The Ghost of Christmases Past


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.


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