Category Archives: poetry

Tiruparankundram

     TIRUPARANKUNDRAM

A seven tiered steeple soars up high,
A hill stands just behind .
But the steeple, exquisitely designed,
Is the majestic entrance, I find,
To the temple —
Cut into the rock.

Hollowed out caves, tunnels,niches,
What precision of eye and hand
Those ancient sculptors must’ve had
That, amazed, we now thus stand
Held reverently in thrall
By Tirupankundram’s
Many- pillared hall.

How carefully,  with patient grace
Architects and artists of those days
Must have worked to leave no trace
Of bad workmanship.

No sculptor’s chisel has slipped or scarred
The grey granite, that stone so hard
That the icons’ features seem unmarred
Even after two thousand years.

Stories and legends are told here
Of twelve cool springs that, pure and clear,
Rise from the depths of the hill,
And also about white peacocks and fish
Albinos, which can be seen here, still.

There is, on the southern side, another cave,
A Jain temple, and on an elevation, the grave
The last resting place of a Muslim Saint.

Men’s minds, on hilltops, acquire some stature,
Life’s petty affairs seem small, immature.
An elevated place inspires clear thought
Is that why the ancients sought
Out such a rarefied atmosphere
To meditate on whatever they held dear?






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The cholas

Rajendra Cholan

What made the Cholas truly great
What did they truly venerate?
Was it their temples,
Poetry in stone,
That dazzle our eyes
Eons on.

Did they prefer to assimilate
Their war craft, state craft
To hold sway
From the southern tip of our peninsula,
Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia.

How did they administrate
For a millennium and a half
Three and a half million square kilometers
Of land
Without satellites?

I think the Cholas were truly great
For centuries later, I can relate,
Can understand,
Their refusing to be confined
By sea or land or narrow mind!

Advaita

Ubaya Bharathi

Her intellectual prowess shone so bright
They named her the effulgent light:
Ubaya Bharathi.
She chose to wed a scholar,
Mandana Mishra,
Who could match her
High intellectual caliber.
Learning and growing
Fasting and praying
With penance and sacrifice,
Celebrating ritual tradition
They strove
To reach the Creator above.
They were at their prayers one day
When a youth who’d come from far away
And travelled widely, issued a dare.
He challenged their beliefs in their entrenched ways
Said the mind’s in a state of grace

That your God is always

With you.
Sankara’s focus was on intelligent enquiry into all
He taught men to heed the voice of the soul
Their inner call.
Ubaya Bharathi was to referee the debate
Between her husband and Sankara.
Between tradition that sought
A deity apart
And fresh new thought
That brought the individual mind
Into focus.
As an embodiment of God,
The arguments were long and intricate.
To unequivocally demonstrate
Her impartiality, she wove each morn,
Fresh flower garlands for them to don.
The debate went on for many a day
But Mishra weakened,
His arguments grew stilted.
As he grew emotional, his garland wilted.
Accepting defeat gracefully
Both Mishra and Ubaya Bharathi
Became Sankara’s devotees.
Thus in our ancient land

Philosophy walked hand in hand

With tolerance,

And emotional rages fell behind,

Routed by the reasoning, thinking mind.

Valli

Pantoum, a folk poem Where the second and fourth lines of one verse become the first and third of the next. The poem ends with the opening line, and the third line of the first stanza becomes the second line of the last.

Sri Valli

Gypsies who travel with never a care;
A baby girl who was lost and lonely;
Always adopting the lost, the needy,
The gypsies called the baby Sri Valli.

A baby girl, who was lost and lonely
She grew up loving the Tamil language
The gypsies called the baby Sri Valli
She evolved, transcending her heritage.

She grew up loving the Tamil language
She brought in gypsy song, dance and folklore
She evolved,transcending her heritage
Seeking the essence of tamil, it’s core.

She brought in gypsy song, dance and folklore
Unfazed by those who thought of wealth as worth
Seeking the essence of Tamil, it’s core
In spite of her environment and birth.

Unfazed by those who thought of
Wealth as worth
A princess, sages, the rich and the wise,
In spite of her environment and birth,
She aspired to the highest, perfect prize.

A princess, sages, the rich and the wise,
Valli, though tested, strove to match them all
She aspired to the highest, perfect prize
Heeding only her heart’s innermost call.

Valli,though tested, strove to match them all-
(Those who’d succeeded, reached Murugan’s shrine)
Heeding only her heart’s innermost call
Finally merging with the all- divine.

Those who’d succeeded, reached Murugan’s shrine-
Who had left behind all their worldly strife
Finally merging with the all- divine–
Evolved souls who’d found their purpose in life.

Who had left behind all their worldly strife?
Always adopting the lost, the needy,
Evolved souls who’d found their purpose in life
Gypsies who travel with never a care.

Return

Return

On the mobius strip of time
I always return to where I began –
Reskilling!

Every time I get comfortable
With a gadget fully loaded
They say it’s time to upgrade
That model is outmoded.

All the weary work to do
Learning to operate the new
Just when I’d got the old one beat
Just when I thought I was back on my feet
They zap me with
‘Oh, that’s obsolete! ‘

We thought
When we were young
That old equalled wise
But now in my own childrens’ eyes
(How they rub it in!)
I’m a slow pupil, for I’ve so much
To unlearn
Before I can begin
To absorb the new.
I only wish we had few
Er- gadgets!

Betty

Betty

Outside
Monsoon rain and steamy heat
Garden overgrown and rank
Turns haven for many a bug and ant.
Indoors
Betty’s German Shepherd paws
Scrabble as she dreams
Of remembered walks
Along muddy streams.

I open a window
To a cool damp draught
A spontaneous tiny shriek
Escapes me as green wings beat
At my face.
A mantis lands on my neck.

I brush it off, but flinch again
As an avenging fury tears past
Rips the mantis and pushes
The mangled remains
Out the window sill.

I stand amazed and still
Astonished that my gentle friend
Could so violently defend
Me!

Treasure Room

School library

Wooden floors and wooden shelves
Stacked with books
Childhood heaven.
The smell of old volumes
Wafting us to Treasure Island
Or Around The World in Eighty Days.
The aroma of gum on brown paper
packages which yielded
New paperbacks, some needed their pages to be pulled apart
Mrs Usha, with her starched saris and black rimmed glasses
Smelling of sandalwood talcum powder
Smiling as she allowed me to rummage through the new arrivals,
The scent of Asimov’s Foundation series, brand new-paper smell.
Discussing how to write snappy reviews
And rushing through them, anticipating a visit
To the next new world-in-a-book.
Tall arched windows letting in bright sunlight
Two hours a week were too little to spend
In this quiet paradise with no interruptions.
Slowly walking out with two books each
Looking forward to the next session
Of pure bliss.

Performance review

Review
The performance was so expert
It seemed unrehearsed,
Maybe it was.
Fluid graceful movement
Building up with hints of
Different textures and emotions
To a climax of perfection.
There were only two actors on this stage.
The background, music and choreography splendidly
Complemented each other
I would recommend this act
For the sheer joyous zest
Of two little tailor birds
Stitching large leaves for their nest.

Day26

Soft fingers drum on my window pane
Early in the morning, under cloudy skies
Wet leaf-smell drifts in on the breeze
I wake to the welcome rain.
The orange bell flowers that thirsted
In the sun
Are washed clean, but the hungry humming birds
That relish their nectar are hunkered down
In their nests, waiting for the clouds to clear.
I sit at my cushioned bay window, after lighting the lamp
In the little niche that’s my shrine.

My dog nuzzles my palm, he wants to sniff at the aromas
The rain has released.
A clicking sound signals a gecko
Casually walking up my wall
To hang upside down from the ceiling
He winks at me.
I recall a childish dream
Of floating in free fall in a spaceship.

A wet doggy smell from golden fur
A plash of paws, a pause to sniff
At a soggy improvised boat in a little roadside rainwater stream
Just a wooden box with a paper doll inside
A sign on the box says Export Quality Darjeeling Tea.
I see someone has been out at night
For stencilled in black under the bridge a sign says
‘Honk Only If You Are A Goose! ‘
The rain caresses my arms and I turn up my face
To kiss the drops.

I pick up the damp newspaper from the porch and enter
And my dog shakes himself, showering my salwaar and the clean floor
Why does he never do this on the porch?
I towel-dry muddy paws and fix breakfast
For him and me. Not the hot pancakes
My mother used to make, topped with  honey
That used to come in  brown bottles
from nearby farms.

Back at my window, I watch the rainwater
Soaking into the recharge pit.
Our neighborhood conservation hero
Shekar Raghavan
Who had predicted water wars in the future
Had also helped communities set up  rainwater harvesting systems.
Now we shall reap the benefits.
A bedraggled crow looks beady-eyed from behind the glass pane
I gently open the window and leave him a quarter sandwich.

I settle down with the newspaper, and find
Only headlines about the coronavirus.
The boldest type lauds the lockdown as the only safe measure
Till a vaccine can be found.

Its Sunday and I’ve promised myself
A long overdue clean out of my desk.
I pull out a drawer, and from underneath,
A scrap of paper flutters down with writing on it.
My grandmother’s writing.
She always wrote once a month to each of us.
Except for the summer months when we visited her
What fabulous stories she could tell
I’ll never forget her description of the Roc
His sheer size and power, his raucous cry,
The anticipatory hush at lights out
Was it this warm in those Arabian Nights?
Her low tones like swishing waves
Bringing Sinbad close to us.

Drifting into sleep to walk down
The alley next to her house where
Trees held hands overhead, counting minutes, jumping sidewalk cracks,
Looking up at the count of a hundred
To see — the Roc
Sitting on a high wall it’s curved claws unclasping slowly
I leap, like I imagine Sindbad did, on to it’s back
And we’re airborne! Pinioning, vaning, sideslipping
As we reach the border of my city, I hop off
And hear the ancient town clock strike
And the nesting bats, disturbed, flap around the tower.
Bats that still remind me of a fanged Dracula
Though the frisson of fear is feebler now.

You must have seen the tower clock that artists have many a time painted
And which features in many a postcard
Of this, my city

Where I sit at my window, watching the rain.














Home and safe

Home and safe

It’s almost summer
But no normal summer, this.
Though the coral tree blooms
And the loud mynahs and treepies
Build nests, limiting themselves
Though the wide blue skies
Are open to them.
Nested in our familiar houses
Collecting snippets of memories
Building a different reality
Are we humans any different
Staying home, staying safe?

Between the curtain’s gaps
The sun’s rays enter to
Paint streaks on my ceiling
I watch the dust motes dance
As I lie in at seven in the morning.
It’s a long slow waking today
No traffic to beat
That gives me another hour
Maybe I’ll shower after coffee
And breakfast.
I was dreaming of parks
With flowers and buzzing insects
The buzz has segued into
The drone of my ceiling fan.
There’s nothing to do
Nowhere to go
Staying home, staying safe.

Sound of a vehicle outside
It’s the garbage man,
Masked, of course.
I wave from my window.
A doctor lives next door
She still has to work
Visored, gauntletted
Against the unseen foe
Her children’s voices
Used to waft across
Like birdsong, unrestricted.
Now they’re at their grandma’s
Nowhere else to go
Staying home, staying safe.

The sudden scream of a siren
Shatters the silence.
Windows sprout heads
A police car, and following it,
A line of cars, an ambulance.
Paying tribute as my neighbour,
The doctor, in her front yard,
Raises her arms
To thank those who are thanking her
For saving their lives,
Gambling on her own.
I think of all the others outside-
And how much we owe them
Policemen, essential services
Helping and facilitating us
To stay home, stay safe.


Electronics and virtual friends
Fill our days. Those lucky enough
To work from home talk of
Missing synergy. Watching
Colleagues’ faces light up
When a new idea strikes.
How much longer must the rest
Of us
Cook, clean, watch TV,
Housebound, while the virus
Lurks outside?
Staying home, staying safe.