Poems

Grated Maya

I came upon your writing

On a neatly folded sheet forgotten

Between the pages of a book.

Even spaced squiggles in a script I never learnt

Your usual exquisitely detailed symmetry

Measured in thought as in speech

Not a line crossed; no edit smudge or strike

Space filled with a quiet conviction

Ceding little to doubt. The known, spoken;

The unknown, silenced from voice or sound.

A question mark never more ambiguous

Than its intent: a query and nothing more.

Always an effortless perfection in restraint.

The moment passed without much complaint.

That you inhabit and pervade time and tract

In your place; amongst your books, your space

Should that compel my lament?

It is only as it has been; as it always will be.

I close my eyes and retract into a togetherness

Into, an as it should be.

*****

The end of the orb

High up here above the clouds
There is no rain, no wind
No great show of might
No artifice to enshroud.

Here, there’s just you and me
In different physical forms,
A benign sun wrapping us in
An equal same. The heart’s decree

*****

Sleep a nightmare

NoooYawk. NooYawk. NuYawk. NyawK. Nn..yAWp.

Scale walls of brick and glass

Find a foothold in a joint, grab a gargoyle

Scale the sheets; Of rough concrete and slippery steel

Too polished; Wrong-fit.

Run up stairs; nail my cowardly legs, that gave out

On the 3rd floor, to the exit door

Hang my pounding heart on the rails of the 16th

Leave it there beating and dripping

Against familiar unyielding steel

Slap my mouth stuck slick with drool and escaping breath

On the red Fire box of the 30th; agape in panting wannabe scream

A forceful blowing gale meets its match on the 45th terrace

Loses and retreats. My eyes prise open in triumphant blaze

Scan lanterns in squares of gold strung by lintels and by beams

Mostly plane empty light; some filigreed with shapely mysteries

Coming. Smoking. Going. Little shapes. Big ones. Moving. Doing.

Light ascending in rows and columns of never ending desire

Reaching for the moon. Who.., washes down in broad benign glow

On the caterwauling symphony of the alleyway cats

Crowding around a dismemberment.

*****

Kolam

Her wet hair turbaned in white weave;

The brightly coloured one begins her morning ritual.

With a hand and a gaze steady with purpose; she

Draws doubles lines, stretching them from point to point,

In bright white on earth blackened by wetness.

Between the lines are dark empty spaces

In triangles, squares and rounds;

Opposites combining to calculatedly conceal

Mysteries. Of the known and the unknown

The seen and the hidden; an Anubhava and a Darshana.

Some she fills with colour, proposing desire;

Some she leaves alone, for His disposed grace.

Her auspicious algorithms welcome auguries;

And the ants that scattered return on cue to feed.

*****

What is your name?

I know of you now. I know you are a girl. I know you are a student. I know you are young and wanted to live. But, my dear, what is your name?

I’ve heard you called: the girl, the woman, nirbhaya, amanat, damini. Names that try to capture you; that try to define you through your ordeal. But, my dear, what is your name?

I know you wanted to study medicine. I imagine you kept odd hours, studied subjects with big names; laughed at the Latin twisting on your tongue; cursed the tomes that you filed in stacks of memorized data, yet turned to them every night in reverence and awe; slowly and surely fell in love with the body and its mysteries. But, my dear, what is your name?

I know you went to watch a movie. That you chose to watch Pi over others. I imagine you read the book. I imagine you argued over which one to watch. I imagine you worrying about returning home, the late hour, the work piled up for the coming week. My dear, what is your name?

I know you had a friend. That your friend was a boy. That you trusted him enough to share an evening with him. That he didn’t betray your trust. Did you hold hands? Did you know the love of friendship? My dear, what is your name?

I know you climbed into a bus. Did you climb those steps in relief of finding a ride; did you climb in choice-less anxiety? In a life led against a backdrop of fear; where the simplest exercise of choice could spiral into a descent to terror; was it one of the myriad times you took a chance, the kind that you and all of us born with the same strikes take, in the hope that fate is our ally. Oh, my sister, what is your name?

I know you were shrouded and consigned to dust in fog and silence. That you were denied the dignity of presence. That you were denied the sorrow and love of the millions that would’ve walked with you on your journey. My dear, my dear, what is your name?

“ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air. .. Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest.. And read their history in a nation’e eyes.” – Thomas Gray

*****

For my sister, in Delhi

If my rage could wash away your memory

I have enough for the two of us;

If my fury could kill the monsters

My bare hands are up to the task.

If my prayers mean anything at all

You will rejoin the universe

And rise as Kali to dance on their carcasses.

*****

Julian’s clairvoyance

I have a big wide sheet over my desk

Crisscrossed with squares

Divided by thin rows and thick columns

Each filled with a big bold number

In black and red; a day and a date

A Gregorian and a Panchaangam.

It gives me the comfort of movement

Of an uncluttered march forward,

Until we get to the end of the sheet.

Then it all suddenly cycles back to square one

In the dreaded circular reversal

Every hour. Every month. Every year,

Return. Retrace. Relive. Recount

Marking time in diligent unerring precision.

If only time was measured linearly

Coded like library books on unending ladder racks

Of hours and days, months and years

A forward drift with no end in sight;

Memory then might wear a different garb,

Have a different name; mean something else.

Instead we have this ceaseless switching on and off

Of a then and a now. Some real; some desired.

An on and an off. And, again.

Pranaam [For, Pandit Shri. Ravishankar]

“Should the music stop

Or must it play on?”

As reverence or as contrivance

Quiet your voices; your voluntary cadences

If only for a while.

Let the silence of another

Rejoin the stillness of the universe.

*****

The ebb, the flow and the in-between

Consciousness awakens slowly

sharpens with time;

Sensation surges to feeling in an instant

and fades to the pale with time.

When subsumed in yesterday

Where living exists as memory

They resurrect in today

Both liberated forever; from time.

*****

Daybreak

The Sun recesses
Always in a violent fury
The drama of a finale
A final attack on submissive Sky
The end, we think
Clap and retreat.

But recouped she returns
A new assault on forgiving Night
Seeks and wakens in evil glee
Her might recording, ‘Still living’.
A protest sounds a triumphant discord,
‘Living still’.

*****

Absence

I have traveled my life

Through these self-same wretched streets

All these years

Always hating their sameness

The same odious landmarks; the same old walls

The same rudeness.

The same unease with a stuporous disquiet.

One day, the newness came.

In a shape different from how we’d imagined it,

In an ominous reminder that change

Takes hideous forms at times.

It came draped; in folds of monstrous terror

Rented the frippery of desire asunder

With ease; battered disarray into the gash.

It came uninvited and settled to stay.

I still travel the self-same streets

Without you to return to now

A new dazed, diminished and derailed me

And the newness is the sameness now.

*****

Birthday

This day is about me

Everyone says so; it must be so; it has been so.

But they are wrong.

It is about you. It was always about you.

Birth: A mundane moment for the born

With little control over a beginning or an end.

But, for the one that was the passage,

For the one that the very universe works through,

For the form without which nature is brought to nought,

For you; A pass-over moment to the Divine.

Enjoined with it. Becoming it. Venerated for it.

It is about you. It was always about you;

Why did I not know that

How were we all so wrong?

*****

When things break

My dear, when things break,

Don’t try to mend them

If things must break; let them break fully.

Don’t buy new toys

To set the shifting scene

In the shape of the remembered

To create the familiar stage anew.

New toys with gossamer fancy  –

Deprived of the hardy sweat that

Dripped into the old tenacious sinews,

Now worn and frayed by worldly cares –

Fast and frivolous, snap.

If things must break; let them shatter.

The painful shards of memory

Will bring you more delight

Than that of a rushed embrace.

*****

Adrift

From here, this vantage point,

My restless, dissolute gaze drifts upwards.

In combative protest. Forging an escape.

Tears that imprison my sight

I don’t wipe you to free that restless spirit

I claw at my eyes to wipe the images clean.

Sight is our decadent sense.

He fashioned lids,

To shut it down.

*****

Dissolve

A laden sky bursts

Revealing its hiding Sun.

If I didn’t find you behind my broken heart;

Maybe, it didn’t break enough?

*****

Rain

When you bear down on me with the arrogance of belonging,

When you drench my parched lands with hope,

When you give me the delight of being owned;

I want to collect you in, by the armfuls,

Sail my colored boats in your raucous torrent,

Tempt you with their journeys; Dare you to stay.

*****

Grief as commodity

All this talk of grief

Herehere and here.

They say they can quantify it,

Define it in time; By time.

By the hands of a clock.

By the mindless march of days.

Terrifies me.

Do I have more or less?

Bewilders me.

If they pronounce less,

If they then aver you mean less to me,

Will they also know to say by how much?

*****

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