Monday, August 19, 2013

Poem: Long Ago

Long ago
my laugh had a life
of its own

the yes-I-remember chuckle
or perhaps
a head-thrown-back guffaw

my laugh
is only three letters:

Long ago
my smile had a soul
of its own

which revealed itself
in my eyes,
in the curve of my lips

my smile
is condensed:
a colon, a parenthesis.

Long ago
my emotions used to burst
with energy

thoughts sang
muscles danced
veins throbbed

my emotions
all lie unused,

My life and soul
in ones and zeros

and now, I:
a cluster of frozen pixels.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Smell-bound Stories

Among our senses, smell is perhaps the most under-appreciated by me. 

Unless characteristic, like cardamom and cinnamon announcing that mom’s making biriyani, I seldom pay attention to the broad spectrum of scents and stenches which brighten the canvas of my life with their subtle presence. I rarely notice the next-door hibiscuses peering over the compound wall or fruity traces of shampoo in my freshly-washed hair.

But there’s one smell that never fails to hold me in place; to make me pause and inhale deeply. To make me smile.

Open the sturdy brown shelf in the hall upstairs, and you’ll get a whiff of that smell as well. It is a musty one, rising slowly, sluggishly from the crowd of paperbacks and hardbacks. A smell so thick, so heavy, that you can almost taste it. But I doubt whether it holds the same meaning for you as it does for me. Because, in that instant when I open the bookshelf, I also fling open the doors to many other worlds… and a lot of memories.

That rich musty smell transports me back in time, to when I was only five, a girl almost collapsing under the weight of her aunt’s gift: a brightly-coloured picture dictionary.  Its glossy pages smelled fresh and clean and new, inviting me to drown in them, in the waves of large red titles and little black letters. 

Fast forward: my first steady step into the world of fiction, my first Enid Blyton book. Like a patient mother, it watches proudly as I begin to speed up, to jog, to run, run with blazing speed. Not uttering a word even as I condemned it to the farthest corner of the shelf, forgotten in old age. 

Over the years, the mustiness has accumulated a hundred sounds, a thousand different stories. 

It echoes the crackle of new paper and the quiet rustle of old, well-thumbed ones. In it, I hear my disbelieving gasps at a particularly mind-blowing plot twist. I feel the dampness of my cheeks when a beloved character dies. I sense my growing wonder as I discover tidbits of knowledge from my quiz books.

And when the musty odour embraces my nostrils, I think of my best friends. Malavika. Amritha. Emilda. I think of how our mutual love for books forged and tempered the bond between us. I remember all the Social Science classes during which we read storybooks instead of being rocked to sleep by our textbook.

The smell reminds me of the time I was incoherent with rage, for my sister had torn the first page of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The smell of my bookshelf is also the smell of rebellion and freedom   the smell of my city on the day it welcomed me with arms wide open as I went to TBS, alone, to buy a long-coveted book. 

It is the smell of love and loss, the smell of The Fault in Our Stars. It smells like the celebration of words in The Book Thief. It is mythology reborn in the pages of Percy Jackson. It brims with the fear and adrenaline pulsing in Divergent. It is the hope burning in A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is the blood and gore in A Game of Thrones; the greys of human lives painted vividly across the pages of The Casual Vacancy.

For you, the musty smell maybe just one of the myriad nameless perfumes on earth... but for me, it is a fragrance sweeter than the best of all roses.

Written for Ambi Pur India's Smelly to Smiley Contest on Indiblogger, in which participants talk about the memories they associate with different smells/fragrances in their homes. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Poem: Identity Card

I received
my identity card

and was stunned:
They’d gotten my name wrong!

not misspelled;

the address was right
and so was my birth-date

but the name
beneath my photograph
wasn’t mine at all.

My lips
then strung the alien letters
into a symphony - 

it sounded like
weaving through my flesh;
like my soul
being riddled with falsehoods

it sounded like
buried alive,
struggling to escape
from its grave

it sounded like
trying to sweeten
the stench of blood
souring on guilty hands.

my identity card
renamed me
Ishrat Jahan.

When conscience is mortgaged to money and power, when innocence is murdered to fuel hatred, when blood is spilled so that the seedlings of prejudice may flourish, when khaki-clad hearts have turned to stone... you get Ishrat Jahan and countless other victims of fake encounters (God alone knows how many.) 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Poem: Omnia Vincit Amor

stolen moments in
torch-lit nights

feverish touches
amidst erratic breaths

locked glances
setting free wordless secrets

you, me:

curled up
beneath blankets of lies,
my fingertips
dancing on your spine

they call this lust!

but what do they know of
of heat,
of my heart beating
in tandem with yours?

what do they know of
of fervour,
of boiling blood
purging my soul of fear?

what do they know of
forbidden kisses
tasting sweeter?

To quote one of my cousins, "Don't get any ideas, people!"

I swear, if one more grown-up remarks snidely, "You're still reading YA and fantasy? Shouldn't you be moving on to serious stuff?" I'm going to murder them. (More on that later....)

Anyway, this poem is about my rebellion against my parents' diktat that, for every "childish book with magical claptrap" that I read, I should also read one philosophical/religious/whatever-is-deemed-serious-by-adults book. Only then would I be allowed to buy the next book of my choice.

Ha. Fat chance. I promptly enlisted the help of my friends and got them to order whichever title I wanted from various online portals, which they handed over to me at school. A Snape-worthy operation, if I say so myself.

Not at all sorry for this irreverent affair with books, however. Because it's with them that I become myself. With them, I can sob and scream and laugh and curse without inhibitions. With them, I'm brave. I'm happy. I'm at peace. I'm in love.

And it's said that "omnia vincit amor." Love conquers all.