shyly, it came back to rest at his feet again, and the boy, shrugging off the swathes of coarse cotton, nodded a brief hello.

 Even in summer, the water was always hot enough to make tea with. He bathed as all Indians do- dip and pour, dip and pour, scalding streams running off his back, beads of hotness quivering on his skin. His arms burned with goosebumps as he did this; his feet, rooted to cold stone, would shiver. This part of the house was deserted. The heavy door blocked out all sound except the tinny buzzing of the bluebottles. Only that, and the voices of the ghosts rising out of the mists. Those who lived deep in the walls and only emerged in this place of half-shadow in the dead of noon while everybody else slept. 

The boy knew them well, although they never spoke. They were curious, and always hungry for stories. They knew, without his telling, of his past and his present. They knew the shape of his body shining translucent in the mist. They knew the depth of his thoughts, of his diffidence and his tender youth. They had already claimed him as one of their own.

The boy understood all this, and he accepted what they had to give. They sent him dreams, vivid watercolours of greengray meadows and vast silent marshes. They came to him at night when he lay in a bed much too big for him, creeping through thick walls and running like thieves up many stairs, down dark corridors. They brought faded images of people he had never seen and poured waves of sepia deep into his brain. They stretched midnight long and taut until the day seemed unreal when it came and he woke up feeling many years older. Once he had complained of nightmares, but he knew better now. All they wanted, in their insistent, wordless way, was to keep themselves alive. He understood, and he never forgot.

An hour or so later, a darkheaded boy in a new white kurta emerged from the rarely used 'downstairs bathroom' and climbed up the courtyard stairs to the terrace, leaving a trail of wet footprints that soon disappeared in the fierce sunshine. The maid who collected the empty buckets later grumbled in the servants' quarters that chota sahib would surely catch his death of cold one of these days.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


I stood at the ghats at sundown and followed the river with my eyes.
Pale ribbon of gold meandering surely into the sky.
How often had I sat on these smooth rocks, feet dangling in the shallows, counting sailing clouds, losing track of time.
Time was always on our side.

But this sunset was different.
Today the waves were in a hurry and I could not stay.
Averting my eyes, I lowered the pitcher in my arms and poured.
The stream flowed swiftly. Ripples blossomed on the glass and spread where my voice could not.
I let it run, not checking the flow, nor holding back.
Everything the river had given must be returned.

I came back to the place that should be my home.
The walls bare, the floor unswept. I put down the pitcher and unfastened the window shutters.
Far away in the evening I see the gleam of familiar waters.
Turn away, wordless yet again.

It is then that I notice what I should have seen all along.

The pitcher is no longer empty.
To the brim it is filled with clear liquid, slopping over the sides, warm to the touch.
No explanations given. None required.
I kneel, cupping in my hands this small miracle. Their last gift.
This time, I know it is mine to keep.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

That place between dreaming and wide awake.

Where my voice won't tire from laughing.

Where silence is unpunctuated.

Where every bit of me is penetrated by light and reflected back to the open sky.

You take me there every time.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The shoes were a size too small. Her bare heels stuck out at the back.

The fragile silk stained easily. The shirt was her size but refused to fit.

One eye blue-lined, the other bare. A smile that was never quite right.

The picture had to be taken many times over.

When it was finally done, you'd never have known it was the same she.

Who would know it was the same girl who stood in the crowd, arms crossed nervously tight, and hesitated before the red of the crossing light?

Here is her picture. Funny poses and dimpled mannerisms. Easy among friends and the first to call out "cheese" with unconscious abandon.

Maybe practice does make perfect.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


my house burned down.
now all i have are ashes
and the stars at night.


words like shining jewels
from the pen of a dying man
fall like winter rain.


it snowed on the hills.
we stayed up to watch the storm,
climbed barefoot to the sky.


sun-drenched days coming
and earth again has plenty,
so the sparrows say.


emptiness abounds.
across the dead sky is stretched
the scent of the storm.


secret wicked smile.
makes magic with his fingers and
laughs great drops of phlegm.


[To be updated]

Monday, 3 November 2008

My father loved making pictures. There are cupboards in our house stuffed full of them. Assorted albums, haphazard rolls of film, squares of yellowing paper jumbled together. Glimpses of forgotten decades captured in black and white. Bellbottoms and political revolution. Football on the maidan and guitarists on the footpaths of Calcutta. Pranksters and drama queens, friends and ex-flames, and two familiar people in the middle of that universe who were very much in love. I only know that they would never admit it in those exact words.

My father photographed time. A time of leisurely days and slow, elegant glamour. None of this undignified pushing and jostling for elbow room in buses and pujo pandals. Friends were found in paras, not malls. Ambassadors, not yet monopolized by fat balding politicians, meandered placidly here and there.
Cha and early morning news on dadu's radio. No tuition for your children, they'll manage to pass and what more can you want? Coffee House, not CCD. Kite flying was an art form.

The stories came alive in the pictures. And I fell in love with the romance of those days. Longed to see a world that has perhaps died out forever. Dealing with early childhood disappointment, I turned for consolation to the only witnesses, once my father's accomplices. One Olympus and a Canon SLR. Picked up years ago at Muslim Bhai's black market shop on Esplanade for what was then a carefully hoarded fortune. The shop is still there if you care to look, but now it pays taxes.

My father was then in his first year at Jadavpur, clean shaven, underweight, one of five boys in the whole of the English Department. Now he insists he is forty-five going on sixty, brings his work home in brown paper files, and forgets what little he reads.

It's been a long many years but the cameras are still here, compact beautiful creatures, nestled in airtight containers, polished once a week, kept out in the mild sunlight to drive the dust out of their joints. They're antiques now, I'm told, worth anything only to collectors. But I still hold them carefully, screw in the required telephoto lens, gently twist the dials with my left hand. Adjusting aperture, focus and shutter speed until a chunk of hazy light coalesces into a picture. Right index finger poised over the shutter. Wait while the indicator hovers, then falls into place, and-

The photo is different from what it was supposed to be. My father mutters about how an Olympus is not a beginner's camera anyway and that it's hard finding studios that develop film anymore. Back to polishing while I pull 0ut more tomes from the bookshelf. Plough on through composition study and polaroid lenses, eager to shake off the tag of 'beginner'.

To this day I've never been able to use my father's cameras. For class trips, holidays and birthdays, I rely on the digicam and its robotic loyalty, its ability to zoom in and freeze smiles as the occasion demands. The SLRs wait huddled close together. Unresponsive. Faintly dead. Maybe my touch is not mature enough, my eye weak or my hand still unsteady. But I think, more than anything else, it's the light that leaves them cold. The strange, hard light of a new world. They don't recognise this light. They've seen better days.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

"Be impulsive" is surely the most ironic oxymoron disguised as advice that I've ever come across.

There are some things it is impossible to be. If you're lucky, you simply are.

Friday, 31 October 2008


Rage is a curious thing.
No shallow anger will do.

Wash it clean.
Let it trickle
Into every secret sorrow,
Every minute crack,
Till you're saturated in its clarity.

Then cut,
Cut deep and cut fine.
Carve it with a subtle knife,
Till a stream runs into each wound
And each scar is pooled
In bitterness.

Hide it,
Shield it in cast iron,
And try to forget
The palely smoking poison
That lies cupped in your hand,

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Magic Monday. It rained and rained. All different sorts. Slanty. Sharp. Bitter. Light. Jhomjhomano brishti straight out of Robi Thakur's poetry books. I slept during most of it. Woke up and took a walk through a queerly distracted evening. Soft lashes of rain, glowing dim in orange streetlights, wet my T-shirt with dull determination. Slick asphalt and no water logging in this para, thankyou very much. The air is muted. TV sounds melting away, loudspeakers fizzled out. Would the skies dare this again the next evening? I very much hoped so.

When I got back, mud on my feet and smell of moist paper on my skin, I was told that I looked like a dripping crow. Oh, a white dripping crow, hahaha. White crows are considered omens of death, but I didn't say a word. It was that kind of evening.

It was that kind of evening, where you were almost convinced that something was going to happen. Something worth hoarding and looking over later in secret patches of daylight. Something should happen. Nothing did. At least, nothing that I noticed. The next day, the skies did not dare mess with the festive spirit. The night rumbled in triumph and dazzled me with its brilliance. And so I sit in this familiar seat, stretch my fingers, and return to the evening where nothing happened and everything was promised. Because maybe it's that waiting which brings out the best in me.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Twenty-two candles. That's all my father came back with at 5:30 pm this evening. Everything else sold out. Ma was upset. Not that any of us had intended to contribute in any way to all the cracker-exploding shimmery-glimmery jollity that permeates the city this time of year. Diwali, it's called. When the stars go into hiding and are not missed by many. For weeks afterwards the smell of secondhand cigarette smoke reminds me of booming skies at two in the morning.

Twenty-two candles. Well. One must make the effort. They would have to do.

Ma set them up on the balcony, even spacing, lifting back her sleeves
carefully, skirting around the potted plants. I hovered near, unhelpful, munching on kaju barfi. Why put up such miserly little things when they're going to go out in a few minutes anyway. She didn't deign to answer that one. We must be content knowing that we must.

People came. More barfi, laddoo too. Talking, laughing, pjs, ciggie smoke, breaking out the Smirnoff, political adda. An evening of general bangaliana. They all left eventually, off to have kali pujor bhog at another friend's place. Only Baba and me left. Someone turned on Sony Pix. I fiddled around with playlists, turned off the lights, lay flat on my bed and surfed missed calls. And then, interrupting the Doobie Brothers, walked out to the balcony.

Orange light everywhere. Burnt orange and thick fog. An electric streak cutting through where a child waved a feeble phuljhuri. Hiss of brief fire licking the sky. Only thing is, from this particular balcony you can't really see the sky at all.

Not one of the twenty-two candles remained. I was momentarily so surprised that I called Ma up, asking if they'd been stolen. Was told to not be silly, they'd just burned out, now don't bother me please.

Twenty-two candles that, true to prediction, had burned out before I'd ever got to see them. Is it strange that I should miss their light?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Winter's coming. And I love winter, just for its mornings. The feel of waking up tucked under a quilt from chin to toe, curled up like a satisfied hedgehog, reaching for the kolbalish. Almora bhanga. That moment when you hug yourself tight and feel the heat breaking through pinnacles of ice and the alarm isn't ringing because there isn't any school. I can't have enough of such mornings.

I went to Sandakphu when I was a littler child than I am now. And we waited outside the car on a frozen road while a Nepali driver fiddled with the jack to mend a punctured tyre. I remember I had been absolutely determined to see snow, touch it, taste it. And now, across a stream, the snow lay thick under a copse of threadbare trees. Mounds of it, empty and white and without a shadow of a footprint. I squinted at it through red, watering eyes, picturebook winterland that it was, and begged to be let back in the car, to be taken back to the hotel. And so we went.

I still love all the typical Hallmark-card signs of winter. The snowflakes that never grace Calcutta, the leaping light of the hearth fire, the perfect cutouts of Christmas trees little children make in art class. But I love it from a distance, from the other side of the windowpane. Yes, I love the red and green that never looked so good, the smell of plum cake, and the veneer of genteel comfort that's there one second and vanishes when the frost sets in. And perhaps that's the best way to love what you don't know.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

See that shack there, perched on tiptoe on the white rocks? The one with large uncurtained windows and the sea at its feet, no paint on the walls and creepers on the roof? That's where I live now. If you come visit early in the morning you'll be in time for breakfast, always my favourite part of the day. I eat in my bedroom, off the only table in the house. Stewed mussels and sweet white fish caught fresh out of the tidewaters. Every morning there are new shallow pools left by the high tide outside my doorstep. I eat and watch the sunrise paint a different watercolour in each for my special benefit.

It's a barren part of the small seaside town, not the most popular with tourists either. The strongest colours you see here are grey-blue and white- the white of the rocks, the white of the harsh gritty sand, the white of the sun at noon, the white scream of the gulls as they dip and rise over the dipping and rising waves. A dismal line of green clings to the cliff face some distance away, and a thin track winds steeply up this cliff- over the lip and on to the town market some miles away, on to a different world altogether.

Sometimes I ride my bicycle down the rocky borderline, racing licking tongues of salt water, chased by dashes of foam. Sometimes I walk till my calves ache and my feet are blistered in their blue rubber chappals. Shells crunch under the chappals and mark a trail in glittering fragments. By next morning they are always wiped clean again.

Later in the day I climb on to some rocks just yards from the shack and lie still for hours at a time. The waves hit the shore in punishing lashes and shimmering lines of heat rise into the air. Some fifteen feet below me the sea rumbles into clean-cut grottoes and shoals of silver fish find room to mate. I possessed an umbrella long ago, but the water tore it and the sun bleached it and now it stands like an absurd scarecrow in the patch of sand behind the house. I lie still, browning quietly, and when the moment is right the sea is waiting below. Cold water hits burned skin like a brick wall; it makes me gasp every time. You breathe in salt and it stings in your blood. The waves bruise you and let you fly.

I have a few treasures in this house. One is a typewriter, battered and with the keys nearly indistinguishable. I use this almost every day, pounding away in staccato, covering pages and pages that I keep stacked under my bed in shoeboxes. I also have a special lighter bought many years ago along with my first pack of cigarettes. It's a mysterious marble green with a smoothly spinning copper wheel, and you can hold it up to the light and see bubbles of pale green oil blossoming inside. I wanted it very badly when I first saw it, and only bought the cigarettes to match. I smoked two, and the rest of the packet waits patiently on the shelf to be offered to any guests who may drop by. I use the lighter to light a fire every evening out of driftwood collected during the day. The fire burns throughout the night, and it's the last light I see before going to sleep. By morning it's collapsed into ashes.

I have one pair of decent shoes. High heeled sneakers. They're what I wear when I go to town some nights, putting aside shorts and wearing a proper shirt. With buttons. There's a particular pub I've found where you get light whiskey till the early hours of morning and interesting enough conversation to chew over for several weeks. There are sailors who talk loudly to no one in particular and shawl-draped old ladies gossiping over glasses of gin. The bartender tells stories in seven languages. Every surface smells of sweet paraffin and the lamps flicker crazily over your head when the sea breeze comes in through the open doors. The jukebox plays ragtime over the crash of the waves, and my feet in the sneakers come to life. When I walk back home through the darkness they're stepping light all the way.

Finally, there's one brass telescope that sits on my table among the tottering piles of books and the typewriter. Like Alice, it can fold itself into a pocket-sized thing, perfect for carrying down to the beach or taking along on an excursion. But most often it stays on my table pointing a long finger towards the faint smudge where, far far away, sky meets sea. On cloudless evenings I can spot through it Orion and Andromeda, lions and scorpions and swans, all wedged into the patch of black sky outside my window. And when I lie in bed, it always stands sentinel, watching for any ships that may sail towards us out of the darkness, searching the horizon for any lights from known watchtowers. A single glassy eye, reflecting dancing firelight, always looks out of the front window of the tilted wooden hut that you see there on the white rocks. It's searching and watching and waiting, and when you come calling you can be sure I'll know.


"What do you want to be when you grow up, sweetheart?"
"I don't know." Twisting feet. Clutching on to the sweat-stained sofa.
"No no... Come on, tell Aunty what you told me that day."
"Oh. I can.. um.. be a teacher. Or write. Stories and things."
Proud smiles all around. "I told you, she's got her head buried in books, scribbles away all the time..."
"Yes, how wonderful. Such an ambitious child..."

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Forty-Five Days

After forty-five days of silence and storms,
Anthems and angst,
Off-colour blues,
After forty-five days of walking in spirals
I'm loving

Monday, 8 September 2008

Instant Algebra

The book lies open but you've forgotten the page,
The carefully tangled web's come undone.
Sitting still, plotting points of rage-
The pencil breaks at root minus one.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Do you think that when the morning sun's about to rise above the skyline, it takes just a minute to consider? Is there a moment when it hangs there, suspended, touching the limits of both worlds, and decides which way to go? One day will it skim the clouds and sink back beneath the horizon again, so that suddenly it won't be day anymore?

Being pulled by the reins of inevitability, and too hesitant to let them fall, that moment of reckoning is the one I keep bottled up, in a tiny cologne vial, and look at every day, assured in the simple knowledge that it is mine.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

If All I Had

If all I had was sight
I'd watch the sunrise sift through the trees
While summer passed away.

If all I had was sound
I'd listen to lovesongs when the streetlights go out
And pretend they were mine.

If all I had was taste
I'd catch the taste of falling rain
And save it for another day.

If all I had was smell
I'd know the smell of drying ink
On pages of crumpled poetry.

If all I had was touch
I'd hold two roses, papery with age,
Velvet dust upon my fingers.

If all I had was this
I believe I'd have enough.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Sang Real

Blood turns pale orange
When mixed in too much water.
You'd think it'd turn pink,
But it doesn't.

How silly they must look,
Their Royal Highnesses,
Lying bleeding in the gutter
By the dozens.

Monday, 14 July 2008


With a little help from Leonard Cohen and his beautiful 'Joan of Arc'.

The night wind come from lands afar
Tells the tale of noble Shahryar
A king of fortune, with unquenched might,
His heavy crown, his aching appetite.

He said, "I've held a wound so deep
It crushed my fears, it stole my sleep."
And the silent lady at his side
Watched him embrace his sword, his one true bride.

Then spoke she, "I've one night to stay,
And you, my lord, have a debt to pay."
"Name your price," the monarch said
And she lay him down upon the empty bed.

Then when the night crept softly in
It saw her cure the fevered king.
She freed his chains, she broke his sword,
She soothed his soul, she fed her hungry lord.

The night wind called out, "Come away,
Oh Scheherazade, before break of day."
But she shook her head, that stern cold thing,
And she said, "I cannot go, I serve my king."

When Shahryar awoke from sleep
She'd taken his worn out heart to keep,
And though it seemed a distant dream,
He knew he'd won this proud and lonely queen.

People come from lands afar
Tell the tale of mighty Shahryar,
And the night wind and the desert stars
Remember his only queen, his Scheherazade.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Birthday Girl

It was late noon in the heart of the city, and the girl I was supposed to meet was early once again. She was picking her way through clumps of ragged grass, weaving in and out of shadows cast by elderly gulmohar. Khaki chappal-ed feet finding their own way. Stepping off the edge of the map. She smiled, perhaps amused by her own visual metaphors. She was another day old today, and this was her present. An hour alone with ghosts from another century. The gravestones were crumbly granite beneath her touch; the monuments expelled dusty sighs. A landscape of marble and aged wood, fit easel for any modern artist. A patch of earth where the satiated dead could rest.

In China, she said to herself in a vaguely schoolteacher-ish tone, a coffin tree is selected for each child at birth, so that when he is older and feels time closing in, he can have it cut down and made to order. A fitting way to prepare oneself.

A young mongrel followed her, tail wagging gratefully as she scratched behind its ears. Maybe it slept in one of the larger family vaults when night descended. Maybe it had learned to live with permanent, though incorporeal, tenants. Nevertheless, it seemed glad for human company.

The girl slipped off her shoes and settled down on her knees beneath a barren guava tree. Another day older, another day closer... to what? Thoughts fled smoothly from her consciousness like a flight of pigeons as the sound of silence rebounded among the trees. Slender fingers buried themselves in the rich, damp soil. Letting out roots. Tapping into the pulse of the earth. Cool arms clasped around her waist, cradling her, rocking slightly to an imperceptible rhythm. The giant breathing of a thousand strangers. A muffled heartbeat of aeons past.

A crow perched on a headstone nearby forgot to crow. The sun slipped behind opaque grey clouds, casting a brief halo in the sky as the girl smiled for the second time that day. She was a traveller, you see, a traveller and a seer, a pilgrim and an alchemist, and she inhabited worlds where empty pages could speak. Today was her birthday, and she was still very young.

That night it rained. Taut raindrops drummed gently against the window as we lay together like two stacked spoons, and she told me about her day. I listened to her voice more than her words- low, crystalline, tumbling out of her like the downpour outside. Held both her wrists close and shut my eyes. Thunder rumbled in a distant sky, but her voice, warm under my skin, distorted it into a safe degree of white noise.

Already, she was telling the story. I lay back and listened and didn't interrupt. The glow-in-the-dark bedside clock was still ticking. But now she was measuring out her own time. And I steadied myself to the flow of her breathing in the darkness beside me, and, just this once, I let her lead the way.

Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon hacked his way through the last tangle of karata bushes and fell face down on the stone stairs. There were mosquito bites spattering his back, souvenirs of the journey through sweltering treacle-thick swamps and the dripping, choking everglades. He had lost his boots crossing the cloud mountains; the soles of his feet were now lacerated a rubbery yellow. His breath erupted in ragged shreds and, sure that songs of memoriam were being sung about him somewhere in another world, Juan Ponce de Leon gave whatever was left of his body to that tiny patch of wet earth and slept for a long time.

When he awoke, some time between a few hours and some days later, it took him a while to realise that his prize was waiting before him. High up on the stone steps, the pool rippled under the midday sun, encased like an inocuous crystal within the granite basin. This, then, was the fabled sacred water of which was told stories in Corinth, in the halls of Babylon; stories of the Apache and the natives of the Ivory Coast, stories whispered in secret tongues in the shadow of the Sierra Madre.

The Fountain of Youth.

Juan Ponce de Leon found himself, as in a dream, standing before the basin. He was looking into the depths of the hidden pearl of Nostradamus, walking the deserted streets of El Dorado, bending in both hands the will of the universe. Trembling fingers dipped into the water a fragment of dead hartwood, and wide eyes beheld tender green buds covering the charred surface almost instantly. Uttering a strangled cry of triumph, he stretched out both hands towards the pool.

"Stay!" said the King of the Stone Macaws and his voice was sharp as fresh chalk. "Foolish human! Knowest thou what thou does? What has passed may not return..."

He would have continued in this vein but was interrupted by a flying shower of pebbles bestowed on him by the man beside the fountain. The human glared at him and there was a mad gleam in his sunken eyes. The King of the Stone Macaws observed this warily and decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

"So be it." he said softly and, ruffling his feathers, caught the south wind blowing back to Xanadu; and our intrepid explorer then scooped out the water in his hands and drank and drank.

He waited.

The world paused to observe.

Still he waited.

He may have waited for years. Days, nights, and many seasons bore witness; his lips grew white and aged and refused to yield words. His limbs shrivelled into near nothingness, dessicated with hunger and a dull, relentless pain. And still nothing. Finally, even the lady of the moon felt pity in her cold heart and engulfed him in her blackness. Juan Ponce de Leon waited at that spot till the end of his life, which came not very many days later when a group of Seminole Indians found him there. He barely noticed them killing him, cutting incisions into his skull with arrowheads, hanging his worn, broken skin up as a sacrifice for the heathen gods.

The Seminole Indians erected a shrine at that spot and founded a new village there. They all drank of the miraculous ever flowing water which became a collective heirloom, passed down through the generations. Every babe born to the Seminole tribe from then on was weaned on the magic water which was believed to render them strong of limb and pure of heart. The Seminoles, a peaceful, wholesome people, never suspected the true value of their little shrine until they were all massacred by the European settlers and their forests and villages burnt on the colonial bonfire. The Fountain remained, a curiosity for Western eyes for many centuries. It resurfaced briefly several times throughout the pages of history, under various legends and superstitious tales, but remained mostly unrecognised.

Until sometime in the last decade. That part of what we now know as the Yew Es was bought over by a group of private entrepreneurs who soon realised the tremendous commercial possibility of an ever flowing water source in the age of nature cures and Vedic spas. After testing and experimenting and chlorinating with a vengeance, the age old miracle water was put into shiny plastic bottles, hundreds of cloned monstrosities standing in regimental rows in disinfected labs all over the country. And it was sold in the thousands and in the hundred thousands, after the conclusion of a long legal war over manufacturing rights which thoroughly satisfied all concerned. Soon it was being advertised by shiny-toothed celebrities on TV and radio as the safest and healthiest brand of drinking water, coming soon to a store near you. We drink it every day now. Criminals and taxpayers, kings and presidents, political ambassadors and entertainers, they have all tasted of the waters of perpetual youth. There they are, all still children, doomed to a stillborn cocooned existence that they themselves are unaware of. This planet of ours continues to turn on its axis, a limbo playground where you and I live and laugh and lie and kill if necessary, generally messing around and making do and having a jolly good time through it all. So will it be for as long as our descendants, in ignorance or in greed, continue to drink the secret water that promises all, and as long as children are beautiful and gay and heartless.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Dear Reader(s?)

I like my blog. And I do not post rubbish on it unless it is satisfactory rubbish. I haven't been writing anything at all, good, bad, or worthy of critical appraisal, for the past several weeks. I don't like it either. But, for whatever reasons and circumstances, that's the way it is. If you do not like seeing the same unchanging page every time you are kind enough to visit my blog, please do not visit at all. When I'm good and ready, I will let you know. If you still care then.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Lines for a Cellular Phone

Fundamental particle
Unitary building block
Of succumbed lives.

Hollow pattern deciphered
Methodical enmeshment
By the pricking of their thumbs.

A voice I could not answer,
Determinedly robotic,
Bade me change your personality
For just three rupees this week.

And now they say you will implode.
Final jet of spite
Squirted in my eye?

So even as I wait for the sparrows to return
And for the air to breathe again,
I wait in hope
For that unobtrusive beep
That tells me I'm not forgotten
Just yet.
The artist was planning a masterpiece. The instrument held ready, the paper waited expectantly. A few tentative strokes, a frown forming on her face as inspiration struggled to find a shape. Begin with the eyes first, always the windows to the soul. Her pencil is persistant, moulding a pupil, the delicate tracery of eyelashes. And then its twin followed in newfound momentum. The artist blinks once, holds the stare, and plunges again into the picture. What a pair of eyes! Perhaps her best yet. Its gaze is transfixed on hers, with the persuasion of her own desire. Wanting to be completed. And so she did. A nose followed, gentle contours of the cheekbones, the firm roundness of a chin. A proud forehead above questioningly arched brows. Beads of sweat chase each other down the artist's face, her neck glistening, thin fingers working up to a frenzy. Dashing lines and curves she flourished now, bold daubs of colour, fluid strokes etching bright promise in their wake. And see how it is almost done. Raw emotion on canvas. Painted flesh speaks. The artist continues, draining her spirit out through her brush and hungry for more, driven to sweet madness, the incredulous delight of perfection.

At this moment out steps a critic from the watching crowd and peers over the artist's left shoulder at the easel.

"Oh that won't do, it's too ugly!" exclaimed the critic. "The face is expressionless, and the eyes! Literally popping out! What on earth possessed you to do this?"

The artist put down her brush carefully and stepped back from the canvas. It was exactly as the critic had observed. As flat as a thin layer of whitewash. Mismatched features. Incomplete, sketchy, a grotesque caricature. She reached out and, taking the unfinished picture off the easel, tore it in half, then in quarters, and lightly threw the pieces in a box of used rags. She turned to face the critic, scorn smiling brightly.

"You're right, it was rather terrible. I did tell you I'm no good at this. Bored, I suppose. Anyway. What's for lunch?"

They went off to have a substantial lunch together, and the crowd dispersed, cheated of a 'good show'. The masterpiece lay limply on some old newspapers where in later weeks it would have coffee spilled on it and meet a rat who would want to gnaw her nest out of it. And it held, deep in its painted gaze, all the passion, every drop of unasking devotion, however momentary, that an artist's heart had to offer. Long after the canvas disintegrated into random white strands, clean of colour and remorse, the treasure remained, hoarded in a pair of mismatched, probing eyes.