Tuesday, 24 January 2017

To my birthday boy

When they say age is a number,
ask a mother's heart
that waits upon each moment
right from the start.

Every turn, every coo,
every kick that turns her blue,
every twitch, every ache...
a million times over she will take
because those nine months were not numbers,
they were worlds she cherished
awake and sedate...dawn to late.

And now, there are fights and senseless squabbles.
There are those 'orders' and sporadic baubles.
Each year that rolls on is a laurel on laurels -
every one a victor, despite the foibles.

And now I stand, the mist filling my eye.
When I look up to you, I can't help but sigh.
My not-so-little man, all of fifteen,
I see it in your eyes, in your manner so keen
that age was never just a number.
Your years, Son, are an appraisal, of goals seen and unseen.
It's my score-card of promise - my graph past the mean.

My heart swells with pride,
as I watch your unmistakable stride.
Your life lies ahead, waiting,
its winds, serenading.
Happy Birthday, my darling, my life, my love, my joy.
And while time makes you stronger still,
you'll be, forever, my wonderful little boy. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

She, the keeper

He waits for the dark to engulf him.
He finds that rather safe.
The moonlight sways to tease his eye
but gets lost in the alley’s haze.

     She walks alone, her home in sight
     of the city that’s asleep.
     He makes his move. Under the street lamps high,
     he bids to daunt her grace.

She fends him off.
"That daring bitch! How dare she stay out late!
And then to say she’s not for takes ...
what insolent craze!"

     A city swells in loud lament,
     its reputation at stake!
     What’s changed so much? Why do evils rise now
     from celebrations’ daze?

"The winter’s winds are warmer", you say,
"And the streets are rife with life!"
What one would think as grand design
is another’s watcher’s maze.

     You blame the wind, the people new.
     You blame the men in chair,
     while all the while their clout returns
     its misogynistic gaze.

"Times have changed!" you beat your chest
so someone sane might hear.
But what should work with the culture-cross
is lost in its own embrace!

     Come, World. As one, let’s unite,
     for all change is in the mind.
     An ethos heaves to meld its styles while
     Grit’s own chaperone pays.

Oh! Dark! Let your curse be short-lived now.
Let your terror become paled.
Oh! Moon! Will your light be sweet again?
Will her daring yet lose face?! 

     Oh! Mother of he who preys on her,
     will you be there to show
     that while he lurks in darkness’s fold
     you’ll be her shield, unfazed?

Tell him now, that she is you
in as much as you are her.
That a woman’s womb is mankind’s lair -
its power never sways.

     Tell him now, to hold his own.
     He’s not temptation’s keep!
     Tell him he’s as equal as her,
     whatever bigotry says.

Tell her too, that she’s not weak.
Her freedom is no prisoner.
Tell Night that it should free her soul
and release her to liaise.

     Or, do this. Look him in the eye
     and make him contemplate.
     Is it that he is afraid that she might soar?
     And dare. And beat! And amaze.

Hold him tight and ask him so.
Or say that your love is blind.
And admit that you are weak as well -
that you too will avert Question’s gaze.

     Who made this rule
     that he is tough and she will always flee?
     What vile plan has mustered
     such a regressive blaze?

And what has Knowledge taught you?
Are our schools not meant to be
that playground of high wisdom
where learning carves new ways?

     Ask yourself, you Moral’s slave,
     "What greatness can I find
     in kicking Dame Fortune’s image
     while singing her hymns of praise?"

It’s a travesty when Liberty fails
and a society will not see 
that a woman free makes man whole.
She’s another mother’s brace.

     You fool, awake! It’s Destiny’s cry.
     She’s not some prize to play.
     She’s your sense, your means to stay. 

She, is your maker. She’s the keeper of your race!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Book Review - Mr Iyer Goes to War

Mr Iyer Goes to War - Ryan Lobo
A logic-defying, maverick, rollercoaster of a thriller 3D read.
Popcorn, anyone?

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin”.
Even in translation, even with the day’s twitter-size sensibilities, and even though very few find succour in the existentialist stronghold of Franz Kafka’s writing, his most unforgettable opening line of The Metamorphosis, haunts. This is not just because the writing is stark but because the imagery connects at a basic level of humanity’s absurd struggle for emotional wellbeing.
Cut to Varanasi.
Ryan Lobo’s debut protagonist, Mr Iyer, breaks free from the absurdity of his own existence and takes us on a fantastical rampage, all too real.
The Ganges flows unperturbed, as two accomplished gentlemen lay on adjacent hospice beds, waiting to die, alone. While one fought for the country and has a gallantry medal honouring that service, the other, Mr Iyer, is a warrior of words and learning, gallant in his pursuit of fine literature that finds expression every now and again in erratic tirades of mindless whim and exasperation. Lalgudi Iyer is over 70, proficient in the scriptures and strong-willed. He has a very keen chela, the ever-eager disciple who more than makes up for his Dom lowliness with an almost awe-inspiring passion for esoteric verses, writing his own and quoting from grand literary canons that erudite Iyer brandishes from time to time. While Iyer awaits spiritual enlightenment, Bencho’s aim is to become the Corporator of his own constituency and sees his ticket to power in Iyer’s earthly family connections.
One morning, painful knee miraculously unlocked, concussed and with his mind free of sanity, Mr Iyer Goes to War. But unlike Kafkas Samsa who gets trapped as a monstrous vermin, Lobos Iyer flees to freedom, traversing the length and breadth of India, ridding it of its evils. The Ganga-side re-creation of Don Quixote, duly packaged with a Sanchoesque Bencho as loyal sidekick, Iyer, fulfils all heroic desires that ordinarily occupy, and remain imprisoned in, the mortal subconscious. Armed with a stick and no more, this divine hero from the realms of mythology, dramatically overpowers gun-toting henchmen and rescues hapless earthlings. And because he is also hapless in his human love for the half-beautiful Damayanti, the resplendent Goddess of his fantasy-world inspires loftier heroics in his superhuman leaps as well.  Sent by the Gods, he wields a fearless spirit, speaks like an ancient noble, kneels in chivalric submission and unleashes a caged tiger. Of course, he gets beat up too, along with Bencho, but thats immaterial. Because, this is not Iyer, see? This is Bhima, the fearsome and gallant warrior prince, saviour of mankind and vanquisher of Bakasura, the force behind all things evil. Like Don Quixote, Iyer rises from a tired, finite certainty, into a space unconquered by worldly predicament.  
If you are looking for a plot in Ryan Lobo’s riotous debut, you won’t find one. And that’s what makes this modern and fun take on existential absurdity, intriguing. Real in the human situation he carves for storytelling and even more real in the intercutting of fact and fantasy through quick-take action sequences, Ryan Lobo’s photographic lens-work runs amok through the narrative and keeps the reader on edge.
Don’t look for logic here – you’ll have to delve deep and even there you might just get entangled in your own. But if a riot works for you, you’ll be talking about this for a while. 
Ryan, what will you have us do, next?   

Also on: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1879182427


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Whole Nine Yards

“Do you realise that you must wear a sari?!” a dear aunt gasped in mock earnestness, while heartily congratulating me on my looming wedding.

It brings a smile to me even now, 15 years on, when I think back on the day, as I sit snug in my well-fitted denims, exactly as I did back then, caressing fine silk and contemplating between its many folds whether the colour would reflect the light, if it was too heavy to carry and if I should escape to the ease of a chiffon kurta and silk cigarette pants for a festive albeit traditional evening.

That effortless elegance can come in lengthy fabrics of all kinds and has held our mothers securely every single day of their adult lives rendering them breathtakingly divine when the occasion so demands, is now a matter of deliberate consideration for ‘special wear’. It makes for serious thought. It is also time again for the cosmopolitan urban belle to revitalise the cultural context and rediscover the glory of the Sari – testament to a rich heritage, the humble artisan’s articulation of lore, pride of the owner’s stock and that great Indian drape which fascinates global couture, season on season.

It has always been a rage, though. Remember ‘sari day’ at school? That’s when even tomboys turned into demure gazelles for that one day when mums’ wardrobes came tumbling out in the hunt for whimsy crepes and crisp cottons that hugged just enough, not too much, with well-hung pallus wound over exactly six tucked pleats and no less, so that those minxy kitten heels would show themselves off on manicured feet and a keenly practiced trot.

That was then. Now, we indulge in nostalgia across the oceans and conform to sari pacts back home, pledging 100 days of the year in honour of the sari, launching mean business deals while airing out precious and painstakingly curated trousseaux, some of which, to our dismay, has fallen prey to neglectful years and monsoon mould. While we lament that loss, we also remember to tag a little memoir to the selfie that we do take. And just like that, we immortalise a legacy.  

In doing so, we also hashtag a region that is reminiscent, if at all, in coffee table books and retail catalogues. With that one click, we protagonise not just the sari which we wish to celebrate but also the indigenous, and endagered, art forms associated with it. We raise charities and upliftment schemes to encourage the artisans that live little to help us live large. We support the girl child getting by in those parts. We take international press into local ghettos and voila! Bespoke Madhubani takes pride of place in world repertoire.

It is more apparent now than ever, that the sari binds. In our multi-cultural panaroma, it binds tradition. In reaching far, it binds places. In its opulence, it weaves a certain je ne se quoi into the mundane – a little sweet into savvy. And in the conversations it generates, it binds people. 

After many chit-chats on weaves and designs and gharanas and other such, and many more reads on this Indian wardrobe essential, it was rather heartening to note that there are many enterprising people committed to guarding an inheritance that is too dear to be lost to quicksilver metro lifestyles. They have spun these eclectic yarns with tales as myriad as the nooks they come from. Some are exotic, some are down-right heart-warming.

And when you find young minds at work, in your front yard at that, Serendip lives again. 
Alankrit by Neha Garg is one such initiative that twinkled its way into my horizon when I discovered that my wardrobe had some missing links. It is an initiative that aims at up-trending ancient Gotta-patti, lappa, zardozi and other traditional work from the princely state of Rajasthan. Neha sources her merchandise from the embroiderers and delivers it directly to the consumer. By removing the middleman, she is able to generate greater employment in many small villages like Khandela, improving general living standards among the artisan community in those parts. Apart from bringing folk art into high street fashion, thereby promoting heritage, Alankrit goes a step further by empowering the girl child through education. Actively repowering the ‘Save the Sari’ movement, it aims to “stabilise local economy at the grassroots level and create a national identity”. 
“Wear a saree”, says Neha and we agree.

The storytelling has just begun.
Go to Part 2: Once Upon a Pallu and Part 3: 
Six Yards of Simmering Svelte  and stay tuned for more.