Archive for the ‘verse’ Category

ear-mark #8

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I miss my nani.


It has been four years since she’s gone. Two years ago, I met a new reason for why what I missed was special.


I’d given my students a creative assignment to address a problem we were facing as a class. (Problem: I used to tutor a course, ‘Indian writings in English’, & we were scuffling with a specific concern about the selection of writings in it – whether they were inclusive &/ or representative enough. My Ist year kids were unhappy that most of the Indian writers they read for self/ leisure were not on the list of prescribed reading. Definitely none of their favorite ones. The creative assignment became a way of exploring and sharing the range of writing that contemporary India could do in English, through a sample study of our own little group of 30.)


This is what R wrote. She called it ‘Nani’. This:


My grandmother

is the original Mrs Malaprop.

Very few people, after all, can

inform her guests at a dinner party that

she saw striptease artists flying across stage at

the Russian circus, or

that the bust of her new blouse didn’t fit.



makes peanut chikki every Diwali.

A basket of brown wafer thin,

sugary peanut squares that she

crushed and cooked and rolled out and cut up


for every person she knows.

One year, she made one hundred and fifty extra baskets

for every single teacher in the school she works for.



is a devotee of Dadaji.

Dada J. P. Vaswani, nephew of the great Sadhu Vaswani himself.

She is one of his loyalest followers;

she even has a watch that says “deen bandhu deena nath”

in Dada’s voice, every hour.



calls my nana “Mr. Mathrani” when she is happy,

and Ram only when she is upset.

She worries about him endlessly,

and when he takes five minutes too long on his

evening walk,

straps on trainers under her sari and goes

looking for him.



dissects everything she eats

pulls it apart at the table, lists its ingredients

hypothesizes about how it was made, and declares

that it was not worth spending money on,

she could make it ten times better at home.



the first time she met my boyfriend,

told me in Sindhi,

while he was smiling, blissfully unaware,

that the “charya” should shave off his beard,

it made him look like a Muslim.



also, incidentally, is fluent in Sindhi, English,

Hindi, can read Gurmukhi and Urdu, and

is a strange hybrid between Sikh & Hindu.

Is it so odd, then, that her favorite exclamation

when something goes wrong is




swims like a big stately ship

in a swimming costume with

polka dots and a respectable frilly skirt

she sedately makes her way across the pool,

propelled solely by the movement and splashes

of people around her.

She taught me how to swim,

and it used to be our one thing to do together;

gymkhana club afternoons, eating french fries

on the lawn afterwards.


When I was smaller, she

would hug me when I got shouted at

and help me play hide and seek

by hiding me on her lap under the pallu of her sari

while everyone pretended not to notice the strange,

giggling bulge that had suddenly appeared.


only wears white saris.

It’s very odd, no-one really knows why.



wears a big maroon bindi

and her hair reaches her waist.

She leaves a trail around the house,

her hairnet fallen in the corner of a room,

a hairpin or two,

and her bindi absentmindedly removed

and stuck onto the next flat surface.

I was always fascinated by the bindi collection

on her dressing table mirror

a variety of maroon circles in varying sizes,

arranged haphazardly in the corners,

framing her face as she twisted her hair

into a bun,

and deftly stabbed it into place with long

u-shaped pins.



wears bifocals with black metal rims,

her vague smiling eyes magnified into half moons,

with the round frames softening the rest of her face.

I’ve always thought her glasses made her look more

beautiful than she does in her old photographs.


I could tell you all about her;

I could tell you the exact procedure

involved in the monthly hair coloring ritual;

I could tell you about her childhood

and the mango tree, and thirteen siblings;

I could tell you about her unwavering faith

in nutrition columns,

her secret love of shortbread and marshmallows;

and how when she was learning to use the cellphone,

she proudly typed her own SMS,

and for two months,

was under the impression that

there was no mechanism for inserting spaces-



But I can’t seem to tell you how beautiful she is,

and how much I love her.

Grandmothers, perhaps, are meant

to be taken for granted.


& then, the quiet, soft-spoken, calm girl wept. Her nani was unwell those days, & a pundit they believed in had predicted a tough time. We, everyone in class, silently sat with her. She’d written this out in a mix of dread & prayer.


I came back home, & wept again. Silently. For R. For myself. It’d been two years then, the first few months of which I’d missed her intensely, imagining she’d left for her village in Bannukot. Then, eventually, I had come to believe she had returned, to watch over me. Accompany me in my humdrum. I believed this so fully that I even found her agreeing to decisions I made with conviction, or helping me let up my doubts when I had any. By that year’s end, I got her name tattooed on my wrist, like she was playing a role in all my handiwork. Writing (that poem, her name, this post) has a side-splitting relationship with living.


R’s nani got better. She is nothing like mine. I’m certain, although we are yet to meet. I have tasted some of her cooking, though I’m still to sample her chikki. My nani’s special annual feast used to be maalpuas on Lohri. The tattoo is in Pashto, because that was one of my nani’s languages, not Sindhi. But I can’t seem to tell how much I love her either, & I won’t even try. I am still angry with myself for taking her for granted.


Grandmothers are unique. Each one, a singular blessing. But after that afternoon, I can see my nani’s face in hers. And that, is special.


Monday, November 26th, 2012

507, 400, 460, mini-bus
534, 764, 615

110025 -> 110065
110025 -> 110001
110025 -> 110007

private, sequencing of journeys
progessions, randomised
but for a traveller
what if you moved from a to be
what if i crossed sea, only
in a dream?
what if x, y, z are planes that
if being somewhere could be
committed to memory, perfectly
would we tour differently?
could i teleport to the unlisted cafe
that serves home-made blueberry jam?
did your spirit arrive in a sealed package?
who opened it? did they sterilise it?
what do pages on which we write
letters, feel, about pincodes?

may i come in?
go further.
will you recognize me from a distance?
choose transport wisely.

spring children

Monday, November 26th, 2012

spring children
are patient with december
nay, welcoming
with fresh biscottis & new curtains
they feed & clothe winter
into a semblance of home
rescued with the oven’s fire
rings of time, molten, aglow
covered in soot, spumante still
pelmets that keep off
rustling remnants of autumn
raked, not yet
beaten, already
in time’s shape
as spring children

“English Presentation”

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

One of my students from Math-I submitted the written copy of his semester presentation colossally late. There was a poem that accompanied it.

[Back-story: This presentation is supposed to carry 10 marks. Every mentor is allowed some freedom to determine their process. Here is mine: Pick a topic, anything related to the course that pricks your fancy > Discuss with me, get it approved > Submit a synopsis draft, following which I suggest further readings & directions > Present to a group, where one pre-allotted classmate is a respondent + others comment impromptu > Final written paper, which includes learnings from all the above. I grade only the written submission (out of 10). So, mistakes during the journey are discounted if the final product is solid. However, every step is mandatory.]

The untitled poem was as follows:

Better than Nothing
Worse than an A.
I wont sing
Neither will I say.


But I shall type
So that you may know
That this wasn’t ripe
Whereas it should’ve been so


It was mine to write up
And it was I who screwed up
And lo now I’m all out of time
But I must end this in a rhyme
So that when you finish my file
On your face will be a big smile

I did have a big smile. He tells me he can write only when he has an itch.


Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Parts of me breathe there
Be my lover

Visit Gaza
Sing Kashmir
Honeymoon Darfur
Doodle Kabul
Dream Cairo
Pine Lahore

Itinerary, the long-tail; at best a grocery checklist
The list is my wish to include
Only way I’m whole
When I’m broken in crumbs

Put me down vertically
Salve me one by one
Shuffle it over
First, count my sins; then abandon the count

Be my lover
Surrender. Deliver. Breathe. Remember.

wise-foolery : 4

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

fictional colours -
fighting for flag, femme or Falstaff?
a nation’s chronicles
a polygenic trait
& some revelations past…

i tried belonging
i stood dangerously close
i charmed a coin, with a flick of a finger
even broke a nail, smeared the metal figurine
was it worth it? they still ask these questions?
but i shift too soon
like an expatriate in the story

i don’t buy paintings, they don’t let me move
my walls are bare, bar the night-scribes.
i think up shapes as i go.
a bunch of marks, where once were nails
holding elaborate jig-saw, vaults
no windows, the furniture’s too frail
card-games played under the table
…must a new wall have a soft-silk finish?

left-over woolen threads
and a tea stain, a telling story
an old lamp-shade made of crochet
covered in fuligin patches which were once warm
cosmopolitan tunes transport me nowhere.

a broken pen, a vow smudged
water’s been passing under this bridge
but it’s the burning that keeps me challenged
holding up for something…

Love is but a terminology
some exercise in self-fashioning
the rituals are not empty -
i hear you mark my absence in the cloves of a tired heart.
every-night before the song begins.


Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Tidal evenings, and we sit -
thirsty, amused, alone.
All or none.

Refusing every perchance to
take the simplest route home.
To make that journey…
And the roving adventure,
waits her at the pier -
Shaking, with her hesitation.

A happy cog has come loose,
like that ‘out of joint’ symphony -
where each pore, in oblivion,
longs for the other’s company.

The details they write on silt
‘i’ll feature in your fairy tale’
The unspoken promises they honour
‘this lock must never come undone’
The fears they closely nurse
‘are thoughts too, utterances?’

The tide watches them a long while.
She’s the heel, Achilles;
the weakest link, a moment to salvage.


Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

‘no’ is my answer,
for the questions may soon
begin to pour threateningly.

‘here’ is my guess,
though the act of pre-empting
is a showcase of my own fears.

‘live’ is my moment,
and the wonder of discovery
lays no promise of destination.

wise-foolery : 3

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

it’s no wonder that half-a-pirouette can,
and will, change the direction of your life.
it’s no solace that mourning is legal,
and helps breathing in cold canisters of strife.

it’s no magic that what fogs the vision
in an awkward hiatus, can also set your song free.
it’s no wisdom that a lot of foolish pain
goes behind a graceful stroke of dissolute glee.

but there’s wisdom and wonder,
and magic and solace – in every drop of that fuzzy potion;
for the company to those midnight fiestas is
but a forged poetic – forever in lost, meandering motion…

wise-foolery : 2

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

set in a corner, a cot..that creaks
with each move..of the imperfect spine
- silent, curved –
kept away sleep,
to grab and seal..each passing second.
some wish woven into sleeplessness,
and the view from the side,
still waiting – for perfection.

It doesn’t come by easy.

to sit with pain,
without moving to hide it,
or wanting to fix it,
in the smaller part of a room..adorned
- a make-shift curtain -
by which, feelings that made living with oneself
difficult..were felt.

Almost lived.

the music that surges past emotion
– endearing in its strangeness –
still plays on.
the same cot, new sheets..creaks still.
even the stars that show up in the sky
every other night aren’t the same..twice.

But at least they seem so. Once in a while, they do.