everyone grows thorns
to protect themselves.
Under your feet
are no longer stones
unintended cricket fields
then leopard pugmarks.
This is the desert
signing you in
through kikar’s checkpost.
They call it the devil tree
they call it the mad one
it asks you for water.
The British brought it from Mexico
to Delhi in the 1920s,
making a mistake the size of kings.
It choked all trees around it,
it stole their water.
I walk cautiously in its dust
mindful of geckos,
find a tree
the size of my mistakes
leave your memory
on a low branch.
A slow wind
lifts the dust on its arms.
As I return
and then further.
The rasp of the jhingurs scraping
their forewings behind the hibiscus.
The floating arguments of the mynas
returning to their nests. The prowling
echoes of the skelter bats. The headlit
horns whetted by a red signal outside.
The alert clicks of a camera in the small
hands of a curly-haired novice. His chalein
to a friend when they’re done. The shuffle
of their feet on old gravel. The footsteps
of the short guard minding the stanchions,
keeping a stray couple from the night.
A parrot’s drop, light as a kerchief, in the hauz,
the sandstone of the tomb suddenly rippled.
The quiet press of a band of pigeons on the
dome drawn by an expert Abyssinian hand.
The guards discussing their change of duties.
The anomalous graze of a landing on a nearby
air-strip. Under the rococo sky, the disturbed
sleep of the Wazir-ul-Mamlak-e-Hindustan.
On my shoulder, the thin crush of your whisper.
Near a church in Karrada,
the Tigris takes such a sharp turn
as if it doesn’t want to
The Lyari in Karachi
(on the other hand) can’t be
bothered to stay.
Yamuna is a moral lesson
clear as day: life is tough,
first a trough, then a crest,
then a trough.
knowing better, walks on stilts,
keeps a one-arm distance from Jhang.
covers Patna like a quilt.
The Gomti baby bumps
And when it’s about to leave,
for a last look at Chennai,
the Adyar turns.
As the Ravi
cold-presses the cheek
of Lahore that burns.