Tag Archives: Writing

Paper Towns

…is the name of a book by the guy who wrote ‘The Fault In Our Stars’. I happened to mention what an amazing title that was and what a shitty book it turned out to be. My AlphabetSambar peeps suggested we reclaim it by writing something else around it. And Sunday served up the perfect post to match the title.

Over dinner, one of the writers proclaimed that Spoken Word was shallow. He wouldn’t or couldn’t explain why. It bothered me that a person of words would be so loose with their ideas, so thoughtless with their thoughts. To my mind, a writer is the explorer of thought, the wielder of words. How can we allow ourselves the luxury of treating them so carelessly?

It bothered me because now I will question everything I read or hear from this person. If he doesn’t care about words, how can I trust him enough to let him take my mind on a journey? It bothered me that people let self-importance and ego limit their flights of fancy.

I enjoy gatherings of writers and artists for a lot of reasons. But the primary one is that I love being a part of people’s journeys. With this blog, I invite people into my own journey. At these events, I’m a hopeful mind traveller, waiting for anyone who wants to take me along on their journey. The quality of people’s writing doesn’t bother or touch me as much these days. I’m more intrigued by who they are shaping up to be in the process of journeying.

I met Anu after a really long time. The last time I saw her, she whispered in a conspiratorial tone that she was pregnant. Now she’s mother to a nine-month old and several poems and ideas but I haven’t met her in the interim. I enjoyed her performance. But most of all, I was moved beyond measure by how far she has come from when I saw her last – in her writing, in her body language, in who she is. I got to be a part of her journey almost two years ago when she joined Alphabet Sambar and from here on, her journey will always touch me.

These gatherings are also full of people I’ve come to think of as ‘career poets’. They’re in such a tearing hurry to achieve goals and form impressions, that somewhere they cease to move along on their journeys. I don’t like riding paper trails.

I called Adi, almost out of desperation on my way home. He listened gravely and then chuckled and said,

“You should be thrilled, not annoyed. It sounds like you got the best of the argument.”

Well, maybe I did. That’s nothing great. I have my share of weapons and tools that I can brandish. But I wasn’t looking for war, I was looking for an interesting journey. Still, I felt better at the end of the call because I realised what I was looking for when I called Adi. I was searching for a reminder that I was not alone, a single flesh-and-blood person in a world of paper promises and paper cuts and paperthin words.

Adi tends to have more placid reactions than mine but he also lives in a smaller, less frantic city than I do. I find this paperness in people everywhere I go – in the corporate world, the creative fields, the poetry circuit, my neighborhood, my social media communities. It’s relentless and sometimes I find myself feeling like I’m drowning in a sea of superficiality. I never learnt to swim in paper.

I miss Manisha when she isn’t around like she wasn’t this weekend. She represents my sole beacon of hope in the darkness of paper in creative gatherings. I admire her as a writer but she is more than her last accolade and the number of compliments people pay her. And through her dramatic moods, she never loses sight of that. Real people keep me sane in a town of paper people.

Home and a cool shower later, I feel somewhat saner. Perhaps it’s not fair to extrapolate this one incident. That would be such a paper thing to do too. People, especially those in their 20s are still getting tossed about in the reckless environment that is this city. Artists and writers frequently lose their sense of reality especially after their achieve some recognition. And (I hope) nobody is a paper person all the time. Maybe the next time I hear him speak, he will say something that will change my life or those of many people.

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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.

C for Crying

CI was going to slack off on C which is the real letter of today’s April A to Z Challenge. But then I read this and it pushed me to write what I did. Not even a tenth as good but it is poetry.

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I stopped at 16
It was time to leave the tears behind
But I really only pulled them in
They ebbed and settled under my skin
In goosebumps when a different him touched me
The tears I didn’t shed for him, rose up and whispered SUBSTITUTE
And heat blisters on my back spelt COMPROMISE
Creams and lotions pushed them away
and I bought myself a new pen that day
So now they come pouring forth
Like pushy, bashful children
in inky stains and paper cuts
Still, my pen can’t take the tears
of twenty years
So the older ones, slower, sluggish
Stay behind to hold on and die
In the graves of stretch marks
on my body
But I pay them no heed
I have a lot of crying left to do
Enough to last a lifetime
This is just April

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Follow the April 2015 AtoZ HERE.

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

How To Make A Paper Plane

Rochelle brought her wonderful self to Alphabet Sambar and my life last year. She also carried us in the direction of Performance Poetry. In the past year, she has conducted several workshops on the art form. And last week, she hosted her first ever Open Mic at Me So Happi. As a show of support, I said I’d be there. But I got swept up in her infectious warmth and was inspired to give it a shot myself. So here, wonderful world (because I’m feeling that good!), is my maiden performance. You can see Rochelle in the corner just behind me, cheering me on.

Rochelle, thank you for being a wonderful person and for showing me how it is possible to be both warm and an independent woman.

This event has whetted my appetite and I’m hoping to do more. If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll see how this could be a milestone for me creatively and individually. Please leave a comment with any thoughts you may have.

Note: Alphabet Sambar is a community project for writers, that I began in October 2013. Today we have over 100 members spread across 7 countries and 14 cities. Mumbai is our most active spot. We meet every Sunday to share our writing, critique each other’s work and have a geeky laugh or two over words. If you love writing and conversations about words, come join us! Alphabet Sambar is on Twitter and Facebook. You can also write to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com if you’d like to attend a meet.

When The Community Gives Back

2014 saw my worst ever case of writer’s block. Worst I say, not just because of how much I struggled to write but because how much I felt myself tearing away from writing. Writing and especially fiction, has been my release, my motivation and my source of survival for the past five years. It was not comfortable at all, feeling myself come disconnected from what has kept me nourished and breathing. If you read my blog often, you’ll have noticed the hiatus and the hiccups. Several of my posts were recycled, touched-up old ones, a desperate last-ditch attempt to retain the blog I’ve spent ten years cultivating.

Alphabet Sambar, my pet project of 2014 also took a hit towards the end of the year (though this was only slightly connected to my mood; there is a seasonality to people’s interest levels). We didn’t have any meets from mid-November onwards. And I felt myself drag and crash into the abyss of not caring about words anymore. I always thought that the day I stopped caring would be the day I stopped living. To stop caring about writing and words – I felt like a dying person with no hope.

But towards the end of December, other members of the group started to ask about the next meet. One of them told me how much she enjoyed them and how she had gained. Another friend who was privy to my depressed thoughts of quitting writing, urged me to reconsider and reminded me of how happy I sounded each time I spoke about the group. It pushed me to initiate a meet.

Today, we had the first 2015 meet. 11 people responded (a record number for an individual meet). I found my fingertips tingling even midweek, looking forward to seeing people I hadn’t seen in weeks and also – to write. Last evening, I sat down and wrote. Since I’ve resolved to be less stressed in 2015, I allowed myself to not worry about style and quality or even adherence to format. I finished in 45 minutes and went out to meet a friend. It was the first fiction I had written in months. It was more fun than anything I’ve had in over a month.

And today, in the talking and the sharing, I found blood running through my veins again and breath moving easily in my lungs. When I shared my piece, the group loved it and I remembered again why I write. The power to touch people with words – this is my privilege, this is my dream, this is me. The company of people who found joy in this idea of mine, inspired me into action. The heaviness of 2014’s worries seemed to lift. I’m soaring on wings of words again. My labour of love returned to rescue me from the depths. Thank you, Alphabet Sambar.


Note: Alphabet Sambar is a community project I began in October 2013. I had gained greatly from the company of experienced writers and from participating in writing groups. I wanted a safe space for people who loved words but didn’t think of themselves as writers. It began as a late afternoon coffee between four people on  a Sunday. I couldn’t have anticipated how far it would go. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, it picked up momentum, ideas and people. We did writing exercises, collaborated on writing projects, began novels and became good friends.

Today we have over 100 members spread across 7 countries and 14 cities. Mumbai is our most active spot. We meet every Sunday to share our writing, critique each other’s work and have a geeky laugh or two over words. We are NOT however, a therapy group, a free coaching class for aspiring writers or a brand powered social media community. We’re just a bunch of people who found a place to park their words and enjoy a chai together.

If you love writing and conversations about words, come join us! Alphabet Sambar is on Twitter and Facebook. You can also write to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com if you’d like to attend a meet.


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

Breaking Through My Dread #NaNoWriMo14

The first weekend of NaNoWriMo was about facing up to my own miserable excuses and the deceptions that I put up for the world. After all my bluster and pushing other people into noveling for the first time and gloating about my own success last year, I woke up on November 1 in dread. My story skeleton wasn’t in place, not really. And what good are all the conversations about Plot, Conflict, Character etc, if you don’t have a story?

I plodded through creating a Word Document and spent one hour deciding what font I’d use through the month and how I wanted my Table of Contents to look. Then I told myself to stop wasting time and write.

Then I went online to look for names for my character and spent another half an hour clicking through sites. Then I told myself I was making excuses and shut them.

Then I went to Twitter to rant about this and to ask for help. No one responded and I realised again that I was wasting time.

Bored with my own excuses, I made it back to my Word document. I struggled through the next half an hour and what I wrote seemed to have no connection to the story idea I had in mind. But I put it aside, proud that I had started something and I went out my Saturday evening. I went for a walk, ate some panipuri and dahi-vada (which usually makes me feel happy), walked a bit more and then wandered into Prithvi theatre. Refusing a kind elderly gentleman’s offer to share his table, I sat down at the base of a tree and opened my laptop. Then I ordered a Suleimani chai and balanced the laptop on my knees. How very Indian hipster, right? Cutting chai, Macbook Air and Prithvi cafe. I actually did manage to write. Not a lot though. After awhile I just shut the laptop and went over to the proferred seat. The gentleman had left though so I sat around and looked at everyone else around, hoping to soak in some inspiration. Within a few seconds the waiter was asking if I’d go back to the tree since there was a group waiting. I grmphed at him and got up and left. When I finally got home, I decided to at least update my word count — the first such update this year. And to my absolute dismay, the NaNoWriMo site wouldn’t let me do it. Hundreds all around the world must have been trying to do the same thing! Or maybe the universe was telling me that I hadn’t worke hard enough to attain that reward yet.

I began Sunday morning with my writer’s group session. The first thing I heard was one of them tell me that he had crossed 5000 words. I hated him vehemently then. Another girl, a newbie looked serene and said it would all work out. I wanted to bang my head on the table and quit. HOW WERE ALL THESE PEOPLE MANAGING WHILE I WAS JUST ABOUT SURVIVING??

I came back home, watched TV, ate lunch, exchanged barb-jokes with a friend over chat and then decided to meet another for coffee. Anything to keep that dreaded document away. I got home around 7:30 so it was too early to shrug and say that it was too late. Sighing I opened the Word document and wrestled with it for another hour.

By the end I had barely written 500 words. But I decided to call it a day and acknowledge my effort. So I logged into the NaNoWriMo site to update my word count. This time it did let me update though the abyssmal figure a little over a 1000 stared balefully at me.

Today though has been better. I woke up on time, ate on time and got to all the right things on time. I took several work items off my agenda, went for a walk, spoke to friends and sent out some invoices (another activity that always cheers me up since it chronicles how much tangible work has been done and how much money is due to come in). When I came back from my walk, the friend who was to meet me cancelled. I decided that this was the universe’s way of telling me,

“Look I know you’re really struggling with motivation and distraction. So here, I’ll take one off your plate. Work with me, will ya?”
I opened the Word document determined to break past that dread I’ve been feeling over the story wandering off in a strange direction. After all, I hadn’t even completed Chapter 1. Maybe I could just jump to Chapter 2 and come back to Chapter 1 later. But even as I typed ‘Chapter 2′, I realise it was such a niggling little bit left that I’d rather plow through it and finish it.

And would you believe, I did? When I checked the word count, it was 2191! And just like that, I broke through my dread. 😀

Preparing to run #NaNoWriMo 2014

This is a year of adventures coming at me, whether I want them or not. And of jumping into them, forcing myself to forget that I could fall. So far, no broken bones. I’ll be attempting #NaNoWriMo this year. Last year I did and to my surprise, I completed it. It was my only real win in the entire year. Recently I read what I had written and it wasn’t totally cringe-worthy. That’s part of what gave me the impetus to try it this year too. Between that time and this, I’ve also managed to set up and grow a writing community in Mumbai. So this year, I’ve set myself the larger challenge of encouraging and supporting other writers too. Inspiration is infectious as is enthusiasm. There’s no room for me to falter when I have others depending on me to keep them inspired and running. Maybe this is pushing it but I’ll also try and chronicle this journey. The last time I did that was during NovelRace 5 years ago and I was a much younger, less experienced writer. The articles are still useful so I’ll try the same thing again, only bigger, better. Grammar, spelling and logical flow may be missing but my aim is going to be to capture thought rather than polish and pizzazz. Stay with me, keep me on my path and wish me luck!

W is for Writer’s Block

WI wrote this for a prompt exercise where the theme was horror. This is my first attempt at a scare-story. Tell me what you think. Too obscure? Not chilling enough? In today’s A to Z Challenge we look at a writer’s worst fear, W is for Writer’s Block.


W is for Writer’s Block

I had woken up that night. The cigarette ashes near my bed should have been indication enough. I remember it clearly. But the memory is behind my eyes. You’re going to need to see the evidence in the form of those ashy streaks. What’s the point? You aren’t even listening, anyway. You don’t know how to. You can’t. Did I awaken in a cold sweat? A dull feeling in the pit of my stomach? No, no. I just opened my eyes and there the world was, and I was awake. It happens often enough.

I used to lie awake for nights on end. I’ve spent hours watching fragile, wispy thoughts dance about. It’s an ugly thing they do, solidify into words. Nasty buggers they become then, rattling about inside your head. I used to wonder how coin slot machines felt. You know the ones that have a zillion, hard colourful balls inside them that whir around when you put in the coin? And if you’re lucky, one drops into the slot. You pop it into your mouth and stroll away, never even knowing how glad the machine is to see you go, how it envies your nonchalance. You’re ingesting, masticating, devouring what it struggles to vomit, shit, eject out.

Listen to me. (Nobody does, of course, but me). I’m so verbose. Perhaps I should start taking care of my words, even if I’m the only listening. But it’s so hard, so hard to. HRMPH. Say it again. It’s hard. I feel like there’s…I have diarrhea and I can’t shit it out. It’s clogged inside my entire body, this diarrhea of words. Better. Time to go out. Get some cigs.

I don’t even think about what to carry anymore. The notebook in my pocket is as good as a bankroll. I pat it to check it’s still got enough pages. I step out, and as usual, the memory of that first morning floods me. It’s always first morning now, no matter how many I’ve had since then. It’s gotten so I notice things I should have but didn’t, on the first morning. Infinite rewind.

No scrawls on the walls. Paan stains galore and something that always looks like shit smeared on the second last step. The signboard at the gate is missing. No scratches in the paint, either; only peeling in broad strips. There is a pile of sacks of cement near the wall, where it’s broken. They’re covered in the uniform grey that creeps out of tears in the sack fabric. But no names, no penmarks visible. How did I never catch that? Because I automatically avoid construction sites and materials, that’s why. They make me sneeze. This pile is about ten feet away and I could have read the black or red letters that usually mark such sacks. But I never noticed. My mind wears a breathing mask to thoughts my body does not like.

The road is busy as always. But the sounds never fail to shock me. The machine noises are all there – cars moving, road repair machines whirring. And there’s a steady hum underlying it all – human breathing. Human beings breathe real loudly, did you know? But no voices. Well, there is an occasional gasp and plenty of sneezes. They don’t know the word ‘pollution’ but they suffer it anyway.

I’m nearly at the cigarette shop at the end of the road now. The smokers mill around near it. A lady steps up through a gap. The shopkeeper hands her a loaf of packed bread. She puts down a lemon on the tiny counter. He catches it just before it rolls off and drops it into a jar behind him. I can see it also has a bunch of leaves, spinach maybe and a green chilli or two. It bounces off the top of a tomato and settles on the leaves. He shuts the jar and turns back.

I step up to him and he already knows which brand I want. He holds out the packet. The cigarette pack shows a badly scanned image of a bare-chested man superimposed by a picture of blackened lungs. No face. No name. No mandatory ‘Cigarette sniffing makes your eyes water’ message. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. ‘Cigarette sniffing is injurious to hair’? ‘Cigarette sniffing is halibut to injury?’.

I give up just as I note the frown on the shopkeeper’s face. The other smokers are edging away from me. Just because a man takes a minute to think. Bloody amoeba. What would they know? What was that saying my grandmother used to parrot? Bandar kya jaane ice-cream ki sugandh?

I reach for my notebook and I tear out two pages from it. The shopkeeper reaches out and I swear he does this gingerly with the tips of his fingers. He plucks just one sheet off and sets it down on a looseleaf pile to his right. I watch the first page of the sixth chapter of my next novel settle in with toiletpaper remains, slightly dusty tissues, a sheaf of oil-stained brown paper and a cardboard square. I know he uses that pile to wrap unpackaged things. Maybe he’ll use my worded page to giftwrap somebody’s special purchase.

I slide two cigarettes out of the pack and put it back on the counter. He frowns again, this time even more troubled and looks around his tiny shop. Then he turns and takes out the tomato, lemon and a few leaves from the jar behind him. He packs them deftly in the oily brown paper and hands it to me.

Well, so my noted paper is worth more than a couple of cigarettes. Not that I know what to do with a lemon, a tomato and some leaves. But what the hell, eh? In a world that doesn’t value your currency, you’ve to learn to value their’s.

Back at home, I drop the vegetables on my table and survey the cupboard. I’m a rich man then. I think I’ll start with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first. It might even buy me a car. But perhaps I should invest it instead. Charcoal, first. I’ll have to figure out something to write on. Leaves? Tissue paper, I decide. Cover them with words and letters. Look at me, I’m a money mint! It’s not counterfeiting if it’s the original. Call me an artist.

I wake up, this time in a cold sweat. Hot sweat, actually. My eyes start watering the minute I open them. The smoke is so thick, I can’t even see the door. I drop to the floor and ease my way out. By the time the fire engines arrive, I’m crying so hard, my face is streaked with snot down to my throat. The books are gone, all gone. Our world has truly lost every last word now.


W is for Writers Block

*Image via thaikrit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I decided to give the limerick format a run. I didn’t follow the syllable count rules. Trying to say something in 5 lines, make them rhyme and be funny was a challenge enough. I think they turned out pretty horrible, as it is.

The painful thing about being Tamil
Is how we deal with being mammal
Our calcium needs
Are eclipsed by our feeds
The Horlicks-hump could rival a camel

When the girl’s years turn to twenty
The parental worries grow aplenty
Degrees, pay checks to barter
For fairness, cooking & being a martyr
Shaadidom is serious; don’t get sent

Manisha’s Sunday mood
Is morbid and crude
Funerals, sharks, hai hai
Season her Suleimani chai
Rhyming Durrel with Tamizh is just rude.

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