01 January 1970

Five Poems About People Across The World

Weekend Reads

Five Poems About People Across The World

Five poems by Arun Paria based on five incidents in five different cities in the world. These are stories of people: some strange, some miraculous, some sad, and some, truly hilarious.

New York City skyscrapers, February 1980.
New York City skyscrapers, February 1980. Getty images

1. Arun al-Rashid

(Mannheim, 2017)

This clean-shouldered bottle of baby oil,
the smell of jasmine
with the child-proof cap came
for three euros. For another three and a half
a warm döner
from a Turkish döner shop

to halt the grumble of an empty stomach.
The day’s weariness —
The carping of the empty pocket doused
with the cheap charred meat. When the shop girl
of Netto asked my name.

When I was only killing time.
Oh, but I’m only killing time.
Yes, yes, lady, I'm only killing time.
Wait, how much this oil?

Thereon the smell of baby on me.
This year’s winter is dim —
Dry meat is boiling
in the kitchen
in an unfragrant
night of plague.
Making me feel unloved,
like an imp, who’s aching
to burn
this city
after repeating his name:

Arun al-Rashid, Arun al-Rashid,
you are in a jasmine dream.

2. The Cobra Eaters

(Hanoi, 2022)

When it's cut from the body
with one chop,
in Hang Ha Noi restaurant,
the king cobra's
severed head yawns.
In the death dream, the fangs come
out to bite, then hide
inside the sleeping jaws.
The headless body
high from the metal pan, 
gets tangled
with the wiggling tail.
Minutes later, it’s skinned,
slit with kitchen
knife, dripping blood
into a plastic cup.

It's still alive. In a way
we're alive when we recuse
the body
to sleep, tuck
our fangs in
in a helpless yawn,
poison hid
in the nook of the heart.
The sleeping torsos jerk
at the thud of a chop,
thump the ground
with a fuming tail:
when we cobra eaters crawl
in the hollow
of the night
slowly serpentine
between dream and death.

(Credit: Heartwood Literary Magazine)

 Illustration by Chaitanya
Illustration by Chaitanya

3. The Boy Who Rode a C-17

(Kabul, 2021)

I am flying, I am falling,

as some go to behesht,

some to dozakh,

I am in limbo, watching

the plane to paradise

flying above.

The engines growling.

Two pale wings

from one sky to another –

its fat belly – a slippery slope –

too wide to embrace –

To tie myself

to it with a turban cloth

failed – made me topple.

Unlike the embrace

a brother gives, a mashooka –

a flying boat is impossible

to hold on to.

With the nervousness of a refugee

and in a tearing hurry,

it’s going up, up

above the mountains,

indifferent to my plight.


Leaving me where I am:


flying and falling at the same time:

like the autumn’s whirling dust,

an orphan kite

from Friday’s kite war, the flying chaff

of the wheat-thrashing season.

A farishte

cast out of jannat, hurtling back —

As my brothers

are egging me on,

on the tarmac.

They will carry my laash home.

When my insides will be out

of my stomach cavity,

blood will seep out of my body

as latex seeps

out of the stabbed poppy stem.

Even though I will remain

in Kabul,

reposed till qayamat,

they will tell each other

I have escaped the city.

4. Tokyo

(Pune, 2020)

She shaves her underarms

else a cactus garden.

With a blue pint of Riband

he waters

the plants.

Mops the floor

with an 'I LOVE YOU' T-shirt.

Ironing, she notices

her panties have rips.

Notices her skin is pale

under nails,

with fungus,

while he burpees,


in front of the wall.

Let him fall,

let him fall,

the obstinate boy: she prays.

For his ears are

full of wax.


He takes out the ukulele

in the evening. Just like that.

Strokes and strums.

She sees a bunch

of babies floating

and a branch

of Chrysanthemum,

in the sky.

Is it safe

to go

to Tokyo? She asks.

Tokyo? He snorts.

At this time

it's not safe to go


I know, I know,

I am just curious

about Tokyo,

she says

before yawning.


In the night, in a dream,

a sweet gourd moon.

A dark car whooshes

by, a man in Irezumi-

tattoo screams

and he points a gun at her.

Going some place, sweetheart?

He barks.

I don't know. She smiles,


I am going to Tokyo. But,

my face is blistered,

my soul is red beet black.


My heart is trudging

along the indifferent

alley of love.

Where are you going? She asks.

The man laughs,


I am going with you.


A rainbow cat

above the stars –

suddenly a dragon dancing.

An ash-clad girl flaunts

a heart and wants a vicious man

in sobriety.


in his


Her body is trembling

against the hint

of a pagoda-full of love.

Where a soft stream has

ceased to be to an ocean,

at the brim,

under a bridge

of bamboo stems.

She is laughing:


here I come.

(Credit: Anthropocene) 

5. A Gambol in a Paris Tram

(Paris, 2018)

In Paris, a Chinese woman lost her way. Looking at a French woman in a Paris tram, who sat cross-legged beside her in a white blouse and beige skirt, she laughed.


Just like that. Then she held up before her a Paris map.

It took a while for the French woman to get the joke. The wall between two strangers now suddenly broken — her indifference, too, which a city dweller saves for a tourist, was quietly gone. For she imagined if she resisted the laugh, the joke would be on her.

She said,

                                         Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
                                         Hick, hick, he, he

Like an unfettered girl who finds levity everywhere. Taking the map from the Chinese woman, placing it on her lap, she smoothed it with an impatient hand and pointed at some place distant. In an extravagant show of mirth, she blew her nose, laughed, and laughed. The Chinese woman, too, with impunity, poked her new friend’s arm.

Thus, without exchanging a word, these two had made such a gambol that the RATP called the day, the Day of Paris’s Babelesque Blur.

(Arun Paria is a poet and fiction writer. He lives in Pune. He is also the founder of the Pune Writers’ Group, a creative community, serving over 2000 writers.)