Where do you lie?
Where do you not?
You are the hesitation in my step
The boldness in my raised head
The indented half moons on my palm when my nails dig in a shade too deep
The worry in my voice
The plaintive cry of the muezzin
The sky silhouetting the towers of the mosque
You are every bird that flies across that vast expanse
You are the call of the bird, dying into the evening sky
You swish between my toes as wanton waves
Sing in my blood and lift my senses
You are the half-formed thought of an early morning
The gush of a river as she crashes against rocks
The poetic sheen on a drop of dew
Everywhere I feel you
You run, always a step ahead of me
Always out of reach, yet tantalizingly close
Like a scream in the stillness of a mid-morning
A sudden moment of quiet in a crowded bazaar
The half-arrested gaze of strangers fearful of intimacy
When they ask me where you are
What shall I tell them, where shall I begin?
How shall I teach them to hear with the eyes, taste with their ears? What can I teach them what it is to feel beyond the senses?
And so they will condemn me to a life beneath other lives
They will call me insane, mad, a fool
But let them, I cannot bring myself to care
For every moment there is a moment lost from the pursuit of you
You who widen my eyes in a moment of surprise
You who fire my imagination
You who have no name

– Cry of a madwoman


The Seven Stages

The craftsman stood in front of his workshop, under the colourful banner that announced his name and profession to customers. It was a fine morning. He would create something new today, he thought.

He set out to make something with the fresh clay…

In the beginning there was the new; freshness, innocence, every day an adventure. Stumbling, falling, rising, curiosity followed everything everywhere and fed on every experience, small or big. Laughter bubbled up every once in a while, tears appeared just as often, petulance reared its head and the base of it all there was a contentment and peace that would soon falter and then vanish altogether. But there was time yet.

… he moulded it gently, beginning to give it direction…

Curiosity intensified into a grave quest in right earnest and innocence began to give way slowly to knowledge of the world and its ways. The brightness dimmed just a little and a certainty began to take its place. Selfishness reigned. The laughter came less frequently and petulance transformed into temper. There was a transformation taking place.

… and when he was satisfied it was hardening, he began to use strength; carving and embossing…

Intelligence dominated now in thought and word and deed. Suddenly, passionate love bloomed – rich, sharp,  ripe, fragrant, painful. New highs and lows appeared where a placid graph had stood before. Pain such as never had been seen alternated with ecstasy. Desire warred with caution and won hands down. Towards the end, wisdom began to form. Compassion reared its head and began nudging selfishness out.

…pleased with its form and shape, he raised the pot to the sun and the rays illuminated its perfection…

Compassion fuelled action now. Desire burgeoned into a steady affection. Intelligence had ripened almost fully to wisdom, and elsewhere self awareness was giving slow, sure birth to humility. A larger vista opened up. Regret coloured memories of the past and its squandered opportunities that had never been recognized. 

…he filled it with water and began watering tree upon tree on the dusty stretch of road; and lo! the pot served its purpose ably

Energy rose out of regret, strong and purposeful and filled the vacuum of all the wasted years. Direction married experience and hindsight and the result was pure magic: achievement! Surely this had been the purpose, the ideal – to transform crystallized ideas into concrete victories.
This then was the zenith, and it would last a few glorious years.

…until one day, many years later, a crack appeared in the side of the pot – and despite his efforts began to widen slowly…

In due course, tiredness began to set in. Aches and weariness became par for the course and action was no longer the easy matter of routine that it had been. Wisdom was now as fine wine, cooling the parched young desire-fuelled minds of all that reached for it. A certain premonition of finality was beginning to descend, and with it brought about the surprising return of a kind of innocence.

…and one morning, the pot cracked whole and shattered to the ground, spilling its last load of water.

The end was inevitable and come it did, with infirmity and inability. It was not sudden, but when it appeared it conquered immediately. In the last few moments before the end, everything played in a quick dance – curiosity, laughter, anger, intelligence, desire, love, affection, realization, wisdom, action, satisfaction, tiredness, infirmity, the return of innocence. And then – the end.

The craftsman examined the remains of the pot sadly, and then buried them. Idly he wondered what he would have called this one… and settled on ‘Life’. Yes, he liked the sound of that. This had been a good thing, this ‘life’, though there had been mistakes. Perhaps he would create some more. After all, it was a fine morning. Ideas humming through his mind, he walked into his workshop. Outside, the colourful banner continued to wave aloft, announcing its owner to be
Creator and Craftsman.
No two products alike.

The Race

He ran like a madman.

Fear propelled him forward like a second pair of legs, like wings he did not know he had until they unfolded and swept him down the road. His breath came in short gasps. His forehead was beaded with sweat, the cold caused his legs to itch.

He strained to hear footsteps, but beyond the pounding of blood in his ears, it was heard to hear anything any more. Would they catch up?

He redoubled his speed. At this pace, it seemed hard to say if he could have stopped even if he wanted to.

He would have to outrun the enemy.

And so he ran




What seemed like a decade later, when he could no longer run without a break, when the desire for rest fought with the desire to race and won, he slowed down and then stopped. Almost too scared to look, he turned around…


No one.

The road was empty. Relief coursed through his system, left him weak.

None of his friends or colleagues raced down the road – or at any rate, they were certainly not close behind. In the distance, there may or may not have been the sound of pattering footsteps, but if so they were reassuringly faint and distant.

By the time time they caught up (and God forbid they should!) he would be on the run again. He was ahead. He needed to be ahead.

Belatedly, as his breath settled, he searched for his parents, but they seemed to have fallen by the wayside at some point. He could barely remember them anyway, beyond vague memories – two pairs of old fashioned spectacles, faded cotton, starched shirts, worried expressions. He did not have the luxury of time to invest in love.

For a moment, childhood memories threatened to close in – but the sound of footsteps closing in took precedence. Fear lit his eyes once more, turning them pitch black and he began to run again.


Tired legs carried him forward, ambition fueled them. Slowly he gained speed.

In a few moments, beyond the curve in the road, he could be seen no more.



Somewhere in the stretch of grey road behind him, a pair of old-fashioned spectacles lay wedged into the side of the road, cracked lenses glinting in the sudden moonlight.

And then darkness closed in.


How in the world am I to focus on paying bills and the monthly EMI, on vacuuming the house and scrubbing the floors, when ahead of me in glorious abandon the wide, wide world beckons? What chance does a fused light bulb have of snaring my attention when there is a magpie cocking his head in one direction and chattering an invitation? Why must I add and subtract numbers and memorize sub-sections of the law when there is rich poetry begging to be written, pregnant with meaning? Can a tallied balance sheet offer a tithe of the emotion of an exquisitely crafted movie? 

Why does this world offer me beauty and creativity and weave a blanket of passion and madness around me, and then force me to look away from it all and into the narrow, nauseatingly perfect columns of an excel sheet? Why does art force me to earn my keep before I can surrender myself to it? How ironic is the fact that in order to get away from the small worries of every day life and paint my soul in joyous liberation, I must first have the wherewithal to buy an easel, brushes in multiple sizes and six tubs of paint!

On your forehead

Beautiful. Pretty. Skinny. Ugly. Sensitive. Touchy. Painful. Talkative. Elegant. Snobbish. Weird. Bitchy. Cool. Uncool. Likeable. Irritating. Hindu. Muslim. Sikh. Christian. Brahmin. Non-Brahmin. Religious. Atheist. Agnostic. Tree hugger. Slut. Chaste. Conservative. Traditional. Ambitious. Laidback. Modern. Cheap. Dirty. Friendly. Stiff. Shy. Introvert. Extrovert. Middle class. Old money. Poor kid. Rich kid. Fashion plate. Shabby. Mannerless. Bright. Plodding. Studious. Dull.

Amazing how well some people seem to know to describe you, when you are barely figuring yourself out each day.

Too many labels.
Only one you.

Good or bad, flattering or not, don’t let the labels get to you.

If you do, you’re finished.

Just be.

P and Q (and me and you, and so on)

Q storms back home in a rage.
“I told her she’s a bitch”, he says. “Total bitch.”

What happened?
“We had an argument.”

“I know, right! She can’t keep her mouth shut. Well, neither can I. Who cares if she lives or dies…”

That’s a bit extreme, no?
“P, what IS wrong with you, ya! Can’t you understand we had an argument and she was wrong!”

Q, you know what, P says gravely. There’s something you don’t know about her.
“What?” Still aggressive, still I-don’t-care.

Tell me, would you feel the same way if I told you she could die any minute? It’s rather uncertain…

“No way! For real?”
Really. Apparently, there’s no guarantee she’ll make it for a week, even a day or two. The verdict is sort of  like, good if she lasts as long as she lasts, but don’t expect her to live a long life necessarily.

“Shit! How, when, whaaa-”
Oh, for a while now! I thought you knew, says P and goes back to washing a tea cup.

“But what is it? What does she have?” Genuine shock. Repercussions hitting home. Regret. “And why didn’t someone tell me this well in advance?! Holy crap… SHIT man. I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have said any of it. You, P! Why didn’t you tell me?!!”

But you already know that, Q.
“No I did not too! How in hell was I supposed to know she could DIE any day?”

Because so can you. And so can I. And, therefore, so can she. Life, it seems, does not come with a guarantee card for X years.
No, don’t scoff, Q… or R or whoever you are. Never scoff at the truth.
Life is a bit unpredictable that way, meri jaan. And the basic facts we learnt back in childhood? Pretty damn true. This minute could be just about anyone’s last. It’s a game of chance and no one volunteers to die NOW, so we all drew straws. And ours say we didn’t have to go yesterday, so we’re around today.
What this does NOT mean is that we’ll be around tomorrow for sure.
This is true of her (the one you argued with yesterday), him (the one you’re always telling yourself you should call, but keep putting off) and him, her, her, him and him (all the people you mean to say sorry to, thank, gift something to, hug, have a beer with, travel to Africa with. Every last one of them.
What this does also NOT mean is that you should give all you have away and anticipate death any second. But live with no regrets – or at least as few as humanly possible. That’s good enough… that seems to be tough enough.
Tomorrow is a bit choosy and temperamental. May arrive. May not arrive.
… Go on, stop reading this and go do whatever you’ve always been planning to. Oh, and do it TODAY.

On respect

(I’d posted this on facebook a while ago, and then hurriedly remembered that I have a blog. Sigh.)

I had a conversation with my mother this morning about various things – like all mothers and daughters do – ranging from cooking, to how husbands are incorrigible, to the prices of everything to eventually life itself. At some point, we discussed the value of respect as a value. It led to me thinking about respect and its changing importance for different generations.

When I grew up, some of us (not all) learnt to respect. Not obey or fear, but to respect. We respected our parents because it was incomprehensible to us why two people on the cusp of life would seemingly sacrifice so much – sacrifice their days to dirty little hands and clearing up toys; sacrifice their nights to crying babies; sacrifice their hard earned salaries to indulge as many childlike whims and fancies as they could and provide a solid education, indeed the best they could provide; sacrifice their peace of mind for parenthood.

We learn to respect teachers as surrogate parents, not because they always knew best but because they gave us the gift of knowledge. Even while we complained bitterly of ruthless teachers claiming every extra period available and snatching away games period (that most unforgivable of crimes!) somewhere deep down we knew the dedication and commitment that spurred each teacher to reach out beyond the call of duty and spend even further time looking at our at-best accusing faces to teach us as much as they could. Come to think of it, what’s to stop a teacher from saying “Well, that’s about it, I’ll leave you to die with the rest of the portion” and not insist on “I’m taking this period, and this one, and this one – all so I can finish this chapter though it doesn’t affect my variable pay in the least”? A teacher’s compliment was, and is, for some of us the Holy Grail and we would fly home from school on imagined winged horses that day, flush with joy, repeating the exact phrase or words to ourselves and yell it to our mothers as soon as we reached home – “Amma, miss said my essay was ‘very well written’!”

We learned to respect age – not to agree with everything it said or to sacrifice our views or principles – but because with that age must have come a wealth of experience -and experience is always worth listening to, even if not heeded all the time. We spent a few extra minutes listening to old people and their reminiscing, cribbing mentally but outwardly respectful.

Some of us, we’re none the worse for having respected. We’re none the worse for having bowed, folded our hands, smiled respectfully, lent an ear to the experience someone older, for trying (if not always succeeding) to treat the watchman, the ayah or the beggar with as much respect as would treat influence, power and wealth.

I had a very old tuition master once, a wizened old man with a joyous smile and very set ways of doing everything. Every day when I was fourteen, I would visit him and sit learning math – or his version of math that used to be taught twenty years before then. He had been a Maths teacher decades previously and sorely missed teaching eager classes. He did not know that math had advanced sufficiently for his teaching to be outdated now. His simple pleasure in solving a problem for me in his favourite purple ink was infectious. For a long time I visited him every evening and he looked forward to my visits, starting with familiar comments on what I was wearing (“Why is your nail polish not red? Red is the only colour nail polish should come in!”) and winding up with “Have you understood, girl?” (after having taught me the same problem as he had last week). Eventually, many months later, I rebelled and moved to another tuition class where my grades improved significantly. But somewhere deep down, I feel guilty even today thinking about his shocked and very let-down face when my father and I told him we would not come over again. No, my decision to get better tuition was not wrong, but I could have gone over simply twice a month to spend time with him, to let him teach me whatever he wanted to, to give him the pleasure of being a teacher again. I had the time, but my impatient youth did not have the consideration or thoughtfulness.

Sometimes, experiences in life are not about ‘us’ – they are not about whether WE want to go to drawing class or whether WE care to spend Sunday afternoons with an aged aunt. They are about the other person, that rare entity we barely pause to think about. They are about an old man’s dedication to catch a bus to and fro at the age of eighty five and teach you drawing and sketching every day. They are about a wrinkled, tired old lady’s pleasure in having a listener and reminiscing about her youth and beauty at a time when life is about to sing its swansong. These are experiences which life is throwing at you to see what we do with them – some of us welcome them with grace, some of us jeer and pass on.

And yet life throws still more experiences at us generously. I for one am learning (however late) to treat them with more maturity and grace, to respect people and experiences. One thing is for sure – I have never regretted the journey.