Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Garden is no Paradise!

Squirrels in our garden
Scampered freely,
Up and down a row of mango trees
Appearing out of nowhere
They’d rush around with rare alacrity,
Their small, beady eyes darting everywhere
Emerging out of an unseen, black hole
Hidden inside the thick foliage;  
Bending generously over our house
Their habitat was a permanent honeycomb, 
In summers
Shading off the skin-scorching heat,  
Scattering thousands of delicious mangoes
Across our backyard
That squirrels often refused to touch or eat,
In winters 
The thick grove spread over our balcony,  
Giving a protective, green cover
To an otherwise sullen-looking, red-brick structure,
Threatening to engulf all Nature.
Our garden is no Paradise,
Yet birds in flight often stopped over
To splash and dive,
To roll and jive, 
In little pools of water
Our tap created,
Every time, it was thoughtlessly left open
Pretty little beaks drinking drops of muddy elixir,  
Only sometimes,
Surprise knocks on the window-panes
Made us wonder,
Why our guests have chosen not to press the door-bell?  
Curious to see the visitor’s face, 
As we pushed the curtains away,
An uplifted beak of a sparrow greeted us, 
Pecking into our woodchuck peace.
Most of the time,
The birds and squirrels left us alone
Minding their own little shops,  
Almost with a touching self-absorption;  
Never making any demands on our attention,
Caught in their own circumambulations 
Almost with Ganesha’s devotion. 
This completion is what we humans hate to see,
It reminds us of our own inadequacy;
Even if we have no will to control or destroy,
We find it hard to resist the impulse to try,
Dipping our brushes into rainbow palettes,  
Ready with our strokes to alter the design.  
For us,
Nature’s bounty and munificence are not enough,
We love to pierce her ears, turning truth into fluff. 
Her strange, enigmatic ways set our teeth on edge,
Driving between our needs and greed, a permanent wedge.
So, unmindful of the birds, squirrels and their habitat,
One day, the patriarch issued a diktat:  
Now that winter is almost upon us, riding slow, 
With sunshine our garden must overflow; 
We thought it was a very human decision, 
Lopping off a few branches was not out of season;    
A few unruly branches won’t make so much of a difference? 
They’ll grow back in no time, we argued in self-defense.  
The same thick foliage that serves us well in summers
Becomes a nuisance in winters, no fool readily suffers.     
When the first axe fell on the branches of a mango tree,
Several squirrels jumped out, running frenziedly,
Though a zigzag of broken shards on the wall,   
Unmindful of how it may rip off their fluffy fur  
Rendered homeless, they scurried for another cover. 
Now, our garden has plenty of sunshine
But birds don’t come calling, any more 
And squirrels, I’m told, have left for other shores.   

Friday, November 26, 2010

When will this bloke ever grow up?

When I look into the mirror
My receding hairline,
Tufts of grey above my side-burns,
Crow’s feet around my lazy eyes,
Dark circles darkening in the broad daylight,
My slightly peppered, graying goatee, 
And the hardening of lines along the nose,
Suddenly stare back at me, 
As though mocking at the thoughts in my head.
When I look into the mirror
My bespectacled vision,
Clouded with heavy puffs of my sighs,  
As though cataract has descended early,
My knotted knuckles and twisted fingers, 
Aching bones, arthritic joints,  
And twingeing knees, crackling under my weight,  
Suddenly stare back at me, 
As though mocking at the thoughts in my head.
When I look into the mirror
My puffy face and baked skin,
Turning brown in the oven of time,
My midriff, ever expanding like population,      
Oodles of flesh gathered at all the wrong places,
Like lumpy pouches of poverty,  
My gout-ridden ankles and swollen feet,
Suddenly stare back at me, 
As though mocking at the thoughts in my head.
When I look into the mirror
I find youth has come and gone,
Without stopping at my door,
Like a postman in a hurry,
Rushing off to deliver parcels and letters, elsewhere,
Leaving behind a stamp of age,
As strong as my fate-lines,
Etched out in my palms,
I refused to open up.   
Now every time
I look into the mirror
An old man looks at me,  
And steps back,
His spectacles slightly askew on his nose,
Sniggering at the shadows inside my head,
When will this 'bloke' ever grow up? 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

O Shiva! O Shiva!

You’ve come from the house of Shiva
I know,
But you're not Parvati, the goddess.
I never saw a halo around your head
And I think,
You performed no miracles, either.
To say that you could have been his daughter
Would mean I know no mythology,
Or have no qualms about turning it upside down.   
The biographers of Shiva boldly state,
He had no daughter
That he ever knew of. 
So who are you?
Are you the young, naïve girl
Who insisted upon visiting Daksha, her father, 
Against the instructions of her husband? 
The one who had to go through
The unbearable agony,
Humiliation and shame,   
All unwelcome visitors often live through.  
Are you the one who cowered in shame,
Listening to Daksha, your father,
Shout imprecations upon your husband?
Just because he wasn’t around.  
Why didn’t you quiz your father, then, 
About his surreal notions of culture?                                                                    
Why didn’t you turn the tables on him,
‘So what if I married Shiva of my own accord,
Why do you protest his long, matted hair?
His ash-smeared body, his poisonous snakes?
Why do you launch into this colonial diatribe
Against his tribal ways?’ 
Why couldn’t you throw the ball in his court,
‘I thought you were a gentleman.
When and how did you turn so rough and crude?
And how did you get to be so audaciously arrogant?’ 
Your father’s tongue-lashing had left you stunned.  
Was it the suddenness of his assault?   
Or the aggression of his repulsive, boorish ways,
That had really left you so completely dazed?
Was it a little girl’s timidity, you’d grown up with?  
Or a refusal of a stubborn child to raise her voice?   
Did you lose your nerve at the last minute, the way some women do?
Or were you tiptoeing to reach your father’s ears,
Pecking his approval as you always do?
Perhaps, you’d more faith in your father’s munificence
And not so much in your husband’s wisdom, 
Perhaps, you’d internalized your husband’s rage
Or was it just an overpowering suicidal instinct?
Whatever it was,  
Why did you set yourself aflame?  
Why did you reduce yourself to ashes? 
Crippling the entire womanhood,  
You chose a softer option,
Taking your life in your hands,
You went away.  
Why didn’t you think of millions of daughters you have,
Who continue to burn in the flames?  
Why didn’t you think of them?
What will they do when the moment comes?
Who will they turn to in their own distress? 
Each time, they raise their hands to pray?
Won’t they weaken in their resolve the way you did?
How will they feel inspired by someone,
Who lost faith in her own powers? 
Who failed to protect her honour and dignity? 
O Shiva! O Shiva!
You were not slighted by your father,
Your own cowardice it was that ruined it all for you,       
And for all those who could have been saved,
No, you certainly have no place in the pantheon,   
Oh, you must have been Shiva’s concubine! 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My father died twice

I’d thought, we all die once
But I was wrong
My father died twice.  
First time,
A sudden heart attack
Flattened him to the ground
As he stood watching over the pot
His morning tea coming to a slow boil
His patience cracked, and something snapped;
When my mother walked into the kitchen
She thought he was lying supine
In a somewhat awkward, stiff posture,
Doing his morning yoga
Or prostrating before an unknown God;   
No time to rush him to the hospital
Death had called, unbidden, dragging him away.
All his life he'd wished to die,
A willing martyr to no cause,
But when it finally did strike
It was as though he lay protesting,
Begging and pleading, not to take him away.
My mother had no choice, nor did we
Like obedient sons we never were, while he was alive
We had returned home to collect his ashes in an urn
To safely deposit them in the deep waters of Ganges,
Washing off all the grime of our soul
In the muddy waters;
Stepping into the orange light 
We had felt pure and sanctified.
Though bones and ashes lay clinging to our melting flesh
We had felt strangely relieved
Leaving the source of our life behind,
As though tons of lead, resting upon our breast
Had slipped away.
It was hard picking up the shards of our shattered lives;       
Learning to live without our father
Was somewhat like living in a roofless house,
Everything leaked,
Even an ordinary rain threatened to drown us
When sun beat down mercilessly
Huddled together like school children
We cried to keep ourselves warm and cheerful
Little betrayals of faith and trust
Kept our cash registers ringing through the day  
Sharp, piercing arrows of light  
So difficult to keep the count
That night seemed serene, in comparison,
Not as terrifying and spine-chilling it often is.  
Then one day,
My father returned,
As unexpectedly as he'd left.
Walking right into my heart
This time,
He found a niche, a permanent place; 
Occasionally, he’d sit there,
Frowning at my grandfather,
Kicking up a row, starting a fight,
Pulling swords out of the scabbards,
They’d often fight their battles at my expense.
Slowly their battles became fiercer.
Turning my heart into a battleground,
Father’s 'Id' milling around in futile chase,
Clashing hopelessly against grandfather’s 'Superego.'    
I watched these battles from the margins,  
Father roaring like a lion in a cage,
Grandfather staring back in impotent rage,
His rheumy eyes, darting helplessly 
Only sometimes, his religious piety seeped through
The carbuncles on my father’s flesh;
The battles raged endlessly,
Searing the edges of my heart,
Burning holes into the walls of my mind;
Phantoms danced in the dark, lonely corners
Feeding my fantasies, troubling my soul
So bad it was that I’d begun to wish
Oh, God! Why don’t you just let my father die?
Why doesn’t he just leave it to me to decide,
How to live this life, no longer mine.  
Then one night,
It happened, again
I saw the funeral of my father in a dream.  
It was as though the funeral bells rang twice.
We’ve all heard of the Second Coming of Christ
But the ‘second going’ of a mortal
Is nowhere even in the dreams of dead scriptures.     
That night, my father died again,
Now, I’m truly fatherless,
Feeling as though I’m myself, the first time ever…
A beginning of a new end, or the end of a new beginning,  
I do not know.
All I know is,
My father has died twice,
Once, the way we all do, silently
And next, with all its ceremonial trappings,
Inside the debris of my heart.  
Now if ‘anyone’ tells me,
People taste of death but once,
I laugh and snigger as I walk away,
Thinking how little we know of our ‘goings’ and ‘comings.’