V folk riffs

Speak not ill of the sun lest it
Eclipse the rot of moon and
Send you to the corner to rust.


Not ill of the moon lest it
Eclipse the hot of sun and
Rend you to a lisp of fate.

The tawny gulf of separation
Fades with time; only the snake
Will know when it is time to meet.

next up is the long whistle, the
whoosh of knife and castle and
day; next up is a village fool,

a pertinence that carries you far
and dies a compost death in fair
light and not so fair; next up is

thin, thick, filament of sprite
and a far reaching mistake, the
kind that gets it wrong twice.

The loud screech of the mauled paw
Creates a vacuous breach of numb,

Of dear river-streams conducting
Parrot chimes, chippings off a goad

-ed throat. Listless can be fruitful.

Listen to the tale that grieves
The pale moon as it recedes and

Sieves remnants of my sleep with
That of yours, only the bits that

Care to talk to each other; try
And bare your teeth to the moon.

pot of knowledge

Anansi outwits the bees, the snake and tiger so that
All the stories are now in his name, but then he drops
The pot of knowledge in a fit of anger; now everyone knows.

Anansi is the spider that growls lack of knowing in his hunger for
Being known; droplets might form an ocean, but that takes a long
Time: it is quicker to outfox the fox and outrun the hare.

Interpreted from:
– How We Got the Name ‘Spider Tales’
– How Wisdom became the Property of the Human Race
West African Folk-Tales

Anansi outwits Nothing and gets many wives; yet envious, he
Kills Nothing; yet greedy, his family goes hungry in spite of
The pot of food from Thunder; he is punished by the stick.

Anansi is turned upside down; his tales may reek of many
Endings, but the prevarications of the spiderous claw
Are no match for Newton’s physics and the math of Gauss.

Interpreted from:
– Crying for Nothing
– Thunder and Anansi
West African Folk-Tales

The fair queen and the not-so-fair

And their fair daughters & sons & not-so-fair
Who in not-so-fair wiles manage to out-comply
The tradition-monger in fits and starts and
Arduous test of wits and warts – O soothsayer’s
Heart, listen in, comply! What claw of the singing
Dragon awaits the uncaring, unafraid? Better the
trying death than a willing tradition-monger be.

It is time now for retelling

The tale which dips its beak on the flight
Of the mynah bellowing a hearty lament
That caresses the storylines of millennia

Resonating the throated silences of an
Antechamber coolly contemplating exit
And return: it is time now for retelling.

The tale which meanders through and arrives again: it is time now for retelling.

The tale which sips in a marrow beyond
This time, beyond the time which latches
On to the steady revelations only rhythm

Is prepared to show, beyond the time that
Alterations of spacetime attempt to account
For but falter: it is time now for retelling.

The loin cloth

A sannyasi had only a loin cloth but the mice were nibbling at it. So he went and got himself a cat. The cat needed milk. So he acquired a cow. Someone had to look after the cow. So he found a woman to look after the cow, who also began to look after him. He married her and threw away his loin cloth.

From A.K. Ramanujan’s “Where Mirrors are Windows: Towards an Anthology of Reflections”

The cat needed milk. So he acquired a cow. Someone had to look after the cow.

Where do you find the time to milk the cow that feeds the cat that eats the mice? It is not time but the woman who tends the cow that feeds the cat that eats the mice. The mice that irk the bull that guards the cave which reeks of henna. The woman again who adorns the henna and mates the bull that gives the world its god.

So he found a woman to look after the cow, who also began to look after him.

The god that begets the word that speaks of her so she springs out leaves. The leaves of henna that fly away and call the wind that seed the forest. The forest that chimes of god that needs the woman who takes the cloth that guards the loin. The loin that breeds the world with the mice that irk the man of god.

He married her and threw away his loin cloth.

lament of the clay anklet

should the sharded anklet go
home where no names are spoken
or out in the open where sulfurous
kannagi, livid, goes a routin’?

can the caste out voice speak at
all in a room full of tenors
rasping out airs – heirs of plumped
entitlement and closed spaces?

would the sunken claw out and
bark, bereft of sun, unmoored
and short of tooth, of bite?
kannagi, livid, ekes out smoke.

Kannagi is the avenging widow from the Tamil epic Silappatikaram (‘The tale of an anklet’).

Why stop the goddess in her tracks?

There is a void in the effluence of
A metaphor broken, a folktale eulogized, a
Myth taken for fact; the earth-yearning
Goddess balks in her tracks – not good.

“Fie then,” it follows. Fie then upon the
Track-stopperers, the metaphor-brokerers.
Refill the jars now, make them reek of
Praise, scream out “the goddess is thus and

Also thus.” You need a thousand and one tales
Of forgiveness for one insolence, you blasphemous
Lout, you un-carer of myth, you track stopperer
You. Counterpoint needs point, dialogue ogue.

Context: This started off as a somewhat serious commentary on the darker aspects of the fallout of the modern quest for identity: when the stories, folktales and songs that have been informing us for millennia have been stultified or forgotten. But then as the poem progresses, it acquires an irreverent tone (in line with one of the functions of folklore as explained by A.K Ramanujan).

Squeals of impertinence and other tales

The laughter factory goes about its business
creating small and big squeals of impertinence.

There is a commotion, and the manager feigns a
haughty disposition in order to project authority.

Soon the matter is taken up by the lords of the
village and the river. The river complains as it

Never gets a chance to speak. “Enough,” says the
master of ceremonies, and that causes the manager

To halt the production of squeals for the week.

When the creature of dark was invited
one late evening, it relented because

It was not late enough; the spectators
wished it were otherwise for they wanted

To see the stars at night, and the stars
were always glad to put on their show,

Although sometimes they were a bit shy.

There was an old man who sat in front of
the sea and prayed for it to rain; the

Sea was nonplussed, so was the wind which
thought it would be nice to talk to him

At length; the rain followed soon after;
the wind and the sea gathered round the

Old man and celebrated together as friends.

Tell it to the walls

A widow is made miserable by the ill-treatment of her two sons and two daughters-in-law. Her misery is compounded by the fact that she is not able to share her woes with anyone which in turn made her fatter, and that made her feel worse. One day, she wandered outside of town and went inside a deserted house where she felt the need to narrate her miseries to the walls. With each tale of grievance told, a wall fell and she lost some weight. At the end, all four walls had come down, and she felt much better. Plus she had lost all her excess weight. Then she went home. (Summary of the folktale “Tell it to the Walls” from A.K. Ramanujan’s “Folktales from India”).

& to the odd passerby, even to the
one who does not pass you by but

is content to let a dark whisper
coagulate; the walls come down one

by one & the wind is incessant in
Reminding what should have silently

transpired between it, the spoken word &
The word that is licked up and spewed.