Diary Poem, Calcutta and other poems

Diary Poem, Calcutta and other poems
Five poems by the Calcutta-based writer, editor and translator 

Diary Poem, Calcutta

Unlock the balcony window:
the stars are holes pinpricked
in the black tarpaulin of night.
The sky swings open
on the hinges of the day.
A door to tomorrow,
its knob in your hand—
this handle of the horizon.
Across the muddy river,
the wind spirals on wings
of kites and hawks.
The morning ferry
chugs slowly through
the turbid water,
its wake of froth
akin to foaming toothpaste.
Pilgrims en route
to Gangasagar, salvation,
and the comforts of ritual
raise their palms
in hieratic gestures
to a dawn sun
swaddled in smog.
An old widow, clad
in a tattered white sari,
rinses her yesterdays
in the pan of her stale dinner
at the roadside water pump.
A murder of crows, cawing,
scatters like confetti
as a tram bumps noisily over
the cobbled tracks.
Wait, with your face in your hands,
for the first sentence of your diary.
Halitosis has left a sour taste
in the ashtray's mouth.
Stubs of Charminar cigarettes,
empty teacups, and beer bottles
on the oblong glass table
chronicle yet another night
of tossing and turning
the dog-eared sepia pages
of your notebook of insomnia.


Dusk in Varanasi

The incandescent sun sinks softly
into the touchstone waters
of the dark river, painting
its surface with streaks of gold.
Sparks from cinders
in the forges of death—
hammers of fate, resonant
on time's anvils—
Shiva's perennial fires
burn tirelessly
at Manikarnika Ghat.
Smoke departs into the shadows,
spiralling like incense fumes:
tremulous homage from funeral pyres
to the deep, vast silences of the sky.
We watch rows and rows
of twinkling lights
drift down like flickering fireflies
against the flux of molten darkness.
Earthen lamps, set afloat on the Ganga,
prayers of the living,
carrying away
memories of the dead
towards the sea's faraway oblivion.

Flame of the Forest

The blades of grass are a quiver
of green arrowheads,
their sharpness stirred
by his perfumed breath:
Kama walks among the flame-trees,
hidden in the vocabulary of our yearning.
Spring, shameless arsonist,
his own season of discontent
sets the flamboyant branches
of the flame-of-the-forest ablaze
with an inferno that never burns:
red and gold,
slow delirious heat
of the season's glossary.
The petals' indices
are kindled with desire,
the lingua franca of pleasure.
The invisible boy-god with five arrows,
each tipped with honey and nectar,
the sweet poison of fragrant flowers
with which he conquers us all.
Haunting the morning breeze, wandering
through the labyrinths of his loss;
unconquered still in his deathlessness,
he sets the trees on fire
with his immortal flames of passion—
the whole world burning,
always burning,
in the conflagration
of Kama's never-ending revenge.

Close Shave

His customers, bleary-eyed,
line up on the Calcutta street,
scratching last night's prickly stubble
on their jowls.
Propping up a shard
of translucent blue sky
against the bole of a banyan tree,
the roadside barber squats
on his haunches
inside his makeshift saloon—
constructed out of a tarpaulin sheet,
four bamboo sticks,
the flux of the traffic,
and the vagaries of the weather.
He strops his blade
of glinting sunshine
on a leather thong,
lathering the foam
of the morning's clouds
into his metal shaving bowl.
The minimalist geometry
of his tacky shop
is situated right next
to the green-grey-black slime
of the roadside gutter
and its subtle effluvium.
Cars, scooters, buses, trams,
bullock-carts and pedestrians
pass by a whisker,
farting and belching
diesel fumes and black exhaust
right into his nostrils.
Yet, it's all in a day's work for him.
The arithmetic of his deft fingers
sculpts moustache, whisker and sideburn,
while the city's sordid sights and smells
eddy all around him,
flowing into his eyes and mouth,
into the frame narrative
of his broken mirror.


A frosty moon harvests shadows
From the valley of wildflowers.
It sharpens its silver sickle
Against masses of petrified clouds,
Throwing off sparks of fireflies
Into the twilight gloom.
A scatter of moths, fluttering
Like the whore's false eyelashes,
Against the orbits of yellow lamplight
That mark the steep sinuous gradient
Of the spiral mountain path.
Their conversation meanders
Down into a murky silence.
Hand in hand, down the Mall,
They walk into the inky darkness,
Feet crunching on murram and gravel—
Memories underfoot
Of another time, another place.
And another love.
Their breaths turn into white vapour,
And their words go up in smoke
In the chilly night air.

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