Sunday, 5 February 2023

All through this month and 24/7

 


III.




If I had nine lives, like a cat, I would hold

more pens and placards, be a bit less bothered

with hemlines and hats, people’s different thresholds.

Give silence its due too, be less awed by words.

Though I’d look at the hollow made by your head

in the cushion, I’d still want to write sonnets

starting and ending with you whether you read

them or not. And I’d almost never forget

passwords. Maybe try being an accountant

in some life midway – if it suited better

I’d stay in it for the rest, I’m reluctant

to change for the sake of it. Write more letters

by hand, use them more mindfully in all nine

and each time, I’d still want yours to hold in mine.


~^~*~^~*~^~


Last November I wrote a series of nine poems in which I explored the theme of love and posted a couple of those at the time. I'll be putting some of the others up here through out this month as I celebrate the same in all its myriad shapes and sizes. And mid-month we are starting off with the first Write...Edit...Publish...Challenge, a new look site and prompts based on movie magic, what's not to love, right?



~^~*~^~*~^~


In the Hindu belief system - and I might as well tell you at the outset, I am no expert on it, it is held that death doesn't part the souls of a wedded pair, their union is said to persist for seven lifetimes. The whole system is predicated - not on a single life and then eternal rest but reincarnations through many births and many deaths and some bonds lasting for more than one cycle. I'm quite happy with that part. Personally, I'll take the same pairing for the next however many lives I have to go through, no issues with that.


Whether a soul gets reborn or not depends on the weight of the sins, its karma, accumulated in a previous life. If it leads a sin free life, then it gets free of the eternal cycle of birth and death and unites with the cosmic soul and is absorbed into an Absolute Bliss. It doesn't have to come back to earth to suffer any pain. Earth is referred to as Martaloka or the domain of death while where the soul goes once it is freed is called Amritaloka and Anandaloka - the space of deathlessness/ecstasy. All material things are an illusion, earthly bonds hold the soul back, the smart thing in this given system is naturally  to detach pronto and hurry to that blissful cosmic union asap. 


In short, the belief is that life on earth is generally a pain in the neck and the sooner one can escape it the better, the greater the part of eternity the soul can spend in perfect communion with the One, in perfect bliss. That first part I'm not so cool with - earth seems a good enough space to me, and being in a human body does not feel as horrible as it's made out to be - death, attachment, grief, suffering, all the nonsense and violence going on in the world notwithstanding. I mean, I'm not knocking absolute bliss, moksha, detachment  or anything, they may well be as super awesome as the sacred texts promise. Only that I don't think this entire earthly existence needs to be so thoroughly trashed, that's all.  It can be mildly enjoyable here too, at times, no harm in admitting that. The planet's breath taking, being human can be quite alright too, there's love and kindness and inspiration and all kinds of other goodies, so c'mon, ditch the nonstop negativity already.... Just saying. 


Here's to a mildly enjoyable week and life on earth in general. To your February and mine. May all conflicts be gobbled up by the forces of love everywhere. 





Monday, 30 January 2023

Inexplicit, 29th January

 

Your love wasn’t given in lunch box notes,

wasn’t nailed to the bed in a stocking.

It was in a firmly buttoned raincoat

a calm hand offered crossing the Ring road.

It didn’t really set much store by talking.

 

Your love wasn’t given in countable stuff,

in branded clothes and trainers, themed décor.

It was there in the knock when I had stayed up

late into the night, in the abrupt ‘enough’

at the thin line of light under my door.

 

It was given in ways so unobtrusive –

in the kneading of dough, in workaday hands

on the wheels - showing how to love and live

without words making it threadbare explicit –

unnoticed, but quite easy to understand.







Yesterday was my parents' wedding anniversary, so...My February and celebration of love starts end January and continues till 29th Feb which is my father's birthday (marked on 1st March on non-leap years). 


Though I have to confess that I am not much for Valentines and such myself, I am more into the idea that love is to be celebrated at every opportunity, 24/7. It's just that I don't like the Indian right wing going around brandishing their weird morality meter and thrusting it down everybody's throat. Valentine's Day is a western import like many other things and it's up to each individual how s/he will express their love, whether through western imports or eastern traditions or whatever. Get thee behind us pronto, the Indian Taliban! The erosion of women's rights in the last few years is truly unbelievable and being carried out in insidious ways. 


Anyways, I digress. One of the things that floated into my mind yesterday as I was thinking of my parents is that how memories of death tend to overshadow those of the life lived. I struggle to dissociate the isolated last few years and terribly painful, lonely deaths my parents went through, from the long years of happier, more pleasant times they had with each other, with me and with their wider families. 


Their deaths were marked by my physical absence but I was, due to technology, able to witness nearly all of their struggle right up to the very last, for which I am thankful and no mistake. Because from my pov, the alternative would have been even more unbearable. But from theirs, I was not present at the deathbed and not able to offer any comfort. That has skewed my grief with a whole heap of complex emotions and it is not an easy process to untangle this. But the untangling is necessary if I'm to stop defining their life only in terms of their deaths. My father grieved my mother alone in complete isolation for 11 months. He lived for 89 years, fully active for 85 till a stroke made him housebound. That's a good measure of happiness to offset against a year of difficult dying, terrible as it is. Each must be given its due weightage. I'm learning to do that and be thankful for this too. 


As a family, we didn't talk much about emotions, though we talked a lot about other things, my mother especially wasn't a silent person. My father, once he retired, talked and wrote about his childhood in his ancestral village, his life in towns and cities in India growing up and working. Overall, they weren't a touchy feely generation, they had seen too much hardship when young - the partition, the wars, the famine, the communal violence, their own uprooting and relocations forced by circumstances, the untimely, shocking losses in the family. It had squeezed the sentimentality out of them I think, but made them into quietly, deeply loving people. I celebrate them and their ways of loving and I'm determined that somewhere, someday, I'll be able to to do that without their deaths clouding my memories of their life. 



Monday, 23 January 2023

Would it be easier to process?

 

Detail from a famous Mughal tomb, Delhi.



Would grief be different if it had a headstone,

a slab of marble, an engraved epitaph,

would it be easier to process, move on

if it had more than just a photograph?

 

If the ashes weren’t dispersed, anonymous

part of the delta and onward to the bay

would it be simpler if there were a focus?

A tangible niche for a lamp or bouquet?

 

Would grief be different if it didn’t have to

look up to stars and ease be reimagined,

to look for heaven in seas and skies of blue,

to dredge for peace the rain and the sweep of wind.

 

Would it dissolve quicker and so integrate

if there were a concrete spot to touch and weep,

could a grave contain its unbearable weight

and would that make it simpler to breathe and sleep?




Once upon a time that is now light years away, a Scottish friend and I were in a deep conversation about the disposal of the dead in various cultures. I told her about the Indian Hindu practice of cremating bodies on funeral pyres lit by the eldest son. She had shuddered and said two things that stayed with me - 

1) pretty traumatising for the son, especially if young

                     and 

2) where do you go to put flowers then?


Where, indeed?


Cremation was actually quite common in many cultures, the Ancient Greeks and Romans both certainly practiced it, as well as some Nordic folks. A little different from the current practice in India, because the ashes from the pyre (which consist of the bones, all else is consumed) weren't necessarily scattered or immersed in rivers, but given a ritual burial. Therefore, there was still something tangible for the family/loved ones to gather around and feel connected to. 


This the Indian practice does not encourage because holding onto any part of the body is believed to hold the departed soul back in its spiritual journey onward. Plus it is a forcible realisation for the family and helps them accept the finality of death. The process starts with the ritual cremation and immersion of ashes. And then progresses in stages till the 4th and 11th days, and then at monthly intervals up to the first anniversary of the death. This is what my mother had explained when I brought this topic up with her. Letting go in one fell swoop and then acclimatising to it over a year. At the time, I accepted it without much thinking, I mean, who even thinks at that age, right?


But now that I'm older and slower to accept things as given, plus I have lost several family members in quick succession over the last three years, I'm wondering... If letting the remains flow away to the oceans and become an unknown part of the planet is really the best way forward for the living. Certainly from the societal point of view, considering land scarcity in cities and saturated graveyards, yes that's so. But from the pov of individual trying to get used to the absence? Does it have to be this drastic and must they have no place to go to and draw breath? Would grief be different, made easier if there was something of the earthly body of the departed left, however minuscule, on the same plane as the living? 


The other, and massive, disadvantage of cremating the dead, is that a whole heap of historical records are lost. Also in one fell swoop. Not to mention the forensic evidence in dodgy circs.






Sunday, 15 January 2023

To go or not to go

 




You want to go, but know you must stay,

you want to stay but know you must leave,

your head and heart both in disarray -

the exact balance hard to achieve.

 

It’s been so long since you slotted in,

you’ve been an outsider everywhere -

kin to strangers, stranger to your kin

your roof got built neither here nor there.

 

You’ve been a minority of one

except for just a few years of grace

and now it’s become an addiction

this constant movement from place to place.

 

But even so, you don’t want to stop -

and be consumed by walls and rooftop.



Well, the one that wasn't supposed to start off the year suddenly got way too big for its boots and developed a mind of its own. It just ran away with its own smug self and has now added nine more parts to itself...and still counting...


Presenting the third part...good thing that pen or word control is not on the agenda for this year. 


Meanwhile, another piece of mine got published on The Daily Life Magazine last month. I'm tardy with links, but it doesn't matter really. January is a good time to plan, any month is a good time because...as we all know - 'plans are nothing; planning is everything.' 


Next month is a Challenge month at WEP and it will kick off a set off luscious movie-based writing prompts, I'm super excited about that! Check them out here.


Monday, 9 January 2023

Even after so many years, not quite at home...

 ...and probably never going to be... 



There’s a difference, slight, hard to pinpoint

between home and homeland – for a few,

along the axis, that see-through joint

of comfort zones with the love for new.

 

You turn the keys in familiar locks

and knock at doors you’ve knocked at before

but every room morphs into a clock

and points you back at that very door.

 

One tugs you back and one yanks you on

never mind how firm your hold or stand,

there are other rivers, banks, soil, stone –

the urgent calls of a different land.

 

You’ll never again quite settle down

because your home isn’t your hometown.



Hellow and happy happies to you. Hope your year has started well and continues to treat you kindly and fairly. 


This is not the poem I'd wanted to see the year in with, seriously. I thought this year I'll get something you know, a bit peppy and upbeat. But...here it is, this is the first poem that got written, what can one do? More importantly, should one want to do something? Nonpeppy can be happy too, can't it? It feels more honest right now. So let me say that again, a nonpeppy- honest, happy new year to you. 


I don't do resolutions for a long time now. Among my irresolute goals are, as always - be and breathe and stress less. Write it as it comes and stop trying to be peppy and sundry other things you know you can't be. Believe that other people know it too, no-one gets taken in by a false, shrill upbeat.  


The home leave was hectic and wonderful. Pocked a bit with horrible officialese and paperwork and medical issues - all got resolved, except some minor stuff. So no biggie. Didn't have much time to log on here though, will be making up for lost time now hopefully. 


Stay well. 


Sunday, 18 December 2022

Year end 2K22 : Not Just a Christmas Thing

 


One year, many years ago when the blog was still a toddler unsteady on its legs, my father and I got into a discussion about Irene Rutherford's poem 'Is Love Then So Simple?' That spun off many responses in my head and one of them was this 'ereunder. Reposting it because it felt particularly appropriate just now.





Love Is Not Just a Christmas Thing

I’ll love you with the dance in my bones
and the pigeon calls in my veins
with the soil of my flesh and its stones,
the bungled belly laugh in my brains.


I’ll love you when the dances get dim
when the anklets draw hooks and blood
when pirouette is brimstone and grim
the last thrash of fish on the mud.


I’ll love you when the tinsel’s trash
when the tree’s just needles on the floor
all festive is only one flash,
and the dark is the maw of the door.


I’ll love you still when the music thins
under the amber songs of dawnskins.







It's been an extraordinary year - the good, the bad and the ugly. The challenges have been many - some earth shattering, some just a pinprick, but then so have the high points.

But...at this time, every year end, the bad and the ugly somehow drain away and only the residues of the good remain, like the faint smear of sand on fingers that have been building sandcastles on the beach for too long. That can't be dusted away no matter how hard I try. Has to be properly scrubbed off under the shower, now that it's dark and play must be taken indoors. 

However, I have to confess I'm not taking that shower yet. As I am content to go around with the grit under my nails and inside my shoes, ever so slightly uncomfortable but welcome still because it originates from a place of happiness.  Thankful for everything the year has brought me, the learning that has happened, the castles that have been built and those that fell and/or never got finished. Everything has its place in the wider scheme of things and nothing is ever wasted, not even a grain...my mother, Arundhati, used to say that often.

The advantage of having a mother who was named after a star is that I just have to look up at the night sky and there she is....still twinkling down at me with all her wisdom and laughter and life lessons and love and constancy, still steadfastly beside her partner star in the heavens. Both my parents have been with me all through this year - the farther I travel out from the centre, the closer they watch over me and my family, the deeper and broader their presence feels in my life, both present and past. And hopefully in the future too. 

Wishing you all the joys of this festive season. Happiness, peace and plenty of sandcastles to build in 2023. See you in the New Year!

Sunday, 4 December 2022

Solo Dinners in Front of the TV

 




It's fine in the daytime, there are children

on the grass, noisy buses going past,

the incessant birds, faraway workmen.

The dark palm wood beams sloping upwards cast

shadows familiar for months. But when

darkness falls, the lights come on, traffic thins,

I heat a meal for one - rice or ramen,

bread and soup. You're away, you won't be in

so I eat at the frantic screens, the phone

and TV turned to their loudest volume

to mimic company while I'm alone.

A fake calm puddled in the empty room.

That is when the walls snarl, concrete and chrome

bare their fangs. This no longer feels like home.




I am travelling, off to a place that does feel like home no matter who or what is in it. :) I'll be moving around visiting family so I'll catch up with you as and when I can. The WEP Challenge is on this month and I'm the cohost for Dec so of course I'll be present there through the month. 


Wishing you happy holidays, peace, good health and happiness throughout the coming year. A very merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating and a happy, healthful and tranquil New Year 2023 to you. 



Thursday, 1 December 2022

Write... Edit... Publish... December 2022 : The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Honestly, can you believe the year is over? It's gone like a puff of smoke. But before it disappears altogether it's time for the last challenge at Write...Edit...Publish... based on Roberta Flack's iconic number - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.  Here is my entry, an excerpt from what's going to be a  rather long short story. I hope you  enjoy it.



Chiaroscuro


The first time...Wait, no, hang on a minute. I didn’t really see your face, did I now? So I damn well couldn’t think the sun and moon rose in your eyes, even if I had a mind to. Did I get a shivery someone-walking-over-my-grave feeling that this person will turn out to have some monumental impact on my life? No, to be honest, not even that.

 

Truth be told, I’d just felt a stab of interest and admired the photograph. Clear, crisp, high contrast, the chiaroscuro effects superbly employed. Not many people put up B/W photos on their profiles now, the vast majority of photography is carried out in colour, often overmanipulated, too vivid to be true with a million filters available at the touch of a single button. So it’s intriguing when one comes upon a stark portrait like that – a lady in the fashions of decades ago sitting formally at a Victorian table with an outsize art deco radio, a vase of flowers and a silver framed photo. Too senior to  have an independent social media profile, so I assumed it was the job of a  grandkid. Which, you told me later, was true, it was uploaded by you, she was your grandmother. Your picture was the one framed in silver, your babyface partially visible and anyway too blurry to see suns and moons anywhere. I liked that idea – the invisible profile pic. Meeting the requirement of being pictorially present without giving anything away, quiet, private, a little quirky. Also a tribute to your grandmother whose death anniversary had just passed. I liked that even better.

 

Anyway, all that came later. I saw the profile pic and on some insane impulse, messaged you about the provenance of the photo. It must have stood out from the wannabe-friends messages that beautiful women get by the bucketful. Different enough that you wrote back - the studio stamp was legible on the back, the name was clear, the address was too faded to read. No date, but roughly mid/late 70s from the baby photo. Even that had the same name at the back. You wrote you’d taken it out of the frame and checked. You even attached a picture of the stamp. It was like a gut punch – bony fist reaching out from a forgotten past and socking me a massive one. Took my breath clean away. I had come a long way from the last time I saw that name.

 

***


My mother’s uncle, Samudra or Sam Gain, was one of the first non-European  photographers employed by Bourne & Shepherd’s in post-colonial times. He later opened his own studio. It did moderately well, photography had a different weight those days, it was specialised and somewhat more seriously practiced  as art and/or business.

 

He used to take me to the studio often when I was a child. I remember watching him in the darkroom, the details of the images slowly getting filled in – it was magical to a child’s eye. He employed an assistant when the running around got too much. People joined, photographers and accountants came and went. I got to high school and had no more time to lounge around watching films being developed. The B/W photos in the window got replaced by colour prints. Sam got a little more stooped. But his hand was still steady on the shutter button. Then one day, he died – there in the darkroom, without any warning, any preparation, felled clean in one stroke. He was unmarried and had no other surviving relatives except my mother and her sisters. The studio with its forty-year load of images passed to them.

 

His three nieces and nephews-in-law knew zilch about photography or running a business. They agreed that there might be negatives of archival value stacked away in the backroom. But no one had the time to look through them. The junior photographer kept on for sometime, but he couldn’t carry the studio on his back like the original owner. The orders dried up, the staff dispersed and soon the doors were shuttered. The signboard got so dusty that the lettering - Focussed Gain’s could hardly be read.

 

***

That random photo opened up two parallel conversations – one with you, thus the details about your grandmother. The other with my parents about the studio, whether anything had been done with the little two-and-a-half-room corner of that large property, where Sam Gain had meticulously photographed his clientele.

 

No, they told me, the tenants on the other floors refused to move. The negatives were still untouched, gone beyond retrieval probably by now. The rooms couldn’t be let out unless someone cleared out the whole place. The property itself was getting into its 7th decade and needed massive repairs. No-one had the time or energy to take on that job. Or that of wrapping up a dead man’s existence. If he had had his own children, maybe they could have. But it didn’t seem fair to ask great nephews/nieces to upend their life and sort out the aftermath of his death.


“Why?” my mother asked, “after so long?”


I didn’t know the answer. Seriously, why? I was working abroad, settled in my life, I had left my hometown more than a decade ago. Why was I letting an old photograph randomly viewed, stir up what? I couldn’t even properly name it –  vague disquiet?  hankering? - for impractical explorations, to connect imaginary dots where probably not a speck existed.  


I resolved to put this whole wild goose digital chase to an end. But then you wrote you had made some enquiries of your own. The props – the table, the wooden polished radio, had never been part of your grandmother’s home, no one could identify where the photo was taken. That silver frame was the only thing that everyone remembered and that was with you.  There was something rather odd, an undercurrent in the messages which I couldn’t pin down. Maybe there were some dots to connect after all.

 

WC - 1000

FCA

Tagline : A random photo can open up a can of worms...

~~~~~~~~


Okay, so that's as far as I can get with the word limit. The full thing will probably run to about 5K or more, we'll see. The MC will go back to his hometown, to his great uncle's studio and discover things that connect the grandmother and granddaughter to Sam Gain. Against the backdrop of B/W photography in mid-20th century Calcutta.

Will the MC fall for the granddaughter? Should he? Will that make the story more interesting? What do you think?

Incidentally, Bourne & Shepherd was one of the oldest photography studios in the world, set up in 1863 and finally closed a few years ago. There were many studios during the 60's and 70's in Calcutta and studio portraits did good business. 

I'm hoping this story when done will become the final title of a collection of shorts themed on the word 'return.' 


Read the other entries here:




~~~~~~~~

Like the previous years, Plague Year 3 has been mixed, life has continued to throw challenges at an unprecedented rate, some I've enjoyed and some not so much. I am expecting the next year to bring more changes - keeping my lamps trimmed and ready for them, nothing fazed! Most changes pan out positive given time - at least in my experience, anyway. 


Wish you all a happy festive season and a wonderful, joyous, healthful, fun and tranquil 2023! Much travel for those who like travelling, stillness for those who prefer to be still and a good balance for those who like both. Keep smiling, keep writing. 


Sunday, 27 November 2022

The Love of Ordinary

 



The sunset is snagged for a minute

on the window of the moving car.

It makes me glad - that we are in it

circling sun and island as we are.

 

Ordinary things make me happy -

the sounds at the pump as you refuel,

the curve of road, the strength of coffee,

minute grass flowers strewn like small jewels.

 

The ancient trees that make the forest,

the curve of the moon that makes the tide,

this poem written in the smallest,

quietest words with you at my side. 

 

 


This one's dedicated to the Hilaire Belloc poetry fan, who will deign to read no others. Which means I can write whatever I please, that's got to be good. And all rather ordinary. :) 



And here is another bit of ordinary and boring...




Monday, 21 November 2022

The Love Song of an Un-Prufrock

 

II.


If I had, like a cat, nine lives – I believe

I’d let my mother’s china be with someone

who’d use it more. I’d eat off banana leaves,

drink more from clay cups in each one rather than

fine, foreign porcelain. I’d use the word foreign

itself a lot less because more things would be

mine to cherish without paying attention

to their provenance, craftsman’s nationality.

In those other lives, I’d smell more books and rain

buy fewer umbrellas and be less afraid,

just squeeze your hand tighter when the thunder came.

I’d look more closely at the dents raindrops make

on the sands. Also at your thumbprints on glass,

leave the smudges. Learn to photograph the grass.




Pleased to report that this whole series is now complete, all nine of them. And I got some others written in the idle-time between them too. A good crop, all in all. 

The birthday always falls around the time my American friends and family celebrate Thanksgiving - and it's always seemed to me a good one to borrow into my own life. This year it feels extra special due to various reasons, not least among them the personal harvest situation going on - written and unwritten, countable and uncountable. Giving thanks for each one of them, every single day. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you in advance if you're observing. And the happiest of weeks to you if you're not. 



Monday, 14 November 2022

Easy peasy

 


Living in a house with umbrellas hasn’t been

something given for the longest time. The rain

comes but rarely in the desert. I’ve only seen

a rainbow there once, though some places do contain

the word within themselves, in their very name -

it feels aspirational – more a hankering.

In the local language it’s simply not the same -

the vowel sound, the suffix, mean quite different things.

 

I watch it come down, drip from the overhang of

the porch, umbrellas shut and open like moth wings

colours darkened by a shade, bedewed, glistening,

and climb back into rain compatible living,

the feel of damp laundry, dark, moistened earth. Love

comes easy - for the desert, for the rain falling.




For those who are interested, the project of the celebratory Love Song of the UnPrufrock in nine parts is coming along nicely, seven done, two more to go, so more than halfway there in less than half the month - good progress. I've been dabbling in other love songs in between...