Friday, December 19, 2014

Poem: Shrapnel

O you who search for songs here,
turn back –
there are none

only screams
drilling through deaf ears
to reach
empty brains and emptier hearts

O you who search for knowledge here,
leave now –
you shall find nothing

but pens
bleeding ink, and children
leaking blood
onto empty notebooks

O you who search for the school here,
you know nothing:
this is a graveyard

where
half-read lessons
and half-eaten lunches

mourn
the unread and uneaten

where
the ghosts
of half-dreamt dreams

haunt
all the tomorrows
yet to dawn


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Poem: Beyond

Out beyond ideas
of rightdoing and wrongdoing
there is no field

Only lies –

under the gnarled roots
carpeting
the shifting earth

Lies

beneath the dense foliage
veiling
the eavesdropping sky

Lies

across the entwined vines
curtaining
the whispering tree-trunks

And more lies
sewn into the linings of truth

for the rest of the universe,
if it dares to pry.

I’ll still meet you there.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Poem: Take Me Back

Take me back
to all that I knew
once

To backs of palms
that grazed my forehead
and gauged misery

To smiles that flew
off faces and nested
in my heart

To words strung
on threads of clarity
and worn with pride

Take me back
to what I once knew,
away from what I do now:

Decoding words
Deciphering smiles

Digging for a meaning
that never was
there

Take me back
to the time when
words were words
and smiles were smiles

To the time
when I lived a lie
and lived it well

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dear Best Friend

Here we are.

This day always seemed so far away in space and time, despite its ghost hovering over us for years. But in daylight, ghosts are never recognized for what they are; it’s at dusk that their contours emerge, their presence freezes you veins.

This is the part where tears pool in our eyes, where we hug and sob and sniffle and make each other promise to keep in touch. Where we quash like a beetle the growing fear that the winds will blow us too far apart to let us find our way back to each other.

This is supposed to be the parting of the ways, the last good day.

Now here I am, left with nothing but the realization that I won’t even miss you.


There we were.

Our story didn’t have the best of openings, and I take all the blame for that. I was a walking bundle of pettiness and hatred and prejudice – a girl who wanted the throne and poured acid in the way of everyone, anyone, who dared to come near. Yet you stepped across the grass I’d burnt, the bridges I’d destroyed, neutralizing my acid with your own brand of alkali.

Sometimes I still wonder how we went from all that to one a.m. song recommendations, debating Harry Potter, cursing Rick Riordan, sobbing through How To Train Your Dragon 2 and scouting out the city for college shopping. The Limca Quiz might have been a catalyst, but I still don’t know what I did to deserve you, your kindness, your grace, your empathy. Your love.

You’d always be there, a phone call away, when grief and pain and bitterness banged against the floodgates of my reservoir, demanding to be let out, to consume, to drown me. You’d build that third space where our voices cease to be a bunch of signals transmitted over a network and instead be as they are: air strumming our vocal chords just as a pick for a guitar. A place where, with each spoken word, with each inflection, with every rise and drop in volume, our voices would solidify into us.

It definitely wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Between the two of us, we had an arsenal of words to detonate charges of anger and frustration, to wound, to make the other bleed, to sow misunderstanding and reap a metric ton of unintentional hurt. There were wedges driven, tears shed, splintered silences.

Every single time, we rose from the ashes of whatever we’d set fire to with more beauty, more grace, more strength. Together, we were a phoenix.


Here we are again.

And this is what it is: clarity, aching clarity, crystallized in a moment as a fly trapped in amber.

I’m in Chennai and now you’re in Kolkata, each of us chasing our dreams and trusting our hearts to take us where we want to reach. In a matter of weeks, we’ll find our feet in these new worlds, inhabit our own new bubbles of academics and extra-curriculars, tremble at the threshold of eighteen.

But all I can think of are colours, a palette of words and memories and gestures and impressions coalescing into each other.

Pastels of well-worn pages and Baskin Robbins flavours. Reds belting out Taylor Swift. Railway-berth blue weaving together bittersweet triumph and carefree laughter. Sombre blacks and greys thrown everywhere – scars of all that has aged us beyond our years, of the steel in our spines, of the weight of all the hopes we bear. Threads of sunshine yellow slipping in and out, reminding us it’s okay to be frivolous, to be the children that we never were.

A patchwork quilt that I can draw around me wherever the world takes me, whenever the cold tries to sink its fangs into my flesh.

The next five years will set the stage for our true metamorphosis, and I don’t even know whether we’ll recognize each other by the end of it.


Here we are, and this much we know: we won’t miss each other.
Because we can’t miss what is already a part of us.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Standing My Ground

I never learn.

I try to run away from the blood and gore every time. I run, run, run as fast as my feet can take me, as far as I can make it from the epicentre of the earthquake that threatens to dismantle my illusion of happiness, of safety, of peace. Away from the nucleus, so I can be a valence electron and break away from the despair that pulls me inward.

But as much as I close my eyes - however hard, however long - I can never see the whites of my eyelids. It is always stained red. A red that refuses point-blank to be washed off, to be bleached.

As much as I run, the aftershocks always topple my rosy bubble.

And as much as I try to break away, I end up in another atom with yet another nucleus of power, of propaganda and poisonous hate.

“Here I am
Deceived into silence.

A silence that corrupts
Corrodes
Corrals me into guilt

And now I learn:
Silence is only golden
Not gold.”

So, from the depths of the place where all things rusty get cast off, I reclaim my voice. Because light doesn’t come from ignoring darkness, but from acknowledging it.

My voice maybe scratched-up and bent now, but it can still make a sound. And it will.

In solidarity with justice. With peace. With Gaza.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Swan song

I knew this was coming, but nothing could've prepared me for how solid it felt, how permanent. Two years found themselves compressed into a second that seemed to go on and on and on, giving birth to a confluence of celebration and mourning, of joy and grief, of smiles and tears. How I dragged words out of the space where one ended and the other began, heaven knows.

I knew this was coming, I've known it for months, yet I refused to believe. Maybe I thought I could delay the end if I was obstinate enough to not acknowledge it. Maybe I hoped that it wouldn't feel as if capslock THE END was stamped on my heart.

But it did. Oh, yes it did.

It didn't matter that words like 'graduation' and 'valedictorian' weren't part of the schooling system here. All that mattered, in that moment, were the thousand expectant faces, the floodlights peering at me from above, the silent mike. And me, my knees. Trembling from the weight of the finality that seemed to permeate through my entire being, seeping into the pores and filling up all nooks and crannies. Slow and thick.

And then I spoke.

True to form, the opening lines of my valedictorian address went:

A nugget of wisdom from Professor Dumbledore never goes amiss, and I’d like to share one of my favourites. “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

A little after, I did stumble on my words. But I got up, dusted off the errant consonants. I wove in and out of syllables, my heart and soul and voice hitting the right notes in tandem.

Before I move on, there’s something I need to say - something that has been bothering me a lot. This felicitation programme is woven around the notion that today's stars are the toppers of the board exams. I strongly disagree. Today’s true stars belong to that beautiful constellation scattered throughout this room - the teachers.

Dear teachers, you are like the sun - hard work and love and dedication fusing and burning in the cores to produce brilliant, blazing light - and we students are the moon, just reflecting that light. This day is yours as much as it is ours, for no one else, perhaps not even our parents, rejoice in our triumph and mourn our failure as you do.


To be honest, you catalysed my evolution in Silver Hills - from hate to love, from anger to acceptance, from ignominy to glory. I have much to be grateful for, and it strikes me (yet again) that the words ‘thank you’ are the most inadequate words in the English language, incapable of conveying my gratitude, my devotion, my respect - but above all, incapable of conveying that my gurudakshina is not my grades, not any keepsake, not even a thumb. My entire life is my dakshina, and with these words, I place it at your feet.


The words caught in my throat, burned through my skin. Singed and scalded  as I coaxed, teased them out of the place where they'd lodged, mutinous, as if they were lollipop-denied toddlers. Speaking of which...

This recollection has no meaning without 89 other people - my batch-mates. The ones who brought colours to my empty canvas. The ones who fought over my lunch-box. The ones who teased me mercilessly. The ones whose lame jokes are etched on the walls of my heart. The ones who walked the tightrope between curricular and extra-curricular activities. The ones who became the mirrors in which I saw my strengths and weaknesses. Together, we unravelled the DNA double helix, hammered the salt analysis scheme into our heads, attacked strings and arrays, wished Newton had been born in Kerala and survived the seven types of integeration.

There might have been days when we were at each others’ throats, but there also have been days when our hearts beat as one. Yesterday, the ninety of us shared a life. Today, we celebrate. And I hope that tomorrow, these memories will be your light in times of darkness, happiness cutting through despair.


All at once, I was Percy in The Lightning Thief, willing the ocean back; his, a real one and mine, one of tears that threatened to crash over the shoreline. His adversary, the god of war. Mine, the prospect of forgoing routine, of comfort, of casting aside the warm, fuzzy blanket of familiarity. But as I put it to my juniors:


Yes, there are moments of fun and frolic, but there are also moments when you feel like giving up everything and shutting the world out. In those moments, try to hold on to these words from Robert Frost, with which I’ll wrap up my speech as well:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


Applause. Wan smiles. Faces, faces, faces. A proud teacher at the back of the hall. Rain keeping its promise of not dampening the day. 

I don't go miles before I weep. 

(This is an end. But this... this is also a beginning.)



Edit, 9 July: Rewritten in first person point-of-view because I found the second person PoV jarring. Seriously, what was I even thinking?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Momentariness

The six of us split from a larger group of former classmates, an island from a continent.

We walked towards the sea, only to be confronted by a ridge that was most definitely not there the last time I was there - a neat little embankment of loosely packed wet sand. One fell, one slid down it like a skateboarder. The rest of us leapt, wind whistling in our ears, late evening sun beating down our necks.

Shoes and sandals thrown aside and jeans rolled up, our feet embraced the waves - becoming a part of the sea and the sand’s eternal dance of melding and parting, union and separation.

And as we sifted sand through our toes, huddled together, hands linked, breathing in the humid, salty air, a bubble took form in my heart. A tiny speck of elation that grew, grew, grew until it enveloped all of me, all of us.

For a moment that had no beginning and no end, we were the world, the world was us.

We were limitless.


2 a.m. My sister and I had tiptoed downstairs for a drink of water when she clapped her hands to her mouth and whipped towards the washbasin. And promptly vomited.

I stood rooted to my spot, my mind scrambling to make sense of whathowwhy mustbesomethingsheate BUT WHAT chips!noodles? compressed into one thought.

In the faint light streaming from the kitchen, everything came into sharp focus. The arch of her spine as she doubled over the edge of the basin, two curves perpendicular to each other. Her quivering frame, ashen face, trembling lips. The creases in her forehead as she threw up. The carroty tinge to the puke. Its pungent smell wafting towards me.

My own stomach heaving, rolling. Trying to ward off the nausea.

And then, after a moment that seemed to stretch out forever, my hands moving forward. One pulling back her frizzy mess of hair from her face, the other rubbing her back in what I hoped was a soothing motion. Me murmuring it’s okay get it out you’re fine, random words of comfort tumbling out.

And I dreaded the coming of the next day, because she’d be curled up on the sheets, ill and frail, and the house would mourn its life and soul - if only for a day.


In one brief second, bitterness and fury swirled into a Molotov cocktail on the verge of exploding. I could’ve laid waste to the entire podium then and there, leaving nothing of the flat, droning voices, the smug smiles, the flimsy trophies, the holier-than-thou attitude. Nothing but ash and dust.

It was a felicitation ceremony for the top-scorers of the 12th grade examinations, organized by the City Corporation. Invites had gone out to every school in the corporation limits, including mine and my best friend’s.

A couple of speeches into the programme, came the news: students from private/unaided schools wouldn’t be awarded individual trophies, only a collective one for the school.

It didn’t matter that we’d studied the same freaking syllabus as the government/aided school students. It didn’t matter that we’d put our life and soul into the being the best. It didn’t matter that we’d walked the tightrope between the curriculum and extra-curricular activities. It didn’t matter that the two of us were among the handful who’d scored 1200/1200.

No, all that mattered was that we were private school kids, which automatically equalled rich, privileged, cocky, spoilt brats who’d been served life on a silver platter. No matter how far from true it was.

But I did not explode.

Instead, something unspooled within me in that moment, some weird emotion that was outrage and sadness and pity and awareness rolled into one. All my life, I’d yearned for approval. Thirsted for recognition, validation. And now, at the end of my life as a school student, I’d been slapped in the face by my own desire.

Not any more.

From now on, I would validate myself.

(A few minutes later, defiance ringing in every stride, my best friend and I marched out of the auditorium, our heads held high, our school trophies left unclaimed.)


I can’t make out the contours of even a single cloud.

Today, the sky is just a single expanse of dappled light, letting loose its grief and rage; each thunderclap a guttural scream ripped out from its throat but appearing to come from everywhere - from above, from below, from the middle-ground in between fluid sky and solid earth, and from the very centre of the earth, rippling, vibrating... every inch of the ground left trembling.

For a moment, I feel a strange kinship with the sky, united as we were by our disposition to shed tears both in sadness and in anger. But mine are always hot, boiling - born from that molten iron core where all sense of being wronged and being in the wrong froth and churn and steam. The sky’s tears are icy, as if they were from a place where all feeling was frozen over. A melting glacier flooding the world.

Then my eyes catch a faint yet fiery streak of burnished gold - a lone, veined branch of lightning illuminated against the quick flash of frigid silver, kick-starting a cascade of moments. Surprise. Fear. Awe. That shrinking feeling when faced with something larger than life.

Moment after moment after moment, one domino knocking the next into the next into the next.


At four in the morning, my fingers stumble across the keyboard in an awkward rhythm of tap-tap-tap pause tap pause tap-tap. My eyes are rimmed with the beginnings of sleep. But I keep typing anyway, determined to capture as much as I can. Moments in words. Fireflies in jars.

And, for one fleeting second, I see myself.

In the timeline of the universe, I am just a moment.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Poem: Yours


They will slit my veins
searching for your blood, in vain
for I am not yours

Not in flesh, not in blood;
Nor have I known your womb’s warmth.

But let them search my soul,
and find your face etched in gold -
for I am indeed yours

Yours in being, yours in living;
Reborn in your heart’s warmth.




A delayed Mother's Day gift for my mother-in-spirit. To the nit-picking world which survives on technicalities: my best friend's mother.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Second Chances

The world tells you he's treacherous.

But you are blind; always have been.

He waltzes right through your defences. He captures you the way no one can - in light and shadow, in glory and disarray. To him, you bare your mind and spill your soul. He listens and locks them all away, all those little odds and ends you pick up as you go through your life.

Between the two of you, there are a fair number of tantrums. Shouting, screaming. Fuming silences. Refusing to budge. But he was never one for letting tiffs ferment and sour, and before long, he's back in your arms. After all, how can you resist a guy who shows you the world, who even sings you to sleep?

He becomes your heart. He promises you forever.

And he betrays you, cripples you.

You cocoon yourself in your misery, you curse your naiveté, you mourn all that you had. All that you lost.

You're furious.

You dig up trenches, put up fences of barbed wire around your wounded heart. You swear to never let anyone in that far (so close, too close) ever again. Never again will someone steal your mind and soul. Never again will anyone reel you in so completely, wholly.

Slowly, the storm in you abates, leaving chaos in its wake. You take a deep breath, square your shoulders and turn back. You wade through the rubble, salvage what remains untouched. Bit by jagged bit, crack by crack, you try to put together the shards of your broken heart, but it's almost like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with no hooks or curves to tell you what goes where.

But you go ahead.

Never again, you tell yourself as you find your feet, as you rediscover your  rhythm, as you put back together your old life.

And then he waltzes right back in.

Never again, no, never...  your head chants desperately, but a part of you is on song the moment your eyes find his. And he's right there - rugged, worn, but warm and solid and there. He's sorry, he's a clean slate and your defenses crumble as if they were a house of cards and it is all too easy. You need him.

It is all too easy to go back to what you were once - he feels like an extension of yourself, he connects you to the world. He is there to listen, capture, caress, lull you into sleep. Just as he once did.

But some piece of you remembers. Resents him for letting go. Hates him for coming back, hates him for making you feel weak. Hates yourself for feeling weak.

Yet you love him anyway.

It is maddening, this intricate dance of love and hate and everything in between.

But he's yours and you're his.
And for now, you don't want to let go.

(However, this time you're going to backup all your data.)


If you're wondering what brought this on: someone messed with the pattern lock on my smartphone, the get-in-with-Google-sign-in didn't work, I had to do a factory reset and I lost all non-SD-card data. Tons of notes I'd prepared for HSEE and science quiz, writing prompts.... I'm still grieving.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

In An Instant

One second.

That's all it takes for your life to change.

For the weight on your chest to dissolve, for that choke-hold on your windpipe to loosen, to drop out of the paralysing limbo between will you and won't you and let gravity take you down, down, down... to reality.

For once, not the grim kind.

Yes, I have good news! The scream-out-loud, oh-my-god-WHAT-IS-AIR kind of good news.

For a person who posts at least once a month, I have been noticeably absent from the arena for some time. Well, the culprit was an entrance exam I'd been preparing for - the Humanities and Social Sciences Entrance Examination (HSEE), on the basis of which students get selected for the Integrated MA (English/Economics) course at IIT-Madras. The exam was held on April 20th... and ever since, well, I've been a wreck. A well-disguised wreck, though.

*Elsa voice* Conceal, don't feel.

After nearly two weeks of nerves, panic, freaking out and generally curling up into a ball like a terrified porcupine - with brief Zen moments of relax, you'll be fine and even if you won't, you can try next time - the results came out yesterday. The actual announcement date was supposed to be 14th.

AND I GOT IN.

8th RANK. I got in with a freaking 8th rank. I got in.

I will spare you all the typographical variations of the same words, even though that's what it feels like - like every cell, every pore in my body sounding akin to a broken record, varying in frequency and volume. I got in. I feel like I've been doused in a bucket of cold water. I feel everything and nothing all at once.

This is too good to be true.

(Which is why I'm opening the PDF for the umpteenth time, to reassure myself that my name is still on the list, it hasn't been magically wiped off, and it definitely isn't a one-month-late April Fools prank.)

I can't believe this. I'll be moving to Chennai in a few months.

Wait, what? I'll be moving to Chennai in a few months? Oh. OH. Oh. 

********************
One second.

That's all it takes for your life to change.

For the weight on your chest to solidify, for that choke-hold to return with even greater force, to be paralysed again, to drag yourself on, on, on.... only to arrive at a crossroads.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Poem: Fighting For

Now
I know
What I was fighting for

I fought
for that lingering waft
of lunch-box spice;
the faint strain
of an off-key song

I fought
for the ink
bleeding on to paper -
red underlines, blue A-plus,
answers scrawled in black

I fought
for chalk-dust streaks,
compass-carved desks,
and dreamy-eyed windows
mooning over sunlit grounds

I fought
for the lame jokes
graffitied
on the walls of
my heart

I fought
so there’d be a tomorrow
when the infinite Now
could be an
eternally fond Then

I fought
for you

Now I know:
I fought for you




Dedicated to my school, my classmates.

Twelve years of school life,  now officially a thing of my past. Yes, today was the last exam of Twelfth Grade, the Last Ever Day in School Uniform, the Last Ever... okay, if I continue in this vein, I'll dissolve into a puddle of tears.

There was a point in the past two months when I was so completely stressed by the incessant flow of Decisive-Exam-Must-Perform-Well reminders that I even had a couple of breakdowns. I would stare at the ceiling and wonder what was the point of it all.

It was as if I was setting out for a battle without even knowing what I was fighting for.

But today, I have my answer.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Elfje: Then and Now

Then
I was
a soul, desperately
seeking a body to
inhabit

Now
I am
a shell mourning
its emptiness; my lost
soul



Playing with the Elfje form (11 words spread over 5 lines in a 1-2-3-4-1 pattern) after quite a long time.

Also, 100th post!!! 

This elfje has also been put up at Simply Elfje

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Janus

Look back

see
the castles you built
on air

crumbling
into dreams and dust

all the smiles
you forgot to plant
on your face

withering
away into the wind

your fire
which once blazed
and raged

fading
to ash and cinder

the steel
unbent within
your soul

brittling,
and reduced to rust

Now
Forget them all.

Look ahead

dream. smile. burn.
stay strong.

This year is yours.


janus_1


Trivia time: This month gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transition, depicted with two faces - one looking at the past, the other towards the future.

On that note, wishing you all a happy new year!