Monday, June 29, 2015

Blue Aerogramme

I used to eagerly await
The fortnightly blue aerogramme
With a benevolent bapu beaming
In a stamp size corner at the top right.
Wafer thin, you needed to slit it open,
Slowly, gently, carefully
Lest you hastily tear away
The loving words inside.
Squiggly letters of my southern tongue
Etched in blue fountain pen ink
Brings me news from home:
So and so's marriage,
Birth of a child...
Speckled with bits of advice:
Eat properly
Find good friends
Call if you can
If you can't, at least write back.
It made me think of
The little things that were so familiar to me:
Fiery red chillies spread on newspaper,
Left out to dry in the afternoon sun;
The comforting whistle of the pressure cooker
Mingling with the melody of suprabhatam;
Aroma of filter coffee wafting in the air,
Just as the conch signals deepaaraadhana.
I now look at the device in my hands.
The one I resort to
Whenever I wish to escape people.
The one that demands my constant attention.
The one that orders instant replies.
I look at the blue tickmarks on the screen,
And I feel stifled.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Signature

She sat in front of the shrine
Weeping and praying
'Please give me a sign
To stop my faith from swaying'
A single flower dropped onto her lap.
From some place, not on a map?
The heavens are never deaf.
She asked for a sign.
And she got it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ouija Board

It was supposed to be harmless fun
She wanted to see what it was- a story spun,
To beffudle the gullible, an old wives' tale?
Or maybe there was more to it, a face beyond the veil?
So, she fished out the Ouija Board, covered with dust.
She was told it was evil: 'Stay away, you must'.
But, without adventure, what is life?
So she ignored warnings that the board brings strife.
It gave her answers, one by one.
Revealed secrets, past mistakes she'd done.
A cold shiver ran down her spine,
This was seriously getting out of line.
Out of the house she ran,
Abandoned the board near a dustpan.
Walked back to her room to gulp down water,
She didn't hear the chuckle, silent laughter.
Forget the madness, she said, get back working!
And then she froze:
The board was still there, almost smirking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bidya Mosque

This is a sleepy fishing village
Off the eastern coast,
Away from the glitz of neon lights,
Away from skyscrapers touching the heavens,
Away from busy people whose every action
Screams 'Look at me! I am important!'
No, in this little mosque
All is quiet, tranquil.
If you listen carefully,
You can hear the waters of
The Gulf of Oman
Crashing onto the sandy beach.
There is nothing else.
On a Friday, sacred day,
There will be a steady trickle
Of visitors:
The faithful, the pious,
And the plainly curious,
Along with some tourists
Always identifiable
By the pouts and poses
For selfies and facebook statuses.
Soft cries of Allahu Akbar
God is great!
And then it is quiet again
In this quaint mosque
400 years old
Built of mud and stone
Four circular domes
Vestige of an Ottoman past?
One never really knows.
If you listen carefully,
Amid the deafening silence
You can hear the voice of God.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Grandpa

Slowly shuffling into the kitchen
Feet wrapped in rubber blue Bata chappals,
He boils milk in a saucepan
For the first chai of the day.
Long morning hours engrossed
In the hidden meaning of the Scriptures
And then the tiny newsprint of the Hindu,
He gently falls asleep,
Mouth open, like Mr Whatzisname,
A similarity I pounced on with glee
Since those were the days I lived
On a steady diet of Enid Blyton and
The magic of the Faraway Tree.
A faint snore, and then
He awakes with a start
Goes outside, to the balcony
To collect the dry laundry.
Every time I cry,
He wipes away the stubborn tears.
His eyes reflect pain;
He shakes his head and says,
'Don't cry, mol'.
He looks at the photo of Muruga
The warrior god, after whom he is named.
Pointing at the photo, he smiles.
'Why do you fear, when He is here?'

The temple at Marudhamalai,
Cave shrine at the bottom of the hill,
Where a self realised sage, a siddhar
Spoke to slithering snakes,
Green aluminium cupboard
With all its naphthalene balls
And carefully preserved silk,
Bottles and bottles of kashayam,
Camphor lit at dusk,
Vanishing in the heat of the flame,
A priest applying vibhuti on the forehead
Of a small child,
Tokens of blessings,
Sacred fire to ward off the evil eye.
They all remind me of him.
How he'd stand at the doorway
Welcoming us back home.
And when it was time to leave,
He'd wave till our car had disappeared.
He'd always insist that I say,
'Bye, I'll go and come back'.
Not a plain bald 'Bye'
That we toss around so casually in English.
And yet, when he left,
It was an abrupt cruel 'Bye'
No promise of a return.
A final goodbye.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Priest of the Temple

The trouble with being back home after a long time is that one begins digging into the past, and many things that had been hitherto forgotten come swimming up to the shores of memory. It was the same case with me today. I was searching for something, and came across a black folder with all my scribbles and doodles, dating all the way back to 2003, when I first began writing. I wrote this narrative poem on Abhirami Pattar, the patron saint of Thanjavur, on the Christmas Day of 2006.


He was a priest, pious and humble
Every moment, the Goddess' name he'd mumble.
The Cyclone of Misery was blowing
Yet, devotion to the Goddess kept him going.
His firm faith brought him glory,
A few were jealous of his story.
While most were wonderstruck,
The envious gossiped about his 'luck'.
So off they marched to the King of the town
Who listened to them with a furious frown.
Blasphemy! The priest forgetting the rites, his duty,
Instead singing praises of the Goddess and Her beauty.
The King asked him about the position of the moon
'It's a full moon' came the reply, as if in a swoon.
So enraptured by Her splendour was he
The King was next to him, he failed to see!
It was actually a new moon night
The dark sky didn't have a sparkle of light.
The King was in a fit of rage
He ordered his men to slay the sage.
The poor man was sentenced to death by burning
Platform prepared, the fire was turning.
Forced to play Death's game,
And yet he chanted the Goddess' name.
Suddenly they heard a laugh, loud and clear
They saw the Goddess' face, beautiful and dear.
She threw, into the air, one of her ear studs
And it turned to a full moon, like blossoming buds.
This parable teaches humanity
That if man is free of conceit and vanity
That devotee, the Creator will never forsake
All you need is solid faith that'll not shake.

Paper Boat

Nothing compared to Tagore's masterpiece, but here is my humble version on the paper boat.


Paper Boat
Carefully crafted
From the torn page.
Of a used notebook.
I set it afloat
The river Kalpaathy.
Women washing clothes
On stone slabs,
Kolams on wet ground,
Madisaar and the twinkle
Of a diamond nose stud
Old men clad in
Starched white veshtis
Discuss communism and communalism.
I watch as the paper boat
Floats, slowly drifting away
From this land so familiar to me.
Twinge of sadness
Our paths will never cross again.
What will it meet on its
Winding journey to join the Great Ocean?
I stare at it, till my eyes can see no further;
It is now just a speck in the vast horizon.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Henny and Penny

I still remember the cold winter day
We brought home Henny and Penny.
I had nobody with whom to play
For I was shy, friends not too many.
So I jumped at the idea of a ride
To the town market, with Appa by my side.
A routine, weekly chore,
Quite easily a bore.
But it delighted me nonetheless.
Ooty town market, with all its dirt and slush,
Bawling babies, mothers asking them to shush,
A cow regally walks down the lane
Like a queen inspecting subjects during her reign.
In the middle of the cacophony
A man unveils what he has to trade:
Tiny chickens in a cardboard box wade
Chirping, indignant at being swathed in colour;
Brightness against grey skies growing duller.
I squealed in delight
It was such a pretty sight!
And so we brought two of them home
One in pink, the other in green
Nothing like them I had ever seen.
I borrowed their names from an old tale,
They grew fast; colours began to pale.
Until one day
They went missing
Vanished into thin air!
We searched high and low
But it was all in vain.
That day I discovered
The existence of the slaughterhouse.
A part of my childhood
Died that day.

Third Eye

Tiny maroon circle
Sits between the eyebrows
Symbolic of the third eye
The inner eye, ajna chakra
Which points steadfast to the Goal
Like a compass needle
Seeking the North.
This is not a fashion statement;
A bohemian trend meant for the ramp walk.
This is my identity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ochre

Sunrise, sunset
Anthills
Sweet citrusy fragrance
Squiggly jalebis in a pan of oil
Glowing flame
Scorching fire
Robes of sannyaas
Thou art That
Tat tvam asi.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bab el Bahrain / باب البحرين

Gateway to Bahrain stands tall and proud
Historic building in a concrete jungle
Vestige of the past, smack in the middle
Of glitz and neon lights, built on reclaimed land.
It opens into another world all together:
Manama souq, with all its winding alleys and hidden shops
Shawarma joints, meat roasting on the spit
Gold shops, dazzling and tempting pockets
Arabic sweets, spices, heady scent of attar
Mingle with the fetid stench of trash cans
The call to prayer drowns loud voices, arguing, haggling
This is like the Tower of Babel.
Many languages, many tongues, springing surprises,
An Irani vendor argues in Malayalam,
Just as a Malabari shopkeeper shouts in Arabic.
In a secret corner, lies a sanctuary of silence.
A mandir to Krishna, solace to those who've left home.
Rich, yellow laddoos offered to the Lord,
Bridging the gap of the ocean between home and destiny.
During Muharram, there is a different kind of chaos,
Crowds of the faithful, swathed in robes of black,
Drum beats, funereal procession, solemn dirge
To remember the Martyrs at the Battle of Karbala.
Can I go back in time?
To when I was just a little girl
In a navy blue pinafore
Skipping along these very streets
Busy chattering, never minding
The merciless afternoon sun
As I walked back home.

Nei Payasam / നൈ പായസം

Raw rice in a sea of jaggery, molten brown
Cashews and raisins, coconut - slivers of white
Offered to Bhagavati at sun down
Fierce yet loving Mother, who'd set things right.
Lit camphor eaten by the flame
The air, thick with devotion and incense smoke
The ego and its myriad desires for success, fame
Dedicate it to Her; surrender; in it you soak.
Look at the nei payasam, warm and sweet
Shining, glistening, drizzled with ghee
Leave all your worries at Her feet,
Savor the payasam, and breathe free.

Thiruvizha/திருவிழா

A travelling troupe puts up a skit
Song, dance, a message with wit
Advising workers to fight for wages
The village gathers; men, women, of all ages.
As the drama comes to a stop
Tiny roadside stores begin to pop
Offering orange, red, ice-lollies,
Kites, bangles, dancing Thanjavur dollies.
A wizened woman sells kanakaambaram flowers;
Perfect gift to unite separated lovers.
A lost child cries, picking her nose,
An old man, beedi in hand, begins to doze.
Soothsayers arrive, parrots in a cage
The village drunk ambles around, in a fit of rage.
Karakaatam dancers, pots on their heads wobble
Pretty girls in thavanis, the men turn to ogle.
Drum beats fade into the depths of night
Fireworks brighten the velvety darkness with light.


Thiruvizha is the Tamil word for carnival or fair.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blue

Vastness of space
Krishna's hue
Beatific smile on his face
They're all blue.
The poisonous potion
Down Shiva's throat
The nothingness of the Ocean
Upon which we float.
Sweaty palms, ink stains
Knots of ache
Melancholic strains
From a harmonium awake
Releasing a flood of memories
Carefully preserved in some
Forgotten corner of the mind.
Bittersweet nostalgia.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Valparai, circa 1956

Carpets of green, mountains of mist
Granny's house - warm, sun kissed
Across the horizon, the Aanaimalai Hills beckon
Broken necklace adorning the Deccan.
Granny sits out, relaxing in the lawns
A black Labrador rolls over and yawns.
Fiercely protective, he sits at her feet,
Growling at the cat, awaiting the fishmonger's treat.
Near Rotti Kadai, tiny shop supplying bread,
The faithful built a shrine in an old shed
Dedicated to Vanathu Chinnapar, the Hermit St Paul
Protector, Guardian of all.
Darkness spreads, the glorious sun sinks
And Hosanna is sung to the King of Kings.

I've been thinking a bit too much about Valparai these past few days. Valparai is a tiny hill station on the Western Ghats of southern India, where my dad spent his childhood. I've visited only once, but it has left a strong impression in my mind's eye, and I do hope I get to go there again. The photograph on the right inspired me to write this piece. The beautiful lady in the photo is my dear granny, Krishnaveni, after whom I am named, and whom I sadly never got to know in this life. The black Labrador was called Jackie, and he was fiercely protective of granny. His rival, a ginger cat called Tojo, is not to be seen in the photo; in all possibility, he might have been perking his ears, waiting  to hear the fishmonger's bicycle bell.



Monday, March 30, 2015

On the Banks of the Nila

The river Nila flows like a silver sliver
Across the very heart of central Kerala.
Shokanaashini, Destroyer of Sorrows, she is called
On her banks, lies a holy spot
Where the Pandavas, weary from the wounds of war,
Burdened by guilt,
Grieved the deaths of their kith and kin;
Deaths, they had knowingly caused at Kurukshetra.
Nila cleansed them off their sins
And delivered them from their sorrows,
By bestowing salvation upon the wandering souls of the long departed.
And so, many years later, we arrive at the same spot.
A priest, tugging at the sacred white thread across his chest,
Recites mantras from the ancient scriptures.
We take numerous dips in the river,
Our teeth chattering from the bitter cold of dawn,
Just as the first rays of the sun
Slowly appear on the distant horizon.
The eldest son dons a pair of wooden sandals.
He takes seven steps forward.
This is the journey to that great land of Kasi,
Where souls are finally liberated from the traps of rebirth.
He has gone to leave my grandpa there.
Then he takes seven steps backward,
His duty, as the eldest son, done.
We toss the X rays, prescriptions, and medical reports,
Cruel reminders of the fragility of life.
We empty the urn off its ashes, and let them afloat.
They will ultimately meet the Ocean at Ponnani
And dissolve into nothingness.
White balls of rice, dotted with black sesame seeds
Wait upon the green banana leaves.
'Caw, caw, caw!' we go around clapping
A murder of crows flies across the skies,
Refusing to acknowledge our presence.
'Caw, caw, caw!', we persist.
A lonely crow finally deigns to respond
To our fervent pleas.
It swoops down and knocks off a rice ball
Before flying away with a bit of rice
Safely secured in its beak.
We slowly trudge our way back,
Armed with nothing, except memories of a life well lived
We go back to our jobs,
Back to our own daily trifles and struggles,
Back to the world.
And that's all there is to this funny thing we call life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Solace

Solace is...

Taking in the sweet fragrance of the incense sticks at the altar and watching the smoke swirl its way to the heavens, carrying with it tears, pleas, and prayers.

Listening to the Yesudas version of 'Harivarasanam' just as you drift into the land of sleep.

The stillness and silence of meditation.

Listening to the croak of frogs on a dark night, after an outburst of rain, thunder, and lightning.

Burying your nose deep into a book and catching a whiff of the faint vanilla fragrance that lurks within the pages.

Stumbling upon snatches of strangers' conversations in your mother tongue, far away from the homeland.

A hot cup of chai as you watch the world go by.

Knowing that someone cares.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Blue Aerogramme

I used to eagerly await
The fortnightly blue aerogramme
With a benevolent bapu beaming
In a stamp size corner at the top right.
Wafer thin, you needed to slit it open,
Slowly, gently, carefully
Lest you hastily tear away
The loving words inside.
Squiggly letters of my southern tongue
Etched in blue fountain pen ink
Brings me news from home:
So and so's marriage,
Birth of a child...
Speckled with bits of advice:
Eat properly
Find good friends
Call if you can
If you can't, at least write back.
It made me think of
The little things that were so familiar to me:
Fiery red chillies spread on newspaper,
Left out to dry in the afternoon sun;
The comforting whistle of the pressure cooker
Mingling with the melody of suprabhatam;
Aroma of filter coffee wafting in the air,
Just as the conch signals deepaaraadhana.
I now look at the device in my hands.
The one I resort to
Whenever I wish to escape people.
The one that demands my constant attention.
The one that orders instant replies.
I look at the blue tickmarks on the screen,
And I feel stifled.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Signature

She sat in front of the shrine
Weeping and praying
'Please give me a sign
To stop my faith from swaying'
A single flower dropped onto her lap.
From some place, not on a map?
The heavens are never deaf.
She asked for a sign.
And she got it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ouija Board

It was supposed to be harmless fun
She wanted to see what it was- a story spun,
To beffudle the gullible, an old wives' tale?
Or maybe there was more to it, a face beyond the veil?
So, she fished out the Ouija Board, covered with dust.
She was told it was evil: 'Stay away, you must'.
But, without adventure, what is life?
So she ignored warnings that the board brings strife.
It gave her answers, one by one.
Revealed secrets, past mistakes she'd done.
A cold shiver ran down her spine,
This was seriously getting out of line.
Out of the house she ran,
Abandoned the board near a dustpan.
Walked back to her room to gulp down water,
She didn't hear the chuckle, silent laughter.
Forget the madness, she said, get back working!
And then she froze:
The board was still there, almost smirking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bidya Mosque

This is a sleepy fishing village
Off the eastern coast,
Away from the glitz of neon lights,
Away from skyscrapers touching the heavens,
Away from busy people whose every action
Screams 'Look at me! I am important!'
No, in this little mosque
All is quiet, tranquil.
If you listen carefully,
You can hear the waters of
The Gulf of Oman
Crashing onto the sandy beach.
There is nothing else.
On a Friday, sacred day,
There will be a steady trickle
Of visitors:
The faithful, the pious,
And the plainly curious,
Along with some tourists
Always identifiable
By the pouts and poses
For selfies and facebook statuses.
Soft cries of Allahu Akbar
God is great!
And then it is quiet again
In this quaint mosque
400 years old
Built of mud and stone
Four circular domes
Vestige of an Ottoman past?
One never really knows.
If you listen carefully,
Amid the deafening silence
You can hear the voice of God.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Grandpa

Slowly shuffling into the kitchen
Feet wrapped in rubber blue Bata chappals,
He boils milk in a saucepan
For the first chai of the day.
Long morning hours engrossed
In the hidden meaning of the Scriptures
And then the tiny newsprint of the Hindu,
He gently falls asleep,
Mouth open, like Mr Whatzisname,
A similarity I pounced on with glee
Since those were the days I lived
On a steady diet of Enid Blyton and
The magic of the Faraway Tree.
A faint snore, and then
He awakes with a start
Goes outside, to the balcony
To collect the dry laundry.
Every time I cry,
He wipes away the stubborn tears.
His eyes reflect pain;
He shakes his head and says,
'Don't cry, mol'.
He looks at the photo of Muruga
The warrior god, after whom he is named.
Pointing at the photo, he smiles.
'Why do you fear, when He is here?'

The temple at Marudhamalai,
Cave shrine at the bottom of the hill,
Where a self realised sage, a siddhar
Spoke to slithering snakes,
Green aluminium cupboard
With all its naphthalene balls
And carefully preserved silk,
Bottles and bottles of kashayam,
Camphor lit at dusk,
Vanishing in the heat of the flame,
A priest applying vibhuti on the forehead
Of a small child,
Tokens of blessings,
Sacred fire to ward off the evil eye.
They all remind me of him.
How he'd stand at the doorway
Welcoming us back home.
And when it was time to leave,
He'd wave till our car had disappeared.
He'd always insist that I say,
'Bye, I'll go and come back'.
Not a plain bald 'Bye'
That we toss around so casually in English.
And yet, when he left,
It was an abrupt cruel 'Bye'
No promise of a return.
A final goodbye.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Priest of the Temple

The trouble with being back home after a long time is that one begins digging into the past, and many things that had been hitherto forgotten come swimming up to the shores of memory. It was the same case with me today. I was searching for something, and came across a black folder with all my scribbles and doodles, dating all the way back to 2003, when I first began writing. I wrote this narrative poem on Abhirami Pattar, the patron saint of Thanjavur, on the Christmas Day of 2006.


He was a priest, pious and humble
Every moment, the Goddess' name he'd mumble.
The Cyclone of Misery was blowing
Yet, devotion to the Goddess kept him going.
His firm faith brought him glory,
A few were jealous of his story.
While most were wonderstruck,
The envious gossiped about his 'luck'.
So off they marched to the King of the town
Who listened to them with a furious frown.
Blasphemy! The priest forgetting the rites, his duty,
Instead singing praises of the Goddess and Her beauty.
The King asked him about the position of the moon
'It's a full moon' came the reply, as if in a swoon.
So enraptured by Her splendour was he
The King was next to him, he failed to see!
It was actually a new moon night
The dark sky didn't have a sparkle of light.
The King was in a fit of rage
He ordered his men to slay the sage.
The poor man was sentenced to death by burning
Platform prepared, the fire was turning.
Forced to play Death's game,
And yet he chanted the Goddess' name.
Suddenly they heard a laugh, loud and clear
They saw the Goddess' face, beautiful and dear.
She threw, into the air, one of her ear studs
And it turned to a full moon, like blossoming buds.
This parable teaches humanity
That if man is free of conceit and vanity
That devotee, the Creator will never forsake
All you need is solid faith that'll not shake.

Paper Boat

Nothing compared to Tagore's masterpiece, but here is my humble version on the paper boat.


Paper Boat
Carefully crafted
From the torn page.
Of a used notebook.
I set it afloat
The river Kalpaathy.
Women washing clothes
On stone slabs,
Kolams on wet ground,
Madisaar and the twinkle
Of a diamond nose stud
Old men clad in
Starched white veshtis
Discuss communism and communalism.
I watch as the paper boat
Floats, slowly drifting away
From this land so familiar to me.
Twinge of sadness
Our paths will never cross again.
What will it meet on its
Winding journey to join the Great Ocean?
I stare at it, till my eyes can see no further;
It is now just a speck in the vast horizon.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Henny and Penny

I still remember the cold winter day
We brought home Henny and Penny.
I had nobody with whom to play
For I was shy, friends not too many.
So I jumped at the idea of a ride
To the town market, with Appa by my side.
A routine, weekly chore,
Quite easily a bore.
But it delighted me nonetheless.
Ooty town market, with all its dirt and slush,
Bawling babies, mothers asking them to shush,
A cow regally walks down the lane
Like a queen inspecting subjects during her reign.
In the middle of the cacophony
A man unveils what he has to trade:
Tiny chickens in a cardboard box wade
Chirping, indignant at being swathed in colour;
Brightness against grey skies growing duller.
I squealed in delight
It was such a pretty sight!
And so we brought two of them home
One in pink, the other in green
Nothing like them I had ever seen.
I borrowed their names from an old tale,
They grew fast; colours began to pale.
Until one day
They went missing
Vanished into thin air!
We searched high and low
But it was all in vain.
That day I discovered
The existence of the slaughterhouse.
A part of my childhood
Died that day.

Third Eye

Tiny maroon circle
Sits between the eyebrows
Symbolic of the third eye
The inner eye, ajna chakra
Which points steadfast to the Goal
Like a compass needle
Seeking the North.
This is not a fashion statement;
A bohemian trend meant for the ramp walk.
This is my identity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ochre

Sunrise, sunset
Anthills
Sweet citrusy fragrance
Squiggly jalebis in a pan of oil
Glowing flame
Scorching fire
Robes of sannyaas
Thou art That
Tat tvam asi.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bab el Bahrain / باب البحرين

Gateway to Bahrain stands tall and proud
Historic building in a concrete jungle
Vestige of the past, smack in the middle
Of glitz and neon lights, built on reclaimed land.
It opens into another world all together:
Manama souq, with all its winding alleys and hidden shops
Shawarma joints, meat roasting on the spit
Gold shops, dazzling and tempting pockets
Arabic sweets, spices, heady scent of attar
Mingle with the fetid stench of trash cans
The call to prayer drowns loud voices, arguing, haggling
This is like the Tower of Babel.
Many languages, many tongues, springing surprises,
An Irani vendor argues in Malayalam,
Just as a Malabari shopkeeper shouts in Arabic.
In a secret corner, lies a sanctuary of silence.
A mandir to Krishna, solace to those who've left home.
Rich, yellow laddoos offered to the Lord,
Bridging the gap of the ocean between home and destiny.
During Muharram, there is a different kind of chaos,
Crowds of the faithful, swathed in robes of black,
Drum beats, funereal procession, solemn dirge
To remember the Martyrs at the Battle of Karbala.
Can I go back in time?
To when I was just a little girl
In a navy blue pinafore
Skipping along these very streets
Busy chattering, never minding
The merciless afternoon sun
As I walked back home.

Nei Payasam / നൈ പായസം

Raw rice in a sea of jaggery, molten brown
Cashews and raisins, coconut - slivers of white
Offered to Bhagavati at sun down
Fierce yet loving Mother, who'd set things right.
Lit camphor eaten by the flame
The air, thick with devotion and incense smoke
The ego and its myriad desires for success, fame
Dedicate it to Her; surrender; in it you soak.
Look at the nei payasam, warm and sweet
Shining, glistening, drizzled with ghee
Leave all your worries at Her feet,
Savor the payasam, and breathe free.

Thiruvizha/திருவிழா

A travelling troupe puts up a skit
Song, dance, a message with wit
Advising workers to fight for wages
The village gathers; men, women, of all ages.
As the drama comes to a stop
Tiny roadside stores begin to pop
Offering orange, red, ice-lollies,
Kites, bangles, dancing Thanjavur dollies.
A wizened woman sells kanakaambaram flowers;
Perfect gift to unite separated lovers.
A lost child cries, picking her nose,
An old man, beedi in hand, begins to doze.
Soothsayers arrive, parrots in a cage
The village drunk ambles around, in a fit of rage.
Karakaatam dancers, pots on their heads wobble
Pretty girls in thavanis, the men turn to ogle.
Drum beats fade into the depths of night
Fireworks brighten the velvety darkness with light.


Thiruvizha is the Tamil word for carnival or fair.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blue

Vastness of space
Krishna's hue
Beatific smile on his face
They're all blue.
The poisonous potion
Down Shiva's throat
The nothingness of the Ocean
Upon which we float.
Sweaty palms, ink stains
Knots of ache
Melancholic strains
From a harmonium awake
Releasing a flood of memories
Carefully preserved in some
Forgotten corner of the mind.
Bittersweet nostalgia.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Valparai, circa 1956

Carpets of green, mountains of mist
Granny's house - warm, sun kissed
Across the horizon, the Aanaimalai Hills beckon
Broken necklace adorning the Deccan.
Granny sits out, relaxing in the lawns
A black Labrador rolls over and yawns.
Fiercely protective, he sits at her feet,
Growling at the cat, awaiting the fishmonger's treat.
Near Rotti Kadai, tiny shop supplying bread,
The faithful built a shrine in an old shed
Dedicated to Vanathu Chinnapar, the Hermit St Paul
Protector, Guardian of all.
Darkness spreads, the glorious sun sinks
And Hosanna is sung to the King of Kings.

I've been thinking a bit too much about Valparai these past few days. Valparai is a tiny hill station on the Western Ghats of southern India, where my dad spent his childhood. I've visited only once, but it has left a strong impression in my mind's eye, and I do hope I get to go there again. The photograph on the right inspired me to write this piece. The beautiful lady in the photo is my dear granny, Krishnaveni, after whom I am named, and whom I sadly never got to know in this life. The black Labrador was called Jackie, and he was fiercely protective of granny. His rival, a ginger cat called Tojo, is not to be seen in the photo; in all possibility, he might have been perking his ears, waiting  to hear the fishmonger's bicycle bell.



Monday, March 30, 2015

On the Banks of the Nila

The river Nila flows like a silver sliver
Across the very heart of central Kerala.
Shokanaashini, Destroyer of Sorrows, she is called
On her banks, lies a holy spot
Where the Pandavas, weary from the wounds of war,
Burdened by guilt,
Grieved the deaths of their kith and kin;
Deaths, they had knowingly caused at Kurukshetra.
Nila cleansed them off their sins
And delivered them from their sorrows,
By bestowing salvation upon the wandering souls of the long departed.
And so, many years later, we arrive at the same spot.
A priest, tugging at the sacred white thread across his chest,
Recites mantras from the ancient scriptures.
We take numerous dips in the river,
Our teeth chattering from the bitter cold of dawn,
Just as the first rays of the sun
Slowly appear on the distant horizon.
The eldest son dons a pair of wooden sandals.
He takes seven steps forward.
This is the journey to that great land of Kasi,
Where souls are finally liberated from the traps of rebirth.
He has gone to leave my grandpa there.
Then he takes seven steps backward,
His duty, as the eldest son, done.
We toss the X rays, prescriptions, and medical reports,
Cruel reminders of the fragility of life.
We empty the urn off its ashes, and let them afloat.
They will ultimately meet the Ocean at Ponnani
And dissolve into nothingness.
White balls of rice, dotted with black sesame seeds
Wait upon the green banana leaves.
'Caw, caw, caw!' we go around clapping
A murder of crows flies across the skies,
Refusing to acknowledge our presence.
'Caw, caw, caw!', we persist.
A lonely crow finally deigns to respond
To our fervent pleas.
It swoops down and knocks off a rice ball
Before flying away with a bit of rice
Safely secured in its beak.
We slowly trudge our way back,
Armed with nothing, except memories of a life well lived
We go back to our jobs,
Back to our own daily trifles and struggles,
Back to the world.
And that's all there is to this funny thing we call life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Solace

Solace is...

Taking in the sweet fragrance of the incense sticks at the altar and watching the smoke swirl its way to the heavens, carrying with it tears, pleas, and prayers.

Listening to the Yesudas version of 'Harivarasanam' just as you drift into the land of sleep.

The stillness and silence of meditation.

Listening to the croak of frogs on a dark night, after an outburst of rain, thunder, and lightning.

Burying your nose deep into a book and catching a whiff of the faint vanilla fragrance that lurks within the pages.

Stumbling upon snatches of strangers' conversations in your mother tongue, far away from the homeland.

A hot cup of chai as you watch the world go by.

Knowing that someone cares.