Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Phonecall to the Weather Department

“Hello. Is that the weather department?”
“Yes madam. How can I help you?”
“There is something strange happening here
You see, we finally had rain this year
Your scientists said it was long overdue
I was stuck for two days in my apartment!”

“That happens, madam when the rains fall.
What exactly is it that’s bothering you?”

“The smell, Son. That lovely smell. It appeared
just before the rain, and the air was smeared
with sweetness, it was magic all through
And it slowly faded till it wasn’t there at all.”

“Ah madam. That is the smell of the earth
As it receives the first drops of rain
It’s a wonder you never smelled it before.”

“Oh wonderful! I couldn’t thank you more
Ah! I just have to try and I can smell it again:
that musty scent of an impending birth.

Just one more question comes to mind
The raindrops in my desert land are few
But there are places where it rains all year
Does the earth smell sweet perpetually, my dear?”
“It does madam. Each time it rains anew.”
“Ah well, praise the Lord. He is kind!”

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Wanton Spewing

He tossed and turned
Paced. Raved. Ranted.
Anger clawing at his soul.
Words after words he spewed.
He was after all, he said,
Just playing a role.

So why the angst,
The smarting,
The wanton spewing?
Ah, grasp! Life is greater than self,
Not all will feed
His rapacious ego brewing.

There are those copious
Cavernous moments to fill
No raison d’ĂȘtre, no harbor -
Yet he follows perambulate
Acute acerbity to the kill!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

No answers.

Do you remember?
The empty house
rooms full of
imprinted space
my space;
the glimmer of
blue light
as I faded into a
shimmering screen

out of sight...

Do you remember?
From across the worlds
had I reached out
lived a life
with you;
had been there
an invisible apparition
when you
wanted it to….

Perhaps the walls
told you
my history
my mystery
still haunts
your memory
perhaps the
mists part
and you see
me beckoning
to you

through time...

Do you?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bekal Fort, Malabar 25/03/05

All straight lines and geometric, it strikes
with its absence of feature. Square or trapezoid –
it’s difficult to say – and not much of a glacis,
it’s unlike your copybook kind, devoid
of crenellation or turret. Down below, the sea
washes rocks, not footholds for enemy spikes.

It’s hard to tell what purpose it served besides
what largely seems cosmetic: from a few miles out
the walls can hardly have struck terror, given
the open coast flanking this redoubt.
There’s no artillery in sight, not even
a ceremonial gun to signal the tides.

It boasts a history, though perhaps no more
than most places on this stretch. Local kings,
Tipu, and finally the British, though God knows
why they wanted it: peripheral pickings
from some minor conquest, I suppose.
Slowly I make my way down to the shore.

But it’s a recent past that’s brought me here,
a lover’s quest for shingle. The sun, the very air,
even the wide Arabian that rules this strand
smells and looks different from where
I live, forty-odd miles up the land;
and the heat’s a whole lot steamier.

Loved country once, mapped fondly in my mind
and subtly scented, its wafted bouquet
had held me captive in its power.
But none of that survives now: instead, a grey
malignancy reigns, blue gone sour.
The horizon skulks, hard to find.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Car Wash

“Yes, what do you want?”,
he shouts
in a hate-filled,
menacing tone,
“Isn’t this a car-wash?
Isn’t this what you’re all about?”, I ask.
“Yes, ma’am that is our task”,
he sneers,
I tense
Feeling afraid,
And alone.

“You want me to wash your car?”,
a flash of bad,
gold-capped teeth,
stressing ‘me’ and ‘your’
he seethes,
as he violently
kicks in
my door.

“I had a job!
I had a life!
I drove a fancy car,
Now you’re in here,
You demand a wash,
When I’d rather
slash a tire,
with this knife!”

“This is my country,
my home!
Go back
from where you came!
Leave us alone,
leave us in peace,
go back
where you belong!”

I step out,
feigning calm,
examine the dented door,
note down his name,
and warn him
in a steely tone,
(I barely believe)
of the next legal game
of charging him with
a minor misdemeanor
and a callfrom my insurer!

"For this is my home
as much as yours,
and the law is,
on my side,
take control of your
so called life,
and carve a niche for yourself
with your knife!"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Rise of Sir Pelham Grenville

A little more than a couple of months ago I had fondly ruminated on the thirtieth anniversary of Wodehouse’s passing – I use the latter word advisedly, since it is more likely than not that he would have frowned on so prosaic and pedestrian a word as death. And as a master craftsman, in his own time he had coined many a picturesque mot for this, the only certainty in an otherwise uncertain life. Besides, it is just as likely that he would have taken umbrage (if umbrage is what one takes) at being pronounced dead: a man so supremely and exuberantly a celebrant of Life had little use for the Dark One (he very appropriately consigned him to Russian novelists of the Dostoevsky school).

The generation which went to school and college in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies – to wit, mine – had a certain literary regimen, in addition to the standard fare that it swotted for exams. This diet varied in minor details with individual taste (always expansive, never restrictive), but the common, unvarying factor was Wodehouse. So most of us affected the argot and airs of Wooster, Psmith, Uncle Fred or Ukridge, greeted each other with cheery “What ho!”s, addressed each other as Old Bean or Old Fruit or Comrade, described our schools as ‘scaly establishments’ or the ‘House of Usher,’ and occasionally asked some of our more indulgent teachers why they were looking like ‘bereaved tapeworms’ or why they were alone and pale loitering.

It was an elaborately constructed world, where the principal pleasure was derived from the countless comic possibilities of the English language.

What we were tapping was the kernel of Wodehouse’s genius, the perennial spring of his imagination which invested the entire classical cosmos, from the Graeco-Roman and the Biblical down to the inexhaustible staple of Shakespeare with an air of delightful absurdity.

For half of Wodehouse’s fun has its roots in his classical upbringing: it lies in the ingenious use of quotation, the clever employment of epigram in bizarre or grotesque contexts, the reduction of historical, scriptural or literary figures to the level of burlesque. Dulwich trained its sons well (Raymond Chandler was another Old Alleynian), but it is debatable whether ‘the fruit of an expensive education’ (as Psmith calls it) was foreseen in quite the form it took in its most famous scion. When Lorenzo spoke of ‘the man that hath no music in himself’ it is unlikely that either Shakespeare or the masters at Dulwich had imagined it in the context of Bertie Wooster’s essays on the banjolele and the resultant complaints from his neighbours:

“Jeeves! What was it that Shakespeare said about the man that hath no music in himself?”
“Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils, Sir!”

Or that Marcus Aurelius would be summarily dismissed as an ass in absentia for his reflections on the Great Web of fate.

The Americans get their comeuppance too:

“Jeeves…who was Barbara Frietchie?”
“A lady of some consequence, Sir, in the war between the American colonies.”
“Do you think she scratched when she was itchy?”

The braiding of allusion and absurdity, the weft of outrageous but apt simile or metaphor (“aunt calling to aunt like mastodons across a medieval swamp”) with the stereotypes of the age - the silly-ass Englishman, the formidable butler, the club, the notoriously dotty nobility, the perennially impecunious younger sons, perpetually on the run from the fringe of the London underworld, above all the aunts (an obvious borrowing from Saki’s Clovis, it would appear) – it is this fabric, rich in texture but light as girls’ summer dresses that is the abiding draw, the never-failing hook.

And that is the other noticeable thing in the Wodehouse Canon: a complete absence of winter snows and chills. Like Vincent Starrett’s eternal 1895 for the Sherlockian, the Wodehouse season is an eternal summer – with perhaps a spring variant in one or two books. The sun is forever shining on Shropshire, always beaming benignly on the Home Counties. If you have the soporific balm of cricket in the early stories, romance buzzes contentedly with the bees in the later ones. Even the odd snake in the grass – Baxter, for instance – is more of an annoying pest than consummate evil. It is as though Nature herself were a laughing participant in whatever revels or rascality were afoot.

But it is not the plots – or rather, plot, since almost all the stories are variations on more or less the same theme – which are the highest scorers: the ultimate winner, the last hero, is the English language. Wodehouse didn’t write for the less than literate: the pleasures of his splendid table are reserved for the connoisseur. The allusions would make no sense to one unacquainted with the original sources; his turns of phrase, so quintessentially English, would leave the novice or the indifferent cold. It is this latter fact which explains why one occasionally hears things like, “What do you find so funny in Wodehouse?” Any attempt at answering that (assuming murder hasn’t summarily disposed of the questioner and the question in the interim: Wodehousians are famously fanatical) would be akin to describing the attributes of an exceptionally fine vintage to someone whose palate has been dulled by moonshine.

“P G Wodehouse not bad. Not good, but not bad.” (The Clicking of Cuthbert)


Syringe baby.

She sits there
on the pavement
outside the door…

Her lonely perch
day after day
humming lost
tunes with
empty eyes
and a full womb
a syringe
by her side

I wonder…..

What games are played in the
hormone hungry
name of damp love
a chaotic fevered addiction
wounding love
as wombs are
torn apart
and discarded…

the world
goes by
dropping a coin
for her
lonesome tune

she weeps
fondling her
syringe baby
by the road…

She sits there
on the pavement
outside the door…

Monday, May 09, 2005

Looking at the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort

no one heard the wailing of metal over marble
that afternoon, the masonry of agony
was too persuasive in its percussion
for ears to intrude and decipher its pain.

the worn-out workers, too, seemed unaware
of the plaintive cries the palpitating walls made
as their hands toiled and hammered
at this ashen-faced monument

to imperial anguish.

slow patricide was how the story unfolded
eventually, and the river became a witness
to the slaughtering that took place,
while shaking the earth from his axis

the chasm like river had its own version
of what happened, and the crying calligraphies
on the walls simply digressed into poetry
to explain this mournful mausoleum’s demise

into an imperial anecdote.

(c) 2005 Ashish Gorde

The Killing Restraint...

I shush them.
Chasten them, as they arise
Threatening to carry me
Along in the torrent
Of the unruly waves
Dashing against
Those rocks serrated.
Culling me from those caves.

You can bruise.
And, so can I.
Still tending to
Lacerations within.
Hence, the sporadic
Constrained silence.
Nurturing it,
Like its always been.

Every so often though
Visions of yesterday flash
When you found
My display of silence amazing
And wondered,
If your silence would talk to me.
Setting trails
Of words blazing.

You’re right.
There are stretches
Where fools rush in,
And angels
Dread to tread.
Yes, there are odds
A fine bargello might just
Be torn to shreds.

Nothing was ever gained
By plunging forth on a quest
With battle raging loud,
And silence buried
Under the din.
Should we let us be
Till clarity reigns
And you’ve quelled
Those demons within?

So, I shush them. Yet.

Friday, May 06, 2005

When We're Dead. . .

When we’re dead
Strange people crawl into our intimate spaces.
I see the aunt who spewed venom
Washing utensils in a kitchen
Where once we chopped coriander and cucumber
With other assorted vegetables
For a salad that I fussed and you fretted upon
But in the end we did relish eating it
Over a meal of courgette and prawn.

And there is this uncle,
Weeping profusely next to my mother,
Who always thought I am good for nothing;
A wastrel who lived off his parent’s deeds.
He once said he had a job for me –
A sales executive in a respectful company –
But we knew in his motives he is suspect;
He only intends to oblige, to humiliate.

Oh! There is this beautiful cousin,
Who once was besotted with me,
Washing her lovely daughter’s nappies
In a bathroom where once I washed
Our little girl’s clothes and yours too
When you lay nursing after a painful birth giving.
And as I rinsed them dry
You smiled through the slit of light
That fell across the bed,
Your lithe body, your blessed face.

And there they sit, my friends,
Huddled around my forlorn father
Who only shakes his head and sighs –
If he had to die
Why did he commit a suicide?
Why didn’t he also perish
In the same car accident
That snatched his wife and lovely kid?

© Dan Husain
May 5, 2005