Not yet spring, but no longer winter

In the face of the tepid
Evening breeze, the barren trees
Have ceased to flinch,
Their weathered branches no longer troubled
By the feeble clawing of a dying season.

Stepping soft on a protruding root
And bed of leaves, the squirrel believes
That spring is here, and proceeds to bury and unbury things:
The sole occupation of his rodent species.
I want to tell him it’s still winter,
And does he not know how cold it is?
But he might tell me the same;
And in any event
He will soon learn the error of his ways,
Or I of mine.

On a small patch of grass in the fiery light
Of the setting sun, my fingers run
Through the tender shoots, on thawing skin
I feel the cautious tendrils of hope
Grow over the doused and frozen fires,
The withered desires of the past half-year.
And in that moment I know I could
Lie there by myself, unfrozen, forever
On that warm patch of yellow grass,
In not-yet-spring, but no-longer-winter.


How do I know this?

On the ocean floor lie treacherous seaweeds,
Long and slimy ropes that entangle and strangle.
There are enormous stingrays of the venomous persuasion,
Gigantic octopi with twelve tentacles,
Maybe they’re called dodecopi,
Squirting ink at prey and predator alike
Painting all with the same cephalopod brush.
How do I know this? I walked there once.

In pockmarked craters on the moon’s surface
Have cold rocks stood through the ages past.
No water to erode them, no wind to diminish
The jaggedness of their edges, no air to propagate
The sounds of their endless lamentation
And, in any case, no one to hear them;
Each one a mute spectator to the events of the universe,
The whole of human existence just a smidgeon in time.
How do I know this? I saw them once.

A thousand buildings dot the urban landscape,
Each housing a thousand bickering families.
Eight-year-olds shine shoes on the pavement,
Surrounded by pickpockets and startup co-founders,
And watch the sullen office clerks go by
In the shadow of monsters named CAT and JCB.
How do I know this? I lived there once.

In a small log cabin on a mountain slope
Lives a brown-haired woman with shining eyes
That look into the distance and contemplate
The flight of birds and the passage of time and the setting sun
Brings a red-orange glow to her writerly cheekbones.
She sighs and turns around, her mind preoccupied
With the next few lines of the poem she’s writing,
Begun years ago, and still unfinished.
How do I know this? I loved her once.


A poem about demonetization.
With apologies to Poe.

Once upon a lazy Tuesday, as I tried to make some headway
On some work I could not delay, my eyelids began to droop.
While I swayed, almost sleeping, suddenly there came a beeping
As of some old lady weeping, weeping in a Whatsapp group
“’Tis some forward,” I muttered, “creeping in some Whatsapp group—
Only this, no need to swoop.”

Ah, vividly I remember, it was in early November;
And each Opposition party member sought to protest upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished to get, some sort of connection to the net
On my old and battered handset, so I could see the damn message
So I could see and read and then delete the damn Whatsapp message
And live in peace for evermore.

Presently my connection grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,
“Modi,” said I, “or madman, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was sleeping, and so silently you came sneaking,
And so seriously you came speaking, speaking in a Whatsapp video,
That I scarce was sure it was you”—here I opened full screen the video;
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that video peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Muttering, counting notes I never cared to count before;
But the silence was unbroken, and Doordarshan gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Mitron?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Mitron!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

And into the city turning, all my soul within me burning,
I rushed forth with a single yearning: some cash to scavenge for.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is a hawker selling ragda pattice
And an ATM next to him that is attracting an uproar,
Let me go and check out what’s attracting this uproar –
‘Tis a queue! And nothing more!”

As I joined the queue rejoicing, it bowed its head as one, sighing,
As if in that one recoiling, its whole soul did it outpour.
Nothing further then it uttered – not a bag nor cellphone fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other tellers have shut before –
In a minute this one will too, as machines have done before.”
But then I walked through the door.

Open here it flung its shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
Out there dropped a malnourished two thousand rupee note;
No great texture or design had it, I noticed as I quickly read it,
But, at least, to its great credit, it was a valid banknote—
It was a valid, legal, “tender”, and life-saving banknote—
For now, I could float.

Outside, the note lay unfolded, as I observed and closely read
The rectangular piece of pinkish red paper that I there bore.
“Though you might fulfill your duty, you,” I said, “are sure no beauty,
Nor would many call you a cutie; in fact you’re an eyesore;
You’re a cheap and gaudy, third-rate, showy, substandard eyesore.”
Quoth the note “Mitron”.

Much I marveled this ungainly note to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning–little relevancy bore;
For you must accept the truth, that no healthy and sober youth
Had ever held such a smooth-talking currency note,
Such a smooth-talking, pink, badly-printed two thousand rupee note
That addressed him as “Mitron”.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, just outside the cash dispenser,
So I started moving, tenser, to the adjacent grocery store.
Here a grizzled, old, undaunted man, with eyes dark and haunted,
Looked at me as if he wanted to ask me something more
As if he wanted nothing but to ask me something more.
I stared at this eyesore.

“Prophet!” said he, “note-bearer, may none be wiser or fairer,
By that man that looks out for us – that Modi we both adore –
Tell this soul cloven by mayhem, if within that ATM,
It shall clasp a sainted gem which it has come here for –
Clasp the rare and radiant pink gem which it has come here for.”
I said, “Patience, mitron.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, anti-national!” he shrieked upstarting –
“Get thee gone to Pakistan or the next-door grocery store!
Leave no paper slip as token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my patriotism unbroken! – go to Balaji general store!
Go and buy your treasonous goods from Balaji general store!”
So I gladly went next door.

And the queue, never dwindling, still is waiting, still is waiting,
Outside the SBI ATM, beside the grocery store;
And their eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the burly ATM guard throws his weight around the door;
But have patience, wait for fifty, hundred, two hundred days more,
A few more months, mitron!

Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen

[This poem was heavily inspired by an illustration (scroll down for it), which I first saw in this article.]

Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.
Blast your iPods at the rapids, take your selfies in the ocean,
Discuss TripAdvisor ratings on some New Year’s eve cruise,
Restrict the screaming and splashing to chlorinated swimming pools.
Snow-fight all you want on your next Arctic expedition,
But when near a little stream, be quiet, and listen.

From the snow-melts of dawn flows this glittering little stream,
Watch the whiteness turn blue and the dancing waters gleam.
The dark night landscape becomes rocks, jagged and brown,
But see the round, grey pebbles in the water flow down;
In the splendor of the morning sun the golden droplets glisten.
What better thing to do than just observe, and listen?

Sit back and watch the consummate photographer: nature,
Who has immaculate exposure and the perfect aperture;
She’s got the warmest warms and the tintiest tints,
Comes with unlimited storage and lightning-fast sync.
No need for a labored hashtag or artificial sepia,
So put away those contraptions and just quietly sit here.

By Krauss & Sendak, via BrainPickings.

While it’s nice to know you’ve got a portable subwoofer,
I’ve come all the way here for the sound of the water.
Hear the whispers and murmurs in its miniature splashes,
The tinkling laughter that comes and goes in flashes;
There is song and music in the rapid flow aplenty,
So why subject yourself to the latest Top Twenty?

You can stretch out your legs and lean back on the grass,
Feel your thoughts wheel about like the distant fading stars,
Watch them flit around like lively butterflies in a mist,
Gather up and treasure them, as would a lepidopterist;
Let the infectious morning calm invade your restless mind
In the solitude of dawn let your tired soul unwind.

On the edge of the horizon the sun, uncertain, lingers,
Observe the minutes and the seconds slip through your numb fingers
And slow down as clocks pause, in the blue-orange silence;
Sense the dancing waters drub even time into compliance.
You’ve got a front seat for life’s greatest exhibition,
So why not take a deep breath, be quiet and listen?

That gasoline smell

Long summer drives in hot Ambassadors,
Pressing noses to burning windows
For afternoon views of cotton plants
That gradually turned golden-brown;
Waiting for the Frooti halt at sundown,
Asleep in the backseat by the time night fell.
Those green indicator lights. That sweet gasoline smell.

The drowsy, nondescript village whose only claim to fame
Was a decrepit railway crossing.
On the left, a fledgling paddy crop,
On the right, “Caution: 22,000 volts”.
Waiting for the distant brown spot
To grow bigger: maybe some “Belgaum-Gorakhpur Superfast”
Which at that moment seemed undeserving of that last
Watching the wheels of the carriages endlessly roll.
The honking vehicles, the smell of petrol.

The dilapidated, “ceased to operate” toll booth,
With its defunct list of “Hon’bles”.
The cars whizzing past with unrestrained glee,
Each now an exempt dignitary.
The racing trucks, every overtaking a cliffhanger
For the smaller fry in mortal danger.
The dead dog, the overturned state transport bus,
The calf that never returned to its mother,
The fleeting glimpse of another’s trauma.
The bloody entrails, the diesel aroma.

The eerie silence of the starry night,
Faint glows in the east and fading moonlight,
The pit stops and pee stops at the crack of dawn.
The icy dew condensed on the windshield,
The morning tea at the edge of a wheat field,
The groggy truck driver with papers in order
Pleading with grumpy policemen at the state border.
The much-dreaded, much-awaited return
Home, back to the daily grind-and-churn.
The all-important quarrels to ring the doorbell.
Those childhood sounds. That gasoline smell.