Birds Don’t Sing On Such Days

It is very hot, a slab of heat presses the city
even the birds that sing all afternoon from the casuarina tree
remain silent . he calls and says
they do not cook salads here

I go to the garden
dig the earth, the heat pouring
sweat down my armpits. take an onion peel it
cut it eat it. or a cucumber
what about tomatoes
tomatoes too. you are not helpful
I have to ask you everything
you’re like them – not cooking salads?

basal has grown all over
roots joining hands
and laughing at me
dusting my dress with seeds
walking on me to the farthest corners of the garden
where snails have licked the barks with their tongues

he hasn’t slept for three years
I recount the story of a world war II soldier
who didn’t sleep a lifetime
a night’s vigil did that to him
at least you have a reason for losing sleep
a tick of anger
then muscles fall wry to sadness

I prefer almond to mango trees
like the bitterness of its unripe fruit
the leathery skin pickled in jars
that my grandmother bought at Agra

let the leaves remain my gardener said
the red ones turn brown and brittle
this is the lizard snake zone
safest because I hear them
then see them, their beady eyes like his

bananas are for constipation
he announces as he peels one
buy a dozen of them
they rot in the heat. he looks through the window

vapour rising from the damp soil
sun works on the moisture
schizophrenia
he has found a pen and a piece of paper
tell me if I have spelt it right
the sprinkler spurts out diamonds
each stream thin ribbons of rainbow

he has soiled his clothes, looking away he asks
what is your name
I keep forgetting these days
do not ask me to have bath
I won’t  get up from today
the enormity of the decision freezes him

the bland soup with mashed carrots and potatoes
that he drinks gives him an orange whisker
like a cat
I touch his face with so much love

the water that I have poured in my garden
keeps the earth cool –
microclimate in this city of desert.

(I went to Philosophy Talk, listened to ‘Faces, Feelings And Lies’ by Paul Ekman. I noted down words like deception, displeasure, humiliation, framework, random, behavior, repress, threat, punishment, emotion, lies, anger, detect, identity, recognition, experience, and my clinch word was micro expression – but not as psychologists use it clinically. I didn’t write a poem immediately, and when I got around to I didn’t use any of the words as I realized they could not be exorcised of their psycho pathological connotation. Instead I have used the image of a garden, have juxtaposed the microclimate that the narrator creates by tending this garden with the micro expressions of a troubled person she cares for.  All the words that I had noted, in various avatars, came to abide in the narrative of trauma and suffering, tending and caring.)

Big Tent Poetry

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Lemon Blossoms


The neem tree at the corner of the garden lays out a florescent carpet, the smell of the flower reaches me in my room every time the April breeze tosses them. My room is painted an electric blue, from my table beside the window I cannot see the sky, the arches of coconut fronds keeps me floating in a green cave of light. 

I pull the box from under the table, a coarsely carved wooden box with dust settled in the grooves. I open it and look at the letters neatly folded and tied with a cheap satin ribbon that goes back to twenty years, frayed and faded at the edges.  I undo the knot and open the letters,  I expect my throat to knot with the memory of the walk on the warm beach and the quiet streets as I held his hands. But the seat in the garden of my house warm in the afternoon heat carrying the scent of lemon leaves comes in my mind’s eye, and in the frame are my parents the trusting people who walked with me and have shored away all my memorabilia, each one important, letting me make my pick after they are gone, which one I want to stay with.

I can picture them in my room in the coolness of the bluey afternoon sifting through my books, my papers, photographs; sorting them and keeping them in sari boxes and wooden boxes. They would have handled it carefully, the shattered pieces of glasses of my life that I painfully gathered and put away in the corners of my room to be forgotten and abandoned. They want me to take them, hold them and put them away after making peace, and that is why I am back home.   

Story A Day – Go Home Again

Step Out

I followed the path, cows and sheep on the pasture. I entered the village
and was welcomed by friendly dogs and hens. The woman sweeping her porch
stopped and stared at me and the old man reposing in the shade of the
banyan tree smiled at me. I nodded at them, didn’t stop to talk; the road
opened to paddy fields. I walked on the clumps of soil readied for the next
cycle of cultivation, glad I was finally on the move looking at the trees and
fields and not at the blue floss of clouds on my computer screen.

Write A Drabble for Story A Day

A Mother’s Curse


Mothers make a difference
definitely
they pass genes to children
quirky ones are always theirs
a wayward son can be traced back to a slut

should be really something to spew hundred evil sons
putrid rotten eggs swimming out for union after the menstrual cycle
freaks born because she remained pregnant for two years
fetus hacked into hundred pieces and lo the children

dysfunctional behavior ran in her husband’s family
was he impotent ?
why did she ask Vyasa to help? What help, you might ask?   
there is always something fishy if sages are asked for help
it had happened before, remember why her husband was born blind

(she remained blindfolded for a lifetime
to spite her blind husband, he wanted the  fair princess of Gandhara
the simpletons in the kingdom said she wanted to deny herself
 all that her husband had been deprived
don’t subscribe to that story
she was plainly  blinded by anger )

when she bathed her boys, felt their bodies
did she run through contours hardened with hatred
did she rub in venom of revenge –
uprooted from her home in the beautiful mountains
to the dry plains of Hastinapura
isolated for being from fringe of civilization
less remembered than Kunti the virtuous
a queen albeit, the only consolation for all that was lost

years of spooning  bitterness in golden bowls of porridge
got nothing much
ranting black clouds of sons she had puffed into existence
were killed in the battlefield  by Kunti’s five sons
(cut all that crap about the victory of Good over Evil
she is a mother , remember)

she went to the battlefield
ran her hands over the disgorged bodies of her sons
hundred sons
each
one
of
them
smelt blood mixed with the fragrance of chameli flowers
garlands their wives had adorned them
waiting for sunset to hear the hoofs of horses on the dusty path
the return of their husbands

she will have nothing of Krishna
the blue hued boy carrying different identities
who master minded everything
She cursed him, the God of the three worlds
and he died and so did all his clan-
such is the power of a mother’s curse

Now tell me
the mothers from Afghanistan
Gandhari’s sisters and soul mates
whom will they curse
for  their children tortured and killed
Who is their Krishna ?

(The blindfolded mother is Gandhari from the Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’. Gandhari was the priness of Gandhara, a kingdom in the region that is the present day northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Read here to get an idea of the story, and here for the story of Gandhari.  But remember that this epic is interpreted in multiple ways, interpolated through the centuries, it is one of the tales working in our subconscious for various reasons. So a plain narration of the tale is only a rough pointer.)

In response to POW

My Grandfather’s Stepmom

As a child she grew on sunshine
she was married at fourteen
all those years ago – decades decades ago
to my great grandfather- he was fifty
she was his third wife
she came carrying a box from Burma
filled with silk, jewels and silver.
Before she got around to wear her pearls and corals
she was widowed at sixteen 
can’t believe how he died
robust looking in the photograph with his first wife
and their two boys  – my grandfather and his brother, naked –
children wandered naked till five those days
just a golden girdle around their waist to keep away evil eye
there is no photograph of him with his third wife
she could be wiped clean
like the moisture on an old photograph
that smudges images.
Her father took home the young widow,
she had to be schooled in life of widowhood
how to suppress sexual urge, be selfless
self effacing, lead frugal existence – never
never ask for anything from anyone
only give give give
serve and love, work long hours uncomplainingly
live a life out of the box made of iron
that she came back with to the family of her husband
her step son – my mother’s father and my grandfather.
The contents of the box:
two nine yards widow sari
the Bagavad Gita, the Ramayana
manuscripts carrying ancient mantras of healing
a rare wisdom that her father passed on to her  
and prayer beads made of seeds from the trees growing in the Himalayas –
the rudrakshas chosen with great care, feeling for the grooves
soaked in milk, sanctified by prayers
strung together with chants and thread
the talisman that came to protect her husband’s family
even years after her memories of him dimmed.
The gentle clang of turning prayer beads
low hiss of japa – the fortress of prayer she built through generations
protects me now.

We Write Poems

Isolated


She was found in a train, under the seat
bundled in an old towel
a ten rupee note in the curled fingers
the sweeper found her, he went grey
looked around and bolted
police would say he has cast the baby away
come to interrogate his family
how much was he paid to leave the baby there
spend nights at the jail
other charges of petty thievery
wife harassment will re emerge.

So she slept in the haze of heat
till someone had the courage to report.

To a government run orphanage
or one run by an NGO she would go
get enlisted for adoption
given new clothes for Pongal
cakes cut by some celebrity visiting
to celebrate his birthday – a token of charity
photographs taken of her and such like her
used on brochures
attempts to integrate her
adopted into a family in Colombo
that would correct her crass Madras Tamil.

Writer’s Island

Put On Your Walking Shoes

I shore up words
dig into memory
the choicest of expletives
words of endearments
I heard as I lay with my lovers
words I always liked –
kiss, coffee, rendezvous
I’ll need the thesaurus
I have it on my laptop
and I am carrying that
strictly gypsies  don’t carry  i pods
but I need my music too
all the Tamil songs
that I hear at tea shops
I need them
when I travel far from my tongue
also the bulky  Tamil books
that I need to read
have my language  caress me
spread as a warm blanket  
as I travel through strange lands
I wear my Nike walking shoes
and I take my car key
Do I count for a gypsy? 

In response to POW