Children Of The Light
Pretty little January has just arrived
And she’s brought her friends with her;
Oceans of gold and green
Draping the rain-blessed healed land.
The modern highway splits the ocean apart,
Threatening encroachment upon
Those innocent golds.
Yellow petals and brown heads
Dance all day long obeying the sun,
Ignorant of the world of man.
They smile and look their best
While the farmer Children of the Light
sheds tears for life;
The human world of pain and lost dreams
Is just too much for their frail beauty.
Passers-by stop and stare,
Some take selfies with the golden children,
Some pluck, some paint, some write poetry
But all acknowledge their beauty
And fail to see the truth –
Blood, sweat and dreams gone dry
As greed-ridden men suck the poor
Like vampires lusting for more,
Nothing remain but bare white bones
Scattered in a land lost to the future,
Bleak, withered and dying,
Fading into the dusk of tyranny –
The golden angels wave their petals
At ambition, pride and greed.
Do they welcome the triumvirate of tomorrow
Or say adieu to the peace of yesterday?
The sun slowly lowers his head in shame
To the reigning darkness.
What has he to offer the night
But brilliant light that she despises?
And his followers, the light pixies
Turn dark, awaiting a brighter tomorrow
When there is none.
The children of the Light fade away
From this world of misery and loss,
Hoping, they wait in vain in the dark
Tossing their yellow-gold heads with impatience
To bloom again.
2. The Coliseum of Numbers
Question papers to be set?
Here we sit racking our brains…
Couch potatoes that we are.
What to include, what not to,
To write or not to write,
What for multiple choice,
What ‘brief’ answers –
The answer is ‘brief’ always –
What analysis, discussions and illustrations?
Half-asleep, we cook our brains in their shells
And bring our tempers to the boil.
We nudge into pathetic words;
Words that sound big
‘Elucidate’, ‘Present’, ‘Examine’
And worst of all ‘Critically Analyse’
When the test is critical indeed.
Neat printouts and handouts
Submitted on time; we grin
Like the Cheshire Cat.
Who cares about the massacre
In the exam hall?
That modern Coliseum,
That amphitheatre where souls die
In combat for numbers.
Red ink splashed on paper,
Innocent blood on ancient stone walls.
The parents cheering them on,
Expectations to be met.
Atlas has to be Atlas
To carry the world.
Man and beast clash
Nails vs claws and fangs
They who are about to die
The blank sheet remains glaring
While Innocence is slain
And creativity slaughtered.
3. ‘Now’ what is it?
Those ‘holy’ days that sin,
Those days that trap us
Into a void,
A void of inactivity
And illusions of happiness.
Am I happy?
My problems pack their bags
And keep me company.
The devil does peep
Into my life every now and then.
Travel? See newt things?
But tomorrow always comes.
There’s always a today,
There’s always a ‘now’.
An imp jumping up and down
Old bones and chilled spines.
Every man has his ‘now’.
Well, waste not, want not.
But want ‘now’.
Because it always comes
But never comes back.
4. My Precious
Where is my smartphone?
Where is that rascal?
I’m looking for my relative’s house
And no Google Maps. Impossible.
What’s the cost of petrol today?
Gold? Silver? Onions?
Can’t even order a decent takeaway.
What are my appointments today?
The ‘devil’ only knows. Reminders?
I’ve forgotten them all.
I don’t know the phone numbers
Of my parents.
Curse my tech-dependant memory.
Hell, all my class notes are in there!
Four years of mind-wrenching work
All gone up in the air
(Perhaps that’s what they mean by cloud storage)
What’s the time? What’s today?
I can’t even watch TV;
The monster controlled the TV and the AC.
Lost my contacts, my books
(Did I order anything on Flipkart?)
My subconscious speaks.
Emails? Messages? Calls?
My salary statements are in there.
What in the world?
A beep-beep followed by a whirrrr…
I sit up in bed. That alarm!
Oh, what a nightmare!
The little devil glares,
Its LED smiling
Under my pillow all the time.
Ah, my precious!
Why did I sound like Gollum?
5. What is this life, if full of care?
We have time to stand and stare
Not at the beauty of nature
But at our smartphones.
Life without Google
Would be a dreary desert indeed.
What fun it is
To type in my new tab
While the old notebook and pen
Weep their goodbyes with dust.
My old hardbound books
Sigh with neglect
As I read pdfs in comfort.
What is this life, if full of care
We have no technology to spare?
Ten years from now
There won’t be paper
And there won’t be poetry.
Thoughts will be captured
Death of the author, indeed.
We are a new species,
We won’t be a ‘we’
But something between ‘we’ and ‘it’.
What is life, if full of care,
When life does not have life to spare?
6. The Funeral of Truth
Let me not mourn the loss of truth
But let me rejoice the rebirth of ancient knowledge.
Truth is lost but knowledge lives
In a world where wisdom is not real.
Let me celebrate the rise of illusion
For truth has died in his arms.
Bitter, infuriating and a thing of the past,
Let me not mourn the death of reality.
Love is but the brainchild of greed,
Seduced by the touch of wealth.
Where is that thing they once called compassion?
Lost in the desert winds and ocean caves
But let me not muse upon the loss
For ambition stands waiting
In the place where truth once stood.
Let me not keep him waiting
For he is a cruel taskmaster
Who helps survive in this hostile world
Of falsehood and treachery.
He provides when all else fails.
Let me not shed a tear for the departed
For greed watches with envy.
All are leveled in ashes
And in death shall truth be reborn.
But where is the crib that will hold her?
Only a dusty coffin remains.
7. The Flag Seller
Get your Republic Day flags here!
Two for ten rupees only.
Patriotism, bhai sahabs and mem sahabs,
Remember to get your flags here.
Don’t you want flags today?
What will you wave
When the big flag goes up?
Offer your respect, sahabs
Nowhere will you get this offer
No, no, for ten rupees, not less;
Alright, I’ll give you this sticker
Just for five rupees.
Both of us are happy now,
Which is good for business.
Areh, wah! What a speech!
It must surely mean something
With all the emotion and clapping!
And that is good for business too.
2 flags for twenty rupees only!
These foreign sahabs always paaymore.
What did he say? Uplifting the poor?
Then bhaiyya, why am I here?
Flags! Flags, buy your flags here!
8. The Forgotten Neem
‘Don’t burn the garbage below the Neem,’
It was scared.
‘You’ll be punished if you don’t listen,’
The filth burned beneath another tree.
Neem remained sacred that day,
Green leaves dancing with the sun
And singing with the evening breeze.
Days slipped off the calendar sheets,
Neem went on unkempt and neglected.
But put up a great fight for life.
Draught, pollution and the lumber workers,
Hot air and axes
Got the better.
Great Neem lost the battle
And yielded to the furniture-makers.
A sacred new armchair in the great hall.
Mother, old and frail, dozed in the chair
One bleary afternoon.
‘It’s so hot. Where’s that Neem?’ she asked.
The air conditioner whirred it’s monstrous
Cold heart within.
With hungry eyes and a thirsting heart,
The boy by the gate,
Selling flowers to college girls
And tender coconuts to thirsty travellers.
Where does his heart travel?
The girls giggle and laugh,
Books in their hands
And the joy of youth in their minds.
Carefree, they trot.
The boys stares…
The golden gates of education
Permit those who pay
Green money for raw wisdom.
The flowers wilt and curl
Under a merciless summer sun.
The sun goes down
And the boy packs up
His poverty tugging at his back.
Hand-in-hand they walk.
Books and learning are far off castles
In a fairyland paradise.
Pen and ink will never feed
All too many wailing mouths
Waiting by the cold hearth.
All those letters in those dreamy books
Are not a match for paper money,
The red-eyed monster
That sees all, knows all
And conquers all.
Hey, you! yes, you there, red shirt! Stand up!
The student squirms in his worn-shiny old bench;
He stands up and braces for impact.
What’s your problem? Can’t you listen?
Poor mother slaving at home,
A drunk dad beating her up,
A little sister working in the factory…
Say something man! Are you deaf!
No respect these days!
Work after college;
Back-breaking work binding books,
All that useless wisdom lying about his feet
When none can put food in their bellies.
Why the hell do you come to college?
He shuffles out quietly, heart in his throat,
The whole family slaves for this education,
That worn bench and those second-hand books.
I’d rather work full time in the press,
More money, more food,
The family will be better.
Why come to college
And listen to the barking teacher?
He shuffles out, heart in his hand,
Ready to take on the world.
Books about the feet are better
That books in the hand.
This is the sun-caressed land of black sand,
Scorched on request
By the Eternal Sun.
Drought and summer;
Hard, cracked, parched, dry beyond dryness…
Oh, for a drop of rain!
But wishes go as far as wishes can get;
The toiling farmer prays hard
And the corn springs up in December,
Dry cold and grey sand,
Grit in the eyes.
The farmer kills himself
And the corn withers.
Thorn bushes as far as the eye sees
And a bleary dust-rimmed horizon
Where the crowned Sun commands
Hackers before April,
A short but sweet life for sunflowers
And the immortal barrenness begins.
Farmer women rip the thorns apart,
Dark and wrinkled like raisins,
Children mewling on their backs.
They learn that life is hard and merciless
In the hardest way possible;
Drought is their master.
But we remain, with hope,
Because this land has taught us,
The dry land, the mother of hope
And our God.
12. From abroad
Our rich uncle is coming today!
And from UAE too.
Where is that?
Who cares? He’s bringing gifts!
Mom is preparing a grand feast!
The kids remain kids till night.
The uncle arrives;
Large, smiling and very round,
Proud and hearty.
Here you go kids!
He displays the gifts on the mud floor,
Chocolates, perfumes, dates…
His webbed hands heave from his bag
Till they wobble and stop.
Remember kids, these are costly things,
So don’t share.
And remember. They’re from abroad
So they’re a hundred times better
Than what you have here.
The glitter from the foreign things
Settles in the eyes of the kids.
Now, who do you want to be like
When you grow up?
Like our uncle from abroad!
13. Shadows of Progress
City of pearls, sang the lays of yore,
The city of sparkling beaches
And blue skies
Where Love danced with
The crests of foamy waves
And fragrant palm groves.
Come today, the city is in the shadow
Of its former self.
Rows of factories, chemical industries
And power projects
Run by the government
Squat around the now grey beaches.
Gone is the tide; the sea is a lake.
And the groves are now
Dumping yards with stinking waste.
The sky is dark, it is eternal night,
And wisps of smoke float around
In the shoes of white clouds.
Huge trucks empty their bellies
Into the swallowing sea;
Her mouth is forced upon;
The air is thick with progress.
There are no cows or sheep
Only fast cars race past
On the indifferent smooth highway.
There are no birds chirping around,
The horns of trucks wail with want.
The past didn’t have glassy stores
Or colossal hypermarkets
But they had life, hadn’t they?
The shadows of progress flit past,
They squirm like hungry worms
But where are the bodies that cast them?
Lying drunk in the cartels of modernism.
14. The Paradise of Sweets
The confectioner’s shelves gleam
With the dreams of little children.
Chocolates in silky paper, rainbow candies,
Wobbly jellies, sticky gums, chewy toffees,
Pink marshmallows, crunchy wafers,
Ice cream wonders, creamy treats,
Twisted mints and love on sticks!
A paradise of sweets and sins.
The magnetic aroma draws kids,
A toxin of business and temptation.
A little more to spend,
A little less to afford.
A hard earned penny
For a sweet little indulgence.
The price has gone up.
The price goes up everyday.
The sweets from paradise appear sweeter
And more colourful, they call from their shelves…
The little price tag
On the ear of each candy
Is a pretty little sight indeed.
Of course, we could spend a little more.
It’s just a little more.
The bill rolls out of the counter
And the sweet sins are in their pretty parcel.
The only way to resist temptation
Is to give in.
This is what the corporate goes by.
This is how they rule us.
Then again, it’s a trifle,
15. Watery Woes
His birthplace is the legendary mountain,
The resting place of demons of old
And his life ebbs out now for demons of today.
Green fields of flourishing rice,
Yellow gardens of childlike corn,
Fragrant spices along his banks
And plantain trees,
All nurtured by his gentle hand,
Have gone to God knows where.
Industries of progress in their place
Thrive upon his crystal life-bearing water
To breath out smoke into the sky
And paint his blue-green face
With toxins, ash and soot.
Singing farming maids have no farms
To sing and work in.
Singing birds have no trees
To nest their lives in.
Infestation by humans
Extinction by self.
The river murmurs quietly by
As he descends to his watery grave.
16. That new summer sky
That new summer sky is up
Clear, blue and bright.
Each day is longer than night
Each breeze hotter than before.
New born flowers are razed
With heat waves,
Little drops of water in lakes
Dry up like cowards in battlefields.
Birds sleep by day and feed at night;
Owls, they have all become.
Humans prey on everything
Predators they are.
Heat waves leave them alone
And torture the others.
Clouds melt away
Like ice creams.
Dust wafts by like snowflakes.
Only, it isn’t dust
But industrial exhaust.
Everyone totters by with
Black-rimmed eyes and wheezy breaths,
Modern evolved beings we are.
That new summer sky laughs
To see us changed thus.
How we have changed ourselves
By changing nature.
By U. Fathima Farzana