One day, Papa said, he decided
to give up cigarettes. From forty a day,
he came down to none. Only
on Christmas Day,
when the swarm of visitors has diminished
to a select few
sipping their rum in the exhausted drawing room
does he pick up a Capstan Navy Cut
from the carved Kashmiri box
and blow smoke rings for our delight.
While a lonely piece of cake
sits on a chipped plate
surrounded by indifferent crumbs.
The Big Day has not ended we know
we have yet to negotiate the rocky path
to the brightly lit room
where Santa Claus will distribute gifts
for a price:
poems squeezed from reluctant minds
mimic songs that have long forgotten their tune
but I cannot, I will not parrot ‘Daffodils’
not even to earn a gift. Rejected, it lingers
under the Christmas tree,
another lonesome participant in a festive rite
lies there accusingly as I lurk sullenly in the shadows.
Ishwar chho mero gwalo
kai baate ki kami raunli
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.
but I want, I want, I want
an unconditional gift, Lord
from the night which sucks up fading carols
and flings them among
the silent pines. Already
a ghost, Christmas is slipping away
searching for its past,
amidst the cake crumbs, gift wrappings
and the cigarettes in the carved Kashmiri box.
We will smoke them my brothers and I
alone on New Year’s Eve
we will blow foetal smoke rings
aborted by choking coughs
which drift heavenwards to join
the Christmases gone. And
the New Year arrives stamping in on frozen feet
Ishwar chho mero gwalo
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall never want, I hope
for unconditional gifts.
Papa decided to give up cigarettes
I have given up sugar for brief intervals
even forsworn alcohol—moving around
in a haze
batting away invisible smoke rings
that coil like persistent ghosts. Like
the ghosts of Christmases which live
only in the past. Without any future.
But will any sacrifice help a child
who shivers in the alien dark
too distant and too alien
for mortal eyes
does the Lord accept trade offs
as they say? Or does he cheat,
as I suspect? A fast for longevity
a fast for good health
but can a hollow belly
bring joy to a marooned child?
Questions cluster like smoke rings
stinging my eyes.
I cannot ransom the marooned child
I cannot return to the smoke filled
drawing room with its scent of rum
the chill warmth of its glowing embers
turning to ash, grey
as Papa’s hair.