• A Take-Off On A Passing Remark

    Tall buildings impress me
    the ones which cut off half the sky.
    I like tall stories, even though false;
    not the half-truth sleeping with the half-lie.... more »

  • AL-AZHAR LECTURE

    They are naïve, those who suggest
    that the fortunes of the ruler
    and the ruled go hand in hand.
    Take the plague of 1350,
    which traveled like a caravan
    from China across the Pamirs
    to the caravanserai called Egypt;
    rested here, refilled its water-skins
    and moved on to Europe.
    Twenty thousand died each day in Cairo,
    Mamluk, Emir and fellahin.
    But while the people sprouted buboes
    and the cattle broke out in blains
    and the Nile was scaled with
    dead shoals of silver-bellied fish,
    the Sultan got richer.
    When everyone dies
    who succeeds to property
    but the Sultan who embodies the state?
    Jazziya was another money spinner
    And the plague must have spared
    The non-Muslim - it often does.
    Can we blame the State Treasurer
    If, as he prayed, he asked Allah
    for more plagues and more unbelievers?... more »

  • Al-Azhar Lecture

    They are naïve, those who suggest
    that the fortunes of the ruler
    and the ruled go hand in hand.
    Take the plague of 1350,... more »

  • Alexander Crosses The Hellespont

    He was a little tentative
    when it came to the East.
    Its ways were quite insidious
    and odd to say the least.... more »

  • Notes From The Underground

    The wind is cold and the wind burns.
    The wind is cold and the wind is acid.
    On the Bar counter ice and amber swirl
    in thick gleaming glasses;... more »

  • SAPPHO TO APHRODITE

    Long and lonely are my nights.
    Come help me Goddess, end my blight;
    her absence burns me, burns my sides
    with love intense.

    Aphrodite, hail or sleet,
    I implore you to come down from Crete;
    my altar smokes, awaits your feet,
    with frankincense.

    Your love-demented Sappho pleads:
    Give me no manna and no mead.
    It's love, not wine that Sappho needs
    you understand.

    I haven't had a word from her!
    Once again make her my lover
    in bed and bower her breasts should flower,
    in my hands.

    Her star-erasing beauty's spell,
    turns me feverish, frail, unwell.
    Her presence is both bliss and hell -
    I tremble so.

    Her absence scars my empty flank.
    Goddess you don't need my verse
    to tell you this. My love is frank,
    I can't dissemble so.

    Bring back Gongyla to my side!
    May she once more become my bride!
    May she, her lyre and her fire
    beside me purr.

    Come foam-born and Cyprus-born,
    Goddess of love and the lovelorn,
    my altar awaits you with fire-urn,
    incense and myrrh.... more »

  • ALEXANDER CROSSES THE HELLESPONT

    He was a little tentative
    when it came to the East.
    Its ways were quite insidious
    and odd to say the least.

    His experience was unhappy:
    His first stop had been Cairo
    where he had gone to drop his card
    and call on the Pharoah.

    They laid a banquet for him
    At the Casino Mariot
    and placed by Pope Shenodah
    who but Judas Iscariot!

    The Turks would be more organized
    he fondly hoped - and damn!
    He couldn't cross the Hellespont.
    There was a traffic jam.

    He raged and ranted fiercely
    "I must have been a fool
    to try and venture into
    intestinal Istanbul.

    When do we get to Asia?"
    Great Alexander probed.
    "When Effendi comes to Turkia
    He comes from Europe to Europe.

    You can check with CNN
    Or ask the BBC.
    When you come to Turkey
    You come to EEC."

    He remembered Aristotle:
    "Son, at the Turkish Rail
    ask for the Occident Express
    The Occidental Mail."

    As he checked into a hotel
    - the Turks call it Oteli -
    he found Thais lodged in Hilton
    while he was in Surmeli.

    What really turned his eyes into
    two glowing bits of phosphorous
    was that his friend Hephaestion
    checked into Hotel Bosphorous.

    His face turned dark and sullen
    as a cloud's before a storm.
    And though they humoured him he screamed
    "I want Hephaestion!"

    They offered handsome eunuchs,
    whores from the Golden Horn.
    But Alexander kept on saying
    "I want Hephaestion".

    Thias phoned "I am bored at Hilton,
    And I am quite akeli."
    But he said what can I do
    for I am at Surmeli!"

    And Mehmet Ali Pasha,
    a little high on raaki
    asked poor Alexander
    if he was an Iraqi?

    Then in the hotel dining room
    dressed in salwar-kameez,
    a man accosted him and said
    "could I have your good name please?

    Arrey Janab Sikandar Sahab!
    Myself Assad Durrani.
    Oh what a treat it is to meet
    a fellow Pakistani."

    Alexander answered darkly
    "Thanks very much Janab.
    Tell Porus inshah Allah
    We'll be meeting in Punjab."

    He drove the Persians backwards
    right up to Tarbela.
    He beat them up at Granicus.
    He thrashed them at Arbela.

    While he uncorkd the champagne
    and lit the fireworks,
    who should speak but Spoil Sport
    Parmenio, the jerk.
    "Sire, though you thrashed the Persians,
    you never touched a Turk."... more »

  • BARS

    If you want
    a cage, my dear
    you do not have
    to travel far.
    If you want to feel
    hemmed in, you'll be hemmed in.
    Look for scars
    you'll be full of scars.
    Even light can turn
    into a cage.
    The cage of light
    has seven bars.... more »

  • Bars

    If you want
    a cage, my dear
    you do not have
    to travel far.... more »

  • Before The Word

    Corn is great, on the cob or otherwise,
    but before corn in the ear there was life.... more »

  • BEFORE THE WORD

    Corn is great, on the cob or otherwise,
    but before corn in the ear there was life.
    Fire is holy especially for Zoroastrians,
    but before fire too there was life.
    Before the bowstring and the flint arrow sang,
    there was life.

    The word is great,
    yet there was life before the word.
    We can't turn romantic and say
    we were into bird speech or river-roar then,
    into the silence of frost
    or the language of rain.
    But forest speech and swamp speech
    came through easier to us.
    When lightning crashed,
    the cry of the marsh bird was our cry,
    and we flung ourselves to the other branch
    like any other baboon.

    As winter whined on windy cliff,
    we shivered with the yellow grass.
    In winter-dark a hundred eyes
    flared yellow in the jungle scrub.
    When seasons changed, blood coursed with sap
    and flowered in meadows. We were at home.
    Nor eyes nor bat cries bothered us.
    What if we didn't know
    a bat assessed reality
    from the ricochet of its cry?

    Though there were no words,
    fear had a voice with many echoes.
    Worship was quieter, adoration
    spoke only through the eyes or knees.

    What was it like before language dropped like dew,
    covering the scuffed grass of our lives?... more »

  • FISH

    The sea came in with her and her curved snout
    and her tin coloured barnacles
    and long threaded rose moles
    patterned on her body.

    The sea brought her and her curved snout
    and her rose moles and her eyes still translucent
    as if half aware and half unaware
    of the state of her body.

    The sea came in with her and her scimitar snout
    and her translucent eyes
    greying into stone.

    The sea brought her in,
    wrapped in seaweed
    and slapped her on the sand,
    all five feet of her
    with the armour of her scales
    and the filigree of her rose moles.

    The tide kept coming in
    but couldn't disturb her
    or her resting place -
    she was heavy.

    The sea fell back but even
    as the thin-edged foam line receded,
    it went to her once more with a supreme effort,
    rummaged among her barnacles
    and left.... more »

  • Fish

    The sea came in with her and her curved snout
    and her tin coloured barnacles
    and long threaded rose moles
    patterned on her body.... more »

  • Map-Maker

    Perhaps I'll wake up on some alien shore
    In the shimmer of an aluminium dawn,... more »

  • Sappho To Aphrodite

    Long and lonely are my nights.
    Come help me Goddess, end my blight;
    her absence burns me, burns my sides
    with love intense.... more »

  • Suddenly The Tree

    The hive slept like Argus
    its thousand eyes covered with bees.... more »

  • MAP-MAKER

    Perhaps I'll wake up on some alien shore
    In the shimmer of an aluminium dawn,
    to find the sea talking to itself
    and rummaging among the lines I've drawn;
    looking for something, a voyager perhaps,
    gnarled as a thorn tree in whose loving hands,
    these map lines of mine, somnambulant,
    will wake and pulse and turn to shoreline, sand.

    The spyglass will alight on features I've forecast -
    cape, promontory - he'll feel he's been here,
    that voyaging unlocks the doorways of the past.

    And deep in the night, in the clarity of dream,
    The seafarer will garner his rewards,
    raking in his islands like pebbles from a stream.


    2

    Does the world need maps, where sign and symbol,
    standing as proxies, get worked into scrolls?
    You see them, mountain chains with raingods in their armpits
    and glaciers locked like glass-slivers in their folds.
    Desert, scrub, pasture - do they need shading?
    They're all there for the eye to apprehend.
    A family of cactus and camelthorn tells you
    where one begins and the other ends.

    These questions confound me, I'd rather paint
    for a while - a ship on the skyline,
    or cloud-shadow moving like a spreading stain.
    Yet they live, pencil strokes that speak for rain
    and thunder; and die - maplines ghosting round
    a cycloned island that has gone under.


    3

    Forget markings, forget landfall and sea.
    Go easy Man, I tell myself; breathe.
    Gulls will mark the estuary for you,
    bubbles will indicate where the swamps seethe.
    Map the wrinkles on the ageing skin of love.
    Forget Eastings, Northings - they stand for order.
    Cry, if you must, over that locust line
    flayed open into a barbarized border.

    Mark a poem that hasn't broken forth, map the undefined,
    the swamp within, the hedge between love and hate.
    Forget the coastal casuarinas line.

    Reefs one can handle. It's lust that seeks
    out its quarry that one cannot map, nor that
    heaving salt of desire that floods the creeks.


    4

    If you map the future, while a millennium
    moves on its hinges, you may find
    the present turned into an anachronism.
    This too is important - what is yours and mine,
    The silk of these shared moments. But having stuck
    to love and poetry, heeding the voice of reason;
    and experiencing the different textures of
    a season of love and love's eternal season,

    I put a clamp on yearning, shun latitudes, renounce form.
    And turn my eye to the far kingdom
    of bloodless Kalinga battling with a storm.
    Dampen your fires, turn from lighthouse, spire, steeple.
    Forget maps and voyaging, study instead
    the parched earth horoscope of a brown people.... more »

  • The Poseidonians

    All it takes to blight a language
    is another sun. It's not burn
    that does it, or chill, or the way... more »

  • MIGRATIONS

    Migrations are always difficult:
    ask any drought,
    any plague;
    ask the year 1947.
    Ask the chronicles themselves:
    if there had been no migrations
    would there have been enough
    history to munch on?

    Going back in time is also tough.
    Ask anyone back-trekking to Sargodha
    or Jhelum or Mianwali and they'll tell you.
    New faces among old brick;
    politeness, sentiment,
    dripping from the lips of strangers.
    This is still your house, Sir.

    And if you meditate on time
    that is no longer time -
    (the past is frozen, it is stone,
    that which doesn't move
    and pulsate is not time) -
    if you meditate on that scrap of time,
    the mood turns pensive
    like the monsoons
    gathering in the skies
    but not breaking.

    Mother used to ask, don't you remember my mother?
    You'd be in the kitchen all the time
    and run with the fries she ladled out,
    still sizzling on the plate.
    Don't you remember her at all?
    Mother's fallen face
    would fall further
    at my impassivity.
    Now my dreams ask me
    If I remember my mother
    And I am not sure how I'll handle that.
    Migrating across years is also difficult.... more »

  • Migrations

    Migrations are always difficult:
    ask any drought,
    any plague;
    ask the year 1947.... more »

  • NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND

    The wind is cold and the wind burns.
    The wind is cold and the wind is acid.
    On the Bar counter ice and amber swirl
    in thick gleaming glasses;
    in the Bar the ash of small talk,
    the smoke of ruminations.
    Light purrs on a bare shoulder,
    her feet are hidden
    in the drooping hem of her sari;
    ice and amber swirling
    I sit here between betweens,
    to the left of voices
    to the right of memory.
    Thought floats into
    the slow silence of air currents;
    the hours squat with me
    as I snap connections
    in autumn leaf detachment.


    2

    Nowhere to say this
    no one to say this to
    except to the typewriter
    (the computer would store it
    in its chip-memory
    and that could be embarrassing)
    as she pulled out
    he turned into a dead crab beach
    when the sea pulls out


    3

    Were the sea to pull out
    sea birds would pull out
    and the breeze;
    shells would turn brittle
    under crackling boot;
    fish and fishermen
    would be sucked into the great ebb
    and our traders
    would turn the white sea bed
    into "The Salt Crystal
    Shopping Arcade",
    selling grounded oil tankers,
    ocean liners dredged out of the mud
    and whales flaked in salt.
    You could buy goldfish though
    as they circle the belly of a water jar.


    4

    You didn't come with me
    to the mountains this time,
    but as you know
    when you climb mountains
    the stars get nearer;
    don't ask me why this happens
    or how this happens
    but it happens -
    when constellations smile
    death drops your catch.
    but often the stars
    go about their office routine
    in the night sky
    like glum bureaucrats -
    this astral bureaucracy
    is even more baffling in its ways
    than our central ministries.
    In auto mode Rahu gets into the act;
    So does the moon debris that swirls
    around Saturn and forms its rings.
    Then what has to happen, happens.
    That's what happened to you.


    5

    The almond tree flowers white;
    beside it the peach flowers, as only peach can
    with its own interpretation of pink;
    and further in the lofty rear,
    winter has left its brown imprint
    on mountain and crag.
    Perhaps with the rains
    green may return to the slopes,
    a little moss here, a little grass there;
    you never know though,
    the rains may never come
    or life may run out before the rains -
    the almond blossom, each petal soft as an eyelid,
    will also not see the rain.
    They are divided by a scimitar:
    parched landscapes and rain,
    parched lips and love.


    6

    Watching the wind-ruffled
    down on bird-breast
    I think for no particular reason
    of wind through quivering paddy
    in the Nepal terai.


    7

    I think I am at peace now,
    he said, for my dreams
    move like the thinnest
    veil of mist over water.
    Awareness of absences,
    of what is right with me
    or wrong with me is also like
    the perception of a veil of mist
    over a perception of water.

    My troubles start
    when I think of hope,
    that thin smoke of mist
    over the iron-grey waters of dawn,
    icy waters, he said.

    But you are with me
    always
    like a spring of
    underground water
    like the murmur of a spring
    of underground water.

    I didn't for the life of me know
    whether he was addressing poetry
    (he had lost his touch lately)
    or his beloved.

    Forty years with you
    and I am a better man,
    he said, awash
    in forty years of cleansing waters
    and forty years of light.
    The trouble was
    She couldn't hear him.... more »

  • THE POSEIDONIANS

    (After Cavafy)


    [We behave like] the Poseidonians in the Tyrrhenian
    Gulf, who although of Greek origin, became barbarized
    as Tyrrhenians or Romans and changed their speech
    and the customs of their ancestors. But they observe
    one Greek festival even to this day; during this they
    gather together and call up from memory their ancient
    names and customs, and then lamenting loudly to
    each other and weeping , they go away.
    Athenios, Deipnosophistai, Book 14, 31A [632]




    All it takes to blight a language
    is another sun. It's not burn
    that does it, or chill, or the way
    woods straggle down the hills, or seas
    curl along the shingled coast.
    It is the women, cowering
    in fear, whom the soldiers,
    as they clamber down the boats,
    first reassure and then marry.

    They are faithful, good with grain,
    at baking bread and fermenting wine
    and unscrambling the fish shoals from the meshes.
    They get the goddesses wrong sometimes [but so what?]
    Confusing mother with daughter.
    And there are minor errors
    In ritual and sacrifice,
    In lustration oils and libations.

    A few seasons teach the man
    that his woman's omen birds are always right;
    her fears travel down the bloodstream
    and a new language emerges from the placenta.

    What does one do with a thought
    that embarks on one script and lands on another?
    A hundred years go by, perhaps two hundred,
    Living with the Tyrrhenians and the Etruscans,
    and they discover there is more to language
    than merely words, that every act
    from making wine to making love
    filters through a different prism of sound,
    and they have forgotten the land they set sail from
    and the syllables that seeded that land.

    What do they do, except once a year
    At a lyre-and-lute festival,
    Greek to the core, with dance and contests,
    grope for memories in the blood,
    like Demeter, torch in hand,
    looking for her netherworld daughter?
    And weep a little for the Greece they have lost
    and reflect on the gulf of years which has proved
    wider than the Tyrrhenian gulf,
    and the hiatus between languages,
    wider than the Aegean ?
    What can they do, but weep for Agora
    and Acropolis, forever left behind;
    and reflect, how three centuries distant
    from the Ionian coast,
    they have been barbarized by Rome?... more »

  • UNDERWATER NOTES

    (On revisiting a dream)

    I am alone in the house.
    It is warm
    but I feel cold.
    The doors swing open across the years.
    For someone who has no ancestral home,
    who doesn't have
    the long shadow of the past
    to ruffle his hair,
    homecoming gets distorted.
    Time squints, space wobbles
    and the visit, encoded as it is,
    remains undeciphered.


    2

    It is cold,
    the windows are frost-smudged.
    Counsel yourself, there's no one
    else to do it.
    Let hieroglyphs
    remain dented where they are.
    Let wind erode them, or time -
    they are warp and weft of all erosion.
    Come out of the house and write
    (not hieroglyphs this time!)
    It is cold.
    Frost has smudged the windows.
    Your hair is grey as hoarfrost.


    3

    A rundown house,
    is a desolation.
    A rundown house
    perched on a live memory,
    with me alone conversing with both
    is a double desolation.
    Twenty years ago when I took a look around
    It wasn't there.
    Someone now tells me at a reunion
    the house is standing,
    only new streets
    interlock around it.
    It's still there! That's nice,
    one desolation gets sloughed off
    .


    4

    It's only when reality slips by
    like a sliding panel
    that you realize
    that the marvellous in the everyday real
    has passed you by.


    5

    Seated on the hull of your boat
    you lurch and tilt.
    The horizon is the forest,
    darkening leaf on darkening sky.

    Slot your time properly
    in the right caves.
    The sea is the present
    The forest is the future.

    Speech is present tense
    Echo is the future.

    If you are talking of echoes
    you are talking of walls.
    If you talk of water echo
    you are discussing womb walls -
    odd territory,
    come out of it.
    Unsure on land
    you take to the sea.
    The skyline is a forest
    Fern-dark, shadow-dark
    graveled with white coral grit.


    6

    Whatever evil he suffered, he forgot
    said Milosz in one of his poems.
    Now that's a scrap of myth, isn't it?
    And it is one thing to forgive
    and another to forget.
    I tried to put things behind me,
    in the backyards of memory-clutter,
    and went back to my flirtations with altitudes,
    touched the Karakorams at Siachen,
    touched - Hindi has such a lovely word for it, ‘sparsh' -
    Nubra, the garden of the North
    and slept in a tent at Tsomoriri -
    the rocks brown, the lake blue;
    I got hold of a scrap of a myth here
    (at 15000 feet it's a good scrap to grab).
    It was very hot, and a woman called Tsomo
    riding a yak couldn't rein him in,
    as the yak made straight for the lake.
    She kept shouting ‘riri, riri', ‘stop, stop' in Tibetan,
    but the yak went in and they both drowned.


    7

    The stars have flung
    their net into the sea
    Among the thrashing fish shoal
    and the lassoed crab
    look for me.... more »

  • Underwater Notes

    I am alone in the house.
    It is warm
    but I feel cold.
    The doors swing open across the years.... more »

  • Wolf

    Fire-lit
    half silhouette and half myth
    the wolf circles my past... more »