Bougainvillae

Nobuyoshi Araki 4

As it starts to rain, I draw the curtains
My world now covered in the saddest blue of Indian Railways
My body wrapped in a blanket that still smells of
Someone I used to love, then hate, and then love again

I have decided to stay, here, curled up in my berth
I feel safe now, from my comatose city
And although trains are no place to live
There are a place
With windows and soup
And people who sleep on time
And time that never sleeps
And lonely men with dying phones
Wanting to exchange seats
suffering from old parents, slip disks or young kids
And then in turn the wives offer
Questions I have no answers to
“Would you like a banana?”, “What are you doing?”
“Where is your home?”,  “Where are you going?”

I have a cigarette refusing to light
the darkness of a bathroom vent
And in this black I am surrounded by faces
Of people I’ve found and then lost,
Some to death, some to a beautiful fight
And through the cracks they left in my heart
I have supplied my own light
I’ve found my fire
Right next to the door
Where a man jumped to death
After he’d had too much soup
“But the soup’s allright”
I hear the bride in the side berth say
And order her third cup for the night
That ought to put a stop to this madness,
she whispers to her husband
who looks like he’s had too much for one life

“We ought to put a stop to this madness”,
I hear her voice message on my phone
From a long time ago
Memories come to me like a fever
Of women I used to make soup for
Hot and sour nostalgia
In my time machine heart
All I wanted then was to dream about
All the beds I spent this year’s nights on
With all those women, and all those cats (mostly cats)
But God is snoring in the first class compartment
And in his dreams I can hear my cats purring with ecstacy
And my women screaming his name
I’m going to avenge my god
By stealing his nicotine patches
And leaving him my poems

Now the bride in the side berth
Is singing a sad lullaby to no-one in particular
About a woman stuck in a train to nowhere
Her voice is low and raspy, like a lonely movie star
It reminds me of a place
Somewhere between Delhi and Calcutta
flooding with bougainvillea
I tried to think of something else, but
I came five minutes ago
Sucked in by melancholia
And now my berth smells of something
vaguely between soup and bougainvillea

Sometime around midnight I have
Mastered the art of killing time
As for lessons in forgetting
I’m done with the women (not my cats, yet)
How I wish time was a rabbit
Easy to crush, tender to taste
But it’s wild, growing on the edges of my seat
Dripping on my window sill, just outside my reach
And as dawn crushed the colours of an unknown station
It was still raining outside, but cold on my seat
And I was still between places
Between women, between cats
Between who I was,
And who I could be.
Between.

And while I was there, an answer came to me
Maybe Home was a time, not a place,
Filled with cats,
Flooding with bougainvillae.

My Organic Romance

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I met this girl at the grocery store

while shopping for Christmas

Wrapped in cheap toilet paper

and abundance of cat food

I was sulking at the pompousness

of organic honey on the organic shelf

she asked, have you ever been happy

The question threw me off

Like a clown thrown in a court room

I grabbed the slipping toilet paper

and hid it behind packets of cigarettes

the fragility of impressions now secured,

I thought about the year’s highlights

A storm rose in the climate of my eyes

I’ve been angry, I said

The only thing that was never inspired

neither borrowed nor stolen

From books or lovers or abusive mothers

Happiness is dull, like my father’s shampoo

Safe, unassuming, clinical in it’s purpose

I could feel her burning stare

The kind of look that makes you feel

Like drowning in the whirlpool of a woman’s body

or atleast trying organic honey

But luckily I’d been a floater for a while

butterflying on lakes and municipality pools

Give it a chance, she whispered after a while

Write about singing in the snow

Sing about writing love songs

Love like it’s going to last forever

And last forever,

Like the Milky Way,

Like the Lochness Monster,

Like the Indian Ocean

Like organic honey!

With that performance, she left

pausing only at the vegan shelf

And like always,

All I wanted,

Was to last just a little more

Than I lasted.

************************ photograph by Brassai********************

New Year’s Eve / Time is a lie

Nan-Goldin.-French-Chris-at-the-Drive-in-New-Jersey-1979.-©-Nan-Goldin-courtesy-Matthew-Marks-Gallery-New-York

I hate parties
that end next year
and houses that burn
with promises and
resolutions doused
with cocktails named after
actors and saints or
sex on airplanes
I’m laughing in a corner
fighting my way through
slithering bodies / snake charmers
embraces that seem invincible
kisses that seem infinite
I’m laughing on the ledge
looking at the fireworks
If only they knew
Time is a lie
I was sent here by a friend
who’s drowning in somebody’s face now
their tongues swirling like a cyclone
that is now complete
I get up for a refill
trying to keep the chicken in
that god set free in my intestines
(Hallelujah!)
Mary pours me a double
says Jesus is away
It’s been a busy night
for gods and monsters
I know better so I walk away
If only she knew
It’s a thin line
between gods and monsters
plus i’ve done this way too many times
life conversations with the girl at the bar
the shine in her eyes, the broken star
all she wants is a girl
and a house in green park
And she promises she has a plan
this year she’s done with falling apart
if only she knew by now its too late
for a house, a conversation or a new start
Anyway, eventually, midnight crawls in
like a man that’s impossible to surprise
and the crowd screams
and the bottles pop
some skirts were torn
some fingers were locked
now I’m drunk in a crowd of vampires
and fake fin mermaids
and it’s hard to remember
which year I am in
and it’s hard to remember
if time is a li(n)e

photograph – New York by Nan Goldin

Remembering, Remembering.

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What becomes of youth? Where does it go? I can’t stand to look at old pictures. I’m going to bury them deep in my hard disk because I can’t stand to lose them either. Such beautiful pictures. Old, and full of years. I don’t know how to remember you, I’m so terribly confused.

The last few years are such a blur, how our faces have changed. I couldn’t bring myself to accept the fact that time is linear and age it’s loyal ally. That the years had lined themselves up on your face, marking little bruises of victory on your body like a forsaken lover. But in the end with all the wrinkles and bones, I only remember the glow, pure as snow. Did I tell you you were stunning ? You reminded me of mangoes, of an old TV Set, of old comics, of home. I was always prepared for this moment, but I feel so restless now. Cold walls and bricks of mortar and all the air conditioning in the world can’t keep down my flaming heart. You know how they say, a body is just a box? I’m going to pretend you’re getting a new one. Facebook me.

” What films do I make? What eulogies should I write? What portraits should I save? Word and colours and songs are defeated by time. Time has won. Now, let me run, faster than horses of lightening, so that my life is a blur, and I catch up to everyone I’ve lost to time. Send me the spaceship newton promised. Give me back my time.”

See you on the other side, with him, and our german shepherd.

xx

A time for you.

yoko

There will be a time, when you’re not alone at 3:47 am in the night. There will be a time when you’ll kiss with open eyes.  And a time for dreams to come true, and eyes to light up when you speak. There will be a time my friend, for love and victory. A time for friends with easy hearts, and teachers with sound minds. A time to fill endless nights with the songs you wrote in the endless nights. There will be a time for dark circles to fill up with light and stretch marks to go climbing mountains. A time for a long swim in the cool arms of an unending ocean. There will be a time to create, and a time to create something truly extraordinary. There will be a time for brilliance, and then some time for exhilaration. Then there will be a time, for the time. And in that time, time will cease to exist. And then you’d open your eyes and realise, there was a time for you. And there will be, a time.


For the photograph, see Fukase’s “The art of losing love.” For the inspiration behind this piece, read The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Garden on Silence

IkkoNarahara_GardenonSilence_1958-1977

And then what’s the point,

you great, grandiose piece of myth.

 What’s the point of you

shining like a diamond,

spitting like a volcano,

sweeping us across in waves of hope.

No, god needs not me,

No, nor my faith neither.

Long live my loyal gin,

musk of my mirth.

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The photograph is a work of Ikko Narrahara titled ‘garden of slience’. You can check out more of his work here.

The Five Minute Knight

                                                  tomatsu

Yes, if I’m being totally honest with myself- i’m scared of connections. There she was staring right into my eyes and there it was; a heavy lump in my throat stuck right in the highway to my heart. I would look up occasionally and it was as if I was staring into a deep, infinite pool where a glitter of interest floated up once in a while. Eventually she gave up too. Since that day, she would talk to me staring at my hair. So I grew my hair long and bought the most ridiculously priced hair wax so that they would stick to my head and flow down my eyes. We had nothing in common, I told myself. She restores monuments and I write stories. Well, if you thought about it objectively – we had a lot in common. We both took on to something hopeless and fell in love with it. We spent years repainting it, rebuilding it. Brick by brick we gave birth to a new kind of old- and it destroyed us eventually. So you see, when I looked into her eyes while ordering my coffee, I did not just see a pool. I saw us dancing in the deep end – wearing tinted sunglasses we’d bought on a flash sale. Listening to some hipster music youtube had so gratefully picked for us that afternoon. Flapping our fins to pink champagne. Talking about my next story and our plans or rather the lack of them. Then colliding in an embrace to shame the most horrific car crashes. And in that image, strangely, I remember not remembering how to swim. And then there are whirlpools and waves and bubbles and sentences that were meant to come out but got caught in that lump stuck in my throat. And so- I’m afraid of connections.  My heart calls out for a swimming lesson but words wander, like they tend to, when fear does it’s dance. And hence, I was proclaimed the master of five minute affairs and a connoisseur of solid half hour friendships. 

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Note: The above photograph is a part of a collection by Shomei Tomatsu ; one of the most influential Japanese photographers of all time. Check more of his work here.

Forgetting Ms. Z.

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For some days I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up late, hold my breath  and find something menial to think about for the rest of the night. That day I was contemplating whether the government should ban smoking in auto rickshaws. The thought had been nagging me for a while now.  While returning from the chemist after buying my Xanax, I would smoke a couple in the auto just in case. It was the only time I saw myself from the outside; from the eyes of the auto driver, the passing mothers, the eunuchs under the flyover, and the old guard of my colony. Sometimes I would see Ms. Z sitting next to me in the auto, sharing a drag, running her fingers behind my ears, laughing. It was easy to admire her until she laughed- then it got a little more serious. It was the kind of laughter that opened you up. When she laughed, a small line would trace her smile back to her eyes and they would light up, like a river in moonlight. I had caught her laughter; it was something she had left in me, something that would live on long after I’m gone – in my children, in women I would love. That way, I would never really lose Ms. Z.

With that thought I would often throw away my unfinished cigarette and pop a Xanax. After a couple of hours, that familiar feeling of plastic euphoria would creep up under my skin. Then, I would proceed to write songs. I must have written about six hundred songs in those three months- but they all had the same chords. G, D, A. I would be G – smiling. Ms. Z would be D- laughing. And A- that was the xanax ; a threesome I’d have over and over and over again until my fingers would curl up into fists and my songs would punch my guitar, my bed, my shirt into the stretching night.  I imagined they would chase this winter night to the vast skyline on the highway to mars. At three a.m, when I would finish performing Ms. Z’s song that auto would stop near a tungsten star and Ms. Z would be there, clapping stardust onto my naked body, laughing. The day that star dissolves into these nights of rum fuelled regulars and smoking limos, I will stop writing songs for you, Ms. Z. That day I’d pick up my guitar and make a grand fire out of  anything and everything that burns ; all your cards pasted with birthday lilies and all my shirts pasted with your scent. I’d let go. I would change the way I laugh. And then maybe I could learn to sleep again.

Note: The above photograph is a work by American photographer Richard Tuschman who turns Edward Hopper’s paintings into photographs. See more at http://www.fubiz.net/en/2014/01/22/composite-photography-inspired-by-edward-hopper

The Magician who was buried alive

Around last month, I got a couple of e-mails asking me to put up some more excerpts from the supposedly in-progress book that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. The reason I delayed this was because I felt everything was just so scattered- tiny little pieces of something floating around missing a form. But tonight as I was reading this particular chapter, I thought, oh well..magic doesn’t need a form now, does it? Here’s another chapter guys. Dig in.


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magician who was buried alive *

There was a soul. It glowed in apprehension of things to come, spitting tiny emoticons into the eyes.There was a heart. It beat itself silly for the flutter of eyelashes and strawberry lips. There was a brain. It thought and thought. And then there were none.

She was gone. Every time the hot water touched my skin; I felt a tingling sensation of loss, like little specks of my soul sizzling into the steam. A hot shower always gave me temporary dementia. I couldn’t recall names or faces, only sensations. There was no Ms. Z anymore, no tiger and no girl with the golden locks. Where was my father? My mother? The caravan of stooping servants? There was no home either. Where was I from anyway? I remembered a temple somewhere on a steep hill where little puppies followed me till the very top and then watched as I laid down in front of my black god.

Who was that deity? What was the trishul for? What was the serpent doing on his neck? Did it consume my memories?

I turned off the shower and watched the water trickle and bubble on the floor. Drop by drop it moved though the tiny foams and lather inside the drain head.  I wondered if the small hilly town was on the other side. I dived in.

Bells were ringing, chimes and chants could be heard if you strained your ears really hard. And the temple could be seen at the pinnacle of a thousand steps. A red flag flowing on top of a triangle. My mother was there, but in shadows. Now and then I tried to look up to the thin, frail figure wobbling up the broken rocks, but I couldn’t see her face. Soon we were halfway there, marked by a simple but effective sign -“Keep Walking. He is near”. The cold breeze was stronger; the ringing of the bells was getting louder now. I wanted to turn back and see how high up we really were, but it always made me dizzy. So I clutched on the soft fur of the black puppy trotting behind me. Bhoot (as I called him) was accompanied by six of his minuscule siblings, brown balls of fur, tails wagging aggressively in hope for some treats. But my mother was in no mood to stop and oblige. In the entire town, there was one government school, a bank, a railway station and a lively market that sold everything from woollen shawls to grumpy cows. But most certainly, this ruined temple was the star attraction of this forgotten place and every Tuesday evening I would accompany my mother to the very top, to ring the gigantic iron bell and to eat the delicious halwa that was generously poured into my tiny hands. Bhoot groaned loudly as we reached the top and I left his fur to run to the temple entrance. There were about fifty people seated on the doorway, beneath the bell, and the priest was chanting mantras while a tiny bell rang furiously in his hands. I didn’t know the words or the meaning but I usually moved my lips and uttered gibberish when present in the aarti. This time however, I thought against it as it was a special annual pooja to appease the snake god. The priest’s face was smeared with ash freshly brought in from the nearby graveyard, and a snake solemnly rested near a bowl of milk at his feet. I was both, scared and intrigued, with cobras. Many a time, I’d lifted up a stone in my backyard to see the serpent dashing across or seen my resident mongoose shred apart his double mouthed cousin, but was always warned by mother not to get any closer.

“Snakes reflect your own demons, son, deal with them from a distance. You get too close, and you may never get away.”

But I always did. I watched them from the branches of the mango tree in my courtyard, as they wound themselves to a nearby branch or gobbled up an unsuspecting rat.

The priest was shaking uncontrollably now and taking names of men seated for the aarti. One by one, they came and took the holy water along with his blessings. Sometimes, before giving the prasad, he would slap a man across his ears and shout out expletives. The man would then proceed to ask for forgiveness and move on to bow in front of the snake.

“Will he take my name, too?” I asked mother in a hushed tone. I was not afraid of the snake, but slaps were not my idea of a fun day.

“No, of course not. You’re a child, not a man yet.” She said smiling. Unconvinced and a little insulted by her reply, I slipped out and ran to the back of the temple where no one could see me. Bhoot rolled in the damp grass behind me, right at the edge of the steep drop. I pushed him away from the edge and he whimpered in protest. Quite a daredevil, bhoot was. I pressed my ears against the wall, right behind where the black statue of the deity with the giant trishul rested. The priest was screaming out my name.. I turned to bhoot in panic and he gnawed at my slippers in consolation, pulling me to the edge. He was trying to climb down and he wanted me to take the plunge too. I looked down, one steep rock, a little terrain and then a terrific drop of about a hundred feet. My head circled as I gave it a thought. Suddenly, the large iron bell started booming and  shouts of my name grew more urgent. I took bhoot in my arms and jumped down. I hid under a depression in the algae-ridden rock. There seemed to be a hole big enough for both of us there. Bhoot crawled out of my arms into the darkness and I followed him on all fours into the damp cavern.

There was complete, pitch black darkness. As I crawled into the tiny space it opened up, downwards, where tiny bits of lights glowed now and then. Fireflies? I could hear bhoot  trying to whack them with his paws. I climbed down, manoeuvring through pieces of jagged, wet rocks. Soon enough, the cavern widened with neatly cut stones and enough headspace for us to stand. I cleared some stones and a tiny bit of sunlight crept in through, lighting up the area. Bhoot was munching on some insect he’d managed to catch. I noticed we were both sitting on some window of sorts, an iron doorway perhaps, with rusting circular handles. Whenever we moved, it uttered an echoing, thumping sound, as if hollow. I moved to a little tiny edge and pulled the handle. With some effort and a lot of creaking it gave way and slid across slowly. A burst of air filled the room with a peculiar stench. Bhoot whimpered and hid behind my legs. To my horror, a man was sleeping inside. Dressed in a magician’s costume, with a black hat and a shining tuxedo complete with a cane, he seemed to be snoring away to glory. Bhoot uttered short, aggressive growls but stopped, as his arms slowly started moving.  I let out a tiny cry of desperation and ran back to the opening, but it was too steep to climb back for a ten year old. I jumped with all my might to clutch the top but fell down and bruised my elbow.

“Where do you think you’re going, young man? “ A loud booming voice rocked the tiny cavern triggering bhoot’s growls to a series of loud whimpers.

The magician stretched to its full glory, his cape flowing back, his tiny moustache curling up in anger.

“Well, if you go out from that side, you’re going to roll down a hundred feet and break your skull. It’s a steep drop, son.” He announced, brushing off dirt from his red collar. I looked at him in confusion.

“You must enter my grave; there is a narrow tunnel that opens up right into the ramlila maidan. That’s where I enter and exit from. It’s safe and discreet.”

He picked up the whining bhoot and handed him to me. I stepped away from him and his glowing cane.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ghutur, the magician who was buried alive on Dusshera. You do remember me, child. I saw you clapping when I did my vanishing cow trick.”

“Oh. Wow. Oh. You’re..the magician?” I said, smacking my head. It made sense now. People used to come all the way from Varanasi to see his fabled show in our small town. Every year, in Dusshera he was buried alive for fifteen days, after which on the eve of Diwali, the festival of lights, he would rise from the ground dressed as Lord Rama and burn the effigy of Ravana with his fire arrows.

“That’s right.” He said smiling.

“I’m scared. The priest was chanting my name and I have a feeling my mother will be very angry.”  I muttered shaking his outstretched hand.

“Well, child, do you want to go back?”

“Yes, please.”

“Right after I show you a magic trick.” He said smearing some mud from the ground to his face. “Now, child, do you believe in magic?” he asked, his moustache curling up with enthusiasm and his eyes shining like fireflies.

“Yes, I do.” I said, clutching bhoot tightly.

“Very well, then, close your eyes, count up to three and open them again.”

I closed my eyes, counted up to two and opened them again.

The water sizzled warmly on my beard and trickled to my feet. I took my towel from my shoulders and buried my face in it. I would rise in a while, in fifteen days, with fire arrows in my spirit and magic in my soul.

 

A hard day’s wanderin’

For those of you haven’t read the poems of Henri Michaux, I recommend getting to it right away. The man has destroyed all notions of poetry I ever had. His works are like hallucinatory experiences-and after reading them you will not remain the same. This little poem I had written out of extreme frustration after reading a lot of his poetry that has deeply influenced me. Sometimes something that inspires you too much also pushes you into a writer’s block. And then slowly you make your way back with the Simones and the Murakamis..

 

“A hard day’s wanderin’ “

I haven’t written anything in a while and maybe

it’s because sugarman told me to look for god in the sewers

or the spit of an old girlfriend stuck to my beard,

when she found me wandering as

the gutter rats were reading me poems from the underground

I felt inconsequential like a black dwarf but

rats have been known to do that to wanderers,

 so I stole the cigarettes stuck to the lips of my passed out friends

and I stole their acid stories

And I stole the angry messages of my woman

but I woke up in a painting, coloured the bluest blue blue’s ever seen

and everything i’d stolen seemed colourless,

 and then i took some photographs of this dead night

before the long walk to the coffee shop,

where the rats said god used to work before recession struck,

I called some deadbeat friends and we talked

about our plans and good sex and this year’s winter,

and when they blasted Simone at midnight,

I knew I’d met her before, maybe in the sewers, so

I swayed too, in between

the bottles of gin, whisky, cheap rum, sweet soda, bleeding feet,

dry lips and sticky hair, till we found a place to rest our heads,

slowly making our way

back to the seedy bar before the seedy bar,

when Murakami taught me how to think again.

I haven’t written anything in a while but before sunrise

after a hard day’s wandering

I’ve been known to quit smoking, find love

and write a book or two.

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(Above is an Abstract blue painting by Ad Reinhardt)