Segments of my writingOne frame at a time
Back then in the 80’s, I had just one lover. My beauty could afford only that much. Malaika's beauty afforded her many lovers. We lived as paying guests then, when jobs were scarce and the pay low unlike now at these call centers where you get everything.
Malaika was a charmer. At that time, a dinner was a grand outing and her boyfriends always took her out. She would come home and lay her gifts on the bed and we would talk about this and that, examining the gifts, toying with them in blissful trance. Sometimes, she would get perfumes that smelt like heaven, other times books with lovey-dovey words on all their pages; or greeting cards with pumped-up hearts, silver jewelry, or ornate candle stands. One guy even had the cheek to gift a polka-dotted panty. We had laughed the whole night making silly jokes around it.
The sex wasn't great, she said, compared to the precautions she needed to take and the anxiety she faced before each period.
I went around with the one and only Glen.
He was a pious churchgoer and had a strong sense of marriage and family. He watched Sunday TV and preferred the parks, museums, and sea-sides to the discotheques and movie halls. We would watch the waves jump to our feet every Saturday as we sat at the beachside promenade sucking onto our ice-cream cones or watching the cars go by. There were Ambassadors and Fiats in those days.
His gifts were nothing like polka-dotted panties or blueberry-scented makeup boxes, rather a favorite book that he wanted me to read or a free pass to a science convention. He was a diploma engineer or something like that.
We made love, though Glen had told me that if I got pregnant he wouldn't support an abortion; we would have to get married
Meanwhile, Malaika had moved out of our shared accommodation into a women's hostel which, she relayed, served delicious pork roast and mutton soup on Sundays. I would have followed her if it was not for the rent which was too high, besides Glen and I had decided to marry.
Malaika came for our wedding with a new man wrapped around her arm, Derek – tall, dark with attractive eyes.
But she dodged the question on marriage when I asked.
Malaika had many lovers while I just one. But I dreamed of her lovers - Derek, Vishal, Bobby, Prem, Sylvester, Dilip and Anil - each time I made love to Glen. It was my way of equaling the scores, besides having a secret harem of male lovers at my disposal.
This was until I met Satyawati, our maid and a runaway prostitute from the village who told me of how she dreamt of her beloved, Jagmohan, each time she was forced upon by various men.
This story was first published in The Shine Journal
Goa is a leit motif of childhood May holidays
A quartet of perspiring aunts cirlicuing their liquid syllables
Small washed rooms opening to orchestras of husk and coir in attics and lofts
A sonnet of rain over maroon steps, stone sofas, and green weeping windows
sandy-grain backyard ghazals of jackfruit, guava, mango
Catholic castes and Majorda beach-returnees behind gossiping grandmothers and aunts
(my mother was called scientist, an elder cousin-tourist, a single uncle-bebdo, a widowed aunt, ankwaar kodi)
A free verse of carved wedding fish of an aunt’s yesteryear wedding near a muddy déjà vu-ed water well.
An unripe mango, oozing blatant growing up languages in ballads of arresting tongues.
Owria, Mario, Maria – the neighbor’s children
Who could walk fast and long through paddy fields, uneven roads without a muscle tear.
Goa was dragonfly caught in thick forest bush, painstakingly brisk, pinched at its tail
Biting at the bend of body – a Chant Royal, announcing the end of the holiday season in raining June.
the same feeling thereafter of a house not being there off Mae Dos Pobres church road, Nuvem
A haiku of courtyard leaf, lost over time, a pebble etched wet, when the wave recedes
A roof caving in on an old Portuguese bungalow
where an Uncle sees it for a strange rehash of modernity:
a stack of cubby houses atop rows of reeking, rundown staircase
A tragedy of childhood memories always sold
A blank verse, final resting place.
No matter what the disillusion, return to a promised land.
*bebdo – drunkard (in Konkani)
Ankwaar kodi – spinster curry (in Konkani)
This poem was shortlisted at the Raedleaf Poetry India Awards, 2013
Memory is… images of a prepubescent boy cycling home,
Parag milk packets in one of his arms,
feeding biscuits to a stray gaggle of brown dogs, wagging their shins.
Large half-moon eyes, kind salivating tongue,
his smile showed no cookie-crescent as he fed them all;
he was my first love.
More than the girls, the calves and canines knew his way home,
this small-towner of a bygone Bhaarat who found humans in animals,
he grew hunger in me.
Now in this morphing, super-quick India, his animals are holographic.
His love fades cookie-slim into the sun of many states, tastes, time zones.
He has not one trail from work to home, but ten homes.
He, the colour of chocolate, almond-abdomened,
he found love in many cities,
animals in liberated women,
who fed off his glucose, milk, sugar, marmalade;
they never grew thin.
Over the trail of his virgin-white honey, the scent of shudh desi,
Old world in new crackling wrapping,
always with a 30% improved marking.
Bearing the saccharine of my bites and goosebumps,
he now breaks under my neurotic granular breath.
chai mein dubha hua - tea-dunked, wafer-thin, milk crux-ed.
My Pickwick, Marie, Parle G, Tiger,
Oreo, Bourbon, mall-shelved Belgian,
same old-same new,
premium cream-crunched love.
on a diet
she kills her cravings,
painting her nails
a luscious, viscous
a hand-me-down shirt
at a thrift shop,
all what I must be inheriting
he aligned his fork
on his finished plate
before the ship sank -
his manners more ingrained
than survival instincts
the nouveau city
opens like a 3D fairy tale book
and by night
folds into 2-line axes
of an infinite dream
the blue sun
passes through the distended
womb of sea
like the refracted memory
of our once-summer love
These tanka first appeared in The Bamboo Hut, 2014
autumn whirlwind –
a child grabs at her
fading moon -
the head count ritual
of stolen children
power outage –
my child finds no magic
in shadow play
Aparanta comes alive in the way the sculptor chooses square sand grains over round, surf-kissed ones. Square grains stick better. He pounds them into place with water, like hope, block upon block and removes the moulds with fine knives, when it turns hard like belief. He chisels her into desire, lust, love, prosperity. The strands of her hair, poise over shoulder, nose curves, eyelashes. Freckles, frown, the heaviness of lips. Her gaze is set to a dream, bosom made heavy of sand brought from the riverbed.
All come to see her now for the one flash that can set them free. Their eyes rove with hunger, searching her, as if staring into a mirror to become another person. So they can go back to their clockwork cities and say, "You know what happened to me once in Aparanta?"
They have to be quick. The sea breeze breaks thick, carving out new expressions over her face each minute.
the sun shaping trees
on her dungeon pane
This haibun was first published in Haibun Today
When the girl of 13 got obsessed
with the perfume of victory,
she waited outside an eagle’s nest
before its chicklet flew
into the daring empyrean.
Her imagination etched against
barb-wired flesh wounds in a family of nomads,
where only men, for generations, hunted eagles
- the parade of sameness against the triumph of doyenne.
She now stands atop an unsound mountain
training her golden eaglet for the Ulgii festival
to the tremulous gasps of traditions.
And after the breaking of records, winning of competitions,
travels with her father into Mongolia's harsh winter for her eaglet
to kill its first fox,
so they can all return like raven, rocky mountains against
the amaranthine skyline seen after a deep night’s dream.
She woke with no memory and wasn’t even a person.
She smelt boiling tea leaves and was instantly a human.
She sent the children to school, husband to work,
and screamed at the maid, the milkman, and the dhobi.
When the house grew quiet, she applied makeup, and became a woman.
She went to the bazaar, bank, court, and became a citizen.
She watched the lilt of bougainvillea, and became a vermin.
Men drooled at her saffron blouse, red chiffon sari,
and she became a siren,
Crossing the road, muttering gaalis, she became a guerrilla.
She slurred at the fisher-monger over the price,
and became an unreasonable bourgeois.
She fought with the rickshawwallah and came home by bus,
and stripped to her boudoir.
Next, she cooked vegetable soup, and slurped it with bread sticks,
and became a rich lady - Tina Ambhuja.
The whole afternoon she watched TV,
and became Ashok, Dinanath, and Savitri,
Simar, Moolchand, and Chhota Bheem.
She dressed before her kids and man came home,
and bringing them tea became a wife and mother again.
All through the evening she was a tyrant with the homework.
As the kids phoned their boyfriends, she was an eavesdropper on high alert.
By night when her man rocked and ruled over her,
she was a prima donna in the dark.
When he spoke of how he was servant, slave, superman,
sycophant, termite in a crowded train,
she became his patient confidante.
They spoke of a festival where his mother would come,
and she would become daughter-in-law, then
devotee to the mother-in-law’s god and
hence a hypocrite again.
Together through the scent of their bodies,
the sweat of their toil, they then scored and scored,
before they closed the curtains and the doors
on this very long day and very short night,
and became atoms again.
Under a rock bed of ice
the last frontier of amphibians
and mermaids hooking-up, maybe to
other pulsating ecosystems.
This coldest place on earth is not easy to plumb --
its skin stark; body cold; water white
discovered by ice-piercing aerial radar surveys.
They say it has to be a longing for the supernatural
that kept this lake buried for 15 million years
under a research station.
Pristine water reserve, schmoosed
by a network of rivers subglacial.
Today we have found her reservoir of resilience,
preserve of rebel.
Faith against all obstacles.
Of the life she carries, microbial
despite high pressure, constant cold,
low nutrient, high oxygen, and absolutely no sun
under thick sheets,
sealed and insulated
in total darkness,
like a potent self-belief system –
latent survival instinct
with naked experience and
and enormous wisdom.