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.



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.