Saturday, December 11, 2010

A disturbing poem.

When I write
it’s vaguely amusing
to know
that you still
live inside me
like a sick, fat
parasite.

Eating what I eat
digesting what I digest
breathing, growing
on mucus
and darkness.

You have grown
like a poisonous
bonsai
inside my chest.
Stunted branches
pushing their
annoying fruits
into my flesh.

And honestly,

it fails to amuse me

after a while.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"The Second Kingdom" (Richard Brautigan)

In the first kingdom
of the stars,
everything is always
half-beautiful. 

Your fingernails
are angels
sleeping after
a long night
of making love. 

The sound of
your eyes: snow
coming down
the stairs
of the wind. 

Your hair
is the color
of God picking
flowers. 

In the second
kingdom of the stars
there is only 

you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Magician


Enrico waited in the shadows. There she was, smiling at some stranger, and that diamond ring sparkling bright on her finger. Her face was emaciated; she was old, withered, no longer his young lover, yet her hair still shone like coal under that brilliant night sky. I found you, he told her, stepping into the street light, I found you, my Medusa. Quite a trickster, aren’t you?
 

She did not quail under his gaze, as he thought she should have. She heard him inside her head, his voice cold as steel, throbbing in her mind after twenty long years.

I taught you to read minds, and you learnt well. Exceptionally well. He smiled. What made you betray me then?

“I did not want a life carved out of secrets, Rico. We both were far too young for something this dangerous.”

Aren’t we both magicians? Our breed thrives on secrets! We are both master and slave to concealment. That bitter and exact voice kept piercing her mind.

“I am a performer, an entertainer- not what you’d call a magician.”

Whom would I call a magician?

“None but you, I guess. How long has it been since you have felt something? How do you survive, Rico, mirroring what only others have felt? Or accomplished? Who reads your mind? What did you last experience?”

You still wear my ring, I see. 

After a moment’s hesitation, she gave him the ring and he put it inside his pocket. He had to perform tonight, the past would not bind him down, and it must not. He had half turned to leave, when he barely whispered: And a lock of your hair Medusa. That too, is rightfully mine.

***

I was working with a newspaper house in Singapore when I first met Enrico. He sat brooding in his dressing room post the show, waiting edgily for this interview to get over. He had kept all the lights off, but one, near his mirror. His face bore traces of make up, his eyes too dark and his lips, too red. “You try my patience boy”, were the first words he said. I had been through this many times, the instant dislike that people took to reporters, the cold, almost frosty, sneer. I dug my palms further into my pocket, managed an easy smile and said, “It won’t take more than five minutes, I promise.” The room was bare except for a battered old sofa, a wooden armchair and an antique desk with a mirror propped up against it.

I did not know why I, a greenhorn at the desk in the firm, was asked to interview him. Kim, my colleague, had warned that Enrico was, politely put, temperamental. He was known to have turned down every single request for an interview before this. It was nothing short of a miracle that for once, in his career, spanning over a decade, he had agreed. 

Enrico Varella, it was rumoured, had a heart in pieces, but the mind of a genius. Varella performed on stage as a magician. His profession was unusual, his passion almost demonic. He had supposedly started out as man who could have guessed with just a slight trepidation, the card you held in your hands without your having revealed it to him, and a few years later he ended as an obsessed, manipulative reader of minds- ruthless, cold and precise. He’d lovingly draw out one’s shameful, menacing secrets, his lips caressing each syllable, stretching them taut. That was all I had gathered about him before being asked to conduct this interview.

The producers of his shows labeled him a ‘psychic entertainer’, a performer who excelled in clairvoyance, memory feats and mind control. Enrico vehemently disagreed. He claimed, in the first five minutes of the discussion, that he was a ‘magician’ par excellence. He disregarded other stage illusionists. Escaping from chains, ropes, handcuffs and straitjackets was not proper magic, he felt, it was far too gimmicky- not subtle enough. He had advanced further into the territory of the mind, no longer dealing with the spectacle. This was magic, he felt, foraying into the indefinable, the unknown and the limitless: the human mind. There was nothing like commanding the mind, controlling it, and abusing it.

I saw him on stage that day. He moved like a gliding star, and his face with its unibrow and long crooked nose, shone like one. The packed hall was eerily silent; the audience felt both awed and threatened in his presence. Enrico knew that intimidation was power. His skills alarmed me. During the show he offered to read the minds of five spectators, he probed deep into their heads, and further into their souls, and further still, gleaning thoughts, words, images that should have never seen the light of day. That was one thing about Enrico, Kim said, he never knew where to stop. Neither did the volunteers. There was always that secret thrill of being challenged and exposed on stage. Humiliation for some was nectar for others.

“I don’t let people pry into my life, that’s my job.” He kept staring into my eyes. It took me a moment to realize that he was trying to read me, deciphering my body language. I was aware of the intense scrutiny and I let it pass. Varella kept sitting like a snake waiting to strike, alert and tense. His stance partly amused me. “You are the expert at reading minds here,” I told him, “what makes you so uneasy?”

Taken aback, he answered with ill-veiled contempt. “Uneasy? Next thing I know boy, you’d be writing in that newspaper of yours that Varella is a maestro on the stage and a nervous wreck off it. I know your breed, I know them too well. I don’t need this interview, you do. I get my audience, with or without your column. You see my point?”

I settled down and took out my recorder. I wanted to ask him why he insisted upon calling me ‘boy’ but resisted the urge. Here was a man who thought too much of himself, believing he could change the world. He was a marvel, no doubt, but his was a limited world; his skill priceless, but only on the stage.

“How old are you?” I asked him

“Forty-one.”

“So am I”, I smiled. 

I was lying, of course. I had just turned thirty one a week ago. And he caught that little lie. Enrico was an intelligent man and knew the purpose behind this little exchange. His eyes glittered, amused. Instead of becoming completely opaque, as I was afraid, he warmed up to me.

“Tell me, how did you discover magic?” I asked.

“When, you mean? Magic was always inside me, I grew up with it, I just never knew.”

“Alright, when?”

“When I realized that all those things I kept hearing weren’t always spoken out aloud. I was ten. The day before my birthday my mother bought a new bicycle for me. She would not give me the keys, she said, “Not until tomorrow Rico.” She had hidden the keys. I looked into her eyes, and what did I see? I saw a seashell keychain, with a key dangling from it, kept beneath her favourite vase. I was puzzled, you know? Puzzled because I was hearing and seeing two different things.”

“So, you say it is a natural gift, reading minds? There’s no illusion involved, it is all real?”

“I would say that it occupies this bizarre fringe, straddling both magic and psychology.”

“And the supernatural?”

The corner of his lips twitched. “I don’t talk to ghosts, if that is what you mean.”

“And this knowledge, being natural and intrinsic to you, cannot be imparted?”

His brow darkened. “One can learn.”

“Despite… limitations?”

“As always, there are exceptions. And I have met one myself.”

I looked at him, expecting him to continue. He stared at the desk, silently, kicking it lightly with his foot, time and again. After a few minutes he said, “I had a partner once. I had taught her, trained her. She left saying, this was not a field for honest folk, heh. I have run the show alone, ever since.”

“So, how did you start?”

“Like they all do, as a street magician.” He lit a cigarette and rubbed his eyes. “I am tired, you know? I’d rather do this interview tomorrow, or never at all.”

I ignored this comment, and said, “Where? Chinatown?”

He nodded. “Yes, the famous little ethnic belly of Singapore.” His voice grew metallic, almost flinty. “I grew up there. I started performing when I was sixteen. Entertaining tourists is easier than entertaining the locals, I must say. The tourists are ever so eager to applaud, to laugh, to appreciate. When you think of it, maybe they are simply trying to justify the reason they spent so much money to get to Singapore. There they are, buying gimmicky things like a mahjong set in jade, or tasting some bland, peculiar fare, doused with authentic Chinese herbs, clicking photos, dozens of them, hundreds of them, collecting souvenirs from sham curio shops. Sickening. Yet, I wore striped suits and held out cards for them.”

He stopped. “I should not be telling you this, eh? But how does it matter? I am a dark one, you know. And that is exactly why they come streaming into the hall when my shows are announced. If possible, they’d wear masks and come. Guilt, secrets, shame, horror- I trade in them, and the audience loves me.” When he grinned, his teeth shone like pearls. I knew he was trying to bully me, but intimidation was a skill he had practiced on stage- it did not work in this sad shabby dressing room. I smiled.

“Tell me about you first proper stage show”, I ventured.

He lit another cigarette, and turned his eyes away from me. “It was in December, there was a parade near the Boat Quay. I was paid fifty dollars to dress up like a gypsy, and read from a crystal ball.”

“A gypsy woman, you mean?” I asked incredulously. 

He smiled indulgently. “I had dark hair and dark eyes, and I was just a young boy, without a trace of any beard. They dressed me up in skirts and veils, painted my lips, stuck a peacock feather behind my ear. By the time they were done, you couldn’t guess. Yes, comic and unusual, yes.”

 The room felt less stifling, less shadowy- his sourness was slowly vanishing. Enrico’s eyes crinkled when he smiled and he leant forward to touch my knee. “You’d think I’d be embarrassed, eh? I am not, not at all. It was a magical night, it was. When I walked back home that night, my pockets were heavy and my head was buzzing. I did not lie to, or disappoint any of those people who came into my tent seeking help, or looking for amusement. I couldn’t tell them the future, but I knew their past, I knew their present- and for them, that was miraculous enough. I had found my destiny.” 

He drew open a drawer and took out a seashell keychain, an old peacock feather along with a grimy, yellow envelope containing, I suspected, fifty dollars. “Fond of my keepsakes”, he murmured, “my only weakness.” That film of aloofness, of being superhuman somehow, had disappeared entirely. 

He grinned and said, “Do you recognize how it feels to like to finally be on the right trail? I was going to be a magician, and I knew it.”

“You say you started twenty years ago or perhaps even more. But people have seen you on the stage only in the past ten years…”

“I was in jail.” 

The transition was abrupt. The voice, clipped, again. I looked at him, but Enrico was lost in his own bitter world. This was no longer just an interview for him, I realized. He reached out for his coat and took out a diamond ring from its pocket. He kept turning it over his palm, this way and that. For a moment it seemed that the room was nothing but darkness, while the diamond shone like a coagulated mass of sheer white light. “I gave in to temptation, once. I stole from a client. I was a skilled magician, but not so adept at burglary.” His gaunt cheeks broke into a mirthless smile. “I returned everything, but not this little precious ring. This I gave to her.” 

He looked at me, his eyes wild. “I paid for it too, you know? I paid for it with ten years of my life.” The grin grew ghastlier, the eyes, wilder. Enrico was at long last delving into his own tortuous mind, reading his own memories, no longer catering to strangers or fortifying himself against them. I was scared, terrified at the prospect of witnessing his moment of self discovery. 

I rose to leave, having perceived many a crack in that supposedly impenetrable veneer of his. He did not stop me. Did he even notice me? As I closed the door behind me, I saw him bending over that desk, replacing that odd assortment of items he had laid out before me. 

The next morning, while I walked towards my office, my views had slightly changed. For one, I thought, off the stage, Enrico was like a fish out of water. I was no longer scared stiff, but disgruntled. Magic, I felt, did not have any relevance in this mundane world of ours, and when you plucked mysterious creatures, like these magicians, out of that little shell of stars, and placed them in the real world, they began to lose their sheen. Up close, Enrico was sentimental, anxious and wary. I was prepared to type out a suitably modified version of the interview and be done with it. 

***

Enrico sat alone; running the lock of hair between his fingers, long after the journalist had left. His thoughts ran unhindered; slipping back time and again to the woman he had met that evening.

Whom would I call a magician? He had thundered inside her head.

She had not winced, not the slightest bit. “None but you, I guess. How long has it been since you have felt something? How do you survive, Rico, mirroring what only others have felt? Or accomplished? Who reads your mind? What did you last experience?”

He thought about the journalist. He could not remember either his face or his name. For once he had not meddled with a stranger’s head, or sifted through his thoughts, knowing all, experiencing nothing. The magic, he felt, was leaving him. He was tired; it had been a steep hike to the peak of success, of authority and influence. It was time to leave, and time to let go. He carefully placed the lock of hair beside the diamond ring, and shut the drawer. 

The show was over, once and for all. 

***


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's Raining in Love

-- Richard Brautigan

I don't know what it is,
but I distrust myself
when I start to like a girl
a lot.

It makes me nervous.
I don't say the right things
or perhaps I start
to examine,
evaluate,
compute
what I am saying.

If I say, "Do you think it's going to rain?"
and she says, "I don't know,"
I start thinking: Does she really like me?

In other words
I get a little creepy.

A friend of mine once said,
"It's twenty times better to be friends
with someone
than it is to be in love with them."

I think he's right and besides,
it's raining somewhere, programming flowers
and keeping snails happy.
That's all taken care of.

BUT

if a girl likes me a lot
and starts getting real nervous
and suddenly begins asking me funny questions
and looks sad if I give the wrong answers
and she says things like,
"Do you think it's going to rain?"
and I say, "It beats me,"
and she says, "Oh,"
and looks a little sad
at the clear blue California sky,
I think: Thank God, it's you, baby, this time
instead of me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Letter from a Pirate

Not a pirate’s life for you, my boy, never. 

Today, I close my eyes and see you near a fireside; your feet firmly planted on ground, and your red hair glaring like an angry sun. That’s my boy, that’s my boy. You don’t belong here, not on a ship carrying the weight of countless dead men, carrying the stench of rotting flesh and food, sweat and blood. You bear in your heart the touch of Earth. I have dreamt of you on nights when the mates have reeled under the influence of sea-sickness or some strange disease that threatened to push them closer to that sharp divide between life and death. But wait, life upon this plagued ship is nothing but death-in-life. I have dreamt of you as an escape. There are battles waged on board; warring is a way of life. You lose an eye, a limb, and yet you carry on. There’s no rest until your cold, cold body is bound up in some old sail-cloth and tossed into the sea. 

We fight against strangers, looting, plundering and slitting throats- it is not in a pirate’s nature to show mercy, they say. I can almost feel your heart breaking my boy, because there aren’t any swashbuckling heroes here- we are ruthless, deviant, deceitful creatures. Yet, there used to be an honest sailor’s blood in me… 

Could a letter to a child be more inappropriate? What should I write then, my boy? Should I string stories of adventure, of lost treasure and golden doubloons as big as your fist, of a wooden legged captain and his talking parrot? A pirate’s life is such a cliché, is it not?

Yet, not a pirate’s life for you, my lad, never. But here, we are sailors, no matter how unnatural our breed may be. There’s a bit of the sea in all of us, I believe. On calm nights, we breathe in as deep as our festering lungs would allow us to and we start to believe in our way of life. On stormy nights, we drink enough to quell the rising sea within us, enough to fight with our own shipmates till we are spent and contented. It’s time to hoist the anchor and set the sails. You be good my boy, while I live and die by the skull and crossbones.

Let them call me a pirate, and you? A gypsy. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Even at your lowest, be strong- and you will find greatness.

Facebook comes up with really quotable quotes at times! Haa!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Music

Before we met I believed I was music. Improvising, forever rising and falling harmony.

*

I scan the skies and find you soaring; your wings stretched thin like cellophane, and an oblivious prey in your eyes. Cynical skies, alert and keenly blue, lap you up. They have known summers of rebirth and how time collapsed into verses gathering dust in a drawer.

*

Listen hard, for I can play upon circumstances. I am my own music.








also, after much aatlami: la di dah!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Maa, your daughter has often been accused of excess sentimentality, but who else could I thank for walking with me in the rain when I really, really needed to? You are my best friend.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Honestly speaking, this is far too personal for a blog. However, I needed to write this down to remind me of this occasion’s permanence; I needed this as a marker.

So this is how “breaking up” feels like, finally. No more pendulum-like swings, no more happiness and despondency gaining up on each other rapidly. When he called up to say that his feelings for me have disappeared completely, I heard my own calm voice telling him, it is okay, such things happen, even though my insides cleaved. This past week has been horrible; not knowing what will happen always stresses me out. So last night, all that came crashing down into one swift conclusion. (Thank you D. for seeing me through it.) Did I see it coming? Yes. Was I prepared? Not even a bit. He said: I will always be there when you need my help. Will I ever ask for help again?

There’s no bitterness, none whatsoever. Just a few haunting memories and a bit of incomprehension. I still don’t know why or how this happened, and perhaps for my own good, never will. And in time, I will know what it feels like to fall out of love myself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks


All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.


-Pablo Neruda

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Keeper of the Stars needed a bit of security in her life, like most other people. Instead, all that is left today is a deep instability. SNAP OUT OF IT, SNAP SNAP SNAP OUT OF IT I must.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A few words of comfort.

While still in Loreto, during a Teacher's Day assembly, a gentleman, in all probability a 'Father', came to our school to talk about certain things. He stepped onto the stage and asked us, "Could anyone try and expand this abbreviation I.A.L.A.C.?" One of my most favourite teachers, DB, answered: 'I am loving and caring.' He smiled and said, "Of course. But what I had in mind was different: I am lovable and capable. You must always remember this."


It has been five years or more, yet, even today, I fall back on IALAC time and again. There are people who think no end of themselves, and there are some who are forever underrated and underestimated, not by others, but by themselves. Then, these are magic words that could soothe you. Believe in yourself and believe in your self-worth. No matter what anyone else thinks, you too are lovable and capable.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A five-year-old sailor

A long time ago, someone had pried open a floor tile and slipped in a Will. And what an impressive Will it was! It curled perfectly, was brilliantly yellowed, and bequeathed to those near and dear, a yellow feather duster, bits of emerald wrapping paper, a magician’s hat and of course, what else but tin soldiers? Ah. Here was another child who thought death was near. But near because of what? Just a green ball of chewing gum.

Turns out, a few days ago his father- much averse to the constant chomp-chomp-chomp- had remarked, Boy! What is it that you are chewing so eagerly? If it is, what I think it is, beware. I knew a child who had swallowed chewing gum, and do you know what happened to him? Ah, may God bless his soul, the little chap died. It binds together the insides of your stomach. Keep that in mind. His eyes twinkled with mischief, but his voice was grim. The boy spat out a wad of chewing gum and ran inside to wash his mouth.

It was a dire enough warning for a five year old, enough to supply him with nightmares for a week. This child however, a brave one for sure, dared to resist his father, and decided to give it another go. This time however, before he could spit it out, he swallowed the innocuous ball of green gum. He sat and thought for a few minutes about what he had done, and in another hour or so, had completed his Will, made provisions in it for his young sister and his best friend, and then set out on his bicycle to fulfill within a day, his life’s earnest desire.

---

He was seen cycling towards the local church. His tiny feet pedaled fast, his heart beat like a drum against his chest, and the miniature flute that hung around his neck swayed to and fro. He had run away from home, without saying goodbye to anyone, and he was in a rush. He had no time for trifles, he knew. Time was of highest importance, the only bit he could spare would be for God himself.

God, he knew, was listening. So down he went on his knees, and touched the wooden floor with his fingers. What could he say today? I wanted to be a sailor dear Lord, a smart one all dressed in blue. Can I, just for a day, because that’s all I have, be a sailor in blue? He closed his eyes tightly and repeated one or two prayers he had learnt by heart, jumbling up a few lines here and there, while his tiny heart pounded- out of breath. He shivered a little, looked at the benign face on the Cross, so kind and in such torture. Was there something he had forgotten? Oh, yes.

I am ready, you know. I have heard things about death- it is like this endless tunnel and Mum says, those who have faith, like those who keep talking to you each day, find light. Now I talk, don’t I? Make me a sailor, and I will be all yours.

Off he went again, towards the port. Sweat dripped from his face, his eyes burnt but they remained focused on the narrow stretch of road. Just to make his short life meaningful, he must get aboard a ship, a real ship- not those tiny fishing boats, but a proper, majestic, black and white ship. He had seen it in the harbour just a few days ago. His sailor’s cap was tucked carefully into his waistband.

---

The harbour was empty. Fishermen spread soiled pieces of cloth on the ground and left little mounds of salted fishes on them. They’d keep them like that for a day or two, until they were completely dry. Our boy sat and wept for hours. The port master had told him in a gentle voice: The ship’s gone my lad. And what a beauty it was! Now it’s sailing like a queen I believe. You wanted to see it one last time?

The stench was unbearable, but where else could he go? If only he had cycled faster. He sat until evening hung around his shoulders. By this time, his tears had dried up; his heart sank along with the orb of glowing orange, right across the sea. Well, time to go home, he supposed. He had missed the ship, and perhaps, death had missed him. He wiped his face, carefully checked his navy blue cap, and returned home.

---

When he crept into his bed late that night, still alive, he knew he had learnt a few important things. It was not his father’s lie that troubled him. Like only a child can, he had erased the fear of impending death and had forgotten his father’s cautionary tale. What niggled at the back of his mind was perhaps a larger question. Did his prayer go completely unheard? So, was this God, just another practical man wearing an ironed suit? Are prayers supposed to stem from the mind and not from the heart? Ask for what’s possible, and it might be granted. Think, but not with your heart. Whoever heard of a five year old sailor, I say?

---

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rant alert.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.



I miss so many bloody things. Like good texts. I don't want to read Dunciad. I want to read Hughes' short stories, but I don't have the time. I don't want to read Tom Jones either. Or Wordsworth or The Heart of Midlothian etc. I miss my speakers, I need some music but I don't have the money to buy new speakers. I miss my iPod but I don't have the money to repair it. I particularly missed Debopama, Sion and Banerjee while solving crossword today. They can solve this stuff within minutes and I can bask in their shared glory. Special mention, Doel: who can not only solves puzzles, but can bake cakes with mousse stuffing. I miss Subhayu, but idiot does not return calls. I miss Subhayu having a room of his own too. Hrmpf. I miss Anwesha, while she goes out of her way to vegetate in her lab. I miss Srabashi, but she is swamped with 'submissions'. I miss Doel's giggles, they can cheer up one and all. I miss Clue-do, Scrabble and biriyani. I miss I miss I miss.

After Ed-pub, as Banerjee says, we must do some Oly-pub.


Rant posts, how I hate them.


[added later]
P.s: I miss Shifu and her puns, but now she won't have pun with me anymore, she says. I miss her chicken curry, she only gets fish these days. Prayag, oh yes, how could I not mention Gay-arp? After the betrayal and "contact" building? Hrmpf. I will expose you, right here.

He has one golden (foot)ball.
He has anterogade amnesia, and as Sion says, has enough guts to read Locke despite a 15-minute memory retention span.
But, he treated me to cold-coffee.


So there, grudging loyalty: He is so-so at Jumbled words. :P

However, I don't miss Prayag. I just miss poking fun at his self-styled-Ghajini-cut.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let winter not touch you


If you open this letter
on a late afternoon
warm, wet and ochre-
let this remind you
of a long winter left midway.
Where the earth curls up
ever-ceasing, ever-withdrawing.

Wait awhile,
for my love, unused to summer
recoils for a moment-
and in the next,
spills out, shivering and restless.

Let such inexperienced love
melt with that bit of visible sea.
This afternoon
let it melt-
into untamed accents, unknown roads.

A naked letter prays
and outside your window
summer breathes.

Let winter not touch you.






(Letters are a recurrent theme with me, a device I use quite frequently in my infrequent bursts of poetry. However, this was written because I needed to write a proper letter.)