How can there be a break up
When we were never whole?
If happiness is a state of mind
(as I am told)
Love may well be an illusion.
I lack you
I habit you
I burden you
I breathe not
I smell not
I eat not
I met him on my way to Gangtok. A boy from Darjeeling.
His parents have moved to Siliguri. The hills are harsh for the old, I guess.
Boredom. He added.
We spoke about tennis, World Cup and Kolkata.
He likes my city for reasons that I couldn’t understand.
Their movement scuttled with notes and shells. A Kashmir in the making, perhaps.
He helped me get a taxi before dropping out of my journey.
I am R… You are? I forgot his name. Like I always do.
In a nation of selective amnesia.
He had told me that he plays at Gangtok Groove. I have heard of another place that plays rock.
He nodded, a little embarrassed. I mentioned Groove because I play there. There are many such.
I went to that cafe in the evening. No one was playing.
We’ll have music tomorrow. They said.
I went the next day to heal bitter disappointments.
Long hair is dangerous.
You look like a terrorist, chop off your hair, they advised me near Nathu-La…with the promise of a pass next time.
I walked in. He wasn’t there. He had said he would come I was hoping still.
Will you stay for the music? You’ll have to pay.
They asked me thrice. I felt drained.
Do you know this guy from Darjeeling who comes here to sing?
They were amused. His name starts with an “O” I think.
Is there anyone? Only a cook.
I finished my salad and drink. The woman across ordered the same. She was wearing an expensive perfume, I could tell.
Can you lend me a pen? I wrote a message and my number. Give this to him.
If you find him. Maybe you’ll see a guy like that.
Maybe he’ll remember too and ask…
(Published in The World that Belongs to US: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia, edited by Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal.)
the first class I taught here in Iowa told me in an anonymous survey how bad I was.
I sucked so bad that they felt offended
I had made a case on whiteness and transphobia, putting the onus on cis folks who violate
or just stand by.
it was the same class where a student walked out on me while I was trying to explain her grade.
she didn’t think I was up to the task.
existing as a TA in white classrooms makes you layer gender and race with cupcakes,
soft and sugary
like rhetoric instructors who giggle at mental health stereotypes
portraying a Black student as violent and angry
an Asian student docile and shy.
shyness is a trait I am trying to learn in grad classrooms
where a cis woman practiced calling in
by dismissing my critique of a text that was trans exclusive.
a year later when she reiterated her hurt
I chose silence as my form of dissent.
silence is not shyness though.
it is sabr
the persistence passed down from my mother,
so that now when poetry fills my classrooms with puke and disgust
I just flip the pages and pretend to sympathise with their guilt.
every week every semester
until I am ready to leave.
Early that Christmas you took me to your school
Nestled in Delhi’s clamorous heart
I’d never known a nun – small, oblivious,
Or were they? – smiling presences,
Familiars. We ate cake, then made our way
Over the Ridge, like kites adrift,
Bound together by invisible threads,
Floating in winter’s golden haze.
Green wilderness the tales you told of childish
Sorrows. Glorious in my eyes
As she presented at the temple,
Long-limbed, white-shirted, pearl without price,
Whom, on her feast-day, just a month before,
I had in my enclosed garden found.
The Grammar of It
Direct to indirect, active to passive –
Hardest to change the tense, and keep the sense,
Turn you from present continuous to past perfect
Or imperfect – an exercise demanding mastery.
If those childhood feats fitted us for these battles
You have the edge – convents excel
At grammar and the rules; my school
Blundered along, woolly with ideals.
I pull up short, a present unwanted.
She thought about it –
the hunger in her,
the hunger hidden.
Every day the world
Eats, throws up itself,
Looks nearly the same.
Eat a breast – no one
sees it go away,
misses one breast more
or less. Empty space
embodied, dressed, draped,
well fed on face and
arm and leg and head,
she needed nothing,
melted into air.
The hunger there.
Blue is the place of undrowning.
Untethering from terrestrial life,
Shedding bounds of selfhood like old skin,
To dissolve into the water around you.
Yet it is not dissolution: this awakening
Of the creature frozen in an airlock
Between your ribs
She expands slowly
And for the first time
Is able to breathe.
You never knew she existed,
But she is you.
The darkness of your hollows, the glint off sharp edges
In the love between sea and sky,
Blue is burnt by moonlight.
Blue is when a freezing tropical child
Soaked in spray from the wind and waves
Suddenly no longer feels the cold.
The sea, so utterly alien
Pressing to the bone,
Feels like coming home.
At the heart of healing is a simple paradox:
Grief is incurable.
Sun scattered through dew offers respite
Beauty can be wrung from pain,
But it does not cancel it out.
The joy that fills our interstices
Rain, light, fragrance,
Spun from sheer grace,
Co-exists with the sadness out of which some bodies are built
The body that stretches in sinuous, muscular strength
Goes limp with fatigue from tears that cannot find
An excuse to be shed.
Now that it is all over; memories faded into a wistful tale,
A shaded kernel remains.
It is beautiful in its grey darkness.
I polish it when I am alone
Dancing in my room:
Tomorrow never matters.
It is greater, more nameless, more wasting and wonderful
It fills every shallow basin that comes with a dip
The violent moon splashes you with phases, oscillating
Waves of resilience and vulnerability
Days when you can do nothing but fade
Feeling without words
But not in the way the poets say.
The same girl, closer now to her childhood self than she was last year,
I wanted to see you
Like others who had seen you
In Plum Village
Be in your presence
Meet you in person as we say
But that spring I was supposed to come
I don’t know if you know
My mother-in-law passed away
And I stayed with her son
Then I realised
We were meeting
In a different, very powerful way
You entered me in bed
As I read your words of love and wisdom
You walked through me in the pine forest
As my feet peacefully touched the ground
A kiss you called it, the intimate meeting of foot and ground
You were inside me and all around in the Oslo Sangha
As we practised as one
Now they say Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away
I sit down and look at the plum tree in my garden
Covered by snow
I’m pretty sure it will bloom again in spring
But I don’t know
A silent Sunday
In winter Norway
A tear forms in one eye
But then immediately also a smile
I recognise you
I remember how you said the cloud never dies
But falls down as snow and rain
Rests as a lake
Is the water in my sweet chai
I recognise you
A small teardrop in one eye
Everything will fall
Everything will rise
Nothing really dies
I look at a photo of you smiling
Then I put it away
I see you smiling in my mind
Here and now, inside
A smile on this face
What I call mine
No inside, no outside
Who are you? Who am I?
I say thank you to myself
I say, thank you, Vikram
I say, thank you, Thay
From the corner of my eye, I see
The woman who serves us
She is smiling slightly
The old man across from me
He wears a tweed jacket and has white hair
The large lady on my left
She wears a wide shirt and perfume
Their gazes are turned down
Not interfering with the silence
From the bottom of my heart
A young man
Was he among the guests from the start?
Maybe he arrived late
Maybe he works here
I don’t look at him directly
I don’t see him well
I steal a glance
I catch a glimpse
His body is slim under flowing robes
His fingers and hands flowery soft and long
His hair is dark and long and wavy
A silent but promising night
I appreciate his beauty
As I might a deer
His is more the beauty
Of an animal or a plant
One I’m not desperate
To fuck or be fucked by
The sun shines in and
His skin is like beach sand
In gentle evening sun
Or he is the sun
That face, those eyes
I savour a strawberry
Ripened in the midnight sun
Are his lips like these?
Soft and somehow sweet
I lick my lips clean
What would I have said if we could speak?
What would he have said if we could speak?
Someone has said speak only when
Your words are more beautiful than silence
Forgive me then for these words
Azaadi, becoming and being, already free while working for it and seeing clearly, is possible.
Banyan, this great tree spreading out through aerial roots and beyond through fruit eaten and seeds dropped by little birds, is possible.
Cloud, this shifting shape in the sky, millions of light water droplets, is possible.
Dancing is possible. Earth, smell of moist soil, feeling of soft moss, is possible.
Flirting is possible.
Gandharva singing and dancing, celebrating and allowing for all kinds of love, is possible.
Holding my own hand, holding his, being held, is possible.
I am possible.
Jacaranda, purple in bloom, is possible.
Kissing, on the cheek like little children, on the forehead like guru or god, or even tongues struggling like passionate wrestlers, is possible.
Laughing is possible.
Music is possible.
No, saying no, hearing no, knowing no, is possible.
Ocean, this vastness of waves reflecting the blue above, rippling currents, full of life and mystery below, is possible.
Pride, individual and communal, even divine pride, seeing everyone and everything as divine, is possible.
Questioning is possible.
Relaxing, not performing or producing, not paying for it, just relaxing here and now, content, a radical act in a capitalist culture, is possible.
Spider spinning a web out of their body, is possible.
Touching him somewhere, tenderly, till now untouched, the back of his knee, is possible.
Uniting is possible.
Volcano, explosive force, lava landscapes and fertile soil, is possible.
Waking up slowly with the sun shining on our entwined bodies, is possible.
X, an unknown variable, is possible.
Yes, being willing and welcoming, participating proudly in this abecedarian, opening to all these possibilities and more, is possible.
Zooming in is possible.
Zooming out is possible.