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Who Is A Muslim?


We were robbed,

my wife and me and our little boy.

Had just got on a train

at New Delhi.


I had gone searching

for a few snacks,

to come back and see my wife crying,

surrounded by the crowd

and a policeman.


The snatch gang had done their job well

and were gone with the purse,

money for a few months life and work,

and documents.


The policeman,

who was probably an accomplice

and would later on get his slice,

advised us to get on with the journey.


It was not the moment

for profound thought;

we still had many bags of clothes

and assorted stuff,

and our selves

to carry forward,

on the train to Bangalore.



For a night and a day

she was still in tears, my wife,

more from the shock

that so bad had fallen on us.



The people around

were really kind;

they bought us food and tea,

made sure that we wanted for nothing.


The next afternoon,

in the hot Deccan,

a short man approached me

on my way to the loo

and secretly put in my hands

two hundred rupee notes,

and explained: “I am a Muslim”.

That was all he said.



My eyes were full as I took the money;

they still are, for I’ll never forget.



[Author’s Note: This is a true incident which happened earlier but I wrote these lines immediately after 9/11]





Unanswered Questions


It is not clear

if he was a motorcycle mechanic,

a sex maniac

or an old fashioned black magician.


He was not a gardener,

had no feel for plants,

not a guitarist

as he was tone deaf,

could have been an art therapist or psychiatrist,

he did talk a lot.


It is not easy

to guess his age, education or nationality.

It is not ours to check the authenticity

of his passport or driving license,

as for what he said,


could claim to be



It is not important

if he was for the system

as he had a stake

or against it

as he was dirt poor.


The times are changing.

If your identity

is not clearly established

you could be taken in

as a suspected terrorist

and kept for all your life

without trial or bail.


Whether karmic rebirth

or original sin

he was already born

into a world

with problems.


He did not like mosquitoes

like most of us

but said that he liked

elephants and tigers.


Was he an addict

or just habituated?


Would he cling on to life

to the very end

or give it up

to earn a few medals?


Did he believe in something?


There was something strange

about his appearance

but more about his disappearance

as he left suddenly

leaving behind

a lot

of unanswered questions.



Thiruvannamalai, 1st March, 2007





Sacred River


Once upon a time

there was a sacred river for our people.


We were the people of the river.

For us, who were born on its banks,

naturally, the river was the most sacred deity,

the very centre of our life,

our existence.


Our myths were entwined with the river,

our dreams were of the full river,

our nightmares broke its banks

and flooded our lands.


We built a high city.

Our river died.


We were the people of the city,

the stench of the canal

with all the choked morass and sluggish death

was too much for us.


We covered the canal;

thus the dead river was finally buried.


We are the people of the city,

with the sacred river lost under us.



Kochi, 1999





They never met


He was a communist

who left a position

in a sufi tradition


She was a closet fellow traveler

of the lesbians and rainbow children.


He walked with the people on the streets in Kerala,

discussed music and history with tea.


She stayed indoors in her own world near Berlin,

(cooped up in an apartment flat?)

writing and painting and dreaming

of her native village of coconut palms

and wondering if her amma

is no more the same,

for the times are changing

and everybody talks about money.


He has two sons,

one is too idealist

the other only practical.

He was broken when his wife died.

He wished to see his sons settled.


She has a western husband who is practical.

and a daughter who lives in her dream world

which she believes will die with her.


He spoke different languages,

time traveled in Arab cultures..


She was struggling with German and English,

dreaming of living again

in the Dravidian country.


He was a failure in politics.

The party left him high and dry.


She is yet to make it in the arts.

Meanwhile she makes long phone calls back home


He is dead.

She is alive.