Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cafe Samovar, Kala Ghoda


My first sip of beer was bitter,
Then magically turned to sweet
Conversation flowed like amber liquid
In the verandah you offered as sanctuary
To sundry souls, peaceniks, and poets.
Celebrities would hang around here:
Pearl in an elegant kimono –
Amitabh, Jaya, Amol, Vidya
And almost famous theatre actors.

I don’t know how thirty years flew
It seems like yesterday
That I asked a young lady to tea
And my hands trembled as I poured
I don’t know if she noticed;
We were a shy generation.

There were paper lanterns
Dangling from the ceiling
Kites multi-coloured, ribbed with bamboo
Muted music, reviving,
As if the Jazz musicians recovered from torpor.
Those were the days of rock-n-roll;
Elvis was king, Beatles were in their cocoons
And the city had fewer cars.


At the next table
The child-man’s hand trembles,
As he pours tea;
Clutching the kettle with clumsy stained hands,
His nicotine-addict lips smile,
As the girl giggles, and then laughs;
This is a nonchalant generation.

Except for that
And Pearl is no more, her kimono is in grave,
Things haven’t changed much
At Café Samovar, Kala Ghoda;
There are paper lanterns dangling,
And thoda-thoda[1] famous people around,
Waiting for their next big break.
Nothing has changed while I was away,
Guess nothing ever will.

[1] Little, little.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Song of the Janadesh Marchers

For our lands we walk this Marathon,
While you run your Marathons for fun,
We live in a country without water,
You flush it daily down the gutter.

We saw it on the elder’s television,
The run of people wearing clothes of fashion,
A splash of colour with stars and celebrities;
While our tatters tried to hide our realities.

We are poor, but on our honour we pride,
We wore dirty clothes; our shame we him;
But our heads were high, as we marched,
For our lands, which were from us wrenched.

Your branded shoes can buy us month’s ration,
Send children to school and buy some potion.
Yet, you say your needs are unsatisfied -
What about ours? Aren’t our needs justified?

When storms, floods, droughts devastate,
You sit in comfort and pontificate:
Oh! So much foreign direct investment,
The economy’s growth is great achievement.

We have only one thing to beseech, pray,
Leave our fallow lands alone for us, we say:
While you run Marathons on Lutyen’s properties,
Leave us our huts to shelter us from calamities.

[1] The Janadesh marchers walked 400 kilometers to Delhi to demand land rights when Delhi was holding a half Marathon. This poem is written for them, as the picture they made, marching in the hot sun, contrasted with that of the Marathoners on television.

Monday, October 08, 2007


He sits in a sea of plastic,
On his head a cloth cap of elastic;
Squatting and sorting, oh boy,
Milk pouches, grocery bags, and toys.

Boy, don’t your life thus waste,
Nobody told you of poverty’s bitter aftertaste?

Beside him in a wide arc sprouts,
A sea of plasticized, grimy huts,
Waterproofed, engineered to last
This monsoon, and its windy blast.

Boy, don’t your life thus waste,
Nobody told you of poverty’s bitter aftertaste?

The vinyl signs are of polyethylene,
His plastic dreams are woven in benzene.
He thinks: is there no escaping this hell,
Of recycled mess and waste, please tell?

Boy, don’t your life thus waste,
Nobody told you of poverty’s bitter aftertaste?

He scrounges in gutters running foul-
Water, laden with plastics, chockfull;
Maybe, in his plastic-dulled soul,
He still yearns to be in play school.

Boy, don’t your life thus waste,
Nobody told you of poverty’s bitter aftertaste?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

To Shakti Bhat

I didn’t know
Our last words,
As you were leaving Little Theatre
Said in the midst of a seminar
With pushy seminarians around us
Would be our last words.

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt,
Goodbye Shakti Bhatt.

May your gentle soul find solace and peace
Away from the cares of this depraved place.

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt,
Goodbye Shakti Bhatt.

May your soul never hunger for freedom
In the portals of your celestial kingdom.

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt,
Goodbye Shakti Bhatt.

May your name shine on those heavenly scrolls
Among the great writers for whom the bell tolls.

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt,
Goodbye Shakti Bhatt.

Thursday, February 22, 2007



These crooked weathered streets
On which time hangs like a drape
Upon padlocked doors;
It’s here I grew my first sprout
Of facial hair;
Styled Elvis hairdos, high collars.
Childhood vanished in a flash,
In these lanes smelling of senility;
Innocence fled; tears were shed;
Look close
You can see memories linger
In the dark crevices;
Cricket matches, dropped catches,
Embarrass me still.


These mean streets I walk again,
Many a bend and a turn,
I have seen
In life’s incessant churning
In the froth of unrepentant fate.
Those dreamy bungalows
In which I wanted to laze in
Wearing slippers and boxer shorts
Now naked, bare, and torn apart
For upcoming shopping malls
And haute couture plazas.


Where once there were shrubs
Laden with the scent of bela flowers
There’s now the smell of fluorocarbons.
The littered streets are
Dug up to lay jelly-filled cables,
They don’t know they once were,
The majestic streets, on which,
The Kapoors strode like kings,
Worshipped, adored,
Their studios,
A favourite hangout
Of those starry-eyed adolescent days.


A boy I knew in dirty knickers
Is now a mafia don;
The world is afraid;
I am not
Really I am not:
I have seen his unwashed underwears.


The girls were beautiful,
They still are,
Their walk is indeed fluent
As a smoothly flowing river,
And tongues holding lethal fires,
They can kill with treacherous looks,
Oh! How I miss them, those sylphs,
Who inhabited my wet adolescent dreams!


You bejewelled suburb of the east,
You nestle amidst sewers and marshes,
And fumes as black as hell,
Yet in your stained yellow bosom,
Where the sun rises and sets in a haze,
Smelling of death and decay,
Was born the unfulfilled dreams,
Of this, your unfortunate son.

Fires of the Faithless

Tonight hordes burned the timber mills
Charred the festering slums upon hills
Burnt books, flags and holy sacraments
Psalms, chronicles and sacred testaments.

Burn, burn, raging fires of the faithless tonight,
Turn off the lights; torch this glittering city of lights.

We cowered weeping in our tin houses
Our infant children, sisters and spouses
Before they raped, desecrated, burnt and rent
Us in the consuming fire of their discontent.

Burn, burn, raging fires of the faithless tonight,
Turn off the lights; torch this glittering city of lights.

Hey, I ask, sword-bearing men of hatred
Are not your holy books anymore sacred?
Do you realize your women and children;
Are future preys of these faithless men?

Burn, burn, raging fires of the faithless tonight,
Turn off the lights; torch this glittering city of lights.

Friday, February 02, 2007

On Watching Republic Day on Television

To fallen, silent and nameless soldiers,
A symbolic helmet and inverted gun,
An eternal flame wavers and sputters,
A votive green wreath in the morning sun.

Goose stepping soldiers, smartly dressed,
Guns pointing, dipping, saluting -
Their commanding officers, epauletted -
Wars, invasions, treaties, are their thing.

Missiles, land mines and shrapnel,
Tanks that can cut through steel,
Bridge rivers and through land tunnel,
Destroy, maim, decapitate and kill.

Presidents, ministers, diplomats, leaders,
When you declare your invasions and wars,
Please do not let your conscience dither,
The battles you fight are the burdens of ours.