Anarkali

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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…

Words Like Pine Seeds

Image

Words

let loose on the air

like pine seeds

lofted by playful summer breezes

that coax them from the mother cone

as she opens her womb

to free her offspring,

despatches them

to seed another world,

new and hopefully brave,

sends them to launch pristine forests

to perfume the air

and whisper arcane secrets all day.

But lost, forgotten

when a plundered kernel

strays to lose its sweetness

squanders it on a gluttonous tongue.

Its taste might linger

like the memory of tearing

gossamer wings apart

the expectant crack that yielded

a momentary sliver of joy.

But how minuscule the guilt,

of forests consumed

before they could sprout?

How brief the regret

for words cast by the wayside?

words

plump with promise once

compelled to dissolve

into the non substance of memory.

Yet sometimes, persistent as echoes.

Persistent as the aftertaste

of long consumed pine seeds.

 

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.

Then

pushes forth again, bearing jewels

to brighten kingdoms of toil.

A TALE OF TWO PRINCESSES

 

Once there was a princess who wept pearls,

and once there was a princess

who laughed flowers. Both died, I heard.

One of weeping

and the other of laughter.

But not because one’s eyes went dry

or the other forgot how to laugh.

One died of suffocation

entombed in pearls. The other choked

on a surfeit of flowers.

The pearls were sold for a fortune, I heard.

But the wilted flowers brought no gain at all.

Since then, I have heard

A woman’s tears have become

far more precious than her laughter.