The Skin of Tradition
The foreigner watches a wedding in fascination
large bindi squatting on her forehead
red saree colouring white limbs.
The elders enthuse how she
sits relaxed on the dusty ground
reveres the sacredness of every chant
embraces chaos in wondrous happiness.
The Americans, Germans, English,
French, Italians flock here, hearts one
with conch shells; cross-legged,
slurp white rice and dal from banana leaves.
Yet I, I ask for my fork and spoon.
Yet I, born in a small town, tempered by heat,
coloured with tradition, married saree-clad
in front of the fire, complain of the fumes
my eyes burning. I, brought up within these walls
makes it a point to question too much
why should I, why must I, bow in respect,
hide in shame, follow rules and customs,
forget myself. I question for years.
Later, in London, that city I call home,
forgetting, at home tulsi plants sit in courtyards
white chita is drawn on Thursday
to welcome Lakshmi.
‘A city without temples scratching its skyline
cannot be home ever,’ they pronounce.
I question for years.
The answer, thought but not mouthed:
You can appreciate culture,
fold your legs in suppliance
bend your head, fast all day in a temple
knowing tomorrow you will be home.
Today is a thrill, like climbing Machu Picchu
like rowing down the Okavango delta.
When the blood that runs in you today
bled on a pyre, hundreds of years ago
soaking chrysanthemum garlands
when a village is somewhere, had you lived
fifty years before, you would be
behind a veil waiting, watching,
when not that many years back, a marriage
marked you with blood red sindoor in black hair
closeted rooms, opened legs
breeding healthy sons and if not white widows.
When you know all this, then, the legs don’t fold here
in the dust, in the sacredness
even though they do at Yoga in the gym.
The heart that belongs, never accepting, runs,
runs the farthest,
to shed centuries of old skin.
Narcissus sits transfixed
head bowed, limbs folded
watching a water spirit, he thinks.
Watching and loving and calling
a form like no other.
Nymph or spirit who loved before,
they wait for him, invite him back.
Forms naked in desire, in bodies.
Echo weeps and calls out.
They ask him to return from the lake
yet transfixed he sits
and pines and loves what cannot love him back.
He waits, and he sinks
into himself, gaunt and lonely
into the lake reflecting
mountains, the world, his love.
Until the skies break into colour.
Until the earth weeps red.
Until his head implodes.
his body moulds into stone.
The rock he sits on
forms a giant hand
holding a cracked egg.
A narcissus blooms
forever brightening spring.
(Based on the painting ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ by Salvador Dali)
The lilies brood
darkening thoughts of what is past,
of what may never come,
dread rising silently
in stagnant roots.
The lilies weave
pink, purple, blue, flickers of
dreams, of wishes, of holding
bits of the sky in their bodies.
The lilies wilt
drooping lives, death the sentinel
The lilies bloom
magic on paper, colours in the water,
impressions forming, growing, breaking
the canvas ablaze with a day, a season
and just for a moment
the lilies hold
eternity in their bodies.
(Based on the waterlilies series by Claude Monet)
A pot of paint spills
inking the pale blue
a rich pink, a muted orange.
inking the pale blue
a rich pink, a muted orange.
Golden strands backlight
as rainbow colours
in a sensuous embrace.
A quadrille of colours
lifts the sky
infusing the cool air.
Inside, they continue to sleep
the smell of yesterday
clinging to damp eyelids,
beer filled snores
reverberating inside walls.
As Infinity smiles outside
for just a second.
She of the tiara, of stars in her hair,
of moonlight, silken gowns,
of the sun transforming her house into shining heavens,
she of the beauty, which lustrously invaded her husband’s mind
and other parts restlessly every night; she the owner of
artefacts, jewellery, from shops, online
brought in by ships from exotic countries
with unpronounceable names.
She of the beauty and riches,
saw others with dimples laughing in their cheeks
brighter stars than hers in their eyes, slimmer waists, softer breasts,
songs in their steps, taller houses and wider gardens,
and she made sure they were not around her anymore.
She saw her child laugh louder in the company of others
even more than in hers, so she snatched the smile away
to hide in a little red box studded with shiny mirrors.
She prodded and carved out the eyes of one, the heart of another,
the friendship of the generous, she marvelled at her claws
growing faster and sharper by the day
to gouge out what should have been hers.
She hid them in coloured boxes and kept them in drawers
safely, to look upon as hers every day.
Much later, she saw her skin had turned salak like,
snakes mated in her hair.
When she laughed, blood dribbled from the sides.
The boxes when opened were empty
dried kernels of nothingness –
and she wondered why.
Salak: snake fruit; fruit found mostly in Indonesia with scaly skin.