Paris, mon amour

So here I am

Leaving you behind –

The train lifts its skirt and runs

Before I can change my mind –

Wondering who,

If anyone, can ever conquer

This memory of you.

 

I’d stay and save

Myself the mediocrity.

If you’d let me have

You for eternity.

But you’re a fickle lover,

O Paris, mon amour,

Let’s not linger

On this goodbye.

My time is up! Au revoir!

 

The canals in the new town

Reflect my parting blues;

In a concert of cities

Who would want to follow you?

O Paris, mon amour,

Let’s not fake niceties now.

It’s not me. It is You.

 

You invited me over

For a drink or two;

Before night fell, I was in love,

You had had your someone new.

Your streets are full of lovers gone mad

Artists, they call them,

Victims of cobbled-street voodoo.

O Paris, mon amour,

Let me go

Before I’m a prisoner, too.

 

No corner cafe will ever smell the same

The streets won’t sing again

Church bells will never promise

The stunning spell of Notre Dame.

What have you done?

O Paris, ma chérie,

My heart is now a homeless refugee,

My soul is yours to claim.

 

I’ll be back another night

For one more forbidden affair

Between my pen and your rues.

Until then,

O Paris, mon amour,

Grant me this final farewell kiss,

Bid me a fond adieu.

 

 

Dear Kingshuk Sir

“My goal in life is to be one of those people who are just light. You see them and you suddenly feel so warm you just want to hug them. They look at you and smile with the warmest light in their eyes… you want to be close to them and you hope that some of their light transfers onto you.” – Anonymous

Dear Kingshuk Sir,

We last met in February. You wore your radiant smile at work. I came with my wedding invite. We joked about your failing memory. Today I learnt, that was our final meeting.

I wanted you to come to my big day, but I knew you wouldn’t. I knew you’d instead be busy checking and rechecking every fact and every sentence in the news stories of that day, thinking up ways it could sound more objective (and perhaps clearer to “someone’s grandma working in the kitchen”).

Many writers I know love to weave purple prose – it reasserts their self-belief. But you were always one for brevity and precision. You tirelessly stood for pithy sentences that delivered facts in the most efficient and accurate manner. (Your spoken words, too, followed the same frugality.) And you ingrained the same principles in me. (Sorry for the long-winded transgressions I make today.) It’s little wonder that you came to personify the word ‘editor’ in my dictionary. For instance, I remember the day you introduced me to staccato intros. I’d written one accidentally, I believe. Today, I wrote one intentionally. I hope I did it right.

An editor, you were. But that’s not all you were. One day, after I had attended your editing class in journalism school, I searched for your TOI blog. I was sure one would exist and that it would talk about serious political and social issues in the most balanced tone possible. Your beaming face popped up next to this description:

Kingshuk Mukherji is first a parent who loves listening to and understanding all children have to say on everything — from their friends, to school, their peers and their teachers. He is also an associate editor with The Times of India.

Anyone who’s studied under you will relate to that first line (and chuckle on the last one). It would be a gross understatement to say that you were the favourite journalism teacher of mine and everyone else I have known to struggle in those halls. No, you were more a parent to all of us. We never feared angering you with our assignments (or the lack of them); you seemed incapable of losing your temper. We feared disappointing you. You believed in each of us more than any of us believed in ourselves. To let you down was to let ourselves down.

That hasn’t changed since, for me. Only now, it’s about leading a fulfilling life and not about submitting a worthy assignment. If I come anywhere close to achieving what you always believed I could, I will have lived a fantastic life.

Right from the moment I awkwardly stood up in your first class and announced my reckless ambition of becoming a travel journalist, you supported me fully. (In fact, you said that you wished you had taken that path.) It was the first time my dream had not been diluted down to its nearest common denominator.

Later in TOI, there were days I was put in your team. It was the only time I was given full freedom to design a special edition page (or any page). It was so unusual for a sub-editor that I panicked at the responsibility and gave it back to you. That was the only time I saw you get angry. “You’re the best student I’ve had, Sumeet. Now tell me which story should go where. You know this. I know you know this!” you said, hurt by my low self-belief, and handed the page back to me. I was never sure if I deserved that title or that responsibility. But those work-days taught me more about journalism than an entire academic year did.

On days when I felt lost in life and suffered bouts of depression, there was one person in office I could look towards. And you never denied me a chat. Over cups of machine-spewed coffee, in a quiet corner cabin of a bustling newsroom, we confided travel fantasies to each other. I told you my plans of being a travel writer and exploring the world. You said that one day you would walk away from that chaotic newsroom and live in a quiet, remote place – like Ladakh.

Come back, and live that dream. I insist, Sir.

No eulogy perhaps can articulate what we, your students, feel today. And I realize that the callously-phrased rant I quoted at the beginning of this letter isn’t the best way to pay homage to a man of such measured words. But when that line appeared on my social media feed a few weeks ago, the first person I thought of, was you. I did not know that that light was to go out sooner than any of us could imagine. The world is much darker for it.

Rest in peace and quiet, Sir. You’ve earned it.

Photo courtesy: Devlin Roy

(You can read Kingshuk Mukherji’s personal blog here: https://kingshukmukherji.wordpress.com/
and his delightful parenting blog on TOI here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/author/kingshukmukherji/)

104 degrees

Time

She checks my temperature,

“Scarily warm,” reads the plight-

Sterilized mercury stick

Dangling from parched mouth,

Reeking of the black night

 

And medicines that made

Skin the shade of auburn

Monsoon into sheets, her arms,

Memories of another summer-

When spring birds sang out of turn.

 

‘Do you need anything warm?’

Warm warm warm

‘How are you feeling?’

Feeling feeling feeling?

‘Still under the weather?’

Hot and humid, with a chance of thunderstorm.

 

The white coats arrive in armies,

Carpet-bombing the dermis in their foray,

A steel briefcase of needles

Preying on veins, probing

For signs of foul play.

 

‘Tis a pity they don’t stick one

Into my atrocious excuse

Of a heart.

I don’t remember

When the blackness sank in,

 

Walls painted with despair,

Closets filled with pain;

There’s no more room for sin.

The forecast every March is January-cold,

Cold as the wind that bites

 

My monsooning skin.

 

~ Sumeet

Longing

cast-away

Rain drapes everything
In a veil of wistful longing,
A yearning for something lost
Many moons ago,

About the same time
Solitude became more
Pleasing than company,
Silence, a friend, and conversation, a woe.

There’s nothing quite as soothing then
As a song on love and its follies,
Windows rolled down, the years fleeting
Amid arrows of melancholy,

Falling.
“I’ll have a cup of tea,
Please. Brewed to a burn-
The skin of lovers put out to sea.”

~Sumeet

Singalila

The rhododendron trail has a roof

Clad in hues

Of departing autumn:

Orange of the maple leaf,

Ever so elegant in its fall;

Green of the magnolia,

Eager to blush at the faintest whispers

Of spring;

The barren have long shed their green

Revealing my winter blues –

An endless playground for wings.

Death is the end, only

If you think it so;

Just ask the tiny oak nut that rebels, 

Plummets, 

And breaches the silence

Of an infinite jungle on tiptoes.

~ Sumeet

The closer you get…

img_4739

Fireflies

“Should we go outside?”

“But it’s snowing out there, hon. We’ll freeze!”

“Yeah, but it feels more Christmas-y outside.”

“What? How?”

“The fairy lights. They glow like fireflies, like a portal to another world. ”

“Sigh. Poets! Okay, but you better hope I don’t catch a cold in this alternate reality.”

Most lessons from school have been completely forgotten, but some tidbits persist. Some inexplicably random memories floating weightlessly in a crevice of the mind. Like a short story in Hindi class (or was it Gujarati?) that taught us to counter evil acts with kindness, repeatedly if necessary. Like a Sanskrit adage that translated to “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The latter rang true in my life every now and then, the first time perhaps when I became college roommates with my best friend from school. I’ve come to realize now that proximity, too, has the same effect.

Have you ever noticed how fairy lights look magical from a café’s window – almost as if the spirit of Christmas itself has manifested as a bunch of fireflies. But the moment you go outside, to have a seat under the dim lighting that promised to cast a gentle holiday glow on the soul, they lose their sheen. You start to notice little details – the one or two erratic bulbs that flicker, the flimsy wire that holds them together – invisible from across a window but now, up close, louder than the lights themselves, the potted roots of the miniature tree they entwine and its stunted fate. It’s almost as if the flaws magnify, like this café wasn’t even a good idea. Unless…

Ah! Look at those cheesecakes inside. They look soft as clouds, and the chocolate fountain sprouts ecstasy in reckless abandon! Besides, the old woman wearing the hat at the far end looks like a witch right out of Hogwarts…

“Can we go inside, love? Near the cakes? They look like they were delivered from heaven’s own little patisserie!”

“This is exactly why we don’t do date nights.”

Thank you for the gesture, stranger

img_1592

Dear stranger with the kindest eyes,

I fear I’m already forgetting you, the little details that I cherish remembering about people – strangers encountered in brief moments of serendipity, composed on a cosmic instrument that plays out our lives like keys in perfect symphony on a grand, old piano.

Yesterday night was the first time I was ferried around on a wheelchair in a shopping mall. It was a terrifying lesson in losing control, publicly. I’m temporarily impaired by an injury that will heal in a week or two, not a permanent disability. But I got a taste of what the latter would feel like. What hurt a travel writer more than his inability to walk was the almost-ubiquitious pity he received from complete strangers. A wheelchair seems to mandate a series of reactions from people – first comes surprise; then, an exaggerated effort to move out of the way; followed by a look of pity and wonder; and lastly, an aversion of one’s eyes as if this grim fate is contagious. I wore camouflage trousers, and wished I were invisible.

When I joked and laughed out loud with the two friends who wheeled me around like it was any other day at the mall, spectators marvelled at the boy who could laugh on a wheelchair! I nearly jumped out of my quasi-coffin on crutches, to prove that I was still human. Capable of wit and sarcasm, and love and laughter. As if it needed to be proved.

And then, there was you. In a summer yellow top, I think. Or was it the orange of dusk skies? I forget. It was, after all, merely a glance. I looked away from your approaching silhouette, assuming you’d be one of the scores to gift me a look of unequivocal ‘sorry’ for the day. But you stopped in your tracks, bent down, and looked me in the eyes. For the first time that day, a stranger talked to me. Me, and not my bandages which seemed to be a screaming beacon of attention. “Get well soon,” you said, almost sang it as if in a musical, emphasizing the soon, like the world couldn’t wait to see me back on my feet. Your kind eyes spoke of concern and optimism, not a condescending form of sympathy. For the first time that day, I felt that I fit in. That I was a part of the species that populated the mall and indulged in reckless shopping, and selfies, and inappropriate humour. For the first time that day, I grinned from ear to ear and meant a “Thank you!”

Friends who do not miss a single chance to pull a fractured leg joked about how a wheelchair couldn’t dial down my charm. They’re the best, stranger. They would later take me window shopping, and to a birthday party, without ever letting me feel the weight of my helplessness. But through that entire evening of being towed around and stared at, I carried the gentle warmth of a kind gesture by a beautiful stranger who seemed to know just what I needed to hear and who did not heed to the walls we build between one another.

People think changing the world comes only from big policy decisions and seats of power and money. But change is also in the little things, stranger. Smiling at the overworked staffer behind the counter, an inflated tip for the waiter with the torn apron, a bag of holiday candies for the homeless, a random conversation struck with an immigrant alienated for her dreadlocks, the girl who wishes you on a wheelchair when everyone else averts their eyes… It’s the little things that matter, it’s the little things that stay with you.

Thank you for the gesture, stranger. It made my day. I hope you know that.

~ The boy in the brown jacket

Where Forevers Begin

img_1653

I seem to have lost my words;

They left in the middle of the night-

The day I forgot to swallow my blues,

A mouthful of addiction, memories on flight.

 

I seem to have lost my blues;

They left on a train of thought

While I was willfully drowning

In a fight I had never fought:

 

The light of your caramel mornings

Seeping into a world forgot.

 

~ Sumeet Keswani

Minefields

The steps are smaller

Than my nimble feet remember.

I climb them two at a time,

Skipping memories

Like minefields.

 

The koels are still here

With their songs;

Masked bee eaters, spoonbills and sunbirds-

The season’s flavour-

Now add to the evening clamour.

 

Termites have built abodes

With the dust of abandoned dreams

And unused melancholy

On derelict walls –

Nostalgia has the nicest friends.

 

The house still stands tall but

Home has misplaced its landmarks;

There now lives

An abstract familiarity

Where a boy once scraped his knees bloody

 

Building worlds

Of implausible possibilities.

 

~ Sumeet

Madmen

The world is inherently ugly,

Dull as the thud of death

Muddled in everyday indifference –

 

The very reason poets

Look to the sky,

And madmen (like I)

 

Cannot stop

Scratching the surface,

Scarring parchment skin,

 

In hope of striking scarlet gold,

Buried away by leprechauns

With sorrows old.

 

Bleed.

Bleed now,

My dearest.

 

For the world depends

On the declotting

Of this sentiment.