Those things in our skies

Dangerous things. Never make light of them. Although you might be tempted to think they are light because they are floating about in the sky. They are not all airy things. Or fairy things. Ever heard of LittleBoy? Or FatMan? Both came from the skies. Flying. And before anybody knew… Bomboclat! Kaput! We fear them still, after all these years; and we have learnt the crude art of threatening others with a repeat. With things that come from the skies. Agreed they might be butterflies. But they could also be locusts. Agreed they might be swans. But they could also be pigeons.

Pigeons? Pigeons!! Someone, sound the sirens please, rightaway, and order the columns to fire!! The pigeons are here!

Or one pigeon. That one! Enough. One was enough. LittleBoy. FatMan. Each one was just one. And each was enough. And it came from the sky. Like the pigeon.

Never underestimate the pigeon. Where there is one pigeon, several congregate. Always. And when there are several, they become many multiples of several. Pigeons duck, you see, they duck all the time and they make more pigeons. And because they make more and more, they need more and more. They get into spaces you would imagine anyone would get into. And having gotten there, they duck and duck and make more pigeons. There are no ducks that come out of their incessant ducking. Only pigeons come off it. And we give the duck a bad name. Poor duck. Do you now understand how devious pigeons are? They pretend they are ducking but what happens as a result is pigeons. Duck. And pigeon. Duck. And pigeon. Duck. And pigeon. Subterfuge at its most sublime.

Many of them pretend they only sit and waddle about in that ungainly fashion of theirs and gutter and squirt whatever it is they squirt from their hind parts, and peck at whatever they can peck at. But don’t be taken in. Pigeons, they can be, you know, pigeons. Many pretend they can only fly the shortest distance and then they need to alight. Perhaps many do, because their wings can no longer carry the humongous weight they acquire while they are around. What do they do but eat and fatten? Ah, but they duck too, and produce more of their kind. But never be misled by pigeons. Some of them can fly, some of them don’t squat about squares and pose for pictures. They have more important things to do. And they know the squatting and ducking ones are only decoys. There are pigeons and there are pigeons.

Some of them are Carrier Pigeons. They carry. You know what carrier and carrying means in these mean times, of course. I am sure you know, you ought to know. For your own good and for the good of your near and dear ones. Or if not dear, merely necessary ones.

So there are pigeons and pigeons and some of them are carriers, and they carry different things. They can even, on occasion, carry love, or missives of love, in their rancid wings. They can carry worse. They can carry epidemics, or the seeds of them. Don’t believe me? All right. Imagine the possibility of one of them having had a one-night stand with a bat. Imagine that bat having flown off its natural habitat — no, let us not be racist here, let us not name races and peoples and their eating habits or their geographies — in search of love. A kiss, no more. A cuddle, no more. A night’s cohabitation, no more. A bit of love, no more. And imagine that pigeon. Carrying. Imagine that pigeon being a carrier pigeon.

Coming from the skies. Imagine that carrier pigeon then having taken a night’s halt en route. Imagine then, that pigeon having been fed. And then, upon the favouring of being fed, having been given a task to fulfil. Imagine that pigeon in our skies. Coming down. Imagine the portents it might be laden with. Imagine us mistaking it for merely a pigeon. Imagine us being destroyed. By no more than the undersides of wings and feathers. Imagine so softly being killed.

And so the song we must sing
With a loud tra la la la laa!
To safety upon all of us bring
Is kabootar ja ja jaaa!!


Bachpan Ke din Bhula Na dena

Never easy to forget where you came from, and how. Often the journeys lie in ourselves, like tid-bits and odds and ends secured away, bundled up and pushed at the back of some cabinet; they lie there to be found and revealed anew, in the solitary groping of things past, or in the mutual sharing of remembrance.

How often you’ve said to yourself let me return. To that laughing meadow called childhood, that dizzy merry-go-round, so dizzy you wanted it to stop because the fun and the laughter of it was choking you and you wanted a break. And in that break more memorable things happened. A caress. A hug. A kiss. A finger to hold. A lollipop to suck; or better still, cold chocolate and cream as long as a stick. And then a wipe. And then a wash. And then a change. And then a bed. And then a snugness that eventually became the shape of sleep. Cuddled. Coddled. Lullabied. Held. Held close and warm. That was childhood. For some. For a few some.

You’d wake up and wail and the coddling would resume as if you were the new gift of a new day. Baby soaps. Baby creams. Baby food. Baby toys. Oh baby, baby! There was that song too that was sung that way —- “Oh, baby, baby…” But that was about a baby of another kind. Pardon me. That baby and this baby, they are different babies. Such are the tricks that language plays. The ones you kiss and caress and put to sleep are called babies.

The ones you kiss and caress and put to sleep are also called babies. They are another kind of babies. Never mind. But that song. It had other lines. It also said something about it being a wild world. And something about that world being hard to get by.As hard as coming to believe that water, any water — bubbling, untreated, polluted, sieved off a puddle — is sweeter than mother’s milk. Because my mother’s milk has dried up in her breasts and her breasts have turned like shrivelled prunes. It’s all this heat and the walking with me sometimes and sometimes with that load of things on her head. It’s also feeding me all her share of water, like mother’s milk.

Can’t tell which is harder for her to carry. Me, or that unwieldy load. Don’t know what’s in there, didn’t know we had so much to truss up. Sometimes she flings me, sometimes she flings the load. I began to wail the other night, suddenly awake on the gravel by the roadside in the darkness. And my mother tore off my clothes, and that put me to rest. Oh, baby, baby, it was hot in those clothes. They were sticky, and probably they smelt too, because my mother made a face, like the face she makes when my father sometimes comes home. But there’s no him now, and I don’t know where we’re going.

In the afternoon — I can’t remember which, but it was afternoon because my skin felt like when I touched the griddle on the fire by mistake once — a bus came along and my mother rushed to its side and threw me. Up. But where exactly or to who I cannot tell. I screamed, mid-air, having left my mother’s hands and not having arrived in another’s. Oh, baby, baby, what a moment that was. On, baby, baby, the gravity I defied, the gravity I succumbed to. And then I struck something, hot and hard and poky, and I fell back into my mother’s arms and she made a face as if I had failed her or something, returned. I could only cry; my mother asked me why but what could I tell? It wasn’t one thing, there were so many things to be crying about. And then I saw a boy, not much older, and I thought what a lovely mother he had. And what a lovely childhood. He was draped, like a big doll, on the side of a suitcase, blissfully asleep, and his mother was dragging the case. It looked like a toy, that case, because it had wheels. And it seemed to me it might have been the boy’s birthday and he’d been clutching his gift. Such a childhood. Just stop.

When I was only small,

They put me in a nursery and they sold me a rhyme;

And I sang it always and for all,

Until one day it dropped on me it wasn’t

worth a dime.


Once upon a time a potentate

Except that this is not about once upon a time. This is about now. Time is cyclical. It has come back from once upon a time. And to the ruler. Remember how they used to be in those stories? “Ek atyachari raja thha… There was once a tyrant king.” That would set the story up just right. Now! Let’s see what this tyrant king got up to and what happened to him in the end. Delicious and delightful those horrors were that the tyrant king would wreak. What pleasure he would take in enacting his abhorrent monstrosities. How many nights did those stories keep you awake in violation of parentally prescribed hours, how many nights did they put you to sleep and resume themselves seamlessly in your dreaming? Be honest.

The good king was nowhere as attractive as the terrible one. Good? Insipid. Terrible? Well, just begin to smack your lips. Good makes no sense without the Bad and the Ugly. Imagine the absence from our consciousness of “Prem, Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra.” Or, “Saara sheher mujhe Loin ke naam se jaanta hai.” Or, “Yeh haath mujhe de dey, Thakur.” Imagine Dharmendra never having an opportunity to unveil his biceps. Or Amitabh Bachchan never being called upon to record the cinematic spectacle of unleashing the entire length of his legs on the privates of his tormentors. It’s the bad guys who gave us the best of our good guys. Life’s a bore without villainy. We need the scare to know the meaning of safe. Were there no chors, what was the need for sipahis, although you might have a case to argue there is often little to tell one from the other.

Beherhaal, this is not about storybooks. This is the truth of today. This is the story of your making. You finished one. Then you found the risks so seductive, you dove headlong into another round. Now enjoy. I know we all like horror stories. I am here. Where are you? Listen up! Would you need me to fire a shot to wake you up? To tell you I am here? At your service? To treat you? To myself?

You know my voice. Main hoon!! This is I! This is We!! It cannot be you don’t recognise Our voice. It has been dedicated to you. It is the voice that has come to you from everywhere, at everytime, on everything. It is the voice that will not let you escape its presence. Even when We are not letting Our voice out, there are others reminding you of it. Our voice is the voice that matters. Our loyal menagerie is mimicking Our voice. Our disloyal adversaries are mimicking Our voice. No matter. It is still Our voice. We are speaking — in original, or carbon copy, or photostat or cyclostyled. It remains Our voice. It prevails. Now listen. It is the voice you have been accustomed to paying attention to. Let me help you. But for that you must help me. Else how will I help you? I am who you made me. And for that I want to make you proud. I will wear the best clothes to the accompaniment of the most lavish accessories. I will ride gleaming limos. I will fly the fanciest planes. I will go places, many places. I will build myself a grand palace. All so you may feel proud of your choice. But your pride has a price. You must pay, no free thaalis. So pay up. Earn your keep, be proud of yourselves, pride is precious, pride is what you should possess foremost. Your pride is the nation’s pride. Embrace the nation and what it has to offer, I will take care of the world and what it has to offer. You paid, remember? Chest out. Chin up. Walk, it’s healthy. Enjoy the torture, I always knew it’s the whipping you like because it’s what you voted. I am the potentate with a difference: I am the Votentate.

Cry, my people, yet have no woes

In my realm this is how it goes

While I sit on my throne

You are all on your own.


There are no more windows

There was once a story that was only a story. But it was a story that cannot be forgotten because the possibility of it haunts us. It was the story of the sky falling on our heads. What a calamity that would be, a calamity that nobody will live to tell. What happened after? That nobody will ever know because when the sky falls on our heads, it will be the end of things.

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