Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

long ago, when i was young, i knew a woman named uzeh. she was old (to us), but, in truth, not so old as to have tasted her fifth decade. she always wore a black shawl, which she kept wrapped around her shoulders and, in the winter, her head. we often debated what it was that uzeh did, because we only ever saw her at night, under the frail light of a gas lantern that the local council officer insisted be mounted at the entrance to our street. uzeh would tell us stories of the world beyond our village, of dragons and lovers - and sometimes both. we called her a gypsy, but we knew better - gypsies do not have a home. her deep brown skin declared her origins as lying somewhere far south, within the plains, but we had no other way of telling. questions she always answered with a short, sad laugh, saying 'i am from here now, children. does it matter where i have been?' and so we were left with only speculation.

uzeh had a tattoo of three identical symbols in a triangle, just above her right eye. when we asked her about it, she told us that once, many centuries ago, there was a race of people called the khalaak, who spoke an ancient tongue of threes. the khalaak believed that everything in this world was linked in threes, and so it was only natural for their language to consist of sets of ideas, set in threes, all represented by the same symbol, set three times. the orientation of the three-symbol designated which concept it was that was most relevant to the text in question. thus, for example, table, chair and stool were set together, as were angel, demon and human. ofcourse some ideas linked to more than one set, so while you had the three-symbol for god-love-chaos, you also had one for love-desire-fire, desire-life-power, and so on. thus the khalaak believed that all the ideas in the world would form a chain, and that it was in the pattern of this chain that one could find the true meaning of life. many khalaak philosopher-linguists spent centuries trying to decipher the code of their own language, re-arranging symbols, forming new networks and links, but none were ever able to discover the true power hidden deep in the khalaak language. it was thus that the khalaak language came to die, as more and more people from the outside began to mix with the khalaaks, and the khalaak ruler, influenced by jewish, pagan and islamic missionaries, finally decreed that their language was too perfect for man.
we asked uzeh what it was that her symbol meant, but she would only smile. 'it is a dead language', she said, 'let it die.' when she saw the dissatisfaction on our faces, she would unravel her shawl and invite us into the cave of darkness she created thus - we would immediately follow, because we knew that this was uzeh's way of preparing us for a story.
i remember that it was in these moments that i would sometimes wonder how many years it had been since uzeh had been born. it was a question whose answer i would not discover till much later, long after i had seen her deep brown skin for the last time.

The Story of the City in Love
once upon a time there was a city which loved. these words are easy to say, but who can say that they truly know the love of a city, as they know the touch of their lover, or the caress of a soul against their breast? this city was once part of an ancient kingdom, but a series of wars had left it further and further away from the main seat of the kingdom, until it was all but forgotten. the people of the city never left, and only the occasional lost traveler would find his or her way into its streets, by accident.
every time a child was born, there would spring from the ground a hundred yellow flowers, almost instantly, as if the ground itself felt joy at being introduced to a new soul. this did not happen much, these days, as children were slowly being born less and less often. it is said that during the early years of this city, its people grew suspicious of these flowers, and considered them an invitation to the new child from shaitan. later, they began to believe that the city only nourished the new soul because it fed upon it. it was only after many years that the people of the city loved her as she loved them, without apologies or expectations.
whenever a man died in the city, there was a soft, mist-like rain, regardless of the season. when a woman died, a rain of a thousand deep golden flowers would fall across the city, as the sky wept sunlight. it was thus that many years passed, and flowers grew from the ground, were nourished by rain and fell from the cloudless blue sky.
one morning a screaming boy-child was brought into this world, and the people of the city were suddenly apprehensive, for they had never heard a child scream during birth - in this city, the pain of creating life was shared by the mother and father of the new soul, but was not felt by its own body. the people left their houses in search of the field of flowers, but were surprised to find a thin carpet of golden petals underneath their feet. the petals were already turning brown at their edges, and it was at this moment that the people first realized that something was painfully wrong with their city.
the cycle of rain and flowers never returned, after the birth of the child named ku-khra-sha (which was the name of the fire-love-skin three-symbol). the people slowly began to realize that their city was dying, as even the seasonal rains began to become fewer, and further between. the summers became hotter, and the winters harsher than they had ever been before. life in the city became hard, and some people began, once again, to question their city's motives in making them believe in a love that can be felt in the flowers. some blamed ku-khra-sha, and called for him to be killed, but the very night of the meeting to decide his fate there was a fierce gale, and the people were unable to leave their houses. others blamed the ways of their rulers, still others called for a ritualistic cleansing of the spirits of everyone in the city. most people, however, were simply worried - without their city, they did not know how to live.
no answer was in sight, and the nights grew colder. every so often people said that they could feel the old warmth between their toes as they walked the streets, but it was very faint, like the calling of a very, very old voice, from far away. there were good days and bad days, but sometimes a single golden yellow flower would bloom, overnight, and the people would gather around it to pray for their lover.

early one morning, ten years later, someone broke into ku-khra-sha's house and plunged a dagger through his heart, while he slept. it was the first crime to have occurred in the city for as long as anyone could remember, and it was not without its supporters. the city, they said, was dying, and any city was bigger than a boy. as the first blood red rays of the sun began to filter through the greyblue haze of that morning, however, people were not so sure. a chill wind began to gather the dust in the streets, but the people were unafraid of their city. ku-khra-sha's killer was brought forward, and told to lead the procession which carried the still warm body of the boy on its shoulders. as they reached the main street, a fine mist began to gather around them, causing the dust to stick to the backs of their ankles and in between their toes. they marched onwards, towards the fields, carrying their burden without a word towards the customary burial location for children - a large field which contained only a gnarled and old oak tree, that had been there for as long as the oldest mother could remember, and was all but dead itself. as they began to get closer, they saw their oak burst into a bloom of unfamiliar red flowers. almost as soon as the lowest branches turned crimson, however, the flowers from the upper branches began to fall. the procession was almost to the child's burial spot, now, and as they lowered him into the earth the oak's leaves fell to earth in a dull, steady rain that crackled like far off lightning cutting the night sky.

it is said that after the death of ku-khra-sha, the gates to the city were shut forever, and the souls within lived on, even after their bodies had withered away.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

i have already felt the heat from your long, graceful fingers burn symbols into the canvas of my back, though we are yet miles, and lives, apart. i wonder if i do not already, perhaps, know the smell of your love - of burning, of the earth breathing, of steam and the sharp, salty taste of rain on red skin.

but there are no pretenses between us. you are just another lover, and i am less (for you were, always, more). i will know you, as we dance around each other, within each other, and you will know of one who loves. there is a sort of freedom in this, too, of knowing that you are walking into a room with a stranger, to know them in ways that sometimes even their own do not, and that you will leave that room, as pink fingers chase the night across disappearing stars, as strangers.

one night stands take longer when you're living them, with each movement of air, dust and scent on skin. my fingers will be crackling lightning while i walk through your streets, late at night. i hope you don't mind, my lover lives inside of me.

- fitnaa in the red city -

Monday, April 09, 2007

it was clear that he didn't have much time left, she realized. the skin at his cheeks was stretched, the soft creases in his face harder now, not pulled in a smile, but in hollowness. he smiled, in spite of it, but she knew that he had decided long ago that he would one day die in a state of flux, in a place where there are no meanings. human beings, he had once said, are fascinated with boundary conditions. roofs, beaches, edges, the deepest, darkest places on this earth are where we find ourselves faced with the simplest questions; we are, ofcourse, obsessed with simplification - our lives are one big experiment in definition. i will die, he said, one day, without it.

she should have known, back then, when he had insisted that she bring him here, despite his illness. he was sitting in the rocking chair, as old as he had once (long ago) predicted he would be, on the other end of a life so full of words, staring out over the green and yellow fields, past the barbed wire fence and a hundred imaginary meridians.
my parents, he said, came from just over that hill.
i know, she said, softly.
i wish i could see the house that dadi used to talk about, late at night.
i know, she said, holding his hands. im so sorry...we can't.
he smiled. i'm just being melodramatic, ofcourse. don't worry, it's alright. they've been fighting for all of our lives, i suppose we've no right to expect them to stop for the sake of an old, dying man.
it will be harvesting season, soon, he said, absently, staring at the hundreds of yellow flowers that had appeared, suddenly, overnight.
she was staring at the horizon, trying to tear the early morning fog apart, to see, if only for a moment, the red-brown house with its steep, narrow staircase which dadi spoke of, so late at night. to see, if only for a moment, a piece of history, to give the tiny part of an old soul that she carried within her a way home.

he coughed a little, and she immediately offered to go get his medicine. he held her hand, first violently but then with more grace, slowly wrapping his fingers in hers as she crouched on the floor, next to his chair.
ji, jaan?
we loved well, you and i. no two souls- ah. melodrama, again. i love you, he said, simply. thank you.
he began to cough again, and she squeezed his hands before she rose to go to the front door. she closed the door, quietly, behind her as she went to find some water.

he left a note, ofcourse.
some say that we live our lives in reflection. you are a mother, fighter, sister, daughter, god, lover, Diya. you are incredible, and it is in your eyes that i will (always) be reflected. be well.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

this story begins on a roof, with two people, and ends with death (of a sort). it is often the way.

there was the longest silence, the kind of silence where the slightest movement might sound like something beautiful shattering. m was lying on his back, his feet dangling off the edge of the water tank, swaying gently back and forth, like laundry in the cool, summer breeze. he was staring at the stars, as s stood over him, bathed in the orange neon glow of that pulsating city. she took a long drag from her cigarette, and let it fall to the ground, three storeys below, it's still glowing tip arching end over end before it hit the cold, hard concrete. they told each other that they came here to think, but it was only one lie.

'it's 4.30am, on a tuesday. how do we end up here, again and again?' he asked her.
'we've got nowhere else to go,' she said, and sat down next to him, roughly. she dusted her hands over the edge.
'this is no way to live,' he whispered, still staring at infinity, 'you know that.'
'and what would you propose we do, then?' she said, her words edged electric.
'that,' he sighed,'i do not know.'
she leaned backward, so that her palms were spread open on the floor behind her back and her arms were taking her weight. her eyes searched for the edge of the sky, for a pocket of deep darkness.
'perhaps we're only searching for oblivion,' he said, suddenly.
'how do you mean?' she asked, startled at how close his words were to her eyes.
'you realize that we're pushing ourselves further away, each night?'
'you do. we're constantly pushing - because we don't care about anything. you and i, we're not content until we break something,' he continued. 'i wonder which night it will be that i find this roof empty, again. i doubt i'll be surprised, but who knows? we're capable of anything.'
she turned her head, slowly, the streetlights setting her long, brown hair aflame.
'i don't believe that. i don't want to break you,' she said, her voice softening.
'no, i don't think you do. but you will. or i you,'he said,'i don't think you and i know how to love any other way.'
'is honesty that brutal?'
'we're on fire.'
she nodded, and took his hand in hers, gently rubbing between his fingers. he looked away from the sky, then, and watched s, hair aflame and eyes laced with tears. and they held each other, gently rocking in the breeze, for a time almost as dark as the sky.

'i won't leave,' he whispered in her ear, his voice suddenly stronger than the damp circle that had appeared on her shoulder would suggest.
'it'll kill you,'she sobbed.
'i won't go.'
'then i will,' she said, quietly. and she moved her hands from his back, turned her head and moved back.

and he let her go, until she was standing on the edge of that water tank, ready to let herself down. he brushed the hair from his eyes and looked at two brown irises, quivering, on a body that was glowing slightly at the edges, filled in with darkness.
'because this is going to kill you.'
he didn't move. 'you're lying.'
'i-,' her resolve faltered. 'i'm sorry. i-,' she paused,'i don't know what to do.'
'what do you want to do?'
'i want this to stop.'
he smiled. 'what? just when we're getting to the fun bit, where we end up hating each other?'
'don't be flippant,'she said, but she smiled in spite of herself. 'what do we do?'
he leaned back, again, and contemplated the dark, dark sky.
'we live,' he said.
she sat down again, on that edge, and stared at the streets below, that intricate maze of houses, dreams and neon that made her city at night.
'there's a city down there, you know?'
'i know. and yet you and I, lovers, trace the same circles, night after night.'
'then maybe we really do have nothing to lose.' she took his hand, squeezed, and pulled him up. they stood there, regarding that city asleep, hand in hand, breathing in the texture of its dreams, watching its electric claws sparkling in the distance, and wondering if they should step down from that tiny water tank into a big, big world.


sometimes, late at night, when there's no-one for miles, i can still make out the dim outline of a shadow touching a shadow's hand.

Friday, March 02, 2007

i sense the scent of your skin,
(insideout), in between syllables
and concrete.
your dark, sweet taste lives in the space
between my teeth,
tongues probing, searching
blindly, constantly.
(i hunt for your soul
in the spaces)

your eyes met mine,
somewhere, long ago,
and we chased each other, furiously,
in endless circles, until your nails were white-hot,
and my skin smoldered, silently.
i wonder,
if, perhaps, life is not simply one
moment of intensity,
rather than a series of images,
if, perhaps, we are not
(i write to you
in my sleep)

i do not know what it is about you,
that sinks beneath this flesh, bone and soul,
tattooing itself, powerfully, underneath my skin,
only that i, no poet, can not live
but with the scent of your skin
on the tip of my tongue,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

[when i was a child]

god is not a white haired and bearded old man. god does not live within the spaces between words, leaves, the wind - god does not listen to us when we are at our worst, breaking down in showers, buses, in classrooms, wide open spaces, it does not live as close to you as your aorta, it does not forgive you, or forsake you.
god, like death, is not.

do you believe in god? he asked.

no, i believe in life.


it's all existential, post modern, modernist, enlightened, positivist, apologist, structuralist, linguistic bullshit anyway - deconstructed and reconstructed, in seven different flavours, sold to you the citizen/consumer/human being, built by you the angeldemon, burnt up to a deadly crisp by you, the collection of senses and organs that is called (in this symbolic system of signs and concepts) a human. hu-man. namuh. huwoman? wohuman?

it is so very, very easy to destroy something beautiful. all i know for sure is that i am the only one in this orange neon room, watching the yellow lamplight spill itself all over the carpet. we're all just spilling ourselves out, after all; again, and again, and again. and again.

Friday, February 16, 2007

[of cold floors]

not every man has gentians in his house,
in soft september, at slow, sad michaelmas.

bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of pluto's
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as demeter's pale lamp gives off
lead me then, lead the way.

reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself within the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where persephone goes, just now, from the frosted september
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness
on the lost bride and her groom.

- bavarian gentians -
d.h. lawrence

Friday, February 09, 2007

it was only as the sun was slowly swallowed by the waves, extinguishing itself in the hazy blue-orange horizon, that it dawned on him that he would never again be surrounded by her scent. his fingers turned ashen, wrapped around the railing, white as gravestones, as this realization made its way through his body, traveling up his strong, brown arms and pausing, for a moment, at his chest, where she had marked out a place with her fingertips to denote his heart.
he stood there, for a long time, remembering how those self-same fingers would travel up, and down, her arms, each fingertip lingering, in turn, for just that single moment longer than desire would allow for. he thought of how he had never believed that people of this earth could turn to smoke, be breathed in by one another, twist around each other like the thin tendrils of a quiet fire - as if human beings were, really, only flame and ash. and as he stood there, his body stuck rigid against that railing, he realized that he could not, and would not, leave.

an old man played a sad, soulful tune on his guitar as this young man looked out over the horizon, finally realizing that he had known all along what it was that love smelled like.

some say that it is roses, the wet earth and thunder; but they do not realize that even curiosity has a taste, and some are not quite as feline as others. perhaps all that we were put on this earth to do was to smell our scents, to discover the tastes of our lives.

Monday, January 29, 2007

as i look back on it now, that was the summer that i finally realized that love was not a weapon, and that sorrow could never be a crutch. we all grew up a little, then, even mother, who still stands on the landing, leaning against the railing, saying 'it was better before.' - but its only a whisper now, as if she's still trying to shake the cobwebs of the weight of those years away from her eyes, and she stands there and says, softly, 'it was better before,' as if she might one day, finally, wring all of the truth out of those words.

days turned into months, and as the golden yellow rain fell on the parched earth, forming glassy puddles across the city, the leaves, too, decided to finally let it go; they fell in a soft, muted rain, soundlessly, until what wasn't wet was covered by dry, parched leaves that crunched satisfyingly when you walked through them, despite the weight of the rain. bhai never quite recovered from the summer - he was quiet before, but it was as if the leaves that fell that night took with them his last remaining syllables. nothing was the same again, ofcourse, but i realize that we all, somehow, expected it to be - minus that great negative. we didn't realize that leaves, too, have weight - even dead ones.

my sister left, ofcourse. that was inevitable, but what we didn't expect was that she would leave so completely, as if her presence had only ever been a figment of our imaginations, a childhood entirely imagined, an invisible friend who held our fingers when we were cold and told us, quietly, 'close your eyes and think of home.' i never conjectured as to her reasons - i realized that her departure was reason enough. we would only ever hear from her from a distance, after that. she would never step foot in that house again - and i don't think anyone could blame her. for a while i thought that mother would add another ghost to her cane, but i think she, too, saw through it. bhai took it as he took everything, quietly and solemnly - as if yet another great truth had been confirmed and his suspicions about the leaves had been the truth all along.

and i - i never quite left that summer, i realize. a part of me will live there, always, in the place where things are born. my fascinations with power and skin were, for the first time, satisfied, and i saw no reason to move, even as i saw the soft, muted rain fall and knew that i already had. but the summer of cobwebs was about moving, in the end, and not settling.


'i'm going out,' she said.

and i, remembering a soft, muted rain, followed her. because love, i realize, is not a weapon.

Saturday, January 06, 2007