Monday, 22 October 2018

On happening to watch video instructions on hairstyles irrelevant to the present situation





A Youtube clip on how to do a French twist -
I don't know why I watched it - my hair's cropped
for years now. No long plaits twirled around my wrist
into updos, no chignons, all pins dropped.
And neither the length nor the weight is missed,
the mess of herbs and rinses - all that's stopped.
Not a Samson nor, I think, a narcissist 
whose strength or beauty lay in hair that was chopped.


Yet I watch women twirl young hair into buns
without quite knowing why, and I reminisce 
minor things - lost barrettes in faux tortoiseshell.
Sundays stacked with a certain shampoo-smell.
Undoing, loosening it all, oh the bliss -
tugging it free, finally, when the day was done.





Writing it as it comes and still on target with the title-heavy teeny-tiny though I've no idea where that came from. Is it just me? Or does anyone else watch/read instructions for things they know they'll never have the least urge to do? Hairstyles, recipes, skydiving? :) 




Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Write..Edit...Publish...October 2018 : Deja Vu or Voodoo








To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven...

Time for the funnest  Write...Edit...Publish... post of the year! Also, time for the autumn festival season in India, the Navaratri-Durga Puja-Diwali month, am plonk in the middle of right now in fact, with a very special house guest visiting from Kolkata, so a little taken up with happy stuff offline... but I'll be around to read as and when...

A time to get, and a time to lose...A time to weep, and a time to laugh...

This month it's also time to say goodbye to Yolanda Renee...she has co-hosted WEP for years and I have known her since the RFW days, that's more than 6 years. So this is going to feel a little strange. Thank you for all the work and all the brilliant entries and above all, your friendship and support, Renee! I wish you all the very best for your future writing projects and hope that you'll pop into WEP with one of your done-to-a-turn flashes every challenge month, or at least as often as you can. 

Here's my entry for the Challenge -




The preference for sons


This move sucks. Big time. Even Tofu – that’s my dog, hates it. But grown-ups! They must pretend. Some crazy idea to always say it the way it should be. Everyone’s pretending they’ve been waiting to come here like, forever.

I keep hearing that our people prefer sons. Complete bullshit, man. The minute my sister gets into NUJS, the entire family comes trooping here. Why? Because her fastidious highness can’t stay PG like the rest of the world. Can’t put up with the public at the hostel. The mattress isn’t thick enough for the princess, you see. I said it over and over again. I didn’t. Want. To move. Did anyone pay any attention? So, who’s got the preference? Sons, indeed!

And my school sucks too. Except Vishal. He’s in my music class. But for the rest – oh, god. Unbelievable. No pool. The field’s half the size. The buildings are so old. Probably built when the Brits were here or something. The whole freaking city looks like it’s a smelly leftover from the Raj.

Vishal’s okay though. Magic fingers. Can work up a wicked drut. Vishal’s the one who told me about the house. Apparently, some batty lady stuck a knife into her husband here. Because she thought he was going to kill her. So she pre-empted him. Some garbled logic! – a heart transplant had apparently made him homicidal. She died too, in the end. In some asylum.

The heirs pulled the original house down and rebuilt. But they both haunt the place still. The husband and wife, I mean. That’s what Vishal said. I’m not scared of ghosts, I told him. They don’t exist anyways. Just superstitions.

I mentioned the story to Thamuli. She read me a lecture. It’s gossip. Poor taste to repeat it. Besides, don’t they teach me science at school? There are no ghosts. Why was I out to make everybody unsettled? Didn’t I want my sister to be successful? This is our home now, we can’t move back. Blah blah blah. Unbelievable.
 
Nothing computes, man. You’d have thought she’d pay attention, being so old and into antiques. Into all these rituals. She’s always fasting or rushing off to some shrine or other. Oh, no. Can’t bear to have anything said against the move. Or against her highness, her precious granddaughter - the one responsible for this whole mess.

Okay, let me tell you the whole - there’s this old, stained rug next to my bed. I don’t know where it’s come from, it’s always been there in my room. Thamuli must have got it sometime, she’s heavily into picking up tattered, second-hand things for their ‘history.’ I don’t care much for that piece of junk. Would have gladly left it back. But the packers rolled it up along with the bedding. And it was back in my room after the move. I mean, it wasn’t a big deal either way, you know?

Anyways, there’s this patchy mark right in the middle of it. A few days after Vishal spilled the story, I got up in the morning. The stain looked vaguely darker. But there was no time to check properly. And I forgot all about it at lessons. It was still there once I got back. So I looked closer. It did feel darker. I thought it was a mistake at first, eyes playing tricks. And after my last session with Thamuli, I wasn’t saying anything to anyone.

But the next Sunday when I got up, it was much darker again. And damp this time. I touched it and my fingers came away wet and smeared with weird, brownish stuff. A bit like, you know, blood.

I wasn’t scared or anything. I just mentioned it at breakfast.  Casually, like. Not to create any drama or put anybody off their food. Thamuli was there, my father, mother, her highness herself was sitting right next to me. They just laughed. Said my friend had been filling my ears. Because he was jealous or something. So Thamuli had mentioned the story to others. Talk about not repeating gossip. And why on earth would Vishal be jealous? He’s much better than me at any percussion you can dream of. Unbelievable. Grownups make no sense. I told them they could check if they liked.

But it wasn’t wet when we went back. They laughed all the harder. Ma was the only one who didn’t laugh. But was that because she believed me? No freaking way. She stayed back and read me the same lecture as Thamuli had a few days back. That I mustn’t try to make up stories. I must try and think of this place as home and so on till my ears nearly fell off my head.

The next time it happened, I didn’t wait. I got the stuff on my hands and went straightaway. That would show them. This time no one laughed. Not that they believed me either. Her highness said it looked like Cherry Blossom. That was it. They were convinced I had slathered shoe polish on the rug. To scare them into moving back. Of all the insane ideas! I got a serious grilling from my father. No music for a week. Ma put on her stern face every time she had to speak to me. Even Thamuli went around with a pained expression. Unbelievable.

So that’s it. I’ve stopped talking about it to my folks. The stain keeps filling up with blood or whatever it is, every few days. I’m not scared, I tell you. It’s just super-annoying no one believes me. So much for the preference for sons. I just wish I could go back. Like I said, this move totally sucks.

~~~
WC - 950
FCA

PG – Paying guest
NUJS – National University of Juridical Sciences
Drut – u as in put, lit ‘fast,’ a qualifier of tempo and rhythm in Indian classical music.

This is the epilogue of the same story I posted for the August WEP challenge. First developed for Moving the Margins, a MOOC at Uni Iowa this summer. 

Read the other entries here:

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Always more than the sum of its pieces



A glass breaks, snaps in pieces just like that
and brings back the distant space it was bought -
memory and wistfulness in the format
of a raw, jagged rim. A morning caught

between the smells of the dust and diesel,
between the crosshatches marked on the road;
the mood chasing its own tail like a mongrel,
the vendors already in touristy mode.

The traffic in the cloak of peak hour rush,
the more the haste the more viscous its gait -
the whole day an indeterminate slush
of bleached sky and earth in a grudging wait.

Now that the glass's broken it's got the sheen
of a greater truth, more than what glass should mean.





Tomorrow marks the start of the Indian autumn festival season - the Navaratri or nine nights culminating a month later on Diwali, the festival of lights. I have family visiting from India during the Durgapuja (yay!) - so I'm going to be a little occupied with stuff offline, but will be there for the WEP October Spookfest. Online and off, it's going to be a megablast! 





Sunday, 30 September 2018

Paper boats



Photo by Artak Petrosyan on Unsplash 




Paper boats on the river,
house of cards on the sands;
love walks on calloused feet,
winds wipe off the prints inland.
It stops sometimes, slumps and limps -
that too shows up in the prints.

Parchment leaves on the water,
fragile webs on a twig;
hope’s hands are slowly bleeding
popping dreams far too big.
The glass is cracked, the ice melts,
the heat is high, there is no help.

The brands are stocked in the shops, 
contract’s signed on dotted lines,
the top’s all yearly bonus,
the bottom marks overtime.
This glass ceiling’s pretty cute
depending on the side that’s viewed.

Fake and antifake uptrend,
history is just a hashtag -
edit, crop, rotate to suit.
There are two sides to each flag.
Several stripes, wheels, rockstars,
each with its own piece of war.



Back to writing it as it comes and keeping it short. Less agony for all concerned parties :) Still a little hungover, seem to be obsessed with rivers and riverine stuff such as confluences and boats, wonder why?  

The day's already getting noticeably shorter, light's failing by five thirty. I love all seasons, but autumn is my favourite, except I miss the long daylight of summer. But happy to do without the heat. The festival season is round the corner. Always a time for quiet glee. 

And it's also time for the spooky challenge sign ups over at Write...Edit...Publish...nothing quiet about that, I assure you...







Sunday, 23 September 2018

The artwork on the panel and on target with the title heavy teeny tiny



Peace starts with an absence of hate and prejudice


Peace is not simply an absence of war,
an absence of violence. It’s something more.
Not just arms down but arms open in love
for the stranger and the neighbour next door.

Peace breaks out when love labours to be blind
to our differences, and tries to be kind
even when angered it does not give up.
And it starts with an open heart and mind.




Confluence in the Arabic Press - here in Al Ayam, 
one of the largest circulating local newspapers.
Well, Confluence is over, the photos have been clicked and the reviews are in and it was all a great success. Footfall exceeding expectations, wide coverage in the local press and much feel-good vibes. The variety and breadth of artworks were mind boggling - watercolours, acrylics, photos, pen-n-ink, mixed media, even a couple of installations, one of them an interactive one, and words, words, words in long poems and short. There were artists and poets there from Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, Germany, India and Pakistan. And the age range varied from 12 years to 70+ - we at the Bahrain Writers' Circle are a diverse crowd.


Confluence in the Gulf Daily News - the oldest English language 
paper in Bahrain.

I was there with my Bahraini art-partner, Herz Al Banki, an award winning photographer-artist. We had four artworks up for this exhibition, his photographs used as prompts and then combined with my poems.  Thank you, Herz!  Here is our collaborative art on display at Harbour Gate.

Photographs : Herz al Banki Poetry: moi

Viewers at Confluence
I was quite sure initially that people would only look at the images and ignore the poetry - I mean, who reads poetry at an exhibition, right? But I stand corrected. And pleasantly surprised. Both the Chief Guest and the CEO of the Bahrain Financial Harbour read my 'art' too and commented on the poems. I saw other viewers take time to read as well. I got some positive reviews on the verses, so came away feeling chuffed. Herz and I were told, more than once, that we make a good artistic team - not exactly the most terrible thing to get inside my ears this entire year. 


Visitors at the exhibition.




Visitor reading the artworks. 

One of the writers, who volunteers with a local school for children with special needs, brought in the poems from a school-group to the exhibition and the children had their own panel where they depicted their take on 'Peace' for the International Peace Day on the 21st. They inspired my rubais up there for this post. 

Peace panel. Artists and poets - children of RIA Institute.
The exhibition included an interactive piece - an oil colour of a girl in pink ballet shoes and an invitation to visitors to add a line or two to take forward a poem about the artwork. Here's the installation at the beginning of the exhibition.


Interactive poetry panel for visitors. Artist :Sarah Madan.
The organisers are already planning a bigger event next year based on the success of this one. And guess who's going to go jump back in there? Yup, that's me. 

~~~

'Go someplace new and/or try something new' has been my unchanging, rolling New Year resolution for decades now. However difficult 2018 turns out to be, I can safely say I'm on target with the res. Phew! Also bang on target with the title-heavy teeny-tiny too. And you know what? Tomorrow is the 7th birthday of this 'ere blog - didn't see even a glimmer of all this happening seven years ago.  The level of relieved/smug/jubilant/grateful here is probably illegal, but I'm running with it anyways :)  










Sunday, 16 September 2018

Reflections on the painting of an unknown artist in the previous exhibition at Harbour Gate





Imagine first a rusty strand of barbed wire,
then a bird sketched in soft russets and sapphires
perched beside the spines, painted against the sky -
just inches from pain, yet also free to fly.


This week I am a participant at Confluence – an exhibition of collaborative art and poetry at the Harbour Gate, organised by Bahrain Financial Harbour and the Bahrain Writers’ Circle. The exhibition is the first of its kind on this island where poets and artists have got together to make some awesome artworks combining images and words. This is, of course, not the first time I've done this kind of collaboration, check out this post and this too, but putting poems up at an exhibition? - that's a first for me....However, it's not what I wanted to tell you today. 

What I wanted to tell you is that I was at the venue last Wednesday. The artworks were being dropped off in preparation for the display to be set up on the next day.  And the previous exhibition, a large one of some 40-50 artists from Philippines, was being taken down to free up space for us. One of those paintings caught my eye and inspired this quatrain. 

Life is about perching on barbed wires and knowing when to lift off, about balancing the risks with the toeholds. I guess I am that bird in some ways. And goes without saying, I am also a tube light - wasn't nimble enough to take a photo, or the artist's name, before they whisked it off the display, otherwise you wouldn't really have to imagine the barbed wire or anything...

BUT...on the other hand - think I'm on target as far as the writing of teeny tiny with superlong titles goes :)  

I'll let you know how the exhibition turns out - wish us luck! 





Sunday, 9 September 2018

Locked rooms



There's a room somewhere, locked up, left alone,
an empty corridor furred thick with dust;
no chink of sunlight, no winking cell phone -
days grow a skin in there, curdle and crust.

The guitar stands abandoned, falls out of tune,
no hand even offhand touches the frets,
the lamp's straight, the table's no longer strewn
with papers and sheet music and headsets.

The silence spins its own threads and curtains,
the paint in a corner sags by degrees,
months scab over, the door's harder to open,
locks won't yield to a bunch of rusty keys.

Neither you nor I go there too often,
the dust of silence is layered, and thickens.






Still kind of wrapped up in the 'house' metaphor. Too many locked rooms, too many subjects that we are silent about. Need to be aired out with a bit of straight talk. But meaningful dissent is being slowly stifled, it's being equated with a lack of patriotism or even criminality. Activists are raided and harassed. History is being revised to suit political agendas. 

Last week, an archaic law criminalising homosexuality was struck down by the Indian Supreme Court. Still a lot of inequality in my world, a lot of marginalisation and discrimination based on gender or sexuality or appearance or where someone was born. But one step away from that. Every step is a landmark and aids the slow march to the destination.














Friday, 7 September 2018

বাংলায়


Image credit




মাঝে মাঝে তাই  শুধু বাংলায়  বলে  -

অন্যের থেকে ধার নেওয়া কথার ধার

বেশি  লাগে, ছড়ে হাত, মন, স্বপ্ন,

শব্দ শুনতে পায়  রূপক ছেঁড়ার।



অনেক কিছুই গাঁথা  এই ঘেরাটোপে

অনেক কথা দিয়ে ছাউনি ছাওয়া,

কিন্তু সেখানেও অবসাদ নামে

গাঁথনির ফাঁকে ফাঁকে হিমেল হাওয়া



সুঁচের  মতন বেঁধে মাথায় কানে,

বাতাসের ঝাপটায় সব অগোছালো,

শুকনো পাতার মতো  টুকরো কথা

না দেওয়াল, না ছাত ছাওয়া যায় ভালো।



অন্যের জরি, ফোঁড় - ছন্দের মখমলে

বেমানান  ঠেকে - তাই বাংলায় বলে।




in bengali


that's why it only speaks in bengali sometimes -
the edge of borrowed language feels too sharp
ends up scratching hands, hearts, dreams, it hears
the sounds of metaphors being torn up

many things are pinned down in this enclosure
the awning's made of many stories, words
but even so, exhaustion trickles in, 
spaces in between let in icy winds

which prick ears and minds like sharp needles,
gusts of wind ruffle and mess up everything,
fragments of words like withered, crisp leaves,
they can't be used to build walls nor thatch roofs.

someone else's stitches, threads on the velvet of rhymes
feels awkward sometimes, so it speaks bengali.




The first difficulty in translating Bengali to English I face is that Bengali does not have any capitalisation. Whatever line breaks one might use, the eye travels smoother over the lines, there is less of a 'break'. Apart from the other word to word losses in translation that is.  

The word Bangla is used by native speakers for both the land and the language so 'In Bangla' can mean in the language or in the region/space - can't translate those shades of meanings. The word 'dhaar' means both 'sharpness' and 'borrow' so 'dhaar kora kothar dhaar' - how to get that to transition into English? 'the edge of borrowed language' is the closest I thought but the alliteration becomes different, more of an internal rhyme - the end syllable of language and edge rather than the phonetic sounds at word beginnings. 

The translation is a bare bones word for word sense. Or maybe senseless. But thought I'd just bung it in because most of my visitors here don't read Bengali. What do you think?






Sunday, 2 September 2018

Nightfall




The sky turns its face towards me
and raises a brow in a question mark
will you know me wherever I am
and wherever you are? Without
the fingerprints of a single star?
I don’t know, I whisper. But I am
being diplomatic. The sky’s the same
everywhere. I don’t wish to hurt
any feelings. Probably meet again
unexpectedly in another city
somewhere. The smoke of evenings coils
around me upwards, the factory
whistles its workers slowly home.
Nearby a stripped tree wears nesting
sparrows like sparse winter foliage.
The shoeshine man sits at the crossroads
of darkness and cobbles the soles
of scuffed daydreams.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

This one is for you, Anonymous




If you do not sign your name,
never mind what you’ve praised -
the blog, the poet or poem,
your comment gets erased.

All those garbled adverts for
the stuff that you want clicked
will stay hidden where they are
the rules are firm and strict.

So don’t bother commenting
if your name you won’t sign.
Jane and Anne, Joe and Justin,
Yusuf, Lakshman, Benyamin,
Juhi, Roohi, and Yasmin,
from human to feline,

all are welcome, read and write
whatever you wish to,
please keep the tone here polite
as civil people do.

But Gus who comes Anonymous
and the guy who is sly
won’t get their nefarious
scheming words to fly.

The delete button’s merciless
and the spam folder’s huge -
that’s where they all will languish
minus the subterfuge.




Spammers have been superbusy here lately. Some of them are quite hilarious actually. One cheeky comment asked if I'm having problems with spam this month?  Nope, not me! Thought they deserved a poem for the hard work. :)



Sunday, 19 August 2018

Starless




It takes less than a star strike
for worlds to break apart
for rooms to stop breathing
for windows to go blind.

What did you think it was like? –
the starless and their smarts
just like rhyme cubes freezing
in ice trays of the mind

heart shaped, and spear, and spike,
and the full suite of art
in some crook of evening
uncombed unpolished unshined.

Greater than the conceits
of plastic trays and heartbeats.





I just wanted to say here that Kerala in South India, in peacetime known as 'God's own country,' is reeling from floods. Hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands displaced and/or homeless. Hospitals have had to shut down for the first time. People are marooned in their own homes. The news is beyond distressing. Here is how you can help.












Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Write...Edit...Publish...+ IWSG team up to write together! August 2018





This month is a milestone for Write...Edit...Publish... as it teams up with Insecure Writer's Support Group...so excited! I'm here with a flash, which is only very slightly over word count. Thank you for reading.


The Recovery

What can you do?

He comes back from the hospital after the transplant, a chance at a second life, and you are afraid even to smile, to show how happy you are in case you attract the wrath of the gods.  The post-op at home goes well, except you are still in the adrenaline-charged ultra-vigilant mode after it has stopped being necessary. You are afraid to let go of fear, that’s your comfort zone. The Lakshman Rekha beyond which you haven’t ventured for a long, long time.

At first you don’t notice anything different, if his manner is a shade brusque at times you think nothing of it, attribute it to the cascading pain that's part of recovery. But as the pain diminishes, the difference escalates. The way he brushes off your hand tucking his sheet, the way he brushes off your suggestion of sitting in the garden. But still, you make allowances. You are used to making allowances. That too is within the Lakshman Rekha, well-trodden, familiar territory. You are filled with a love that can forgive anything. You're too happy to sweat the petty stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there. The eyes on the pillow change subtly, a totally strange patina of roughness, direct, bold, searing. They follow you round the room silently and you end up feeling as if a hundred eyes were on you. They are on you those hundred-irises, a weirdly red-eyed Indra, when you are upstairs on the terrace, or in the back garden hanging out the laundry, even when you are in the bath. You feel his eyes and suddenly turn around when you are out alone at the pharmacy one morning.   

He starts speaking a language you’ve never heard before.  The characteristic laid-back gentleness is gone, its place taken by rudeness. The tone changes, peevish and complaining at the slightest perception of ill-use. You have no idea what you have done to deserve this behavior, the constant accusations of neglect. The brushing off of your hand changes to a sharp smack one day as his strength improves. He shoves you out of the way on another. In a fit of pique at some triviality he calls you a name so offensive  that you are stunned to silence.  But he denies it when you do speak up finally. Looks at you as if you are deranged.

You leave the room, he doesn’t call you back. You cry yourself to sleep that night in the spare room for the first time in years. For the first time you wonder if life before this was better? Is a precarious, medical crises-ridden life worse than this stable recovery and a future wrapped in roughness? Is this how a quarter century of love ends?

He begins moving around independently. At the follow up the doctors are pleased with progress. He speaks like his old self in the consulting rooms and you feel you must have imagined the whole thing. The atmosphere is so normal that you can’t figure how to get the consultant alone, to broach the subject at all. You both drive back home, in the car he criticises your driving nonstop, your tongue-tied demeanour at the hospital. You can’t believe the change that happens in half an hour, a complete flip.

You can’t believe it either when you come upon him in the garden, holding a pair of secateurs, running his finger along the cutting edge. He says you need to buy a new pair.  You don’t tell him that you got the odd-job man to buy one just a few weeks ago. Days later he is in the kitchen sharpening the cleavers. He looks at them and then looks at you and you don’t know what to think anymore. A new fear clutches at you, fuzzy, unfamiliar, beyond the farthest borders of all the Lakshman Rekhas you have ever known.

You stop crying yourself to sleep in the spare room, you lock the door at night. You visit a friend and talk about the problem in the vaguest possible terms. What if the donor was...a certain sort? She looks at you quite baffled and you can’t bring yourself to articulate anything more.

You finally find the courage to call the doctor privately and are less reticent with her. But she too is baffled. No, that’s impossible, she says in a tone that makes it clear she thinks you’re the one who is slightly unhinged. She suggests counselling, she knows this most discreet therapist you could consider. It’s stressful looking after someone who’s been an invalid for so long, Mrs Sen. Call if you need anything. Don’t stress yourself. Goodbye Mrs Sen.

At dinner he is more than usually irritable, questioning your whereabouts. He yells at you, nags you for being gone the whole evening when you weren’t. But you jump when he raises his voice, your hands tremble while serving the vegetables. Your nerves are shot. He smiles smugly as if the tremors prove your guilt. 

“Who are you seeing, why are you away so much?” he shouts and tears into the bread with unnecessary force, while you sit there incandescent with fury and heartbroken at the same time.

“This is insane, Mohan!” you barely manage to whisper.

He yells even louder at you. And he’s saying the same thing as the doctor only much less politely. You are the one who is insane, not him.

“No, it’s you Mohan. Stop yelling, it’s bad for you. It’s you who’ve changed. Your heart has changed towards me. I noticed it right after you came home,” you finally screw up the courage to say it. And as soon as the words are out you feel calmer.

“You crazy woman! A heart transplant doesn’t change feelings! What’s your game exactly?”


Yes, Mohan, it does. It has. They’ve put some unknown criminal’s heart into you and you’re behaving just like one. Who knows the chemistry of transplants and what affects behavior? The ancients thought the heart was the seat of reasoning and emotions, the source of all life force. But you don’t say anything. 

What can you do?


~~~

WC - 1021
FCA

A few explanations for those who are not familiar with Indian mythology

Lakshman Rekha – lit Lakshman line. Red line, a line that must not be crossed. From the epic Ramayana (composed around 500 BCE). Lakshman the younger brother of Ram, drew a ‘safe’ boundary around their cottage in the forest to protect Ram’s wife Sita, while she was alone. She stepped out of that boundary and was abducted and the whole epic hinges around the battle to rescue her.

Indra – is the king of the gods in the Hindu pantheon. While viewing a most beautiful celestial nymph called Tilottama, Indra developed a hundred red eyes on his body. From the epic Mahabharata, composed after Ramayana.

This flash is an excerpt from the story I'm developing at an ongoing MOOC from the International Writing Programme at University of Iowa - Moving the Margins : Fiction and Inclusion.  

Read the other entries here: