Is It Better To Speak Or Die*

I read somewhere that Rumi never wrote down any of his poetry and I wondered

if the reason I couldn’t do it- I’ve spent all of the sixty four days since I read that trying

was because I was trying so goddamn hard to.

Was it because he felt things I didn’t, haven’t (won’t)? Or was it

simply a matter of motor skills-

a practiced mastery over every syllable that flowed out of his

mouth while even my feelings stumbled in their efforts to just be,

choosing instead to lie scattered and incomplete within me?

Perhaps it was something simple:

at that split-second between the parting of the lips

and words falling through sound into waiting ears,

his fingers were steady and he couldn’t feel his nerve endings clenching

and the pages didn’t spin around him and the bile didn’t

rise in his throat and;

and if it ever did he could blink it all away like I never could.

*The exact origins of the title of this piece are unknown but I found it as part the dialogue within Andre Aciman’s novel, ‘Call Me By Your Name’.



Some nights

i dream about my cancer-

black tendrils creeping up the

ragged pipes beating me alive;

shrivelled lungs encased in tar

and a stale smoke rising

from every exhale.

Some nights

I dream about my cancer-

as alive as my will to live,

submerging all systems in


Imagined, of course.

In the mornings, I resolve to kill myself before my cancer kills my father.

At Arms Length

The steel ropings along my berth rattled as the train gathered speed leaving behind all stations, big and small. Even most of the kid-sized townships that had a single bench under a lonely streetlight as their ‘station’ had already been crossed in the evening. It was a typically cloudy April night and besides the occasional signal light flitting in through the gap in the curtains of the window, all was frozen- not still, and yet somehow cold.

Papa’s snores eventually filled the tiny cabin and I could hear Mamma fidgeting below me, in her sleep. It was only 10:30 by my watch but we would reach very early in the morning so I drew the batty sheets around me and focused on the periodic oscillations of the train, to and fro, to and fro.

I must have slept for over an hour. I may have slept for ten minutes. I do not remember these details.

I thought I woke up because the train abruptly stopped, as trains often do in the middle of the night. I thought I woke up because I needed to use the bathroom, highly unlikely as that may be, considering I was a very heavy sleeper. I thought I woke up because Papa’s snores had gotten louder.

I don’t know why I thought these things when it was obvious that the hand on my lower body had jolted me awake. I say jolted awake now, but honestly I was never completely awake that night. I don’t know what that says of me. I don’t know if things would’ve been different if I had been. You could say, there’s a lot I don’t know.

I know the feel of the hand (or, or was it hands) on my back, on my front and everywhere they went, no matter how much I tried to flatten myself against the white compartment walls, away from them. I remember feeling naked under at least four layers of clothes maybe because I remember covering myself with sheets and blankets but I don’t remember them protecting me. I don’t remember them coming in the way at all. I remember my ears ringing with the sound of skin on cotton although it should have been muddled by Papa’s snores. I don’t remember doing anything- kicking, crying, stopping- except turning from one side to the other perhaps hoping to tire the hands out before they could complete their journey.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t scream. Don’t ask me why I didn’t alert my parents immediately. Don’t ask me why I didn’t tell them, after; why I haven’t told them even now. As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

What I do know, is how those hands feel. I don’t remember, I know; remembrance and knowledge don’t seem all that different but once you see the difference, you can’t unsee it. I know the weight, the approximate size, the way the fingers curled along my thigh and tips lingering while moving across whatever surface they could find. I don’t know anything as well as I know those hands. I can feel those hands on my skin today, as I did ten years ago.

It’s selfish, thinking of those hands in isolation from the strange man they belonged to, and a small comfort. But I’ll take what I can get. The scary thing is, and there is one, beyond that one night; the really scary thing is that once you see that clear distinction between memories and knowledge, you learn to mistrust the former. And in my case, this simply leaves me with one question, one I hope you can answer, even if I can’t. If I was never completely awake and I can’t really trust what I remember and the only record of this, whatever this is, is in my head, was it real at all?


The last time we kissed, he told me he loved me. Not her, me. Don’t tell me I’m being petty. Everybody thrives on it, I’m just unafraid to paint my outsides every shade of ugly.

The last time we kissed was a sunny downpour of mixed feelings and humid rain and if I’d have looked up I might even have seen a rainbow. Luckily, I didn’t. There is only so much beauty you can intake without all beauty turning the colour of ashes and river water muddied by the regrets of those remaining.

The last time we kissed, I was drunk on whisky and coke and a little bit of adrenaline and he, as always, was drunk on himself. Drinking didn’t make it feel any less inevitable, any less nerve-wracking; like going to bed the night before something, something big but ultimately lying awake in a state of outstretched tension.

The last time we kissed, there was no neat before and after and preface and epilogue and tied-up ends of an endless circle. There was only the furious pounding of heartbeats pacing across corridors and living room floors circumventing conversation and luring harsh breaths against tied tongues. 

The last time we kissed was the first time we kissed. But the kind of flares we’d been fighting against with every light handsbrushingkneesgrazing mess of a moment was a thousand stolen kisses and dirty, little secrets traded in broad daylight.

The last time we kissed I was the first time I kissed- the redemption of a thousand rejections at a hundred different college dances and after parties at the cost of one impossible chance of convincing him.

The last time we kissed he told me he saw himself in me and that he didn’t want to end up choking on too much of a good thing. 

The last time we kissed was the first night I bled handstremblingknifeclatteringtothefloor blood in the sink, blood in the bathroom, blood on his coat hung upon the bedroom door.

The last time we kissed, I thought I was the perfect son.

The last time we kissed, he didn’t choose me. Mom left him.

‘Logic Gates’


I remember the night of the burning:

the closest I had been to the war;

The deafening raids, raining grenades

hadn’t been quite this intimate.

I was a part of the war-and

the fight inexplicably found me; albeit

I was needed far from the front.


The fire razed everything to ashes and

sometimes I wonder if not for it;

we’d still be contemplating dashes and

dots, while Churchill nursed the embers.

Without alluding to phoenix metaphors and fate;

it’s when you’ve got nothing left to lose,

that you finally win the game.


I think of that fire often-

on the nights that the pill

burns inside, welding flesh and bone

and the parts of me that feel like home

and leaves behind a wake of stark

unfeeling loneliness; an estrangement

of the soul from the skin.


Oh, how I wish for that night again.


The ‘fire spy’, as I’d begun think of him, was shot,

I found out later.

Clean, clinical-like roadkill but neater

and in the middle of his forehead,

one big, red dot.

Bang. Bang. Bang.



They don’t like odd numbers, you see-

the lone wolf showing up to a couples retreat.

Zero OR one, one OR zero.

Not AND, never AND.

No wonder Enigma was left to me.

Coding wouldn’t operate in their narrow dimensions

despite the fact that both were built on binaries.


I wish I had died in the war,

bullets pounding into my body

as I meet the earth with

a luminescent smile– fortune

does not bestow martyrdom

on the cursed.

It would be a death of the body, my body.


My soul perishes at a languishing pace, daily.


I had known since I was a boy.

I had known it wasn’t normal since I was a boy.

I had known people found it disagreeable, since I was a boy.

I had known my father detested me for it, since I was a boy.

I had known to keep it hidden, since I was a boy.

I hadn’t known they would kill me for it.


But the best kept secret is that

secrets always come out in the open,

and I did too, when

they pushed me on to the witness stand

and said, “You’ve got two options: either

we kill you or you kill yourself.”

Go on. Pick.


Pins and needles replaced

trophies and medals.

I am the roadkill now.

But I’d rather take the bullet to the head

than inject and insert the poison

back into my veins.

Day after day after day after day.


Death of the body v. death of the soul. Remember?


I brought out my old gun yesterday.

Funny how I never used it

during the war;

but now I see no other way-

to halt this slow, mind-numbing decay

and stop myself from from carrying on

killing all parts of me they deem “wrong”.



I brought out my old gun yesterday.

My numbers won’t help me anymore.

Enigma was only a puzzle to decode;

human intrigues are far beyond

anything that I have ever known.

Death is but a small prize to pay

to ensure my spirit lives to see another day.
**The poem is written in the first person by Alan Turing, the English mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code and was subsequently chemically castrated for being a homosexual. That’s the reason why everything from the title to the content is full of computer/programming puns.





I Am Jack’s Raging Bile Duct*

I am a sadhu-a man of God and religion- or I look like one. I was one, perhaps. My memory doesn’t seem to stretch that far. I’ve probably crossed over to the ‘homeless’ category now, for people like you. Correction: for people. My permanent residence is the footpath outside a temple so my assumption might not be very wrong. Mind you, I don’t beg. What’s the point of begging from those who spend every Tuesday or Friday or some such day of their life inside these very gates, doing some despondent begging of their own? It’s not like I need the money anyway. There are three pan sellers in this tiny lane alone and I can’t remember the last time I had to pay any one of them for a cigarette. I needed money last month when the high priest of the temple complained that my leg was diseased and I shouldn’t be allowed to sit outside lest I should ward off their devout customers. I’m a pacifist and I didn’t want any trouble so I did what I could. I put my leg in one of those white casts that people with broken limbs use. I had to steal money from the temple to get it done of course. I’m back outside it now, puffing away- lost in dreams of tasting an actual Marlboro before I die- I would leave but; I wouldn’t. This is home.

I am a drummer. My drum-set is an old careworn tabla that my father’s employer threw away when his son had moved on to a new fancy. You’ve probably seen me outside the ground where the Winters Market sets up shop every January. The boy with eyes that can’t see.Blind.Youd call me that but I don’t really care much for your words so. After all, I do have eyes. They just don’t work. Like a fused lightbulb that just went pop one evening and remained like that until your father got tired of your nagging and called the electrician who showed up a month later. I didnt go pop one evening. I was the faulty balloon in your party pack- manufacturing defect you can call me. My father was the one who started bringing me here, along with my tabla. He left soon after. I didn’t realise he wasn’t coming back until I accidentally overheard my neighbours talking one day when I was setting out with my tabla. “That’s what you do when you have a blind kid and a deadbeat wife who can’t start your engines no more, if you know what I mean- you run.” My mother has been paralysed and bed-ridden since I was born. In case you were wondering.

I am my children. I know you think I am my madness. Sometimes I do too. But then my youngest peers at me with desperate eyes shining in his muddy face and whimpers, “I’m hungry” looking guiltier than my eldest did when she slapped the kid screaming ‘crazy’ at me from his shiny bicycle and I know I couldn’t feel the things I do for them if I was mad. How is it that in the world we live in, it is acceptable for you to pass me off as crazy because you don’t-cant-ever relate to my desperation; but it is more than okay for my five-year old sustaining himself on half a banana for days to feel guilty even at the thought of hunger?

I am anger. I’m two more bursts of rain and two greenlights away from embarking on my own Zodiacesque killing spree. Sweeping away at what your footsteps and tyres bring back to me- my whole life is a vicious cycle. Plus my au naturel umbrella does nothing in this soppy, sodden all-year-hell of a state. Every day I’m told the name of some bigshot who is ‘almost here’ and who will absolutely not tolerate filthy roads. Potholes, yes. Sycophantic officials, sure. But God forbid a broken down mess of a road has some leaves lying around. Every year the knowledge of the existence of this job that I have held for the last forty years, slides further down the memory of my employers. Soon, I believe, it will be completely erased and when I ask for my salary I’ll be told I’ve only paid ten per cent of my Swachch Bharat dues or something like that.

I am my father’s son. Sounds redundant doesn’t it? When you’ve been searching for him for decades, you start saying these things to yourself- hope and faith are fickle friends. They’d desert you not even halfway through Ezekiel’s Enterprise. To keep my spirit going, I had likened myself to Guru Nayak. However, he had sought out seeking vengeance in An Astrologer’s Day** while I desired reconciliation- we were both hoping to find closure in whichever form possible I suppose. I remember these little details because I was the first person in my family to learn English and the pride I felt at this fact was very quickly followed by the fear of proving myself unworthy of it. My apprehensions and insecurities turned insignificant upon finally finding my father. In what I thought would be the most important moment of my life, my father looked right through me when I presented myself before him. Some people say he’s mad, some say he’s blind while others conclude he’s constantly drunk. I’ve taken to sitting on the steps of a building under construction about ten yards away from the temple on whose goodwill he has apparently survived. I stay here long enough, I might just become my father’s son.

Sometimes I start believing the things I imagine about the people I see, peering out from the window of my car.

*The title of this piece is a dialogue taken from David Fincher’s brilliant film Fight Club. In the original book by Chuck Palahnuik, the bile duct in question belonged to a Joe, not Jack. I was prompted to impulsively write something when I rewatched the movie somedays ago.

**An Astrologer’s Day is a short story by R.K. Narayan wherein you find the character Guru Nayak.

I Write Sins Not Tragedies*


There is no God                                             Not in any of the holes.                                 He has filled my body with;                   Holes that are brimming full-                     But I don’t feel full no more.                     Only empty.

Hollow–                                                               as he- they’re all he- batters inside searching for a part of me that existed before him.

Hollow–                                                               as the room I’m kept in.                                   It would swallow me whole                           if it could.

Hollow–                                                               as the sky behind my eyelids.             Dreamless.                                           Sleepless.

There is no God                                       ripping out of pillars or walls or space.   Myths remain myths remain myths,             I suppose.

If mama was here- she’d say,                   “God has kept you alive, honey.”               She isn’t here though,                               when they come ramming through         and away what I imagine                                 is the night.                                                     No windows in the hollow.

I remember the fear                                         I remember the stench                             Sweat and smoke and filth and garage oils like someone I once remembered but forgot.                                                                   I remember to feel through                     what I remember of the start.

Marlboro ashes and tattered skin shedding New bruises every Saturday aren’t conducive to the ‘senses thing’                         I suppose.


My eyes open to sunlight on them.         Sunlight.                                                           My eyes open to windows, painted walls, bookshelves, a door-                                  open.                                                        Rushing out to weary faces and wearier walls,                                                                      I let this new yet old silence soak me.

Silence. Silent. Sob.                                             I was unmade on my knees.                             I am reborn on my knees.                           My eyes search for my mama.                         If there is a God, I know I’ll find him           in her arms.

I smell him before I see him.                   Sweat and smoke and filth and garage oils. My dad slips his arms                             around me before he whispers                     in my ear,                                                           “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.

*The title of this piece has been taken from 2005 song having the same name written by the band Panic! At The Disco for their album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.

Curse, Bless Me Now*

Do you ever dream of death?

Of a blink-and-you-miss something “quicker than falling asleep” and yet slower than the agonising wait for the sun when you rise from slumber before the beginning of dawn.

Do you dream of dying?

A tumble down the steep hilly roads, inside your car as it lurches and soaks up a spark, before blinding you orange-or a sudden bursting thud inside you, and a final squeeze between your lungs, before all goes quiet.

Do you ever dream of after?

Red-rimmed eyes and rooms full of emptiness and ghosting memories, haunting nights and days worn with fatigue. And fiery paths of stone and blood and a reckless endlessness; and maybe-just maybe- peace. 

Do you dream of death?

A handsome ol’ gentleman in a horse-drawn carriage headed to infinity. Or a winged monster swooping across the night sky-faceless and deadly. A thin slice, a tiny trickle and a blunt body on white sheets.

Do you scream, through this dream of yours? Or do you smile, just like me?

*The title has been taken from the last stanza of the poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas. My poem, albeit in a twisted way, draws inspiration from the aforementioned piece.

Let’s Not Talk

The chiming of the grandfather clock in the living room has lodged itself into my inner ear and somehow she catches on and asks me, excitedly, “Time, isn’t it?” I nod, if only to satisfy her now waning curiosity.

It’s not like the question is new or even unexpected. From childhood slam books to ‘Find Your Patronus’ quizzes and the leading queries of frantic online anxiety tests filled in the desperate darkness, all ask the same thing: What is your biggest fear?

Heights, fire, spiders, drowning, ghosts, war: one unlikelier than the other. Loneliness comes closest perhaps, right after failure. Complaceny and utter defiance of all expectations-misplaced and otherwise- rule out the latter. The first lingers on for far too long until its presence is a foregone conclusion. So then I wonder can you fear something that is already as much a part of you as the very skin on your body?

My heart, I realise, is almost like my study table. All year round, junk gathers in a heap upon it until the eve of the examination. Then the wood creaks, in what I imagine to be surprise, at the sudden contact with fresh oxygen. Clutter, declutter. Clutter, declutter. Except, there is no examination- no big looming date- as far as the heart is concerned. And so the debris remains, accumulates.

Somewhere between this realisation(?Understanding?) and late nights spent devouring gay fanfiction under thick blankets in sweaty, cramped rooms, I have my epiphany.

It’s conversations, of course.

A wide-eyed preteen sat down by anxious parents and gently told that she isn’t-was never – their own to begin with.

A sixty-year old woman who spends the next fifteen years of her life introducing herself to her husband-day after day after day.

A seventy-five year old who spends the rest of her life being told-reminded– by her teenage granddaughter that her husband is dead.

A young boy whose father engraves his will through his words, into his mind-and skin-with every lash of the belt as he is made to repeat after him,“I am not a faggot.”

You see conversations wield the power to make or break, to alter lives; they also have the underrated yet more consequential ability to change human minds. I’m sure dictators throughout history knew this as did colonial rulers. The reason large gatherings were forbidden and the press was stifled and rigid curfews so strictly maintained (Remember the Rowlatt Act?) was that people talking to one another would inevitably lead to the formation of a somewhat cohesive, even if not unanimous, public opinion. It would be amiss on my part to mention autocrats and imperialists and not democrats when history is repeating itself today, across the world although I do believe its keenest sting is being felt by us, here in India.

It is not just revolutions and resistance that make conversations my biggest fear and led to my big epiphany, so to say. Over my teenage years, I’ve overnight become what you would call difficult, as I’m sure my parents would tell you but thankfully somewhere along the way I’ve learnt to pick my battles, if nothing else. So imagination my condition when my sister in the midst of a mundane conversation about prayers blurts out that I’m an atheist or ath-e-east as she calls it. For a moment there’s complete silence as I contemplate ten thousand and one different ways to kill my sister while my ‘hardcore believer’ of a mother looks at me-confused, as if solving a Sudoku. You know those moments in life when you know what follows will either be the frying pan or the fire, and you don’t know which one to wish for? Well I had my moment and all I got was a placid almost clinical dose of water and I swear, if you ever find yourself in such a position, you want one of the former options. Rage I can absorb, even counter but I sure as hell have no clue what to do with the bitter cold.

But I digress. Even initiating conversations make me gnaw at my nails. Sitting through one simultaneously vexes me and drains me of whatever energy I posses. Then there is my inability to filter-that I have spoken (and written) about so much that it is probably my pet peeve now-and how three, two, sometimes zero words stumble out of my mouth and wreak the worst kind of emotional havoc.

Perhaps, I’m most terrified of the conversations that I have in my head. Going over, redoing, repairing debates, speeches, meetings and of course, conversations from years ago again and again and again and there is no until. The conflict of everything I could be and won’t amount upto, constantly crashing against the walls of my mind. Lost potential-I fucking hate that word-and whatnot.

On the clearer days, I wonder how utter inaction breed utter paralysis of thought and emotion. Aren’t action-pumping adrenaline and hero complexes and bullets and tanks- supposed to be the scary things? Since when have supressed thoughts and inadvertent beliefs become so much more formidable, fearsome?

Have you ever felt the a crushing heaviness at the pit of your stomach? You may be lounging in front of the television, chatting in class, walking home: doing ordinary everyday things that you do and the bottom of your body just seems to drop and become a hollow nothingness. Have you ever felt frozen as your heart fell right through your body? Have you?