WHERE IS GLORY BETTER SOUGHT?

When I have finished irrigating the country’s soil with

my fertile blood. Seeding new warriors.

I will turn into fodder for famished screens. Millions of my faces

will bloom upon the idiot box

increase, multiply and feed countless starving eyes.

My blinded gaze will face compassion boredom

horror terror sympathy and disgust

my 15 seconds of fame glide across the microscope’s glass

and evaporate before the arc lights’ glare

as gyrating limbs and thumping breasts

overtake my fleeting image and

leave it far behind.

What race is this I lost before it began?

or did I win it standing still? Watching

my opponent’s heels kick nakedly at the oncoming dusk.

Synthetic dusk born from the smoke of guns

as irrational as my night which lingers on and on

while indolent dawn snuggles beneath the covers

waiting for someone else to switch on the light.

But. Where is glory better sought

on green grass or in slime?

facing the gritty winds of summer

or winter’s shroud of fog?

which does blood stain brighter

desert sand or mountain snow?

And. Who lights an eternal lamp for me

as I float, an anonymous cloud

carrying the rain child of glory in my womb

a child which refuses to be born

till the storm settles.

If it ever will.

A PEARL WITHIN AN OYSTER

There is a place

where jewelled cobwebs

dot the hillside

my father’s smile

never wavers

and the rocks

feel solid beneath my feet.

The mist swirls in the valleys

a potent sea

spewing stories

which my brother

conjures out of the vaporous void.

A magician

spinning a different web each day.

And yet it is I

who tell tales now.

Fishing in that timeless sea

of the past

finding

old shoes

a rotted corpse

but sometimes

a pearl within an oyster…

Secret of Success

Why do we send our words out into this public space? Share some of our most painful moments, our most intimate thoughts with people who are strangers, whom we are not likely to encounter in flesh? We reach out to connect,  to hear someone say, “I have listened to your voice, I feel the same way, I share your views, I empathise.”

Sometimes even the note of dissent can be stimulating. At least someone listened and responded.

Frankly, response to any form of writing, whether it’s my blog or my books is my measure of success. Those words touched a chord somewhere, which means these outpourings have some meaning, are not mere self-indulgence.

Yes, I am striving for this kind of success as a blogger. If I wasn’t I’d confine my thoughts to the diary that is meant for my personal private perusal…

Anarkali

Anarkalli.jpg

When “Anarkali”, the popular movie about the tragic romance between Prince Salim (later Jehangir) the son of Mughal emperor Akbar and the court dancer Anarkali finally arrived in our small town, I got a summons from my aunt,

‘You will come with me to see a film today,’ she said.

I was shocked. I had never known my somewhat stern aunt to ever watch a movie. But I had never had the guts to disobey her either, so I dutifully agreed. Of course, I was curious to find out too, about the movie that could make her act so out of character.

It was a two mile walk to the dilapidated cinema hall. I must add here that not having any other form of conveyance, we relied on our own two legs to transport us everywhere.

I’m not sure how old I was then, definitely below ten. But the movie, particularly the last scene in which, condemned to death, Anarkali is being walled up, left a strong impression on my mind. So strong, that years and years later this poem emerged from somewhere…

ANARKALI

When the walls rose up

Around Anarkali

Her heart unfolded

In paeans of joy

(So the movie says)

Celebrating love

Her song soared up

Higher, sweeter

Even as the last patch of sky

Was bricked out

Salim mourned

But life is long

And love short

And finally

There was consolation…

There was Noor Jehan

The slave girl

When she dared to love

Little knew

That

The walls of love

Press close

Fatal

They shut out the sky

And once

The air inside

Is breathed up

Nothing remains

But the song

And even that

Is often lost

Scattered, dissolved

By the winds of time…

Dealing with Loss: the Chimaera of Hope

The young woman struggles to maintain her composure as she talks about her parents, who have gone missing in the cataclysmic flash floods that occurred in June in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. A month has gone by and the government talks about abandoning the search for the approximately 6000 people who are unaccounted for, devastating for their families.

‘They might have sought shelter in some remote village,’ she says in a tear drenched voice. ‘Why can’t they ask the army to search?’

In the end she adds her own message to the numerous others people have put up on a wall for their missing loved ones. In a beautiful, rounded hand she writes: ‘Mummy-Papa, jaldi aa jaana. Hum intezar kar rahe hain.’ (‘Mummy-Papa, please come back soon. We’re waiting for you.’)

Her story, like that of the other affected people holding up photographs on the TV show is heartrending. A father who has lost his son along with his wife and grandchild, another who has lost several members of his family. These are the ones left behind, who are engaged in a search made cruelly frustrating by the inefficiency of the bureaucracy handling the disaster.

As I watch, their belief that their dear ones might be alive somewhere seems unrealistic.

Then suddenly I’m reminded of the time my older sister Shanta was reported missing in a cyclone that hit the east coast of South India. She had gone to Chennai on official work and the car she was travelling in was swept off an inundated road some distance from the city. When we got the news, I refused to consider the worst.

‘Someone must have rescued her. She must be in a hospital somewhere…’ I told my husband confidently. And I firmly believed it. How could my sister die?

When her body was recovered, however, I was forced to accept that she was gone.

Affectionate, ever cheerful despite her many problems, Shanta di had been an enormous support in the confusing early years of my married life and now she would never come back. It was extremely difficult to come to terms with this fact. The worst was she left an eight-year-old son behind, a child for whom it was hard to comprehend what had happened, and a shattered husband.

We grieved and as time passed we came to accept the inevitable. We were compelled to find closure and move on with our lives.

But what if her body had not been found? We would have gone on hoping and waited for her to reappear miraculously. It would have been too difficult to give up.

This is the predicament of the families of the missing persons in the Uttarakhand disaster. One hopes that some are indeed alive and safe somewhere. But till they are found or it is established that they are no more, their families will remain poised between hope and despair.

That I think is the cruellest thing that can happen to anyone. And I pray sincerely that their ordeal is not prolonged and they can find solace somehow.

A JOURNEY: THE TRAIN TO NOWHERE, THE TRAIN TO SOMEWHERE

The one who has to come will come

the one who has to leave will go away.

I cannot choose, they say. It

has all been written, they say.

The words chosen, the path mapped.

The time of arrival, the time of departure

and you must wait on the platform

not knowing when the train will arrive or depart.

Or where it’ll take you.

There will be no announcements

true or false

about its arrival or its departure

but nothing will stop you either, from

supping a leisurely cup of tea. Or

one so hasty that it scalds your tongue. Stop you

from sharing a joke with the stranger who perches on her trunk

or from browsing at the book stall

poring over titles. Turning

a desultory eye on the pictures that illustrate a tome,

even imbibing some fleeting textbook wisdom.

Or from

buying a book you’ll leave behind on your seat

when you disembark. For the next traveller to enjoy or deride,

perhaps. Or for the beggar

who’ll enter the vacant train in search

of the scraps that remain

mute testaments of your last meal. The

empty water bottles that will fetch a few coins.

The book might be sold for scrap

or its pages lovingly turned.

What difference does it make?

The words were not your own. As

you thought when you read it.

Someone else had chosen them.

So what if they seeped into your mind and became yours.

The words were the writer’s. The

one who writes all our lives

Not yours, hopeful reader.

And perhaps

when the train stops and it’s time to disembark

knowledge will streak through your mind

like lightning illuminating the evening sky

and you will realize they were always there,

floating in the wind

unseen microbes, biding their time.

waiting for the fogged microscope of your eye

to clear and find them.

While countless trains came and went

describing endless journeys to God knows where.

Then you will learn

it matters not who the writer is or who

the reader. It is enough that words exist

those golden grains gleaned out of the mind’s dust

to nourish a famished moment.

And when this knowledge confronts you

as you step off the train

you have everything and yet have nothing.

The words and the book

the music and the song

you have them and you leave them

with no regret

or sense of loss.

Because they will not be orphaned

as you once feared.

Another will claim them, nurture them.

Another who paces the platform

waiting to mount the train.

Not knowing the time of its arrival or departure

not knowing its final destination

yet eager for the journey which promises

everything and nothing.

LOVE, THAT FLIGHTY DJINN

  I would have liked to live forever within

  the opaque glass walls of your love.  Seeing the world

  through misty eyes.  The sun’s heat

  softly tempered to my back.  The rain,

  a distant, soothing patter.  Not a drenching torrent

  churning rivers of mud and slime

  to drown in.  But

  the mist holds demons. Their cries

  will not be stilled.  And glass is fragile

  Even a single stone‑‑carelessly flung

  can shatter this sanctuary  we built

  You and I—

  out of the power of our dreams

  this vaporous castle

  which can stand—

  only till the magic lasts.

  Loving, my faltering steps take root

  reaching, touching

  my heart, a wing, a feather  

  caressing you.  All night…

  your warmth filling me.  Battling

  the shuddering dark

  that waits, a patient hungry dragon

   But…

  love, that timid bird

  that flighty djinn.  Comes

  to roost only when it wishes

  Not in response to my call

  or yours

  No matter how urgent the need

  No matter how desperate the hour.

 

Tranquillity

 

Tranquillity is the scent of pines

rain sodden… 

                               
Image

leaves

nodding to the wind

in silent camaraderie

blades of grass

slicing the air

soundless as light.

 

Banana fronds

tangling

separating

binding

loosening

in a dance

to an unheard song.

 

Black clouds upon white

pale sky

scattering sunlight

in innumerable motes of light

touching my face

with a warmth

so deep

that it remains with me forever…

 

 

in the time of mango blossom

In the time of mango blossom

pain stabs,

a pale spear

sharp as the scented spikes

that weight the tree

as eager

breathless,

it awaits

fulfilment.

The yearly ritual,

the time of fruit.

 

Our time was a flower

that bloomed

and withered again.

But—

the seed remained,

dry, insignificant

almost unseen.

And yet—

it held promise

of life

of blossom.

Colour, fragrance

within its husk

The thoughtless wind

tears the flower apart,

scatters its petals.

But

the seed rides its back.