September First

It is that crease in the crumpled paper of
time folded inside the envelope of listless

improbability, everything before it unreal, thereafter
a breathless race to the end of the year

through festive lamps and fireworks and the
sensuous rustle of woven silk, everyday reminders

that we are still packing rectangular burfis in oval
cardboard boxes. Now damp memories begin to

leech into skies freshly wiped of the grey monsoon,
remembrances tied up like fat goats in impromptu

markets, primed for sacrifice, of Dussheras when
truth was pink and green and yellow and the

clouds were the colour of spilt burgundy and words
were heavy with sighs, of that Diwali when doors

slammed louder than crackers the kids set off
inside old Bournvita tins and neighbours peered

through the window with eyes lit up like burning
flowerpots. Everything is reset on September first,

the sun is hanging out to dry on the line, her mellow-
mellow light with its sound of breaking boundaries and

shattering smiles paints the air with a strange
sanctity as if every molecule of the universe is visible and

quivering and even you and I know that without the
rain, we can no longer pretend to be waiting.

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Was it Better?

Was it better when
we exalted wind and earth
and sea and sky
and bowed to them as gods,
was it better when
we hadn’t stripped
tempests of their arrogance,
penumbras of their veil,
the eccentric moon of her moods,
when the only dreams we had
came from birds and stars
and there were no words,
so from a single smile
we could make up a million stories,
everything we needed
we found in clouds shaped as deer
and deer that broke the
mist on the morning hills,
now I feel you shift in your sleep
a shiver curling into the space
between us,
the rain drifting down
my window pane gives me
a curious glance,
and I wonder what it might
have felt like
to never look for shelter. 

Her Scream Is Not Enough

This morning, with tea,
I chewed on five poems,
a young girl, a poet, a person,
shrill, screaming for her share of the peak,
is feminism still a word or did someone gender-neutralize it
for she is waving her sexuality in the scarred face of misogyny,
a scarf, a scrap of whole wheat dissent against fattened bigotry,
she will not be beaten, be raped, be used,
her breasts will not be shaped into iron bars to hold her captive,
she will knot her faith, if she pleases, as a sarong around her waist,
her silence will not be tied as prayers to the limbs of old trees,
to trade a daughter for a blessed son;

I come from a past that bore, that wept, that silently moved ahead
on paths the hems of sarees had never touched before,
I cannot write her poems,
for I found my own place in the quiet
as if tiptoeing through a darkened theatre,
through whispers, through collision, through unspoken rage,
by the time I sat with the popcorn on my knee, a macho hero
had already beaten up a dozen villains single handed,
but this battle needs more than one saviour,
it needs the visceral voice of unbridled passion,
it needs pens that will redraw front lines into curves with busts and hips;

It needs feet,
feet in red stilettos, feet wizened from paddy fields, feet calloused
from having walked too far, too long, feet refusing to stop at boundaries,
feet that part seas, feet that pave their own roads,
I cannot write these poems but I have feet,
feet that made it to the front of a line or two, feet that followed feet,
feet that tapped out their own soundless songs,
I don’t know if feminism is still a complete word in a broken world
and I know I cannot write her loud poems,
but I have feet that want to walk, to run, to dance on level ground,
and even I know, a woman, a poet, a person,
that wanting is not enough,
even her words, sharp, bold, piercing the veil,
are not enough.

Grey Flags

when the sparrows left
they took my childhood with them,
brown flutters fading on an innocent sky,
instead pigeons have taken over this city,
grey warning flags of an approaching doom,
see how we cage ourselves
behind nets and spikes
fearing their putrid excesses,
this town looks like a festering abscess
over the wrinkled skin of a gentler past,
when the gulmohars stained the streets
in the colours of the setting sun,
the mynahs chimed with temple bells
and people walked slowly, dropping
words on every smiling doorstep,
now even the threadbare alley cat stares at me,
green eyes filled with cold reproach,
as if it is me, sitting on the drain pipe
soiling her favourite spot
under the red malabar tiles.

god On The Morning Local

I saw him on the local train during rush hour,
a newspaper cone of peanuts in his hand,
smiling at me through a web of weary limbs
and disenchanted heads,
a lesser god with a stubble and sad eyes.

Is this chance, I asked him, or fate,
or is there no difference?
he shrugged like a basement programmer
who had written a game with a million possibilities,
one thing leads to another, he said,
didn’t you want to see me?
how can I win or at least not lose,
I was begging,
five peanuts later he asked,
who decides if it is victory
or defeat?

Through the window I saw life
like a flip book,
one snapshot after the other,
each alive for a cry and a
half turn of the wheel,
each moment, each frame,
dying and born as the next,
meaning nothing by itself,
leading nowhere by itself,
he was watching me, still eating,
this is my stop, he said softly,
your station’s next.

I followed him to the exit,
we left a bird behind,
then a cloud,
then the sun,
then him,
I shrugged,
me and a square of sky for a half wheel
and the peanuts he handed me,
one thing leads to another.

Also in this series: At the corner café

Here, Bird, Shadow

The veiled sun could be the moon,
the surf is a dull silver in this crucible of grey,
this could be dusk or dawn…
a lone bird switches direction,
the trees have shape shifted into fattened clouds,
the flapping wings that follow it
could be the shadow that remembers
the deception of fading light,
what is real in the monsoon’ s byplay,
when waves reach over and over
to erase my steps,
which is stage, which is prop
who is the marionette,
will this moon faced sun let go of the sea
so it will flood the sodden sky,
will the earth let go of the tepid sun
so the grey will swell and seep into my veins,
will it never rain again,
here, bird, shadow, circling a flat lined wave,
will you sing to me in absolutes?

I hold this ocean in the cup of my hand,
there is no horizon now,
only eternity caught on a limb, unsure,
this could be dusk or dawn,
truth or poem…
we follow you in your circumambulation,
chanting your frightened call,
the water, the light, the purified shore,
one behind the other,
waves swallowing footprints,
water, light, shore and I,
the strings that move us
invisible in the gloom,
what is real in the monsoon’s byplay
here, bird, shadow,
will you sing to me in absolutes,
will you cue my curtain call,
will it never rain again?