Friday, September 27, 2013


i have surrounded my life in art
all my friends are artists or writers or geniuses of some sparkling kind or the other

their voices so loud
their words so beautiful
they'll carve you pretty pictures
and decorate it with their pain

but today, they all appear so naive to me

the truest of artists
the wisest
don't seem to create any art

they spend still, silent lives
in invisible corners

they will not do, but be

and their life is a storehouse of beauty
and every moment spent with them a revelation

i want more of that, please.

friends, how i wish we could all grow up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

rhymes of another summer (ii)

the same question it throws at me

how are we supposed to survive in a world packed with so much pain

where feeling is living
understanding, dying

where answers are the questions themselves

where music is the mother that made me
now fading

where trying means to befriend
our failings

and what we are meant to gain
can never be whole


Monday, September 23, 2013

not unfamiliar ties


look how love grows
like weed it spreads
without need

it sprouts in neglect
trusts inadequacies

every source
is contaminated with its whiff
it stinks

like stain
it sticks

cause love is the only song the universe will sing, you know.

and the story you tell me is that
god is your friend

you pour your god words on me like water
mine i store like pebbles in the mouth
i will forever fumble


and mute

you pour

and tender petals float along currents of a river
that slowly dissolve soundless stones.

you breathe

i melt into life.

love is your world
death is your cloak
you bow in prayer, that is your style

i will climb onto your lap
and play party to these rhymes
i will sail on your word
i will drown for a while
i will hold your hand
so we can dance to his song, once more.

i may have known you a long time, you know.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

mark your territory


no more

than a dog taking a leak

Saturday, September 14, 2013

safe to say

the comma is a poet's best friend

Thursday, September 12, 2013

unintended inheritance

I may have been introduced to poems from when I was in the second grade, but it was only in ninth grade, as a 14-year-old, that I first encountered poetry. And it didn’t quite come in the form of a poem.

Yesterday I went up to our attic to look for pajamas and this is what I found.

It's a tattered copy of a copy of Black Boy, which is a childhood memoir of American writer Richard Wright. It's a photocopied version because that's what we were given in school, and that's how I read books through much of my childhood. Which is why it took a while getting accustomed to original copies of novels I had to read in college. This one has a spine made of yellow tape, and the cover page is covered with scribblings of the 14-year-old enthusiast I was. My name features six times, scattered across the cover, going off into every possible direction. There are sound words that, though written with innocence, are of a rather perverse nature. The mind has been stained irredeemably in the past decade. And there's some commentary on the muddy nature of the author's last name, which got me ruminating on ideas of right, wrong, guilt, etc, etc. The back cover is mostly gone.

I spent a better part of my high school years reading and rereading Black Boy as part of our literature class. It came to me at a time when I was sure school was a tiring and useless process, that I was certainly miscast in it. Most of eighth grade had passed without my taking a single look at the blackboard. I also felt general unease at the prospect of having to use the English language so profusely. A language I did not feel at home with. A language I had no confidence using. I wanted to badly quit school.

Like I mentioned earlier, I was introduced to poems very early in my childhood. And I began writing them when I was in the seventh grade. I'd carry a notebook with me everywhere I went. That's where I'd write, mostly in verses that rhymed, angry phrases filled with rage, anger, disappointment, humiliation. I'd write to get back at the world for not letting me in. In small hardcover notebooks, I chronicled all the little losses of my life, I tried to store all the things inside me that had remained misunderstood. The world was suffocation and writing easily became my refuge. It became my shield, my armour. But it was not poetry.

Last night, as I was flipping through pages of my tattered Black Boy, I encountered sentences, here and there, at random. And I was surprised by how they made me feel. Every turn of phrase, every progress in narrative carried a momentum, a sound, a rhythm that was oddly and intensely familiar. I remember it had given me a generous learning experience in school, one I eagerly plunged into. But back then I was barely aware of how much of an impact it was to leave on me.

In literature, I depend on and relish in style the most. Style is what gives a peek into the soul of the person behind the words. But style is always, at most, an abstract, intangible thing. And here, with Wright, even after a decade, style was like a life-sized statue placed in the middle of my bedroom. Black Boy has such a strong melody, that if you've spent a part of your youth playing it on repeat, you'll be able to hum it the rest of your life. Or that's what's been true for me. I feel like I can continue reading the book with my eyes closed. In that manner, the book is just like a 295 page-long song. It is one very, very long poem.

I quickly turned to pages that carry my favourite bits. These are lines that gave me the first inkling of what poetry means.

Each event spoke with a cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly revealed their coded meanings. There was the wonder I felt when I first saw a brace of mountain-like, spotted, black-and-white horses clopping down a dusty road through clouds of powdered clay.

There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows of red and green vegetables stretching away in the sun to the bright horizon.

There was the faint, cool kiss of sensuality when dew came on to my cheeks and shins as I ran down the wet, green garden paths in the early morning.

There was the vague sense of the infinite as I looked down upon the yellow, dreaming waters of the Mississippi River from the verdant bluffs of Natchez.

There were the echoes of nostalgia I heard in the crying strings of wild geese winging south against a bleak, autumn sky.

There was the tantalising melancholy in the tingling scent of burning hickory wood.

There was the teasing and impossible desire to imitate the petty pride of sparrows wallowing and flouncing in the red dust of country roads.

There was the yearning for identification loosed in me by the sight of a solitary ant carrying a burden upon a mysterious journey.

There was the disdain that filled me as I tortured a delicate, blue-pink crawfish that huddled fearfully in the mudsill of a rusty tin can.

There was the aching glory in masses of clouds burning gold and purple from an invisible sun.

There was the liquid alarm I saw in the blood-red glare of the sun’s afterglow mirrored in the squared panes of whitewashed frame houses.

There was the languor I felt when I heard green leaves rustling with a rainlike sound.

There was the incomprehensible secret embodied in a whitish toadstool hiding in the dark shade of a rotting log.

There was the experience of feeling death without dying that came from watching a chicken leap about blindly after its neck had been snapped by a quick twist of my father’s wrist.

There was the great joke that I felt God had played on cats and dogs by making them lap their milk and water with their tongues.

There was the thirst I had when I watched clear, sweet juice trickle from sugar cane being crushed.

There was the hot panic that welled up in my throat and swept through my blood when I first saw the lazy, limp coils of a blue-skinned snake sleeping in the sun.

There was the speechless astonishment of seeing a hog stabbed through the heart, dipped into boiling water, scraped, split open, gutted, and strung up gaping and bloody.

There was the love I had for the mute regality of tall, moss-clad oaks.

There was the hint of cosmic cruelty that I felt when I saw the curved timbers of a wooden shack that had been warped in the summer sun.

There was the saliva that formed in my mouth whenever I smelt clay dust potted with fresh rain.

There was the cloudy notion of hunger when I breathed the odour of new-cut, bleeding grass.

And there was the quiet terror that suffused my senses when vast hazes of gold washed earthward from star-heavy skies on silent nights...

Funny how poetry first happened to me in the form of prose. But look at these lines. How ripe they are with feeling, how willingly they offer themselves to your experience. There is memory, and warmth, and wonder, and curiosity, and pain, and pleasure. There is that child’s consciousness--which, like a camera roll, is forever changed with every single exposure to the world. There is nature nudging, inviting, nourishing, biting.

Language was often taught to us as a way of describing things, but these lines taught me how hollow description is when it is presented without feeling. You need distortion, bias, a description of reality layered with your experience of it, and your response to it, for poetry to come alive. Otherwise it will be another science textbook, one anyone could write.

There’s part II to these musical notes that come a bit later, when he’s slightly more grown up, although still very much a child.

The days and hours began to speak now with a clearer tongue. Each experience had a sharp meaning of its own.

There was the breathlessly anxious fun of chasing and catching flitting fireflies on drowsy summer nights. There was the drenching hospitality in the pervading smell of sweet magnolias.

There was the aura of limitless freedom distilled from the rolling sweep of tall green grass swaying and glinting in the wind and sun.

There was the feeling of impersonal plenty when I saw a boll of cotton whose cup had split over and straggled its white fleece towards the earth.

There was the pitying chuckle that bubbled in my throat when I watched a fat duck waddle across the back yard.

There was the suspense I felt when I heard the taut, sharp song of a yellow-black bee hovering nervously but patiently above a white rose.

There was the drugged, sleepy feeling that came from sipping glasses of milk, drinking them slowly so that they would last a long time, and drinking enough for the first time in my life.

There was the bitter amusement of going into town with Granny and watching the baffled stares of white folks who saw an old white woman leading two undeniably Negro boys in and out of stores on Capitol Street.

There was the slow, fresh, saliva-stimulating smell of cooking cotton seeds.

There was the excitement of fishing in muddy country creeks with my grandpa on cloudy days.

There was the fear and awe I felt when Grandpa took me to a sawmill to watch the giant, whirring, steel blades whine and scream as they bit into wet, green logs.

There was the puckery taste that almost made me cry when I ate my first half-ripe persimmon.

There was the greedy joy in the tangy taste of wild hickory nuts.

There was the dry, hot, summer morning when I scratched my bare arms on briers while picking blackberries and came home with my fingers and lips stained black with sweet berry juice.

There was the relish of eating my first fried fish sandwich, nibbling at it slowly and hoping that I would never eat it up.

There was the all-night ache in my stomach after I had climbed a neighbour’s tree and eaten stolen, unripe peaches.

There was the morning when I thought I would fall dead from fear after I had stepped with my bare feet upon a bright little green garden snake.

And there were the long, slow, drowsy days and nights of drizzling rain...

My familiarity with Wright’s style is not so much external as it is internal. The thing that my reading last night resonated with most was my own inner voice. And I was shocked to see how much the rhythm of my mind echoes his. The way he uses words and images, how he approaches language, what writing means to him. I hadn’t planned it to happen this way, but looking back, I see how much my obsession with the book, how the way it had salvaged the life of a hapless adolescent had left its imprint. It became my unintended inheritance.

The way I underlined lines on virtually every page, the scribbles on the sides show that there was something deep and wonderful ensuing. There’s this one page towards the end of the book where I’ve written in exasperation, “I don’t know…Shall I underline everything?!” At every turn, the book cracked open understandings that expanded the universe of my experience. New dimensions were revealing themselves to me, and with every read, the world I was living in felt big and mysterious and alluring. More explorable. More negotiable.

A book that charts the life of a black child growing up in the 1920s in the American South is undoubtedly not a light book. There is violence, betrayal, injustice at every corner. The book is packed with instances that are knotted with a complexity of emotional experiences, some excruciatingly painful, others achingly beautiful, others yet undoing all his life’s learnings only to teach him something entirely new. Looking back at his life and trying to measure its worth, Wright seems to have found something valuable in the suffering that formed the bedrock of his existence. That suffering must have deepened his joy, whenever he felt it, that he was able to create poetry out of it.

With this book in hand, I became aware that poetry isn’t just a mere wringing out the contents of your mind, but a fusion of your mind and your heart and your body and your people and your world. Was it at that moment that I changed--somewhat--from someone who wrote angry poems, to someone who started appreciating poetry?

My school life was mostly terrible, but having read Black Boy while I was there makes up for much of it. It taught me the most important thing about poetry--how to love it. And once that love develops, then the lived experience of poetry is no longer limited to a poem, or to words alone. It spills out of your consciousness through your senses and soon enough, the sky is singing to you, the rooftop breeze too. A lonesome tree. A cup of tea. A smile smiled in memory of a dear friend. The sparkle of gold, the mystery of mould. The carefree meandering of a river, the self-effacing patience of a silent stone on its banks. Endless journeys. Emotions that have no name. And on and on and on poetry seeps into every aspect of your life, until the whole world is drenched in melody. Poetry, when it becomes a way of life, enables you to grasp the rhythm of life.

So sing along. Until everything is just an unending song.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

in here

the mind suffers
from a chronic dyslexia

of not being able to read itself.

it runs in the family

we compensate
for the cruelty we inflict on our intimate ones
being kind to strangers

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the things i know about my brother

i know i've hated my brother most of my life.

i like to think that he's a pushy, arrogant, annoying, lazy, overzealous
part selfish, part reckless
and pseudo carefree
kind of man.

but i don't know what his favourite fruit is
or what makes him smile or laugh or cry

i don't know what makes him go weak in the knees
or the way even the most regular of sunsets stirs things inside him, if at all

i don't know what are the first thoughts he has when he wakes up
or what he likes to eat when he's so hungry his stomach is about to pop

i don't know how he spends his days, or what he does during wakeful nights

i don't know what he thinks of himself
on days that don't go so well

i don't know how often his days don't go well

i don't know why he hasn't cut his hair, even as it has been ruined by sunlight and splitends

i don't know how he learned to love and live with the girl he loves and how they make it work

i don't know what he likes to read, or wear, or do in times when nobody expects anything of him

i don't know what contentment means to him, or pain, or failure

i don't know about the things he values, the jewels he likes to store inside his heart

i don't know what he's good at, don't know how creative he is, don't know if the world's a teddy bear or a hostile thing to him

i don't know his number

i don't know whether he's a good listener, or a bad one. yeah, we don't talk much at all

i don't even know how to look him in the eye

what i've known most well, and with most certainty, is that i hate my brother. and that isn't even something about him, but myself.

i've only known his anger, his selfishness, and that's been enough so far. hating's been easy because i've wanted nothing more.

i guess people don't change until you're willing to open your eyes. and maybe even your heart.

the world really is just as small as you want it to be.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

mulberry blues


the world is a jackfruit.

that's what you used to say to me. and now i find that i'm often saying it to myself. inside my head. under my breath. i'll pass a green field while riding in the car as my mother drives. sometimes a neon sign. occasionally the indecisiveness of the evening sky as it swiftly changes colour. almost always there is a song sliding through my ears. my mind wanders. and slowly i slip into the music, in and out of reality. a flash in my memory and i'm suddenly reminded of what you said.

and i'll mutter affectionately, "the world is a jackfruit."

what's a jackfruit? mother asks like this is the first time i'm saying it. it's not. in the same car, on the same route, i've bumped across this phrase countless times, and she's asked me many times before. but i can understand. the jackfruit isn't really the best ambassador of fruit. a slip in memory is forgivable.

"katahar," i say. and then i nod at your decision of saying that one phrase in english. in all our conversations we'd stuck to nepali. but "yo sansaar ta euta katahar ho" has nowhere the same power as "the world is a jackfruit." even if our taste buds are more familiar with katahar, jackfruit it is when you want to go all meta.

you know on most days i don't think of you. okay, i think of you everyday, but not with the same intense longing that once drove me insane.

it may have continued that way had you never mentioned how the world is pretty much a jackfruit. just like my mother, i had asked you what the entire deal with comparing the world to a fruit that isn't really a fruit meant.

"when you cut a jackfruit and try to peel it, what happens?" you'd asked.

and "oh it's a messy business," was how i'd responded. "the juice is sticky and it clings to your skin. it makes your hands look dirty. and it won't go away. no matter how much you wash them."

and that was when something went 'click' in my brain. you didn't need to explain any further.

now that you aren't around, you are always in my mind. and you're so there, so resolutely there, that you're no different from that mug that's been lying on my window sill for days. you're so there that i forget to take note of your existence. and then, out of the blue, there are these moments when the balance tips over and i am once again filled with pangs of pain, longing, regret.

and just as i start wallowing in the sadness of never having you as my own, just as i start filling my heart with desire and my head with words like hopeless and excruciating, words i cannot settle into, "the world is a jackfruit" hits me again.

i mutter it aloud, affectionately. i smile to myself. and i pull myself away from illusions i was willing myself into.

there was a point when i thought that if i had not felt pain, i had not loved. and then i came to a point where i felt so much pain that i thought i'd burst and i was convinced that was what love meant. and i wanted to carry that pain with me wherever i went. and i did, for a while. i felt for certain that if i let go of the pain, it would mean that i had never loved to begin with. i'd so far been so miserly about loving that whatever i knew about it were just theories i'd cooked up in my head. and i wasn't going to let go of those ideas. i wasn't willing to let go of the pain.

when you called the world a jackfruit, you weren't just talking about the outer world, were you? the jackfruit is in my head and in my heart, and i make it a daily task of carving dreams out of it, don't i?

you didn't even have to tell me to let go of the pain. when i became certain this was love, and it was such a kind of love as i'd never felt before. the kind of love that really has no shape, no name, nor any limits. that is moving, moving, but utterly directionless. the kind of love that grows so enormous that it crushes under its weight ideas of you and me. the kind of love that makes you want to tilt your head and arch your back and make you bow in gratefulness. the kind of love that makes you go chameleon, soak up the other's hues, their traits, their soul. when i knew that it was really love this time, i stopped the dream factory in my mind. the pain disappeared on its own.

the love is intact, still. but on most days, it is ordinary, like breathing. it is consistent and vital too, just as breathing is. but who's to keep note of it all day long?

especially when the world is ripe, sexy, alluring. dazzling and enchanting. eternally distracting.

there's enough frustration in it to make you go cuckoo. there's sweet pleasure, too, in stealing glances at pretty boys on tv. there's flattery to indulge in, swollen pride to pamper. there's comfort in bitching about inconvenient others. there's money to be made, money to be spent. there's things to be bought. on every shelf in every store, there are items that promise to dilute the essence of your soul. and they must be owned. there are words to be heard, read, spoken. each missing the mark, yet used endlessly. there are wishes and hopes. continuous loops of desire to get entangled in.

and there are dreams to be woven. big dreams, small dreams. harsh dreams, soft dreams. dreams made of eekie puddles on potholes during the rain. dreams made of marshmallow and puppy love. dreams that your mother birthed on you no sooner than when you were born. dreams that reek of ambition. dreams that take the shape of unborn babies. dreams that sway with the wind like green leaves in a rice field. dreams that are eager to destroy. dreams that wish to undo time, progress, civilisation, and at times, intend to outdo the world, set it right, this time. for sure. finally. and that mild, fragrant, most fragile, most delicate dream that floats through intoxicating melodies that you wish would never stop playing.

the world is at once unbearably cruel, utterly beautiful, baffling, cheerful, noisy, boring, tiring, overwhelming. it pulls and pushes with such vigour. everything about it so irreconcilable. everything so sticky. even the silent greeting of a monochrome doormat, or your neighbour's incomprehensible murmur early in the morning that you receive with half-awake ears. all of it sticks. in the midst of all this, i'm glad what has also stuck is your phrase about the jackfruit.

dearest, do you remember how whenever i got the chance i'd come sit beside you. i'd close my eyes and fold my palms on my lap.

it was during moments of silence, when nothing was spoken, that everything was exchanged. you gave me everything then. love. god. beauty. meaning--everything that i hanker for when i am not lathering up against the ball of distraction that is the world.

in your presence i always healed. i felt like you were able to touch me from a much deeper place than the body, with a much more potent tool than the mind. my thoughts would vanish. my body would dissolve into nothing but a warm tingle of atoms. like gold dust dancing in sunlight. and at one point it got me wondering. if being around you could make me feel this way, what must it be like to be you. i may never know. but i know i will never stop wondering.

in a world so topsy-turvy, you really are top quality jackfruit-soluble soap. occasionally out of stock. like these days. i curse my luck and carry on. know how i am. today i crave. tomorrow i reject. one moment i know who i am, the next i am clueless. i am known to swing between mania and dejection. you would never let me dream, there was no reason for dreaming with you around. and now, every day, i encounter a thousand random ideas. and each idea, even the tiniest one, is all too eager to hatch into a crazy medley of sticky nightmares and dreams. and there you go, that's how i lose touch with reality again.

can i say i don't long for you anymore? longing does nothing but distract me from loving. and i want to love to the core. but for now, colliding with the world is how it's got to be. there's only jackfruit on the menu this side of reality. and sometimes it makes me a little amnesiac about love. but as long as i know what i'm being served, i think i'll survive. i hope every such encounter makes me wiser. until i meet you again and together, we wash our hands clean.

i have missed you.