These branches, by some divine accident, dropped an elusive pearl by the corner of my hands.
It possessed dew’s succulent moisture and a mischievous hint of the clouds’ restless shapes. A bit of nature’s fragrant script and a touch of my own flowing tears.
But these were tears of joy. These eyes were filled with an experience. Eyes that saw this city of lights removed from its age-old precepts, like the world’s fair dazzling bright by the evening’s perspective.
And these eyes found lights scattered like a celestial vision when their colours flanked waves and filled the river with hues of adornment.
Beauty truly lies with the beholder. And the one who beholds is You, windows of your vision open like the universe.
There is the smell of ‘itar’ fragrant in each memory and evening’s delicate, moonlit charm is in the day’s mirror.
‘itar’ refers to the fragrances that are popular in Lucknow.
(In memory of Lucknow’s tragic, historical figure Mallika Kishwar)
A siege of blackguards has come visiting upon Rumi’s artistry All worldly affairs and kindred affinities have remained in prayers counted on these last fingers.
What status hence? What is the nature of this pang?
I’ve felt Gomti’s languid currents divert their way towards the distant sea. All might to be affixed with the Crown and the Tazia has disappeared with this sudden storm, within my very sights.
A state of siege remains in these breaths, an aura, morbid and languid, beyond expression.
The Imambara seems to echo with my muffled cries, calling out my beloved son, “come to me, listen to your mother’s plaintive exhortations. Across seven seas, disrobed from Awadh, she has no shore to herself”
Today, she isn’t beholden to shackles of patriarchy or her bowed head. Yet disrobed from the heart of her country, she is just a pigment, like dried ink along pages of an unacknowledged history. Silent. Lost. Just a forgotten name leaning by an unfulfilled stature.
* ‘Rumi’ here refers to the iconic Rumi gateway in Lucknow.
* Gomti is the river that runs through Lucknow.
* Imambara refers to the palace and now mausoleum in which the royal family of the city lived including the subjects of the two poems here.
* Tazia refers to the religious procession taken out during the holy months.
* Awadh is the region in which Lucknow is situated.
( In memory of Wajid Ali Shah, Mallika Kishwar’s son and his tragic exile from Lucknow)
A storm of the senses aligns with autumn.
I’ve let all jewels of my desire flow and go deep in the river’s depths.
These banks are merely composed of wet mud where remains of my silence will be found and excavated someday, in some fortituous era. Only if you, removed from reminiscences of this populous city and its complex expanse, would search for this animated soul, almost sentient in the present.
Maybe you’ll find a peacock feather first, one or few manuscripts among them.
I entrust you now my skin. My reign.
I surrender my artistic vision to illumine these final stages which unite Melancholy and Romanticism as unlikely allies and lovers. And this boat is trembling upon this most tranquil river.
Can you hear me? you mystic boatman, with a song perpetually dawning and retreating with your horizons.
My beloved flute has become one with the river’s unclaimed melody and Awadh’s voice is crying languidly in a hidden corner to keep its tragedy a secret from centuries.
A storm of the senses aligns with autumn. I leave now.
The above two poems are based on the familial strains of two historical figures from my legendary hometown of Lucknow whose hope, zeal for human goodness and naivete stood out in a sea of colonial apathy and continues to inspire millions.
In the year 2016 as I was finding, enhancing and sharing my literary voice with the world, I wrote a poem titled ‘Talkhiya/ Bitterness’ in Urdu, a tribute to my beloved hometown Lucknow.
At the same time, I translated it into English myself and self- published it as ‘A Farewell to Bitterness’; the poem was favourably received by readers and was subsequently published in another capacity on a prominent platform two years back.
Today, buoyed by one of my strongest literary champions and friend Ajay Kumar who prompted me to someday share the original Urdu version, I heed his word. Here it is. Thank you Ajay for creating a blueprint by writing and publishing your prolific body of poetic works and making the art of translation your biggest strength. This is my gift to you, my friend.
IN TALKHIYON KA SAHARA NA DE MUJHE
In talkhiyon ka sahara na de mujhe ki main abhi aabaad nahi.
Tile wali masjid ke sirhaane de mujhe bhale hi shabhashiya par utha na tu alfaaz Jo barbaad sahi, Jo abhi aabaad nahi.
Lucknow se jo naya sarokaar hai jo tumne bhi seekha hai parakhna usi naye-purane, maddham afsano ki raah par tu apni talkhiyon se kar jung koi Ki main abhi, Tu bhi abhi aabaad nahi.
Tinke maine bhi aakhon me band kar liye hai, darwaazo aur diyaro wali galiyon ke giraft me jo panapte hai. Dhool-mitti se raundi hai yaade apni is talkh mausam ke mohalle mein. Ab to maine bhi aabaad hone ki aas chori nahi ki tu bhi aur main bhi abhi aabaad nahi.
Chor in talkhiyo ka sahara ke ye sheher dobaara aabaad hua hai. Chal un tinko aur sahuliyaton se chune hum ek ghazal koi, ek ghazal nayi.
A FAREWELL TO BITTERNESS
Do not give me the support of this bitterness, For I cannot yet prevail.
Towards the Great Mosque’s head, you may riddle me with false proclamations, for the sake of good faith and His eyes upon you. But do not raise words from the remains for they won’t prevail.
The new union with Lucknow, which you have studied well and observed, walk towards the tender cadences of stories old and new, wage a war against your bitterness on those lanes. For I do not prevail You ,too, are far from prevailing.
I have enclosed pollens and floating straws with my eyes, they emerge in the arms of bylanes, bylanes with doors and abodes. Look, I have trampled memories with the mud and dust, in this bitter colony of seasons. Now I have gathered my desires to prevail, for both you and I are still far from prevailing.
Leave behind crutches of bitterness for this city prevails again. Let us craft poems from these straws and shared vocations. A new everlasting poem.
Mr. Strider Marcus Jones has done it once again: proven that prolific artistry and championing of other fellow poets is something he truly abides by.
A few months after two of my poems graced the Lothlorien Poetry Journal’s Anthology around November, 2022, he has once again ensured that three of my works grace the latest edition. To have ‘Ringlets’, ‘Mt. Luna’ and ‘Part One’ be a part of a print anthology now is a feat made possible by him and his dedicated team.
Kudos to all my fellow poets who are part of the anthology owing to their stellar craft. Thank you for this trust and continuous support, Marcus Sir. May our quills be eternally soaked, inked with ideas and meaningful words.
You can also go one step ahead and buy the book on lulu.com. That will be wonderful.
I had written these two poems specifically for the themed issue of my departmental journal ‘Rhetorica Quarterly’; it gives me great honour to share that they have now been published in it.
Above all, I’m so glad that the editorial team at Rhetorica chose to publish them in their raw, unedited form which really means a lot to me as a writer. To have that trust is truly humbling. Thank you for this gift of trust and literary abundance.
LOOK WHAT I FOUND
Look what I found! It’s a helmet with no name or date.
Military green with a chin strap, it is an artifact. An anachronism that the war happened under our forebears’ aquiline noses and that Uncle Paddy had indeed been the pacifist in the family, obliterating a dangerous propaganda and nationhood. And that our contacts had saved our men from the barbarians’ gospel of martyrdom.
I’ve heard folks say that if one leans close to the helmet a history of combat and searing pain can scream out in the ears. Maybe we can even hear a ghost’s name or two revealed. Or the senseless dragging of that soldier’s feet who lost his sight and speech and then his ears too felt a din of silence. He died in his mother’s home in ’48.
You can sway this helmet, play with it, kick it on its head in a mock drill. The one who wore it is now the soil on which our crumbling estate staggers.
The elegiac soul of this village is not unfounded.
The doctor gave me a strange little prescription for my back pain.
There were little red grenade-shaped plastic pills that I had to uncork to drink the mushy olive ingredient meant to provide me relief.
It’s funny at first and sad that the pain of another, massive kind had to be symbolised so nonchalantly in them.
A war is killing thousands. Another centenary and memorial is coming soon; a young man’s beheading and a brave girl’s death under custody is a present clarion call to whiplash all muezzins.
The war rages in pockets of nonchalance until red pills in the shape of grenades show us our shock and dismay; The shape of it The duality of it The way it is about broken limbs in a battlefield erroneously simplified in a liquid for back pain. The real thing made into little toy guns and little plastic grenades purchased from the chemist’s.
This work is an English translation of my own Hindi poem originally titled HARIYALI I had written in July, 2022. VERDURE/ GREENERY is the English form of the word.
Verdure is walking away from me. The old familiar address held by the headless landlord.
Drink the third day’s rain as it pitter-patters from the tin-roof and giggles on our tongues, tasteless. Fill up the earthen bowls with water for birds; they will fly back and look towards this bureau, bathe outside on moist mornings and embark with inaudible wishes.
With these desks left behind. With this courtyard emptied.
Only let this verdure grow around your body that moved like a salve when indolence yawned and misled us around the last edified days of June.
Tell verdure to change this course of humanity. To not take away this establishment and its fixedness.
Verdure, use a miracle; produce in the human mind an awakening, a commiseration with us.
Send on those cold citadels your earnest summons. Instruct those contractors up there to delay this division of the land.
This is not the time to let a new land spread its soil.
This is not the time to count seeds scattered for compensation.
This is not the time to condemn dreams established around this site.
It’s not the time to bury and fill verdure with brown earth.
Tarshi- In Plainspeak is a journal that emboldens one to delve deep into challenging social issues.
For its latest themed issue based on ‘Narratives and Sexuality’, my poem DID YOU SEE? has become part of the published corpus. It gives me hope that my written output, culled from my own experiences and spread towards a collective of abuse and silence, will help others to come to terms with their own shielded histories of non-verbalised, unwritten personal life-scripts.
The following poem sprung from deep-seated memories of the boy whom I had as my ‘best friend’ for almost a decade during both our formative years. But his roots ran adjunct with his mother’s fallacious pride and the friendship pretty much was left hanging by a thread towards its last legs.
Below the poetic form is employed by me to grasp the sense of betrayal that some people take no accountability for.
Go into the crevice and find the friend who comes out with his last words and rotten tracks through time. He has the last portion of his birthday cake left for you and his mother carries an eternal side-eye & calls your home- ‘small’.
Where do you go to or look back from if he is a darkling who calls for your invisibility on the forums? He, with the beast of hauteur and his mother’s fallacious pride, as spots around his body.
You only look at your own spot as a starling on an abandoned nest.
Real dispossession is to know that he could question your place & make amity’s natural affections grievances. It was easy for him to dethrone his privileges for affected weekends & refuse to offer you a seat of trust.
Hello Mother, you have read through the years the obligatory side-eyes you had given out like societal circulars when I failed to obtain a seat at the table. No, it was yours. Your son refrained from bringing a dreamer and survivor’s flowers for your golden vases there.
So he gave me a farewell through an obligatory invitation at the cinema and I finally said ‘no’ to the arrangement, bowdlerizing a grand estimation for both your places in the city.
We were children and I was the youngest of all.
How do you meet my gaze now? To make your son’s disappearance graver than it was for all those years past.
Go into the crevice, mother, maybe he’s hiding there with the flakes of ants’ storehouses, keen to pick one cover of naivete or innocence to make me an overcoat with.
He awaits to meet me at the school auditorium where we once beheld the sun of our youth through greater terrains than this future or your disapproval(s)
Go into the crevice. Go into the crevices. You may find us there.