for Aditi Mangaldas

[poem from my forthcoming book, THE WHISPERING ANKLETS]

You emerge — from within darkness, your face

                                    sliding into light —

you squirm virus-like in a womb,

draped blood-red,                                 on black stage-floor.

                                    Around you, others swirl about

dressed as green algae,

                        like frenetic atoms

            under a microscope in a dimly lit laboratory.

Art mirroring life — reflecting the pandemic on stage.

Your hands palpitate,

                        as the sun’s own blinding yellow corona

cracks through the cyclorama.

            People leap about — masked, veiled.

                                                You snare a man’s sight

with your fingers mimicking a chakravavyuh

                        you are red, he is green, she is blue —

trishanku — life, birth, death —

                        regermination, rejuvenation, nirvana.

Everything on stage — as in life —

                                                moves in circular arcs.

Irises close and open, faces veiled unveil —

            hearts love, lungs breathe — breathless.

Lights, electromagnetic —        knotted, unwrapped

                        music pulsates, reaching a crescendo,

                                                            then silence.

Time stops. Far away in the infinite blue of the cosmos —

            I look up and spot a moving white.

I see a white feather

                                    trying its best to breathe

in these times of breathlessness, floating downwards —

and as it touches the floor, in a split-second

everything bursts into colour, movement, the bols/taals

                                                try to restore order,

rhythm,            both contained and free.

The backdrop bright orange,

                                    the silhouettes pitch-black.

As you embrace another human form,

            the infinite journey of timelessness might seem


but now is the moment to reflect and recalibrate

immersed in the uncharted seas, in the widening circles,

                        telling us —                  others matter,

the collective counts.

I examine minutely the striated strands

                        of the pirouetting feather, now fallen —

its heart still beating, its blood still pumping,

                                                its white untarnished.

Life’s dance continues — with or without us —

only in the understanding of what is,

                                                      is there freedom from what is.