Watching a Ghazal on YouTube
The drone of the tanpura
Claps follow. Mehdi Hassan,
in white kurta and brown bandi,
greets us with an aadaab
and a few grateful words — louder claps —
and then the clappers — decorous
faces from the 80’s.
He tunes our ears
with an alaap
in his multi-throated voice,
blends into Ranjish Hi Sahi
and the crowd erupts into
wah-wahs! Fingers sprint on a tabla.
I close my eyes,
with a contorted face.
For the next twenty minutes,
Mehdi Hassan throws
thorny roses at me
across the screen.
His left hand on the bellows
pumps air in and out of
my chest. He renders
a line nine different ways,
each time raising me
higher and higher
to the chandeliered roof — an exorcist —
and then dropping me like a gun.
I collect myself in a daze
and go about my afternoon.
The drone of the tanpura
stays with me.
At nine, my grandfather was a newspaper boy.
He woke before dawn and walked
along his daily route by soundless homes,
resting cows and dimly lit
tea shops, spreading news.
He brought home four annas
and a copy of Bombay Samaachar
for breakfast. His neighbor Salim, the class topper,
sang the headlines aloud
for the chawl to hear: Gandhi
e karo ya maro jaaher karyu
They raced to school and shared
a bench and, unless it was
non-veg, lunch too.
At twelve, they shared a crush.
First beedi, stolen, at fourteen. Each time
my grandfather fought with his parents and
ran away, Salim brought him home.
They hugged and wept
as Nehru declared on the radio:
an age had ended — they were independent!
And then again, as the nation bled
into two. Salim’s family chose to
stay — our ancestors roost here, they said,
this is home.
Today I wonder if
they should have left.
Sejal Ghia holds a degree in mass media from KC College, Mumbai. She currently lives in Oakland, California with her husband, two cats, and an imaginary friend. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Tint Journal, Right Hand Pointing, Failed Haiku, and Terribly Tiny Tales Vol. 1 (Penguin India). She writes limericks at https://www.instagram.com/thereoncewasalimerick/
Prekshaa is a perpetually excited French teacher by profession, artist by education and Lindy Hop dance instructor by passion. She has studied art in Europe, including a short stint with classical painting in Romania, and lives in Bombay where she runs Slingshot Swing - Lindy hop dance classes with her partner. She often daydreams about eating a bonne baguette with some camembert!
Check out Sejal and Prekshaa's collaborative limericks page on Instagram @thereoncewasalimerick