May 08, 2009


My deepest thanks to :


Mohan Ambikaipaker for getting me started on the work;

Khadijah Abdullah and Ty Fong for believing in the work;

David Stewart, Makarand Paranjape, Mohan Ambikaipaker and Sumit Mandal for valuable comment on the work;

Janet, Marion, Krishen, San Sooi and all of Five Arts Centre that has inspired the way I work;

Adey, Elizabeth, Fred, Hoy Cheong, Keith, Kung Yu, Lorna, Peter, Quan and other good friends who have encouraged and supported me through the work;

my mother and brother for enabling me to pursue my work.


May 07, 2009

v) fading sketch

Riding threewheeler
along the Galle Road,
hearing the deejays
in accents like ours,
when my thoughts
find your arms wrapped
around me.

I see him strut limb-less
young man on the street
dirt stained, dripping bandages
hang from his feet.
His eyes glazed in anger
roll past the indifference
of traffic filled dust
of a broken metropolis
and femur.

And I recall bailas
on a cabaret dance floor
sensuous surround
in a slow dance of passion,
when once you have grabbed me
and swung round my hips
with your arms still around
and akimbo.

When a naked child straddling
the sharp pavement stones
sits and begs its gaunt
mother for milk
as its father lies crippled
in a stupored surrender
the child keeps on crying

Will I see you ever again?
Will I see them ever again?
In my mind you are etched,
They are sketches that fade.

       and I read in the news
       of a world with no views
       so few words point to people
       with real lives of their own,
       and I shrink from their worlds
       I pretend unreality
       turning down volumes
       as I feed on the news.

woman in water
the waves flood your breath
and you die
as an unknown

your husband and children
no more dead than you.
once a family.
now tangled
in seaweed.

woman in water
the waves flood your breath
and you drift
as an unknown

your mother and father
reached out as you cried.
who knows now
if they live
or they die?

amidst bullet trails
you ran for your child
as the wind
swept aside
biting fears.

amongst sharpened blades
you fled for your life
as the darkness
stinging tears.

now your thali descends
into reefs of the past
where the burdens
of living
lie still.

and your saree is borne
by the currents that ride
in an ocean
where nothing
is still.

yet, woman in water
lament lies afar.
on the shores
of a distant

one woman will mourn.
though unknown and unnamed,
you've become
her possession
of grief.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 06, 2009

iv) 10/10

Blue Elephant dance floor
city's hot-shot disco -
Gents allowed in with a fee.
Ladies welcome - yes, for free.

Colombo City Hilton groove
magnetise your traveller -
a white woman eyes a rusty brown man,
a yellow man watches gyrating clove woman.

In sarees and suits they are jiving
hot pants and jeans keep on palming
minis and tights live with jumping
kurtas and salwars in samba.

Your floor is a patchwork of feeling.
From drunken and luscious to lewd.
From reggae rhythms to techno mania,
sweat drips without cultural barrier.

       and I read in the news
       that the bodies of children
       were found on the frontlines
       where gunshots resounded
       and troops knelt and wept by their side

"the rebels fired
more than 10 bombs"
the newsreader barely

"the troops recovered
bodies totalling
20 young girls,
16 young boys"

"they hurtle the children
like live human bombs -
once they capture or kidnap,
they lure them."

brianwashed battalion
believing in battle
even 10 year olds
die by conscription.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 05, 2009

iii) pricey choice

Shopping for gems
amidst batiks and bailas,
seeking out stones
to take home for a setting.
Looking through glass panels,
spotting the difference
between one set that sits
next to others.

Books are my jewels
to choose, pack and carry,
all tell a story
I want to take home.
Fine cut and crafted
in mettles of gold,
I store these as dowries
to tell of my sojourn.

and I read in the news
that voting is crucial
in Jaffna elections
delayed by gunbattles
and wars of deflection.

"The people are used to violence.
So the voters should turn up."
          There will be some disinterested
          because they just want peace."

"The government wants elections.
To show the world it's serious."
          "We aren't going to vote today.
          What if they attack us?"

Jaffna local council
want to be elected
but residents are wounded
when they cast their vote.

Threats have all been posted
- stay away, stay home -
election pamphlets all withheld
in case attacks get worse.

How to tell the difference
between the noble cause
and the violent enemy
filled with vile remorse?

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 04, 2009

ii) candid shots

We pass through the turnstile
and glare of the stubber
who grunts through his moustache
"To Kandy, two platform".
We laugh at his syntax
and smile at the sweepers
in bright orange uniforms
trailing their dustpans.

We board the train pensive
one seat by the window
and watch as the guard waves
his faded dull green.
We chug through the city
where rusting frame carriages
and bullet holed walls
sleep with webs of barbed wire.

Then rumbling through outskirts
we plunge into rice greens
with white plaster stupas
egrets perched on buffaloes.
As bare bodied men
tug and pull at the plough
while the women bent over
plant seedlings.

Then deeper we journey
up into the ranges
where wide open terraces
are traced by tea bushes.
And valleys of orchards
all teeming with pickers
are strapped to their baskets
and colourful headresses.

I stand in the doorway
to catch a wide glimpse
as the rails scuttle past
and the view fades with distance.
I pause for the camera
to capture illusions
of countryside splendour
no close-ups of truth.

       and I read in the news
       a truck bomb destroyed
       the Kandy tooth temple
       and sixteen cursed lives
       all poised for a celebration.

The Prince of Wales
was due to come
to grace the grand occasion
but once the bomb had blown the shrine
the plans were in revision.

The Prince of Wales
was due to see
the festive glow of colour
but once the blast had floored the priests
parades would not be handsome.

The Prince of Wales
was due to say
how pleased he was to be there
but once the 16th century spot
killed 16 people in a shot
the words would not come easy.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 03, 2009

i) travel sense

This room where I sleep
close to the waves
in Bambalapitya,
feels like JB,
seems like Malacca,
vestiges of home

where humid heat
and incense mixed
with fresh sea breeze
and spices cooking,
wash through
and lead me
to earthiness.

The food is always carefully cooked
tasted and served, just so;
coconut sambal and puttu for breakfast,
vathal appam for desert at lunch,
homemade kolkotte and mangoes for tea
sothy and strings at dinner.

These are the senses
I carry inside me
wherever my palate
will travel.

       and I read in the news
       of refugees drowned
       in high seas of terror
       from boats overloaded
       with captives of pain.

You left your home
Your kitchen floor
Your bathroom tiles
And sarees.

You took your child
Your travellers cheques
Your personal files
And jewelleries.

You ran as fast
As legs could flow
No time for looking back.
Your heart beat drummed
In dreaded slow
No hollows for regret.

You boarded
In the moonlit dark
No violent eye could see.
Your hope
To reach a safer shore
No thought of death by sea.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 02, 2009

v) Salve of Protection

We ran to the doctor’s
for help when they barged
through the door
with their G-strings
and sweat grins.

He’d said if there ever
was trouble with soldiers
to call him -
he’d help us
four sisters.

They stood in their bare feet
tight holding their knives -
looking round
at the rooms
and the pictures.

He strode in
and scolded them
blushing in nakedness
chasing them out
with his voice.

And posted a note
on our door
in his writing
we knew not the words
but they spared us.

Each time we passed through
the front door
on the right
we remembered the man
for his witness.

He had come
to help salve
in a time of destruction
but wounds that cut deep
were imprinted.

We ran to the doctor’s
for help when they barged -
now his family
from Kyoto
still write to us.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

May 01, 2009

iv) Appetites Summoned

We sang as we waited
for dinner to beckon -
our appetites summoned
by war-rationed goodies.
Sometimes, who knows how
Mummy brought out the corned beef
a treat in those harsh times -
a currified hash.

Once pale British labourers
knocked soft at our door
bent, asking for food
looking weary from sweat.
And Daddy came rushing
from drying his hair
and said “No, nothing doing.”
This food was for brown skins.

He knew they were testing
to see if we’d help.
And not asking questions
if caught helping white skins
they‘d take us and shoot us
he knew that was that.

We sat without dinner
plates filled with cold curry,
each watching the next house
as pale British labourers
bent, weary, and hungry
crept up their front stairs.

We sang as we waited
for dinner to beckon -
our appetites dampened
by shots from a distance.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 30, 2009

iii) Silken Resplendence

We chased the old turkey
across the wide compound,
while ayamahs showed off
their posh stolen sarees.

They’d looted our houses
when we fled for safety
and now we had come back
they thought it was funny
that Mummy wore housecoats
while they worked in silks
hung drying resplendent
in backyards.

The officers raided
our clothes from the wardrobe
Daddy spotted his groom’s suit
when he went for interview.
The hospital office housed
some of our furniture.
“The pants were too long
but the sofa fit fine”.

Eventually we got back
our armchairs and tables,
when Daddy dropped hints
that his family were seated
on floors with no tables -
they knew it was ours.

We caught the old turkey
across the wide compound,
but never got back
Mummy’s sarees.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 29, 2009

ii) Supine in Silence

We sat on a bullock cart
dangling our feet
watching them march past
upright and upstart.
We sat facing backwards
on earthernware cooking pots.
They’d told us to move out
from this house to that one.

We transported up and down
some clothes and some barangs
the people had warned us
just take what you need most,
“They’ll tell you to move out
from that house to this one.”
The bullock cart jostled
through occupied kampungs.

The sentries would stop us
inspecting our papers,
we sat very quiet
not breathing a curl -
watched closely their gun straps
as they checked our parcels.
They’d told us to move out
from this house to that one.

The bullocks were restless
they’d smelt a discomfort
and soon we heard scuffling
some young men were shouting,
their wrists were all bleeding
their eyes were blindfolded.
They’d told them to get out
from that house and this one.

They told us much later
they tortured and whipped them
their spines stretched to strip
them of secrets - they’d spilt.
They shoved them and moved them
from this jail to that one
and always in handcuffs
blindfolded and bleeding.

When later they freed them
they sat in a silence,
seceded and sapped,
moving sad, supine lips.

We sat on a bullock cart
dangling our feet,
but our ears heard the silence
of pain.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 28, 2009

i) Paperboat Crimson

We were children
in the garden
just running and playing
innocent and carefree,
giggling and laughing,

as we watched them coming
on bicycles from the north,
taking watches from wrists
taking over the country,
all the white men had fled
in a flash.

We were children
in the garden
just making and folding,
paper dolls and sailboats,
fighting and floating,

as the engines flew by
and the papers danced downwards
from white fluff in the sky;
we could not read
their writing
still strange to us.

We were children
in the garden
pondering and wondering,
secrets and messages,
murmuring and listening,

to uncles in whispers
“this damned occupation -
a time to be watchful
don’t cross them,
be careful.”

We were children
in the garden
when a shot cut the hush
and a cry cracked a window;
where the old man was hiding

a friend from his hometown
who would not bow down
and sing with a gusto
the words
of the Japanese anthem.

We were children
in the garden
when all of a sudden
our sailboats had turned
into crimson.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 27, 2009

Breathing the Dust

Yesterday I craned my neck
and yet I could not see,
the rooftops in the city,
the towers in the dust.
The haze has settled
on all our homes
and the heat hangs heavy
on all of us.

Yesterday I stretched my mind
and yet I could not glean,
the beauty in the garden,
the tranquil by the lake.
The haze has settled
on all our heads
and the hoax hangs heavy
on all of us.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 26, 2009

Barefoot in the City

Take off your shoes.
Enter the temple.
Let your soles
touch the bare

Feeling your toes
grip at the gravel.
Let your soles
touch and be

Sweaty feet slip
out of casings.
Grimy shoes
in dusty scattering.
Mucky toes
now stretch to breathe
and slip-slide
the smooth
marble floor.

Take off your shoes.
Enter the temple.
Let your soles
touch the bare

in pinky salons.
Soaking feet
in soft solutions.
Nimble fingers
tug at callus.
Gentle tools
scrape out the dirt.

Pampering toes
and spoiling feet.
Silken brush strokes
cool of cutex.
Sinking heels
in luscious towel
waiting just

Feeling your toes
grip at the gravel.
Let your soles
touch and be

on the pavement stone
the old man's feet
are caked,
in crusted mud
and days of dust
his feet have no regard -
who handles this man's feet,
I ask?
who cares
if they are scarred?

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 25, 2009

Riding the Beast

One man and his pariah dog
live along the highways
often see them walking
with their mobile home.
Bags of things
across his shoulders
dog stays by his side
sheltering under a broad flyover
traffic feasts their eyes.

One man and his pariah dog
sit and watch us driving,
often we are talking
on our mobile phones.
Bags of stories
fill our mouths
handset by the side,
whizzing across a broad flyover
the beast we are riding thrives.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 24, 2009


To Whom It May Concern.

Dear Sir
or Madam,

All the places where I grew up
have been torn down
because they said
there was no space
and we were
becoming modern.

Why must they build
a police plaza in Pudu,
where my grandparents
grew 'old-man's darling'?

Why can't the state mosque
not be in Bukit Palah,
where I climbed the
frangipanni tree?

Why should the mega-mall
be at 218 Ampang
where I used to play
swinging 'moneyplant'?

Why do my memories
all have to be
only in my head
so I can't show
my children
and their children
and so on?

All the places
where I used to dream
have become towers
because they said they must
build high
and keep the flag flying
for everyone.

The race course
was meant to be
a park within the city.

The playing field
was meant to save
some space for greenery.

The forest reserve
was meant to run
the cable car for fun.

Why must the flag fly
so high where noone
with feet on the ground
can see or touch
or wave it?

I look forward
to hearing from you soon.
And thankyou.

A City Girl

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 23, 2009

Art Anatomy

I never felt you until
you confessed by the car
that you wept at the strains
of a song.

that your fantasies grew
through the leaves of a novel
which you smuggled
with you into lectures.

that medical terms
were jargon which spliced
into Lawrence, Achebe,
and Roy.

how closely
feeds into art

your theatre
is now where I lie.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 22, 2009

God of Guitar

Guitar strings plucked,
from my insides
a warm rush fills
my nicotined skin,
dim lights squinting,
smoke as spotlight warms,
there is music
before you even begin.

Trickling tones escape
the microphone,
a glint in the eye
and a half-smile tuning,
before the song escapes
from your fingers
trembling in the tenuous
touch of your guitar.

Thirsty for passion
in a hot, dry metropolis
I drink till I quench
each screaming note,
ranting and ravenous
an occasional missed chord
reminds me you too
breathe this city,

you also are caught
if it rains in the evening.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 21, 2009

Mangosteen Crumble

Who would have thought
that tucked in snugly
within your hard casings
whose stains are so feared,
were juicy white segments
both slender and tender,
both sweetish and sourish,
and sometimes with seed?

You shy in a season
when durian reigns king
your deep purple surface
in bunches unsung
each juicy white segment
curved neatly to shape
sits waiting for mouths to suck
flesh from the seed.

Why don't we cook-up
a tangy concoction
a mangosteen puree
with sugar and spice;
and add to the mixture
a crunchy crust pastry
make crumble of sorts
with fresh cream on the top?

The taste would be perfect
a sour soft tart
with salty sweet topping
hot-cold and just right.
Your recipe waits
in the kitchens of vision
your servings unequalled
by desserts of old.

Mangosteen Crumble -
you haven't been born.
Forgive us for waiting
for banoffee pie
and durian ice cream
and pineapple jam
to retire.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 20, 2009

Teh Tarik Tempo

Just how fast -
to swing the strainer
swish the koleh
twist the tin
stir the stuff
clink the glass
stretch the brew
let it froth
fill to brim
slice the spill
- is a secret.

'Tarik" in a glass
is life's special.
Nothing tastes
the same.

Cappucino in a cup -
just cannot compare.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 19, 2009

It's Time

the traffic gets inside my hair
the concrete boils inside my blood
the piling pounds within my head
the ratrace runs between my eyes -
it's time for teashop.

Just to sit and sip,
savour Pumpkin Soup
Mushroom Pie,Walnut Cake
and Earl Gray Tea.

Listen to others converse
Watch them lift cup to lip.
Let radio muzak play.
Stare calmly at traffic
through frosted glass.

Forget about
who hurt who
when to pay bills
where to find work
whose turn to cook.

Time for teashop.

Just to sit and sip
savour the funny breathing feeling
the pumping blood still flowing
the pricklish hairs which tingle
moving rhythms of my mind.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 18, 2009

No Shame

i) shame-full

Imperialist, I let you in;
allowed you through my creed;
sold out to faith and family,
entranced by flirtive fling.
I lurked within your shadows,
my goal was fortune's game.
Fecundity, acceptance,
within your grand acclaim.
Your tribute recognition,
leaving golden streaks of stain.

Until you came.
You stripped me.
Reclothed my virgin skin.
And then you stared
my nakedness
into a priceless shame.

ii) shame-less

Imperialist, I cast you out.
My body now my own.
Reclaimed, redeemed, respected.
Retrieved to mend my skin.
Restored to claim dread freedom;
Revived to chant respite;
Dignity breathes deeply.
Released, no longer held.

Now freed
to prostitute myself
with nakedness new clothed.
In homespun cottons
wrapped and draped.
No satin shines of shame.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 17, 2009


i) Last time

Last time you called
I turned the other side.
Shut the door
then walked downstairs.
After four steps
I ran back
but the ringing had stopped.

Last time you called
I watched the phone stir.
Let the sound
rip through air.
After four breaths
I touched the receiver
and sighed.

Last time you called
I bit my fingernails.
Shut my ears
then felt wet cheeks
after four tears
had dripped on the wire.
I froze.

Last time you called
I waited by the phone.
Let it ring.
Picked it up.
After four 'Hi's'
I heard you ask why,
and I lied.

ii) This time

This time I promise
to allow you space for drinking
give you time for gambling
let you do the grumbling
leave you to your snoring.

This time I vow
to leave your clothes scattered
push up the toilet seat
never change your toothbrush
sniffle only when you sleep.

This time I swear
to stay away from office
wait for you to call me
watch you golf from distance
hear you sigh responseless

This time I will not
fall like a fool
be broken to smithereens
lie smashed like a banana skin
stare hopeless at the cracking wall.

This time
I guess
will not come.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 16, 2009

Stained Fabric

I let you
touch me
till my hairs tingled
and I woke up and found
a stale rojak packet
squashed under
my stretch

I let you
hold me till my tits froze
and I was spilling kuay teow
on my creased jacket
oily stains on my

I let you
kiss me till my lips burned
and I found udang sambal
splashed all over
the starched collar
and pearl buttons
of my silk

I let you in
there's no telling
what will happen
to the linens and silks
of my wardrobe.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 15, 2009


Forced into marriage,
too old and too fat,
you are told
you must have him,
a doctor, no less.

Forced into children
too late and too long,
you are warned
they will drain you,
investment no less.

Forced into beatings,
too hard and too deep,
you are hushed
into silence
he's a tough man, no less.

Forced into anger,
too cold and too proud,
you are made
into martyr
for your child,
                     yes, no less.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 14, 2009

A Question of Rights

Whose right is it, I ask you
to tell me I should marry;
not be pleased with singlehood
make sure I find a spouse?

Whose right is it, I ask you
to show me who to marry;
decked in fine jewellery
make sure I pay a dowry?

Whose right is it, I ask you
to tell the man I marry
I want him for companionship;
make sure he will respect me?

Whose right is it, I ask you
to show the man I marry
just how to be my equal;
make sure he will not beat me?

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 13, 2009

Quick Marriage

i) young bride

standing silent
in the close by

the young bride
flirts with her face
in the mirror.

yet so amiss

she is tickled
by her fancies
of crass, rich, taste.

hushed beauty
solemnly sensual
she is soft

and he enters
to her smiling
as her lips begin
to part.

till the munthani
to the cold terrazo floor
and a breeze
creeps a chill
up her thigh.

ii) young widow

too young
when her husband died,
she mourned
in silent

too awed
when they spoke in stares,
she wept

by unnerving incense,
his corpse
her strength.

by unceasing comment,
his spirit
her stealth.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 12, 2009

A Toast to Drunkenness

Your verse is always
"I'm alright".
You never will relent
to simple basic commonsense
to spare us more regret.

Your chant is always
You never will admit
that sometimes
you are way too drunk
to swerve before you hit.

Your hands are always
much too numb.
They lose all feint control.
They cannot grip
nor hold the wheel.
Your palms are cold
as stone.

Your breath is always
much too foul.
You cannot even smell
the nightmare
you impose on those
whose wheel
may steer to hell.

Your eye is always
much too flushed.
You never will foresee.
The anguish I exonerate
each time you miss a tree.

Your liver now
is much too limp
you have a month to breathe.
The blood they feed you now
in pints,
go toast and drink

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 11, 2009


I remember clearly
sitting in the backseat
watching the road swerve
from side to side
as you steered
and my mother twitched,

I remember clearly
watching the road lines
move swiftly in circles
from left to right,
as you braked
and my brother flew

I remember clearly
dreaming the story
how we nearly
were smashed up,
as you drove
and my terror
despised you.

I remember clearly
sitting now in the frontseat
as my child in the backseat
sits frozen in fear
as her father,
drunk further,
just drives.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 10, 2009

New Born Baby

health and wealth
and prosper

all will smile
and toast the

hope and hype
and happy

each will up
and cheer the

sing and dance
and clap the

coo and gurgle
stuff the

pour the beer
and fill the

some will laugh
and greet the

thrill and spill
and sport the

some will crash
and die at

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 09, 2009


Great-grandmother was
a Miss Ondaatje.
Grandmother's name
was Miss Mercy Hoole.
Mother began
as Miss Navaratnam.
I am a Miss

Great-grandmother lived
in Colonial Ceylon.
Grandmother moved
to Straits Singapore.
Mother was born
and bred in Malaya.
I am an-other

Great-grandmother married
a Jaffna Mudaliyar.
Grandmother fell
for a medical officer.
Mother nearly
eloped with a teacher.
I am an unmarried

Great-grandmother bore
so many children.
Grandmother bred
four girls and a boy.
Mother carried
a son and a daughter.
I have no child,
nor ever.

Great-grandmother never
knew me.
Grandmother often
spoilt and indulged me.
Mother is
so much a part of me.
I endure in my work,
my posterity.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 08, 2009

So mush of me

So mush of me is English.
My dreaded colonial heritage.
From Enid Blyton to Beatrix Potter
my idylls lie distant in Yorkshire.

So mush of me lives Anglo.
My dreaded white inheritance.
From Laura Ashley to Marks & Spencer
my istanas all built in Windsor.

So, mush of me
Really I am Malaysian,
Ceylonese, Tamil,
Anglophile, All.
Mingled by history
not choice.

So, mush of me
My outfits all merge
and combine.
From kurungs of kashmere
to kain batik ballgowns,
my palate eats roast beef
with rice.

So mush of me
mixed up,
that spans a globe.
From Perth to Papua
Toronto to Trent,
my saudaras
by boat and by flight.

So mush of me is
Malaysian, Ceylonese
My anglicised fancies
in tempatan dreams
make mush
in so mush of me.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 07, 2009


Always water into wine.
Never other way around.
Crushed ice into ice-kacang,
Syrup into leng chee kang,
Bubur into lemang.
Water into wine.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 06, 2009

Kitchen Rules for Supper

        The gardener must drink
        from a different cup.
        The servant must eat
        from a different plate.
        The bullock-cart man
        cannot enter the house.
        Why God did you make them

Man in a veshti
thundu slung over,
barefoot on a cool earth floor,
sambaranee wafts
as the ghee sounds a sizzle.

        The gardener must drink
        The servant must eat

He stoops to light
oil lamps, flickering wicks,
flaming coal stove,
the dhall curry simmers,
chappatis on gridle.

        The bullock-cart man
        The man in the veshti 

Freshly made tairu
slightly sweet salted,
ever-silver serving bowls,
sprinkles of chopped herbs
table laid ready with leaves.

        Why God did you make
        them different?

The guests will arrive.
He’ll wash their sore feet.
Perhaps this will be
his last supper.

Perhaps for this meal
we’ll remember.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 05, 2009

Devotions of Difference

temples churches mosques
altars rituals prayers
candles jossticks oil-lamps
songkoks pottus robes
kadis samis priests
thundus purdahs veils
guilty pardon blessing
temples churches mosques

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 04, 2009

Community Vows

To love you, for the chronic ways
In which you make me yours.
To hate you, for the poison days
In which you cast me out.
Adore you, for the spectacles
Of colour that you splash.
Resent you, for the obstacles
Of status and finesse.
To marvel that you pioneered
And thrived among the rough.
To shrivel at your arrogance
And piteous, sense of pride.
To ponder all your principles
Of culture, faith and life.
         How much I wish to leave you.
         But am held by a thali that binds.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 03, 2009

Community Wedding

Gold borders sparkling
off Kanchipuram silks.
Navaratna pendants,
blood rubies aglow.
Thick gold chains hanging,
diamond laden bangles.
The bride stands and waits
at the door.

Songket Kebaya,
Kelantanese Silver,
Balinese Selendang,
Malaccan Krongsang,
And each of the aunties asks

Carefully pleated veshti
with crisp ironed thundu.
Cream coloured talappa
and bronzed leather sandals.
Nehru collar kurta
shot coloured, refined.
Deep set gold emerald ring.
Groom sits waiting on dais.

Padini blue suit,
Gucci leather shoes,
Issey Miyake tie,
Gianni Versace shirt.
And none of the uncles asks

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 02, 2009


I belong
to a community
of only a few.
With only a few
mirrors to bounce off
the colours, tastes, smells,
of my childhood
my home
my history.

As only a few
have created windows
through which I can peer
to see faces, tears,
smiles and scars
of my childhood
my home
my history.

I long for my community
to declare its small strong voice,
adjust, adapt, acclimatise
but never forget,


I belong
to a nation
of many,
With many a mixture
of sireh and dhalcha
chap fan and laksa
that mixes and blends,
concocts its own recipe
stirs up its own steaming brew.

I belong
to a nation
where many,
have forgotten that mixtures,
of sireh and dhalcha
chap fan and laksa
are boring, bland, pallid,
if not for the mixture
that savours the flavour
of many,
made up of a few.

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999

April 01, 2009

Rasam Recipe

If I write in Tamil
does it mean then
I have deeper sense -
of what we are
and who we fear
and why we stir
from here?

And if I write Malay
then have I strayed
and lost my roots -
become a curried nationalist
betrayed my race
and pride
as I shift lonely
to the side?

And if I write in English
just because
the taste is mine,
it is my strongest condiment,
I've used it all my life
to spice and flavour piquancy
does this mean I have

does this mean I am

(c) Charlene Rajendran 1999