Saturday, April 25, 2020


You will not miss it. A small, ramshackle tea-shop, balanced on rickety wheels, with packets of ‘ghutka’ streaming down the sides. The aroma of dosas roasting on the tawa, spiking the cool Bangalore air. A huge, steel-grey flask full of freshly over-brewed tea balancing on a pile of bananas. Good-luck charms representing myriad gods dangling from the tin roof. Valliamma’s mobile sustenance centre, parked in an empty plot at the entrance to the road where I live.

Every day at 7.30 AM, Valli Amma and her family would arrive with the cart. Parking it at the usual spot, the family would start work at a frenetic pace: brewing tea, frying pooris, roasting dosas, cooking rice, sambaar, bhaaji and chutney. All the while, the sinfully tempting aroma of chilli bajjis being fried would melt the resolve of passers-by like Sunny Leone in a wet saree.

By 8 AM, the guests would start arriving. It would be a trickle initially; the few gym-goers dropping by for a fresh cuppa, walkers picking up their morning fix of a Gold Flake King with tea. Slowly, the flow would pick up, soon ballooning into a surging crowd that gobbled up lemon rice, pooris, dosas, double omelettes and raw-banana bajjis with alarming speed.

All the while, unbeknownst to the milling crowds, the family would be enacting a perfectly orchestrated process of managing the operations. Production, supply chain, quality control, guest relations, public relations, housekeeping and collections would run in a seamless rhythm, managed by CEO-cum-chef, her husband, and two sons.

To even think that there could be a better-managed establishment in Fourth Block, Koramangala, would be sacrilege. And, without even discerning the Druckerian precision that made the outlet flourish, guests lined up – arriving on bicycles, two- and four-wheelers and even the occasional Audi.              

Somewhere along the way, I too became a regular at the tea-shop. Having always believed in the soul-settling combination of solitude, cheap over-brewed tea and cigarette, I would saunter up to the corner every morning for my fix and some gupshup with the family. Becoming friends with the family members was easy; such were their smiles and open-hearted, endearing nature. Soon, we started exchanging tiny expressions of friendship and affection: an extra poori for my wife, a box of chocolates that my daughter had brought from ‘Amreeka’…

Not that it was always smooth sailing for the establishment. A couple of times, it was evicted from the plot, as the owner lay claim on his rightful property. A huge canal being dug along the edge of the road reduced access greatly. But each time, the family would gently adjust to the new reality and inching back to full capacity.

Then one day, it happened. The fear of the virus gripped the world. The stall had to be shut down, and the family retreated to its hut a few streets away.

As I lived on in my privileged world, unhappy with the 20% cut in my fee that one of my clients requested for, and craving for my favourite cocktail, one day the thought hit me. How would Valliamma and her family be faring?

After days of playing with the thought, finally I made it to the hut this morning. It was easy to spot, thanks to the rickety old cart parked outside. Suitably masked and tip-toeing like an obese ballerina, I knocked at the door. An old woman - presumably Valliamma’s mother – opened the door. Soon, the entire family followed, smiling.

Yes, it has been hard, they told me. But they were fighting back; the husband was selling bananas in a cart at the junction, and they were helping a friend sell vegetables. They had no idea when life, and their earnings, would return to normal. But they were still smiling.

Gently, tactfully, I asked Valliamma’s son Murali: “Could I give you some money”? After a moment, he smiled again; I could see his eyes gleaming just a wee bit. He said, “Not now, Anna. If we need it, we’ll ask.”

As I left, Valliamma wrapped up three ‘Yelakki’ bananas in a newspaper and placed it in my hands. “This is for sister”, she said. And I saw her eyes, too, gleaming.

Without doubt, those were the three most precious bananas I had ever touched.

Friday, April 24, 2020


Water splits muscles
smithereens concrete dams
lasers the pride of generations of

The children will never know
what split the water.
One half life,
the other, death.
One half Amrut
the other, Arsenic.
Children, dogs, grandmothers, 
squirrels and butterflies will,
even after the flood, 
blindly believe in water.

The rest will
get flushed.

Friday, March 27, 2020


I had a friend
who used to tear
the edges off evenings
and weave mats
out of them.

He was a good man.
He locked up
his evening-mats
safely in the cellar
of his own house.

We used to marvel at
the  strips of evening-edges
turning into
the warp and weft of the mats.
Soon, evenings laced with a palette of scarlet, amber,
saffire, saffron,
and emrald green, became mats;
piled high
one on top of another
resting upon
the floor of his cellar.

the insides of the cellar
which sheltered the mats
were filled with darkness.

Those who sauntered by,
Seeking the tones of
a lilting flute,
twilight mantras,
and adhans
were greeted
by a deafening silence.

My friend departed
a few days ago,
leaving behind
his evening-strip mats.

Just the other day,
the wind swept by,
bringing back
some evenings from the past.

None of them had

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Self-doubt in F Minor


I like having a drink
On my own,
Elbows on the greasy pinewood table-top.
Like having a meal
Alone, watching the kitten
Fight its shadow.

Am I weird?

I love it when my exes’
Kids have kids,
I forget the wedding dates
Of in-laws' cousins,
Can't make a decent coffee
And let my dog with his dirty feet
On the bed.

I keep confusing mint leaves
With coriander
Buy unnecessary hundred-rupee trinkets
Drink gin with my son
And quietly write my will.

If there is an exam
To get on to the pedestal,
I guess I would be
an F minus.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Let Us

One day, beloved,
Let’s measure the path
From sand to sky,
From moonbeam to sun-ray,
From shark-fin to eagle-crest.

Let’s hold each other
By our little fingers, and
Dream together
Till the gripe water
From our babyhoods blend.

Let’s lie on our backs
On sawdust, counting
The feathers on each pink
Let’s lie on our faces
On a whale-back fountain,
Waltzing, for a change,
With our eyelashes.

Let us.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Under the Siesta 

angelic and reflective
catches a glint of saintliness.

Spry as a caterwauling neon sign,
it settles
before splitting

From the needles to the pines,
the swamps to the sled-tracks,
it reigns.

Spilled over from bilious exhausts;
made, shrewdly, by the
white-clad, scheming, roof-light-laden
tramplers of pride.

Let's light a fuse,
the imbecile says.
The wise spit on his sentence
with a studied snarl.   

Saturday, February 3, 2018


I’ve never seen you
in socks.

Flip-flops, sandals, boat shoes…

Or, nothing at all.

When did you last

wear socks?
Not at a business meet,
not at a wedding.
Maybe in your school,
which I had never stepped into.

Today, I look up

and wish
 for your feet
at my door,


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Silent Monsoon

Remember the sand that boiled
in our hands as we dug into the earth

Remember the chain
that stretched to its limit
when we pedaled hard on 
our cycles?

Remember the shards
of skin that fell off
our knees, blending
into the soil, becoming
the feed
of earthworms?

Remember the round stains
our lassi glasses made
on the housefly-ridden
café counter?

Remember the future
that had crept in stealthily
into our words,
as we talked about
those high-flying glow-worms?

As I had smoked that
one Gold Flake King,
drinking the tea you had made
from a glass tumbler,
you had watched the raindrops
fall on the banana leaves
and roll off quietly.

Now, only the puddles remain,
and their song is lost
in the monsoon.


Sunday, November 12, 2017


Tom’s teacher told Tom,
‘A hyphen connects’.

Before Tom took off
to the hills,
He mixed all his hyphens
into a glass of juice
And gave it to his friend, Roy.

This poem was written by
the very-well-connected

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Meeting you in
The hallway of pretensions,
I notice how you look
So out of place.

You break your steps
For a drink of water
From the mud-pot in the corner.

The crow watches.

You step over the shadow of
The minaret
That creeps in from across
The road onto the floor.
It tingles as it gets
The breeze, rustled down from the folds
Of your sari.

Tell me, what did you think of all my lies
When I had told them to you?
What do you think of them

Did you ever see anything
At all
In my gray and shameful ramblings,
In the repainted tin toys that
I had kept on your doorstep
And window-sill?

As we lay, face down,
On the cold ugly mosaic floor
With mismatched tiles,
Did your heart ever keep a feather
Over one of mine?

All our kisses we never tasted,
The hands we never held,
The wrinkles we never etched
In the grey, badly-embroidered sheets.
The goodbyes said early.
The hellos whispered with hope
And hung to dry in the monsoon sun,
The touches born of a hunger that
Never left its safe dark space…
All speak to me in
Braille today.

I close my eyes, my tongue, my ears,
My skin, my nail-tip,
Saving for another rainy day that
Will never arrive.