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20 November 2015

Poems from the 1990s

Longings from a Distant Shore

Eager voices prowl about an empty tongue,
the glib talk is around:
wails of the writhing ones reach up to the sky...

‘what am I doing haunting streets that I never belong to?’

To be alone,
sequestered like a liar’s truth...

‘what am I doing haunting the back-streets across black-waters?’

Desperate like an elliptical hangover
it does not profit at all:
an ambiguous statement, Delphic oracle and us!
devoid of direction, bereft of soil,
sinking in the whirlpool and trying to become tubers,
we are Wordsworths in Bonsai Woods -
children lost in a shopping mall.
- (written for an anguished friend abroad)

Optimistic Advice for Another Day

Mixed emotions make bundled contradictions
ripping skin and discording blood veins;
when it reaches the core
you’ve had it;
half the time when you are down
you are out too -

feelings lead to fatigue
even as nostalgia leads to a trip through unknown,
when it is averted
you have achieved it,
(coming successfully)
like a football player, like a yogi,
(numbed of physique), going through motions spiritedly
reaching dispassionately for the goal...

let out a primeval yell - the world responds.
victory is just a victory without conquest
conquering is all
lie down on a table tranquilized
see, just don’t feel, the operation performed
be part of it
the spirit shall conquer!

I cannot, never been able to
for I am dead, dead to my environs.

Reorientation

1
Jagged, let go your silence
And let the city strum the strings of turmoil.

Where rats chase lions
Elephants shy away from deer
And foxes go straight
Impale your thoughts
And let Caeser die:
He cannot breathe these mutations.

2
The impulse to create has shifted:
Medals and awards are easily returned
Kids are easily made 
than works of art.

3
Talks are on about ozone layers (still!)
And hairs on bald head:
Incongruity turns the logic of existence...

4
O Casanova,
Extend no more the dechastising of a male
As another aberration, mere obvious illusion
Because humanity believes in beliefs:
There is more to life,
On either side,
Than eggs with bacon.

The Advantages of Being a Hindu

I pass them
the copywriting chicks twinkle
their yellow teeth in flourescent braces,
kept safe-vaulted in lip-sticked exaggerations;
the unemployed loaf around theatres
with girls in hip-hugging garbs;
prostitutes get down from policevans
heading to courts,
bribing out their passionate pleas.

I try to marvel at red-buildings
erected by Indo-Saracenic colonists
with servile, beedi-stenched masons - 
but my thoughts get side-tracked,
return to ad-agency cousins
whose graphic breasts kindle my verbal creativity!

A sentimental slogan comes as timely reminder:
“Hinduism expects you to respect Sita and Nalayini!”

I safely decide to search
an accommodating Draupadi
and have a go at Arundati, too...

In this land Bharat
where
“Hinduism regards chastity and respects women”
I am a Hindu,
All Indians are my bhais and behans.

19 November 2015

Stasiland

More than the more-famed Nazi history, I have been since the 90s drawn to its lesser-known, more efficient and brutal sibling, the Stasi history.

In the 40 years after the fall of Nazi Regime, the socialist communists of post-war Germany, with rabid support from the erst-while USSR, had organised a more Orwellian state than you could ever imagine, dividing a city with a wall, cleaving a nation, culture, race, families, relations with an ideology and ruling with an ironer fist called Staatssicherheit - the State Security Police. Welcome to the DDR - the Deutsche Demokratische Republic or East Germany.

I was first made aware of the reality, in person, on my first day of a year's sojourn in Magdeburg, in 1995. I had been there to bring about my doctoral research period partially, doing research, working as research assistant to one of my mentors, Dr. Bernd-Peter Lange, at the Institut fuer fremdsprachige Philologien, Uni Magdeburg.

The Wall had fallen in 1989, although. I was visiting almost 6 and half years later. Yet, one could smell the remnants. It was a Schadenfreude as the Germans call it. Self. I was depressed, yet happy. I was living in the recent shadows and experiencing urgent leftovers of history. More of my personal experiences in these pages as we go down the days, months, years! Now to the context of the heading of this post.

My second Annaeherung or Encountering with East Germany was through what I consider a phenomenally moving work of fiction - BRANDENBURG by Henry Porter. A must-read for anyone interested in the special events on the streets of Leipzig that led to the breakdown of the most ruthlessly efficiently run State machinery called Stasi and DDR.

My third encounter was that iconic work of film - The Lives of Others. And then, of course, my all time favourite work on Germany - past and present - a must-must-must watch movie: GOOD BYE, LENIN!

None of these had prepared me for what I bargained to pick up almost 4 years after its publication, when I casually was  browsing the bookshelves at Anokhi, Chamiers Road, Chennai. I was drawn by the title - STASILAND by Anna Funder. I read it. Awe-inspired. I could smell the Alexanderplatz, feel Marzahn under my skin, physically relive my several Magdeburg-Berlin as well as Magdeburg-Leipzig journeys as I read it. I had met some friends who had recounted some stuff their parents had shared with them, then, in 1995. They were themselves too young to have gone through the SS machinery... and they were harrowing enough. I had had some of my professor friends - both East and West - talk to me of stuff I would like to just retain as stuff. Do not ever want to think these existed. But reading Anna Funder brought a different dimension with her visceral style of Capotean narrative. It was indeed in cold blood... but there were a lot of lumps in my throat through my journey of the book. That was around 2007. And then the effect lasted a few days. Then other books took over my palate and it just went and joined the other frozen seas on my rack.

Until recently, for research purpose, I refreshed my memory. Reread the book. A different experience the second time. It has awoke in me the last week different, long-forgotten, entrenched in sub-conscious memories and experiences of the 95-96 Germany. I am now slightly more objective to run them in my mind's eye. And the story of Miriam is fast shaping up in to a stage-play. I hope to write to Ms. Funder to tell her what a fantastic writer she is... not to please her to give me permission to adapt part of it for stage, but because I genuinely feel so. Few books have the capability to move you beyond words... and among those few, non-fictional works are far among few... this is one.

These are days of non-fiction what with Samuel Johnson Prize being the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But but but... Anna Funder's STASILAND is a unique work. Go on and pick it, without any hesitation.

Poems from the past

I, the Living

A Social Perspective

Just another day in my monotonous life
a spark of madness hitherto unknown is  born.
I try to foster this random depression
with images, imageries
however banal they come:
I just shift.

I, who used to be part of colourful mardi gras,
am gazing now at the solitary beach
infested with huts and fishing nets;
no more vista for breathers
all roads in and out
trafficked
by marches varying in reasons
from hunger-strikes to identity-crises.
There seems to be no existence to meaning
since pauses have acquired importance;
since
the watch in the tower (that never works),
ceaseless mortalities,
kids returning from school, with drawn looks and low hung haversacks
have had cessation of interest.

There seems to be no point
since
nature man created
wafts an unwilling body with the sea of life
letting hover like a leaf in fall:
my thoughts are blinking at me, too.

A Family Perspective

They call me a parenthesis!
At home - a thesis of my parents?
Sometimes a sub-ordinate clause!
I wish I was unborn
that my father was left sterile
or my brother the only sprout
and I had lived as ethers in mother’s imagination.

But he is fond of me - 
I too add to his ration quantity
and tread, satisfied of submission, 
a resigned, battered path.

A Memoir

Then?
Ah, I fell vague
like you feel, when you smell
the indentations someone’s breath had left
on your pillow.

I feel my estrangements
me, my thoughts, my inspiration...
and drawl lugubriously within,
blink at the tubelight’s demi-jour.

The side-stuffed mosquito coil
with its head inclined
like a satellite receiver at the
meterologicaldepartmentcampus - that’s me, we.

A total stranger misbegotten to someone’s feuds.
- Nov 1986