Thursday 24 December 2015

[Poem] Incarceration

In a walled in room I lie
safe in my incarceration 
Call it a citadel a fortress a palace
and I the queen the mistress or the damsel

Metered light filters in through dark blinds
 The manger provides
and passion lies chained in invisible fetters

Serving time
there is no room
for other trials
happiness is relative don't you think?

Freedom too is relative don't you think?
The door is ajar
Outside lies an orchard
Apple Trees  abound

Crossing the threshold
I could dance in the sun and kill the blinds
I could swim in deep dark pools
where the demons thrive
And laugh with the mermaids

At the end of the road
they say shame lurks
Damnation too for believers
Guilt for hypocrites
But death too is relative don't you think?

Thursday 17 December 2015

[Poem] Imbalance

In the dead night's silence
the clock clucks its tongue
As I toss in bed,
I think of the hours
that went by in seconds

My Time divided
amid Prodigal Sons
Mindless Endeavour
Pointless Exercise
Restless Sleep

In Sisyphean chores
I mourn
The beleaguered paths traversed

I yearn the 
flashes of creativity
that last for all of a second
like a drop of rain that falls from above
only to be lost in the murk

In imbalance hangs life
the scales tipped
the pen dips once more
into dark inky depths
casts about for a pearl
To birth...

Sunday 29 November 2015

[Translation] Nazir Kazmi's Ye bhi kya sham-e-mulaqat ayee

This is one of my favourite ghazals by Syed Nazir Raza Kasmi (1925-1972) Nazir was born in India and migrated to Pakistan during the partition. The ghazal presents the pain and the desperation of love.

I sincerely thank Murtuza Furniturewala for working closely with me to bring forth this translation.


Aankh khulte hi chhup gaye harshar
Aalme bekhudi mein kya kuchh tha
Laakh rahe thi laakh jalwe the
Ahedi awargi me kya kuchh tha
Yaad hai marhale mohabbat ke
Haye us bekhudi mein kya kuchh tha
Kitni beete dino ki yaad aayi
Aaj teri kami mein kya kuchh tha

ye bhi kya sham-e-mulaqat ayee
lab pe mushkil se teri bat ayee
 subah se chup hain tere hijr nasib
 haye kya hoga agar rat ayee
 bastiyan chod ke barse badal
kis qayamat ki ye barsat ayee
 koi jab mil ke hua tha rukhsat
 dil-e-betab wahi rat ayee
 saya-e-zulf-e-butan main 'Nasir’
ek se ek nai rat ayee

On waking, I realized my abandonment
Though disoriented, stark indeed was the clarity
Many paths lit up with splendorous lights
In my lonesome wanderings, what not did I see
Reminiscences of the pain of passion I did see
Though inebriated, my clear vision, an irony
Recalled I, several blissful days spent in harmony
Alas, what contrast, to this present ignominy

O hark! the dawn of evening heralds thoughts of you my darling
I can barely speak of you without my voice breaking
I fall silent all morning
Recalling our forked destines
Oh how I dread the night 
Ridden with anxieties
The tears flow, the barriers come undone
Does this deluge augur the end of times?

The emptiness which comes 
When a loved one meets and parts
 I feel that same restless emptiness now, upon this night

Oh Nazir! how lost you were in that beauteous form
and in the shadow of those tresses
Ah! how wondrous the delight
Meeting night after night, 
As new groom and as bride

Now listen to this song rendered by Penaz Masani.

Lyrics Credits:

Monday 23 November 2015

[Poem] Don’t Talk to Me of Rising Intolerance

Don’t talk to me of rising intolerance

A word I hear repeatedly only from

Elite Lips

Lips that get food served

In royal style

By many toiling hands

So you can rave and rant all day

To pass the time

In fighting

A causeless cause

Feeding your inherent need

To pamper an ego diseased

Don’t talk to me of rising intolerance

Your childish tantrums are much tolerated

Don’t threaten to leave

Those with intent

Rarely flaunt the thought

Stay you certainly will

Save yourself the shame

Where else would you get your money and fame?

Don’t talk to me of rising intolerance

Returning your awards

Perhaps in your heart of hearts

You find yourselves


Don’t talk to me of rising intolerance

My house needs cleaning

The light bulb needs fixing

Clothes need mending and washing

Children have to be readied and sent to school

In public buses and trains …

A million men and women

Wake up every day

And set to work

So life on the street feels ok

Tolerant smiles everywhere

Tolerant speech and tolerant acts


There should be a growing intolerance

For the filth in the streets


The corruption that bleeds

But would you dirty your hands with garbage disposal?

Isn’t it a lot easier

To badmouth the government in power

If you can’t clean the streets

At least clean your hearts and heads

Of the grime bilge and slime

Don’t talk to me of rising intolerance

For tolerance too

Has a limit on how much it can tolerate

Monday 24 August 2015

[Short Story] Lessons from Childhood


Asha skipped in through the gates after getting down from the school bus, her satchel rattling and her lunch bag waving wildly. She smiled as Chander the watchman gave her a mock salute.
‘What is in that lunch box baby?’ he asked. ‘Sandwiches as usual…’ she replied without turning, her disappointment evident in her voice. She spotted Madhu, her best friend and they both began running in a bid to reach the classroom first.
In class her teacher had a surprise waiting for her. She was to play the lead in the class play Red Riding Hood.


After a hectic morning, I sat down thankfully at my desk taking a much-needed break. I stared at Asha’s photograph on my desk. Dressed in a bright red T Shirt and a denim skirt, she had given her best smile to the camera. She was my three-foot tall angel, my world. I sighed, thinking about the argument we had that morning. Kritya wandered in with a mug of steaming coffee, ‘Hey! Have you sent out the reports we prepared…’she stopped in mid sentence.
‘Daughter trouble?’ she asked.
‘How did you know?’ I asked with a weak smile.
‘ I am a mind reader …I can read almost every look that crosses that pretty face!’ she laughed.
‘So, what is that 5 year old minx troubling you about, this time?’
‘Kritya, these days, we fight mostly about food… I am trying to teach her healthy food habits … but she resists so much! She threw quite a tantrum this morning all because I packed sandwiches again… You know… She seems to be gaining weight  … I think I must visit her school and talk to the P.T instructor.’ I held up my hands in frustration.
The telephone rang just then, signaling the end of my break and I plunged back into work with a deep sigh.

It was 7:00 pm when I returned home. Shanti, the domestic help, bolted for the door after mumbling something about dinner – I smiled after her- she had her own set of troubles with a difficult husband and two young children to look after. In the evening Asha was her normal endearing self again. After dinner, I put her to bed.
‘How was school today? What did you do?’
She rambled on non-stop. I smiled. Then she said with a pout. “Madhu’s daddy came to pick her up today!’
She turned to me and asked, ‘Why is daddy always away?’ When is he coming next?”
 ‘Daddy is working very hard honey … what did he tell you on the phone yesterday? Did he not say that he would come in two weeks? With…’ I paused on purpose with my eyes dilated and signaled with my hands outstretched.
 I waited for her to say ‘with lots of gifts for me!’
But she turned over and wailed ‘I miss daddy! I want my daddy now …’
I cuddled her close to calm her but her tiny frame calmed the loneliness I felt inside.
She suddenly sat up and said, ‘Mamma! Mamma! Teacher told I am going to be Red Riding Hood! Me!!! Madhu was so angry you know!’ she chuckled.

I gave her a tight hug. ‘We must buy you costumes… let’s go shopping this weekend!’ I told her.
‘Mamma read me the story!’ she commanded falling asleep midway.
'Where does your grandmother live, Little Red Riding Hood?
     A good quarter of a league farther on in the wood; her house stands under the three large oak-trees, the nut-trees are just below; you surely must know it,' replied Little Red Riding Hood.
My mind kept repeating ‘three large oak trees, three large oak trees three large … Tamarind trees… stirring the memory of an afternoon lying under the canopy of tamarind trees … of a soiled blue silk frock with large flowers …


  She watched him with a fixed stare as he entered the darkened classroom. He smiled as he signaled her to be quiet, then handed her the bar of chocolate. She took it, her hands trembling, but as she was very hungry, she began eating it, unmindful of what happened next. It was their secret routine that he had taught her. A few minutes before school ended, she would ask to visit the bathroom and get into one of the empty classrooms. He would meet her there with a bar of chocolate. 

Asha felt really special from all this attention. She thought she was being with her father in those moments  Oh how I wish, that uncle is my father she would think… then he would be with me every day!’  He would smile and cuddle her and would tell her repeatedly,
‘This is our secret; don’t tell anyone, not even your mother! Do you understand?’ his voice had grown bolder and sterner over the days.

She hid the half eaten bar in her pinafore and ran to join the queue to get into the school bus.  Asha pushed back the hair that had escaped from the tiny pigtails her mother had struggled with in the morning, impatiently. She took out the bar of chocolate and ate it frequently making sure that no one was looking – she had to finish it before she went home or it would spell big trouble as her mother would recall tooth paste ads and threaten her with tooth decay.

That night when I bathed her, I noticed the mysterious red marks on her body. ‘What is this Asha, how did this happen?’
Asha looked confused and turned away. I shook her and asked her again insistently. My voice taking on an urgency that surprised me.
‘It’s Chander uncle… he’s very nice … he … he …he gives me chocolates that you never give … it’s a game … It was supposed to be a secret …now I’ve told you … he will be very angry…’

I froze as I heard her speak. I put her to bed mechanically, my mind racing through what I must do next-  Should I complain to the school?  Complain to the police?  Go the press? Get my husband to come back?   Withdraw her from school? As these questions raged …  at the background lay other thoughts …

  ‘So he walked for a short time by the side of Little Red Riding Hood, and then he said: 'See, Little Red Riding Hood, how pretty the flowers are about here - why do you not look round? I believe, too, that you do not hear how sweetly the little birds are singing; you walk gravely along as if you were going to school, while everything else out here in the wood is merry.' 

Thoughts - which I had locked away in labyrinthine vaults.  I lay wide-awake beside Asha and thought of that Diwali time long ago. I must have been four or five years of age then. My parents and I had gone on a visit to my uncle's home in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh. It was a tiny, sleepy hamlet with just one main road that formed a part of the state highway with the village extending broadly on either side of it. My uncle was a government official of some sort - he was an 'Executive Officer' - I had heard my mother mention it several times over, to friends.

My uncle had transfers every few years and my mother, who had the travel bug in her, would make it a point to visit every new place and turn it into a religious tourism op visiting all the temples in the towns and villages nearby.

Visiting my uncle was always a happy prospect. My only surviving grandparent, my grand mother lived with my uncle and was particularly fond of me. I had fond memories of the house, its people, the swing in the front yard and the banana plantation at the back.

And then, there was grandpa. That’s how I addressed the old man, who was a neighbour. He had a kind face and was extremely affectionate from the minute he saw me.  He was a regular visitor at my uncle’s home. My grand mother, a very kind hearted woman had taken him under her wing ever since his wife’s death. He sat me on his lap and put his arms around me at our very first meeting. I tried to free myself but he playfully tightened his grip and everyone present laughed.

The next couple of days were magical. I remember him seating me on the swing and swaying me gently.  Then he said in calm excitement,
 ‘Kala! There are ducks in the village pond. Would you like to see them?’

At day break the next day I had hurriedly doused my face in the cold water from the galvanized metal bucket near the well in the back yard and gulped down a glass of milk sitting at the veranda, craning my neck impatiently waiting for his arrival.  I set out eagerly, holding his hand as my mother watched indulgently from the veranda.

 We exited through the banana groove and we made our way through narrow embankments that skirted the fields growing paddy and corn. I stopped to gawk at the bullocks that ploughed the fields, but he dragged me to the mango orchard that lay beyond.

‘So she ran from the path into the wood to look for flowers. And whenever she had picked one, she fancied that she saw a still prettier one farther on, and ran after it, and so got deeper and deeper into the wood.’

Right in the middle of the orchard was a huge pond and there were ducks there swimming in the water. With a surprising agility he jumped in, intent on startling them and they quacked and moved away indignantly.  I waded into the water in eager pursuit of the ducklings, which always moved under the protective wings of their mothers. But I found myself sinking in the soft mud and quickly darted back to the shore.  He laughed at my antics.
‘Oh, your dress is ruined!’ he exclaimed in alarm and made an elaborate effort to squeeze the water from my gown. I felt uncomfortable suddenly. I wanted to get back to my mother. He seemed to agree and we began walking back.

We came upon a patch in which grew large tamarind trees.  I remember being pushed to the ground and hands that groped urgently. I must have screamed and struggled as my dress tore and a few farm hands came upon us. I am not sure if they saw anything.  ‘Grandpa’ left the scene quietly and I watched him leave through my tears.  The farm hands escorted me home, but they said nothing, to my mother. He came warily the next day, but I kept my distance never leaving my mother’s side like the ducklings.
He gave an uncomfortable laugh –‘ She didn’t like the ducks very much!’

I grew quiet over the next few days. I told my parents that I was bored and we cut short our holiday and returned home. Though I hated it, I made no attempts to tell my mother. Memories of that event never left me, returning with a relentless regularity. Nightmares of lying there in the patch and looking up at the sky through the trees haunted my dreams for a very long time.  I also felt guilty for not exposing him. Had I done so, I could have perhaps saved his other victims…

Today, my daughter had become the unsuspecting victim of child abuse. But I was ready this time. This time there was no escape for the culprit. This time he would pay…

Twenty-five years later, I get up at the first light of day, with a new resolve. I place a phone call to my husband asking him to catch the next flight home. I am getting ready to go to Asha’s school to sort things out. I wake her up to tell her that she will spend the day at home with Shanthi. Her scream of delight cheers me a little. 


Saturday 22 August 2015

[Short Story] The Frosted Rose

Standing in the bathroom, facing the mirror that was above the blue glass washbowl, he surveyed himself running the razor slowly over the barely visible stubble, even as he mulled over the lines. He turned his angular face side to side, unsure which side looked best while facing a camera. He patted his high cheekbones dry with a towel running his hands over his face, testing for smoothness. He stared hard at the mirror and decided that the sharp glint of his gaze was what set him apart from the rest of the players and this was the face he would show to the world. He smiled mildly as he mouthed the lines without uttering them. He turned around and surveyed his half naked, six foot, lean and supple body in the full length mirror that was fixed to the back of the bathroom door - ‘A couple of inches more in height, even a few inches more would have made all the difference!’ ruing the fact that most of the players were turning out to be taller than him. Ok, the speech! Concentrate on the speech!’

His mind said – pulling him sharply from his meanderings.

He spoke the words- ‘Yes, it was a difficult game and xxx is a great player. There were several times when the game was as much his as mine…’ He stopped, pretending to keenly hear a question that was posed to him. ‘Yes my serves were more at the Tline this time...’ then said after a pause with a half smile and a slight shake to his head ‘Yeah, the aces came at crucial times’ pause… ‘I thank this very appreciative audience, my team- my coach, my physio and my girlfriend…’

‘Vijay!’ cooed Shreya his film star girlfriend from the bedroom, ‘Come here baby, what are you doing for so long, in there?’

He returned to the bedroom a little surly from being interrupted, but was soon calmed by the sight of Shreya. She was the girl of his dreams. Tall, athletic and incredibly beautiful with a pearl white complexion that was the envy of her costars. He had been over the moon, the day he professed his love and she had said ‘yes’ as if she had been waiting for that exact moment.

Now the irresistible temptress lay there, half hidden amidst the sheets, and he stood arrested in his tracks, his eyes taking in the beauty he beheld. The blanket slipped a little as she turned to lie on her stomach and he drank in the sight of her ivory smooth skin, her long legs. He sighed in exasperation at his helplessness when his eyes rested on the magnetic curve of her hips.

‘Sweetheart!’ he protested weakly, ‘You are making my life very difficult! I need to work on my speech! Shreya gave a wicked laugh. Vijay gave a sigh and sat down and cupping her chin with both his hands and looking earnestly into her eyes, he asked ‘Sweetheart my friends say you will leave me if I don’t win this game…’ ‘Who did?’ she asked, sharply, sitting up suddenly –legs bent- looking more like a mermaid emerging from the sheets.
‘Aman and Sanjay…’ he muttered. ‘But they’re very wrong baby!’ She laughed, playfully pulling him towards her, submerging him in her warm embrace. He happily drowned in the sea of her love.

He lost track of the time. When he recovered, he found himself in the shower again, all flushed and more confident than ever.


They were lunching at the Halcyon club after an exciting match with his friend Aman.
‘Machan this time you will surely win da!’ Aman said half in admiration or was there a tinge of jealousy in that statement thought Vijay. ‘How about your speech Vijay? Is it ready? The big day is barely four days away…’

The duo was soon surrounded by a group of raging fans who wanted Vijay’s autograph. Some wanted photographs with him too. He patiently signed his name carefully in the outstretched books. A girl pushed her way through the crowd and handing him a marker held out her cheek asking him to write on it. As he stood there debating whether to comply – Aman egged him on- ‘Draw a heart –draw a heart and then sign with in!’

Now the crowds were surging towards him uncontrollably, and he found himself drowning in a sea of human bodies – found himself borne aloft by powerful arms ‘Aman! He called frantically, ‘I am here don’t worry…’ Aman’s voice floated in, at the precipice of his consciousness.

Vijay sprang up spiritedly and moved to the court after the break. He was already beginning to taste victory after his one set lead and an early break in the second set over his opponent Prashanth. He moved frantically around the court, eager to finish the game, win the tournament and of course deliver the now well crafted speech. He heaved himself high to slam the ball in the front half of the court. Then all went blank.


Dr.Malik walked into the extended care unit, lingering over each of the eight patients who occupied the special ward. He examined them all in turn and explained each case in detail to the young interns accompanying him.

When he reached bed no: 8, he began, ‘This is Vijayanand Murthy, age 32, … you know the famous tennis player, who had the accident in the final … had a severe concussion after the fall, hitting the back of head in the tennis court… has been in Level II coma these last seven years… his eyes open every now and then and there is the occasional convulsions in his limbs.’

He paused, then continued …

‘Often, he goes on as if he is talking but it is always inaudible and almost sounds like gibberish…’he smiled up at his rapt audience. A perky intern asked, ‘Doctor, what is the level of brain activity in such patients? Do they dream?’ Dr.Malik spoke thoughtfully, ‘Obviously there is a lot of brain activity –that would explain the convulsions and the slurred speech- but research is still on about mapping dream activity…’ he didn’t elaborate further.

On the group’s exit, the staff nurse approached the bed for a routine examination. She pulled down his lower eyelid and shone a torch in the eyes of the dark emaciated form. She called out to her assistant to fill in the details in the record sheet in a matter of fact tone–
‘Pupil constriction- Yes
Temperature –normal
Breathing regular…’
Vijayanand stared vacantly at the torch that was flashed at his face.

At exactly 4:00Pm in the afternoon, Shreya walked in as she had done over the last 7 years. She sat there holding his hand, and gently massaging his face. She combed his hair and dabbed on a bit of talcum powder on his wan face. She spent the rest of the hour talking and reading to him. She always hoped and prayed that he would recover one day, although she heard pronouncements to the contrary from the doctors and nurses who attended on him.

She sat there quite unaware that Vijay dreamed of her often. That he kissed her lips tenderly and recalled their moments in passion in his dreams. Or that he lived and relived the days and events that led up to that fateful day. She did not know that she and Aman were the only two inhabitants in his dreams. Had she known this, her tears of despair might have also been tears of joy.

The supine form in the bed shuddered and lapsed into an endless dream. Vijay looked at Aman and Shreya sitting at the table facing him. ‘Did you hear what the doctor said?’ he asked agitatedly. ‘Am I in a coma? Am I in a madhouse?’   ‘Vijay! You old delightful fool laughed Aman… You are hallucinating again!’

Aman smiled reassuringly, looking dapper, as ever in his white and white tennis gear ‘Why don’t we play a game?’ He asked picking up his raquet. ‘Shreya, why don’t you come and cheer us as always?’
Vijay slapped his shoulder and asked ‘Best of three as usual?’ Aman nodded and then asked, ‘By the way how is the speech coming along?  Shreya smiled up at him in the sunlight, ‘You know Vijay, they are planning to make a film about us – about you and me and our love! Think about it! And guess what? We are playing the lead role!’ She shrieked in delight. ‘I don’t know about you, but I have to prepare my acceptance speech if I win the best actress award…’

Wednesday 8 July 2015

[Blog] Participating in Viral Story contests: A Writer's Dilemma

I would like to think of my self as a fairly decent writer and just like everyone else in this planet, I am proud self respecting individual who rarely seeks help from others, but the participation in a Viral story contest changed all that. I saw some of my friends participating in a contest and I thought I would give it a shot. I saw it as a platform to show case my talent in storytelling.

 I wrote a story that I really liked - I took my time writing it 10 days in all with multiple revisions, but then again being a fastidious writer, this is nothing new. Then came the shocking realization that the contest wasn't about writing at all- it was all  about campaigning  and the hours I spent seeking votes grossly outnumbered the hours I spent in writing the story. 

I have had a very long and satisfying career as a teacher of English at the University and various institutions of learning like ICFAI in Hyderabad  and I have a reputation that I treasure deeply.
How naive of me to assume that I simply had to share the link to the story on Facebook and in a couple of mails and the thing would be in the bag!

In the initial impact a few of my steadfast friends did vote. But when I visited the website to check on the others I was in for a shock - almost everyone was way above me. I shared the link over and over on my face book page which had no impact after a while. I totally understand - Some people visit Facebook for a total of say 10 minutes and the last thing they want to do is to open a link, register themselves and read a story!
It could also be the case that people one is friends with don't particularly enjoy reading and resist attempts that thrust reading upon them!

I realized I had to step things up a bit and here is where the nightmare began.
I started to message a few friends- I felt small making personal requests like this but the wish to at least be in the reckoning egged me on.

People respond to messages in very different ways
a) Some  vote straight away - which is easy.
b) Some agree to vote and do nothing.
c) Some read the messages and don't even acknowledge it..
d) Some responded only after multiple follow up messages!
e) Some simply like the post in Facebook and stop there!

But this has been an interesting exercise -  from the changes to my personality, this little experiment throws up interesting takes on human behaviour.
My whole personality has undergone a change.  It had been a humbling experience for all the wrong reasons.  I am able to understand what sales jobs must feel like or worse still what a person who wishes to borrow money must feel like!

I later learnt that some people refrained from voting because they felt that such competitions are a sham. Other desisted because they were  uncomfortable about giving their personal details to an unknown site. Additionally I found out that there are a whole lot of websites out there that sell votes for a price. And I found that some of the other participants  had used these services and become the leaders in the race despite having stories with poor plots and atrocious language. And I wondered whether the Site actually benefited one bit from such sham votes?

A thought crosses my mind- 'Have I turned my friends into foes?' and this gives me the goose bumps.
If I have estranged some of my friends with my repeated entreaties for votes I should probably be apologizing.

So, let me get back to my writing and stay with it and leave these voter led competitions to the politically sound!

Monday 29 June 2015

[Book Review] The Dove's Lament by Kirthi Jayakumar


When I first heard the title The Dove’s Lament I was intrigued. My mind envisioned all the possible associations with the word dove. Was it a book about the oppressed, the meek or was it about a mute witness. ‘What was the reason for the lament?' I asked myself. Then I happened to see the unique design on the cover of the book and was even more curious. (I later learnt that it was the handiwork of the multitalented author herself)

I secured for myself a copy and when I read her foreword I was thoroughly floored. The foreword built up in me a great curiosity that was validated in story after story. The 148 page book is a unique experiment as it combines stories with an essay that gives a time, a locus and an ethos to each story – the story and the essay together interlock the theme discussed and it gives credence and ensures that the events described stay with us for a very long time.

While I was reading it, I was struck by how the book is a work of fiction, history and journalism all rolled into one. With her astute grip on politics and world affairs, The Dove’s Lament is a wonderful read and the writer presents the human angle to mankind's suffering.

Her language is powerful and forceful and her choice of words is amazing.

The impact of a book largely depends on the way, we, the readers experience the events in the book and Kirthi succeeds in this enterprise through the characters that she has created and the powerful narration that makes us participants in a 'lived' experience. She combines effective journalism with traditional empathetic and compelling storytelling.

Kirthi has also adopted a unique storytelling style in the book. The stories do not reveal everything in one go – it feels more like a quest where the writer teases your imagination, tweaks your curiosity by revealing clues bit by bit and you stay glued to the writing eager to piece together all the clues and then read on, just to derive the satisfaction of knowing whether your guesses were right.

The Dove’s Lament is an incredible exploration of the psyche, the mindscape of people encountering extreme trauma. While I liked all the stories- the seventh story Desiccated Land is my favourite for its pace in the narration.

If I were to pinpoint the negatives in the book- I would perhaps touch upon the length of the stories. They seem a bit short and since the narration is particularly interesting, one feels cheated when the stories end too soon. The stories also focus on very few characters and the exchanges between them are almost minimal. Sometimes the essays tend to veer towards a textbook style. But this does not take away the impact of the book or the sincerity and sensitivity of the writer.

The Dove’s Lament promises the reader a world tour that you can take sitting in your arm chair – and you can travel on the wings of the dove to nations far away - nations ravaged by war and the powerful writing grips you and you stay afloat and it takes an enormous effort to realize that you are actually reading a book.

The Dove's Lament is published by Readomania and is available on Flipkart and Amazon. Do grab your copy today!

Monday 22 June 2015

[Translation] Theeradha Vilaiyattu Pillai - The Eternal Prankster

 In this poem Kannan's female play mates narrate their woes about the way they are mistreated by this eternal prankster. It is more prosodic then any of the other poems of Bharathiyaar that I have translated. It adopts a conversational tone and is a litany of feigned lament.


Theeradha vilaiyatu pillai- Kannan,
Theruvile pengalukku oyatha thollai!

Thinna pazham kondu tharuvan-padhi
Thingindra pothile thatti parippan,
Yennappan, yennayyan endral athanai,
Echil paduthi, kadithu koduppan.

Theanotha pandangal kondu –enna,
Seidhalum ettadha uyarathil vaippan,
Maanotha pennadi enban-satru,
Manam maghizhum nerathile killi viduvan.

Azhagulla malar kondu vande –ennai, 
Azha azha seithu pin, kannai moodi kol,
Kuzhalile suttuven, enbaan, ennai,
Kurudaaki malarinai thozhikku vaipan.

Pinnalai pinnindru izhuppan-thalai,
Pinne thirumbum munne sendru maraivan,
Vanna puthu selai thanile –puzhuthi,
Vaari sorindhe varuthi kulaippan.

Pullanguzhal kondu varuvan-amudhu,
Pongi thathumbum nal geetham padippan,
Kallal mayanguvathu pole - adai,
Kan moodi vay thirandhe kettiruppom.

Agandirukkum vaay thanile-kannan,
Aru ezhu katterumbai pottu viduvan,
Yengagilum paarthadundo, Kannan,
Yengalai seigindra vedikkai andro.

Vilaiyaada vaa vendrazhaipaan-veetil,
Velai endral athai kelathirupaan,
Ilayorodu adi kuthippan-emmai,
Idayir pirindhu poi veetil solvaan.

Ammaikku nallavan kandeer, mool,
Athaikku nallavan, thandaikkum akthe,
Yemmai thuyar seiyum, periyor veetil,
Yavarkum nallvan pole nadappan.

Kozhukku migavum samarthan –poymmai,
Soothiram pazhi solla koosa chazhakkan,
Alukisainthapadi pesi theruvil,
Athanai pengalayum aagaathadippan.

(Lyrics Courtesy:


Kannan is the eternal prankster,
on the streets, damsels face constant dis-order.

He would bring us fruits to eat
but grab it midway - that cheat!
And when we all begin to plead,
 he would spit it and bite it, in deceit.

He would bring me honeyed sweetmeats
but keep them beyond reach, ignoring pleas
 'You are as nimble as a doe my dear!' he would say,
 And when I am lost in this praise, he would pinch away...

He would tempt me with beauteous flowers,
and make me cry and plead for hours,
then bid me to close my eyes and wait,
and coolly pin them onto a friend's plait!

He would tug at my plaits from behind,
and before I can turn, would run and hide;
 On colourful new garments he would spray,
dirt and cause immense disarray.

Armed with his flute, come, he would,
and make heavenly music with that piece of wood,
like one, inebriated with liquor,
we listen - eyes closed, mouth open, in stupor!

Into the open jaws of those fast asleep,
Kannan would drop giant ants deep!
Have you ever witnessed elsewhere
such actions by any other prankster?

He would bid, 'Come play with me!'
If we protest, he wouldn't pay heed,
Drag us along, then choose to play with youngsters
Then disappear midway to complain against us...

My mother calls him a good child- so does
my aunt, so does my father;
subjecting us to his dastardly act(s),
at home, he humbly follows elders' diktat.

He is well versed in the art of carrying tales,
in fibbing, cheating and insinuating!
The slick tongued knave incites commotion,
and draws us asunder with all his instigation!

This song is enacted expressively by Kamala Lakshman in this video clip:

Thursday 21 May 2015

[Humour] Left is the new Right

 The other day I was the spectator to a very interesting event. A young woman who is closely related to me (let us call her Ms.A) was in deep conversation with a Mr. B&%#####$^***** (for short)  and in the middle of which, she suddenly plonked her left hand, square in the middle of his face. The impact was somewhat forceful I must say, judging solely from the sound effects of course. Now as the self appointed supervising adult (SASA not to be confused with the ubiquitous Saas of Hindi Soaps)  in the scene, I took upon myself the task of intervening. I would love to divulge here the details of what prompted the act, but an even more overwhelming need to safeguard the privacy of the perpetrator and the perpetrated compels my silence.

Witnessing the act 'ab origine' I must confess, was as tumultuous as the act itself. I was instantly reminded of an ancient Tamizh expression that has been handed down to us from Thiruvalluvar's times-(or somewhere thereabouts)  'Un moonjile yen peechang kaiye vaikka' -Which expression translates as 'I'll put my left hand on your face.' A threat, as a person's left hand is regarded as unclean. (Source:

Up until this point I had enjoyed this expletive as a notion, an idea, a concept and if I might be allowed the liberty -regarded it as what Theophile Gautier calls 'art for art's sake' or as the case here - a 'threat for threat's sake' that inhabited the rarefied space of everyday parlance of the streets. I have heard the expression uttered with the right tonal quality several times in the visual media but for the first time I had the rare privilege of witnessing a demonstration right in front of my eyes. And to make an honest confession, had the threat preceded the act, my conscience might have been better appeased, but now I felt almost  cheated.

Though I must admit that witnessing the act 'in the wings' as it were is an entirely different experience. Now don't get me wrong - I am not for a moment suggesting that you, my reader, must get two people to fight and witness the provocation result in the aforementioned act - no, never!  All that I am saying is that it quite took me by shock - and my mind flayed around with options for the next course of action that must follow.

Believe me, the first thought that crossed my mind was the famed preacher on the mount who had advocated the 'showing of the other cheek' in such situations - but the rational part of me was offended- because, technically the hit had been to the centre of the face and therefore choosing the right/correct cheek could have posed further problems.  

As someone, who was not at the receiving end of this benediction, I pondered a while and  came to the conclusion that in actual fact and quite contrary to popular belief, this was actually a 'gentle' act. Now think about it - the right handed form the majority of the population and a slap administered with the opposite limb must, in effect, land with a much lesser force. But I do quake and shudder at the thought of a left handed person - and in all fairness I think, they ought to be told to use their right hand when the situation of using it for such purposes presents itself.

I leave you with the conundrum of what might happen when the ambidextrous who constitute a miniscule percentage of the population are provoked...

Thursday 23 April 2015

[Film Review] O Kadhal Kanmani

The film O Kadhal Kanmani is sure creating mixed waves - while the young audiences are gungho about it, the older audiences (who we must remember, grew up watching Mani Ratnam films) are not so enthusiastic. I watched the film more out of curiosity to understand who stands vindicated and this is what I feel.

The Milieu: The film has an Urban, Upper Class setting- the story takes place in Mumbai, with the hero pursuing a career in graphics design and the heroine is interested in art an architecture, this is a refreshing departure from the spate of formulaic films we have been served in recent times.

The Theme: So what's the theme of the movie? Well at least everyone's clear about that- 'living- in relationship.'
Now I wonder, in a country like India, where strong societal systems are in place, where family bonds are strong, where marriage is very strongly encouraged and advocated, what necessitates the need to have a 'living-in' relationship?
But I didn't have to look far for the director's reasons for this choice of theme. In the 60s they made films about strife in the household centered around money and relationships -where 'falling in love' was taboo. Then Tamizh cinema moved and we've had 'falling-in-love' as the theme in all the films that followed. So Mani Ratnam must have gotten up one day and asked himself, 'Love story is old hat... So what next?' and viola- 'living together' must have suggested itself. It does seem cool and it appeals instantly to the youth population of the country, who are experiencing new levels of freedom hitherto unseen by earlier generations. They live in cities away from the stranglehold of an oppressive (read moralistic) family and are eager to experience the 'delights' that this new found freedom brings.
Mani Ratnam has cleverly set this film in Mumbai, the most progressive/permissive of Indian cities, and very far away from the constricting clime of Chennai.

Place Value of the Elderly couple: I feel the director has used the elderly couple (Prakash Raj and Leela Samson) to function as representatives of the older repressive society of India and their acceptance of the young couple's life choices suggests an acceptance of such practices by Indian society as a whole.
But what is puzzling is that neither the hero nor the heroine make any attempt to discuss their relationship with members of their own family( on the contrary they try to hide it) but they are very concerned about eliciting the approval of the elderly couple who are in no way related to them.  The paying guest angle to the story that necessitates the coming together of the couples seems contrived- the guy is obviously making a lot of money- at least enough to rent a house on his own.

Characterization and plot: The films by the director that I have enjoyed the most are Thalapathi, Agni Nakshatram and the recent film Ravan.  What makes them stand out is the depth in the plot, the remarkable character sketches and excellent acting. Unfortunately, all these three aspects are missing in this film- every thing seems so superficial and shallow.

Now coming back to the theme of the film-- well it's not very easy for a guy to pick up a girl or at least that's what Hollywood films tell me. Even the most suave of heroes experiences awkwardness, stress and hitches before he is successful. And a general protocol in the dating process that I have noticed is that the first kiss usually happens around the third date.
Now, surprise surprise!!! the hero here meets the girl fleetingly on a train and sits a couple of places away from her at a wedding in a church, and the two get talking (much to the annoyance of the people in between and us the audience) and just like that decide to start living together - its easy, it's a cake walk- and the 'impeccable logic' behind the choice goes something like - 'We are  both going to part ways in a couple of months, so why not?'  Really???
Let's face it- most cultures (the ostensibly progressive) would find even a one-night -stand, awkward and difficult to pull off and here is a couple who are willing go the entire length - all at the drop of a hat!

So, two people who share no common ground, who don't establish in any manner what connects them, still decide to live together.
And the greatest let down is the ending where the director instead of  exploring the conflict that would necessarily arise from the coming together of two people on such flimsy grounds, does a somersault - goes all traditional and plays safe with the couple opting for marriage.
The other negatives in the film that I noticed is the jerkiness in the dialogues and filminess of the sets especially the room in the shady hotel in Ahmedabad.
My verdict - One more hyped up film bites the dust.
I only hope the old Mani Ratnam returns with a better plot and characterization in his next time!

Tuesday 14 April 2015

[Poem] Urban Life

Days fold into nights
like a cigarette tightly rolled;
And Life trapped inside
smokes out
and blends into the smog
of inane nothingness...

I thank Srinivasan Balasubramanian for the translation in Tamizh:

நகர வாழ்க்கை

இரவுகளும் பகல்களும்,
இறுக்கச் சுருட்டப்பட்ட சுருட்டு போல்,
உள்ளே உறைந்து போனது -
வெளியே வரத் துடித்து,
புகை போல் கொஞ்சம் கொஞ்சமாக
சூடு பட்டு, தன் சுயம் இழந்து
சூன்ய வெளியில் காணாமலே போயிற்று.

Friday 20 February 2015

[Blog] Misogyny in old tamizh film songs

I am, like many of you, a fan of old tamizh film songs. They are melodious and have stood the 'test of time' and are popular even today. Music competitions aired on various TV channels too are doing their bit in helping us remember both the popular songs as well as some of the forgotten ones. In 'Pattimandrams' (debate shows)  some of the speakers adopt the cliched trend of quoting lines from old film songs to support their argument.  But, when I look beyond the chaste tamizh, the lingering music and lilting voices, more specifically at the lyrics- some things begin to bother me.

In a country like India, films impact social thinking and play a pivotal role in changing and perpetuating social practices and attitudes. Through frequent broadcasts, film songs have a wide reach and the values they uphold cannot escape being unconsciously absorbed by the listeners. Many people know the lyrics by heart,  and over time, the values expressed in them gain the status of becoming gospel and the lyricist is ordained as an authority on scripture, value systems, tradition and what not of Tamizh culture, all at once.

 Sadly, the songs are repositories of indiscriminate stereotyping and misogyny. They paint images and qualities of what constitutes the 'good' woman. Chastity, shyness, softness, reticence and restraint are upheld in song after song while qualities such as self assertion are devalued.

I quote here some of the examples that have occurred to me, but I am certain that there exists enough material to present a whole thesis on the subject.

Women must be shy and reticent in public spaces - The 'Oruthi oruvanai ninaithuvittal' ( When a woman thinks of a man) song suggests
'adakkam enbadhu pen uruvam' (restraint is the very image of woman)

Remarriage is abhorred in this song from Nenjil Or Aalayam : The woman in the song 'Sonnadhu nee dhaana' (were you the one who said it?)  asks:

'Deivathin marbil soodiya malai/theruvinile vizhalama
theruvinile vizhundalum/Veroru kai thodalama'

Can the garland that adorns the lord be allowed to fall in the street?
And if it were to fall, can strange hands pick it up?
In this elaborate metaphor - the lord is the husband and the garland signifies the woman.

In the same song we find the lines: 
 'Oru kodiyil oru murai dhaan malarum malarallava' (A flower blooms but once in a creeper meaning love and marriage can happen but once in a woman's life)
Both these quotes endorse the view that a woman has no other purpose in life than to serve her master and with his passing her life loses meaning.

While chastity and virginity are the cornerstones of a woman's life, she can and more importantly should dispense with them if a man were to demand it!

In the song:
'Nan Malarodu Thaniyaaga Yen Ingu Nindren ?
En Magaraani Unnai Kaana Ododi Vandhen'

Who do I seek with flower in hand?
Awaiting you- my queen here I stand.
To which she replies:
'Nee Illamal Yaarodu Uravaada Vandhen ?
Un Ilamaikku Thunaiyaaga Thaniyaaga Vandhen'

I have come of course to cavort with who else?
I  come alone to yield to your juvenescence.

 Forthrightness in woman is discouraged: In this song from Poova Thalaiya -Adi sarithaan podi vayadi (Oh get going, you chatterbox) a woman's femininity is questioned when she tries to be assertive. The man asks 'Unakku penmai irukka? (Are you feminine at all?)

 As I said earlier, many examples may exist for each of the aspects I have touched upon, and more importantly research will yield several misogynistic misconceptions contained within them.

Meanwhile, I would like to continue listening to them for their other merits, firm in the belief that the woman of today has eased at least some of these shackles that bind her. 

Wednesday 7 January 2015

[Translation] Yadum Oore Yavarum Kelir

This is an English Translation of very famous piece by Kaniyan Poonkundranar.

யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்
தீதும் நன்றும் பிறர்தர வாரா
நோதலும் தணிதலும் அவற்றோ ரன்ன
சாதலும் புதுவது அன்றே, வாழ்தல்
இனிதென மகிழ்ந்தன்றும் இலமே முனிவின்
இன்னா தென்றலும் இலமே, மின்னொடு
வானம் தண்துளி தலைஇ யானாது
கல் பொருது மிரங்கு மல்லல் பேரியாற்று
நீர்வழிப் படூஉம் புணைபோல் ஆருயிர்
முறை வழிப் படூஉம் என்பது திறவோர்
காட்சியில் தெளிந்தனம் ஆகலின், மாட்சியின்
பெரியோரை வியத்தலும் இலமே,
சிறியோரை இகழ்தல் அதனினும் இலமே. (புறம்: 192)

 The world is my town and its people my kinsmen
Good and evil comes not from others.
Pain and respite emanate from within;
Neither death is new nor life.

We rejoice in felicity terming it a balmy breeze
and  patiently bear adversity -
The wise deem life a rudderless boat
borne along rapids,
even as lightning and rain strike down from darkened skies
The boat moves steered by fate
Needless then, this praise of the rich
More so the insult of the poor.

[Translation] ஆண்டாளின் நாச்சியார் திருமொழி - கற்பூரம் நாறுமோ

    What form does bhakti take? In deep veneration it evokes intense spirituality. Can one express romantic love towards the divine? Great s...