Ahir Bhairav and 2 more poems

First published in Saaranga

Image result for black and white bird images

1.

AHIR BHAIRAV

Morningness bathes you. Grandfather’s
Arms rise skywards. The newspaper-man
hurls elastic-clasped, rolled-up
headlines into the porch. Mother
lights the stove to wake up milk.

Ahir Bhairav takes you to a place
so empty, it’s full. The absolute centre
of nothingness. The beginning of
all beginnings. A lighthole.

In a slowly-igniting corner of your mind,
your guru’s saintly beard unspools.
You can hear him talking about the sadhu
who devoted his life to the service of Bhairav,
the primordial sound. Your guru’s smile is
a cryptic message now.

Vilayat and Imrat lead you with strings.
Unscratched morning flows into
a cowshed. The uniraga sadhu still
befuddles, but with Ahir Bhairav, you
partake in a fraction of his madness, his
self-absorbed samadhi in the lighthole.

The school girl dreams. One day she’ll tune
her voice to the throat of the songbird
whose call mocks the cage of age.

***

2.

FISH OUT OF WATER

Water was the first traitor she came
To know. It didn’t drown her.
Seasoned traitors seldom do that.
She was the river’s sibling-child, knew
its mood swings, joaar and bhata
like she did her night terrors, throat-clasping.
Easy to forget once the grip loosened.

When father spread his net over
its body, the river heaved through
the mesh, packing fish into its giant
mouth. She should have known then
What it is to be thrown onto dry
Ground. Gasp. Wriggle. Writhe. Succumb.
Forget that water ever nestled your breath.

The river’s betrayal came not in abandoning her.
It did when it became a concrete mesh,
And she, a fish in the city’s sewage tank.

***

3.

UNTITLED

A long-dead poet brings home truths to the work desk.
Mid-day ennui seeks lunch break and a walk in the park.
Between flesh and flight, the girl chooses to ride the breeze
Like kebab smoke trailing the gallies of purani Delhi. Careless, footloose.
Another dead poet dreams of a new day on earth, a more womanly day.
Old wounds find new ways of festering. Congealed blood rejects washing.
Rain harnesses in megapixels tears that no longer wet hearts.

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LISTENING TO U. SRINIVAS

Mandolin’s secrets have no use for cover.
They burst open into reveried splinters
And flood your waking dreams.

Mandolin lures moody southern
Winds; blows them lustily in your
Courtyard. The breeze ruffles
Your hair, your sourness.

At temples, Mandolin gathers the
Holy fire of the morning sun to bathe
Your face.

When Mandolin plays, you turn
Into a snake and slither without a hiss
To a corner where the string
Charmer leads you.

Mandolin indoctrinates without
A mantra. Magicians rarely
Need one. You become a bird and
fly away with Mandolin.

More on U. Srinivas here.

 

Rain

When wetness changes form,
it becomes Bhairavi; its
fragility relative.

Rain is a distraction,
sly but welcome. It hoards
sadnesses and spits out promises.

Distance reduces vision.
Water is its
own biggest burden.

Bhairavi keeps us
afloat — its illusion
slicker than crystal rain.

Sunset and Moonrise in Kumaon

First published in Five2One

A film song carries the
background score of
the hills and the

weight of its sunsets.
An opacus swallows
friends’ Laughter.

The moon is a
torn heart tonight.
What price

The bondage of
togetherness —
Fleeting or longer?

My head in the middle
of a sun-slathered snowy
Himalayan range. A spectre

locked in eternity. Do the
Treacherous cliffs
Have elasticity of memory, too?

Asavari

First published in Open Road Review

The sooty morning rankles
with smoke and fear
from last night’s gunfire.
On some streets, the
blood is yet to clot.

An old man sings
Asavari on the radio. His
voice quivers
through the unsteady
channel. Asavari, with more
flat notes than full.

On another morning,
A funnel had sucked
the sky black. With
smoke billowing from
bodies of turbaned men
set alight inside cars.

I did not know Asavari then
but did, the notation of
wailing. Full-throated
groaning set against
the flat notes of mourning.

On the poet’s birthday,
we sang his composition in
Asavari. “I cherish the slumber
that you break with your song.”
One marvelled at the poet’s ingenuity
to make flat notes vibrate
in awakened celebration.

Asavari plays on
the radio. The singer’s aging
voice jars with the
newscaster’s breaking-news.
A man is dragged and
lynched for what they
decide he ate. Flat notes
flounder to rise above full ones.

 

A Song in the Cloud–Kajri

In his comment to my previous post, Abhay said, “Rains bring some of the most original emotions.” I think that holds especially true in a tropical setting like India, where the prolonged and scorching summer makes the monsoon season one of the most awaited and treasured. Consequently, the metaphor of rain makes its appearance in all things creative–painting, literature, music, cinema. Rains here evoke a host of emotions, from joyous outbursts that sing with the dancing greens to pangs of separation from one’s lover that cry with every burst of lightning and thunder. The latter translates into a particular form of folk/semi-classical music called Kajri.

Sung in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Kajri has a popular legend associated with it. According to folklore of Mirzapur, a place in UP, a woman named Kajli had to live in separation from her husband, who lived in a faraway land. She would miss him all the time, but when thick clouds splashed monsoon showers across the land, the estrangement became unbearable for her. She is believed to have taken her petition to a certain goddess Kajmal with her wailing. The other origin story comes from the Hindi word kajal, meaning kohl. The colour black is related to the dark clouds of monsoon, which in this case, bring relief.

If folk beats and earthy melody interest you, listen to a selection of Kajri here.

Image:

Bovitz

Hason Raja’s Songs

A while back, I wrote about the timeless appeal of Kabir. What is it that makes any creation timeless? The most obvious answer would be that the creation continues to make an impact long after it’s first created. However, another facet of ageless works is that they continue to hold relevance even when seen outside their original context; they fit into any and every life situation and require no knowledge of the backdrop in which they were created.
I say this as I contemplate on the songs of Hason Raja, a 19th-century mystical poet from Bengal. I first heard the songs some six-seven years back, when my brother brought some audio tapes from a trip to Bangladesh. The songs had a distinct folk identity, marked by earthy tunes and simple, everyday language. A few of them touched me instantly.

Roop dekhilam re noyone
Aaponar roop dekhilam re

Amar majh to bahir hoyiya

Dekha dile aamare

I saw my reflection
In your eyes.
You revealed yourself to me
By emerging from within me.


The reason I mentioned context in the beginning of the post is that once I read facts about Hason Raja’s life, I was nearly bowled over. His songs reflected a Sufi-inspired minstrel who spent his life celebrating the oneness of all creation and seeing the divine in everything. On reading about him I found the reverse was true, at least as far as his youth was concerned. Like most members of the affluent community, he spent his youth in the company of dancing women, financial and material indulgence, and much of the symbols associated with the hereditary rich of 19th-century India (Bengal was still a part of undivided India at the time). In his later life, however, he turned away from the material way of life and became mystical inclined. He wrote hundreds of songs using simple language, most of which underscore the undivided nature of all life—an idea that seems increasingly relevant and important.

“Tumi ke aar ami ba ke
tai to ami bujhi naa re.

Eke bina dwitio ami

Onyo kichhu dekhi naa re.”

I cannot fathom
Who you are and who I am.
I fail to see
Any second thing apart from the One.

To listen to songs of Hason Raja, visit this link.