The Whistle of the White Winter Night

It must have been around 7 in the morning when we finally landed in Leh, breathing out the fog that was so thick in the air, after almost four days of restless sleep and constant bouts of decision-making keeping us on our toes. With the flights getting cancelled and us being stuck at Delhi airport—not being able to make our way into Leh; having to sleep on the floor, sustaining on the stalls inside the airport (it was quite The Terminal experience), to the trek being called off by the government due to adverse weather conditions and the trek company refusing to refund our money; everything that could go wrong had already gone wrong.

But somehow, and it all did seem like a reverie considering all the parts of my body, inside and out, were quite numb from the cruel wind that was biting the flesh off my skin and it felt like I would crumble and be taken by it far far away to the high mountains, we made it to the land where the gods sweep the dry Earth with its cold winds. The clean air and a friend of mine blabbering information about the names of the various ranges of massive mountains surrounding us, the music inside my head came to a peaceful pause, which was much welcomed, given how long it had been since I lend silence an ear. I could stand there forever, to soak in the cheering flight staff (on being the first flight to have successfully made a landing in Leh in 5 days), the noisy cabbies and the red-cheeked strangers; it all seemed so unfamiliar but so warm; like a mad rush of blood to my face.

We hurriedly got into a cab and reached our hotel, which turned out to be a warm little place (but not so peaceful) with a bukhari (heater) in the middle of the reception area. If you ever lose someone in that hotel, I bet my soar hangnail, by the bukhari is where your reunion is likely to be. Anyhoo, we waited and we waited and we waited some more for our trek guide to turn up, to give us more information on what’s to be done next. He showed up at around 9 and told us that he still didn’t have too much on the government’s decision and that he would let us know as soon as he could. We decided to use this time to explore the city and city market which was basically lanes and lanes of shops – surrounded by walls of snow-capped mountains on all sides — selling silly, colourful knitted caps, extremely warm, sweat-inducing clothes and old men with prayer wheels, fatherly smiles and colourful stories, oh and dry fruits; loads and truck loads of dry fruits. Did I forget to mention the furry little dogs that have the potential to be supremely ferocious, if only they were not so cute and snuggly and couldn’t stop licking you! One little thing decided that the sleeve of my woolen jacket was a good home for him, and he was quick to claim his territory — while I was still in it! “It’s okay”, he seemed to say with his big, round eyes;” I be fairly accommodating!” I think I saw a little bit of a wink too!

After gathering essentials from the market and regretting having bought our trekking gear from Mumbai at thrice the price, we treated ourselves with some Jasmine tea, some Kahwa and some Thukpa in a quiet little café on the bustling road at the heart of the market. Even though the steam from the tea wouldn’t quit fogging my specs, I couldn’t wait long enough to clear the blurred vision before sipping on the tea and slurping down some mountain noodles; everything made doubly delicious by the warmth of the tiny café, their pretty red carpet spread across its floor and the blushed smile spread across the owner’s face AND some mountain music playing in the background! And when mountain music beckons, you got to climb some mountains to go looking for the place where this music really comes from. And so, full-bellied, we set off, to climb the nearby peaks and reach a place where the endless mountain finally broke and the skies came to view. We waited at the top till the sun surrendered its light, and then we began to make our way back down.

When we got back to the hotel, we were greeted with some delightful news. The trek was back on and we were going to walk the river! How exciting! Or so I thought. My excitement was taken over by apprehension when I looked around and noticed a room so jam-packed with people that you wouldn’t need warmers at -3 degrees; they were all going to go with us! Since the frozen river had been made inaccessible for almost 5 days, all these people who were kept from it, would be starting on the same day as we were. There goes my dream of some peaceful solitude, away from awkward conversations, in the cold winter of the Himalayas!

Thankfully, everyone dispersed and went their separate ways at separate timings which made the morning a lot more peaceful than the day before had been. We were less than 15 people in the vehicle (which is still much for my liking, but maybe I should be counting my blessings instead of complaining!) and to my surprise strangers have a LOT to say to each other, which is very intriguing to me. I spent all my time looking out the window and pretending I didn’t hear any of it, since, not surprisingly, I had nothing to say.

After maybe 3 hours, we reached a dead end from where we were to begin walking down to the tents on the frozen river. It was around a 6-7 kilometer walk on an especially slippery, narrow strip of land, with patches of smooth ice camouflaged with dirt, on the mountain, with a massive drop on one side and a wall of a combination of loose and hard rock on the other, in the dark of the night without no moon to guide our way. I finally managed to lose everyone on the trail! I FINALLY managed to get myself the walk I so desired. I didn’t know where I was headed, couldn’t find my head torch and found myself on the flattened path alone. It should be scary, but unsurprisingly and undoubtedly, it was the best hour of my life when I had no sight of, no sound of and no breath of another soul touch me, for miles to come. Heck! I did not even have sight of where I was walking or what I would walk into. It was pitch-black and my eyes took as long as it took the snow to come into view to adjust to the lack of light. Blame the imagination, but it was much like walking in space (not that I have walked in space to know any better!) for it was so dark and so quiet with a spread of stars up ahead — so close to you, you’d feel like you were walking among them — and no end in sight. It was like walking into nothingness. The thing about high mountains is that it’s dead up there, hauntingly quiet, with no crickets or cicadas to keep you distant company too. Nothing but the whistle of the night! I could walk forever for I felt as light as air itself, even with a 12 kg backpack which was supposed to wear me down with each step with my lungs not getting sufficient oxygen and my legs getting tired of trying to hold the ground in an attempt to keep upright so I don’t find myself face down in the mud!

The night was beautiful, yet so thick with drama that I couldn’t fathom her true character. Her clandestine demeanor — how she sneaked up and surrounded me in no time — I wondered, for a long long time, what she really was and what she was trying to do to me.

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Was she wicked…?
In the nest of winter,
Nyx was in the thick
Of her reign,
The army of Erebus
Hypnos, and Thanatos
In full support…

Together
They had spread
The veins
Of their territory
In every direction,
And seized all
That belonged to Helios…

They ambushed him,
Lynched him
Nibbled at my shadow
Bit by bit
Stole it,
Cut it short
Little by little,
Inch by inch…

As they burnt the flesh of the sky,
From blue
To pink
To a dusky purple
To a much deeper hue
And spread the darkness around…

With Hades
Screaming beckons
From the gurgling Acheron —

Charred
By the cold winds,
The day retired!

Was she lonely and waiting to be formed…?

Mist from the rivers,
Prayers in the wind
The night slowly walks in on me

So thick, so light
So much, all around
Held me, guarded me,
Tickled me
It made me laugh

Paved my way,
Walked up ahead of me
One long mile at a time

So warm, so comforting,
So cold, all dark
Tripped me, lifted me,
Talked to me,
It listened to all my tales…

Amongst the high rocks
And the cold river
Maybe she sought company
And the voice
Of a troubled sound
She could help pronounce…

Maybe my dark thoughts
Deepened the color
Of the night…
Maybe that’s how
All nights are born…

Was she troubled and calling out to me…?

The darkness was purring;
Imprisoned,
In the rugged hands of winter…
Water on the road,
Frozen,
From the duel with the skies…
The rocks bleak whimpering,
Ceded,
When Boreas declared his stay…

She shivered,
Bellowed
In her quietude
Looking for an escape…
Serena was captured,
Broken
Into much littler
Sprinkles of light…
They now shine their brightest —
Waiting —
As a bellow, as a cry…

Or she was suspicious of my presence…?

As the chary night
Lay on its side,
Burnt — the darkness intensifies
With the dawn of caution
Slyly from over the stars
It furiously pries
On the stranger that had walked into her
Without summons…

The effrontery of the swarthy visitor
To enter her perimeter
The impudence — such nerve
With a hint of self-assured hubris
Of being licked by blistering fire…
Beckoned Boreas to serve
While she herself grew stronger and bolder
In horizontal abundance…

The beauteous purple skies
Were only a guise
Poof — disappeared in an instant
Taken over by the charred black
Painted over the dark naught
Spread across and stationed
Soundlessly and watchfully
At not too far a distance…

She watched her visitors stride
Dim down, alongside the assumed pride
Boreas’s sprinkle — my fire croaked
From within me, while the night walked
Like a hawkshaw
Under the semblance of indolence, she moped
To befriend me, to know my story,
To get me to break the walls of resistance…

She doesn’t do well at all with unanswered questions,
There is no comfort in secrets…
And so she stripped me,
Of all my secrets,
My dreary and my might
And all the other queries that the night
May have for me!

Or maybe she was a sculptor…?

Melting corners,
The hands of Nyx
Sculpting awareness,
A little to the left,
A little on the side,
A lump of gorgeous mess
Much by the jest
Of Erebus
Playfully closing every door
Set
My internal blare
To rest…

A little damaged,
A tiny bit broken,
Cracks and all,
I learnt a thing
Or two
From
My solitude
As the intense quiet
Peacefully held me
Through the night…

Or maybe none of it…!
Maybe she just was, like me!
Without purpose,
Without due…
Walking alongside me
Because we were
And happened to be…
In the vicinity
Alongside each other

We were…
We just were,
And will be…!

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The Wanderer

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A walk to the light,
May not always be paved by a road…
The winds and the rocks,
And the songs of the birds,
Steer you gently towards the friendly ford…!
And thence a voice from the skies herald,
‘Not all those who wander are lost,
For it is the mountains who to them accost’!

Summoned at the arrival of the untamed warmth,
The tormented soul burns with anguish to explore…
The reaches of its depths,
And the lock to its chambers,
When the violent winds order him to soar…
And the heaving soul thence declares,
‘My answers are not on the roads they take,
I ain’t the one to walk the paths they made’!

The resfeber of the curious rover,
Bursts out in a fulminant melody…
It giggles and it swivels,
As it wheels on the golden earth,
For the soul has, at last, discovered to cherish its singularity…
Paint me purple, it squeaks with glee,
As the soft whistles of the evening play,
Recite remembrances of the day.

I live with the mountains, And I talk to the stones,
I glare a bewildered stare, as they tell me their story,
Of how they rose,
From the crust to the waters to, now, the heavens,
Gifted with a golden crown of undefeated glory…
Hear! The roaring sound of the sentinel conqueror scream,
‘He who is lost is not always looking for the way,
For he revels in the sound mystery of mirth and dismay’!

I am joyous like the playful water, I am free,
Untamed like the fire in the skies…
I am limitless like the aether, I am indefinite,
Unrestrained like the winds…
I am whole, I am part, I belong to no one like the spirit that never dies…
I am one, I am many, Oh! Way too many,
And with armed spirits I walk on, for I am, Oh! Sir,
I AM…THE WANDERER!

 

 

Winter Fix

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Brumous nights
And wet skies
Veiled the soft shivers
Of sundered bights…
The talking breeze
Healing whispers so deep,
The surreptitious sensations
Of Erato…

Laced fingers
In thick blood
Under the spread
Of skins…
The melted crud
As warm as cinder
Splashed fire
On two canvases…
The painted souls
In slippery time
Soaked in sweet brine
Sucked out of ghouls
The red so red
As the texture
Of wine
On a white night…

From the depths of me
To the depths of you
Embrace your darkness
And the fireflies will find you…

 

The admonitory sage called ‘Afterthought’

It is quite often, lately, that I find myself fettered in perplexity, to be a respectful and silent listener to the beautiful unmusicality of bewildering sounds trying to reach some sort of a consensus in my head. I am lost on the cause of the debate since they happen to make sounds that haven’t found their way into any living language. It’s like Morse fuckin’ code, every time I begin to follow a little of the dialogue, it changes pattern! It’s just noise to me! Loud, impetuous noise! Multiple speakers and not a word that makes sense, and I am just sitting there rolling my eyes, waiting for them to unite or tire! It’s like being in a colony of puffins’ right around the time of hatching!

Soon I come to realize the number of debaters are only two. Carl Jung from my college days, says, they go by the name of anima and animus. She tries to be the woman, encumbered by all the virtue she has learnt from centuries past, graveled in her characteristic form and, he, the uncouth bawdy man with his anguish of being all that comes with the territory of being defined since the beginning of time and associated with his form (the duality of existence manifested and symbolized in gender; or genitals, is it?!) All of this discombobulation playing out in the top shelf I used to, very mistakenly, address to as ‘my sacred house of blissful sanity’.

It would explain so much to think that all of my relationships have been a projection of the interplay between my anima and animus; no wonder they follow the same trail and end at the same place! It’s like it is a show in real time of all those explosions in the unconscious at the time. The cord or discord between my archetypes defines my interactions with any significant person; the actual conversation between the two parts of me.

This poem is about more things than I can hope to elucidate. Its hero, though, is smoke (which is obscurely clear); the smoke that wavered around and molded the imagery, words and colors! This poem could be about my relationships or about the anguish of duality or a description of me making love. Or it could be all of it, or nothing entirely!

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Swathed

Cream
As the color
Of old,
Shriveled
Bones…
Seated on the cold
Rhinestone,
Singing in a
Baritone,
The cornerstone
Of eventual
Bemoan,
The gnome
Guarding
The crossbones
At the entrance
Of the crypts
Where lay
His chivalry…

His chivalry,
Cream
As the color
Of old,
Shriveled
Bones…

White
Of the floating
Smoke
Afoot
The clandestine
Ceiling…
Its furtive sway
Quite revealing,
Or concealing,
Flicker
In and out,
The mummer’s dismay,
Aithalos
Was healing
Quite appealing…
Wings her Eris,
Strict annealing,
For her innocence…

Her innocence,
White
Of the floating
Smoke
Afoot
The clandestine
Ceiling…

Quiet
As the
Long drawn
Silence
Between me and me…
Gee! It felt
Kinda feathery,
A little cold,
A little thick,
And a little tickely…
Against a stone face
And an
Indiscernible smile…
Acquiescent to my
Plea,
To flee
Into the corner
Of the edge
Of my world,
And look down into
The quiet…

Quiet
As the
Long drawn
Silence
Between him and me…

 

Published: ‘Six by Eight Feet’

Published

Recumbent…asthenic…
Still as beauteous as vernal willow,

In the kaleidoscopic gossamers of light
Streaming from her corner
Winded by the contiguous timber
That had been her comrade
For half a century past…

She looked as young as the day she had come in,
As blazing as the skies
As sweltering as the aureole
As fervent as the storms
As fiery as the orange she donned…

As unwonted, as vehement, unequalled, an intrepid
As… as
Still, tranquil…
As pleasant as she was ole…

Impetuousness…brawn
And the strength of a stalwart equine,

Dwarfed by the inflexible darkness
Screaming from right down the core
Of the unceasing march of stone walls
Silent in progression
But spry to house her soul…

First day in, she had looked as stripped as a newborn
As harried as the dusty lands
As ravaged as carrion
As broken as a dream
As lost as a letter on silent grounds…

As stark, as scourge, bleak, astray
As…as
Disrobed, barren
As fragmented as her impending dawn…

The rambunctious shrieks
And the unruly brawls

Blatant rape of her space
And being
Raucous ordains and
The arduous inane labor
Reeking of the melancholy of trapped demons

At the end of their game.
The black bile
Consuming the hallways,
Each solitary cell,
Their sanity and resolve…

Vacuous words
From people who had once been
But now were as lost
As they were around…
Reposed…sang-froid…
As empty as the night

Spilt of all juices, thoughts, dreams
Poured out like black blood
From a wound;
She felt whole
Her being now hard bound and delivered…

It lay on the rack as sacred as her first words
As hallow as her fatuous sins
Filled with tales of purple trees
And talking breeze
And ALL the splendor her life had not seen…

Her beautifully unveiled imagination
As bound as she had been
Inside these walls for 56 years
Back at 18, she finally felt free…

Recumbent…asthenic…
Still as beauteous as vernal willow,

In the kaleidoscopic gossamers of light
Streaming from her corner
Winded by the contiguous timber
Of the dark forest
Outside her prison walls…

As she lay breathing her last,
The guards queried
What kept her going that long
She lifted her eyes
And looked one last time

Across the dark room
And the cold stone walls
Out her crooked little window
She was at peace

Six by eight feet
That was her swansong.

Aria of a Buskin

Those damned days when the countless voices of the sundry alters (as in alter egos!!!) you created with blood, sweat and tears (and a reasonable amount of insanity and, to be fair, maybe a little psychosis!), over 26 gruesomely long years, stop talking to you one day. ‘All the bees in the bonnet have left the building’, they say. And you have already written about not being able to write, well, that’s pretty much the end of the road, I guess.

Moving to a new city (and a sluggishly slow one at that!) may be the worst time, I can imagine, to be abandoned by those imaginary (they might be for real, too, but let’s keep that a secret!) characters in my head. Since I am pretty much clueless about what to do with my weekends (not that I am a whole lot sure about my weekdays either!), I miss those nagging buggers more than ever.
Since they are on a break (from me, I imagine), I was thinking about things I could write of. Things, places, people, objects, memories that I was fascinated by; that could be quilted together into a (somewhat) sensibly flowing story. And, (as my rusted luck on a lazy weekend would have it) I got a picture in my head, of boots. Interesting shit! These boots had had quite a journey. Although they were only an acquaintance, I had met them, but, once! But heck! Was I fascinated by them! They belonged to a friend whose father went to the Kargil war (and the boots went with him, of course!). They not only went to war and back and survived to tell the tale but are still in a hearty condition (better than my current writing condition, and that’s ‘not’ saying a lot), now, sixteen years hence, passed on as a legacy (or just passed on, to avoid the dramatics!). They seem to be taking the transition into civilian life darned well, from what I can tell! Anywho, if I was feeling a little less punctured, this one would have been a funny one. But for now it’s pretty darn sullen. And not my best, but hey! I at least got something down after so long! Some credit, yo!

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Aria of a Buskin

That trip to the barren lands,
I remember;
The unceasing tors,
And clouds of dust,
Searing ground and no vision,
But for
The rotting red
At every step,
That the eye caught
For a second
Before getting lost,
In the haze.

The trip to the brackish lands,
I remember;
An echelon of,
Discombobulated resolute
Passers-by,
Who didn’t pass-by,
No more…
Loose grounds and no sound
But for
The sound
That merrily jounced
In the distance,
Discourteous
To the dead.

And the unnerving clamor,
Of steel
In his pockets
For each penny
That he won,
For the bet
At the beginning
Of the trail…
Between fits of laughter
In the bunk
Where he states
To all his mates
‘I will bite the dust, nay,
Before you,
And long after,
The fray.’
A bet, now, he wished
He never made…

That exit from the treacherous lands,
I remember;
Graven
In the shape
Of a feather
Of excellence,
Clasped time
In a tight rein…
Sixteen years hence,
I lay supine
Exposed
In the warmth
Of the sun…

Treading new lands,
In old feet,
With the same
Raw poise
And thick skin,
Scourged on the inside
That no one knows of,
But him,
And his son…
When they look at me
And silently smile
As they tell the story
Of my trip to the
Heretic, graffiti lands!

Writer’s Block!

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Writer’s Block: An epiphenomenally noumenon phenomenon

Blank spaces, white pages,
Nibble marks shifted
From the coloration on you,
Orange then red then blue;

To the back of my quill…

The soft indulgent bites
Grow some fearsome blades
Tales of which the rachis
Of my feather;

Displays in many shades…

The unremitting rounds, of knocking sounds,
The union of calamus
In duel with the seabed of dead paint,
Failing to ensnare

The bazillion flying thoughts…

Oh! How it waits to bleed,
Its pure blood
And seep through the veins
Of its abiding and one true ally,

The papyrus…

There’s no one there, but an empty stare,
In the dungeons of my soul,
To which its crusade is liege
Dark and wet with distant sounds

Like the caged dead of the crypts…

Let the war-horns be blown
And the troops summoned
Gather the men to go in search
In the theater of war

By a hundred thousand dozens…

The solo wanderer, left traces of flounder
On her path to the summit
And down under the rocks
In pursuit

Of her unfaithful companions’ kill…

-Neeti