Early Poems

Basant

Basant is known to ruffle routine –
The bright festival unfolds us
Like an aerial landscape, from where
We have seen kites and bees swarming
Rooftops, little mustards and promises sprout,
Little brothers dressed like the father,
Little rose-brown girls in yellow clothes –
Ourselves.

Gopis of Braj are also waiting
In bangles and kohl, I’m told, –
Praying the prank be granted –
For a chance to play Hori again,
For sprightly Krishna to arrive,
Wear makeup and dance to their songs.

When the prayer is not granted,
Frenzied men shower clouds of pink,
As in narrow streets of Barsana,
And women tend their itching bones
With sound beatings.

Raagmala

For Rajan Parrikar

Miyan Malhar
An abiding ecstasy,
Massive and composed,
Abandons man to some godlike element,
Harnessing clouds with reins of will.

Jaunpuri
An ethereal sadness grips a morning
That smells like no other
And emanates the radiance
Of brimming hearts and childhood haunts –
The bittersweet of growing up.

Sarang
Resting in a banyan’s shade,
A wanderer fancies fickle nature
As being more or less serene –
And moves Mara to tears.

Shankara
Frankincense in the night’s distance
From a solitary temple
Where pundits keep all lamps lit,
To reminisce charms of whimsical Shiva.

Jaijaivanti
Earthy passion in the cradle of perfect joy –
A youth stands reconciled,
And cannot help but fade in paeans
To that one pretty thought in life.

Gunkali
The name of God at night’s final hour –
A solemn plaint without reproach,
A calm devotion etched in stone.

Ramkali
Veneration for divine handiwork
Pregnant with Himalayan strains –
A somber myth of pagan creation
Interspersed with charming days of rest.

Multani
The sun peeps through
A cave and engenders mysteries
Where all lost relics of understanding
Are sheltered from sultry incandescence.

Hamir
Could night perhaps churn out
Such sweet incessant tunes that just
Turn around like lovers for a last, last kiss,
And make the same little confession
In iridescent, winning ways?

Shree
A sundown half past cares
With trees ensnared in dusky wisps –
Where grim reflections beyond fear
Wrangle with the demonic
And make new friends.

Aiman
An old songster breaks into
Love’s undying night tale
That everyone has heard before
And cares to listen still.

Desi
A song that sings its own soil,
Always unaware,
Always molting and returning
To its fashioning clay.

(A Raagmala is a series of short compositions in various raags.
Shiva: ‘the auspicious one’, the destroyer – a god with several complex attributes
Mara: personification of evil; the Buddhist ‘Tempter’; Death)

Sophrosyne

How good to wake up to an overcast summer sky,
To find the trees and houses washed in rain;
The leaves emerge luxuriant from the drip-drop
Of a generous shower – a new beginning
For all that has rested well and risen early;
The sun relents, a waking dream ensues,
Necessity is trodden with a sleepwalk sureness.

A moment, the only time there is to think if we
May find our happiness without a cause,
If slithering down the slopes of life’s organic course
The greatest joy is simply manifest:
The child already knows how to be pleased and pained;
Its slightest gestures bloom into persuasions
With no recourse to the homunculus of reason.

Is growing up not also a long cremation
Of soap bubble dreams into ashy attributes?
Not silly enough to laugh, and play at life,
Grow sillier still to frown and laugh down on silly games?
Wisdom has acquired too austere a name,
But its sweeter fruits and blossoms always return a smile
On trees of shade that mark our onward tread.

(Sophrosyne: accepting the bounds which excellence lays down for human nature, restraining impulses to unrestricted freedom, to all excess, obeying the inner laws of harmony and proportion)

Afternoon

Let us watch these flowers of privation bloom
And carry the doubtful smell of distant lands and seasons,
Both past and future unfold and fall into our laps,
Each stretching shadow spell some halcyon fulfillment.

We’re seasoned by the shifting slant of similar afternoons
In moods and days counting to you or me for nothing,
Like a lonely pipit’s trill departing from a poplar
Skims floating bands of mist over wheat fields at dusk,
Heard by a few, returned by none, and recreates
Life’s mystery in lineaments of unseen faces.

Forgetfulness is yielding clues against my will,
Unheeding all, to memory’s allusive hand,
Whose work weaves strong illusions and whimpers faint impressions
Showing us what is not true yet carries meaning,
Tracing pathways leading to primeval strains,
Encompassing ontology and childhood whims
In little things like swaying tops of bamboo trees
Outside the house where you once played those little games.

Confessions

I
The breeze tonight is full of warm confessions,
The flowers give a friendlier scent
And the clouds’ rumble too I take for
The ruth of some primeval father,
But then the drizzle wrings my soul.
Indeed it is a pain to know, dearest,
That my passion found no repose in your heart.
(Why should it? I sometimes manage to wonder.)
However I prolong this fond discourse,
I know your answer, alas, only too well.
There must be reasons, and assuming all in glimpses
Might not seem reason enough. There must be other things
Unaccountably concealed behind the veil.
What can I say! Who knows how you take my words,
You, who are symbolic of youth, of good cheer,
Profoundly naïve and a life-giver –
One may call it an illusion all the same –
That little nodding ponytail of yours says all:
It is a very straightforward affair.

Forgive my tactlessness and let me tell you
What I mused and dreamed the night before we met:

II
I saw Love, the enchantress, holding the childlike in us under her spell –
The vulnerable, impertinent child, so shy of broad daylight,
Who even in its most violent ravings restores our innocence.
She shone a pale benevolent light upon my past;
I saw my spirit swoop and soar
With all the senseless pangs of youth that verge on life.
I visited the graves under mulberry trees,
Their broken sarcophagi and underneath, the bones…
I told her I had seen it all and knew each time
“That life would never be the same again?”
She stole my words and made me glad;
She took my arm, I knew not where we went;
Along the way, I joked and laughed, pledged and sighed;
She only shook her head and smiled.
Soon the world around us grew golden and strange,
The sun’s eye gentle and forbearing.
“At each parting mellow necessity descends upon us,”
She said, and raised a snow white finger to my lips,
“Lest you demand the impossible and spoil the moment!”
I suddenly ceased to trifle with explanation,
Fell to my knees, clasped her hands
And felt her shrink and shrivel in my arms –
Wrinkled skin and sunken cheeks, large hollow sockets that gazed
Out into the infinite and brought no image back.

III
I saw myself as a boy and you the little neighborhood girl,
Both visiting the neighborhood again,
Where tall autumnal trees froze in tortuous tangles
With daisies glowing at their feet.
We found our bicycles half-buried under earth,
We knew they’d lain there for years and our old houses brought down.
There was a somber silence while we retrieved the relics
With our small hands and carried them off to nothingness.
You reappeared in the old backyard playing with yellow ladybirds –
I took a few, hurled them up toward the sky,
And they all turned into strangely beautiful flowers –
Flowers that could levitate, almost like lotuses.
Overfull with joy, first we laughed and jubilated,
Then I broke into sudden bitter tears. Why?
Because I knew I’d wake up from this dream a man?
Was it a reproach of Time, or rather
A vague intuition that such transcendent beauty
Would rarefy life into ethereal vapors,
Giving me a foretaste of transformation, even madness,
A second travail from which, I like to believe,
Rebirth is possible? All of this, the breeze, the dream, the flowers,
The whole silent remembrance, and you?

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