Poems in Bigbridge: The Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry (http://bigbridge.org/BB17/poetry/indianpoetryanthology/indian-poetry-anthology-contents.html0
(edited by Menka Shivdasani)
Not in the Picture
Adoption agency file.
Her first photograph. The only one in the file.
Passport size. Taken at age eleven months.
Studio backdrop: faded orange and dust you can smell.
There is no prior story. Nothing before
the orange and the dust.
Except a thick sky of blankness.
“Why didn’t they do more than follow procedure? Why didn’t they do more than stick a bottle of milk into her tiny, seeking mouth? Why didn’t they do more than wrap a towel around her elfin thin body?”
I am greedy. I want something larger than orange and dust. I want a sky with fluffy white clouds. I am greedy for some infant cuteness. I want pictures of the day they found her.
Glossy, flattering ones I can enlarge,
slide into albums,
design coffee mugs out of,
seal into her life and mine.
Didn’t they have a bloody camera?
Now what will I tell her?
“What did I look like as a baby, amma?”
Why are there no photographs of me as a little baby, amma?”
“Maybe, they didn’t have a camera, love. Or maybe they did but someone dropped it and it shattered into a million pieces.”
“But they could have stuck it back together.”
“That’s not so easy!”
“Why didn’t they simply get a new one, amma?”
Five years ago. A new-found first cousin on my father’s side tells me about a photograph in his family album. “We are all in it,” he says, “Your parents and mine, my sister, me, and you, with your cute, shining pate and no hair. You had just come back from Tirupati, post-tonsure. Must have been soon after your first birthday.”
I want to see that photograph.
I don’t want to see that photograph.
I will never see that photograph.
I am too busy burying the kernel of a father who has been absent, loud and long, these last thirty five years.
“I have often wondered,” ventures my cousin, “what became of my baby cousin with her Tirupati-tonsured head. But now I know!”
I am leafing through an old album. My mother isn’t home. The shock of a picture with one edge snipped off. There’s only two of us– me and my mother. A tiny bit of someone’s elbow. I know, without being told, whose.
I am ten. My cousin’s a year old. We are playing on the beach. My uncle produces a camera. I hurry into the frame. Greed again.
“Let me get one of Arvind first,” my uncle says. I step aside. Afterwards, I refuse to have my picture taken.
My wedding. My mother, having raised me single-handedly, has hired a professional photographer. When the album arrives, we find she is not in any of the pictures.
“It is sharp as an ice pick,”
I tell a politely puzzled friend over dinner,
for certain photographs. If you are not watchful,
it can stab you through the heart”.
A Big Elephant in My Room
There’s this big elephant in my room
that I wasn’t seeing,
though not for lack of trying
on his part.
he’s been waving
his over-sized trunk
in front of my face,
for decades now,
and has even lost a kilo or two
performing – for my sole benefit –
over a hundred and one circus acts.
But a Big-Elephant blindness
must have have covered my eyes
like a film of cataract,
for I swear I never saw him.
Last evening, though,
when the fellow splashed
a trunk-full of water on my face,
I woke up to see the outline
of something large and grey,
tunneling its elephantine way
to the cold, dark place
where all Big Elephants are born.
*Published in The BloodAxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008)
A thousand waves. How many? asks my son.
So how are we? the man asks, lips curling.
Lets say two thousand for fun
It is dark in the room and cold.
break every morning on these shores.
And whom did you sleep with today?
my beach with sands so happy they
And you, little fellow, have you failed me again?
slip through my fingers and dance on
the belt again, a fledgling dies
my toes, he says.
blood fills the evening tea cup
my beach I share with a thousand
I dream of lost skipping ropes,
Lets say two thousand for fun
of my daughter who hasn’t found them yet.
Clouds unhappy like smoke rings near a grave
shovels, glow in the dark green bucket lost and found, a
float outside the house
handful of seashells clinging to the last of the sands,
where no cakes are baked,
lampshades that sit heavily in the darkness
a fisherman sitting on a giddy catamaran
quite forgetting to fish.
“What Father Left Us” (Published in the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry” edited by Sudeep Sen)
*Won the first Prize in the Unisun British Council Poetry competition, 2006. (published by Unisun, Bangalore in Winners)
Father left us when we were children,
betraying our innocence
which, mother claimed,
trickled down our faces
He left us each other –
two brothers and three sisters,
like so many Russian dolls,
our giggly yearnings
for rough play and stubble,
and blank spaces in five report cards
requesting “Father’s Signature”.
And then of course father left us mother,
with her soft saree
and taken for granted lap,
her voice cracking half-way through
that bed-time story about Ram and his monogamy.
Father left us a couple of unpaid debts
and this vacuum in my children’s lives
marked maternal grandfather.
Some new poems featured in the online French journal “Recours au poeme”
I. A Graveyard of Faces
That morning, I woke without a face.
I had dropped it,
sleep walking at night,
a forest of fallen trees.
The worms had gotten to
all but the ears.
In the shop down the road,
they had just sold the last human face.
“Sorry, madam. We are out of stock,” the salesman informed a friend,
“In any case, we only do disposables
and the lady, you say, wants a face
that will weather
the long winters of dying poems?
A more permanent sort of face, that would be then…
We don’t do those, I’m afraid.”
Eventually, I have to settle for a disposable.
A face that will not out-last
the forgetting of lines.
But it can do “sad”.
And it can do “happy”.
It can get on
better than my old face could.
On the first day of every month,
I walk to that forest of fallen trees
and bury my face
in a graveyard filled with my faces.
Carefully, I put on a new one,
pink and fresh from its plastic case and,
despite the absence of interested worms,
II. Bright Blue Bird
A bright blue bird
from a distant tree
flies into my house.
When it flies out, it leaves behind
its bright blue.
The blue hops down
becomes first one word,
and then, another,
till finally, it assumes the face of a poem.
Before long, the floor is an upside down blue sky
and the blue of the poem has made its way
into my ink filler,
into my notebook.
Website links to my other poems:
Origami Poems Project: