Thursday, 20 October 2016

For Ayesha


On Basant Panchami eve
The Devi would arrive at my home:
Kohl lined eyes, sari the colour of Hawaiian seas,
Chrome painted veena in her hands.
“You can put your text books at the altar,”
I’d tell you girls, all four of you:
Anamika, Cynthia, Lipika
And you, Ayesha;
Reminding you to be on time
For the next day’s Puja.

Whether you placed your books at the altar
Or not

I don’t remember;
But at Pushpanjali the next day
With orange marigold petals clutched in your hands.
You stood with the rest of us.

You took Prasad
Palms joined together;
Then sat alongside us
On that cracked concrete bench
Ringed with scratchy puttus shrubs,
Eating prasad from saal leaf bowls-
Picking from amongst that mish-mash
Of fruits, dates and battassa
The prized russet ber;
Twirling it around on your tongue
Savouring its sweet tanginess.

Come Eid, the four of us would gather,
A gaggle of twelve year olds
And troop into your home,
(Schooled by Lipika, the wisest:
“The greeting is Eid Mubarak!”)


Inside, there would be Eid hugs
From you, your Mom and your sis-
Hugs fragrant with henna, rose water
and I think, ittar;
And of course, pretty glass bowls
Filled to the brim
With Sevai Kheer!


Hesitating to ask for another helping
I’d scrape at the last atomic drops,
My steel spoon making unladylike noises
Till your smiling Mom
Piled our greedy bowls again.

Then one night
Our town caught fire.
A raging inferno spilling over to the next day
And the next.....
Smoking tyres, burning shops, curfewed streets
Grim soldiers on towering trucks
Army copters whirring above
-And nervous whispers doing the rounds
Of whole families
Slashed with swords!

Two days I remained indoors
Confined by the curfew
And my twelve year old fears.
My parents talked of dead families-
Of arson, rape and lynching;
The words new to me-
Their meaning though hazy,
Menacing even in their unfamiliarity.

On the third day
My Mom found me
Busily stepping outside, umbrella in hand.
“Where are you going?”
“To Ayesha’s place.”
“Don’t go,” She said quietly
“It’s not a good time.”
But she had not reckoned with my pre-teen obstinancy.


I walked out, disobeying,
Into that empty sun-scorched afternoon.
I reached your home, Ayesha
To find a great grey padlock
Dangling on your door.
“She’s left with the family,”
Informed your churlish neighbour
Through a miserly crack in her door
“To somewhere safe!”

I walked back
Kicking pebbles along the deserted streets,
Not very sure
Whether I should be relieved
That you had left to ‘somewhere safe’:
Our neighbourhood was very peaceful, I had thought.

Back home, Mom stood at the doorway, anxious.
“They’ve left.” I informed
Squeezing past her inside.
“What was the need to go searching for her
In the middle of the afternoon, 

And that too on a day like this, may I ask?”
Mom’s voice a mixture of annoyance, exasperation
And curiosity.

I did not answer my Mom that day.
I was only twelve
I could not explain to her
How in that world gone suddenly mad
I had had to reach out-
Reach out to you Ayesha.
How could I not, Ayesha-
For you’d tasted my Devi’s Prasad
And I, your Eid’s Sevai Kheer!

And if our world burns again, Ayesha
Billowing black tyre smoke and acrid hate-
Be it a sun-scorched noon
Or a storm slashed dusk,
I’d still step out,
Reaching for you.
As you would too!
And if they question why
We’ll tell them then:

"I've tasted her Devi’s Prasad!"

"And I, her Eid’s Sevai Kheer!"

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A Lost Tango

I know you had made me dance that night.

You must have
Twirled me around;
My surprised body
Whirling
Alongst yours
In a daze!!!
Your hand
 Must have
Circled
My shy waist-
My hesitant bosom
Crushing,
Against
Your cotton-shirted chest.
My awkward hands
Must have hung
Timidly,
At your back;
My two-left-feet
Tangling
With your firm, sure steps.

But its funny how
You know
I remember
None of those things.
All that's left now
Are just
Snapshots of smells-
Of the Old Monk
On your breath
And those
Endless cigarettes,
Yesterday's aftershave
Melting
Into today's sweat.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

ALEPPO




The kitchen sink is piled high with dishes;
The leftovers have already begun rotting
In the heat and humidity.
A greasy, drainy smell burns my nose.


Kiran Bai is on a 'two-day' leave 
Since the last three days.

Tubai has a fever today morning.
Woke up with a burning forehead, teary eyes
And a dry hacking cough;
Not to forget
A tendency to tantrum at every turn.


Brownie is barking endlessly,
Short, senile, needy barks.
His arthritic hip is worse today:
Unable to climb down the stairs-
He has emptied his bowels on the living room carpet.


Sujit’s on the phone.
The stocks are not doing too well.
On TV,
All his graphs have downward slopes.


He finishes dressing
And glances at the empty dining table-
An oblique gaze.
Breakfast is on the hob, still cooking.
The clock hands point to eight and twelve.
Sujit leaves.
The main door bangs shut,
A little too loudly.


My cell phone rings
Its Sujit’s mother.
“Beta, the fast starts today evening,”
Her shrill voice reminds:
“Remember, no meat, eggs, fish or cereal;
And only rock salt and kootu ka aata!”


I call the office-
“Is it possible to take today off?
Son’s unwell.”
My voice is apologetic.
Boss’ voice, cloyingly sweet
And suspiciously sympathetic.
“Sure, sure;
But do mail the presentation by ten sharp!”

Losing a screaming match with Tubai
Over the Crocin syrup,
I retreat to the kitchen.
Turn the tap
To start the dishes-
It gurgles, spouts and then slowly dies!

By now Brownie’s intestinal discharge
On the living room carpet
Is screaming foulness.
I grab some tissues and the pail-
But as I bend over the dog crap
The bile rises up my chest;
And with it rises
Anger, frustration, self pity
And many other crippling things.
Crumpled,
I leave them behind :
The tissues, the pail and Brownie’s crap,
There on the living room carpet
And collapse before the TV.

Its Al Jazeera,
Live from Aleppo.
The camera moves carefully
Over mountains of concrete rubble
Of homes, shops, schools, hospitals.....
Occasionally, bursts of smoke and dust shake the camera-
Bombs:
Cluster, Barrel, take your pick......
But here on my TV they are noiseless,
The camera’s delicate microphones have been switched off.

Dark eyed people run for cover
Chased by the now mute camera.
They come to stop at doorways
With absent doors
To homes with pockmarked walls
And missing roofs.
The people stare at the pursuing camera
As it stares right back at them
Catching in thousands by thousands pixels
The broken eyes and broken souls.

A man is speaking to the camera
He too is dark eyed, dark haired
With a dark five day stubble.
His words sound exotic
Arabic has such a beautiful earthy timbre!
The translation flashes across the screen.


The man is talking rapidly
Of things he needs,
Things he has lost,
Things for which he grieves-
Trying to get in all his words
Before the next bomb drops:-
Water, food, medicines, fuel;
Clothes, books, schools, teachers;
Homes, jobs, families, neighbours
Wives, husbands, sons, daughters
Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers
Pet dogs and friends.....

But my brain only skims over the words.
I am thinking other things-
Damn Kiran for playing truant today
This month I’ll for sure deduct
From her salary.
Wonder if the water supply will resume today....
I hate doing dishes!
Need to get Tubai to see Dr Roy by evening
I hope he’s not caught dengue.
How the hell does one make a presentation
With a sick, nagging child by one’s side?
How the hell does one make lunch
And dinner
With no cereals, no meat and no fish???
Sujit’s no help-
'Bloody Typical Indian Male!'

I stare unseeing
At the 42 inch LCD screen.
Hurt wells up my eyes
Along with great globs of self pity.
Refracted through my curtain of tears
The bombed city now shimmers
And breaks.

The door bell rings,
Its Kiran,
With a sheepish look and
“Didi, pehle bartan kar loon?”
I hear the kitchen tap gurgle
Like a mountain spring-
The water’s back!


Back in the bedroom
Tubai snuggles upto me
“Mamma, feeling hungry.”
His foreheads now reassuringly cool.
Brownie shuffles up
Dragging his bad hip along,
And places his greying snout
On my lap.
His brown eyes with their cataract-ous orbs
Penitent.


The cellphone blares:
Sujit.
“Lets go out for dinner.
I’ve ordered pizza for lunch.
How’s Tubai now?”
The cell phone beeps
Mildly this time.
Another call’s coming through-
Boss.
“Ok, I’ll call you later.”
Sujit ends his call
With a soft “Love you”.
I pick up the next call
“Conference is postponed.”
Boss sounds strangely relieved.
Like a weight is off his back.

Sujit’s ‘Love you’ echoing in my head,
I feel like a tingly teenager;
Tubai’s tousled head is now on my left knee
And Brownie’s greying snout 

On my right;
Kiran Bai potters in the kitchen
In comforting clangs of pots and pans;
Pizza for lunch is a pleasant prospect:

Enveloped in my everyday life
I inhale
And settle back 

Against my comfy pillow.

Before me
On the TV screen
War still plays breaking news.
With smoke, dust, fire and thunder
The bombs keep falling
On Aleppo.

Writer's Block

Kobi bolechhen:
Kobita ke khunjte dao tomaye,
Aashte dao taake
Khunje khunje tomar kachhe
Nijo paaye
Oi shobder digonto theke!

Onek boro kobi uni,
Maani guni;
Tai kotha mene boshe aachhi
Potho cheye
Kobitar tore.

Kobe paabe khunje shhe aamaye??

Aajker ei kota kotha
Shudhu taar jonnye
SOS Flares!

কবি বলেছেন:
কবিতাকে খুঁজতে দাও তোমায়,
আসতে দাও তাকে,
খুঁজে খুঁজে তোমার কাছে
নিজ পায়ে
ওই শব্দের দিগন্ত থেকে।

অনেক বড় কবি উনি
মানিগুনি।
তাই কথা মেনে বসে আছি
পথ চেয়ে
কবিতার তরে।

কবে পাবে খুঁজে সে আমায়????

আজকের এই কটা কথা
শুধু তার জন্য
SOS flares!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Picture Perfect (On the Road from Tezpur to Jorhat)

A wide-winged hornbill
Glides, gently by,
Against the azure,
Of an autumn sky!

Green, green paddy fields,
And greener trees;
Women pluck tea leaves
Busier than bees!

Cloud wisps tumble
In their windy game,
White kohua fringes,
Complete the frame!


For Anjali

A piece I had written nearly a decade back, dedicated to a young acquaintance at Tezpur. She had taken me to see fireflies in the wilderness surrounding our houses one evening and the delight and wonder in her eyes at this simple event inspired this poem.
Found the old notebook while sifting through my stationary.A little cheesy but still can't disown it, being mine.

Read on.

Flickering stars
Staged their show
Green-gold fireflies
Winked below;
Your smile gleamed silver
At this magical sight,
Your eyes, they twinkled
In a rapture of delight.
Dancing fireflies
Whenever I see,
Memories of that dusk
Rush back to me!


Friday, 7 October 2016

On a Maha Shoshti Far Away from Home



So what
If my sky here
Is not a शरत् blue, But sad gray?

So what
If I cannot hear
The Dhaks' beats, Deep yet gay?

So what
If no Dhunuchis smoke
No चंदी पाठs play?

I just spied
Kash flowers blooming
By the Tawi today!
And tell you what:
Seems now for me
Pujo has stepped this way!

Alu and the Crown God

I had rolled barely a hundred metres down the road when I spotted her gambolling in the adjoining park. "Heyy Alu," I called ou...