Thursday, November 10, 2011


The stakes, I know, are higher than ever
But, in the cold of the night, I shall still shiver
In spite of the frosty passion of your bland body
For your love, in my honour, is but a cruel parody
I need to feel and embrace time and again
Like a restless child wanting to get wet in the rain
Aware, in full measure, of his mother’s scorching rage
But, more so of the burning desire to break out of the cage.

The Driver

He woke up as he always did in the morning
Misty and cold yet for him waking
And boiling some water in the saucepan
Bought in the Sunday Haat by his wife from a man
Known to be a philanderer who drank too much,
For tea and some to bathe was no longer a problem as such.
For years, though, he didn’t remember how many exactly
He had been doing the same day after day and at precisely
Seven as the wall clock in the right wall of the only room
In the house showed with a somewhat occult doom,
He took out the car parked on the verandah he and his
Family shared with three other families the men of which were neither his
Friends nor foes as for either he didn’t have time to waste
Though he knew one of them, the oldest, was not half as chaste
As his (and the others’ too he believed) wife thought him to be
For once, he had seen her with a local lady having tea
And smoking at a place and time he had no business to be.

Driving up the slope thinking who for the day were his passengers gonna be;
(Not that he cared; he had seen all types)
The ones from the big city who’d come for the hypes
That had been built up by the government of late about
Smaller towns and even smaller villages a small way away though doubt
All of them would always about the accuracy of all the superlatives
About the places being wettest to cleanest and the others- natives
From the nearest city in the plains to simply escape the heat
Or just to after a long week’s work cool their feet,
He took out with his left hand from his grey
Trousers’ pocket the paper, which would say
Where his passengers for the day were to be picked up
From and before which he could have his second cup
Of tea and buy his day’s stock of cigarettes and kwai
And brace himself for the day on a mental high
As the first day he had driven a car and instantly
Decided that this was what he would do incessantly
Till the day he could hold a steering and press a clutch.
And in his career of two decades (at least), from a dopy Dutch
To a motor phobic film actress whose name he always forgot
He had driven in a career, unscathed so far ,the whole lot.
But today is a new day and the lake is placid
And the horizon is, for a change, vivid.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reverie by the River.

It’s five in the morning and the Howrah -New Delhi Express casually slips into the Mughal Sarai junction five minutes ahead of time after a relentless run the previous night. The diminutive woman in the lower berth opposite to mine is combing her hair with a languid dispassion; she has to look good. It’s the most important festival of the year and she’s visiting her in- laws.  On this day, I’ve been told by my mother, a long time back and even she doesn’t know how long, the man who exemplifies manhood in the religion I was born into, came back home after 14 years, after rescuing his wife and being satisfied about her purity (which she had to prove by walking through fire), who also incidentally epitomizes womanhood in the same religion, from a learned demon with ten heads. As the train slows down, the woman hurriedly stuffs a steel tiffin box and a steel glass into a blue bag that reads Vogue and wakes up her husband and son. The train finally comes to a halt after a few minutes of uninspired limbering, and I clumsily get down from my middle berth. The station is like any other big station in the country- neutral and intriguing. I’m the odd one out. I am brown skinned, alone, and with a rucksack. The tempo wallas are confused if I should be haggled. My destination, Google Maps tells me, is 19 kilometres away. I scramble on to a tempo without much fuss; I am to make myself comfortable next to the driver. A family of three is on the rear seat. No one talks in the journey- maybe it’s the incomplete sleep or the chill of the morning. The road is broad but bumpy. Outside I see people with lotas, small teashops just coming to life, and a lot of trucks.  The tempowalla says Madarchod every time a truck overtakes us. It’s still dark to see much and I hope it keeps that way for I have a date with the sun today. I am the last one to get off the tempo. I have more distance to cover but that’s all he would take me for twenty rupees, he sternly says. There are more people on the road now. The tempowallas pursue me more enthusiastically this time. I decide on the oldest looking one. I’m alone this time, except for a few cans of desi ghee . “Assi Ghat”, I say as confidently as can. This journey’s shorter but livelier- the old man is jovial and keen to talk and I gladly comply. He does insist, a few times, on showing me around, but is not overly pushy. I am dropped off with suggestions about good guesthouses nearby.

I can finally see the river, but I’m not exactly flushed over with sentiments. She seems sizably smaller than the one back home. I’m late for my date but the my date is generous enough to not completely get spent with her other lovers. He is still pristine enough for me to bask, for a while, in his mellow orange arms. We make love on the boat for a full hour and a half, though I do get distracted time and again by a few white women also seeking him. I want more but my boatman says that is all I get for what I have paid.

There is a slight issue of breakfast, which I settle with two cups of tea and four cigarettes, and some forecasting of Egypt’s future with a Jordanian who likes Israeli coffee. Hotel hunting turns out to be tougher than I had anticipated. The ones I can afford are full and the ones I can’t are full too. Finally, I find myself a barsati in a guesthouse owned by an old man with a cranky wife. The room is basic with a shared bathroom, which I’m to share with an American lady who played the harmonium and sang what she said were ragas from 6 in the morning for an hour.

My date’s right over my head as I step out of the hotel after a bath and exchanging pleasantries with my American neighbor. I’m hungry and I step into a place called the Brown Bread Café. The place is full of foreigners; I sit on one of the couches on the floor, and order a medium sized cold coffee, Mozzarella cheese and chicken lasagna. I light a cigarette and read a short called The Judgement by Franz Kafka as I wait for the food. An excessively touchy young white couple sits in front of me. The guy is doing something on his tablet and the girl, who looks barely out of her teens, is feeling his crotch over his cargo pants. The food takes a long time to come; a girl whom I later discover to be French asks me for a cigarette. I’ve just bought an expensive brand and am not too keen to share but I am too surprised to refuse. The food is mediocre and the coffee is bland, and I’m far from full.

I’m slightly tired by know but I resist taking a rickshaw, I know this has to be done on foot. I walk down the crowded narrow lanes. The demography on the streets bears a stark contrast – old devout God fearing Tamils and young carefree foreigners. But, perhaps, the quest of both converged somewhere on a greater common point I, too, wish to understand some day. I double down a long flight of stairs, they call the Ghats, and sit down as I reach somewhere midway. This Ghat is called the Meer Ghat .The afternoon crowd is scarce and a few metres away from me, a sadhu is pulling on a Chillum with a placid indifference and Shiela Ki Jawani is pompously playing on his portable radio. I wonder if listening to Shiela Ki Jawani is against being a sadhu and make a mental note to try it myself  sometime. I take a huge sip from my mineral water bottle and decide to walk on. I walk northwards and reach the biggest and the busiest ghat- the Daswasmedh Ghat. Things here are markedly different and there is a flurry of activities- the ghat is being cleaned by a mechanized water sprinkler in preparation of the evening Aarti. I take a few photos on my phone as a group of shy kids poses for a huge white man with a DSLR. A well-dressed boy, appearing in his mid-20s, approaches me from nowhere and asks if I want hash. I refuse politely. I’ve been warned by my hotel manager that the hash they sell on the ghats is overpriced and impotent. This ghat is too congested for my liking and as I walk further northwards, the crowd begins to dwindle. My legs are beginning to let me down now and I toil up the stairs to exit through the Narad Ghat when a boy with shortly cropped blonde hair asks me for a light. He offers me a joint and we get talking. He’s from Israel and I enquire if he likes A Hundred Years of Solitude, which is, I see, nestled next to him on the stairs. We talk about Love in the Times of Cholera, my favourite of Marquez and end up smoking three more joints. I’m stoned by now and desperately hungry. He suggests me a place a two-minute walk away called the Shiva Café run by a Nepali lady who chain-smoked. The food turns out to be the best I’ve had in quite some time and it is insanely cheap for a place that catered to foreign tourists.

The food has cleared my head and I move southwards again for the burning ghat or the Manikarna Ghat. I am taken aback by the casualness of things here. As the corpses burn, people drink tea and talk about Mayawati  as if it’s a  big bonfire and I realize, perhaps, no loss in the world’s big enough to stop the living from living. It is strange to see a human body burn.  The remnant ash looks as if a child has tried to scatter it in the shape of  a sleeping man and the smoke of the pyre is so thick , I am  scared  it has charred flesh which will smear my face black and red. I am unnerved and make a quick exit back to Daswashmedh Ghat for the evening Aarti.

My date looks subtly splendid now- like a woman, glowing with satisfaction, stepping out of the bed to dress after a whole night of passionate lovemaking. I sneak through, between people and buffaloes to go back to the river. The fluorescent sheath of my date’s reminiscence on the grey water reminds me of home and the many evenings I have spent on the riverside with friends and I’m drowned for a few minutes in a mysterious melancholy. I fight back a strong urge to call my parents for tonight is my night and I have to wade through it alone.

 I’m woken up from my reverie by a nudge on my shoulder and I turn back to see the freckled face of the French girl who had borrowed my cigarette. We sit down side by side for the evening Aarti and eat popcorn her friend buys from a girl with cleft lips. The evening Aarti is like an epic dance drama witnessed by thousands of people from the ghats as well as from the river on boats. Priests wearing spotlessly clean white dhotis skillfully perform lithe tricks with magnificent brass diyas on the edge of the river to soulful renditions of shlokas on loud microphones. The pace really picks up through the hour-long   extravaganza, that is way beyond just religion, and the climax is beautiful. As I sit down, half an hour later, in the small smoky shop drinking tea and eating butter toasts, listening to the French woman describing what she terms as a ridiculously overpriced breakfast buffet in a hotel in Delhi, I am happy for the last two hours were more than well spent- the evening Aarti was an overwhelming experience and, although, my phone’s camera failed me, images of the  spectacle will always remain with me.

I part ways with the girls and take a rickshaw back to Assi Ghat, much more confident this time. The rickshaw walla is drunk but he rides steadily enough. The city’s bright and beautiful tonight, almost like an amateur artist’s impression of heaven. Ayodhya, on the night, where Ram had returned to must have been equally bright too but someone must have forgotten to light the area where the Babri Masjid was to be built later. It’s late but the streets are full of people, playing with crackers and each other, and everyone looks so happy ; I think  of family dinners  at my home  on my birthdays when  all of us seemingly happily  eat pudding together  and in the lump of the frozen rice, so many people and emotions were frozen my naïve 12 year self could never comprehend .  But I know I’ve grown up now, grown up enough to  get lost under the night sky, ablaze with rockets and fireworks.  The dogs are scared and can hardly be seen. I wonder if they see more than us, beyond the apparent brilliance. 

I eat Thukpa for dinner in a roof top restaurant near my guesthouse, where Bob Marley plays, but the crackers overpower the Reggae singer’s serene voice. He doesn’t seem to mind though. During the walk back to the hotel, I have to jump several times to dodge stray bombs. The kids giggle at my awkward moves, embarrassing me. My guesthouse is demurely decorated with a few diyas but it is cold in comparison to the festivities around. I climb up three floors to reach my room on the roof. The phrase Room on the Roof raises my spirits, I instantly light a cigarette, and in the haze of the smoke, I see more than I have in a long time- it must be all a great cosmic conspiracy that all the better hotels are full. Maybe I am magically  meant to stay in this room on the roof just as Ruskin Bond had in his struggling days. Maybe I am transcendentally supposed  to just sit by the small window and watch the river change colours and dream about the girl I had held hands with and seen the river devour the sun back home. The roof suddenly lights up in the  glow of an Anaar set alight by the old owner’s grandchildren and the roof’s more delightful than the most experienced artist’s impression of heaven can ever be, and, I know, I’ve seen light.  I’ll come back here very soon again. I go inside my room, take out my notebook and write a poem about the room on the roof in a guesthouse at Assi Ghat in a place called Benares.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the Man who was more than a Man to me.

The river can’t cry for the tears will never dry.  However, on a fateful evening of November, the couples holding hands on the Uzanbazar riverside did see a few more ripples than usual. The mighty river, nonchalant and blasé now from all the turmoil it has witnessed over the years, has finally broken down. Like a father who had not shed one tear when his wife died, in the belief that his son would love him even more, only to see him dying in front of his own eyes- the river is sadder than anyone of us can dread to be. The lights, as I write, from the Nabagraha and the Kamakhya hills are probably shining on the river in their comatose splendor but beneath the ostensible glitz, a father is silently sad as only a father can be.

The XXX Rum bought from a theka that stays open later than it’s supposed to  near the railway station of the small non- descript town I live in, far away from where the man wrote his poetry and composed his music has got to my head and I’m happy about it, not because I believe the rum will speak better than me, but because I think my incisor, still very active, will incise better about this very surreal phenomenon of a person  who wrote poems about the river and the people around Him and gave them music, in the process composing anthems for an entire community of people who believed the mother they were born off was wronging them, if it has some black rum warming its inherent taciturnity. 
I am pretentious. I don’t even understand most of his poetry. But when he sings about the river, I feel so Axomiya, all I want to do in life is sit by the river and write poems about Him. The lights on the river will grudgingly whimper off soon; most of them already have- people will make love anyway; the adventurous will keep them on and the shy will switch them off. I drank cheap rum too, not to grieve him, but because tonight’s a Saturday and he’s to be celebrated not mourned. To the man who loved his whiskey and poetry; to the man who thought life was to be lived king size; to the man who loved the river like his father; to the man who made a whole generation of Marlboro smoking Pink Floyd worshipping write poems, no one would ever read, about the great river.

In the redness of the perfumed rum
I can feel  you,  your magical voice, hum
A ballad, which the Kuli  secretly whispers, is about me
As the Kopou blossoms, forlornly, to thee.

RIP Bhupen Hazarika.

Note: The masculine references to the river’s because the Brahmaputra is considered to be a male river. Kuli is Assamese for the Cuckoo and Kopous are orchids. Him, if not evident enough, also refers to the river.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Incisor Incises.

There are days when I keep feeling my extra sharp but useless lower left incisor (useless, since never has been even a bottle of beer opened by it and am sadly sure won’t ever be either) with my tongue way too much than a tongue should a tooth of the same mouth. These are days; I’ve come to reluctantly realize over the years on which something as simple as drinking water has the potential to result in an embarrassing catastrophe- all under the curse of my evil fang. No, if you’re thinking on those lines, I don’t suck blood. Suck is a nice word though – it rhymes with a lot of muck. Suck reminds me of Kurt Angle and as far as I know (which I do in humungous amounts) he didn’t suck blood too. And I’ve already started drifting. Drifting is a bad habit just like drinking- so I’ve been told. So, without drifting (as I’m not drinking now anyway)- this diabolic tooth of mine is particularly attention hungry tonight. Perhaps, for tonight is a particularly morbid November evening - the kinds when wannabe poets like me write seemingly dark poetry about darker things like death and treachery. My shameless tongue obviously reciprocates- wriggling itself out at the slightest of chances to feel the enamel coated devil. My nose has all of a sudden started leaking like the old fountain pen I had stolen from a girl I wanted to kiss when I was in Class 4 and I can feel the typical taste of impending doom in my mouth. The lunatic, I know, is lurking around somewhere and I can sense it, waiting to strike. My tongue is getting restless -like a snake in heat squirming in desperation. I light an India Kings,( blame the tooth for my snobbery and everything that you think is wrong with and about me), the grey smoke’s directionless diffusion and the aroma of burnt nicotine and cotton make me happy for reasons I’m not capable enough of embodying in words. I have a writer’s block throughout the year, although I am not a writer at all, except for some extremely elevated evenings maybe. Tonight is apparently not one of those evenings. The Sprite, I drank  in the morning must have invoked the sprite back to my tooth for till I slept last night staring at my 3 inch touchscreen, I didn’t even know such a pretty pair of homonyms existed. There’s no running away now- I’ll do exactly as I should not for the blues will always keep playing and thoughts will never be altered anyway and I can always love two women at the same time. Let the trumpets play and let the red carpets be laid- yes, it’s a new blog where I’ll be as erratic as ever. Meanwhile my tooth is orgasmic- it wants to melt into a sultry slimy substance, possibly white in colour (black if you ask me), to seductively stick to the redness of my tongue and make it a puny pink. The devil has just whispered beneath my bed sheet’s fragrance in its tragic trance –

I wonder where you get the strength from,
To, what you call love, such a shallow soul.
I wonder what makes you unleash that fire
Of your cold flesh on his defenseless lust.
I wonder why you inflict the curse of
 Your unconditional love on his deviant form
Only if you could accept,
The heart and the body seldom make love.

P.S. This particular tooth, Wikipedia tells me, is called the Mandibular Central Incisor and in rodents, it grows throughout their lives.