Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Happy Diwali 2016!






I.

My Goddess will not stoop to count
the flames in a courtyard,
Her footprints are more likely found
where lives are dark and hard.


She’ll care nothing for creed and caste,
for spotless floors and plates,
She’ll find the orphaned child, unwashed,
far from the temple gates.


She’ll spurn the white of rice designs,
the richness of symbols,
She’ll be with the refugees crying
in dismantled jungles.



II.

I’m ready now – I’ve rebelled often,
to light my lamps in clay,
to roll my wicks from old cotton,
put ceremony away.


I’m standing here to welcome in
the dark as well as light,
the protocols and discipline
accepting moonless nights.


Whatever walks in at my door
will find a home in mine -
the silver fruits of moonlight, or
the darkness of starshine.




Double helpings today because today is Diwali!  Or Deepavali to give it its full name, the autumn festival of lights in India, where we celebrate the victory of good over evil as symbolised by light and dark. As a poet though, I vaguely resent the equating of dark with evil and ignorance and ungodly, heck, I like darkness, it's restful, it's usually a good contrast, and it does a way better job hiding the wrinkles! Actually, too much light blinds as effectively as darkness.

I also feel absurdly pleased when festivals coincide with the weekly blogging schedule, is that crazy or what?! 

A very happy Diwali to you if you are celebrating, and happy autumn/ spring/transitions if you are not!



Sunday, 23 October 2016

Steam requiem



You come to a point in that field, and there
the winds are mussing the crops' long hair,
and out of the next window, half shuttered - 
a farmer at lunch, a whirlpool of birds.
The thresh of blurred gravel next to the wheels.
On the far side another one reveals
a moment of bamboo, a flash of fig -
a station rolls past, the platforms - red brick
and yellow signage, commuters everywhere  -
but it’s diesel now, or clean electric.








Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Back at Write...Edit...Publish...and back at home


Time to get writing again!




Three ways of looking...


It is time to head back to Write...Edit...Publish... for the October chapter and this is the much anticipated Halloween month. There's a choice of two prompts, both utterly yum! I am going with the Constellations prompt, there are enough scary stories in my life just now to want to write more :) The scariest thing in the world in uncertainty, not knowing what the outcome of any given event will be.  That one thing can reduce me to absolute jelly-legs. But that is also the one thing I, in fact we all, live with on a daily basis, dealing with our given portions as best as we can.


Recently, I have been reading some modern American poetry and specifically fell in love with this poem here, which worked itself into the title.
Not sure what these things are, they aren't poetry, and they aren't fiction. And they probably aren't fact either, though they might feel like that to me. Memory is a tricky thing, always selectively romanticised in retrospect.  Whatever they are, I am happily dedicating them to my mother, who, I am pleased to report, is now recovering at home after her recent illness. She is named after Arundhati, the Indian name for Alcor in the star pair Mizar-Alcor which are part of the Big Dipper (called the Saptarshi, or the Seven Sages in the Indian system of astronomy). I don't know of anyone more deserving of being named after a star. 


...at Constellations of Meanings




I.

The sun leaves smudged finger marks on the sky as he disappears.  Smoke-lilac, bruise-purple, ash-pink, burnt-rust.  I feel like taking a pot shot from the hospital window.  The glass pane is large, divided into three. So many things are divided into three.  Day and Night and the In-between times. Heavens, Earth, Underworld.   Left, Right, Centre.  Faith, Belief, Rituals.  Daughter, Mother, Dust.

She is named for a companion to one of the Seven Sages, she taught me that constellation in the sky herself. It’s the only one I can immediately identify looking up more than forty years later wherever I am in the northern hemisphere. 

“It’s a question mark in the sky.  See?” And I had traced it out with a childhood finger and seen.  “And that one in the middle of the downward stroke? That’s Great Sage Vashistha.  Look a little closer, do you see another? Not as shiny as the others, but she’s there.  That’s the one. Not as conspicuous as the Sages, but always constant, always shining, sticking close to her partner. She’s a good star to have on your side.”


I look from the window to her face on the pillow.  It is tired, lines of pain etched into deep grooves, the claw marks of time running parallel on the forehead. Her eyelids look a few sizes too big for her eyes, ringed with the same smoke-lilac of the sunset sky.  My hand on her forehead feels unwieldy, not delicate enough to touch fragile things.  Her skin is cool velvet, the fever has broken sometime ago, the clamminess now a faint residual glow.  Outside the threefold panes, the constellations have quietly climbed into their places meanwhile.  The Sage’s Companion is faint, but still burning.  Still a good star to have on my side.


II.

A snatch of song interrupts my titanic struggles with the Red Giants, White Dwarfs and Black Bodies.

‘Oh my mother’s smile lights up the face of the Moon; her tender gaze, how can it be lost? it’s there in the eyes of the stars; the sun steals her vermilion to deck the dawn…’ 

It is a 1950’s number popular with her generation, ostensibly an elegy for someone’s mother. Both the melody and the lyrics are maudlin and mildly annoying, really, Bengalis! 

‘Please stop!  I am trying to study here. And my grandmother isn’t dead, why are you singing that?? It’s a silly song anyway.’

I can hear her laugh, she is always laughing, the house rings with it all the time, expansive, pervading, infectious.  But her comeback is devoid of laughter.  ‘You get distracted too quickly, child! And it’s not about your grandmother, it can be about any mother. Mother Nature, the Earth Mother.  Mother is a vast word.  One word, many interpretations, whole constellations of meanings.’

‘It’s just an awful sentimental song.’

‘Space for your dislike too in this house. Just shut the door.’

Blue, white, red, dead.  All things born must die. All the stars are dead.  The constellations are dead, they are prehistory, primordially dead.  Dead is dead black, matter burnt to a crisp, to a nothingness.  Blue is hotter than red.  Red is hotter than dead.  Cool ice blue, fiery red hot.  No, hot blue, cool red. Constellations may actually be patterns connecting star-corpses. Constellations of bluewhitereddeadcrispblacknothingness.  Constellations of ancient, ancient light caught in a time warp.  Constellations of meanings. 

I get up to shut the door.  She has meanwhile switched to a different tune, ‘Are you only an image? Are you not true like the planets, constellations and the sun?…’

III.

A single star pins up the sky in place.  The sunset is a ragged, multicoloured curtain on the horizon. We heave ourselves off in long strides, back off the inselberg at the starting point of the highway. The twilight is just one sharp flare of light - and it goes quickly here.  We haven’t left ourselves much leeway. 

‘Pretty, isn’t it? A bit more colourful than back home.’

I am silent.  Because her ‘back home’ isn’t mine.  She is in a boarding school somewhere abroad, here only for the long summer holiday.  I live a little way up the road, my school a fifteen-minute drive. The local girls’ school - a compound of low buildings splashed with vivid bougainvillea and hibiscus. A residential school where I, as an expatriate child, am exempt - let off every afternoon to go back home.

Back home is a phrase fraught with many difficulties.  Because half the time home doesn’t feel anywhere at the back, it is right here in front of me, in this wide open, magnificent savannah I have known half my life.  And the other half? If I listen carefully, I can hear my still unformed identities split down the middle.  When I go on holiday, my grandfather rebukes my parents in absentia through me, ‘For how long? This nomad’s life? Settling down is also something. Do you know what your ‘gotra’ is?’

I don’t have the faintest clue. And I don’t much care. My father makes an indifferent Brahmin, I don’t see him wearing the sacred thread around his torso, don’t see him do the ritual sprinkling of water before meals, I have never seen him pray at all.  My mother now - hers is a different world altogether, she prays on the full moon night of Lakshmi-puja, marking the Gregorian calendar painstakingly in ink, picking out the correct confluences of suns and moons and constellations from letters that take more than a month to bridge the distances between her home and homeland half a world away.

She stands under the porch now in the fast fading twilight.

‘You’re late, child.  The rule is to get back home before the streetlights come on, remember?’

‘Where’s back home, Ma?’

'None of your cheek!' But something in my face arrests her displeasure. ‘Home is that land which puts food on your table.  Never forget the respect you owe her.’



WC - 999














Sunday, 16 October 2016

Doesn't need a sonnet



This too is not a sonnet – this evening
of discourse, maybe discourse is too grand –
a lesser word, of slightly muted ring
would fit better.  This isn’t a last stand,


some philosophical debate we must
engage in and prove this point or that,
a blazing issue raising heat and dust,
not even a pointless, desultory chat


about mundane non-events. It’s just your
cup, rimmed in myriad coffee stains, near mine,
sudden headlights swiped across walls and floor,
a yodelling cat at eight, the news at nine.


The warmth of your breath in rooms, a measured
pulse in my space.  Needs no sonnets or words.



Okay, mouse-potato happy-whingy self back on the red couch writing love poetry with brand new non-crisis on hands. I have never mastered the art of the smartphone blogging, or for that matter any of that interface, the teeny-tiny screen/keypad is hard on my feeble eyesight. So when my computer broke down last week, my heart sank to my ankles (it normally resides at the level of my knees. When it's not flailing around in my throat, that is.)  

This is an extra busy time, there's the upcoming Write...Edit...Publish... Halloween Octoberfest in a couple of days, (check out the link and sign up if you haven't already), and I am bang in the middle of online courses as well, where I have fallen inexorably behind because of my unscheduled travel to Kolkata and all that palaver. Apart from the dismay at the disruption in contact with family and friends which assumes unwarranted importance when you live far away from them.  Not a happy bunny, as you can imagine....

But then necessity is the mother of turning every last stone.  I took out and dusted off my ancient behemoth which got damaged in transit from Cairo two years ago. I never got around to disposing it, mainly because I didn't manage to pick out all the files I want saved from it, yeah, I'm lazy like that. One half of that laptop is kind of clinging onto the other half by one single wire, so I didn't have much hope - but hey! it still works! It weighs as much as a baby elephant, and its speed is just as ponderous as a full grown one, but it works. There's a silver lining to everything - even laziness, poor housekeeping and electronic clutter. Life lesson in there somewhere. 




Tuesday, 11 October 2016

In Between




Source




This post’s late because all day yesterday
I travelled between my homeland and home -
curried cubed fish and three small golap jaam
were served for lunch in a neat airline tray;
though deboned fish isn’t the Bengali way
it was still festive, throwback to the drums
still being played at the marquees. I heard them
at 30,000 ft somewhere near Bombay.


All day yesterday I travelled between
being a mother and a daughter, a parent
to parents and child. On my in-flight screen
old Hindi films spooled out dramatic events,
a three-hour ten-minute stopover meant
thinking what 'mother' has now come to mean.








Monday, 3 October 2016

Red and white


Source


The rain would make it gleam, right? caught chickens
on crimson paint zigzag white, mesmerised –
they didn’t see their reflections often;
the rain glazes more than barrows, clarifies
and blurs, polished broken grass – was there grass?
green on red, green and white – meaningful too,
rain-glazed this entire yard of colour contrasts.
Can’t spot the chicken feet in all this though,
but never mind, they’d probably fit right in –
ochre or pink feet in deep; rain or sun,
sunrise and sets, unspoken sky, everything
brushes the work, and the grass, and everyone.
Hear it or not, plain feet and ripped, broken
reflections are as loud as the garden.


As you can probably make out from above, I have been reading William Carlos Williams lately, and this one is another response poem to his Red Wheelbarrow. read his famous Imagist poem here.

I am posting from India, back at ye olde homeland, barely a month after the home leave.  Have had to return because my mother's unwell, hoping she will be better soon and I can go back to being my less energetic mouse-potato-self on my own familiar (red) couch in Bahrain.  E
verything depends on wheelbarrows and chickens and where the feet are!  The good thing in all this is, of course, that I am here in Kolkata for the start of my festival season, the Durgapujas, after a gap of some twenty years  :) :) unplanned, unasked, undreamt of....the skies here are to die for now!

Life can be a strange combo of tough and terrifying and terrific but always, always a blessing, still a blessing and an adventure!  

Have a glorious week!