3 min read


I remember seeing owls in a dark 

chamber at the zoo in Singapore. 

There were stumps of trees inside the glass cages,

some bulbs resembling the moon. 

Did they buy the simulation? 

Like we bought them behind the glass cages with a ticket?

Did we assume they don't deserve the day, 

don't need their sleep, 


Wide-eyed for years

inside that zoo,

in that perpetual, awakened state,

they finally began to understand 

what we did,

what we stole. 

Our chemists are stocked up with sleeping pills —

are we able to buy,

just as convinced, 

that simulated sleep?

Those of us who sleep lonely 

have an automatic condition, scientists say —

of frequent micro-awakenings through the night. 

It is a state of anticipating 

danger in the midst of sleep,

for we know deep within

that we are not looked out for, 

not guarded,

nor held safely

in the arms of

another of our kind : 

a befitting price 

for keeping 

wise owls wide awake,

caged long enough 

to earn this curse.

The Burning Violin 

Combustion is the law of the universe.

There is a recognisable burning sound when

my third finger simply does 

not get the G-note right on its first go. 

A greater fire somewhere in a slum across the country, 

I hear, where the spark of a short circuit has had 

a family with their tenement 

burnt for the second time, 

without compensation. 

They sit by kerosene lamps surrounded by the music of fireflies. 

Tiger cubs have lost their mothers 

at the fire of an aesthetist’s fetish, 

a poacher with a burning stomach. 

All the forests of all our lands have begun burning. 

The charred faces of koala bears 

is the picture of a burning resentment 

against our excesses. 

The ground beneath the penguins’ feet melt.

The soles of a labourer’s feet and fingers. 

That body beside my grandmother’s pyre.


A housewife’s woe. 

A fireman’s singed hair. 

My body without your touch boils to a relentless fever, 

a volcano erupting within me. 

The ignition of an engine can take you miles and into your lover’s arms. 

Eyes burn. Throats. Love letters. Photographs.

Red hot embers of coal give us light. 

Our sun will extinguish to death one day. 

On that last dawn on the planet, every moment


will be burning. 

This cigarette. 

That memory. 

The science of the breath within you.

A Dark Hotel, On Loan 

An uncle of mine, 

not by blood, 

but a friend of my parents and to my mother’s family — 

a photographer once upon a time, 

whose fingers created a magic-realism 

burning my heart each time I saw 

the picture album with 

captured moments of my elder sister 

as a baby — playing in the arms 

of my parents, aunts, uncles, grandmother —

as if she truly belonged. 

The first love, and 

the first child are awaited, 

and they belong — 

the ones that follow, hang on 

a frail thread laced with inherited disquiet. 

This uncle has been recently heard of 

living alone 

inside his auctioned hotel 

for two days after they locked it up 

from outside. 

He was two days late to send 

the six crores amount 

negotiated after 

numerous harrowing phone calls 

with his debtors 

to save the concrete 

of his dreams from being sold off 

to the highest, alien bidder. 

He was two days late. 

For the next two days and two nights, 

he roamed

his heart’s labouring chambers, its

swanky banquet halls

deluxe suites, lobby, ballroom and

in-house restaurant

after they cut off the 

building’s electricity and water supply 

to draw the rat out. 

The heart is a rat, I know this

like my uncle did, trying to escape 

the ways of catch-cage-or-poison. 

If only, they left us 

alone in those comfort corridors 

after paying the amount we can afford. 

Some of us don’t need to grope 

the walls and furniture in the dark 

to find our way in this hotel — 

our feet are familiar 

with this loaned ground 

only too well.

Pallavi Patel is a resident in the mountain ranges of the Himalayas in India. She has studied English Literature as well as Literary Art at university. Apart from writing, sculpting with clay is also her artistic practice. She has taught English language and literature to middle, high school and undergraduate students in Mumbai. She is currently employed as a sculptor at Dharamkot Studio, near Dharamshala. The subjects that she is passionate about writing are narratives on family, patriarchy, hyper-nationalism, consequences of capitalism, abuse upon the non-human world, human alienation and loneliness. She is also working on a novel.

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