Monday, March 28, 2011

Apu, the chai walla...

This poem is for Apu, this ever-smiling 10-year old kid who sells chai on Platform no. 3 and 4 of the Pune railway station.

“Chai Garam ! Chai Garam!”
Apu waxed lyrically.
His voice baritone-
Practiced to perfection.
Even as the train
Serenaded her
Bumpy halt.

Recalled he,
His childhood,bundled
On his father’s head
A porter – Red!
The clamor for seats
- a handkerchief !
A battle won !

Running along
Life’s train, keeping pace
A palm with coins,
In lieu of a cup of tea.
Half spilled on his
Corroded hands, burnt!

The pretty girl- Memsaab!
Like a fairy in the bookstall.
Who kept turning back
To look at him.
And smiled even as he
Wiped his snotty
Face –striped with salt.

Pucker-nosed, she laughed,
As he slyly wiped the filth
On his shorts.
His fastest sprint then,
As the train stuttered,
Punctuated by
Silent whistles.

Recalled he,
The porter -Red,
The coins -Few,
The fairy –Dream!
And his never ending – Marathon.
And whispered softly
“Happy Birthday Apu. You’re ten today!”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stilted Hours...

Ok, this is one of my recent works. I'm extremely apprehensive about the response because my style of writing is becoming more unconventional and abstruse with every passing day. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping you guys like it :)

There are some dawns,
of silver mirrors and rusty reflections,
when you wake up to a tune
coming from a distance; a flute’s
unadorned raga.

When time stands still,
in the womb of darkness, nascent
smiles are born, few survive while
others are aborted, bartered
for a few morsels of hope.

There are few rustic noons
planted in a courtyard, where
a hungry geranium trails
the corrugated asbestos, as
beads of sweat drizzle from
a leaden sky.

Little children bodies,
chase the wind
behind a rickety cart,
amidst whistles
and few barefooted prayers
climb the steps to godliness.

There are some evenings,
when sparrows and urchins
come home,
hand in hand.
A dusk where alms are split,
and a peasant eavesdrops
on yesterday’s conversation.

And then...

And then
You arrive,
like a whispered
wish of an anklet,
a touch of wet clay,
Lost charm in a bangle.
A firefly in wild play.

There comes a night,
when I sleep
in your embrace.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Taman Shud Mystery

Major part of our reading phase during school days consisted of a lot of mystery fiction. Most of us must have gone through the Secret Seven --> Five Find Outers-->Famous Five-->Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-->The Three Investigators-->Poirot & Miss Marple-->Sherlock Holmes phase and one must admit that it is a fascinating journey. As a kid, I always wanted to be a detective and solve murder mysteries. The case that I've mentioned in this note is one that a friend and I had stumbled across in some police journals during that phase and we had tried carrying on our own 'investigations' :P. It's a real case that has remained unsolved for the past 62 years and is clearly one of the strangest cases I've come across and does make you see the light in the 'fact is stranger than fiction' phrase. I met up this friend a few days back and during the course of our conversation; this case again popped up. I thought I should put this up as a FB note because not only does the case fall in the X-files territory but also offers a change from all the poetry that I put up on FB all the time. :P It's a long post but kindly read through the post patiently. It's certainly worth the read.

The Taman Shud Case:

At 6:30 am on December 1st, 1948, a man was found dead under a street lamp on Somerton Beach in Australia.

He seems to have come from nowhere and no one knew anything about him. It's the things we don't know that have been baffling authorities ever since. Including the meaning of the apparently uncrackable secret code he left behind (more on that later).

Things first started to lurch towards the creepy when police noticed that all his clothes' identification marks had been removed. He was found with no visible signs of injury, wearing a suit and no hat. He had a cigarette tucked behind his ear and another one, half smoked, next to his head as if it had fallen out of his mouth.

In his pockets were a used bus ticket to the beach, an unused train ticket to Henley Beach, an American comb, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, sixpence, an Army Club cigarette pack with Kensitas cigarettes in it, and a box of matches. His body was found 250 meters from where the bus stop apparently let him off.

Apparently, a few people saw him the night before at the same spot- one couple saw him moving his arm around, and another saw him lying motionless on the beach.

The cops were even more startled when the coroner returned with the cause of death: "Sudden, acute onset of damned if I had any idea." The autopsy revealed exceptional health, a half-digested pasty in his stomach, and congestion in his brain and stomach that would have been consistent with poisoning if, you know, they'd found even a trace of poison anywhere in his body. For good measure, his spleen was three times too big.

It was concluded that he most likely died of poisoning, but from what? The Scottish Yard posted this guy’s picture everywhere, but there was no response. They reasoned that the dead man might have been missing local man E.C. Johnson, but then E.C. showed up. Many other possible IDs came up locally, but all were disproved.

Every breakthrough seemed to increase the mystery. A few months later, a suitcase was found at a nearby train station that had been checked in on the morning of Mystery Man’s death. The suitcase’s label was removed, and inside it was a red-checked dressing gown, a pair of slippers, four pairs of underwear, pajamas, shaving gear, a pair of pants with sand in the cuffs, a screwdriver, a stenciling brush, a table knife that had been fashioned into a sharp knife, a pair of scissors, and a package of waxed thread. All the labels on everything had been removed, but on several items of clothing it said “T. Keane”. Police believed that someone purposefully left the Keane tag on the clothes knowing it was not the dead man’s name, because when they searched for T. Keane, they couldn’t find anyone of that name that was missing anywhere in the world. There was one missing sailor named Tom Keane, but friends of his that viewed the body and the suitcase firmly believed that was not their friend.

Police were doing all sorts of searching and theorizing, and had started wondering if the body had been just dumped on the beach, when they found a secret pocket in the man’s pants. Inside the secret pocket, a piece of paper with the words “TAMAN SHUD” typed on it (the words meaning "ended" or "finished").

The text looked like it was a scrap torn from a book. And it turned out it was; from a collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. And not just any Rubaiyat, but a specific translation, and an extremely rare one at that. They released this info to the media, and a man in the town where the body was found came forward, saying that on November 30th, the night before Mystery Man died, he found a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the back of his unlocked car, and the final page, which was supposed to read “Taman Shud”, was torn out. Yup, Mystery Man apparently ripped out a page and shoved the book into a random car. The Rubaiyat's last verse, immediately before "Tamam Shud", is

''And when thyself with shining foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the grass
And in your joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made One - turn down an empty Glass!''

This gets even weirder. Instead of the book having a library card with the dead man's name printed on it or something even a little bit helpful, the book contained the clue that would take the mystery from "spooky" to "creepy".In the back of the book, the cops found this code:

Five sets of seemingly random letters, the second of which is crossed out. So, what does this code tell us? Nothing. Nothing at all. To this day it remains unsolved. So was the code the result of a disturbed mind, or chronic boredom, perhaps? Turns out, no. The most recent attempt to solve the case found the letters aren't random, just some mysterious cipher nobody was familiar with.

There was also a phone number on the book, which was traced to a woman (Jestyn) in the same town who once dated a man who was rumored to be a spy (Alfred Boxall), but that man eventually surfaced, and his copy of the book still had that last page. (But there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the woman which shall be discussed later).

The man was buried, finally, and a strange woman was seen putting flowers on his grave several times. An inmate in New Zealand revealed that he knew the name of the name of the dead man, but it could never be corroborated. Mystery Man has been linked to more spy stuff, so much so that it prompted Australia to create its own anti-espionage task force, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

Possible link to Marshall case:

In June 1945, three years prior to the death of the Somerton Man, a 34 year old Singaporean man named Joseph (George) Saul Haim Marshall was found dead in Mosman, Sydney with an open copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam beside him. His death is believed to be a suicide by poisoning. Coincidentally, it is some two months after Marshall's death that Jestyn gives her spy lover a copy of the Rubiayat.

Recent updates on the case:
It has been uncovered that Jestyn (the same mystery woman again) had a son, who was 16-months old in 1948 and died in 2009, may have been a love child of the Somerton Man. It turns out that there might be some truth in this theory. A professor of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide has examined images of the Somerton man's ears and found that the cymba (upper ear hollow) is larger than his cavum (lower ear hollow), a feature possessed by only 1-2% of the caucasian population. The professor also consulted with dental experts who conclude that the Somerton Man had anodontia (a rare genetic disorder) of both lateral incisors, a feature present in only 2% of the general population. In June 2010, the professor obtained a photograph of Jestyn's son that clearly showed his ears and teeth. The photograph shows that the son not only had a larger cymba than his cavum but also anodontia. The chance that this is a coincidence has been estimated as between 1 in 10,000,000 and 1 in 20,000,000.

The identity of the deceased man and even the cause of death remain unsolved to this day.

Results from our 'investigations':

My friend and I made some attempts at deciphering the code and came up with a few possibilities:

1. There are a few stand-out features that you notice immediately on seeing the code:

# The “AB” letter-pair appears four times in the message

# IA appears at least twice

#Several reversed letter-pairs (ST/TS, AI/IA, TM/MT) appear in the message.

2. The second line is crossed through. On closer observation, it seems that the fourth line [MLIABO...] is a corrected version of the deleted second line [MLIAOI], perhaps where the “B” was omitted.

3. The note hidden in the pocket = TAMAM SHUD

The first line of the Cipher = WRGOABABD.

When we put the code line back wards and match it with the ‘Key’ phrase, we get:


The ” BABA ” sequence seems to be lining up with the ” AMAM ” which might help us to decipher the rest of the code..

4. Turning possibility no. 3 on its head; the message might not actually be a cipher; rather it might be a half-successful attempt to decode a message that was written in German. People who have knowledge of German might agree with my hypothesis which is based on the following observations:

-->The sequence “SAMSTGA” in line 4 is very similar to the German word “Samstag” (Saturday).

-->In line 1, the sequence MRGO is similar to the German word “Morgen” (which can mean either “tomorrow” or “morning”), and the sequence ABD is similar to “Abend” (evening). There’s also the sequence “AB” between those two elements, which is also a German word (“from”, in the sense of marking the beginning of a timespan). So, the sequence “MRGOABABD” looks quite similar to “Morgen ab abend” (tomorrow, from evening on).

--> I do agree that it might be a complete coincidence but the hypothesis holds some water for the following reasons:

i) All three words specify a time.
ii) Specifying times or meeting points is a very common usage of coded messages.
iii) The missing characters in the two words in line 1 are identical for both words (MRGO -> MORGen, ABD -> ABenD, missing characters in lower-case)
iv) The two mispositioned characters are both vowels, and appear both at the end of their respective word (O in MRGO, A in SAMSTGA).
v) All this takes place in a message of 44 characters. The chance of finding this by coincidence in a message so short seems rather small.
vi) The letter x above the O in line 3 can be seen as an alternate decoding considered by the decoder. (“I think that’s an O, but it also might be an X”.)
vii.) There is insecurity among researchers whether the first written character in lines 1 and 2 is a W or an M. The letter’s ambiguity can be seen as an insecurity on part of the writer about whether he had decoded the character correctly. There’s also the possibility that he wrote one of the letters first and then corrected that into the other letter.

One must admit though that considering the mystery surrounding this case; one can come up with infinite number of possibilities and none will ever have any substantial proof for us to satisfactorily conclude that the case has been solved. Damn! If we could only put ACP Pradyuman on the case :(

Abhijeet: Mmmmy Gawwwd...
ACP: Yahan pe toh laash hai!
Daya:Sir yeh toh marr gaya
ACP: O_o

Have a good day! :D

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Foot Full of Splinters

Another one of those random, impromptu scribbles. Not expecting too comments for this one.

I see a strip of sand,
Pebbled at the point where land meets the sea.
And a sea contoured in shingle.
Umpteen quartz dune on the shore,
Crest and troughs,
And an hour glass in the horizon
Running out on time.
A time of purple clouds,
Suspended hopes,
and a fading rainbow.
With a quiet adieu
The sun goes down
My thoughts saunter back
With a foot full of splinters.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A lost life..

Its rightly said that you don’t know what you have until its gone. There's a quote by Chuck Palahniuk which seems extremely ironic, “If people thought you were dying, they would give you their full attention.”

I wish we would pay more attention to our near and dear ones while they're still around :)

This one is for a friend who had committed suicide a few years back. I still miss her terribly.

One day under the firmament fiery, she wove a coloured dream
A wish she blew, all pure and true, she wanted it to mean.
With every day that came and went, her undeterred patience grew
The sole dream her eyes had dreamt, would come to her, she knew.

When rain poured down in huge rounded drops, she wept not a tear
Her faith in her dream- unmoved and still fresh, was imporous to fear.
Autumn gave way to the iciest winter ever, amidst the chill a dream began to burn
A shivering day dawned on a last breath, a loved one taken to a place of no return.

Summer marched in with its external glory replete, happily oblivious to the cruel cold
She was content wearing the envelope of silence, deaf to the proclaimed truths told.
Within her she witnessed her dream collapse, it fell down a precipice steep
She withdrew from hope with a resignation fatal, the hurt had been far too deep.

At the very edge of the cliff she stood, the salty coastal air she smelt.
The tumultuous blue sea raged down below, echoing the upheavals she felt.
She thought back to the day she dreamt, when hopes she would knit.
She thought of too, the resounding collapse and the agony that had hit.

She cared no more for her sole comrade, the solitude that had always been hers
Ended had she her store of endurance, her pains she longed to immerse.
A frenzy guided each step she took, led her to where she wanted to be
With a last sigh of relief and withdrawal, she jumped into the sea...
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Poetry by Wandering Gypsy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.