Thursday, 10 November 2016

in the morning light,
when her hair is the
colour of the raven’s wing
and her crooked smile
(half-dissolved in sleep)
keeps
no secrets from you, pull
her close, breathe,

and do not let go.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Anidra

there is not enough tea
in all the town to drown
this pale monster i see
wearing sleep in its crown

its frown, deeply wrinkled,
hides bloodshot eyes that weep
iron tears. grey sprinkled
hairs across its chin creep

but how else to kill it?
all the tea in this town
could not a pond fill. its
tears make it seem a clown

with darkness and cotton
smother it. smiling
i'll kill it. its rotten
breath will fade in a while

(till tomorrow once more
his rusty tears haunt me
the fallen crown he wore
woven with sleep will taunt me)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Coyly they kiss
In corridors that whisper
Lovers' secrets
That linger still.
Will ever they miss
Their secret kisses
In hallways that will
Never forget their bliss.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Cycles

This has happened a thousand times before, it will happen a thousand times again. A cycle of Yugas is but a thousandth of a kalpa, and Brahma lives for a hundred years, each made of 12 months, each with 30 days, each lasting two kalpas: day and night. As we are to Indra, the king of the Devas is to Brahma, and Brahma too must one day bow to the cycle of time.

There is a Ramayana in each and every one of us. There is a Rama, (just, wise, loving), a Sita (patient, strong, steadfast), a Hanuman (clever, quick, loyal). There is a Lakshmana (brash, mercurial, sleepless) and a Kumbhakarna (calm, slow, sleepy) and a Vibheeshana (righteous, idealistic, austere). And, of course,  there is a Ravana (monster, hero, general, ascetic, king, thief, brother).

There are Vaidehis and Maithilis, Kausalyas and Kaikeyis and Sumitras, Dasarathas and Daasarathis. There are as many of them as there are us, and each has their own story.

So do not worry if you have heard this tale before, for this tale has happened before. Sita has been Ravana’s daughter, she has been his wife, she has led the charge to end his reign more times than we can count. Rama has made deserts of the Oceans, his wrath has burnt the worlds like a never-ending inferno. Lakshmana has died of snakebite, has come back from the dead, has watched his brother conquer his enemy only to find his wife disappeared. Hanuman has lived his life in ignorance of his true strength, he has risen to become Vibheeshana’s one man army against the two sides of Manava and Rakshasa. In another cycle Rama refused to shoot Vali in the back, and has changed everything. In yet another, Kumbhakarna’s words are not the words of Saraswati, and the two brothers became like Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapu, causing havoc among the worlds.

There are worlds where Bharata has become king, where Rama has married Surpanakha, where Vibhishana does not leave Ravana, where all that we know is no more. But even these are true.

In time the cycle goes through endless variations, and all of these are true. Though you have heard this before, you will also hear it again. Good and Evil fight for dominance, but in the end there are only three forces that matter: Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva tell the stories, and it is they who listen.

We, the sons and daughters of Manu, see only the shadows, the boundaries of their true art. Reality is far greater than even the elements know. For every Indra there is an ant who was once an Indra, and for every ant there is an Indra who will become an ant. And we only see the trails left behind by ants, and use their stories to tell our own.

Friday, 17 January 2014

one day, quite seriously, as i
was eating ice cream and pie,
my friend told me in a tone i will
never forget:

‘the dangers are going extinct’

i was admittedly quite
puzzled
but he repeated himself
afraid that i had not heard
him the first time

‘the dangers are going extinct’
he said, and his eyes were
a little bloodshot, as if he had
only just awoken from a deep
slumber.

‘the cliffs are not so high up
the oceans shallower than they were
fire is cooler than i remember
and even the darkness is
not so dark anymore.’

he said.

i did not know
how to react to
such a pronouncement

after all, the knife
i had used to slice
myself some pie
remained as deadly sharp
as it did when i first used it

how to tell him
that if i stabbed him
at that very moment
with that knife
on which i could still see
bits of apple crumble
and the faintest smidgen
of vanilla
he would still die.

i could not bring myself to,
so i showed him. i cut open
his heart, and ate it raw

and resumed eating my pie.
he knows now, i think,

that i, Danger, still live.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

when i was young
my room had no windows
except the one
that looked on the gate
of my house. but
that one was locked
with a key that only
my mother had
and i never was able
to open it, not at all.

now i am old
and my window has
curtains that are torn
and a lock that
does not work.
the mosquitoes
treat my room
like a particularly
shabby dhaba
so while they enjoy
eating here, they do not
bother to tip the waiters.

when i die, they will
probably put me beneath
the earth, where i will be
left to make my own
windows.
then i will
look through them
and wonder where
all the sunlight has gone.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Joan

I have always known I am a heart attack. Though there are signs of my arrival, I’m usually sudden and deadly. My brother is a kind of cerebral dementia: slow, inexorable, but not fatal on his own. My elder sister is cancer: catastrophic sometimes, clever always. But most of all is Joan. Joan is an aneurysm. She’s a time bomb without a clock. And she explodes spectacularly and without warning.

There are four of us. Vinay’s the oldest, and likes being the oldest. Then there’s Deepika, who for a long time was The Akka, until I realised other people had older sisters too. I’m third in line. Vaijayanti is a stupendous name for a child until people realise how much it sounds like vagina. And then there’s Joan. As if my name wasn’t enough, Amma really went for it and called her Jyotilakshmi Nityaneshwari. She was no sooner christened than Nanna looked at the birth certificate and called her Joan. Joan’s never been just my sister, though. If you woke me up in the middle of the night and me my sister’s name, I’d say Akka’s name without even thinking. Joan’s only a year younger than me, but in reality she’s about four hundred years older than all of us.

It really gets on Vinay’s nerves.

You might wonder why I describe my siblings and I as diseases. It’s a fair question, but it’s also a little irrelevant. We are what we are, as Nanna likes to say. Nanna’s an engineer, out of interest. He worked for Boeing, years and years ago, and his fascination for flight never ended. Even now he flies kites every day on our terrace, while Amma shouts at him to come down and eat before he falls and breaks his head.

Amma’s a type of her own. After Nanna changed Joan’s name she lost it a little. She’d call Joan Jyoti for hours on end, hoping to imprint her name onto her. But Nanna would say, in the soft tones he’s perfected, ‘Joan, da!’ and Joan would forget all the work Amma had done. Now in the office they call her Nitya, which is disconcerting for everyone. I’ve called her office and asked for Joan only to be told no Joan works there. It was only when we got a call on the landline asking for ‘Nitya’ that I understood what was going on. Joan didn’t seem to mind; then again, she never does.

Now only four of us live at home. Vinay got married three years ago and wasn’t about to live with his parents, his sisters, and his wife. He wooed her the same way he wooed every woman: patiently and persistently. He would buy her these artsy objects from all sorts of weird places. When she asked why, his answer was only that they reminded him of her. They’re all kept in their flat now, each with a story and a memory attached.

Deepika only left three months ago, and it’s still a little odd not seeing her toothbrush next to mine. ‘I’m going to Bombay and you’ll have to deal with it!’ she declared at dinner one evening. Not even Joan had the heart to tell her we were quite looking forward to having the use of an extra room. We Skype each other every now and again, and she’s still as neurotic as ever.

So now it’s just Joan and I left in the nest. It’s completely different from anything I’m used to. It’s astonishing when you think about it, but all four of us went to college in Hyderabad and lived at home. Vinay went to the Central University, Akka and I had a blast at St Francis, and Joan, being Joan, went to Nalsar without working a single hour for the entrance exam.

It’s comforting to still have her around, lounging about in the drawing room and flirting with her latest beau. I’ve never been able to fall in and out of relationships the way she has. When Abhay dumped me in second year I was an angry wreck for months. Amma would see me come home and pass some comment like ‘Vai the Volcano is back,’ and Nanna would giggle in the irritating way he has.

But Joan simply chops and changes. Her ability to take decisions bewilders me, and I’ve known her all her life. In the middle of breakfast today, as we’re all eating our puri and chattering about nonsense, she put her coffee down and said ‘I’ve decided I’m going to work in an NGO.’ ‘Which one?’ Nanna asked. ‘Oh, any old one. I haven’t really decided yet,’ she replied. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but I was. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. She’s been on her laptop googling NGOs in Hyderabad all day.

It’s just a matter of how well you really know her, I suppose. Amma wasn’t surprised at all, but when I told Vinay and Manju (who’s his wife) they were pretty stunned. I’m not too worried. Joan always lands on her feet, even if she has a tendency to shock the ones she’s landing on.

We’ll see how it goes. In any case I’m not going to leave home for a good long while. A PhD doesn’t write itself, and Nanna needs someone to remind him to take his medicine. Diabetes isn’t one of the children he had, so he’s not as used to managing it. Maybe in a few years, when it’s part of his routine and I’m ready to move on I’ll think about leaving. Until then, I’m going to stay, and I’ll make damn sure Joan stays with me.