Sunday, December 23, 2012

Translation: Don't Go Far Off by Pablo Neruda

दूर न जा, दिन भर के लिए भी न जा, क्यूंकि,
मैं नहीं जानता कैसे कहूँ -- दिन लम्बा होता है
और मैं रहूंगा तुम्हारे इंतजार में, जैसे खाली स्टेशन 
जबकी रेलगाड़ियाँ खड़ी होंगीं कहीं दूर, सुसुप्त |

न छोड़ना मुझे एक-आध घंटे के लिए भी, क्यूंकि
तब दर्द की सारी बूंदावलियां बह निकलेंगी एक धार|
मुझमें समा जायेगा किसी घर की तलाश में भटकता
धुआं, मेरा हृदय को अटका जायेगा |

ओह! तुम्हारा साया न धूमिल हो कभी सागर तट पर 
कोरी दूरियों में न कभी फड़फड़ाएं तुम्हारी पलकें,
एक लम्हें के लिए भी न छोड़ना मुझे प्रियतमा 

क्यूंकि उस एक पल में तुम निकल जाओगी कहीं दूर,
मैं भटकता फिरूंगा सारे धरातल पर, पूछता 
क्या तुम लौटोगी? क्या तुम रहने दोगी मुझे यहाँ, मरता?
No estés lejos de mí un solo día

"No lejos de mí un solo día"
Pablo Neruda

No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.

No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.

Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,

porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.
"Don't Go Far Off"
Pablo Neruda

Don't go far off, not even for a day, because --
because -- I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying? 

(PS: My translation is a Hindi translation from an English translation; you can say it is twice removed from the original. I recall Neurda's poem after Tagore, probably that was written in the same spirit. I found the English translation online, and I do not know who to credit for this translation. I will love to hear comments from someone who know all the languages involved. This poem is part of a self-assigned translation project to bring some of my favorite poems (translated and otherwise) into Hindi, and as the idea is to master the process of translation over time, all criticism will help me to make better versions in future.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil

Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil is an opiate, a page-turner, a hookah-smoke-filled exploration of Bombay through adventures in grotesque and conversations of the underbelly. The metropolis is presented as the beloved city of drug- and dream- addicts. Jeet recreates Nacropolis from a realm of nostalgia often neglected by the middle-class moralists, censored by the self-righteous white-collared archivists and invariably ignored by the anglicized writers whose familiarity with Indian multitudes on streets matches the know-how acquired by weekend foreign tourists. In Nacropolis, each page is like a new puff, each puff leads to a new insight or cough or nightmare or hiccup. In the backdrop of storytelling by sedated characters, unfold the inescapable, newsworthy events of the nineteen seventies and eighties (including riots, movies, politicians, cricket). Each event pushes the protagonists from one level of addiction to another, for it is the cocktail of politics, economics, society & religion that provides kicks sterner than any dope can deliver. This portrait of the dark-alleys on Bombay, written with a lyricism and condensation of a poet, is a brew too strong for average readers, addicted to a Bollywood reality, televised farces and to endless narratives penned by a cult of schooled writers who view the real world through tinted glasses of their high-rise, high-minded lifestyles.

Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil struts its hijra hero/heroine through smoke-filled corridors resonant with echoes of paid-sex and free-style storytelling. After Khushwant Singh's Bhagmati in his novel 'Delhi', Jeet gives Bombay her own Dimple to rule the land of hukkah and blah. Like G. V. Desani and Rushdie, Jeet offers a fantastical recreation of Indian kitsch and kaleidoscopic reality. Jeet takes a wide-lens exposure of the hitherto unlettered realms of the city, zooms into the folds of flesh that present their share of secrets and sin, fantasy and filth, joy and depravity. Though written with an intoxicating sincerity, certain passages do reach out beyond the seams of reality and fantasy; maybe that is to be expected while reading the ramblings of a feverish cast. To those who believe that chauvinistic regionalism and choice religion can be stamped onto the 'Mumbai'-dwellers, Nacropolis presents a needle-prick protest by invoking transnational deities and homegrown demons that exist and persist in the city streets.

In Nacropolis, the cast of memorable characters include a Mr Lee who escaped from China when it turned communist (and he provides a heady portrait of his nation in transition), Rashidbhai, a drugdealer whose life and business are transformed first by Dimple and later by the emergence of heroin, Rumi who is full of violence, vapor and jazz (and is a US-returned Brahmin unhappily married to a Jain), choicest hippies & junkies, and a Bengali who delights in literature and opium. By reaching back to the twenty years Jeet spent chasing opium and oblivion in his beloved Bombay, he has retrieved an ode and created an elegy to a lost world of addictions and aspirations. Like any great work of fiction, Nacropolis combines wordplay, narration, imagination, tone, music and wistfulness, to create a masterpiece that will force readers to reassess their own experiences of, and perspectives about, their cities, histories, addictions, acquaintances and memories. 

First appeared in Reading Hour, Fall 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

To Salman Rushdie & Joseph Anton, with respect

Meeting Salman Rushdie was like the half-a-minute "darshan" we have in the famous Indian temples. He was in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 9th October, 2012, on his book tour, following the publication of his latest book: Joseph Anton. There I was standing in a really long line first to get into the venue, and everyone around me was busy recounting when the author's work had entered their lives, how it had transformed their writing and thinking lives. Then like true devotees we sat and admired the personal and personalized idol of so many of us present there, every sentence Salman said made the audience crack-up or giggle. Maybe the effect was accentuated by the choice of a Church as the venue, with Salman on the podium acting as the prosecuted, hence highly revered, holy priest of free speech. Finally, there was another long line to redemption, as Salman signed the books and the beady-eyed readers got to exchange a sentence or two with him. 

Joseph Anton is another solid book by Salman Rushdie, it is a memoir where we get to hear his version of story and of twelve years spend in hiding after the fatwa. Among other things, Salman describes his own awe and respect for many writers, and how and where he met them first, and what that meant to him. A detailed review of book will follow in due time, and here I will just recount my two minutes of conversation with him. Over the years, I have read nearly every book and essay written by Salman Rushdie. After a lifetime of waiting and wanting, to stand next to him and speak a sentence or two while getting the book signed was very special, as I stood close to the great man who has transformed and influenced imagination and words of everyone who thinks about India, including the Indians. 

Salman Rushdie, and his other self, Joseph Anton both have earned our respect primarily based on the quality of his writing, how it captures the complexity and vibrancy of India, how it challenges Western as well as Eastern notions of imaginary homelands, of how newness enters the world, of the ocean of the stream of the stories of the all mankind, of limits and meanings of freedom and creative expression, of revealed and hidden words and verses that determine the course of our lives. In his memoir, Salman reminds us that good writing has always outlived regimes and people who prosecuted the writers. Indeed, the Booker of the Bookers Midnight's Children and a dozen other books have insured the writing will outlive our contemporaries and times. In the memoir, Salman captures the fears and joys of a dozen years in near-captivity, and the struggles he underwent emotionally, personally and as a writer, before he could reemerge as a writer and a person. The imperfect human who manage to exist as Joseph Anton for a twelve years and continue to write as Salman Rushdie has given me much to read and a lot to think about over the years. Salman Rushdie's writing does not strike a chord in me, rather it strikes a sitar melody, a santoor harmony and a full orchestra of thought.

In my half-a-minute darshan I told Salman, that in that room I was probably the only other Indian who also has a house in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. I told him my father was posted in Solan when Salman fought the court case to get his ancestral house back (recounted in Joseph Anton), and my father's immediate boss was the government official who had to evacuate the house before Salman got it back. A friend I made while standing in the line clicked a picture moments before Salman said, "Oh really! Where in Solan do you live?" There was a long line of people who wanted his autograph and our conversation remained incomplete. One day, we will sit face to face and talk for hours...  

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Ghazal - An Eastern Inheritance

Ghazal: the last words of a dying deer to its beloved, strung together in the form of rhyming couplets. Ghazal is an elegy and an ode, a lyrical and stylized lament, a whimsical play of words, a wistful cry rolled into five couplets or more. Ghazal, like sonnet or villanelle or haiku or sestina, is an example of a formal poem and is supposed to be written under strict metrical and rhyming constraints. Each couplet (sher) is a complete thought and a poem in itself. Each couplet ends with a repeating word or phrase (like tonight is the refrain or radif above), and the word immediately before the refrain (expel, cell, hell) rhymes across the couplets. The opening couplet (or matla) announces the refrain and the rhyme scheme (called kaafiya) in the first line itself, and the remaining couplets arrive in the same meter (bahr). The meter, rhyming penultimate word and the refrain synergistically provide an effect of passion, obsession, perhaps even a periodic sob or sigh, and though each new couplets begins with a first line that can travel a different landscape of feeling, the return to refrain in second couplet is like a homecoming. The penultimate word signals the return. The last couplet (maqta) often contains the chosen name or pseudonym of a poet (takhalus), as if the poet signs off with a couplet that contains his last words, his epitaph. These constraints within the form are similar to the constraints imposed by the society on love, thought, liberty and ideas. The English language is one of the few Western/European languages where ghazal (pronounced ghuzzle) has made an appearance on the page. My essay is formally about the Anglicized ghazal, but to imagine, inspire, write and judge poems in a particular form, requires an awareness of its clichés and characteristics. No poet in English must write an essay or a collection of sonnets without a certain familiarity with Shakespeare, though missing out on sonnets written in Indian languages is perhaps permissible.

In the beginning, in seventh century, ghazal was Arabic. By the tenth century, she conquered many hearts and lands in the East. The form reached its maturity as a form in the hands of Persian masters. In the West, when Goethe and Lorca experimented with this form: they were primarily inspired by the ghazal of Hafiz (or Hafez), the fourteenth century Farsi poet, said to be the greatest exponent of the form. The celebrated thirteenth century poet, Amir Khusrau was probably the first major poet to popularize ghazal in the Indian subcontinent and first to infuse words from khadi boli (early version of Hindi/Urdu). Subsequently, Urdu poets like Wali Deccani, Mir Taqi 'Mir', Ghalib, Dard, Dagh, Zauq, Momin, Faiz, Faraz, Firaq, Faiz and Faraz, as well as Dushyant Kumar (Hindi), Shiv Kumar Batalvi (Punjabi) and numerous Bollywood lyricists contributed to the popularity of ghazal in India. Ghazal, performed by celebrated, classically trained singers in varied languages have supplied many unforgettable rhymes to love-stricken as well as to literary minded classes and masses in India, Pakistan, Iran, Arab world and elsewhere. Mirza Ghalib, whose ghazals are infused with philosophical questions, is probably the most celebrated poet in the Urdu language. The introduction of ghazal to American poets is often linked to the Ghalib translation project of Aljaz Ahmed in 1960s. Adrienne Rich, William Stafford and W. S. Merwin all worked with a literal translation of Ghalib's Urdu ghazals to render their own versions in English. The translation project spawned an interest in the form, but early on, American poets wrote ghazals without an awareness of its rich, multi-cultural, multi-layered history, and without attention to any formal constraints.

In fact, before Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) took a loudspeaker and a sledgehammer to chide poets for calling any string of couplets written by them as a ghazal, English (American) poets created verses without constraints, without refrain, without meter, without a unity that is enforced by the rhyme scheme and the lament-like undercurrent. They created so-called ghazals without allusions or gratitude to a rich Eastern inheritance. Anguished by reading what passed for ghazal in English and acutely aware of the sub-textual richness of the form due to his Indian heritage, Shahid pointed out that "the Americans had got the ghazal quite wrong". Like a teacher and Eastern mystic he patiently explained, with examples he created, how to craft a ghazal in English. He later edited an anthology "Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English" where many contemporary poets wrote ghazals that Shahid accepted into the fold (many that I would dismiss as unrealized or unsuccessful attempts). Before revisiting the formal elements necessary for composing a ghazal, here are selected couplets from a ghazal by Shahid that appears in his collection titled "Call Me Ishmael Tonight":

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

Celebrated ghazals by masters in Arabic, Persian, Urdu or Hindi have all the formal elements woven into a tapestry that is intricate, complex, and beautiful. In these cerebral yet popular ghazals, even through all constraints (social and literary) are respected, the resulting verses are musical and lyrical, ready to be recited or sung to diverse audiences who marvel at every turn of phrase, every choice of rhyme, and find relief, release, joy in the ageless words of the poet. In fact, performance of a ghazal in the East involves a protocol unmatched by any I know of in the Western poetry. The poet first recites a line, then repeats it, accentuating the effect by changing the tone or by stretching out or stressing a word. The audience repeats a phrase or the line, an expectation is built up. Now the second line of the couplet is released amongst much fanfare. Soon the refrain is on only everybody's lip, but the mystery of what could come before the refrain sustains the excitement. One couplet won the approval of the audience, now the next is another battle, another farewell, another journey, another quest, till the final verse brings the lament to a halt, after which only a silent ache, a memory remains.

Ghazal is by nature an address by a poet-protagonist (dying deer) to a beloved (who could be imaginary, distant or absent). Ghazal is always a declaration, but hardly ever a monologue. A farewell song with a detached sense of a lost cause, and also craving expressed with a latent hope that it will reach the intended ears. Sentimentality, abstracted to the extent that it becomes a metaphor for any unfulfilled or unrealizable dream or desire or rather every cause worth pining, dying or fighting for. The sufi poets of the subcontinent and of Persia compose verses addressing the almighty as the ultimate beloved. All good ghazals arrive in multiple incarnations, sensuous from the lips of a courtesan, spiritual in the company of dancing dervishes or sufis, entertaining when recited in a drunken party and thought provoking for critics and casual listeners. In Farsi or Urdu, every ghazal engages in a dialogue with verses that came before, and the task of writing fresh verses involves a heightened sensibility that helps in creating suspense, surprise, pleasure, catharsis, nirvana. Why must a ghazal in English care for the inheritance of loss, these cultures full of constraints, semantics of unfulfilled desires or the mysticism of foreign lands? One compelling reason, I think, is the fact that just India alone has more English speakers than the US and UK combined. If we account for all the countries and cultures that have memory of ghazal in another language, ignoring this inheritance is like imagining that English language without the backdrop of European history, religious practices, politics, literature and languages.

Is an Arbaic, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi ghazal translatable into English, or is it so deeply rooted in a culture that is so alien to the Western culture and audiences that every translation is bound to fail as a poem in its own right in English? Can any English ghazal appear as true to the form to readers and poets with a bilingual imagination, familiar with excellent ghazals in another language? The difficulty in writing ghazals in English for someone like me is how to recreate her tension in a way that can appeal to a reader from the West as well as from the East simultaneously (though often due to different reasons). When the Muslim poets express their desire for wine, praise the goblet or a tavern, they break religious or regional laws. Lines can cost lives, breaking the constraints can bring shackles and prison cells. The audience in such cases derives a guilty pleasure in hearing echoes of protest within a poem outwardly addressed to a distant, lost, unresponsive or unattainable beloved. The presentation of sensual desires through seemingly platonic or Victorian lines, and the pronouncement of doubt in another (God, king, beloved) appeals as extraordinary literary feats only when insurmountable barriers exist and words carry throbbing of an anguished art. A lament, a near-blasphemy presented in such style that the listener is forced to marvel at the music and the meaning and scream in pleasure: Wow (wah!). Poetry in the west is often a leisurely activity of Lord Byrons, Emily Dickinsons, and New Englanders but when saying anything or everything is permitted, how can you find the tension, tacit protest, that sustains the paradoxical, wistful writing of a ghazal?

I personally feel that Anglicized ghazal is in an early stage of development and a Hafez or a Ghalib will arrive in English when the language and the world is ready for him (or her). I began writing ghazals in English after my friend and mentor Thomas Lux urged me to to. He tested my sensibility for the form by first giving me so-called ghazals of an American poet. After seeing my disgust, he introduced me to the Shahid's ghazals. My personal quest for the lines that are of inevitable, inexhaustible beauty continues. The biggest challenge is how to write lines that a bilingual imagination like mine does not corrupt with ideas untranslatable for listeners arriving with only one shared language. I believe Shahid managed to bring the sensibility of the East to ghazal in English. Years ago, I acknowledged the form has a formidable future in English, when I listened with astonishment, pleasure and joy to Heather McHugh recite "Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun" with a gusto that would make any Urdu or Farsi poet proud:

Too volatile, am I? too voluble? too much a word-person? 

I blame the soup: I'm a primordially

stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings. 

The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's: sad dogs are tied afar. 

But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

McHugh, you'll be the death of me -- each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I'm halfway to the
third person.

 (PS: The poems quoted by Heather and Shahid are quoted here are the intellectual property of the poets or their representatives, and are quoted here with a deep reverence for their excellent command of the form).

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Juhi, Daughter-in Law of Roohi

- For Gurudev Thomas Lux*

Roohi, my mother's father's uncle's fourth daughter-in-law
was Ma's father's only relative in our father's village.
Even Roohi's husband's great-grandfather was related
as a brother to my father’s grandpa's grandpa. I called Roohi
grandma, and she treated me well. But she was one vicious 
matriarch, and her docile son married Ma's friend Juhi.

From their primary school days, whisperers Ma and Juhi
shared stories. After marriage, both talked of Mas-in-law.
Roohi, villagers said, had magical powers. All the vicious
events, deaths or diseases of cattle or men in the village,
were begotten by her squinted, accursed glance. Roohi
spewed the vilest curses… on villagers related, unrelated

to us. I was ten that morning, when an uncle, related
to Roohi, told us that on a dung-heap lay beaten Juhi.
No one dared to help her – for all were scared of Roohi.
No one dared to help her or suggest the recourse to law.
Ma and I carried Juhi back from the Shamshaan of the village.
She was turned into a red-blue pulp by that vicious

ma-in law. No movies show that bodies can face such vicious
blows. After twenty stitches, an enfeebled Juhi correlated
her story: “…for bringing the lowest dowry in the village,
for stealing and misusing Roohi's son’s money.” Later Juhi
testified: “I was attacked by ghosts.”  As if the men of law
couldn’t tell! But who could have dared to implicate Roohi?

I was fourteen, when we caught a rumor that Roohi
was starving a pregnant Juhi, another whim of her vicious
wisdom. My Ma carried prasad as food to Juhi's ma-in-law,
and fed Juhi. Ma succeeded as her father's family was prerelated
to Roohi. On the pretext of my birthday, next day we rescued Juhi
and smuggled her our on a bouncy tractor to her father's village.

At twenty-five, after three years in the US, I visited our village.
Grandma and I visited a bedridden, cancer patient Roohi.
I saw she was a shriveled dried grape now. So was Juhi,
who after twenty-six years of strife, was nursing her vicious
nemesis. Roohi had to be reminded about how we were related. 
She said, "Be good Vivek, be as good as is my daughter-in-law."

Fanning away Ma-in-law's flies, sits an aged Juhi. I feel awed by the village.
How many times have I related this story: the image of a dying Roohi,
juxtaposed on with her former vicious avatars and the ever forgiving Juhi.

Notes: Prasad is sanctified food served at Temples and the villagers believe that it cannot be refused if offered.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fireflies, Honey, and Silk by Gilbert Waldbauer

Fireflies, Honey, and Silk by Gilbert Waldbauer is an entertaining and engrossing description of how insects have forever been of the utmost importance for human survival and progress. Ink, wax, honey, fibers, certain foods and medicines, colorants, music and jewelry are a few products that insects have provided us over the past fifty centuries or more. The author describes myriad ways in which we have used insects and products derived from their habitats. For example, honeycomb of a bee supplies both beeswax and honey. The gall made by wasps has forever been an ingredient of inks. Cocoons of silkworms have given us clothes that many poets have written about, many beauties have craved for.

Be it Indians of Americas or Asia, the natives of Africa or Australia, Chinese or Mayans, tribes -- ancient or contemporary --, all have depended upon insects for countless products. In nature too, most of the flowering plants need insects for pollination, and hence survival of their species and most ecosystems. The book provides a delightful journey into the historical, economic and cultural influences and transitions that have guided the rearing of silkworms for obtaining expensive clothing (successfully in China, less so in US), cochineals for scarlet red dye (big profits were made by the Spanish at the cost of South Americans), crickets for producing music (in China and Japan), bees for wax and honey (everywhere on earth), fireflies and jewel beetles as decorations (in India and South East Asia), termite chutney (in Africa), honeydew from ants (in Americas) and maggots of blow flies for cleaning festering wounds (sometimes works better than all antibiotics). The author writes with an enthusiasm and erudition that comes after a lifelong passionate pursuit of topics in etymology. The author writes with an inimitable joy and clarity that every every science writer must adopt and emulate, and if we do so, I am sure more readers will flock to the scientific literature.

Read and own this treasure trove for its fascinating chapters, informative illustrations, rich mixture of folklore, myths and current science, quotes from many texts, times and authors (yes, Pliny makes an appearance as does Mark Twain) and highly quotable information (be it sex habits of beetles, synchronous flashing of fireflies in South-East Asia, profits made in rearing bees, inventions and discoveries including paper making and degradable sutures attributed to watching insects). Highly recommended reading for everyone remotely interested in the world around us and in the science and study of insects.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Globalizing English by Indianizing English

When I sing or recite, follow only the melody.
My lyrics wear dresses foreign to your memory;
widows wear white, brides red. The saffron priests
praise the un-manifested or incarnate divinities. Beasts
feature in my dances and myths. Chants obey rhymes
where consonants alien to the West accent these lines.

Follow only the melody, for I decorate my lines
with mustard-oil lamps. My bamboo flute melody
recounts the deep-song of ancient cowherds, rhymes
farmers composed for harvest dances & a memory
of wheat-colored beauties and sacrosanct beasts.
Echoing hymns older than myths, like Brahmanical priests,

I invoke all deities before the fire god, Agni. Priests,
my ancestors from the Vedic times, composed such lines:
"Revere the alive and the dead, wind, water, fire, beasts,
ether, nether. Every being, thing is divine. Om is the melody
the hymn, the hum of the universe. Aatma is self, a memory
of Paramaatma, the Grand Self. We are a billion rhymes,

chimes of the Grand Self. Incoherent, unspoken half-rhymes
of the present / absent Self. Juvenile egos, minds. Our priests
are within, any knower is a Brahmin. Our harvest is a memory
grown by centuries of soul-farming". What is obscure in my lines
conceals a lyric beyond English. If you follow only the melody,
the Westernized you will notice that we are two thinking beasts,

divided only by our memory. After rebirth as ignorant beasts,
we are conditioned by our space-times, by accidental rhymes.
My wild hope, instinct, belief ever seeks to arrive at a melody
that shall bring joy and dance to every territory. All the priests
within me, with verses I forget or dread or echo in my lines
insist, all humans are blessed with a transcendental memory

enriched by soul-farming. In spite of our divergent memory,
drives, lusts, cravings and myths, we, logical, liberal beasts,
surpassing our space-times, can traverse beyond these lines,
beyond dresses alien to our memory, beyond babel rhymes,
to Ananda -- bliss and tranquility. To Moksha beyond priests,
beyond prejudices, in harmony with the universal melody.

Though I sing in English, I adorn my lines with an Indian memory.
If we focus only on the melody, we argumentative, rational beasts
could reach the locus of rhymes of our primordial verses and priests.

A version appeared in Muse India in 2012; this is a highly revised nth version.  

Sunday, June 03, 2012


The twilight song is a lantern’s hum
the foxy echoes have just begun
a leopard breathes in fields, unseen
crickets coo in communal whispering.

A mother, a grandmother, and a sister hold
their tongues in their sleep. The nine year old
who watches over them, drifts into a valour
Bollywoodish, in dream-scope colour,

and fights off the leopard with bare hands,
thrashes those foxes like only dhobis can,
but before he kills, the daaku sardar’s men,
the cursed night always ends.

Published first in Reading Hour, 2011.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kavita: Tattu (Mule)


जुगत लगाए,
भक्ति दिखाए,
उपवास करे,
सब्र करे या 
बोझा ही ढोता है, 

जो अपना स्वामी न बने
वह अंतर्मन से खोत्ता है |

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: The Agricola and The Germania by Tacitus

The Agricola and The Germania are two accounts of first century Britain and Germany respectively left to us by Tacitus. He was a Roman career diplomat/senator turned author who wrote about these territories with a lively, timeless wit. Though the author was selective in his choice of subjects he described, the prose has a particular charm because of its historical insight and its narrative style. My favorite sentences are the ones that sound like a pronouncement of senator, those comments that ring true even now, but were set down in writing with such force by the author. Here is an example from the second page: "We have indeed set up a record of subservience. Rome of old explored the utmost limits of freedom; we have plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed as we are by informers even of the right to exchange ideas in conversation. We should have lost our memories as well as our tongues had it been so easy to forget as to be silent."

Agricola was a Roman general and the father-in-law of Tacitus. In writing this book as a eulogy, the author manages to create many quotable lines, that shed light on Roman society and military. "I remember how he would often tell us that in his early youth he was tempted to drink deeper of philosophy than was allowed for a Roman and a future senator, but that his mother, in her wisdom, damped the fire of his passion... In time, age and discretion cooled his ardor; and he always remembered the hardest lesson that philosophy teaches -- the sense of proportion." Agricola found his initial fame in military exploits in Britain and Tacitus tells us: "...his spirit was possessed by a passion for military glory -- a thankless passion in an age in which a sinister construction was put upon distinction and a great reputation was as dangerous as a bad one."

Tacitus describes the geography and anthropolgy of Britain (accuracy is not his strong point): "Britain is the largest of the islands known to us Romans... These remotest shores (the northern shores) were now circumnavigated, for the first time, by a Roman fleet, which thus established the fact that Britain was an island." In another place he writes: "Who the first inhabitants of Britain were, whether natives or immigrants, is open to question: one must remember we are dealing with Barbarians. But their physical characteristics vary, and the variation is suggestive." Centuries later, the British authors wrote similar sentences about America, Africa, Asia probably without realizing a resonance with their ancient cousins! Also, Tacitus compares their language, customs and religions with Gauls and concludes: "In both countries you find the same ritual and religious beliefs. There is no great difference in language, and there is the same hardihood in challenging danger, the same cowardice in shirking it when it comes close. But the Britons show more spirit: they have not yet been enervated by protracted peace. History tells us that the Gauls too had their hour of military glory:.." The twentieth century jingoists mined Tacitus for such lines and used it to promote nationalism in Britain and Germany among others (Germania as several such quotes about Germany). Back in the day, the English weather was no better than it is now. Also Tacitus tells us how British often lost wars because of their inability to cooperate with each other; we all know how "divide and rule" was a policy Britain later used to spread its territorial control. Also we hear of rebellion once led by Boudicca, "a lady of royal descent - for Britons make no distinction of sex in their appointment of commanders.

Tacitus provides delightful examples of  scientific (or non-scientific) beliefs of Romans in the first century. Here is an example from the book : "But report has it that this sea is sluggish and heavy to the oar, and even in a high wind does not rise as other seas do. The reason, I suppose, is that the lands and mountains, which produce and sustain storms, are further apart here, and the deep mass of an unbroken expanse of sea is more slowly set in motion. To investigate the nature of Ocean and its tides lies outside my subject and the matter as often been discussed."

Tacitus details steps taken by Agricola to enslave the minds and habits of British chieftains and their sons. Similar methods were often employed by the colonial powers. These included preference for "Latin language", "togas were everywhere to be seen", "And the population was led to demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when in fact they were only features of their enslavement." In our world, many features of this enslavement remain (or appear at every opportunity), and twentieth century shows, in countries like India, we continue to fall prey to methods Agricola demonstrated twenty centuries ago.

In Germania, the opening passages describe Germans as "indigenous" with "very little foreign blood", who "have never contaminated themselves by intermarriage with foreigners but remain of pure blood, distinct and unlike any other nation" a belief used centuries later to promote genocide and segregation. Of course, Tacitus cannot be blamed for what his writing was used for centuries later. Tacitus tells us that name Germani was used by a tribe that fought Gauls by crossing Rhine and later the name became associated with the whole group of people in that nation.

The lines that would intrigue anyone familiar with ancient Indian mythology (or history based on Hindu oral & written tradition) follow on the second page of Germania. "In the traditional songs which form their only record of the past the Germans celebrate an earth-born god called Tuisto. His son Mannus is supposed to be fountainhead of their race and himself t have begotten three sons who gave their names to three groups of tribes -- the Ingaevones, nearest to the sea; the Herminones, in the interior; and the Istaevones, who comprise all the rest. Some authorities, with the freedom of conjecture permitted by ancient antiquity, assert that Tuisto had numerous descendants and  mention more tribal groups as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suebi and Vandilii -- names which they affirm to be both genuine and ancient." In Hindu mythology, Manu was the fountainhead, the word Man is derived from the same word root as Manu. Manu had many sons, Ikshvaku probably was the most famous one. Rig Veda mentions Tvastr or Tvastar as the progenitor is the universe, and again the similarity with Tuisto has been commented on by many before me. 

In Germania too, Tacitus creates a narrative on various aspects of warfare, society, industry, agriculture and family life, all of which are engaging and worth-reading. I will mention a few select sentences/ phrases here. On women: "... they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do no scorn to ask their advice, or lightly discard their replies." On religion: "...count it no sin, on certain feast days, to include human victims in the sacrifices offered..." On clothes: "The universal dress in Germany is a cloak fastened with a brooch, or failing that, a thorn. They pass their whole days by fireside wearing no garments but this. It is a mark of great wealth to wear undergarments..." On family life (where Tacitus moralizes thinking of the Roman counterparts): "They are almost unique among barbarians in being content with one wife apiece..." "dowry is brought by husband to wife"... "Clandestine love letters are unknown to men and women alike. Adultery is very rare..." On economics: "The employment of capital in order to increase it by usury is unknown in Germany; and ignorance here is a surer defence than any prohibition". The present world has made usury possible, though history and theology is full of arguments against it, and I guess Tacitus marvels at the lack of practice in Germany as it was widely practiced among the Romans. Germania by Tacitus details many tribes that live north or east to the Germany. Again the historical perspective offered on these tribes gives a flavor of customs, corruptions, myths, languages, and classes that existed among the Europeans in the first century. 

Reading ancient books provides a sobering realization of the limitations of man's vision and understanding, and also a hope that immortality can be achieved in and through the written word. What we know and recall from human past was handed down to us in words scribed by individuals like us. Technology changes, intrigues and instincts don't; we are not too different from our forefathers in the way we love, fight, dress, marry and pray, but we have changed our symbols, and call the old ideas by a different name. Writers like Tacitus allow readers to recreate in their imagination a version of a lost world, experience a nostalgia for a time that exists only in unconscious memory stamped either into our language or into the biochemical concoctions within our brains and bodies. To experience that nostalgia, to appreciate the connection between colonialists of every era, and to contrast humans belonging to different coordinates in space and time, read "The Agricola and The Germania" by Tacitus.


Based on translation by H. Mattingly, published as Penguin Classics.
Read on a road trip to Newport, Rhode Island in May 2011.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your Heart and Philosopher's Pushcart

The lurking emotions in your heart are dark,
like nights, your longings will last their hours,
no fires consume them, no wisdom makes them depart. 

You carry within a memory of forests as your habitat,
you know death will reclaim you, end your farce,
The lurking emotions in your heart are dark.

You love faces as if facades are a preserve of art,
no brush strokes can conquer your ideological scars,
no fires consume them, no wisdom makes them depart. 

You cultivate mystery, void within your every quark,
and chase the game to splatter blood over holy grass,
The lurking emotions in your heart are dark.

The instinct beckons you to treat the other like a tart,
the jackal ego and owl intellect like travel in luxury cars:
no fires consume them, no wisdom makes them depart. 

The philosopher sells bread from rented pushcarts,
but you desire bargain-items, exotica from chor bazaars.
The lurking emotions in your heart are dark,
no fires consume them, no wisdom makes them depart.

Published first in Muse India, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

Deified War

When I ask the warriors:        Why do you fight war?
They say,        it is for a beloved.          It is a justified war.

But isn't slaying humans                 a sin in every religion?
They smile at my naiveté,    avow:       It is a sanctified war.

What is your fascination with        unfurling flags over graves?
Ask Homer or Ved Vyas,         it is the poets who glorified war.

Enemy women are raped daily:      Why media never reports it?
Press ought to suppress inhuman truths.       It is a dignified war. 

Don't you know that battles destroyed     Napoleon, the British empire?
They fought for glory, we for money.       It is a commercialized war.

If the quest is of peace, then        why keep bombing the Middle East? 
It is a shock and awe measure               to banish a terrified War.

Why are millions condemned to die           at one President's war-whim?
Its of the people, for the ..., by the ... --       it is a democratized war.

Isn't the altar of War-God overrun           by blown-up bodies, refugees?
He requires human sacrifice.                   How else can be pacified War?

Give Vivek a hope for a future           without guns, bombs or wails.
Why lie?       For God, land, money, women, oil -        we'll ever fight war.

Published first on The Ghazal Page (Volume 1, 2012)

Almond-Breath Assassin

(After 26/11, Mumbai attacks)

O almond-breath assassin, who roused the bloody thief in you?
How many heart-huts will you raze before tasting a relief in you?

Perhaps you are convinced, you are acting as scripted, you are faithful.
Have you objectively examined, the passages of belief in you?

Are you lusting for a false paradise, Kashyap's ill-fated Kashmir?
Rather than exiling that fanatic urge, did you give it a fief in you?

Wasn’t heart’s anarchy forged before wordless Snake's whisper?
Won’t you be punished again by whoever coded this mischief in you?

You uproot secular gardens, treating Vedic inheritance as infidel weed.
Will you turn Punjab into a cactus country? Is there no olive leaf in you?

How I wish you had given me a chance to prove my love is sincere!
Don’t you ever perceive a desire to converse, maybe brief, in you?

They claim you’re suicidal and my love shall stay unrequited:
Who knows, beloved! Vivek’s song might evoke a sufi grief in you.

Published first at The Ghazal Page (Volume One, 2012)

Refugees in Love

Lured by her hazel eyes, I entered her town, as a disguised refugee.
Then she married another, leaving me, a lovelorn, despised refugee

I am a Pandit forced to leave my apple paradise in Kashmir.
In my own nation I reside in shanties as a compromised refugee.

You are a Muslim dear: but weren’t your ancestors Hindus like me?
What are Pakistan Hindustan … excuses for a new domicile: Refugee?

In my veins you’ll find the trails of the so-called Aryan blood.
Do I have a homeland or am I, my inheritance, lies? Refugee?

O Beloved, you squandered me for faith, migrated to Pakistan.
To be called a Muhajir there? To become a despised refugee?

Even in America, this land of prosperity, puritans and pilgrims.
Don’t they resent Hispanics and me: often baptized refugee?

Your contradictions are so Middle-Eastern, I call you Israel or Palestine:
You've forgotten your ancestor too arrived here as an ostracized refugee!

Were Adam-Eve first exiles on Earth? Did Manu row the Ark?
Questions of faith, beloved or who was the first scribed refugee?

Can’t you see I have obliterated each trait of my ethnic self?
Yet I’m not counted as your own. Ah! To be identified refugee!

Is there no space for Vivek in your realms of religion or love?
What about the nations where we both are descried refugee?

Published first at The Ghazal Page (Volume One, 2012)

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Focus on the Lotus

Focus on the lotus
not on the mud,
the nectar is within.
Wait out this exile.
A fog hides the path,
yet at each step
the fog vanishes.
From rain to river,
from silt to salt,
from salt to the sky,
tireless, ageless,
trust its rhythm,
it wakes your thirst,
it slakes your thirst,
trust its wisdom.
You are the mud,
focus on the lotus,
the nectar is within.

(Published first in Indian Review Spring, 2012)

Monday, April 02, 2012

Question the question

How unfair is your fair skin - face question?

I ask for love. You say, don't - race question?

By taking a stand I - raise question.

You dislike my ideal, but praise question?

But when ‘?’ is buried alive, is ‘?’ – a courage question?

There are no answers apt, so erase question?

"Charged dismissed, released!" but the disgrace question?

Is accusation an insult? Or is it a phrase question?

Who owns this country? Is it a space question?

Must we ask the gravediggers? Is it a grave question? 

You seek truth or beauty, not just the surface (question?)

Why isn’t to answer as simple as is to graze question? 

Silence me, condemn me, force me to retrace question.

But whatever Vivek asks, isn’t it an always question?

First published in Indian Review, Spring 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012




किस भोपाल को अनदेखा करते हो मित्र,
किस भोपाल की आवाज़ को दबाकर
नृत्य-नाटिका रोज़मर्रा में रहते हो लिप्त,
किस भोपाल को भुला कर सोचते हो
कि कल में ना आयेंगे कल के कलंक?

किस भोपाल की लाश ढोते हो मित्र, 
किस भोपाल के ज़ख्मों से लेकर रंग
लिखते हो जस्बाती नारे, किस विस्फोट 
के भोपाल से जागते हो जानकर संसार
के द्वन्द बिखरा सकते हैं सारे स्वपन?

किस भोपाल से जानोगे कि जिस्म मोम
की तरह पिघलता है, सांस सांय सांय करके
डरती-डरती फेफड़ों में जाती है, और कोखें
खंडित होकर जनमती है सनक, जबकि मांस
के लोथड़ों से मोती तलाशते हैं नेता-कारपोरेशन?

किस भोपाल में जीते हो मित्र, यहाँ धूल
में हलाहल है, पानी में डंक, और दंतहीन 
हैं हम, जो कागजों कि गुलामी में भूले हैं,
भोपाल भी एक मौसम में बदल जाया करते हैं,
रह जाते हैं डांचे, निवासी भस्मित हो जाया करते हैं |



आज दूर एक भोपाल है, कल चौखट पर आ गया, तो?
भय कश्मीर के खाली मकानों से पलायन करके शरणार्थी
बन आया है दिल्ली की बस्ती में, और वहशत आदिवासियों

के हथगोलों से लिपटी बिखर रही है पूर्व में तो, पश्चिम
में भाषा के नाम पर पत्थरों को आदि मानव जैसे फिर उठाये 
चलते हैं लोग | आज कहीं दूर एक कश्मीर है, माओवाद है,
विवाद है, आतंकवाद है, भाषावाद है, भोपाल है,
कल चौखट पर आ गया तो?


खरीदिएगा ज़रूर, यह परिधान बनकर आता है नामी पश्चिमी शहरों से,
वहां कहते हैं सड़कें भी रेशम है, बेगमें भी रेशम है,
न धूल है, न मच्छर हैं, न ही बेतहाशा गरीबी के अवसर हैं,

खरीदिएगा ज़रूर, यह स्वाद है विदेशी, चाकलेटी, स्काच, पिज्जा,
लीजियेगा यह खाद भी, उपवाद बढ़ाएगी, यह बीज रियायत 
में लीजिएगा, भाषा लो जो हर सागर किनारे सुन सकते हो,
भगवन तुम्हारे क्या देते हैं, अपना मसीहा ले आये हैं तुम्हारे घर,
वही जो हमारी सैन्य-शक्ति को अधिकार, और दुनिया भर का व्यापार देता है,
रोज़गार, रेजगार, सभ्यता और प्रगति के मापदंड: गाड़ी, 
टी वि, सब लेना चाहो, इम्पोर्टेड है, लेटेस्ट है, बेस्ट है,
खरीदिएगा ज़रूर |

                        पर कल कोई भोपाल इस प्रगति के मार्ग पर लुड़का 
तो खेद न कीजिएगा, उस विदेशी व्यापारी को खदेड़कर भगा दिया था पहले पुरखों ने,
अब फिर अगर अपना लिया है हम मूर्खों ने, तो फिर से कटती भेड़ का, भीड़ का,
भेद न लीजिएगा, अब व्यापारियों का क्या, उनको तो बस नफ़ा दिखता है,
नादान समझते हैं हमें जिन्हें परदेसी प्रेमियों में रिवाजे-वफ़ा दिखता है,
परहेज़ न कीजिएगा, 
खरीदिएगा ज़रूर |



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 |


अपने काम से काम लो कवि,
न व्यर्थ भोपाल का नाम लो कवि,
कुछ प्रेम-मदिरा की बात करो,
न राजनीति में भाग लो कवि |

कितने सर रोज़ झुकते हैं,
कितने नोट चुपचाप सिरकते हैं,
और कितनी जुबानें लुप्त हो जाती हैं?
अपनी कलम को लगाम दो कवि |

हो हुआ उसको भुला दो कवि,
भविष्य का सुन्दर सपना गड़ो,
जीर्ण को छोड़ उतीर्ण को पकड़ो,
न यूँ समय बर्बाद करो कवि |

ध्यान धरेगा तो हर नगर भोपाल
तेरे बाहर-भीतर भी भोपाल नज़र आयेगा,
क्यूँ चाहता है बावला बनना कवि,
हुश! रह खुश बन गांधी का बन्दर कवि |

होनी को कौन टाल सकता है, क्यूँ भई?
अब हो गयी दुर्घटना, कभी भोपाल, कभी पटना,
जिसमें धेले की भी अकल है जानता है, कर्मों का फल है,
जब पेट में चुल्हा जलाने के लाले हैं,
मरते रोज़ कितने बच्चे-जवान गुणवाले हैं,
तुम कैसे कह देते हो दो-चार को दोषी ठहराओ,
हमारी स्तिथि को स्वीकार लो भई,

होनी को कौन टाल सकता है भई?
कुछ नहीं बदला, कई भौंक गए, कई दहाड़ गए,
कई राजधानी गए, कुछ विदेश, कुछ सब त्याग पहाड़ गए,
तुम विद्यार्थी हो, गलत अर्थी के पीछे लगे हो,
तुम युवा हो, क्यूँ यौवन के मधुवन से मुंह छुपाके चले हो?
अब अरबों की बात ठहरी, छोटी-मोटी बात नहीं,
पाठशाला में कोई साला कुछ सुनता नहीं, सीखता नहीं,
बात करते हो टुकड़ों, फैंके हुए चिथड़ों पर पलने वाले, 
या नामी चोर नेताओं-अफसरों की | 

कुछ नहीं बदला | भूल जाओ की बदलेगा, वो भी तुम्हारे करने से |
जाओ अपने कोमल हाथों को पहले हकीकत के मैदाओं में
माटी और पत्थर से छील-चोटिल कर राह बनाना सीखो |
पहले भुलावों की फसलों से भरते पेटों में
सत्य की झुलसा-देने वाली भूख जगाना सीखो
रक्त को रेत में टपक मिट जाने वाली बूँद नहीं
इतिहास पर मोहर बन सकने वाली
स्याही बनाना सीखो |

पर होनी को कौन ताल सकता है भई?
होलिका की गोद में खुद को कहाँ 
रोज़ रोज़ कोई डाल सकता है भई?



चर्र चर्र जूती की चर्र चर्र 
पाँव के नीचे रहती है माना
पर जब यह काटने लगती है
बोलने लगती है चर्र चर्र
तो राईस हो या पहलवान
लंगड़ा कर देती है |



नारे नहीं लगायें हम 

आखिर कब तक चिल्लायेंगे हम?
जिनके कान में मोम की जगह सीसा पड़ा है,
उनको कैसे मोमबत्ती की दुर्दशा दिखायेंगे हम?



न ठग मुझे न ठग

भूल न, ग्रास किसी का छीन
तिजोरियां भर रहा तू 
भय कर, विस्फोट बनकर 
उठेगा जब क्रोध जनता का 
न नींद पायेगा तेरा कोई बिस्तर
अरे काले धन में कैसी बरकत?
न ठग मुझे न ठग |

खोटा तेरा प्यार, तेरा संसार,
तेरा व्यवहार, खोटा तेरा दंम्भ,
न मुट्ठी में अंगार धर, डर
तेरे अंतर में घुल रहा गरल
तुझको ही जाएगा निंगल 
अरे झूठों से कभी तो मुठभेड़ कर?
न ठग मुझे न ठग |

फ़िक्र फाको न नहीं, नफों न नहीं
फ़िक्र आहतों का नहीं, भारतों का नहीं,
फ़िक्र क्यूँ किन्ही श्लोकों-आयातों का नहीं,
मरघट बना भोपाल, जमुना-गंगा 
पावक तीर्थ से पावन-तृष्णा हो गए, 
अरे क्यूँ बेफिक्र है ऐसी वहशत?
न ठग मुझे न ठग |

छोड़ कर ही जाएगा | क्या 
नोट, क्या वोट, क्या चोट, 
छोड़ कर ही जाएगा 
यह खाट, यह ठाट, यह बाट,
कब तक बटोरेगा रेत, धातु, कागज़,
अरे मृत्यु को खिलायेगा कैसे रिश्वत?
न ठग मुझे न ठग |



हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
थर-थर कांपते कंस को बालक मल्लयुद्ध
में धाराशाही कर, छुड़ा ले जायेंगे अपने 
भविष्य के लिए स्वतन्त्र जीवन

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
भोपाल भीगे पक्षी की तरह तप कर
फिर सूखे, सक्षम पंख लिए उड़ 
अपने घोंसलों में चोंच खोली खुशियाँ पायेगा

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
मुलजिम गठरियाँ बांधे निकल जायेंगे
हज, तीरथ पर, ग्लानी के घाव लिए
क्षमा, मुक्ति का चाव लिए

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
मुर्दा-सी जनता नारे लगाती पहुंचेगी 
अफसरों, नताओं के घर और टटोलेगी
उनकी चर्बी के तहों की भ्रष्ट गांठें 

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
बच्चे इंकार के कदम लेकर जायेंगे घर
पूछेंगे हर डकार से हराम का हिसाब
और भूख हड़ताल करेंगे अपनी चौखटों पर

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
नंगे पैरों से चल कर बाप मन्नतें मांगेंगे
कि उनको बेटियों दे, और जो मांगे दहेज़,
या करे बेटियों से परहेज़, उनको बेड़ियाँ दे

हूक उठेगी एक ऐसी हूक उठेगी
हर ज़र्रा पूछेगा तुमसे क्या सोच
क्या कर्म, क्या गुनाह, क्या पुण्य
क्या क्यूँ कब कौन तुम, क्यूँ मौन तुम?

An early version, recorded at a lunch meeting, was posted on youtube:
Part 1 & 2
Part 3 & 4

Friday, March 30, 2012

Your Kamuk Eyes

I am an ancient snake, wood, flute, tongue —
Turned to bronze asp, silent ash, by your eyes.

Tremors of smiles on your lips unsettle me;
For I hear the oceans surge, crash in your eyes.

Dust-storms, forest-fires, tsunamis, apocalypse —
Created, abated by you, my Mahesh, by your eyes.

Hindi poets immortalized lotus-eyed women.
I see their similes life-size, pratyaksh in your eyes!

Sketched in kohl by Goddess Rati,
I see every Kamasutra passion flash in your eyes.

Otherwise wanton like dogs of a red-light district —
How many wag tales of devotion, confess before your eyes?

Who needs hashish, opium, wine, tea to incite angst?
Revolutions arise by an askance, an address of your eyes.

Even they who know quarks and event horizons,
Are perplexed metaphor-less before the abyss: your eyes.

Mist, myth, magic, maya, immortality, motherhood —
I see unfurl … unfold … unwind afresh in your eyes.

For you, Kavi Vivek can forsake wealth, fame, even divinity.
What are these, but trifles for him who can possess your eyes?

Version 2: Here is an alternative to the closing couplet of "Your Kamuck Eyes."

For you, Kavi Vivek can forsake wealth, fame, even divinity.
Bah! These are but trifles for him who can possess your eyes.
Published first in 2012, Issue One of The Ghazal Page