Waiting for Life to Begin

The first interview I ever went to, they told me I was too young, that I needed to gain more experience. The last interview I went to, I had experience. More than I ever bargained for. And they told me I was too old. In between, there had many other reasons – reasons I had managed to convince myself made sense. I walked out of the room with my mother’s face seared into my mind. A nervous smile, hands clasped, hopeful as she bade me to do my best. She had prayed for over a week for God to be with me so that I’d be able to do my best. I’ll have to tell her I didn’t even get the opportunity to try. 

It’s not easy to face up to the fact that you’re a failure, a disappointment. Though as many kind words and encouragements come your way, the harsh, objective truth is exactly that. And she deserves more. That’s the only thing I can think of. So much more. 

So now what? As usual, pick up what’s left of your pride and inspiration and try again. Though it’s getting harder each time. It’s like waiting for life to start and everytime you think you’ve found a footing, it slips and you’re back where you started. 

“Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time. 

Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 

The time is gone, the song is over, 

Thought I’d something more to say.” (Time – Pink Floyd) 

Pasaltha 

​Isn’t it wonderful

That in our tongue 

The epitome of what a man should be 

Is to be a ‘good husband’ 
But in between

Coming out of Zawlbuk 

And leaked videos on WhatsApp 

Somewhere 

Something has been lost 

Forgotten 
We wear our thangchhuah 

Eager to prove our worth 

Honour is so much more

Than just patterns on a shirt 
Landslides are constant reminders 

Hurtling down our concrete monsters 

The land shifts, not at ease 

Searching for an even spot

To find sleep, peace 
They’re  restless, 

Those in pialral 

They wait with their magnificent beasts 

For us to come home 

They wait…

*artwork by John Chhana ©

Afzal

img_20161013_145621Afzal

When Afzal refused to talk about violence
There was a hushed murmur of confusion,
A re-checking of notes.
Who is to play the other now?
An idea was expected to appear
Instead, here was a man, human.
Who is to play saviour now?
There is no meek, no blind, no leper
Just a man, with white beard and hair
Steady as the spotlight shining on him.
His eyes pierced into an audience
Waiting to salt the wine and cheese
With horror stories, full of pain and loss
And darkness and stench
Dry and dusty and burning
Each word he wrote, like branding iron,
Burned into his skin.
After all, he is a Muslim,
An Indian-Bangladeshi-Pakistani,
Exiled from two countries,
A child of two wars, and,
He writes poetry.

Instead, he recited a beautiful poem
Of love, of a man in love
Goethe and Rilke were not there to nod
Only a world that expects him
To talk about violence.

January

January comes clothed
In such heavy layers
Inners, outers, overs
Promises for the year.
I peel an orange and fall in love
Such soft resistance
And then a taste of the sun
Seeped in its sweetness.
I haven’t heard from you
In so long. I wonder
When did that layer
Get peeled off?
Where was the resistance
And where the sweetness?

For Absence

For those who have lost, beautifully
Does the season gather to purge itself
Here at the dimming of the day
We follow the cherry blossoms into winter
Our bones feel the bruises of a reckless summer seeping in
One chasing freeways with a song on loop
One catching a shedding tree falling apart
One gently stroking a womb
For absence. Deep, violent absence.

Let us cry one last time
For love, for loss
Let us cry for giving up.

Pristine

I hate these modern day photographs
The ones you now see everywhere
Sometimes they say it’s of places that I know
Like Police Bazaar or Iewduh
Places that I see everyday
But I do not recognise them in these pictures
Though the shapes seem familiar
And the arrangements fit as I remember
They feel like someplace else
With such shine and lustre
Pristine in every weather
Dusts glimmering like carefully cut diamonds.
Surely, even Laitlum, with its gorges and mists,
Surely, has some blemish.

Pristine always makes me uncomfortable
Pristine reminds me of a hospital room,
The gestapo, ethnic cleansing,
School uniforms, a ruler.
Anyplace not home
A friend showed me plans for a smart city.
That too is pristine.
The designs show graphically
Figures in perfect lines and angles
With nothing shaping or growing
Unless planned and passed by Committee
I felt sorry for the trees
Even in a computer generated simulation
They looked so uneasy
Standing in perfect rows.

I cannot a recall a happy time
Without a crooked tie, unruffled hair
Muddy shoes and a button loose
The stench of sweat and pheromones
Mingling with the pine-soaked air.
Blemished was Pupu’s face
With wrinkles and scars joining together
To complete a face.
Pristine was his coffin.

(Optional)

If it wasn’t for the Indian government

I swear I won’t even remember my father’s name

They’re obsessed and keep asking for it,
For every important document of my life.
Nowadays I have to write ‘Late’ as part of his name
And often I’d hear a polite cough or an ‘I’m sorry.’
And I’d think, if you should feel sorry
Then feel sorry for that second name,
There, under optional.
Mother’s name – Malsawmi Hauhnar
Superfluous, apologetic.
Years of sweat and worry and weary
And alone.
(Optional)
I’ve seen her smile as long as my eyes were open
My ears heard her sob when they closed
(Optional)
Her feet disfigured from running
So that my stomach never knew hunger
And that my lessons never ceased so that I’d be better.
(Optional)
Yet at each rung that I climb,
They ask for my father’s name.
I’ve seen him only twice
Once, when I was still too young
My memory confused his face
With that of a picture of someone else on the wall
Later, when he was ill and dying.
He wasn’t even awake to know I was there.
Yet, it his name they ask for
My dear government
Know that this has been my curse
It is always with heartbreaking guilt
That I put his name before hers.