Poem of the week: Week Twenty.

Catching up feels good! Here’s the last poem for the month of May – the one after which the collection is named.

 Vikram Seth

Now that the windsurfers have gone, equipped
With wine, some loquats and my manuscript,
I breathe the chilled gold of late afternoon
Along the lake-pier. The breeze ebbs. A tern
Pauses and plummets. Mallards manoeuvre through
The weedclogged creek. The hills slate into blue.
I stretch my towel out upon the pier
And read the bitter lines I once wrote here.

That was a younger self. I want to touch
His shoulder, make him smile, show him how each
Sorrow and failure that lacerates his heart
Can heal or numb itself: the limb trapped hurt
Of love; the search for what remains when we
No longer animate the geography
Of cell and sense; the unassuageable urge
For ecstasy and knowledge; parting; age.

A mockingbird begins a sunset song
Patched from the passions of five birds. I’m wrong;
That was no younger counterpart but one
Of a live clutch of egos. As I scan
My mappings of these selves – despondent, witty,
Calm and uncalm, lost in self-doubt or pity…
The courtier, soldier, scholar – I check the pieces;
All are still here, the old familiar faces

In one-to-one correspondence: words and moods.
The light has lapsed. I strip and swim towards
A wooden raft. The cool enveloping lake 
Merges with all I was and am. My wake,
The wine, my breathing, the recovering stars,
Venus, bright as a plane, Jupiter. Mars,
My pulse, my vagrant selves, my poetry,
Seem here to inhere in a seamless me.



Poem of the week: Week Nineteen.

Too many poems from Vikram Seth’s poetry collection, Mappings, are worth sharing. But there’s space for only four. This is the first ever poetry collection I have read from start to end without a break, and what a feeling it is! Should do this more often.

Here’s the third poem for the month of May.

- Vikram Seth

I woke. He mumbled things in the next bed,
I lay there for an hour or so. At four
The alarm rang. He got out of bed. He wore
Nothing. I felt his sleepy classic head
And long-limbed body stir my quiescent heart.
I’d thought that I was free. Wrong from the start.
I found I loved him entirely instead.

There was no real hope. Guy loving guy?
“Man – that’s a weird trip – and not for me.”
I accepted that. But next day, warily,
We coiled to snap or spring. Rash truth. To lie
Still could have spared the trust; the warmth as well.
I left his room that day. I try to tell
Myself this sorrow like this ink will dry.




Poem of the week: Week Eighteen.

Second poem (of the month of May) from Vikram Seth’s poetry book Mappings.

Home Thoughts from the Bay
 Vikram Seth

Down Highway 101 the van
Hurtles with all the speed it can
And all the passengers but one
Have jolted off to sleep. The sun
Strikes long apocalyptic lines
Of corrugated sheds, the tines
of Sutro Tower, billboards, wires,
The airport, scrap, discarded tires:
And I who must commute each day
Along the grimy-margined Bay
Dizzied by each high-octane breath
And tired of work and bored to death
And sick of home decide I ought
To check that surrogate for thought,
The Highway I-Ching – which today
States “Yield”. “Keep right”. “Go Back. Wrong Way”.
Should I fly home? Why am I here?
And yield to what? To whim? Fate? Fear?
Keep right… my eyes obey and there
Pursue a jumbo-jet to where
This afternoon high in the sky
A half moon loiters absently by,
Incognizant of why or what
Or where it ought to be or not.



Poem of the week: Week Seventeen.

May is long gone and the pile of poetry books on my desk keeps increasing day after day. Sadly, very few of them got read in the past two months.  But no matter, there are many more days to come when poems will be read and grasped; today is such a day.

Instead of a theme a month, I thought I’ll read and post poetry of a particular poet every month (yes, it is easier this way). This month’s poet is Vikram Seth; poems are from his poetry collection titled Mappings. 

Quaking Bridge
Vikram Seth

So here I am again by Quaking Bridge.
Standing a moment by the water’s edge,
Hearing the water’s roar as it churns past
The ancient brewery; and I am cast
Back to December when by Quaking Bridge
I stood a moment by the water’s edge
And heard the water’s turbulence and knew
That since no more remained that I could do
And since to think of pain itself is pain,
I should forget and not walk here again
And hear the water under Quaking Bridge
And stand in thought beside the water’s edge,
And I am here again; but why delay?
Think, and walk on, and think: but walk away.




Book quote: Alice in Wonderland.

“I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.”

“All right,” said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained sometime after the rest of it had gone.

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice ; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!”


Book quote: Alice in Wonderland.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

” – so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. 

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. “What sort of people live about here?”

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw around, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”


Poem of the week: Week Sixteen.

And the last April poem. The theme is ‘Exile’. This is from The Little Magazine’s India in Verse anthology.

Missed out directions

Those who
Have no faces
Have no directions either

For the one who
Got the divinations
Right in the womb
Where is direction
What is direction

Searching the orient
Looking for eastern faces
Travelling across
The globe
I returned to my own
I saw
My faces

Went to sleep
Gathering my faces
When I woke up
The sun was burning
A few with burnt heads were
Running helter-skelter
In the streets
Over the kolams
And my head too

Started to melt

Translated from the Tamil by A. S. Panneerselvan





Book review: Heidi

Title: Heidi 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Translator: Eileen Hall
Illustrator: Cecil Leslieheidi-johanna-spyri-hardcover-cover-art
Publisher: Puffin Classics
ISBN: 0 14 036.679 2
Genre: Children’s Book
Pages: 295
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading Heidi, I was fifteen and travelling in a train with a bunch of friends I had made on the trip. We were on our way back home and I was speeding through the book, trying to finish reading it before we reached our destination since it was someone else’s copy. Everyone was singing songs, trying to have fun just before the hour of parting forever. I remember they were singing “It’s the time to disco!” and it is then that someone ( I don’t remember who) said to me, “It’s not the time to read books!”

Forced to agree, I shut the book and never got my hands on it until last year. I tried catching up with the story on TV: a beautiful animated series (cartoon we call it in India) titled Heidi, Girl of the Alps. But then college happened and I lost track of Heidi one more time.

This year, however, I read the whole book from start to end without interruptions.  Heidi, short for Adelheid, is a five-year-old girl who lives with her aunt Dette. But since Dette finds a better job, she is unable to care for Heidi anymore and does the unthinkable: leave Heidi with her reclusive grandfather, who lives in solitude on top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  The rest of the village thinks Dette has lost her mind, leaving the child with such a grumpy old man. But Heidi is a happy child and Uncle Alp is like the ants in Ant Bully ‘hard on the outside, soft on the inside’.

Heidi has a happy childhood in the mountains with her grandfather and the goatherd Peter. The descriptions of the snow-clad mountains, the sunset, the grass, and the goats is the essence of this book. Here’s Heidi’s first experience of watching the sun go down:

It was getting late and the setting sun spread a wonderful golden glow over the grass and the flowers, and the high peaks shone and sparkled. Heidi sat for a while, quietly enjoying the beautiful scene, then all at once she jumped up, crying, ‘Peter, Peter! A fire, a fire! The mountains are on fire, and the snow and the sky too. Look, the trees and the rocks are all burning, even up there by the hawk’s nest. Everything’s on fire!’

When she gets home that evening, she asks her grandfather about the huge fire in the sky since Peter was not specific:

It’s the sun’s way of saying goodnight to the mountains. He spreads that beautiful light over them so that they won’t forget him till he comes back in the morning.

Slowly, Heidi comes to recognize the mountain with the feeling of home, and when she is taken away to the city, she withers away like a bud denied the rays of the sun. But Heidi is not someone who doesn’t know how to make the best of the situation she is in, so when she is struggling, her mind constantly mirrors the sunset on the mountains – a sign of hope.

Also, I found, the story has many verses from the Bible, and Spyri stresses on education and learning. Since it is a Children’s book, I think it is allowed a little bit of didactic undertones.

Overall, Heidi’s is a simple story of wanting the simple things in life: fresh air, good food, good thoughts, books to read, and a loving family. Who would not like that, now?

Poem of the week: Week Fifteen.

And with this post, I’m up-to-date with time. The third poem under the theme ‘Exile’ is from Jane Bhandari’s poetry book Aquarius.

The Exiles
Jane Bhandari

My father-in-law
Could put down no roots 
When he was exiled 
From the land of his birth.
Each temporary house
Was furnished with hired furniture
And trunks covered with quilts.
Each temporary garden
Grew seasonal vegetables,
And the impermanent papaya:
No place was home.
The flowers were zinnias,
Not roses.

But my mother-in-law,
Already exiled from her family,
Lost to them by marriage,
Accepted each change as it came,
And made temporary living
A permanent way of life:
Grew bananas, a goodly crop,
Planted orange seeds secretly,
And sometimes
Got to pluck their fruit.
And each Diwali said,
Next year in our own home,
And planned the shape of her garden.



Poem of the week: Week Fourteen.

To do justice to the theme ‘Exile’, Tenzin Tsundue’s poetry has to be a part of it. This second poem of the said theme is from his first collection of poems Crossing the Border. I have reviewed the book here.

Crossing the border
Tenzin Tsundue

Creeping in the nights, hiding in the days,
we reached the snow mountains after twenty
The border was away by several days still.
The rugged terrain withered us to strains.

Over our heads a bomber flew,
my children shrieked in fear,
I covered them under my bosom.
Exhaustion tore my limbs apart,
but my mind warned me…
We must go on or die here.
A daughter here, a son there,
a baby on my back,
we reached the snowfields.

Through many monstrous mountains we crawled,
whose death-blankets often covered travellers
          passing by.

In the middle of the white killing fields,
a heap of frozen corpses
set our weakening spirit trembling.
Blotches of blood spattered the snow.
The armymen must have crossed their path.
Our land has fallen to the red dragons.
We prayed to the ‘Yishin Norbu’.
With hope in our hearts,
prayers on our lips,
hardly anything to eat,
with only ice to quench our thirst,
we crawled for nights together. 

Then, one night, my daughter complained about
           a burning foot.
She stumbled and rose again on her frost-bitten

Peeled and slashed with deep bloody cuts,
she reeled and writhed in pain.
By the next day, both her legs were severed.
Gripped by deaths all around,
I was a helpless mother. 
“Amala, save my brothers,
I shall rest here for a while”.

Till I could no longer see her fading figure,
till I could no longer hear her fainting wails,
I kept looking back in tears ans agony.
My legs carried me, but my spirit remained with

Long after in exile, I can still see her
waving her frost-bitten hands to me.
Eldest of them, yet just in her teens,
leaving home must have been tough for her.
Every night I light a lamp for her,
and her brothers join me in prayer.

Yishin Norbu – another title of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan.

Amala – Mother in Tibetan.




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