Until you reached for me,
we were the old cliché.

spun outside your orbit,
star without system.

consumed by my spirit,
terrorized by glass.

Until you reached for me:
No state, no reason;
no reason, no form;
one to another,
no pause, no surrender.

But then you reached for me,
crossed your heart
and hoped for me;

moved me,
rocked me,
tilted me;

kissed me,
licked me,
melted me.

Vinayak Varma, 2016

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”.)

Vinayak Varma, 2018

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).

Vinayak Varma, 2020

Is no one else troubled by the lie
that lets these water parks function
while our reservoirs and dams run dry?
Nobody? Just me? Oh, come on!

And you’re all perfectly at home,
are you, with those ghastly little brats
there, drooling their entire microbiomes
into the goddamn hydrostat?

Not to mention that gassy grandma
who’s been yellowing the children’s pool
with a steady dribble of piss and drama.
(“I checked,” she claims. “I’ve broken no rule!”)

And those Speedo-goggled aunties
in their salwars and nighties,
hurtling down the water slides,
their faces deliquescing
like daydreams in the noontide,
like a salad undressing.

And check out the boxered brah-men
blessing the musical fountain
with their dripping holy threads,
their tripping, bobbly heads,
exorcising guilt and lust
with plangent pelvic thrusts.

Oh, that food stall’s meant to look like a bird.
(It looks more like a dinosaur’s turd.)
The poor ticket seller’s dressed like a bat.
(Seriously, boss, what’s up with that?)

I’ll come clean: I was only lured here
by the promise of free lunch and a beer.
So, no, I’m not getting in that queue.
Yes, I’m quite alright, thank you.

While you’re all swimming in e-coli,
I’ll be right here, chilling, getting high,
safely wrapped in raincoat and umbrella,
jotting down ideas for a horror novella.

(For G. & K.)

Vinayak Varma, 2020

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.

For the students of Srishti, old and new.

Vinayak Varma, 2020