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Grandma's romance

This mini memoir was first published in The Indian Express.

This February, when mother and I met after almost a year, she recollected the grand funeral organised by our family of bureaucrats for the woman who had reared six children to be officers of the republic. Suddenly, those magical sketch pens, the chocolate-raisin cake, lemon pickles, Amla oil — everything about this remarkable personality — come back to my mind. So, too, did the ache in the fingers. Grandmother would constantly hit us with pencils if we ever made mistakes while solving maths problems.

Last December, in a winter that froze tears, she passed away, gasping heavily in her mulmul quilt. My grandfather, sitting by her side, silently watched her as she left him after 67 years of companionship. He had brought her in her bridal finery hundreds of kilometres away from where she was born — the restless hamlet of Sidhouli in the United Provinces of pre-independence days. She was the first woman intermediate that Gangania…
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If I were ink,
I would have fallen
on your white shirt -
in dots as big
as the tip of the nib.
would you still have thought
i were just a colour,
worth a scribble,
a useless reason for a bath?

Virtual Deception

I met you and now,
I am distraught.
You said the meeting shall bring to me peace;
my peace is stolen - you lied.
I am now lost - in pursuit of you;
in Google searches - do you have a website?
A picture somewhere? A pet name?
What is the meaning of your name?
Is there a connection I am missing?
Something you said and I couldn't understand?

We have met, but I am looking for You.
Desperately, from messages to mail boxes,
I am looking randomly - did we ever exchange an email?
A glance, a harmless joke, a casual flirt in the past?
I am looking for something, just a drop of ink
that has your name, a tiny mugshot of you
buried in the heap of search results in your name -
And hey, wait, there's, finally, You -
in a blue t-shirt, against a blue door,
bespectacled, bemused, faintly smiling
I keep staring - you are the wall where I am
looking for meanings, freedom, courage,
a conversation unheard, a door unopened.

It's complicated. You said the utter desolation in your being
was cle…


वो बुलाता है मुझे
आओ पल्लो, वो बुलाता है
उसकी आवाज़ समंदर चीर के
दिल के कल तक आती है
मैं नदिया सा उमड़ती हूँ, थोड़ा हिचकती हूँ
वो फिर बुलाता है - आओ पल्लो
आओ, संम्भल के आना, इस दौर की गलियों में मुड़ो
तो ज़रा देख के मुड़ना
कीचड़ जैसे अपमान हैं, फिसल न जाना
वो कह देंगे तुम्हें बेअकल,
तुम डर मत जाना.
तुम धीमा चलना, ज़माने की रफ़्तार तेज़ है
वो भागते हैं आंधी सा, पर बंध जाते हैं अतीत में
तुम आगे देखना, देखो सर ऊंचा रखना
इस अन्धकार में देखना ज़रूरी है
ज़रूरी है आशा भी, तुम दीपक लेकर आना
पाँव तले धरती है, तुम ओस की बूँद सा बरसना
थोड़ा थोड़ा देना जीवन, थोड़ा थोड़ा सपने देखना
बड़ी क्रांति किसे चाहिए, थोड़े थोड़े से घड़ा भरता है,
पल्लो, जब तुम्हारे सपने धरती से बड़े हो जाएँ
तो डरना, बहुत डरना पर अभी आओ,
 धरती पे आसमान जैसा धीरज रखकर
आ जाओ.
वो बहुत इलज़ाम लगते हैं पर तुमने किसका लहू पिया है
क्रांति के नाम पे लहू सामान धरती मिलेगी सफर में,
सदियों से उनके दाग उन्हें डरा नहीं सके
पर तुम डरना, बेशक डरना
ये भविष्य की अतीत पर जीत है -
तुम्हारा आना, डूबते हुए सूरज जैसा उनकी मतधारा को
नए भारत का ह्रदय दिखाना।
कई बार लगता…

Why Should Boys Have All The Fun?

This was originally published in The Indian Express

It’s been more than a year since I have been with Layla, my daughter. Her early years were mostly spent with her naani while I was away pulling myself out of a career slump after motherhood with a prestigious college degree. I can finally say that I am raising her. She is a talkative, demanding girl of four, with bright eyes and a certain ferocity that makes her pick fights, embrace more than she can accommodate, and trust heartily. All of these are terrific virtues in my dictionary, and I staunchly stick to them in a world hell-bent on telling girls what counts as “great”. But these are also qualities I am afraid of. Recently, on a sunny afternoon in the society park, I suddenly noticed the sexism I have so scoffed at, in the playground. I saw it when my girl leapt to the other side where all the boys were. They were in bright sweatshirts and shiny shoes, same as her, and their game was what had drawn Layla. They drew a line on the …

Unforgettable 2016

I do not quite know how to describe 2016. Let's just say it swept me off my feet. I have a nice outlook in life and pretty smiles for adversity. I seduce it, it loves me back. I wear rose-tinted glasses - just so that life doesn't wear me out. It's a great survival strategy.
I will never forget 2016. This was not the year I fell in love, or made great friends, or made babies. This was not the year when I got healthier and happier. I remember travels and parties, like tiny, bitter fruits on the grand expanse of a dark, threatening forest. I remember the feeling of being on a journey without no destination - good in many ways.
I didn't have to arrive; I didn't have to depart. I just had to stay - like a pilot stuck in a burning cockpit, not able to fly or hope. Staying, and being friends with status quo isn't something I had done in a long time. I remember teaching myself to do this.
I also learnt to do completely different things, and revel in it even as I anti…

When life is in a constant rush

On my daily walks along the Thames, temptations are many. I often want to sit down and listen to someone singing on the street. Often, I just want to rest on a bench because my feet tire themselves out walking. Often, I am embarassed too, when I come across couples kissing in public. This always happens on my way back from the library. The intimacy between random couples in beautiful London is like visual poetry - I blush and turn away like a coy bride. I also turn away distraught at the dryness of my moments here. This is tragic for an intense soul. This is tragic in general for all those who walk along the Victoria Embankment purposelessly. Sometimes more, sometimes less. If you link romantic love and want of intimacy to all aspirations in life, its difficult to relish any beauty in the world in their absence. But then, there are moments of absolute joy as well. Watching children, women, mothers, girls, musicians, dancers, clowns. Eating doughnuts in the rain. Drinking cider after…

Life at the LSE

LSE. (c) P.S.

In the long queue outside the Wrights bar at lunch hour every day, an overwhelming sense of equality grips me. It is here that I stand in unison with many to avail the benefits of scholarship: a jelly-filled dough nut for 60 pence and a steaming can of hot chocolate for another 60. Let truth be told: on any given day, this is the best I can afford for lunch on days I choose not to cook. In the inviting lunch joints on Kingsway next to the LSE, a modest lunch pack usually comes for 5 pounds. That counts to 500 in the currency of my country. I still haven’t stopped calculating every time I look at a menu. Almost always, I turn away and walk back to the Wrights Bar. The people at the Bar know me by face now – a hard-earned recognition in the middle of the madness of college life; an unintended happiness in a city where everyone’s time, including mine, comes at a premium.
Sometimes, I share a treat with a friend and classmate from A…

Poems in Muse India

The blue bench as seen from Econ Hist dept, LSE. (c) P.S.

My latest batch of poems in Muse India here. Hope you enjoy them.