The Peregrine Muse

Veil that conceals what follows

In the morning mist, dawn seems a bride

Wearing the mystical veil of innocence,

A coy maiden who has yet to experience

The impending darkness of low tide

Which they call by name, 'a fine day'.

The usual complaint in the fresh mist

Is "reduced visibility"

Not realising that it provides a sanctuary

From all the languid, mundane woes

Which many call by no name and laugh away.

Have You Enough Room

The room is made of six chess-boards

Each forming walls,

Left, right, front, back, down, up, inside, outside

There are eight instead of six

The last two you cannot see,

Inside is past and outside is future

So you are going from inside to outside

Or if you have read and thought about

Heidegger's many interpretations of Nietzsche,

You can believe it is vice-versa,

Living from outside to inside.

So if you are sure

Of not going through any objective transformations

Or if you have not started understanding it yet

Then you can treat all this and

The room as a particle in the box.

Remember, you are not a cat;

Also, you are not inside a cage.

The one hundred and ninety-two pieces,

Thirty-two from each board

Have all fought with themselves and gone out.

Some even started fighting

With the others on another board

They all knew nothing

Of what they were fighting for.

Three white kings, two black rooks, a black queen,

Twenty-three white pawns, five black knights, and

A black or white bishop were arguing

About why you think you had been unsuccessful

In your previous assignment,

Or past relationship, choose the one

That you think you were a failure in.

Now do you want to come out?

Wait until you start realizing that

You are also a piece, either black or white

And after realisation, go looking for someone

With the other colour, attack them

That is your last chance to escape,

To come out of the room.

Rain Round the Desire’s Bend

I wish it had rained now, let these dark clouds

Not let me down by failing to give a raindrop.

Often they go away as inside some hope sprouts.

The offspring here do not resemble their father;

Rain is always trustworthy, not like the clouds.

Dark clouds may even sometimes try to deceive

But their malice is not carried over to the rain.

Rain and mothers know only to moisten heart

With itself, herself, or with her pure tears of joy.

I wish for that rain to fall down heavy upon me.

It is raining now, as drops pierce my skin slowly
Entering my vessels with no pain, it is all yearning glee.
The mixing up with rain alone can sanctify blood.
Life itself arose from the unison of rain and blood.
The flashes send new light to cut open the dark sky,
Thunder puts an end to dumb tongue’s tradition.
As I stand just below an umbrella formed by a tree
One big clatter sends all the crows on top flying.
As I look up it seems that the branches are expanding;
No, those are the crows flying away, covering the sky.

In the next flash, the tree I am standing under is hit,
Fire in the rain, and I am now beside a heap of ash.
Those birds that caught the warning have escaped;
I also have quite astonishingly survived that blaze
Without one burn or blemish anywhere on my skin;
That heap of ash has now mixed with the mud below.
I stand upon that earth, without a tree or an umbrella,
Raindrops still puncturing my skin without any pain.
All this doesn’t even inflict any fear into my mind,
I am just rejoicing in the first rain of this dry season.

Once Again, Train of Thoughts

The rhythm of this moving train

Is more familiar to me than my heartbeat

Looking out through its window,

The land moving backward,

My life moving forward,

Out there are lush landscapes

But the same scenes offer new meanings.

The mountain today looks like an old man
And the sea far away like a crawling snake.
The old man is stubborn despite his age,
The snake is tempting though inspiring fear.
The old man sat down there long ago,
The snake kept on crawling while seeming static.

Thus it is today, appearing to stand still
But it goes on heaving gradually.
The old man is viewed through windows by many
But who cares for him,
Many don't even notice
In the speed of the train and haste of their looks,
But I see him every time I pass by.

Now the train is crossing a bridge
Over a river that has dried up;
Thus are the lives of some people.
They travel over a self-constructed bridge
Where the river of obstacles is absent...
Amazing how various the lives of these men
On this train, it's all in their eyes
As they continue gazing out.

Now to the settlements, life is there too,
Lives diverse as the lights in those houses,
Some lit, some dimmed and others never glowing,
A road stretching like an endless rope,
A car speeding through it like a climbing ant.
But this haste too is worthless
The road still stretches as before
Endless; the road to a destination has no end.

Then why are cars speeding down the highways?
Bullock-carts never used to have this alacrity.
Just a letter ‘T’ after the cart reduces its velocity
By many times, though it is pulled by a beast,
A living animal, that makes it slower.
Machines and motors have added rush as a rule,
The clouds above never rush
Even if they are heavy, even if dark
Their passage is slow and measured, gliding through.
That is the reason they are much ‘above’ us.

As I have been writing about shedding speed
The train decelerates too, reading my mind,
Reading my verse, it is accustomed to that,
But the slowing down is due to arriving in the station.
Now it is the turn of the passengers
To hurry themselves in and out of the coach,
My turn to peep out and halt a running vendor.
Let me drink a cup of coffee from him
But are these vapours coming from it,
Are they faster, or is this an illusion?
As I enjoy this sudden increase of rhythm
Imparted to me by the haste of the vapours
And heat of the coffee, the train too starts to move,
Gaining speed, getting back to its regular self.

Now a spray of coldness to the inner nerves,
It has started raining, drops are wetting my arm
Placed on the window pane, I’m enjoying it.
“Close it, please,” a roar from one sitting beside me.
His ‘please’ was loud and very much an order.
Pen down, let me pull down the window,
Watching rain through the window is also nice.
Sometimes we have to wear glasses to protect our ears.

The greenery bathing in the drizzle is like a child
Who, after a long struggle gives up his resistance
To his mother’s continuous plea to take a bath.
When mother starts pouring water over his body
He first shows uneasiness, but then enjoys it
And asks the mother not to stop.
The rain’s symphony is like the laugh of the child
I can hear only feebly, but I join him in glee,
The train moves again, and my life too,
Now I realize they have almost the same pace.
Life is a train journey, you just don’t know
Which is the next station, and where to get off.

Identification Leading to Isolation

In a less frequented area of the busy town

There is a garden resembling an old artist

Who in his prime painted grand works before

He shifted to portraits, for stomach's ale.

These days even his portraits lack likeness.

The garden too has lost its fragrant flowers;

Wild ones and feral weeds have taken their place.

The grass has grown high in place of the lawn

Like the unshaven beard of the aged artist.

In the past, many love affairs bloomed here,

Young boys came to play and rejoice,

Maidens felt joy as when looking in their mirrors.

Families chose the garden as their favourite picnic spot.

So did the old man, once hailed as a wizard.

He used to draw pictures that oozed rich life.

His palette has lost those vibrant colours now;

Some left, unable to stick to the brush

And those which stuck no longer got onto his canvas.

The smile that rested on his lips and in his works

Has completely disappeared; now there's a gloomy face.

The fragrance of the flowers too has gone.

A gardener lived here, flowers were his children,

He kept the lawn and slept on it on starry nights.

The painter had a lady love who looked after him well,

Then a fatal illness took her life, left him alone.

The gardener left the garden too for some reason.

The buds that had a lot of promise drooped.

The creativity of the painter died in a similar way;

Still some old art-lovers bought his portraits

And an old couple or two visited the garden.

Is that garden in this present world without a gardener?
Then I am that painter who has lost his artistry.

Moving Train, Nila and My Heart Too

I open my eyes leisurely after a brief doze in the seat,
The fine morning has ended all the mourning over lost sleep.
Through the windowpane I see nature fast running back,
The engine blows its horn for a name dearest has left it.

Now, here lies Nila, her curves narrowed by sandbanks,
She may seem shallow, her lengthy past is her real depth.
Every time I behold this majestic brook
She soothes my soul with grand splendor.

As the train speeds to Thirunnavaya, my mind fills with adulation,
On these grimy sandbanks countless erudite men have lived.
They laid their backs on these sand dunes at night,
Looked with wonder at the heavens; inside them
Were born supreme theorems of math and astronomy
And myriad verses in perfect meter with mellow metaphors.

Who can avert the gentle gush of emotions in admiring her?
She can turn an absolute illiterate into a real rhymester.
Some environmentalist may write on her lost virginity,
On her decreasing depth and width, or at large on pollution;
But no matter how hard it is tried, who can take her sanctity?
They bathed their buffalos here, washed their clothes here,
Robbed the earth beneath the water for paltry earnings;
Yet the life left is enough to make me more imaginative.

Her lost glory will not force me to write an elegy,
I keep hope, as she hopes to end up in the sea one day.
Let her flow slowly for the hectic men in this compartment;
I wish the train, too, to shed speed - for them to look out
And expel the breath of despair from their restless rushing,
Maybe learn a lesson of slowness and steadiness winning
From the measured flow of water and the luxury of the sand.
No race is won if you pull the man in your front; cheats lose.

On the banks are grasses with long white heads held towering,
The gentle wind never fails to bid them bye as it passes on;
Grass never forgets to bow before the wind, giving due respect;
It is the river that has taught her grass children how to behave.

That stretch of water is past, now come the meadows,
Lush green varied carpets that are tonic to the appetite;
They inspire the beholder, though not as much as the watercourse.
A crane yonder that has been acting the role of a white hermit
Realizes that and takes off, parting his meditation with the jade,
Flies rearward, maybe to Nila to find fish, or at least a poem.

Not Any Fairy-tale, This is Past, and Memories Past

I remember very well that immense flare-up when it all began.
Everything that happened before that was deliberately forgotten,
It was my mind that blew up with the big batter,
That which was inside was lost, but I'll try to recollect.

A story told with mathematics will be easier to narrate
But will not suffice; hence I take the bitter route with verse.
Before the explosion there was, I believe, a collapsing mass;
It imploded to perpetuity and space-time curvature followed.

Of one thing I am sure, it was geodesically incomplete; I'll elucidate:
He who is below the horizon of the dark pit falls into his heart hub,
Time stands finite, then all laws sully and there are no more prophecies.
The panorama holds the creation and the end of deficient spectators.

Then it emerges, all out of nothing, like a limerick from a bard;
His memoirs, though diminishing, add to its mystical self.
The lesser physicists may call it the pragmatic point of time,
Where the opening out of these heavens began, but only a part of it.

The prevalent evocative astral parable explicating the awesome basis
And expansion of this universe was all on paper long before.
It was no myth in the antique texts that had hymns and chants,
Picturesque metaphors and elusive explanations carved in them.

He who called himself the priest of the highest God in the nature book
Gazed copiously into the sinister night firmament to argue in support.
Then a rhymester also projected a universe unfolding from a primal particle,
Expanding out from divine volition; all having a good degree of legitimacy.

Distant galaxies with the crimson tide and the milieu rays add to its faith,
The 'cuspy-halo problem' to that of the cold dark matter still poses qualms.
But how can I distrust my past; you can believe me or not, it is up to you.
I may have lost key-pieces in my tale, but I have added no spare tints, for sure.

Equality of open and closed eyes

It's pitch black; walking without a torch,
Stepping on some rope or root, I cry "Snake"!
Other men walk in darkness, like me,
In obscure ignorance, doubting every rope.
Snakes do not normally come onto their paths,
Those creatures have other jobs to attend to.

Still, men are afraid of that venomous lot;
They should fear the rancor inside them
Which is the child of sin and ignorance.
They cry aloud, stepping on each rope,
Take it as luck to have escaped the bites.
They know not there are snakes on their paths.

In dark forgetfulness, anything can terrify,
Mere thought of threat is enough sometimes.
Even a narrow shriek can freeze and shatter ears,
A small stone can make big men fall, petrified.

Danger can falsely comfort, too, as when
Man wishes for another flash of lighting,
Unaware that it could turn him into ashes.
When wicked company seems better than being alone,
The problem is the ignorant mind, ruled by darkness.

Blind to signs of danger and deaf to warning bells,
He enjoys caresses without feeling the piercing nails.
How to get over his quandary? A candle will do,
At least trusting that someday radiance will come.

What Is (not) Red

It was a competition; the question was, "What is Red?"

It is an equidistant point from white,
The same distance as between a chili and a sugarcane,
The same distance as between happiness and anger.

It is the colour of someone who knows to laugh when glad
Not for the one who doesn't know to cry when sad,
Like Polaroid glasses that cut out only the colour red
Similar to the behavior of an old tap in my house -
It never gives a good gush of water, however you open it.
You can never stop water coming out of it, however you close it,
But that tap can be fixed with the expertise of a plumber.

The colour that oozes out when a butcher cuts the throat of an animal,
The colour that sprays when you cut your neighbour's throat, too.
For all the variety of colours the sky puts on for various occasions,
The most gorgeous dawn or dusk is clad in this colour.

This is the colour of the flag, which waves as a glimmer of hope
For the ones who believe their future will be brightened one day.
Once all the labouring classes held that flag high,
They thought it would finally kill the hunger of their children.
Now it flies only in a very few places, the pole is too often not straight.
Somewhere else, its colour has faded into pale saffron, such a pathetic plight.
But still, if someone dreams of liberty, if someone pleads for fraternity,
If someone fights for equality, the colour of the flag they hold is still red.

A group of passionate spectators call themselves 'red-devils',
Red is the colour of their favourite team, who are ever united.
They reside in the 'Theatre of Dreams' and there they chant.
Week in, week out, with one voice, no matter they win or lose.

This is the colour of a sweet fruit, the cherry,
Which is put on top of a scoop of ice cream
Which melts after a minute or so.
Then the fruit is buried inside the ice cream,
Red inside white.

This is the colour of the rose that teenage lovers
Exchange to show their love for each other.
This is also the colour used for danger signs
Because it can be seen from such a great distance.

When I was about to hand over my sheets about Red
One of the organizers came close to my desk
"We regret to communicate this information - due to
Sustained pressure from the panel of judges, there has been a slight change
In the topic we gave you; it is actually, "what is not Red?"
I was finally finding an answer to a difficult question.
Now that they have changed the question, what shall I do?
Maybe put a 'not' in front of everything I have written.

Misplaced in Timeline

That flower was so beautiful; wish it had been a bit smaller
Then it may have stayed there, now it is almost crushed.
Those pretty petals when they were intact were quite a sight.
Now, scattered on mud they are a sight, but not of delight.
Such a pitiable loss of harmony, falling from near excellence.
If that colour had not been as attractive as it was, and the
Heady scent pervasive, the flower may have missed an eye;
Those finer qualities themselves invited their own demise.
I wish it had had sharp thorns like the red roses;
Again, our central character was a lot frailer in its nature.
In this world where anything that doesn't bite back is eaten,
Such flimsy and subtle delicacy will not live long.
Beauty, not harming others, will turn the dagger to slay itself.
The mere possession of allure lures cruel crushing hands.
This is neither the time for beauty, nor the time for truth, as such.

Why My Mind on Which to Perch

Why have these nightingales chosen my mind on which to perch!
There are many branches which love bearing them,
Why do they come to an unwelcoming host like me?
I have always loathed this 'sweet' music of theirs,
All the songs they sing are about love, passion and life.
I don't like the hustle and bustle they always make.
Many long for these songs to be heard inside their own;
Not me!

Now, the silence inside is broken; chirps and warbles fill it.
All of a sudden, what was barren inside me is changing.
The female sings, "You are the one I was searching for,
I knew that when I first looked at you, and heard your song;
I think I heard the same song in all my previous births."
"Do you remember?" he asks, "The tone of unison?"
"How can I forget," she replies, then they sing their twosome:
"We are one, we were, and will be forever, our love so fine."

Why am I tolerating them? In the past I've never allowed
Such guests to make all this music.
Maybe it is the symphony they create that stops me from
Scaring them out of my heart which I have kept only for me;
Or maybe it is the purity of the love they possess, its fine form.
Or it may be the desire to experience something new
Like an audience of a Greek play, cheering for a comedy.
The grace in the colours of their feathers may be a reason too.

These birds even draw otherwise harmless neighbours
With their melodious music.
I can smell the fragrance of buds that never were here before,
That may even now be keeping them in a vase inside me.
Now I realize the real reason I can't scare these nightingales --
All those suspicions I had are only partial causes for their stay;
The true cause I am still unable to bid them adieu
Is that one of these nightingales is, in fact, no one else but me.

At the Station

My train to the town of sanguinity is late.
Here in this station I continue my wait
At the platform, carrying the heavy weight
Of baggage, filled with fine food and my fate.

Why is it that nobody is here with me?
No fellow passengers? Let's wait and see.
This place is so crowded, normally...
Let me find comfort in this cup of tea.

It would have been nice to have had someone
Just to ask why the train is in a late-run,
Or to share a bad joke, or have some fun;
At least to whine under the heat of the sun.

Where is that beggar-girl who is always here?
Her singing is so awful, eyes full of fear.
I had given her many coins to buy some cheer,
Asked her to sing a song good to hear.

She may have left unable to find such a song.
My wait here seems to be taking so long,
I suspect something else now has gone wrong.
Has the train already gone past a furlong?

Killing the Earth, and Earthworm

An earthworm formed the coastline of this aged village,
A long creature that shaped its body for the land to curve,
Yesterday’s innocence that named a village today’s town.
Still, the earthworm remains, but the ships that arrived
From distant lands, where there were no worms of desire
Along the shore, put their anchors right in the middle of
The earthworm’s long gut, into an almost empty hut
Where a poor ploughman’s wife and children starve.
But that is habit for them; the cock and the hen that fed
On earthworms once joked that hunger is a hobby.
The anchor cuts the worm in two, but life only diverges.
All the anger of the ship’s captain is at this new growth.
Two from one, thus four from two, and it goes on and on;
Now it is not one earthworm, but many forming the line.
That captain, in his rage, has pulled the anchor up,
Has turned it upside down, and with that blunt top
Starts pressing hard on the earthworms’ woe-heads.
If you set aside these deprived beings to be crushed,
Then tomorrow’s dawn will witness no worms around.
The town will be called a graveyard by new landowners.

Lie Down On the Bed of Lies

(written after seeing Kurosawa's Rashomon)

Again lies
Then my mother says, “Lie down.”

Lies are here, there, everywhere,
Not just in the ruined gatehouse,
Not just in Rashomon,
Not because there is a rainstorm,
Not because minds are troubled;
Lies come from peaceful minds and mouths
as well, and in fine weather.

Why are they all lying?
Why don’t they just lie down with truths?
As my mother always says:
"It is better when we lie down and think."

The woodcutter may have sold the dagger;
He had to conceal it before the court.
He said he didn’t want to get involved,
But that, too, was a lie.

The bandit is known for thefts;
It is not surprising that he has lied.
But he, too, opens his bag of lies
To maintain his self-esteem; lying for pride.

The raped wife of the Samurai lies too;
Women lie, as do men.
In lying, there is equality of the sexes.
She also lies for pride that is lost.

Then why should a dead man lie?
The Samurai’s spirit also lies to the court
To maintain respect for the dead.
But is that, too, pardonable?

The commoner who stole the clothes
Of the crying, abandoned baby explains,
As if it is truth: “All men are selfish,”
And further, “All men are looking out
For themselves in the end.” Is he lying?

The priest alone is not lying,
Because he doesn’t need to.
He may have lied often in his life.
He, too, may have lied for mere sport.
But it is his faith that is shaken
By the dishonesty and the lies;
His faith in the goodness of humanity.
But then the woodcutter’s final words
Gives the priest back his optimism.
The baby is given back then with hope.

But there are many lies beyond Rashomon.
There are more lies than there are truths.
The story maybe is a lie; then Kurosawa is a big liar.
But amongst the lies he brings the truth.

As I recollect all the lies I have told,
As I bring back all the lies to my fading memory
That people have told to me -- how did I know?
My mother repeats her usual words: “Lie down.”

My Late Husband’s Dog

These are hard days for a widow
No children to call to for some help.
Maid does some household work
Made for me, is this lazy servant.

Now out I go to buy a new cardigan
The cold is too much for this old age.
Street is getting busier day by day
But round the turn, I can’t help notice

Those same solemn somber eyes,
That languid look and grim indolence
Of my late husband’s old spaniel.
He loved those eyes more than mine,

His ugly, extensive muzzle
His long full ears and lots of hair.
Colour of liver and white has faded
He has lost some charm over the years.

He slowly stands up on seeing me
His eyes are still very affectionate.
I had not noticed that much in my youth
I used to quarrel with him being untidy.

My husband too had such caring eyes.
They begin to speak to me in silence
Those eyes, “Madam, how are you?
How long since we met, are you happy?

I am that same servant of your hubby
I have no contempt for your old conduct
When you quickly drove me out of your way
Those times when my master was away.

He might have scolded you for that
After he came back; he was so nice to me.
My separation from him made me so alone
And I am still, but man too is all alone.

Man is also like me, a stray dog -
In front of that grand glorious gate
Waiting for a little bit of kindness;
That small piece of meat is inner peace.

He goes on waiting for that
Tiring legs then follow a buddy’s call
Like sincere dogs ignoring their tasks -
Giving their ears to a pretending friend.

The several dogs I have played with
Were all dear friends for a short span.
Some were so valued for some period
I couldn’t think of leaving them then.

Care of elder ones in our childhood
Love of mates when a bit grown-up,
Friendship felt so deep as we grew
Bonds and bondages seemed forever.

Always, master said, 'You have to
Ride the tough tide alone at times;
All those to whom you felt so close
Will not be here, not even the masters.

But keep faith that I am alongside
My resilience and fortitude are yours.'
Now let me leave him alone again
Walk with my old age with his advice."

Regional Express 4971

As the landscape bathes its pretty face
In the warm stream of morning sunshine
A golden line falls on the fields of maize
Waking up those houses in the line.

As clouds whisper to me, it is already dawn
The sun too peeps from behind the mountain
As valleys undress sun's cloth they've just worn
Long ago, I left it on a sweet dream's lane.

These colours I had in my sweetest reveries
Have now gone to the leaves on those trees
As yellow brings back the bright memories
Green dominates, as does the morning breeze.

As landscapes give way to factories and houses
The rhyme should also find its way to close
Pen and diary to the bag, as Nurmberg welcomes
Changing trains here; to this coach I bid adios.

Complaints of A Selfish Soul

You always look deeply into my eyes
Not because you love my eyes
You just want to see your image
You cannot love
You are only my reflection.

You always talk close to my ears
Not because you like my ears
You can be heard by no one else
You have no choice
You are only my whispers.

You always sit inside my heart
Not because you like being there
You have nowhere else to sit
You cannot help that
You are only my thoughts.

Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes*

The long walk from the train station to the caverns

Longing to see the fairies guided our footsteps,

Enter those narrow passages clad in mining dresses.

Those who mined there come to mine your minds,

Then it was for alum, slate, blue and green vitriol.

They fought with rock and opened up the ground;

Nature heard all their troubles as one weeping soul.

Ages passed, the mines forgotten, but seeking minds

Discovered what wonders nature carved deep below;

That is her growth of shapes, emergence as palette,

With colours of azure blue, ocher red, lemon yellow,

Copper green, even deep black and mauve violet.

Small grotto ponds reflect the dripstones bizarre

Forms of Stalactite looking like a medieval town,

Or land of the fairies, or even like a forgotten altar.

In this water my imagination's gnomes can drown

Until that water turns on by itself into ink in my pen.

I see there a poem as on those old rocks some moss.

Tales may say fairies live up there in the heavens

But I am pretty sure they are deep in these grottoes.

*The Saalfelder Feengrotten (Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes) was originally opened

to mine the black alum slate at around 1530. Later the mine was used to obtain

ocher. Shale mining was discontinued around 1850 with the industrialization

of the economy. In 1910, attempts were made to discover the almost forgotten

mine; the search led to the discovery of this natural wonder deep below the

surface of the earth. A period of less than 300 years witnessed this naturally

changing, fascinating world all its own which was formed by mineral dripping

and spring water.

Sandeep Kalathimekkad  has published two poetry collections, Sheer Echoes of Time (2006) and Complaints of a Selfish Soul (2010), as well as poems online.  He is currently working as a researcher at the University of Ghent, Belgium on guiding light in foils with sensor applications. He is also passionate about music, and has studied Indian classical, Carnatic style, and Kathakali music for several years, performing in many concerts and in universities.

Poetry of Sandeep Kalathimekkad