spreads like a stain
that taste of salt
run down the nose
at the pit
of a restless summer day
spreads like a stain
that taste of salt
run down the nose
at the pit
of a restless summer day
By Srilakshmi Srinivasan
Mock me not, oh mind mine!
My feelings are true.
You are in me and belong to me,
So why this shaming and why this hunt?
You know my secrets, my sadness, and my weakness,
You know my dreams, my joy, and my strengths.
Then why? Why these obstacles? Why this doubt?
When all I want is to get up and move on.
Maybe, just maybe everyone has
Their own goals, path, and secret doors.
Maybe, just maybe they are not
The same as yours (mine) ours anymore.
Come along dear friend
Let’s move towards light,
Cutting through the dark tunnel
To scale new heights.
Srilakshmi is, in her own words, ‘A doctor passionate about Kannada literature who just happened to translate one poem for
you me.’ So it seems only appropriate that I include the original Kannada version of the poem. How I wish I could read it!
The conversations around you. Brittle and brisk. Without meaning. Words hurriedly strung together. Shoved into a tin can. Shaken. Made to rattle in short bursts. Like gunfire at close quarters. Tweets of fate. And happenstance. Like firing squads. Immediate. Transient. Relentless and vicarious babel. Grab and shoot. Who has the time? To think? Or breathe normally. The normal? Now a different shade of pale. Like running a hundred meter dash in less than 9 seconds. On shards of glass. Breathless. And bleeding. Gladiator sport. The kind that seeks out language only to thrust a sword into it. While the mob brays. For more bloodletting.
Slow everything down. Let your fingers grind to a halt. The forty-five on your turntable. Your skin scraping the grooves. Slurring the song. As if strangling the words. Almost.
Start afresh. Begin a new sentence. A long one. One in which with extreme patience and a strong dose of diligence you once again lay down the ground rules for language with a past history of elegance and a turn of phrase that makes you gasp with admiration for the one who has penned it with such élan and taste and wit and a sense of literary tradition passed on from writer to writer through centuries of fine writing where the meaning of words as they combine and mingle with each other takes precedence over mere ornamentation and where the complexity and density of a thought is chiseled to succinct and purposeful perfection in a heady mixture of fine prose or poetry or drama or whatever be your particular calling.
Now punctuate it.
Show them how things work. Or at least strew the air with hints. Let them be razor sharp. The clues. And full of wit. And irony. And the chutzpah that says it like it is. Up in your face. Like truth. So that no one believes it. As the truth. As nature. Both yours. Mine. And Natures. The way things appear to work in Nature. In life. Or on stage. Like the web that the spider weaves. Against the light. Visible. A work of art. Or a trap. Depends on who is admiring the spring like strands that shine and glint in the sunlight or turn invisible as they snare a fly. The strings on stage that create the magic of a floating cloud. An entire flotilla of white that suspends belief even as it is suspended in the air above the stage floor. Look carefully and you will see the nylon threads that like the spider’s web hold the white bags of polyester filled with yesterday’s news. Crushed and torn into different fluffy shapes. Light as the air they are meant to simulate. Be something they are not. Sleight of hand. Or a trick that the eye missed. The ones that do not bear muster close up but in the right kind of light. And colour. Glowing with gold and red and silver white. With spotlights that make no attempt at being hidden. Hung and patched. In full view. On metal battens. With exposed wires. Process. The craft of magic made visible.
The truth is always other than what it appears to be.
Naveen Kishore is poet, writer, theatre lighting designer, photographer, publisher – Seagull Books [http://seagullindia.com/].
When I thought of inviting some of the writers (and lovers of the written word) I have come to be acquainted with to pen down a few lines for my blog, the first name that came to my mind was of Naveen Kishore – a writer, poet and person I tremendously admire and respect. Not to mention the publisher of some of the most beautiful books in existence today.
I admit I was skeptical – asking the one who publishes Nobel Laureates and their ilks to write for my humble blog sounded preposterous even to myself. But I did, eventually, and Naveen graciously obliged with a casual ‘See if these ‘jottings’ work. Call it whatever you wish to.’
Today is Seagull Books’ 35th anniversary, and I can’t think of a greater honour than to be able to host his words on my blog. And Sunandini Banerjee, whose magnificent collages are the lifeblood of Seagull Books, has allowed me to use ANY collage I’d like!
Could I have asked for more?
Today was going to be my Taxi Tales day. Because, as I was saying, there are so many I’ve collected, and I’m bursting to tell them. But it has been a very long day, and I’m too tired now to string two decent thoughts together. And then there is all the excitement about my newly acquired turquoise nail polish – a gift from Juhi – that is making me look at my fingernails every so often, wondering momentarily whose they are. The fingernails I mean.
You see, I’m usually more conservative with my nail polish. But what the heck – YOLO, as Aditya used to make fun of me, back when he was just a strapping lad. Now he’s almost seventeen, you see.
So I’m cheating. I’m using my turquoise-tipped fingers to copy-paste something I’d jotted down one glum morning a few weeks ago. A morning when the earth and the sky were glum, as were me and my thoughts.
a sky with dark circles
under the eyes
brushing off last night’s dreams
from her clothes
the moon biting her fingernails
for the sun who wandered away
lost in borrowed thoughts
a desert hungry for words
that fall on sand and die
That’s where I’d stopped. On that grey-blue morning in the last leg of winter.
Seven evenings, you said, to create a body of work. Adding that it’s a long, slow process.
Well, why not? I have great belief in long, slow processes – being one myself. The fact that there’s more than just me in this process lends a certain level of accountability. (Notice how I’ve already taken your presence for granted?)
I have to clean up my act now. And start on my Dubai Diaries. Or shall I call them Desert Diaries?
All morning I thought about it. How do I begin? Where do I begin? More importantly, where do I stop – draw the line, so to speak?
Begin at the beginning, as the King had told Alice, and go on till you come to the end: then stop?
Ideally. But then, what if this exercise turns out to be like trying to contain a sky-full of small white clouds inside an IKEA glass jar? What if?
My Evening # 1 will have to start with my morning walk. Because I can’t write a text about Dubai without including my morning walks. Because that’s when I do most of my writing. In my head, that is. While treading the oh-so-familiar path to the park – between buildings, past the closed shops, across the road, past the buildings and across the sand, past the mosque, across the zebra crossing, past the gates and onto the jogging track around the pond…
Today is Friday – the Day of Invisible People. Of those who otherwise blend into the background and remain unseen/unheard in this city.
I can see the paper boys stopping by the pavement to chat, the night-shift workers still in reflective gear sitting at the entrance of the park and happily sipping tea, the housemaids enjoying their day off…
I’m vaguely aware of the songs that are playing. I think it was Rahman’s ‘nilaa kaaykirathu…’ when I stepped out of the house, and then somewhere along the way, I remember Jagjit Singh singing ‘din kuch aisa guzaartaa hai koi…’ in my ears.
Spring still prevails, at least in the park – though there are more flowers on the ground than on the trees now.
The other Friday I met a cleaning lady from Tamil Nadu who showed me the calluses on her knees. “No holiday one month, Madam. My body aching…” But it was with a beatific smile that she told me about how she had persisted with her request for a day off until her boss finally agreed. She did win, after all.
It’s not in the park that I met her— But then, that’s another story, better saved for another day.
Friday is also evident in the absence of the usual suspects: the yoga people with their mats and good cheer, the gang of young mothers led by a loud-voiced girl who spoke Gujarati, the tall Egyptian man who looks as if all he does with his days are workouts…
My legs hurt easily these days. I’m not sure if it’s the age, the weight or the desert that is catching up. So my 3-kilometer walk is often punctuated by bouts of sitting and nursing my aching shin.
As I make my way back home, I remind myself to start my walk earlier – the sun has begun to show its true desert colours. I’m sweating profusely, and the increasing brightness hurts my eyes.
It is with relief that I open the door to the air-conditioned darkness inside my apartment. Summer has risen.
When I was a child, gods were everywhere.
My mother would spend most of her waking hours with them – chanting prayers, singing hymns, preparing things for pooja or performing it. The pooja room of my tharavad (ancestral home) had a million – or so it seemed – framed images and statues of gods, with the central position given to my mother’s Krishna statue. Our backyard was under the supervision of Ayyappa and the many Sarpas (serpent gods), from whom we often borrowed space to play in the afternoons.
Our family and its property was remotely protected by goddess Kali; the former by Chitturamma who lived a few kilometres away, and to whom we proclaimed undying slavery every year in the form of a coin placed on a brass sword. Another Amma, who lived in the middle of the paddy fields and demanded an annual pooja, guarded the latter. No one like a mother to take care of her family!
When we bathed, it was either in the pond that was part of the Krishna temple next door, or the one near the Shiva temple a little further. Either way, a visit to the temple was mandatory at the end of each hour-long bath.
Gods were quite demanding, back then.
Our next door neighbour, as I said, was Krishna (the blue one who played flute and teased women, and was generally a cool dude as gods went). We kids gathered every evening at the temple, gossiped, skipped rope, played hide and seek and giggled at secrets. We prayed too, but mostly in times of emergency; an impending exam, for instance, brought out all our latent piety.
Whenever we lied or cheated, we would silently appeal to him for forgiveness, swearing that we would never do it again. Until next time.
We would often bribe him too – three extra laps around the temple, two incense sticks, a banana… And most of the time he would oblige. I remember how he breathed life into Amitabh Bachan after his accident on the set of Coolie, just because my friend Vimala had offered to light a whole packet of camphor if he (Amitabh, of course) lived to tell the tale. She had been in tears for days, and as our friend and neighbour, he (Krishna) could not turn his back on her request now, could he?
Gods were generous, back then.
The nuns in the school I went to – Vijaya Matha Convent English Medium Girls High School, Chittur, the only convent school in the radius of 10 kilometres – brought Jesus and Mary into my life. I remember how I had taken an intense liking to ‘Samayamaam rathathil njaan…’ (little knowing at the time that it was a funeral song) and would sing it at the drop of a hat each time someone asked me to. My pretty PT teacher in grade two was my biggest fan, and the huge smile on her face each time I sang it loud and clear for her used to be my biggest reward.
We had in our class a girl called Beena who would fast during Ramadan. I secretly admired her determination to not even sip water, though I could not understand why she did it. It used to worry us, her classmates, that she turned all pale and near fainting by the end of each day, and we would be eager to support her in all possible ways. I don’t remember if Shani used to fast, but it was from her that I learned to pronounce Bismillahi Rahimani Rahim properly. I was so proud when she told me that I now knew Qur’an, which was a good thing.
Gods were good things, back then.
I also remember the metre-tall lunch box that Shani’s mother used to send with the driver every afternoon, from which came out the most divine mutton cutlets and biriyanis I had ever tasted. (My lunch box usually had rice and eggs in varied forms, a meal that got a little unappetising over the years.) The best school lunches in my memory were the ones that Shani, Sheeba and I had shared, sitting on the floor of the landing next to the locked terrace door of the school building.
Later in college, Nazir would bunk classes till lunch break so he could bring steaming hot pathiri and chicken curry his mother had made for his ‘college gang’. After lunch, we would all gather around Henry listening to him sing ‘Nilaave Vaa…’ for the nth time, good-naturedly indulging our – Honey’s and mine – repeated requests for Tamil songs. I would pester Henry for the meaning of the lyrics, and Praveen, Nazir and Anand would tease me mercilessly for that, chorusing ‘and that means…’ at the end of each line. Subramanian would intervene with words of wisdom and common sense, and all would be well.
In my Bombay days, I used to seek sanctuary in the pews of St Thomas Cathedral near Flora Fountain on Saturdays after work before heading back to my hostel. My most intimate conversations with god would happen there, below the high-arched ceiling, under the marble eyes of the bas-relief angels that adorned the walls.
One day I admitted to the priest there that I tended to address Jesus as Krishna in my prayers, and he reassured me that He wouldn’t mind. Later, when I told him I was getting married, the elderly Father advised me to make sure that I retain my own individual bank account – not just share one with my future husband. It was important, he told me, that women were financially independent. I folded my hands and bent before him. He drew a cross on his chest and blessed me with closed eyes.
Gods were fluid back then.
They kept us separate, but did not divide.
Then came men with metal rods and plastic bombs. And gods are not the same anymore.
Photo: St Thomas Cathedral, Bombay – Marble Bas-relief (courtesy https://playingwithmemories.com)
the mirror looked back
her smile a glimmer
the stranger blushed
quickly hiding her song
behind lowered lashes
words like trembling fingers
lest they startle the song
summer shadows on the skin
drawing the night
a little closer
to let go
of the dream
the colour of life
across the sand
its feet blistered
at the edge
it’s long this summer…
summer in the desert
Past summers – Random shots
Thanks to a little blue bird, I have moved up in life. From being ignorant and opinionated, I’ve become marginally informed and annoyingly opinionated. Now finally I have the chance to flourish my up-to-dateness and worldly wisdom in front of my family and friends.
Twitter provides the perfect antidote to my inborn (or was it acquired?) reluctance to read newspapers. Which, for a while, have reminded me of sci-fi movies with dystopian landscapes and no happy ending in sight. Whatever surprises are in store are hardly ones to bring a smile to the face – or even tears to the eyes. Most often they just make me grit my molars and flare up my nose…before turning away.
Plus the emphasis on the dark, desolate and doomed, with the good bits hidden in the bottom corners of inside pages, does bad stuff to my already chaotic head.
I don’t like sci-fi movies with dystopian landscapes either.
So like any self-respecting ostrich, I used to bury my head in fiction and poetry, leaving the painstaking perusal of morning paper to my journalist husband and the rest of the world whose heads and hearts could handle it.
Now, though, I can nibble at the 140 character bait that the bird has to offer, and then choose whether or not to sink my teeth into the rest of it. Imagine this! In less than thirty seconds, I can decide whether this-or-that-happening-around-the world deserves my attention. Or not.
Its relative anonymity also provides a good outlet to those 140-characters-or-less thoughts that pop up in the head. And images I capture in passing, along with some clever-sounding lines, that I choose to believe other people are interested in.
On the flip side, it does a lot of damage to my self-image. When I see 20-somethings spout brilliantly written (albeit completely self-indulgent) words of wisdom, I literally turn green. No, green is such a nice colour, actually. What I turn is whatever the colour of pure, unadulterated envy might be. And it becomes more intense when I see their complete lack of self-doubts – something I suffer seriously from, even when I can see my half-century landmark towering in the horizon.
Besides, 2015 is drawing to a close now and Twitter is replete with year-end book lists – full of fantastic books I can only lust over. The enormity of what I haven’t read makes me feel like an individual entity in a zooplankton trying to size up a blue whale for future devouring.
Let’s not even go into book reviews – some admittedly so-so, which I can ignore, but some so well-written that if I had my way, I’d grab my purse and head to Kinokuniya Book World – which is the nearest possible option – or wherever those books are available. Right now, though, all I can do is to click on links, live vicariously, and go on coveting my neighbour’s books. Neighbour in the Twitterworld, I mean. My own neighbours, a well-meaning family of four, are book-free, happy souls, I know.
Like any aspiring writer, I follow a dozen publishers at least, from Seagull Books to Verso to Zubaan, and a host of writers from Neil Gaiman to J.K. Rowling. Ok, I stopped short of Chetan Bhagat because my sense of humour doesn’t stretch enough to tolerate the stuff he puts up on Twitter.
Now, talking about sense of humour, Twitter feeds my appetite for a particular genre of the same (lame, my humorously challenged family tells me), which no one else – apart from Rajni, I think, because we laugh uproariously at stuff – finds funny. Twitter tells me that I am not alone in this wide world – there are others out there who share my penchant for quirky one-liners like ’11 Powerful Stories Of Poets Whose Instagram Accounts Have Less Than A Hundred Followers’.
And guess what? Sometimes I challenge my teenaged students to write a story in 140 characters or less. Believe me, they have come up with gems!
I know, I know. Twitter has become a place I visit too frequently for my own good! It’s time I weaned away and created a healthy circle of real-world friends to socialise with on a regular basis. A few good people who read and write book reviews and talk about politics and the rest (which I shall pretend I know all about), show me National Geographic-worthy photographs, and still find lines like ‘Poet calculates whether supporting latest social-media outrage will strengthen personal brand’ hilarious.
I forgot to add ‘who also drive’ because I don’t. So how will we socialise if they too don’t drive?
Anyway, the search shall begin. Soon. Meanwhile, let me hit the Tweet button just once.
*All images courtesy Google Images.
grab the summer
by its roots
pull until it lay
on the sand
show no mercy
to make way
My on-again-off-again morning walk has its moments.
It had been ‘off-again’ for a while, so yesterday morning I decided to break the dry spell and accompanied my better half to the park. It was still dark, but I noticed that in my absence, the marigold flowerbeds had flourished. I tried to click pictures, but my Nokia 520 refused to acknowledge the beauty of street light falling on orange flowers – instead what I got was a lot of black with a few orange smudges.
So today I went in broad morning light, determined to get a few good shots of those lovely flowerbeds that make my walk a pleasure. I must have been a hundred yards from the park when I came across a lady a carry bag full of marigold plants. Which was kind of intriguing because I had never seen such a sight before in this part of the world.
In Dubai, when we buy plants, they comes in prim, perforated plastic pots. When we need soil to grow them in, it comes all the way from Holland in sturdy plastic bags. You get what I mean.
When I reached the park, there were more people with bunches of marigold plants clutched in their hands, a look of mild triumph on their sweaty faces.
That did not seem to bode well for the plants, somehow.
And I wasn’t wrong. When I reached my flower beds, they were bare, with just a few withering flowers and uprooted plants littering them. The drip irrigation tubes lay as if abandoned on the sand. All traces of summer/autumn was being erased to make space for the approaching winter.
No more yellows and reds and oranges of summer/autumn. Only winter colours from now on…pink and purple and white and – Well, winter colours.
So much for my Marigold Flower-bed Photography Ambitions 2015!
Who was it that said, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade out of them? So here’s the rest of the lemonade – no, story. A heartwarming one.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a few thousands, for whatever they are worth.