“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spaces that are empty of you

(For Mark Strand)

It is difficult to recollect
Scenes in sequence
As images blur, shiver, jerk
Jump or scatter into a thousand pixels
Like my old DVD player does.

If they have Panama 20s there
Light up one and listen to me, father.
I can see you, running your fingers
Over that bottlebrush moustache
And picking tobacco flakes
Off your lips.

I hold it against you,
The only thing against you
That you left me when I was just thirteen.
That you never gave me the watch
You promised, for passing high school.
There are the places where we would've gone
Like the forests and streams we once wallowed through.
Rollicking in your Jeep
World War II condemned
With the Sambar deers running ahead
In the flickering headlights
Or that tusker standing its ground
And we running for our lives
As the Jeep got stuck in the mud.

Nobody now, father, to buy me
An Enid Blyton
Or sneak in a Classics Illustrated
Or a Chase, while I should be
Chasing a ball or burying my head in studies.
Dammit, you left too soon!

You bought me my first bicycle, though.
And the Readers’ Digest Young People’s Annual!
Remember that stamp you bought for me
Man on the Moon, in ‘sixty-nine?

What comes most vivid
Are images of food we ate
Masal Dosas and Rose Milks
At the Indian Coffee House
Jelly Custard at Simla Parlour
Biriyani Tea at Liberty.

Images come, hesitant, hazy -
You on your back with froth on your lips
Of mother crying, sisters looking stunned
Of walking, cold, through empty streets
Carrying you on a Mumbai morning
The few passers-by bowing
And somebody muttering
Ram Nam Satya Hai.

It took me a long time
To accept you were dead.
I remember distinctly
That I couldn’t cry and panicked why.
It took me a long time
Because I didn’t want you to die.

We hadn’t had much time together, did we?
You had all my thirteen years
And I –
I had all these years
To think of you; I do, you know.
At fifty-one, I am near the age you died.
And all I have –
These spaces that are empty of you.

I just feel sad, not angry, that you left.
If you could, I know, you wouldn’t have.
I just want to tell you this-
You left me rudderless – ever since.
I wish you were here
With me on the road
Hills and valleys, ups and downs
As I plod through the paths of life.

Are you there?
Are you there, hiding behind my dogs
Are you sitting by my son?
Is it you there on the snow-clad top
Or lying
There on the grass by the side of the stream?

**************** Balachandran V, 21-11-2008, Trivandrum

Sunday, November 16, 2008

As I cross the River of Life

The riverbank itself is portentous
Of the path ahead.
The squelchy, soggy soil
Sucks in my feet like a cavernous mouth
Of a carnivorous creature.
I am half – willing to be sucked in.

It can hardly be called a river.

Meandering listlessly through this barren land
It is more like a space between two high banks
Flat, with few mounds of debris and sand
Forlorn, looking woebegone
Like refugees weary, resting their limbs.

Ribbons of water run through this space
Shallow, scarcely to wet your toes.
I look around for signs of life –
At the farther side, I spot a bird.

Life! Life! Another one!
I find meaning for mine.

Gingerly, I test the water with my toes.
Lukewarm, indifferent,
It hardly cares who I am.
Beneath the fluid, I detect stones,
Slimy, slippery, smiling wryly.
I am careful.
Stepping on each, scrubbing the slime
Gripping, putting weight onto the foot,
I lift the other to step on the next.

The current is stronger now.
The potholes are deeper now.
I stumble, I sway, I stagger
Panicky, frantic, I look around wildly -
Whirlpools swirl,
Waters rise –
The vulture is nearer now-
He looks up at me with a benign smile
Feeding on the carcass of a man.

Beyond, the eyes of the riverbank glitter
In the cruel, shade-less sun.

***************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 16-11-2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Is every grain of sand
Different from the other?
I do not know.
Is every drop of water
Different from the other?
I do not know.
But I do know
That every snowflake
Is different from the other
Just as every man differs from the other.

How like snowflakes are we!
Both appear from nowhere
But from somewhere the same
Falling, falling we come down
Lying on a rock or in a glacier
Or on the riverbank here
Clinging on to a blade of grass
Or like this one, on my beard.

Clinging on, clutching to
For a brief while
And then melting away into nothingness.
Balachandran, 13.11.2008, Trivandrum