In Chicago

As I gaze out of my plane window and I watch down, I see the lights of the Chicago night. Cars, skyscrapers, houses — all form these patterns, these constellations, these pictures. Look, isn’t that a mother chasing her laughing child around the house? And aren’t the lights on the coastline against Lake Michigan’s vast empty nothingness somewhat in Lincoln’s likeness, as he stares out into the infinite, contemplating about the future of the nation? Are those blinking lights next to the highway transmitting a message in code? Calling the mothership back to take E.T. home? The lights tell stories probably as fascinating and as vivid as the lives of all the people who form them.

Then I glance up at the sky and am horrified to see not a single star in sight! The brown smoggy emptiness of the sky is rivaled only by the oceanic lake below. But where are the stars? Where is Pegasus, spreading his magnificent wings as he rises to Mount Olympus? Where is Andromeda, waiting by the sea to be ravaged by the great sea monster? And as the plane passes above the clouds, and I still find the heavens empty, it dawns upon me that I had just left them down below. In Chicago. As the sun sets and night falls upon the city, the stars, not satisfied with telling the tale from far above, come down into the city to sing their tales to the dreaming millions. The heavens descend upon the earth — in Chicago. Could there be a greater human achievement?

A Ghazal

As I sit here by your deathbed, gazing at thy tearful eyes
The memories flash before mine, me and the love of my life

देख तेरा हसीन बदन उमड़ा था दिल में उफान
मदिरा चख ले ‘इक बार, पानी से प्यास मिटती है कहाँ?

A mournful smile you smiled, and said, “In forty-eight moons; Fore’er
Leave you, I must. Can you live with a hole in your heart for life?”

हुस्न का दीवाना मैं, शमा की शहूत [1] – परवाना मैं
जिस्म का ही गुलाम है जो, मुस्तकबिल [2] देखता है कहाँ?

I became you, and you me. And as you giggled, when I kissed
The mole above your navel, wished that moment would last for life

हाँ, मोहब्बत हो गयी थी बन्दे को तुझसे ऐ ज़ालिम
और फिर तेरे साथ बीते चार साल न जाने गए कहाँ

As I sit here by your deathbed, gazing at thy tearful eyes
I wonder at the futility of the rest of my life

तरसता रवि, इक पल और तेरे संग मिलेगा कहाँ?
पर बाद घुरूब-ऐ-आफताब [3], एक किरण भी दिखती है कहाँ

(I wrote this as an ode to the amazing four years I spent at IIT Bombay, which are sadly about to end in the next two weeks. You are free to an alternative interpretation, of course. You can read about the poetic form of a ghazal here)

1. शहूत = lust
2. मुस्तकबिल = future
3. घुरूब-ऐ-आफताब = sunset

On Charity

Or selfish? Hungry
(like Shellfish)?

The coins fall
into the bowl
And clink
Clink Clink Clink

But if they didn’t?

In the forest, no one
hears the leaf fall
But if no one heard
would the leaf fall at all?


उस हरी दूब पर बारिश की बूँदें

उस ठंडी हवा से पत्तों का सरसराना

और पानी की बूंदों का यूँ गिरना

मानो नदी से नहा कर निकली सुंदरी

सर हिला कर बाल सुखा रही हो

फिर इन्ही बूंदों को सूरज की एक किरण

जब छू कर निकलती है

जी करता है मेरा भी उस बूँद को पकड़ लूँ

सूरज की मंद रौशनी को मुट्ठी में भर लूँ

उस पत्ते की तरह बारिश में नाचूं

पर ये सलाखें

जो नज़ारे दिखाती भी हैं

और उन तक पहुँचने नहीं देती

ये सलाखें

यही मेरा दायरा है

यही मेरी दुनिया है