Friday, March 31, 2023

If I were in a fairy tale.

 If I were in a fairy tale,

full of fair princesses and castles,

i’d choose to be the witch, 

who lived by herself in the forest

and didn't ask to be bothered by woodsmen and children.

I’d have foxes and owls, wolves and cats,

bats in the rafters

squirrels in casements,

wildflowers and ancient trees

whose roots in gnarly, chaotic 

abandonment, circle round, round, around

keeping the without, out. 

through gossipy folk,

everyone will hear

about the cranky woman in the woods

who with her scowl

the curl of her lips

and the wildness of her hair

must surely be too far gone

for them to save, to civilise.

And in my cottage i’ll laugh

or is it cackle?

as i sink in deep into my rocking chair

a mug of steaming secrets in my hand,

reading a book of unwritten tales

as my owls hoot at the moon. 

Spacey Poems

 A billion years spent circling emptiness, 

the milky way spins

through the pathless dark.

Everyonce in the universes’ lifetime

she will encounter an old memory

and sucked into it, will be lost

in its depthless black hole. 



‘The Earth’s spinning core has slowed down’

said the headline.

She’s tired, i thought.

Whirling round and around 

like the Dervish

her centre, 

is waiting to fragment. 

When the outer outpaces the inner

she’ll gleefully shatter

into a million million bits of



What did you do, Saturn,

for your moon, tied to you already

like a tin can on a dog’s tail, to

shatter, scatter

and yet

pulled by some charm (i will not understand)

choose you for their forever? 


What if the stars

are dustmotes

dancing outside a

distant alien window

that looks out into

a deep, green pond

where a frog sings

to his Fey Queen? 

because the Queen

has put him in a forever spell

and now even his lament, to her,

is a declaration of love?


The path leading to the newly built apartment high-rise was being dug up. Twenty mighty trees had been felled on each side and their branches, chopped, were stacked up, ready for auction. A road would replace the path.

 A contractor was ordering labourers about. Sidewalks were being built along the path. The contractor was showing the labourers where he wanted the palm trees planted. People like green, he said. A row of palms, some Mexican grass and the green dream is sold. The labourer nodded, uninterested.


 Tayyib took walks during his lunch breaks and would look with interest as the path slowly developed into a tarred road. This afternoon, feeling mildly nauseous as he chewed on a slice of toast made earlier that morning, now soggy with the weight of butter and marmalade, thought, again, that he must sign-up to that lunch catering service next month.


 It was another day at work, exactly the same as the one before and almost time to return to his cubicle. Back to analysing data, that was, in the larger scale of things, meaningless, he thought to himself.

 /We come from sunlight and shadow/, said a voice near him. 

Startled, he turned towards the voice and saw a short, waif-like man standing quite close, staring at him.

 ‘Excuse me?’, said Tayyib, startled. /We come from sunlight and shadow/, said the man, emphasising each word as his hands moved in a slow rhythm, as if practising a part in a play. 

 ‘Can I help you?’, asked Tayyib, ‘Do you need anything?’.

 /Sunlight and shadow, we need…/. The voice was high pitched and Tayyib winced.

 Clearly uncomfortable and in a hurry to get back, Tayyib began to walk away from the man. ‘Uh-ok, have a good day’, he said, forcing a smile as he hurried back.

 The city holds some real crazies, he thought.


 The following week the newly tarred, palm lined road was inaugurated by a government official, suited and booted and chuffed with importance. The builder was giving a speech. This road, he claimed, would not be just for the benefit of owners of the apartments, but as an act of goodwill to the public, some of the budget for making this road will go into re-doing a service road nearby. This would mean, he said, a smoother journey for the everyday office goer who, thanks to this, would be reaching home earlier. He sounded very pleased with himself. 

 Tayyib was annoyed. 

The inauguration was loud, and as expected, performative. Cracker waste littered the road. There was little point in staying inside and working, with all this disturbance. He may as well take his break now, he thought. 

 He walked out and, having nothing in particular to do, watched the functions that followed the inauguration.

 /We come from sunlight and shadow/.

 “That voice again”, Tayyib thought. He felt unsettled. This frail, small man, with his rhythmic movements and stilted speech, what did he want? Why was he here again? 

 Tayyib frowned as he looked at the man, his clothes, his expression.Theatrical. That was about the only way to describe it. Like he was playing a character. Blue trousers, too long, too loose. A tie and a bow, green. Both slightly tattered, both ever so lopsided.

 An orange checked shirt, with buttons just a bit out of alignment. 

 A pink coat.

 Black socks and black shoes, laces of which are tightly drawn. 

 A hat, frayed. Nondescript. 

 “Where’s your pocket watch, waif-man, where’s your monocle?” thought Tayyib, trying not to smile.

 Instead he said, ‘What do you mean by coming from sunlight and shadow?’ 

 The man took his hand and started walking. Taken by surprise, Tayyib stumbled at first and then, as if his will had been taken away, he began to walk alongside. In moments he found himself out of breath. How was it possible that this tiny man walked so lightly and so fast, while holding him so firmly?


 Around him everything begins to blur. He can no longer feel his feet. The wind hits and burns his cheeks. He is spinning. He is going to faint, he thinks.

 City sounds fade. There's a rustling. A whooshing. Birdsong. Another sound. A low hum accompanied by a visceral sensation, almost like electricity, moving from outwards to deep within his body. He can hear his blood rush through a thousand veins. 

His heartbeat, primordial, beats deafeningly. Or could it be a drum beating somewhere, maybe at the inauguration? His thoughts are a whirl. “Drums mimic heartbeats”, the thought floats up from the jetsam of memory. 

 Then everything turns black. There's no sound. Everything is still. 

 “This is what death feels like, I am dead”, he thinks. 


 He feels himself returning to something. Some awareness. Something is clearing. He opens his eyes. Around him, everything is unfamiliar-familiar. 

 Something, someone that must also be the waif-man stands in front of him. The thing is both, he thinks. Both waif-man and something undefinable.

 But he cannot see where this thing, this creature begins, or where the waif-man ends. They are just bursts of colour. Everchanging. Everything that is the creature-man, moves, never staying at one place: the mouth, eyes, nose, hands, feet, hair. “It is a dance”, he thinks. “This is a dance. This creature-man is dancing” 

 As the creature-man dances, Tayyib sees worlds being created. A macrocosm.

 He sees each detail of everything that populates these created worlds. A microcosm. 

 He sees his world. Earth. She’s so blue. She’s so beautiful. He sees feather-tips of each bird, the pollen on each flower. The roar of tigers, the yawn of a mouse. He sees canopies of trees covering an ancient planet. He sees civilisations from the moment of their birth to the moment of their destruction. And everything after.

 He sees the -after- of beauty. 

 The dancing becomes frenzied, the creature-man and Earth become one. 

 “She’s dying”, the thought makes him panic “and this creature-man cannot save her”

 /I am a creature of sunlight and shadow, the balance…./ It is a statement of finality. 

 He sees Earth, so blue, so beautiful, turn colourless, ashen, and with her this being of dance and light, fades. He opens his eyes. The waif-man is holding his hand. Back to being a caricature. /Sunlight and shadow…the balance…/, he says as his voice fades away. And then Tayyib knows. The Balance is broken. That was the last Dance. 


 He looks at the grand apartment, at the perfect road, and at the tall glass buildings around, their glare obscuring the sky. The palm trees with their wilting fonds.

 The trees that were: gone now. 

 The city that was: Dead now.

 And he lets out a scream, loud, impotent. He picks up a bit of concrete from a pile that is still to be cleared. He runs towards the newly built apartments and with all his might, hurls it at its Italian glass entrance door. 

 He laughs as the glass shatters.

 The world spins. 

 Then stops.

Thursday, July 02, 2020


For Mr. Moolchand Jain the Borderland begins two streets after his,
where narrow alleyways are filled with two-wheelers,
children play with marbles
and spices are left out to dry
in the tiny space between the gates and entrance doors of homes.

For Mrs. Sudhakar the Borderland begins from Mr. Moolchand Jain’s street,
‘full of those one-storey small-time shop owner’s homes’ she says,
and shudders in horror at the thought of living there.
She’s on a long phone call with her daughter in the USA
her mind drifts from the conversation to the silk curtains that need to be changed.

From his 14th-floor living room, Mr. Jacob can see where his gated community ends
and the Borderland begins.
He shows off his view of a manicured park: rows of palm trees, and of the swimming pool.
‘Something must be done about that eyesore’, he says pointing, his face wrinkling,
to the land beyond the Borderland.

Every morning, groups of women walk from the land beyond the Borderland,
bright sarees, flowers in their hair, anklets and bangles tinkling.
Their pace is brisk, conversations quick, about landlords, employers and truant husbands.
They walk into the land beyond the Borderland, Mr. Jacob’s land, Mrs. Sudhakar’s land
take the service lift, the kitchen entrance, the backdoor into homes so unlike their own.

Along the Borderland, the road has been dug, piles of rubble on each side
clog up traffic, peak hour tempers run and for once pedestrians have only mud
to navigate and fight, not two-wheelers.
(As the Maulvi calls the Maghrib prayer, causing Mr. Subramaniam to spill his coffee)
the women walk back, cross the Borderland, limp flowers dangling from their hair.
Mrs. Sharma

Every morning Mrs Sharma tries to drown out the call to prayer
by Maulvi Azeem Ali.
She turns the knob of the mixie to full
her hands vibrate as she holds the lid closed.
Even now, after years,
she doesn't know how long the prayer runs.

So her mixie whirls, till Mr. Sharma asks
if a man can get coffee in this house.
He has to tap her shoulder and gesticulate.
‘Can’t you ask your friend, Mr Abbas,
to talk to this maulvi
at least he can reduce the volume
who wants to hear his cranky old voice?’.
‘Every morning I am disturbed. Somehow I can tolerate it in the
afternoon and evening, but morning is too much,’ she grumbles.

Mr. Sharma drinks his coffee and reads the paper.
’Fourteen people die in anti-CAA protests in Delhi,' he announces
to no one in particular.
With one last slurp from the coffee mug
He gets up and walks towards his charging cell-phone,
scrolls through family whatsapp groups,
announces that Smriti is still dating that christian boy
(my poor sister, having to cope with her heart-patient husband and a troublesome daughter),
leaving Mrs. Sharma feeling annoyed at these two men.
Maulvi for the disturbance and Mr. Sharma for ignoring her troubles.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The bungalow has been sold
and in bits, bulldozed.
Soon the trees will go
and hastily put together
tin roofed rooms
will be home
for a year or so
to labourers.
Their babies will sleep next to rubble
their children will play with debris.
they will work long hours
some will get more frail than
they were when they built the previous
luxury condos.
Their stifling rooms
will get hotter in summer
colder in winter
the floors muddy in monsoon
and they'll continue to build
homes for you and me.
We'll take loans
to live on the twentieth floor
far from views
of homes like theirs.
We'll pay these loans
for the next so many years
to live the life we want now.
They will sing as they build our dreams
and perhaps laugh at our need for so much space.
In the square meters that held the bungalow
the mango trees, the rain tree, the champa and neem
hold memories of another life
and we wait for ours.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Mr.Subramaniam is at Coffee House,
sharing a table with two gay men.
On his right the table meets a window and on his left
these men.
He's stuck.
Aiyoo, he thinks,
his face expressionless.
'How to get out?'
Do I say 'side please?'
'Excuse me sirs?'
'Should I simply push my way?'
'What is this generation coming to
publically holding hands and all!
Why they have to come and eat breakfast here?
Why they can't go to Koshy's or something?'
His forehead, with ash and vermilion,
gets three lines as he sighs.
'Sir, please move', he says.
One of them makes way.
Mr. Subramaniam leaves.
The couple, they
continue to laugh, hold hands and munch on toast.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Endless, endless, the walk through
dark, dank, dead caverns

On your lips a reed
breathing out songs of hope
of times that were
of things done and loved
of whispered hopes that now may dare see

Then you remembered his burning eyes
his Queen’s half formed smile
and her promise.

Seeds and seasons
light and dark
despair and hope
longing and fulfilment
and you wondered
endless, endless
deep, so deep
down here where everyone sleeps
does she keep awake, longing?

Is that why, Eurydice
shimmering, dissolving, sleeping Shade
was spared
and made to follow you, Orpheus
with a promise
you knew you’d never keep?

Is that why
when she walked
thorough lands now familiar
towards another, now forgotten
in a moment you knew
where her heart lay
and turned?

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Mr. Venkatesh Raman's gate is a small one.
There's a jasmine creeper growing beside it,
a coconut tree on one side.
On the left of the gate
(Where a compound wall once was)
is an all glass facade.
Inside, haute couture.
The designer's name in fancy lettering
neon lit on a board above:
Laila's creations.
Once Mr. Raman had a sprawling bungalow.
On Thursday evenings the scent of Kanakambaram flowers,
Jasmine, and incense
Would whift out of#122 100ft road Indiranagar.
Inside, Mrs Raman (Kamakshi)
and her bhajan group
would sing to lord Shiva, Ganesha and a thousand gods.
For good measure, Jesus and Allah too.
Sanatan Dharma, she would say.
The Ramans would always sit as family
for breakfast and dinner.
Steam soft idlis and tangy fresh chutney,
four course dinner
sambar, rice just right.
Mr. Raman took his sacred thread seriously
and would despair over changing times,
increasing disregard for traditions,
Muslims and Christians taking over his neighbourhood,
his granddaughter marrying
a low born
and leaving for SE Asia.
Not America, Canada or Australia.
Mr.Raman's neighborhood was changing.
'One up Pub, Mohandas Retail, La Pizzeria
One stop furnitures, Chai and Chat
had taken away the Kamat, the Subramaniam, the Jacob and the Narayanan homes.
Mr. Raman was not like that, he said.
'That and all I will not do', he said.
As glass replaced brick, red oxide floors made way for tiles, one bungalow at a time.
One day, Mr. Raman was made an offer
too tempting to refuse.
One half of his home turned to glass
he could keep the other half.
Family run designer clothes business.
Brahmin family, even though, alas
Laila (daughter in Law) is Catholic.
Mr. Raman has made his peace
through sips of filter coffee.
He sits on his teak wood chair,
looks out of his (now smaller) gate
at 100ft road and says
'Everything is fated'.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mr Sudarshan Murthy has bought a penthouse.
Thirteenth floor,1301 Garden Views
a whole floor to himself, his wife
and two sons.
On his left is the Parsi Tower of Silence
on his right a crematorium.
In front, a lake obscured by a flyover,
and below, tree stumps, debris and endless rows of cars.
and i wonder
does Mrs Sudarshan make sambar
while looking at vultures eat Mrs. Battiwala?
or perhaps her brahmin cook,
(having purified the vessels and water with vedic chants),
wonders at her employers’ wisdom.
Does Mr. Murthy, in his study,
reading the latest in IT,
let his thoughts drift as he looks out
at the black smoke of the crematorium?
Wasn’t Sharan cremated there?
28, software engineer, hit and run.
good fellow, lots of potential.
must visit his family for condolences.
‘Come, come, see the views of the lake Mr. Jacob,
excellent bird watching, so much greenery’, he says
walking his guest through the five bedroom penthouse, study and terrace garden included.
He has worked hard for it.
Saved every bit for it.
360 degree views,
clubhouse, gym, conference rooms,
guest apartments for visiting family,
golf, billiards, swimming pools.
Everything is in Garden Views.
His sons Karthik and Shyam
IIT, IIM, leaving to study at Yale.
drink shots at their farewell party,
for every funeral held that week.
Pestonji, Homi, KS Radha, baby Jia
(Just today)
‘We’ll end up drunkards, man’,
‘Dude’, says Sneha,
leaning over the balcony,
looking at the roof of the mall
the hospital, the wedding hall,
the winding flyover,
hazy lake,
human ash, mixing with car fumes.
Carbon with carbon.
‘Dude’, she says,
‘You really have it all, don’t you?.

I do not know if there is a Jannat.
and if there is, are your beloved horses there?
are the mornings mist laden
and the mountains snowy-blue?
your wounds, have they healed?
do you laugh now,
as you chase butterflies
in valleys of a thousand flowers?
Me, I think we are just carbon
(a poet may say stardust)
and after a life lived (or not)
in this world,
we become dust or ash.
But for you, Asifa,
I want Jannat.
You chirped like a bird
and ran like a deer,
your mother said.
So may there be a heaven
where you are far,
so far away from this pain
to which living is bound.
Where you are safe
from violating hands
where your face fills with
your beautiful smile again.
Arm teachers with guns,
train them in military combat,
make them sharpshooters,
who target practice in the school gym
every morning after registration.
Arm them with grenades
(better to be safe)
and bullet proof vests will help,
though don't you want heroes
bullet ridden, bloodied, dead?
Arm teachers with guns.
we'll add that to our lesson plans
to after school meetings,
yearly goals, appraisals.
to Managebac, Haiku learning, Google docs,
to Seesaw learning, to inclusive learning, differential learning.
'Dear students, today while I teach you about sound waves
I'll pull out my gun,
hide under the desks,
don't tweet, WhatsApp, post on Facebook,
it's just a drill.
I'll run up and down the corridor,
aiming my gun here and there.
not funny, don't giggle,
you'll thank me later'
Arm us with guns, because guns don't kill,
people kill.
Mentally ill people
those with autism,
single parent kids,
foster kids,
isolated, marginalized kids,
the loner, the quiet one
must get rid of such ones
Not guns. Guns don't kill.
Arm teachers with guns.
When 12 O clock casts its shadow,
Over the hot afternoon,
A cat slips through a crack in time
And slinks into my room
She thinks I don't see her,
(Or maybe she doesn't care)
leaves wisps of rainbow fur,
Little dents in the pillow,
Fallen books, hairclips askew, startled dogs,
So I know she is there.
(but she doesn't care)
Shadow cat, she steals into my dreams,
And I glimpse her Fey world,
Of witches and cats, of elves and owls,
Of things wonderful and things foul,
Things that thrill, things that scare,
(oh but she doesn't care)
For she is a shadow cat,
Who slips through the cracks
In time, in space, through dimensions,
To visit humans like me,
To bewitch, to charm to haunt
To entwine, to play, to prance with glee,
With her many worlds and people,
To show us what it's to be truly free,
(oh but she doesn't care)
I am sorry dear cow,
For I ate you too.
As a little girl, I wanted beef:
Keema, meatballs and stew
Cooked to perfection by my mother,
Who became vegetarian at twenty but cooked for me
Because ‘I could not live without meat’.
I am sorry.
I am sorry because when I would meet you on the road,
I would stop to pet you, nuzzle your muzzle,
Look at your wide-wonder-open eyes,
While you chewed
Cud: noun
partly digested food returned from the first stomach of ruminants to the mouth for further chewing.
My textbook showed me a cow chewing cud with piles of grass around her.
Some CBSE or ICSE textbook with those badly inked sketches.
(But I went home to eat kebabs with Kissan tomato sauce)
Now I know you were chewing garbage cud, while plastic choked your four stomachs, one by one.
"The cow has four stomachs and undergoes a special digestive process to break down the tough and coarse food it eats. When the cow first eats, it chews the food just enough to swallow it. The unchewed food travels to the first two stomachs, the rumen and the reticulum, where it is stored until later."
I am sorry beautiful gentle beast,
For even after I gave up meat,
I drank your milk.
As chocolate milkshake,
As Ceylon tea,
As paneer kofta, as toast with cheese, as butter ( that melted in my mouth).
As chocolate cake (rich), as baked potatoes, as rasmalai,
Because I really did not like the taste of plain milk.
They told me you were ‘gau-mata’
That you liked giving your milk.
That ‘a cow sacrifices her own milk for us and does not give it to her calf’
Because, gentle one, I was told, you loved me more.
Because you are Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow.
“Namo devyai Maha devyai,
Surabyai cha namo nama.
Gavam Bheeja swaroopaya ,
Namasthe Jagad Ambike”
Years later, I stopped milk too.
Because someone told me
About how you are kept pregnant for me,
Kept lactating for me,
Your son killed for me,
Your daughter, fated to live the same life you did,
For me.
And then slaughtered so that I can have:
Leather handbags,
Leather shoes,
Leather sofas,
Leather car seats,
Leather wallets,
Leather belts,
Leather jackets.
So I stopped using leather.
But gentle one,
Your life did not change.
I am sorry.
Advertising made you glamorous.
‘Doodh,doodh, doodh, wonderful doodh’
‘Doodh hai wonderful, piyo glassful’.
‘Amul cheese, yes please’
‘Kuch khaaas hai zindagi mein’
You were a Happy Cow
Who gave slim milk,
Toned milk,
Or ‘gara’ milk for the tandarust.
What type of milk did your calf want?
We even took away the colostrum.
Posu, kharvas,Junnu
Desserts for the ‘pure vegetarian’.
I am sorry, gentle one.
I am sorry for your son,
Who, to prove his manhood
Has to fight a hundred men,
Who poke him, prod him, blind him with rage and alcohol,
So that when he emerges, victorious among other bulls,
He, Nandi, is king among them,
Son of the village,
Treated like a god,
Given to your daughter,
And then to slaughter.
(shhh! How dare i say that? How dare I question tradition?)
But I am sorry.
For you did not ask that manhood be proved of your gentle son.
Nor did he.
Nor did the hundreds of sons who died as soon as they were born,
Because you know #vealisthebest.
And now,
When yellow and orange flags fly high,
And the air fills with screams of your protectors,
I know that I still must say that I am sorry
Men have died, slaughtered like you,
Their blood filling the streets,
Families bereaved,
Sons killed,
And those not killed, their bones broken, spirits crushed.
In the name of protecting you.
I should be happy.
I should praise your 'protectors' Your saviours.
I cannot.
And for that too, I am sorry.
I am sorry that you, gentle one,
Caught in this hail of hate, not of your making,
Not of your choosing, continue to suffer.
Your protectors, drunk on entitlement and your milk,
Do not care.
They do not care that you
Search the streets for a patch of grass,
A tiny bit, just to change the taste of rotting garbage.
They do not care that you moan over your lost children,
Who must also stumble, hungry on streets, looking for you.
They do not care that you, with infected teats and oxytocin cramps,
Want rest. Want love. Want cuddles.
I am sorry, gentle one.
For I, when I see you on the road, dodging cars,
Shaking off flies,
As your bell tinkles,
Can do nothing.
I am sorry, gentle one.
“On Monday giving grass, food, agathi keerai, banana to cow will cleanse us off mathru, pithru dosha,
On Tuesday giving water and food to cow will provide housing and land purchase opportunities
On Wednesday giving food to cow will give advancement in professional life.
On Thursday giving rice porridge to cow will remove purva jenma dosha
On Friday doing cow pooja will shower us with the blessings of Sri Mahalakshmi
On Saturday giving grass and agathi keerai to cow will remove us from the shackles of poverty.
On thuvathisi worshipping cow and giving food will provide punya of annathanam( offering food) to 1000 people”