Fathers and daughters

There are plenty of oral tales about the antics of children, but more often than not, the child happens to be male. Krishna’s delightful babyhood, the childish rivalry between Pillayar and Murugan,  young Anjaneyan’s wild desire to swallow the sun are not matched, to the best of my knowledge, by any female deity. Bala Tripura Sundari and Kumari are warrior maidens, but we hardly learn anything about their playfulness or pranks. They come down to us as  purposeful young girls, not as a child with a carefree youth. In other words, we don’t know whether Kumari travelled around the world on a peacock (or another suitable mode) before vanquishing her asura, about her relationship with her parents, or whether she built sand castles or swum to distant rocks.

Meenakshi is an exception. She is not only a warrior queen and fiercely independent, but thanks to Kumara Guruparar’s 17th century work, the Meenakshi Ammai Pillai Tamizh, we get to see, to an extent, the child Meenakshi. There is a verse in this text that, rarely and surprisingly, reflects on the relationship between father and daughter instead of the more common mother-and-son.

Meenakshi comes across as a mischievous, playful toddler who is just learning to speak. She rushes over to her father, the Pandiyan king Malayadwajan, on all fours, and climbs over his broad shoulders. The மழலை – baby talk – spoken by her is the sweetest Tamizh to his ears. There is the imagery in the poem of the prattling baby climbing over her father’s shoulders and neck, where the king feels like he has been garlanded by the a string of Tamizh. He is cooled, his hunger quenched by her babble. She happily perches on his shoulders, emerald-hued, like a peacock. Her red mouth opens in a laugh, like a bright, clear moon. She sways on his shoulders, her babble-talk music to her delighted father’s ears. She is at once the daughter of Malayadwajan and the daughter of the golden peaks.

The poem:

உண்ணிலா வுவகைப் பெருங்களி துளும்பநின்
றுன்றிருத் தாதை நின்னை
யொருமுறை கரம்பொத்தி வருகென வழைத்திடுமு
னோடித் தவழ்ந்து சென்று

தண்ணுலா மழலைப் பசுங்குதலை யமுதினிய
தாய்வயிறு குளிர வூட்டித்
தடமார்ப நிறைகுங் குமச்சே றளைந்துபொற்
றாடோய் தடக்கை பற்றிப்

பண்ணுலா வடிதமிழ்ப் பைந்தாமம் விரியும்
பணைத்தோ ளெருத்தமேறிப்
பாசொளிய மரகதத் திருமேனி பச்சைப்
பசுங்கதிர் ததும்ப மணிவாய்த்

தெண்ணிலா விரிய நின்றாடும் பசுந்தோகை
செங்கீரை யாடி யருளே
தென்னற்கு மம்பொன்மலை மன்னற்கு மொருசெல்வி
செங்கீரை யாடி யருளே.

Translation (by Paula Richman, from here)

Sway back and forth

You stand there,
your inner joy bursting forth.

And then even before
your sacred father calls you,
saying, “Come to me”
and beckons you a single time,
you rush over on all fours.

You feed him the sweet ambrosia
of your childish prattle,
which is so cool
that his burning hunger is quenched.

Then you cling to his broad chest
adorned with kumkum
an grab his wide hands
which extend down
to his golden feet.

You climb over his broad shoulders
garlanded with fresh blooming flowers
of pure musical Tamil,
and onto the nape of his neck.

Green peacock,
stand there and dance,
with clear moonlight
gleaming from your lovely mouth
and green rays
emanating from your sacred body
like the light of emeralds.

Sway back and forth,
one daughter
of the southern king
and of the king of the Himalayas,
Sway back and forth.

What I loved about the poem was the spotlight on the father-daughter relationship (perhaps the poet stands in the mother’s shoes to sing the poem?), her utter childishness and the absolute lack of mention of the warriorhood fated for her or the man she would marry. She is just a happy child of a very loving father here.


To Goldmund, from Narcissus


The morning will see you thrown upon the twisting paths

With the first light as your only guide

And the raging wind for your only friend.

The fork lies ahead, friend, and as you know

you shall go east and I shall go west.


The earth is your mother, the sky

Your father, every man you meet

A brother, comrade, and every woman

A moonly muse, the colors, the sighs

The scents, the tastes, the delights, Goldmund,

All yours.


You are no thinker, you have no use for

The logic of how your world works, for it is

But a poor substitute to the raging, pining

Heart that you are all of, Goldmund

Your artist’s heart.


Words are wasted on you, Goldmund, you feel

The anguish behind the poor shape of the words

That created those very words in the first place.

You are fiery passion, not for you

The subtlety of the exaltation

Of a head bowed in prayer.


You are a mother’s son, your head

Still resides in the folds of Her bosom.

Find you voice, dear Goldmund, find it

Not to speak words of inanity, not to

Translate your thoughts into language

But to sing those ancient melodies

The heartbeat of Life

Your mother’s song.

You will learn to sing, Goldmund.

Go forth into the large, lost world

And soak yourself in it.

Leave nothing unturned.

Make your peace with your nature

And revel in your freedom.

Feel it all, the pain

Of too much joy, the fleeting

shudder of the snowflake as she

Dies on your cheek, the anguish

Of birth, the fear of being stalked

by the reaper’s scythe, the emptiness

of life, the meaningless meander

The walk without a goal,

Do it all, feel it all.


You will remain unspoiled, I know.


And one day, when we are old men

Visit my cloister

And tell me your tale,

for I cannot join you

For your path is yours

and yours only.


Fare you well, amicus.


Inspired by Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ 

The Songbird

A voice, I heard
Echoing through eternity

Answering a yearning
Filling a void
Creating me, anew

Your song threaded

Its way through the bustles
Of the ordered chaos
Making up my mundane life
And spoke to my soul
Spoke a new voice

Unheard, not relished

It was a song

Composed and sung
Only for me
And heard
Only by me.

Song bird, oh songbird!

I sought to possess
You, your song.

Not knowing I had it
And had made it mine
The moment you sang it
The moment I heard it.

Songbird, I searched you out
And robbed you of your voice
Your voice, alone

And bade it sing
My own songs
For me, for ever.

O, songbird without the voice
Flitting along in silence,
You lost not your song!

Voice without the songbird
Imprisoned in my cage
Your silence is without song!

My cages are powerful
For they cage me in.
Spinning in circles
Chasing my own tail
Caught in my perceptions
And conceptions,
I play a game of blind-man’s-buff
With myself
Lonelier now…
Without your song
Imprisoned, by me, in me
To relieve, to sustain, to liberate.

Out you go
Voice of the songbird
To be mine.

Flit among your trees
Scale the yellow peaks
Speak in tongues
Of the people you see
And the places you go
Far away from me…

I shall hear on.
For you sing, songbird
All the songs, all the songs.

Fiction: The Kurukshetra Premier League


Lord Vinayaka, the elephant-headed god, the destroyer of evil, was reclining comfortably on his sofa on Mount Kailash after a heavy afternoon meal. After all, people insisted on treating him every single day with everything from coconuts to kozhukattais. No wonder, he mused, that Dr. Dhanvantri kept telling him to get more exercise on the treadmill. “But each to their own…no one will recognize me if I develop six pack abs” Vinayaka could not help laughing out loud at the imagined sight. He did ride a mouse for all his bulk, but somehow he could not imagine mice running down his arms as he flexed them!

Veda Vyasa was huffing and puffing as he approached Vinayaka. “O pot-bellied one, I bow to thee,” said Vyasa, starting with the customary greeting. Vinayaka smothered a grin, and patting his belly contentedly with the end of his trunk, bade Vyasa to sit down. “Tsk tsk. Vyasa, you are always out of breath. You need some regular exercise. Now, the treadmill…” he said impishly.

Vyasa did not hear him. “My lord, there is a small cause for concern,” started Vyasa without preamble. “You remember the time you out wrote out the Mahabharata for me?”

How can I forget?” muttered Vinayaka. “Tongue twisting poetry, almost broke my fingers, and my last instalment of pay never really reached me…yes, sire, I do remember it. What about it now?”

“The thing is, those humans have unearthed some recent archeological evidence that actually goes to prove that the war at Kurukshetra never really happened.”

“What? So do you mean to say you made the whole story up?”

“No, no, my lord, back then those were facts.  But now, in the light of the new evidence, something to do with Secularization of  Historical Facts or some such thing we have to write it out again to pull in the new facts. Yesterday’s facts are today’s mythology, you know. Our old version gets support only from the VHP, and a half-hearted nod from the BJP.  But now in the light of the election results, it looks like they need a new secular epic now, to accommodate the fresh, ah, evidence. I really don’t understand modern Indian politics or history. It looks like historical evidence can now be conveniently arranged for, just like votes. The bottomline is that we have to make a revision of the epic. Soon.”


“Well, I was wondering if you could be my scribe again. We have a really good rapport. And with my beautiful poetry and distinctive phraseology and deep metaphorical allusions and character delineation, and with your…aah…tusk, we made up a good team the last time around.”

“All right, cut the crap and tell me what you would be paying this time around. I am not a mere copywriter any more, and I use my broken tusk only to decorate my hallway. I use a computer, complete with pirated Microsoft software, and I hope your dictation is as fast as my typing speed. And you would have to correct the typographical errors. I don’t do that anymore.”

 “Sure, sure, whatever, your terms. We have to get this done. We will receive funding from the Department of Religious Endowments and also from the Department of Correction of Historical Inaccuracies. And think of the fame…once we are done writing we can have a proper book release, with an evening tea, complete with those tiny biscuits with topping on them and champagne. All the Page Three glitterati would be there, and you might actually get a picture of yourself in the next morning’s Mites of India surrounded by beautiful ladies. I can almost see the headline … ‘The Elephant God’s Animal Magnetism.’ And the media watchdogs…they’d love the buzz you would create…remember the hype over the time you supposedly drank milk in some temple?  You’ll have all these ‘Breaking News’ updates just to yourself. Think, think of all that,” Vyasa was at the edge of his seat now. He could see that Vinayaka was almost sold.

“Welllllll….” drawled Vinayaka. “I’ll do it. But mind you, I want half the pay upfront and the rest before I give you the final version.”  

“Alright, fine. Like I have any other option. So let’s get this rolling right away, what say?”

“Alright, give me the one-liner. How is this going?”

“Well, the basics are pretty much the same. The Pandavas, the Kauravas, rival gangs, hate each other… anyway, the Pandavas are at Indraprastha when the Kauravas invite them over for a game of poker.”


 “Yeah, the recent evidence shows that the ancient Indians invented poker.”

“Eh? You’re not kidding? Well, I’m just the scribe. Ok, game of poker. And?”

“Well, Yudhishtira as we know is one preachy face; he cannot play the game, and he cannot say ‘no’ either. So he plays, pledges every damn thing he owns, or thinks he owns, and loses.”

“OK, and they go to the forest next?”

“Yeah, the thirteen year banishment.”

“So what next? The war, right?”

“That’s where there’s a change. Now listen closely. We Indians are supposed to be a peaceful race. Having a war that killed so many innocent people as a part of our mythology supposedly gives us this bad image on the world scale. Well anyway, they have unearthed new evidence now. What actually happened is this.”

Vyasa paused.

“Because of the huge casualties involved in war, Krishna and Bhishma chalked out a plan. They decided to replace war… with a game of cricket. A really short one at that. Only 20 overs. The team that wins the game gets the empire. The team that loses has to retire ignominiously into the forest, loses all right to hold a credit card, claim insurance and appear on reality TV shows. End of all civilized life!”

Vinayaka’s trunk dropped.

“Well?” asked Vyasa, pleased with the effect he had created.

“Well, what? First poker, now cricket? Mahabharata was in the post-Vedic Age. Cricket was invented by the Englishmen in the 12th century AD. And besides, if we release this book, Ashutosh Gowarikar is going to sue us.”

“No, no, no…that’s where you are wrong. Cricket was not invented by the British, it was invented by the Indians in the Vedic period. Later, it was carried to Europe by the nomads along the Silk Route. That’s what the new evidence says. ”

“Isn’t this, well … too much to swallow?”

“That’s where we come in, my lord. We have to convince them with our story,” Vyasa pumped his fist into the air. “Yeah!”

Vinayaka rolled his beady eyes. “Why do I ever let myself get talked into these things?” His large ears twitched.


Vinayaka opened his laptop, and started reading a few pages from his newly written manuscript to Vyasa.

Draupadi sat on the window sill, her hair hanging around her shoulders, chin cupped in her hands, staring out of the window. There was a peculiar expression of irritation on her face; the reader might imagine the physiognomy of Impedimenta in the Asterix comics as an approximation.

Yudhishtira, not really unlike Vitastatistix , walked to her, and asked her, “Is that brother of yours here yet?”

“If he were here, we would know, wouldn’t we? What kind of a question is that?” she snapped back irritably.

“Alright, alright, alright, I know you are still angry about what happened…but now that there’s the cricket match coming up, we will clobber them for good.”

“That’s exactly what you said when you were putting your last stake on the table. Fool that you are, you could not see a straight flush when it stares up at you in your face”

“Er…oh, here he is. Hel-lo Drishtadymna!”

Drishtadyumna came in, impeccably dressed in a conservative blue suit with a striped tie, laptop bag in one hand.”

“Hey, brother, howdy. I have the perfect strategy devised to clobber the Kauravas for good.”

“Humph!” said Draupadi, turning away. “Men!”

“Hey, hey, sis, your big brother is a management consultant. Straight out of IIM Ahmedabad!”

He winked, and Yudhishtra rolled his eyes. How many times did he have to be reminded? “Don’t you worry, we will chalk out the most perfect plan to wreck revenge on those evil cousins of yours.”

Yudhishtira said, “Fine, let’s get started. They want a cricket match now?”

“20-20.” said Drishtadyumna with smug satisfaction. “It’s called Kurukshetra Premier League. KPL for short.”

“Us against them, huh?”

“Yes and no. We are supposed to make up a team of eleven comprising players from all our allies, give it a name, find a brand ambassador, arrange for cheerleaders, advertise our team, appear in as many branded ads as possible, appear on TV and be interviewed by that hot newscaster on TenDTV, slander some member of the other team, if possible, slap him before the match, and in general, be as popular as possible. It matters, the ratings.”

“And…play the match?”

“Yeah. That too. Eventually. But what’s more important is the pre-match strategizing. You are lucky to have a management consultant, don’t you? Straight out of…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that bit. So what is the Kaurava team calling itself?” 

“Well, they are called Hastinapur Headhunters.”

“Hastinapur…Headhunters? That’s… not really a name now, is it?”

“It is, and apparently it is supposed to instill fear into our hearts.”

“Right. I’m trembling in my shoes. So, what are we calling ourselves?”

“Indraprastha Indefagitables”

“Eh??? You out of your mind? What kind of a name is that? Indefagitables? What next? Vegetables? Card tables? No, no, no,  Draupadi dear, I’m not saying anything about playing cards now…that was just an expression…” after an apologetic nod to his wife who was looking daggers at him, he hissed to Drishtadyumna “How did you come up with a name like that?”

“Well, sire, according to KPL protocol the names of the teams must alliterate; it does not help matters that Veda Vyasa who designed the protocol is a poet. We cannot call ourselves Indraprastha Super Kings even if we are real super-duper kings. And, I flicked through the dictionary for a suitable adjective.” Drishtadyumna shrugged his shoulders. “If you would rather have it Indraprastha Incorrigibles or Indraprastha Inebriated, I don’t have a problem.”

“Humph! Technically we don’t own Indraprastha or any bit of land for that matter. We belong to Nowhere.”

“Well, if you want we can call ourselves the Nowhere Nondescripts or the Nowhere Nutcrackers…”

“I’ll crack yours if you give me any more of those dumb names…well, with a name like Drishtadyumna you would want revenge, but don’t wreck it on my team.” Yudhishtira was incensed. This is the last time I am hiring a management consultant, and this is the absolute last time that I am hiring a brother-in-law. “Seeing that we are nearly penniless, who is sponsoring us?”

“Lord Indra. I got all the papers drawn up, all that is required is for the two of you to sign. Just a small issue…” Drishtadyumna paused. “Being Arjuna’s father, he wants Arjuna to captain the team.”

Before Yudhishtra could say a word, Draupadi chimed in with “Finally! Someone sane at the helm!”

Yudhishtra gave her a glare, and said “Well…so long as we get our funding straight. And who is funding the Kauravas? The…ah…Headhunters?”

“They approached Lord Kubera first. But he wanted the team to call themselves the Queenfishers after his…um…distilled foods plant.”


“Why not? If one can fish for kings, why not queens? He’s a feminist, you know.”

“So what happened to the deal with Kubera?”

“It’s off. Some issue about the selection of players. You know how bull headed Duryodhana can get.”

“So who’s their ambassador now?”

“Varuna Deva, the god of water and rain. Nobody else was remotely interested.”

“Hmm… whatever. So when’s the match?”

“In a couple of weeks from now. At the Kurukshetra stadium. But we need to get all the publicity shots in before then.”

“Is our team line up decided?”

“Oh yes.” Drishtadyumna booted up his laptop to open a powerpoint presentation. “Arjuna is captaining, opening batsmen are Arjuna and myself. You can have a look for yourself. Bhima’s our principal bowling attack, with Ghatotkacha supporting. Abhimanyu in the middle order. You are the wicket keeper.”

“Let’s hope he keeps at least that well” muttered Draupadi.

“Hang on.” said Yudhishtira, looking at a slide showing eleven people lined up like Ceaser’s army. “What do these slides show? Who are those people?”

“Why, it is yourself and your revered brothers, sire.”

“And why is it that we cannot recognize ourselves?”

“You have been given a virtual makeover. That is how you are going to play. Once you okay this, we are going to get the make-up artistes from the sets of Dasavatharam to get it rolling.”

“What else?” asked Yudhishtira sarcastically.

“Well, I have booked four interviews, and we need to get the hoardings done. Plus the meeting with the cheerleaders. Arjuna’s getting a lot of offers for modelling, but we have to be selective and exclusive, haven’t we?”

“Right. So when do we practice?”

“Practice? Um…my schedule does not really have any provision for it, but I am sure we can fit it in somewhere in between.”

Yudhishtra raised his head to the heavens. “With friends like this, who needs the Kauravas?”


Vinayaka paused reading and said, “That’s how far I have got. How’s it?”

“Not bad at all” said Vyasa, effusively. “That modern Indian newspaper reader will love it.”

“So, tell me, what happens next? I’m looking forward to being a sports writer!”

“Oh, that’s bad. You see, the match did not take place.”

“Eh? But why?”

“Called off due to incessant rain. A couple of days before the match, Indra and Varuna got into a spat over a drink. Something about an ad that Arjuna was modeling for; Varuna made a rather unparliamentary comment about it, but Arjuna did model for a fairness cream for men”


“There was a huge fight. Indra and Varuna trying to outdo the other. Varuna rained so hard that the Ganga and Krishna and Kaveri flowed together; the entire land was inundated. Indra responded with such fierce thunderbolts that the entire armory…er…playing equipments of both teams were destroyed. Even the bloodthirsty Kauravas were horrified at the extent of damage these two, alone, caused. So, they decided to call the match off.”

“And what about the partitioning of the land?”

“What land? It was completely a water mass. Took centuries to drain. Nobody wanted it any more.”

“So what are the Pandavas doing now?’

“Arjuna is a professional cricketer now, highest bid-for player on the IPL, the modern version of KPL. Bhima is a top notch star at the WWE, only he calls himself Mincemeat Pulpsquisher. Nakula, with his impeccable good looks, made a career for himself in Bollywood. He’s even got his own blog now where he clarifies points about his racy-pacey past. Sahadeva, the intelligent one, went to engineering school and management school, but quit his job to become a writer of alternative mythology. He’s a best-selling author now. Draupadi has a personalized fashion line; she writes 15,000-word posts on her Instagram saree page about how buying her sarees will make you a feminist.

“And Yudhishtra?”

“Well, he’s the one commissioning the writing of this book. He’s the Prime Minister of the country.”


I am

turning the earth out
leaf and root, trout and sprout.


heat from fire, moisture from air
water and will, splendid fare.

to my god
I dedicate.
I vindicate
of lack of expression;
by silent devotion.

first morsel
of the food, of the earth
me, my god, me
in me.


This is my yen.

The integrity
Of a stolid tree
The candor
Of the wind whispering with the leaves
The diligence
Of those very leaves
The freedom
Of the clouds
The responsibility
Of the earth
The trust
Of monkeys on a mountain-top
The love
Of the rain
Firm friendship
Like those of the stars
Populating my sky;
My sky
So high and pure
And above everything else…
My independent moon
Reigning in the shadow of power
Your fortitude?
Your patience?
The ascetism of the sun
And his love for work,
As he plays with shadows, mine…

The music of silence.
The profundity of roots.
Mornings of sunshine.
Nights of rain.
Rain without barriers.
Mountains of mist.
Mists of thoughts,
Birth of clarity.
We the I
Purposes of purposes
Teaching the fish to swim
And the birds to fly
And the man to soar…
Earning my joy.

Endless, endless happiness.
The peace of happiness.
The happiness of peace.

To ask you your spirit,
In this life, mine…
Asking for too much?

(16.12.2007, 20th birthday)