Tenkasi, South India
Tenkasi, South India

Eyes full of wonder

while you see here and yonder

village backyards

A flame in a clay lamp


Defiant is she

against the odds and the blows

a flame in the wind

Take a walk

Cars flash on your left,
motorists whizz by your right,
stray dogs growl in front of you
and bicyclists bell behind you
welcome to the walker’s life
yes, you’re on the footpath
where pedestrians follow single file
or break the line and break a leg
one-way streets they’re on paper
but look both sides before you cross
unserviced and flanked by trash
are the service roads, built for ease
raggedy stones, rocks, and potholes
more than make up the sidewalks
taking a hike, it will seem to you like
invest in boots and the soles thank thee
put phones away and headphones too
for good money even seconds make
wear naught jewellery, gold or silver
lest they invite snatchers, who’re many
most important of all—dear walker
watch your step, before you even step
on droppings of birds, dogs, or humans

I’ve spent a large part of my commuting life on foot. As much as I enjoy walking, I hate that the average Indian pedestrian faces so much trauma. This is just an outlet of my emotions.

What’s in your backpack?

When I cast my t-shirt aside, I had only one thing in mind—it’s one less thing to carry. Not that a single t-shirt acquires too much space or weight, but it’s the little things that accumulate faster than we can count. That’s the mentality I always assume when I pack.

How much would you carry if you’re returning from visiting your parents, and have a five-and-a-half-hour train journey ahead of you? And mind, this isn’t Amtrak—we’re talking about congested and almost always unclean train compartments that allocate 80 seats but accommodate upwards of 150 sweaty humans and even more bulging bags of what-knows-what.

It was a Sunday morning—6:50 am to be near-precise—and I was on a train back to the city, back to my routine work. I’d spent almost a week at my parents’ for what’s supposed to be quality time with family. Despite how that turned out, I was now heading back to take care of my own life. And I didn’t have a reservation on the train. I’d tried, but failed because the website wasn’t able to cope up to the traffic of the Indian population. And so I stood, almost plastered to the walls of the compartment to avoid the incoming crowd trying to find their seats.

As I watched, from my corner of the car’s wall, I saw most adults carrying a child, a piece of luggage, or a bag of breakfast—in addition to their one baggage.

Now, Indian Railways doesn’t have a limit on baggage. And for a good reason too, because it’d make no sense. The only reason people throng the trains is that they’re cheaper and accommodating to the growing needs and waists of the average Indian.

And so every person struggled to get on and navigate through to their seats. Bags overflowed in the overhead racks, they lined the aisles between the seats, and some even sat snug at people’s feet.

A grin escaped my face as George Clooney’s “what’s in your backpack?” came to mind. Every time someone wobbled past me or heaved at the weight of their bag, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d inflict such discomfort upon themselves. I had one backpack, which I’d placed in the overhead rack, but even then it was a lengthy and uncomfortable journey. To go through that with additional bags made no sense to me.

It’s a pity that while there’s a cult doing everything in their power to reduce luggage and prioritise convenience travel, there’s another group altogether that doesn’t even try. What’s more, Indian train stations are so crowded that it’s not uncommon to see late passengers sprinting through waiting crowds, swerving by long queues, and high jumping over people sleeping on the floor. Imagine going through all that with a bag you can’t even lift.

The more I wondered, the more convinced I became that people don’t know what matters most to them. They’re so feeble and craving that they can’t bear the thought of leaving things behind. Our intense desire to cling to material things, and our inherent fear of death and denial of its permanence has led us to live in constant fear of losing what was never ours.

Pfft. Let it go.

Tenkasi, South India

Pray, tell

Pray tell, thee, wise tree
how many lives have you seen
crushed beneath the human weight
staved off for their meat and desk
your tenants and their housing whole

Oh, dear, wise old tree
pray tell us truth with glee
who’s the vainest of us all
the one who orbits in space
taking away praise medallions
giving back footprints of carbon
or the one making firewood
felling earth from her roots
for a week’s worth of meals

Ageing, waning, wise tree,
how many times have we seen
heroes emerging on the face of the earth
biting the poor and sucking the wealth
to be rich and famous, at the cost of all