18 October, 2015

That time of the year

Every other autumn
you pale 
at the colour of our love.
Sullenly, you pluck 
at the last remaining leaves:
ochres and oranges
swirl down
confused, let down.

It will take another 
bitter winter, and
the breathless vigour of spring
to breath back some colour 
into our story
and compassion
in our hearts.

30 May, 2015

La Sagrada Familia

[La Sagrada Familia or The Holy Family is an unfinished Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona, Spain. Its architect, Anton Gaudí, was a Catalan architect who significantly contributed to Barcelona’s modernist movement and built several iconic structures during his life. Construction on this grand church, often considered Gaudi’s masterpiece, began in 1882 but its design is so complex and ambitious that even today, it is far from complete.]
I am
the Sagrada,
unpolished, rough cut,
a work in perpetual progress.

I started
with one architect,
but I have become
a trencadís1 of different artists.
Every person I meet comes and
carves another pirouette in stone.

A thousand workers
mould and polish me;
they chip, chisel and hurt me
taking more than they can give
hammering me hollow as I powder at their anvil.

Some paint me
the gentle swishes
of their brushes lulling me into love.
they put another coat here, one there,
hiding the uglier blemishes, painting new wounds.

I start and stop thus,
some days growing tall –
a glorious castell2 well-balanced, proud.
Some days a pillar is pulled down,
And I start over, dejected but never outdone.

I thrive thus; a back and forth of sorts:
A continuous creation; unendingly unborn.

1. Trencadís or pique assiette, is a form of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, where broken pieces of colourful tiles are used to build intricate patterns.
2. A castell or castle is a human tower made during festivals in Catalonia, which has an intricate process of assembling and dissembling.

13 January, 2015

Ineffability or What I feel When You Open the Door

My breath is caught
between the ringing of the doorbell
and the moment before
the door creaks open. 

when your face, so familiar
peers out,
a funny flip flips
 the space where 
my mind meddles with my heart. 

it is beautiful to me, your face
in ways no one (not even me) 
will understand.
and we ignore this minute miracle
in the hope of larger marvels.

You nod imperceptibly
my arrival acknowledged by
a flicker in your eyes
an unformed smile skirting your lips.
I answer by walking past
Disintegrating into the mundane. 

Drop bag. throw off shoes. gulp water. 
and only then do I
exhale the day's triumphs and tragedies
in the refuge of your embrace
yeh lo mera saamaan.

In the space between us 
nestled near quiet acceptance
and indulgent gaze
I, sagging spirit and slumberous sight in tow,

11 June, 2014


We live in a time when 'green living' has become fashionable. We call ourselves ecotourists. We travel to rural India and are suitably impressed by farmers using mobile phones. 'How we have progressed!' we exclaim. We buy unpolished rice to ease our conscience and can spend on a meal, money equal to a person's entire monthly income. We are conscientiousness and concerned; we are educated and restless. We want to make a difference and we don't have a clue how.
"His (Gandhi's) nightmare was a machine-dominated industrial society which would suck India's villagers from the countryside into her blighted urban slums, severe their contact with the social unit that was there natural environment, destroy their ties of family and religion, all for the faceless, miserable existence of an industrial complex spewing out goods men didn't really need.
He was not, as he was sometimes accused of doing, preaching a doctrine of poverty. Grinding poverty produced the moral degradation and the violence he loathed. But so too, he argued, did a surfeit of material goods. A people with full refrigerators, stuffed clothes cupboards, a car in every garage and a radio in every room, could be psychologically insecure and morally corrupt. Gandhi wanted man to find a just medium medium between debasing poverty and the heedless consumption of goods."
p.197, Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

10 April, 2014

At the Movies

Friendly Bear Via Sarajea 

She stuffed her bag under the seat, fidgeted till she found her spot in the seat and then without notice, slipped her hand into his. He was still undecided whether he liked holding her hand or not. But while he was deciding, he didn't mind doing it anyway. Her hands had a needy quality about them. Always wanting to be held, sweating into a clammy mess like awkward teenagers, the stubby fingers and chewed nails unsure in their ugliness.

04 January, 2014

On Writing and Identity

The first time I encountered Orwell I was 13 years old. I picked up Animal Farm thinking it was a story of a farm and finished it with that notion intact. All undertones, subtle and otherwise, were lost on my teen brain. Thankfully, over the years I revisited Orwell and unpeeled layers, igniting my fascination with his writing and person. 

Why I Write is an intimate book in which he elegantly elucidates his motivations to write. It is a collection of essays, but I will talk of two here: Why I Write, and England on England. In a manner so honest and personal, the reader is almost apologetic for being allowed into his mind, Orwell questions what it means to belong to a country - what does it mean to be English - he reasons that belonging to a country is so closely tied to one's identity that it naturally affects any artistic endeavour. I pause to wonder whether such an exercise is possible for me, or even prudent? But as Orwell says:
'Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle? 
But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.
And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.'
He goes on to talk about 'emotional unity' in the face of moments of 'supreme crisis' and my thoughts turn to
Republic Day in 2001. I had, the night before, painted my keds with white paint. It had dried unevenly and in places, the paint had cracked mournfully. We had gotten up early and prepared for the parade. Left right left. Left right left. After marching in the sallow winter sun, we got the standard treat. One besan ka ladoo, one soggy samosa (I only ate the cover, Lee faithfully ate the aaloo for me in exchange for her samosa cover) and a handful of ber. We hurried back to our hostel, planning to while away the rest of the day. I was at my cupboard when I felt the tremor. 'Did the ground just shake?' I asked, excitement making my voice quiver. 'Eeeeeeee earthquake!' someone screamed and we ran out of our rooms, shocked and suitably awed at the possibility. Later, we sat subdued, as news of death tolls trickled in. Next days papers narrated tales of destruction and loss. We contributed money, clothes, and we made cards, unable to understand the import of losing one's home, loved ones and all possessions to an idiosyncrasy. We heard of people coming together from across the country, united in grief and comrades in compassion. Yes, Orwell's words do make sense in retrospect. 

He ends the essay in a subdued yet hopeful tone, 
'It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.'
My mind turns to the transitions and transformations shaping India. The plough giving way to the tractor and Ladakh becoming 'the' place to travel to, Nana recounting the lost glory of Allahabad University and mountains being mined of their serenity, never learning how to make Ammaji's famous हड़  का अचार  and clothing becoming homogenised - Delhi or London, boots becoming ubiquitous. But like Orwell, I am naive and optimistic enough to believe that India will still be India - an everlasting consciousness in my identity. And as I change my shape with it, I remain who I am, and yet so different.

The Next Big Step is coming to a close. I'm looking forward to a homecoming : )

31 December, 2013

Another year of growing up. Of letting go and learning trying to say no. Of nurturing old friendships. Of redrawing personal boundaries and delving deep. Of reading binges and Orwell. Of calm and confusion. Of completing a degree and promising to never stop learning. Of inspiring travel and blue days. Of silences and conversations. Here's to the Great Unknown. Happy New Year! 

06 November, 2013

All Pitter No Patter

Radha Pigtail followed Didi Pigtail:
a puppy dog shadow
pitter no patter she went.
Little Radha Pigtail - one legged she was.

Didi Pigtail sat reading
cross legged at the door
and Radha Pigtail would watch shyly  
hidden in an envelope of curtains.

Earlier, Didi Pigtail had tried:
sharing her raggedy dolls
pointing out pictures;
fairies and a Petite Prince.
But Radha Pigtail would run away
blushing in her shyness,
a hesitant smile
frozen in silent alarm.

Just how did she run? You exclaim!
Oh tiny Radha Pigtail could run
in a hobbled lopsided stride
Her frock – with its little toffee buttons – 
flapping against her good leg
and her bad crutch.
Unnerved, Didi Pigtail would hurry away
fast and strong
anything to get away from
that pitter with no patter.

One day Didi Pigtail,
hurried to the jamun tree
the promise of its dark inky fruit
stained her imagination a glorious purple.
Pitter patter her feet sang
against the ground
in urgent impatience.
Radha Pigtail caught her shadow flit by
and followed, as fast as she could
pitter, pitter, no patter.

She watched Didi Pigtail climb the tree nimbly
monkey-like and lithe,
toes curled around the trunk,
then hopping onto a branch up high
and clutching at the dark, swollen fruit.
She watched Didi Pigtail
sucking and chewing
her mouth puckering into purple astringency.

Didi Pigtail suddenly stopped
peered down and saw
Radha Pigtail looking very small indeed
far far below,
and Didi Pigtail flashed a triumphant grin
her teeth, a frightening indigo.
"You can't follow me up here", 
those teeth proclaimed.
And terrified, Radha Pigtail, bolted
All pitter, no patter.

07 September, 2013


'They' say I have not read enough.
If I want to write poetry,
They say I should read
Cavafy and Armitage.
Ruth Padel’s “52 Ways to Read a Poem.”
Yes that will teach me how to write better.

-                              -                              -

Should I also retreat into a Writer’s Retreat?
Will the rolling hills and flurries of fog,
fawn over me,
in creative outbursts?
Bukowski, on the other hand instructs:
I shouldn’t write unless
it ‘bursts out of me’.

-                              -                              -

Words have burst forth in a panicked hurry
staining the sheets,
in monsoonal splendour.
I lie spent now,
mutilated by my latest offering.
Already a bystander.

In the after-throes of my affair,
I tentatively send them forth –
Exposing them to prying eyes – 
a gavel’s stroke punctuating my dreams.

I quiver, breath-held
as your pronounce your judgement
with placid bored eyes of one who has read too much.
And in a voice jaded beyond redemption,
You bellow your answer 
(or do you breathe a yellowed whisper?).

Plucking the petals off my art,
you desecrate it to a doodle
And hand me condolences
For having lost myself.

April, 2013

28 June, 2013

Down and Out in Paris and London: George Orwell

Poverty is a tricky notion; a state that cannot be empathised with or understood unless lived and experienced. Like hunger, it is often irresponsibly categorised (above vs.below poverty line?) but its experiential quality is perhaps never quite captured by such sweeping definitions. I have studied poverty, observed and documented it. But from lofty theoretical ideas, to my wide-eyed reflections of it, I have not known what it is to be poor. Drawing on his experiences of scavenging a living from dishwashing in Paris and shuttling from lodge to lodge in London in the late 1920s, George Orwell, introduces to his readers, life, as defined by poverty.
'It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty... You thought it would be simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.'
In this semi-autobiographical novel, Orwell wades into the world of human depravity. He takes the reader on a journey through the painfully dreary life of a plonguer (dishwasher) in Paris. From the numbing routine of working in steamy cellars, washing dishes till the mind is subdued into blankness, he charts his journey through hunger, desperation and utmost depravity. London, where he moves to because of the promise of a job, is worse. Here he discovers the treacherous life of a tramp: bug-infested beds, bitter cold, counting pennies and twenty men bathing in a tub of water.

The best parts of his journey are his anecdotes about fellow workers, scraping a living through menial jobs, lies and often thieving. Through the story we encounter Boris, a handicapped Russian refugee who helps Orwell secure a job as a plongeur, the lowest rung in the unforgiving hierarchy of the Parisian hospitality sector. In London, we meet Bozo, a 'screever' or pavement artist, who inspires some of the most profound passages in the book. Orwell narrates how Bozo considered begging to be below him and made cartoons that were commentaries on current political and social events. However, like the life of the poor, the fate of these cartoons were in constant flux; erased either by rain or an errant police man.

Most critically, the story is not a mere chronicle of life and times in the poor of London and Paris. Orwell goes further and questions Society and its need for plongeurs and tramps. He breaks down the romanticisation of poverty and exposes hunger and boredom, hopelessness and a deadening of aspirations. He questions why money has become 'a grand test for virtue'. Almost a century later, we are still asking the same questions.
'You discover the boredom which is inseparable from poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and, being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing...You discover that a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs...The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.'


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