Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why I Dance

Here's a piece - Why I Dance - I wrote for Dakshina Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company in Washington, DC, with whom I have been collaborating for the last three years

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kalachuvadu Articles

sharing links to my articles in Tamil that have appeared in Kalachuvadu magazine

(1) வேட்டைக்களமல்ல விளையாட்டுப் பொருளல்ல - an anti-homophobic review of the film "Vettaiyadu Vilayadu," Kalachuvadu, Issue 82, October 2006

(2) தமிழ் வாழ்வில் காதல் - an autobiographical piece, Kalachuvadu, Issue 83, November 2006.

(3) தோட்டத்தில் இரகசியமாக - On a short story by Jean Arasanayagam, Kalachuvadu, Issue 85, December 2006

(4) காத்திருத்தலின் கலை அனுபவம் - a review of Sandra Chatterjee's "Waiting for Rasika," Kalachuvadu, Issue 90, May 2007

(5) பாலியல் உரிமை - transcript of a speech delivered at a seminar கருத்துரிமையும் வாழ்வுரிமையும் in June 2008 - Kalachuvadu, Issue 104, August 2008.

(7) காதலும் காமமும் - உடைபடும் கற்பிதங்கள் - Kalachuvadu, Issue 115, (though I write this, it is better to mention it as Kalachuvadu editorial, I think)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dance of Death

One of my poems has appeared in the September issue of the online journal Danse Macabre. Titled "Dance of Death," the poem keeps to the overall theme of the issue - Totentanze

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wislawa Szymborksa - Translations

Do check out my Tamil translation of Wislawa Szymborka's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1996) from English (original Polish) - published in Kalachuvadu
and also
my translations of some of her poems, again from their English translations by Stanislaw Baranczak and Claire Cavanagh

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Death left for good by the last train

Death left for good by the last train,
and my grandmother stood waving to it.
Not in farewell, but frantically,
to stop it and get aboard. She would have run,
if she could. But now she will only get better
and better in not being able to run,
she will build it up like a storied cake
that endlessly climbs the skies of her
storied past. But no death will be the cherry
on top. For death left for good
by the last train.

I was just beginning to get used to death,
when it chose to leave for good
by the last train. Its scent,
that once spread as strong
as the slapping grin of a jasmined head
in a sweaty bus, ceased to be. Forgive me,
but it had nothing to do with the fragrance
of hospital corridors; the scent of fear.
Death smelled of a million things.
Of coffee from a half-drunk cup, the soap
that smoothed out the fall in the bathroom,
the old starch of the saree that strangled,
the car perfume fighting the blood stench
on the steering wheel, etc.

But mostly death was sound for me. It took
voices away.Many dear ones I mourn,
I have forgotten how they sounded.
I hear them in my own voice now,
as if reading them from a book;
they have been muted out.
But now voices will stay and sing
and speak and curse forever,
at once, or taking turns, or muffling each other,
but forever.
They will also mourn the only thing
to be mourned: that death left for good
by the last train.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I recently learned to tell between two[*] insomnias -

the one brought in by our being together, bodies entwined

in wanton discomfort, and the other

where they lie awake, trying to remember

the entwinement.

Of course, I choose, without equanimity and shame,

the former.

Leave those marks of insomnia on my neck,

and I shall gladly offer you

what these bags under my eyes hold.

[*] The reference is to the following one from Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:

When I am with you, we stay up all night,
When you’re not here, I can’t get to sleep.
Praise God for these two insomnias!

And the difference between them.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Body Music

I watched out for my mind
to begin to sing
the song of separation.
On a night's vigil I heard
the refrain starting.
It was my body.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Glorious Day

I have my days of glory.
Eyes tinted with last night's desires -
variously met and unmet -
men walk past me
to their days of toil.
I become taut at the attention
from the morning eyes
all weak with a conviction
to keep desire in check -
toes may tingle, but inside the shoes;
the fount may tease to spring forth, but
not beyond the belt;
the heart might well up, but
can choke at the tie knot.
Desire still rushes to the pupil
and peeps out.
Even ones like me are seen
and wanted
in the rush hour flurry of bodies
by eyes craving the night.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rain as endless as the Ocean

I caught myself humming it again! "Aazhi mazhai-k-kanna...." The moment I see dark clouds gathering, hanging over the land and the sea like a visitor pausing at the threshold, I start singing.

Oh, Kanna! The lord of the rain that is as endless as the ocean...

While growing up in Kumbakonam, particularly during the monsoons, this song perpetually came forth from me. For the clouds gathered every few hours before breaking open and falling on earth in heavy pellets of rain, sending the plantain trees in the garden down with their crops in whatever stage of fruition. But before falling the trees stood beautiful against the monsoon grey, dripping rain drops from the edges of their torn leaves that looked like elephant ears when they rubbed against the translucent window panes. And this particular Thiruppaavai (a work in 30 verses written by Aandal, in 9th century AD, on Vishnu, her love) was the unfailing background music for this duration of my childhood in Kumbakonam. I never thought of inquiring why. I assumed it was because the word "mazhai" (rain) featured in the very first line of the song.

Yesterday, as I looked out the living room window of this Chennai apartment and saw the ends of the casuarina tree shuddering against a dark sky in a sudden breeze, I sang again. I rushed to the terrace of the three-floor apartment and looked at the sea.

Do not withhold any of your generosity. You must enter the ocean, inhale the waters and rise to the skies with a thundering noise....

The clouds were moving in from the west and towards the sea, giving a very brief and brilliant shower, but nevertheless scaring the womenfolk into quickly retrieving the clothes drying in the balconies. A domestic help came running to the terrace, cursing the rain, to gather the red chillies laid out to dry on a jute sack. She gathered the sack into a tentative pile and rushed out, shielding it from the rain by holding it against her chest and bending over it in a gesture of protection.

You should darken like the body of Narayana, the lord who holds a lotus from his navel, whose shoulders are strong...

Everything had acquired a darker hue. The sky, darkening in its desire to give, had made the trees greener somehow. The sea too appeared to have darkened into a bluegray and, at the horizon, looked as if it curled upwards into the sky, planning to wrap everything into its fold.

…and shine like the discus on his right hand and resound like the conch on his left...

And that's when I knew why I sang this song.

The Prakara at Oppiliyappan Kovil was great fun, though it was not as long as the ones in Sarangapani or Chakrapani temples. But Oppiliyappan was the family deity and had also assumed a greater importance by the fact that he required a bit of a ride to get to, while Sarangapani and Chakrapani were in Kumbakonam, very close to the daily hangouts, easily accessible for examination-inspired prayers. Oppiliyappan had a village to his name, had buses stopping there, letting out hordes of noisy pilgrims rushing to buy his favourite Tulasi garlands and red and white lotuses before entering the temple. Tulasi was what the whole place smelled of. And camphor. That was the fragrance of the holy water too. Dark tulasi leaves and camphor would have floated on the water in the silver bowl for hours, turning the water fragrant. When the priest hurriedly gave you a spoonful of it and you drank it off the palm of your right hand curved to a dip, it was as if you drank the place itself, taking it all in.

Right after the darshanam, you walked around the Prakara, rushing out into its wider space after being squished out and released from the darkness and focussed importance of the main shrine. The first stretch of the Prakara had paintings corresponding to each Thiruppaavai. They were multicolor, modern-looking, oil-paint-on-stone-wall freezes of scenes described in the Thiruppavai verses. Aandal and her friends were all indistinguishably beautiful, sashaying about in long paavaadais (ankle-length silk skirts). Krishna, the cows, the trees, the gardens – everyone and everything shone with prosperity. Below each painting were etched on granite slabs the lines of each verse. My mother and I would stand and recite the familiar verses every time, looking just at the paintings, without any need to look at the lines at all.

The fourth one was my favourite. It had Aandal and her friends standing together, looking reverently at the sky. The sky was Narayana himself, shown not in the bright colours that filled the rest of the frame, but in a dark grey, rising out of the sea in such a whoosh that you could not see his feet, but just a dark cloud rising from the depths, curving into the sky and becoming Narayana himself, smiling, leaning over the world in benevolence. A streak of lighting, too, in a corner.

Just like the rain of arrows that come forth from the Saarnga bow that Narayana holds, Oh, Krishna, you too shower timely rain on us so that the world may live on and we shall rejoice in it...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

At Home in War

She brought the war to me.
She crossed the sea and came to me,
for whom the battalions' march pounded
only in the bold, big and black letters
of the headlines.
I stopped nursing my insomnia and
started nursing hers.
I became her child and her sisters
and their killers, and she brought in the war
with her kisses, kicks and slaps,
and I wept and laughed with her,
bizzarely thankful for any role;
helpless spectatorship to a remembered war
is worse than
helpless spectatorship to a real war.
So I would cry and scream and fight
and throw my head from side to side
at imagined slaps,
and would close my eyes shut
and scream
as her legs were spread open
to make way for the warriors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

for you to smile like this

You smile like that
when you get something right,
a smile of small victories,
a suppression of a yippie
a yoohoo a jump a hug;
a kiss if I’m lucky.
I shall secretly gather
glowing bright balls of success,
drop them one by one
from hiding for you
to pick them up
and smile like that often,
a yippe yoohoo jump hug,
and a kiss if I’m lucky.

Again - (an old one edited - does not reflect current state of mind at all!)

I did not know it would come to this
A song of separation.
Tossed by love and dreams
I am so lovesick it hurts in the gut.
And gut is the depth I cry from
as an old lesson is learnt afresh:
a watched phone does not ring.
I did not know I would be washed
ashore again,
my love slapping me
on another rocky shore.
A cliched nayika of padhams
was the last role I wanted, but
I do it so well: I wait, I long,
I cry and I am alone,
except in my dreams.

-- an exercise --

5-CARD DRAW -- Write a poem of 20 or fewer lines that contains all of the following words: splendid, candle, stony, drink, morbid

That's splendid, she mocked, hands on waist,
her made-up mind shining in her eyes,
pinning me flat, once again,
to my field of failures.
She is always around when I mess up,
bearing bright and burning witness to it all,
over and over, dropping on me
her exclamations
like wax from a burning candle,
punching them sealed with a stony silence
long after;
almost always grabbing a drink
after the job is done. And I always think
she would then stride up to me,
tear a seal open, giving me
something to lick.
Morbid, I know.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Some naughty child leaps and laughs
And bursts each bubble
That leaves my mouth.
She turns swiftly on her toes,
Twirls to her own laughter,
Laughs to each burst.
Wave upon renewed wave
Of wicked breathless laughter.
I am driven to a helpless silence
For fear of setting her off
Sense is what I make
Truth is what I utter
When I don't stir her mirth.
She never peppers with her cackle
Nor burst with her prickle
The naked truths of my dreams.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poetic Kindness

Even bad poems cannot be written at will
is the moral of the week.

Stare at the sky at dusk
as long as you want or
as long as it lasts,
eat away at the end of your pencil,
cross and uncross your legs forever,
But no.
The sky's blue-pink smudge does not care
to write itself down and stay forever
on a stupid blog;
it is meant not to last.
The sea might splash and dash and roar
on your page, but it does it all better
in real.
Even personal drama passes
like mint chew on the tongue.
It makes for tastelessly gooey verse.

Friends and family are usually kind
to familiar mediocrity blogging away.
But you must be kind too,
give them something,
a word, a phrase, a line, some wit
they can justify their kindness by.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A little less love

Though you have an endless supply of it,
Give me a little less love.
A steady trickle if you will,
Even in spurts now and then.
Think of me in smaller terms.
Picture me as taking it
In my joined hands.
My hands, as you know,
Are not good with floods and dam-breaks,
cascades and deluges.
Give me love that keeps me going,
that does not choke, does not kill,
does not wash me far away
from you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dream Breasts

My breasts were firm tight
succulent throbbing globes
in the mirror,
filling my hands like bowls
of plenitude.
They were not the sad, hairy absences
my hands now grate over.
The mirror's sweet lie look me close
to baby lips - joining soul to soul
through my pointed pink soul ends,
the tickle and pinch of nourishing.
There is a lot more to a mirror
than a boring reflection of imperfections.
It gets playful sometimes,
poetic even, irreal as well,
And shows what is not,
but could have been
and could be.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Imagination is for things
That are not.
Either just not there
Or had and lost.
So fantasy or pain of loss.
Tolkiens have exclusive rights
To the former
While mine is a larger group
Called the romantics.
Membership demands are
Very democratic.
All you need are problems
Of personality and
Some masochism: no proof
Of identity needed.
All humans qualify.

Work in Progress

You know how we do that?
Conjuring up “friends”
When we feel
What we want to say
Will sound better
From elsewhere:
Oh, I have a friend who used to…

I think I am one of them.
I mean I am one
Of those “friends”
Conjured up
By someone somewhere
Using me as a proxy
Tentative self.

Like a test-drive vehicle.
If it works
They make more;
If not
They improve upon it.
Or simply give up.

No complaints: first drafts
Can never be disowned.
They go
Into air-conditioned
Glass cases in museums
If their author dies
A memorable death.

Or to Sothebys.

Friday, January 9, 2009

No Promises

No stubble-tickle, no back-rub,
Only morning air on my lips,
It hurts just hurts to wake up
To a day that has no you.

To a day that has no promises
of mock-anger and true love.

To one that isn't sweetened
By the sweat on your nape.

It's all effort to get up and get by
On a day that wraps you in a night
Over there out there on the other side.

I am already your tomorrow
So I can tell you how it hurts.

Since you love me oh so much
Be warned about tomorrow,
Be warned about this day
That has no promises.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

All the time

And then that had to be.
That's how it always had to be.
There. You had said that.
And that's that.
The end of things.
They can now fester in the silence
that clatters like spoons on china.
They can now grow and cloud my eyes.
They will now hide
in the new space
between you and me
when we hug.
You will not know how I wonder
at how normal you are.
Normal shall not be wondered at.
But we will carry on
Just as we always have.
Until one day I scream,
drowning it in the cry
of the fire engine,
making you more normal than ever,
giving you another chance to say
"See! I told you!"
It will all be like just a screech
of chalk on blackboard.
The lesson's the same.
It happens.
All the time.