Dear dengue mosquito Trapped in my car, You think you’re so saucy, Such a fucking Sheba, With all your groaning, Your sighs and whispers, Your legs and wings Brushing the backs of my knees.
Yes, keep nibbling at my ankles And tickling my neck, go on, When I’ve said NO, like, thrice already. All this flailing and screaming Doesn’t imply pleasure, you know. That’s right, you bastard. My blood type does not Determine my consent.
That shut you up, didn’t it? Hello? Oh, please. I know you’re still here. I can see you lurking Behind the dashboard. Kindly end your tiresome games, Your silly hide and seek. Your brooding and sulking Doesn’t impress me.
Really, you drive me so crazy! This is the last time, I swear, That I make the mistake of Leaving you such an easy opening. And I WISH we’d agreed on a safe word Back when this damn thing got started. (I asked for “release”, But you wanted “death”.)
Some moandays and bluesdays, So dang sprawled across the summer earth, Your tongue in the air like a poikilotherm, Most of your joint in ashes, All the light of the world Having stripped off your eyelids, And your hunger a mere Rasam-itch in your stomach (Not yet that unpleasant gnawing For an everything-dosa Or a nothing-but-vada), It just ups and happens: A window begins to vibrate, Then the whole house gets the shakes, And it feels like you’re jittering Between four opposing realities, You legendary, timeless pendulum, Rattling through their eggshell skins, And yet you fear — you know — That when the disruption subsides You’ll land back in the same soft Life you’ve always inhabited, That the adventure of an all-new, All-shiny timeline will elude you; And you despair, of course, you despair, But feebly, politely, without the kind of noise Needed to drown out your still-baying hunger, Or the horsefly ranting in your ear — After all, the sunlight still warms your legs, And the wind so smells of storm; So you let those storybook characters, The bears and crones and superhumans, Back in your brain again, only because Some pleasures are multiversal, Because there are always timelines Within timelines within timelines, And because no later is better or worse Than the sweet pain of now and again.
Vinayak Varma, 2020
(I love drawing hands, especially wrinkled hands that have learned to hold time.)
The evening flappers – the crows and the hawks, the crap-happy rodent pigeons, the rubbernecker ducks, and the lightning-rod bats — they litter my terrace skies like torn plastic liners and brown-paper bags relieved of the bin life.
If I could bird like them, I would forget the earth altogether — for why, then, must I, grey-eyed and mysterious, persist with the gravity of things?
An old poem from when I lived in a barsaati and spent my sunsets perched on the watertank — a dull, wingless thing watching those splendid things with wings doing unimaginable things in the sky. The accompanying illustration is from my book Jadav and the Tree-Place (Pratham Books, 2016).
We assemble in the gulf between the old broken landmass and the unknown island, in our prosthetic muzzles and snouts, made restless and jumpy, panicked by this hairy endeavour into ordered procession, bent in all directions by grain, fruit, and instant noodles, by boxes stamped with party logos that refuse to lighten or float like Rama’s magicked rocks. “It’s all too heavy, man!” We yearn to build bridges, to stack, cement, to work, to huddle and collaborate, but this is an isolationist war, and to stay alive, survive, one must stand alone. Viruses, unlike asura kings, have no motives or lusts. Their kingdoms cannot be set alight by simple fires or cowed into compliance with righteous violence. Their vaccines don’t grow wild on dirigible mountains. Perhaps we are better served by less ambitious tales – of ring-a-ring-a-roses or lonely breadcrumb trails – than empty boasts relayed from long-winded thrones made of loopy monkey tails.
2. On the Nose
Interstate milk truck, sicksweet vacuum-tube of rot: tin can for migrants.
3. Humble Request
Go, Corona, go! Go where the vessels haven’t clanged! Kindly spare the true patriots! (Focus on the Tukde-Tukde Gang!)
Go, Corona, go! Go where you know them by their dress! Kindly spare us Sanathanis! (But please infect the Sanskaar-less!)
Go, Corona, go! Go where the lights are still switched on! Kindly spare the Bhakt brigade! (Feel free to kill some non-Mitron!)
Go, Corona, go! Go after the Sickulars and Reds! Kindly spare our Saffron friends! (We’re running out of hospital beds!)
At unbridled, untethered twenty, I would measure my rides to that (certainly not this) college town — that lemon-and-eggshell homeostatic asylum for creative misfits — using, for signage, succour, pitstops and piss stops, lakes, banyan trees and omelette vendors, barbershops with chrome-and-rexine chairs, crone men with beedis behind ears hunched around the daily weather report like crows worrying at a fallen squirrel, jasmine, jackfruit, flames of the forest, snake-infested ruins of temples for misappropriated gods, the old brick factory, its tall red chimney blowing smoke at the police station athwart like a lonely, ageing pothead courting detention, courting love, this Andhra mess with the curd so thick you could sculpt it, that vada joint with the paperplane dosas, the reaching wind, its fingers running cold and warm,
raking sharply across all of nature, prehistory, my flatted hair, reeking of permanence, every bit of it a glorious lie. Because six hard lanes have since stamped out every living feature, every fold, hair and pimple, on Bellary Road, and I can’t see my place in it any longer. The old map is ash and rubble. The Parsee Tower of Silence jitters with the rumble of jet engines, cash registers, and the screams of ride-sharers and gig-workers hailing swift passage away, across, aloft, anywhere but here. The vultures are dead, gone, eaten, beaten, overtaken by their own morbid function. Townships, Layouts and Communities have uprooted or walled away the hallis like unclaimed, unmarked graves. The granite hills are bombed out shells. No, I cannot reconcile these two highways,
the one I see and the one I remember, just as I cannot fit my bloated thirty-seven into this jigsaw hole that’s still shaped like a crisp-edged twenty. What, then, gives me the right to judge the art, the passion, and potential of these soft young hopefuls who look and sound the way I still feel — bright, brittle, afraid, and full of bluster? When so much of the world they inherited is so dulled and compromised, why must they also tolerate the criticism of strangers? Or must I show them truth and horror so they may harden their backs against the highway’s next assault on fragile, aimless memory? Or perhaps the highway will, one day, wind back around, disappear into itself, and re-emerge as a smaller, milder, less ambitious metaphor for expectations, progress, or the many crimes of Time.
She was last seen in the abandoned house on St. Mark’s Road, Floating above the broken syringes and beer bottles, Lotus-legged and arms outstretched, Radiating a swirling white light, Scaring the shit out of stoner trespassers and bandicoots.
They say it was this fear of her inside it, And not the fists of the goons outside, That knocked the old house down. Some know enough to know better Than to know what they know to be true.
The City has moulted Since the old house was broken, Since that nasty, smelly witch — With her judging eyes and shimmery hair — Was last seen floating in it.
We’ve traded that rotted, storied skin For this glorious armour of steel and glass. And good riddance, boss. God only knows What terrible dark magic those sags and wrinkles held. Good fucking riddance.
Were you the nit who decided that north is up, south is down, west is left, and east is right? Are you the hack who rhymed “West” with “the best”, and not “pest” or “infest”? Is yours the East that’s a mythical beast, or, at the very least, a weird sensory feast? And are those things lining your soles a pair of tiny magnetic poles?
In Space, every which way is this-way-that-way. Ignore all imaginary arrows, only go by what your eyes can see, travel far enough in a straight line, and all norths become souths, and all easts turn west. Directions are meaningless for excellent reasons when you’re a cosmic turtle: world-burdens are lightest when down is also up.
In my unoriented map of India, Kanyakumari is its crown, while Kashmir is its spiky, furry, prehensile tail. Dravidanadu is the head and chest, and MP, its queasy belly. Gujarat and Assam are its outstretched hands (or perhaps the hems of its frock), Bengal is a saucy hip, Kerala, a bloodied lip, and the NCR is on its knees.
“Quit messing around,” you sass. “You can’t turn this country on its ass!” “Shall I put the Centre here,” I ask, “in the middle, next to its… uh… daily business? This makes both strategic and semantic sense, yes?” “No, you urban naxal, the Centre always sits on top. Nations can’t be ruled from below the belt! Brains can’t be stored in one’s legs!”
Because you’re such a mussel (shellfish, mass of nerves, snack-in-a-vessel) and not an octopus (eight twisty limbs and nine twisty brains), my omnidirectional atlas remains closed to you and your crusty kind. You may return once you’ve grown an extra heart or two, and ink sacs with the power to blot out every latitude.
His Lordship blinks awake.
“Whuh? Where am I?”
First and final of his ilk,
Right and Honourable,
Peerless peer, master tactician,
“And blind as a bloody mole rat.”
At 3a.m., hungry like the wolf,
He trips and fumbles out of bed,
And launches himself into the void.
“A nice sandwich would hit the spot.
Perhaps a mug of cocoa too…
But where the hell are my glasses?”
Purple-robed, specs-less Cyril
Scurries through the labyrinthine corridors,
A just-resurrected mummy.
“I’m a velveteen mutant ninja rat!
An International Thuggee of Mystery!”
The shadows bend and twist,
Strip away from the walls,
Swirl, wrap, and tighten around his head,
Layering it like a too-large turban.
“Who knows what evil lurks
In the hearts of men? Not me, Bob!”
That big silver blur – “Ah, there’s the fridge.”
Thence, he conscripts his troops:
Cheese and pickled gherkins,
A sliver of roast beef, some lettuce,
And a dash of Wooster.
He deploys them between
Three fat slices of yesterday’s loaf,
And halves the assemblage
With practised ease
(The way he partitioned
Circles and polygons
As a student of geometry;
Or cultures and peoples,
As an occludent of geography):
Sharp, quick, straight down the middle,
Never mind a few errant crumbs.
“Diagonal cuts are for pansies!”
He devours one half,
And throws the other to the dogs.
Nothing ever goes to waste,
Not in this household, no sir.
And this is a resonant philosophy,
For, in another era, in a different mansion,
Time eats its own tail –
A similarly Honourable Prime Minister, On his third and final hour of sleep, Sweats and tosses as he dreams Of choking to death on breadcrumbs. His struggles are watched by an old white man In a turban made of shadow. Lord Cyril (for this is his restless spectre) Offers pithy advice in lieu of first aid: “In hindsight, Mr. M, I’ve learnt To value vision over eyesight.” Even this nightmare can be escaped, Of course, if one simply were to awaken.