poetry picks

Delhi Queer Pride: Ten short poems by a city-based queer poet to mark a decade of pride

These poems by Akhil Katyal engage with love, sex and queer politics.

The Barakhamba Road/Tolstoy Marg Crossing

An odd, white handkerchief tied on his arm,
he gets onto the metro at Vishwavidyalaya.

With a stuffed back-pack on her shoulder,
she boards the bus at Shahdara.

In his grey track pants,
he hails an Ola from Saket,

With her phone in her back-pocket,
she climbs onto a Haryana Roadways bus.

The red glass bangles he’d bought yesterday
reflect the winter sun; his fingers dance.

She pulls out a crumpled rainbow muffler
and waves it to her from across the road.

He sees a small tear in the stockings as he
pulls down the track pants but doesn’t care.

At that Crossing she knows from the map, she
sees a big crowd – and turns her phone to silent.

He was as arrogant as a
Chattarpur farmhouse but
in the end, I figured he was
just cluttered, like Adhchini.
Which I liked. Our beginnings
were rocky, we held hands,
infrequently, and uneasily,
like Def Col and Kotla,
but then, in some years,
often and more breezily,
like Jangpura & Jangpura
Extension. All those years,
of romance and apprehension,
he’d held me in his Najafgarh
arms and kissed me like
Shalimar Bagh. Not that we
didn’t fight like Rajouri,
crossing each other’s Civil
Lines, not that he wasn’t at
times distant like Greater
Noida, or quiet like Asola,
but always, when the worst
had passed, we returned at
last, to where we’d been, some
where near Dilshad Garden,
by the blessings of Nizamuddin.

“Miniscule minority” “Miniscule minority”
– the judges kept on barking,
clearly they’ve never been
on a Sunday evening to the
park above the Palika parking.

i want to 377 you so bad
till even the sheets hurt i want to
ache your knees singe your skin
line you brown breathe you in i want to
mouth you in words neck you in red
i want to beg your body insane into sepals
i want to 377 you like a star falling off the brown
i want to feel you till my nails turn water
i want to suck you seven different skies
i want to be a squatter in your head when
it sleeps when it’s dark i want to break laws
with you in bed and in streets and in parks

“But who will take care of you
in your old age?”

is the only question my parents ask
that actually stumps me.

It’s the only one
I have stopped finding
reasonable-sounding answers to.

I lay down my arms with
“I do not know.”

Under my breath,
I still refuse to treat love
as a retirement policy.

But maybe it is just that.
Why should I stud it with moons and stars.
Why should I bejewel a simple need.

Maybe all of life does come to
“but who will take you to the hospital
when you will fall down.”

I foreclose the thought
under a violet moon.

Akhil Katyal
Akhil Katyal

Dilruba: A Ghazal

I must have been nine when I first saw Dilruba,
the show “Shrimaan Shrimati”, year 1994. Dilruba,

who loved his neighbour’s wife, quite inexplicably,
’coz the joke was the limp-wristed, see-saw Dilruba.

In one episode they said he was born on 6:6:1966,
such a “Chakka”, the whole room was like “Haw Dilruba!”

The worst is I remember I found it funny, I laughed
and yet felt a dread that took years to thaw, Dilruba.

Each morning, the school ground was fifty yards of fear,
a senior had yelled, “Hey,” as if finding a flaw, “Dilruba!”

And yet they named him ‘that which ravishes the heart,’ this
was also his meaning, Akhil, just that you never saw Dilruba.

Jangpura Extension

The Latin word for the
ear is “pinna”, wings.
I knew why this morning

as you held me between
finger and thumb, I was only
cartilage ready to fly –

you woke up, and outside
the rain made even the petals
of bougainvillea so heavy,

that the plants had to
shed them, filigreeing the
pavement with the

colour of sunrise, and later
as we walked towards the
stadium, we waded through

remnants of the sun,
attenuated under our feet,
as “the earth,” was

“thawing from longing
into longing.” You said bye,
took the metro, and I

walked on past noon.
When turning near JLN,
a Maruti stopped by, a

man, about fifty, Sikh,
asked me the directions for
Khanna Market; when I told

him, he said “Come I’ll
drop you.” I said “I am
going to Lodhi Gardens.”

Again, “Come I’ll drop you,”
and it took me a second to
realise he was cruising; as I

looked, the sun was thawing
in his eyes. I said “I’ll walk.”
He took my answer and

crushed it on the road.

When all the gay boys get their shit
together, go to the gym and get fit
together, I sit and generally complain
about the weather and all that,
she says – That is why you’re fat!
Now, now, I say, what’s the hustle,
have you had a look at my arm,
lately a tendon threatens to look
like a muscle, so be calm, and by
the way, I am very good health-wise,
twice a day, I think about exercise.

(Thanks to Pramada Menon)

India vs Pakistan

Kashmiris will cheer
for Pakistan when it
comes to cricket;
my criterion usually
is – the more gorgeous
one should win it.
So when I compare all
the boys, in their team
and ours, will I absolutely
disappoint, because
I kind of see their point.

For someone who’ll read this
500 years from now

How are you?
I am sure a lot has changed

between my time and yours,
but we’re not very different,

you have only one thing on me –

I have all these questions for you:
Do cars fly now?

Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?
How do you folks manage without ozone?

Have the aliens come yet?
Who is still remembered from my century?

How long did India and Pakistan last?
When did Kashmir become free?

It must be surprising for you
looking at our time,

our lives must seem so strange to you,
our wars so little,

our toilets for “men” and “women”
must make you laugh

our cutting down of trees
would be listed in your “Early Causes”

our poetry in which the moon is still
a thing far away

must make you wonder, both for that moon
and for poetry.

You must be baffled,
that we couldn’t even imagine

the things you now take for granted.
But let that be,

would you do me a favour,
for “old time’s sake”?

Would you go to Humayun’s Tomb
in what used to be Delhi

and just as you’re climbing the front stairs,
near the fourth step, I have cut into

the stone wall to your left -
“Akhil loves Rohit”

Will you go and look at it?
Make sure it’s still there?

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