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The Zookeeper

 

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He goes on his nightly rounds across the acres.

Checking and cross-checking to ensure the locks are firm.

Everything seems to be in place. Still, something stirs in his soul. Somewhere ahead, a wolf howls and a hyena cackles.

He makes his way to the lion’s enclosure to see it sprawled over a boulder. In the dark of the night, the gold fur looks like highly polished sand. Satisfied, he leaves.

The lion sleeps tonight. It is not in the jungle. It is not mighty.

As he goes onward, everything is eerily quiet. The monkeys are strangely silent – as if they finally realised that shaking the grills won’t lead to their opening.

Then he begins to hear it. Slow and steady, until it reaches fever pitch. The birds.

Cockatoos. Parakeets. Canaries. A heady rush of feathers.

He watches silently, as they take to the sky. Their bodies are luminescent in the moonlight. He watches until they merge with the blackness of the night.

He walks to inspect the damage. Just a few broken locks, no real harm done.

He realises that some things cannot be kept in cages. Love, for instance.

Which is why he became a zookeeper. To put things behind bars.

If only he looked up one final time before leaving, he might have beheld a magnificent sight.

With the birds perched comfortably on it, the moon had grown wings.

 

 

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Wilder Park

 

Hyde-Park-5

 

In the morning, the acres resound

With rubber soles slapping

Tar and bicycle bells ringing in

The day. Dogs need no leashes and the park

Pants with them. Hot heavy breath.

Filled with the promise of life.

 

At noon, lovers stroll

Arm-in-arm and

When none looks, tongues

wrap tight around each other like gift paper

On birthday presents.

Things get wet…

 

Because it rains but children don’t care

And run to the park in the evening, indenting

Wet soil with their size-3 shoe prints.

Anxious mothers follow this trail

to find them laughing gaily as

The merry-go-round spins to a stop

One final time.

It’s time to go home now because

Twilight arrives in a daze.

 

The park is off limits at night-

The guards lean against their

Black jeeps, waiting, watching and

Sometimes laughing-with the trees leering

In gothic rows behind them.

 

The rain comes back again quietly,

Like a disconcerting guest-

Making everyone shuffle uncomfortably.

The guards huddle inside their jeeps biding

Another sleepless night.

 

The steady stream prises open the rigidly locked soil

And it flows with the inky ease of a fountain pen.

He glides in, his black skin

Needing no camouflage.

 

The next morning they discover

A body dangling-

 

From the slick branches of a tree.

 

 

Hands work in haste

Alternatively rubbing red eyes

And hiding black death from

Plain sight. None needed

An early morning fright.

 

The jeeps pull away and

The park opens its gates

To a new day.

 

An old man stared at a tree whose branch looked grotesquely out of shape-like a fractured limb. But he didn’t see a rope coiled loosely on the ground. It was still knotted.

 

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The Man with the Binoculars

Front back

Left right and

All around-a little girl

Bobs on a swing

That spreads out behind her like an oval wing.

 

There’s a smattering a

Pitter-pattering; the rain slants

Like the slope of a graph she

Never quite understood and

From the distance, neither

Did he-I mean

The Man with the Binoculars.

 

From those glass circles perched

Upon his nose he knows

She’s coffee-sipping

On her swing-dipping

Rain-dripping but dry

Page-flipping—

A book. She reads it clear, for the words

Have not bled, gotten wet

From the torrential tears of the sky.

 

But The Man with the Binoculars struggles

To find a Home within his World for

Tagore cannot give him the answer and

He lays down his binoculars.

He has seen enough,

But not quite.

 

And the little girl

Bobs on a swing

That spreads out behind her like an oval wing.

 

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Lungi: a sarong-like garment wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles, worn by both sexes in India and in Burma (Myanmar), where it is the national dress

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Oh father,

Where is the lungi you once wore?

The white one with black checks-

It felt soft and

Old-old with the pleasant weight

And lightness

Of being

A Malayali.

 

You wear shorts now:

Little boxes you insert

Your legs into-searching

For a freedom

That can only be afforded

By a lungi.

 

Oh father,

Did you forget

The stories of

Our rice fields

Our coconut trees

Our painted faces and

Our ritualistic dances-

 

Let not the backwaters of your still Malayali mind

Wash away these echoes of our past-a past

That is still very present, and

It is your lungi that has all these stories woven,

Tightly packed in those checks

Of your fabric.

 

Dear father, please

Wear your lungi again because I-

Still remember

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Blue is the Warmest Colour

Floating-Jordan-Dead-Sea

In school, it was made compulsory, where we had two classes a week. I was deeply conscious of my jiggles and wiggles, and I dreaded donning the suit. It didn’t necessarily have to be Monday for me to feel the blues.

But try as I might, the water kept coming back for me. I’m quite absent-minded, and had this uncanny knack for landing plop! In the middle of puddles even though I had so carefully avoided them in my head. The water bridged this dissonance between my imagination and the harsh reality. But sometimes, it came to my rescue. I was socially awkward for the longest time, and when I wanted to cancel a date, all I did was take one look at the sky above, and imagine that the clouds looked like stones being angrily rubbed against each other to start a fire. Only of course, it wouldn’t be fire, but torrential rain. That my predictions almost never came true is another matter. I had succeeded in wriggling out of my commitment.

I made up my mind to live only in sunny places when I grew up. I remember when I was little, I spread out the moth-eaten map that belonged to my grandfather in front of me, and traced my fingers along the places where the sun never set. Thailand. India. Libya. Perhaps Spain. In those moments, I imagined myself a traveller walking across hot sands and sipping cool drinks, and a warm flood washed over me.

But before I could grow up and chase the sun, I still had school to complete. In the 12th grade, my class teacher announced that she would be taking us on a surprise trip somewhere. I groaned. I was always trepid about surprises. “Just make sure you carry lots of sunscreen.” She had said, and my soul soared. We were going to a sunny place! For the first time in my entire life, I was excited about a school trip.

But when we reached, I felt betrayed. The sunscreen was to guard us against the sun…at the beach! I was so upset; it looked like the sun in my face had already set. I sat on the sand, under the shade of an umbrella and looked mutinously at all my classmates who were playing Frisbee, or swimming. No amount of coaxing would make me so much as dip my feet in the water. I sighed and took out my pen and paper, to vent out my angst in pretentious poetry.

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any worse, the wind swooped down on me like a bird and pecked the papers out of my hand. I let out a small shriek and chased after it, unmindful of where my feet where headed. The ocean wrapped around me like a net, and arrested my fall. For a while I choked and gasped, arms flailing, but eventually I began to bob like an apple in a bucket. In fact, my calm was reinstated in a bit, and the water was surprisingly not so cold. My fear melted into the warm giant blue puddle.

My papers were lost, but the poetry remained. If the world was my oyster, then I was glad I was a creature of the sea.

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Lava

lava

They are afraid of you, and they will never admit it.

Sometimes you’re ablaze, because the sun has temporarily set to rise again in your eyes. Other times they’ll shake their heads in perplexity, you will blink and all that will be left is a dull, incandescent glow.

Lovers pour their hearts out to you in pretentious poetry and plastic roses. Even the chocolates they feed you taste like margarine, not butter. Their kisses feel sticky, like cello tape-how else will they shut you up? You see, people dismiss things they don’t understand.

Before you sleep, they will remind you that pillows are for smothering your thoughts, your ideas, dreams…and feelings, what are they?

But you won’t die a soft, feathery death.

You’re tired of only standing by the edge of the pool. You muster up enough courage to do a cannonball. You’re tired of skirting the edges, so you hit bullseye. You’re done with being a molehill because really, you’re a mountain, a volcano, poised to erupt. And when you do, the doubts will be set adrift amidst the lava, and you will feel content because you finally woke up and decided to wear your passion on your sleeve. You will remind yourself daily that no matter what, you will never roll up those sleeves.

But people will still complain.

That you always set things on fire.

 

Via Daily Prompt: Adrift

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Before you send this to voicemail…

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Hello.

Everyday, I hear a million conversations. Many of them are unspoken.

I consider it a painful privilege.

I often dwell on all the calls that never went through-calls that were disconnected even before I began to ring. Calls intended to convey emotions that somehow got lost in transit.

Some people pick me up and don’t say anything. They vacillate between sighs and silence. Between sigh-lence. They finger my little black cable listlessly. I curl around their fingers imperceptibly, to offer solace in the best way I can.

Then there are those who pick me up to rehearse what they want to say. Deaths. Breakups. Unwanted pregnancies. But they never get around to making the call. They leave me behind with the weight of their untold secrets.

But I’ve enjoyed a fair share of happy conversations. Promotions. Marriages. Birthdays. Listening to their squeals of pleasure, I produce a burst of static, unable to control my own excitement. But I take care not to cause too much disturbance and ruin the moment. There is only so much we can do as inanimate objects to partake in moments of joy.

I remember no names. Only sentiments.

If you were to take me apart one day, you’d see a vault of thoughts. Perhaps you’d find some of yours too.

And so I sit, for time to come, replaying conversations that don’t belong to me.

You always speak into me, through me. But someday, will you pick me up to just…speak to me?

 

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Patchwork Quilt

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Chennai, a city in South India

The day has come for you to leave the comfort of home and move to a new city. As you fly alone for the first time, you examine the contents of a plastic pouch in front of you. Aside from a magazine and a safety manual, you find a paper bag that would come handy if you felt airsick. But none gave you a paper bag that read “In case you feel homesick.”

As you look out the window, you recall what someone wise once said, “Every place has its own vibe. Listen to what it has got to say to you.”

And so you do.

Chennai. A seamless blend of the old and new. The modern and ancient. Traditional yet avant-garde. An electric, no, eclectic city that you cannot wait to explore.

On the first day, you take the bus to work. Even at 7 am, it is crowded. Seats that can only accommodate two squeeze four. Sweat patches create map-like patterns on mens’ shirts, and you wonder what destinations await them. Your mind rotates faster than the wheels of the bus.

You get off and take your seat in the office. Two hours into work, you feel a little drowsy. While stretching, you look up and notice something for the first time. The ceiling is shaped like an inverted ice tray. Instead of ice cubes, tube lights are nestled in the hollows, brilliantly lighting up the entire floor.

The days pass faster than you hoped they would. While walking back home, you see the road swelling, like a tide. You are glad you are not another fish entrapped in a net of traffic. You look down and thank your feet.

You turn the key in the lock of a house that is not yours. But still, you hear a familiar click.  Houses, given time, eventually turn to homes.

Reclining on the sofa with a cup of coffee, you run over the events of the day, and soon enough, your eyes close. Your dreams weave a patchwork quilt from your experiences, so when you fall asleep, you are warm and snug. You dream that in this new city, you will encounter a lot more stories.

That can’t wait to be told.