Tuesday, February 28, 2006 



Maybe it didn’t start with his visit, maybe it started when I said to someone “You are different people”.

But it was his visit that brought out a lot of issues from subliminal depths to the forefront.

We played the initial moves of the argument like a familiar Ruy Lopez. The same oblique references amongst the pleasantries, the sudden cut to the chase. Man, but will I be glad when I out of here, he said. And of course, so will you. If you don’t know me by now, I said. I am Indian and this is my playground.

And he grabbed the mouse, and opened the Winamp playlist. “Read”, he spake. “I am listening, I know”, quoth I. He read aloud anyway.

Always on my mind : Willie Nelson
Always on my mind : Pet Shop Boys
Always on my mind (In My House remix): Pet Shop Boys
Meghame Meghame : Palaivana Solai
Kaatril Endhan Geetham : Johnny
Kabhi toh Khulke Baras : Chitra Singh
Manzil na de Charagh na de : Jagjit Singh.

Look at that, he said. Not one song in your native language. You are no son of the soil. (No, but we aren’t shop-soiled either, I interjected, but he ignored the pun). You spend obscene portions of your day screaming away at this. You aren’t a native of where you have a house, and you haven’t been to that house either except for holidays. Let us face it, essentially you are homeless. You claim you belong here? You and I, we are different people, he said.

And inwardly I winced at his throwing the same line I had used.

And I have been thinking this over. About the place we call home. And about being Indian. And about people being, well, different. During rushed journeys, during boring meetings, in midst of passing cutting remarks about the advisability of people’s ancestors having climbed down from the trees, while receiving dressing downs with an appropriately funereal air and downcast eyes. A parallel track, meandering in the head.

By the pricking of my thumbs, something rambling this way comes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

A Suitable Boy, only better looking

Me :

No Heavens have been devised
For those who carry their scourges inside
And not in some remote fastness on a chart
Hell is a landscape of the heart”

She : Lovely.

Me : Awwww, you spoil me so.

She : Not at all. Just what you deserve.

Me : A bit more spice sometimes maybe ? I don’t know, people seem to like it that way

She : mmm. No way. If you start adding spice, then the whole flavour sometimes changes.

Me : Everybody thinks all this is easy. Especially since one has been doing it for years. It’s not that way: you have to start fresh each time.

She : Not everybody understands. I never knew one with a taste like yours. Highly discerning and alive to every nuance. I wonder you ever get to study and work after all that.

Me : Not at all. If anything, I probably work better after something like this.

She : Sometimes I cannot really decide which of these is the absolute favourite.

Me : Ohhh, I love all of them equally. Ok, some of them a bit more. But I am not telling you.

She : Awww, you spoil me so.

Me : Not at all. Just what you deserve.

My favourite audience for my writing is my Grandma. She is convinced it takes enormous mental effort to sit and peck away at a keyboard. I recite my poetry to her, and as shown above, she is always most passionately appreciative. (The language doesn’t really matter). She is convinced that sooner or later the world will find out what she has always known and the genius-in-waiting will receive the fanfare and applause, not to mention fat publisher’s advances, that is his due.

In the meantime, in order to fortify me for the rigours of fame, she is always cooking up a storm. Of course, her cooking is truly absolutely a dream. She satisfies my perennial need for acceptance and I always gush about her cooking, with only a reluctance to name a single favourite dish standing between us. So between us, we have a major mutual admiration society. Sometimes I think we both are talking about different themes, but in the end, it’s the happiness that counts.

Which is why, when she once found me reading an article featuring Vikram Seth at the launch of his book in Bangalore with veneration, she just sniffed “I think you look better than him”.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 

And those who husbanded the Golden grain ...

Started drinking at seven.

Finished at five.

Run , took around 15 minutes more than the usual hour today. Quite creditable, considering.

Idly, Vada, Dosa, sambhar, mint chutney. Buttered croissants.

And yes, there is the Saturday afternoon beer Bacchanalia to watch out for.

And in the midst of concerned clucking, we slurred out
further verses from the title of this post

"Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd,
the Secret of my Life to learn:

And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for, once dead, you never shall return."


Sunday, February 12, 2006 

A Livelier Iris Changes

A gaggle of geese. A murder of crows. A pride of lions. A school of fish.

What would be the appropriate collective noun for a bunch of love poems ?
Why, of course, we would call it a wallow of poems.

And in keeping with the compilation spirit of all the records companies, here is a selection : mostly old favourites, one new.

The first is frightfully mushy, but quite appropriately captures our brand of sentimentality.

The second is actually one of my favourite themes: how memory reflects what might have been than what was.

The third is a translation of this song, that has a line oft-misquoted. Ready for a cynical viewpoint based on that out-of-context quote, I was surprised to find hope and optimism in the song. The nuances of language might have been slightly mangled, at least keeps to the spirit, if not the beauty, of the original.

And finally, a ghazal. Technically correct. And with the right amount of loss and ambiguity in it. Some awkwardness with the style and the language, but nevertheless I enjoyed it. Translation in the comments section.

Forlorn Hope

The joy of solving " The sound of bluebottles in a small wood" (5)
of a delicate nuance of Ghalib understood
of reading about Fink Nottle in Market Snodsbury School
of spewing bad puns and playing the flippant fool
of singing doleful laments with lots of feeling, little tune
composing silly haiku parodies about the moon
of hopelessly mushy movies where love prevails
of banal,pointless, but " From Meeee!!" mails
of lifting spirits from despondency
of saying " Hush,but you still have me"
of wiping off tears yet unshed
and listening to reproofs left unsaid
of conversations spanning days
of wandering in a rosy haze

These were the bonds I devised
to shackle your soul to me
but others offer these, I realized
with more attractive intensity.

I plead "Joy is transient, but if I lend you my sorrow
will you stay here till tomorrow?"


Дο Свидания

I sip the morning brew,

scan the paper with sleepy eyes.
And suddenly, think of you;
are you sharing this sunrise?

Sometimes I wonder about your life
and how you spent all these years.
Did you play new roles as mother, wife?
Did you hoard some unshed tears ?

Have you approached middle age
plump, matronly, secure and serene?
Or have you ended up in my image;
not sad or happy, not even in-between?

The future of our shared dreams
is now the separate present.
Having pledged lives, how ironic it seems
that your thoughts occupy but a moment.

l want to learn about your life,
to tell you about the roads that I took.
And compare our joys and strife,
to fill the final pages of our book.

Not illusions of buried love
or stirrings of quiescent pain;
the urge to see you now
is just a desire to know you again.


Beyond Love’s Beckoning

Do not ask me, love, the love that once was.

In my world, your light dispelled all gloom
Beside my longing for you, the world’s strife paled
I saw in your face, Spring , in eternal bloom
I sought a world outside your eyes, but failed.

I sought a world outside your eyes, but failed;
I thought the very Fates would bow as you pass.
But it was not so; ‘twas just what my hopes entailed
Do not ask me, love, the love that once was.

Dark and terrible spells of untold ages,
in silk and satiny brocades wrap the carcasses;
of those , dusty and bloodied, earning the market’s wages;
my hapless gaze wanders: the mind, love bypasses.

Oh, but your Beauty remains.

Oh, though your beauty remains
There are sorrows beyond your love’s beckoning
Joyous release, outshining even union’s reckoning.

Do not ask me, love, the love that once was.
Do not ask me, love, the love that once was.



Tuesday, February 07, 2006 

The Once Over

Yet another curve in the road. I was breathing in ragged gasps now. The very air I dragged in desperate mouthfuls seared its way into the lungs. Sweat poured down in rivulets. Occasionally, one snaked its way down the forehead across the bridge of the nose, and I fancied I could smell a whiff of last night’s vodka.

Another roadside marker rose ahead. In an insane moment, I imagined it to be the headstone over the grave of some unknown unfortunate much like myself. I saw myself collapsing in a shapeless heap, hearing nothing but the throbbing of my temples as I passed into the hereafter. I tried to compose a fitting epitaph for myself. “Home is the hunter” seemed rather melodramatic. RIP seemed trite and commonplace. “Finally at Rest” seemed like an emphasis of the obvious. “Over the hill” sounded irreverent, something a slapstick undertaker would suggest. “Composed at last”! Yes, that was it. It satisfied the corporeal urge to pun and also suggested that the immortal soul had found a pastoral refuge. As it came up, I resisted the impulse to glance at it as long as I could, but it intruded itself into my consciousness as I passed it. 4, it said. A dull feeling of shock washed over me. 400 metres into the promised kilometre, and I was already thinking about whether the present bank balance would cover the funeral expenses. And the climb was getting steeper.

I fell back on the time-tested automaton approach. Blanked all thought from the mind except one. Hummed to myself a single snatch of song, over and over again. I first learnt of this method a decade and a half ago, and its efficacy never ceases to amaze me. “All you need”, I hoarsely told myself. “All you need is a little attention, all you need is a little affection”. “ All you need, all you need”… and my wheezing was accompanied by visions of that busty pin up, Sam Fox. “ All you need”, she mouthed, just a few steps ahead. “ All you need”, I rasped, and put another leaden step in front. A loose shoelace flapped. I ignored it and kept stumbling along, conscious that I could never start again if I stopped. The shoelace whipped itself across my ankle every step, a miniature Discipline. The markers kept passing by, agonisingly slowly. 600 crawled by. 800 stood aloof, disdaining my despairing glances at it.

As I neared the one kilometre mark, the familiar internal struggle began. “ Keep running”, said one voice, and the whole body seemed to shudder in protest. “Absolutely no way”, said the other. “ Maybe a break and then…” said the third. To make things more complicated, the slope started slowly, barely perceptibly, easing out. The much awaited milestone passed by, and I continued past it in a half hearted stumble. Look down at the road and concentrate. 200, 400 and then 600. The next curve, I told myself. The next curve would see me start walking. That’s how it actually happened.

I took the curve at no great speed, and once around, slowed down to a walking pace. Looked up and ahead, on the straight, I saw them. Husband, wife and kid. They were at the viewing gallery on the side. The kid was pointing out to some ship leaving the harbour. The husband looked on in disinterested manner. And she… she was looking right down the road, seeing me come round the curve, notice them, and start walking. She began to gather her flock. A short distance away, I started a half trot again, the minute or so of rest having had the effect to reducing the pounding of my heart to tolerable limits. When I passed them, they had just begun walking down.

The husband had that pugnacity of the chin that comes naturally to the short. His hunched shoulders and beefy arms spoke of the erstwhile weight training fiend, while the generous overhang of his midriff told a tale of too much of gin and too less of the tonic. He was boasting in a loud voice of how he had once swum across the channel on a bet. I could see her cringe as she felt my silent sneer at his overbearing crudity.

I gave her the standard once over. You know, the one that starts with a searching glance at the breasts. Moves on downward, picking up speed. A look at the legs, then a quick flick to look at the chest again before a momentary glance at the face. The billowing wind caught her T shirt and momentarily flattened it against her. A full breasted, generously hipped woman. The taut waist and the slim limbs told of the efforts put in to maintain herself.

Our eyes locked, and I saw immediately that this was a seasoned campaigner. She gave the supercilious glance that spoke more than a thousand words. The man paid no attention to my look. He was probably at that age when someone’s interest in the wife elicited more surprise than outrage. The son flushed. Just at the age when the facts of life had been discussed in furtive whispers with the boys at school. He gave me a glare that evinced a desire to push me off the side. I noticed he had a slight limp. Twisted his foot, probably, on the way up.

A dozen steps later came the two kilometre mark. I bent down and touched the stone. Brought the errant lace to heel. Rummaged in the attic in the head for a tune, and set off. Almost instantly, my lungs began to protest. Joined by my legs. These boots were made for walking, they chorused. Why are you running? Jog walk, I told myself. Jog till the second curve, then walk. Then jog and walk. We’ll have you home in no time. “Children behaaaave”, I mumbled. Let the succeeding lines go through in the head. Don’t ask me why, but whenever I need a marker for physical exertion, I always chance upon early 90s pinup girls. I thought about Tiffany and tried to ignore the irregular pounding in my head. And as I rounded the curve and began stopping, I exhaled “ I think we’re alone now”. Wiped some sweat away and looked up : to see that they were barely five paces away. The woman and the child only. She turned her head, gave a cool look that evinced no surprise at my deciding to start walking just then. The kid was nattering on about something. The husband was quite a way down already, lumbering at a good pace, even if ungainly. Mutthead, I thought. At that weight, running downslope was probably hammering at his knees rather than providing any decent exercise.

I walked a couple of paces behind them. Watched her back, where the Tee stuck in damp patches. Stray tendrils of hair that had escaped from the ponytail acted as ramps for droplets of sweat. I watched one such droplet slowly form, then roll down. It landed somewhere in the middle of the ridge of her back. Next curve, I told myself. The next curve is barely a twenty paces away. I’ll start running from there till the succeeding curve. In the meantime, I watched her legs. Nice legs, I mused. Just that hint of soft roundedness that betrays the not so strict adherence to diet. Or maybe it was age. She gave the back of the tee a tug. She’s thinking about me, I thought. She was right, but she had no reason to be worried. I inwardly smiled at the idea of walking up to her and telling her I approved of her derriere. The kid, suddenly conscious of her tension, looked back and saw me. Another look filled with loathing and disgust at men leering at my momma. Hang in there, kid, I thought. A matter of some years and you’ll be here. The curve approached and I bent down to give the laces a final tug.

Got up and took the curve at a stumbling run, to find the kid dragging his mom into a jog. He darted another furious glance at my temerity in running then. Buzz off, kid, I thought. I had no intention of stopping in order to let them pull away. They were ten or so paces away as I put my head down and started wheezing. “ I think we’re alone now”, I went. “ Doesn’t seem to be any one arouuunnndd”. I risked a glance upward to see the kid now limping badly. My humming seemed to intensify his desire to get his mother away. Aren’t doing that ankle any favours, kid, I thought. Ah well, the hypersensitivity of adolescence. I kept jogging at a slow pace, not wishing to jar my knees into injury. The gap remained more or less steady. As we reached the next curve, the situation seemed to worsen, with the kid’s mad need to open up a gap clashing with his injured ankle. They went around the curve, and our eyes met as just before she disappeared. She looked a tigress with a cub in pain. I stumbled to a walking pace at the curve.

There was another blind turn and the road wound its way down to the hill. As I took the turn, I noticed that they had started walking too. Probably the distance between us had quelled the kid’s rage. She turned and gave me a considering look. She knew I could’ve kept jogging behind them, I realized. I kept on walking. Not very far below, the man stood, rummaging in the car parked at the base.

I reached the base a couple of minutes after them. The man stood to a side, his belly heaving as he smoked a cigarette with obvious satisfaction. I heard him boasting of how he’d run up and down this hill, work out, and then go for a 50 lap swim. The boy was sipping some bright coloured energy supplement, paying minimal attention. He was feeling good at having pulled his mother away from the wolf’s clutches. He gave me a self satisfied smirk. Good on you, kid, I thought. And she stood, easily leaning on the front of the car.

She gave me the standard once over. You know, the one that starts at the legs. Noted my badly scuffed shoes and estimated the worth of the faded tracksuit. Finalized my bank balance from the T-Shirt. A quick look at the thickening waist and a flick upward at the unkempt hair. A long look at the face, then looked into my eyes. I met her glance passively.
Suddenly, her eyes softened and I could’ve sworn I saw a smile.

The road curved, and I went on.