VERSE | OUTSIDE IN

We were talking
About this and that
The conversation meandering
Sometimes off the beaten track
Into more private realms
Reticent spaces holding
Secret reflections, introspection
Ruminations that had rarely seen
The light of day
Hesitating, faltering, we walked along
That path hewn on the cusp of right and wrong
Where perplexing thoughts lay vulnerable, bare
And then we heard the call to prayer

She rose with an alacrity borne of custom
With velvety smooth liquid motions
Like a babbling stream that has
No more reason to be but because
It can flow gliding in its bed of silt and stone
She floated through the ritual
Sure, secure in the discerning eyes
Of her faithful world. On the outside
She had done the needful, the right thing
She came back to our conversation
Her face shining with virtue, beneficence

But now the doors were closed
To the questions that had peeked through
The heavy, opaque veils of tradition and goodness
Back they had sunk into the clenched depths
From which they had inadvertently crept
She looked at me with guarded eyes
Lest I scratch that surface again
Lest she forget what keeps her true and safe

I smiled and she smiled back at me
“Have another cup of tea”
She said bringing the conversation
Back to the glittering streets
Of the daily treads of teeming feet
And I followed, leaving the track
Lit up by mysterious stars and the soul-searching gleam
Of the moon that now shone on our backs.
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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 | STARS

She carried a little bouquet 
Of golden-hearted nargis*
Her face flushed, her eyes bright
She was going to make a gift of them
To someone special.
The bus stop was empty
Save the woman with the flowers
And me. I had my phone in my hand
She sat on the bench waiting
Clutching her bouquet
I stood nearby, holding my phone
Watching her secretly
Trying not to spook her
But she was mesmerizing
In the tender enchantment
That surrounded her

The bus was late
She sat there almost motionlessly, quietly
But the thrum of her joyful energy
Was taken up by the gay bouquet
As it danced gently in the breeze
She wore yellow shalwar kameez*
With little white flowers
Or were they stars?
They were tiny, almost imperceptible
So small I was sure even she wouldn’t know
But they shimmered in her gaiety
She smiled as she adjusted the stems
The flowers bobbed back happily
She sat there like a painting
Full of joy and anticipation

The bus rolled in
Carrying its load of passengers
I lingered a while to see
The recipient of this picture of love
That waited brightly on the seat
Together we watched people alight
People go left and right
Until the last passenger stepped down
I climbed on, slowly, hesitantly
I sat down near a window and looked out
The bouquet now lay inertly on the bench
Its sunny heart wrenched
Where it had been clenched
In the ardent embrace of a pair of hands
Drenching it in the liquid warmth of love

They were stars, not flowers
On her kameez, five-pronged tridents
Piercing, lancing, shattering
The perfection of beautiful things
Hidden, Unbeknownst to her
The fault, I was sure, lay in the stars.
* Nargis: Daffodil

* Shalwar kameez: the long shirt and trousers worn by women in Pakistan and India

VERSE | DIFFERENT

I met her on the internet
We had a little chat
For fifteen or twenty minutes
It wasn’t more than that

The next day at 3pm
I saw my screen light up
There was a message waiting
She had not given up!

I smiled, nay beamed it was
Uplifting and sublime
That this lovely lass could one day
Be a real friend of mine

She had put up a photo
In the app display online
I tended to opt for staid old men
Quoting their pithy lines

The weeks they turned into months
She suggested finally
That we should meet up somewhere
For sandwiches and tea

I was torn, I was in two minds
To go or not to go
I had had some experience
Of dejection and of woe

But she seemed different
Grounded, honest and mature
So I bested my insecurities
Of one score years and four

I walked in early and sat down
I ordered a latte
I waited looking at the door
And then I saw her face

Gleaming, hopeful, expectant
She glanced around the room
Our eyes met for a bit and then
She looked away confused

She lingered for a while before
She glided out of there
With my disillusionment and coffee
I sat in my wheelchair.

VERSE | HIDDEN AWAY

The rain is falling in sheets upon sheets 
Jumping into puddles, skipping over feet
Performing a symphony as it flows
Reaching a crescendo down the street
Where whirlwind eddies and the sidewalk meet

The koi in the pond in the building know
Something is up, they flicker and jump
Out of the water again and again
But the ripples on the surface aren’t enough
To join in the play of the skies above

They don’t feel the glorious downpour
Charge into their silent world thrumming
They swim up and down around and around
Waiting, waiting expecting something
The sensory pleasure of nature dancing

But the koi will float in agitated oblivion
To the playful frolic of the monsoon sky
As it cavorts with all of earth’s creatures
But not with the pond and not with the koi
Our faithful tributes to a world gone awry.

VERSE | BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

It is beautiful, it is powerful 
Draping me like a queen
It is elegant, it is personal
It’s not for you to intervene

How I wear it, when I wear it
Or If I wear it at all
It is not yours to abuse
In your chauvinistic thrall

It is mine to choose and mine alone
If I drape it on one side
An embellishment, an adornment
Not a holy tent for me to hide

I choose if indeed I cover
My head or not at all
Mine to choose mine to use
To wrap around me like a shawl

In the end my garb, my hijab
My dupatta and my scarf
Are not for you to politicise
To legislate on my behalf

It’s mine to choose and mine alone
Not for you to rant and rail
To demonise and brutalise
Scrambling into realms of faith

It’s just free flowing fabric
There’s no honour in my veil
My virtue lies inside of me
And its not your holy grail

Angels never hide their light
They shine in its bright glow
I too choose a life for me where
Im free to thrive and grow

It has always been my choice to make
Not for you nor your most devout
Where I’m radiant and dignified
With my dupatta or indeed without.

VERSE | ADRIFT

I feel the pull
I feel the glimmer
It surrounds me, it’s all around me
I freeze as it coaxes me
Out of the grip of my sanity
I stop struggling
And let it pull me in
I drown
Down, down
In the tsunami gushing
Inside my mind
But only for a breath.

I resurface then
In my other world
My secret one
Where I have no anxiety
Where I don’t want to run
And hide
I’m beside
A swing in the garden
And a rocking chair. I smile.
They both hold the comfort
And the softness of old friends
They rest there quietly.

I sit in the swing
I push with my feet
And peek through the leaves
At the golden-red sky
I can’t see them
But I can hear the birds
I think it is dusk
A velvety glow wraps my world
Golden paisleys and whorls
Dance around my feet
As I sway gently in my seat
Dappled sunlight cloaks
My shoulders like angels wings
As I weave to and fro on the swing

I breathe out, my muscles untense
I’m far away from cause and consequence
No memories, no sorrows
No yesterdays, no tomorrows
It is Now and Now is everything
I lean back
In the swing
She holds me softly
In her cushioning
I close my eyes.
I hear something
Someone is calling me
Voices from far away
But my lids are so heavy
I can’t keep awake
In the tranquil buzz
Of the honey bees
And the gentle murmur
Of the almond trees
Like wraiths the voices fade away

I’m finally home, unbound, pain-free
I lay my head back and sleep.

She’s not here anymore. She’s gone
Adrift in the tangle of her dreams.

VERSE | PARADISE

I have lost the rituals 
Of faith. But my devotion has
Become stronger. I no longer
Am afraid or confused by questions that
Whirl around in my head
Never to be brought into existence
Their very substance damning
Pounding, hammering a path to (h)elsewhere
I now wear a cloak around
My shoulders. It holds a super power
A texture all its own. When I’m alone
It reminds me of who I am.
It fosters my introspection
It champions who I want to be
And then I feel
No other burden of pretense
Or suspense
No fear of consequence
For being so much more
And ritualizing less
I have no dire need to find my
Hallowed steed to gallop on with
Me holding on, bound for paradise.
This life, this blessed life is mine
To treat with such passion
Such tenderness, that earth
Itself becomes the Eden I seek.
My paradise is under my own feet.

VERSE | SENTINEL TIME

Oh look at that beautiful dragonfly 
It’s turning somersaults
It’s peacock coloured gossamer wings
Perfect; without fault!
But you didn’t catch the fleeting glimpse
It bestowed upon this scene
You were on your phone lost in
Digital worlds upon your screen

Did you see that butterfly
Just sit upon my arm
Brown and orange-yellow wings
It was full of golden charm!
You missed its quickening beauty
As it said hello and went
You were caught in your own loop
Eyes down, heart still, head bent

I had to hold my breath there
That scene was so sublime
The grand eagle swooping down
And then soaring back up high!
Where, where? you ask me now
As you look at an empty sky
You were fretting, agitating
As nature sprang her wondrous surprise

Glittering dragonflies, murmurations
Eagles in majestic flight
A shower of blossoms, a ladybird loveliness
Nature exulting in life
Magical, mystical, shimmering marvels
Surround us at all times
Some of us get to revel in their beauty
Some stay trapped by Sentinel Time

VERSE | THE ROSE

I looked in rapture at the rose 
As it waxed in the sun
A bold and brilliant orange
In its emerald column

It was absolutely perfect!
Its beauty was sublime
There was little reason
In the soil to bide its time

I felt a maddening urge
To pluck it off its stem
To put it in a vase
To covet that lovely gem

The sunset-coloured rose
Would glorify my room
The garden would do without
This one splendid bloom

The yen turned to despair
That rose I had to have
And so the stem that held the bloom
Felt the force of my bare hands

The break, it was not clean
Nor did it cleave in two
The stem that bore the rose
From the part that bore the roots

The rose hung limply down now
Its head grazing the ground
Its petals seemed to fold in
As it moaned without a sound

I watched its resplendence
Its spirit and its mirth
Flow out of it bit by bit
Back into mother earth

A lancing stab came tearing in
Somewhere around my heart
I had mauled and ravaged
Nature’s precious art

I can still see the rose
As it lay waning in the sun
Like a little cut that never heals
The memory of it still thrums.

VERSE | THE SHIFT

I feel it shifting 
The air around me
It hums a new dirge
In the rustle of the trees

It wafts through copses
Of almond and neem
Fraught with scent-memories
Right out of my dreams

The Earth wears a glimmer
Like it’s pulled out taut
Resplendent, kinetic
Like a tiger just caught

I feel her eyes bore
Deep into my soul
Flecked with vermilion
Full of phantoms and ghouls

I feel her hot breast
As she holds me close
Pulsing, convulsing
Her lifeblood in throes

I hear it sometimes
Her seized-seismic sigh
It thrums in my head
Like death’s lullaby

VERSE | JUST ANOTHER FAIRYTALE

… Only because more and more it seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from its rotting, pestilential tree. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I’m hoping that a handful of the sons and daughters are at least questioning the political and entrepreneurial legacy they are inheriting from their thieving, deceiving, mobster parents and grandparents. But then I also think, who am I kidding! Still, here’s a verse which is probably farce by its very idealism.

I look at the statement 
That I have received
At the burgeoning wealth
In my off-shore company
I revel in the fact
That I’ve paid zero tax
To the exchequer of my home country.
“Remember your legacy and your roots”
I always say to my progeny
They will of course some day
Fill my stompingly ample boots

I see the smirk
On my son’s face
It always gets to me
In some weird way
“I’m involved in this
Complex enterprise
Always walking
On the edge of a knife!
For your sister and you
So get on the same page!
Boy, this churlishness
Is not a good look!
Show some gratitude!”
I thunder and rage

“You’re stealing from people
In thieving hoardes
Tradition and Legacy
Are just hollow words
If this is my ethos,
Why does it reek
Of insult, deception
Of sly treachery
I don’t want these roots
No, no thank you
These gnarled and twisted
Tendrils of greed!”
He looks at me
With storms in his eyes
Intimidating me
Cutting me down to size

He looks at the statement
That he has received
Of the plundered millions
In his off-shore company
He holds it gently
Almost reverently
Even as he upbraids
And tongue-lashes me
He now stares me down
I have to look away
But at least I found the courage
To finally have my say