I returned to the poetry circuit last week. Yes, I have been performing here and there but only where I’ve been pulled in. 2017 has hit me with so many things, I’ve needed to stop and regain my breath. I wrote a new piece and read it right off my screen. And then I was glad for a chance to bring back my first piece. It always gives me a new lease on life, when I live through the Paper Plane performance. A young poet who I know slightly, reached out to me later to thank me for sharing that and said she needed to hear just that, on that day. All I can feel is immense gratitude for this idea choosing to come to the world at all, and through my head. Thank you for all the paper planes.
It turns out I have a showwoman in me, once I let go of the painful things keeping me inside stage fright. Last Monday, I performed Paper Plane, my first ever piece and my guiding philosophy.
It gave me the impetus to do CoffeeShop, which people have really liked and I have a lot of fun doing. Enjoy! And thank you for the love. The only thing I love more than making people think is doing so with a laugh. 🙂
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“Goddess” — A Navratri poem opening at Poetry Couture’s Poetic Adda Poetry Couture invited me to a feature performer at their Poetic Adda event yesterday. I’d been working on a special piece around Navratri so I chose to open it here.
I had originally planned for this to be accompanied by music but my collaborator changed his plans at the last minute. I didn’t really have much time to change the piece but I decided to go with it to see how it fared. Here it is, ‘Goddess‘ in it’s first ever telling. The lyrics are given below.
Rush hour horns honking
The pounding is getting louder, louder, louder
An artist brushes his last stroke of charred black across her eyes
While living red starts to seep down my insides
She is coming home tonight
I fidget uneasily in my chair
Fighting the battle of the sore back
I remember too late, I’m wearing white
I will stay in late so no one sees the stains
Red must only appear on her clothes tonight
I burst forth into a night of burning light and colour
While inside me is an implosion of almost, not quite life
I carry it all within, walking tender, concentrated steps
My stomach clenches harder than my heart
Then I’m swept into a crowd that makes way
for a plaster and plastic Goddess
A hand drunk on religion and womanpower and bhakti, touches my breast
And all across my skin, are fire-tipped arrows
Shooting pain, warmth, shame, fear, chills and anger
A rollercoaster mix of chemical feeling
I’m recognized as WOMAN
The female form is in celebration this week
I soothe my panicked breaths under hot water
And silence my inner screams with chocolate
Outside the drums are beating out an ode to womanhood
No room for me in the Goddess’ procession tonight
Because my sweat and my tears are but salt and water
But nobody wants to know that a Goddess bleeds too
— Goddess by Ramya Pandyan
I started my performance with ‘Paper Plane’, for a change making it the first and not the last piece in my set. It was an interesting experience staying on, on the stage after sending a paper plane into the audience. I added some things to my original piece too. Take a look.
The organisers offered me a chance to do one more piece. I had originally thought I’d bring out ‘The Dating Thing’, being that it has been awhile since I did that. But the mood felt like the right one for a love story to Mumbai. So I let ‘Flamingos’ fly.
It’s raining poetry and platforms to share it on! I’m not complaining though. Last week, I went to the Caferati Open Mic. This is the oldest of its kind in the city and the first one I ever went to. I’m afraid I messed up my performance a bit. But I’m going to blame that on the oil bath I’d had earlier in the day. It always tends to make me a bit groggy and slow and quite unlike myself. Even as I went up to the mic, I was in the pleasant haze of “It’s all good; everything’s awwight.”
Evidently my good mood must have made up for my lacklustre performance because I was approached by a group of youngsters. They were having a cultural festival at their college, they said, and would I come down and perform please? I laughed and I said,
“That’s a silly thing to ask a poet. Most of us, give us a table to stand on and say, PERFORM. And we’ll do it.”
Anyway, my breeziness had settled by the time I walked into Mukesh Patel College of Engineering two days later. A poetry performance to a bunch of engineers? This calmed me down a bit.
The event was themed ‘Equality’ so I picked Superwoman to perform. Besides, it had been awhile since I’d done that and I thought it would resonate with the young, vibrant crowd in the room.
I think it did. They let me stay on to do one more piece. And of course I had to sign off with my signature piece, Paper Plane.
This day made me very happy. There was the endorphin/adrenalin high of performing. There was the quaint campus charm of performing to an audience that’s seated on the floor around you. And I was very, very happy to be a part of something that broke down the rigid barriers between science and art. I met a lot of students who were talented singers, standup comics, dancers, musicians and poets. One of the other performances sparked off a loud debate on women’s rights, the LGBT movement and more. In the midst of the shouting match, one of the students leaned in and said,
“Very sorry if this sounds stupid. But I heard you saying something about ‘rape culture’. I don’t know what that is. Can you explain it to me?”
That was the highlight of my day. Art is fun and a real morale booster for me. But moments like these remind me that it also brings people together, transforms thought and shapes our lives.
It was a beautiful day.
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Tuesday was really special. I had a chance to perform at Mithibai college’s LitCon festival. The alma mater makes everything a magical experience. Even though the building has changed beyond recognition, it has echoes of my adolescent self, climbing out of windows, sneaking vada-paos into chemistry labs, reading books hidden inside journals during class. I had a complete college experience, from landmark conversations with strangers to friendships with the kind of people that I’d never have known otherwise, an experience that only enriches you.
I never did anything of note in the six years. But when I was in my second year, groaning and hating every bit of it, something happened. In typical teenage carelessness, I had neglected to thoroughly research my choices. B.Sc. in Mumbai university required students to pick a combination of three subjects in first year, two from those in second year and then one from that in third year (which would be the major). The only science subject I could tolerate was mathematics and that was available in only two combinations. Both combinations had physics, a subject that I loathed even more than I liked mathematics. These two combinations were PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) and PMS (Physics, Mathematics, Statistics). I didn’t feel like applying my brain enough to understanding why Mathematics and Statistics were different so I picked PCM. It wasn’t till the start of second year that I discovered I couldn’t drop Physics, as I had intended. Apparently the only second year combinations available to me were PM and PC. If I had taken PMS, I could have opted for MS but my harebrained choice had pushed me into having Physics for one extra year.
I coasted through the entire year, feeling bleak and utterly defeated. Physics laboratory really was the worst because I couldn’t bunk it the way I could bunk class. And my poor work was even more glaringly obvious there than in the crowded classroom. I found refuge in my rough journal.
The rough journal was a college given volume, bigger than the typical school notebook and smaller than registers. It was hardbound and made of thick, good quality paper. The icing on the cake was that every page was ruled on one side and plain on the other. Even in those days, I had an eye for good stationery. It enticed me so much, I’d spend the dreaded laboratory hours doodling and falling back into a habit I had thought I’d drummed out of my system since it was deemed useless for my future — writing. I wrote about what I felt, I unentangled the things I saw around me that I had nobody to talk to about and I poured the alternate life I could only dream of, into words in that rough journal.
At the end of every lab session, we were supposed to take our books to the teacher and have her sign off on our work. I’d finish my writing just in time to hear the bell go, frantically copy someone else’s readings and get it signed by the teacher.
One day a lady stopped me in the corridor. I knew her only as an English teacher. I had never been in her class but she was friends with my Physics teacher and I had seen her visit the laboratory several times.
“Did you know there is a college magazine?” she began without preamble. And then she asked me if I’d like to write for it.
I gaped. No one had ever asked me that before. I was a science student, after all. My brain was supposed to be filled with formulae and equations, not stories and words. And there was a sizable Literature fraternity for such activities. Why would anyone even care about what I wrote?
“Can you show me something you’ve written?” she asked, her eyes keenly searching mine.
I gulped guiltily, thinking of the nonsense I spent my laboratory time on, instead of the experiments I was supposed to be doing. Then I told her, I’d bring her something to see.
The next day, I carried my poetry book. This was a journal I had been maintaining since I was 7 and first toyed around with words on paper. I’d painstakingly copy whatever ‘poem’ I had written during recess or whenever, in my best handwriting into it. It was covered with a shiny red sheet of wrapping paper with silver stars on it. Once, I had thought it was marvelous and wanted to use it only for this book. When I became a teenager, it started to look pathetic and silly so I put it away and stopped writing. I hadn’t touched the book in years.
“Can I go through it and give it back to you at the end of the day?” she asked.
I paused, a part of me reluctant to even show her that poor little book. But then, I decided, it was time to let it die out. Writing got me into trouble, gave me all kinds of dreams that made reality seem unbearable. I really ought to be studying and concentrating on my lab work. It was time to let that red register go.
“Take it,” I told her, “You can keep it.”
She looked very, very surprised as she took the book.
“I’ll give it back to you on the weekend,” she promised.
I didn’t think any more of it. The whole incident seemed so surreal.
But on Monday, she came looking for me. I was surprised that she even knew my classroom. Remember the science stream had over a dozen subjects and each classroom had at least 70 students. And that was just the science degree students, not counting the other streams and the junior college kids. But in that buzzing, bustling crowd of a college, she found me.
“I spent all weekend reading it,” she said, “It was lovely. I could see the journey of a little girl growing up to be a young woman. And I got this for you.”
And she gave me a book. It was Antonie St.Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ and it was inscribed, “Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams die, life like a broken winged bird, cannot fly”.
I still remember the scene as clearly as if it happened just a day ago and not 17 years in my past. This teacher who didn’t know me, had never taught me, standing there in a cream coloured saree and curly hair all around her face. She was holding out my red register of poems but she was holding it between both her hands with a kind of respect, a gesture I had never seen anyone accord to something I had written. Many, many years later, Manisha Lakhe would tell me,
“Treat your notebooks with respect and regard. They are the tools of your trade.”
And I would think back to this moment, to this teacher who showed me how I should treat my writing.
One of my poems was published in the college magazine that year, a non-rhyming list piece titled ‘Unanswered Questions’. The next year another poem ran with my name too.
Four years later, as a postgraduate student in another college, I would help revive a dead college magazine, be a member of its editorial committee, propose and run a new column. And a year after I finished my education, I would set up a blog that went on to change my career, my identity and my life. But it all started with one red register covered in childish handwriting. And one teacher who believed in a dream that I didn’t even know I had. She was my first publisher, the first person to call me a writer.
All these years later, I had a chance to share that story on stage. There were dozens of students in the auditorium, smarter, more aware and mature than I remember myself being. And in the midst of all of them, was the head of the department, Mrs.Suma Narayana, the lady who first asked me if I’d like to write.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.