Opened the lexicon,

prodded by a crossword clue

to check

what “pulchritude” meant.

“Beauty of face or form”

the entry read.

Eyes then lingered on


noted how it was pronounced

and then stopped at


amused that it was not the novelist

but a luxurious railway carriage.

Nudged by an unexplained force,

shifted to the left side

of the open pages and

checked out





when the cellphone pinged

at 10.33

to announce in Gmail

the arrival of

Maria Popova’s latest

Brain Pickings release.

An exciting journey began

by clicking links

from Ursula K Le Guin to

Hannah Arendt,

Adrienne Rich,

JD McClatchy,

Martha Nussbaum,

Richard Feynmann, and


Das Hammarskjold,

by which time

at 11.27

the sharp voice from

the kitchen

demanded to know:

“Have you paid the power bill?

Today is the last day for the

discounted amount.”


Feet on the ground,

now at 11.30,

the laptop opened,

the mouse on

the bank’s secure link,

when yet again

the cellphone pinged:

This was a TEDtalk link

sent to Whatsapp

by a dear friend

who urged  I should no longer miss

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

speaking about

The Danger of a Single Story.

Full eighteen minutes of

undivided attention

by which time lunch was laid out

and the question repeated:

“So you’ve paid the power bill?”

I answered only meekly,

“Let me do it after lunch.”

Had meanwhile made a mental note

to also check the playlist in TED

which had

Amy Cuddy,

Brene Brown and

Sir Ken Robinson.


Lunch, leisurely over at 12.30.

I am particular about

my schedule though:

need to have my siesta

for an hour at least.


Please do spare me from the question

when actually 

the power bill was paid.




p30 (c) pradeep gopalan





Like fingerprints

not one is similar to another,

even those of twins.

Each one

is more than a book to explore,

deserving to be reflected upon,

worthy of intelligent guesses,

as every face

has a story to tell.


No face can ever be written off,

even the ones you daily see:

indeed, as for the latter,

one has a bonus too:

the daily faces

are barometers

of the ups and downs

of life itself.


Even if some appear still

and others animated,

faces carry best

the signs of life.

One’s own face is best seen

in a mirror

while every other face

mirrors its soul:

it is for the onlooker

to perceive this.

One disagrees with  what Auden said

about private and public faces

in public and private places:

a face is a face

regardless of where it is seen.


Tragedy and turmoil

may exist beneath

a serene face

and one that appears

pretty anxious

may well be upset

about trifles.

The fun is in guessing.

No, one isn’t judgemental,

only excited about possibilities.

Be happy when  proved wrong!

Be warned too:

Some faces upset you

for no particular reason:

please resist the leap

to any conclusion.


One needn’t stare at a face

to infer anything:

looking deftly, as they say,

in the general direction

of nowhere in particular

would quite suffice.

Avoid staring incidents please,

as the Singapore posters

remind you!


In the drama involving faces,

when one looks at another

there remains an outside chance

of something prompting

each other

that it is perhaps

worth extending a hand or

simply saying  Hello:

the suspense still is in

who makes the first move:

a gesture which may well be

a life-changing event or

just an incident in passing.

Take the risk, please.


p29 (c) pradeep gopalan




Pure water

is already being bottled;

Fresh air

will soon follow suit.

Similar fate


the great intangibles:

take euphoria and happiness.

Tell me,

if all the education

and upbringing

has not diminished

sorrow or hatred

but has only increased it,

can you fault the millions

hauled up for drug abuse ?

Is the day really far off

when your GP,

after scribbling his customary “Rx”


that on rising, every day,

you drink a glass of pure water

with one capsule only,

of, say, dopamine, or

serotonin, or

oxytocin, or

endorphins ?


p 28 (c) pradeep gopalan



Lawn recently mowed:

A billiard table top.


Rose petals fading in a vase:

Blood spilled on blotting paper.


Clouds on the move:

Suds in a bucket.


Colour of  jaundiced eyes:

Lightest hue of a Post-it note.


Opening sound bytes of an opera:

Waves of the sea.


Sipping filter coffee:

Taste buds brushed sharply.



Clear glass liquefied.



Beggars description,

it can only be felt.


p27 (c) pradeep gopalan



At first,

always inside

a labyrinth:

no entry or exit in sight,

merely a position,

a universe in itself

assigned when born

in order to survive.


That said,

the limits of the position

could be outgrown

or breached,

not with impunity

but with a madness

in method

that moves the paradigm.

Some do it early,

some do it late,

many others just get

dislodged and forgotten.


All one needs to have,


is the sense of where one is,

and secondly,

where one wants to be.

The blazing heat

of absolute focus

will overcome all the forces

pulling one down,

and ably negotiate one

out of the labyrinth,

and before long,

the world is at one’s feet,

at one’s beck and call,

so to speak.


p26 (c) pradeep gopalan




Besides letting in dust

it would sometimes

invite the wind to rustle my papers

but that is nothing compared

to the diversions

that unsettle me

even as I look  far away

and guess

what is probably a conversation

between two unknown birds in flight

or nearer at the pigeon

perched on the ledge

looking askance at me.

It could also be

the really bright purple top

the lady on the road

a little ahead is wearing

making me guess

what the occasion might be.


The coffee mug on hand


has already turned cold

and I slowly feel

the sense of where I am

knowing that I have to

fill the chair with myself

and face the window-less wall

ahead of me ,

put pen to paper,

in order to properly convey

the trouble

with an open window.


p25 (c) pradeep gopalan







Ants are few in our midst,

but grasshoppers aplenty.

The fix for today

is what matters:

tomorrow be damned.

Who wants to see the horizon ?

It appears illusory anyway.

Precedents are precious

and customs sacrosanct:

being as is matters.

Tick the boxes,

do the filings,

and go through

necessary motions:

all for the sake of form.

Life meanwhile

transits from one quarter

to the next

and in the blinking of an eye

“I’ll Be Gone/You’ll Be Gone”*

So why bother


the status quo ?

*The poem was inspired by Manish Sabharwal’s brilliant piece titled “The Great Bank Fiddle” in The Indian Express of April 16, 2018 from where the title is referenced.

Click here to read the article

p24 (c) pradeep gopalan




I want my lines

to surprise you always

by sending down your spine

shivers of awareness

so that

your eyes


their blind spots,

your ears


the sub-texts  of everything uttered,

your fingertips

gain courage

to feel the niches you’ve always avoided,

your tongue


the essence of tears and sweat,

not just  of forbidden taste,

your feet

tread on surfaces

neither rough nor smooth

but terrains unexplored,

your skin

welcomes the change of seasons,

your nose

sniffs out life-smells

of the seven ages of man,

and your hands

embrace the world


all fears and regrets.


p23 (c) pradeep gopalan



Those were times

when voices really mattered;

one paid close attention

to diction, tone, texture,

pitch, throw, and what-have-you,

discerning everything that rested  on the lines

that were uttered:

it was as if listening was an act

done in a province of the blind,

the attention span and awareness

quite simply absolute.


These days,

one listens only to reply

overlooking every nuance

in the voices one hears

and if one had one’s way

everyone would be reduced

to being only at the receiving end

as what only mattered

was the voice one held.


Nowadays when the clock

is sometimes wound in reverse,

the voice of Shankaranarayanan

emerges out of nowhere

with matchless calm and pace,

announcing, say,

a death or disaster in the headlines

of AIR’s Malayalam news at 7.25 am

as if reminding one to be equanimous

in all situations as the Gita exhorted !

One longs for those days in vain,

but hope returns soon:

one is reminded

there is RJ Sayema

still in our midst

to read with empathy

a Manto story

or those wonderful lines

from Ghalib or Nida Fazli

in a voice that appears

to epitomise

everything that is good.



p22 (c) pradeep gopalan







On the whole

he has three moles:

one, a wee bit north-east

from the right eyelashes;

the remaining two

are not readily seen.

Has astigmatism

but doesn’t lead

a double life:

on the contrary,

a very, very, ordinary life.


One look at his hands

will leave you disappointed:

he has only recently given up


Otherwise has a fetish

for cleanliness and order

and worships Marie Kondo.

Also aware that sometimes

it is better to be dirty and alive

rather than clean and dead.


Enjoys comfortable circumstances

and has always worked towards it.

Nowadays, one hears,

he is living off mutual funds-

not friends – get it right please!


He love affair now is with words

and hence will not answer the question

if he has philandered earlier.

These days he warms up to the likes of

Afterdark and Gridman:

his favourite c-word puzzle setters.


Except for a movie and a family dinner

every Friday, enjoys the comfort of his home:

difficult to seek him out on other days

otherwise than for urgent and unavoidable

household errands,

unless there is something like

a Kiran Nagarkar lecture

or a Pelva Naik concert

to be held nearby.


His bookshelf looks

suspiciously unread:

one title stands out –

How To Talk About Books

Without Reading Them.

Someone told him bluntly

that he is afflicted with


He has taken this charge

on the chin and

forgives the person


“he knows not what he says.”


He proudly proclaims

he is off Metformin

and on a regime

of diet and exercise.

Past sixty,

he is ticking off items

on  his bucket list.

Amongst the residual items

two stand out :

to immerse in the works of

e. e. cummings, and,

to publish at least

one slim volume of

memorable verse.



p21 (c) pradeep gopalan