Brockenhurtst Hospital, Brockenhurtst, 1915
Perhaps, they were mere bodies,
once-upon narratives to me.
What would you call
the dryness that comes
to palms too wet
from scooping drenched,
bodies from trench slush.
I see remnants
of dying, sit
on twisted coat-hangars,
reside in dull, green-woollen socks,
bodies with shrapnel
smiling from throats,
bayonets shredding echoes
of the only silence
possible in wet trenches,
bodies too abstract, and
to be called bodies.
They were bodies to me -
because that way
I could know a god who was a neutral.
Son, my mother had said, the source
of light determines where
the tunnel opens.
In fighting and dying, we were supposed to
be our equally disillusioned selves.
But look at me,
neither Hindu, nor Muslim, I seek
consummation, and space
in a church
graveyard - death
not the truant leveller
it was supposed
to be. I wish
I too was more than a body to you -
amounting to something, anything more.
Cyst - a word
with something like
hunger. Schist -
the texture of
Mist - fate's
a fibroid-ridden uterus
everything. Kist -
where we hid
when we pained,
our supple hearts becoming
a site of learning
throbbing with knowledge. Kissed -
by a vacancy so large
we could smell it
on windowpanes. Palms,
psalms, paeans, prayers -
the gist - of a million
childhood of all ages
is heir to. Blessed -
when she took her first steps
saying, now that I am better
let me cook for you.
3. Historical Triangulation as Coping Mechanism
In the evening
after her children are tired
Algebra, Pascal's Law,
and Periodic Tables,
their mother tells them
the story of their singularly
jauntily ambling to Jallianwala Bagh, and then
being sieved by bullets fired
from .303 Enfield Rifles.
story is all heart,
fleshed by borrowed memory,
and almost no real detail, she could not
have described the rustle of silence
right before Dyer ordered, 'Fire!'
Instead, she tells them
of the shrieks, the panic,
the frenzy after it ended,
the Well whose waters
still ran red, those
Nanakshahi bricks along
the narrow exit corridor,
decorated with bullet wounds
encircled by white chalk. She
cannot possibly know that
like her grandfather,
those Nanakshahi bricks, and the
narrow, deathly corridor
will not exist in future. Feeling
unnecessarily solemn, their
throats sticky with sadness, the children
fall asleep. Next day, they are woken
by their father's lamentations.
They see him standing
in front of the television,
while an inexplicably
animated reporter conveys, 'THE TALIBAN
HAVE DESTROYED BAMIYAN BUDDHAS'.
The children do not know
what is the Taliban, where is Bamiyan,
or who is Buddha. Still sobered by
their mother's story,
they know now is not the time
to make word-strings like,
of any new words they learn.
4. After the War, to Shoot an Albatross
At that time,
we resided between words,
and their meanings,
sipping from one,
or the other, like eager
hatchlings receiving wet morsels.
Beauty meant the smell of tal
schoolyard tree meant
paper-ball hand-cricket in the shade,
wars meant spit-balls in history class,
and War veteran meant an old man we saw
each afternoon, sitting on a long-chair
in his porch, smoking, reading, the sun
glistening through his dog-tags.
He was not unusual to look at, though
more than one of us
thought of him in class,
when we read Hemingway.
Most afternoons were listlessness,
snoring, the shade of a Portia tree,
cigarette smoke, and us, wide-eyed
ruffians quietly spotting mangoes
in his front yard.
At times he got up, waved at us,
handing a bottle of cold water, and dozing
on that mythical chair. One afternoon,
we spotted a newspaper-tent on his crotch,
concealing, what we thought was wood,
though, it could be more torpidity
than desire. Something we still can't name,
arose in the base of our spines.
We stood at eye-shot, taking aim,
waiting, waiting, waiting
for the newspaper to slide.
Was it Rudra, Phani, Jal, or
me, who lobbed the first stone?
We would never know. The stone missed!
Then another, and another,
which found the ashtray. It tripped
off the table, dislodging ash, butts,
burnt ends of so many boredoms.
He was awake now, wild-eyed, coming at us,
the newspaper still covering his midriff,
dog-tag dangling through white chest-hair
We never did glimpse
what lay beneath
the newspaper-tent. But in all future
retellings, we see whale, blow-fish,
sting-ray, the throbbing edge of melancholy
never far from our voice.
5. Myths We Make
My considerate working-class parents
indulged me with chocolates by my bedside
each Christmas, they said,
came from Santa Claus.
I left lavish Thank You notes
on the night of every 24th.
Movies, I was told were 'real',
though what I watched in a film -
deaths, treasures, dacoits, aliens,
revolutions - I could never
spot in News channels
my father watched each evening.
Nonetheless, I wrote sympathy notes
to dislocated children, separated lovers,
failed heroes, telling them,
"they'd be fine, they'd be okay, as long as
there was no Algebra in their lives".
In 1996, my mother's belly
began to swell. This had
something to do with my loneliness
showing itself as a petulant six year old
standing outside a Grocery Store, asking
if, "babies were available for sale!"
I wrote petitions to my parents, grandparents,
aunts, neighbours, querying if being alone
was the only requisite for citizenship in their midst.
That was when Lord Shiva came into our home,
each night, making something
of a baby sister/brother, growing inside
my mother's stomach. Mondays - was hair,
Tuesdays - fingers, Wednesdays - skin,
and so on. I started leaving Thank you notes,
chocolates, perhaps a glass of water each night.
None of these were found
in the mornings.
When I met my blob-of-a-sister
in the hospital, I whispered to her,
Shiva is your father. My mother keeps
the letters I wrote
to Santa Claus, movie characters,
Lord Shiva, in her Bank vault
beside her jewellery, as if
locking it up, would somehow
stop us from growing up.