007 - Versions

Where I write a poem, twice


Hope your Thursday is going well, hope it is easing into what could be a chill weekend.

Does the weekend hold the same appeal nowadays? My weekends have conveniently eased into my weeks and days merge into each other like colours in a dirty palette, hard to make one out from the other. It might sound otherwise, but I don’t say this with much joy. A week back I finished a year of gainful unemployment.

I wonder if it was the memory of that last day or just the general group texts with ex-colleagues and friends, but I had a dream two nights back.

In that dream I was finding my way to a place where I was supposed to meet my friends. I was in a rickshaw, it was night outside on the roads, the roads themselves empty and the lights very dim, and we (my driver and I) seemed to ride in some vacuum - we couldn’t find the place we wanted to get to. All I knew was that I had left from work and was amazed at having found a rick so fast. But round and round we went, until like all obedient dreams do, it shifted scenes and god knows where I went and what I was did, for this trip to ‘neverwhere’ was all I remembered when I woke.

I suppose one can also conclude I am just missing riding in rickshaws.

Through the day I kept thinking about it. Not in a study-its-meaning manner, but as one would try to remember a deja vu, trying to figure where I saw it before, it felt like that. Out of some impulse I opened a long finished notebook and in it I found an incoherent paragraph from sometime in January. It clicked. It reminded me of a poem I was writing then, some lines in it were written in this book. It was part of a story I was writing, it had a segment of a boy lamenting his lost dreams. I quickly opened my laptop and in my drafts I found that unfinished story.

In the story, a girl - bored and lost, walks down a noisy Bombay street. She sees a bunch of people hanging out smoking outside a bar. One of them waves at her, with a broad smile, broader arms, and walks towards her. Dennis she remembers: friend of a friend, she had met him once before. Turns out there’s an open mic going on at the bar and Dennis is performing in a bit, she now stands invited and not in a position to say no.

Here I must add that the character Dennis is inspired from a Malayalam movie - Summer in Bethlehem. This Bethlehem is a farm, not the city, owned by a - Dennis. In a scene the female lead tells him that he is a character straight out of some novel, Bethlehem’s Dennis. And for some reason, I wanted to write that, describe a character as my narrator sees them and then end with the line - Bethlehem’s Dennis. Except this Dennis is a different one, a different version.

Here’s my Dennis on the mic then -


In a January of my memory,
I remember a distant December.
I went out to see the stars in the skies.
Above Bethlehem, a home, my home.
Not the city of old.

The stars though were gone,
from the could-less sky,
stricken, I ran, in hurt and despair,
searching, where do my night stars lie?
My dreams I said, oh father, my father,
I left them in the stars, now gone.

The eyes of Bethlehem
are no good said my father, for men, good men,
many a men have lost and lived,
while this city steals brazen.
You will dream - a dream, your dream;
but son, dream it small and not so bright,
lest it catch Bethlehem's eye,
forever where it may then lie.

The poem’s Bethlehem is Bombay. In the story outside of this poem Dennis lives in an apartment called Bethlehem (it is indeed an apartment in Bombay). It was a first draft and I left this poem as it was so that I can come back to it. All I knew was that the story and this poem both should speak of a city caving in and taking with it what we all held dear, only to emerge again, new, with new things to hold dear. The poem had to foreshadow the story.

A few instances after this episode in the story, it stalled. I couldn’t take it forward. I felt maybe it was because of this poem - seemed ad hoc, disconnected. I thought maybe I can get it into a better shape and rhythm. Maybe I need to make it sound more like a performance. And maybe with that the story can get a second life. And so I went back to it, and wrote a new version:


There was a time as a young boy,
seventeen years, old not ago,
I used to rush to the terraces
to see the stars,

Lined up above in the sky above Bethlehem -
a home, my home,
apartment not city.

One day the stars vanished,
gone from the cloudless sky, that
still stayed filled
with light.

I wondered where they went; and asked around,
but no one noticed.
(The stars not me)

They left to make space for the new ones,
a voice said in the dark; there was
an old man, who looked like
a father, my father, parent not priest.

One day we too must make way
for the new, from this soulless city,
he said, like stars.

What do I make of that now?
Sixteen, Seventeen years,
later not old.
I had left my dreams in those stars.

(And my hopes, fears, loves, lusts and
what not - hidden,
in those dreams)

And what do I make of this -
soulless and lightless, dark and darker,
city not me.

And that, was that. I left both the poem and story at that. I figured I was trying to get both the character and poem to say a lot with few words, and that’s always a call for trouble. Sadly therefore, despite the revision, they both remain unfinished drafts. Much like the dream.

Anyway, if the story ever gets written, you will know you have had the first look here! Maybe it will come out as a better version of itself with time.

Till then may our dreams of going places and meeting people all come true soon.

PS: The image is from a beautiful series on Instagram called Bon Voyage Week by Sam Poli.

Like a Version

I’m a mild fan of this radio show that I catch up with on YouTube called Like a Version. It gets artists to cover a song of theirs, make a version of their own. Thought I’ll leave you with the first song I ever heard on it, that also turned out to be the first song I heard Donald Glover sing. I’ve been a fan of Childish Gambino ever since.

If you by chance are new to his music, which I very much doubt, but if you are, here’s a primer on him and a review of the album 3.15.20 that he released on yes 15th March, 2020. The best piece of music I’ve heard all year.