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…

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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…

CHILDHOOD RAIN

Rain in childhood

falls without explanation

simply pouring out of the sky

we do not dance in it (like my children will one day)

but don raincoats and unfurl umbrellas

stoically set out for our Saturday evening walk.

hand in hand

two by two

a twisting navy blue crocodile

creeping between two green slopes

one stretches upwards

draped with silver sheets which reach down

like Rapunzel’s hair inviting us

into the castle of the sky

the other tumbles down

into a shrouded sea, daring us to

surrender to its shadowy embrace.

the navy blue crocodile wriggles on

postponing the moment of decision

waiting for the sun to shine and the mist clear.