The River*

I recently visited the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar in northern India and witnessed the daily “Ganga Aarti” or prayer to the river Ganges. The lines that follow sprang from there.
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 to all the little voices
We hear the balance of every harmonic and tone
Their timber and sonority fills our hearts
For no living thing that sings, ever sings alone 

To this superlunary symphonic ensemble
I now add this unadorned ventilation
I want only to elevate its harmony
So I hope you will accept this humble creation

Give and Take

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

Too Late

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 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
We thought we had lost you to an accident
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…
That aren't yet forbidden

Like the morning’s first drag 
On a cigarette
That reminds you of being alive
And perhaps a day closer to death

Like the resplendent-yellow 
Sour-sweet fibrous flesh
Of an Alphonso mango 
That cools you on 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 in her eyes 
Every time she says yes

Like the musky-dusty aroma 
Of the just-drenched Earth
That arouses you 
Like 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