London

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Through a slight drizzle

on the side panes

of a speeding taxi in black,

I saw you for the first time

my pretty lady in a sun hat:

Of you I had dreamt for long

from images formed in my mind,

out of the second-hand novels I’d read —

clutching which over my Indian heart

I fell asleep feverishly, every night.

 

Tall over the sidewalks

you seductively strolled along —

the soft sun bouncing off

fresh flowers you hold on wooden posts: 

As if it’s your slender, elegant frame

hoisting a classic basket hat.

You carried the enchanting fragrant beauty

of a summer garden of violet and thyme —

dancing lithely in the cool breeze

fresh and sublime.

 

It was through sparse early evening traffic

from Heathrow airport, one late June:

I first glanced upon you awestruck

my lady — London, the city of my dreams.

Then in a week, I was besotted by your charm —

you’re prettier than images I’d conjured

for years in my abject poverty lying awake

wrapped in your elegant arms:

dreaming of visiting you fervently

when someday I had money saved up.

 

The Indian cab driver cheerily pointed

sights en route to King’s Cross —

where I’d reserved a week’s Bed & Breakfast

across the road from the tube station:

also by bus or foot to easily get around.

I took a tube to the London Eye —

to get an eyeful aerial view,

a boat below the Bridge to the Towers, Greenwich.

Atop a Hop-On Hoff-Off Bus I rode daylong:

lustily stripping you my lady — on the catwalk.

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It Is Always Darkest Under The Lamp

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It is always darkest under the lamp, ‘Diya tale andhera’:  

While we were in school, my mother thought that my sister and I should learn swimming and cycling, in addition to most other outdoor sports we were exposed to, and were pretty good at in boarding school. During school vacations, starting from my fifth standard, she would wake us up by five every summer, march us out to a nearby swimming pool. There she would coerce us to get in, even as she followed us, in the aim of teaching us herself. She was an ace swimmer – who had among her numerous qualifications also been a coach and had been nominated a referee/judge at the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi after her long Delhi University  sports lecturer/facilitator stint, for Swimming and Gymnastics.

But to her dismay, I her elder daughter, was scared of water and hated it, as it suffocated me. I always clung to the pool sides, barely able to dog paddle, looking for a way out to escape her clutches. Ma would trace me in the large sized national meets pool, in spite of all my efforts to duck and try to pull me into the deeper end, forcing me to keep my pathetic attempt at swimming going, even when I could not go any longer in sheer breathlessness. I hated her with all my heart then, and would sneak out of the pool and seek asylum with the official coach there who had at some time been my mother’s student and knew her well. She was kind to her teacher’s daughter, even though I‘m sure amused at the cruel irony of fate.

 In any case, for the next 5-6 years till finishing school, every morning of our summer vacations I was marched down to the swimming pool in a bid to complete my swimming certification, but all I could as yet manage was far from enough in qualifying me as a ‘swimmer’. Even though my sister who took to water like a fish, was very good at it, as she was Ma’s ardent disciple and follower and made the most of Ma’s style and expertise. But I, in my bid to avoid and dodge her around, was a pathetic failure and in frustration she would repeatedly say amongst all her admonishes flung at me in Bengali – that I forget the actual phrase now – “It is darkest under the lamp. I have taught so many people to swim, but could never teach my own daughter.”

Then after my tenth standard board exams Ma bought 2 Bicycles, to get me to learn cycling. She had in her youth, come second in the all Pakistan cycling championships, with a borrowed sports cycle that she managed, just before the start of the race from a kind young man who sympathised with her use of a regular one instead of a professional one. Again I avoided Ma, but this time in sheer stubbornness I learnt it all myself. I would walk the cycle to a distance away from her view, to a nearby park, determined that I would return cycling, then show it off to her and I did manage but rather shakily. Again by this time, with Ma’s guidance, my sister was an ace cyclist just as she was a swimmer.

Today all this strikes me as ironic, and makes me want to cry, to ask God’s and Ma’s forgiveness for my inanity, go back to those days and learn all  I could from Ma, even though I can swim now – having learnt much later from coaches far from good as she was. This is, as I struggle, as I’m sure no one would, to find acceptance as a writer, when I’m married to a man who is constantly reading, guiding, editing the work of literary aspirants many of whom befriend him only in that hope, with no interest or time in mine. I ran alone, pillar to post in search of a publisher, even as he forwarded friends, friends wives, and strangers manuscripts after reading their Synopsis, in my presence, to well-known publishers and editors, telling me repeatedly “But how can I send my wives?”  

No one will give me public space for a few words, even on subjects I’ve got the professional expertise in, added to my decent usage of the written word, while he gives it out aplenty to those just starting out – more from his need to find suitable people. I also have friends, some of whom with much experience in the literary world except those very senior, would not care to read and offer suggestions let alone help me, as when your own husband won’t, why would someone else need to – obviously you’re not good enough then! Most people, unlike my husband believe in helping their own. All this exasperation came rushing to mind on receiving a message from a very dear friend – “I need a help from you if possible. My bro-in-law, a very artistic guy has also written a book which he is keen on getting published. Can you help him in finding a publisher?” 

Now with my limited resources, with which I can barely help myself – other than upholding my dreams by my sheer grit, I will surely help her and the best that I can do is put her on to my husband who will rather help her than do so me. You see, I’m paying for disrespecting my mother, am I not? So pray for me people, won’t you…I’ve even confessed my follies publicly now!!!   🙂

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