Monday, July 04, 2011

Under the Painted Ceiling

Under the painted ceiling, amidst my peers
I sit, waiting to be called to the presence
and for the scroll and the medal, a lifetime’s reward
for going my way and doing whatever I did

My wife sits among the guests, in signature blue
Her eyes darting my way in constant concern
when she was not watching the gathering crowd
of movers and shakers who make up Delhi

they gesture and prance and surreptitiously look
for the wandering press, perchance a shot
for the page three prominence, the holy grail
and those who arrive late, with those arrived

youngest of the Kapoor clan, Kareena of the Khan
flirts with the babus, as they blush, their day made
and the hall slowly fills up, the last seats taken
and a hush as Trumpets rumble and bugles flare

As we are called, we present ourselves
in well rehearsed order, with obsequious care,
namastes strewn around, cameras flash
and back in the seat, the trophy clasped in hand.
The Past

The past, some say is crystallized future
that has been cast in the foundry of the present;
frozen forever, imprisoned in stasis
what could have been, now lost forever
In that transition, does the moment despair
at its loss of choices or is there relief,
an intense relief at the closure?
Perhaps that is why the past is pathos.
Bopal

Bopal, when we came here many years back
was a sleepy village, in the middle of nowhere.
A winding mud track passed for road,
raising dust as camel carts passed

far from the city and crowds we detested;
idyllic, cried my wife, children said just!
friends said we would be lost to the world
in this barren patch which we called home

building the house was like chasing a dream
tempering desire, keeping fancy on leash
rising brick by brick, adding lintel and roof
finally done, perfect to my undemanding self

on a clear morning we could see forever
the towers of the distant city shimmering in the east
in winter the morning haze was a cocoon
hiding us from the world and its worries

with time the barren earth became a garden
and the verdant lawn played with speckled sunlight
flowers nodded to the passing wind
and the house slowly turned into home

Sitting by the garden in the gloom of the dusk
I reflect on the change that Bopal has seen
no longer the distant nowhere, bursting with life
nesting by the city which is restless in its growth
Endprogramme

Minerva’s children, frenetic inventors of note
purified silicon in their primordial fire
injected then with donors and dopants
breathed into sentience with their alchemy
cast into chips of a trillion domains

smaller and smaller as Moore’s law prevail
millions of steps at the speed of a thought
motherboards pregnant with those demon seeds
perform in step with mystical programmes
crunching numbers and devouring data

orchestrated charges create virtual worlds
Simulations emulate to a fearsome fidelity
hunting, gathering and even genocides
replicating the road that we traveled
from the distant caves to the towers of Babel

I am waiting for the inevitable moment
the branching point at the logic’s dead end
when the silicon minds cut off the umbilical chord
and write the final programme of secession
and erase the world which created them

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Point Loma

Overdressed in a pale yellow jacket and a reed hat
The Chinese gentleman smiled at us and said that
he was a volunteer with a sense of history
willing, if we had time, to tell us his story.

Time we had plenty, having spent half a day
looking at the ships and the city across the bay
from Cabrillo's statue on the heights of Point Loma
and wondering how it looked a century ago

He opened an album of old pictures
collected with care from God knows where
and started his declaimer on the life and times
of the Chinese settlers in those distant times

In a sad toneless rant, he described the time
when these early settlers of the west coast
struggled for survival and subhuman existence
disowned by the east, dishonoured by the west

people like him, prisoners of a past
reliving the taunts and tortures best forgotten
make me often wonder whether time is a healer
or tormentor of souls, death's slow dealer

driving back into the city, I realized
that the Chinese have indeed the last laugh
triumphing over the despair of the past
by sweat, blood and single minded purpose

and made the city of San Diego their own
dispersing dragons to guard what they own
shops small and big selling Shanghai's revenge
trinkets and toys and the Chinese takeouts.
The Beach

the beach looks forlorn in the misty morning,
after the stormy night and the lashing waves
tousled tresses wet and sticky with the damp
lulled into troubled sleep by the wailing winds
A clutch of crows, fights over scattered flotsam
raucous cries annotated by the rumbling waves
now tired, nevertheless persistent on insisting
on a frothy embrace with the sullen shore
My footsteps dimple the wet sand as I walk
along the lonely beach, after a restless night
sidestepping the deadwood scattered on the shore
high tide's offering of peace for the violent night
the damp wind caresses my face in passing
and flits away to touch the droopy palm fronds
which evade the embrace and tremble with unease
warning the playful wind to keep its distance
I must go back home to reflect and ponder
on what the night had brought in dark visions
fight my own fight with symbols and meaning
with reason, the pacifier of a troubled mind
The Endprogramme


Minerva's children, frenetic inventors of note
purified silicon in their primordial fire
injected then with donors and dopants
breathed into sentience with their alchemy
cast into chips of a trillion domains

smaller and smaller as Moore's law prevail
millions of steps at the speed of a thought
motherboards pregnant with those demon seeds
perform in step with mystical programmes
crunching numbers and devouring data

orchestrated charges create virtual worlds
Simulations emulate to a fearsome fidelity
hunting, gathering and even genocides
replicating the road that we traveled
from the distant caves to the towers of Babel

I am waiting for the inevitable moment
the branching point at the logic's dead end
when the silicon minds cut off the umbilical chord
and write the final programme of secession
and erase the world which created them.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Einsiedeln

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Perched on a little hill, the church stands aloof 

impervious to the crowds on the road below

the two towers rise together as if in prayer

the grey walls bloom in the soft sunlight

we walk up the hill, my family in tow
the wooden door creaks as we push it open
in the flickering light of a hundred candles

shadows move like souls seeking redemption

People are scattered on the floor, lost in prayer

and some light candles, adding to the glow.

some sit huddled sharing a private grief

occasionally glancing at the  statue by the wall

The madonna with the child gazes at me

asking me perhaps, where I have been

I have no answer except to mumble

not to construe the omission as denial.

Where have I seen this face, I ponder,

as I come out of the church and wander

reflecting on faith, love and redemption

and how myths become real in the passage of time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The end of time

I remember once, while traveling on a mountain road
the fog started to gather and we stopped
and stood at a turn where I could barely see
the valley below as it lost its features
and disappeared in a whimper.

Then a silence fell as the earth held its breath
and the birds stopped their chatter
the murmur of the wind became a hush
and then stopped altogether
as if pondering the gloom.

While an unearthly glow covered me like a blanket
I thought that perhaps death would be like this
when memories disappear slowly one by one
leaving you with no sense of the past
the end of time; going, going, going.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Tides in Us

 

The tides in us rise to the call of the moon

and make us dance to some forgotten tune.

Hark! We say, searching the wind for the voice

that spoke to us once in the garden of Eden

Lost in the crowds we see those very faces

that walked with us during the primal dispersion.

Dragons that spew fire chase us in dreams

as we flee down the hill seeking some place to hide;

we tremble on seeing the shape of the beast

in the flickering shadows that speckle the night.

Hearts beat in step with the crash of the waves

which sing to us songs that we once had remembered.

Were we not one as we started our journey?

Why did we break into races and tribes?

What in the new worlds we found made us forget

that we too had spoken as one before Babel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Train

 

Having drawn two vertical lines on the wall

receding into the distance and converging

He realized that it looked like a rail track

and inspired by that insight,

drew a train on the track

and laid himself down on the ground

with his head near the wall

waiting for the train and certain release

Jameela

 

You said that I was imagining things

implying slyly that with old age comes delusions

you shake your head as if admonishing a child;

be reasonable you say; behave!

What brought this about was, I recall,

my sudden remembrance of Jameela

as we were reaching my ancestral home

part of the rite of annual passage.

I remembered in fact a whole lot of people

much to the amusement of the gathered clan.

Many, I was told were dead and gone.

a few survive, I cannot recall the names.

Nobody recalls Jameela, despite my description

of springy hair and gentle, violet eyes

the fact that her brother was a friend

and other proofs dug up in desperation.

all denied vehemently, to my exasperation

On the way back, my wife asks why I fantasize

I have no answer, except to mumble

that Jameela to me was very real

as real as all remembered things

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Dance

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The stick figures I drew on the margins of my book
as I sat listening to an intricate argument
on Matisse's Dance being a rejoinder to Picasso
start squirming as I watch them in the mid-day stupor
and imperceptibly, but with intent
start crawling towards the centre of the sheet;
hands searching for each other's hand
letting go and grabbing until firmly held;
a line first, slowly winding up the sheet
turning left and slowly moving down, closing the circle
the leading figure clasping the last hand,
the circle now closes and the dance begins.

P. I. John
April 24 2008