it’s a monolith, thought the gull
alighting on her shoulder

a monument, mused the spirit
whistling through her walls

a pillar, whispered the wind
twirling ‘round her limbs

a village, revealed the crier
surveying her space

a forest, roared the storm
swirling about her hair

a poem, sang the song
hearing a lute in her hum

a damask, decided the novel
etching a tale on her skin

with the sky in one eye
and the ocean in the other

she decides she’s
the gut of the earth

Published in Global Poetry Anthology, short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize

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Woman Of Stride


With flowers her belly
And buds her breasts
Waves her legs
And breeze her arms
With the moon her heart
The stars her heartbeat
The night her eyes
And rivers her dreams
The woman strides

Into the unknown


Here are John Robert Colombo’s ruminations on the woman above:

The gait of the woman brings to my mind the image of Gradiva on the bas-relief plaque that once adorned Sigmund Freud’s office in Vienna (and is now on permanent display at the Freud museum in London). The image was popularized in a turn-of-the-century novel written by a German expressionistic writer; Freud read the novel, acquired a copy of the original plaque, and proceeded to immortalize Gradiva by attempting to psychoanalyze the literary creation in a remarkable essay that constitutes a world first. I am tempted to try to do the same with Suparna’s walking woman.

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Lately I have heard a ghazal being described by some poets as a series of disjointed thoughts. They follow this up with free-verse poems of disjointed thoughts. This is not just a simplistic distortion of this centuries old sophisticated art form, it is simply wrong.

I recognize everything in life is fluid. Language changes, art transforms itself. But you do not describe abstract art as realism. You would not write a 30-line poem and call it haiku, or a free-verse 40-line poem a sonnet. Over the centuries, while some features of a ghazal may have changed, the underlying structure has remained the same.

Writing free-verse poems of disjointed thoughts is a legitimate form of poetry, but it’s not a ghazal. Give it another name. Call it: Free-verse Poems of Disjointed Thoughts. Or simply, Diss-Jointed Thoughts. I will not wear torn jeans and say I’m formally dressed. I could, but you may roll your eyes.

My love affair with this form of poetry intensified as my familiarity with the Urdu language grew. Ghazal, meaning ode to women, remains rooted in love, separation, mysticism, but has also come to reflect life in all forms and spheres of human emotions and interactions. In Urdu, it is evocative, often emotionally masochistic, but always lyrical and charming, and never appears maudlin. I believe it’s because of the grace and lyricism of the Urdu language.

A ghazal is several couplets put together. Each couplet is generally independent and complete; however, they may also have a link of thought or feeling. What links the couplets may not be a common theme, but a common structure. Like a sonnet, or a haiku, a ghazal, in any language, MUST encompass and adhere to this basic structure.

The exercise of writing a ghazal in English was more difficult than I had anticipated. Giving a ghazal a title is not usual, but it does not take away from the structure either, hence a license I have taken.

Even the breeze is an intrusion when you and I meet
Like a ship on the horizon where the earth and sky meet

Your eyes traced my form on the yellow and red sand
Where the roar of the waves and the gull’s cry meet

Like a distant storm your madness brews
With shuttered eyes I wait till you and I meet

Now your lights are dim and your sails are limp
Why clutch why seek why forage why meet

While each couplet stands on its own, what’s common in the couplets is the meter. The last word, or set of words, of the first couplet, are the same: meet. And, the last but one or two words in the couplet must rhyme: I, sky.

The first line of the 2nd couplet keeps the meter in tact, but does not adhere to any rhyming. But, the second line must end with the same word or words as the first couplet, in this case: meet; and the word before that must rhyme with the corresponding ones in the first couplet, I, sky, cry, thus requiring internal rhyming.

If it appears complex, it is, somewhat. Another offering in this genre, if I may:

Burdened with heat and high noon, summer was here always
Laden with pollen, laced with pain, the days were there always

Yes, I recall, the love made of straws, atop a neem tree
You and I built, to burn and banish, earthly fear always

On ochre days you waft by like a red summer bird
You cut through the razor rays you swoop and snare always

There are no seeds in my belly no seedlings to impart
Just a handful of sand with you I’ll share always

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Many a Moment Ago

Many a Moment Ago

It was a “whatever happened to…” moment. Someone who had followed my “acting career” in Delhi once upon a time, asked me for an interview. Turned out the “someone”, Sharad Dutt, was now a prominent media personality with a long memory, and a need for immediacy to resurrect days that had faded for me but not for him. No preparation, no rehearsal, no cues, no prompts, just the camera and the lights like the days of yore. Two days later I was back in Torono for another kind of play, with life and death as the main characters. But more urgent was the task of sending today, but better still, yesterday, snapshots of my life in Toronto, via cyberspace.

The result? A quick colour portrait on film, which I invite you to view by clicking on the link below. “Play all” will take you through all three segments.


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The Pilot Light

the pilot light

is still burning
igniting decades of dormant elements

I was borne by you

my mind inscribed
with words you whispered
flesh imprinted
with waves of your caress
skin engraved
by the ripples of a warm lake

I floated
lulled and rocked by the music
of your joy and pain

you longed for the one life

to fill your alien nights
and lonely days
to protect you
from the ravages of silence

as you would protect me fiercely

from the fires which raged outside
the walls of our hutment
none could cross to burn me
from the dust storms which turned skin
into parchment
and hair into rope strands
from the sheets of rain which tried
to penetrate but could not
your life force

my heart pressed against yours
mine on the right yours on the left
once beat in tandem
pounded as one

you taught me to breathe

today I cannot be the breath
to fuel your roar
be the carriage
of your one-woman caravan
jaunting in fierce rhythm

I cannot wrap you

in the snow mountains
of the Himalayas
roll you in the fall of river Ganges
clad you in the green waters of the Arabian sea
fold you in the red sands of Rajasthan
hide you in the foliage and forests
of rabbits and parrots

and drape you in the sky

I would if I could
inhale you into my belly
just as you conceived me in yours

your pilot light

said my daughter borne by me
of you who bore me
will burn in me
keep me alive

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The Unfolding Panel

Holly Briesmaster and I are working in tandem on an upcoming exhibition featuring her fans and my panel paintings. The exhibition will be on at Gallery Hittite from November 5th to the 20th, with the opening reception taking place over two days – Friday the 5th from 6-9 pm and the 6th from 12-6 pm.

Here’s a snapshot of the exhibition details from the flipside of our invitation. Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Gallery Hittite is at 107 Scollard St. in Yorkville – a short walk from Bay subway station.

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Culture Cloaked in Religion

Looking at the glorious confidence of a woman whose only coverings are her jewels and her hair, and whose sole props are a tablet and a pen, I wondered where it all went wrong. The change in this woman over time has been so dramatically regressive that I can only see it as the arrival of a dark age. Who is to say what culture is? Who decides? Does it go back a decade? A century? A millennium?

The woman in question has been variously described as the Lady Scholar, or the Woman Writing a Love Letter, an Indian sculpture in Khajuraho from the eleventh century, celebrated in a mural by my daughter, Shayona.

Before Pratibha Patil became the president of India, she created a furor, particularly among the Muslim clergy, for stating that the purdah (veil) was introduced in India during the Mughal rule “to save women from Mughal invaders…However, times have changed. India is now independent and hence, the systems should also change.” She was apparently referring to the Hindu women of Rajasthan in particular.

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