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Silve’red’

silvered

 

Just like that, I’d outgrown the hood that once trailed behind me like a cape. Grandma insisted upon my wearing it every time I went to visit, for her house was deep in the woods and she didn’t trust the ways of the wilderness. “If you get lost, Little Red, all the better to find you with.” Twirling in front of the mirror, the cloak is now a mere scarf. I don’t know how to tell Grandma that I cannot curb my hunger; that I cannot stop myself from growing. And that I simply cannot wear this ludicrous cape anymore. Outside, the moon is full and heavy; hanging like a ripe cashew. I salivate.

My sister and I help ourselves to dinner gone long cold – Mother is never at home, I cannot remember the last time we shared a meal together as family. As I sit down, I hear a rip loud enough to wake the neighbors. I’d torn another one of my pants. Most of my clothes had holes in them, which were now too large to be sewn back together. “Are you on steroids? You seem to grow every second.” My sister asks me skeptically, adjusting her hat, pulling it below her eyes. I don’t get her strange obsession with wearing a hat off late, even indoors. Whenever I ask her about it, she just shrugs mysteriously. “Grandma will stitch it back when we go see her this weekend.” I growl. At the mention of Grandma my sister freezes, and her slate-grey eyes fix upon the hearth in a deathly stare. Grandma has made it ample clear that I am her unrivalled favorite; and when she speaks to her she pretends as though she is addressing an invisible audience in a theatre. That is what my sister is to Grandma: invisible.

I distinctly remember how once, long ago, Grandma told me, “When I held your sister in my arms for the first time, she didn’t cry lustily like you did, Little Red. My, what a ruckus you made. I positively knew red was your color then. But she…she stared back at me coldly, with those grey eyes of hers. I cannot stand to look at them even today. Give me the heebie-jeebies, those eyes.” It was true then, it is true now. If you ever pass my sister you will feel a coldness wash over you like a lazy tide, to never feel quite dry afterwards. If I am red, my sister is silver – cold and heavy, swirling around you like a fog that won’t quite lift.

Needless to say, my sister and I share a tense relationship, stemming in large part, from Grandma’s prejudice. But now is not the time to address this growng divide. Tonight is for the outdoors; I cannot resist the deep tug of the low moon. After my sister is asleep, I set off into the night, the moonlight piercing through my formidable figure in dirty yellow beams. The woods are all too familiar now; I know every bristle, every bramble. Stopping right outside Grandma’s cottage, I forget to knock. Instead, my nails scratch the door excitedly. “Who is it?” mumbles a voice from within. Grandma’s voice sounds warm and thick and filled with the promise of sleep. “It’s me, Grandma,” I say, my breathing shallow, my voice coarse. “Little Red! Why are you not in bed?” says Grandma unlatching the door.

She stares at me in wonder. “Look how you’ve grown, Little Red, and my, what big teeth…”

I must say I did a thorough job, and when I head back it is cold, so cold that my bones rattle inside me. Not just my bones, but also Grandma’s. I left the scarf behind at her doorstep, but true to my name, I continue to see red through my bloodshot eyes.

Because I am so preoccupied with my own changes, it takes me a while to notice them in my sister. She refuses to take off her hat, a now permanent fixture upon her head. I am dying to know what her hair looks like beneath it, for I cannot remember. She does not look in the mirror, as if she is afraid of her own reflection. I know I am no match for her cunningness, and she will soon know about Grandma.

“She was old. She had to go,” I say quietly, almost feebly. We are outside Grandma’s house. My sister is shaking with rage, and the silver moon quivers with her. “You are so selfish! You won Grandma’s affection, but you didn’t give me the chance to destroy it!” So saying, she flings her hat to the ground, her hair springing out in wild curls. I shrink in horror when I realize they are not curls at all, but hissing serpents, twisting and coiling from her head.
My sister, Medusa.

I cannot bring myself to look at her, so I glance at the moon instead, awaiting my imminent transformation. Before she reaches out to grab my face and meet her gaze, I leap back, full wolf, summoning my lupine strength to take a swipe at my terrible, beautiful sister. My claws slash her skin, just as her eyes rise to meet mine. One final time. But when I turn to stone, it’s she who howls.

 

 

 

 

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Nostalgia

halfmoon-56e1bb3d3df78c5ba056a19f

 

After all these years
The familiarity stuns me.
I catch a glimpse of you through
My car window: your confident gait,
Near swagger – the jab of a dagger
Into my memory that can’t forget.
Sharp. No blood.

News travels fast in a small town
And soon we are sitting beside each other
Unconsciously tracing fingers over our names
Etched deep into the old wood of
That bar table – back when we displaced
Self-harm attempts onto furniture.
We were 18 then.

At night when our lips kiss
The warmth doesn’t quite spread
To my toes. From over your
Cold shoulder I can see the moon
Dousing the fire we once possessed.
I step back to realise that even our ashes
Are icy.

Nostalgia whistles through the hollows
Of my flute of a heart – making
Melodies, chimes of sadness.
We speak in sorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Zookeeper

 

supermoon_birds_3455359b

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

alumkadavu-boatman-01.jpg

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