Saturday, December 31, 2016

यही छंद, यही झंड - फिलिप लार्किन

tr. from Philip Larkin's This be the Verse

तुम्हारी ले लेते हैं तुम्हारे मम्मी-डैडी,
जानबूझ कर नहीं, बस उनसे हो जाता है।
दोष भर देते हैं तुम में, कुछ जो ऑलरेडी हैं
उनमें, कुछ नए का भी इंतज़ाम हो जाता है।        

पर उनकी भी पहले किसी ने ली थी,
वो उनके अपने मम्मी डैडी थे,
जिनकी खुद आधे टाइम फटी हुई थी,
बाकी टाइम मरने-मारने को रैडी थे। 

इंसान इंसान को सिर्फ दुख सौंपता है,
जो गहराता है, बस एक अंतहीन झरना।
इसलिए भई, भग लो, जब भी टाइम मिले,
और खुद के बच्चे कभी पैदा न करना।

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lucknow, 2002

When I was in Class 12th, I often
bunked the after-school IIT coaching
classes my parents had forced me into.

'TRIVAG', it was called, more than two
hundred of us packed into benches meant for
half; girls to the right, boys to the left.

TRI-V-AG: Trivedi Sir taught Maths, Verma
Sir taught Physics, Agarwal Sir taught Chemistry.
"Taught", really. It was the first time in my life

I felt I needed air. During coaching hours (if you
had decent marks in 10th, only PCM, I was told,
Arts was for girls and failures) rust ate into benches,

rust ate into the ends of my fingers, I remember pages
meaning little, and I was really afraid of the books
I held in my hands. The unfinished Physics chapters

still range the nights. So the Hero moped and I
must have 'rebelled'. Sometimes, hankering for
fun, I ended up at a friend's house across the Gomti

in Indra Nagar. Killing time. Both of us dancing
to Rahman's 'Taal' or 'Dil Se', at other times we landed
up at this newly opened pizza place opp. Raj Bhavan,

me hogging on the treats he gave. But that one evening,
when August had clouded the air soft brown, and he wasn't
there, I was returning home, still with three hours to kill,

to show I'd been there, then, that evening as the house
neared, for the first time I rode beyond the colony, first time
loitering, did not stop at Aashiyana, must have taken what I

later found was the road to Bijnor, going beyond Bangla-Bazar,
beyond even the railway-line, beyond a never-before, and
I remember I landed up at a village, which has now been

cut-up into colonies, I remember that evening's brown in
the air, me, on the moped, parked, short supari trees, a
green-water lake, mud-coloured sky, asphalt, and at that

edge of Lucknow, for the first time, I remember thinking
there is something else, no name for it yet, but there is
something else, beyond badly taught Maths classes,

something else - that I am going to make my home in.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

When Shammi Kapoor

When Shammi Kapoor slides down the snow
in Junglee, shouting 'Yahoo', they tell you it's Kashmir,
but it is actually Kufri, near Shimla.

When Ranbir Kapoor climbs up the snow
in YJHD, all moon-struck, they tell you it's Manali,
but it is actually Gulmarg, in Kashmir.

So we've always got it wrong - grand-uncle
or grand-nephew - and we've been like this for long, always
Kashmir without Kashmiris, all for a song.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Remember, remember,

the 6th of December,
the axes, the hammers
that would dismember
a mosque and a nation
that has since then -
only walked on embers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


An American soldier
        in Vietnam, still "unravelling"
        after all these years, is told by
        his wife that the branches they
        both see are "only branches",
        not sky crossed in barbed-wire.

An English soldier
        in France, still paces behind the
        wagons of his dreams, still sees
        those "white eyes writhing". When
        he dies, the citation says he "inflicted
        considerable losses to the enemy".        

An Israeli soldier
        in Palestine, refuses to fly, says
        the word - occupation - finds a
        hole in the skies he knew too well.
        Others in the unit whet conscience
        on fear, call him names, disappear.
An Indian soldier
        in Kashmir, uncovers his wound.
        One, in the Rashtriya Rifles unit
        runs "amok in the wee hours, killing
        five soldiers before killing himself".
        Officers claim "inadequate leave".

(thanks to Bruce Weigl and Wilfred Owen)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

On seeing Pakeezah, again, after twenty years

The evening, the ruins,
even the further shadows of trees,
still wear the jewel of Nargis's abandonment.

Each night, they pay
the unending debt
of her refusal.

Her sister, sketching
the sky with Nargis's last days,
still says - how much you must have cried,
how much,

before your resolve was
whetted against that last night of grief,

before you wrote
that letter,

before you left
the moonstone of your loneness
for Sahib Jan to inherit.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

तानाशाही में क्या होता है?

    लोग अजीब-अजीब चीज़ों के आदी हो जाते हैं,

    स्वाभाविक लगने लगता है
    फरमान का लहज़ा और
    आसमान का काला रंग, 

    सामने खड़ी दहशत को
    ना देखने के कई साधन ईजाद किये जाते हैं,

    कीचड़ में भटकाऊ फूल,
    कई उलटे-सीधे रूल,
    और आखों में धूल,

    सरकार के घर-बिस्तर तक में
    आ धमकने से लोग अभ्यस्त कराये जाते हैं,

    देश-प्रेम की दुहाई दी जाती है,
    देश को लोग अपनी जेब की अठन्नी में पाते हैं,

    सवाल करना चाहते हैं
    पर कतरातें हैं।

तो तानाशाही ख़तम कैसे होती है?

    जब लोग इस सब से पक जाते हैं।

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Morning, 9th November 2016, in a New York hotel-room

Around 2am,
she was 209, he was 244.
I go to sleep.

Around 4:30,
almost in the middle of some dream,
I pick up my phone, see the results,
and go back to sleep.

Six in the morning,
waking up early for a bus,
the first thing I do is see my Grindr.
The bus is only at 8. It’s still two hours.
Someone 870 feet away, 45, “looking for fun right now”
had offered some unsolicited advice:
“You better pack your bags,
He gonna build a wall.”

Around 9:30, in the Greyhound bound for Atlantic City,
the woman next to me kept on calling her new President
a psycho. I thought to myself, why abuse psychos.

Later that day, my mother
called from Lucknow and said
“Achha ab ye Trump president ban gaya hai
isse tumhein toh koi farak nahin padega na?”
So now that this Trump is president,
this won’t make any difference to you, right?

I didn’t know where to begin
so I just repeated that I will be back by the 1st of December,
it’s just three weeks.
She said “achha bas safe ho kar chalna,”
Okay, but just be safe till then.

Where does one begin
when the hate rises – “at an Applebee's, they hit
her just because she was wearing a Hijab and speaking
in Swahili" – where does one begin when
the object of your fear is the colour of your skin –
I know that a friend would say “surely, you’re over-reacting,”
but what do I know, how can anyone measure the menace
distributed in the evenings – “they threw a cup of piss on him
as he slept on the pavement, he was a Mexican immigrant”

where do you begin, when you think twice about
an evening-out alone in a new country, when you
look about for folks like you, because
something’s in the air here
and it’s sinking in.

(thanks to Jorge Ramos)

Monday, October 31, 2016

To each other - A Ghazal

That Srinagar bed, hours, we spread to each other,
in our kiss, years, all that was unsaid to each other,

Even broken promises are worth holding on to,
break promises like rubies and give red to each other.

Stars aligned like a prayer or the cursed moon,
what was it that night that we were led to each other.

Death lends grace to love, a silent indemnity,
no more fear of what we could have said to each other.

Your voice, now forgotten, was the last to go,
It's silent now, that amethyst night we read to each other.

Akhil, what did you give to him, what did you get?
"My heart for his," That's it? "And head too..." Each other?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


में जन्मा,
मतलब पूरा
पाकिस्तानी, कोई
बटवारे से पहले का
नहीं कि किसी भी तरह
उसको अपना बता लें। पर
दिक्कत ये है, कि उन सब शामों
को कैसे मिटायें, जब, नौजवानी में
हम उसकी आवाज़ में घुलते जाते थे,
"आफ़रीं आफ़रीं" सुनके, तब नहीं पता था

नुसरत हैं उनके।

He was born in 1948, so he's

straight-up Pakistani, not some
pre-Partition guy we can claim
as our own. Now the trouble is,
how do I wipe clean all those
evenings, growing up, when
drunk on his voice, we heard
"Afreen Afreen", losing all our
cares, not knowing Nusrat was theirs.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A friend from Beirut

tells me I have a way
of moving my head that
is neither a yes or a no.

He says it's an Indian thing.

"It means ok," I tell him,
"It means I get you."

We are here only
for three months
in this city which must
be the obverse of Beirut.

The first time
you'd held my hand here,
autumn had melted into fingers,
and all that was unwished for years
was wished again.

That night,
the river refused its course
and rushed into my veins,
dislodging grief in its way.

Who knew October was
for wishfulness,

a season of gestures
keeping time at bay.

Next month,
when you will leave,
the river will return and
the past will colour the book again,

do you think then, I will
be either a yes or a no,
or realizing, again,
to understand is to be
somewhere between.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You turned out to be just like us

tr. from Fahmida Riaz's 'Tum bilkul ham jaise nikle'

(from Pakistan with love)

You turned out to be just like us,
where were you hiding all this while?
The same foolishness, the same fuss,
which made us waste a century
now knocks at your door, don't you see?
Well done sir, really. Well done.

Bogeymen of faith loom around.
Really, you'll set up Hindu Raj?
Spoil every thing at large,
and darken your own skies.
Will you too sit and devise
(seems like you're all too ready)
who is Hindu, who is not,
you too will issue fatwas.
Here too, life will be fraught,
here too, you'll sweat & hum &
haw & somehow pass the days,
suffocated, sick, in daze.
Till recently I was saddened
by all this but now I find it funny
- you turned out to be just like us,
we are one people after all, honey.

Let education go rot. We'll
make a virtue out of not knowing.
So what if the road ahead is potholed,
backward's the only way we're going.
If we only practice harder,
we'll get to go back farther.
We won't think of anything else
except look backwards, again
and again, and say it loud,
again and again -
How strong and great was Bharat!
What an epic State was Bharat!
It will be then that you will surely
reach - surely reach the paradise.
See, we are already here,
you must now find time for us -
from the hell you are in, my boo,
keep on sending a letter or two.

Fahmida Riaz

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

To gay men who can 'pass'

get your head out of your arse,
just 'coz in your school, they
called you names, filled you with
shame, and with fear, year after
year, doesn't mean you get to
turn around and project, those
years of anger and regret, onto
other gay men for being 'girly',
onto trans* folks for being sure-
footed, onto women you thought
were 'crooked'; we all have just one
thing to say, sexism isn't any shinier
or forgiveable just 'coz you're gay.

Friday, September 30, 2016

In Dubardha village

in District Ballia, U.P.,
the family of Lance Naik Rajesh Kumar Yadav
had erected barricades on the road that
"lead to our house to ensure that
no media-person or any relative
could reach there and talk of
Rajesh's death to his
mother and wife."

In stopping the news,
did they hope the truth would turn,
or that Parvati, Rajesh's wife,
eight months pregnant, would grit,
in the meanwhile, her fingers on
the impossible arm of resolve.

"We stopped everyone from visiting
our house," he said, "but, somehow,
some journalists, they found a way from
the other side of the road, reached our home
late that afternoon, and told Parvati about the death,"
Vikesh, the Lance Naik's brother, said.
He farms a 3-bigah piece of land in the village.

Who owns the news
of the death of a soldier?
Who has the right to hold it in their hands
as it stuns courage into disbelief
at what its always asked to do? In Satara,
the father of a killed soldier, only twenty-seven,
is afraid of putting this land of the courageous in the docks,
he asks the journalist, "Am I wrong in saying
that I want my two other sons to be safe"?

Should the news of the soldier's passing
not stun our ears into the shape of disbelief,
not make us refuse the leaden article of
the country, not turn us into rain, or should it

run in tickers till blood runs dry?

Far away, seated outside her house,
in Gangasagar, 24 Paraganas in Bengal - "the road
to their house had no light" - the 20-year old Bulti Ghorai,
sister of late Sepoy Biswajit Ghorai, who now lives only in
the country of loss, tells the journalist, resolve now held so tight
in her fingers it cannot breathe, "I will never let any member
of my family join the Army again," and asks them to believe.

(thanks to Sweety Kumari and Manish Sahu)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jas suna ki us aashiq ne - Agha Shahid Ali

I had to choose

between a squirrel and a war;
I chose the squirrel and let the war go.

This choice was crucial for our humanity,

the squirrel trembles at the very mention of war
but no war has ever thought of the squirrels.

tr. from Pratyush Pushkar's 'Mujhe Chunna Pada'

Pratyush Pushkar

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

बुढ़ापे पर एक मॉनसून नोट

tr. from Agha Shahid Ali's A Monsoon Note on Old Age

ये पचास साल बाद की बात है, मैं
अपने सामने बैठा हुआ हूँ, मॉनसून के
पसीने में तह लगा हुआ, मेरी खाल

मुरझाई सी, थका सा ख़ुसरा, सिर्फ
एक गैरमौजूदगी से आगाह;

                                        खिड़की की छड़ें
मुझपर कैदखाने का नक़्शा बनाती हैं;

                                        मैं तारों को फेंटता हूँ
पुराने ताश की गड्डी;

                                        रात फिर से बारिश सी
बनावट हासिल कर लेती है। मैं तुम्हारी फोटो
को ज़्यादा ही धुप दिखा रहा हूँ; मौत

के दूर-दराज़ देश से धुल उड़ा रहा हूँ।                       

Agha Shahid Ali

Sunday, September 25, 2016

आँखें तस्करी

हँसी मसखरी
देखे तो जाती है जान
निगाह रसभरी
बलम केसरी
पधारो फवाद खान

آکھیں تسکری
حسی مسخری
دیکھ تو جاتی ہے جان
نگاہ رسبہری
بلم کیسری
پدھارو فواد خان

Thursday, September 22, 2016


After the check-out,
with my strolley behind me,
I set out walking in this city
that was strange
only till this morning
meant for leaving
made its streets familiar
with the colours of cities past.

The light had just
settled on the concrete
and filled it with other evenings
from other places.

A square with a fountain,
a parking lot bathed in rust,
and the purple that refused
to leave the downtown sky even
after the night had left, marked
only places that had come before.

At the Washington Park red-light,
I turned into memory,
slipping tokens of the last decade
into the cracks;

at West Delaware Place,
my hands were again heavy with touch;

and near Lassalle Street,
those old steps upto an apartment,
flanked by iron, and petunias, on either side,
made me climb them,
wait a little,

and the idea of you opened the door
and the idea of you said "What took you so long?"
as the purple left the sky
slowly behind me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Identity Card

Name: Nasir Shafi
D.O.B: 13-Jan-2005
School: Greenlight Higher Secondary
Class: VII
Resident Of: New Theed Harwan, Srinagar
Father's Name: “More than 300 pellets pierced my son’s body.”
Mother's Name: “He was tall and looked much older for his age."
"...distinction holder..."
"...ace footballer..."
"...wanted to be an engineer..."
"...had promised us he will take mummy and papa on Haj..."
Last Seen: "...boys were throwing stones at government forces near the Theed bus stand. Around 5 pm, or later, the forces surrounded the spot from all sides. I saw Rakshak jeeps speeding towards us...We ran towards the Dachigam Park forest...As we reached near the Hapatghar, the bear cage, the police were already there...some of us tried to hide behind bushes and trees, others ran towards the saraband, the reservoir...I climbed a tree to save myself...I saw the SHO order his men to catch the boys...then I saw Nasir alone in the Saraband. A group of five policemen went towards among them pointed his gun towards him and fired...he fell down instantly..."

Date of Death: 17-Sept-2016
Cause of Death according to local Police: Killed by a Bear.

Meaning of Name: Nasir, 'Protector', 'Helper', 'The one who will bring victory'

(thanks to Ubeer Naqushbandi, Junaid Nabi Bazaz, Abir Bashir, Faisal Khan and Jehangir Ali)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Nobody said it

but we all knew
that if you cannot cry at will,
you're not a good actor.

This was the reason why, in those years,
I found myself landing 'bubbly roles'

as if only make-believe tears
throttle us into our depths.

That was the first time
since I began theatre in college,
that I realized the stage
is always upto something.

A few years later, in Delhi,
after we'd spent hours in his house,
and the evening had grown on us,
I remember my boyfriend told me -

'I challenge you
to hold back tears on this one,'
and played a concert of Lauryn Hill
on his laptop.

It trumped me,
but I was sincere in my efforts,
and Hill really helped by tearing up herself
as she sang in the video,

but it wasn't working;

I thought of the hardest days
I could, and the saddest moments I'd had,
and managed, I think, by the end of it,
half a tear.

I don't know whether
he figured out it was fake.

(In the past, he had cried many times
seeing Hill sing that song.)

We broke up
a few months later. No, not because of this,
but I should have read the writing on the wall.

To cry on the same things
is to live the same sorrows,

and if your sorrows do not match
no late evening play-acting will do.

Earlier this year, one night,
as I scrolled down my Facebook feed,
Aylan Kurdi washed up ashore
on the Turkish coast of Bodrum,

red shirt, blue shorts,
as if asleep on the sand,

the three-year old from Syria
told me, that a whole world lies between Turkey and Greece,
a world of our making,
that if the men had wanted,
the Aegean could have been a little stream,

but the men have made
this Aegean bigger than the Pacific.

A journalist asked his father, through an interpreter,
"What do you hope to do now?"

His reply, though between tears, was certain
"Now all I want to do is sit next
to the grave of my wife and children."

Tears interpret
the certainties of our loss,

tears interpret
the long night of the sea.

How can anyone
bring them at will?

How can anyone
stage them,

they also dry up.

Days later, as Omran,
another boy from Syria,
sat in an ambulance seat too big for him,
stunned by his own blood,
his hand feeling for certainty in the crowning dust, and

the whole world watching
Aleppo fall around him,

I realized
my tears had already
hardened like rubble in my eyes,

and really, for this to happen,
and for the world to still 'debate' a 'migration crisis'
as Aylan sits next to his father, whose world now
will always be sea,
must be make-believe,
must be staged, must be unwilled,

for what else will it take,
what else can tear our sky
more than this, what else
can make us certain.

(co-written with Mallika Taneja)

Saturday, September 10, 2016


the 6th century Hun of Kashmir
was so known for his cruelty

that "people could tell of
the approach of his armies by
the vultures and crows that flew ahead of them."

Kalhana wrote in his Rajatarangini,
that the Hun was "a terrible enemy of mankind,
who had no pity for children,
no compassion for women,
no respect for the aged."

Mihirgulla's reign,
all Kashmiris remember,
was a long night of massacre
that they thought would never end.

Does India know that, finally,
as one more spring was sharpening Jehlum's air,
the Hun took his own life?

(thanks to Prem Nath Bazaz)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

First week in Iowa City

On the sixth day,
a white graduate student tells me
my English is strong.

I meant to say, that's just as well,
I'm an English teacher,

but didn't, because why the hell
should English still be the gold standard
to measure race relations,
and worth.

On the second day,
they took us grocery shopping.

There was a McDonalds outside
the store. And outside McDonalds
were two flags - the bright yellow 'M'
flying a little higher than Stars & Stripes.

Even America wraps itself up in cliche sometimes.

On the fourth day,
I was watching a Youtube video
of a press conference,
where the Indian Home Minister,
in the seventh week of the curfew in Kashmir,
said that the use of pellet guns caused 'least damage'.

I am beginning to think words
change their meanings in Kashmir.

I am trying to square 'least damage'
with hundreds of children blinded, with
the paramilitary forces' own admission that
they used 1.3 million pellets in over four weeks.

'Least' is the last word
to change its meaning in Kashmir,
in the long line of words,
that includes 'Childhood', and also

On the third day,
I meet a poet who writes of
the missing children of her homeland,
those no longer on the swings,
those no longer on the beaches.

Those eclipsed like
meanings from words.

The map tells me that
from Iowa City to Palestine
is 6327 miles, and
that from Iowa City to Kashmir
is 7127 miles.

I realize how close
Kashmir is to Palestine.

On the fifth day,
we go to a house party
and I find out what sort of houses
University professors can afford to live in in Iowa.

I don't compare.

On the first day,
later, as the evening swept the sky,
we drove from Cedar Rapids airport to our hotel,
and the one thing that I gasped at
- and I did not think I'd gasp at anything in a small town -
was the size of the moon.

It seemed the highway held a moon
ten times bigger than I'd ever seen back home.

This was a beginning,
I told myself,

and if the moon can multiply its size,
what is not possible, then, here?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On seeing a 1944 American Mid-Western Musical, Or,


How much pains it takes
to preserve itself.
How much efforts it puts
to keep others out.
How much history it refuses,
how many tales.

How badly it fails.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

What song of bravery knows

that martyrs too, though
flowers at their feet, and
paens in their sky, still, for
their own homes, really die.

What song of bravery knows
that mother, who, when she
sees him pick up the gun,
says "Don't come back a hero,
just come back as my son."

(For Ghazala Khan)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Kids used marbles,

pebbles, pieces of
clay, to begin counting
back in the day, but
now, in that country,
he told me, "...well it's,
an X-Ray of pellets."

Sunday, August 7, 2016

They were lucky

those who counted love as work,
or those who fell in love with the work
they did. All my life, I've been busy;
I've loved a little, worked a little.
Love always got caught up in work,
work always stepped on love's feet.
I gave up, finally; left both incomplete.

tr. from Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya

tr. with help from Anindita Biswas

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Kaanwariyas are good for the night-life of Delhi.

Don't you think so? Around mid-night at ISBT
Kashmere Gate, which otherwise would have fallen
silent, they set up stalls and play red & orange songs.

Boys distribute water to those who are carrying holier
water on their shoulders. (Does holy water weigh more
than regular water?) Even I, on my cycle, am offered a pouch.

There are more than usual police-men at ISBT, going in
and out of urinals, perhaps because there is more than usual
cruising, because a festival is doing the rounds of the night.

Around 1am at Malkaganj Chowk, which is dressed in lights,
in boys dancing, in groups of women sitting out late night,
a kaanwar stops me and asks me the way to Gurgaon.

(Does Shiva reside in Gurgaon?) A little away from all this,
near the old ice-factory, a few kaanwars open the dikky of their
scooter & bring out the rum, and then I guess, bol bam bam.

Many kaanwars are running a relay race, passing the Ganga
water like a baton. They are jogging with knee pads, looking out
for each other. It is, if you don't look around it, all pretty admirable.

The dance, the boys, the women. The late-night-ness of it.
But there is one thing this year which I've never seen before. On
their bikes, their tempos, their trucks, apart from the saffron flag,

this time there is also the tri-colour. Racing in the air. Why does a
God need a tricolour? Why does the lord of destruction need a flag?
Why is a flag of a country on a pilgrimage in the hands of little boys?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Do you have Facebook addiction?

Do you keep trying to leave it
but lack conviction
and keep coming back?

No sweat, I've got a hack.

Just say anything about Kashmir
that's even remotely true.

Then sit back,
they'll deactivate it for you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


they say, are made to be broken,
but only promises kept end the night,
like love, true to all it betokened,
like from the jaws of years, plebiscite.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

कृपया मोल-तोल न करें

मुझे मालूम है कि दिल्ली हाट में
कश्मीर स्टाल पर मोल-तोल करने का कोई फायदा नहीं;
उनके रेट फिक्स्ड हैं।
क्या खूब चीज़ है न इतना यकीन होना 
कि आपकी क्या कीमत है,
कि आपको क्या चाहिए,
क्या बिलकुल नहीं चाहिए --
औरों के लिए 
कितना सरदर्द है।  

tr. from Ankita Anand's 'No bargaining please' 
अंकिता आनंद

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The lake

is silver.

The mountains
are filigreed with snow.

The shikara breaks
the water into chords.

Cops throw tear-gas shells
in Emergency Wards.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


a resonant word,
a tear-gas-shell of a word,
written on stones, flung on streets,
a twelve-young-men-killed-in-a-day word,

as hard as the bones
of the young they cannot kill

like that other word:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My friends've gone dancing

and I am sitting blue,
& what I feared would happen
is all coming true.

The room's too small for me,
the small heart is cleft,
for those who'll do the leaving
& those who already left.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

"मिनिस्क्युल माइनॉरिटी"? "मिनिस्क्युल माइनॉरिटी"?

जज साहब,
लगता है आपको समझाना पड़ेगा,

किसी संडे शाम
आपको पालिका पार्क ले जाना पड़ेगा।

Friday, July 1, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Old shirts.

Some don't fit,
some are faded,
some out of style.

They say parting
with gifts from old lovers
can be difficult.

Try making a pile!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"My man's here," she said,

her voice
was rocked by the waves,

her eyes were pearls,

there is love enough
in this word to save us - 'mine'

if only once in our lives
we get to say it
- all our pain, lying still, in the word -

then nothing
is incomplete, nothing, in all our years,
is left behind.

tr. from an extract from Ismat Chughtai's 'Hindustan Chod Do'

Ismat Chughtai

Mom and dad insisted we go to Shirdi

I first resisted, then went.
The lines of devotees made me dizzy
but thankfully Shirdi Grindr was busy,
so all in all time well spent.

Andheri Local

The sea gets in,
brushes the sand off his hair,

wrings his wet shirt
and hangs it on the steel,

a friend, younger,
holds him by his waist

as brown as desire.

As we pass Santacruz,
I crush shells under my feet.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The therapist says dig, dig, dig,

but my ocean's way too blue & big, so
when he looks at me, all Meryl Streep,
I become two milimeters deep.

Windmills on

the Western Ghats,
the collar bone of the earth,

white turbines
threshing the sky into cirrus

like foremothers of the hills

who know power
is always summoned
out of thin air.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

To live

is to find measureless pain, 
is to hide it from others, to feign
a smile and somehow still mean
when pain's edge is keen.
translated from Sunita Katyal's 'To live'
Sunita Katyal


The margins fall off.
The ink is red.
He smiles and says
"The investigation is on."

tr. from Rahul Rai's 'Vyapam'

Rahul Rai

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ghodbunder Road

(Mira Bhayandar to Thane)

All through the way, we keep speaking,
raising the stakes, little by little,
every night creates possibilities, which
the morning breaks, little by little.

What will remain of this night, years from
now, is only an abstract wish,
his head on my arms, his hair in my fingers
- desire slakes, little by little.

Mario had told me the Portugese traded
Arabian horses here at the creek,
'Ghod' 'Bunder' - the port of the horses -
how history wakes, little by little.

On the radio, as Ananyaa sang, she pestled
the moon, dissolved the stars,
take heed, Akhil, she sings of our lives, it
gives and it takes, little by little.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

In Shimla

it always rains twice,
once, from the sky,
then, when the pines drip.

The same with you, Lalita,
once, when you went,
then, as it hit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

टूटा हर चीज़ का आकार है

जैसे बीता हुआ कल
जैसे याद

ये अब
इतना बड़ा है,

ये अब
हर जगह है:
हम उसके टुकड़े करते हैं,
यही रहते हैं हमारे पास

बस यही हम आने वाले कल को दे पाते हैं

जो है हर चीज़ का आकार।

tr. from Kei Miller's 'Broken is the shape of everything'

Kei Miller

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nishit Saran

Half way down the Lodhi Road,
the first day of rain,

those who come here often must
be held by you, and pain,

and memory must, like memory does,
hold them in its skein,

remembering you, like always, with
the summer in your veins.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the TOI report, concerning "Africans in Delhi" -

"'It's been trouble since
they've been around,'
one Delhi local fears."

Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut,
Razia Sultan's lover
be like, "Trouble? For
eight hundred years?"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Things you discover on the first day of cycling in Delhi

Cars are beasts.

You are tiny.

But sometimes, near red-lights,
you can outrun the best of them.

Cycle-lanes change everything.

The Ring-Road takes almost ten seconds to cross,
width-wise, and a life-time to go round.

Working class cycles do not have helmets and lights
and their main purpose is not 'exercise'.

From the Def Col nallah
to the under-the-flyover Saheli office,
is a slight dhalaan you hadn't noticed before,
now it comes as a welcome surprise,

you find out the inclinations of your city,
where it nods, where it raises an eyebrow,

that from the ITO metro station to the Medical College
is a slight chadhaai. You always pay for a dhalaan,
with a chadhaai somewhere else.

Things slows down, as you cycle,
you see different things, notice punture shops near your home,
one opposite DPS Mathura Road, one at the railway tracks
at the Lajpat station.

With this time, you look at things closely,
at Modi posters, at the Madame-Tussauds-trimmed beard,
at funeral processions, at bathing men,
at hypno-Kejriwal.

Rickshaw-pullers ask you
to move it.

Near Pragati Maidan, a boy looks out his school bus, and asks
with a cocky-class-3A-sort-of-smile -
"Uncle, aapke paas bike nahin hai?" ("You don't have a bike?")
"Isme gears nahin hain?"
"Haan," and looks somewhere between disappointed,
amused and pitiful, till an older boy
pulls him down.

Bus drivers that let you pass
deserve a place in heaven.

At 11 Ashoka Road, in the giant party posters,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, though top-left,
feel like bottom-right, and remember the old days,

you cycle past them
as the Lutyens trees open their arms.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nizamuddin Dargah

Khusro dariya patriarchy ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Mard karein sajda andar, aurat karein baahr.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Two memories, Delhi


Laxmi Nagar, Delhi

I must have been twelve
when a grand-uncle was discovered
during a vacation in Delhi,

you don't know him? we'd told you, he's

nani's eldest brother,
(also from Sargodha, Pakistan)
I'd never met a grand-uncle.

In his Jamuna-paar house, he looked so frail
in his drawing-room that my twelve-year-oldness
was afraid to go near him.

He could not see. And, for me, then, his could-not-seeness
had sat in the middle of the room
but no one would mention it.

He spoke to us and I followed his closed eyelids
that kept egg-whites beneath them.

I tried to measure how much 
he could see of the snacks on the table,
of my fingers, of all of us talking,
of his own speaking-about-us-without-knowing-us,
as if of course I know you, you're my sister's grand...

After a while,
he asked Pinki (my mother's name
for those who knew her longer than I)
to let him see us.

We were made to get up and
stand in front of him.

I walked slowly, my bones
shaped like awkwardness.

He touched my face with his fingers,
frailness, moved them lightly over my nose,
my eyes (should I keep them closed? or open?)
and said, he's "nice-looking" in English,
and then let me go.

I bundled back
to my edge of the sofa,
to the edge of my mother,
near her, asking her to keep me
from her people, those who knew her
longer than I, grand-uncles whose egg-whites
roamed on walls and who saw people through fingers.


Jangpura Extension, Delhi

Rohit, it has been about six years
since you left, and of-course-this-is-very-little-time,
but I thank my stars that sometimes I find it
difficult to remember
your face

It is surprising how much six years
without a facebook-friendship can do,
how they can blur the edges of cheek-bones,
make the nose go was-it-like-this?
and eyes, were-they-dark-brown-or-black?

Around the third year,
when this slow forgetting had started,
I found these little slipping-away's of details
to be a form of betrayal, like the final warrant of
now-nothing-can-start-again, like the final final, like
even his face now...

but when your going sunk in through the years,
this slipperiness of memory felt kinder,
this inability to remember no longer argued with me,
it sat on my lap and let me stroke
its chin, and loved me back,
if even his face can go, then surely...

but, sometimes, near the hours
that are no-longer-night an' not-yet-dawn,
when I lie just on this side of sleep, sometimes

not always, my hand takes the shape as if it is
holding you from the back,

and the fingers still hold the gossamer air
of the bedroom as if they touched your cheeks,

as if the small slant of your nose was there,
the graze of the stubble, the lemonness of hair,
the soft drip of your ear,

as if rememberance was a game
played by fingers on gossamer fields,

and, in those nights, I didn't need
memory's ability to see, I touched, and without
saying it to you, meant, like in
those nights, "nice-looking",

and saying it held off dawn, it held off the claim
of the next day, it held off who-told-you-to-go,
why-did-you-have-to-go, it held off

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kashmiri: We want azadi.
Indian: We'll give you development.
Kashmiri: We want azadi.
Indian: We'll give you jobs.
Kashmiri: We want azadi.
Indian: You'll survive without us? How?
Kashmiri: As against now?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

'Gurgaon' is now 'Gurugram'

'Gurgaon' is now 'Gurugram'
   The idea is BJP's
They say it's for Guru Dronacharya
   Eklavya be like "Bitch please!"

Friday, April 8, 2016

तुम याद आते हो

जैसे नाईट-ड्यूटी पर नींद आती है,
बिन बुलाए, हमेशा।

Monday, April 4, 2016

We ain't buyin' what's on sale

We ain't goin' to concede 'em
They think we'll stop at bail
We ain't stoppin' till freedom

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

दुआ, इन दिनों

सोच में आज़ादी हो,
प्लेट पर खाना हो,
किस्म-किस्म के लोगों
का आना-जाना हो,
बात-चीत हो बहस में,
प्रेम हो, क्रोध हो, जिज्ञासा
हो हर रहस्य में, नाचना हो,
गाना हो, पन्नों में लिपटा हर
ख़याल हो पुस्तकालय में,
विश्व हो विश्वविद्यालय में

(एच.सी.यू के लिए)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

जेनेरल साहब - Bertolt Brecht

tr. Bertolt Brecht's 'General, Dein Tank ist ein starker Wagen'

जेनेरल साहब,
आपका ये टैंक बड़ा ही शक्तिशाली है,
जंगलों को रौंद देता है
सौ-सौ आदमियों को कुचल देता है,
पर इसमें एक दोष है -
इसे एक ड्राइवर की जरूरत पड़ती है

जेनेरल साहब,
आपका ये बॉम्बर बड़ा ही शक्तिशाली है,
हाथी जितना बोझ लिए भी तूफ़ान से तेज़ उड़ता है,
पर इसमें भी एक दोष है -
इसे एक मैकैनिक की जरूरत पड़ती है

जेनेरल साहब,
इंसान बहुत काम की चीज़ है,
वो उड़ सकता है, वो मार भी सकता है,
पर उसमें एक दोष है -
वो सोच भी सकता है

Bertolt Brecht

Friday, March 18, 2016

I am grass

tr. from Pash's 'ਮੈਂ ਘਾਹ ਹਾਂ'

I am grass,
I will grow back, no matter what you do,

whether you bomb a university,
whether you bulldoze a hostel,
or whether you burn our rooms -

what will you do to me
What can you do to me?
I am grass, I will grow back, on everything.

Go, burn up our towns,
wipe out Sangroor,
turn Ludhiyana to dust,
my green will do its work even then,
after two years, after ten years...
passengers will again ask the conductor -
"What place is this?
Will you drop me off at Barnala,
where there's a forest of green grass."

I am grass,
I will do my work,
I will grow back on everything
that you try to do to me.

(For Umar and Anirban)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

जाओ, शिक्षा पाओ - Savitribai Phule

tr. from Sunil Sardar and Victor Paul's English tr. 'Go, Get Education' by Savitribai Phule

जाओ, शिक्षा पाओ

आत्म-निर्भर बनो, मेहनत में रम जाओ
काम करो, ज्ञान और धन बटोरो

ज्ञान के बिना सब कुछ खो जाता है
ज्ञान के बिना इंसान जानवर हो जाता है

ऐसे न बैठो, जाओ, शिक्षा पाओ,
पीड़ितों का, पिछड़ों का दुख मिटाओ

जाओ, सीखने का सुनहरा मौका है ये
सीखो, और तोड़ दो जाती की जंजीरों को
फैक दो उस ब्राह्मण के शास्त्रों को,
उसकी किताबों को, उसकी लकीरों को

Savitribai Phule (1831-97)

ब्राह्मण-राज मिटटी में मिले है

tr. excerpt from Sunil Sardar and Victor Paul's English tr. 'Mother English' of Savitribai Phule's Marathi poem

"ब्राह्मण-राज मिटटी में मिले है
जो अंग्रेज़ ने चाबुक चलाया है

गरीब की भलाई इसी में तो है -
अंग्रेजी के सामने, मनु सकपकाया है"

Savitribai Phule (1831-97)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

तुम्हारे बारे में सोचना - Nazim Hikmet

tr. from Nazim Hikmet's 'Thinking of you'

तुम्हारे बारे में सोचना
    मुझे सुन्दर लगता है, मुझे दिलासा देता है,
लगता है जैसे दुनिया का सबसे सुन्दर गाना
    सबसे सुन्दर आवाज़ में सुन रहा हूँ

पर अब दिलासा मेरे लिए काफी नहीं है
    मैं अब और गाने नहीं सुनना चाहता
मैं गाना चाहता हूँ

Nazim Hikmet

Ghazal by Gauhar Raza

tr. from Urdu-Hindi

Love for the nation gift-wrapped in faith; farce, that's how it'll be
Flowers, dried-up, gardens, gone, autumn, yellowed, that's how it'll be.

That savagery, once felt, still keeps Europe trembling in fear,
That savagery, will it now burn my land? Is that how it'll be?

Those gas chambers of the past still carry the stench of blood,
What else does blind love for nations do? What else will'it be?

It is true that in dark wells, utter lies, like boats, carry on,
but soon, the light of our truth will sink 'em, that's how it will be.

Those who've grown up on hatred, who've played with it like a toy,
in the days to come, what will hatred make them do? How will it be?

They ask the artists, the writers, why have you returned the honours?
Ask, how many sit quiet? Will shame knock on their doors? Will it be?

Do not eat this, do not wear that, do not, for God's sake, ever love,
The 'anti-national' stamp hovers in the air, that is how it'll be.

Do not forget, the young, the generations after us, are lit embers,
You play with fire an' think the sparks won't reach you; that's not how it'll be.

Gauhar Raza

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

तुम आये हो या

पल्स खाते-खाते ज़ुबान पर
नमक आया है?

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Dr. Siras,
In those nights,
you must have felt loneliness like a drip.

The walls of your room
would’ve been held apart only by a faint song,

and memory must have sat by you all night
combing the hours.

In your Marathi poem, Dr. Siras, the one about the ‘beloved moon,’
the one in which you somehow eke dawn from the dark sky,
I read it last night on the terrace,
it held me, it held my hands,
it let grass grow under my feet.

In this house that I have lived in for three years in Delhi, Dr. Siras,
the windows open onto a Palash tree.

I was 27 when I had rented it,
and at 27, the landlord had not spent too much time on the word ‘bachelor’
he had only asked if I had ‘too many parties’,
I didn’t, and I had got the house.

But next time, Dr. Siras, when I will try and look for a place in this city,
I will be older and they will pause at "but marriage?"
and I will try to eke out respect from a right surname,
from saying ‘Teacher’
from telling my birth-place,
and will try and hide my feeling small under my feet.

What had you said, Dr. Siras,
when you looked for that house in Durga Wadi?
What had you said for the neighbourhood, ‘Teacher’, ‘Professor’,

What gives us this respect, Dr. Siras, this contract with water?

In those nights,
weighing this word in your hands,
you must have felt weak, like the sun at dusk,
you must have closed the window to keep out the evening,
you must have looked back, and hung the song in the air
between refusal and letting go.

(thanks to Apurva M Asrani and Ishani Banerjee)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

            भी तुम्हें लग जाए 

Monday, February 15, 2016


You can chew the sun here & spit it out,
You can make the mighty eat dust,
It is a university that we're talking about,
Not a king's court where we must.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

To the soldier in Siachen

Come back,
the snow is treacherous,
come back,
they are making you fight a treacherous war,
you were not born in snow,
you do not know snow, come back,
I do not want you to fight that war in our name,
I want you to rest, I want you to be able to feel your fingers,
I want the snow in your veins to give way,
for you to be able to breathe, to melt
into a corner,
to sleep.

Come back.

Go home.

Go home to Dharwad,
Go home to Madurai, go home to
Vellore, Satara, Mysore, do not stay in the snow,
go home to Ranchi, that war is not for you to fight, that war
is not for us to give to you to fight, let not our name be ice,
let it not heave on your shoulders, do not let us steal your breath,
the people there, the people of the snow do not need us,
they do not need you to fight, come back,
you were not born to snow,
you do not know the treachery of the snow,

go home,
to rest, go home to the sun, to water,
go home to the nights of your village,
go home to the sweltering market-place,
to the noise of family-homes, to the sweat of the Ghats,
to the dust of the plains, go home,

may you never
have to see white ever again like that,
may you never have to see
a colour become death in your very palm.

Monday, February 8, 2016

That night in Mumbai when Brandt asked 'Are you good with speed?' and I said 'Yes'

it was as if
I pillion rode the moon
on the Western Express Highway,

and every mile we raced on his bike
we reclaimed from the sea,

the Goregaon high-rises passed us by
like longing measured on a Richter scale,

and the sky, window-lit at Malad, tripped
onto us,

at Kandivali, the fortieth floors spun out
into the night till the sky was only staircases,

and when he dropped me
by those black mountains of Borivali,
I realized I had held onto my seat
like the black holds onto basalt,
like the skin holds onto bones,
like Mumbai holds onto sea.

Monday, January 18, 2016

इंसान की कीमत कितनी कम लगाई जाती है - रोहित वेमुला

इंसान की कीमत
कितनी कम लगाई जाती है

बस एक छोटी सी पहचान दी जाती है
फिर जिसका जितना काम निकल आये -
कभी एक वोट,
कभी एक आंकड़ा,
कभी एक खोखली सी चीज़

कभी माना ही नहीं जाता कि इंसान
आखिर एक जीवंत मन है

एक अद्भुत सी चीज़ है
जिसे तारों की धूल से गढ़ा गया है

चाहे किताबों में देख लो, चाहे सड़कों पर,
चाहे उसे लड़ते हुए देख लो,
चाहे जीते-मरते हुए देख लो

रोहित वेमुला

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For Rohith Vemula

They might have rope enough
for his body,

have they rope enough
for star dust?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Poem said to the Doggerel

you'll never be like me,
you don't shatter the heart,
you don't burn into skin,
your canvas is small
& your themes are thin,
whoever reads me touches
the skies by the time I'm done,

The Doggerel replied: but I'm fun.