Ninety Two

Ma,
Please don’t wash my blanket.
I want the smell of balm still on it.
I know you think I should move on,
But I want that smell
Not to remind me of pain,
But to remind me, of inevitable healing.
I want its memory altered,
To remember each nook of my body,
How to hold me,
How to obey,
To know the language my body speaks
When nobody is listening.

I want it to still smell of me,
Because nobody can correctly describe to me how I smell,
And only my blanket can.

Please don’t erase the canvas
Of dreams I can’t remember.

For each time you wash it,
You make a cold stranger of it,
A person reluctant of intimacy,
And does a frosty “there, there” job
Of comforting me.

I don’t want to make new friends,
Or take strangers to bed with me.
I don’t think you’d approve of that
Either.

Vomit

My morning cereal
was all over the back of the van.

My throat burned
And my 6 year old eyes stung,
In pain, in shame,
And most of all – in pride.
I had promised Mumma I wouldn’t cry.
But all I wanted,
What I really wanted,
Was to let loose one sob,
Just one,
So that the knot in my tummy,
Or the knot in my throat,
Would melt.

My two long plaits were my only friends
standing outside with me,
And I would have called on them
to hug me,
If I didn’t feel my wet uniform
Sticking to my chest,
Or if I didn’t smell the smell that haunted me,
Hunted me,
From deep within me.

The pity in the van man’s eyes said,
“It’s all right, I won’t tell your Mumma”.
He gently lifted me back into the van,
To a dry seat by the window.
And with that,
Two drops weighing the earth, left me.

The school bell was long forgotten.
The other girls with the pretty pencils,
and obedient hair,
Had long gone in and called “absent”,
when I was summoned to show
my yellow
house, worth two gold stars.
The scabs on my palms missed
The bars of the jungle gym.

The engine roar was loud enough,
So no one but the black rexine seat heard,
Two more drops
plop.

My nose felt cool against the window,
And slowly,
So slowly,
I felt my attention wander
Even while the rest of me sat crying.
The scaly salt trails on my cheeks
Still felt like cake
When I saw that my buckled black shoes looked so pretty
Polished to a shine
By my grandfather’s able hands

This time, I wasn’t prepared
For the onslaught
Of plop, plop, plop.

I played with my tears,
Squashed them with my eyelids,
And by some strange alchemy, this
Made sunlight seven dotty colours.

Homecoming, today,
was magic.

God-light played between trees
That had finally woken
Stretching their arms up to the sky.
The wind did not have a flavour of hurry.
The air was not full
Of hot breath or bus exhaust
Or the giggles of gaggles of girls.

The scene was the same.
It’s just that the view had changed.

No wonder adults hid this from me.
Who knows how much trouble it would be
To get me interested in
Long division again.

My running nose had stopped,
My shoes were still black.
My tiffin box, intact.
And yet, I was received,
By the tough hands of my grandfather.
My scrawny arms cradled his neck,
And his hand found my head,
Even with the flecks
Of hurry-chewed cornflakes.

Inhaling the smell of his talcum and sweat,
I fell blissfully asleep.

Outside, the world had chugged on,
Unchanged by my vomit.

Paging No. 7

You will come, one day,
Bright eyed, black haired,
Laughing and learned,
Scornful and sceptical
Of my own scepticism.

You will agree to go Dutch,
Crave an occasional puff,
And walk the right pace,
And stay to my right.
You will say all the right things,
And ask all the right questions,
And to the only answerable one, I will say “yes”.

And one evening,
You will find me seated with a book,
Or toiling over a photograph,
Or some odd distraction –
Hair tied up,
Skin vulnerable,
And you will wonder,
How much water can the cups of my collarbones hold,
When the droplets drip,
Drop,
From the loose lobe of my ear.

You will one day
See the shadows my eyelashes cast
When I throw my head back, laughing
At an incredibly odd something
That only you could’ve said.

You will learn
To keep the bus, train and movie tickets,
You will learn
To hunt for the phone bills,
And the car’s registration papers,
You will learn
To put cheese in my noodles,
And save half the chocolate bar in the fridge.

You will know that I’m sorry
I won’t remember why I’m angry with you,
I may turn away in my sleep,
I won’t always be on time,
I won’t always know what to say.

And yet,

You will teach me the art
Of surprising myself.

But one day, you will come.
Funny, clear-headed, curly-haired.

Eighty Nine

Tell me things I don’t know.
Tell me things I haven’t heard.

Don’t tell me sins come in sevens,
Or that pain is a travesty called heartbreak.

Don’t tell me
I have hours to kill,
But only seconds to count,
Or that the early bird gets the worm,
And the second mouse gets the cheese.
And no,
You still can’t take my picture.

I know,
Skies are azure,
Sobs can be gut-wrenching,
Songs can be soulful,
Silence, deafening,
Prince Charming, a frog.

Tell me, instead,
That I may not, after all,
Have a befitting happily ever after,
Because of an ill-fitting glass slipper;
That when I wake from my slumber,
I will see what I saw last night –
And that it’s quite all right
for things to turn out like that.

Don’t tell me,
My boyfriend is bespectacled
because it hides his intelligent eyes,
But because he is quite myopic
(even about our future).
Don’t tell me,
My grandmother oiled my long hair.
Tell me, instead,
That she would knot peppermints and candies
in the edges of her sarees,
So she could bribe my love.

Don’t tell me a cat is non-commital,
Or cold,
Instead,
Write me a word to call
that wordless call
that comes from its gut –
When I spoil it
with affection.
Please, a word
stronger than purr,
But softer than growl,
A word that probably runs like:
mostsoulful,guttural,nakedresponsetotouch.

Tell me how to love differently,
And how the attempt
is not to show me how to love differently,
But how to love
as only I can.

Don’t tell me passion burns.
Actually, please don’t call it passion.
A crucifixion, a debate, lust, love and anger –
Cannot all be the same unit of language.

Don’t tell me skin is as smooth as silk,
Or hot as a furnace,
Or white as snow,
Or that I burst into insipid gooseflesh.
(can you imagine how repulsive that is for a vegetarian?)
I’m not chocolatey, dusky, or the colour of mocha,
I’m dark brown.
I’m not arithmetically challenged,
I’m awful at maths.

Tell me things no one has told me before.

Tell me new places to go with my mind,
That magic can be trapped
With just an old jam bottle,
And a wandering glow worm.
That on my post-it notes
Are things I don’t really want to do,
And things I’d rather forget.

Tell me what else to do with ketchup,
Other than draw smileys on plates for grumpy waiters,
What else to do with an idle pin,
than probe the thick skin around my thumb’s nail,
Tell me what to collect,
Apart from smooth stones, tickets, twigs, corks, crowns, coins,
Dots, debts, grudges, garbage, affairs, aphrodisiacs, addictions.

Tell me what rhymes with “month” and “rhythm”,
Tell me whether it’s good to be alive, or to be a celebrated fossil,
Tell me why it doesn’t matter why we’re here.

But first,
Tell me where to submit a few ideas I have
For a few new words
The vocabulary could do with.

Eighty Eight

If I were a boy,
I’d save the world like Superman,
My superpower would be
An actual attention span,
I’d start with a bath and clean underwear,
And I’d iron my own button downs –
For me to later tear.
I’d rescue leftovers
From eternal refrigeration,
And if not earn, I’d at least buy myself
A great reputation.

If I were a boy,
I’d spend time on my toenails,
Invest in a good deodorant,
And save me from myself.
I’d think before I talk,
About an ex, a fantasy, a fling,
My pinups, their push ups, her hang ups…
Well, just about everything.

If I were a boy,
I’d major in a language and learn communication,
I’d invent a chemical for my brotherhood –
An automatic injection
Of grace, empathy, profundity and kissing skills,
And the bestselling liquefied edition
Of How to Handle Tears.

If I were a boy,
I’d take the condescension out of my voice,
When I explain the difference between
Dot ball, no ball; soccer and football.
I wouldn’t probe my nose in public.
I’d keep my parts private,
And I’d wolf the whistles out of me.

If I were a boy,
I’d wear glasses
Just for the heck of it,
Write my own pickup lines,
Pull my pants up, a wee bit,
And I’d play a sport,
Not hard to get.
I’d learn, that life isn’t just my t-shirt’s black,
Or white,
But unfortunately, countless shades in between
(At last count, there were at least seventeen
Shades of green
Known to man.
Or was that woman?)

If I were a boy,
I’d snip off my sacred thread,
File a petition
Against circumcision,
And take a loan to clear my parents’ loans,
I’d buy all five of my iPhones.

If I were a boy,
I’d know size doesn’t matter,
The hair on my arms, underarms don’t matter,
My tactfully torn jeans don’t matter,
I’d know –
I don’t need a sixth sense,
I’m safe after seven,
(So what if the concert starts at eight?)

If I were a boy,
I would hitchhike across the galaxy
With just a towel,
Without the need for a sanitary napkin, Ibuprofen,
Hygiene or pepper spray,
I’d count to a billion stars,
Get lost countless times more,
And of course,
I’d never ask for the way.

Eighty One

I held the story in my hand,
Held it up to the light.

It scattered, like anti-mercury.
It scattered, into a million shafts of colour.

Colours that didn’t have names to them.
Or maybe they did have names,
I mean, who remembers colours with names
like Fuchsia,
or Beige, or Burnt Sienna,
I don’t mean remember the names,
oh those – they’re enchanting,
I mean, who remembers what the names stand for?

What comes to your mind, if I say Ochre or Cinnabar?

Why can’t they name colours insightfully?
With a little more care?

Call it the inside of a pumpkin when it’s ripe enough,
The bright, jarring pink of moist cotton candy?
How about the three thick ashen lines on a pujari’s forehead?
Or the hue of his erstwhile white lungi, that’s been washed over and over with four drops of liquid blue,
with the intention of keeping it white?

Maybe they can be named after
the bright green leaves of the sugar rose on a birthday cake,
Or the yellow of the wax
that drips and trails on praying fingers at Church.

Maybe even the diaphanous black of how a woman in an Abaya sees
The creamy face of a full moon,
The colour of the Pole star,
The opaque, ominous gray of rainclouds,
And the universal brown of puddles.

But what is the colour of the universe, then?
Monochrome white, in keeping with the Physics of light?
Or is it black, as dreamless sleep?

Or can it be the mossy green-black that comes from a painting
that’s a fine mess of colours?

True. The last is a problem
of the chemistry of dyes and colours made by tribes.
Or is the problem really,
the chemistry of tribes, made by colour?

Aren’t the lines of fate,
And the henna of every new bride,
the same confused orange-brown?

Isn’t every dark night,
a blanket of velvet blue-black?
Every happy spring morning,
beams of sunny golden yellow?
Isn’t every fairy’s magic wand,
touched with silver-white starlight?

If stories can bleed colours,
Why can’t colours, bleed stories?


WIP

Seventy Six

The wind is billowing my blue curtains,
and messing with my mind.

It smells of rain.
It sounds of palm tree fronds tossing their tresses to the tunes of tinkling wind chimes.
It giggles. It twinkles. The stars, they simply obey.

It tugs at my fingers, the tips of my ears, my skin.
The roots of my hair.

It promises to find in me strength –
to tear, claw and carve out from deep within, throbbing, full-bodied, gasping words. Words so tender, that I cup them in my palms. Words so fleeting, that I fear losing them. Words, like delicate drizzle that I hungrily savour. Words, sweetened by patience, perfect by persistence.

Words that I kneel before, utterly humbled.

And suddenly,
the curtains are still.
It is quiet.