Two Poems

2 minute read

For the Tourist at Lal Qila, Delhi

After Agha Shahid Ali*

The tourist smiles - forced,
frozen in photographs.
Like a trespasser invited to tea,
the tourist holds babies like porcelain.

The tourist speaks - his speech jagged
like speed bumps on Delhi roads.
He stumbles on syllables that linger
like the aftertaste of curry leaves.

In my city, we wreath white skin
in marigold halos, welcome
foreign feet into homes
like a season-less monsoon.

Fortresses fold like doormats.
Revolutions crumble to dust
that add to Delhi’s pollution.
Face masks appear on familiar faces.

The tourist bargains on fixed prices
and stronger currency devalues artistry,
amputates hands of weavers
while tossing loose change.

The tourist says, “Na, Nahi chahiye”
and just like that there is a lineage
wiped away like Rangoli
the day after Diwali.

The tourist leaves, marigold
petals wither under his feet.
He does not look back.

*Agha Shahid Ali - The Dacca Gauzes


Driftwood: noun.
1 Wood floating
on a body of water,
cast ashore.
2 Polished wood,
an ornamental decoration,
welcomed home.

The driftwood in my house,
makes for a centre table.
Oval glass topped,
with no real legs to stand on,
it is an earthquake warning,
wobbly beneath its own weight.

Worn out
by more stillness
than turmoil,
driftwood is uneven,
wears a wrinkled skin,
with scars and gaps
where the water cut through.

Polished black
under a clear glass veil,
it is stuck in monochrome
in technicolour 2019,
feels 35 years out of place,
but rooted at the centre
of every conversation
never moves an inch away.

Driftwood: adjective.
1 A clash of currents,
waves of my grandmother’s youth
over the tea gardens of Assam
2 The smell of varnish
stiff like starch in folded sarees,
draped in the balconies of New Delhi.

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