Tushar Jain is a Delhi-based writer. He was the winner of the 2012 Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize. Subsequently, he won the 2013 Poetry with Prakriti Prize and the 2014 RL Poetry Award. He was a winner of the 2014 DWL Short Story Contest and nominated further for the 2014 Dastaan Award. His first play Reading Kafka in Verona was long-listed for the 2013 Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award. His work as a poet was long-listed for the 2015 Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing.

 

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Fishes

Mr. Moshomoto, the renowned
curator, felt the ulcer roil in the pit
of his stomach, when the monsoons left,
leaving in their wake, in his posh duplex,
an infestation of fishes

there were carps in the mouse-holes,
and grubby herrings choked all the
shower drains, and the guppies [oh,
the guppies!] scurried around, dragging
squares of bread crusts under the dresser,
or salted orange rinds over the duvet

there was a school of mackerel
homed in the bumps under the rug,
there were cuttlefish in the kitchen,
lunging at the curtains, snapping
at the trout that either clutched
at the pleats of the Belgian drapes,
or had wormed to the rose-pots,
on the cherry-wood armoire

from a grey jar marked ‘Sugar’,
a Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica,
had reeled out banana skins,
and dragged them to savour in
Mr. Moto’s prized, [not to mention,
leisurely] Origami vase

in the glass cabinet, behind the china,
there were hamlets poised against an
ornamental skull [“to barracuda or not
to barracuda, that is the question!”],
and at last, at the fireplace, piled in
embers, ash, and cindery pinewood,
a halibut kept gazing into
the crisp orange screen
of a summer fire

Mr. Moshomoto, rubbing his
sore eyes, clawing the beads of
moisture on his itching scalp,
grimly admitted that his little
India trip, so far, wasn’t
exactly working out

 

CLOWNS IN LOVE

hiding from the circus-master
and his angry, braided whip, and
peering over the sea-lions jumping
through hoops dripping with fire,
the clowns fell in love

at sundown, under a crimson
moon, lit in the day’s receding
sounds, the clowns met and talked
behind the tent of the Galician leper,
who could ground a record between
his teeth, and belch out music,
like a turntable

over the month, they met secretly,
at times, in the iguana dens, or the
deserted buggy of the bearded woman,
and at times, made love amid a litter
of sleeping cats who had been trained
to moan, the scores of an operetta

then, one rainy day, when the
stern-backed circus-master noticed
that the clowns had eloped to the hills
on his pristine Persian rug, he, livid,
wrung apart his leather whip, and
burst into a flight of swallows,
that dissolved in the rain

since then, every year, when
autumn razes the colour from the
mango leaves, and drains the hibiscus
near the shore, the clouds, scudding
like water over the red hills, the glades,
the clearings seared in the forest,
bring in wisps of a clown’s laughter,
holding its breath, held deep under love

 

AZALEAS AT AMMA’S

it was a fussy little girl, with
pimpled cheeks and a daisy in
wavy black hair, who, clawing
back her bangs, scrawled a
corn seed in the middle of
Kachauri Amma’s wall

with time, the seed flaked,
turned pale and sickly, and
some day in June, when island
rains peppered Amma’s walls
and seepage ravaged the
masonry, it burst open

come July, a red azalea
clambered up the seed – sprung
with petals, tendrils, lime green
ivy, a whorl of leaves, and a sturdy
stalk, a cinnamon brown

soon, on a September day,
Amma, feeding panting, mangy
strays – groundnut and wedges of
overripe mango, pinched back a
wafer of grey hair, and frowning,
noticed the mural – beaming
azaleas on gruff limestone

Amma blinked, and squinting
her blurry eyes, gingerly, she
knelt; blended in with the fug of
the moldering wall, vermin, and
graffiti etched in orange chalk,
she, surprised, smelt perfume

since then, the flowers bloom
there, and Kachauri Amma patrols
the wall, spying the passer-bys, roaring
at the urchins, pelting busted marbles
at drunks unzipping to pee, but at midnight,
in the pale wash of moonlight, with crickets
warbling in the drains, and the crow of
soap-water in the runnels, Amma eases
into sleep, her head tired, aslant,
breathing in the azaleas

 

 

ELEVATOR LOVE

memory is a fickle thing, and
perhaps the reason why no one
remembered how the boy, with shaggy
blue hair and that loving smile, got stuck
to the roof of the building elevator
in the first place

no tenant knew his name or a parent,
and it didn’t help much that he talked
so little, but there he was, always,
spread on his hands and legs, like a
gay green gecko on a wall, nodding along
to the drub of endless Muzak

over the years, the tenants grew pleasant,
and in a man with the ears of a dog, he
even found a friend; together, they dreamt
of picnics at beaches, with straw baskets
full of melons, oranges, cigarettes,
and yellow lemonade

but every day, the thing he
truly waited for and deeply loved
was the blue, cheerless jazz that rose
from the earphones of a girl with eyes on
the back of her head, who went down
sharp at nine, and came up at four

one day, clutching his pounding heart,
he, stumbling, embarrassed, tapped her
on a shoulder blade, and when she looked up,
drowsily, from that shock of dark, braided hair,
he, unnerved, shuddering, a fig leaf in an
August wind, asked her name

the girl, cold, somber as her jazz,
shrugged her shoulders, and from that
day, took the flight of stairs up and down;
ever since, I’m told, the boy, miserable,
haunted, watches the elevator doors with
sleepless eyes, and he bides his time,
and gets excited, just about nine

 

MOON TANGO

she rushes to the dorm window
with her clunky telescope, feet brisk,
light as air, palms perspiring, like
soda bottles in summer, and nostrils
tingling from the scent of pine

the clouds scatter, pigeons drift in
droves, wasps lope across puddles, and
the gurgling of dragonflies fans out in the
air; the girl fidgets, trains the telescope
at the moon, breathes, and peeps

the man, she notes, wears a
stiff-collared tux, with satin lapels,
a red bowtie, and his hair, a cornflower
yellow, is pulled back in a bun; the
woman’s in a bubbly chiffon gown, with
dressy shoes, amber eyes, and a pearl
choker, a honeysuckle white

as they twirl, tumbleweeds wheel
through the dry land, little blue men
drift out of craters to watch, rapt, and
very soon, the numbing cold fills up with
harp music, which the books say,
is the music of the spheres

the lovers flow, dance – her legs weave
and thread through his, his toes mark circles
in the cruddy moon cheese, and they move, as if
in bed-sheets, and the voyeur at her window,
the timid girl turns red and green

as the hours go by, and dawn worries
four o’ clock with morning light, and
November fog laps up at the stars, beads
dew onto beds of marigold, the dancers fade
into daybreak, waving at the girl, who
snoozes at her window, her telescope
balanced like a child, at the sill

 

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