Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lexicon of the God

Who devised us, our cultures of pretence?
The God of illusions, or the illusion of the God?

You expect mercy: why wouldn't they lynch you?
Who carry on a cross, the Son of the God!

Poet is a prophet, first draft satanic verses,
By rewriting he receives, the lesson of the God.

A Hindu picks his river, each river a different path,
Rivers fork, join, fork, into one ocean of the God.

Crusades, Jihads, ethnic cleansing, conversions,
Is it homicide that keeps alive, the notion of the God?

Prophet spoke Arabic, Rama Sanskrit, Jesus Aramic,
Do Urdu, Hindi, English words exist, in the lexicon of the God?

First thunder, fire, sun, then warriors, incarnations,
Why, what scares us, becomes the representation of the God?

Eternal, infinite, formless, all-knowing, all-powerful
Isn't absolutely abstract, our conception of the God?

Each age is organized, about new paradigms of belief,
Vivek wonders, who'll organize, the newest nation of the God.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Saffron, the basanti
    tilak on my forehead, my deity, my hymn,
    Bhagat Singh's revolution song, ancient
    blood kneaded into dusty yellow country,
Saffron, the kesari
    party politics, riot flags, languages of rift,
    Kashmir's spicy blossom, refugee Pandit's dream,
    the hue of green couplets set ablaze
    the Vande Matram chanting throng,
    Vivekanand's oration, Tulsi's song,
    the list of rituals forgotten,
    doubts of Iqbal, Zinnah, Zia,
    murderers of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims,
    Sufi ‘Vivek’ in Islamic rhyme,
Saffron, basanti
    my motherland's saree, grief,
    my father's anxiety, belief,
    and my unrequited prayers,
Saffron, kesari
    memory of partition, of Rajput valor,
    of Bhakti, of Shakti, Sadhvi's pallor,
    of Himalayan dawns, of desi springs,
Saffron, kesar
    of the secular kheer, cooked
    in a earthen pots. Mango dessert.
    Jalebi, so sweet that this
    make me happy and sick, so sick,
    and yet when I live far away, I miss
    its stain, its shriek, its smell, its spirit.


Gifted Loneliness

Come like a monsoon shower… drench me,
I am cracking under my arid loneliness.

Memories, like babies, wake up at random hours.
I am tired of babysitting my avid loneliness.

True, wars turn men into heroes, legends.
Yet in Troy, Achilles rues victorious, rabid loneliness.

Americans tell me, India’s too crowded for comfort.
I reply: your US is a nation of unrequited loneliness.

Walking alone, I find new ponds of verses.
How words flow in to fill my gifted loneliness!

Emperor Shah Jahan sits imprisoned facing Taj Mahal.
Imagine imperial thoughts, feel his sordid loneliness!

Millions talk to moon about their distant lovers.
How moon suffers in phases, his clouded loneliness.

Lakshman in exile, in temples, accompanies Sita-Ram.
Wonder why Urmila is exiled to an unquoted loneliness?

Ninety nine percent of universe is empty space.
It is God’s whim. He supplied perpetual, vapid loneliness.

Trust me, I easily adapt to companions.
But why divorce my time-tested loneliness?

Vivek: Why is poet alone, & poesy, a solitary art?
Poetry is a universe churned out of turbid loneliness.


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Earth is like an Onion

The Earth is like an Onion
      dedicated to my grandmother who lives in Chattar, Mandi (HP)
Eclipsing the Myths and Discovering America

In 2005, I traveled over eight thousand miles, by air, train, bus, on foot,
over Europe, Middle-East, Atlantic, over lands Catholic and prehistoric,
to arrive at my village in the Himalayas.

My grandmother inspected me with a widow’s eyes,
and offered me goat-milk tea, drenched with tears.

I was asked to explain how far was I from a distant
cousin in London and from another uncle in Africa.

Her elder sister strained her years as well –
While I offered distances in kilometers, their gaze failed
to see what thousands I spoke of.

For both of them, Delhi, four hundred kilometers away, was a far-off horizon
and they barely knew much counting.

So I asked them to forget about distances, and think time.
I told them of the time difference between nations. The elder one asked,
"Why do the damn watches behave differently?"

Neither the time difference nor the number of miles meant anything.
So I grabbed a stick, and carved nations on the ground,
and pointed out India, America.

My cartography was as useless to them as my talk about how distant
we had become, separated by the education and more.

An unsolved problem of explaining stuff, before a future
professor of Physics – I told myself – try harder!

I asked daadi if she had anything spherical at hand.

Daadi looked around the house, recounting several stories about the balls
brought and lost by her different grandsons, concluded, “Forget it, far
is the other world: why worry about it?”

Then I found an onion, and brought out a flashlight.

"See grandmas," I said. "The Earth is like an onion
and the sun is like this flashlight, only much bigger.”

I took a pen and drew the continents and oceans
and lectured, "The Earth is like an onion,
and it spins like a top, once a day."

The Grandmothers watched the shadow of the onion,
and the rays from a battery powered sun and saw rotation
of earth as the harbinger of fun.

Here Sun is rising in India, while America is sleeping.
Africa must wait for its dawn, and London
once lit, isn't now so.

"O close to death old woman!" said my delighted daadi,
"Earth is like an onion, and rotates. My grandson suggests,
Sun is no God moving east to west on Chariot, as we thought."

The two sisters, with their life's wrinkles on them, are hooked
to my demonstration. Excited to show them more,
I find a grape and call it Chandamaama, the moon uncle.

Aryabhatta, Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus smile.
I was repeating their words, translated into Pahari.

Soon the sisters discovered the eclipses.
The elder one remarked, "Why, the younger widowed one,
the accursed Rahu doesn't swallow the sun during the eclipse, o dear."
Both then praised Gods for incredible things Americans taught me.

I returned to my parent's house, and narrated the story to my mother.
She clapped her hands, and burst out laughing, explained to me,
"O son, by now, the whole village must have seen that onion."

The onion, like the earth, now moves from hand to hand.
My grandmother now carries the torchlight
and she is teaching people how to make night and day. 

Published First in MUSE INDIA

Friday, April 08, 2011


After your lip was bit, kiss was hiss, your sleep
was a warm body snoring next to you. Your dreams
were the breeze outside bolted windows. Your thoughts
hooted from the banyan trees planted by your ancestors.

Biting your own lip brings luck, said your mother,
but you knew blood tastes like ocean water, your age
was little/ eleven but the gashes in your memory were as large
as in the wartime stories your grandma retrieved for you.

Last week your friend's father came home with Sri Lankan
blood in his veins, on his hands, and in his last evening
you heard him say, the mission was for peace, but the debris
of blown-up huts pricked my chest exactly where they pinned my medals.

The Kashmiri Pandit girl in your class hasn't smiled for six months,
her mother was molested, knifed before her family was exiled.
She confided in you, no Hindu Gods came to save us.
You worry for your mother who fasts and trusts her divinities.

Your father sullenly shakes his head, while college students burn
themselves, opposing increase in caste-based reservation. Schools
are on a forced vacation, the car-sevaks talk of building Ram Temple
in Ayodhya, and your friend's cousins fell to the bullets of Sikh separatists.

A callous cricket ball smashed the window near your desk.
Your neighbor eloped, then returned, then killed herself, or her family
murdered her, but newspapers keep printing color spreads about heroines.
You write verses. Your voice is turning coarser, so is your world-view.

Published first in Muse India, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Commit to Amnesia my Name

Forget me, forget my voice, forget my smell, my face;
Commit to amnesia my name. Just memorize my Ghazal.

My flesh is like a parchment. It wanes with time.
Don’t leave me on a printed page. Internalize my Ghazal.

Isn’t Ghazal the dying call, of a dying deer to its beloved?
Its formally a rhyming lament. Why penalize my Ghazal?

It’s a string of couplets. Strum it with your voice.
To comprehend my allegories, symphonize my Ghazal.

In English, I lack melody; in translation, I lack sense.
For an unadulterated rendering, as an Indian, realize my Ghazal.

Don’t ask me to recite on street, its liquor on empty stomach.
Invite me home. Savor in moonlight, aphrodisiac spice my Ghazal.

Sold her own flesh, Umrao Jaan, at a Kotha composed Umrao Jaan;
Verses more popular than hymns. That immortality eyes my Ghazal.

Hafiz, Ghalib had God’s gift, Shahid, Faiz acquired their skill.
Vivek has neither gift nor skill; don’t idolize my Ghazal.

  1.  “Albeit world is full of gallant bards, but Ghalib’s style is beyond everyone”
    If Mir, Faiz be Keats n Shelley, Ghalib’s at least the Shakespeare of Ghazals.
  2. Umrao Jaan, a geisha, the seductress – dancer - poetess of the first major Urdu Novel,
    shuns her reason/Vivek and has affairs with three men, all enchanted with her Ghazals.
  3. Kotha literally means terrace. It also means a house of ill fame. The seductress, a tawaif, was usually trained in classical dance and music, performed a sensual dance (mujra) for money, either on her own terrace (kotha) or at special ceremonies (mehfil). She could take lovers if she wished. Umrao Jaan Ada written by Mirza Ruswa in 1905 was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie titled Umrao Jaan by Muzaffar Ali in 1981.