VERSE | BIRDS

I’d become an avid bird lover
Since the pandemic hit my town
Ere I never could relate except
As a beholder looking on

But then this pair of mynahs
Intrepid little things
Well one was bravheart, the other a mass
Of nervous fluttering

Decided that my balcony
Was a good place for some treats
So they would pay me visits
For some raisins and some cheese

I came to home number two
Carrying my avian love with me
Cooing pigeons in all forms
There frequented my balcony

Their rolling gait, their gentle sounds
Quite stole my heart away
And so I wooed them as they cooed
Treat-luring them everyday

By and by the guileful birds
Dropped their adorable avatar
My chairs and tables were endowed
With their organic pockmarks

Now gently I admonish them
When they flap into my home
But they think I’m requesting more
Of their nitrogen-rich guano

I’m now a not so avid fan
Of the expelling, flying flock
My OCD has on my glee quite
Turned back the blessed clock.
The parents had brought their fledgelings to my home a second time. A bit of a soft initiation into the real world 🌸
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NEW BOOK RELEASE | SHIMMERING SCRAPS OF POETRY AND MADNESS

Dear friends and family,

It is with great excitement and pleasure that I introduce my second book for the grownups – my book of poetry and essays titled SHIMMERING SCRAPS OF POETRY AND MADNESS. The book will be available across bookstores in Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the end of December 2022. Friends in SL can currently order it from the Jam Fruit Tree bookstore on Galle Road via call/WhatsApp to 072-7268078.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

This is a collection of poems and essays, humble opinions, rumblings of the heart about the joys, the truths, the pain, the controversies, the funniness and the wonder that criss cross all our lives in one way or another. I have compiled them here because too many times, we are witnesses to profound beauty, love, dreams, desolation, prejudice and injustice and yet, we forget.

The contents of these pages range from the sublime to the ridiculous; from soaring on the wings of ecstacy to struggling with overwhelming despair; from the capricious joys of matrimony to the dubious delights of singledom; from the profound ecstasy in a mug of steaming latte to the ardent disappointment in a less than perfectly brewed cup of tea; from the comedic to the somber and from the customary to the controversial, this collection of poems and features encompasses them all.

Scraps of Poetry and Madness is a phrase borrowed from that literary Wonder Woman, Virginia Woolfe. For in this collection too, there is a stream of raw and strident, passive and ruminative, joyous and grief-bound, mad and glad thoughts that run like a melody through the entirety of its spine; and like a sore-throated bulbul (who also has some good-voice days) I have sung them all for my readers.

VERSE | NATIONAL (S)CARRIER

A bit of a funny ramble about my recent flight from Karachi to Lahore.

I travelled on a plane today 
And felt compelled to write
This verse of my experiences
On PIA’s domestic flight

Let me start with a whinge
The seats have no leg room
Even the petites are overcome
By claustrophobia and doom

The stewards and the stewardesses
Seem like they’ve just had enough
Of meeting, greeting passengers
Their demeanour is kind of rough

But that’s ok, we’re a nation of
Tough minded women and men
And there is a tad more softness
For the elderly and the children

It was a daytime flight, post luncheon-time
So folks had had their meals
Some nodding off with gaping mouths
Others snoring with extra zeal

The plane jerked forward and began
To taxi on the concrete
While the stalls held two or more
Full bladder emergencies

Off we lifted off and then
We climbed up to the clouds
There was a bit of turbulence
There were loud prayers from the devout

As we levelled off the crew
Started on their inflight missions
Soon the plane transformed into
Zubaida’s Desi Kitchen

And of course everyone there
Ate a second meal
Food is integral to our
National look and feel

Soon the air was rent with
Loud belches and with sighs
The pungent vapor wafting ‘tween
The seats and in the aisles

An overhead bin flew open
With a painful, turgid groan
A fit finale to the meal that had
Endowed its own bloat

The icing on the cake was
The toffees on the tray
And our disembarkation
In a half-civilised way

One prevented a stampede
Of desperate humanity
One a choti meethi* offering
For PIA’s eccentricity.
* Choti Meethi: :small and sweet” in Urdu

VERSE | BLUNDER WOMAN

I was in a hurry, in a mad rush 
The morning was crazy, yes one of those
The alarm had belted shrilly out
But I was dead to the world, comatose

Dreaming of wishes being horses and Bookers
Until the clock struck ten and then
I threw off the duvet, leaped out of bed
Limbs all awry like a headless chicken

Here’s a little aside: when I’m stressed
My hair also declares a mutiny
Acts up like it’s the raging heroine
Of its very own show on prime time telly

And so it was in this agitation
That I knocked my elbow on the door
I cursed like a sailor who’s had too much ale-er
Deliriously, frenziedly I swore

I vented as much as a random string
Of choice expletives can enable
The rest of the rage I swallowed away
As virtuously as I was able

Then the ultimate decimation came to pass
I stubbed my wretched left little toe
What chanced to happen in the heat of my passion
You really wouldn’t want to know

Suffice it to say that on that day
The angels filling in my Wicked Gal page
With brimstone, hellfire, the sinfulness of ire
Had a field day, ‘twas their advantage

And so ‘twixt my shoulders and my feet now
A funny bone doesn’t exist at all
I try to be sweet-talking, kind and good
Until the next time I slam, stub or fall.

VERSE | CAUGHT RED-SALAD!

This is my Alice in Wonderland type of journey through my bowl of salad. Some trials (including of the dietary variety) are best undertaken up close and personal! Also thrown in some existential angst for good measure. The title of the piece is a play on the phrase “Caught red-handed”.

I pick my way through little bits
Of bright green, the shade
Of fresh cut grass
I then pass
A scarlet flower the size of my head
It sits on the ground like it’s dead
Or perhaps waiting
Anticipating
Food? Me? Like the Venus flytrap?
I shudder and go on
It agitates me that I’m alone

I look up
There propped
On a frilly green tree
I see
A brown green dome
Velvety on the outside
Is it a temple? A den? A ploy to lull the senses
Full of pretenses
Of warmth and safety
Waiting slyly for unsuspecting prey?
I shiver and go on

I’m borne on fogs
Of peppery wet air
I stop and stare
At uneven bricks of black and white
Stacked haphazardly
Here and there
Are these stairs to heaven? alien art? remains of ritual sacrifice?
I can’t tell … but oh the smell!
As I step through a hole
Soft and pliable, the pong
Makes my eyes water
I falter for a bit
It it a giant fungus? A virus? A disease?
I step through gingerly —

“Good afternoon ma’am. How’s the salad”
I’m startled, awakened from my reverie
I look down at my bowl
Where I had been traipsing
Thumb-nail small
In a fearsome fantasy
That my despairing mind had woven
In garden salad tapestry

Lettuce, tomatoes, olives and cheese
Untouched, unloved, salt-pepper doused
Waiting for a forkful raised to my mouth
Sit patronisingly, self righteously
In the bowl, staring back at me.

VERSE | THE WHINGE

Today has dawned as one of those 
Days that makes me gripe
I sit up in bed thinking of all
The things that I don’t like

It’s useless today to try and be
Tolerant and benign
So here’s an unlovely ode to things
That get on these nerves of mine

I hate early mornings
And tepid cups of tea
I abhor geckos on the wall
Even if they’re nowhere near me

I can’t stand milky coffee
But I cringe when it’s too strong
Too much sugar makes me gag
Too little pulls me down

I so hate the humidity
And what it does to my hair
Like an alien in residence
Waving its million arms in the air

I deplore breaking with the
Predictability of my grind
First my latte, then some work
Then some angst if you don’t mind

But I also hate when twilight sets
On my day off from routine
From the clutches of mundania
Self imposed as that may be

I can’t stomach margarine
For what it does to my intestines
Anaphylactic shock and awe
Are then wholly, soully mine

I can’t stand the loud caws
Of aggressive city crows
Scavenging, ravaging their
Insidious way indoors

But I also dread the day my
Neighbourhood mynahs don’t come by
I don’t care that my avian favouritism
Is then guiltless and alive

On these days I also detest
All our erstwhile politicians
I wish they’d all go and drown
In the tumultuous Indian Ocean

The Arabian Sea just seems
Like a seriously dubious route
They’d go Gulf country visiting
And come right back home to loot

I hate that I hate my life
When my hormones are awry
When everything seems absurd
A frickin’ painful enterprise

Yup, It’s one of those days again
When I’ve woken with a groan
It’s going be 24 hours of
Whinge and hate and moan

VERSE | ICARUS, REALLY?

* ICARUS: One of the most famous tragic figures in Greek mythology, his story highlights the dangers of excessive pride/ fixation. Although he was warned by his father not to fly too high, Icarus became overexcited and flew too close to the sun, causing his wings (made by his father,from feathers and wax) to melt and leading to his untimely death.
This is a bit of satire on the old Greeks of mythology.
There was once a young woman 
She had this special thing
One can’t call it love you see
The Sun was her heart’s king

She’d look up at the sky all day
In spring and then in summer
Winter woes came down in throes
Not seeing him was a bummer

But she’d then glue her sun-sick eyes
Upon the tele-vusion
Watching classics and Sci-Fi
Of beaches and nuclear fusion

(Fission, I admit, is a grander term
But it’s a small explosion
Through staid old Fusion doth the sun
Make Helium from Hydrogen)

One day on her 60th birthday
She’d had it with long distance
She put her crafty hands to work
She wasn’t losing one more instant

She made herself some silver wings
With aluminium and nylon string
And then up to the roof she went
To flap, flap up to her king

It was probably mind over matter that
Got her five feet above the roof
The Sun finally said “Icarus in your 35th
Incarnation, you’re still a goof”.

VERSE | STRANGER THAN FICTION

I look at the book
Have I read it before?
It’s a throng of short stories
My favourite genre
I took it from the shelf
In my own home
So it has to be one of the
For-sure-read tomes
Still, as I glanced
At the back cover blurb
Nothing jumped out
Not a line, not a word
I looked at its front
Multi shades of grey
The image glimmered
In its dusky array

I opened the book
I had to recall
A story, a plot twist
A mystery resolved
In the 267 pages
I held in my hand
So I started reading
Page one, it began:
That day Alisha
Looked up at the sky
The purples and blues
Looked terribly awry …

The rest of the story
Unwrapped itself
As I glanced through page two
Of the book from my shelf
Yes I had read it
The memory crept in
Of ETs and UFOs
And otherworldly things

Of skittering creatures
That had huge heads
Full of insidious plans
To make us all dead
Or not! Even in fiction
They were polite
Giving us choices
Being forthright
Choices! Forthrightness!
Now those are things
That are as alien now as
Well … human beings!
Laughing, I put
The Sci-Fi away
Our own lives were stranger
Than fiction these days

VERSE | A SWEET ENCOUNTER

I looked at her over my coffee mug 
Stealing silent glances
Looking her way
Then looking away
My heart had set up a regular cacophony
As I stared at her secretly
From above the rim of my cup
That I brought to my lips to sip,
The adrenaline instead making me chug
She sat there, serene and beautiful
An ode to perfection itself
Between the gulps I watched and drooled
Oh lord! I felt like such a fool!
I took in a ragged breath
I had to calm myself
I had to let the feeling pass
To wring it, wash it from my heart
I had to fight, wrest my hungry eyes
Off that whetter of fantasies, that queen of delight
That mesmerizing, will-defying Passion Fruit Tart

VERSE | RODS AND CONES

Day breaks and I’m asleep
But I can tell it’s dawn again
The light touches my retina
Through the barrier of my skin
It gently feels its way around
The darkness behind my shuttered lids
Then it sits itself down
Waiting for me to let it in
To start its morning ritual of
Dancing with my rods and cones
The caper sometimes morphs into
A red hot duel that is fought
Electro-impulsively in my brain
Where the battleground is wrought
Or we break into a marathon run
Away, away from every one
Flowing with the adrenaline
Out of the arteries, into the veins
I lead it where it needs to go
Some days we waltz, and on some
We antelope it out the door
Day breaks, I open my eyes to see
I’m wafting, floating into infinity

VERSE | I LURRRVE YOU!

This is for the ladies. Amidst all the funniness abounding in the verse, there is a subtle message of self love and self reliance.

Here’s hoping that we can always read between the literal and figurative noisy lines that may be thrown at us in the name of love. And that our peace of mind and our sense of self worth always supersede other enterprises of the liver (jigar) and the heart!

No offence to my male family, friends and acquaintances - these are truth-telling times!
He said I love you 
Like I have never loved another
I said you’re 48 and you’re still
Looking for that perfect other?

Surely you’ve felt something in that realm
You have walked down lovers lanes
Were you perchance arm in arm
With your tonic and your gin?
And not a woman whom you’d consider
A partner and a friend
No, she was always just a trip
A means towards an end
Each bedecked your evenings out
The “I love yous” that left your lips
Were whispered as sweet nothings
In between your boozy sips
And now you tell me that
You’re in love with me too
Except it’s not your usual form
You don’t know what’s happened to you!
Maybe your three-month romances
Would extend to five with me
But the Shallow Hal* in you, pal
Is still waiting to count to three
And then your extra special
Trademark escape artistry
Will take center stage
It’ll be the same old page
From your book of Love for Free

That day he said I love you
Like I have never loved before
I said dear boy you wouldn’t know true love
If it speared you in your gall bladder
…. and why I am undoubtedly the man of your dreams!”
* Shallow Hal: A 2001 Hollywood Rom-Com in which Hal, a shallow man who only dates attractive women, falls in love with Rosemary, after being hypnotized to see the inner beauty of women, not knowing that she is obese.

VERSE | THE QUIRKS OF WAXING LYRICAL

I thought I’d write a poem today 
For a change, a cheerful one
It seems like my prolific poetry
Is making me the Queen of Glum

It’s not that I don’t see the beauty
The hope and joy that abound
In big and small spaces
In young and old faces
Oh i see it all around!

But I also see life’s glimmer
Fade away, get slowly dimmer
In close and distant places
In fresh and weathered faces
And my own feelings grow grimmer

The angst nudges the bard in me
Unlike any rush of triumph or glee
The words spill out agonised, enraged
In wounded quatrains upon the page
(And I have to say!)
I feel lighter for the venting spree

So I thought I’d write a poem to tell
Whether in fact I am capable
Of verse that won’t assault your tear ducts
Or indeed get your adrenaline up
(What can I say!)
These are the quirks of waxing lyrical