Sunday, 18 February 2018

Easiest to forget





Today I'd thought I’d write a poem for you –
but the sunrise seamed the sky in lilac
and birdwings, and so I could not get back -
prise myself away, think the structure through.

The road was busy, the day starts early here,
city noises are not quite as mystic -
(the birdsongs drowned by the whoosh of traffic)
as the daybreak shows the skies engineer.

A pair of doves sat on my window sill
wings growing sharper with the changing light
and I forgot the poem I’d thought I’d write;
they sat a long time, I watched longer still.

Wings in the sky and on the sill - sonnets
are some of the easiest things to forget.










Sunday, 11 February 2018

Valentine II



I can still feel the drizzle of your fingers
soft as the sea-sand on my face and hair;
some things are gone, it’s now many winters
the fallen leaves are banked in many layers;

there’s half an empty eggshell in the pond
floating next to the water hyacinth;
some kind of plastic scum in faded blonde
choking the small concrete steps and the plinth,

the bricks crumble gently and grow their cracks
and lure in grass and a banyan sapling;
but I can still feel the rain on their backs -
your hands don’t change unlike the other things.

And yes, this is where I’ve chosen to stand
surrender again to rain and your hands.




Totally off-topic, for those interested in my safari pics - there's a video clip in the sidebar. And maybe it's not all that off-topic either, plenty grass at any rate.



Monday, 5 February 2018

Valentine






I can no longer breathe you in
or accidentally brush your skin.
Radio silence, an empty glove
strangles time. But I still choose love.


The smells of coffee and cologne
reconfigured to disaster zones –
blood orange and marmalade nerve.
But I’m choosing to stay in love.


Mushroom smoke and mother of pearled
guns pour from factories of the world.
War and peace on an unknown curve.
But I’m choosing to stay in love.


A lone bird sits on an antenna,
the skyline slow fades to henna.
This soft sea. The heavens above.
Yes, I'm choosing to stay in love.







Friday, 2 February 2018

For Twinkle and Moongoddess




Did we want the moon supersized, what would we do? -
with a great big moon on our plate, both red and blue,
a thing of splendour in the skies, eclipsed or full,
even cut in half when served up too wide to chew.
Too wide, too great for the plate, too far for our lens
to pick up shades and nuance across this distance.
Let the moontug of yearnings subside, these birdprints
in the sand and the grains in hand too, are immense.







Monday, 29 January 2018

Malfuf wa Malik : Silence, Sounds, Shapes, Ramadan Stories and Traditions


I’m still in the mood for oud. Here’s Ahmad Alshaiba from Yemen with an oud cover of The Sound of Silence, one of my all time favourite songs -




and also of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The absence of lyrics is a serious improvement imo, the music's okay, but thumbs down for the chauvinistic words.  The polar opposite of favourite, not a fan  - no idea why it won the Grammy yesterday...but then I'm not the demographic that Ed is singing for. Though I'm glad to see the choice is creating its own firestorm of protest.





Anyways, take a listen while I tell you about...


Saturday, 27 January 2018

Republic Day 2018



Vault over to some place where everything
was colour, glory, the parade in full swing -
thousands moving as one, the thud of boots,
overhead the roar of airmen’s salutes,
multitudes of faces, hands in the crowd
clapped to the marching beat and cheered aloud.


Once more then, through jamun lined avenues
the early morning fog in soft greys and blues
traffic sparse enough to step on the tarmac
along the wide boulevards as we walk back
to where lies, if uttered, were not-for-profit,
all men were heroes, at least, not complicit.


Even now, though age has coarsened my hands,
they still want to clap to those marching bands.
But meanwhile some of those jamuns are gone,
the fog’s forced to curl around a saffron con.
The tunes are just as brave, the wings in the skies.
But the grounds are mined with a web of lies.


Of course the decades turn, the sense of free
changes with time, as does the jamun tree,
and the road it shaded once. Some time ago
that morphed to a highway, but peak traffic’s slow,
and there’s a bridge and a brand new police booth -
more crime, less heroes, that’s the honest truth.


We walk in silence, each rapt in her thoughts
a gate, a date, a parade, and each one fraught
between the current and the past recalled.
As for myself, I struggle to place the fault -
is it mine or is it just circumstance?
There’s a hole where a jamun had swayed once.


Free us from hatred and the conflicts it breeds;
give us strength to embrace every tribe and creed
free from the past, not trying to rearrange
what was unpleasant - for it does not change
even if a name’s wiped out, a word dropped
out of visible discourse, a few facts cropped.


The march past I watch now, and also those
I watched long ago, both draw to a close.
The balloons rise, the guests begin to leave.
Glad my hands have clapped, but they also grieve -
this road’s widened but endless others shrink,
narrow the spaces to live, love and think.







Monday, 22 January 2018

Written in blacks and whites and greys


You wrote me like a poem, a tracing
of water on a metal plate
a single blade of grass, subtly lacing
and weaving the breeze into a fete;


you wrote me like the plumes of dust devils
gently blur the horizons, spiked
lines that danced on the page, couldn’t keep still
and went off the edge as they liked;


you wiped me off too, like the savannahs
after rain, pockmarked with blossoms,
carry the sounds of slowly fading cars,
erase the gleam with clumsy thumbs.


You wrote me down and then you tore me up

flung me into the grass and into love.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Fresh new eyelids



Somewhere in a river of red Sundays,
in thick drifts of January headlines,
somewhere in black boxes of old crosswords,
perched nervous on a taut wire of sunshine,
I’ve waited for you to give me back my mind.

Somewhere in yellowed photograph albums,
in a million cracks of brittle glassine,
staring at the six-faced dies of mind games,
turning the wheels of dead mundane routine,
I’ve waited for you to tell me what you mean.

The years fall like petalled rain on fingers
and both my hands and eyelashes are wet.
On the highway piled up sullied winters.
You’re still out shooting, eyeballs on target,
but no more waiting, I’m primed to forget.

Eyelids are woven so they’d be drip-dried,
strength’s a dragon kite flying at its own will.
I’ve torn up all the rivers and cracked glassine
and forced the boxes open, dies to spill.
You’ll be in sometime. I’ll be quite civil.

And I’ll claim back each of the shot Sundays,
and every blank box on the crossword grid,
rake back each ribbon of hijacked mindspace
and weave myself a pair of fresh, new eyelids
and brush off all that you did, and undid.



Sunday, 14 January 2018

Shattered


 
Source

The first discards are not even noticed -
the packing newspapers, old magazines,
the shift in the definition of local,
and the weather displayed on tiny screens.

One day too soon the memories are blurry
and previous city roads get unravelled.
The radio programmes, heights of doorframes
shift slightly to let you know you’ve travelled.

The last of the old supermarket’s brands,
bags bright in undegradable plastic -
a beaker bought there is suddenly broken
and shattered pieces of glass equal homesick.

You sigh, sweep up and throw them in the bin,
and that’s when the meaning of home sinks in.



I'm still celebrating the mundane, which is what I do, generally. I know, I should get a life! This year, I promise. I'll make a serious attempt. Right after I finish this post. 


Anyways, last month, last month? year end, I was talking to my friend, and of course, we started with something very crisp and concrete on the agenda and wound up someplace completely unrelated-fuzzy, history, and homes, and the meanings of both.  And something that was said - home is shared history, the stuff you carry around, the interior of the mind and not the interior of the house - must have stuck in ye olde subconscious and produced the above. 


An Egyptian kettle and a teamug broke in the  meantime, I don't know how they managed to sneak in here. But things have got to a pretty desperate stage if broken mugs and electrical appliances are making it to poems! Must find mundane, but less mundane, stuff to celebrate. Pronto!


What are you celebrating today? :)


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Gratitude



The yin and the yang, the fizzle, sizzle and bang
the sparkle, the circle, and line
oh, I am grateful for all, the short, tall, oddball,
the glass and the fuss and the wine.
The stable, unstable, the three-legged table
so long as there’s place it’s just fine.
The pins and the prongs, and the fork’s probably wrong -
but I’m grateful it’s still got tines. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Hello, 2018!!






Not many photos of the grass
-  so remiss! So remiss, because
the earth there wears a festive lace,
it shimmers when a mild breeze blows.

Not many photos of the grass
as it’s not in the line of sight,
effort’s needed to find the grace
that’s not obviously supersized.

Just one photograph of the grass
to snag memory in a snare.
The small always made even less,
ignored as if it isn’t there.

But the grass underfoot makes me ache,
it’s lace, and longing, and heartbreak.




I was in the African savannahs over the holidays. Got lots of photos of the wildlife, the big 5, the mammals, even the smaller less drooled-over species like dung-beetles and lizards. The variety and the beauty of the grasses blew my mind, the delicacy of their seedpods, the slant of their bending to the winds. I didn’t get too many photographs though, the breeze was always blurring the picture, when I made the effort to focus in the first place, that is. Which is odd when you think of it, because surely the star of the show in the grasslands ought to be the grasses and not befanged and betrunked animals?

But I got a few photos, and one of them is up there for your consumption, for whatever it’s worth. Not every magical moment/thing can be clicked and binary-coded into hard disks and boxed up even if I were to be less remiss – that too is a life lesson in acceptance.

I also had this vague expectation, fully aware it was wrong and therefore duly afraid of being disillusioned as well - this mixed and mixed-up expectation that somehow it would offer me a route to the utter peace, the aching content that the savannahs of my childhood did. It was a thinly veiled attempt to return to lapsed spaces and times. Which of course was doomed to fail from the outset. 

But as it turned out, it wasn’t a failure.  The landscapes of the East are different from the West where I spent my childhood - the acacia species, the missing baobabs, the mango trees laden with a totally different red-magenta fruit. Even some of the grasses felt different. But that heart-stopping hushed feeling when in the savannahs, stretching from where your feet are planted to the horizons? Exactly the same. You breathe deep, and you mentally clasp your hands together in gratitude.

Welcome! to M-i-V in 2018, which is going to be roughly the same as it was in 2017, but hopefully a little wiser, a little less remiss, with a slightly clearer focus on the grasses while keeping an eye out for the betrunked and the befanged in the savannahs of life.





Sunday, 31 December 2017

Malfuf wa Malik : Meetings with Mozart, Ney, Oud, Percussion and Qanun

Classical music from the West has always inspired many singers/musicians in the East. Here is Omar Kamal, a Palestinian singer, known popularly as the Arab Sinatra, singing Fairouz’s cover of Mozart’s Symphony 40. Have a listen:



Fairouz, as everybody knows, is from Lebanon, one of the most revered singers across the Arab world. Lebanon has contributed a large number of talented musicians, something about the topography?…or maybe the water?…anyways, here is a young, superbly talented violinist from there with Made in Lebanon. Divanessa, was born in Canada and educated in Lebanon, click on her name to find out more.





Since we are on the subject of music, just thought I’d mention here that the solmisation in Arabic, which is called Durrat Mufassalat (meaning ‘separate pearls’) goes daal, ra, meem, fa, saad, laam, ta, these are letters of the Arabic alphabet associated with the seven notes. There is apparently no documentary evidence that the current form of Western solmisation, which happened during the medieval times, is in any way based on the Arabic one. So I am not saying a word further about Arabic influence, ha! We deal only in hard proofs.

Music is such a primal thing, I mean, I’ll bet that there was someone breaking into song long before we had alphabets or even before man was really Man, you know? The great apes can sing, and they do, as signals to other members of their group. In India the primordial sound is thought to be is ‘Om’ a syllable that is sung. All our poetry, which was religious to begin with and predated other literature, was chanted. Man probably hummed before he learned to speak, who knows? he was probably tuneful before he was articulate. Or perhaps I should say Woman.

I can totally imagine Neanderthal and Australopithecus mums crooning to the babies to make them sleep, can’t you? while the dads used frantic but silent gestures ('don’t just stand there! throw me that spear for heavens sakes, man! this springbok’s getting away!') at the hunts to avoid noise. Can this be the underpinnings why women are verbal and men are visual? Anyhoo. I digress.

But this be the thing - did you know, from the Far East to Europe, the entire old world in other words, uses the same number of notes as the basis of music? We name just seven basic notes, though there are many cultures which use half-notes or quarter-notes in between two. In Indian music there are the komal and tivra and shuddha to denote the in-betweens, but the names of the notes add up to the same number, with the name for the first and the last note repeated.  Daal-ra-meem-fa-saad-laam-ta. Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti.   I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. Sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni. The more I dig into things, the more gobsmacked I get really. 


Incidentally, the traditional Arabic ensemble did not include the violin, it’s an import from Europe, but has been made a part of the Arab orchestras from the 19th century onwards. The stringed instrument that is traditionally included in the Arab ensemble is the oud, which can be traced back to Persia some 3500 years ago, a short-necked, fret-less six/seven stringed instrument. Similar instruments have been found on ancient Egyptian paintings/frescoes from the Pharaonic era. The Arab armies brought it back to Arabia either from Egypt or from Persia in the 7th century and made it uniquely their own. The Moors then took it to Spain where it was known as the lute (al-ud), and from there it branched off and evolved into the modern day six-stringed, fretted guitar.


The oud is the main accompaniment to a traditional Arab song, it is also played solo. Listen to an eminent Iraqi Kurdish oud player Naseer Shamma in this clip below






And to these Palestinian oud players, brothers Joubran:




The other instruments that form the Arab ‘takht’ (ensemble) are the Ney – an end-blown flute and the percussion, which is usually the goblet drum - Darbouka, also called Doumbek.  Another prominent string instrument in the Arab ensemble is the trapezoidal zither - Qanun, that's often also played solo. Listen to this Qanun piece by a famous instrumentalist:




The qanun is also the ancestor of the Indian santoor, incidentally.



The Alex Trilogy

Just my quick review of this book -


This is Alexandria from the perspective of real, feet-on-the-ground for generations, Egyptian working-class residents, as far away from the expat-bubble rarefied-prism POV as one can possibly get. Set during WWII, the author has used quotations from other authors/poets - al Niffari, Rumi, Cavafy and Durrell among them, as chapter banners to anchor each chapter, and the reader, in place. Of personal interest also were the glimpses of Indian soldiers fighting the war in Egypt seen from a non-Indian POV. 

This is not a light page-turner, it's a huge, sweeping story of friendship, of overcoming religious differences, of hardships, of working class people, of war in faraway places upending lives in ways small and great. Above all, it is the story and the history of Alexandria from eyes and nose close to the ground. It needs some work and concentration to get at the novel, and I make a habit of often getting distracted by futile thoughts of what's lost in translation when reading translated Arabic, can so do without it! It's a densely packed, teeming, aromatic and rich-complex read - if you are interested in a POV that contrasts Durrell's and the more aloof Eurocentric version, go for it.


The book was longlisted for the IPAF award, I'm not sure these longlists or shortlists should be the reason for choice, a reader's criteria can be vastly different from the juries', but anyhoo. Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, a multiple awardee, has gone on to write two more books set in Alexandria forming his Alexandria trilogy. (Echoes of the Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz?!) Birds of Amber and Clouds over Alexandria followed NSiA. Read an interview of the author here.


So...that's the last post for the year. It's been a tumultuous one...2017 has been a tough cookie! Though I am grateful that I have a cookie, chewy or otherwise!  But glad to make a fresh start :) 

Thank you all who stopped by here and made my online life a respite and a refuge from the not-so-nice bits of my offline one. Wishing all of you a very happy and fun and fulfilling 2018 -

Nilanjana.