Sunday, December 25, 2011

Skipping Stones

May 12, 2005

“You hold it like this, supported by the middle finger, between the thumb and the index finger,” he said.

I copied the curl of his fingers around the flat, circular, smooth stone, trapping it in my grip.

“Now, spin the stone while releasing it, like this,” he said, and released the stone.

His stone went click, click, click, jumping on the water. It skipped seven times before drowning finally.

But when I released my stone, spinning it as much as I could, it went WHOOSH into the water.  Dead.

“Now that’s called a submarine,” he said. “You don’t throw it like that. You ought to keep it low, like this,” he said, and threw another one. Six skips.

I tried again. Two skips.

“Well, it should make an angle of about twenty degrees when it hits the water,” he said, and let out a breath.

Now that was some sensible way of teaching. My stone skipped five times.

“You scientific brain, you need to breed some intuition, some way of relating to things and actions based on how you feel you should relate to them,  without setting down the rules and laws of the interaction beforehand.  You’ll realize how much more you would learn,” he said.


Sometimes, I see your smile on strange faces. I recognize the way the lips, full and able, reach out to the cheeks, and stay there for a second, in a deep, knowing bond. I get so caught up in the smile that I register the face only a little later and by that time, whoever’s face it is, stops smiling and starts looking at me with a mixture of confusion and concern. The confusion needs no explanation. The concern probably springs out of how I look when I register the face.

Then I try to smile apologetically, as a person who mistakes somebody for somebody else would, but I realize that the concern on the stranger’s face just grows larger, probably because my face doesn’t do a good job of putting up a show. I feel my neck getting warm and the lump rising in my throat. I turn around and rush away.


You don’t know this, of course, but I was around when they declared you dead.

You’d never let me near you in any of the ITP spells. So when your parents came out to make arrangements, and I entered the room, I didn’t know what to expect.

Slowly, I lifted my hand to remove the cloth from your face, fearing that there would be red spots all over you, spots that you’d never let me see in the three years we’d known each other.

I shut my eyes, removed the cloth in one stroke, and opened them back again. And honey, there wasn’t a spec on your face. It’s so indescribably strange, but the fact that I didn’t have to see you like you’d never wanted to be seen, came like a sharp streak of light in the dark realm of my pain. I remember the relief at seeing how good you looked, and the uncontrollable sobs that followed, when I realized that it seemed as if you’d shaved just the previous evening.

I bent down and kissed you, and felt your lips one last time. The next I remember thinking anything was when I heard footsteps approaching. That was when I wiped my warm tears from your cold face.


Sometimes I think that my life would have been so much easier with you around. Now I have to figure everything out for myself.  But you know, I’ve not been a submarine. Had you been here, you would have taken some pride in that.

I think, the day you died and I came to your room, I established a resigned understanding with death. Since then, while I know that the faceoff waits somewhere out there, I skip as a stone in an ocean, and defy the laws in that the successive skips aren’t smaller. Here’s to you, and to all the time we spent together.


©Rasagya Kabra, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Little Things

It was late evening and we were looking at rock and mineral specimens from somebody’s personal collection, on display, in an old, forgotten building in CP. The particular specimen in front of us was a sparkling thing, some sort of a zeolite with a scientific name that was hard to pronounce. It had a beautiful broad base and finger like projections that dazzled under the pale light.

I looked at him, by my side, and we exchanged a little surprised glance.

‘It is found near waterfalls. It looks like this because of being hit by the forceful running water, for hundreds of years,’ we were informed.

The idea of becoming so interesting by constantly being in the way of something forceful seemed fascinating to me. The water didn’t matter to that rock anymore. But it was a part of the way the rock was, its pressure had been internalized and made into the shape and being of the rock. It was like life and evolution. Things impact you, things go, but the impact stays and becomes a part of you.


We didn’t intend to go to anyplace remotely like a museum. Not that day, not then. We’d just come out to eat and take a stroll.

It’s a little strange, but, for me the line between imagining things and recollecting them from memory blurs if there aren’t distinct external things that I can tag some of my memories to. Such and such a thing with person X in that restaurant, that street, that corner, makes the whole episode with person X easier to remember. It’s as if I need the physical world to testify to me that I’m not hallucinating, that things I remember actually happened.

So we were out on a stroll when we landed there, in that gallery. Some sign board caught his eye and we climbed up the steps, curious and smiling in our languor. 

In a corner of my mind I knew that it was going to be the last hour or so we would spend together. We could go back to his room after that. But there wasn’t any point in that because he would need time to pack his stuff.


I came across a blue octagonal specimen that seemed to have razor sharp edges. It was frozen as an iceberg, with very fine cuts all over, that refracted light. I turned to my side to draw his attention to it, but realized that he was a few paces ahead of me.

He was looking at a massive Scolecite, studying it with clean, simple attention.

I like looking at him from a distance. At such times, I tell myself that I don’t know that man. He’s just somebody I have seen for the first time. Then I ask myself if I find him interesting, like that, from a distance, as an outsider. Having asked the question, I try to answer myself. That day, the answer was a very violent yes.   

I was still gazing at him when he turned to me. He noticed the look in my eyes before I could do anything about it. He smiled his measured, deep smile. He walked back.

His arm felt warm around me. “That’s some good time together, isn’t it?” he said.

“That’s some really good time together,” I said.

We started walking toward the exit.

“So, when exactly do you leave?” I said.

“By midnight.”

I looked at my watch. “It’s about time you started packing.”

“Packing’s done. I did it while you were asleep,” he said.


©Rasagya Kabra, December 14, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Girl Who Burnt Bridges

When the world was still round,
And mornings smoothly slipped into evenings,
A really lost little girl
That she couldn’t do with rickety bridges.
So she burnt them all.
And burnt some more, as she grew up.

“That’s not the right thing to do.
 The world is a really lonely place,” she was told.

She said that she could
Deal with bouts of loneliness,
But couldn’t bear
The nervous drone of a life
That moved on weak, rusting hinges.

“It’s good to have people there for oneself.
It’s good to keep alive
The possibility of mending bridges,” she was told.

But the girl,
Slightly crazy as she was,
Thought the whole concept of future
Utterly misplaced;
The obsession with permanence,

Now what do you do with people like her?
How do you reason with them?
These people,
Who would live either on soaring peaks
Or in abysmal valleys,
But nowhere in between.
People who want to make
Each day
A matter of life and death.

©Rasagya Kabra, November 17, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Molten Days

“I feel like a dark house,” he said.
“A dark house,
With a small window
That overlooks a narrow lane.”

“The window bestows me
With a small square of sunshine
That melts my days
And turns them into the air I breathe.”

A smiling stranger walking down the lane,
The fluttering loose end
Of a woman’s bright sari,
Catch my eye
And I tell myself,
‘You can see real things.
You are not dead,
Not just yet.’”


©Rasagya Kabra, November 20, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Teardrop on Grey Rock

The memory knows this place
From your telling,
Before the eyes can even
Submit their version.

I walk along the sea
That sparkles too bright,
In the sun too hot
For bare arms.

A small tear drop
Falls on a grim grey rock,
And forms a dark liquid line
Demarcating the path
Between my longing
And your rationalizing.

© Rasagya Kabra, November 7, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Strange People

Jute bedspreads,
Fragile smiles,
Sunburnt fingers.

Nervous silences,
Vaporizing hope,
Piercing implosions.


It is a strange place,
We are strange people.

©Rasagya Kabra, October 23, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Musical Living

“There isn’t an answer to it, I know,” she said, “but sometimes familiar places and ideas dig up old memories and the fact that those memories are indeed true, seems incredible. You realize that you’ve come such a long way that you can’t even trace back the factors that led to this journey, this culmination of things that you never thought would happen to you, but that you ended up dealing with, nevertheless. With this realization comes an odd little jab somewhere inside, this little prickly feeling that just crops up. Somebody frames a sentence in a certain way, and you reply back in a certain way, then an invisible gear is touched in your brain and you are just transported back to a different time, a different place, a different person, but a similar conversation. And then you find it hard to believe that that conversation ever took place, simultaneously realizing that the conversation happening now will also be stacked up in the archives of your brain, and may become hard to believe in the future. But that’s not the point, and you realize that. You know this conversation will have its own nuances, its own rhythm and its own music. And it is in music that life breathes, uncoils and dances. It is this music that must go on.”

© Rasagya Kabra, October 12, 2011

"But he stays by the window, remembering that life. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else- the cold and where he'd go in it- was outside, for a while anyway."
-Raymond Carver, Distance and Other Stories


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The baby has light eyes, unlike any of those previously born to her. It is a boy.  He has minute eyelashes, a hint of eyebrows and a head of good, black hair.

She looks at his little hands that end in nails like hers. Square. She puts her finger in his fist and he wraps his tiny fingers around it. She kisses his forehead. There are tears in her eyes. All of him is worth rupees two lakhs. That is his price.

She puts him to her breast, for the first and the last time. He will not be told that she exists. None of them were ever told that she existed. She calls him Gopal. She whispers the name in his ears, the name by which she is going to remember this boy with the light eyes and the head of good, black hair. 

© Rasagya Kabra, October 5, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some Things

I like your mouth when it tastes of smoke.
It’s one of the things I haven’t told you.

You know you have this way of looking when you’re surprised,
Head tilted, eyes startled, mouth smiling and forming an inaudible “what?”
I think you look so real like that.
And I’m so glad you are surprised so often.

I like the creaking floorboards of your house,
The small kitchenette,
The splash painted walls,
And the way your canvases smell of oils and linseed.

Just burn that blue shirt with the stupid stripes
And bury the ashes somewhere you cannot reach them.

But how would you know all this?
That this place exists,
Is one of the things I haven’t told you.

© Rasagya Kabra, 22 September, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Dark Patch

“It’s not the pup, it’s a kitten,” I say, while my mother searches her pockets for her glasses.

“Thank god,” she says. “But it’s still just as bad,” she adds, on afterthought.

We’re looking at the small mangled body on the road facing my balcony.

A dark circular patch has come to surround the dead kitten. It is spreading, coloring more and more of the concrete.


When I go out in the evening the kitten has been removed, and I cannot locate the patch that had been bloodied wet. Nevertheless, I keep to the sidewalk.

The stray puppy follows my mother. It has been supplied with some pet formula by my mother since its mother’s death and its birth two weeks ago. It has become friendly with my mother, and runs with her while she takes her walks.


I wake up late on Sundays.

“You still smile in your sleep,” my mother says. “You know, your first conscious smile was bestowed to a picture of Marilyn Monroe, and her billowing skirt. You were three weeks old and you had never smiled before, except in your sleep.”

I turn to her, propping my head on my elbow. My pillow has yellow and green leaves, and there’s no trace of the dark wet patch that had been a result of last night’s crying. It’s gone, like the cat’s blood. There’s still the buzz in my head, and I cannot remember exactly what had made me cry. I just remember the relief I had felt in submitting to the tepid pressure of tears; the strange comfort in the long forgotten feeling of lukewarm drops snaking my cheeks.

“You know, early baby smiles are a survival instinct," she says. "They are meant to make newborns more appealing, and thus keep them safer. If a baby can win the love of people around it, it’s likely to be better fed and cared for; the odds of its survival are greater.”

I smile at her. My survival instincts come to the fore.

©Rasagya Kabra, September 13, 2011

That is one of the great secrets of life, that life is a movement. And if you are stuck somewhere you lose contact with life.- Osho

Monday, September 5, 2011


“That’s it. Now stand still,” he said. With thin brown wavy lines he drew her hair that was billowing in the wind. Three neat strokes gave him her imposing forehead. He painted her arched eyebrows and the eyes that were shut. Then came the part of her face he liked the best, the straight, thin nose and the cheekbones that looked grand when she smiled. But she was not smiling, so he made her cheeks as they were- somewhat prominent and potentially beautiful. He could draw her lips without needing to look at her. With final strokes near her chin, he said, “That’ll be it. You can take her away.”

The two men who had been holding her, finally let out breath and placed her in the coffin.

©Rasagya Kabra, September 5, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

At Least That

The fabric of our association
Would have worn thin.

The fraying edges would have lost
Their neuron like sensitivity
And become numb, dead.

We would have been left with
A hideous gauzy mess-
Entangled, live and burning.

Good we set fire to it
While it was still straight
And somewhat bright,
While we could still
Look each other in the eye.

At least what lies in the grave,
Is something glorious,
Worth remembering.

At least that.

©Rasagya Kabra, August 29, 2011

"There is no answer. It's okay. Even if it wasn't okay, what am I supposed to do?"
- Raymond Carver (Cathedral)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Mud Man

In the pit, he turns, creeping into the shadow of one of its walls. The sun is still beating down on the extreme left of his back. He raises himself along the wall, lying on his side. He thrusts his face into the soil to blot any remnants of water.

The pit is a dark center in the middle of a sea of cracked, barren land. There isn’t a tree, a house; only dry, burning land marred with fissures running deep into a soil that weeps no more.

He forces his body against the wall with the last residue of strength in him. “This is the worst it gets,” he tells himself. “Just survive this. Survive today.” He tries to wet his lips with his dry tongue.  He shuts his eyes and tries to think of rain. He pictures the beauty of raindrops clinging to smooth, green leaves; golden crops dripping with water, swaying in the wind; children dancing in the rain, splashing the water with their feet. The river is brimming with water. The riverside is green with grass. There are cows grazing. There are birds chirruping. Women dressed in bright colors and silver jewelry, are filling their earthen pitchers at the river, laughing and chatting all the while.  He is dreaming of the happy times.

His body lies shriveling in the receded shadows of the sun. He sleeps facing the heavens, his mouth open, his chest barely rising and falling. Every inch of him is covered with mud. There is mud on his eyelashes and in his teeth. He sleeps like a dead man, a man alive only in his dreams.

The sun is like an orange ball and there is a wind blowing. The man sleeps, oblivious.

The sky darkens, and still the man sleeps.

A drop of water falls into his mouth and another on his forehead.

©Rasagya Kabra, August 20, 2011

A man has to fend and fettle for the best, and then trust something beyond himself. You can't insure against the future, except by really believing in the best bit in you... (D.H. Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley's Lover )

Sunday, August 14, 2011


“My pain was so strange that at first it produced no tears. There was just something smouldering in between my ribs and my stomach felt as if I was on a ride that defied gravity,” he said.

“I just couldn’t bring that torch to burn the logs, and her,” he said, turning to me.

"All those people who had nothing to do with us all these years since papa died, all of them around me, and I just couldn’t get the bloody torch anywhere close to her dead body. My hands wouldn’t move,” he said, looking at the grand Deodars in front of us.

He fell silent and his eyes were lost in that strange land which each one of us inhabits on our own and to which other human beings do not have access. The Palace, Chail said the steaming white cup in my hand.

He was stroking a blade of grass. His hair shone in the dying light. There was no other sound but the chirping of birds coming home at sunset. My body hurt because of the journey, half a day’s journey for a day’s stay.

“It was a different kind of love,” he said. "You know when I compare Lillian with her I think Lillian just has a smaller brain. That’s not to say that I’ve not been mad about Lillian, which is something I cannot justify to myself despite all its futility. It’s just that my mother somehow operated with me on another plane.”

His face was pale but less than how it’d been on his mother’s funeral. That day his face had crumpled into a wet sallowness when setting fire to the pyre, he dropped the torch aside. He had cried like a baby, his head on my shoulder, his hair smelling of an unknown shampoo, his tears mixing with mine, wetting my kurta.


"There was something unchanging about her. She had been the one thing constant in the twenty years of my life.” He said. “Though I’ve always been the one to love the transitory, you will realize that we do need some things to remain fixed. We need the trees, this hotel, and this cottage to remain fixed, so that our motion can be defined relative to them.”

I was contemplating whether to give him a piece of my mind on the dynamism of the seemingly ‘fixed’ things; on the need for playing an active, sensitive role in making a relationship work, when he said, “When I was at school,whole weeks would pass without a word between us. Then she would write to me, a letter, an email, just asking me if I’m doing alright, if there’s anything I’d like to share with her. You know those early days when I’d be so lost in my life that I’d almost forget that she existed and then these letters would arrive and I’d either send brief replies or just not reply. Occasionally, when there would be some unsettlement in my life, my other life that is, the one that existed oblivious of her, I’d be more sensitive to her letters and give her vivid accounts of harmless things. She would sense something in my tone and write back asking if there was anything bothering me. Then I would pour my heart out and she would give her unflinchingly resolute take on my situation. I would just marvel at the clarity of her head, her ability to reduce the complex mess I always offered her, into manageable discrete components that had been invisible to me until she illuminated them. Eventually I would tide over the unsettlement and start sending her short replies once again,” he said.

“I was a jackass, treating her like that. She would be close at hand whenever I needed her, and then she would relegate herself so far away in the background of my life that I would almost forget her,” he said.  

“Each time I would leave she would just wish me a safe journey and hug me tight, even when I left for the UK two years ago. Not a word more. She had this unsaying way of transfusing her feelings. When home, we’d occasionally eat together and mostly not talk about anything and still be perfectly at peace. I was not needed to say things unless I felt the need to say them. Whatever talking we did was so real that I can pick instances from my memory and tell you the content of what we spoke. In comparison, these whole conversations I have with Lillian are pointless. I cannot recall anything in the morning. We talk out of necessity because, between us, silence gets oppressive,” he said. “I just don’t know why I have been with Lillian. I don’t know if I can still be with her. I cannot, I think. I will have to tell her that, first thing when I get back.”


It started raining, without thunder or lightning, and we rushed into his cottage. His cottage was clean, a kind of quiet order established in the four days he’d been there.

I pulled out a sweater from my bag. On the tea table I could see the small earthen pot covered with a red cloth, which contained his mother’s ashes. He was going to disperse them into the Ganges after a week, on the twelfth day since her death, and then he would fly back again, into his other life where he didn’t need me.

“How long are you here?” he said.

“I need to be back on the 16th,” I said.

“Stay a little longer?”

“No, there’s no point.”

© Rasagya Kabra, August 14, 2011

Sunday, August 7, 2011


There are streaks of orange in the sky and in the river.  My wet hair drips water onto the smooth red tomatoes I pluck. Beyond the tomatoes the air smells of dainty roses, lined on the peripheries by ripe cucumbers and gourds. The sunflowers on the other side are beginning to stir. Swarms of honeybees are flying to the flowers, their buzz faint above the babble of the river.

Soon I will be asked to move away for two months. The river will start throbbing with rainwater, flooding the brown patch home to my hut, submerging the green tracts of my garden. The mighty water will force my shrubby plants, accustomed only to the love of the sun and clouds and the intimate affection of my fingers, into a harshness that will dissolve them. My plants will die in the water that gave them life all these months.

I will miss the sound of the river, its occasional roar and the continuous stir. Its lilting waters will echo in my memory. I will sing to the potted plants that I grow in the two months. I will tell them how the river turned blue and orange and golden, how it laughed in the rain and sweated in the sun. I will tell them how I live to meet the river again, and how together, we will bring to life the green promise of placidity.

©Rasagya Kabra, August 7, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Lasting Fragrance

He was waiting for the metro when her smooth arm stretched under his nose, as she pointed an exit to a passerby.  The sleek arm smelled of some exotic fruit unknown to him. It was so close to his face that he could lick it. But he didn’t, of course. He just let his gaze travel up, interrupted only by the small birthmark above her elbow and the black strap that lined her shoulder.

She stood by his side and the metro started, packed with people. Just a week into the big city and he was taken aback by the abundance of smooth limbs around him.  ‘Somebody needs to teach these things to the girls back home’, his soul cried.

Not just that, he was beginning to have well defined preferences over the city girls. There were at least three categories discernible to him. The first consisted of naïve looking girls who roamed in big groups, laughed often, and were very loud. The second type, which he liked the best, consisted of usually very pretty girls who moved in groups of two or three. They would walk gracefully, talking in muffled tones, their soft laughter sometimes spilling to reach curious ears like his. The third kind, which the woman standing by his side seemed to perfectly exemplify, was the one that unsettled him. Such women could move the way they liked, be surrounded with any number of people, but still remain just by themselves. They seemed to revel in the loneliness of a certain palpable arrogance. They would invariably be captivating, but you couldn’t imagine marrying them. They would just not pay attention to the people around them. ‘Why should your lot treat the world like that?' he wanted to ask the appetizing chit standing by his side. 'Why can’t you just look at me and acknowledge my presence? Why?’

Her dark kohl lined eyes were riveted to a thin bunch of printed sheets. The white light of the coach ran smooth along her cheeks.  

He could feel the rush of his blood. He was inflicted by a sharp urge to dig his fingers into her delicate neck, break the imaginary glass chambers that made her inaccessible as a goddess, and reduce her into a screaming, begging creature. ‘Should I teach you a lesson?’ he wanted to ask her. ‘Maybe I should. It would do you good. You would not ignore another man.'

The metro braked violently. He lost his balance and his face rammed into the metal pole in the front. Blood started oozing from his mouth. Nobody stirred.

He moved his tongue over his teeth to check if each one was in its place. He wiped his lips with his hands but he didn't have anything to wipe his hands with.

She touched his arm gently and handed him a tissue paper, new and very white.  

© Rasagya Kabra, July 31, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dots of Light

Her hands were wrinkled, but the skin was smooth and shiny. She cut the silver wire with a sharp tool, the kind my parents forbade me from touching. Turning one end of the wire into a loop, she slid a sparkling blue bead through the other end. The bead ran smooth on the small segment of the wire and sat fat on the fine loop at the bottom.

“How is the custard?” she asked, without looking up.

“Yummy,” I said, digging my spoon into the caramel custard, “the best till now.”

Every Saturday she used to treat me to dessert, a new dessert each time. She used to live next door. My parents had told me she was a scientist with a company that made medicines. Because of the entry in the picture dictionary I’d had the impression that scientists wore white jackets and had funny hair. But she wore saris and very pretty, colorful earrings and her silver hair was always neatly tied in a bun. So I’d realized that the pictures in the dictionary were not true.

She never had any visitors apart from the maids. I could  have never lived alone like her, with nobody to talk to. She did not even have an X box. Whenever I’d go to her place, I’d find her sitting in the big wooden chair, her eyes scanning heaps of printed paper, her glasses resting on the tip of her nose. Sometimes she would leave the papers and talk to me; others she would keep looking at her papers and still talk to me. I did not go very often, once or twice a week apart from Saturdays. On Saturdays she would sit on the couch with me and we would talk about my school and the very funny people who worked at her office.


She slid a green bead.

“What are you making?”

“A pair of earrings,” she said.

“For yourself?”

“No. For this girl who used to work under me. She’s going to the U.S. for her PhD.”

“What’s a PhD?”

“Higher studies,” she said.

“Did you do a PhD?”

“Why, yes,” she said, looking up. “That’s why I’m Dr. Amrita Das.”

“Yeah, but that’s because you make medicines. You are a doctor because you make medicines.”

“Oh no, that’s a different doctor. When you do a PhD, you are just called a doctor. You don’t have to be able to treat people. ”

“That’s very strange,” I said, running my tongue on the spoon, savoring the last traces of the custard.

She slid a blue bead. There were alternate green and blue beads on the small wire. She had already made five such segments, and was working on the sixth.

She got two small silver triangles with holes at the base. I moved closer to her. She put a segment each in the holes and turned the edges of the wire with pliers. At the end, there were three beaded segments of wire hanging to each triangle.

She then held out the earrings in her hands. The blue, green and silver dazzled in the strong lights of her house.

“Can I touch them?” I asked.

She smiled. She opened my small palm and placed them on it. With the fingers of my other hand I touched the shiny things. I had never seen earrings like those. I used to wear the really small silver studs that girls in my class were allowed to wear. My mother wore colorless diamonds. The earrings with the green and blue dots of light were so pretty that I wanted to wear them, but I knew I couldn’t; I shouldn’t. With a pained heart I gave them back to her, for the girl who was going to become a doctor incapable of treating people.


On one winter morning, six months later, her house was flooded with people. My parents did not let me go. I saw from the window that a body covered in a white cloth was put in the back of an ambulance- like van. I realized she’d died. It was a Saturday. I just stood at the window and shed silent tears.

The next day a man came to our house. He spoke to my parents and handed them a white box. I knew the box. It was her earrings box. She’d left me her earrings.

© Rasagya Kabra, July 23, 2011 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tap Tap Tap

Some mornings
I wake up to the
Tap tap tap of footsteps outside,
And the ruffle of newspapers being slid
In front of each door,
But mine.

I shiver
In the stinging awareness
Of the madness lurking around me.
Father Rapes Daughter.
Artist Exiled.
Artist Dies in Exile,
Government Promises to Bring Back Ashes.
Man Kills Wife.

I bury my face
In the arms of the man
Sleeping by my side,
His chest rising and falling-
The Rhythm, reassuring.

My stomach responds
To the appetizing aroma of
Vegetables being baked.
My ears soak in
The music of the cook’s anklets.
I marvel at the beauty
Of the tree outside my window-
Loaded green,
With leaves glowing
In the early morning sun.

Tap tap tap
I think of the people who died at
Of the people dying in
Kashmir, Syria, Afghanistan...
People killed at the WTC,
In Mumbai, Gujarat, Orissa,
Sarojini Nagar.

I shut my eyes
And try to go back to sleep,
Into a world unfamiliar with
The rot of dead human flesh,
The wails of stifled ambition,
The helpless cries of life.

I lie with my fists clenched.
I can feel the madness creeping.
Someday, it will call for me, I know.
This madness that feeds on
Human sanity and love.
When that day comes,
I will have to fight for my life.

Until then,
I want to live here, in loving arms,
Indulge in the beauty of spring
And savour the whiff of baked vegetables.

Let the goddamned madness go
Tap tap tap.


© Rasagya Kabra, July 14, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

'The' Opulence

Kharbanda jerks forward in his black full- grain leather chair.

“It is going to be the best Golf estate in the Guvgaon,” he says, moving his hands in the air, tracing the imaginary contours of the building.

His Vertu mobile phone rings.

“Vevy nice, vevy nice...” Kharbanda says on the phone. His diamond studded Mont Blanc winks from the breast pocket of his blue suit. Thick gold chains dangle from his neck.

“So what was I saying?” he says to my friend, resuming the conversation. “Yes! KD Golf Estate,” he says, tapping his left hand on the mahogany table. “Nobody would have seen anything like it. It’s going to be the splendid, the voyal, the best!

The Tag Heuer on his wrist has polished silver hands. Its steel bezel glints gently in the yellow indirect light. The automatic chronograph and the black alligator strap tug at my friend’s heart as he looks at Kharbanda and says, “Sir, I have taken care to ensure that the advertisement lives up to the opulence of the Golf estate.” He smiles a little and hands Kharbanda the draft.

Kharbanda is comparing it with the original write- up given by him. His eyeballs are moving back and forth, back and forth, like an eight year old playing a flash game, spotting differences in two images that look alike. My friend is waiting patiently.

“Oh, I found it,” Kharbanda says with a smirk. “You’ve left the the...See,” he says, pointing to a line.

“Sir, in my opinion, it reads better without the the,” my friend says, as politely as he can.

Kharbanda rivets his eyes to the sentence, studying it like Edison on his thousandth attempt at the light bulb.  Then, shaking his head in desperation, he says, “You must consult my assistant, Mr. Bose, about this.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Only Once

Gentle, harsh,
Chapped, smooth,
Metallic, mouth- freshened,
Expert, novice,
Old, young.

I lie
Night after night,
Seeking the understanding of
Skin, lips and breath.

I remember you,
From the way you felt,
From the way I fought
With the urge to
Remove the blindfold.

That was the only once
I wanted to
Break the rules.

That was the only once
I wanted to ask,
“Will you come again, tomorrow?”

© Rasagya Kabra, July 2, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Fleeting Existence

There are some people waiting with me for the rain to stop. I don’t know them, they must be new applicants. The summer break is going on. There’s still a month before college reopens and I’ve come to collect some certificates.

We are standing in the library corridor, us and the college dogs, and the rain is beating hard in the open area in the front. A girl is trying to deal with her umbrella which is totally deformed and inverted by the wind. I’m just glad that I chose the pencil skirt over the flowy stuff I’m usually so fond of. I’m reading something by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I am two pages into it. The lawns and the trees in the front are just hints of green and brown, faintly visible, through the thick, translucent sheath of the shower. I cannot even see the water where it hits the ground; a mad spray rises from it.

The spray is reaching me, despite my back clinging to the bricked wall of the corridor. Fine drops of water wet my legs. I shut the book. The rain is like a lion’s roar now. The sky is sealed with dense grey clouds.  It doesn’t look like the rain is going to stop anytime soon.  I don’t have an umbrella and I have the certificates in my handbag, for their protection.

Another dog joins us. It shakes the water off itself. I take a step away from it. Now, the raindrops visibly clobber the puddles. Without wasting a second, I turn right, and move out of the main building.

I am holding my bag close to me, my head bending over it. My back is already wet. I descend the stairs in front of Rud South. The water is running down the stairs too, moving in thick, clear streams. It flows with a certain might, forcing me to fix my feet strong to the ground each time I take a step. It reminds me of the time I’d gone to Rishikesh with my family.

We had a cottage on the outskirts of Rishikesh and the Ganges used to flow sparkling clear behind it. We could bathe in the section of the river close to the cottage because of the series of rocks to the left, which curtailed the flow of the river. But the water pressure in the part beyond it was dangerously high.

One morning, my father took me by the hand and we began walking to the water beyond. I was a tall girl of ten and my neck remained comfortably above the water. My father was to my left. Suddenly his grip on my hand grew strong. The next instant, my feet were off the river base. He turned and stood against the flow of the river, facing me, his arms circling me protectively. The river had completely swept me off my feet. I held onto him, laughing nervously, my lower body flying. He smiled. “Relax. You won’t go anywhere,” he said.

This was not strange coming from a man who would tell his children about his adventures in the Yamuna, back in the days when the Yamuna in Delhi used to be clean. “Close your eyes and feel the water,” he said. I shut my eyes. The water was so strong against my body that it could have taken me anywhere it wanted. I tried to fix my feet back but it was funny how they would just not listen to me. I could feel the warmth of the early morning sun on my face and hear the gushing water trying its strength on me. Somewhere, somebody rang a temple bell. Its ring echoing reached my ears while I hung like a cloth clipped to a clothesline suspended in a storm.

I’m drenched but I’ve been able to save the handbag. I splash past the people hiding in the photocopy shop. I enter my car, into the melody of raga Desh. The music reaches a crescendo as I drive out of the parking lot and look back. The college building is bright against the morose sky. The ancient trees are dancing to the music in my car. Another year with you, I say in my head, and then we part ways in search of new loves.

© Rasagya Kabra, June 26, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011


There were stubs of her lilac cigarettes in the green and red ashtray.  She sat with her head in her hands. How could she do this? She hated him, alright, and he had threatened her, but still, how could she do what she’d done?

The chisel still lay beside him, the blood on it caking into a maroon crust. There were drops of dried white paint on its handle from opening the paint can the previous night.

When she’d driven the chisel into his neck, the spray of blood had nearly blinded her. She’d washed her eyes in the kitchen sink. It’d been the first time she’d had blood in them, and she’d realized that it made them burn the same way as soap does.

She was surprised she'd actually killed him with a chisel. She  must have ruptured a carotid artery there, otherwise he wouldn't have died.

She didn't know what to do with the body. She was sorry that it’d happened, but something had to be done, now that there was no going back in time; nothing with which she could erase what’d happened.

She lived on the fifth storey of an apartment building. There was no way she could take the man down and give him anything like a burial. There was security at the gate 24x7, and she couldn’t take any chances. She had enough of her own mess to deal with.

She took a deep breath. There was no other way out. She got six garbage bags, the biggest knives in her kitchen- boning knives and cleavers, and invoked the spirit of Dexter Morgan.


P.S. I wrote it as a part of a getting- into-the-writing –mode exercise. I was given the three things in the picture (the thing in between is an eraser, just in case you’re wondering), and I had to come up with a story in fifteen minutes. This is what I came up with.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Street Smart

Her hair glistened in the yellow streetlight as she twisted it sideways, made a spiral bun and put a small butterfly clip on it, her hands working with mechanical ease. She was standing with her back to me, and I saw her face only when she turned to him and they sat down on the yellow and black striped edge of the footpath, to divide their coins.

The golden five rupee coins were in one vertical row; the silver five rupee coins in another and the thin one and two rupee coins in two separate stacks.

He was a tone darker than her, just as old- eleven or twelve, with light brown hair that looked paler in the light from my headlights. He sat tapping his right thigh rhythmically against the ground, as she began dividing each row into two. She would approach each stack with her fingers stretched downward, the pile rising in the cavity of her palm, take as much of each row as she could and form a new one. Then she would carefully equalize the two rows, adding a coin here, removing a coin there. If there were an odd number of coins and the pile could not be divided equally, she would make up for the missing coin with those of a smaller denomination. While she worked with attentive eyes and precise movements of her hands to keep the stacks in order, he was busy singing a silent song, his head joining his thigh in the music.

After she was done, she smiled fondly at the neat job, gently moved his piles toward him, and started keeping her coins in her cloth bag. He broke his song, looked at his piles suspiciously and with one quick movement of his hand, took the last three of her golden coins left outside.

“Give my money back,” she said, with a frown.

“Now it’s mine,” he said grinning, his eyes lively.

“Give it to me, or…”

“Or what”?

Throwing him a triumphant glance that lasted a hundredth of a second, she smashed his neat rows with a single stroke of her hand, and ran away with a fistful of his golden coins.He ran after her.

Her laughter rang in the silence of the night. Her anklets added music to the gentle hum of Delhi’s breath. Her dupatta, red and green, fluttered after her, as the glass chambered Satya Paul mannequins looked on.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Boe- gun- villa

She was in pre- school and her bus used to drop her in front of a house that had bougainvillea clusters hanging over its boundary walls. Once she had asked Hari Singh what those vines were and he had said ‘Boe-gun-villa’, taking her schoolbag on his shoulder and opening his big, black umbrella.  That evening she had told her mother that they should grow bougainvillea and her mother had said that it was useless and spiky and would trample over everything else in the garden. Their house also had high boundary walls, but those were covered with night blossoming star jasmine, small white flowers that were nothing like the flourishing pink flowers of bougainvillea.

As the summer receded, the bougainvillea clusters grew denser and tiny pale flowers appeared inside the pink bracts. Whenever Hari Singh was late, he found her gazing at the vines, absorbed in the flood of pink against the bright, rain washed green. The flowers were high up, out of her reach, and Hari Singh’s too. The ones that lay dropped on the road were dirty and dead.

Eventually, she succeeded in making Hari Singh ask the guard’s permission and take a small cutting of the vine from the garden of the house. She smiled and thanked the guard who had a Super Mario moustache. As she eagerly took the brier from Hari Singh, a thorn pricked her finger. She winced briefly. Holding it more carefully, she gently touched the pink flowers and found that they were paper thin, and the pale ones inside them were very frail, too. They had no fragrance, unlike the star jasmine at home, and, somehow, the three flowers on the twig did not look as pretty as the loaded bunches above. Her finger tip began to hurt. Home was fifteen minutes away, and walking, she occasionally looked at the flowers.  By the time they reached back, the flowers were droopy. She filled a glass with water and put the branchlet inside it. She checked it every hour but the flowers only drooped more.

Later in the evening she chucked the twig in the trash can and threw the water in the kitchen sink, the jasmine outside began to blossom, its aroma filling the house through the open windows.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Story of My Death

You shoot me in my stomach and tell me that I deserve this. I feel nothing for the first few seconds, only the blood wetting me and coloring my dress red. When you carry me out of your car, to place me against a tree, I make sure that I smudge the blood all over your Yves Saint Laurent suit. I’m going to cost you something. The stomach starts hurting, more than anything I’ve ever known. You kiss me one last time, and tell me that you indeed loved me. I loved you too, baby, though slightly differently. The fool that you are, you shed a tear before finally leaving me. You can still call the ambulance, I say. That gets you worked up. The blood gushes to your eyes. You tell me that you want to end this nuisance, the nuisance that’s me. The generosity welling in you, you ask me if I’d like to be shot at another time, to make it quicker. No, thank you, I respond. You take away my phone and leave my diamonds on me. You abandon me in the wood to bleed and die. 

Oh god, that’s it, I think. My blood floods the grass around me. I know that a chicken’s blood is good for wisteria vines from a story I’d read about a Japanese prisoner of war. But I’m no chicken and the grass around me is some prickly sort of wild overgrowth. Shit. Think something substantial, I tell myself, something worth thinking in the last minutes of your life. I realize I have no substantial thoughts. A pang of pain rises up my stomach and makes me grind my teeth. I get ready to brace my death. I shut my eyes in anticipation. A second later, I try to open them, and realize I’m still alive. There’s a hazy film settling on my memory, a kind of delirium is kicking in. I’m thinking of things without exactly wanting to think of them. I can see people I loved and who loved me back, people I loved who did not love me back, people who loved me and who I didn’t love back. The colors in my recollections are merging into one another, forming circles, triangles and shapes that have no names. Now I can see nothing. The colors have all mixed into each other and there’s a blackness weighing my head down. My eyes are beginning to droop and breathing is becoming hard work. I shut my eyes. Breathe slowly, very slowly, I tell myself. I have taken a breath and it’s still inside me and I have to breathe it out but the darkness is crawling down to reach my throat to choke the breath while it still is inside me. There is a streak of light and I can see a little girl with hair tied in a small ponytail running frantically to reach the finishing line, her parents  cheering somewhere in the crowd. She runs, leaps, falls on her stomach, and crosses the line before anybody else. There is a final pang. Thus, I die.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beer, Paharganj & Lost Love

“Yesterday somebody was talking to me about The Namesake,  and I was reminded of that day, sometime in the first week of joining college, when I sat with him on the stairs of the hall and we talked about names. You know, those stairs in the corridor that leads from the mess to the staffroom, that’s where we sat. Something made us talk about names, and we discussed mine, his, and his old name.”

“I didn't know he’d changed his name.” 

“He did,” she said, sipping her beer, sitting across the mica topped table, gazing at the empty chairs to my left. It was late noon. Then, turning to me, she said, “Let me tell you something creepy. While thinking about that day, I could see exactly what I was wearing and what the color of his tee shirt was. Isn't this unnatural? Two years of this college roller coaster and my brain has the freaking space to store such a mundane detail from one of the least exciting conversations with someone I can’t imagine talking to anymore. Isn’t this crazy?” 

Before I could think of the right thing to say, she resumed her tone of self reproach, and said, “The scariest part is yet to come. Listen to this. After I’d recollected things about that day, I just tried to think of any other day in college before the last few months- time spent at the café, the dhaba, and I realized that almost every recollection of the time spent outside class had him, in full vividness.”

“Well, that’s because your absolute time spent with human beings is less, much less than normal, and consequently the number of people you end up knowing well, is less. So, if you spend proportionally more time with someone, then, since you spend less time with people as such and there are very few people you spend time with, it would seem that you are only spending time with this one person,” I tried to reason, while realizing that I should have rephrased what I wanted to say.

“Bullshit,” she said. “It’s scary. It’s scary because as such I don’t remember when I thought about him last. But one fine morning when I sit and recall whatever happy memories I have of college, there’s not one that doesn't have him.”

“Listen, it’s alright,” I said.  The beer hurt my tongue where I’d accidently bitten it at lunch. “Life has an inherent forward momentum, and you’ve been doing so well. I don’t know what got you today after so long, but believe me, it’s no big deal. You were happy then, and you are happy now. And about the vividness of your recollection, it’s a gift. Don’t you realize it? It’s amazing that you are so perceptive.”

There was a pause. She took a breath. The bar was beginning to fill.

She smiled, looking at her hands, and said, “Sometimes I think being perceptive just makes life difficult. I know you don’t like it when I refer back to him, but I haven’t told you this. Once, when I was still with him, somebody had called him and I could faintly hear the other person. It was a female, with a slightly high pitched sing -song voice. He was telling her that he can’t make it before three. Eventually, I realized whose voice it was, and I cursed myself for knowing it.” She was smiling in a frenzied sort of way.

“You know, if I were you, I’d write something about it. Don’t you think it’s extraordinary how the truth about someone was bludgeoned down your head? I think it’ll make a great piece!”

She laughed, for the first time since we came. It was a sonorous laughter. There was still some color on her cheeks and ears from talking about him, but it was beginning to drain.  I thought she was perfect, and he was a jackass for not realizing this.

“You’re a bitch,” she said, and then, resting her elbows on the table, leaning and whispering, she said, “Sometimes I think that deep down, we’re the same material. I’d have loved to date you if you were a man.”

“Me too.” 

It was getting late for Paharganj. So we got going before people came to ask us if we wanted a room, or two rooms or whatever.