Sutradhara         Alone







As Rajdhani Express chugged into the suburbs

Of Mumbai, I gaped from my air-conditioned coupe—  

Mounds of sea salt on my right

And gossiping laundry on left, fluttering with gusto in high rise,

The sight pushed away images and sounds of mindful pines.

Slender coconut palms somewhat took care of longing for Chinar.

I cringed at the first sight of this mega metropolis,

After having lived in Srinagar Valley.

For now, I was to live in Mumbai, until orders came for

My next posting.


Mumbai, I soon discovered has a distinct persona,

It warms up slowly, doesn't embrace with open arms,

It wears its indifference with élan.

Camped at Oberoi Sheraton,

Until we found a suitable apartment in Colaba

At Lovedale, facing Gateway of India at eye level,

And a fishermen colony, next door neighbours.


Mumbai let’s you be -

In the lift, people don’t make

Any inquiries, neither nod at you with recognition

Nor make a facile attempt to smile.

That’s where I learnt to befriend myself

Walk with bare feet on Chowpatti beach, sipping fresh coconut water

For the first time.

Eating Bhel Puri, Pao Bhaji or Gujrati Thali

Ragda Pattice, Batata Wada, Kanda  Poha, South Indian Tiffin and Frankie.


I try to build up an appetite by walking in the streets

Of a new city ever since.

Besides I've learnt if homesick, all I have to do is to lift my eyes

At any time just gaze at the sky.


Trying out the gastronomic delights for a foodie like me,

Is the first initiative to entice openly.   

It’s said, history of food is closely linked

To the growth of this maximum city

From a fishing village to a megapolis.


It taught me to cope, deal with stench of shrimps,

Spread out to dry,

By stuffing up my nose

With cotton soaked in Channel No 5.

Wait until monsoons,

To howl along with ocean tides,

Alarming enough, to compel municipality 

To post flood warnings.


Hooting ships, in queue

To drop their anchors,

Fascinated me as I gazed at sea

From dripping window panes.


Rain may bring Mumbai to its knees, but not for long;

People soon gear up, blotches of umbrellas unfold

Like a patch work quilt

Giving a feel of impressionistic painting from far off,


At Church Gate station,

As Mumbaikars walk toward their workplace,

Preoccupied, I can’t help humming

Lyrics of ‘The Sounds of Silence’

By Simon and Garfunkel, famous song of 70’s 


Mumbai for sure has a spine,

I dare not deny.

Many come here with dreams of finding Gold nuggets

Scattered on the streets

Waiting to be gathered;

Once they land in the city

Dazed, pupil’s dilated, weary migrants

Sleep on footpaths or vacant benches,

Until they’re whisked away by the police

On their routine beat.


The closest I came to feeling at home in Mumbai

Was when I hired a cab owned by a Sikh gentleman

To go to work at Worli;

We would talk in Punjabi of lassi,

Shivalik hills, Lights of Kasuali

And Saag and Makki ki roti.


Yes, that’s the closest I came to feel

At home in a city, whenever I moved

On postings

All over the world.


Somehow, I have begun to love

Wandering, without anyone

Calling out for me.


Mumbai intrigues me,

I am curious to see whether a change

From Bombay to an ethnic name

Has brought a shift in its image,

Cosmopolitan personality

Over the last three decades.


Does it still wear a glittering queen's necklace

At night, now that we are officially inhabitants

Of a global village…


The walk on Marine Drive

At twilight hour mesmerized me;

Scribes for lack of space

Have already given it a nickname—Mum,

I think it's high time

I actively listened to Mumbai calling!







From bookshelf to a dream in spring




Thunderstorms and heavy showers can’t stifle

Spirit of spring O rain, spring’s not fragile;

Wonder struck, wheezing, curled up in bed,

Watching flowers beam and birds make nests,


I threw the duvet away, breathed in,

If nature can lash creation with wet whip

To test its will, mothering to give wings,

Dare not I try to fill my pen with ink…


Hark; first you get past the Ides of March;

I chided myself for putting off the task. 

“Shakespeare hadn't dried up the inkwell,

Watch how rivers make the oceans swell.


Lying on your back, claiming to be too spent…

Go poet; look for underground flowers’ scent. 

Explore, pray don’t prod or be meddlesome

Discover how they bloom sans air and sun.”


“Can art take care of what ails the spirit?”

“You can’t find unless ride out weather’s whims!

Wells do replenish,” said the bard from Avon.

“Take out that sting and suck out the venom.


Let blood ink ooze from soul to stain the reams,

Poets don’t draw on borrowed reeds, ink and dreams!”









Summing Up




Come winter, there’s strong impulse for homing.

You’re done with your wandering and roving.

Revel in solitude and becoming,

Streams and rivulets of fond memories!


Come winter, plot of my yarn weakening,

So is conceit, am done with all learning.

Sutradhara alone for words fumbling,   

Pronounces “exodus, curtains’ tumbling.”


Come winter, marvel at snow descending,

All the balloons up in the sky soaring.

Leaves of craving, shrivel, quiver—twirling.

At twilight, raise my hands in thanksgiving!


Soaking stillness, gaze at peeping fledglings,

Distant drums lure not on this homecoming!

The role of the sutradhara is fluid. In classical Sanskrit and Marathi folk traditions, the sutradhara introduces the play and greets the audience and then leaves the stage. Sutradhara’s role is as flexible as that of the chorus. Occasionally he takes on either an important or minor acting role. He can comment or speak directly to the audience, or stand by silently as a spectator. He is present on the stage from the beginning to end.








Water Carriers




Desert said to rain drop

Thanks for quenching thirst

Of one grain of sand


Simoom—desert wind

Stopped in its tracks

Held on to its breath


Sky was full of bloated dark mashqis

Gently sprinkled water on thirsty


In no time, lifted gloom,

Cacti were in bloom

Water carriers disappeared

Echoes of hymns and prayers


Nomads knelt down

Head thrown back

At twilight stars came out in the sky

Sand now cool, relieved, sighed

Slept through the night,

No longer haunted

By dreams of a wasteland!





The bhishties or mashkis are the water carriers that have vanished from Indian society. We had mashkies in Kashmir also. We nicknamed them sakka. The mashaq or the carrying bag was generally made of goat skin with a capacity to hold about 30 litres of water. We would see them sprinkling water on the roads in summers and sometimes offering it to the thirsty . They would also appear in marriage functions to sprinkle water on the path to be traversed by baratis or guests. We would see them in bazaars with the mashaq hung across their shoulders like a guitar.


Simoom (Arabic: سموم‎ samūm; from the root سم s-m-m, "to poison") is a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that blows in the Sahara, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. Alternative spellings include samiel, sameyel, samoon, samun, simoun, and simoon. Its temperature may exceed 54°C (129°F) and the humidity may fall below 10%. Simoom winds have an alternative type occurring in the region of Central Asia—known as "Garmsil" (гармсель).


The storm moves in cyclone (circular) form, carrying clouds of dust and sand, and produces on humans and animals a suffocating effect. The name means "poison wind" and is given because the sudden onset of simoom may also cause heat stroke. This is attributed to the fact that the hot wind brings more heat to the body than can be disposed of by the evaporation of perspiration.







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Mamta Agarwal works as a free lance writer, journalist, editor and critic.    
She studied English Literature in the Masters Program at Punjab University, Chandigarh, and taught at both Govt. College for Women and MCM DAV College for Women. Later she joined a publishing house in New Delhi as an associate editor and, after a few years, took up freelance writing, publishing articles and short stories to various literary journals.


Her first anthology of poems titled ‘Rhythms of Life’ was published in 2008, and was soon followed by her second book,‘Voices of autumn and other short poems,' which came out in August of 2010. Her most recent anthology, titled 'An Untold Story of a Pebble,' was published in 2013.


Her poems have been published in major print and online journals in India and abroad.

She organized in Noida two events on behalf of ‘100 Thousand Poets for Change.’


She is an international adviser to World Poetry, Canada, and has worked with visually impaired and street children.

You can read more about Mamta and her work at:

All Poems © 2018 by Mamta Agarwal  All rights reserved

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