Thursday, June 23, 2022

April Onwards

 Petrified pigeons in a flap

flapping away to safety

as a black kite glides

between our tall buildings,

a rara avis in these parts.

And now the children
Are going to school again
After two years of
Staying home, learning
Virtually, many of them.
I don't know most of them,
The children in our complex,
But today, it was a surprise
To see the little chap
I would meet each morning,
with his father, small,
Shot up, so much taller
But clinging, today,
To his mother's hand.

5th April

Tiny purple sunbird
Perched on the very tip
Of the huge fan palm leaf
A good morning indeed.

7th April

I went for a swim after years,
This morning, after a walk
To the milkbooth
Where I snarked at the booth owner,
because a young woman
Barged straight ahead,
Wanting dosa batter and chutney,
And then said that her kids
Had to go to school, lateness!
I said, a simple 'Excuse me'
At the very least,
Might have helped
I was also annoyed at myself
For being such a khadoos,
But sometimes one has to be.
The water was glorious,
The pool empty, more or less.
And the pigeons delicately
Perched on the edge
Sipping chlorinated water
I hope it doesn't hurt them.

8th April

Lapwing on the lawn
Sparrows chirping
Bulbul on the bough
Pigeons at the pool
Drinking daintily, but also
Pooping on the poolside.

9th April

Fallen dry champa leaves
From a distance
Birds pecking at the ground
Not soaring away

10th April

Cloudy neem trees
With a halo of tiny flowers
Summer beauty
Soon scattered
On the ground.

21st April

Pool ponderings
The thirsty pigeons drink
Perched on the edge of the pool
Bottoms up has a new meaning!
They poop there too, being pigeons.
My backstroke is haunted
By the thought of pigeons pooping
Mid flight, over the pool.
But they seem to need terra firma
For both input and output.
It's so hot that they cool their feet
In the balcony water bowl,
Shallow enough to feel safe.
It's just too hot to not care
About these creatures.

30th April

Puffed up pigeon
At the edge of the pool.
Many others came
And drank their fill.
This one preened,
Flicking water from its beak
To left and right,
Several times.
Cooling off, perhaps,
Pink feet at the edge
Enjoying the 'waves'
Lapping over, nervous too.
Pigeon sponge bath?

5th May

Tenth Birthday
The little boy is ten today.
A milestone in more ways than one.
This is, thanks to Covid,
His first birthday
Without his father's presence.
Not the only child so bereft, I know,
But it doesn't lessen our grief.

5th May

Low flying lapwing
Gliding over the Expressway
Have you missed your bus?
Are you going to Agra?
Or Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras?
Or a distant sector of my city itself?
The cars grouping for a wedding
Are left far behind, and you,
An unlikely guest!
My childhood triangle
Aligarh, Hathras, Agra:
Both grandfathers and ancestral home,
Place of pilgrimage too.
An oft repeated threesome...
The pilgrimage is much overdue.
I hope you reached your destination
safely, lapwing. Traffic can be hazardous.

15th May

I keep filling
The balcony water bowl
For the pigeons, and the
occasional sparrow, or squirrel,
in this extreme summer heat.
Yesterday afternoon was distressing:
A dead pigeon lay
On top of the window ledge, a floor below.
I couldn't bear to look at it again,
And watered the plants in the evening
With eyes averted, sadness within.
This morning, though,
There was no evidence
Of yesterday's tragedy.
Did a kite dispose of the pigeon,
Or did a cat?
Or did the wind blow it down
To the gardens below?
Or did its fellow pigeons
Fly off with it somewhere,
An avian cortege?
Perhaps it hadn't died after all,
A happy thought, but unlikely.
(It had looked completely dead).
One of life's many mysteries.

16th May

A magical evening. A neighbour singing on his front porch, microphone, amplifiers and all. Folding chairs, neighbours and passersby listening. A small girl whirling and twirling to the music. The sheer perfection of time and place. Pure magic.

30th May ( Memorial Day weekend, USA)

The elephant in the porch
Seemed quite unlikely
In a suburban home in the US.
Not a live elephant, of course,
But a statue of one,
The biggish statue you might see
In a state emporium.
I came up closer
With trusty camera phone
And clicked.
Not an elephant at all,
But a grey-brown covered
Perhaps a barbecue grill,
Or a motorcycle.
Homesick? No.
Just a desi who sees
Elephants where none exist.

3rd June

Impending departure
Packing up a month of memories
Of wonderful times
With children and grandchildren
And the cat,
a character in his own right
With his propensity to bite
My ankles. Pesky beautiful cat.
Our own lives beckon, across the globe...
Memories of cuddles and bubbles
Books and toys, walks and games
Car seats, and songs, both contemporary
And ancient ones from my childhood.
Will the little ones miss us?
We have to pack today,
Material goods, ours,
And things
For our other children
in another part of the world.
Our memories are already packed,
So why am I crying?

16th June

Father's Day 2022
This morning I woke up,
Jet and holiday lagged
To the realization that
I had completely forgotten
My father's death anniversary
Earlier this month.
I was in a time warp
At my son's home,
Cherishing each moment
With him and his family.
The grandchildren were the focus
of much of our attention,
And dates didn't really register.
And yet, not a day passed
When I did not remember my father.
I saw him in my son's balding pate,
In his tenderness towards his children,
And towards us, his parents,
Nurturing us with his care
And concern for both of us,
Sharing the sense of privilege
We had in being together
After so very very long.
Happy Father's Day, Anand Vivek Taneja

Monday, April 25, 2022

Seven years later...

 It's been seven years since she left us so suddenly.

When I think of her, I think of this beautiful song, Gori tore nain, kajar bin kaare kaare kaare

She had beautiful dark eyes and eyelashes, and never used kajal (kohl). She never needed to.

And this was something I noticed perhaps the very last time I met her, after knowing her my entire life.

I am so glad I went with her that time to see the flowers blooming in her garden.

I am so glad we had that brief period of living in the same city.

I am so glad we were back from our road trip to Amritsar, barely a week before she left us.

I am so glad she was able to come to Kolkata as often as I needed her to, despite her own health issues, to help take care of our parents when they were ailing.

I am glad that after she left us, I could take her precious gift to our sister-in-law in England.

I am glad she was not here to witness the devastating loss of her son last May, when Covid's malevolent second wave wreaked havoc in so many homes.

I am glad that I have wonderful memories of this immensely talented and determined person, who cut and sewed a beautiful frock for me when she was barely twelve. She was the one who plaited my hair, who read to me cuddled up in our brother's bed, when he was away at college. She taught me so much. We argued and we quarrelled, we loved, we hated. I was jealous of her privileges, she was jealous of the pampering she thought I got, as the youngest child, and of my shapely finger nails. She was immensely hard-working. She had beautiful hand writing, and would send beautiful cards for every birthday and anniversary. She sewed baby clothes for my children. She was immensely generous.

Where do I begin, and where do I end, dear sister?

When you left, you took away my childhood, our childhood.

There's no one left who shared it with me...

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

March Musings

 2nd March, 2022

The morning held
some more magic.
A labrador and an alsatian
at the cricket pitch
Catching practice.

7th March

Eye Contact
The white pigeon
Perched outside
the guest room window
Flutters nervously
As it sees me
Looking at it,
(Yes, we make eye contact
Through the glass)
And is ready to take off.
Until I go about my business
And it settles down again.
I remember holding
my infant granddaughter
Some years ago,
As she drank milk
From her feeding bottle,
Looking at me with big round eyes
But no longer sucking
(And crying too)
the minute I looked at her.
Strange creatures,
Birds and babies.

12th March
The utter stupidity
Of looking, in vain,
for a rich blue
Kanjeevaram saree
In your cupboard
All winter,
And realizing, today,
That it had always been
Hanging there
With the maroon palla
On the outer, visible side!

14th March
My printer hadn't been
taking up paper to print on :
much coercion, persuasion, even smacks
had to be used, single sheet by single sheet,
for the past couple of years.
frustrating in the extreme.
Yesterday, it just refused
to swallow even a single sheet of paper.
Nothing worked, none of my usual bag of tricks.
We thought of replacing it,
scroogy me wanting the ink cartridges
to get over first.
The spouse looked, online, at new models
and also found an authorized service centre
at the other end of our town, which option
we decided to explore today.
They delivered it home for us,
pristine, looking brand new,
and running like a dream.
It had been trying to tell us,
for so long, that it was unwell
and needed to go to Printer Hospital,
and have some money spent on its well being.
I guess everything and everybody
needs tender loving care.

16th March
Did you know
That pigeons can
Tell the time?
I water my plants
Each morning
At around 7.20,
After filling our
Drinking and cooking
water, from the RO supply
Which is what my plants
Thrive on.
The pigeons mutter
And splutter, impatient,
Waiting to drink
From the pots,
Once I'm done watering.
It almost seems as if
They are telling me
To hurry up and leave
So they can drink their fill.

17th March
I drove past your home
Yesterday, dear brother,
And fought down the urge
To stop, to enter the gate,
And ask the guard,
Mehra Sahib hain?
Knowing fully well
That you were not there
Not up those stairs,
Not there to call me Betey.
And neither was
my dear bhabhi,
Who would offer me
Narangi chutney
Made from narangis
From the tree they had planted
In the common garden
So many years ago.
Both of you together now,
This past year,
Still so sorely missed...

19th March

The detritus of Holi
And a little bit of magic too.
The elderly gentlemen
exercise together every morning
In the colony garden
And then sit on the benches
and chat for a while
Perhaps the best part of their day.
I walk around, on the path,
and a song wafts my way
One of the gentlemen is singing
Beautifully, tunefully, a Hori
A Barsaney ki Hori.

29th March
A hard fought battle
With the suitcases
( the old, hard ones)
In which our woollens
Have finally been stored
Till next winter,
When the entire circus
Will happen again.
I know I bought
A few cardigans
And pullovers last year,
Making it a huge fight
To close the suitcases!
I did win, though.
(Some old woollens
were too ratty to wear
And will definitely
Be given away
Before the next cold season).
For now, though, no guilt
Only triumph
At having completed, once more,
This daunting task.
North Indian seasons,
You are both joy and pain.
Can't have one
Without the other.
You teach me philosophy!

30th March
Petrified pigeons in a flap
flapping away to safety
as a black kite glides
between our tall buildings,
a rara avis in these parts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

More Prose Poems

The doorbell rang
The courier handed
Me a packet, a book
And I thought that
It was the book in which
I have a story and a poem
And I reach the kitchen
And cut it open
To find a book
That the husband had
Ordered for himself.
My monkey mind
Had jumped so far ahead
Of actual reality
I was, in my head,
Posting a photograph
Of myself with the book.
Sorry folks, you'll
Have to wait a bit longer!

3rd February, 2022

I cannot, in good conscience,
Listen to Rolf Harris any more,
Or to the Gundecha brothers,
(Although their Jhini Jhini was sublime).
I also cannot stop the spouse
From buying a book by a certified creep
Who, I am so glad to say,
Lost the defamation case
He had slapped on the woman
Who accused him of molestation.
The spouse was reading the book
In the car, and fell asleep, snoring.
The book lay face down on the seat,
Infringing upon my space,
While I shrank away from it,
Distressed by the presence in my life
Of that ugly, beastly, name.

We didn't meet Vishakha this evening
(Her husband was one of our teatime guests)
But used her name to educate the spouse
on the guidelines of the same name.
The second set of visitors
Included my staunchly feminist niece
So the spouse was further educated
On the 'Me too' movement as well as
The creepiness of yesterday's author,
And other famous folks
Now infamous for their lechery.
Waiting for him to bury that book now!

4th February, 2022

Pre-dawn this morning
I hear the mellifluous notes
Of a magpie robin
Piercing the silence, briefly.
Then silence again.
Did it go back to sleep,
To snooze until dawn?

9th February, 2022

Treasure Hunt
For the past few days
The spouse has been
Missing a book which
Was on his bedside table
An unspecified while ago.
It was a book of Hindi poetry
A paperback, with a green cover.
Poet unknown, name of the book
Also unknown.
I say 'missing a book' deliberately
Because looking for a book
Seems to be too tough a task
For one whose mind is almost
Always preoccupied
I was willing to look, no easy task
In a house as privileged as ours
With many books in many shelves
Often in double rows.
I needed more clues.
The spouse had a photograph
On his phone, of a page
From this book.
Perhaps the font would help.
(How, I wondered, could it?)
He had shared this photograph
Of a poem with a friend,
Who wanted to know
the name of the poet,
Hence the need for the book.
And then, he saw that the photograph
Showed a strip of the adjoining page,
The edges of English words.
Eureka! This is one of
Javed Akhtar's books
Transcribed and translated
Into Hindi and English,
That much I remembered.
I thought it was Tarkash.
Into his study, into the cupboard
Where the overflow of his books
Is stashed, and I spot
The mustard spine, no green anywhere,
Of a book called
In Other Words, by Javed Akhtar.
(Hindi on the left hand page,
English on the right).
I hand it to the spouse.
Happy Valentine's day!

14th February, 2022

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Random Recent Writings

1st February, 2022

Today I morphed into a gyaani
Publicly offering wisdom
to the young man in the bank
Young man with a maroon knitted cap
Who just had to get a cheque 'received'.
He tried jumping the queue
But the counter clerk told him
To join the line like everyone else.
The two customers before me
Had time-consuming dealings
And this young man, just behind me
Was grumbling away,
about how useless and
terrible this bank was.
With all the kindness (and patience)
That I could summon up,
Overcoming my natural diffidence
I spoke to him, telling him gently
That today is the first of the month
A busy day for bankers,
And if you are in a place
Where you have to wait for a while
Curb your irritation, and use it well
Think good thoughts, remember God,
If you happen to believe,
And do not let your mind
Be agitated and restless.
He listened, perhaps stunned
By this strange, masked woman,
And said that he believed
In his Thakurji.
I then spent half a minute
At the counter,
Getting two cheques 'received'
And left, exchanging with him
A warm and friendly smile.
I sometimes surprise myself!

21st January, 2022

When there's not enough
leftover rice to put away
or to give away,
and which you don't want
to throw away
the pigeons come to mind
as avian waste disposal
Put it on the outer edge
of the balcony railing
Whitey comes along
with a lean and hungry look
This winter has been a harsh one
others follow,
and you find yourself
reaching for a stale roti too,
wondering if you are being a fool
inviting the pestiferous pigeons
into your territory.
The squirrel comes along too,
foraging, charming,
as desi squirrels are.
A quick look in the fridge
finds a forgotten lump of paneer,
stale and smelly.
You break it into pieces, and leave it out
and wonder if it will be eaten
The squirrel sits there quietly
whiskers aquiver, while 'suspigeons' wonder
if this white stuff is food or not.
You come back after a while, and its all gone,
as are the squirrel and the pigeons.
16th January, 2022

The spouse sometimes has
Two hardboiled eggs
For breakfast, or dinner.
I knock them together
To shell them, and have observed that
The egg in my left hand always cracks,
Is the 'hittee', to coin a term
While the one in the right hand
Remains whole, the hitter,
Till I crack it on the worktop.
Is this a metaphor for life?
Hittee and hitter are both
Sliced,salted, peppered

12th January, 2022

In the cold of winter
In the midst of the gloom
The limes are ripening
As new flowers bloom
Many leaves are browning
There is much decay
But there's the promise that spring
Isn't too far away

3rd January, 2022

The sickness and rot
Spreading like a cancer
Through minds that know
No grace, no love
A cancer fostered by
Impunity pumped within
This sick system
Dehumanizing all
But the few they consider
Worthy of survival
In mera Bharat mahaan
Excluding many
Targeting minorities
The underprivileged
Underdogs, who ache
To survive with respect
Just a modicum of it,
As human beings
As equal citizens
In a country that belongs
To us all.
My heart aches
At the rot, seemingly
Please prove me wrong.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Book Review: Write in Power: An Anthology of the Personal and the Political

 I bought Write in Power: An Anthology of the Personal and the Political in October 2021, after watching the beautiful webinar organised for its launch. It was a book I simply had to read, also because I had recently read Vijaylakhmi Harish's brilliant book, Strangely Familiar Tales.

When I browsed through the index, once I had the book, I was pleased to see some familiar names, of women I 'knew' on Facebook, Srishtaa Aparna Pallavi, Hema Gopinathan Sah, Anjali G. Sharma, (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting). Their poems are powerful and hard-hitting.  I quote from Hema's poem,  A Prayer For/To Everywoman:

There was a body I was born with, this body, though, I have earned.                                                         

I am not pretty. I am beautiful.

In another powerful poem, she writes

Do not insult these hands that wear bangles.                                                                                              

Upon them you are held.

It is hard to do justice to this book without writing about each and every chapter. Let me mention a few themes off the top of my head: a voluntarily child-free woman ponders the impending loss of her uterus, in a chapter that is both moving and hilarious. A visually impaired woman recalls the agony that was her schooling. A neighbour attends a memorial service at the home of an elderly mashima who seems deeply unloved and unmourned by her family. An accidentally pregnant woman is brow-beaten by several gynaecologists who disagree with her request for an abortion. A widowed mother goes to buy gold jewellery for her daughter's wedding, in a chapter that speaks volumes about the treatment and status of widows even today. A woman whose husband's criminal activities endanger her life and well being. A Dalit woman's agony at the death of her auto-rickshaw driver father's death. A member of the minority community decides to emigrate, sacrificing all his childhood dreams and aspirations. A community where young girls fake possession as Devis. A girl is fat-shamed by her so-called well-wishers. The difficulties of coming out as queer, not just to family and friends. The beautiful chapter called Meditative Monsoon Recipes for Healing Chronically Ill Queers. There is much much more, as well as powerful poetry, wonderful art.

It is a book that shakes you out of ignorance and complacence. It is an education in empathy, brilliantly and beautifully written, curated, and edited. I conclude with an excerpt from the editorial team:

The Hidden Pen Collective seeks to amplify writings from South Asia, from the margins imposed by caste, class, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. For aeons, our stories have been set aside, our voices have been silenced, and we find in the 21st century that we are still struggling to be heard.   In this compelling anthology of fictional and non-fictional prose, poems, and art, we present the writings of twenty-four writers and artists from an inclusive spectrum of human experience. These perspectives speak to the intersections of the personal and the political creating a space for discussion and change. We find our power in our traditions, or by breaking those traditions. We look outwards for love and acceptance, or to our own selves because we are all we have. Our stories - rebellious, accommodating, loving, suffering, defeated and in victory - declare our essential power.