Standing here, on the bank of the Ganges Among a million people trying to drown their sins Feeling alone as I have never felt before Hearing only my silence amidst the deafening din The flames, the music, the songs, the dance The enthralled masses swinging as if in a trance A rigorous logician, I chuckle as I watch The chants get louder, the drumbeat rises a notch As I watch them, I understand how they can feel The power of this river that can soothe, that can heal Suddenly I turn thoughtful, listen to the inner me Suddenly I am able to look beyond what I see Suddenly I realize that I am not all alone Every pebble here talks to me, every cobblestone As does the rushing stream with its shimmering foam The mighty river really brings its message home There are feelings to be felt by the subconscious soul And emotions to be experienced without full control Oh what great gifts one’s faith can bestow If only one can lose the self, let go of one’s ego
Has everything worth feeling already been felt? Has everything worth saying already been said? Has everything worth writing already been written? Why even assume, then, that my poem will be read? How, with this pageant of sublime beauty Can I march in my ugly, soiled trench coat? How, into this current of ceaseless creativity Can I venture with my little paper boat? In the celestial orchestra that is our universe There’s a score for every creature’s effusions From the hummingbird to the blue sperm whale We all signal our ambiguities, our allusions If we care to listen at once to all the little voices We hear the balance of every harmonic and tone Their timber and their sonority fills our hearts For no living thing that sings, ever sings alone To this superlunary symphonic ensemble I now add my unadorned, enthusiastic ventilation I want only to elevate, enrich and exalt its harmony So I hope you will accept this humble creation
You sell us your history and your culture With your hardware and your software Of our rich histories and our great cultures You are unaware, or worse, you don’t care We till your farms, we pick your fruit We clean your homes, we care for your young And yet when acknowledging our existence You always speak with a forked tongue Your families are broken, your people are dying From hopelessness, boredom and illicit drugs Your reaction to this tragic catastrophe Is an endless series of platitudes and shrugs Almost forgotten are your religion’s teachings Of truth, compassion, values and morals All that’s left are debates about guns, Abortion, gay sex and other petty quarrels You fail to see that the root of all evil Is your pointless pursuit of power and pleasure The whiff of money is but a temporary high You’re staggering away from life’s real treasure Take a step back, while you still can Save yourself a lifetime of heartache Open your eyes, let the world show you How to change your life with a little give and take
Turn around and stare hard at me I am standing right here in the back row I didn’t get here by making a choice The train left with you - I watched it go Don’t fear me, hate me, try to isolate me Don’t condemn, castigate or reprimand me I am trying my best to understand you So please try also to understand me I am not asking that you glorify me I am not asking that you hype me All I want is that you see me as I am All I want is that you don’t stereotype me Dislike me if I have wronged you Feel free even to hold a grudge But just because we happen to disagree Don’t be in such a hurry to judge You haven’t walked the miles I have You haven’t felt the pebble in my shoe I am not asking you to share my worldview Only try to appreciate what I have been through Religious, faithless, right-wing, left-wing All these epithets we so gleefully fling Unless you’ve carried the burden I tow None of these labels can mean a damn thing
Eight years ago today we consigned my father’s body to the flames. I had a difficult relationship with him. I had not permitted myself to grieve his death. Until now. The photo is the Mahabodhi tree at Gaya, India.
I look just like him now, I thought I was looking at your photograph Your granddaughter had posted it on WhatsApp And I realized I feel just like you did too Like one who wasn’t of this world Like one who didn’t belong We had so much we could have shared Like our lonely, unhappy childhoods But we both chose to look the other way Long ago, when I was a school kid They thought we had lost you My knees seemed to buckle under me The doctors told me to find courage I looked for it, in vain, for decades But it didn’t come: I lost so many battles You lost your last great battle too The cancer had decimated your body You were frail as a feather in your final days That night eight years ago As Death came to take you from me I finally found courage Too late
There are still pleasures… Like the morning’s first drag on a cigarette That reminds you of being alive Like the resplendent-yellow sour-sweet fibrous flesh Of an Alphonso mango that cools a hot summer’s day Like the effervescent fountains of laughter with a long-lost friend Remembering the silliness of your innocent youth Like the shimmering constellations of affection and approval That light up her twin eyes every time she says yes Like the musky-dusty aroma of the long-parched, just-drenched Earth That arouses you as if it was some cosmic pheromone Like the final fulfilled flap that marks the finish of a book With a delicious denouement that wakes up your incipient daydreams Like the novel you’ve been writing in your head, in your room With no thought of ever publishing it to the world There are still pleasures… That aren’t yet forbidden