The River’s Love Song

This is a poem I wrote recently when I wanted to take a break from struggling with my first novel. It will be published soon in the 16th edition of Dubai Poetics out by April end. Do let me know your thoughts. 🙂

From Jalori to Manali (37)

‘My poems are born of you,’

the river whispered to the mountains.

As the wind carried the river’s gentle sighs,

high up to the land of clouds and veils

nestled in the skies,

the mountains trembled.

It had felt the young love of his beloved

as she skipped, laughed and tripped along with him.

Majestic he had stood, watching her antics,

she had murmured her delight and thundered in pleasure.

But… his silence engorged her senses.

Nothing else could she bear.

Yet, she wanted, just for once, to be held

and loved with words she could hear.

Flowing away, with time, she left her mountain behind.

Meandering amidst valleys, she heard

voices other than her lover’s silence.

Thrilled, she gurgled with delight and rushed on.

She was loved, adored, worshipped, and more.
Dhyey Ahalpara

Yet, greater as her name grew,

farther as her fame spread.

she missed the silent communion

that had created her.

She wished she could turn her waves around

force the currents back to the source.

Sometimes she raged.

Sometimes she sluggishly moved on.

Did he hear her cries and sighs?

Did her love know that she was done with life?

She moved on… tired and dirty,

loved and worshipped.

Stillness replacing energy.

And then with her baggage of offerings,

bodies, debris, and silt,

she gave up the last of her freshness –

her very essence –

to the vast blue

that matched her beloved

in hue.

As the clouds burst above him,

drenching him with her love,

he realized that she had given up her life

to once again fall in his arms and lie.

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Excerpt 2 – A Dialogue

Excerpt 2

 

My second excerpt from Second Chances. It is the working title of my novel. Manna (short for Tamanna) is my lead. What do you think of this dialogue? Do let me know if it resonates with you or if you find it clunky. Does it give you any insight into what kind of a person Manna is? Do share your thoughts.

 

 

Before I headed out on that trek (post on it will be up in a couple of days), I had mentioned that I would be putting up excerpts from, and thoughts related to my novel-in-progress for your feedback.
I have tried presenting it with the aged paper and old fashioned fonts look because I like all things ancient :)).
Please do read, comment and share.

Excerpt 1

MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER

This is a short story I had written for a contest. I hope you enjoy it. Please do take the time out to revert with feedback, opinion and criticism (gently does it) in the comments section. Love, Binu.

MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER

I am sitting in my room… plucking photographs from an album and putting them in an envelope. Randomly picking out photographs that remind me of the good times. Appa, amma and I. Appa and I.

Neither Appa nor I are the kind to smile into a camera. But Amma had an obsession with recording events and non-events. Most of the photographs of the three of us would have Amma grinning broadly, and Appa and I trying hard to not squint or shut our eyes when the flash all but blinds us.

Sifting through these memories, I find myself smiling. The tears, however, take me unawares. This is an unexpected reaction for me. My normal gear is stuck at calm and cool. The only emotion that comes easily to me is anger. But I know how to handle and use my anger.

My basics had already been packed into an overnight bag. I didn’t need much. Anyway, I am not going away forever. I am sure I will be back. He can’t live without me.

I have another 15 minutes before I leave. I had not planned on taking the photographs. But then I had changed my mind. What if my mobile crashed and I lost everything!? What if… what if I don’t come back? I needed the photographs.

There is a knock on the door.

No, no, no please don’t let it be him. I can’t face another argument. Not now. I have to leave soon.

But it was him. Standing at the door. Not entering. Waiting for permission to enter.

“Amu… “

There is something odd about him today. Something that is new and at odds with who he really is… diffidence. That is what is odd.

He is a short man. But he has always made up for his shortness in height with a larger than life personality. But today he is not looking as tall as he usually did to me. His nervous self-awareness filled the space between us.

And then he stumbled in along with a rush of words, as though he had been practising these lines in front of the mirror for the last few hours.

“Amu you are right. I am quite rigid in my own way. I know that! I think I … I think… I did understand you. Now… I am trying, but I don’t think I have… I don’t think I have understood you.”

I am staring at him. Sheer shock prevents me from falling down in shock. He has never backed down from his point of view. Ever.

*

I have just been lucky that all these years we have been on the same page. About everything. Music. Architecture. Friends. Aikido. He has always understood me and backed me.

I have seen what he can do when he disagrees with you. He uses his intelligence and logical mind as a weapon and there is no way I or anyone else can argue with logic and win.

Amma used to just bang down whatever she was holding and walk out of the room. I never knew how she put up with losing every single argument or how he managed to make it up to her. But the next morning or even a few hours after the argument, she would be smiling at him and laughing at his anecdotes. He adored her. She was the centre of his universe. Maybe because she let him rule hers.

When she dropped down dead of a stroke in the middle of the living room, his entire world was sucked into a black hole. The only thing that kept him alive was me.

And we had never argued. Ever. Funny when you think about it. Maybe all the disagreements, complaints and grouses were being set aside, over the years, on a shelf for later, when I would need them.

*

And then I met Mithun. Carefree, hardworking, loving Mithun. Mithun of the average intelligence, who had no time to read plays or biographies. Mithun who hated to debate or argue. Mithun who treated me with respect. He calls me masterni, because I have an explanation for everything. Mithun, who my appa thinks is sweet and harmless and utterly unworthy of me.

He never let an opportunity slip to let me know how wrong I was to consider Mithun a potential life partner. Initially, I laughed it off. But after a while, my laughter jarred and I began to snap back. Argue. Explain.

However, nothing prepared me for when he turned around one day and said, “I think you will be better off getting a dog.”

I had blinked at him for a second and then asked, “Better off?”

“Yes, yes. You will be better off getting a dog than marrying that silly fellow. You will not get bored of the dog.”

That was the final straw. The argument had raged on for weeks.

Neither one of us willing to give in. I had not known it. I had always considered myself to be more like my mother. But I was actually my appa’s daughter.

I don’t think that he had realised it either. Every single verbal parry of his I encountered. We, the lovers of logic and analysis, passionate worshippers of poems and prose, philosophy and psychology, met as equals in the battlefield of my future.

The last argument had begun quietly enough among the leftovers off dinner. Mithun had come over for dinner. It didn’t matter to Appa. You see, he likes Mithun. He looked him in the eye and said, “Son, I like you. Which is why I am advising you against marrying my daughter. She will eat you alive. And you will bore her to death. Yours will be a match made for burning.”

I hated that Appa could pun at a time like this. I hated it even more that Mithun didn’t get it. We sat at the dining table and argued while Mithun cleared the table and left for his home. I did not even hear him go.

As he was going to his room that night, Appa turned around and told me that I would be better off having a pet dog. I will not have too many expectations then. The words punched the air out of me. Tears stung my eyes and I stood there wondering what kind of a woman my father thought I was?

*

The same night I called Mithun and told him that we will run away and get married. A court wedding actually.

He was happy yet concerned.

“What will your father say?”

A lot. But that is nothing new. I can handle it.

Mithun agreed to give the notice of intended marriage. It would be another 30 days before we can tie the knot.

I was willing to wait. Now that the decision was taken, I could deal with Appa’s constant snarky comments about Mithun and my future.

But the wait was not peaceful. Appa continued with his sarcastic needling and I reacted. But instead of arguing and losing my temper, I responded with cool, off-hand retorts that would drive him insane with anger. Now it was his turn to bang things and walk out of the room.

Oh God! I wish amma had been there. She would have laughed to her death at the sight of Appa losing an argument and his cool.

The massive arguments would be followed by a few days of tense peace.

The last big argument was yesterday. A day before the court appointed date for my wedding.

I think Appa sensed that something was off kilter. We had both, in the last three strained months, forgotten how to talk to each other. This was the man that I could sit and dissect a movie or book with for hours. This was the man with whom I had shared my every single thought and idea to solve the problems of the world! When I had felt hurt, angry or left out at school or college, when I had trouble with friends or teachers, I turned to Appa. How could we now not talk!

I think he must have been haunted by the same thoughts! When I got back from work he was waiting for me with a peace offering of a cup of tea. Unfortunately, the tea which was much needed was accompanied by advice that I didn’t want to hear repeated. The tea was left half-drunk as I stormed out of the room, but not before snarling that I can’t imagine how I ever thought that he understood me!

*

And now here he was, standing at my door. Telling me for the first time that maybe he was wrong.

The sun may have as well set in the east.

“Amu you are right. I am quite rigid in my own way. I know that! I think I … I think… I did understand you. Now… I am trying, but I don’t think I have… I don’t think I have understood you.

To me, you have always been my mirror image. While other fathers talked about not understanding their kids, I stood proud and even laughed at them. We were so alike that I forgot that you and I are two different people.”

Mithun would be waiting near Café Coffee Day around the corner. He had decided to come by auto instead of bringing his bike, because of my bag. I had agreed to be there on time. I didn’t want to start our new life on a tardy note. I sneaked a look at my watch. I have to be there in 10 minutes… but I will have to leave now.

Appa was running his hand over my table and my files. He did not seem to notice that the photo frame with the photograph of the three of us smiling and squinting into the camera was missing.

“Do you remember the time amma and I had had that big argument about attending your second cousin’s wedding?”

Yes, I did! Amma wanted all of us to go to Chennai for it. I did not want to go to Chennai and deal with all the “yeppo kalyanam panna pore?” (“When are you going to get married?”) Appa didn’t want to go and have his routine disturbed. That was the one time that amma and he had not made up easily. The argument and the suppressed anger had simmered for nearly three days.

Appa had kept trying to convince her over and over again as to why it was not necessary for all of us to attend every single wedding in the extended family. But Amma wanted us in Chennai. She was sick and tired of making excuses for Appa’s absence. Or maybe she had just had enough of giving into Appa.

She had given him and me the cold shoulder for the next couple of days. Appa was amused. This was a new Amma and he was intrigued. But even he was not prepared for her announcement at dinner on the third day that she had booked her train ticket to Chennai. Before Appa could protest that he did not want to go, she said firmly that she had booked only one ticket. For herself. And she would be back in 5 days.

Appa had accepted defeat though not too gracefully. But he didn’t push it. Even he could see that something was different this time.

Amma returned after 5 days, full of laughter, happy memories and a lot of photographs. She had even posed in some of them. The smile was there. But she had looked old and frail and alone in them.

Two weeks later she lay dead on the living room rug.

Yes… I remembered that fight.

*

He was looking out of the window… at nothing in particular.

He turned and walked away. I nearly sighed in relief. He was leaving.

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath, readying to take my bag and jump out of the window and make a dash to the café.

“I have always believed that if I had gone with her to Chennai, she would still be alive.”

The words sliced me. To hear him form words that brought to life my own greatest shame and regret numbed me.

“I still feel I was right. There was no need to go to Chennai. But I did not go. I could have. Five days are a small price to pay in the larger scheme of things. But I let my pride and ego get in the way. I didn’t want to lose or give in.

I don’t want to lose you either Amu. I know what I know. I know he is a nice boy. But you need something more. I know this because I know you. But you are right. I could be wrong too.”

My mind stopped tracking the time. In that moment, I also lost track of all my reasons for wanting to marry Mithun. Appa never allowed himself to lose an argument because of his ego. I was going to marry someone for the same reason… to prove Appa wrong.

What was it? Was it that a lifetime of being in agreement had resulted in a need for a tectonic shift in our relationship? Was this my way of drawing new boundaries and building a few essential walls? Or did I just want to confound him and make him wonder who the hell I was?

Why did I think marrying Mithun was a good idea? Did I just want a third person in my little life to ease the intensity of living with an intellectual giant? Maybe I just wanted a break from Appa or maybe we need to be a threesome as opposed to an intense twosome.

Any which way, it was not because I could not live without Mithun.

I am going to have to call Mithun.

*

And then maybe… I will go to the pet shop.

 

– Binu Sivan

 

Once Upon a Time…

one-dayWhen we were kids, my mom would entertain us with stories from our ‘childhood’ and hers – growing up in the magical, mystical yet harsh reality of Kerala. Dad also had a plethora of stories. Stories from his rather wild, free and extremely mischievous childhood… his Airforce days and gentle tales by Vaikom Mohammed Bashir, his favourite author. He also loved to (still does) recite poetry – English and Malayalam. A particular favourite of his was the Malayalam poem (depicted as Kathakali and Ottamthullal performances) about Hanuman and Bhim (Bheemasenan). (Check the link if you are interested in this particular story.)

A few years down the line, I had the wonderful blessing of studying in a school that believed in literature. Charles Dickens, R.L. Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Edward Lear, Oscar Wilde, R.K. Narayan, Munshi Premchand… and so many more – they were all familiar friends by the time I was 16 years old. Somewhere along the way, I read our epics in their entirety. Ramayanam (as any South Indian kid will call it) didn’t do it for me. But the Mahabharatham… ah!! it stirred my soul and my imagination. I fell in love, hated with all my heart, felt helpless and stood humbled and awestruck.

Not surprisingly, the stories started forming in my head. However, I used to brush them off as my teen imaginings and daydreams. When it was time to select a college major, I opted for commerce, because science scared the daylights out of me and English… English… “what are you going to do with a degree in English?” asked the voices in my head. And I listened.

My first job with a trading firm (a job that I got through my dad’s contact) was a revelation. The first day an elderly person surrounded by files (this was before the advent of laptops or emails) told me what I was supposed to do. He then went out to meet fellow traders and trade at the stock exchange – I presume. I sat surrounded by files and looked at some of them… did not understand any of them and spent the rest of the day looking out of the window at a digger dig a foundation in the empty lot next door. I was fascinated.

And then it happened. I started writing poetry. Just like that. Two to three a day.

This series of daily occurences were repeated for the next four or maybe five (I don’t remember) days. Then I called up my dad on the landline (no mobiles either in those days) and told him that if I stayed on at this office, surrounded by musty files with numbers for one more day, I may throw myself in front of that digger.

I quit and within a short span of time walked into the offices of a neighbourhood newspaper – Anna Nagar Times. I have never looked back since then.

I will not bore you further. But over the years along with the poems, I have also been working on a story here and a story there. Those characters and imaginings were finally being put down on paper – partially because the cacophony in my head was getting to be too much. I have finally built the courage to share some of them – some short stories, and dialogues and a few excerpts from a novel I am working on.

I should let you know at the very outset, that I don’t know if these are any good. However, I would love it if you could read these posts and give me your feedback so that I could hone my story writing skills. Will be posting a short story tomorrow to begin with.

Thank you.

Binu