Friday, March 12, 2010

Coughing up

I now understand why the term 'coughed up' is used when police get convicts to confess. It's because the convict's confession is a tormenting, unwilling admission that must take a huge toll on his body, a violent, painful act. Coughs are like that. They make you double up, they give you cramps, they ensure that your rib cage reminds you all day that you are under a virus attack. Why am I going on and on about coughs? Why else? It's become a permanent resident in my body. It lives in my throat, travels up to my mouth and then down to my lungs and up again and down once more, up and down and up and down till I lose track of the direction in which it's attacked my system. It makes me teary at least 15 times a day, gasp for breath, double up helplessly, turn an angry red and feel insignificant, as it has managed to get the better of me again. Water doesn't silence it, cough syrups don't scare it, home remedies don't cure it and the doctor too stares at me helplessly, as if I invented it and am doing something sinister and secretive to hold on to it. Now, why in hell would I do that? One thing has changed though. Instead of tormenting me all through the night, it assails me throughout the day and...night. It's a challenge now! Whatever it takes for me to shut it up, I shall do it. Cough, cough, cough, cough........

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Good Scrub

A Good Scrub

I hang my life on a clothesline

Flag-marked with apparel.

Washed clean of my sins,

Assorted pieces, secured in place

With firm pegs.

Lest they fly away

Taking with them

Valuable shreds of evidence,

That I’ve indeed been chastised.

I’m averse to storing my sins

In the laundry basket

Because, in time, they give off

A vile odour, whose source

Can be traced back to me.

Make no mistake.

I wouldn’t deny having erred

Or broken the rules

Or crossed my boundaries.

But I dislike biased courtrooms,

Self-styled lawyers,

Poor judgments,

And naked spectacles.

So, at the end of each day

I take stock of my misdeeds

In complete seclusion,

Soak them in stinging detergent,

Dirty linen, in need of a good scrub,

And wring myself dry

Of hate, anger, jealousy, guilt,

Dust, grime, sweat, silt,

Life’s unwanted gifts.

Till purged, I wear a fresh face

And walk out into the world

Vulnerable to being sullied again.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

A Fantasy

This poem was published in the January-March 1995 issue of the Indian P.E.N. when Prof. Nissim Ezekiel was its editor:


One day, this dhoti-clad chap

Borrowed somebody’s khadi cap,

Thought he was the only heir

To the country’s coveted chair.

He called a meeting of his boys,

Addressed them in an important voice.

Said, “It’s election time again;

So buck up all you saffron men.

Somehow we have to grab each vote,

Perhaps by shelling out a note.”

“But—protested one from the gang,

This idea will have to hang;

Because the leader from the opposition

Has already put forth that proposition.”

“Then, may be, we can feed them to their gills,

Distribute a few birth control pills?”

“No”, said another perky guy,

“That’ll make our finances dry.”

“What carrot do we dangle, then?

What can possibly lure those men?”

Said one, “Let’s pray to God the Great,

He’s been neglected too much of late.

Let’s pick this God, this good guy,

And build a temple for him, by and by.

Let’s take him back to his place of birth,

Let’s choose a suitable spot on earth.

Let’s destroy what comes our way.

This good God must have his day.”

“With God on our side,” he said with a chuckle,

The majority will have to buckle.

On a chariot, let’s spread the word,

Make sure it’s well heard.”

This God was watching a trifle amused.

He couldn’t help feeling used and abused.

He decided to spring a surprise

On this chap and his coloured guys.

Seething with anger, trembling with rage,

He shook hard this vote-seeking sage.

Said, “Who told you I need a home?

Which you plan to build by breaking a dome?

There certainly isn’t a dearth of space,

I happen to own this universe, this space.

So, before you use me as a pawn

In your game with tridents drawn,

I expect you to think twice.

Be ready to pay a heavy price.”

“I’ll leave you in the lurch,

Settle in a mosque or church.

To me, they are all the same

Call them by any name.

Fancy using good old me

For want of a better strategy!

Change your mind and mend your ways

If you want to see happier days.”

Shamed into silence, the politician cried

For the campaign that had just died.

He knew now what the score was.

He had to take up a genuine cause.

He was a sadder but wiser man,

And God had just won another fan.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni,

Women's Bill and rapist husbands

It's been a terrible weekend. The cough persists. The voice has undergone transformation. Have been having a tough time convincing callers that it's me and not my son and not a man on the line. I have lost my voice. For a woman used to voicing her opinion on every matter—significant and insignificant, this is a distressing development. As I write this, the parliament is debating over the Women's Bill. As a woman, I must exult but I am totally against reservations of any kind and I've seen enough of their misuse to know that they just don't work except to divide a fragmented society even further. This may sound cynical, pessimistic but given the dismal political scenario, I can't but think of how men will misuse this new weapon to field their wives, mothers, aunts, daughters and continue ruling the roost.
I was quite shocked to read the Chief Justic of India, K G Balakrishnan's statement that a rape victim's autonomy to marry her rapist or have his child should be respected. Just when women are rooting for more severe punishments for rapists, the CJ had to make an irresponsible, shocker of a statement. Are rape victims in the right frame of mind to take decisions? If the victim marries the one that perpetrated the crime against her, there will be no room left for justice. The crime will go unpunished, as the victim will be forced to withdraw the complaint, once she takes him for her husband. It will give a lot of opportunities to a lot of men to rape and then marry, to drop the wife, rape again and remarry once more. It's crazy how a wise gentleman sitting in a position of power, makes loose statements that can have a huge impact on those not given to rational thinking. Need to raise my voice against this. Croakkkk...When I find it.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The weekend that was

It hasn't really been a great weekend. I had thought I would make full use of the three-day vacation to read, write, read more and write more. All I managed to write was a long grocer's list, a very very long to-do list and another giant list of new resolutions. As for reading, I only managed to read the titles of the books by my bedside wistfully and reminding myself that I had a huge pile of books bought with every intention of reading but not opened, leave alone read. While the world was playing with vibrant colours, I was seeing red, because my house help had decided that she wanted to paint the town psychedelic and watch the colour drain away from my face. I did change colour though intermittently. I turned green with envy at intervals as I watched and heard people play Holi and become unrecognisable.
To add to it, I had and still have a nasty cough that decides to make its vexing presence felt, when I am in a meeting or talking on the phone. While my sides are aching from it, my throat is hurting and my head bursting, it continues to stay put. I feel exactly like Leela Chitnis, the ubiquitous mother in yesteryear Hindi films, who coughed her head off and died coughing. I hope to live on for some more time, and not die of something as unimportant and unromantic as a cough. Please, I don't want any suggestions for remedies. I have tried them all—spicy, sour, bitter—and in every form—liquid, solid, gaseous (yes, I've been inhaling boiled cabbage fumes, Karvol plus fumes and plain steam).
In fact, I also looked up Louise Hay's book which says that we cough because we've bottled up something we want to say to someone. The last few days, I have said all that should have been said and a lot that should have remained unsaid to a lot of unsuspecting people and earned many enemies in the bargain. What I could not say to their faces, I have spoken into a special pit dug for this very purpose and buried it all in the ground. I've coughed up all of it. It's been like a marathon confessional. All in the hope of stilling the cough. But it's stubborn. Like me. I'm hoping someone will call me up and remind me that I've forgotten to say something to them, and I will gladly speak my mind. Anything to get rid of the thorny feeling in my throat.
So, while everyone's back at work, with some remnant colour on their face, all raring to go, I'm sitting at my desk with a tissue, some warm water and lozenges bracing myself for the attack, hoping that my colleagues won't hate me for breaking the silence with my incessant coughing and worse, do something sinister to silence me.
The only silver lining is that I've managed to write, so what if it's about a #@+$#@#&***#@ cough? For a change, I'm not coughing. I'm smiling :).