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…


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


The walls of love

Press close


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…


I Am A Woman

I am a woman

I am soiled paper rupees I am shining gold coins

I am a diamond of glass I am an emerald of paste

a handful of earth flung on the highway

by a contemptuous gardener as rubies course through my veins

and the salt of the sea irrigates the timbre of my voice

a sea deep beyond any submarine’s reach.

I am soiled paper rupees in the vegetable vendor’s pouch

keeping company with scraps of tobacco.

I am shining gold coins nestling in the bridegroom’s lap

waiting to be sold.

I am a diamond of glass glittering in the ruler’s crown

maintaining his gloss.

I am an emerald of paste in the queen’s necklace

awaiting the evaluator’s frown.

And the salt of the unfathomable sea irrigates

the timbre of my voice

producing a song too deep for the shallow framework of words.

I am a handful of earth thrown on the highway

and inside me the seed seeking silence crouches

sheltering from the clamour of the earth.


pushes forth again, bearing jewels

to brighten kingdoms of toil.