Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Biography, Scripted by Astrologers

A Biography, Scripted by Astrologers
Sometimes I think our family of astrologers tricked
me into choices I have made all my life.

Astrologers said: "The nav-grah, nine planets would align
to make your tasks harder. But if you make the effort
Vrihaspati, Jupiter, the guru of gods, would delight
in imparting you knowledge. But like in the Puranic times,
the demoniac influences would attack you or try to seduce
you into failures. But if you keep meat off your plate,
drink no wine and fast at least once per fortnight,
you could lessen the severity of blow,
and become a world-famous engineer".

I was forewarned: "The fame will come late,
after a long hiatus, or wait,
that too when Surya or Sun rises
with an intent to set your world straight,
But till then it will be Mars or Mangal,
the blood-bathed planet's rule.
Mars bestows only anger, and scars
through accidents involving water or fire."

Ma said drive no motorized vehicles
till the age of twenty-three. Her argument:
The engines have to be ignited, and there is no smoke
without a fire somewhere.

I battled Mangal with a magic stone,
set in silver ring, and fasted on Mangalvar, Tuesday,
seeking Hanuman's aid to keep accidents at bay.
Hanuman's skill at battling the bad-blooded
demons is celebrated in Ramayana, in Tulsi's Chalisa.
Ask any Indian who drives or walks alone at night,
how many times does he recite,
those lines from sixteenth century?
I was told, after Mangal's reign ends,
only the page would see my rage.

"But Soma or Moon will follow and bring
moody states and hazy visions, implying
unrequited love, or spectacles".
Possibly the latter, said my mother,
from the stress on eyes from excess reading
spectacles are a Borgesian after-effect,
that shows a scholar's good-breeding.

"If the father's influence wins", astrologers noted,
"Sahib's chair would be a fitting career,
but satellite inclinations for writing and music
seem unrelenting. But as shalokas, hymns
are musical poems, maybe a spiritual journey
will unfold, as is befitting for a son of a Brahmin family.
Unconventional comparisons with other birth charts show
leadership as a celibate Guru or a great King are possible."

But my mother insisted I'll marry (a girl of her choice),
like my grandpa before me, I'll also worship the devi:
female divinity. She ignored me when I protested
that democracy has no kings.
Ma kept fasts for my sake,
made me touch clothes, lentils, rice, wheat,
sugar, iron, stale roti and stale bread, coins
before she gave away these as alms.
Though she prayed for an excess of my success,
she thought the Himalayan house would be my only address.
She somehow forgot that the counting
(they refer to the astrology as ganana or counting),
suggested a prowess in science and engineering.
The astrologers foresaw higher education
and training in foreign languages and alien countries.


As a child, I could not visualize my future
beyond a Sahib's kursi (bureaucrat's chair).
There was no writer or poet or engineer in our family,
no traveler, none who visited the distant territories,
I saw only Sahib's kursi as possibility and my youth revolted
against the Sahib-like life of hypocrisy. I set out Westward,
holding an admission card, seeking an undecided destiny.


Now I think my family's astrologers dealt lies
to trick me into a role-play, I think of as my life.

Since success was said to be scripted,
gods and numerics were working to ensure it.
Unless I botched up my lines or missed my cue,
I was to get rewards, and become world-famous too.

"You must focus on the effort, karma, necessary
to deserve the rewards your are destined to get",
is how my Ma always put it every year
when a varsh-fal (annual prediction chart) arrived
ever compiled, to keep the prophecies updated and alive.


As predicted or so it seemed, at twenty-seven, I turned
"charming" for the feminine eyes, or perhaps the prophesy
gave this lover-boy the confidence to prove the astrologers right.

Now I am marrying for love, which was not revealed early,
but I am told, no arranged marriage was prophesied for me.

At the astrologically correct time, humans, Gods,
gandharavas, ghosts, ancestors, souls, stars, planets,
will supervise my wedding. Invisible blessings,
as celestial flowers, will tumble from the skies,
and we will unite before the holy fire, Agni,
for at least seven lives.


Years back, on returning to Atlanta from a trip
to my Himalayan abode, I told Thomas Lux:
"When I asked an astrologer about my writing,
he squirmed and said: 'focus on engineering',
your chart says you'll write,  but no planetary
alignments will ever conspire to make you a Rushdie."

Gurudev Lux smiled, and said, "That dimwit!
That’s great! Why would you be a Rushdie?
The guy is a fiction-writer, and you're a poet.
A poet you will forever be, with or without prophecy.
Trust me, if we publish a chapbook of your poems,
you will mint more money than me."

One prophesy is always necessary to kill another.


It seems many grand schemes are in place
so my undercover motivation stays.
For example, when I was born Ma's uncle prophesized:
"Trains are destined to bear his name".

But after brooding over polymers, beetles,
breath figures, drops, gels and nanoparticles,
after writing verses in Hindi and English,
my doctoral thesis and research articles, I fear
errors in the calculations of the astrologers,
or unexpected, uncharted celestial events,
like demotion of Pluto as a planet, 
or improbabilities embedded in the string theory,
have tempered with my biography,

I falling short of the life as it was ever expected
or predicted or prophesized for me.
When I seek engineering or physics problems,
I find myself wallowing in precincts
of the known, echoing established findings.
When I try to translate Hindi poems,
or describe my childhood in my writings,
I see how the words in English are trapped
in their own cultural labyrinths,
and editors fail to see puns in my half-rhymes.


Old, young, fat, thin, bald, bespectacled men
who know nothing about GPAs, test-scores,
academic politics or scientific publications,
pore over my janam-patri, birth-chart,
to provide self-similar prophesies.

I know that these calculations by different priests
are based on the initial values or positions
of constellations at the moment of my birth.
I know using the same differential or algebraic equations,
gives consistent results and since even the Hindu planets
follow a near-eternal rhythm, there is no reason to expect
different answers from astrologers of different sects.

But the astrologers themselves insist that interpretation
is the litmus test to distinguish a master from a dilettante
Any computer, monkey, politician, or even an MBA
can compute the odds, any experimentalist or journalist
can collect the data, but seeing what lies beyond the literal
or lateral or within or beyond the miasma or the mist,
requires a mystic, psychic, scientific vision.
Only the spiritually advanced, chosen selves possess it.


I think our destiny is shaped by the limits
we set aside. Our destinations,
aspirations tug us, we drift towards
what is described as the grandest acts.
Not destined to have a simple life of hyacinths,
I grit my teeth and then I wait for the galaxies
to complete their motions. I know Gita says,
I control only my actions, "karmaneva adhikaraste,
mahafaleshu kadachana," not the ultimate fruit. I strive
to reconcile with whatever the life brings, and I hum:
To savor the madhu (nectar / honey) as earthlings,
develop a palate for the rich flavors of bee-stings.


Many say that Rama, Krishna, Moses and Jesus
turned divine through their words and actions,
a 'divine will' was through them realized,
but maybe they too acted heroically
to fulfill their destinies . . .  prophesied?

Published here in a new, revised version.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anthology of published works (English)

  1. Poetry (Dec 2007): “Letter to the Editor” Read here 
  2. The Cortland Review (Feb 2008): “Your Face” * Read or listen here 
  3. New Verse News: “Half-Happy with India Turning into a Trillion Dollar Economy” (Nominated for Pushcart Prize) Read here; “Mumbai Burns” and “Beaten but not Bruised”
  4. Atlanta Review (Spring 2009): “Maghi Tyohaar: The Goat Festival” ** (Reposted here)
  5. Kartika Review (Summer 2009): “Coke Story” ** (Read here)
  6. Bateau (Spring 2009): “My Verses” *
  7. The Cortland Review (2009) Read or listen: “Breadwinner” **
  8. Nilab (July 2010): “Introspective Desi” ** (Reposted here)
  9. Mythium (Summer 2011): “Twenty-first Century Incarnation of the Snake God” **, “Lotuses of Misquotes”, “Vedanta” **, “Flotsam”, “You’re a Festival”
  10. Nefarious Bellarina (Fall 2010 & Spring 2011): “Naked Translated World”, “Punjabi English”, “Bottoms-up Girl”(Read here)  and “Devout your Lips”* (Read here)
  11. Poets for Living Waters (Fall 2010): “Missive to Ancestors” * and “I must”.* (Read here)
  12. Breakwater Review (Fall 2010): “Fatherless” ** (Read at my blogsite)
  13. Mastodon Dentist (Fall 2010): “Choicest Wife for a North Indian Son” (Reposted here)
  14. Muse India (March 2011): Commit to Amnesia my Name*, 1990**, Eclipsing the myths and discovering America**,  Saffron, Gifted Loneliness*, Dinkar’s Fist and Lexicon of God*. (Read at Muse India)
  15. A Handful of Dust (June 2011): “Explosive Droplets” (Read here as a repost)

    The Whirlwind Review (August 2011): “A Biography, Scripted by Astrologers” (Read here as a repost)

  1. *Ghazal in English (9)
  2. ** Village poems (9)

Friday, August 19, 2011


I'll assemble my body and walk again,
forge hums and OMs and talk again.
I'll rust, wafer by wafer, fall again,
be mined and minted tall again.

From egg-shells to trash to soil,
from sperm to womb to ash again.
As a priest, as yeast, as a beast, I toil
to make bread, to feed, to be fed again.

I'm a self, a body, a soul, a mind again,
a circus of senses, then divine again.
I'm an act, a thought, a desire again,
then blood or a flower on vine again.

If I am lost, I return to try again.
Forever reinvented, to die again.

First published in MYTHIUM, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dakaar Tak Nahin Maarte (डकार तक नहीं मारते)

डकार तक नहीं मारते

डकार तक नहीं मारते यह नेतागण, इनके फन फैले हैं इतने कि जनता 
डरती, मरती, बस भारती जाती है इनके प्यालों में रक्त और धन,
पुरखे कहते थे, यथा राजा, तथा प्रजा, पर उनको क्या था पता,
कि हम अपनों में से हमेशा रावण और हरिन्यकश्यप चुन-चुन कर,
बिठाएँगे सत्ता के महत्वपूर्ण आसनों पर|

पर डकार तक नहीं मारते, जबकि भोपाल झुलसे जाते हैं, बिखरे जाते हैं,
अब राजा भोज कि नगरी में जाओ, तो वैसे भी कहाँ धर्म, कर्म से रहा मोह है,
या तो हर कोई नेवला है, या सर्प, या गोह, या मात्र मूषक है, हाँ चूहा है,
हाँ चूहों की भरमार है, इन चूहों को बस झूठन, सड़न, छिटपुट से प्यार है,
और मरते हैं चूहों की मौत तो मरते हैं, पर क्यूँ विषहीन, विकृत नागों के आहार बनते हैं?

अपने जने हैं यह नेता सभी, जो डकार भी नहीं मारते,
और बस निगलते जा रहे हैं, नदियाँ, सडकें, पशु-आहार, धातुएं, फसलें, कंचन,
और हम हैं कि बैठे हैं धरे हाथ पर हाथ, किसी अवतार के लिए आतुर,
किसी महापुरुष की पीठ पर बैठकर, उस गांधी की मूर्तियाँ बना कर
पंछियों की बीट से सजा-सजा कर अपना सच्ची कृतज्ञता दिखाने को आतुर |

(यह एक लम्बी कविता श्रृंखला की एक कड़ी है |)

(Posted in support of the anti-corruption campaign in India...)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lotuses of Misquotes

Lotuses of misquotes prosper in my head
I am a freethinker, slave to no fact.
For such faith, those calligraphers bled.

There isn't a scripture, I haven't read,
or furnished with the awe of Abstract,
Lotuses of misquotes prosper in my head.

I taste divinity always in my bread,
but I never make claims to any sect,
For such faith, those calligraphers bled.

What are virgins, wine, joys after I am dead?
For a better rebirth, undergo every act...
Lotuses of misquotes prosper in my head.

I can't just echo what politicans, scientists said,
In doubt is more glory than is in any tact.
For such faith, those calligraphers bled.

Abandon your axioms, judge me by the unsaid,
I am All, Nothing, to be defended or attacked.
Lotuses of misquotes prosper in my head.
For such faith, those calligraphers bled.

 First PUBLISHED in MYTHIUM No. 3 2010/2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Twenty-first Century Incarnation of the Snake God

Twenty-first Century Incarnation of the Snake God
-       For Chard DeNiord

When I call home in India, Ma answers the phone,
while Pa waits for his turn, except when stories
compel his voice to rise over hers.

His happy notes overwhelm her irritation,
and I feel like a child on his shoulders,
as he narrates events in his baritone.

“Son, your Daadi commands you to fly
down to meet the Snake God
who has incarnated in our-village.”

I hear my mother grumble –
“as if, your son has nothing better to do!”
 My father chuckles, “You be quiet,
our son needs to be reminded of his roots.”

He begins afresh in a Ramlila voice:
“Son, a few days back, a snake
shivering in the December dawn,
crawled out into sunshine.
I hope you remember your biology,
snakes are cold blooded animals.

Your uncle, my distant cousin, Ramdev, saw it.
(Speedier narration) O he rushed to the kitchen
and got a bamboo basket
and before snake could blink,
trapped it.

Then a rumor spread that Naagraj,
the Snake God, first appeared in his ‘divya-swapan‘ divine-dream,
now ‘saakshaat’, ‘in person’.

The news percolated to newspapers.
Can you believe it, about fifty thousand people
are visiting that site every day? Your mother doesn’t see it,
but this is the biggest event in the history of our village.”

My mother takes offense. The telephone conveys her sarcasm.
“Son, it is good that you studied in the city away from the village.
The way your father gets excited about trifles would have drained
your scientific curiosity to dregs.”

My father laughs out loud, and my mother too is amused.
“See how happy he is, while his villagers make fools of themselves.”
My father, taking a solemn tone, says, “See son, it is happenings
like these which show you the power of faith.

Your daadi has been singing and dancing for the last week.
All our relatives have visited the shrine, and are urging
us to do the same. You should call up your grandma, hear her say,
‘It is a miracle, a modern-age miracle. Kalyug ka chamatkar!
The Naagraj himself! Miracle!”

My mother snatches the phone again, while I hear
my father’s laughter. “My son, see how your father
mocks them. But when his mother calls,
he is a gentleman and agrees it is a miracle.

He is going to the village tomorrow.
He says, the villagers would otherwise
think of him as an atheist, and of course
his mother would admonish him for life.”

My father’s voice resounds again now,
“Son, I am happy that my Ma is in good humor.
Her faith in miracle is giving her so much joy.
I don’t believe in it, but I respect my Ma’s feelings.”

“It was like a true fair,” he writes on return.
“You can think of it as an endless party.
Devotees, villagers are dancing on songs: Bhajans,
and everyone is immersed in praises of the Lord.

About forty makeshift shops have come up.
Jalebi, laddu, chai is being made, consumed,
there are shops selling red and green bangles,
tie-dyed chunni, suits and dhotis and what not.

In just ten days, Ramdev has made over a million rupees.
There are cloth merchants selling Shiva T-shirts,
jewelers toiling to meet the huge demand for earrings,
pendants, noserings, shaped like the snake, the Naagraj.

There are women, who have lost their self-control,
and they are swaying their hair, round and round.
The villagers are all assembled, food is being
cooked and served. Everything is so organized.”

My sister calls me up, about a week later.
“Papa must have told you the Snake God story.
As you know, he narrates it to everyone so dramatically.
Everyone laughs, and he laughs the loudest.

O Bhai, Daadi wanted me to come to the village too.
I told her, I have examinations and I need to study.
You know then she tried to reason that with God’s blessing
I’d get better results, with lesser preparation.

The snake died. What did you expect?
They were continuously feeding him, breathing over him.
Some brilliant soul put heaters around him, to keep
him warm, and maybe due to heat or age or food, he just died.

O Bhai, the story doesn’t end here. A rumor spread that the Snake God
was killed by some devil. So they gave a proper funeral to the snake,
and announced a temple will be built at the site where he appeared.
Arrgh! When will our villagers let go of their superstitions?”

About six months later, I visit my village.
My Grandma truly believes it was a miracle.
I quiz her, “What if, it was a simple snake and Ramdev uncle
just cooked up a story to make money.”

“What are you saying, grandson?” She says. “Even your
father came here and paid his tribute to the Naagraj.
Howsoever many years may you spend in the university,
never underestimate the judgment of your Daadi.

The Naagraj “were” your height, “their” skin black as night, forked tongue.
“They” coiled up, just like Shiva’s Naagraj. I had a fever that
disappeared on seeing “them”. Your father’s paternal aunt’s
grandson recovered from jaundice within a week.”

“Don’t bring your American nonsense here grandson.”
She dismisses my knowledge as vanity, asks Naagraj for charity.
At the site, she hands me a ten rupee note and I go forward
and kneel to pray. Afterwards my Daadi blesses me and nods.

First published in MYTHIUM, No.3, 2010-2011