My Fortnight In A Playlist of Poetry

I haven’t really felt like writing much of late. I also haven’t felt like talking or socialising as much. It has been a month of enjoying the cliched ‘my own company’. And no, I don’t mean solo dates. I mean, there is so much going on even when I’m only talking to myself.

Anyway, I haven’t exactly been antisocial. There has been work. And in addition, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry events. That doesn’t feel as much like socialising, especially if it’s newer venues and events. I’ve been seeking the last actively for awhile and I found two. They’re great for now because they are fresh enough to be open to all forms of poetry and attract completely fresh slate minds. So yes, there’s cliches, there’s teenage angst and canned feminism and stale cynicism. But it comes from unfamiliar faces, in newer stories. And best of all, the career poets haven’t showed up as yet. These are the people who are approach poetry, performance and events the same way mid-level managers approach corporate events armed with visiting cards and antacids.

I realise how bitchy that sounds considering a fair lot of them are known to me. I hesitate to call most of them friends because I learnt more than a year later that they’re no different from the b-school alumni meet crowd. There used to be a certain quality to the poetry with performers like this but now it’s all so formulaic and worst of all, drowned in the politics of who’s getting showcased, who’s performing on which show, who got paid and how much. And with all that comes the condescension, the backbiting, the sniping (in whispers and in poetry). Writers are truly appalling people. Well, people are appalling people.

Anyway, I discovered entirely by mistake two new platforms. The first was Art Refurbish’s poetry slam + Open Mic at Khar Social. The crowd was entirely unfamiliar. I made it in late after having wrapped up a three hour webinar and a trek through the heat. The freshness of the performances and the audience was invigorating. I was one of the last performers and I did ‘Paper Plane‘ but I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time. Truly, this is a wonderful medium that allows your old stories to be reborn with every telling.

The Hive feels like homebase now but the crowd was almost all new and there was a new host too. For all intents and purposes, that makes it a new event. I brought out ‘Paper Dolls‘ from my TARQ event earlier this year.

Tuning Fork turned up two events within the space of a week. The first time, I was wearing a saree just because I was in a mood to. And I went in with ‘Feminist Poetry‘ well, because I thought it would be funny to do that particular piece when the audience probably expected more ‘respectable, traditional poetry from the woman in the saree’. An old poet-friend had referenced angry feminists in his heartbreak poetry earlier. I called him out mid-performance and the audience laughed, him along with them all.:-)

The next week, I was determined to not continue with the feminism theme. I had attended the Caferati Open Mic at Prithvi earlier in the evening after all. Karthik showed up as a surprise and we performed ‘Lullaby‘ there.

But at Tuning Fork later in the night, one young man started his piece addressing the (exaggerated airquotes) FEMININAZIS in the audience. Several people turned around and looked right at me and when it was my turn, they hooted. So I changed my plan and went in with ‘SuperWoman‘.

And then, when I finished, I got off the stage, changed my mind and returned to request another performance. I concluded with ‘Paper Plane‘, my third rendition in two weeks (I also addressed Manisha’s Creative Writing class and concluded my talk with a rendition, not recorded).

Later that night, the young man came up to me and said “Well played.” I grinned back at him. This is so cool. Banter and conversations in poetry. Me for the world, only in poetry. I’ll enjoy it while I can.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Thane Chronicles: Poetry, Music & Sweet Unions

Poetry Tuesdays:  Feature Performance by Ramya Pandyan & Karthik Rao

Last Tuesday marked a lot of special milestones for me. Anish Vyavahare (he of Thane boi fame) invited me to be a feature, the first ever, for his monthly Poetry Tuesdays event. Anish and I know each other off the poetry circuit and have been grinning (and prawn curry sharing) acquaintances for nearly 6 years. We’ve collaborated on fiction in the past and talked about doing more. And he’s a key partner in bringing Alphabet Sambar to Thane.

Then there’s Thane itself. And all the credit for bringing me to this lake city lies with Swamini who came to attend my Erotica Writing workshop last year and stayed on in my life as a friend. I’m loath to say anymore, partly because of all the disastrous goodbyes that have been happening lately — I don’t want to jinx this. But yes, how wonderful Thane is now that I know its Swamini!

And finally, Karthik and I collaborated, really did this time round. In the past, we’ve met minutes before an event, jammed for a bit and just taken that to the stage. And it’s been great, great, great. This time, we practiced, we improvised, we co-created and we selected a setlist from our growing repertoire.

A bit about Karthik. We have a decade between us. He’s laidback and reticent as I’m brash and outgoing. We haven’t really known each other that long but we’ve collaborated and produced some great work more than once. These include ‘regular’ performances, a special themed performance, a poetry-art-music collaboration and now a feature performance. I like how we manage to produce something that feels good to us both, without a lot of prior choreography. I know a lot of this is possible because of the art form called Spoken Word/Performance Poetry which provides ample room for experimentation. But I also know a collaboration works when both (or more) people trust, respect each other and just have a unique chemistry. I’m very lucky (well, we both are).

When there’s a chance to perform more than one piece, I like to take the audience on a journey of ups and downs. We revised the setlist several times before deciding to open with the colourful, kickass ‘Feminist Poetry’. I always ENJOY doing this because it kicks my mood into high gear and brings out the golden, shimmering, roaring lioness in me. And if you listen carefully, you can hear Karthik’s guitar rolling out a merry, mischievous tune.

We followed this up with ‘Patchwork Relationship’, which I think has only gotten better with telling. I was cold to this piece when I first wrote it because it was craft-first rather than inspiration-first. I constructed it out of bits of twitter poetry I had posted over several nights. But I think the pieces have come together and knitted well. And with each performance, the truth of the piece seems to ‘sit’ a little better within me. I love the sombre, haunting melody that Karthik has composed for this one.

From here to my signature piece ‘Paper Plane’ which didn’t get the same dramatic response it has usually gotten. But I’ll chalk that up to line-up placement. And perhaps it wasn’t the best of my tellings.

And finally, we ended it with a new piece called ‘Lullaby’. I’m so happy with how this turned out, chiefly because of the music. I catch myself humming the tune even in the middle of the day. The writing still needs polish and I am working on it. So expect to hear much better renditions of this in the days to come!

Thank you Thane for being such a warm host. And thank you, Karthik Rao for this wonderful journey.

All Fire And Brimstone

I’m sitting up late, waiting for Youtube to pick up the clips of a sparkling Tuesday evening in Thane where I performed my best so far. I went browsing through the ‘Performance Poetry’ tag on my blog while I waited.

Amidst the records of my performances, I’ve recapped so many ups and downs. I will live in interesting times all my life. It’s not so much what happens to me as what I make of it. Manisha says I’m vulnerable, a fact she points out as logical deduction from my hair-trigger temper, my dramatic dissatisfaction with the world. I don’t know if she’s right (I’d prefer if I weren’t so transparent).

The last month was one of goodbyes and heaves and crashes. Of course, there will probably only be more and more of that as I get older. It has allowed me to let go and give up. I mean, I didn’t really have a choice but I did. It’s been a long, very long time since I had a vacation. Downtime at work doesn’t count as a vacation the same way agonizing over dying alone or pining about somebody doesn’t count as enjoying your singledom.

I don’t really know where I’m going professionally or personally. Really, other than not knowing, I’m feeling quite okay. If I allow myself room to feel answerless, to drift in grey, then I’m able to see it’s not sadness, not pain, not ill health, not confusion. It’s just that transition, empty time between one dramatic event and the next. I know now there will be something else around the corner.

I felt something for somebody. Perhaps I still do but it has ebbed as his presence waned. It still flutters and fluctuates but only in surges inside my dreams and my mind. He knows nothing of it and nor do most people around. It’s okay. I’m hoping it’ll carry me through till the next thing comes along that my heart can play with.

Alphabet Sambar has moved beyond my tightly held reins too. It was getting too big for me to manage anyway. Other people are driving it forward, not always in ways I would like it to go. But I suppose this is an essential part of being a community manager – letting it mutate and grow as it will. Who said I needed to birth a baby to learn about growing pains and the empty nest syndrome?

I ached and raged over JUST TOO MANY THINGS crashing down on me on Monday. A webinar that crossed 100 participants when I only expected about 30, resulting in chaos that I saved. Drive-by retweets and Facebook notifications. Yes, I know all of that seems like adolescent melodrama and so what? They’re my feelings and I know just how deeply they shake me.


Image via Unsplash/Olivier Miche

But Reema said something in her maddeningly sane and sage way. And she said, “You cannot be a Leo Rising with style & flamboyance when things are going okay & forget to roar through situations that have so much attached baggage”. Yes, I’ve been plunged so deep within my own inky wells of Cancer Sun and Pisces Moon that I’ve forgotten I’m also the goddamn Golden Girl up above. Time to bring the fire back. Or really, well, look that way.

What else can I say? Well, I really hope I can find something or somewhere or someone to fall in love with. This will always be important to me. I’ve always known that and I feel able to admit it now. I don’t feel truly alive unless I’m at least a little in love. And I feel, a helluva lot. I don’t have to be ashamed of it. And I don’t have to fear it. I break, yes I do. And people hurt me because they are uncomfortable around emotion (their own and hence, other people’s). But that’s not me. I am perfectly at home within my torrential, mercurial, mad emotions. I am the opposite of the calm at the center of the storm. Or rather I’m the silent pinpoint within the a raging tornado within a bewildered Earth.


#Ideastory: Artist of Reality

Reality Artist

He’s an artist of reality.

He shoots
seconds after the shutters click
when people aren’t posing anymore.

Only with his eyes.

A Pizza Slice Of Kindness

I was watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I know it’s the kind of story that a lot of us sophisticated types turn up our noses at and say “First World problems”. It’s also a story that made me hungry. How wonderful that the first raw mangoes of summer are here and I had one to accompany my sambar rice!

What struck me is the absolute absence of kindness, the hardness of our reactions. How can any one of us possibly measure what pain means to another? Who can truly determine which problems are bigger than others?

A successful white woman in an unhappy marriage versus an orphaned brown child in a war-ravaged country. Yes, I know it seems like there’s an obvious answer to whose problems are worse. Is there? Testicular cancer versus breast cancer. Arthritis versus colic pain. Diabetes versus malnourishment. An abusive partner versus a beloved partner who dies young. Our own problems are always the biggest to us.

I am learning a lesson of empathy.

If I were the chief minister of a state, I might have to make a decision between using my limited funds to either build better transportation in the cities or send relief to drought-striken villages. I can imagine I would have to weigh one problem against another and decide which one merited more time and money. But empathy is not a finite resource. It grows the more you practise it.

I know the real reason we don’t want to be kind. It’s not because we have so little of it to give. It’s because being kind means giving up the chance to blame the other person and play victim.

I thought about my ex. There is so much pain in this memory. But then, there is also sweetness when I let myself acknowledge that. Our relationship began with kindness. At some point of time, we forgot that and we became people who competed with each other. Kindness was lost in our mutual me-firsts and love went down the drain. We haven’t changed. All the things about him that touched me are still true. It is also true that he was cruel and cold and it was unfair. These two ways of making me feel, can exist together in the same person and the same world. Acknowledging this, is my act of being empathetic to myself. How often do we do this for ourselves? I know we don’t. We scream our hurt and we disguise our love. Or the other way round. But we rarely acknowledge and honour either one. Well, I’m doing that now.

I won’t take the self-help angle of give empathy in order to receive empathy. Karma is not a business transaction. This is about how lightly you tread, how smoothly you move through life. I know a lot of people will not be kind back. Many laugh. And a lot of people in the kind of hardbitten, cynical city life I live, may even try to hurt me.

But I think I’ve stumbled onto something here. I’ve survived deaths of family, friends and colleagues. I’ve survived abuse and rape. I’ve survived politicking and three recessions. These are not experiences I treasure so why would I want to put them up on a pedestal and determine my life by them? There is a lightness in not knowing, not remembering, not worrying. And I would rather look forward to a life that’s a feast, a carnival, a haven, not one that’s a battlefield. Empathy makes all of the first possible, cynicism makes the last.

171Exactly a month ago I wrote about the desperation of feeling nothing. I was sinking into the quicksand of what my life was then. A month before that I sliced my deepest emotions with a scalpel of resignation. This past month, I’ve cried a lot, broken out in acne, fallen sick five of these weeks and had a baffling period. I have lost two close friendships. A goodbye I’ve been ignoring and dreading is here. I have also met someone I like. I’ve been taking a lot of walks. I’ve been to the sea more often than I have in two years. And look at how much I’ve written in this time. Something is shifting, something is giving. Something definitely is happening.

And from what I thought was ennui, something new is coming. Maybe tomorrow I will have pizza.

The Window

Do you know why people look out of windows?

Because they’re wondering, hoping there’s a world other than what’s right in front of their eyes.

Whether you pick up a trail or not, you need to know there’s a way to escape.

At the window

(Picture courtesy Sumit Jagdale)

The Safety Valves Of Goodbyes

I am saying goodbye to two people this week. It hurts so much my eyelids are blurring into my cheekbones. Luckily Adi is in town and close at hand with a hug. And Reema is back. I am so grateful for life’s big mercies.

Truly, these are mercies. Not a solution but mercy.

I have been considering vulnerability recently. Holding the thought in my head, examining my own experiences of it, watching how I behave with it and how it sits in my psyche. I have not enjoyed vulnerability, haven’t welcomed it. I’ve treated it like it’s weakness, like it must be covered or hidden or toughened in some way. If I’ve treated my vulnerability this way, I have probably been cruel on the vulnerability of other people. But I’ll think about that in a bit. First, me.

A curious thing happened. For a change, I didn’t respond with rage or force. I didn’t hurtle into working harder, talking faster (which are my ways of aggressively running away from problems). I stayed. And I said, “I’m hurting.”

Immediately, I received a phone call. And then tweets. They were all gentle, solicitous, asking if I was okay. I didn’t use my default deflection tactics. But I said,

“No, I’m not. I don’t want to talk about it. Is that okay?”

When I put the phone down, one of the two people I was saying goodbye to, fumbled, perhaps seeing some clarity through the things weighing down on her. She said,

“I’ll write you a mail. You can choose to read it or delete it.”

I opened my mouth but before I could even say a word I saw her flinch. And I realized she just couldn’t see or hear me. There was too much clouding her judgement. Anything I said or did would only be distorted by the voices in her head.

I told her I would not delete a mail from her without reading. But that this whole thing, us, was just becoming one more thing weighing in on her. “Deal with what you have to deal with,” I said, “and just cut out the me part of your life.” I don’t know if she understands what I mean by that but I really don’t want this ending between us to become one more reason she feels victimised by the world.

I know what that feels like. I have reacted to most things, notably to disappointment, with blind pain. I’ve raged I’M HURTING HURTING HURTING HURTING so much I can’t hear or see people around me who love me, offering support or hurting too. I’ve been there. It’s delicious and heady, that burning, that pain.

Perhaps she will resurrect from that place. But I fear I do not have it in me to take people back. I don’t. It doesn’t come from vengeful anger. But I can’t bear to let people back in once they’ve broken me by putting barriers of self-obsession, delusion, disrespect or betrayal between us. Yes, it’s probably true that I hold people up to very high standards. But it’s not judgement that comes between us; it’s the walls. Weakness brings up the walls. Walls hurt. I guess I don’t like boundaries either.

Someone else who discarded me last year is trying to come back into my life. I don’t want him to. It hurt so much when he left as if I meant nothing at all. I’ve built my life back into a place that feels complete without him. There’s no room for him in it now. And any room he makes will drill a hole in a nicely created life and what if he decides to cut loose again? I’m tired of walking around with gaping holes created by people who leave on whim. One hole, one time per person is all I am willing to give the world.

I felt a lot better after I went for a walk in the beach. Sad, very sad, but not weighed down anymore. Maybe it’s this generation, maybe it’s this city, maybe it’s us. Our lives are too burdened by fears and pain collapsing in on us that we lose sight of the things and the people that matter. I cannot judge anyone for that and punishing the people I love for getting lost – is neither love nor fruitful. Perhaps vulnerability doesn’t make me weak. It makes it possible for me to see human nature as just what it is; not the universe conspiring to wound me. Acknowledging my vulnerability makes me acknowledge it other people too. And it makes it possible to accept it and move ahead without being ripped apart by the ties of pain.

Maybe goodbyes are safety valves for this very reason. Once I accepted that there’s nothing else to do but say goodbye, something odd happened. I’m awash in a very strange sense of relief. A big part of my life just opened up again. Who knows what or who will sit in it next?

WCMumbai 2016: The Community Manager – The Future Of The Blogger

I was a speaker at WordCamp Mumbai for the third time running. This time, I did something different. I walked up onto the stage with only my thoughts and nothing else. No Powerpoint, no podium, no rehearsed speech. Just me and my ideas. Take a look and tell me what you think.

All The Things Hidden Inside ‘Okay’


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