Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Shadow Play

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Devi with the four arms
Why do I love you and fear you in equal parts?
Who are you?
I see you love flowers
And jewelry and music
Those weapons, and tigers, and lions too
Who are you?
Lady of the brightest light
Lady of the darkest night
Who are you?
You've looked into my soul and gently sealed
The split between the shadow and the self seamlessly
I look to you and see who I might be

                                                                              - SDG

Friday, May 24, 2019


Blurring lines on an antiquated map
Maps of the mind, of mindsets
Maps of languages and trade routes
National borders going in and out of style
Mood swings of the geo-political timeline
Of recorded history

Why do we never learn our lessons
Lessons found in every history book
Footprints on the sands of time
Show loud and clear
What we deny we empower
The guillotine awaits the tyrant

                                                        - SDG

Thursday, May 23, 2019


A heart riddled with holes is a strange sight
I stare
I have never seen anything this broken 
This functional

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Movie Memories

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul 

Strings of colored lights up in the tree
Come down to make a canopy
The fresh mountain air by Nakki lake
The warmth of hot samosas under my nose
"Chalte chalte yunhi koi mil gaya tha ..." floating around on a lilting breeze
So sweet, so soft, like a plate of cool crisp dessert
Completely appropriate in a dhaba on a cool winter's night
We had just watched the movie in the theater across the street
One of the first movies in my memory 
All I could recall of the experience was a lady in a gorgeous orange and gold chudidar suit singing 
And me saying to my mother,"Mummy, kuch samajh mein nahin aa raha hai"
Mummy saying gently,"Koi baat nahin. Aaraam se baitho."

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul  

I hear I was smitten by a movie the year before 
But I don't remember that
I'm just regurgitating family folklore 
I'm told I came home from the cinema 
And announced to the clan I was Maria
Picked up my dad's guitar and pretended to play it
Making up songs as I went
I guess I was humored because I knew all the lyrics
From every song in the movie by the time I was seven 
The hills are alive ... Edelweiss ... So long, farewell ... and all the rest of them

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul   

The haitus between the memories of 1970 and 1976  
Probably reflects the fact that I wasn't one of Kaka's biggest fans 
The next 70mm forgetmenot scene in my mind is of Jai playing a soulful tune on a harmonica
Gabbar was the screen personification of the dacoits of Bhind-Morena we heard about every day
Living just a few hundred miles away in Hoshangabad that was too close for comfort
The music! It brought such adrenalin into our dreary lives
I remember my parents driving into town late one night for paan and returning with a 45rpm
"Mehbooba Mehbooba!" RD Burman at his best
Such a departure from the tame music of the past

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul    

Phir kya kehene, the decade of Big B came along
And nothing was ever the same again
Kya dialog
Kya dialog delivery
Kya naach
Kya gaanaa
Nothing was ever the same again
Indian cinema had found its voice 

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul  

Then the road split two ways
Art movies and the not so watchable Dada Kondke types
A Noorie then, a Qayamat Se Qayamt Tak came along every five years
And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse it did
To Bappi Lahiri's music
And other competitors'

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul   

Just when I gave up on Bollywood, along came Saregamapa
An Aishwarya and the other beauty queens and Manish Malhotra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali
A world that had been waiting to emerge showed up in technicolor and in perfect pitch
Our jaws dropped collectively
I couldn't get enough of the movies, the cinematography, the songs, Shreya's voice
Anurag Kashyap's style, and Gulzar sahib's new lyrics
The tapori of yore had rubbed off on him too
"Beedi jalayi le ....."

Oh the stars in my eyes, the music on my brain, the life force toying with my soul     

Then CGI happened, and I'm not watching those god awful crowd scenes
It gives the question "Kitne aadmi the?" a whole new look
I'll wait for a movie to come along that puts the stars back into my eyes
The music on my brain
And the life force compels me to drop everything and pay attention to the silver screen


Monday, May 13, 2019


Ashima, the Zamindar's wife, all of twenty-three
Married for five years now to the oldest son of a middling estate somewhat past its prime
Was expecting their first baby and feeling very large
And cumbersome

The Zamindar, Ashima, and the Zamindar's brother
Waited in the drawing-room for the Ranisaheba to emerge
From her living quarters, ready to go to the movies with her family
A matinee

Ranisaheba now widowed and mainly uninvolved in the daily workings of her estate
Had taken to social work and gin rummy, a common combination of pastimes
Among the ladies of her generation in her neck of the woods, if they were born into wealth
Or had married it

"It's too hot!" said the Zamindar's wife, fanning herself with a magazine
"Especially for a whale as large as myself. I should be swimming in the ocean,"
She declared, with a faraway look in her eye, a look her husband never understood
Or dared to address

Her devar chuckled and said,"Boudi, you are such an imaginative creature
You should write! I'm sure you'll tell your kids the best stories ever
The kind Darwan used to tell us when we were kids. He spun them fresh
As he drawled in Bundeli"

The Zamindar nodded and shook his head in the same gesture
A 'yea and nay nod' peculiar to our part of the globe
That no other nation on this large blue planet has mastered or fathomed

"Fatso, make me a cup of tea," said the Zamindar pointing at his wife with his chin
A rather unremarkable unimpressive chin, superseded by thin lips and a Brylcreemed mustache
His wife started to wiggle her very pregnant body to the edge of her seat in an attempt
To get out of it

The Zamindar's voice droned in her direction, in an Ox-Bridge Indian accent
"You have gotten so lazy, you haven't made me breakfast in months.
My mother made my scrambled eggs this morning because the cook didn't show up.
At least make me tea."

The Zamindar's brother blanched a little as he spoke
"Dada, every time Boudi goes into the kitchen these days
She runs out the backdoor almost immediately and throws up behind the hedge.
Don't you know???

Boudi, relax, I'll make us tea. Ramu left for Begusarai early this morning
To attend his sister's husband's funeral. The poor man died of cholera.
I told Ramu he will be quarantined for three weeks when he returns.
Jamini cooked lunch today"

With that he sped toward the inner rooms to get to the rasoi a hallway and a verandah away
The Zamindar's wife finally spoke,"No wonder the jhol was so good today, I overate,
Not the oily mess Ramu prepares. Poor man, I hope his sister will be okay.
Perhaps we should employ her.

Let me talk to Ma,"said the Zamindar's wife, and her husband rose from his chair, glaring,
"I say what happens here! My mother is a nobody!! I own the estate!"
His wife cringed as he spoke and for the next fifteen minutes couldn't bring herself to look away from
The tiny black stain on the rug

The Zamindar's brother returned with a tray laden with goodies, a teapot, and four teacups
Precariously balanced while nesting awkwardly due to the delicate handles that protruded
Finely crafted, but not designed to fit well together. He put the tray down on the ottoman
And his mother called out to them

"Sorry darlings, let's go. I was on the phone forever with Brigadier Jaslok's wife.
She is new here, and we were just chatting, and I couldn't be rude. We can go now"
"There's tea Ma", said her younger son, triumphantly, "I made it."
She smiled

"I should've made cha," said her daughter-in-law. "I am so sorry I am so sick."
"You're not sick! You are the brightest light in the family. You are a mother.
You are the only person in the family who is doing something about the next generation,"
declared her devar as he snuck a look at his older brother

Ranisaheba laughed so hard the teacup clattered dangerously on the saucer in her bejeweled hand
"Ashima, never forget, you are a mother. You are the bringer of life," she said to her daughter-in-law
The Zamindar looked reasonably chastized, a tiny bit remorseful, and plenty aggrandized
A baby on the way is a joy already

A few weeks passed and the newborn was here with a loud healthy cry that gladdened the hearts
Of all who heard him. The place without the pitter-patter of little feet had grown too serious
In its demeanour and decorum, and decor, a lot of people thought, especially Ranisaheba.
Now that was about to change

She held her little grandson and cooed sweet nothings in his ear, as did his father, and his mother
As they passed their little bundle of joy around for introductions
His kaku was away, and when he returned in a week, he ran to the nursery to say hello to his nephew
"Look at you!"

He said,"You got your grandfather's nose, and your mother's eyes, and my mother's eyebrows.
You're so funny, I can look just at you and see my whole family in your one little face. You are a Family Album. Here, go back to your mumma, she misses you already. I hope someday I'll have kids
Half as cute as you."

Boudi smiled as she understood why her devar saw so much in her, "He sees the world in everybody.
It's a certain kind of human being who sees the best and the most expansive version of another.
They don't ridicule or minimize or restrict another, they see them in their every avatar,
And they see them with eyes filled with love.

No wonder he saw in me a mother, a writer, a bright light, a whale, a someone who throws up behind hedges, and none of that was incongruous to him. He valued my feminine fragility and my intellect.
And then there are those who can see nothing good in anybody. All they see are slaves and masters."
And there began her search within herself for herself

A quest for the inner being that the sages had named Prakriti, Saraswati, Lakshmi, to name a few
This inner being, the Ashima  beyond the Ashima everybody saw and some loved tenderly
Her mother, her Dida, her nanny, her brother, her puppy
The Ashima that either blossomed or withered, nay, lived and died amongst microtransactions

                                                                                                        ~ Sonali

  1. Zamindar - a landowner, especially one who leases his land to tenant farmers
  2. Devar - husband's younger brother
  3. Boudi - brother's wife
  4. Darwan - gatekeeper, guard
  5. Bundeli - dialect of Hindi spoken in Bundelkhand, in North-Central India
  6. Rasoi - kitchen
  7. Jhol - curry
  8. Cha - chai
  9. Kaku - father's brother
  10. Prakriti - Goddess of Nature / Creation, avatar of Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva
  11. Saraswati - Goddess of learning and the fine arts
  12. Lakshmi - Goddess of wealth and prosperity
  13. Dida - maternal grandmother