Cabbage Moth

Mother is watching a video about raagi
flour and how to knead her way into father’s
heart. I’m sure it’s why she makes gooseberry pickles now.
I am reading about sloth bears eating mahua flowers.
My mind, matryoshka doll-like, forgets things.
I am mouthing “ursine”, “scat”, “crepuscular” so
I will remember to tell him. I forget.
The woman in the video is talking about buttermilk
and consistency and taste. Mother tells me
how Naani liked plain things like us, pure. No cardamom
in her kheer. No cinnamon in her food. How sometimes
I flick my hand like hers, pushing the air away
like a dervish renouncing this world.
How she loved mangoes too.
She never tells me much more. I watch mother’s eyes
wander. I imagine Naani opening whorls of
cabbage like entering a space beyond us – my mother,
a child still, stands there, watching a moth enter
her mother’s mind, chewing at the leaves, fluttering
out of control.


Elephant Orifices

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

– Mary Oliver

My petal-eyed beloved texts me,
asks me, what are you doing?

I play his soft voice in my head,
each syllable drawing me in,
like a seeker to gnosis.

But I’m looking at the long,
ancient necks of roofed turtles.

I’m wondering about the sound
of two hard carapaces clashing
like coconut shells.

I’m thinking of beetles
that light up their abdomens –
sauntering gaily into the magnificence
of elephant orifices –

How their thick, sleepy trunk must inhale
such bioluminescence,
while their grey bodies crush
a field of green grass below.

I want to reply I love you.
But there is just so much fauna.

What if while I’m texting him, a sangai
wanders onto some giant phumdi?
Or a jacana lays her eggs on an old lily pad?

Who will notice then, the luciferin,
churning like small star jasmines
in the moist cave of a pachyderm’s nose?


After Louise Glück’s “Matins”

“Noah says depressives hate the spring”

Cuttlefish and octopuses:
I don’t know how to start a poem.

The singer sings of a dead calm and
I misread it as clam. I’m always looking
For ecology. Happy as a clam. More like
Waiting in the mangroves with pincers
Of a crab.

It is spring. Nobody cares.

A semul stands still as a painting on fire.
Flamingos are asleep in the creek.
The coral is burning with baya weavers.

So what I say.



We take rounds of the Lohri fire
like a forgotten ritual
we are forced to participate in

How this corn crackling in the fire,
splintering like old wood, mocks me,
embarrasses my thin roots
when my feet refuse to change
into bold hops that make the bhangra
or my hands fail to sway
femininely to perform a gidda

No tumbi plays in my forlorn heart

Whenever I think of my love –
I don’t think of the urban legend of Heer
and Ranjha crossing rivers, or of crows acting
like messengers between lovers

I recognize the sound of an alghoza
as a grating reminder of the songs
I cannot sing, in a language,
I do not know how to speak

I weave a broken tappa of syllables

I am Jugni, far from any idyllic field of maize

Jugni, running thick like rancid buttermilk

Jugni, sizzling like revdi in the holy fire

Jugni, untethered like a kite from a long spool of manjha

Jugni, uprooted like a twig on the waters of Jhelum


September Evening

I woke up to the amplified, booming sounds
of popular Bollywood tunes changed
to Govinda-themed lyrics –
about baby Krishna and his butter-stealing shenanigans
I wondered if Vasu ran a temperature – wading
across the cold, black lapping waters of Yamuna
and what scientific group did the beautiful Vasuki belong to
Tujhe gharaat nahi paani ghaaghar, govinda re gopala
I was rubbing my nose and running a fever
without having saved an infant –
While my mother brought me a bowl of pomegranates
and as if biting into them with my eyes I popped a zit on my nose.
A blob of bright red blood oozed – spreading
like scores of scarlet minivets netting the sky,
like Kansa dying – the red reminding me
of the blood-soil of Kurukshetra,
of the oil-mixed vermillion paste smeared by mother
on our kuldevta’s trident, every chandradarshan
Chaandi ki daal par sone ka mor
It began to rain hard on the boys making a pyramid
and then suddenly
– the crack of the handi


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