Tuesday, 17 April 2018

My Wretched Sphere

Maha Bindu 1988
by S. H. Raza

It almost always starts 
With one of Raza's large dots.
The magnified black sphere of my moist eye.
but surely searching. 

At the outset, it latches onto things closest.
The clutter on the bed
The somber painting hanging overhead
Perhaps that novel on the shelf
Replete with its winding nightmares
Or that Greek composer playing on loop
Piano, oboe, strings
Piano oboe strings
A melodic lump lodged in my throat.

It could also just be those things he said
Or didn't say
Or almost just did
Last night
Or many nights ago
By the window, right here
Or much further away.

Or that new note
in voices everywhere
Doled out in spurts
A nauseating amalgam of panic and pity.

I take a stroll each day along the elliptical orbits of my life
Looking for the sources of the cracks along the way
But this steady gliding and less than graceful sliding
Almost always slips me back into
That wretched black sphere
of my very own eye. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Lone Bead

Village (1956)
 by Syed Haider Raza

Linked tight into the human chain

Suddenly something snaps

 And you drift like a lone bead come undone

Slow whirling into space

Regarding the abyss below

Bewildered at those faces

Onward in their braces

Now so dim, their sheen

Much softer, their chug.

A grey cloud hanging overhead

Draws you in its embrace

And you wait spellbound

For the crack of light

To cut you through.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Problem with My Words

Fashion Show 
by Hannah Hoch

In the beginning
I was told
They were much too few.
Too hushed.
Too reluctant.
Barely enough to be healthy for a growing girl like me.
Embrace the world, they cheered me on.
Speak up!
They were still kind to me back then
Gazing down at me, amused perhaps
At the little girl with a fixed smile and no words.

As the words grew,
They grew to be selective
To people and to places.
I managed, in the smallest of circles, to crack a joke sometimes and at other times, wrench quite admirably, arguments in my favor.
I was regarded alternately, the clown and the sage.
But those fringed outside my orbit
Grudged me for what they thought was pride.

And then the time came 
When I fell in love
Like most young people tend to do
And I unearthed a spring of words
Deep within
Of which I never knew.
And they spurted and gushed onto lips and scented paper,
Sometimes stale, but sometimes true.
But even these words after their brief day in the sun
Were shunned as actually, a bit overdone.

You used them more intensely than you meant them, he concluded.
At least in hindsight, they seem a bit too much.  
How could anyone have remained untouched?
How could anyone not repeat after you,
as if in a trance,
a trance not brought on by you per se,
but by those words you so effortlessly wielded?
So, in your interest, for your future, he prescribed,
Take a good long moment before you utter one of your dear beloved words and go along strewing sentence after sentence and fooling in the bargain, poor souls into something they did not want all along. Maybe, do not trust all the words, bubbling into your mind. Cast them aside. And say the bare minimum. Understate always, if you have to declare anything at all.

So I scribbled secretly
my words
into frayed old notebooks
and deserted virtual walls
and even those that escaped my lips
I made sure were snipped to fit, what I thought, was the bill. 

But the commentary wouldn’t stop.
Friends occasionally noted their glossy artifice
And how I made the ordinary sound pretty.
Or remarked disdainfully of their dull propriety.
And one dear one even declared how in the end, they were all quite irrelevant.

I am these days,
Most uncertain about these most dearest of my possessions
While I trust them less and less each passing day
I have also come to believe for certain
That these moody words of mine,
Swimming restlessly like a cloud of tadpoles within me,
Are the only thing that can and will show me the way. 

Monday, 12 February 2018


Wang Jiqian (Wang, 1907-2003)
Cliffs and Boulders Contending in Beauty

A humble attempt to translate my father Anup Sethi's poem सामना (1985)

The mountain of grief stands tall, o child!
You will scrape at it with tender hands.

Not a scratch will you be able to engrave
Slashing at it for a lifetime.

A gravel of tear will float
And the whole world will sprawl into a blur before you.

Just keep your jaw clenched
And if possible, don’t blink. 

Monday, 22 January 2018


Self Portrait
by Andy Warhol (1966)

Is guilt my convenient conscience cleaner?
Like one of those acidic sprays off the shelf
No worries if a mess is made
I just draw out my handy friend
And wipe out my trail of stubborn stains?
It is, you seem to suggest, isn’t it?
You patient memoried surface of my spills and blows.

But it’s been far too long
And you’ve turned a bitter hue
With all the rubbing and scrubbing.

And me, oh so exhausted from this ritual
that has turned
that wretched blue bottle into a synthetic fifth limb.  

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


Persistence of Memory (1931)
By Salvador Dali

Oiling mother’s tired hair
Withered under each day’s sun
Tangled hopelessly behind her deceptive bun.

I moisten it gently
Like the month of July
And then,
Like I’ve seen her sometimes
Loosening the tense soil of a potted plant,
I push my fingers deeper
Into her slowly softening scalp.

The hair lusterless all week
Slowly grows adazzle and sleek
The strands of black and hennaed brown
And even the few greys that make her frown.

I go on to part her hair
Like opening a precious gilded book.
And almost magically
Flanks and flanks of regal silver
Tucked within these unseen folds
Come into my full view.

Was it Time I was staring at?
Wound up and waiting
In the heart of my mother’s dense hair?

In any case,
I oiled it too, tenderly.
And then,
Braided it with the rest.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

August Mornings

Waves of Love (1896)
by Edvard Munch

The cloud of sleep dissipates.
I wake up free falling.

Eyes still shut
I begin to feel once again
That ache
Unrelenting in its grasp.
Much like how you reached out to me.
Shoulders first.

Eyes still shut
My nose tingles next
With the dust in the stale air,
Suspended lifeless
From weeks of fastened windows and dead skin.

Eyes still shut
I hear my heart
Dripping through my ear into the pillow
Setting my head a-ticking.

Eyes still shut
I can see already
The dark
Like waves
Lapping against me.

The cloud of sleep by now dissipated,
With eyes still quite shut,
I wake up sunk,