December 1 – Two Poems

Nota Bene: For proper scansion, hold the phone horizontally (rather than vertically)! Or, better still, read it on a tablet or a computer.

December 1, 2020

It is the evening of the first day
of the last month of the year –
and it is cold; almost as if the month
wanted us to know that it was here.

A little past twelve a.m. last night
(for once remembering), I flipped
the pages of the calendar that hangs
upon the stout, paint-covered nail –
November’s picture-lights fell back;
in their place, the jewellery of December.

It will get colder as the night goes on,
the water from the tap will chill rather
than wet the fingers and the hand. (I can
almost feel the icy water as I type.) But
I will huddle within my jacket’s wool
and the gooseflesh will be a cosy thrill.

Somewhere outside, not far from here,
others will huddle too – in corners of the
house they work to build; the mongrel strays
will curl up too – let’s hope that there’s a fire.

(I came back home with plumeria in my hand;
fallen flowers, I’d picked them off the ground.
Picking up these flowers has turned routine;
stooping’s become part of my evening rounds.)

My wish is that this December’ll bring
a wealth – of writing, goodness, discipline.
Winter is not the time that earth-trees fruit –
perhaps the mind-tree Bendre sang of will.

‘It is the first day of the last month of the year’ –
this phrase occurred to me sometime before;
I hoped then I could make something of it –
though at the time the cold had not yet bit.

For December 1, 2021

It’ll be a year tomorrow, to the day,
since I wrote ‘December 1, 2020’.
January 1 is New Year’s Day,
but a new year’s starting all the time:
each second’s newer than the last,
each minute’s the future – present – past.

My mind’s somewhat awry today;
it’s been like this for a few days;
is mind enough to mind the mind?
The Gita says ‘to mind the mind is like to bind
the wind’. I do not wish to bind the wind or mind.
Let the mind-kite roam its endless skies;
let me have a hand upon its strings.

The sky is toggling between blue and white;
some blue means sun, all white just cloudy sight,
though the white is not a white that’s loud:
it’s like the quiet of someone when they’re sad.

(‘A good day for coffee and a book’ some think,
slouched behind a computer in their house.
Outside, the labourer bends his back –
he cannot afford thoughts like that –
his form holds up both house and sack.)

I try to think back on the year that’s gone;
I have not kept a diary track.
But days are slippery; like river-stones
they smoothly slide out from the grasp.
Most stones have slid but some remain –
rem(a)inders of the year’s variety …

… and one year older now, I see
that it is discipline begets variety;
and so I pray to things I believe in –
for variety’s richness and sober discipline.


A few years ago, I attended a session conducted by Christ College’s ‘Kannada Sangha‘. I believe the occasion was their annual celebration of ‘kavi dina‘ (~ poet’s day), Da Ra Bendre‘s birthday. The details of the session esape me, but I do remember something one of the speakers said, in the context of the unprecedented volume of writing that is being published today. The chief editor of a now-defunct Kannada literary magazine, he spoke about the necessity of “letting a piece of writing dry” – ಒಣಗು (oṇagu) was the word he used, which in Kannada means “to dry” – and the advantages of doing so. (I think he compared it to the drying that needed to be done to develop non-digital photographs…and if he didn’t, well, I’m doing it now.) What he said struck me – and has stuck with me – not simply because of the interesting metaphor but because it resonated: I too have mostly been cautious about sharing a piece of (serious) writing no sooner than it’s been written; of making it public without returning to it (after having put some space-time between us) and possibly revising it; of presenting it without “letting it dry”.
Why is this relevant? Because the second of these two poems was written yesterday (November 30, 2021) and, being less than a day old, has had hardly any time to dry. But, as I’m sure you see, today’s date is the reason I am sharing it.

Lines Begun After Sundown

All sadness does not lead to song,
all gloom cànnot make a poem;
there is too much sadness in the world
for that, and too much gloom.

Most misery cannot be told,
most torment cannot shed a tear;
they lie simply in the breast:
wordless, soundless, unremarked.

Let them live there if they must,
do not mine them for a song;
there is sorrow beyond reach —
to speak of it would be wrong.

Sing, instead, some happy song
you listened to when you were young;
let all immured sorrow know —
outside there is delighting.

(written ca. late 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Fire and Rain – A Jugalbandi

Raag Deepak

The fláme – and it was no còmmon
fláme, but rather Agni incarnáte –
rose róse as the music fell
from the sínger’s sweltering lips.
Insìde, the furnàce of his throat
was alchemizing air to góld-
mùsic of dìvíne degree;
and stìll the fire róse and róse
around the singer’s blazing throat
and limb by limb encovered him
in whose one eye was couched death
and in the other rhapsody.

Audio of “Raag Deepak”:

(written in 2015)

Raag Mēgh Malhār

Fall fall fall fall and falling fall
and falling fall again.
Drink all the seven seas and fáll
for my fáther’s filled with flame.
Fall for my song, fall to my plea,
fáll for my father’s life
depends on me
and I depend on you.
Fall waterfall and flood this fire,
fall fight and fill the flame.
fall fall fall fall until my father’s full
and the flame no more remains.

Audio of “Raag Megh Malhar”:

(written in 2015)


1. Agni (ug-nee): The deva associated with fire in Hindu mythology. The Sanskrit word also simply means ‘fire’.

2. Rāga (raah-gaah): Roughly, a sequence of swara-s that together form a melody. Raag is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

3. Mēgha (may-ghuh): One of several words for ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit. Mēgh is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

4. Swara (swuh-raah): One of the seven notes of the Indic musical scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.

5. Jugalbandi (jugal-bun-thee): Used to describe a Hindustani classical music duet. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental. Accurately, this does not so much begin as a jugalbandi as it becomes one.


Raag Deepak and Raag Mēgh Malhār:

An (apocryphal) story tells of how the medieval Mughal emperor, Akbar was tricked into ordering Tānsēn – a legendary Hindustani Classical musician – to sing Raag Deepak, a raga capable of producing fire. A sublime singer, Tansen knows that doing so will mean setting himself aflame; so he asks for a month’s time and teaches his daughter to sing Raag Mēgh Malhār, a raga capable of bringing rain.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, Tansen begins his rendition of Raag Deepak and, as he loses himself in the music, conjures up the expected fire – that begins to circle and engulf him.
On cue, his daughter – nervous and quavering – begins her rendition of Raag Megh Malhar. For a time it seems as though Tansen has not taught her well enough, but just as the flames begin to singe him, she breaks through, the skies open and down pours life-giving water.