The Key

When did you start? he asked.
Around sunrise, I said.
Fast fast you ran up?
More like a brisk hike.
Brisk brisk, fast fast, same same.
Hike isn’t same as run, though.
I see, I see. Not even an hour.
It’s not as tough as they said.
Thousand steps, easy, yes.
Yeah. Not too steep either.
But one journey, very tough.
Which journey?
One you missed on the way.
I heard the waterfall. Looked risky.
I see, I see. You come alone?
Yeah. Alone for now. I’m new here.
I see, I see. No wife, no kids?
No wife, no kids. Not yet, no.
I see, I see. No kids, no mangoes.
Which mangoes?
Ones you missed on the way.
Yeah, kids get distracted easy.
Ripe ripe, sweet sweet, not fridged.
Maybe I’ll pick on my way down.
I see, I see. No wife, no gulmohars.
Which gulmohars?
Ones you missed on the way.
Yeah, women get distracted easy.
Red red, scent scent, not bottled.
Maybe I’ll pick on my way down.
I see, I see. No distract. Focus.
Yeah. I wanted to get here first.
I see, I see. No patience, no journey.
Could you just tell me where it is?
No journey, no destination.
Right. Thanks. Here, keep the change.
I see, I see. No need money.
Right. I’ll look this way first, I guess.
No destination, no looking.
Right. I knew it was an urban legend.
I see, I see. So you don’t believe?
The Key to Awareness! Here? Nope.
I see, I see. The teachers will show.
Which teachers?
Ones you missed on the way.
Right. They hold this Key?
They offer Key. No journey, no Key.
Maybe I’ll pick on my way down.
I see, I see.

Tap tap

I hear his cane tap the leg
Of his four-poster wooden bed
And realise I’d dozed off again
In my comfortable reading chair.
“To the bathroom?”
“Sshhhhhh”
He frowns and canes his way
Tap tap tap tap
To the open window to his left,
Closes his eyes as he reaches it,
And smooths his face into a smile.

Then he canes his way to the library,
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
To the shelf in the south-east corner,
And as he slides the glass open,
I realise what he’s doing there.
He pulls the box down off the books
And wipes it on his pajama pants
And presses an end till the other slides
To reveal the blue brilliance
Of his fifty-three-year-old harmonica.

He canes his way to the window again,
Tap tap again, tap tap again,
Frowns again, closes eyes again,
And plays the only tune he knows,
In step with the beat coming up
From the leaking tap in the yard.

Enough

I saw a waterfall after three long years
And all I thought was: this isn’t tall enough.

I saw a baby crawling to her birthday cake
And all I thought was: she isn’t fast enough.

I saw a winter tree sprouting a spring leaf
And all I thought was: it isn’t stark enough.

I saw a filled notebook of my daily poems
And all I thought was: this isn’t good enough.

Busy

I have at least three projects due
But the hours left in the day are few.
And now a little poem tugs
At my hand with a vigour new.

I cannot play with you just yet.
Could you come at the time we set?
In the morning, around my desk?
For I shall then be in your debt.

Important versus urgent tasks?
The poem with a tantrum asks.
I laugh out and go play with it
Forgetting about wearing masks.

Choice

My touch for poetry has passed.
The cold sterility of prose
Now seeps into the morning hours
When worry for my writing grows.

I scratch some lines with scratchy pens
Which tear into the paper blank.
And Anger shows its helmsman skills
As Writing takes the pirate plank.

I weep for sleep I missed for this.
I weep for years I spent in vain.
But then I breathe in belly deep
And plunge into my chosen pain.

Advice

He asked me how
To become a writer.
I told him to write.

He asked me what
To write about.
I told him to pick
What moves him.

He asked me where
To find a voice.
I told him to repeat
The first two things
Over and over.

He asked me when
To publish the work.
I told him to wait
Till he had done
The first three things
Over and over.

He asked me why
To wait at all.
I told him to ask
Himself if he wanted
To be a writer, or
Just be known as one.
Writers write first.

He asked me who
To sell the work to.
I told him to ignore
Whatever I’d said
And find a mentor
Who gets sales
And audiences
And money things.

He took that advice.
He’s a bestseller now.

Letters

Some letters are hard.
They loop too much.
Or worse, flourish.
They twist your wrist
Into positions
You’d rather not take.

Unnecessary, the need
To dot each i,
To cross each t,
Breaking the flow,
For custom’s sake.
The dots that matter most
Mark the ends. Periodically.
The crosses worth crossing
Run head to heart,
Shoulder to shoulder,
In prayers more sincere than
A grammarian’s remarks
Or her pencil’s red marks.

Some letters are not meant.
To be written or read.
To be sealed or opened.
To be blocked or cursive.
Some letters have no replies.
They end without ending.

Worthy News

No one talked of her red-red hands
When she finger-painted on the wall
Stick figures of Maa and Daa,
And later posed for Instagram.
But one fine day,
She sticks them into a table fan, and…

No one talked of his oily hands
When he sat his little sister down
To a head massage with herb oil
And later both inhaled his palms.
But one fine day,
He drops a neighbour’s chinaware, and…

No one talked of his hairy hands
When he flicked them on blanket wool
In the darkness of the night
To spark a joy for his little kid.
But one fine day,
He gets stuck on a velcro purse, and…

Tragicomedy

And what’s a joke if not a form
Of miniature poetry?
And what’s a poem other than
A cryptic tragicomedy?
Two, slowly cooked. Too quickly judged,
The moment readers have a taste.
Intelligent are poets who
Remember this and do not waste
Their prides defending poems when
The moment’s passed ignoring them.

Coloured lives

Two stairways go to the temple door
Standing up on the lonely hill:
One from the east by the waterfall,
One from the north by the bathing pool.
She sits below the eastern steps.
He sits below the northern ones.
Each with sindoor in little heaps.
Each with a music in their hearts.
She sings the songs of hilltop Gods.
He strums the tunes on his Single-string.
And both call out to devotees
Who dare to climb the hundred steps:

“Bright red for the worthy Rama,
Vermillion for Sita Maa,
Deep red for brother Lakshman,
And Orange for Veer Hanumaan.”

They sell packets of rupees ten,
Coloured powder in paper white,
And barely make three hundred each
On the best of weekend rushes.

When the sun dives into the pool
And visitors into their cars,
They walk into the waterfall
And rub their colours on their cheeks
And laugh and do things couples do
And walk the long way back to home,
Where she lights up the candlesticks
And he washes the coloured clothes
And she cooks what all they could buy
And he does all the dishes then
And she brings out the silver cup
And he brings out their special drink
To celebrate another day.
And why not? They have such a life!
Every day is a Holi day.
Every night, a Diwali night.