12 July, 2016


I remember her hands. 
Fingers, so sure in their symmetry.
I'd enviously marvel at their painful perfection.
Then glance down at my stubby fingers —
each one a rogue character
from different stories that didn't fit.
Nails bitten, skin peeled off
cuticles pulled back in a painful grimace.
But I digress.

I remember her hands,
and that afternoon in Delhi.
A sharp cut splintered our chatter!
Blood plopped, staining the
chipped marble floor,
the red oozing out
as I stood, transfixed.
"Get me the dettol!"
I, anxious to help,
soaked a wad of cotton with the brown liquid
and eagerly I wrapped it on her cut thumb.
She screamed, I held on.
Sure I was doing the Right Thing.
First Aiding my way to a Heroic Deed.
Many months later she'd show me her scarred thumb
the Dettol had burnt the skin
a shade lighter than
the rest of her fair hand
and I'd squirm
guilty I'd ruined The Perfect Hands.

I remember her hands. 
Pinching my ears
as I tearfully discovered undone homework
A green velvet fish
sequined, no less!
Those fingers snarled, pinching my ear.
I trembled under their wrath,
sticking sequin by sparkling sequin
my tears making them twinkle
in the endless night.

I remember her hands.
Turning the pages of Little Women.
I'd pretend I was Jo. Never the others.
Somedays it was My Experiments With Truth,
And as she'd read a page or two,
I'd feel drowsy,
waiting for the hands to stop
turning to another page.

I remember her hands.
whipping up biscuit cakes and crêpe suzettes,
ringlets in my hair and billowing frocks.
They conjured up exotic things those hands —
things I could barely pronounce
or understand.
But I'd dance along,
thirsty to be thrilled.

I remember her hands,
knitting needles flitting clickety click.
And as if by magic,
out came sweaters, caps, socks
made to order, "Amma, I want one with pockets"
"Amma a loose one to sleep in".
And those hands would oblige,
weaving me memories
woolly indulgences to my every demand.


I try to unsee these hands
now riddled with marks.
Veins too tired to
take in another needle.
She gasps as Sister pokes and prods
there are no places left to draw
any blood
that had once flowed so freely that
I'd drowned it in Dettol.

I try to unsee these hands
that recognise me not.
I hold them now,
willing them into remembering my face.
But they wilt long before they reach me.
They stand blotchy and bruised
ugly in their amnesia.
"Rotate the wrists,
Five times clockwise
Five times the other way."
As I instruct, they tremble
Unsure of my demands.
they collapse, lost and weary.  

Whose hands are these?
I wonder, adrift.
Silent they sit
vacant and uncertain.
Desperately, I clasp them
turn them around this way and that.
Whose hands are these?
Something shatters as I scream
Whose hands are these?
Whose hands are these?
And then, as if sensing my anguish,
she points to her thumb —
The Dettol mark
stares back — slightly paler than her blotched, bruised skin.
And for a moment,
I remember her hands.
Yes, once again, I remember her hands. 

23 May, 2016

Who am I today?

I spoke to no one today. Or yesterday. Or the day before that. And it was ok. I swept and swabbed today. My sweat flowed into a river of grime and I carried on, melting into the day. I watched a movie and washed my hair today. I watched a boy and girl sitting beside me snuggle up today. I smiled a them encouraging them a little further today. I walked past the shop that sells animals in little cages today. Two emaciated kittens lay sleeping, their fur matted and dirty. In the cage below, two puppies slept - thin in a way puppies shouldn't be, sleeping in a way only puppies can. I saw a man pick up used Pepsi bottles today. He opened each one and sipped the remains. And then I bought a pen that cost 75 rupees today. I saw potato wafers being fried in a massive kadhai of oil today. They simmered a golden yellow, glistening with what could clog my arteries one day. I ate a burger today. The pongamia tree showered its blossoms on the road today. I felt the little buds get crushed under my feet as I walked. I stared at screens a lot today. I remembered a time I used to write. And quill. And sing. And bake. I am not that girl today.  

21 January, 2016

साँस तो ले लो

मन करता है कहीं छुप जाऊँ - 
अम्मा के पल्लू के नीचे 
उनके पेट की ठंडक पे 
सेहलालूँ थोड़ी देर 
अपने मन के सलवटों को। 

और धीरे से वो
मेरे माथे को सहलातीं - 
"बस, बस, रुक जाओ,
कहाँ भागी जा रही हो?
साँस तो ले लो। 

मैं सांस लेती हूँ - लम्बी -  
और कुछ देर ही सही,
मेरे चिन्ताओं के गाँठ
उधड़ते दीखते हैं
उनके हाथों में 
मानो ऊन के गोले।  

18 October, 2015

That time of the year

Every other autumn
you pale 
at the colour of our love.
Sullenly, you pluck 
at the last remaining leaves:
ochres and oranges
swirl down
confused, let down.

It will take another 
bitter winter, and
the breathless vigour of spring
to breath back some colour 
into our story
and compassion
in our hearts.

30 May, 2015

La Sagrada Familia

[La Sagrada Familia or The Holy Family is an unfinished Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona, Spain. Its architect, Anton Gaudí, was a Catalan architect who significantly contributed to Barcelona’s modernist movement and built several iconic structures during his life. Construction on this grand church, often considered Gaudi’s masterpiece, began in 1882 but its design is so complex and ambitious that even today, it is far from complete.]
I am
the Sagrada,
unpolished, rough cut,
a work in perpetual progress.

I started
with one architect,
but I have become
a trencadís1 of different artists.
Every person I meet comes and
carves another pirouette in stone.

A thousand workers
mould and polish me;
they chip, chisel and hurt me
taking more than they can give
hammering me hollow as I powder at their anvil.

Some paint me
the gentle swishes
of their brushes lulling me into love.
they put another coat here, one there,
hiding the uglier blemishes, painting new wounds.

I start and stop thus,
some days growing tall –
a glorious castell2 well-balanced, proud.
Some days a pillar is pulled down,
And I start over, dejected but never outdone.

I thrive thus; a back and forth of sorts:
A continuous creation; unendingly unborn.

1. Trencadís or pique assiette, is a form of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, where broken pieces of colourful tiles are used to build intricate patterns.
2. A castell or castle is a human tower made during festivals in Catalonia, which has an intricate process of assembling and dissembling.

13 January, 2015

Ineffability or What I feel When You Open the Door

My breath is caught
between the ringing of the doorbell
and the moment before
the door creaks open. 

when your face, so familiar
peers out,
a funny flip flips
 the space where 
my mind meddles with my heart. 

it is beautiful to me, your face
in ways no one (not even me) 
will understand.
and we ignore this minute miracle
in the hope of larger marvels.

You nod imperceptibly
my arrival acknowledged by
a flicker in your eyes
an unformed smile skirting your lips.
I answer by walking past
Disintegrating into the mundane. 

Drop bag. throw off shoes. gulp water. 
and only then do I
exhale the day's triumphs and tragedies
in the refuge of your embrace
yeh lo mera saamaan.

In the space between us 
nestled near quiet acceptance
and indulgent gaze
I, sagging spirit and slumberous sight in tow,

11 June, 2014


We live in a time when 'green living' has become fashionable. We call ourselves ecotourists. We travel to rural India and are suitably impressed by farmers using mobile phones. 'How we have progressed!' we exclaim. We buy unpolished rice to ease our conscience and can spend on a meal, money equal to a person's entire monthly income. We are conscientiousness and concerned; we are educated and restless. We want to make a difference and we don't have a clue how.
"His (Gandhi's) nightmare was a machine-dominated industrial society which would suck India's villagers from the countryside into her blighted urban slums, severe their contact with the social unit that was there natural environment, destroy their ties of family and religion, all for the faceless, miserable existence of an industrial complex spewing out goods men didn't really need.
He was not, as he was sometimes accused of doing, preaching a doctrine of poverty. Grinding poverty produced the moral degradation and the violence he loathed. But so too, he argued, did a surfeit of material goods. A people with full refrigerators, stuffed clothes cupboards, a car in every garage and a radio in every room, could be psychologically insecure and morally corrupt. Gandhi wanted man to find a just medium medium between debasing poverty and the heedless consumption of goods."
p.197, Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

10 April, 2014

At the Movies

Friendly Bear Via Sarajea 

She stuffed her bag under the seat, fidgeted till she found her spot in the seat and then without notice, slipped her hand into his. He was still undecided whether he liked holding her hand or not. But while he was deciding, he didn't mind doing it anyway. Her hands had a needy quality about them. Always wanting to be held, sweating into a clammy mess like awkward teenagers, the stubby fingers and chewed nails unsure in their ugliness.

04 January, 2014

On Writing and Identity

The first time I encountered Orwell I was 13 years old. I picked up Animal Farm thinking it was a story of a farm and finished it with that notion intact. All undertones, subtle and otherwise, were lost on my teen brain. Thankfully, over the years I revisited Orwell and unpeeled layers, igniting my fascination with his writing and person. 

Why I Write is an intimate book in which he elegantly elucidates his motivations to write. It is a collection of essays, but I will talk of two here: Why I Write, and England on England. In a manner so honest and personal, the reader is almost apologetic for being allowed into his mind, Orwell questions what it means to belong to a country - what does it mean to be English - he reasons that belonging to a country is so closely tied to one's identity that it naturally affects any artistic endeavour. I pause to wonder whether such an exercise is possible for me, or even prudent? But as Orwell says:
'Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle? 
But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.
And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.'
He goes on to talk about 'emotional unity' in the face of moments of 'supreme crisis' and my thoughts turn to
Republic Day in 2001. I had, the night before, painted my keds with white paint. It had dried unevenly and in places, the paint had cracked mournfully. We had gotten up early and prepared for the parade. Left right left. Left right left. After marching in the sallow winter sun, we got the standard treat. One besan ka ladoo, one soggy samosa (I only ate the cover, Lee faithfully ate the aaloo for me in exchange for her samosa cover) and a handful of ber. We hurried back to our hostel, planning to while away the rest of the day. I was at my cupboard when I felt the tremor. 'Did the ground just shake?' I asked, excitement making my voice quiver. 'Eeeeeeee earthquake!' someone screamed and we ran out of our rooms, shocked and suitably awed at the possibility. Later, we sat subdued, as news of death tolls trickled in. Next days papers narrated tales of destruction and loss. We contributed money, clothes, and we made cards, unable to understand the import of losing one's home, loved ones and all possessions to an idiosyncrasy. We heard of people coming together from across the country, united in grief and comrades in compassion. Yes, Orwell's words do make sense in retrospect. 

He ends the essay in a subdued yet hopeful tone, 
'It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.'
My mind turns to the transitions and transformations shaping India. The plough giving way to the tractor and Ladakh becoming 'the' place to travel to, Nana recounting the lost glory of Allahabad University and mountains being mined of their serenity, never learning how to make Ammaji's famous हड़  का अचार  and clothing becoming homogenised - Delhi or London, boots becoming ubiquitous. But like Orwell, I am naive and optimistic enough to believe that India will still be India - an everlasting consciousness in my identity. And as I change my shape with it, I remain who I am, and yet so different.

The Next Big Step is coming to a close. I'm looking forward to a homecoming : )


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