• DECEPTION

    When afternoon sun dripped lemon
    yellow over charcoal black trees
    and there was deception in the air
    they knew it was time to go,
    to move out of the double helix
    of anger and inheritance.

    In time they would be sighted
    in faraway towns as waiters, porters,
    wayside vendors, smalltime crooks.
    One even made a name for himself
    as a dog-catcher.
    They were all given to sudden bouts of sadness.
    But they were the ones who remembered
    the village as it always was.
    It unspooled before their eyes like a black and white
    film: a swollen body slits open the slimy
    green of the village pond, the afternoon
    sun drips lemon yellow over charcoal
    black trees and there is deception in the air.... more »

  • FALLING FIGURES

    You have to look beyond the pigment
    of paint to a point where the familiar falls away.
    The trauma of the real cannot be tracked further.

    Falling figures across the barbed wire
    of a diagonal line: faces ignited
    with the frenzy of fire-walkers.

    A river is struck off the map with cranes,
    pillars and dynamite.
    A mob with petrol
    bombs moves deeper into the eyes of a man
    frozen in fear, his hands folded.

    This is how the linear world turns in on itself.
    And this is when you long
    for the script of the slanted rain on the plains
    to tell you the difference between a prayer
    and a false affidavit.... more »

  • IN TRANSIT

    A Ghazal for Agha Shahid Ali
    I hold on to your words like a child lost in transit,
    The gestures of bodies invisibly marked "lost in transit".

    You claim the land with the lens of your lines,
    Give no name to it, when memories defrost in transit.

    Echoes fill the frozen lake in the valley. The snowman
    Moves up the mountains, like a ghost in transit.

    In the big, bad wolf's tale retold, you speak of perfect
    Timing: every secret agent has to pay the cost in transit.

    The vigil has turned into a wake. Are birds killed
    In civil wars martyrs? Why should they roast in transit?

    A new script unwinds backstage as an actor breaks out of
    His own last words: hell disowns this Faust in transit.

    You moved houses but we still track you down to your
    Dwellings. It is to home that we travellers toast in transit.

    We are stranded. Bring us news, Shahid. Please stand guard
    As we cross these war zones' wild outposts in transit.... more »

  • MENDING SHOES

    The cobbler sits under the neem, mending
    shoes, humming to himself, unmindful
    of the day coming to a close. I watch his
    elegant hands weave in and out of my tattered
    shoes. The pan-shop radio splutters into sudden
    life: Gorbachev has resigned. Yeltsin
    assumes control of the commonwealth.

    The cobbler threads the frayed ends of
    worn-out joints. He restores a sense of shape
    to the ruins of my journeys from the plains
    of Deccan to the palm-shade of my village.
    I am glad he has given my trespasses.
    Through the tip of his needle, the highways
    of the homeland are stitched back into a map
    of return journeys, ready for use.

    Now the shoes belong to the road, to the vagaries
    of the weather. The clamour of crows sucks up
    the last drops of daylight. As he gets up to leave
    he looks into the shimmering lights of this port-city
    as someone about to renounce the world. He knows
    at this very hour someone is stepping into history
    with the prescience of a new pair of shoes.... more »

  • TERMS OF SEEING

    On our way home from school
    We often spent hours in that abandoned
    Orchard of mango, cashewnut
    And tamarind trees, where each season had
    Its fruit and each fruit tasted different.

    There we raided the hidden hideouts
    Of bootleggers, and broke their buried
    Mud-pots. The crematorium in the corner
    Revealed an occasional roasted vertebra.
    Once we went further and discovered

    A disused well, and peeped into its
    Vaporous depths: the water smelt like freshly
    Distilled alcohol. Through the clotted branches
    Of close-knit shadows floated white
    Turtles with glazed, metallic shells.

    Moving with monastic grace, they looked
    Knowledgeable, like much travelled witchcraft
    Doctors. If they cast a spell, it was
    Unintentional. As we bent down, their
    Shaven heads rose and met a shaft of sudden

    Sunlight at an angle, tilting the sun
    Into the sea. Still, the light lingered over the hill
    Like an intimate whisper of something
    Forbidden. By this time, the terms of seeing
    Were reset: the well was watching us now.

    Its riveted gaze pierced us and even went
    Beyond us. In the dark cornea of the well
    The white turtles moved like exposed optic nerves.
    And as if a word was spoken, we stepped
    Back into the world of gravity, in silence.... more »

  • THE TAMARIND TREE

    You are the nearest we ever had
    to a native manifesto.

    An annual convention of parrots
    on the sea-routes of the sky.

    In your book of beginnings,
    an earthworm speaks of how the rain began.

    Your roots exhumed bodies from ponds.
    Our past has never been the same.

    You meet the south-west monsoon
    on equal terms, in an uprising of rain.

    Like a parenthesis that pre-empts the sentence,
    you are a parallel world of slowness and light.... more »

  • THE UNWRITTEN SEQUENCE

    Reader, this is the story of a sequence
    I very much wanted to write:

    An unwed mother
    gives birth to twins:
    a precocious child
    who grows up to be a leader of people
    and a mentally retarded one given to wandering naked.
    The mother grieves for
    the gifted and cares for the dimwitted.
    Her agony is great but the whole village stands by her.
    The weaver, the farmer,
    the healer, the barber, the mason
    and the carpenter were to be portrayed in detail.
    There is also a policeman
    who goes in search of the absconding
    leader and returns with his missing brother.
    Finally, and this was to be the climax,
    the leader is killed in what looks like
    a fake encounter.
    At the burial,
    The dimwitted brother wears a shirt
    for the first time in his life.

    I could never complete the sequence.
    Perhaps what I knew of the weaver,
    the farmer, the healer, the barber,
    the mason and the carpenter was not
    adequate or what I knew of the police-
    man exceeded the needs of the poem.
    I could never decide whether I was with
    the precocious and the gifted
    or with the dimwitted and the lost.... more »