Thursday, March 31, 2005

Potential

The wet clay – innocent, impressionable
Ductile and malleable...
And the ruthless wheel of fortune
That so effortlessly
Deforms, damages, and destructs
That which has the ‘potential’
To take its place of pride
On the mantelpiece
But now stands ‘cracked’
A glint passes through
With great difficulty
Easily reinforcing
That ‘happiness’ can
Only be a dream...
The shards of broken pottery
Cry their heart out...
And ask...
Why did you break me...
When I was taking shape?
And then melt away
Into shapeless lumps, drowned
In their own tears...

© Praneeta Paradkar 2005

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Be my love.

I Want.
To meander randomly, stroll quietly, write with a purposeless purpose; let words have their way, pleasure me, I say.

A Smile..
The little wordy handkerchiefs of grief are dry, crackling with starch and ironed but they blow now in the wind, freely moving voile. Sometimes they have a stiff upper lip, these words, I want to nudge them then into a gently gliding smile.Make love to me, molten liquid words, kiss me wet and linger, words don’t you abandon me, ever.

Don’t be shy.
Open me up to the world, take me to its delightful heights or then bring the world to me; I promise you won’t be disappointed. I’ll give you lacy words; I’ll give you silky solace, words don’t you leave me, ever.

Stay.
By the day, down meandering lanes, where breathy life shelters in cafes; sit with me awhile as I tuck you into my paper, capture you forever in inky blots on napkins with spring Daffodil sketches as the filtered aroma of a creamy cappuccino wafts sighing up to us.

I promise.
I’ll bed you by the night; take you to dreamscapes where I paint passion with a luminous brush and whisper wordy iridiscence. Lets tuck ourselves in, lost in each other as the room rises and falls with us with its smiling walls lustily cocooning us and the windows lower their eyes in innocence.

Words.
Be my love.
Forever.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Observation

What would our friend Sisyphus do
if someone stole his precious rock?
My guess is he would continue
his usual uphill and downhill walk

I see him push back his unruly hair
as I walk endlessly, aimlessly, alone.
I press my palms against invisible air
Sisyphus, at least, has his trusty stone.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Rebel in Love

Silence galore….
In a chaste ridden testament
I hear the deafening shriek of a pharaoh

If only the devil within
Could be the devil without
May be I’ll appreciate then
The lilies that sprout
In your secret garden
That remains for me forbidden.
All one cares is a smile
That perhaps for a while
Will give a break
From this soporific life,
From the unceasing karma,
From the drudgery we huff ‘n’ puff
And in a strange twist
Call off this karmic bluff.

Darkness galore….
In stories scribed on parchments
I see the falsity in which men wallow

© Dan Husain
3rd February 2002

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Friday, March 25, 2005

For the benefit of termites

For the Benefit of Termites

it is in the nature of woodwork
to remain fragile, tender chlorophyll
could not have said it better
while feeding the leaves of grass;
slow decay is how it happens, eats
from the inside and crumbles
the inner resolve
like words that scar
and wound the soul

obliterating the man
completely


(c) 2002 Ashish Gorde

I am

I am a fragile clay pot
easily molded
easily broken....

Handle me with care for
I have a soul within
brimming with wisdom and love....

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Nightmares

This dream had sharper edges,
it sliced, nicked and burned.
Jarringly lucid, unmistakably direct,
inflicting raw scars of lessons learned,
demanding wakeful pledges.

Pointing scaly talons at the soul,
death-masked faces,
cloaked in gloom,
cackled in reedy, screechy voices,
warning against entering the room,
of indulgent distractions; the only goal.

Morning’s pledge of mended ways,
fleetingly burdened a tense brow;
scattering, shattering as the body rose.
Trampled over, discarded, dormant for now,
Glinting heads of Hydra, in menacing arrays.

SCARlet Moments

I have left many a mind wondering as to the prelude to this piece...My maid turned up one morning with unnatural cyanosis compelling me to ask her the reason. I wish I had never asked. What I heard left me tearful and deeply pained. No human being deserves this and inspite of all this brutality, she did not want to report it. I was not surprised. Can we forget Sitas and Satis? The indoctrination runs deep, just like the SCARS...

I pardon you
For those electric moments
Of lame insanity
When blind fury
And its raw, brutal forces
Overpower you
Empower you
With an emotion of extreme righteousness
Anaesthetizing you
To the pain and blood of the wounds
You inflict upon me
In those 'SCAR'let moments
Which are my moments
Of powerlessness, of slavery!

I pardon you
For forgiveness
In its most pristine incarnation
Enslaves you with guilt
Undresses you
Of undeserved power
Shows me the beast lying defeated
Wrapped and laid to rest
In the filthy coffin of shame!

© Praneeta Paradkar 2005

The Minotaur Feels Hungry

We had sipped our wine from common cups
And felt the grind of bow on strings
That bind, pull and strain, but never break
-- There is comfort in familiar things.
Comfort too, in the words and skin
Of strange men and women and one-night flings
In betrayals and the haste we make
In cracked mirrors to see our face,
Our fate in broken mirrorings.

Let us go then, you and I
When the evening has stretched out into a sigh
When dusk from death will bring release
-- Scavenging for life in rotting bins
To the mournful snap of violins.

The Cave-in...

The Cave-in: I

He was coming home after long.
In his heart
Floated lovely strains
Of their tender,
Very own love-song.
He skipped and hopped
And reached his 7th floor.
Fished out the key quick
To open the door.
And, there she was
On their bed.
Blazing beautiful in her charms
Peacefully propped –
In his best friend’s arms.


The Cave-in: II

The footsteps woke her up.
She looked up at him -
Into his eyes.
Searching.
He looked back
Absolutely blank.
No anguish, no cries.
Moments hung
Silence lay suspended.
She looked up to him
And then her beau.
He took in her look
And, turned away -
Leaving behind the stillness
To quietly bid adieu.

A Dreary March 23rd, 2005

Our front door is the least used door in the house. There are no finger stains around the doorknob and the paint is as fresh as the day the door got attached to its frame. This door never gets used because in this country we rarely have unexpected visitors or friendly neighbors stopping by for casual chit-chat. Even if they did they won’t ever find anyone home. The expected visitors, friends and family always enter through the garage door.

The other reason we forget, at times, that we have a front door, is the blanket of snow that carpets the walkway leading away from the door. It covers it all, the flower beds on the sides, our lawn, our driveway. We usually just hop into the garage, press the button that operates the garage door and drive out. Until last week.

It felt like spring. Every last bit of snow had melted away. That feeling of rejuvenation and regeneration was in the air. I looked out my bay windows and saw little yellow tulip buds bursting out of our little flower patch. I yelled out to my near and dear ones, “Hey! Spring is here! C’mon out you guys!” So after four long months we finally unlocked our front door and took a few tentative steps outside, looking for buds on the cherry tree and other signs of baby greens. We ambled around, drinking in the balminess, feeling so refreshed. The rest of the day was pleasant, spirits high.

Fast forward 24 hours. Misery! Utter misery. It snowed all day. Looking out the window of my 16th floor office, my quasi-home, I felt teary-eyed as I watched the large snow-flakes falling and slowly carpeting the streets of New York. It was a nasty, wet snow. People on the streets had their useless umbrellas out, the high winds had whipped most umbrellas inside-out and the folks attached to the umbrellas appeared as though they were about to pull a “Mary Poppins” act! This after the first day of spring, the vernal equinox! I felt physically assaulted by this most unwelcome return of the white, slippery, icy stuff. I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

My bus left the terminal at 4:00 PM and crept along at the sedate pace of 5 mph. I fitfully dozed and read as the bus crept home, the wheels grinding ice below. Several overturned cars, flashing police lights and jack-knifed tractor-trailers later it finally pulled into the “park & ride” where I usually leave my car. My nightmare wasn’t over yet. I still had to clean the six inch accumulation of snow off my windshield and rear windows and then had to plan the best ice-driving strategy for my drive back home.

I got to work on my car as the ice pellets bruised my face. I tried to brush all the accumulated and partially frozen snow off my car at a pace faster than the rate of the falling snow.

Earlier in the day I had had this lengthy conversation, on a writers’ forum, about “Eve” being in “chains”! It kept replaying in my head as I performed this extremely strenuous task, formerly the exclusive domain of Adam. Where was my Adam? I also thought of the various enchained Eves I knew here in the US, who never learnt how to drive, or how to gas up their cars, or how to fill basic forms, or travel alone, who were completely paralyzed in the absence of their Adams! Perhaps they had the right idea. Who wants to shovel snow or drive alone in an ice storm!

Here I was, an unchained Eve in all my glory! Another voice came floating in from the deeper recesses of my brain, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun..”, sure was hard-pressed to find this elusive element today! I was also worried about the remaining drive back home and found Julie Andrews in my brain again, bursting forth with, “I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence in confidence alone, be-sides which you see I have confidence in me!”

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Upside Down

A few months back I was sitting in a hospital lounge and I picked up a magazine, The Week, to while my time. The magazine had an article on existence of God and detailed some chemist or physicist, Dr. Unwin's work on God's existence. Dr. Unwin used Bayes theorem and the concept of conditional probability to prove God's existence. He began with the premise that the chance God exists is 50:50. Then he threw in more information and revised his a priori probabilities. The iterative process continued till he exhausted his set of information. The end result was that the probability that God exists is 2/3.

I picked it up from there and wrote this.

Upside Down

Upside down
Like a sage’s tale
Spun in a Darwinian yarn
We receive life’s wisdom-
One day there is God,
The other nothing.

In a sprawling precinct of a mosque
From the member to the mehrab
I see strange bedfellows-
Descartes conforming Islam.
But between the matter and the myth
Between the sword and the scythe
God waivers like a quark;
Like a twist in a tale
Poignant, humorous, stark

I turn a page
There is ‘Paradise Lost’ in its verses
I turn another
God struts in probability’s realm with Bayes.
A million tongues sprout here
With a million words on their tips
But I have heard of a chemist
Who works backwards to reach forward.
He says the chance that God exists is 2/3
(Surely a smaller fraction than 9/11)
And unwittingly he is named Dr. Unwin

©Murtaza Danish Husain
August 7, 2004
Revised February 22, 2005

I had the option to use the english words for arabic words member (pulpit) and mehrab (arch) but I retained the arabic ones purely for the phonetic effect. Similarly, I am not sure whether Dr. Unwin is a physicist or a chemist but I have retained chemist because it conveys subtle drama.

Scipio

The Mediterranean stretched before him.
In smouldering scuttled hulks, the enemy fleet
lay dead, once pride and pest
of that placid main. The heat
troubled him; he felt oppressed.
And the land held nothing for him.

His eyes roved over the waste. All round,
death rose in listless wisps of smoke: its reek
would drape history like a shroud.
Turning, he gazed awhile on his salt streak,
that runnel of ruin he had ploughed
to neuter this obstinately fecund ground.

Tired, he faced northwards again, and home.
His eyes briefly brimmed. No unlettered lout,
his mind hovered on distant Troy,
and saw in a poet’s dirge to a rout
no cause for a victor’s joy,
but a lament for his own beloved Rome.

***

The Minotaur Contemplates Blinding Himself

Unseemly: The brainwashed trees' untimely green.
I stumble awake, dazed by their stony glitter
And stand at the window retching nectarine.

The hideous birds are roused and chatter
As I scream through the stained and tortured streets -
From windows, children point and titter.

Smoke, heavy-scented, climbs the windy cleats
From mounds of burning leaves - the mark of fall
At every door. Inside, something insidious beats.

I have leered through those rank rooms and small
Where shadows whisper and cut upon the bleeding
Sheets. I have seen all, heard all.

And raged upon the light descending.
And weaved my shroud of words unending.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Disillusionment

The desert sun
The scorching eyes
The sweltering heat
The parched throat
The burning eyes
The trudging feet
The tired soul
The distant horizon
The bleak expanse
The absent greenery
The silent trance
The usual mirage
The rising hope
The quickened pace
The non-existent oasis
The futile effort
The shattered hope
The engulfing quicksand
The gaping hole
The thorny cacti
The piercing truth
The bleeding finger
The sudden dawn
The love or
The illusion?

©1997 Praneeta Paradkar

Read at the Pune readmeet on 13th March, 2005.

Decaying Church


With thanks to mon frere for patience and MacNeice for inspiration


These chipped and weathered planks in tired row
Grow mutely crab-wise through the drifting gold.
Old and stark in mellow autumn time,
Grimy sentinels liveried in flaking mold.
Cold stirs a sigh and breeze in grass below
Blows dry leaves through the church-bell�s muffled chime.

The creeping green velvet fingers go
Slowly probing up the walls behind.
Blind panes stare amber-tinted light.
Tight-bound patterns of Victorian mind
Find ease amid the fading glow.
Yellow plaster walls slide into tropic night.

Seventh day, seventh year, seventh decade past,
Fast fading. Dust thou art and unto dust
Must thou in time return.
Fern cascades shield the crumbling corpse from urban lust.
Just a song at twilight shimmers, dying fast.
Last echoes fade. Beyond, the creeping watch-fires burn.

We are gathered here today ...

This one, with apologies to James for the slothfulness. But it is appropriate since it is this love that binds us ...

When we were very young, my grandfather would take my cousin and me to the British Council Library on Saturdays. It was then housed in an old colonial building on Theatre Road (now Shakespeare Sarani, a rare example of ideologues being witty) and we had to show our cards at the gate, stand in line at the counter to return our books and only then WALK FAST BUT DO NOT RUN to the staircase at the back, leading up to the Children's Section. Yes, there was a children's section then and for some years afterwards, before Margaret Thatcher, Lady Ironpants, Attila the Hen, a pox upon her, banished it to outer darkness on the pretext of cutting costs.

The keen thrill of anticipation I felt then surpasses every possible emotion - love ambition sex music food success, nothing can compare. Rushing sedately, if such an action is possible, up the two flights of the staircase to where the magic lay waiting in the shelves.

And then an hour of browsing, the pangs of having to CHOOSE just four books, if only I could take just one no three more, the patient short-listing for a final selection, inveigling my younger cousin into taking one for me on her card, yes I will give you my share of chocolate tomorrow (I must confess I usually welshed on that, I was a young glutton and no Pal you will NOT comment upon the choice of tense), the final selection and the sorrow of parting with the books I left behind on the table at the head of the stairs �

Refined torture on the journey (Such a long journey!) back, 'you will not read in the car, it's bad for your eyes' (edict writ in words of stone, he was a disciplinarian), the furtive peeks into the first few pages if I managed to get into the front seat before my cousin, further torture during tea-time (no reading at the table!) till AT LAST at last at last I could rush to our room and disappear into the words upon the page, the pictures in my mind, the feel of the paper the binding the smell the sheer bliss of BOOKS.

The saddest part of growing older is that I can no longer quite recapture that ecstasy, the exquisite thrill of worlds laid in store for me. "Fled is that music .. ?" Though even today, nothing quite compares to the feeling of walking down from the BCL with a bundle of books under my arm, knowing that the reading light in the car promises immediate consumnation of the truest deepest longest lasting most rewarding love affair.

Which brings us to the point of this reverie, if a reverie can have a point at all. The pleasure of finding kindred spirits who visit, inhabit, know the same constellations of magic worlds. And, if one is very fortunate, of visiting in the flesh the places I have inhabited myself in these waking dreams.

From a 4-week vacation across four countries, ten airports, six railway stations, fifteen reels of film, my fondest take-aways are five photographs. One of them shows a wall with "VR" upon it in pock-marks (a fit of patriotism in the Jubilee year, right, James?) and one is of me in an armchair, with a table in front upon which lie a bowler hat, a meerschaum pipe and a deer-stalker. A cigar for the one who can spot the one that doesn't belong there .. (think Basil Rathbone).

The tobacco was in a Persian slipper, the letters were pinned to the mantelpiece with a stiletto. The "VR" was a nice touch, but sadly enough there was no Bradshaw in the bookshelf and the Burke's Peerage was from 1902. An aberration, since he left those rooms in 1898 and retired to the Sussex Downs, where he penned his second recorded publication ("with some notes upon the Segregation of the Queen").

Or that perfect opening line, credited to a marginal scribble in a student's tutorial at Oxford, the door to a perfect make-believe long before J.K. Rowling. "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit". On my top ten any day.

"Is it the perfume from a dress / that makes me so digress?" No, it is the fragrance of "that other world whose margin fades / for ever and for ever as I move"

The self-assured, sometimes self-important roll of the Beetle's lines - "he trod the ling like a buck in spring / And he looked like a lance in rest". If I ever visit Pakistan, it will be to see the cannon in front of the Jadoo Ghar and look for that old horse trader who appears in more stories than young Kimball's alone.

A digression for the enthusiast of the Great Game - Frederick Bailey, traveller, adventurer and secret agent for Her Majesty, spent years on the North-West Frontier and in Central Asia under assumed identities and often in disguise. The culmination of his career came when he was recruited in Tashkent by the agents of the Czar. His mission? To find and kill 'a notorious British agent named Bailey'!!

And of course that most idyllic world whose pleasures can never stale, where young men in spats descend upon a castle that "has impostors the way other houses have mice", where no page passes without a smile broadening into a totally delighted laugh, where long after "the Rudyards cease from kipling / and the Haggards ride no more", the stentorian voices of "aunt calling to aunt like mastodons in a primeval swamp" can still cause a frisson of unease to dance down the spine and yet all cares can be wiped away and the loose ends tied up by a Presence who "appears upon the scene" with a respectful cough and a perfect solution.
My favourite in the oeuvre, however (couldn't resist that one!), is the long languid person modeled upon Rupert D'Oyly Carte who can "take your dog for a walk" or "assassinate your aunt, crime not objected to", as long as it has nothing to do with fish!

Worlds worlds worlds - "if we had world enough and time .." "Would we not shatter it to bits, and then / remold it nearer to the heart's desire?"


Which brings me to another craftsman of a different genre, who led me to the pleasures of Old Omar through by-roads trod by whistling tramps and melancholic cow-punchers, who made it magic for me to walk the streets west of Broadway between 23rd and 42nd (known as? Hint - a culinary connection, so named because at the turn of the previous century it promised the juiciest cuts of graft) and who perfected the twist in the tale long before Bollywood and Channel V chanced upon it.

Bollywood reminds me of that master of the formula", author of over a hundred stories with essentially the same characters, six feet two in (their) stockinged feet and most times, when they caught a-hold of something, it moved.

Enough for one evening - this road goes ever on!

Starting Over

Don’t fill these empty spaces,
Leave them alone for the moment,
Close your eyes,
Seek comfort in nothingness,
Finding reassurance in Spartan starkness.

This clutter of disguised insecurities,
Sweep it all aside this instant,
Absorb the clarity,
Of this pristine space,
Reveling in a momentary state of grace.

Now swirl your paintbrushes,
In hues unseen, step away,
From a monochrome destiny,
And create a terpsichorean vision,
Of twirling, twinkling dancing passion.

No longer hesitant,
Nor afraid anymore, of new beginnings,
And life at its unrehearsed best,
Of leaping into the unknown abyss,
And taking final aim at everlasting bliss.

The Trivia of A Brooding Mind IV

It was just a face -
No more than a pattern -
An entity in space
Of many seen in a tavern
That waits its end
At the corner of a desolate street -
Morose, moribund -
Epitomizing mediocrity's defeat.
And though it reflected much,
It said nothing.
An average man's fate is such;
It's sealed before a morn begins.

Dan Husain

Copyright ©1993 Danish Husain

Of Love and Loyalty

The lifeless mass of flesh
On perfumed logs of wood
The face, but not lifeless
Express a lot it could!

An unfulfilled wish
Writ across her face
Made it glow
With sublime grace!

Her ‘better-half’ and ‘master-of-fate’
Stepped forward with an unsteady gait
In his hand, fluttered a lighted torch
In minutes, her mortal remains to scorch!

And just as the flames
Would lick the pyre
The wind howled
And ate up the fire!

The elements refused
To absorb her debris
The elements refused
To set her free!

For her soul was alive
Alive and afire
With unfulfilled desire
A desire too intense
To be quelled by the fire!

Her face in agony
Her soul in waiting
Her closed eyes
Searching the horizon!

Her lifeless flesh
Waiting for release
The silence
Pregnant with expectation!

And in the distance
With a heart as heavy as lead
Walking up was a being
Whom they called her ‘beloved’!

Hushed whispers floated through the crowd
But dared none
To voice aloud
And up walked he
With head held high and proud!

His lips kissed
Her cold forehead
He gently caressed her tresses
For him
She was not dead
He would keep her
Alive through the ages!

And at his touch
Her body quivered
And set itself ablaze
Her soul had eloped
With her beloved
And her husband
Gathered the ashes!

©1997 Praneeta Paradkar

Theory of Relativity

I see it as blue
You see it a shade darker
As we begin to argue
Comes a third who sees it lighter...

Adding more fuel to the heated debate
All of us realize but a bit too late
The demarcation between fact and fiction
Is not made by the scene but the vision!

©1999 Praneeta Paradkar

TWILIGHT

Lucky him
who can slumber
on a whim.

But some
must wait their number
till it come.

The hour slows
each second
that nears repose.

And I reckon
sleep by shades:
they beckon.

***

Nothingness....

Being nothing
emptiness personified
yet I am there
can you feel the space inside

It's growing and growing
the nothingness expands
the moon, the stars, all within me
as I explode inside whom I reside

Can you feel me
my being around you
the space, the nothingness is me

Tell me
do you even know
that I am within you!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Elegy

In silvery moonlit nights
In orange dew laden dawns
In fantasy's intoxicating flights
In memories that twist and haunt
In rising tenor of Sufi chants
In faint hopes that wishes grant
In prickly summer afternoons
In cathartic rains of monsoon
In splashing water of Ganges
In romance's defiant madness
In a mother's peaceful visage
In a prophet's impending presage
In a child's loving embrace
In a woman's beautiful face
In brisk walks on glistening malls
In rush hour traffic snarls
In heady conversations & coffee sessions
In this soul's self seeking moments
I do what I do best
Lay few unfinished thoughts to rest.

Dan Husain

Copyright ©2002 Danish Husain

REPRIEVE

A word or two about this poem. No one chances upon Cremona violins in junk shops; I didn’t either. The only person known to have done so was Sherlock Holmes, who picked up his Stradivarius in a shop in Tottenham Court Road for the princely sum of fifty-five shillings. The other inspiration for the poem is a Stradivarius supposedly in the possession of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: it is said to be so pure and perfect in quality that it is called The Messiah (my source for this story is Jan Morris’ book on Oxford).

The poem is allegorical.



REPRIEVE

It’s the usual shop for odds and ends,
the impedimenta of people’s lives:
pots and pans, carved bookends,
a case of curious kitchen knives.

I pick my way through the bric a brac
to some musty tomes tied with hemp,
as the rheumy owner swats a rag
to flick the dust off them.

A casual glance suffices for me:
nascent hope gutters and dies.
There’s nothing there to interest me,
no long-sought gem to rhapsodise.

I give the place one last sweep
before I turn my back on it,
vaguely disquieted by this rubbish heap
on which dereliction’s so starkly writ.

Thus almost missing the thing – uncased,
forlornly stood against the door
like an errant schoolboy disgraced
for some minor misdemeanour.

Mute prey to dust and mould
(the strings have somehow held their own)
I’m still surprised it lies unsold,
for someone or other should have known…

Through the ear-holes in the waning light
an ancient label squints at me,
its print all but faded white:
a date, and the name Antonio Stradivari.

***

Veneer

A thousand deaths
In a single life...
Dies a fettered soul...

A thousand repetitions
Of the same act
In a beaten, battered role...

A thousand tears
In a single smile
That you so proudly behold...

A thousand lies
In a single truth
Till the stinging truth be told...

(c) Praneeta Paradkar
March 09, 2005

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Cherry Red

Cherry red lipstick on your lips,
A cushioned bite,
Our last kiss.

Mortuary Blues...

Slithering
Through her soul
Are few uneasy thoughts.
A blob in her throat,
Her voice choked,
She stretches her hand,
As if a magic wand
Will bring it all back,
The unfurled glory,
The murdered dreams,
Her son that lay, perhaps, dead
(She doesn’t even know it!)
Amidst the decomposed heap,
She stretches her hand
To reach out for what,
I don’t know.

She may be a Muslim
Or a Hindu, who cares
In this urban milieu.
Haven’t we all died
In our own mother’s eyes
So many times, whenever she wished
For a son or a daughter
To hold her if she falters.
But we all had our reasons,
Perfectly justified reasons.
It’s no different here,
She only looks for a son
Who is not there.

She wades through
Broken dreams,
Dreams that have
Macabre faces now.
She stumbles,
Gets up, only to stare
At a charred face.
Maybe he’s her son,
Maybe he’s not.
She lost her reason
Long before she lost her son.

I stand quietly
With a list in my hand
I don’t know who’s who
All I have here are few names.
A stink greets us
My soul silently pleads
Silently pleads to her
To quickly confirm
That this room
Does not have her son.

I am just a municipal clerk,
Doing an honest work,
Diligently counting the dead
To earn my humble bread.
Arrey…this is just a mortuary!
I’ve seen worst crimes
Just at a spin of a coin.
The crime where one kills
One’s own conscience.
In this age of karseva and jehad
I wonder whether people ever heard of a word called ittehad.

She straightens up, sighs
Looks at me with moist eyes.
Her face though sad
Is at peace. She says,
Does it matter? Does it matter that this room has her son?
Even if this room had her son,
It means nothing.
I quickly extend my hand
Expecting her to grease my palm.
See I’ve been kind enough
To let you in, and
To let you search for your son.
She replies despondently
They took it all away in the riot.
I shrug my shoulders,
Ok! For once I shall be magnanimous.

©Murtaza Danish Husain
August 26, 2002

Homeless

Across from Bryant Park,
at the corner of 43rd and 6th,
underneath several layers
of filth, a man, past all cares.

Alone in an altered reality,
his possessions in a cart,
he shuffles back and forth,
unheard, shoving his net worth.

Skirting his noisome presence,
deaf to empty threats,
I walk past, at a steady pace,
indifference masks my face.

A mask that carefully conceals,
terror at this Russian roulette:
Fleeting fortunes, sighs of relief,
and cart-borne lifetimes of grief.

Dreaming Flamenco

Dreams of swaying and swirling
in frills and flowing, flashing reds,
of pirouetting, and twirling
to the beats of clicking castanets.

Of exotic dances, hypnotic trances,
of gyrating, rhythmic Latin beats,
drenching the soul in romance,
in surging waves of liquid heat.

Alas, these sparkling, velvet dreams,
vanish in the morning glare,
of unrelenting sunlit streams,
and rude reminders of diurnal cares.

THE NOT SO SIMPLE ART OF MURDER

The title of this piece, without the qualifying negative adverbial up front, is the name of a famous essay, indeed a seminal one, by the late Raymond Chandler. The reasons for my doff of tribute to him will become apparent as you read.

The ‘classic’ English detective novel followed a set pattern; a formula that recurred in various forms of fancy dress in virtually every writer’s work in the first half of the 20th.century. To wit an upper class milieu, a country manor or stately home for a mise en scene, assorted houseguests belonging to the aforesaid upper crust, and a murder provided for their entertainment.

Enter the gentleman detective, the gifted amateur for whom the whole business is a neat problem in logic and deduction, who solves the mystery with the same insouciant panache as he would exhibit in playing a hand of bridge in his St.James or Mayfair club. The detective could be a titled lord, as in Lord Peter Wimsey of Dorothy L.Sayers, or he could be a Professor of Literature at Oxford as in the case of Gervase Fen of Edmund Crispin; he could even be a regular (but genteel) member of the Metropolitan Police, like Inspector (later Commissioner Sir John) Appleby of Michael Innes, or Roderick Alleyn of Ngaio Marsh. Only a minor variation on that theme was Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Depending upon the writers’ competence the plots succeeded variously as detective fiction but primarily as novels of manners.

It was all faintly unreal, with an air of amateur theatricals about it. Yet, funnily enough, one lapped it all up without once pausing to question its premises; we believed it was the way it was supposed to be because the dominant form decreed so.

It required Raymond Chandler to change all that. Chandler was an American, but before you turn up your nose let me tell you that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill redneck: he went to school in England, being a contemporary of PG Wodehouse at Dulwich, and later studied on the Continent. He knew the English milieu intimately, and his academic baggage had impressive labels. Therefore, when he ripped apart (with brutal wit) the ‘English’ school of detective fiction in his now famous landmark essay The Simple Art of Murder the only thing that he could perhaps be accused of was an unrelenting uncharitableness. The essay was a prose masterpiece, and as a double critique, both of the detective novel and of fiction in general it was unique: it set the trend for all subsequent literary studies in crime fiction as an art form.
Taking Dashiell Hammett’s works as a starting point he argued for the infusion of realism into this literary form which necessarily dealt with violence – giving murder back to the streets, where it belonged, as he put it. And the dialectic concluded with the now memorable manifesto for his own detective:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man… He must be…a man of honour, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world… he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honour in one thing, he is that in all things… He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job…. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man…. He talks as the man of his age talks…with rude wit…a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.

The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure… If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

Philip Marlowe was all of that, and more. And Chandler wrote himself into all the halls of fame.

***