What time was that, pray?
It was long, long ago, when I lay in a hammock
on a sun –drenched beach, [or was it just my imagination?]
tiny fingers trying to reach the stars.
[The Mars had not infiltrated into my mind, yet.]
Pray, what time was that?
The stars twinkled away my juvenile dreams.
As the trees shed their bounty
in a rush of autumnal generosity.
Chickens skittered away, helter –skelter
as I frittered away my childhood days,
luxuriating, and snuggling next to my dreams.
Squinting, as the sunbeams canoodled with the trees.
The shepherd herding his flock, the monarch butterfly
lazing in the afternoon sun, on a solid rock.
A squirrel stopping in its tracks
peering into the pages of the book
fallen from my tiny hands near the chattering brook,
hooked on to the black lines in the book.
Pray, what time was that?
Now memories slither towards me through every cranny.
Hey, is that white haired old woman my granny?
Flashing that toothless smile, so devoid of guile,
talking to the boatmen in the houseboats down below
in the murky waters of the Jhelum?
The boisterous banter of the boatmen now turned mum,
happy faces so sad, so glum.
“Shagufta, are you coming up for a cup of kehwa*,
come, I will show you my new pheran*.”
Such words of my granny
in impeccable Kashmiri echo in memory,
and also the sound of walnuts falling,
from the tree in the sprawling garden outside.
The sky of my memory was always a bright blue,
suddenly the sparkle in its deep blue eyes faded,
and it now looked jaded. Very jaded.
*Kehwa, green tea that Kashmiris drink, which is garnished with
crushed almonds, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom.
*Pheran, a long cloak worn by Kashmiris in winter months.
An Ode to my Mother
From my room, I see a solitary Ashoka tree
Lissome and graceful, swaying with the breeze.
Hidden in a tree a koel trills
Perhaps watching me, furtively?
Mummy, are you also watching me furtively?
“Have some curds and sugar,
You did not study for your paper.”
“How can curds and sugar help?”
Papa’s reprimand went unanswered
As you scampered to find out the reason
Of Nipper, the pup’s, whelp.
“Don’t pamper her. She is incorrigible, this brat”.
His complaint went unheard, as you ran to feed Lizzy, the cat.
I am overwhelmed with memories
Ah, so many of them.
Your reproaches following me as I swung from trees,
played pranks, ran after runaway kites, started fights.
Yes, I remember, your cotton sarees, crisp and elegant.
[You changed them thrice a day!]
The way you threw back your head and laughed.
That tinkling laughter, so infectious and gay.
[I delude myself into the belief that I laugh the same way.]
And yes, I remember that wrinkled woman
who crinkled her nose at me and remarked,
“This daughter of yours is so dark,
but don’t worry, she will soon die, she is also a weakling”.
Both of you stared down this verbal sting.
Papa in a Mephistophelean frown,
you elegance personified
in that white cotton saree, dyed brown.
Yes, mummy, I remember everything.
She slunk away. That wrinkled woman.
But she stayed on in a ten year old’s psyche.
One day, when you saw me vigorously scrubbing my face
In the privacy of the bathroom
You stared at my tear – stained face, and my eyes red
“Always remember, black is my favorite color, Baby”, you said.
Hugging me tight
Now, it is mine, mummy.
Three years since you left us mummy,
but why does my hand keep going to the cell phone
to tell you every little thing?
Ah, it is a habit, and habits die hard.
Yes mother’s love is a habit I know.
I know, it will die hard.
And I will continue to be a fledgling
trying to wing my may into a future
Uncertain. Strongly feeling your weak arms around me
The mocking bird to ailing humanity
Do you ever stop and think how it feels
to cage a bird?
How the poor thing feels when you throttle its trills and
You go all a Twitter, twittering away
in staccato bursts of indignant chirps;
short, incisive and witty.
But, what a pity, you are absolutely ignorant of the ditty
churning in the poor mocking bird’s heart!
You have no remorse about bludgeoning her notes of peace.
No scruples about unleashing your stentorian wrath
on the voiceless.
How I would like to sail once more in the blue beyond,
swoop down on a boulder near a pond.
Gingerly perch on the bundle of firewood
of that beautiful and sturdy village lass
and filch a free ride as she heads towards her cottage
in the foothills, I love so much, ah !
The Sparrow’s Song
They say I will soon be extinct,
No, I don’t want that, but, neither do I want
to become that golden bird, hammered
into golden shape and golden enameling
and sing to sleepy emperors.
Let me be frank, I just want to yank
the world from its comatose state
of callous indifference
I want to fly high into the blue sky; am I daft?
Is this witchcraft?
Look, I am up here, clinging to a cloud,
hanging on to its damp rim, feeling so proud!
[Oh! It thunders so loud!]
Not unlike those folks I left down below,
bellowing and booming, hurling fiery invectives,
backstabbing and making the invisibles more invisible.
Sitting atop a friendly cloud, I dream of singing
that right kind of song to heal the world, gone all wrong.
I look down, and like that baby sparrow of Maxim Gorky,
chirrup, “it’s ch- erribly dark ---ch-erribly dark”.
Oh hark! Ah robust joy! Is that glow on that boy’s face,
because of the happy notes of my song?
I want to be that feathered one,
unshackling the tethered one,
healing that sweet, injured pup with my tweet,
bringing a smile on the face of that bedraggled fellow,
burdened with yellowing teeth ,
muttering next to the overflowing gutter .
But will I ever be able to drown
the belligerent bellows
of crazed humanity,
I yearn for a palmful of marigolds,
some bottle brush, a handful of bougainvillea,
a flower- fused morning walk,
a lush green turf and a bird skysurfing
in the blue beyond; a lily smiling pleasantly
in the shimmering pond,
a sunflower blooming valiantly on its stalk,
mocking the blabbermouths indulging in vacuous talk.
I yearn for a red carpet of flowers to walk on; ears plugged
against the cruel cacophony and diabolic plans,
devious and devilish.
I yearn to steer clear of the acrid rancor
of marauding monsters and ravaging rogues.
Drugged only on the beauty
of weaving words, and chirping birds,
I traipse on, inhaling the fragrance
emanating from this red carpet of flowers.
Dr. Santosh Bakaya