Saturday, August 5, 2017

Family Portrait

Cream pooling
on her now-cold tea, mother
holds her ceramic tea mug

gingerly,
wary

of the hairline fracture
along its handle, and

quite used to sister's sunsign
tattooed along its curve:

a rather fat fish, forever
orange, grinning
a slightly loopy grin

and forever apart from its twin

on my sister's mug. Pristine,
fractureless, fewer tea stains,
lagging

behind

twenty eight years' worth
tea-drinking —

almost doppelgangers, just like
their owners.

Father drinks tea by the gallons,
and his tea-cup grips
could fill a dictionary I might write.

Someday.

For now, there's a careful grasping
of steel rims
of steaming hot tumblers, thumb

                                        half a world apart

                          from his forefinger

there's a palm
folding into an umbrella
over railway station paper cups

there's four fingers curling around
a handle, thumb
sticking up sorely

there's also that casual
tipping
       of his tea – as varied
       as his mudra-like grips –
                   into the eager hug
                   of a neighbouring glass

the fall easing the fever.

I look at his hands

wondering
if he could ever have been
a dancer, this man who lumbers
along and mocks my gait
for being too much like a boy's, and
laughs at my love

or lack thereof

for tea. Former heretic
coffee-drinker, I have now

returned

to the fold of people who swear
by tea for everything: hysterics

or hernia or even heartbreak. But

prodigal daughters, I think, don't
con themselves

into believing
things could be the same

as before: so here I am, odd
one out, black sheep,

drinking black tea

and dreaming of brewing that perfect
cup of lemon tea

and taking it
in a coffee cup.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Citation

And therefore
this poem attempts to
critically analyze the various
modalities of alienation -

Hold up.
Right there.

Have I told you how,
in my nightmares, words
swallow me up?

The ocean used to sing
in my veins once: now it scorches
the seams of my lungs, first
a slow
slick
oily
trickling in,
and then a flood —

I float and drown, drown
and float.

And as I always do,
I wash up ashore
on this strange land where
names become adjectives,
tales narratives,
and words clump on themselves to become
New Words
choking on their self-importance.

I wash up on the shore
of a strange land with New Words
and stranger rituals, in a land
of ivory towers
built on the decaying bones
of footsoldiers
who dreamt of a seat at the table
only to find
the table didn't want them.

It is a strange land, this,
with a strange alchemy that brews poison
from lifeblood.

Have I told you how, in my
nightmares,
I live a poisoned death, my lungs
bursting from the weight of words?

Are those my nightmares?
Are those yours?
I can't tell.

It is a strange land, and its alchemy
turns gold into lead. You, me -
it doesn't matter
much. We'll all be asked
for proof. For a source.

And when you're asked
for a source,

recall the razor-sharp
edges
of all the words swallowed,
swirling
in your intestines, blunt now, reeking
of rage and regret,
and journal them in the annals
of your memory

enclose your whole (paltry) life in
parentheses

later, enlist yourself in the
graveyard
of fixed, frozen dreams
in the following fashion:

reduce your name - mangled
by time and strange tongues and familiar
faces alike - to a mere initial

remember this moment
right here
now - and put down the year
alone

"Forget Me Not: A Witty, Even Flamboyant,
Title
Makes You Look Cool(er)"

and as your hands begin to shake,
as even your storytelling
heart
spins
and spins and spins
into free fall
at the sheer artifice of it all

Stop.
Breathe.
Remember.

Your memory is not a  
Weekly Monthly Quarterly
subscription-only
institute-access-only
edifice
built on loud noise
and louder silences

Your memory
is a cacophony of ancient voices
strung like beads on a great chain
of being
and becoming,
threaded into your skin and vein
and vocal cords

until you can't tell where
they end
and you begin.

And in that brittle
battle-hardened voice of your
mothers and grandmothers
and great-grandmothers, in that quiet
voice that quivers with a lineage
of mistakes and misdeeds
and howling misery

but also of laughter
and hope
and fire in our bellies, in that lonely
voice, my love, shout:
Cite me.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cilantro

Cilantro
sits
uneasily
on my tongue, tasting

of glossy cookbooks
with grand names

and lists of grander ingredients
leering
at me from the store shelves.

My mother
refuses to believe
what Google says
cilantro is.

And I can only remember
coriander leaves
tasting like the folded
corners

of her diary,
where jotted-down
recipes
still dream of daylight

and the wall
behind the gas stove, sweating
oil and ghee

for years.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Homecoming

I left home –
and I breathed
clean air for the first time, Ma.

Never mind that
it was Chennai Central,
reeking of grime and filth and sweat
and metal and watery coffee

This air was free

This air never breathed in
the guilt we etched on your pores
for daring to hold a passport
to the Island of Insanity –

we, of the Nation of Normalcy

This air never heard the chilankas
of duty

clatter in alarm

as you danced across the Line of Control

the water tugging at your ankles
first, and then your thighs and hips
and torso

dragging down under
even your untameable hair

This air never saw you
resurface –

kicking and biting and punching
and spitting at dad

who waits patiently every single time
you sail away

and this air never saw you wear my angry hands
like a life-jacket

my hands – laden with Dicorate and Mirnite
and Ativan – oblong grey pills and tiny white tablets
whose generic names and dosages
I could tell you even today

(Valproic Acid. 700 mg. Mirtazapine. 7.5 mg.
Lorazepam. 1 mg.)

and this air
never saw me Google their chemical structures
on the eve of my 12th standard board exams

trying to place my grief and fatigue
within double bonds and
hydroxyl groups and benzene rings

This air never touched pencil tips
broken by my failure
to figure out how your terrified screams

defied all known laws of physics

and drilled through floors and walls
and doors and my skin of steel

with a force it never should have had.

When I left home, Ma,
for the first time in seventeen years
I breathed air that was free of you.

I breathed air that was free,
or so I thought until yesterday
when the blindfold slipped

and I saw air
coiled round and round like a
stubborn umbilical cord

pushing
spoonful after spoonful of memories
down my forgetful throat:

me burying my face into the folds
of a nightie faintly smelling of onions

you holding my shaking hand
through the haunted house of trigonometry

us rolling eyes at my sister’s terrible puns

over cups of coffee made exactly the way I like it,
loaded with milk and heaped with sugar –

the rich steam wafting into my nostrils
from across seven hundred kilometres

I choke.
The air refuses to budge.
I scream.
The noose tightens.
I panic, sending papers flying everywhere,

wondering
HOW WAS THIS HAPPENING
if gravitational force was inversely proportional to
the square of distance between two objects?
when the cartoon anvil struck –

Newton was right, after all, and I was wrong
(again)
I never left home, Ma.
I never left home.



A homesick musing on my relationship with my mother, who has struggled with clinical depression since her college days, weathering prejudice and judgement along the way. 

To your resilience, your strength. To you, umma. With all my love.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

I Need No Name

I leap
leap out of my body
hair on fire
eyes flaming with the fury
of a thousand years
dagger in my hand
red-hot

And I burn
I burn every fence
every wall
every shackle
every muzzle
I burn, and watch them
crumble into ash and dust

I hack
I hack at every tongue
every hand
every eye
I chop them all, and watch
as they leak blood

And I bathe
I bathe in ash and dust
and congealed blood
in spaces that no longer
grope me
in words that no longer
bend my head
in catcalls that no longer
deafen me
in gazes that no longer
undress me

I bask
I bask in the sound
of my words tumbling free
in the sound of my feet
clattering off to places it dreamt of
in the sound of my hands
stomping on surfaces it yearned for
               
And I step back
into my body
moment of madness
evaporating
in the heat of my boiling blood
and slowly
I burn my silence
I hack at my fear
I bathe in my euphoria
I bask in my voice
I strip down to the marrow
of my bones
I bleed
I yell
I am



Again, anger fuels this. Immediate inspiration drawn from a senior talking about her experiences with gendered rules on occupying public spaces in a college, where she's attending a fest, and an incident in another academic institution where first-year students misbehaved with a female student until seniors intervened. The powers-that-be dismissed the girl's account as a fabrication, and the senior students now have a ragging case foisted upon them.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Autumn, a haiku

out of turn, autumn
bears witness: one more leaf
kneeling before time


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Nation Wants To Know Why You Write Poetry When You Should Be Studying

THE NATION
WANTS TO KNOW
WHY YOU WRITE POETRY
WHEN YOU SHOULD BE
STUDYING

This pesky nation of yours
seems to want to know a lot,
so I will say this:

I am young
and furious, and my voice
gathers rust,
prone as it is to noise
that demands I sew my lips
into silences

where only
canned dreams
and clockwork desires
speak

I am young
and furious, and my voice
yearns to sing
to a different tune

and it will:
its frayed ends and jagged edges
will spill blood
on all that you declare holy –

on the 207-foot-tall tricolor
and the mandated 1-foot space
between
me
and the
boy
sitting next to me

on the weighted boots
of history
that condemned to death
a boy’s yearning for stardust

on the six yards of sanskaar
and fifty-inch veils of modesty
which brand my love
an obscenity

on the madness
that lynches a man
with just a lingering whisper
of look in his fridge

on the lines
that become fences
that become walls
built upon grave after grave
of frozen uniforms
and butchered hearts.

Yes,
hear me as I drip blood –
its red seeping
into an earth

where answers are weeds
and questions burst
into life
without fear

where poetry
hits every discordant note
on the way

as it soars above

auto-tuned voices
peddling doctored truths
and photoshopped patriotisms

So hear me
as I sing
as I kiss
as I tell



Written in solidarity with the JNU students protesting the state's crackdown on dissent in academic spaces (and the country as a whole), its excesses ranging from slapping outrageous charges of sedition on student leaders to giving a free rein for violence against journalists and students.