Skip to content

Letters written to no one in particular about nothing in particular – 5

No wooing, no more wooing, I cannot find the voice
for it any more; the words I would say to you poise
themselves on the edge of my larynx, prance, stumble, fall in a stream
of laughs. It is getting too ridiculous these days. The heat
of undigested words and the sky like a pressed blue sheet
descending on us, on me, on you, ever so slowly. How does one speak
of love, or think, as an itch snakes its way from point to unwelcome point?
The skin turns alien like an indifferent sky
that can’t be bothered to contain me and you or us or the tide
of laughter that threatens to crack my ribs. Far easier to lie
unmoving like a mattress, the sheet pressing down, abide
in the touch of a slow descending wind that dries,
that cools itch-etched seams; to wait for the noise
to settle in liquid gurgles in the pit of my stomach, to void
the words I would say to you in a burst of rancid wind
that lifts the sky. There, I find my voice again. But no, no more wooing.

Letters written to no one in particular about nothing in particular – 3, 4

3.

To be fooled by a kiss is no better
nor worse than to be smitten
by the shape of an apocalypse. The event
is itself. The weather
is always something we can write.
I tell you, the apocalypse won’t feature exploding suns
or bloody skies. We will sit apart, in our dying nights,
each to our own desk, tongues rolling words,
remembering the kisses we never remembered.

Or not, maybe our tongues will seek each other.
Even as the weather turns feral
and terse verses run loose with a gasp
in the storm of lines that we never meant to write,
a rain like the exhumed breath of a corpse.
But fools that we are, a kiss is all we can bear
as red clouds bask in the death of the sun.
We will have each other, skeletal, smitten.

4.

Suction is the truth of things: a kiss, a poem,
a storm, the bitten tongue  of a silent orgasm,
loss; Everything sucks, no? No. Everything spins
I meet myself walking between
mirrors some times. Did I tell you?
There is a sign in my office loo
“PLEASE DO NOT URINATE ON THE FLOOR”
as if the pain in my bladder does not ensure
that I do not walk, that I do not talk
to anyone except in functional grunts:
“This is what is”, “This is what must be done.”
Someone must step up, someone must abjure
their self, change positions, smile, endure
the discomfort, the muscle tear, the headache
that comes from the body sucking into itself,
the body imagining itself as stone, dull
but whole and immaculate;
breathing but laughing, and always in the distance,
stuck in the abyssal cry of knowing someone,
forgetting them in the rapture of knowing;
waking to a dark tunnel, the borders shadowed. Pain, gloaming
like distant stars in the corpse of the universe that is you, undone.

Letters written to no one in particular about nothing in particular – 1

I do not believe I could ever be
an Iron Man, a metal corpse imbued
with the stench of flesh, the slick, sour reek
of an unwashed taint. How does he bear it?
I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I cannot bring myself
to sniff myself on my best of days. My body
gushes like a clogged sewer; skin and follicle,
blood and cologne, a miasma. Oh, I cannot
bear the weight of my skin.
                                                       I would
gladly be an invisible man. Unfleshed, unboned,
unmade, unfurled like a vacuum you see but don’t.
Invisible hands that have forgotten touch, an
invisible brain that writes a language you cannot read,
invisible eyes that cannot see, invisible words
that sink like silent corpses into the earth
and the next time you take a step, you will know
a poem like the faintest tremor through your toes.

10. The exile

It is my time to walk away;
the ether has stretched itself over the days
of my passing. The light has grown dimmer
and the hours have run astray
of the steady fall of the calendar
The turning of the clock is a piece of paper
falling as white as the one yesterday.
The steady murmur of the usual clamor
no longer settles on my ears.
A chair for one, a meal for one, a single glass
poured from from a single pitcher
I do not hope to listen
and if listened, understand,
and if understood, know another
that would disrupt a single gray strand
of this senescent ether.
I do not think I can stand to make a stand

It is my time to build a shelter
a thing of small joys, of the stoic pleasures
still left to me. I have no desire
for a kingdom. A hut thrown together
from the meager leavings of my mind
That will suffice, a gray place for the gray times.
There, in the shade of its certainties,
in the familiar surprise of its incongruities,
in the remembered ache of its little discomforts,
I will write myself into the dust
As each day will fall as a numbered piece of paper,
as everything merges with the mist of the ether,
I will write myself into the dust.

8. One bourbon, one scotch, one beer

The goddess behind the sole red bulb lives
In a cloud of smoke. Incense sticks and cigarettes
And our worn-out lungs are the clouds she craves
Like a moon patching its fair face from the mad distress
Of the night. A patch of redlit dark to my left forms the waiter
I drain another glass, go ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer.

Repeat.’ The walls breed cockroaches. The lone window
Wears the latest spiderwebs. Here, all things grow
Out of themselves, connect like fingers fumbling over
A dark table, finding what they seek, forming a clasp
Like a covenant, like the endless promise of an empty glass.
It’s the patch of man again. Time for ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer

Once more.’ There is a deep quiet people leave behind
After they have left, hands clasped unbroken.
Out of their absence swept clean from their tables, the dead eyes
Of the ceiling that pass off as flaking paint. The goddess
Rises now in this emptied space. Smiling, her picture
Announces, ‘Your time is up.’ ‘A bourbon, a scotch, a beer

To go.’ I will seek the turning street, watch time descend
Like a cartoon anvil from the sky. But this is not the end.

(NOTE: Every once in a while, a song gets stuck in my head. It repeats itself at the strangest of times throughout the day. It plays as a background score in my dreams. The Glee version and the John Lee Hooker version of “One bourbon, one scotch, one beer” both have been playing on my mind a lot these past few weeks. Hence, this poem.)  

6. The weak atheist watches his team lose [Placeholder title]

We lost because you were kept from singing.
Because correlation must be causation
If I am to live, to keep believing
That a win matters. That the kingdom

Will be nigh. The falling grace of your neck,
The secret turn of your lips behind a veil of hair
is the stuff of song. The note that breaks
The sky into stars, the death of the word in an air

Slowly melting to a solid state. Because I
Must war against the invisible. The real
Is a ghost that the eye cannot abide.
That must be broken, rebuilt, a dark castle

Forged as you sing. Now, I can rest though we lost
I will dream of my kingdom, of towers of song.

2. The candidate and the man who can’t care

He has that smile, the benign yet certain kind
that you only see on those who’ve never
had to watch things grow.  Oh, he’s sure
of himself, of the change he bears
like a hidden treasure in the folds
of his skin, of the star-eyed oaths
he swears, of the steel-slick cold
much-practiced gaze he throws
from his stage, of the thunder
of loudspeakers hosanna-ing
his name, of himself as the future
that must be, of his golden reign.

I don’t know a lot about a lot of things
I do my work to earn my keep. I think
when I must as a luxury I’m allowed,
and I watch my days roll away: clouds
too distant from his thunder. Too
slow to keep up with the future, too
tired to read the hidden horrors
in terrible oaths. I can’t see much farther
than tomorrow, and I much prefer
the certainty of days gone past:
like an old remembered trail in a forest
of dead trees and silent bones.
Whatever happens, my years will pass on.

Tree after tree, my trail will unfold itself
and you with your smiles in this commercial
I think I’ll add you as a cracked skull
a thing half-remembered in my forest.

1. The watchmen

It was a place we were never meant to be.
I wish I could tell you I told you so,
but I remember walking with you down that road
to the bones of Ur, to the corpse of the city.

In the black of the night, there was no distance.
The eye saw no farther than the farthest dark.
Our torches caught the dust, the flaking bodies
of trucks, wheelbarrows no more red, the arc

of a crane arm, dead in its rising.  What was it
crunched with each step (I wonder now)? What
air pushed us past (why do I remember its hiss?)?
What cursed moon chose that dark hour

to light what loomed before us. What towers those,
like silent time in rows; windows spaced like empty eyes
staring (always staring, ah, those eyes!) at us?
What voice was it that screamed (was it mine?)

What echoed forth (do you remember?). And, at each door
that fed the mouth of each nescient tower,
a single chair with a pile of tinder
and a nameplate. The first bore yours.

Rakthabheeja [DRAFT]

There is a dead bedbug wedged between the cover and first page of a copy of the Gormenghast novels that was given to me once by a distant friend in a nameless past. In its death, it left no trail of blood. I estimate its death as some time between yesterday morning and late afternoon today. I imagine it scampered over the empty sheets of my bed, scouring this vast continent of dirty blue for a scrap of flesh, a sip of nourishing blood. Out of the sheer despair that routinely grips such creatures when hunger gnaws the windows of their minds and their senses start blurring and narrowing into a strait thin corridor of light, it perhaps sought to climb the walls of this Gormenghast. Too often, we forget ourselves caught in the throes of a feeling we cannot shake away like a fraying thread on a sleeve or a drop of bird shit. We carry it with us, we let it carry us in a headlong burst into unknown territory. Borders are forgotten, turrets, guns, the blinding shine of search lamps, all is unseen. She with the red tongue, she with the white eyes, a finger points and pew pew pew. Bullet holes sprout mysteriously, leaking mushrooms in the hollows between our ribs. A shriek will power us to climb the hills, the mounds, the highways in our way. And so it was, perhaps, that this bedbug clambered on, its insect mind howling for blood, blood, blood. A stray wind turned a page, held it close. Now I wait for my nails to grow longer and the holes in my body to re-seal themselves back to wholeness. Though everything is a single lengthening strand of light between me and the door and they are knocking and knocking and the hinges, they tremble. As the page trembles, the bedbug, the bedbug. Here, dead one. Here is blood.

A Fall [draft]

It’s after 12 and I’m out bunking the last class of the day. History.  There’s some Math competition in the school so the double geometry class was canceled. After managing a noisy, chaotic classroom for two consecutive free periods in the morning and a nicely filling lunch, I can’t be expected to sit through Chopra sir’s whining voice droning on about the independence movement. Who knew being a monitor would be so stressful? But hey, it gets me out of class once in a while, so I guess I can’t complain. I’m hanging out near the renovated classrooms on fourth floor. No one comes up here but you have to lie low so the peons on the third floor don’t spot you from the corridor. A bunch of us were supposed to meet up here, but it looks like no one else managed to get out in time.

“Hey, hey, Mithaiwala, what’s up? How’s monitor-giri working out?”

Mithaiwala. Only one chutiya in the whole school calls me that. The rest just call me MM. I like that. I look up and sure as fuck, it’s Vishal, sauntering up the stairs like he owns it. “Abbe, lie low! I don’t want to get caught up here”, I whisper to him. He plops down next to me and grins that crazy, bucktoothed grin of his, “I was in the competition.” He waves a badge at my face, “Free pass, yaar. Why are you up here any way? Chopra’s gonna be mad, you know? You’ll have to dish out some special mithai for him, ha ha ha” I hate his laughter and close as we are, I can smell that noxious garlic stink from his mouth. Does he ever wash his mouth? No wonder, his teeth are all yellow all the time. I peer down the corridor and it’s empty. No sounds from the stairs either. I have my own excuses for staying out, of course. Debate practice. Quiz planning. I have a notebook with my debate speech and a pen as evidence. It’s all good, I’m not worried.

Vishal pulls his knees up and regards me with a questioning look. Always does this, same damned look with his eyebrows knit close, beady little eyes staring at you like a rat. I wait for the inevitable interrogation. Word of our little incident in the 9th X class must have spread, I imagine. Whole school’s like one big rat warren. All of them with their gossiping, little intrigues, and “plan”s. Hate them, all of them. Hate that class. How long before the bell goes off? How long before I can run home? “So”, he starts his prologue, measuring out his words like they’re money. “You have quite a terrible class, you know? Rita really fucked you with this monitoring business. Very tragic, I can’t even begin to think of the pressure it must all be.” He shakes his head like he is sad and all. Gods, I swear this guy is so Bollywood I want to punch him in the throat. “Tragic”, ha! Bet he has a little notebook to write down interesting English words or something.

“Can’t be easy at all”, he continues as if he’s talking about some D-level complicated 20-mark Algebra problem, “Bad enough they reshuffled all of us into different classes in 9th. But…shit, putting the whole Vinu gang and all the rowdies in all the classes in one X class is just…” He shakes his head again sympathetically. Like he’s Shah Rukh Khan. I know what he’s after. Bastard, get to the bloody point. He lets out a long theatrical sigh, “I really feel for you, man. Pata hai, I told Bedade sir that this is all wrong, that it is impossible for one guy to control a class full of gundas. I really fought for you.”

Sure, sure. My hero, here’s your medal, now smile for the cameras and fuck off. Bedade sir told me about this chooth’s meddling. Smirked at me in that military way he has and told me to do my job. That I’m not getting replaced, ever. I have to laugh at this now, “Ya, but after today, I’m not hoping to be monitor for long.” His eyes light up at my response. You could cut his face off now and use it as a great explanation for that “as curious as a cat” simile in the next English period.

“Jai can do a better job of it anyway.”, I shrug, “He’s been doing it every time I bunk and he knows most of those guys well enough to handle them.” Jai’s a good guy, good heart. Loyal to a fault, which makes him a terrible monitor, of course. Never calls his friends out and only goes after people that won’t mess with him later. Terribly unfair, but he does a better job of keeping the noise down than me with my absolutely fair, no-nonsense approach. I look at the time, 30 more minutes for the bell. There’s some commotion from the third floor below us. 7th class kids getting restless, I imagine. I always loved the third floor classrooms. Big and wide, with lots of windows that looked out on the road. I never had a problem getting a window seat. Just sit there and stare out at the road forever, that’s all I wanted to do. That’s all I want to do. The first floor classrooms are horrible. Small, cramped, and the principal’s office and the staff room are right down the corridor. Always noisy with people coming and going and the shouts from PT classes in the ground. No peace, no calm. No trees that swayed at an arm’s length from the window. No regular drone of traffic sounds and bird calls breezing in at your ears. No peace at all.

Vishal pulls me out of my reverie by tapping me on the shoulder. I zoned out on him, it seems, because he looks worried. I seem to do that a lot these days in school. Can’t focus on things that are right in front of me. The other day, I lost myself in my thoughts in Hindi class and forgot what page was being discussed in class. Earned a remark in the calendar and an hour of copying out the whole bloody poem 10 times in my notebook. Plus, I have to recite it out tomorrow in class. Vishal is talking again, “…that’s when Vinu came in and stopped the fight. Are you even listening?” I detect a note of impatience there and have to keep myself from smiling. I just nod and wave at him to carry on. This could be useful.

With a grunt, he carried on, “Any way, what I came to ask you is about what happened today. In class.” What happened, what happened, I’ve been listening to this bullshit for two periods now. Every guy I run into, what happened. “Nothing. Nothing happened”, I lay it out plainly. But he’s not convinced. Nobody is convinced. Because something’s always happening in this school, right? Little ant hive of bustling activity. Everything’s a movie waiting to happen, right? Everything has to be a big drama, has to be discussed and blown up and talked about. I hate this place. 18 more minutes, and I’ll be out of here.

“We had a free Geometry thanks to your stupid competition and…I managed the class. That is all.”

“Oh, that was it. Right, right. You did not go ballistic on Abhay and Sejal at all then. All of that is just lies, is it?”

The bastard’s taunting me. I can hear it in his voice. I can see it in his ratty eyes. Ah, I’m tired and sick. I think I have a fever. There’s no wind up here during school hours. You’d think there would be a wind because of all of the empty space up here, but there isn’t. I guess I’ll have to spell out the truth, bring some much needed clarity on this matter. Gods, I hate talking about this shit.

“I’m the bloody monitor, right? That’s what I’m there for, to manage disturbances in class. Abhay was yelling at Sejal from the last bench and she, on the first bench, yelling back. The rest of the class is howling like a pack of monkeys about this. So yes, I quieted them down. That’s. My. Job.”

I didn’t realise I was yelling until I saw Vishal motioning me to quiet down. Heh, he actually looks a little scared now. Though I wonder what he’s heard. What’s all this fuss about?

“Ya, ya, I’ll be quiet. But…why’s everyone asking me about this? Ran into Raghu last period and he wanted to know what happened. Recess time, the girls and Jaadya and Muthu are after me about what happened. Vik’s not talking to me at all. Why all this tamasha?”

Vishal stares at me blankly, “Baba, how long have you been out?”

I try to remember. Let me see, I stormed out of the class in the middle of Geometry – 2, leaving Jai to tend the class. Recess was right after. Skipped the English and Marathi periods for debate practice. Huh. I’ve been out all day! “I’ve…been out since recess, why?”

Once more, that godawful shake of his head and worse, now he’s staring distantly at the empty corridor. Damned dramebaaz probably imagines the whole of DDLJ in his head while wanking. “So…you really don’t know”, he mutters. I’m obliged to interject with an irritated “WHAT?” now.

“Sejal’s been weepy since you threatened to report her and Abhay to Bedade. What I hear, she started breaking down minutes after you bunked before recess.”

More drama, nice. But Sejal’s always been a little drama queen. She stays in my building, we go to the same Marathi tuition, I should know. Since her tits popped out and she started getting attention. It’s nothing new. I’ve known her since KG and it’s bloody nothing new. I tell him, “It’s nothing new. She’s always been like that. Probably wants some sympathy, that’s all.”

Vishal tries to smirk, but fails horribly. It makes him look like he’s trying to wink at someone. “Mithai man, you’re in deep shit. She’s been telling people you’re a stalker. That you chase after her in the building. Keep bothering her over little things and teasing her with your little group. Blank calls and all. That you’re a two-faced little shit playing the good boy in school and showing your real face outside.”

This is…new. This is, I don’t know what this is. Why would she do this? Rotten little whore that she is, why would anyone believe this? Gods, fuck, fuck, fuck. Bhen…fuck. She ties me a rakhi every year. She’s beautiful and smart. I remember her in last year’s New Year’s party in the building. Her hair in the wind, her dance…she’s a conniving little bitch. Vishal is watching me. I stand up and peek over the low wall of the corridor, at the ground below. I don’t want to see that bastard staring at me. I want…”How long has this been going on?”, I ask.

“Oh, the rumours have been out for a month or so now. That you fancy Sejal. But, this is the kind of proof that confirms it, you know? And…oh man, let me tell you, Vinu and Abhay and the lot, they are not happy. There’s a setting today. After school. Your setting.”

I can feel the colour seep away from my skin. I can feel my blood turn warm, a loss of feeling in my knees. From what I’ve read and seen in the movies, this is what falling in love is like. But I haven’t felt afraid like this, not for a long time. A setting. My setting. What is this? Doesn’t anyone want to know the real deal? I can feel my teeth gnashing against each other, a sullen rage like a hammer on my chest. “That whore has so much cock in her mouth, bhenchod, and you guys believe her over me? Vik, where the fuck is Vik? I want to talk…” I see the smile on Vishal’s face, that awful shake of his head and I don’t have to hear him at all.

“See, we did that scene with Sanjay the other day, remember? Where he was bothering our Saina a lot so we had to…straighten him out a little? For the Vinu gang, this is payback. Vik agrees. We don’t want a big scene happening over…what you said,” Now, he’s smirking. Bastard learns fast, “No scene over some bullshit spat.”

Sanjay is a pervy little runt, goes around proposing to random chicks every month. Hides out in the toilet during the rakhi weeks to avoid being brother-ed. I am a bloody asset, the guy who helps these sorry little duffers out when their little ape brains can’t understand basic math, when the weight of all their muscle squeezes dates and events in history out of their head. I’m the guy passing my impeccably written answer sheets back to them so they can scrape together a 50 in their exams so their dads won’t beat them. I am the good guy, the clean name, I’m a fucking asset! And they’re throwing me out to the jackals like this? No, fuck, no. Never, no.

“Listen, don’t fight it. I mean, it probably won’t be anything bad. They have a lot of bhadaas in their hearts to take out on you, because of, you know, your monitoring and all. Thoda maar khaa le, two or three slaps, a punch or two. And it’ll be done. If you don’t fight back, it’ll be over in a couple of minutes, tops.”

Sage advice from a cowardly little piece of shit that always hangs back from a fight. A gossip machine is all he is, a Narad muni. In the distance, the bell rings. School’s over. I can hear Vishal rising up behind me and walking to the stairs. He says something but I can’t hear him. I can only think about those guys waiting outside, the crowd gathered around them, the eyes…the waiting, watching eyes. Sejal. I can’t get beaten in front of Sejal. Everything has to be a scene here. Blown up, exaggerated, a movie every day. I hate this and I can’t leave. The 7th class is being led out. I can hear the noise of the line going down to the gates, like a river flowing out. A river of whispers. Whole bloody school, with its rivers of whispers. Won’t be long before Vishal drops a word with someone who murmurs to someone else and people start showing up here, persuading me to show up for this farce, this act, this…what do they call it, climax. Yes, climax. I should get out of here. But I can’t. They’re waiting outside. And if I take too long, they’ll wait outside forever. And it’ll be the same thing tomorrow and day after and the whispers piling up. I don’t want to be a part of this any more.

I am at the head of the stairs, looking down. The peons are out, I can hear the swish-swish sounds of their brooms re-distributing the dust in the corridor more evenly. So every part of it is equally dirty. Stairs, ever stood at the top and looked down a straight flight of stairs? Kind of looks like an arrowhead. An arrow pointing at where you ought to be. All you have to do is fall down its length and it will take you where you ought to be. There is a wind at my back now. The after-school wind, we called it. I always thought of it as a wind of nothing, a wind of absence, like the school is making up for its sudden emptiness by breathing out along the corridor. Like it’s pushing all of us who’re still here away. Go outside, it’s saying. Walk out to whatever is waiting outside for you. The school bus, a gang of waiting thugs, Sejal. Walk out. Or fall. I wipe the sweat off my forehead. I turn around, the corridor’s still empty. Where’s the wind? I should get going. It’s only ghosts up here now. I take a step back. The arrow will carry me.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 445 other followers

%d bloggers like this: