Delhi Diaries: Some Idle Spring Reveries

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Yes, I can smell its presence in the lemony fragrance of the morning air, I can hear its call in the first tender aubades piped by the robin at daybreak, I can already feel it in the jingle of the wind that is lazing around and playing with the crisp leaves of the Amaltas as the sun dozes off and takes an afternoon siesta on my old carpet and the wind chimes tinkle faintly with the moody gusts of the idle wind – spring is almost here! I feel it as I sit on my old easy chair on the terrace, watching the dreamy ‘spring haze’ of the sun as eagles soar in the deep ocean of the blue sky and the tender violet buds on the beanstalk open softly. Yes, spring gypsies are about to arrive with their caravan; they will be camping here for a few months with their sweet Phaguns and Chaitis, and their dazzling colors!
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So, what are you planning this spring – why not, to begin with, take a day off to prepare for greeting them? Well, I have taken a day off today and it is already afternoon. Winter afternoons, I have always felt, are the ideal time for listening to the restless songs of the warm and idle wind. And today, I am hearing them again – inside me and everywhere near and far. I know these songs so well; I have known them since my childhood – since those days when my little sister and I used to run breathlessly after the wind-swept flowers of the bougainvillea as they would go whirling and rolling in the sun at my grandma’s house. All that is but a memory now, but what is spring if not the time to recall our good old memories. So why not begin with some songs of spring that have traveled through the decades with us. Here is my selection – a mixed playlist of my favorite spring songs:
  1. It Might as Well be Spring: Sinatra and Strings

  2. April Come She Will: Simon & Garfunkel

Delhi is always awesome in spring. Sadly, few have an eye for this. Beyond the skyscrapers and the sky-high towers of this heartless city lies a past that is still beyond the reach of time. At the heart of this plundered city of Ghalib and Meer, there still lives untouched an unapproachable spirit that is too strong, too old, and too big for our century. So, here is a list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi. I plan to visit them again this spring, and if you have not been here in a while, do consider including them in your list:
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  • The secluded sun-splashed backyard of the Qutub complex, which has an old well, a verandah nearby for prayers and huge Peepal trees. It is a perfect place for sitting with a novel or a notebook.

  • The sunlit sloping grounds near the quiet back walls of the Hauz Khas complex. The song of the Peepal here is simply bewitching.

  • The secluded verandah under the thick canopy of huge old trees in front of Nizamuddin Auliya’s study room, which lies at the farthest end of the Humayun’s tomb. It is said that it was the saint’s favorite study retreat.

  • And, yes, you will not forget, I hope, the lawns and quiet backyards of the Lodi Garden and the Red Fort, the secluded lemon grove of the Purana Quila and the Mughal Gardens.

  • Last but not the least, take a day off, say goodbye to your vehicle, and take a leisurely stroll along the flower-decked Shanti Path!

This small list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi calls for some spring songs that communicate the spirit and the mood of these old haunts! Here are two timeless ghazals and a qawwali not to be missed this season:
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3. Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-nau-bahaar chale: written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and sung by Mehendi Hasan

4. Gulshan gulshan shola-e-gul ki zulf-e-saba ki baat chali: written by Asghar Saleem’s and sung by Mehndi Hasan.

5.Kaliyan sang karat hai rangraliyan (a bandish in Raag Bahaar): recital by Ustad Farid Ayaz and Ustad Abu Muhammad Qawwal and party. This Qawwali is a must-listen because it blends the soul of Amir Khusrau and the grandeur of spring ragas in a composition that is simply intoxicating.

6. Raag Hamir Bahar: Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai). If you have an ear for the Indian classical, check out this composition, which has no parallel, to the best of my knowledge.

To celebrate spring is to celebrate the renewal of life and this lovely season communicates it the most through its colors. If you want to experience it, do visit the National Gallery of Modern Art for paintings that have captured the soul of the Indian spring and its riot of colors. The paintings here by Shailoz Mukherjee, K.K. Hebbar and Amrita Shergill are simply awesome.
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As I sit writing, I watch:  the ‘gold’ in the afternoon air is getting thicker with hours; it feels right now, as if you could cup your hands together and scoop up the sun.  It is truly a golden afternoon. Red-throated bulbuls are chirping outside. They are dreaming of the nests that they would be weaving this spring on trees that are busy singing their age-old afternoon ditties that few notice now. But I have come to love these songs so deeply that one note on the string anywhere and I can tell what it is about. My grandma knew them too; she knew so many of them. What a happy woman she was! She passed away, and with her passed away all the songs she knew and loved. Well, who has time for all that now?  It is a busy and complicated world, my friends! So here’s to the spring and its simple joys – a list of some of the best golden oldies of the Hindi Cinema in memory of the good old days:
  1. Ye din kya aaye lage phool hansane: Chhoti si Baat

  2. Gunguna rahe hain bhanvare, khil rahi hai kali-kali: Aradhana

And here are a couple of songs from the nineties and the twenties:

  1. Rang de basanti: Rang de Basanti

  2. Ye mausam ka jadu hai mitawaa: Hum Apke hain Kaun

Beyond this golden green silence of the afternoon in my room, I know, lies a busy day that does not understand and respect tenderness. Yes, while birds build their nests and trees sing on this beautiful day, a whole world – completely oblivious of all this – is busy running a race which has no end. And I know, this world will never know life and its renewal; it will never know its songs of joy and rejuvenation. But I have decided to listen to them, to listen to all of them, and live my life with simplicity and grace in their honor.
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Welcome to My Caravansary!

image courtesy: Katalin Poós, pinterest
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I am so excited to inform you about the complete makeover of my blog “Twentieth Century Diaries”!! And this is how I have reconceived it:

“WELCOME TO MY CARAVANSARY!”

“A coffee room for travelers who are in quest of goodness, beauty, and truth; for dreamers who crave for travels and good books and music; and for the lovers of open skies and warm sun!”

And it has a Notice for all its visitors:

A Notice for All My Caravansary Visitors:

My Caravansary Offers:
*Sumptuous open air Dinners                                                                                                   *Boarding Rooms with big windows that open on the river
*Special Coffee and gossip in sunlit Verandahs
*Reading Rooms with choicest music and reading nooks                                                    * *balconies that offer a rare view of mountains and pine woods
*Simple Evening parties where no ostentation and show-off is allowed
*Camping and Star- gazing in the night and much- much more!

Cabins at my Caravansary:image coutesy: pinterest

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On one of our visits to the Bushy Run Battlefield in western Pennsylvania, I stopped here to photograph this cabin. Unfortunately, I don’t have any idea about the cabin. I’m just glad that the fall colors were still present when we were there!

And here’s one more:

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And this is the road – yes, you guessed it right – to the Caravansary! So what about a walk after lunch?

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Friends, I want my blog to become a caravansary for you. Do visit it sometimes and stay with me as long as you desire! Enjoy!

(Note: None of the above images belong to me. All images in this post have been selected from my Pinterest collection )

One cold winter morning, I heard the sun knocking at my window

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The night had not left my warm bed yet, and the morning sun still lay hidden behind the thick curtain of morning mist. I sat wrapped in my old easy chair, with a rather late cup of morning tea when I heard someone whispering very softly and suddenly – from behind the misty window panes – a golden river of warm morning sun came flooding, rippling, sparking in, lighting the darkness in my room. And the window glass panes suddenly seemed to melt into a golden flame and . . . I smiled!

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Letters to my daughter, Dawn, who shall live centuries and centuries hence . . .

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Do you know Dawn, my daughter, who is not yet born? She would live on this blue wanderer thousands and thousands of years hence when the darkest night of this world would be over and the earth would be rising to sing its first manly aubade after ages of waiting, to the Dawn, and with which the sweetest courtship ever written down in the annals of human lore would begin; and then would follow the season of romancing, celebration, and wooing, and the world would wear a new colour and the most tender music ever sung by man in love would burst from every corner. 

dante-and-beatrice.jpg!HalfHD ‘Dante and Beatrice’ Continue reading

Defeated!

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If you can watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
 And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools . . .

It’s been a long long time since I posted anything. Roads I traveled the past month were rough. It has been a very sad month really. I lost the battle I had been fighting for years with my heart and soul. I fought for truth and lost. I failed. And with this defeat a chapter of my life seems to have ended too.

And here I am – left with the broken pieces of my most cherished dreams. With half of my life over and a defeat to mark its fruitless end, I stand on cross-roads contemplating which road to choose now. I remember Milton:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account . . .

All I can tell you is that it was a battle of principles. And I fought with all the goodness, with all the goodwill that life has given me. Had it been a personal battle the injuries would not have been so deep.

Giuseppe Mentessi (1857-1931) Italian Painter. such emotion

And do you know what I discovered? Continue reading

Autumn Diaries – I

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No, it is not autumn yet but the sun is already yellowing like the big crisp leaves on my wild old Saal in September used to, before it was felled. Afternoons have become thicker, like a big spoonful of sun dissolved in a glass of water, quieter like the fisherman who sits for hours on the riverbank with his bait, and as clear as mama’s savory broth cooked on low flame. Afternoons are already lazing out under huge shady Molshree trees with their favorite autumnal pastimes on their laps, holidaying after months of stormy turmoil. Their long sabbatical is about to begin and will continue till winter drudgeries begin. Yes, I can smell it in the gentleness of the air, I can feel it – on my skin and inside me, I can hear it in the soft rustling of the Amaltas leaves, I can see it everywhere around me – the air carries its faint notes and golden dust – autumn is coming! I post here a photo of Saal in bloom:

WP_20150912_14_41_44_ProAutumn in India is different – quite different. It is the season of poised quietness and serene mellowness. Mornings are never more benign and chaste, afternoon ditties never more languorous and unhurried, and full moon never more magical and nearer in any other part of the year. This is the season for all the idle books that you kept locked in your shelf the whole year for an ideal time. No harsh winds, no jarring cacophonies, no disquieting anxieties, and no feverish excitements that get on your nerves – it is the time of the year I most eagerly wait for. It is the season of healing, of calm recovery, of rediscovering your inner ‘self’ – the time to recuperate and revive.

a pre-autumn late morning in my verandahAutumn is not restless, capricious, and youthful like spring, it is gentle, kind, and slow in movement, and in its mellowness, it somehow always gets linked up with the memories of my old grandma who I remember for her simple wisdom and kindness. Vicissitudes of life had given her that mellow wisdom which only comes and ripens with age. I remember my Grandma’s home – time somehow always seemed to slow down over there, afternoons became longer, unhasting wafts of breeze from the river slower and evening tea lazier. No sickening hurry to reach somewhere, no anxieties to fulfill assignments of daily routine, autumn is the ideal time for vacations. Just a pot of tea simmering over stove, a motionless blue hornbill sitting unflustered on the high end of the garden fence and an autumn-washed sky that is never more azure and deeper in any other part of the year – autumn conjures up so many enchanting images.

1a14279be374677f98afc8632e2b1753We call it ‘Sharad’ here in India – the season of festivals. Life dresses up for quaint fiestas to remember the victory of truth. Every town, every village, every corner of the nation welcomes and celebrates the season in its own charming little way. College and schools close down for weeklong folk theatricals called ‘Ramleelaa’ and colorful and musical local night-processions called “Dal”. People clean their house, paint new patterns on mud-mopped walls, and burn the evil “Ravana” to mark the victory of Ram. Here is a photo of a typical Raamleela show:

456144514I have some of the most beautiful memories of my childhood and my school days associated with this season. Yes, it is the time for “autumn vacations”. Nothing in this part of the year can force me to work and nothing can disappoint me more than some unavoidable compulsion placed by time to part with it. And when I see so many people rushing past that brooding old bench over there – under the singing trees of sun-drenched Saal, just where the road bends, I feel sorry. They do not have the ears to listen to its jingling autumnal melodies, they do not have the eyes to see the gold in the air, they do not have the heart to feel its radiant goodness.

  benchTake a day out for an evening stroll on the quiet riverbanks – you will see tall Kaans in wild bloom – huge feather-like grasses that surge like sea-froth after the rains stop. Here is a photo of Kaans in bloom:

2923995684_4ef12d8d9eThis is the first part of my Autumn diaries. Hope you will not miss the second part i am presently working on, which seeks to explore select paintings and photographs that communicate the soul of this beautiful season.

I would love to hear from you some tales of this season, how it blesses your part of the world. Do drop in your enriching comments and experiences.

I will Sing for You!

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When all our abodes of music sacred

Are being razed and wrecked,

And plundered all dwellings of blossoms tender,

When all cool and deep shades of trees huge

Are being ravaged and bulldozed,

When collapsing under our feet are

All shores azure, emerald, shimmering,

Listen to these songs of mine

– listen!

 

I had heard the mighty eagles

Brave, beautiful and fearless

Chase the storm and these daring songs sing;

Wings outstretched in a sky anxious:

Grey and ashen with fear and panic

Of storms mighty, fast approaching.

 

One afternoon – thick, hushed, and dense,

I had heard a river ancient,

Cool, deep blue, languorous,

Sing these ditties long forgotten,

As it sat calm and motionless

Under the dark shade of an old Peepal,

These songs of mine

– listen!

 

All these songs melodious

Of vales leafy and sky indigo and springs sunlit

These hymns sweet – of flowers wild,

Of earth and of life,

These songs mine,

Are all yours,

These songs

– will you listen?

 

Listen,

I will sing for you

In these dark hours of frightening destruction,

Riding on the waves wrathful

That roar and rumble as they rise and rave,

Standing on the shoulders of the storm  

Wild and savage,

Ascending the volcano furious,

I will sing for you 

All those songs tender,

Which promise life and renewal,

All those songs that have you in them

 

I will sing for you

Till my last breath

And when these dreary hours shall end

(My journey will be over by then),

When a new dawn shall come,

These songs shall bloom and blossom again;

These songs – the joyous serenades of spring,

These songs – the saddest requiems of earth,

The most pious aubade to that morning first,

Yes, it shall come,

Soon shall it shall come!

Monsoon Diaries-II: Song of the Earth’s Darkest Night

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When clouds gather dark and green

And the earth’s pores damp and soaked

feel its silent quivering untold

When there rises the fragrance unknown

of the earth from its deep dark womb –

I have tears in my eyes,

When shall I meet you?

 

How soft and how tender my hands were

When you held them firmly

And pulled me along on that path washed by sunlight

Rocky, solitary, perilous

(It was, the most beautiful dream of my life).

 

But look,

These hands can handle today the plough and the hoe

And break rocks and stones,

They have learned how to wield the sword

And carry the load of the entire earth.

But look, how fresh your first touch still  

On my palms cracked and rough!

 

Yes, I get worn out and sometimes spent

And feel ashamed even to admit this,

Ever since that dream – drenched in light,

Blessed my life,

Hoping to see you one day on this path meandering

Far I have traveled

I want to tell you everything,

Those wounds, when you touch them, will heal

I know so well.  

 

Before I bid adieu to this world –

You will come,

That you will come, I never gave up hoping,

And waiting for you

My days I spend,

Years pass,

And year upon year I watch –

A sad spring on my land descend

Descend and take leave,

While I wait patiently,

Wait for you to come and meet me.

 

Listen to me,

I want to meet you,

And tell you so much,

Tale of a little girl, who once lived

And of a childhood long vanished.   

Those broken stone stairs –

That led to that river,

See, they are still there,

Those stairs old, shaded by trees of plums,

Where still lies a day incomplete somewhere,

You will come and make it complete

You will hold my hands there,

They are no more beautiful,

Cracks and scars ugly – all are visible.

 

I know,

Your dream and your hope shall live

Even when I depart,

But what to do with this heart

That wants to see you before it beats its last.

 

Yes, I hope to see you and tell you

That many a times did I fall,

Walking on this road rough,

There are wounds and cuts, yes,

But every time I have stood up again

I have kept my words,

These long dark hours spent in waiting

I have learned so much –

Your land beautiful,

For it, sword I have learned to pick up,

My head is still high

And as much beautiful

I never let it get disgraced and blemished!

(Pls note: The featured image is from my garden. And yes, do drop in your comments and suggestions! thanks.)

monsoon diaries: A day off, a capricious monsoon noon, and some musings about life.

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After many days of hectic running around, I have taken a day off. It’s past noon – there is a sunny and verdurous quietness of a moodish, vagrant, capricious monsoon noon around me. Sitting in my old easy chair in my verandah shaded by overgrown climbers and thick bushes of raat ki rani, I am seeing clouds scurrying across the deep blue sky with the roguish westerly wind. I can see under the thick and green bamboo bushes across the verandah little robins hopping around and tiny shards and shavings of the sun littered in the deep shade, shaking the tender shoots still sleeping under the moist soil.

And how am I today? As serene and light as few on earth can be – no worries, no qualms, no fears. I cleaned my working space and tidied up my things today morning, smiled to look at the results, then took a rather long bath, washed my hair and pulled out an almost weightless long frock of light green and lemon colored floral print from my closet – an exact replica of my mood today. I am about to enter the 36th year of my life and am enjoying on this day-off, the freedom that I have snatched and secured from the clutches of time. Yes, despite the thousand and one challenges facing me, I am today as free as any woman on earth can dream to be.

I often take such day offs from my self-chosen hectic schedule (I love to work hard) to be with myself, to listen to my soul, and rediscover that essential vitality inside me once again – that all grave failures, heartbreaks, irreparable mistakes notwithstanding, I am still young and in good health, that I am learning, growing, improving, that I have a whole life ahead of me to live the way I want.

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A dark, magical monsoon noon in my room

Yes, it is true that I have chosen (like Frost’s poem that I admired as a child) a road really “less traveled by” – full of challenges, difficulties and dangerous twists and turns. And it is equally true that I met with a very major accident recently after which followed a dark and dangerous phase of bitter realizations, regrets for mistakes that cannot be mended. But was this all not very much foreseeable when setting sail for such an unknown journey? To my complete dismay I discovered that the way I had been working all these years was totally wrong and that instead of moving nearer to my goal, I had moved farther away, that I shall never be able to become what I could have become. Worst still was the realization that I had failed to understand myself and what I actually wanted from life. . . Continue reading

Spring Gypsyies – II

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Rustling, crisping, leaves dry

Whispering, singing, humming goodbye.

High-high above the blue-blue sky

Where colorful kites fly

In the waters blue and rippling,

Languorous eagles lazing, swimming,

Afternoon siesta of the early spring.

Fluttering, flapping leaves of Peepal

Sudden gusty flights of pigeons,

Flowers so tender of beanstalk purple

Basking in the sun so gentle.

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Sweeping – swooping restlessly

Winds that murmur endlessly –

Tales of lands faraway and happy,

Where life was simple and unadorned,

And every man – beautiful and bold,

Of those lands I dream and wake up and cry,

See there are tears shining in my eyes. . .

  • Chitra

 

 

(Note: none of the images are mine. I have borrowed them from pinterest.)

 

 

 

spring gypsies-I: of sun mist, soulful serenades and afternoon siesta

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Yes, I can smell it – in the lemony fragrance of the morning air – in the jingle of the lazing wind that is playing with the curtains, in the silk-like softness of the sun that is dozing on my carpet as my curtains play with the wind and the sun – spring has arrived!

(greeting the sun)

I have taken a day off today and it’s already afternoon – quiet and unhurried, and I am hearing inside me and everywhere near and far, the restless song of the warm, lazy, sun-drenched winds of the afternoon. I know them so well. I have known them since my childhood – since those days when we two sisters used to run breathlessly after the wind-swept flowers of bougainvillea that would go rolling, whirling, dancing in the sun in clusters so colourful at my grandma’s house – all that is now but a memory.

Lying on my little cot on my terrace where tender violet flowers are smiling on bean-stalks, I can see a radiant sun-mist in the air, and languorous eagles basking in the sun high above, I can hear the coin-like clatter of crisp, brown leaves flying, spinning, whirling down lazily from the trees, till they are again air-lifted by strong gusts of the wind. Everything, every sound, has drowned in the sound of the afternoon sun. It is the same sound that I heard in the morning inside the veins of the leafless twigs of the silent lemon tree that would soon burst into flowers and fruits – it was the sound of the sun rushing deep inside. Tiny wings of radiant leaves would soon flutter on its leafless twigs and birds would come to weave their little nests again. There’s always a pain, a catch in my breath, something aches inside, when I hear the long passionate soulful ala`ps that spring has been singing since ages unknown. They were still the same years back, when we used to watch the wild Siberian doves cry and swim and prattle as the wind ran across the river – rippling, giggling, glittering.

(Bathing in the sun-shower)

And now, some more news about the spring gypsies:
Not only the noon, the night sky has tales of spring to tell as well – after long weeks of fog and mist, it is clear again – starry, soothing, and fragrant with tender Raat ki Raanis. I got up last night to find a waxing moon climb the budding creeper on my balcony and tiptoe to my window to say good night. Incidentally, I woke up today before the first calls of the little robins, just a little before the daybreak, and saw the morning star sparkling like a gem in the clear air of the spring morning.


So, finally, here is one pic of my diwan on which first rays of the sun love to have their first morning tea – yes, my house is dressing up to greet the gypsy caravans of the spring.

(Guldaories in my garden in the early hours of the morning)

Note: All pics on this blog post were taken today, early in the morning. Wait for my next caravansary post on this season of colours and hope. This post is a part of my season diaries. I hope you had a nice spring siesta here at my caravansary where spring is camping. Do let me know and feel free to drop in your comments, suggestions and opinions. This post would be incomplete without them.

A Late Winter Evening

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A late winter evening

silence falling

with frost ghostly

on roads wet, cold, empty

pit-a-pat

unceasing.

Mist on my window panes

hazy, scary, uneasy

time, hungry, lies crouching

outside,

but for the comforting tick-tock

of the old wall-clock

that keeps a different time

inside.

 

Wooden doors, glass windows, thick curtains all drawn,

the dull yellow glow of my room lamp warm,

carpet below my feet soft.

 

A room heater glows ruddy

cheerful and busy,

a glowing ember

stolen from the sun,

one day –

larky, flappy, sunny and blue skied,

long-long ago.

Gurgles like water,

steaming and bubbling,

kept on stove at my grandma’s

for long evening teas

when life was a long winter vacation homely

. . . long-long ago.

 

Wisps of vapour

curling out of the red-tea

in my big mug

languorously,

two biscuits of Marie, lightly sweet,

A reward for one more day-long battle against time

so bitter, so challenging, so scary.

 

One more nameless day,

Of the thousands more

that I want to live

before I bid good-bye

(hungry me!)

with it’s nameless battles, toils, heartbreaks over,

contused but unconquered

I sit –

recollecting, reconnecting, releafing,

listening to the frost falling on my window panes

pitapat unending,

I sit –

on the armchair aging with me

curled up in my old shawl

that still smells of warm winters at my grandma’s

when life was a long long winter vacation – unending.

 

The child who never knew

of the future battles

fast approaching

that she would choose to fight,

long after life ceased to be a vacation

lilaced and larky;

and of the winter evenings

she would snatch away

from the clutches of time

that would lie

all night

crouching, waiting, hungry outside

while she releafed and healed inside

and the old clock chimed a time

that would live –

sunny, lilaced, larky, flappy, and blue-skied,

a long time hence.