Monday, October 08, 2018

A Bookstore Rescue

I am back to publishing on Spark after a gap when I was busy with the book release.

Here's a little poem on a troubled man and the unlikely release he finds.

A Bookstore Rescue

“You are three months late …”
Went the letter that he kept away.
With slouched shoulders, the defaulter
Walked out of his apartment.
He felt breathless, suffocated, boxed in,
Squeezed by tragedy’s relentlessness.
A house he may lose, a wife he already lost,
No prospects, no love, no lovers, no money.
And then, the skies opened up,
On misfortune’s favourite child.
In despair he took flight to reach
His beloved place of escape.
The store welcomed him.
With books on endless shelves,
The mass of human knowledge,
Brimming, toppling over.
Books were his lodestone
On sombre unsettling days,
Where words were his balm
To remedy the bruises on his soul.
He walked along the aisles,
Skipping past Philosophy, Art,
And that ever alluring History.
None drew him in today.
He didn’t give a second look
To the Cooking section
Or the absorbing treatises on Politics
Or the holy tomes on Religion.
Enough, he thought, of this world
In all its gory complexities
And its gruesome grimness
And its excessive dose of reality.
And so, as light as a feather,
He skipped to the end of the store,
To the colourful racks and the bright pictures,
To the lively and bright Children’s section.
He collected ten books on a whim.
Stories dipped in pixie dust,
Simple fantasies, uncomplicated lives,
Unburdened souls, Uncluttered morals.
He read them all, not realizing the irony.
Here was an adult escaping into
A world written by other adults,
Who were attempting to do the same.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

We can’t talk about it

We can’t talk about it.
About that night,
Or those hickeys that I left
On your neck from when we let
The wine make a heady cocktail
With the lust that embraced us.
From when your green saree
Was all but a flaming red.
When you were the fire in my heart
Pressed against the wall with your
Arms draped around my neck
We can’t talk about it.
About the dead of the night
Where your tiny fingers
Found mine without needing
A sun or a light shining on us.
Your head rested on mine
In the gentle light of the stars
Where my beating heart and
Your staccato breath said all
That was needed to be said
We can’t talk about it
Because one only talks about
What one remembers
And your heart and your head
Have all but erased the poetry
We once wrote together.
It is now supplanted by the prosaic -
The anger, the tears, the hate
the sadness and the disappointment
We can’t talk about it
And yet we talk about it
In those imaginary conversations
That I now have with you
Like the imaginary conversations
that I had with you
Before your heart was once mine
Before our lips locked in silence
Before we stopped holding hands
And held on to our grudges instead.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book release: "r2i: Return to India"

I am very excited and proud to announce the release of my 2nd book, ‘r2i: Return to India’.

I had decided to write this book over two years ago when I r2i-ed to India and I am grateful that I had a story to tell and the persistence to see it through.

The book is a chronicle of my r2i experiences and I hope it interests you, entertains you and touches you in ways that my second innings in India has.

Please find the book at the following locations:
Kindle (worldwide):
Print (US and RoW):
Print (India) :

r2i: Return to India

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

The old pine for youth but youth may not offer everything expected of it. Read my latest poem published in Spark magazine.

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

They called her
The girl with the whiskey voice
Like ether held together, with water
Perched on a delicate stool
She sat on the stage alone
Tuning her guitar to her soul
She was all of twenty-three
Youth coursing through her veins
Through unclogged arteries and nimble joints
And yet her soul was a fragile parchment
The scars of her past were
Stories preserved with ink and vinegar
They sauntered in every night
Filling in that little joint
With smoke and their emotions
Each moth bringing their baggage
As a homage to that iridescent flame
− Lust, love, admiration, sorrow
They fed off her youth
Off the fullness of her body
Off the absence of any blemish
Off that freedom from responsibility
Off the freedom to dream
Off the freedom to just be
But youth is sometimes
Just a promise of an oasis
A mirage to those removed from it
The girl with the whiskey voice
Was a soul aged with torment
And wisdom of a life lived precociously
The night began and she sang of love
And youth returned to those who heard
While she travelled to an older time

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A Love Affair

A woman arrives in a city that was never hers and soon becomes a fragment of that whole.

Read my latest verse in Spark that tells the woman’s story and her relationship with the city that took her hostage.

A Love Affair

This city was never hers
She belonged to a calmer origin
Where the sun rose and set unabated
By sounds and dust and other filters
Now she lives in a place where
The sun in incidental and silence is a transgressor
Her shadow on the walls of her house is
A pantomime magnified on cracked lime
The city was never hers
But she now belonged to the city
She inherited her labels from it
She bequeathed its various moods
Her parents wondered why
She laboured in a place far away
In that cauldron that consumed
Dreams, peace and sleep
They did not know that she was escaping
Memory’s short-changing trap
An unrequited love, an unfulfilled wish
And a relentless, unremitting ache
Her surrender was an escape
And the city gladly took her hostage
She was now a part of a whole
A speck of dust in a giant dustbowl
The city was her lover now
Filling the voids she surrendered with
She roamed within its ironclad doors
Free as a bird in a giant cage

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams

Eight years ago, a non-profit literary e-zine was started by two very passionate editors Anupama and Vani. Today, Spark published their 100th issue. I have been privileged to publish in 84 of them!
They invited me to contribute to the issue with a non-fiction topic of my choice. The topic I picked is 'The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams'. In this case, my dream to write. Hope it inspires you to pursue yours!

The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams

The stage is on fire. Not the literal kind of course. It has been set alight by the mesmerising performance of the music band. Their lead singer has the audience eating out of his hands. His strong, clear and melodious voice travels through the speakers to the one hundred thousand strong audience. They are chanting his name. They are in the midst of an evening they will not forget for the rest of their lives. And he isn’t just singing. He is playing the guitar too like a virtuoso. His tresses fly in the air as he shakes his head and plays riff after impossible riff. It is heaven. It is a dream.
(Well, it actually is.) The singer wakes up. The singer is me. The dream takes its roots from a slice of reality. I was in a band as a tabla player. When a performance would get over, it was the good boys – the keyboard player and the octopad player and the tabla player – who would be quietly packing up their instruments while the lead guitarist and the vocalist would have admirers swarming up to them. Having not learnt either how to sing or to play the guitar and possessing very moderate skill in playing the tabla, I decided to stay content with visions of that glory. While the dream itself has tempered down over the years because practicality has taken over, the part that I wish would really come true is that about the abundant hair.
We all have dreams. They fuel the effort we put in towards leading a fulfilling life. The whole point of dreams is for them to be unreasonable. ‘Stretch goals’, as they are referred to in corporate jargon. The arc of dreams goes from the impossible to the mildly possible as we seep into the regularity of our lives. Our entrenchment in the world of responsibility takes the edge away from the fantastic nature of dreams.
We bridge the gap between the fantastic and the plausible each day, to walk away with a sense of success. Not all of us are Sachin Tendulkar. He dreamt at the age of 11 to play for India. As a kid, I did the same. Who wouldn’t want to take on those pesky Aussies in their backyard and smash them all over the Sydney Cricket Ground? But by the time I reached my twenties and I found myself more adept at creating PowerPoint slides than hitting good bowlers for boundaries, I moderated my desire. I would now envision myself hitting the winning runs of the final ball of the finals in my local cricket league. A touch of pragmatism in the world of dreams never hurt.
I’ve had one such dream and it relates very much to the place you are reading this work. I grew up dreaming of being a successful writer: a picture of me with all my brooding intensity would be on the back cover of the book which would be stacked up in piles beside my table in the busiest bookstore in the city, where I’d be signing copies of my book. Sure, I had a knack for telling stories, but even in my limited peer group, there were others who were better. Life too had other plans and like so many people who did it every year, my life went in the rather prosaic field of engineering.
I didn’t let go of the dream though. I tempered it. I took to writing on my blog. That process of writing on my blog week after week, month after month, year after unflinching year helped me gain the belief that maybe my writing was worth more than I gave myself credit for.
I decided to expand my horizons. The first place I took my writing to was Spark. I realised that in my current station in life, the ability to produce quality work month after month which was critiqued and validated by editors who knew what they were doing, was fulfilment of a lesser dream. In the process, that dream became all the more endearing.
For me, writing has always been about a two-way conversation. I want people to read my work and be moved (or disappointed) by it. I want to hear if they found a poem moving or the ending of a short story surprising. Spark gave me that forum.
Since no one had filed an injunction against me for writing more, I took it as a sign to spread my wings further. That latent dream of an eight-year-old boy was brought to fruition −I published a book. I co-wrote a book called ‘r2idreams’ about the Indian immigrant dilemma on whether to stay or to go back to India.
The book came about despite having a very hectic job and two very hectic kids. I was driven by a sense that this story needed to be told and I was the one to tell it. Fulfilling the dream was not easy but it was fulfilled nonetheless. The story hit its mark with many readers and the reaction left me elated and vindicated.
For years, I had shelved the thought of doing anything big beyond my field of work because of what I had imagined to be the sheer difficulty of it all. My attempt at breaking through this chain of thought (pun intended) taught me otherwise.
I have two young kids who are not bound yet by the chains of pragmatism. They dream of going to the moon for a weekend picnic and being the number one tennis player in the world and of having the ability to time travel and having a magic pen that would write their homework for them. I cherish these without judgment and am careful not to discourage them. Who knows what will spark from these little aspirations blooming out of their imaginative minds?
I often find myself unwittingly becoming a motivational coach for my friends and family. I see people abandoning their pursuits, selling themselves short or abandoning their aspirations to merely sail through their lives. That deserted attempt at running a half marathon, that dream trip to Ladakh that has been put off, that painting that has been unfinished, that novel that has not been attempted. I am always on their case and I take great satisfaction in the few success stories I have been able to engender.
To me, the pursuit of my dreams has given a lot of fulfilment and if there’s one thing I want to tell others it is this: Find that unfulfilled dream of yours. Let it breathe. Let the dream live. Trust me, their secret lives have a lot to offer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Mannequin In the Window

A man invests his dreams in a shop and a mannequin in the shop window bears testimony to it.
Read my latest publication in Spark magazine which tells the story of that man and the shape his dreams take.

The Mannequin In the Window

There is a large glass window
in front of the shop
that is now dwarfed by a huge
shiny mall that has come up next to it.
The establishment of “K.K. Tailors” was once
a shiny diamond among aging ones,
when its doors first flung open.
Krishna Kumar sewed his initials
into those “Safari suits” he specialized in −
sewing for those middle men
who trudged to the corridors of power,
where other men who wore kurtas
ruled as if by royal decree.
When the shop was opened in Connaught Place,
Krishna Kumar had installed a mannequin
in the shop window (though he didn’t need one),
and a picture of Indira Gandhi behind his desk −
the only feminine presence in a shop
which advertised itself as “Men’s tailors”.
The mannequin went from wearing
safaris to bushshirts to cotton shirts
to polyester creations,
keeping up agelessly with the styles
that the patrons sought K.K. out for.
The shop window started tainting
as the years passed.
The shop that was once new
had peeling plaster and power cuts
and a moldy flavour that travelled
back with the few who still bothered
to get their clothes stitched.
Bit by bit, the window’s blots grew
despite K.K.’s loving attempts
to clear the fog away.
And it was one day that resembled every other
that K.K. looked at his mannequin
and said, “We have faded”
and shut the shutters on his thirty-year dream.
Now he lives in a cramped and clean
flat in Lajpat Nagar,
with a rusty trunk in the corner of his room
that he keeps locked at all times,
lest his grandson steal away.
It holds within it
a cut of Safari cloth, a picture of Indira Gandhi
and the torso of a mannequin
hunched at the shoulders
bent by years of bearing dreams
and falling short in the end.