Friday, April 25, 2008


Blank beginnings,
The first still: less than monochrome;
And then the splashes,
-Nuances, which make you whole.

Your first word,
The raging delight and sweet tenderness,
Daubs of sangria, of amaranth-
A moment to which innocence was the only witness…

And then the first step,
Surging, pushing you onward,
A fresh spray of denim blue,
Independence had come to you.

Growing up,
Brought pain and contentment:
The first feelings of bitterness and awe,
-Speckles of crimson and azure.

And then those second feelings,
New interpretations of familiar things,
New outlooks: sometimes pale rose, others jaded-
You suddenly realize the marvel has faded.

Thus begins an almost endless attempt to reinstate it-
-the ivory void that makes you solid and pure.
Here, accidentally, enters an arsenic black to disguise;         
After all, being colored opens you up to censure.

Now you’re wrapped in a dark wormhole,
Unsure of what you are: everything or nothing?
You shed tears seeing what you’ve become,
Not noticing the sun’s saffron-silver angels sing-

-Prayers, for you.
But their silvery presence slowly dawns,
And you see that the moonless night is a canvas as well,
Starting over, youth lets you embrace the neon swell.

You shed your misunderstood cocoon,
And spread your rainbow wings to fly,
You came out feeling different, new,
No more protected, but no more shy.

And a new set of firsts ensues,
Brighter, bolder, this time: larger,
True, exciting, love- in vivacious tones of fuchsia,
And kinship takes on a fresh gleam of warm amber.

You understand the delight life brings,
And paint your days in a startling sapphire;
Your nights in a psychedelic plum,
And transform your life into a fluorescent wonder.

Time passes, turning you bitter from the sweet,
Age embraces, and the zeal slowly leaves,
Moments of transition: the grey in betweens,
As you acquaint yourself with new hemlines and popping seams.

This time adaptation is smoother,
You’ve been through it before,
You bathe in coral, chocolate, bliss,
Let nature turn you as she may wish.

Now you learn more lessons:
The last of which is called reminiscence,
Terracotta and periwinkle:
Subdued accounts of passed emotions.

Slowly you see what is meant by wisdom,
Beige and wisteria; sepia, myrtle:
You look back and see how each sin,
Was a necessary, (and now overcome) hurdle.

And as you close your eyes forever,
You see your life: a painted picture,
And as the artist, you wish you’d taken more care,
Maybe cyan or cerise would have fit in better there-

But all in all, you are satisfied with your oeuvre,
For it has substance, and is full of color-
And art always finds meaning, unintended, perhaps,
As may be worthless or even indispensable; a map.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Black, White and Grey

When the years loose color,
Time, measure null-
Memories, hither,
Sweet still, just dull;
Beckoning yet,
Some only to forget,
Some to remember,
But sentiment runs for cover.

Black; dark and brooding,
Yet, ‘tis somehow, alluring:
Those livid gasps, frightened of feeling,
When lost is love, and existence reeking-
Those jaded nights of insecurity,
When living is akin to pillory,
Those quiet nightmares, silence screaming,
When kisses strike, and mirth is weeping.

Grey; unsure and vague,
Still, ‘tis constant, straight:
Those moments, alone, but calm and shy,
When ambiguity provides the most solace-
Those encounters with faith, void of requisition,
When everything seems out of position,
Those fearless, ageless, tests of endurance,
When potency is no measure and sight is no assistance.

White; pure and whole,
Yet, ‘tis comprised of myriad fragments of every color:
Those specks of frozen time, of bliss, of valor,
When light shone through the densest cloud:
Those leaps of joy, in kind and solid venture,
When every arrow pointed to darkness alone,
Those sways of judgment, falling ultimately to intuition,
When no one believed in those (consuming) throes of passion…

A tale told in grayscale,
A tiny black and white Polaroid:
Of an entire life,
Of validation, of negation;
Discarding the scarlet, cerulean, and emerald,
(The anger, dejection and envy)
A concise, but still precise, version of a story-
Black, White and Grey…

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Ila looked up at her grandma with big, tearful, eyes.  

“Daaa-di maaa! I want to go fly the kite. Tell Bhaiyya to take me na, please!”

“No Ila beta, it’s dangerous. You’re too little to go running about on that terrace with everyone else distracted. Now come here, finish your prayers, eat prasaad and then go play with your dolls,” her grandmother said with a smile.

Defeated, Ila stepped forward sulking, joined her hands and bowed her head in respect for the statuette Daadi called Bhagwan. Her eyes soon wandered towards a pot of kumkum, the bright red of which had always appealed to her juvenile senses. She leaped up to reach it, knocking the pot, a tin of ghee and bowl of rice along with it.

“EE-L-AA!! What have you done? Look at the mess! And don’t you know that these are holy items? Bhagwan will punish you now. Finish your prayers and go sit in the corner. I don’t want to see you or hear your voice till lunch,” Ila’s grandmother scolded. 

“Nooooo daadimaa! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to… I was just going to make a tikka on Bhagwan’s head, I’m sorry… Please don’t put me in the corner! Please!” Ila said, amidst well imitated crocodile tears. 

“All right. But all the same, keep out of my way until lunchtime. Now before you go, close your eyes, join your hands and say with me: Om bhur bhuvah svaha…”
Ila, sulking again, did as she was told. 

“Miss, Miss! Why is everyone flying kites these days?” Ila asked her teacher at school the next day.

“Because it’s Sankrantri, Ila.” She replied.

“Oh. So did Bhagwan tell us to fly kites?” Ila inquired further. 

“No Ila, but it’s our way of celebrating the festival. By flying kites together we are encouraging everyone around us to talk with each other and have fun. That way there will be fewer fights between people and everyone will be in a good mood.” 

“But then why do we have competitions to see whose kite is better and flies the highest?” Ila shot back.

“Because that makes it more fun.” The teacher didn’t really know what to say, and she was wary of the thirty-three other little voices waiting to be heard in her class. She decided to direct Ila’s attention back to the assignment at hand.  “Now go back to your work. And don’t leave the glue stick open like that. It’ll dry up.”

“Ok Miss. Where do I stick that end?” Ila asked, pointing to an unfinished craft project that would soon be her first handmade kite. 

“Over here, like this…” 

“Papa! Paaa-PAAA!! Where are you?” Ila screamed her lungs out, running all over the house.

“Here Ila! Stop shouting. Mama’s asleep.” Her father shouted back from his work room with a hint of irritation in his voice. Ila ran into the room and stood in front of his desk catching her breath.

“But Papa, you shouted also!” She said gasping, so impatient to defend herself that she abandoned her initial effort to regain composure. 

“Alright, alright. I made a mistake. But you should not talk back to your elders like that. It is considered rude. Now tell me what you wanted, I don’t have much time. I have work to finish and mouths to feed.”

“Papa, what does ‘considered’ mean?”

“It means…” Her father paused for a few minutes, frustrated. He’d never exactly understood how one goes about the job of explaining things to children, and he didn’t consider it his job anyway. His job was to send them to school, feed them and clothe them, provide them with opportunities that helped fill their time. And help produce them, of course. The women and the school he paid for could look after all these other things. 

“Well?” Ila persisted, speaking exactly seven minutes later. She hated waiting.

“Go ask Daada, he’ll explain- I don’t have the time.” 

“All right, Papa.” Ila said, disappointed. She’d been looking for dada for a few weeks now… But she couldn’t find him. Whenever she asked her grandmother where he was, she told her that he’d gone to spend some time with Bhagwan, because he wanted to become young again. Bhagwan could make him young again if he’d been a good boy. Bhagwan could do anything if you said your prayers every day.

“Ila,” her father said interrupting the girl’s stream of thoughts. “Why are you still here? Go.”

“Umm… No, nothing, I was just asking if I could go fly this kite that I made at school on the terrace with Bhaiyya?” She replied holding up her colorful creation proudly.

“Very nice beta. Yes go… Just don’t disturb me again. I’m expecting an important call.”
“Okay Papa. Thank-you-bye.” She said rushing every word into the next, excited that she was allowed to fly the kite. But now, after hearing Daada mentioned again, she couldn’t help but think about looking for him again. She hadn’t looked all week, but presently, she felt the compulsion breathe afresh. Sometimes she wondered if she and Papa were the only ones who remembered he existed. No one else ever mentioned him anymore. Daada was the only one who would smile, take her into his arms and explain what words like “considered” meant… Without worrying at all about the time. 

“Mama, where does Bhagwan work?” Ila asked loudly, bursting into her mother’s room.

“Ila! I just fell asleep! I can’t get ten minutes of sleep in this house. What is it!?” her mother responded, annoyed at being woken up.

“Nothing Ma, I just need to know where Bhagwan works. I’ll let you sleep after that, it’s really urgent. I need to know before I forget.” Ila explained, wishing she knew how to write. If only she could write all her questions down and not worry about forgetting them... that would make so many people a LOT less upset with her.

“In Heaven, Ila.” Her mother responded, now even more annoyed. 

“And where is that?”

“In the sky, Ila.”

“You mean, like where the kites go?”


“Oh, and in case he isn’t at work, where is his house?”

“His house is also in Heaven.”

“Ok, where in Heaven then? And where is his office exactly also? I didn’t realize Heaven was big like a city.”

“No, no… It’s all in one place. He works from home. Now can I please sleep?” Her mother said, eyes closed and frowning. 

“Yes Mama, I’m sorry. Good night.”

“It’s alright. And it’s still daytime. You should say ‘sweet dreams’ instead of good night, ok?”

“Yes Mama, sweet dreams.”

Ila sat down on the overloaded and now broken swing at school, thinking about what she should do. She knew that going to heaven would be not-so-easy. She’d have to find a bird big enough to take her, or she would have to go in a plane. But planes didn’t take people without passports, and Ila did not have one. To get one she would have to learn to sign, but she hadn’t learned that yet, and her teacher said she still had two grades before she would be allowed to write, let alone sign. She asked if Mama could sign for her, but the teacher said that only the person who the passport belonged to was allowed to sign on it. So that was out of question. And anyway, she might get lost. The sky seemed quite large, and the clouds kept changing shape, so she didn’t have much to use as landmarks, like the tree and building that Dada had taught her to use so that she could find the shop across the stream. It would be quite silly to get lost while trying to find someone. And so Ila decided she would not go there herself. But she still didn’t know what to do.

“Rama didi, Rama didi! What is that in your hand?” Ila asked the young girl who worked to help clean her house. 

“It’s a letter, Ila. Your mother wants me to post them. Why?”

“No, no. Nothing. I just had an idea. Where do kites go when the string breaks?”

“Up, with the wind. Or down to the ground if there isn’t enough wind. Why?”

“No, no. Nothing. I just want to know. Do you reckon they go to heaven eventually?”

“Yes, I suppose so, everything does… But why are you asking such silly questions?”

“No, no. Nothing. Bye!” Ila said, running off with a huge smile painted across her face. 
 She’d just had the best idea ever.

“ Hi Sakshi Didi!” Ila said to her neighbors’ eleven year old daughter. She’d been waiting by the door for at least an hour.

“Hello Ila. What are you waiting outside my house for?” Sakshi asked. She found Ila odd. The girl was too inquisitive. She would wait outside the house for ages, just so that she could beg Sakshi to teach her to write. “If you want me to teach you to write again, that’s not going to happen. So go away and save yourself sometime.” 

“No, no. Not that. I need a favor.”

“A favour? From me? What is it?”

“Can you please write a letter for me? Please! I’ll play with Chotu for ten days so you can watch T.V.”
“Hmmm.” Sakshi knew Ila kept promises, and twenty hours of T.V. in exchange for a letter seemed a fair bargain. The child was barely out of KG 2… how long could the letter be? “Alright. I will. Come in, and remember to remove your slippers.”

“Thank you so much! Thank you!” Ila said, obviously elated.

Ila ran up to her brother holding the kite she’d made behind he back. “Bhaiyya! Listen! Papa said I can come fly kites with you!” 

“That’s all very well Ila, but I don’t have any kites left. Mine all got cut in the building war yesterday. That maanja they’re selling down by the school is really sharp. I must get some, but Papa won’t give me any more money.” Her brother said, with a long face.

“Well, I have this kite, see…” Ila said holding up the kite. 

“Ni-i-ce. Wait, but what’s that?” Her brother asked, seeing a little white envelope stuck to the kite.” 

“It’s a letter to Bhagwan. Sakshi helped me put it there. She told me to tell you that she had checked it for balance and that she is sure it will fly, but that you will have to wait for a windy day. And Mama was screaming at Rama because she left the windows open ‘on such a windy day’ in the morning. So I thought that maybe this is a good time.”

“Hmmm. You really want to do this, don’t you… Well, I suppose we could. But I can’t stand to loose again, and especially not today, as Mahesh and Rohan are fighting from the other building. I really need that maanja.” 

Mahesh and Rohan were Ila’s brother’s enemies. There was no way he could loose to them. And there was the letter issue as well. God only knew what his kid sister was up to. Children and their games! But he trusted Sakshi. She had set her mind on becoming an aeronautic engineer, and people paid her over a thousand rupees to make them kites. She knew her stuff. But unless he had that maanja from the hawker by his school, he could not risk flying the kite –a kite in the air was a declaration of war towards all the other people with kites in the air- and he would not risk going into battle without his weapons.

“But bhaiyya if you get the money and buy that maanja, then? Will you take me to fly the kite?”

“Yes, Ila. I will.”

“Okay, then, I have six hundred and sixteen rupees from my birthday. Will that be enough?”

“Yes, more than. We just need a hundred. But who gave you all that money?!”

“Uhm… Daadi, Aunty, Bade Bhaiyya, and Didi all gave me hundred and one rupees, and Dada gave me hundred and eleven. Dada helped me count all the money.”

“Okay. Well then, where is it?”

“In my piggy bank. Wait here. I’ll go get it” Ila said, disappearing into her room. She returned with two hundred rupees, which she handed over to her brother.

“Why two? I said we only need one.”

“Yes, I know, but I don’t want anything to go wrong today.” Ila replied with determined eyes.

Ila hung on to her brother as he cycled down towards school with her behind him. She prayed that this would work… She really, really, really had to get that letter to Bhagwan. Con-sid-errd: she needed to make sure she remembered the word until Dada was back. She hoped Bhagwan wouldn’t take too long. She couldn’t remember things for so long.  She looked around her, noticing that they were almost there. As she looked, she saw some dark children. Her mother said that they were dark because Bhagwan had punished them for being cruel the last time they were born. Bhagwan punished bad people. But Ila had never understood how the children could be bad… They were just children after all. They weren’t even tall enough to reach the bad books and bad bottles that Daadi and Mama always shooed her and her brother away from. And they were definitely not tall enough to climb through her window and rob the house. She never understood what they could possibly have done that was bad enough to deserve to be dark, seeing as they couldn’t even begin to do the things Ila had been taught were the worst things you could do. 

“Aaaaaaaaaa-h!” A piercing screech drew Ila from her thoughts and redirected her attention towards one of the black children. Her brother stopped the bike, curious as well.

“Bhaiyya! What happened to him?” 

“I’m not sure Ila. But look there… He’s making maanja!”

“Really? How can you tell?”

“Because that’s how they make it. You see that rough white powder in that box? That’s powdered glass and rice. They mix it with a resin, and apply it to the thread… That’s how maanja becomes sharp.”

“What’s a resin?”

“It’s like glue, but it comes from a tree, not a factory.”
“Ok. But doesn’t it hurt to touch glass like that?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Come to think of it, I guess that’s why the little boy was crying. See, there’s blood all over the thread and the glass sand.”

“Oh no! Will he get an injection like I did when blood came from my knee?”

“No, Ila. They don’t have the money to get injections… Why do you think they do such hard jobs?”

“Do you think we can give them our money? I suppose he needs the injection more than I need Dada.”

“No way! They’ll just use the money for other reasons. And where does Dada come into all this anyway?”

“No, no. Nothing.”

“Alright. Let’s go before the wind dies down.”

“Wait bhaiyya… Look a baby!” Ila said, pointing at child in a young girls arms right by the box of glass powder.  A gust of wind later the baby began to cry, rubbing his eyes furiously. But the girl simply placed the baby on the ground and continued the work the bleeding boy had left unfinished. Her face clearly said that she was in great pain.

“No, Ila. Let’s go,” Her brother said, his face pale, from comprehending the childrens’ plight. “this is not something for you to see… we’re going home.”

The terrace was windy. Very windy. Ila stood by the railing, confused. Her brother had turned home without buying his special maanja… He said they would use ordinary string, and that he didn’t care who won or lost- because that wasn’t what Sankrantri was about. Sankrantri was about celebrating, and not causing people pain- it was about prayer and compassion, (which he said meant understanding each other’s problems), and not fighting with one another. Ila knew he was right somehow. She could feel it inside. And she felt like he understood. Just like Dada did. 

“Bhaiyya,” she said interrupting her brother as he strung the kite, “can I ask you something?” 

“Sure Ila. Go ahead.”

“What does con-sid-erred mean?”

“Well, it’s a little hard to explain, but I can give you an example. You remember how I said that I would think about helping Papa in the shop?”


“Well, if I were to say the same thing in different words, I would say that I was considering helping Papa in the shop. Does that make sense?”

“Not really. Papa said that my talking in that way would be con-sid-erred rude.”

“Hmmm. Papa meant that people would think that the way you were speaking to him was rude. Now did you get it? It means something like… to think about something”

“Yes Bhaiyya. Thank you! You don’t have to fly the kite now, if you don’t want to.

 I think Bhagwan got my letter before I sent it to him. Daadi must be right about him being able to do anything he wants!” Ila said, smiling. Her heart warmed up like it had the last time Dada had held her in his arms. She felt good. 

Bleeding Hearts

Red, like the blood they shed,
Red, stains on torn frocks and little hands-
Red drops ablaze, on the pale glass sand.

Red like their rosy cheeks,
Red- flushed, tired and hungry,
Red, as they bleed, to defer their agony.

Red, the evening sun shines,
Red, kites we buy and fly:
-Red, to conceal, and toss their pain up high.

Red, their fury,
Red, vicious flames of fear,
Red, telling of danger near.

Red, as the baby’s eyes,
Red, the tears it cries,
Red- beckoning his sister, ‘take me inside’.

Red, the pain she feels,
Red, as the strings she holds,
Red, as her skin’s bleeding folds.

Red, as the sharp dust that flies,
Red, as the long closed eyes of many a friend,
Red, when will their tryst come to an end?

Red, as the fine powder in grandma’s palm,
Red, the hypocrisy in my joined hands,
Red, as a rose they will never see again.

Red, our dancing fingers flying kites,
Red, from much wear and sweat,
Red, from obliviously pulling the strings their blood once wet.