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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

24 August, 2006

Sketch: A Chinese in Mumbai

Mumbai, 18 August 2006

Life had a funny outlook for Hong Xiao. She had come from Guangdong to Mumbai in a destitute period, and had worked her way into a life of comfort. She could have returned to her people, but she had grown used to Mumbai, and would not contemplate life elsewhere. It was a just a minor inconvenience that Mumbai hadn’t quite grown used to her. And that, to a large extent, provided her with the adventures of life.

It was time for the restaurant to close. Her daily duties were over. They comprised nothing more than standing at the door in a heavily embellished ‘traditional’ Chinese dress and greeting customers as they walked in. She would also have to occasionally put on a smile and intervene in disputes between customers and waiters. Doing that for six days a week for several years had provided her with a suburban house and steady income. She slipped out of her uniform (which for all its fanciness was hot and uncomfortable), removed her make-up and slipped into her workaday slacks. Customers who lingered were being gently hushed out, and the cooks and waiters were washing up.

Hong Xiao had trusted her face to get her a job, for she was by the standards of her country, very pretty. She also had skills in stenography and computers to do her job, but none was coming. Her oriental looks weren’t quite welcome in this country, whose standards of beauty aligned with its erstwhile colonial mistress. Luckily for her, Mr. Patel thought differently. Her presence on the floor of his ‘Chinese’ restaurant was just what would give his place an air of authenticity, more than all his decorations.

The train home would generally not be very crowded, for at 11:30 in the night, ‘respectable’ women aren’t supposed to be out of doors. But today the ladies’ compartment was empty, except for a group of shady-looking men playing cards in a corner. Before she could step out however, the train had moved. As the men gave her crude smiles, she knew what would come.

Being oriental in origin, Hong Xiao was treated very differently by Mumbai. Folk assumed all sorts of things about her. She was used to questions about eating snakes and drowning babies, but she also knew that she and her folk were considered a bit ‘loose’ morally. That created several uncomfortable moments to live with, but over time she had a method to deal with them.

The men rose and approached her. She jumped, and put her hands forward in an aggressive posture. Holding out her palms flat and fingers pressed together, she contorted her face into whatever expression of ferocity she could manage, simultaneously yelling “Hee ya!”. That did the job. At the next station, the men hurriedly got off, mumbling incoherently about being no good against ‘Judo-Karate’.

As she fell into the arms of her waiting husband at her home station, she thanked the Buddha for some of the assumptions people made about her.

22 August, 2006



The first offerings to the rains
Are always from the trees
Trembling and shivering in the wind
They bow their bodies, drunk on showers.

After them, the world changes itself
Into a series of small pools and rivers
Afloat on the pitted brown bodies of roads
Tossed across each other like fallen tree trunks.

Red buses roar across them ceaselessly
Like healthy animals, careless of
Lesser creatures and indifferent
To the clean shine of their own hides.

And from me also the rain plucks
An offering like a jealous goddess.
At first, she touches my brow and lips
Ever so gently to remind me.

Then she rakes cold fingers
Down my chest, across my back
Paints my skin with shivers and
Waters my eye with reproachful tears.

Her fine fingers wind down my trachea
And pluck them like harp strings
She plays a silent music through
The narrow flutes of my veins and arteries.

My body thrums to the silent music -
At the end of a coughing fit, I produce
Two red spots on a white handkerchief
And the music is allowed to subside.

My body is bowed like a tree held up
By the weak branches of my arms
The first offerings to the rains
Are always from the trees.


21 August, 2006


water drips from your hair
my eyes measure
six, maybe seven inches
to your pink tee shirt.

the kohl underneath
your brown eyes,
is smudging your cheeks.
i stop myself from saying,
"no, don't dab it away..."

you run a quick hand
through your hair,
what would you say
if you would find me
entangled there?

fascinated by an errant drop
sliding down your throat
into the vee of the tee,
i've missed the reasons
why you like malabar monsoon.

"drink your coffee, baba!"
you say, laughter gurgling
out of your lips and on
to the table between us.
i am persuaded.

but i see you shiver
ever so slightly as the coffee
spreads its warmth.
i pretend the sugar sachet is
more than mildly interesting.

i sigh inside,
might as well drink
the damned coffee
than let my imagination
be drenched with you.

besides, the cafe is crowded,
my throat is dry,
my feet are cold,
and although you're so close,
you only wish to talk.

wholly inspired by jugal mody's tale (again!) of an uncaring lass!


Oleander Faye

His name was Oleander Faye, and he hated it when people called him Ollie, as they invariably did, in college. The name ‘Ollie’ conjured up images of a fat man with thinning black hair, hurrying to keep up with a tall, slender carrot-haired man called ‘Larry’ – something from the cartoon strips of Laurel and Hardy.

And Oleander was anything but fat or hurrying. True, his head was framed by jet-black hair of so fine a countenance that it seemed to be thinning, but this was purely because it was soft like silk, not threadbare like common cotton. His nose was long and piercing, jagged like a mountain eagles, and his eyes were a terrible pale ice blue. He was fair to look at – white, almost. His lips were pale pink, not the healthy brown-rose that other young men of his age possessed to kiss beautiful women. His skin was translucent, something like bone china, something that you would expect in someone with melanoma or some other skin disease. But Oleander was healthy, perfectly so, if you ignored his perennially bored countenance. He was someone you’d think was supercilious, and you tried to keep out of his way. Yet, you couldn’t.

Oleander Faye had his admirers. The women swooned over him. They imagined all sorts of fanciful stories about him. He could be a Nordic prince brought up by foster parents, at the centre of some great European scandal. He could be the illegitimate son of an American President, being groomed to take his rightful political place. He could be a God among lesser mortals. When Oleander spoke in his precise, clipped words, the women held their breath. Surely some great work of significance would soon be revealed now, even as he spoke, even as his pale eyebrows furrowed, and the satin hair tousled over his icy eyes… surely, surely…

And the men swooned over him too. The hardiest ones called him a ‘pansy’ to his face. Pansy Ollie would sit for hours in the library. Pansy Ollie would wake up every morning at the crack of dawn and walk the grounds, stopping to smell the roses, making such a deep contrast: the crimson petals in the colourless hands of the pale young man with raven-black hair. Pansy Ollie would take a bath in the tub, his room mate would report, and the boys sniggered at this. “Does he also use scented candles, Pete?” And Pete would nod, “Green apple.” So, sometimes, Pansy Ollie would be called Fruity Ollie. But despite the taunts and the sniggers, there were those incidents. When the star gymnast went over to Oleander sitting on the courtyard to ask him about the correct flight angle, and then rub his crotch against Oleander’s palm. When Oleander would walk through the library and the Head Boy would instruct him to climb the ladder to fetch him a useless book, so that Oleander’s shirt would rise, and as he would alight, the Head Boy’s hands would squeeze his ass surreptitiously. When Oleander would walk through the tall arches, and two unknown footsteps followed him, asking him whether he wanted some hot black cock inside him, and Oleander would walk ahead faster, slightly flustered even though he would never admit to it. He would never admit to it, even now, five years later, lying as he was, naked in the bathtub, his fine head resting against the white marble, eyes half-closed, talking to his reflection in the mirror at the far end of the cavernous room.

“This is a medieval setting,” his reflection spoke up, in tones as precise and clipped as Oleander’s own. “Would you like to die here?”

“Not at all,” Oleander murmured dreamily. Now that his reflection was doing the talking, he could be the elegant, sensible one, he reasoned: too much pressure to keep on the beautiful display at all times. “No, I’d like to make lover here, not die.”

The reflection giggled. “With who? That Latino boy? He’s not half as pretty as you would like to think he is.”

Oleander Faye sighed again, a simple exhalation of breath. “Carlos doesn’t need to be pretty. I love him. That’s all he needs to be – Carlos.”

All of it seemed so surreal, even though it had happened just the night before. They were out on a date, surreal Oleander Faye and earthy Carlos Santanna, a walk to the Indian restaurant around the corner. Takeaway didn’t seem very romantic the day after, while lolling in the bath tub, but that time, it had. That time, all that mattered was Carlos’ strength, the aggressive way he extended his hand to touch Oleander’s, the disarming way he smiled (Oleander Faye never smiled, for all his perfection, never showed his teeth, for it would be too much beauty for the world to take), and Carlos talking, talking, talking, the movement of his lips, dark crimson lips that surged and that Oleander had been lusting after all night.

“He was a good kisser, wasn’t he, you little tart?” the reflection squealed cheekily. Was that a blush on its pale face?

Oleander Faye allowed himself the clichéd gesture of touching his own lips, in the memory of his past night’s lover’s kiss.

“Was he as good as the two boys on the football team?” The reflection squeaked again, saucily, mighty happy at the recollection of that event five years ago.

An usual event. Oleander Faye, the beautiful boy, walking home from the library, had been caught by the two husky boys. They teased him, told him to walk with them, pinched at his nipples, patted his arse, and Oleander gave only a token resistance. They pulled him below one of the darkest arches, behind one of the broadest columns, and there Oleander Faye shut his eyes tight, as they undressed him and then went back to their dormitory an hour later to brag that they had ‘buggered Pansy Ollie’. Oleander had hurriedly dressed himself later and limped back to his own room, but was not able to deny to himself how excited he had been, how flushed, how aroused, as the huskies brought him down his knees.

“We shall not talk about that,” Oleander said sharply now, to the dancing image in the mirror of the cavernous room which contained the bathtub.

The imp kept silent. He knew he had hit a raw nerve. But before he could say anything else, Oleander Faye remarked, “You’re not being either very elegant or sensible, you twit. Tell me what they think when they come here.”

And the mirror smiled in joy. This was how even Perfection needed to be sure of itself, he laughed. This was how even beautiful, beautiful Oleander Faye needed to know what his tricks thought of him, when he brought them home, when they washed up after the deed was done, or when they were cleaning up peremptorily before going into the next room to Oleander. The reflection held all the secrets, and Oleander wished he could know everything beforehand, but nevertheless, this would suffice: this ritual of floating in the tub and listening to the monster in the mirror talk.

So there was the married Wall Street lawyer who took his Armani off, thinking to himself that if he let it be, the faggot waiting to blow him outside would rip it to shreds. There was the needy charlatan from downtown, who pretended to hold the key to Oleander’s sleeplessness with the white powder in his pockets, and who rubbed his palms in glee, not quite believing his luck at netting such a pretty boy customer. There was the bald bear from the pub around the corner who was wondering which ropes to use and how long to tie up his prey, before leaving the flat with all his money – not that there would be much of that, in this dump. There was the old man who wished that, as innocent as Oleander’s face was, it would look younger so that he resembled his eleven year old grandson who he liked to fuck sometimes, dropping in to say ‘good night’. There was the serial sleep-over who went about his task of washing his face in cold water with ice-cold precision, keeping his thoughts at bay, focused only on going out to fuck the pale raven-haired boy and never seeing his face ever again.

But then Oleander Faye knew all that and didn’t want to hear about them. He said, instead –

“Tell me about Carlos.”

The imp bowed his head.

“Does he care?”

The imp shrugged.

“Can he love?”

These were difficult questions, all of them, and the reflection in the far mirror was perplexed. Water splattered from the tub onto the earthy floor. Oleander Faye was getting impatient. Faye means ‘fairy’. The golden fairy boy was getting impatient.

“Will he love?”

And the imp considered the demand. Carlos Santanna was the seventh son to Puorto Rican immigrants who had come over with not much more than the faded coats on their back. He had met Oleander Faye while coming back in the train. He had smiled at the pale beautiful boy, and Oleander her been surprised – who was this big, brawny Indian-looking guy smiling at? Me? And Carlos had walked over. With an open, inviting smile that Oleander Faye regarded supremely dangerous. But the more Oleander Faye moved away, the harder Carlos Santanna pushed forward. He would wait at the train station till Oleander would show up. He would come over to him to say ‘hello’. He would never directly proposition him, no, he would wait to be propositioned. And that left Oleander Faye distraught. No one had ever counted on him pursuing the other party. Oleander Faye was always done to – approached, picked up, raped, fucked, dumped. This expectation of action from him was something new, that he was unsure of. But he was curious, despite himself. So, the day after the incident with the ice-cold serial sleep-over who’d wanted to inject him with HIV, Oleander Faye brushed his hair-to-be-swooned-at, slipped on his clean pair of jeans and a vest, zipped up his boots, and went to the train station, when Carlos Santanna stood, grinning at him. And he went over to Carlos, hugged him, and asked him to love him. Carlos was moved: he had not expected Oleander Faye to come to this. So he took him home from the Indian restaurant, undressed him till he was stark naked, put him to bed, and covered him with the moss-green blanket that Oleander never used. When Oleander pulled onto his hand and asked him to fuck him, Carlos ran his hand over Oleander’s feverish forehead and told him to sleep.

Oleander Faye slept.

But when, the next day, Oleander Faye - who was the cause of swooning summer madness in girls when he was in college, who had been fucked by the entire football team, who was known in London’s gay circles as one of the easiest lays of all, and who had narrowly escaped being injected with an HIV positive needle, - when he, Oleander Faye, dipped his tired body in a tubful of warm water that overflowed and splattered onto an ancient earth floor, and asked his mirror the question that held the key to his soul, the mirror’s imp shook its head and vanished away into the depths of silent, secretive glass.

“Will he love?” Oleander Faye wept again.

And then he whispered, when he heard no answer – “I have so much to give. So much to give…”

18 August, 2006

Eye Contact (or Our Casual Lives)

What is with this
eyes-meeting thing?
Just another group of suits
walking briskly past each other
in the dry-aired
tunnels of an office
and our eyes meet
for barely a moment
and glance away while
continuing our conversations
with suddenly faceless colleagues
while holding our folders smartly
your laptop pulling your shoulders
down to level your eyes with mine.
By the time I reach my cabin
I’m ready to have an affair
with you
with your eyes.

15 floors, 2000 employees,
grey and black and blue suits
and I only saw your eyes.
I’ll never find you.
So I had this casual fling
with the guy in marketing.
It’s a fun thing
But he has such regular eyes.


Fakers & Fakirs...

Let us be together,
You & I,
And weave a web
Of wispy tales
And huggable lies;
Of truth and deceit;
Of two faces we have
And the worlds
In between – whirling.

Let us be together,
You & I,
In this flimsy world
Of words and feelings;
In this space
Between dream
And awakening;
In these tit-bits
That nibble at hearts
And leave us – dangling.

Let us be together,
You & I,
In a conversation
Free of deceptions,
Imbued with hues
That paint
Our respective milieus;
Persistently chaffing
Fakers from fakirs
But then our eyes meet
Your smile – redeeming.

© Dan Husain
February 8, 2005

PS: Apologies for posting an old one. Fine tuned it a bit and thought won't be a bad idea to share it with you all. :-)


14 August, 2006

Drying out in Kerala

There is no oil on my soul.
I too have come out
to dry my wings.

I watch as you take a long flight
close to the surface of the water
fast and confident
smart and straight
and then make a perfect dive
bravely into the world below.

Where are you, my Cormorant?
I wait breathlessly.
Are you breathing in there
as you explore and search
find food and feed your desire?
You are gone for longer
than I can hold my breath
and then,
hold it again
till suddenly you emerge
some ten feet away
your long neck and curious beak
rotating agilely
to gulp in the world without;
well-fed now in more ways than one.

I see you perched on a fallen branch
by the shore
with your wings wide open,
wings larger than I would have imagined
wings that you flutter expansively
to dry in the breeze
releasing every drop of water
that clings on to you.

David, the naturalist, tells me
you are not protected.
The only water bird with no oil on it’s body.
You must come out to dry yourself
every now and then
or you may become too wet and heavy
and sink in a watery world.

I too have come out
away from my world
to dry my wings
There is no oil on my soul.

posted by scribe at 8:09 PM


13 August, 2006


I pause midway in the in the whirl,
Of deadlines, things undone,
And averaged the sadness and joys -
There remains only loneliness,
Of which I see no cure,
No bitter palliatives, no anodyne.

We remain in life’s journey,
Like loners sitting depressed,
On solitary park benches, or,
Staring at people from balconies,
Loneliness gnawing at our minds,
As hungry ants at a grain of food.

Often in life’s vicious lanes,
In lonesome moments,
It’s our failures we ponder,
Not the joys and victories; both,
We have given and earned;
Not others’ courage, but faults.

When in each passing lonely moment,
I count the millions of seconds,
I was alive to witness this world, and,
Mimetic thoughts that pass into eternity,
My loneliness vanishes, I shout,
“I live; I am alive this lonely moment.”
(c) John, August 2006
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12 August, 2006

Monsoon - 4

wrench sound from thunder;
let it drum upon my tongue.

squeeze a bolt from lightning
let acid verse be sung.

wring dust from memory
let it cloud my eye.

why is it this monsoon,
I cannot even cry?

(C) Annie Zaidi, July 2006


10 August, 2006

Mumbai, for you

Seven little holes, your gift
Pitch octave, seven seconds
Life flows, harmony grows
My city plays the flute again

Vijay © 12th July, 2006


07 August, 2006

Suman was my friend.

As a ten year old growing up in secular surroundings I learnt to never judge or question who my friends were. Therefore being friends with Suman was as natural as being friends with a girl next door. Her job of looking after two small children every day gave her plenty of time to play with us. In fact sometimes I felt that she looked after all of us along with those two kids.

Suman was a little older than us. Fourteen to our ten. She was tall for her age and definitely taller than us all . Slim to the point of thinness, she was always neatly dressed. I don't remember if she was good looking. But she had nice teeth and a lovely smile. She was like any other lower middle class teenager you might say. But she had the sharp tongue and pushy manners of a slum dweller when dealing with troublesome boys and we admired her hugely for it.

Being the oldest and ablest she won in all our games and was unanimously elected as our leader. She planned strategies for scaring off the boys from the streets. In retrospect I realized that they didn't really gather around to look at any of us ten year olds. We learnt choicest swear words from her and tried to spit far like she did. We all were her willing slaves and whenever we all shared any goodies, Suman got the lion's share.

Needless to say this friendship didn't go unnoticed by the family whose main aim in life was to bring me up to be a good girl. The skill of spitting the farthest is not something one requires to be a successful adult. My uncle was at the forefront of the brigade who kept an eye on us when we played hopscotch on the grounds. And if they ever saw Suman with us, playing or just watching, woe betide us. We would be severely pulled up, explained patiently about Suman's undesirability as a friend, be reminded of the positions our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles held in the society. Any sign of nit or lice in my hair was blamed on the bad company I was keeping. I think Mom even got teary eyed once while blaming herself for not keeping a closer eye on me. And all this because Suman was my friend. They didn't understand that it was a natural attraction between the weak towards the strong. She was everything I had wanted in a friend or a big sister. And she was always there. Other friends were also facing similar problems from their families.

The collective siege on us just strengthened our resolve and we soon became experts at finding places away from the prying eyes, which in a housing society like ours, with large playgrounds was not a difficult task. Time went by and we were engrossed in our little world, playing and squabbling with each other with Suman always playing the mediator.

One day Suman didn't appear. We went to her employer's house to ask for her. We were told that now that the children had started going to school they didn't need Suman anymore. For the first time since we met her we became aware that Suman was not one of us and hated her employer for dismissing her so summarily.
She can still come in the evening to play with us, we thought. Every one plays in the evenings or so we believed. But evenings didn't bring Suman. We didn't have the courage to go looking for her in the slum where she was supposed to live. Bad people lived there we knew, people who drank and beat up their women and walked on the streets talking to themselves loudly and were seen lying on the streets unconscious. I was old enough to be afraid of the nameless things that go on in the slums. So we just waited.

Days passed and then months . We got used to Suman's absence. We by then had learnt to fight boys on our own. We had also learnt to be friends with them. Our games too had changed. Instead of hopscotch I was presented a badminton racquet and apart from beating a few boys a couple of times, I had no problems with the game.

One evening as we were busy with our game a friend called out-" hey look ! It's Suman ! " We all ran to the gate to meet her. It really was Suman, but a Suman we didn't recognize. She was dressed in shiny pink and green saree, a flashing nose ring, jhoomkas in her ears swaying rhythmically and bangles glittering on her wrists . With flowers in her hair and a tinkle of payal on her feet, she walked on the street. Her thin young body swayed with an insolent grace which shocked us into silence. An inner voice told me that she had become bad. But bad what, bad how, I dared not voice my thoughts. Suman with her sulky eyes elongated with a long line of kaajal, pouty red lips and heavily reddened cheeks looked obscene to me. I shrank back, feeling guilty for having witnessed her degradation this way.

My idiotic friend called out- "Hey Suman-You look nice ! Are you getting married ?" We all hushed her up hastily. Suman ignored us in complete disdain. With her chin up she looked straight in front of her as she walked away, leaving behind five confused little girls.

We returned to our game silently. By some tacit understanding, we never ever mentioned her name among us again. Once one girl tried to whisper to me that Suman had now become a prostitute. I hushed her up angrily and didn't talk to her for rest of the evening, as if by voicing that word she had betrayed Suman.

I never saw Suman again after that day.

06 August, 2006

From another letter from Lesbia

Written in reply to a Dorothy Parker poem From a letter from Lesbia

From another letter from Lesbia

...While Sappho watches the Soaps my boy,
Listen carefully to the tip of the day
Love any lass you like, be she bold or coy
But not a poet - you'll wish you were gay.

You'll be up all night, while she
Works on her blank verse novel
After that, she still won't let you be
She'll feed you each stanza with a shovel

If you're lucky you might get to see
Films that aren't sub-titled or slow
And you might even not have to be
At every single Vagina Monologues show.

Stay away, even if you yourself write verse
Even if she's sweet, supportive with differences few
For to put it in a manner most terse:
What if she's better at it than you?


05 August, 2006

Miffed 7 — on a rainy day

That you should be here
Is not in doubt;
Hyper AC here,
And it’s raining out.
Got drenched twice,
I’m dying to pee here,
It would be nice
If you left the loo key here.

(: A parody of this. :)