Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Flight Of The Monarch Butterflies

Taking a break from writing short stories to publish a poem in this month's Spark magazine. The theme for the month was 'Journeys' and the poem draws upon the journey of a monarch butterfly, a creature that has always fascinated me, and its contrast with that of humans. Read on.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=6858

The Flight Of The Monarch Butterflies


Each year it happens this way
Each year those million monarchs
Are born, sprout wings, and fly off
To a warm place, a continent away

Something living goes there, puts down its luggage
Collapses on the bed, kicks off its shoes
Orders room service, hatches some progenies
And then without apology, promptly dies

A life with no correction,
No retraction, no redemption
No reset, no egress
No nostalgia, no regrets

We too could be monarchs
We too could journey with no return
Never turn to wonder at ‘what if’
Never have a chance to go back

And yet, nature’s scripts for us differ
Not for us the singular sense of purpose
Our journeys are bound to a leash
Our future tied to the past

Fly, O Monarch, fly to your tenacious end
We fly forward only to look back
We travel in circles, in our hearts
Our beginnings married to our end

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Before The Equinox

Come here and see
The last leaf has fallen
From this winter-ridden tree

Come, be with me today
When all truth is true
And all hope is asleep

Come here, in this moment
Where you and I can just 
Be

Friday, March 21, 2014

Why I Hate Helium

This story dates back more than two decades. I was coming to the end of my twelve glorious years at my school. Jack of all trades, master of some. The mastery did not rear its head on the athletics field too much, though I could hit a mean cover drive and defend my stumps with the ferocity and tenacity of Tipu Sultan. I was considered to be among the lot that did well at extra-curricular activities not involving sports. Writing, debating, you know the works. To my horror and I am sure to that of everyone in the school at 7.25 am each morning who heard it, I was also part of the school prayer group that trudged to the principal's office and sang the glory of Goddess Saraswati and the like each morning through a solitary microphone. Quizzing however wasn't one of those activities. In fact, quizzing wasn't an activity at all in my school, the best I can remember. We seemed to have skipped the ability to do simple question and answers in my alma mater. So it came as a complete surprise when my first official quiz was to be not in the school premises or that of another. It was meant to be on the All India Radio. Yes, our good old AIR, of Vividh Bharati and cricket commentaries in Hindi. I don't know how it was arranged, but arranged it was, and me, of the extra-curriculars fame was picked from the three divisions along with my very good friend Mohit to represent the school. Why us? Maybe we could name more states in the Indian Union than others or knew a little more about the basics of physics than others. Or, more importantly, we conveyed the impression that we did.

So, there we were, packed off with our school librarian to the AIR recording studio. I think it was in Prabhadevi. I was expecting a fierce round of competition there. Tough teams from all the top schools in Bombay (which is what it was then). I had fresh memories from a disappointing performance at a Hindi debate competition I had participated in at the Jamnabhai Narsee School. The winner was clearly leagues ahead of me and a lot of the other competitors there. With that in mind and with no experience in quizzing, I wasn't sure how this could ever end well. We waited, and we waited some more and the teams arrived. Correction, a team arrived. It was from the Cannossa High School in Andheri (E). A couple of girls trudged in with their teacher. Was this it? Did the rest just now show up in fear? I was willing to believe that narrative. What's more, of the two girls, one was in the 7th grade. We might as well have collected our prize and gone home.

We were waiting nervously in a lobby waiting to be called inside. A classical singer came out alaap-ing with passion. We were ushered in. A round table awaited us. Microphones were kept there. The quizmaster asked us our names. I dug deep and came out with the heaviest baritone I could manage. Parth Pandya, I said. Can you say it one more time? Parth Pandya. Aah, I see. Welcome.

Now there are two types of quizzes. There is trivia and there is the kind where the question is phrased as a clue. For eg. you could ask the question 'Who is the highest run-getter in the history of test cricket?' or you could ask the question 'Which cricketer born in the great city of Mumbai, was once compared by the great Don to himself and was named after the famous music director S.D. Burman?' The answer to the two would be the same: Sachin Tendulkar. The latter, more refined form of quizzing, wasn't something I was introduced to until I got to my engineering college. This quiz on AIR was just that - trivia. Either you knew or you didn't.

The rounds started and the questions came flying thick and fast. There were some about dinosaurs and some about history, some about geography and some about inventions. The answers came, in fits and starts. Some from us, some from the girls. It was't the cakewalk I was expecting it to be. In a few minutes, we forgot all about the fact that we were recording for the radio or that this was a setting very alien to us. Quizzing, after all, is all about ego. Let no quizzer tell you otherwise. Knowing an answer or cracking a clue gives most of us to that moment of finite glory, and we savor it.

The rounds went on, the figdeting in seats continued, until the quizmaster (or radio personality, or both) told us duly that the last round was coming up. The scores were tied - the contest down to the wire. There were four questions left, and like boxers punching and counter-punching, we took our turns. They got two, we got one. This wasn't happening. We were losing. To a team with a kid two grades lower than us. This was it. The moment of reckoning. The moment where the collective intellect of Bhavans A.H. Wadia High School was to rise spectacularly and save the day. The fingers were on the virtual buzzer (I think it was just raising the hand to get to answer first then) and raring to go. For broke.

"What is the lightest metal?"

"Helium", blurted out an inexperienced quizzer

"No", shouted his partner

The ship had sunk. The gas, though, would have escaped! 

I sank my head in my hands. The battle was lost. In the coming years, I would quiz again. I would win. In quizzes and places far more challenging than this. I would start quiz clubs where I would see others participate in this shared joyous activity. But I came to hate helium from the bottom of my heart that day and it hasn't changed since. The unbearable heaviness of being a quizzer that lost his first quiz thanks to his faith in his eager ears and a gas most foul (well, I'll grant that it is odorless) stays with me till date. Some day, there will be a quiz question with my name on it; I'll go for it because my gut says it is the right answer and the right answer will be Helium. Maybe then, I'll get closure.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Niloufer's Birthday

Happy to share my latest publication in Spark. Their topic for the month was 'She'. I am excited to share my short story, set in a Parsi house, about a woman whose presence permeates the air even when is not there physically. Read on.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=6783

Niloufer's Birthday


“Her shoes. I married her for her shoes”, Ardeshir said, his hands leaning on the table.

The ten-year-old boy was toying around with his fork when his grandfather’s statement made him stop.

“Shoes, Bapawajee?” asked a wide eyed Cyrus.

Ardeshir smiled and looked to the wall.  A young Parsi girl dressed in the fashion of the sixties, mounting a Mona Lisa smile, smiled back at him in black and white. His wife. His Niloufer.
He had sought out Niloufer before they got married. Spent time around where she lived, stalked her at her college, slipped in notes to her, and finally mustered the courage to ask her out on a date. At least, that’s what kids would have called it today. Back then, he simply scribbled a few words on a chit of paper, asking her to meet at Bandra bandstand at 4 pm on Sunday. That she came was a surprise for him. That she spoke to him was beyond his wildest imagination. Niloufer had saved him from the curse of solitude, for it would have been none other for him.

Jawa dene dikra, you won’t understand”

“Pleaseeeeeee Bapawajee”, insisted Cyrus.

His mother Kainaz gave Cyrus a stern look which made the boy go silent.

“How’s it tasting, Pappa?” she asked, changing the topic to the dhansak she had made for the evening.

“It’s good. It’s good”, nodded Ardeshir vehemently.

“I have to thank Mamma for teaching me this. I remember the first time I tried it after I married Rustom. I don’t think my mother’s dhansak was a patch on this.”

Rustom raised his eyebrows a little, looking up from his plate and smiling mischievously at his wife. “I love the bonhomie, my dear wife. I wonder if your memories of your early days in this house are a bit clouded. You and Ma rarely agreed on anything, remember?”

“Who hasn’t disagreed with your mother? Maybe not you, you Mamma’s boy”, replied Kainaz.

Ardeshir stopped to look around his house. Sixty years he had lived here, but there were two chapters to his life here. The second had begun after he had met her in Bandra that fateful afternoon. They got married six months later.

He remembered it as clear as day. She, a resplendent bride, in her saree. He, the reticent groom, in his jama-pichori. They sat opposite each other, separated by a cloth curtain. The priest placed his right hand in hers. He then fastened them with raw twist, which he put around the hands seven times. That girl was inextricably tied to him for life.

“Are you back in the sixties again, Pappa?” asked his daughter Khushnum gruffly.

Ardeshir looked at his daughter gently. She had an anger that he could never assuage. An anger that always simmered on the surface.

“I think you could grant me that today, couldn’t you, Khush?”

“Why this ritual each year, Pappa? Why this need to talk about her? Why take your family down this memory lane? Not everyone has fond recollections of days past!”

“She is the tie that binds us. We gather to celebrate her, Khush. Not every story has a happy ending, but for you to say that there are no fond recollections of your mother is disingenuous.”

Cyrus shifted uneasily in his seat, not understanding the discussion going on, but fully aware of a sense of tension pervading the room.

“She may be the love of your life, and she may be Rustom’s favorite parent and she maybe Kainaz’s hero, but I don’t worship the ground she walks on.”

“Khush!” said Rustom, finding his own voice rising.

“Now you speak up, big brother”, Khushnum continued, sarcasm dripping from her tongue. “Where were you when your mother, our mother, was messing with my life?”

“I didn’t agree with her Khush. I didn’t side with her, but I respected her choice, just as I respected yours. You could have done what you pleased. Walked away to a life of your choice”

“That’s easy for you to say. My own mother opposed me, my father was not willing to support me, my brother remained silent through it, my sister-in-law …. Forget it!”

Kainaz was waiting for the time she would be dragged into this conversation. “We all have our reasons, Khush!”

“But of course Kainaz. Why would you go against your mother-in-law? Why would you ever go against a woman who accepted you despite your weakness for getting pregnant before you got married?”

“Khush!” shouted Rustom with more fervor, barely containing himself from slapping her. Ardeshir’s face turned to stone – he was shocked at the words and worried about their effect.

Kainaz was stunned at that utterance from Khushnum. Never since the wedding had this topic been brought up in the house. She thought that everyone had accepted the past and moved on. She was wrong. Hurt ran deep in this house.

Khushnum realized she had crossed the line. The wound had been inflicted and she now felt overcome with guilt. Quietly slumping into a chair in the corner of the room, all she could do was mutter “sorry” under her breath to anyone who was still in a position to listen.

Kainaz was shedding gentle tears in her chair. She thought of the woman who had accepted her with open arms when she and Rustom had timidly stood before her, with Ardeshir telling them that they had committed a mistake. Ardeshir was not willing, but Niloufer had convinced him that it was the right thing to do.

Rustom paced around the room with his head down, willing himself to calm down. His mother was the one who had always helped put a lid on his temper. He missed the cool comfort of her voice, the way she held him as a child when he would cry out with nightmares, the friend he confessed to even when he was in college. He admired his father, but loved his mother. She was the parent he preferred. Today, he needed her more than ever.  He was mad at Khushnum but was also sympathetic to her plight. He finally walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
Khushnum looked up to him with pleading eyes, begging for understanding. “If she could allow you, why not me?”

She was in her teens when she had fallen in love with a Maharashtrian boy, who lived just outside their Dadar Parsi colony. Niloufer, for all her liberal attitudes, was staunch in her stance. Parsi girls should not marry outside their religion. Khushnum had pleaded, protested, tried everything to convince her, but failed in doing so. She had considered running away and marrying that boy, but couldn’t bring herself to abandon her family. She remained back, and the hurt festered within her.

“Because she was flawed. Because she loved you.”

Khushnum raised her teary eyes and looked to the balcony. She recalled sitting in the warm summer evenings with her mother in the balcony, enjoying the light breeze that filtered through the concrete jungle. It had always been an easy relationship, no matter what they said about mothers having testy times with their teenage daughters. It was never meant to change. And yet, she had gone from loving her mother to hating her. But she never could build indifference towards her, no matter how hard she tried.

The ghost of Niloufer hovered in the room, filling the silences that stood between them. Niloufer was gone. Lost to the family that mourned her, celebrated her, reviled her, loved her. Each year, they gathered together on this day. Each year, Niloufer brought them together even when she wasn’t there.

“Cyrus? Do you still want to know about why I married her for her shoes?” said Ardeshir, acting oblivious to the storm that had passed.

“Yes, Bapawajee”, said Cyrus meekly.

“I was nervously waiting for your grandmother the first time we were supposed to meet. When she arrived, the first thing I noticed were her shoes. She was wearing flats instead of heels. I knew right then that this woman was caring and understanding.”

Before Cyrus phrased another question, Ardeshir clarified with a smile. ”She didn’t want me to look too short.”

He then looked up to the picture on the wall and muttered, “Happy birthday, Niloufer!”
 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A February Morning Surprise

Sharing my latest publication in Spark, in their issue themed on romance. What happens when a husband decides to surprise his wife by writing a love letter to her one fine morning? Read on.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=6708

A February Morning Surprise


Dear Wife,

It feels strange to be writing this letter. In this day and age where the art of coaxing a pen into conversing with a piece of paper are over, my purchase of a fountain pen feels anachronistic. We talk each day, we text each day, instant message and there is also the occasional e-mail. I thought I would write to you this time – literally. What I can’t express in words, I’ll express in words. Just not the spoken kind. The handwritten kind. I know you would never see this coming. A surprise hidden in plain sight!

How long have we been married now? I know the math and can tell the number of years, but it feels much longer than that. We were living together a day before we got married and continued to live together the day after. We split our chores and had our fights. We went to work and found time and means to unwind. We spent most of our time talking about the mundane while squeezing in just enough to talk about things that were special. We were romantic with each other, we were harsh to each other, we couldn’t stay without one another, we couldn’t stand each other. What was true on the day of the marriage remains true more than a decade later.

Love isn’t the charm that leaps out of pages of a novel. Love isn’t the rose tinted promise in commercials. Love is languorous and laborious. A work in progress, an investment of emotions. We didn’t know that then. We know that now. The tedium of this discovery takes us away from the obvious ways in which we remain special to one another. Between our jobs and kids and pressures of mortgage and family and uncertainty over the future, it is easy to lose sight of the large picture. We made it this far. We made it together.

It is said that after marriage, love gets stronger and the arguments longer. We certainly have our disagreements and there are certain things which have a dead end. We have hurt each other many a time trying to find a way through the morass. The important thing, we need to remind ourselves, that we have the power to hurt each other but we also have the power to forgive.

Lest you think that this is a sermon on the ways of love, rest assured that the intent isn’t that. All that heavy pondering that goes on in my mind remains dormant for the most part. What swims up to the surface are the little things that go towards making the little puzzle that is us. The million reasons we should be together can easily be countered by the other million where we shouldn’t be. What strange elements we bring to the table! One person’s fiery attitude is met with another’s calmness, one person’s determination met by another’s laziness, one person’s good looks met by another person’s better looks. One person’s penchant for spice met by another’s inclination towards sweet. The sum of our characteristics might likely cover the entire range of human emotion.

We are dissimilar, but drawn together as if by a rubber string the moment one tries to deviate too much. You will find that I do the bed exactly the way you like it though I think it is extraneous. You’ll tolerate my dulcet (ok, I’ll admit harsh) tones just because you don’t want me to interrupt my singing. If we were alike, we would have imploded, so perhaps the difference is a blessing in disguise.

No matter what, the one thing that I will pride myself at all times is my ability to surprise you. Like the time when we were dating and I drove five hundred miles to show up at your doorstep. Or this rather unexpected letter you are now holding. Written without rhyme, reason or occasion. Here’s to many more years of togetherness and surprises.

Love
Your husband

*************

Dear husband

It must be that time of the year when the scent of perfumed paper riddles the air. It must have been that since I can’t imagine how one wafted in from our bedroom. Perhaps a little paper plant made its way surreptitiously. Like you did, into my life. How many years has it been? I think we both know the answer to that.  But I know that perhaps you’d want to skip the actual number. It would remind us both of how old we are.

When is the last time I wrote a letter? Actually, it was only last week. I wrote a long letter to my grandfather, replete with several references to our kids and what they are up to. The love of our lives, those two devils. Thinking of my grandfather took me back to the time you had come home for the first time for the formal introduction to my family. Do you remember it? You waltzed into the room like you owned it, crossing one leg over the other, putting your hand across the sofa as if you frequented that place often. Do you remember my telling you that it stunned the family and how you thought it was a stupendous success that you managed to do that? Now that I think of it, you probably interpreted their being stunned as thanking their unbelievable luck. I think that interpretation might have been a little left of centre. Not that it matters anymore. What matters is that you and I are together and haven’t been stunned by our luck, simply pleased with it. There is no one else my parents would have had mild disapproval of that I’d rather be with.

We look at life in different ways. You are about the grand vision. I am about the minute details. You are the person who would rather write a ten year vision statement than rearrange the books in the library to make more sense (Having ‘The Da Vinci Code’ next to ‘Metamorphosis’ seems like a tad too generous on Dan Brown). I notice the things you don’t. On the brighter side, I also notice that the things that you do in fact do. That little effort you put into doing the smallest things for me perks up my day and makes me love you more.

Sweetheart, your intention trumps your execution more often than most. The mistakes, if careless, would have infuriated any woman, let alone me. The mistakes, though, are bungling of one pure of heart, and would win anyone over. You arrange the bed each morning and I rearrange it one more time after you are done. Do you remember the last trip to St. Louis? You bought me earrings for a black dress I used to wear that still existed only in your mind – I had outgrown it five years ago. It is in these little gaffes that I have discovered a great joy. I have learnt to smile and grimace each time I eat the omelette you make for us. You truly are the lost visionary, and for that, I am thankful. It perhaps would have been an issue if you and I both were lost staring at the ground and missed the stars altogether.

More than anything else, your attempts at throwing surprises keeps the amusement alive. Remember the time you landed up at my doorstep after driving five hundred miles? I had known it all along. Your carefully crafted plan should have included briefing your roommates about it. I had waited. I acted surprised. I loved the moment and wanted you to enjoy it. Here’s to more surprises as the years roll along, even those that are discovered.

Love,
Wife
P.S> Next time, you might want to order a fountain pen and scented pair on a different credit card whose bills I don’t review each month
P.P.S.> When you are done reading this, come downstairs. I have made omelettes.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

To My New-born Son

Pleased to share a poem from this month's Spark magazine. I had jotted down a few lines a little while after my older son Aarush was born. Now that he has turned five and another new-born in the house is nearing two, I thought it was a good idea to revisit the lines. This goes out to all the parents who have experienced these feelings in some shape or form at this life-changing event. It is written from the perspective of a father, but I daresay the emotions are gender-neutral. Enjoy.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=6607

 

To My New-born Son


You may be
Of you mother’s womb
But you are of my brow
And my sinews and bones
And that mind that never ceases
To wonder about you


Is life’s irony writ
On your crinkled little face
That a man of thirty years
Searches for himself
In a boy of thirty days?


What August rains
And striking days of summer in May
Await us
While we bide our time?
Growing, inching forward, you and I


What unuttered words, smiles and tears
What careless pronunciations
Of words we hold dear,
What blistering scraps for
Beliefs we differ on,
Lie ahead of us?


How goes our journey together,
From inception to conclusion?
The start: You, light as a feather,
Cradled in my arms
The end: I, lighter than you
Hoisted on your shoulders.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dasht-E-Tanhai

This is one of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's great works. A desert of solitude, a mirage formed in a lover's heart. Achingly beautiful words.

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein, ai jaan-e-jahaan, larzaan hain
Teri avaaz ke saaye, tere honthon ke saraab
[larzaan=quiver, saraab=mirage]

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein, duri ke khas-o-khaak tale
Khil rahe hain tere pehlu ke saman aur gulaab
[khas-o-khaak=dust and ashes, saman=jasmine]

Uth rahi hai kahin qurbat se teri saans ki aanch
Apni khushbuu mein sulagti hui maddham maddham
[qurbat=closeness, aanch=warmth]

Dur ufaq par chamakati hui qatra qatra
Gir rahi hai teri dildaar nazar ki shabnam
[ufaq=horizon]

Is qadar pyaar se hai jaan-e jahaan rakkhaa hai
Dil ke rukhsaar pe is vaqt teri yaad ne haath
[rukhsaar=cheek]

Yun guman hota hai garche hai abhi subah-e-firaaq
Dhal gaya hijr ka din aa bhi gayi vasl ki raat
[subah-e-firaaq=morning of seperation, hijr=parting, vasl=union]

I was first introduced to this ghazal through Iqbal Bano's rendition of it. A trait of a great ghazal singer is his or her ability to infuse life into the words and bring out the emotion behind the ghazal. Iqbal Bano's voice captures the haunt of the solitude very well. The way her voice dips and rises in each harqat lifts the ghazal to greater heights. You can listen to it here.


I recently came across another version of the same ghazal. This was rendered by Meesha Shafi in Coke Studio Pakistan. This one is a more modern rendition and has psychedelic overtones at the end. Meesha Shafi had a tough precedent to follow and does a decent job at that. You can find it here.