Neera Kashyap: Poetry (Voices Within 2021)

Neera Kashyap has had a career in environmental & health journalism and communication. She has authored a book of short stories for young adults Daring to Dream, (Rupa & Co.) and contributed to five prize-winning anthologies of children’s literature (Children’s Book Trust). As a writer of short fiction, poetry, essays and book reviews, her work has appeared in print and online literary journals and poetry anthologies published in the USA, UK, Singapore, Pakistan and India, including Setu Mag. She lives in Delhi. 

The beckoning 

A smell of roasted roti in a narrow lane
leads to a dargah at the end.
Mai Sahiba’s dargah.

Unfamiliarity is calligraphy etched into 
the arms of beggar women raised to the sky;
a lone seller gazing absently at her table 
of rose petals, prayer caps, beads.

Unfamiliarity is the fragrance inside the shrine
the enclosures of marble jali, of silver frame
rising to a dome of arched glass shot by the sun. 
A chandelier comes down to rest above the grave.
I finally look at the grave.
Raised, it is covered with two sheets – 
below, a shiny purple with large gold circles;
above, a bright yellow with beads and embroidery
strewn with rose petals…faded roses resting on the frame.

Unfamiliarity is the worshipper….
an old woman stands, raises hungry curved palms, 
rocks back and forth murmuring …
three girls kneel, murmur prayers from a book;
a boy’s head disappears for long beneath the sheets,
forehead on the grave, he turns head from side to side, 
touches the saint with eyes and hands, kisses his fingers….

It’s when I come out to see the metal deg with yellow 
rice served on leaf plates that 
I remember….
my Vishnu-worshipping grandmother bringing me to a pir’s grave
when I was six...
teaching me how to offer flowers,
to ask in my own way for pir baba’s blessings…
to eat yellow rice from a vast deg
perched on a slab holding 
prayer caps, beads and roses.

Voices within

Mostly I feel beaten,
Unfailingly I call Bunji.
Just sometimes I am happy…
I forget to call Bunji
Still he comes….

Ghostly lover

You think I don’t know you come in many forms?
Charming, witty, strong, valiant; 
as my hero - yes; as my lover - always
feasting on my body’s ripeness, 
gorging on my mind’s wistfulness 
till we are a cloud that floats away from the world;
above it… in disdain.
You, my airman comes for me, lifts me.
You, my cloud floats inside me, fills me.
The world, clueless of your balm…
... hits, barks, bitches…wrenches me back to a cloud of gloom.

You think I don’t know you come in many forms?

I will gather up your forms 
put them together as one giant being
burn you on a funeral pyre
watch you move as a dark cloud
of black flakes, soot and flesh…

If only I could.

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