Poem – Unclaimed 

To make love with a stranger is the best.
There is no riddle and there is no test. —
To lie and love, not aching to make sense

Of this night in the mesh of reference.
To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,

And understand, as only strangers may.
To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart

Preferring neither to prolong nor part.
To rest within the unknown arms and know

That this is all there is; that this is so. 

Poem – Sit 

Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile.
You’re twenty-six, and still have some life ahead.

No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I’ll

Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead.
The world is too opaque, distressing and profound.

This twenty minutes’ rendezvous will make my day:

To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around,

Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away. 

Poem – Across 

Across these miles I wish you well.
May nothing haunt your heart but sleep.

May you not sense what I don’t tell.

May you not dream, or doubt, or weep.

May what my pen this peaceless day

Writes on this page not reach your view

Till its deferred print lets you say

It speaks to someone else than you. 

Poem – Octet 

You don’t love me at all? O God. O Shit.
You still ‘respect me.’ Thanks. I value it

About as much as one who’s asked to use

A second hat when he’s in need of shoes.

Since, I discover, my own self-respect

Is quite enough to keep my spine erect

Why is it true my ample self-affection

Will not suffice to buoy me in rejection? 

Mistaken – Vikram Seth

I smiled at you because I thought that you 

Were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew 

Between two strangers in a library 

Something that seemes like love; but you loved me 

(If that’s the word) because you thought that I 

Was other than I was. And by and by 

We found we’d been mistaken all the while 

From that first glance, that first mistaken smile.

Distressful Homonyms – Vikram Seth

Since for me now you have no warmth to spare 

I sense I must adopt a sane and spare 
Philosophy to ease a restless state 

Fuelled by this uncaring. It will state 
A very meagre truth: love like the rest 

Of our emotions, sometimes needs a rest. 
Happiness, too, no doubt; and so, why even 

Hope that ‘the course of true love’ could run even?

How Rarely These Few Years – Vikram Seth

How rarely all these few years, as work keeps us aloof, 

Or fares, or one thing or another, 

Have we had days to spend under our parents’ roof: 

Myself my sister, and my brother. 
All five of us will die; to reckon from the past 

This flesh and blood is unforgiving. 

What’s hard is that just one of us will be the last 

To bear it all and go on living.

Round And Round – Vikram Seth

After a long and wretched flight 

That stretched from daylight into night, 

Where babies wept and tempers shattered 

And the plane lurched and whiskey splattered 

Over my plastic food, I came 

To claim my bags from Baggage Claim 
Around, the carousel went around 

The anxious travelers sought and found 

Their bags, intact or gently battered, 

But to my foolish eyes what mattered 

Was a brave suitcase, red and small, 

That circled round, not mine at all. 
I knew that bag. It must be hers. 

We hadnt met in seven years! 

And as the metal plates squealed and clattered 

My happy memories chimed and chattered. 

An old man pulled it of the Claim. 

My bags appeared: I did the same.

Progress Report – Vikram Seth

My need has frayed with time; you said it would. 

It has; I can walk again across the flood 

Of gold sil popples on the straw-gold hills 

Under a deep Californian sky that expels 

All truant clouds; watch squads of cattle graze 

By the radio-telescope; blue-battered jays 

Flash raucous squaking by my swivelling head 

While squirrels sine-wave past over the dead 

Oak-leaves, and not miss you_although I may 

Admit that near the telescope yesterday 

By a small bushcovered gully I blundered on 

Five golden fox-cubs playing in the sun 

And wished you had been there to see them play; 

But that I only mention by the way.

At Evening – Vikram Seth

Let me now sleep, let me not think, let me 

Not ache with inconsistent tenderness. 

It was untenable delight; we are free– 

Separate, equal–and if loverless, 

Love consumes time which is more dear than love, 

More unreplicable. With everything 

Thus posited, the choice was clear enough 

And daylight ratified our reckoning. 
Now only movement marks the birds from the pines; 

Now it’s dark; the blinded stars appear; 

I am alone, you cannot read these lines 

Who are with me when no one else is here, 

Who are with me and cannot hear my voice 

And take my hand and abrogate the choice.

A Style Of Loving – Vikram Seth

Light now restricts itself 

To the top half of trees; 

The angled sun 

Slants honey-coloured rays 

That lessen to the ground 

As we bike through 

The corridor of Palm Drive 

We two 
Have reached a safety the years 

Can claim to have created: 

Unconsumated, therefore 

Unjaded, unsated. 

Picnic, movie, ice-cream; 

Talk; to clear my head 

Hot buttered rum – coffee for you; 

And so not to bed 
And so we have set the question 

Aside, gently. 

Were we to become lovers 

Where would our best friends be? 

You do not wish, nor I 

To risk again 

This savoured light for noon’s 

High joy or pain.

The Frog And The Nightingale – Vikram Seth

Once upon a time a frog 

Croaked away in Bingle Bog 

Every night from dusk to dawn 

He croaked awn and awn and awn 

Other creatures loathed his voice, 

But, alas, they had no choice, 

And the crass cacophony 

Blared out from the sumac tree 

At whose foot the frog each night 

Minstrelled on till morning night 
Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks. 

Insults or complaints or bricks 

Stilled the frogs determination 

To display his heart’s elation. 

But one night a nightingale 

In the moonlight cold and pale 

Perched upon the sumac tree 

Casting forth her melody 

Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog 

And the whole admiring bog 

Stared towards the sumac, rapt, 
And, when she had ended, clapped, 

Ducks had swum and herons waded 

To her as she serenaded 

And a solitary loon 

Wept, beneath the summer moon. 

Toads and teals and tiddlers, captured 

By her voice, cheered on, enraptured: 

“Bravo! ” “Too divine! ” “Encore! ” 

So the nightingale once more, 

Quite unused to such applause, 

Sang till dawn without a pause. 
Next night when the Nightingale 

Shook her head and twitched her tail, 

Closed an eye and fluffed a wing 

And had cleared her throat to sing 

She was startled by a croak. 

“Sorry – was that you who spoke? ” 

She enquired when the frog 

Hopped towards her from the bog. 

“Yes,” the frog replied. “You see, 

I’m the frog who owns this tree 

In this bog I’ve long been known 

For my splendid baritone 

And, of course, I wield my pen 

For Bog Trumpet now and then” 
“Did you… did you like my song? ” 

“Not too bad – but far too long. 

The technique was fine of course, 

But it lacked a certain force”. 

“Oh! ” the nightingale confessed. 

Greatly flattered and impressed 

That a critic of such note 

Had discussed her art and throat: 

“I don’t think the song’s divine. 

But – oh, well – at least it’s mine”. 
“That’s not much to boast about”. 

Said the heartless frog. “Without 

Proper training such as I 

  • And few others can supply. 

You’ll remain a mere beginner. 

But with me you’ll be a winner” 

“Dearest frog”, the nightingale 

Breathed: “This is a fairy tale – 

And you are Mozart in disguise 

Come to earth before my eyes”. 
“Well I charge a modest fee.” 

“Oh! ” “But it won’t hurt, you’ll see” 

Now the nightingale inspired, 

Flushed with confidence, and fired 

With both art and adoration, 

Sang – and was a huge sensation. 

Animals for miles around 

Flocked towards the magic sound, 

And the frog with great precision 

Counted heads and charged admission. 
Though next morning it was raining, 

He began her vocal training. 

“But I can’t sing in this weather” 

“Come my dear – we’ll sing together. 

Just put on your scarf and sash, 

Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! ” 

So the frog and nightingale 

Journeyed up and down the scale 

For six hours, till she was shivering 

and her voice was hoarse and quivering. 
Though subdued and sleep deprived, 

In the night her throat revived, 

And the sumac tree was bowed, 

With a breathless, titled crowd: 

Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent, 

Mallard and Milady Trent, 

Martin Cardinal Mephisto, 

And the Coot of Monte Cristo, 

Ladies with tiaras glittering 

In the interval sat twittering – 

And the frog observed them glitter 

With a joy both sweet and bitter. 
Every day the frog who’d sold her 

Songs for silver tried to scold her: 

“You must practice even longer 

Till your voice, like mine grows stronger. 

In the second song last night 

You got nervous in mid-flight. 

And, my dear, lay on more trills: 

Audiences enjoy such frills. 

You must make your public happier: 

Give them something sharper snappier. 

We must aim for better billings. 

You still owe me sixty shillings.” 
Day by day the nightingale 

Grew more sorrowful and pale. 

Night on night her tired song 

Zipped and trilled and bounced along, 

Till the birds and beasts grew tired 

At a voice so uninspired 

And the ticket office gross 

Crashed, and she grew more morose – 

For her ears were now addicted 

To applause quite unrestricted, 

And to sing into the night 

All alone gave no delight. 
Now the frog puffed up with rage. 

“Brainless bird – you’re on the stage – 

Use your wits and follow fashion. 

Puff your lungs out with your passion.” 

Trembling, terrified to fail, 

Blind with tears, the nightingale 

Heard him out in silence, tried, 

Puffed up, burst a vein, and died. 
Said the frog: “I tried to teach her, 

But she was a stupid creature – 

Far too nervous, far too tense. 

Far too prone to influence. 

Well, poor bird – she should have known 

That your song must be your own. 

That’s why I sing with panache: 

“Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! ” 

And the foghorn of the frog 

Blared unrivalled through the bog.

All You Who Sleep Tonight – Vikram Seth

All you who sleep tonight 

Far from the ones you love, 

No hand to left or right 

And emptiness above – 
Know that you aren’t alone 

The whole world shares your tears, 

Some for two nights or one, 

And some for all their years.

All You Who Sleep Tonight – Vikram Seth 

All you who sleep tonight 

Far from the ones you love, 

No hand to left or right 

And emptiness above – 
Know that you aren’t alone 

The whole world shares your tears, 

Some for two nights or one, 

And some for all their years.

A Style Of Loving – Vikram Seth

Light now restricts itself 

To the top half of trees; 

The angled sun 

Slants honey-coloured rays 

That lessen to the ground 

As we bike through 

The corridor of Palm Drive 

We two 
Have reached a safety the years 

Can claim to have created: 

Unconsumated, therefore 

Unjaded, unsated. 

Picnic, movie, ice-cream; 

Talk; to clear my head 

Hot buttered rum – coffee for you; 

And so not to bed 
And so we have set the question 

Aside, gently. 

Were we to become lovers 

Where would our best friends be? 

You do not wish, nor I 

To risk again 

This savoured light for noon’s 

High joy or pain.