Sunday, April 29, 2007

on diaspora. or something.

I consider myself lucky. My heart and my passport almost agree.

(This came up in the middle of a conversation with Sashi. His translation of the ghazal from last post is here.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

rainy day ghazal (with bad translation)

(This one is dedicated to whoever took my bag at the Brooklyn Inn last night. It was an old bag, there was nothing particularly valuable inside - no laptop, no passport - but the loss that hurts the most is a beloved Moleskine notebook, full of ideas jotted on the subway, poems and plans and all those other things that come into your head sideways in the middle of doing something else. It was a gift from a friend, a 'substitute for napkins'. In the absence of the notebook, this ghazal was written on the backs of bills and visiting cards scrounged from my wallet.)

Arsa ho gaya hai ke basti se muhajir hooN
Itna ho gaya hai ke hasti se muhajir hooN

Jazeera-e shehr-e sang maiN kahaaN dhoondoN sanam
Ke itne barsoN but-parasti se muhajir hooN

Dil ki jebeN khaali hain magar kya kijiye
Ke aaj to maiN tang-dasti se muhajir hooN

NukkaD ke sharaabkhaane meN khaata khul chuka
YaaroN maiN mae ki masti se muhajir hooN

Is dauDte bhaagte sheher ki sadkeN haiN aalishaan
Par kya karooN ke matargashti se muhajir hooN

and the same in blogger devnagari (it's all over the place at this point, but it's good to know that at some point, i can compose and post stuff in devnagari. now waiting for the nastaliq.)-

अरसा हो गया है के बस्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ
इतना हो गया है के हस्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ

जजीरा-ए शेह्र-ए संग मैन कहाँ धून्दों सनम
के इतने बरसों बुत-परस्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ

दिल कि जेबें खाली हैं मगर क्या कीजिये
के आज तो मैन तंग-दस्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ

नुक्कड़ के शराबखाने में खाता खुल चूका
यारों मैन मे कि मस्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ

इस दौड़ते भागते शेहेर कि सड़कें हैं आलिशान
पर क्या करूं के मटरगश्ती से मुहाजिर हूँ

Update -
Since there are readers of this blog unfamiliar with Hindustani/Urdu, I am going to do the belated (and difficult) job of translating; with the given that everything will sound much cheesier (and even more hyperbolic) in English. And of course, it won't rhyme.
Muhajir, which is at the heart of the refrain throughout the ghazal, can be translated as wanderer/migrant/exile. For the sake of convenience, as well as the spirit in which I wrote this, I am going to use 'exile', but take the other meanings as implicit.

It has been ages since I've been an exile from home
So long that I'm an exile from/by (my) being

On this island city of stone, where do I look for the image of the beloved?
It's been years since I've been an exile from idol worship

The pockets of the heart are empty, but what to do
For I am an exile from/by tight-fistedness today

There's a tab now open at the corner tavern
Friends, I'm an exile from wine's intoxication

The streets of this hustle-bustle city are magnificient
But what do I do as an exile from aimless wandering?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

two conversations on wearing a faded einstein t-shirt

saturday night. in a beer bar on bleeker street -
- did you celebrate 3/14?
- 3/14?
- you know, 3.14, pi day? aren't you a mathematician?
- no.
- well, i am.

a while later -
- einstein was also born on 3/14.
- no he wasn't. he was born on feb 24th.
- march 14th.
- feb 24th.
- wanna bet?
- sure, i'll buy you a drink if i'm wrong. now find someone with a blackberry.

the blackberry was never found. the mathematician left. and after a while, so did i.
while walking along washington square south, i was stopped -
- hey man, is that einstein on your t-shirt?
- yes.
- tell me, then. wasn't he an expert on love?
- no.
he turned around to his friends, who'd stopped to listen, and said, see? i told you.
the friend came up to me and asked -
- what did einstein know about love?
- shit.

the answer seemed to make them happy. they laughed as they walked away, telling me to have a great night.

But i was wrong both times. einstein was born on 3/14, but i had been convinced otherwise many years ago by Mr. James, who claims/claimed to share a birthday with him. and it was wrong to say that he didn't know about love. he knew about love, as a human being among and a human being like other human beings, but it could also be argued that the sort of physics he did would be impossible for a deep love for the beauty of the world, the underlying harmony of things which made him believe in Spinoza's God. but also, in his politics, a deep and abiding love for humanity.

so einstein knew his stuff. wish it would rub off from the t-shirt.

59th street chasm songs. (not feeling groovy)

Tuesday morning. 59th and Park Avenue. The plaza next to the Apple Store. Hordes of screaming teenage girls, many white balanced floodlights, some sort of shoot. The crowds part for an instant, and i see the streaked hair of Sanjay Malakar, signing autographs gamely as he rises and rises to fame, despite/because of being booted off American Idol, despite not being able to sing to save his life.

Fifteen minutes later. Waiting for the 1 train under 59th and 8th. An old black man plays The Magic Flute, on a well, magic flute. The 3 thunders by and drowns him out. Everyone ignores him. When the 1 Train stops and I get on, he's playing Ode to Joy, and it's beautiful enough to be very, very sad.

And what would have happened if the man was Joshua Bell? Probably the same.

Friday, April 20, 2007

twice tagged

I have been tagged twice in the past month and have done nothing about either, so now's time to start.

First, a belated nod to the fact that the good folks at First City nominated me for a Thinking Blogger award. And I'm supposed to tag five other folk whose blogs make me think. Since this is going to be an unjust rollcall at the best of times (only five?) I'm just going to go with the top of my head. And the nominees are -
Chapati Mystery, now on Facebook
Horror Vacui, with his cheerful thoughts on melancholia, soon to be joining us in Noo Yawk
Known Turf, the lady with the conscience that (unlike mine) hasn't been numbed
Within/Without, for understanding about the ruins, and about es muss sein, and about red earth and pouring rain.
Buoyantville, for turning the everyday into aching poetry.

Speaking of thinking, I had two thought provoking conversations last weekend, both of them, sort-of, in Punjabi.

The first - in the front seat of a cab heading to Brooklyn. The cab driver gets a call from his family in Sialkot. Apparently, people have been being infected by a 'virus' after answering calls on their cellphones from unknown numbers. They're calling to check if he's ok. There's no problem here, he says. Then he asks me if anything similar has happened in India. No one's called me, I say.

The next conversation a few hours later, after a night of sweaty dancing and Bhangra 101, is even weirder, if possible.

- What are you doing here? asks very pretty girl, in Punjabi.
- I just came dancing with my friends, you know, we love this place...
- Tusi hijde naee ho? she asks. You are not an eunuch?
I am momentarily struck dumb. By hijda/eunuch her reference was obviously to being gay, a very misplaced reference that would not fly during polite conversation in a queer space in Delhi or Bombay. I think. Ah, the diaspora and the shit they get away with...
- err, no, i'm sort of straight...

Then she introduces me to her partner as her bibi (wife), and another woman present as her saas (mother in law).
Pairi pauna pabiji, I say to the partner. In the middle of a lesbian bar in Brooklyn, we've just completely redefined Punjabi familial relationships.
I'm still getting over it.

Elizabeth tagged me with 'five things that you may not know about me' (and were probably better off not knowing). This is a hard one, given that so much of my life is already out in the public domain :)

- I have once jumped off a moving train to rescue a snatched purse. (The jump was successful in recovering the purse, but not in the ways you would imagine.)

- I am the king of abandoned literary projects. (Which is probably why I started blogging). As of now, I have one finished but unpublished novella (set in Delhi during the Kandahar hijacking of 1999, narrated from the pov of a guy who sees aeroplanes in his head all the time - yes this was written way before 9/11); the first draft of the first half of a dystopic science fiction novel set in future Delhi, abandoned after the beginning of the Iraq war); and the scattered beginnings of a collection of pieces on Delhi. Some of this stuff is good, if I may say so myself, and needs to be rescued from my constantly-moving-on-to-other-things.

- I recite poetry, aloud, when walking in the rain. The usual suspects - Ghalib, Nida Fazli, Faiz, Robert Frost.

- I am very, very neurotic about paperwork. Particularly filling out visa forms. It gives me the screaming heebie jeebies, whatever those are.

- I am terrified about losing my accent and sounding American. To the point that when someone compliments me on my English, i take it as an insult (which it is, of course, even if unintended), and start getting very, very frantic indeed.

Monday, April 09, 2007

a poem heard in chicago

Chicago was a wonderful three days. More on which later, including finally meeting the Sepoy in real life.
But for now, just a poem I heard, and liked so much, that I actually borrowed the poet's (single) copy and wrote it down in my notebook. Like an old fashioned tazkira/tazkirah.

Srikanth Reddy
, the poet, prefaced this reading by saying something like (and I am paraphrasing very broadly here) - The usual story goes that you will meet the perfect someone, whether halfway across the world, or in the next street. This poem is about a more probable love story, when the perfect couple never meet.


She was watching the solar eclipse
through a piece of broken bottle

when he left home.
He found a blue kite in the forest

on the day she lay down
with a sailor. When his name changed,

she stitched a cloud to a quilt
made of rags. They did not meet,

so they never could be parted.
So she finished her prayer,

& he folded his map of the sea.

- from Facts for Visitors, Srikanth Reddy

(And I could not help wondering, at the end of the poem - But what about those who have met, and failed to recognize each other, like Majnu unheeding as Laila passed him in the desert? ... But that's a poem written often enough. Too often.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Sitting in front of my computer on a Monday afternoon, here in New York, at first I refused to believe it. The timing was just right enough to believe that it was a sick April Fool joke. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

Shakti Bhatt passed away in Delhi last Saturday night after a sudden and brief and completely unexpected illness. A talented writer, a gifted editor, and a well loved friend, the unfairness of her loss is felt by many. This entry on Samit's blog, a few days before her death, just makes it more poignant. She was so full of plans and dreams and hopes and ideas.

Shakti and her husband Jeet Thayil moved to Delhi two years ago, from New York. One of my most wonderful memories from Delhi is the first evening spent at their place, in April 2005; a night which could only have ended in spontaneous ghazal-ification. There were so many other wonderful evenings. They were such an amazing couple. (The Editor-Poets, as they appeared on eM's blog). Shakti was also the first person to call, as an editor, and put the idea of 'the Delhi book' into my head. As an editor she was enthusiastic, pushy, and most importantly believed in a moody and erratic writer. Then the erratic writer moved to New York, and grad school...

Perhaps it was premonition that last week I found myself thinking of Jeet and Shakti. They were the first New Yorkers I had known. This was the city where they met. I found myself imagining conversations with them back in Delhi -
- And did you go to... ?

... And now, in their city, I feel so far away. My thoughts, like everyone else's, are with Jeet.

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