Thursday, December 25, 2008


Some days I just forget to smile.

I open my eyes to a bedroom wall
Whose plastic paint has long ago ceased to be plastic
As it falls of more like coloured powder
on to the higgledy piggledy pile of shoes below
Like make up unsuitable
A matt finish on surfaces those look good when glossy.

I look at the window
The rain has been hard enough
To enter my room
Through gaps in shut glass and rusted iron
And drip onto the floor
Where precautionary newspaper spreads
Litter themselves to soak up the irreverent water spills.
The floor looks well read, soaking up knowledge through
Wet newsprint.

I stare at myself
And dread putting on my clothes
The bra makes the skin
Under my breast itch
And the underwear
Rubs against my thighs
Friction of a kind I can do without.
A loose sweat shirt is all I care for.
But that won't do.

So I just forget to smile.

Till I hear the woman next door
Hollering at her kids,
And the old man on the other side
Whimpering in his bed.
And I remind myself
Things could be worse.

I have to remember to smile.


Fisrt published, M.A.G. 2003

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Side by Side, Not to Collide
by Abha Iyengar
(Based on art by Gopal M. S.)

We are lovers and we kiss
But our religions don't mix
So when we stand in line for water
We cannot stand together.
Side by side, yes,
But we will drink from different cups,
From different clay-pots.
Tell me,
Does your water taste different from mine?
If I filled the same in my mouth
And poured it into yours
We would both be defiled.
We are lovers, but the world does not know it
Skin on skin
Sweat on sweat
Breath on breath
We stand in parallel paths
Which do not cross or touch
When we drink from different cups
So close we are
Together almost,
But see that thin dividing line
Drawn deftly on the clay pots
This is yours; this is mine.
The water that flows freely
Is now captured separately.
In the name of religion
This is how it has to be.
The road we walk is different
But see the irony,
We are lovers
Who drink from each other's lips
Drink water separately.
Skin on skinS
weat on sweat
Breath on breath
The world will keep us from it.
Fill us in clay pots like this water
That we drink.
Tell us our gods are different,
Our vessels, our thinking,have no link.
I see you raise your arm
And dash it against the clay
Again and again you do it,
There is no stoppingyou today.
Now the earthen potsare broken.
The water gushes and flows,
It has no separate rows.
January 2008, first posted in Clockwise Cat

Do Not Wear the Shroud of Fear

I have no words to speak against terror.
They explode within my throat,
Like dynamite unplugged,
Like a grenade
With the pin removed.

What words can I say against terror?
I have already said a lot
Cry a red tear, I have said
Filled with the blood of loss
Loss of loved ones
Loss of freedom and liberty
What use this democracy?
If we stumble on the streets.
Like wounded dogs.
Wearing the shroud of fear
Cowering like hunted animals
For no wrong done?
Being held hostage by fidayeen
At the other end of the gun.
Being probed by media,
Exposed and questioned,
Even as we mourn our loved one?
In parks, temples, hotels, trains
We have not chosen this sudden death
Our bodies scream in pain.
Do I need words against terror then?

The lighting of candles is not enough, we need to be tough.
Shine a strong light on closed, sleeping eyes
Strike out, move and take a stand for broken lives
Together, fight the terror.
It is a time for action, the time for words is over.

I have no words against terror.
My throat is dry, it burns.
My eyes are wet.
My land and people should not be bled.
Throttle terror; ask the world to join us
Far and hatred will not confine us.

I can speak then, once again, with words.
Just now, its simply pain that screams to be heard.
A chain saw grating to sever a limb
Constant, constant.

(c) ABHA IYENGAR, 5th December 2008
Recited at Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University 'Words Agáinst Terror' meet of writers and poets, 12th December 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


From the green forests we came
Black and lush
In our beauty—
Thick lipped, black eyed,
Muscular and strong.

From the desert sands we came
Olive and flush
In our beauty—
Strong jawed, sharp eyed,
Hawk nosed riders of the storm.

From far flung corners we came,
Different colors, brushed
With our beauty—
And lost it all to the
White colorless norm.

Merged into this vision
Of one color of no color.
Drained of our identity—
Blank faced, dull eyed,
We learnt to conform.

A Table, Two Poems

What we have is
A table.
Two poems.

And a conversation
That neither of us began.

But as we speak the lines
We say everything in between.
We spill
Over the distance of the table
That separates us.

We move our legs back
Under and behind our chairs
Scared of touching
That which lies
beneath the lines.
Knowing that we will overflow
Over and above
The table
Knocking it over
Even as our bodies strain
To keep back
All that drives us forward.
Two poems
And a conversation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I Fear

Wear the colors of war,
My husband,
See how the red and the yellow
Smear your forehead
With valor.
And your eyes
Turn black with desire
To vanquish the foe.
Your sword shines steel
A glint in the sun,
Your helmet is plumed
With the feathers of the peacock
Blue-green and gold.
Your body is anointed
with sandal paste
perfumed with
the incense
of a hundred lamps
lit at night
proclaiming your glory.
What do you have to fear?

My feet are black
With the dust
Of destruction.
I lick dry lips
And wonder at the taste
Of ash,
Grey in my mouth.
I ride my steed hard
To return home
To be with you,
my wife.
All I can see
Is the river-red
Of blood
I let flow
In the battlefield.
I have won darkness for myself.
This is what I fear.

Do not anoint me for war anymore.
My tears are falling.


First published in Arabesques Review

Sunday, February 17, 2008

'Waiting' Photo by Abha (2007)

A Little Time

Wait a while my love

Why do you rush by so

See how patient is the world

Waiting for evermore

They too have trains to catch,

planes to ride,

children to greet, wives at home

Do know once you are gone

I too will return,

Retrace my steps

but this love

It just needs a little time

Give it to me in your smile

Your hand that strays to my side

Say you will stay a moment more

This moment to last me a life, the

Wheels to turn real slow.

Wait a while my love

Why do you rush by so.

~Abha, 2008, February 18th

Visual Art by Gopal M. S.

"Then Go, Then Wait"

Red and green seats
Bright beacons
In the night
Traffic lights
Asking you to stop a while
Then go
Perhaps you have nowhere
Then wait
Under this yellowed tree.
That's what nights are for,
While the city lights
Crowd your mind
With what they can offer
At a distance
At a price.
But wait a while
In this circle
You may just dance the night away.

(c) Artwork: Gopal M.S. 2007-2008
(c) Poem: Abha Iyengar 2008