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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

31 December, 2004

An Observer's Woes

Reflective surfaces show her your faces,
Bright, sunny days, your frolicking shadows,
She inhabits with you, these massive spaces,
But she’s so rarely here, will she at least share your tomorrows?

You carve jack o’ lanterns and build a snowy Frosty,
You bake sugar cookies, giggling, dripping melted ice-cream,
Your faces lit in laughter, smeared with cotton candy,
Will she ever be in these memories, her heart wants to scream.

For lately she’s just an observer, the forgettable photographer,
Documenting a pleasant, Kodak chrome recollection,
A consummate and obsessive cataloger,
Seldom captured on film, completely oblivious to her own reflection.

Indulging her compulsions, on some restless quest,
Filling white, empty spaces with burdensome thoughts,
While precious unlived moments vanish unpossessed,
An unbearable disembodiment that may pass, though she doubts it.


30 December, 2004

Aadha Gaon/ A village divided - Review

It's been a long time since I came upon a book by an Indian writer, that speaks to me - me, the Indian; me, the woman; me, the Shia muslim; me, who lives in a class-divided, caste-ridden, complicated, convoluted, corrupt country... and cannot stop loving it.

'A Village Divided' speaks to me in this way. Originally published in Urdu as 'Aadha Gaon', A Village Divided is written by Dr Rahi Masoom Reza (better known as a script-writer, who also scripted the television series, Mahabharata).

This classic piece of modern Urdu literature has been translated into English by Gillian Wright. Though I have a long-standing suspicion of translated novels, I must confess that this particular book did as much justice to the original as one can humanely expect.

The book traces the story of a small village in eastern UP -Gangauli.
The author, the late Dr Reza had delved deep into his own personal and social history to paint this almost-unbearably true-to-life picture of India before she was divided, though divided she always had been. As Gangauli was.

Dr Reza belonged to Gangauli, and his own undercurrent of consciousness has been set down in the book in the form of the child 'Masoom' (literally, it means 'Innocent').

Gangauli (India) has always known divisions of caste, creed and class, as dictated by money. The shias of the village could not accept a low-caste Hindu woman being the lawfully wedded wife of the snooty Saiyid community. Kept women were acceptable, though. Lovers had to fight their families, elope and sometimes, die. Corruption and red tape have always been rampant, both in the police force and the local bureaucracy, and perhaps the judiciary as well. Marriages have always been arranged, in the name of anything but love. Blood has always been betrayed by blood.

But then, the Muslim League and their Qaid-e-Azam set about the creation of a new country, carved out of the bleeding heart of an unfathoming populace. And Gangauli mourned like it had never mourned before.

Gangauli is not just a village. It is the character of this country, pre-partition. It is the motherland. It is a micro-cosm, but also a metaphor for all those simple folk in rural India who never did want either war or partition. People who kill without remorse for a bhiga of land, but fail to understand why the fabric of mixed social life - Hindus, Shia, Sunnis, Saiyids, Chamars, Thakurs, Thanedaars, Zamindaars and barbers - should be rent apart, simply because there are two religions around.

Masoom is part-observer, part-narrator. He is the child with roots and memories of roots. The child who wanted to grow up to be his uncles and grand-uncles. The child who threw stones across a pond, got whacked by his mother, watched love come to naught, and despaired at the fate of his village, which was being ripped apart by this new calamity called Pakistan.

It is said that Aadha Gaon was a very controversial novel. When it was first published, Urdu writers accused Dr Reza for using this work of ficiton to get back at some real-life people, thinly disguised as characters in the book. In short, Dr Reza has been critisized for being critical.
But let us not forget that the author has simply exposed events and historical decisions in the light of what they did to this country, to Gangauli.

True, Dr Reza has been unstinting with criticism. He has criticized War, Gandhi, the Muslim League, Urdu, Jinnah, the creation of Pakistan, post-independence political systems and our utter failure to bring about any real social change, despite the abolition of Zamindaari and the establishment of democracy. He speaks fondly, but unsparingly. He speaks the truth that is bitter even to him.

To me, Dr Reza's voice is not judgemental. It is a hurt voice, the voice of history crying out to be undone.

Somewhere in the middle of the novel, Dr Reza writes a second introduction. He writes of belonging to Gangauli, his nanihaal (grandmother's home) and not to Ghazipur, where his immediate family stays now, or to Azamgarh, which is his paternal ancestral village. He does not care where his ancestors came from, for all ancestors come from somewhere else. He does not care where his 'rightful' home is. His roots are in Gangauli. His home and heart are in Gangauli. And no one has the right to tell him that he does not belong here.

And in that one chapter, Dr Reza becomes the voice of millions of Indian muslims, who had nothing to do with the making of Pakistan and who refuse to leave the place they call home.

(C) Annie Zaidi, December 2004.

The Cheerful Caller

The Cheerful Caller
He dropped into my office with a grin upon his face,
He talked about the weather and the race.
He asked about the family, and told the latest joke.
But he never mentioned anyone who'd suddenly gone broke.
He talked of books and pictures, and the play he'd been to see.
A clever quip his friend had made he passed along to me.
He praised the suit of clothes I wore; he asked me what it cost.
But he never said a word about the money he had lost.
He was with me twenty minutes, smiling heavily, while he stayed,
O'er the memory of some silly blunder he had made.
Calamity and tragedy he mentioned not at all.
I thought it rather curious, when he had come and gone;
He must have had some tale of woe--but didn't pass it on.
For nowadays, it seems to me that every person I meet
Has something new in misery and moaning to repeat.
So I write these lines to him who had his share of woe,
But still could talk of other things, and let his troubles go.
I was happier with his visit. In a world that's sick with doubt,
'It was good to meet a man who wasn't spreading gloom about.
'Better still, be a man who wasn't spreading gloom about.



In my child’s eye the colour of jade
was the colour of snot:
the same viscid texture, I thought.
There was little else to match its shade.

Years later, I saw the real thing,
a blob of balm (and as much grace)
locked inside a museum case –
until I came to dated Ming.

Decades thence, its rock pool glaze
served as lover’s gift, its green
to grace a vaunted queen…
Or lose itself in a trollop’s ways.



29 December, 2004

Of Silver Linings and Rainbows

She kicked into the castle, smiling bitterly as it collapsed. Its walls breached, the waves rushed into its courtyards, flooding it, destroying its foundations. She stood there watching it dissolve…

“Anahita, jeez woman what’s gotten into you today? You can’t just get up and walk out on me in the middle of the conversation – that too, at Mocha! You know how bloody slow they are to reacting and producing the bill, don’t you? I was just beginning to think my instincts were wrong and that you’ve probably headed home and was just about to turn on my heels, when my eyes caught those ghastly ear-rings of yours twinkling away…that’s about the only colour you have on you today anyway! And what is this – why in god’s name did you go and kick that castle? Some kids probably spent hours building and fortifying it…imagine how disappointed they will be when they return tomorrow morning to see that it met with an unknown enemy and gave way to the onslaught of the waves?”

Anahita turned around, her eyes glistening with unshed ears, “That’s what happens when you try building castles without sinking foundations first and stabilizing them. A lesson learnt early in life will go a long way.” She laughed bitterly and turned away, starting to walk down the beach once again.

“Hey come on, chill out. Where’s my babe – the one who approached everything with enough joie de vivre to fill a room? Where’s all this cynical talk coming out of?” He reached for her hand, only to have it moved out of his reach. “Anna? Jaan, kya ho gaya? I thought after that sumptuous dinner polished off with your favourite Kahlua mousse cake, we’d head down to your place for that talk you’ve been pestering me for. I guess I’ll just have to hear it down here, won’t I?”

Her raucous laughter fell like brittle crystals on his ears. “Yeah right, we’d talk at my place alright. I haven’t spent the last decade of my life with you, without knowing what going back to my place after being fed like a pig being fatted for slaughter means. Talk! Ha! Right! And the cow just jumped over the moon didn’t it?”

“Anna, for chrissake you make it sound like some sordid coupling! What’s gotten into you? All this evening you’ve been taunting me and calling yourself a loser. Look, either I failed you or you failed yourself – you can’t have it both ways. I’m getting fed-up of this whole routine now – can we just cut through the bull and get down to what’s eating you?”

She turned on him her look slicing through him, making him cringe even before she opened her mouth. There was bleakness in that look, disguised by the anger that made her voice tremble as she spoke.

“So you want to know what’s eating me huh? Let’s start with unfulfilled ambitions. Rejection from all the Universities I applied to, despite the excellent grades in college and in masters, not to mention a 1380 GRE score. Having to teach uninterested college students a language they think is ‘cool’ only because they can use it to make the vernies look LS in the canteen, or perhaps to patao their latest crush, so that I can pay off the loans I took to fund my application fees. Having my thesis rejected by our esteemed University, because it was considered too radical…radical my foot. And to think I allowed myself to be persuaded not to report him for sexual harassment, out of fear that he’d wreck my academic career later. Like it helped…I should have reported him and requested for my guide to be changed. At least my self-respect would have still been intact.”

“Anna, hey, I thought it was all water under the bridge now – jaan, you can’t let yourself be bogged down such vermins. It is a bad world out there, but it’s not all bad. Come on cheer up. I mean look, you’ve got an envious job with Penguin Publishing now, working your way up…I’m sure it’s not going to be long before you’ll be occupying the position of…”

“I’m not finished yet,” she cut him mid-sentence. “That job sucks, and you know it. I’m not doing anything useful there. It’s a job, it pays. Enough for me to pay my rent and get me through the month. Fullstop. Job satisfaction? Accomplishment of goals? Not a hint of it.”

“It got you the contacts you needed to get your manuscript noticed didn’t it? There’s always a silver lining to every cloud…what is it you used to say? Apres le beau temps la pluie?”

“It’s apres la pluie, le beau temps. And I don’t see the silver lining or the rainbows. They rejected my manuscript. I got their letter today. Too many clichés, they said. And the characters weren’t real. No one likes happy endings any more. Nor happy people. Inject some sadness into your tale, and we might reconsider. Fuck them.”

“Anna, I’m sorry,” he made to reach out for her hand. “Look you can approach some other publishers…Penguin isn’t the only one in the market. There are others willing to support new talent…”

“Please! I don’t want any fake sympathy. You’d said pretty much the same thing when you read it – too happy for me jaan, but give it a shot if you wish. You’ve got nothing to lose. Well I did, and I have. I’ve lost the willpower to go on.

28 years of breathing, eating, digesting, shitting. That’s all I’ve done. Not a single accomplishment to boast of. Rien! Nada! Damn I couldn’t even manage to convince the guy who’s the center of my life, that I’m the one for him. He still needs time. The least I could have done is to win his heart…” She laughed sending a chill down his spine.

This time he did manage to get hold of her wrist, forcing her to turn around. “Stop talking like that. You have accomplished a lot. There are people out there who admire you, admire the way you’ve kept yourself going even after the rug was pulled out from under you, at your parent’s sudden unexpected death in the train crash 6 years back. You didn’t let that defeat picked up the pieces and built your life all over again. Single-handedly. Without an iota of help from your relatives or even from me. And what’s this about not winning my heart? I don’t dance at your isharas for nothing, jaan. I am yours. If I’ve been asking you to wait before we tie the knot, it’s only because I wanted to settle down in my own field, start climbing that corporate ladder, before I asked....”

“Let it be. I don’t want to hear the excuses anymore. There’s no point anymore...”

“What do you mean there’s no point? Anna, look at me damn it...what are you saying?” She shook her hand free and started to walk off. “Damn it, woman, I’m talking to you. Don’t you walk out on me again! You can’t let 10 years just go down the drain! Anna, damn it, stop!”

“Please, just leave me alone. I’ll find myself a rick and go home...don’t follow me. And don’t bother me. Please. Just do this one last thing for me...”

“Last thing...what the hell are you talking about? Look, go home right now, if you want. Sleep over it. You need to do that. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll come around with some croissants and we’ll have breakfast together, ok?”

She didn’t reply. He wondered if she’d even heard him and stared helplessly at her back as walked away from him into the inky blackness of the night.

A year later, he walked down from the dais to a thundering applause. He’d just been telling an apt audience about his Anna, the love of his life, who had once filled life with the myriad colours of a rainbow and taught him to never give up. Of Silver Linings and Rainbows was a bestseller, winning critical acclaim all over the world. The publishers had milked the unfortunate early demise of the author for all it was worth and were smiling as the counters rang with each new purchase and fresh demands for the book poured in everyday.

An hour later, he stood at the shore, his right hand in his trouser pocket, staring out at the horizon, lost in his thoughts. His fingers wrapped around the hard, brittle object in his pocket, sending him back to that fateful night. The last time he’d seen his Anna. She’d walked out of his life that night. Never to return. The next morning when she didn’t answer to repeated calls and a continuous ringing of the doorbell, he’d had the door broken down. She wasn’t in the apartment. The bed hadn’t been slept in. His heart had frozen then and it hadn’t thawed since. He’d rushed to the police station to report her missing. “Kab se?” they asked. When he said he hadn’t seen her since last night, they laughed him away, telling him to come back after 24 hours. “Silly lovers tiff,” wasn’t that what they’d said? 24 hours later when he went back, they asked him to identify a body that had been washed ashore the previous morning. It was his Anna.

A month after her funeral Penguin India changed their mind about her manuscript. “It had a gripping tale. A story of unsung courage. A beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world. They would publish.” The author’s death in an unfortunate drowning accident, pushed the book to the fore. The readers’ curiosity was piqued. The first edition sold out within weeks. They hadn’t stopped printing since then. It had broken all records.

He pulled his hand out of his pocket and turned the object over in his hand. A 24 carat diamond caught the dying rays of the sun, flashing its brilliance, blinding him for a moment. For his Anna. He’d promised himself that the day he went down on his knees and asked her for her hand, he’d present her with nothing less. She deserved no less. Tears, unheeded, slid down his face. He should have never let her go that night. He should have pursued her. He should have...

What was the point now? It was too late. Anna had gone, leaving his life plain, colourless. It had been a year since he’d seen a rainbow after a shower. He turned the ring over in his hand once more, raised it to his lips, kissed it. “For you Anna. I’m not going to let you walk out on me in the next lifetime. It’s a promise...” With one last longing look at the twinkling diamond, he threw the ring into the sea.

When I Write

And am done,
Shadows deepen
And all stars disappear one by one,
Like Saturn devouring his sons;
Leaving only
Dark cypresses swaying in the breeze
And my soul wailing in transit
To the unknown.

I walk dazed, aimless,
Wild-eyed, insomniac,
Listless, with catatonic fingers,
Fears mounting as I slowly believe
The truth in slashed syllables that bind me:
In the beginning was the word
And the word has now forsaken me.


Alienating A Child

A kitten, a pup cradled
in your arms, hears your heartbeat,
revels in the warmth
and feels the security of the mother's womb
with your heartbeats gonging, reverberating
through its furry existence.

A helpless sneeze,
peels off the relationship
like a skin of glue, a loose wrapper.
A strange look descends in its eyes
-and it takes long to re-cement the tenuous

My mother did that once :
spoke of the Judgement Day
when we shall arise from the dead.
No one will recognize any one.
You won't know me, I asked
horror dripping from my limpid words.
No, she said, turning back to her
sewing or stitching,
leaving me out in the eternal cold.

Even today
twenty years after she passed away
I shiver, helplessly.
And wonder.
God, I have a quarrel to pick with you.

(c) Max Babi December 2004


28 December, 2004


Outside my fence, the young Indus swings
in sinuous grace. On her flanks, the dun hills,
pebble- and boulder-strewn, stand guard
aslant, dark swept back sentinels,
time and weather scarred.
On eternity’s edge, a gompa clings.

On the endless Hemis plain
wheels claw at treadmill miles.
On the sandstone armour plate
the questing eye picks no defiles:
there's little to mitigate
the mind’s fatigue, or jog the stupored brain.

At Pangong Tso, sandhills separate
sparring blues. The water’s sparkling insolence
cocks a snook at the timeless sky,
leprechaun to a giant. An outboard rends
the stretched stillness, and somewhere high,
an unlikely gull flecks cerulean slate.

In the Nubra bed a lone dromedary
hints at ancient silk: the powder sands
run millennia through their grains,
the detritus of vanished lands.
And a willing imagination sees cairns
in landscapes of woodcut history.

On the ritual outcrop, Diskit’s hive
jealously keeps its suspect secret.*
On all fours I straggle up this strange Golgotha
to snap its grisly treasure, dyed jet
with dubious centuries. How it got here,
God knows; and the lama’s tale’s lost, as I strive

to get this relic of Asian ravage
in my frame. Down below,
the driver’s ready. From the river’s floor
I shoot two peaks with residual snow,
tantalisingly nameless, before
the weather, kind so far, in minutes turns savage.

*Diskit Monastery in the Nubra valley has in its possession an ancient skull which lama lore attributes to Genghis Khan.


27 December, 2004

Joy and Pain

I pine for you everyday
as I fold memories
into the creases of my brain

Each time I think of you
my heart surges
with both joy and pain

Joy, for those happy days
that I thought would never end
Joy, for those castles
that I built in the air
Joy, for each image of you
that I can recall

And all the pain in the world
for knowing that never again
will I ever have it all



For Dad

He speaks
Of the second coming
And exhorts them
To believe in the first,
And not to take
The Webster's as gospel
For he teaches:
Death is life,
Life is death;
And everything short of bulls-eye
Is not bad aim,
But a lie;
That they are
Running out of time,
So they have to
Get into line
And run the race
To the finish,
To the end of their lives,


The Splinters

Another day without a sky
Splinters me into many tiny unspoken words
I hear the mating songs
Through light years of waiting
And see how leaves turn to bile
I know of secret places
Regurgitating memories
And touch men
Who turn to moss at the water’s edge
I comb stories in the sand
Tragic ballads to keep me occupied
Another day without a sky
Splinters me into many tiny unspoken words


Picture - 2

That your brows should tilt,
                                this way,
That you should always be in black.

That I should steal a picture of you
and feast,
in a cubicle, in isolated lunch-hours,
(so I could feast
on a picture of you).

That your lips should swell,
                     this way,
and always be speaking,
or smoking,
or both.

That I should turn
into a mess of words,
so I can figure
on your lips, when you say,
someday -
"there was this girl I used to know;
she fought me,
                   this way,
and she gave me
and she stole this picture".

(C) Annie Zaidi, 2004.


It was Santa Claus

16th Dec, 2003, 13.06, Malmo Central.

Chest heaving with exertion, groaning under the weight of my backpack, I raced down the platform towards the ticket counters. Finding long queues at each counter, I rapidly assessed which one would move the fastest. Counter no.3 seemed to be the best choice. Shrugging off my backpack, I realized that the lady in front of me was grumbling under her breath about the inefficiency of Swedish railways. I asked her if she, too, was the unfortunate victim of the train being cancelled from Copenhagen to Stockholm; and regretted my question almost as soon as I uttered I, for she responded in a jeremiad of complaints about wrecked schedules….Giving up any hope I had of finding support and companionship from her, I focused my attention on the counter, willing the queue to move faster, while keeping one eye on the train schedules, checking fervently if a train was leaving for Stockholm within the hour.

I wasn’t in luck. I knew the reply even before I reached the counter. The next X2000 for Stockholm would leave at 15.30. The train wasn’t running between Malmo C, the southern-most station in Sweden and Copenhagen, since the lines were being repaired for the season before the snow arrived. I had no choice but to wait for over two hours at Malmo. “Is there anything worth seeing close-by?” I asked the woman at the counter. When I received a dour grunt in response I wearily accepted my new reservations, and trudged out to the waiting area where I collapsed into the nearest chair. It was cold...cold enough for me to feel it through the layers of clothing I had on me in preparation for the sub-zero temperatures I’d been expecting in this part of the world. I leaned back, closing my eyes, wondering if the trip was worth all this…

The trip had seemed jinxed from the beginning. I had to get my reservations changed when I discovered that I would have to spend four hours at Hannover Bahn, in the middle of the night. Not knowing any German, I had to drag my friend back to Magdeburg Bahn, putting her through yet another session of enquiries and translations before I was satisfied that I had the best route possible. When I’d boarded the train yesterday afternoon at Magdeburg, butterflies were fluttering excitedly in my stomach. I put it down to the trepidation I felt at the idea of crossing two countries to meet people I didn’t know. It was only the prospect of getting to visit the Nobel Museum that made me agree to this trip.

As with any cross-country journey in Europe, I had to change trains several times between Magdeburg and Stockholm. My first change was at Wittenberg, the native town of Martin Luther. The train was 25 minutes late and I missed my connection to Hannover. At a complete loss I frantically made a call back home, asking my father what I should do next. Daddy’s girl ain’t I? Reassuring me that I can do it, he asked me to go ahead and change my reservations and continue with the trip. So I stood by the counter, repeating the refrain “Sprechen zie English?” for nearly half-an-hour, feeling like a beggar asking for alms, before a young girl said she did. She helped me explain the situation and get my reservations changed. I caught the next train to Hamburg, after a two hour wait, at the cold, windy and deserted station. I’d been at the same station a fortnight back, with a huge group of international students, on a University trip to the Lutheran city on the occasion of Reformation Day. It hadn’t seemed half as dreary at the time, as my friend valiantly fought off the unwanted romantic attentions of a Polish guy who thought all Indian girls were ready to jump into bed with a white-guy!

Reaching Hannover Central, I found my way to a hotel, where I dumped my bag, before setting out to explore the Weinachtmarkt (Christmas market), highlight of all German towns during Christmas. I wasn’t disappointed – the market in Hannover was at least four times as big, colourful and exciting as the one in Magdeburg. I mentally noted the differences that I could share with my room-mates. Back in my room, I called my hosts in Sweden letting them know that I’d be with them by late afternoon the next day, instead of early morning; and then a call home letting my father know that his daughter had successfully completed the next leg of the journey before curling up under the blankets.

The next morning I felt optimistic – nothing could go wrong now – the Euro-City would take me across from Hannover to Copenhagen, where I had 34 minutes to spare before boarding the X2000 to Stockholm. I was excited about this part of the journey, for I knew that the train would board a ferry that would take me across the North Sea into Denmark. An entire train on a ship – I’d been stumped at the notion, till I realized that the train wouldn’t be half as long as our good old Indian trains. With barely 6-7 coaches, the train easily fits on the ship, leaving plenty of space for other vehicles. I climbed up to the uppermost deck as soon as they gave us notice that it was safe to get off the train, taking in the sight of the disappearing German shore, feeling the sting of the icy breeze on my cheeks, allowing it to toss my hair wildly. When I’d had my fill of the sea and the breeze, I wandered down, and explored the on-board shops, wishing it wasn’t a budget trip! We crossed over to Denmark safely. And the lady luck decided she’d hide in the clouds once again. The captain of the ship made a terse announcement that the train would reach Copenhagen 30 minutes late, because of technical problems. I told myself to calm down, reminding myself that I’d still have 4 minutes to catch my last connection.

Five minutes before we entered Copenhagen Central, there was yet another announcement – the X2000 from Copenhagen to Stockholm wouldn’t be running today. Passengers were requested to contact officials at Copenhagen for further information. My mind went numb as I struggled to digest this latest bit of information. Surely this couldn’t be happening to me? I leaned over and asked the man sitting across if I’d heard correctly. He jerked his head in affirmation before returning to his newspaper. I must have been the first person off the train – luckily I found an official just a few meters down the platform who asked me to race over to Platform no 6, and catch the shuttle to Malmo. I wouldn’t need reservations, he assured me. Bordering hysteria, resisting the urge to giggle as the image of a grumpy Garfield musing over his misfortune, thinking “Why me?” popped into my mind I took in a deep breath and set off. I reached Platform no 6, just in time to hear them announce that the shuttle would leave from Platform 27 today – the same platform that I’d been on 2 minutes back. With no time to think, I screeched to a halt, turned on my heel and raced back, pushing people aside, much in the same way daily commuters of Mumbai locals do on our overhead bridges. I entered the shuttle seconds before the doors slid shut and collapsed on the first seat. “Where exactly is Malmo?” I asked the couple sitting next to me. They appeared amused but informed me that it was in Sweden. “Well at least I’d get into the damned country.” I was beginning to curse the moment I’d agreed to make this trip….

Rousing myself, I made yet another call to my hosts, informing them that I’d now join them late in the evening and then I forced myself to pull out the sandwich I’d packed for lunch. I had no appetite but knew I had to eat to keep my energy levels up. I must have swallowed barely two bites before the tears came…huge, big, fat scalding tears that raced down my face. “Horrible, horrible, cold country. Why had I agreed to come?” I was missing home, missing B’bay and its crowded local stations. Missing the heat and humidity. Missing my family. Suddenly the excitement of traveling across Europe, meeting friends, and making new ones, had lost all its charm. All I wanted to do was go back – I had my tickets in my pocket; I wondered if I could get them changed and fly back from Stockholm.

“Miss, has your young man not come to pick you up?” I shook myself out of my misery to find a 70-something man, peering worriedly into my face, offering me his pristine white handkerchief. I sniffed back my tears, and shook my head. He asked me how he could help and before I knew what I was doing, I’d poured my heart out to him. He was waiting for his daughter who was coming to Malmo for the holidays, by the next Copenhagen shuttle. He sat with me till her train arrived, trying his best to raise my spirits. When his daughter heard what I’d been through, she fished out a handful of candy, ordering me to have some and insisted they’d wait with me till my train came. Since there were only 15 minutes left for my train, I thanked them profusely and waved them home-wards, assuring the kind old man that I wouldn’t shed another drop of my precious store of tears, but save them for the day my “young man” stood me up!

Later, as I sat in the train, gazing idly at the passing countryside, I felt the excitement return. It was already snowing in Sweden and the train was full of youngsters going up north for a skiing trip. I knew by then, that I wouldn’t be able to see the Nobel Museum, since it would be shut by the time I’d get to Stockholm and my hosts had planned something else for the next day. But I had found my spirit again – everyone went to Sweden and saw Stockholm. I was going to go even further north to Vasteraas, and visit Upsaala University from there, the University where my grandfather studied for six months, the grandfather who I never met. Finally I’d have that one exceptional link with him; a link that would make up for the fact that I have no fond memories of him as my cousins do. And I’d finally meet the Rabergs, my father’s friends who sent Christmas cards every year, even though it has been a decade since they last met him.

By the time I reached Stockholm at 19.20 my spirits were restored. Today as I look back, I know that the unexpected warmth I received from that kind old man is what helped me pull through and bounce back. I hadn’t even bothered to ask him his name, so wrapped was I in my misery. I hadn’t believed in Santa Claus till that day – but that day I changed my mind. If there is a Santa Claus, he’d definitely embody the warmth and generosity of spirit that I found in that kind old man. Maybe it was Santa Claus?

(I wrote this on my way back from Sweden – the journey was not at all eventful. Trains slid onto platforms dot on time and I had already been prepared for the extra change at Malmo, because the X2000 was still not running all the way to Copenhagen. I didn’t get to see the Nobel Museum, but did visit Upsaala University, one of the oldest Universities in North Europe, saw some Viking graves, and got a delightful peek into Swedish winter lifestyle and Christmas cuisine which my hosts made specially for me, even though it wasn’t Christmas yet. I also experienced snow for the first time, had my first snowball fight, slipped on the icy footpath. And I made new friends. The Raberg’s are a wonderfully warm family. We stay in touch via email, but I hope I shall meet them again.)

It's a little late (OK, very late) for Christmas, I know, but here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays - the tardiness is a result of being away in Tinsel Town for the better part of the week, and then entertaning guests for the remainder of the week! It was a good week, filled with wonderful moments, and good movies - people go watch some intelligent cinema in the form of Khamosh Pani and Raincoat! :-)

Then there remains ,Yet there remains

Then there remains ,Yet there remains
Then there remains
No Wants
No Desires
No Insecurities
No Darkness

Yet there remains
A Need
A Dream
A Responsibility
A Hope

Then there remains
A Want
A Desire
A Responsibility
A Hope

Yet there remains
No Need
No Insecurities
No Dreams
No Darkness



Nurturing, caring, sacrificing,
Traded off experiences,
Constant satisficing.

Protecting, guiding, worrying,
Tenuously constructed identities,
Selflessly disintegrating.

Yearning, missing, longing,
Sensitive souls in fragile bones,
For some succor waiting.

Saddened, disheartened, frightened
Rheumy-eyed and hopeless,
Praying for a comfortable end.


26 December, 2004


Weathered light
From a million hoardings
Like old lovers
Streams of desire
And rivers of discontent

Green faces-
Under the hazy surfaces
Of trampled city streets
Stare at the spotless billboards
Advertising hopeless hopes
And dreamless dreams

A tortured silence
In the sterilized boardrooms
Speaks volumes-
About a globalized youth
Waiting in the wings
To rule the future
And save the (corporate) world

A total-
Subversion of the soul
The coolest fad
By the latest ad

Associated facts
About benevolent companies
Doing good
By making profits
Bring to mind
A host of dictators
Fighting over branded® humanity™



25 December, 2004

A Huge Absence

Lethargy wraps you up
in your focused atempts to
ignore the whole world,
hardly a word escapes you in a day
yet the smell of fish or chicken makes you hyper

no one misses you when you crawl under
impossible places -
but when the realization
drops on us like an ancient chandelier
hunger vaporizes and sleep hides in nooks

As you now lick and chew my soggy vest,
a restless ball of warm fur,
I feel amazed the jigsaw puzzle that
my world is, has finally come to a precarious rest.


24 December, 2004

Winter in the hills

I sit here
Letting you
Melt my bones

Through every pore

My pain away

Someone shouts
Save yourself
I close my eyes
Face you unafraid

When I return
To cool shadows

Red arms
Red shoulders
Red cheeks
Red nose
Red ears
Red neck
Red back
Red feet

You don’t spare
Parts covered
In white muslin

They tell me
I told you so

What do they know
Of this exquisite agony
Of being touched by the Sun?

(been resisting using up so much blog space...but compelled to...apologies)



So you ask me
“How are you?”

I imagine your hand
Reaching out
And one crooked finger
Gently under my chin
Looking for answers.

I imagine your feet
Daring me
Directly in my path
Holding me captive
Asking me again.

I imagine I dare
Meeting eyes
And in one mad moment
Unblinking, tell the truth
So help me God.

I imagine your eyes
Unwavering still
Sterner than ever
Finding me wanting
Turning me away.

I imagine I imagine
Yielding too
And drowning in smiles
In the circle of arms
Absolute madness.

But you see me
Wringing hands
An incoherent reply
You roll eyes skywards
And walk away.


23 December, 2004

Twin Towers

I hold silence in my hands
Near the Wells of Reason
As golden sunbeams sing a dirge
To the victims of virtual reality

Where were the heroes?
Of time, fate and sad yesterdays
As soft petals of sorrow rained down
From burning heavens up above

We tried so hard to run away
From the sweet smell of death
As time seemed to stand still
Before the sceptre of perfect death

Finally, the union of earth and sky ended
And the skies came crashing down
A tormented wind filled the vacuum
Left behind by beautiful dreams and eternal hope




At times I feel like the princess
Imprisoned in the stony dark

But sometimes I feel like the prince
Beside the Ahalya freshly released.
Looking out into the new sunshine
Our gaze invents colour:
Green for the new grass
Blue for the sky
White for the clouds
Whose dark rain we have stolen...

And we speak,
Our words like dewdrops
Glitter in the timeless dawn.
And through the open window we hear
Floating in the morning breeze
A few soft notes
In Ahir Bhairav.

In response to Ahalya below



Moving from one darkness to another
Stepping on stars…then quickly slipping into the abyss between them…
Fast…quick short steps…defining each movement away from it
But it catches on…
Sniffs me out…in every bubble of a moment…every snap in the vacuum
I remain….cursed…stalked by the Sun.


22 December, 2004

A flowery indulgence (for Pooja)

That little toady bud
(the one you gave me, just as your chauffeur
revved the engine and changed gears,
while you recited your newest poem)
has opened up.
And it is now more
like a gift from you.

Even in the dark,
even in an airless pencil box,
that knobby toad-like bud
(the one you gave me, saying -
'my ego does not mean to scare')
has blossomed
like you must have - from child-woman
to almost-woman
to all-woman.

Black seeds,
edged with a green-blue, powdery poison
and taut petal-like ovals, arching away
from the heart....
The toady bud you gave me
is now almost pretty.

(C) Annie Zaidi.
Originally written in September, 2003. Edited and posted here in Dec 2004.


Setting Sun

Setting sun,
Warm hands gentle and sincere,
absorbing and caressing my eager limbs,
tulips in the winter snow reaching out
to the sky with open hearts,
flushed lips of desire,
round sphere of fidelity
and security on the blushing forehead,
onset of maturity and womanhood,
velvety beetles merrily scuttling around,
oblivious to anything else,
ribbons in my daughter’s hair flying with the wind,
and you ask why I am passionate about red.

Another Shy [Young] Poet ! Please feel free to comment... this will help unleash more power - from a pen that has remained clogged for decades.


Preface to a Volume Unpublished

To look beyond these verses
would be to search in vain.
They’re no more than crafted curses,
the distillate of pain.

They bear a name, with reason:
they imprecate a night,
whom the sun of treason
laid waste like a blight.


21 December, 2004

Short Story - Thank you teacher

For those who missed the reading at Manisha's and Mahesh's place on 19/12/2004, here's a link to my short story, "Thank You, Teacher."


The sunset was awesome, and we witnessed it silently, marveling at how caferati has grown from an idea on a lazy afternoon in one head to meetings of like minds across six cities (and growing every month!), an opinionated well-read group that converses and exercises online, a publishing effort that has four hundred plus stories waiting to be judged, a blog that is so active it changes shape every passing hour, sponsors who want more from us, and dreams and visions that suddenly seem to be coming together...

This read meet was different! So different, we have been promised an article and a picture in the next week's issue of Tehelka, the newspaper.

This time the meet was small, but oh, what a meet! The reporter from Tehelka (another of Sunil's bright ideas) was there to find out more about the Stories At The Coffee Table project. She found out that this was more than just what she suspected, it was not a mere effort to get published! It was the face of something that has never been attempted before. An effort to make a dent in the system! The views flew across the room with such brilliance and speed, we had to slow it down with coffee! Everything from,"Whoever says short stories are not marketable has not seen the four hundred entries to SATCT!" to "As long as the corporate sponsor respects our editorial judgments how does it matter what the color of his money is?" to "Did you know who was interested in becoming editor of our next book!" to "maybe we should make it a full-scale production!" was discussed.

Needless to say it was turning out to be more meet than read, but those who missed it, missed a wonderful session of dream weaving. Dreamers who have their heads in clouds and feet firmly planted in reality. I hope the photographer had large enough lenses to cover the breadth of our dreams!

And now that I am writing about it (waited for Max or John to write the report in their inimitable style, but General Pete's orders, what to do!), I am so glad I did not miss this! John read out a piece previously published about a boys' first crush on Shobha teacher. Although it made for a great listen, I would be less than honest if I did not admit that I was distracted (and so were all of us) at some point or the other into thinking about the Shobha teacher in our own lives.

The discussion that followed was very helpful to the rest of us: the whys and hows of when 'description' becomes 'exposition', how one could 'show' character development rather than 'say' it.

Max read...yes...Max was in Mumbai for work and he could not miss the meet! That's the amazing part of Caferati, methinks. No matter which city we are from, we belong! Max was not carrying print-outs of his story, but had a CD! My laptop behaved as though demented and it took General Pete himself to tame it. Max created a great portrait of a picky landlord with rooms to rent. He made us chuckle, made us grimace, made us nod in agreement...It was as good as Max's poetry!

Max allowed us comment and we had a lively discussion about the use of adjectives in a narrative. (If that sounds like a dull classroom, I apologise for my pathetic reporting style!)

Arjun Chandramohan Bali read his color piece. The reading style suddenly and sharply brought into focus the person behind the piece. He related how being a film director helped him create a writing style. The conversation just flowed from there. Creating pictures for the reader, what an effort! Arjun seemed to be grinning happily into his moustache until the discussion veered him into defending use of expletives and other devices! The clever writer had even incorporated colour (from the message board exercise) into the name of the character in his piece.

Peter asked 'prose or poetry?' The unanimous answer was 'poetry'! We are treated to the sawaal jawaab that has seen the Peter Griffin and Annie Zaidi Fan Club grow to the tribe that you have all seen on the blog. Two writers, in two different cities, have managed to create such a wonderful saga that one is reduced to an inarticulate sputter of 'wow'. Am I glad to be in such august company. Sunil voiced out what most of us felt: this sawaal jawaab was turning out to be very very visual and dramatic...could we stage it?!

No one noticed when the reporter escaped the animated bunch to file her story (she did make one comment though: you have how many such amazing people in your group?) No one cared how long this meet went on! But it dissolved into vadas and sambaar and cake and more coffee!

Personally I loved the intimate nature of this meet, but cannot forget the variety in the last meet when we actually had to keep an eye on reading time, moderate the discussion and the thirty plus gathered, and someone with lots of school experience behind her had to shepherd people away! Before I sign off, I want to apologise to someone called to ask, "So how was the meet?" and got just a childish "Nyah-na-na-na-na!" from me.


The Mountain Cry

I hear you by the mountain,
A distant cry,
No louder than thunder.
Your heart pounding
Yet a smile on your face.

So hard for many to face
The wind blowing with all might
You pretend to life
You lie none but to your self.

Long gone the days
Long gone those dreams
For your world is at peace
For you to take your place.


20 December, 2004


Three pink pillows
you wanted yesterday,
In exchange for a
notional apology from me.
Today you think
and refuse to talk.
So I wander around the
house looking for words
you forgot to erase from
our common conversation.



'Tis the season... Four riffs on Christmas


“Merry Christmas,” they say to me
as they hurry, homeward bound.
I sit like Scrooge in misery
with no one to put my arms around.
Writing mournful poetry,
chin sweeping the ground,
feeling sad for poor ole me,
lying unclaimed in Lost & Found.


Christmas is like Noah’s ark :
“Couples Only” or you can’t park.
All you solitary types,
lower your voices as you gripe.
Endure your 40 days of rain,
and excuse as we kiss again.


This year, I said
i’ll stay in bed
won’t even try
to get ahead
what’s the point
of trying hard
its much safer
to stay on guard


It’s that time of year

More from the archives. Written over three successive holiday seasons. (: Mid-nineties. Be kind. :)


Report - Delhi read-meet

I lurrrve Caferati!


Now that that's out of the way, I'll get round to writing a report of our Delhi read-meet, which happened on Saturday, December 18, 2004!

This effusive affection is, in part, due to the undebatable success of the meeting. When I mention success, I refer to the fact that I saw all the reasons for which this group was formed, come alive at Anita's place (yes, the same venue again... Anita's been too generous for words). We had plenty of good writing, and it was being shared with other writers, who received it with honesty and encouragement. There was intelligent discussion, no negativity and plenty of warmth and laughter.

I walked in four minutes later than the stipulated time of 3 pm, and some people were already there, including Anita, Rajesh Lalwani, Asmita (Minx) and Richa Dubey.
Sairee and Ritu (Junoesque) followed soon after. Then came Vinod Nair and Rajaraman G. and finally, my teacher-mentor-guide Anjan Ray.

The gossip and introductions lasted a good forty-five minutes. Rajesh began the reading session by reading out a non-fiction piece on how to get in the news, and stay there. This was written for rediff, I believe. Rajesh, who teaches at a public relations/communications institute, clearly knew what he was talking about. The efficacy of the article stands established, as it was followed by a discussion on the media and the questionable quality of news content that we are all subjected to.

Sairee was persuaded to read out some poetry from an old college notebook - it was received with comments ranging from 'fresh' and 'innocent' to "it is so 'you'!". Richa proceeded to read the first chapter and a few other extracts from her unpublished book - a Lewis Carroll-esque take on the world of alphabets, which was received with much laughter and sheer joy - that one of us can write this well - and wonder - that this sort of manuscript can be turned down by established publishing houses!

We bitched about publishing houses, discussed how to get round them, and went on with the reading. Anjan (a scientist too, incidentally) read out one of his short stories, from a forthcoming collection titled 'Just Beyond'. The story, like others in the collection, dealt with the world that is just beyond our 'normal', scientific understanding. He has promised to join the network and post the story on the board, in the first week of January, after the book has been launched formally. Yes, he actually managed to find someone to publish his book!

This was followed by a long discussion on the so-called supernatural realm, and many of us narrated personal experiences that cannot be explained, perhaps.
Ritu prefaced the piece she was reading with one of Atrayee's poems (she won't mind, we trust) - the much-debated 'Kali'. While Anita got out a framed image of Kali and placed it in Ritu's line of sight, she read out from a book about the many legends/myths associated with Kali. This particular legend was one about Kali's creation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who refused her love, and went on to destroy Kali, before regenrating her as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati.

After a short discussion bordering feminist realms, we had Rajaraman reading out two of his sports articles. Both were cricket-related, and his narrative, descriptive style had us all listening like children listen to fairytales. [And yes, Sachin was brought up, in the course of conversation.... I mean, what did you expect?]

Then, Vinod held court with his Urdu nazms. Although we did ignore the rule about translations, at this meeting, it was worth our while listening to Vinod. That he writes well was established (his poems are up on his page and the Nazrana network) but to hear his read out the poems was an additional treat.

Richa also recited a Hindi-Urdu poem, in the general mood of things. Anita declined to read, as did Asmita. Rajesh was persuaded, however, to read out some more. This one was a travel piece, describing a rather adventurous Christmas eve journey (via maal-gaadi and so on) to Jaipur.

I am omitting a description of the goodies we ate intermittently, throughout the meeting - simply because this is getting to be a really long post. Suffice it to say that our tummies were as happy as our minds were. But we did stand up and formally thank Anita, for playing hostess, a third time. It was so much fun!


Did I mention that I love caferati?



Through many gatherings we have gathered
Layers of dust;
Assimilated through the centuries
Strange customs
From strangers,
And buried what we knew
In the sand.

We stripped our wisdom
In favor of knowledge
And watered the tree
To cover ourselves with leaves.
(The fruit it bore was death).

The winds blew to make us remember
But the sand collected in our eyes
And formed scales.
We wandered in the darkness, further
Into the wilderness
And reached this place;
And found no rest ever after.

For in our ears wail the infants
Our children, our babies;
(Now ours no more),
Slaughtered for the worship of a god
Who couldn’t provide.

Strange fires we raised here
Stranger incense we burned,
We lost our sense of smell
In the rising smoke,
And lost our hearing too.

Now the valley echoes with the agony
Of innocents
Offered as a vow.
That we did,
Is beyond imagination.

This is hell
Paved with the skulls of our sons, our daughters,
Their blood cries out
And haunts the silence that fills the valley.
The Potter has broken his vessels
And abandoned this place,
We are now desolate and alone, scattered.

Now above our children
Lie strangers,
On this land bought for the price of a kiss –
A field of blood of another sacrifice,
A necropolis of aliens,
Smothering the remains of our innocent children.
Their blood is upon us.

Aceldama: The Aramaic name which the Jews gave to the field which was purchased with the money given to Judas for betraying Christ. The word means 'field of blood'. It was previously called 'the potter's field', and was appropriated as the burial-place for strangers. It lies on a narrow level terrace on the south face of the valley of Hinnom.
The valley of Hinnom was also the site of pagan sacrifices in ancient times, where the Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. The Hebrew 'Hinnom' is 'gehenna'in Greek, from which the traditional concept of hell originated.


Colors - Is White a Color?

White, pristine, unblemished
They say it is not a color
I love white mists, clouds
Lingering on blue mountains.

White, no shades
No off white, cream
Pure as snow on shimmering peaks
Is my favorite sight.

Nurses, priests, politicians
Are bound, chained to white
White nebulous clouds
evoke deep nostalgic thoughts.

They swaddled my father in white
As he lay in the black coffin
His best shirt was white
His loin cloth was white.

The paper I write is white
White is holy, pure
They say light is white
Because it combines all colors.

So white is the mother of all colors
The churning of all yellow, blue, green
Colors sacrifice their egos
To the eternal white.

They say they are "white"
The purest of all races
I think they aren't white
But pink, beige and red.

Why can't colors of people
Merge and become white
Would people called "white"
Allow their color to merge?

Is white a color?
The matriarch of all colors
The fountain of all extent colors
Yes, king white reigns supreme!



Passion Play (A Reflection)*

Inscrutable are the ways of betrayers:
treachery takes strange forms in this,
the devil's answer to their prayers.
Two millennia before, a kiss

betokened a nailing. Not much since has happened
to mar the efficacy of this sly stratagem,
whose satin edge is just as sharpened
as when Judas bussed his Master's hem.


*The title has little to do with the Biblical one. It suggested itself because I used the Judas story: more as a pun.


19 December, 2004

Illusions of Reality

Do they really care,
Or are they pretending?
Is this sincerity,
Or are they dissembling?

Is their extreme apathy,
Cloaked in sympathy?
Or have I struck a chord,
Could this be empathy?

Drowning in their shallow depths,
Spouting meaningless sophistry,
Disguising their disinterest,
In cultivated airs of mystery.

All talk, all the time,
Never free from duplicity,
Smoke and mirrors everywhere,
Breathtaking illusions of reality


18 December, 2004

The Joker of the pack

Everything is a joke
And the joke is always on me
The good the bad and the ugly
Every one of these is my cup of tea

The whole world laughs at these jokes
But if you look more closely
You would see however that
They are all laughing at me
Even as I survive the most recent pain
I am all set to leap again

From the frying pan into the fire
That someone who gets fried time and again
If you wonder why I do these things
It's because I'm the same old silly me
Guess I'm the joker of the pack
I've never learnt to turn back.

Brickbats and bouquets welcome -to help draw out yet another budding poet!



Oh, how my breasts sag!
Cover them up in lycra rag,
Each eye carries a bag,
I think I look like a hag,
If I see my reflection I gag.

My big nose is forever runny,
Not a bone in my body is funny,
Personality not exactly sunny,
Might take mucho money,
To turn me into a Playboy bunny.

People give me a wide pass,
For my voice cracks glass,
And my vocabulary is crass,
I cover its ugliness, alas!
With hair colored brass.

Size nine adorn my feet,
Hips wide with cellulite,
My thighs chafe as they meet,
My knees crack as they greet,
Other knobby ones on the street.

My legs are short and stumpy,
My stomach is soft and lumpy,
A shoulder tic makes me jumpy,
My overall looks are frumpy,
Usually the dumped not the dumpee.

My butt is greasy with acne cream,
To armpit hair stick tulsi and neem,
To nightmares I turn your every dream,
Don’t read anymore, just scream,
“Hail, angel of low self esteem!”



No depth of field now. Stripped one by one,
each dimension dissolved in space,
till love reposed in a line.
Against the inky void, your photo face
collages scraps of verse I once called mine.
And somewhere beyond, your new-found sun.


17 December, 2004

My Hummingbird

My Hummingbird

Sweet is that sound,
Fast are those wings.
Fly my birdie, fly away from me
My Hummingbird , fly away from me

No matter how far
Your little wings take you
Away from your lover
My Hummingbird, you will never be

The flowers that know your sound
Wait for you to flutter around
Your garden of love
My Hummingbird, frozen till you return

Oh my sweet summer bird
My beautiful feathered friend
Fly away from me
My Hummingbird , fly away from me


Silly haiku

So much I know about love, my love -
when toothache and heartbreak, together strike
I want the dentist more.

[Forgive me, caferati! I just couldn't resist this one.]

(c) Annie Zaidi, December 2004.


BOOK REVIEW: The English Patient

‘If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn’t you?’

But this is one book you wouldn’t drop in a hurry, if ever. Ondaatje’s tale of love, life and wandering, is revealed through the memories of a burnt, faceless man who is believed to be English despite his tarred skin.

Set in post-war Italy, The English Patient focuses on four survivors coming to terms with the devastating effects of war, with each other, and with themselves – Hana, a nurse, whose love for the charred ‘Englishman’ in her care shifts to a more fulfilling kind with a brown-skinned Sikh sapper; Carravagio, a small-time thief and intelligence agent who ‘lost his nerve’ when his thumbs become a casualty of the war; Kirpal Singh (Kip), a Sikh fighting for his Imperial masters; and the blackened remnant of the English Patient, kept alive by his thoughts of Katharine, a love others call adulterous.

The book meanders through images of the monochrome desert, interspersed with memories of a love found and lost, of the futility of borders between people and nations, and of betrayals. ‘…cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history – how people betray each other for the sake of nations, how people fall in love…’ One gets caught in the plot as the true identity of the patient is revealed in a series of morphine-induced wanderings of his words,a tale of passion that led to a plane crash resulting in the loss of his beloved… and himself… ‘from this moment we will either find or lose our souls…’

Each character is finely drawn and we are offered more than a glimpse into their personalities through past events, their thoughts, and from each other. The patient thinks himself to be ‘at a cynical stage of life’ and mistrusts words because they ‘bend emotions like sticks in water’; he whose life was governed by words spoken and rumoured, by histories written and unwritten, by chartered maps, he who did not enjoy poetry until a woman recited it to him. This is in contrast with his present state as he hides behind his words and effectively withholds his identity till the end. As for Carravagio, we see a man who feels safest in silence, when revealing nothing; a man who always sank into love, and now drowning in darkness. Hana and Kip – youths not yet mortal, one who stopped looking at mirrors, and the other who does not need mirrors. And Katharine, whose absence is ever present in the patient’s mind, like the desert; a woman whose ‘terrible conscience’ and hatred of lies created walls in their love. The English Patient is a remarkable study of contrasts, of colour and attitudes towards life.

What is amazing is the lyrical quality and narrative impact that is heightened when one reads it aloud. The desert as a metaphor of life, quest, loss and promise is beautifully portrayed. Much can be learnt from this book, about the usage of words, how it sounds, and how that can be translated into a masterpiece that is visually breathtaking. The brushstrokes of a writer… or a poet you will wonder once you have read this book.

‘Words, they do have a power…’


Le Rêve Bleu

Let’s walk on forever,
Into the distant horizon,
Where the sky, azure and amber,
Meets the sparkling waves of blue,
Blending all eternity together.

Let’s dissolve the blues within,
Diffuse them into the blues without,
Momentarily at peace, with a universe,
That reflects only the blues most serene,
Absorbing all the other colors diverse.

Let’s feel the grainy turf beneath,
Leaving sand-prints on the soles of our feet,
As we observe, in silence, the golden hue,
Of the morning sun, precariously balanced,
Upon the sparkling, tremulous ocean of blue.

Let’s remember the time, the turquoise afternoon sky,
Made everything take on a silvery sheen,
Rendering objects most mundane,
Bright and shiny, new and clean,
And precious moments weren’t lost; unlived, unseen

Let’s not awaken from this reverie,
Where the high tide now rolls in, at the behest,
Of a retreating sun and the full moon’s crest,
And a diamond-studded sapphire blue sky,
Gazes at the crashing waves’ musical revelry.

Let’s never wonder if tomorrow is another day,
That it usually feels as blue as yesterday,
Let’s forget how grayness persists, leaving us,
Always in a mist, morning through night,
When we leave home pre-dawn, and return past daylight.


Digital Evanescence

Tomorrow's poetry will sing a different song -
It will dance to me, it will run along.
It will interact
It will break the pact
Of immutability that sheaths
Printed writing like funereal wreaths.

Lines they come at me lines
Fragments of conversations from longgone times
Over the screen of my poetry gizm,
I snatch it as it zips into the schism
Collage it in tune with my liferhythm,
A thing of beauty - a malapropism.

Die, you spineless pastel shade,
For me the vermilion and burgundy
Although these thoughts constantly fade,
They are forever stark and sprightly.
No immortal words here -
Words die slain at touch of button,
No T.S. Eliot here can breed,
Nor shall you find here a rustic Milton,

But here I play
Impervious to what you say,
Words piled on images
Oh the wise words of sages,
Violated, Venerated, Vitiated
Elated, Mutated, Transported,
Unfinished sentences
In midair; Verb tenses
Gingerly seeking time of action,
Past present future - Insubordination:

I break, I spill, I wither, I fill,
I create, I destroy, I please, I annoy,
I gather, I disperse, I usurp, I disburse,
I smile, I cry, I give up, I try

Oh what frabjous joy
In this poetic toy.

This was written some years ago after discovering the charm interactive editing... I dredge it up now in response to Manisha's Digital Dilemma (Click here to see).


16 December, 2004

Another Shy Young Poet....

Slipping away
Going down
My body
From my head
To my shoulders
Down my torso
To my feet
Going down
Slipping away...
And I have
This apathy
To hold on!!


Disparate Dreams

It's your breath
That gives shape
To the love lining
My falling tear drops


Silence pours
Out of my palms
An offering of peace
To my distant goddess


You spoke and went
Leaving me there
To sift through the sands
For your vented words


Two full stops
And yet
My heart beats
The familiar rhythm


Your mouth
Wraps around my words
Rolling them around
Like fresh green grapes


I thought I felt
You yesterday
In a thought that
Kissed my lonely lips


I woke up
And thought of you
Sitting in a chair
Covered by
My blanket of love


It is evening
And I await
Your call-
My evening star



All the thrills of life
if distilled will not fill
my eyes with enough
tears to cry for a love
lost without you.


Trace my eyebrows
With your rhymes
As they arch over
Your words left unsaid



My voice remained
Inside your
Partitioned heart


I look in the mirror
To find those dreams
You carved
On my concave cheeks



The Woman In My Car

The Woman In My Car

I took a woman in my car.
She had beautiful black hair,
Her lips, the color of red aurora in the night sky

I sat beside Her.
Listened and stole glances
like an Arabian thief in the dark.
And She noticed my fascination.

With an arctic-melting smile, She leaned over
Whispered into my ears -- "I love you."
And we sat listening to the silence

Roughness of the road
Speeding across the open
Hip hop on my lips
Shivers down my spine

She was perfect.
The Kohinoor diamond.
A Masterpiece.
My Mona lisa, My dream.


A personal view: The best poet on Caferati

I am sitting here, with the snow swirling outside the window, with work piled up, but I need to get this demon out of me, this demon that wants to prance and preen on stage, and say its bit.

The thing I like about Caferati is how it makes you feel like writing.

When we post to Caferati, clearly we wish to obtain the love of the rest of the world, what Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety, has called our "secret shame". Tagore thinks of this creative spirit as the surplus intellectual energy, but I think de Botton is more selfish and more to the mark (more on this some day).

We all want our voices to be heard, to be admired, to be loved. And to show our love, we have set up the ingenuous medium of "comments", which do gather a lot of discussion. Quite a few times, while writing a comment, I will feel the need to expand on it, as in the posts on Interviewing women...

In fact, it may even be politically correct to be discussing "the best" but PC is so dull!!! Anyhow, I do not propose that Caferati officially bestow any such awards -- but I think that on the whole, a literary enterprise like Caferati cannot be complete without some form of personal contemplation of the activity. Also, who am I to cast a judgment? But aren't we making judgments all the time? This is just my expression of it...

So who is "The best poet on Caferati"? There may be as many answers as there are contributors here, and it would be unwise for Caferati to officially sponsor such a contest, but I am moved enough to cast my vote for Manisha Lakhe.

I think looking at the comments she has been gathering, some of you also agree...

I am terribly impressed by her recent posts - Be With Me or Jealous Coffee, or Need to Know. These reveal a similar style, with a refrain repeated in novel ways, building up to a climax. The first few stanzas build up an expectation, and the later parts deliver... Some of this also holds for Snap Shots ( "Two left feet...").

Going through her earlier work for the archived stuff - I find some of this style also in A New Story and Wish and Mixing Colours.

But she has another completely different weapon - a more direct story. All good writing is not about the author - for it to be good, it must ultimately be about the reader. When Descartes says, "I think, therefore I am", we believe it and see it in ourselves as true. So what Descartes is really saying is "You think, therefore you are." And reading Manisha's
Digital Dilemma
, which I had not read before, I was strongly reminded of this - the mystery of the vanishing edit... When one transitions to electronic typing from paper, one misses one's scribbles and the history of ink marks, a feeling of transition and loss that I am sure most of us can relate to, (though I can't say that for our children). Some years ago, I had also written something on computer typesetting which I should dig out perhaps. Other poems in a simpler, more descriptive style can be seen in Haikus on Goa, which also features a theme of repetition.

Personally however, I consider her For you as the most touching, and therefore, her best. In the end, beyond all the rhyme and the writer's craft, it is the power of the thought that stays...

Finally, do these types of "best-of" discussions generate any value? I am convinced that in some long term utilitatiran world, they do absolutely nothing. But fortunately the human spirit is far from utilitarian. As a case in point, otherwise you wouldn't have read this article so far, would you;-)

Well... that's the demon off my chest ....

15 December, 2004

Be with me

The thin mist
Is not me.
I’m behind it.
Will you not hear my voice?

The floating ice
Is not me.
I’m below it.
Will you not look deeper?

The aimless cloud
Is not me.
I’m above it.
Will you not look beyond?

The dust jacket
Is not me.
I’m inside it.
Will you not open the pages?

Won’t you sit down
By the warm fire
Of my words, and
Find out what is really me?


Earthen pot

i moulded the clay,
supple in my warmth
and created an earthen pot.

Filled it with dreams,
seeded with life,
safely securely,

How would i know?
everyday it drained,
left stains and scrapes.

and somewhere
when i forgot,
all those dreams escaped.

leaving behind

An earthen pot
with the rim intact
and the womb all cracked
life all drained.

every now and then
it rains here in my life
and each drop that collects
resembles those dreams.

optical illusions
of the water stored years ago.

i moulded the clay again,
supple in my warmth
and created an earthen pot.

alas, it never has been like my old earthen pot.

(was trying something here and did not like the final outcome, will await your verdict)


Jealous Coffee

Your whispers
(must be suggestive)
Make her smile.

Your breath
(fans her hair)
Is closer to her.

Your arm
(around her waist)
Guides her across the street.

My tears
(behind the big coffee cup )
smudge old coffee stains on the table.


14 December, 2004


sailed in the same boat,
you reached the horizon,
then why do i , search for shores?

(its a personal comment made by someone special long ago, just thought of framing it up :-))
First timer on the Blog)


3 Haikus


Sudden memories
Swell within, stirring the womb
Like unborn children.


Goodbye, it is late.
Must get the hanging linen
Before the dew does.


Unleavened unformed
Waiting for your touch, it’s time
Once more, to be born.


Rendezvous [at the twenty-fifth milestone]

He did not keep the rendezvous;
I must have waited an age.
He did not come, or did not wait
for dawn to turn the page.

An age of dark grey overcoats
An age of shell-white walls
An age or more of coverless pillows
Ages of pigeon-crest calls.

I waited, waited, waited by the highway,
at the twenty-fifth milestone.
He did not keep the rendezvous;
So I had to go on alone.

For turning back was not for me;
they turn back who belong
to a home, a heart, a religion -
those who drag their souls along.

I couldn't go back; where would I go?
I know not whence I came.
But I wait at every twenty-fifth milestone,
alight with pride and shame.

He did not keep the rendezvous;
a century must have passed.
His promise is old; I am worn;
the miles catch up at last.

He did not keep the rendezvous;
he must have found a muse.
He never comes; I walk and walk
to a destiny I did not choose.

He did not keep the rendezvous;
what can I do but wait
with a cursed hope, he lies ahead;
perhaps, I am a little late?

(c) Annie Zaidi, December 2004
Jawaab to 'You, who are restless tonight'.


To Sing, make happy my lady

To Sing, make happy my lady

Tap my toes
Count till three
Making up this song
To Sing, make happy my lady

One two three
Here I go
Whistiling loud a song
To Sing, make happy my lady

Roses are red
Yes roses are aslo red, so what
I am still striking a chord
To Sing, make happy my lady

Here here the cows dance
They stamp on my feet
Hee-Haw Hee-Haw, I rumble
To Sing, make happy my lady

Them horses run and join
Piglets add chorus
Hee-Haw Hee-Haw, I sing
To Sing, make happy my lady


13 December, 2004

Endless Snow: Take Two

The wind whispered my name today as I was walking alone with my lonely melancholy. The air was crisp, filled with the fragrance of some far away song. The trees were like old men stooping over their chairs to keep track of life walking on by. My eyes strayed up to the sky above where clouds collapsed into words of polite wonder. The path led on without a bend or a rent. My senses were filled with the desire of life. I took my spectacles off to look at the world around me through a blurred inspiration. I touched my fingers to her cheek to seek reassurance from the warm blood flowing beneath.

She was beside me, wrapped in dry dreams. The distance between our minds separated our hands. But the words that existed in our hearts somehow slipped out from between us into the cold around like marbles from a child’s hand. There they formed formless footsteps in the endless snow.


Magic Of Music

It feels like there's a novel trying to burst from me and all I am allowed is a space worthy of a mere short story...

Imagine this, anyway. A richly decorated shamiana, fit for the richest Sheik of Araby, lit up with chandaliers and fitted with Bose speakers that magically cancel out echoes and unwanted audible quirks.

Ten thousand serious faces staring at the dais in taut anticipation, where there is a sudden flurry of movement after a miniature eternity. The audience, having sat obediently for nine hours on the same spot, most of them on a thin rug spread over the sports ground, now comatose with fatigue, hunger, irritation, and even anticipation - gets galvanized into action and brings the house down.

The singer has arrived. He has trouble standing up on his own. Disciples and well-wishers support him, he growls like a lion as he is wont to, and insists on walking down, up to the scarlet red chair in the centre. He almost stumbles rather than walk, moves inch by painful inch, but manages to reach the chair after another eternity.

Again there is a flurry of worrying over him, and he is finally ensconced in his chair. One does not fail to notice the lifeless hands, with only the fingers twiching now and then. He seems paralyzed from neck downwards. He looks at the audience and the familiar gleam of a hunger about to pounce on the prey returns, a mischievous smile hovers on his expressionless face. His eyes burn like an animal's hiding in the bushes : one gets the glimpse of the wildeness in them.

He starts to sing. He hums, rather. He slurs the words, he looks down when he sings. One realizes he is not singing for the listeners, he is singing for his Creator, and we happen to be there. There is a deadly chill in the air now -it is way past midnight and the breeze from the river makes even the young ones in their leather jackets shiver, the older ones are almost mesmerized by this slow spectacle unfurling. Every soul seems to be getting uplifted.

The singer looks like he has been sinking into quick sand. Only the head can move here and there, like a big cat trapped viciously.

He sings on, having selected raag Malkauns: the pentatonic scale, very challenging for a singer. What can you do with only five notes? Singers ask. Pandita Kishori Amonkar believes it is a raag suited to instruments, not to the human voice.

'Pag Laagan De....' he has chosen the bandish that must have by now thrilled the life out of many millions for decades. His voice has deepened over the years, that tendency to thunder out rebelliously slowly creeps back into him - listening to which one feels the amplifiers and the speakers are unnecessary. Within minutes the audience is transported from their soul-crushing world of mundane worries and ceaslessly creeping anxieties into a pristine heaven of pure sound wherein one sense, the sense of hearing has thrown open portals hardly ever touched. The other senses revel like schoolkids at play.

As the next crescendo builds up, he suddenly stops -and plunges back into the other melody with the impishly teasing shringar-russ filled drut gat: 'Rangralia Kare Tu Sautan-ke Sang...' taking on the aspect of a terribly annoyed lady who has caught the lover in a compromising situtation with her rival....

As he brashly explores the endless possiblities of generating more and more adventurous taans, one notices the lifeless wrist have started allowing movement to the fingers. In mintues, as he goes on letting out megawatts of sheer lung power, his face radiating an superhuman confidence and control over the audience, his elbows allow him more movent. At the end of a particular taan that takes his voice beyond description and comperehension, he throws up both the hands, nearly reaching his well-know aggressive mannerisms. Again, his hands move backwards and forwards - his body has forgotten it is paraylzyed.

One holds one's breath. He is beginning to slant in the chair, defying gravity, and all other silly physiological constraints. The air seems elecric, there is an aura sort of field around him - by now his eyes are glowering fiercely... My companions look at me anxiously. Is he going to have a heart attack? This is the wordless question tearing across our inner spaces.

He manages to climax three times, giving the tabalchi enough doses of challenge to fumble forth -whilst he himself quietly, like an experienced driver, manages to descend through the ghats with his completely unreliable vehicle...

When the audience breaks into a standing ovation, it is nearly half past one, we also get up and realize : we have just witnessed a unique miracle.

The Magic Of Music.

We drive away in total silence.

Words falling wayside like empty peanut shells....

The singer : Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
The venue : Sawai Gandharv Sangeet Mahotsav
The date : 12th Dec. 2004


My Travelogue ( for Writer Headed for Goa )

Last year's trip. Last year's travelogue. The Haiku made me post.

Blurred memories of romantically dark beach shacks at Bogmalo and feni hangovers, harsh, sand-scrubbed bodies and Michael’s band were hardly reasons to go back to Goa after 20 years. Over time, I had also built up this vision of masses of sun-seeking tourists defiling the coastal town with plastic and commerce and nothing seemed to shake my cynicism. But the boys insisted, and so last week I found myself flight-hopping to Goa via Mumbai, prepared to stay in my room or by the hotel pool with a good book, maybe watch a sunset.

But Goa, irresistible Goa, seductive insistent Goa, disarming Goa would have none of that. Completely unprepared for the way Nature still reigned lazily supreme, I was bowled over. Even the multitudes of hoardings enroute to Panjim (“What you can do today, leave until tomorrow. Just Chill in Goa”) couldn’t steal the show from the Sky and Sea event. There is no horizon where I live and here the blue met the silver everywhere, beyond the vast expanse of unruly green and brown growth and coconut palms. And wherever the trees grew thick, I just had to peep between them to catch another glimpse.

I can’t say what time of the day entranced me more. Quiet dawns with magical sunrises – the night-revelers are all asleep – a cool healing breeze and the ocean reaching out promisingly towards exotic eastern destinations. Lazy afternoons walking down pathways past charming houses, shabby and genteel with grandmothers lounging in shady verandahs and tourists, the ubiquitous paying-guests hanging out by the gate. There’s either a tulsi plant or a crucifix in the front yard of every home – we play a game looking for these. Then there’s the strumming of a guitar or the happy lilt of a mouth organ you hear wafting from many a house, as the day gets older.

The day gets more boisterous and tourists drive past us everywhere on the motorbike and scooter taxis. I wonder who these people are in real life. Here we are all beach bums. Of all ages, sizes, colours and nationalities. Clad in bright sarongs, shorts, tee-shirts; tanned, friendly, not worrying about what that monster tattoo is going to look like back home during executive meetings; ready to eat the squid and mussel and prawn in whichever mysterious seasoning is suggested – Portuguese or Konkani; ready to kick football with the sun-blackened youth (all in Vodafone, Arsenal and Manchester United tee-shirts available in that amazing local market at Mapusa) on the sensuous wet sand, drinking various versions of cocktails through the day, chatting with the women feeding us coconut and pineapple – all dressed in bright men’s shirts like a tribal uniform over their local garb; marveling at the gypsies from Karnataka in all their finery in an attempt to sell us ethnic garments and bandanas and caps, all of which we buy pretending we are going to live in Goa forever.

And then as the sun is well over the horizon we ride the breakers, timid at first, reckless eventually… staying in the water doing nothing for hours except feeling that undulating rush flow over us. It doesn’t even matter that the sea is muddy - we ooh and aah over each shell and starfish our toes pick up, and then we flop exhausted and happy on those beach chairs lining the long stretch of Baga, Calangute, Candolim…. the names are familiar yet enticing. Lawrence tells us he’ll give us a good rate for the chairs and we return to him everyday. He shifts the umbrella every hour to protect us from the sun and we talk about how the season is slow and how many languages he can speak and we wonder how he can tell the Finns from the Brits from the Germans in a glance. We are hungry all the time – Antony’s gives us good value for money and his shrimp curry and rice are hourly meals for us, Britto’s has the best lasagna and a seafood platter to die for. We plan to read, but instead gaze meditatively at the sea and the sun and the sky – their hues change constantly.

And as the evening comes around, we head back, past candle-lit café’s, bars and restaurants strung together to create a charming festive sight. We head for Souza Lobo’s famous for it’s food and music and warmth. The shacks at the beach move their chairs out in the open and light candles on each table – we are tempted and vacillate - each shack looks more inviting than the next; the tourists have dressed up and the candle-light warms their tanned faces, they sing with the crooner, soon they will dance. …knowing tomorrow is another day … and hoping they could really stay here forever.

I come away, resenting the aircraft that carries me home, and I couldn’t tell you a thing about how to get there, which resort is better than the other, what the taxi cost us. I’m sure the guidebooks will tell you that. But when you reach Goa, like me, you will forget the details. And Goa will take over.

The Bombay Train Song!

He hangs on dangling handholds
As the train sways and careens
Endless nondescript buildings unfold
Their secrets as the tired warrior returns.

The day is over the night falls
Thickly through the barricaded windows
The man’s sleepy head lolls
On his shoulder in a dream disturbed.

The days are a hard white collar brawl
The sleepless night stretches ahead
There’s no space for a fly to crawl
The morning paper is still unread.

You who sleep standing
Don’t drool on his shirt
It will cost him a lot of spending
If you pour on him all your dirt.

Plastic bags, umbrellas, Tiffin
The rack is full and the seats overflow
What is that smell Peter Griffin?
Is it the Sewri sewers overflowing?

Beware of pickers of pockets
Who surround and slash with knife
Careful of your arm’s sockets
Lest they dislocate and misery make life.

Welcome to Bombay’s bustling trains
Hold on fast as if you are insane!


Need to know..

You're toppling memories,
Built by storms.
Does this mean you're stronger
Than thunder, than lightning?
You're creating experiences,
By your voice.
Does this mean your words
Are more powerful than my past?
You're promising encounters,
Touched by magic.
Does this mean when fulfilled
Your promises will heal my soul?


Haiku For Writer Headed For Goa

Dessert at Britto's,
With bikini babes.
Diabetic coma.


Enfield for sale.
Only reverse gear works.
Only in Anjuna.


Find starfish on the beach.
Write poems on the sand.


Beach chairs one fifty.
Sunsets free.
Commerce in Candolim.



Haiku by writer headed for Goa

Squid butter garlic
and kingfish steak afterwards -
honey pancakes for desert.

Beach, seafood, and beer
And getting paid to go there:
i have good karma.

"Season" has started
Which means more bikini babes.
Travel writing rocks.

Late-rising writer
spots friendly sign at cafe:
"Breakfast served all day"


(: See you guys in another four or five days. Unless i find the time to visit a cybercafe. It's a tough life, this journalism thing. Play nice, now. :)


Until ...

Sunlight comes slanting in through my Venetian blinds
Like stripes walking across the marble floor
Dancing a slow waltz till the day has gone down
And I keep watching them until you call me
As you walk in through the door

A thousand pigeons sit babbling on my terrace top
Like pendulums bob their heads lolled
Picking tiny grain till their measly hungers satisfy
And I keep watching them until you get me
Out of the lonely cold

Countless stars dazzle in the sky as I lie on my bed
Like angels showing off their haloed bliss
Puckering the smooth night till it receeds defeated
And I keep watching them until you turn me
Into your arms with that kiss


12 December, 2004

I Shall Rise Again

I Shall Rise Again

Sitting alone in the stadium
Under the moonlight
Flood lights savoring the greens
Basking in my failure
Wishing for someone else but my shadow
To tell me that I shall rise again !

Little rain drops, Little tear drops
Aching feat and wilting pride
I hold my head high
Looking at the long road ahead
Knowing noone else but my shadow
To tell me that I shall rise again !


Endless Snow: Take One

The wind whispered my name
While I was walking alone
With my lonely melancholy

She was beside me
Wrapped in her dry dreams

But words slipped out
From between us
Into the cold around
And formed formless footsteps
In the endless snow



11 December, 2004

I have no name

I have no name,
I take on the colours of your clothes,
Call me by any word,
but pay me my two thousand pieces.

You can have my body
for those hours.
But my mind will be my own.

I have no name,
I have no name,
No not even the one
which you give me in the throes of passion.

And no I will not tell you,
what my mother whispered
into my ear as I was born.

For she too was one
who took on the name
of the man,
while he shed her skin.
The clothes of of her innocent years.

I have no name.
To call my own.



10 December, 2004

Silent Prayer (End of the day)

Stilled, numbed, sanity
somehow preserved-
I sit jaded,
reserves down
nerves jangled

in a tiny undersized
faded cane chair-
hardly holding me,
or even ma or
grandma before
wonderful women
who never could fit!

Yet it stays
right there
nearer three decades.
I do my time
what my crime
is though
I still do not know!

Stretched squeezed
severely strained
eyes closed agonized
I pray fervently for
Neither peace nor bliss
Only this- that after me

No daughter of mine
is cannonised
in the name of
sundry chores
and made to undergo
The daily ignominy
Of cane-pinched bottoms!

There is a tiny room besides the kitchen which houses everything from stored grains to sundry gods.My grandmother used to spend a greatdeal of her time here - from overseeing the cooking in progress or taking stock to performing her daily prayers - all sitting in this ridiculously small cane chair! Her joints hurt and sides ached - but this innocuous piece remains to outlive her. And, one hopes, not her daughter and grand-daughter!

Atreyee- Dec '04