Celebrating Faiz – Poetry, Independence & Free Expression

The creative powerhouse called The Hive is hosting an evening commemorating the life and works of the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz tomorrow. There will be film screenings, readings and discourse on the life of Faiz. There will also be a special poetry feature by six poets, including me.

I’ve been experiencing the power of poetry these past few months, how it allows a thinker to shape their deepest emotions in a way that touches other people, moves crowds even. Art, activism and social commentary are closely linked to each other and I’m privileged to be a part of the space in some manner.

Come and support the cause of culture and free expression. These are the details of the event:

On: August 16, 8 pm to 10 pm
At: Huma Mansion, opposite Ahmed Bakery, Chuim Village Road, Khar (W).
Call: 9820998790
Cost: Rs 200
Tickets available at the venue
Mid-Day ran a feature on this event today here.

My Memphis

I’m looking for a place I once visited in a dream
It made reality seem like the place I must wake from
And I’ve sleepwalked to it,
ever since

Join me?
We’ll forge a path paved with words
Follow a map marked with splintered dreams
And ride there on the motorbike of your Memphis

(for WolfMamma)

Poetry In Pune: Feature @ A Bizarre Weekend, F Beach House

The Hive asked me to ride down to Pune with them and be a poetry feature at A Bizarre Weekend. That’s ‘poetry’ and ‘Pune’ in one sentence so there really was no reason to say no. :-)

It turned out to be a small, intimate gathering at F Beach House and here are the pieces I read out (rather than performed).

Flamingos is progressing with each telling and I hope that means it’s getting better. I’m very close to this piece and I’d love to know what you think.

I did Baby Invisible way back when I started and coming on the heels of a light-hearted Paper Plane, it felt heavy. But it was a relief to get it out and I didn’t want to revisit it again for awhile. But now I think it’s worth evolving further into something more. Again, what do you think?

Here’s Patchwork Relationship (I called it Love Story Season 2 in one telling). It’s my only ‘strictly poetry’ piece and while I’m happy with it, it doesn’t really evolve.

And finally, I wrote Passive Aggression in a workshop exercise ages ago and pulled it out because we had an empty slot. It’s not really performance but the sounds seem to suggest I could. What do you think, would you like to hear the sound of clanging dishes?

It was an excellent day and I’m very grateful to Culture Shoq for providing a platform for budding writers and other artists to hone and showcase their talent. The Hive is in need of donation and support. If you like my work or at very least, the fact that it becomes possible, please consider helping in some way possible. If you would like to contribute, donate, loan or invest any sum please do either in cash at The Hive or reach out to Sudeip Nair at sudeip@alivehive.org.

Falling Off The Swing

I see boredom in my eyes. Weariness. Wariness. Cynicism. An unwillingness to believe that there can be more or better or nicer or greater. This is a different sort of fear.

Does a playground stop being fun
when you fall off the swing enough times
and realise
that it won’t kill you?

Still waiting.

A Playlist Of My Spoken Word Performances As A Feature At The Hive

A new milestone. The Hive asked me to be one of their feature poets at their Open Mic yesterday. I find this immensely gratifying since I only really started thinking about performance poetry/spoken word seriously in January this year.

I knew I would have enough material to cover the 10 minute slot they allocated to me. But I wanted to make sure there was enough variety to keep the listeners entertained and engaged. I’ve been exploring the medium and I’ve tried to not get too repetitive. Also, unlike with writing, I haven’t had or haven’t given myself the luxury of multiple versions of the same trick.

Here are my performances. I started (without preamble, as I’ve been training myself to do) with SUPERWOMAN, which is a ten year work-in-progress, starting with this blogpost.

From there, I moved to a brand new piece that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. Spoken word is a mutable art form and how I feel about this idea has changed considerably in these months. I initially conceptualised it as a tale of regret, of a vital choice which I made every day and the rue I felt over not once trying the other side. Over time, it has moved from being a metaphor of my life to a picture of the city that defines me. I call this one FLAMINGOS.

And finally, I moved to the one classically ‘poetry/literary’ piece I wrote and performed a couple of months ago. Adi says it doesn’t sit as naturally with my style as others. But I wanted to try it anyway to see what I could do with it. I call it LOVE STORY SEASON 2 (or, in the page poetry version ‘Patchwork Relationship’).

The video moves on to my last piece as well. That’s the one I’m coming to think of as my signature piece. It was my first ever performance piece and its philosophy also gave me my newest tattoo. I give you again, PAPER PLANE.

And Today Was Better…

I ate two eggs this morning, breaking my week long vegetarian diet. The idea came to me when I was researching ‘Depression diet’ after my post last night. I’ve lived among so many people who face depression and tried to support them in my inadequate, fumbling ways that it never occurred to me that it could infect me as well. But respite came in the form of that tangible list of foods and actions I found. So much of it is chemical.

I felt better today. Not happier but just a little more able to cope. And then I realised that unlike a lot of those aforementioned depression afflicted people, I don’t actively enjoy feeling bad, weak, miserable, helpless or unwell. And as long as that is true, there is always hope.

Relief came from unexpected quarters. In a tweet from a stranger trying valiently, awkwardly but honestly to help. From a friend who sometimes asks for help and for the first time, felt able to offer help. From someone who went from slight acquaintance to friend when he admitted that the reason he doesn’t like a common friend is because he feels a little possessive about our friendship. From a coffee-chocolate drink with no ice shards. From a post midnight subtweeting ramble. And then the path ahead stretched on.

I’m walking. Thank you.

I Want To Stop Counting But I Don’t Know How

I turned 36 five days ago. All I feel is lost, weightless, formless, restless. Less. Less. Less. Since my last birthday, I’ve had a half-year of frenzied work and I managed to rack up again all the stress and related ailments that I accumulated during my stint in the corporate world in the 20s. Friendships were made and lost, love found and gone.

And I started 2015 feeling adult and peaceful. Health was my big drug of this year. I started waking up earlier, trying to go to bed on time and after years of scoffing at the neon, synthetic brigade, I joined a gym. I’ve been plodding and I’ve seen some results. But I don’t feel happier. I feel like I’m watering a dead plant. What is the point?

Good things have happened. I’m now officially, a published author. It was anticlimactic. I feel very little.

Three men expressed an interest in me. I navigated my way out of it, ungracefully but I made it out, not wanting to succumb to temptation just because it was offered. And literally days after that went away, two more men, both friends this time showed up, affections in hand. I feel nothing but a big crease of a frown weighing me down. As my friends, I am able to see them as funny, intelligent, caring human beings. But when love, relationships and sex come into the equation, before my eyes, they grow into selfish, brutally cruel monsters who don’t feel the need to keep their promises and who will never be punished for hurting me and the brunt of which I will have to bear. It all makes me feel so tired, I just want to curl up and go to sleep forever.

I also did an Art of Living program in the weekend just before my birthday and felt very mature about doing so instead of putting alcohol, junk food, loud music and forced smiles into my life in the guise of a party. All we did was breathe in different ways. I think it brought up a lot of things (or at least I hope that’s what it was). I can’t otherwise explain the unaccountable sense of depression I felt all day through my birthday.

I think I’ve been very, very afraid of anger for the past three years, since my relationship ended. I’ve not allowed myself to feel it and I’ve walked away from situations where it could come up in other people. Things have been very civil these past few years. But I’m realising my anger is as much a part of the positive things in my life as the negative. Anger has been my way to cope with crippling fear. Anger salvaged me when the love of my life dumped me with all the cruelty a 20 year old can muster. It gave me clarity when my family went demented with grief (my grandfather’s cancer). It carried me through and out of an abusive relationship with a bad, very bad man. It gave me the impetus to battle gender biases in college, uncomfortable journeys during my early work years and the twisted politics of the corporate world. With anger gone, all I feel is dread and soul-sucking fear. All I am, is a painted shell.

There was much more substance to me when I was writing whiny poetry about a lost love or picturing horrible things happening to mean bosses in cartoons. I feel like the insides of me have nothing, only stale air. All there is room for, is fear. Fear, unlike anger is not a filling emotion. Anger consumes you, like lava churning up inside and spilling out, bubbling over in tears, words and actions. Fear, on the other hand, sucks you in smaller and deeper and tinier and lesser. I fear losing everything and everyone. I fear I have already lost everything and everyone. I fear that I never had any of it in the first place. I fear that I’ve fallen off the treadmill called life, called career, called love, called friendship. I fear that I’ve lost the ability to trust or care for another human being. I fear that I’ve lost the ability to work, succeed and sustain a comfortable life. I fear that I’ve made a mess of everything. I fear that there is nothing left to go on for.

Thirty-six seems like a very old age to be. I’m not married and I can’t anymore see the possibility of a loving, trusting relationship in my life. That can only be possible if I can give at least some of that back. And too much has happened. I feel twisted in ways that I cannot come back from. Damaged and broken. In 13 years I haven’t been able to get past my paralysing fear of Delhi men (after the bad, bad man). I think I’ll live my whole life being petrified of abuse survivors, fearing their pain, fearing they will punish me for it, the way it happened the last time round. And then again, since every new experience has brought fresh pain, what new horror will life wreak on me? I fear it all.

Career and money are slipping away and I feel like it’s a matter of time before I wake up and find myself standing by the side of the road, desperately hungry and with no money to buy food and no way to make any money. I’d be Tom Hanks in the Terminal, only without his unyielding spirit, his absolute faith in home. Where is home? I don’t know anymore. Everything hurts, everybody hurts. Attention, negligence, good health, bad health, fixedness, mobility, noise, silence — everything causes pain.

The organisers of the Art of Living program said that a lot of things would come up and that meant there was much to be resolved. I just feel so tired. Tired, but unable to sleep or rest. I can’t even summon up the energy to be angry. I don’t know if I want to see to 40. What’s the point? It just seems like a downward spiral.

Happy birthday to me. I don’t wish I had never been born. But now that it’s done, can we get it over with soon please? I’m finding it really difficult to go on.

When A Writer Falls Silent

It has been awhile since I wrote. And it has been a long time since I wrote an entry in The Thirty Diaries. I have of course, been growing deeper into the 30s. But for the first time in over 11 years, I’ve gone such a long stretch without writing.

I just couldn’t bring myself to write. The writing engine in my mind has been getting slower and slower and eventually just upped and died some time ago. And each time, inspiration seem to flicker, the thought of writing made my heart sink.

But I have been meditating a lot. Not just in that wise-old-man-in-yoga-pose way. Letting silence settle. Inside me. All things seem clearer in silence.

Writing, I realise, is not healing. It’s catharsis. For a lot of us, it starts with an outpouring of things, usually negative things that find no expression in the outside world. Especially on a medium like the internet, the immediate response is validation. As one of the first people to play in this space, the almost instant celebrity that hit with it was addictive. I got lost in the echo chamber of dark sentiments that found immediate validation and craving that, I wrote more of that. Every writing takes you to the place in your mind from where the sentiment rises. And each time you relive it, it becomes a little more firmly rooted in your head. Break-ups, death, politics, broken friendships, disappointment, anger, pain — all of these and more found a place in my blogs and my writing. Voices came to resound with mine. Voices of equal clamour and pain. And in our multiplied frenzy, we kept each others’ pain-addiction enabled.

What do you do when you don’t want to dwell in a place of pain anymore, I asked my digital universe? How does a writer survive? None of the answers satisfied me. And eventually, I knew the only way was for me to accept that I might have to give up writing altogether. I hesitate to call it a decision because that would imply that I had choice. Does a leaf caught in a current have a choice in where it is headed? Well, neither did I.

Who am I if not a writer, I wondered. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered confusion again. I say pleasant because I also remembered that it was a place of possibility and peace even, not fear. If I don’t have to carry the label of writer with all the heavy expectations, fears and tangles that come with it, I am free to float and in whatever part of me floats away, I come a little closer to discovering who I am. And in that leaving behind, I looked down and saw all the nice, pretty things that I could take happiness from, in the life I was saying I was willing to leave behind, as a writer.

My longtime dream of being a published author came true this year. In the least dramatic and most stable, contented of ways. One of the projects I’ve been working on completed a year and my client decided to commemorate it by asking me to write a piece of my own choosing (“Basically anything at all that you want to say”). I did. And then, they collated all our work into a book that was circulated to some people within the company. It’s not a book that I can talk about since it is company-internal. It may never reach the numbers and climb to a bestseller list. But it is a bonafide book. Most of the work in there is mine. It became a book because what was written in it, reached people, touched minds and hearts. It is a book because it did what it was intended to do and showed the promise of even more. It even has my photograph at the end with an endnote (the commemorative piece I wrote as an open letter to the people I worked with). How much better this is than the vision I had of myself as an author, sandwiched nearly apologetically on an overcrowded bookshelf. I am very grateful for life’s surprises. Author? Me!

Alphabet Sambar, my most recent baby grew by leaps and bounds of its own accord too. There have been several difficult nights like all new parents have. Tears, fears and pain are a part of any writer’s journey and we’re talking about a community of tens of writers. But it grew nevertheless, reaching people only by word of mouth, growing in new directions with every new member who brought in their perspective. We grew in numbers but also in genres, experiments and what we saw as possible. Twelve members attempted their first novel via the group last year. A student decided on writing for her future studies, after a year at Alphabet Sambar. A wide-eyed young woman dared to dream about writing, then novel and most recently standup comedy, becoming one of the small but growing number of female performers in the medium in India. She credited the group with giving her the space and the confidence to try it all. One of my longtime writing mentors who I’d never have imagined would be interested in this group, joined and built a relationship between this group and the bigger writing community she straddles. A writing compatriot wrote about us in a local publication, listing us as one of the top community entertainment options in the city. What an uncommon thrill it is, to have been a part of all these journeys in my own way. This totally happened by mistake, a very very happy mistake and I can’t believe the opportunity to be here and do this just fell into my lap.

Love became a possibility, if not a reality last year. I got trapped in fear and confusion and medication. But it was all a process of healing and growing. And I came out of it filled with sadness but with the grim hope that love still could bloom in what I thought had been left as a barren heart.

Do I find myself wiser? I always visualised wisdom as this gigantic encyclopaedia of answers, all of which I would know. I have even fewer answers now than I did ten, five, two years ago. But I’m finding it easier to remember the simple mantras. Breathe in, breathe out. Really, that’s the only one. And at the end of a few breaths, the world looks like a more manageable place to live in. If that’s wisdom, I guess I justify the white in my hair and the tooth that I had to have extracted.

And while I was having all these thoughts in silence, I realised I needed to say sorry to someone. Before the impulse vanished under pride, fear and distraction, I sent a message. And an evening meeting materialised. Perhaps because I had began dropping away the trappings of ‘writer’, it felt easier for me to not go around in circles trying to find the best words to express what I felt.

“I just wanted to say I am sorry,” I said.

Curiously, he understood. It was a very different evening from any I’ve had in years. I let myself stay in that place of not knowing, of feeling desperately vulnerable, of handing someone the chance to hurt me with rejection, condescension, pity or malice. And none of it happened. There was no dramatic flourish either. But it did not hurt.

And when I came back home, suddenly, I felt like I could write again.

I didn’t rush into it immediately. I’m learning to take deep breaths. Nothing seems very urgent or frenzied after a bit of oxygen. But a few weeks later, the words seem to flow in my bloodstream. Not pounding through in place of blood as they once did. But there’s something there. And look, I’ve written an entire essay! I am writing.

But mostly, I’m still discovering who I am. And I’m alive.

I Wear: Teal & Turquoise

I bought this gorgeous set of earrings & pendant at FabIndia months ago, not knowing when or where I’d wear it. Usually, I don’t tend to go in for Indian designs in jewellery. They seem to overshadow my small face and make me look gaunt and gawky. But this set just called to me because of how delicate it was. That, plus the colours are enamel, not stones (I hate those; they fall off like 2 seconds after you’ve walked out of the store). And finally, how does this Cancerian say no to any silver?

I decided to bring out a plain self-embroidered turquoise salwar kameez that only ever gets an airing on super formal occasions in winter. And since the dress is so simple, I went all out with the eye makeup too.  Tell me if it works or if it’s too matchy-matchy?

I Wear:

  • Turquoise silk self-embroidered kurta & chuddidar: FabIndia
  • Silver with blue-green enamel earrings & pendant: FabIndia
  • Eyes: First I applied Faces dark blue eye pencil on both upper and lower eyelids. Then I added Faces teal eye pencil on the upper lid and half of the lower inner lid, starting from inside till the middle. I lengthened the upper line in Faces dark blue into wingtips and connected the eye tip end to the lower lid line. And finally, I painted a hairfine line in Lakme Shine Line green liquid liner over the TOP of the teal line on the upper lid, running right up to the wingtip. I finished up with an equally thin line in the same Shine Line on the lower outer lid.
  • Lips: Lakme Absolut Matte 203 Brilliant Kiss

I Wear: Urban Ranger

My favourite buy this non-existent Mumbai winter was a pair of buck leather olive boots. Normally olive green isn’t a colour I particularly enjoy. It’s so meh! But I fell in love with how comfortable this pair was.

I also came to the conclusion this winter that most women tend to wear their jeans, leggings, jeggings VERY uncomfortably. Fashion dictates that bodies have to literally be poured into this clothes, not have the clothes drape themselves around you in a way that is comfortable. I’ve decided to only buy stretchy jeans (because well, female body, water retention, fluctuating waistline etc.) and that too in a few sizes bigger. Jeans are meant to be comfortable, not breathe-stomach-in-and-live-with-abdomen-ache-all-day tight.

I also ended up buying a shirt in the same colour. No, I haven’t changed my stripes. I’m still a dramatic makeup wearing, blazing colour loving, accessory junkie! Which is how I came to be doing this look:

I Wear:

  • Olive suede boots: Pavers
  • Faded blue stretchy jeans
  • Olive denim shirt: CottonWorld
  • Leopard print scarf knotted around neck
  • Turquoise hexagons dangling on silver ear chains
  • Porange (the stores call it ‘coral’) cloth backpack: Westside
  • Makeup: Lash lines in grey pencil, teal pencil on upper lid edged with green sparkly eyeliner; nude gloss

 

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