she was known by
her chum-chum silver key ring
tucked into her slim waist
and her swishing saris.
Those delicate fabrics
draping her like feathers.
Her face so gentle, her red bindi
I saw me in her.
Years carried me away
to far-off places,
where every house
had steep staircases
Outside, the winds blew hard and
the terrible winter
Here, jeans and polo-necks,
only they would do.
The stairs would unfurl
my sari in milliseconds,
if I dared to.
My dupattas would sweep the floor.
My bindi out of place,
found no spot to decorate.
The years I blame.
Not like her.
Yes. Oceans apart,
she is she, in her handwoven
white, pink and blue cotton sari
and me is me, in my blue Gap jeans.
Yet we are somewhat the same.
Woke up at 3 am this morning to attend a Poetry workshop on-line, India time. Himalayan Writing Retreat made it happen for us twelve. Hard to believe so much fun and learning could happen with strangers, sitting thousands of miles apart. Here’s what came out of it. Looking forward to much much more. Today’s Haibun:
She is decimated – an earthen clay pot, once holding colourless water in a colourless circle, now dust. She watches this happen to her, as if from outer space. As she zooms in, she can touch the wetness of what is spilt all over the marbled floor. It is possibly still within reach, this source of life. Drop by drop, she picks it up and adds it into her tumbler of tears. It magically swirls into an aquamarine blue – deeper than the deepest ocean and sky. The blue of life. Yes. It is blue and all of it, her very own.
She colours her words with it. The words that were once, blood red.
Her walls, her flowers, her friendships.
Now she has this blue, she’s complete again. Fully of this earth.
dancing flame . . .
in the mirror again
(Resource: Learn to write at https://www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/)
In July, looking for inspiration to think and write beautifully, I spent an hour on 3 consecutive Sundays listening to David Whyte, a wise and warm poet of English/ Irish origin who speaks and writes, seemingly from his spirit. I thought he was some kind of a magician as I felt mesmerized, awakened and soothed by his presence and his words.
He described the simple involuntary act of breathing as a life-sustaining exchange for the planet – inhaling is receiving and exhaling is giving. Generosity and gratitude – reciprocity in every moment. Last Sunday he spoke on the seasonal subject of ‘giving’ and I can’t help but share the synopsis of his talk in his own words here.
- The foundational understanding that giving is not just a logistical act of transferring something from one person to another, but an art form to be practiced. Like all art forms, practicing it takes time and spaciousness and the ability to create a relationship with the unknown, the invisible and the unspoken.
- To learn to give is often the simple, heart-breaking act of giving again.
- Giving is an essence of relationship. To stop giving is often to call an end to relationship.
- Giving asks us to have a close relationship with both time and timelessness. All gifts change with the maturation of both the giver and the receiver.
- Giving is an imaginative journey into another’s life with all the implications accompanying that journey.
- Giving can be a form of blessing, a way of empowering another life. The blessing is made through giving what a person does not even know they need themselves.
- Giving, in the words of Shakespeare, is ‘Twice Blessed’. Through exploring the edges of our own generosity, we come to understand where we have trouble receiving ourselves; and this teaches us to ask for what we ourselves might not feel we deserve. In the enriched relationship, giving becomes a reciprocal harvest where giver and receiver are not so easily distinguished.
(PS: On 3 Sundays in January 2021, he speaks about resolutions for new beginnings. Recordings and written resources available if you are able/unable to attend the live event)
Writing is a friend. It sustains. It slowly pushes open the rusted, jammed doors of many hearts and allows for the gaping wounds in there to heal. Over the last few weeks it’s clear that it is not just possible but fun, to attend and host meetings remotely. Despite challenges, it can be enriching. A wise man/woman has identified 3 things one needs, to get through a day :
- Someone to love.
- Something to do.
- Something to look forward to.
No wonder people are gardening, baking, embroidering and doing various things, spending time or connecting in creative ways with people they love. We have been setting one episode of ‘The Crown’ as our carrot, to look forward to at the end of a long ‘working from home’ day. I have been writing some poetry and dreaming of putting a book together and getting it published some day. There goes my Ego …. again!
This seems like a good time to do something new. I would like to invite you to write with me. To connect with your hearts and bring a blank page to life. To find your own expression and share other people’s worlds through their words and prose. We would call ourselves “Freedom on a page”. In this time of partial captivity, this title seemed appropriate. If you have other suggestions, please bring them to the group. We would meet every Tuesday morning for an hour and a half – between 9 and 10.30 am on Zoom. We would write as much as we like during the week but have 200-300 words to read out to the group. If you would much rather only listen, that’s fine too. Join in. Don’t think so hard that you talk yourself out of it. You have done that before. Haven’t you? 😉
If you would like to join, please
(1) e-mail me at email@example.com by Saturday, the 23rd of May. If you’d like more time to decide, take that time and send me the e-mail when you are ready.
(2) familiarise yourself with Zoom (https://zoom.us/) and download it on your computer/phone. It is free and easy. You can switch the video off if you don’t want to be seen. You can participate by writing on the ‘chat’ if you don’t want to speak.
I will send you an invite by e-mail on Monday, the 25th. I will start the meeting 15 minutes before 9 am, UK time (GMT+1) on Tuesday, the 26th of May and wait for you. Then we’ll see what happens. I have never done this before so I am a little bit nervous too. Shall we write about what ‘Freedom’ means to you? Feel free to pick any other subject. I look forward to this adventure. Depending on how you feel, we can continue to ‘meet-up’ every Tuesday.
Try it. Magic happens when the naked tip of a pen meets a nude blank page. The fingers holding that pen are deeply connected to the real you. So are the fingers typing on your keyboard.
Freedom on a page
Feathers fall from heavens like rain
A splash of sun-rays on the pavement lifts dust
Fills my senses with petrichor
The romance of which dances
In every gap, crack and crevice
I float up with the fragrance
And glide along the tops of trees
Breathe in bliss, touching green
Everything IS, as it IS
Watching its own ISNESS
Wrapped in a melodious silence.
This must be it
One moment of being fully alive.
— — — —
Ryan woke up at least twice every night to run to the loo. But last night he moved like a little whirlwind under the sheets. Sue slept through most of it but found it peculiar. She didn’t say anything, lest it disturb him but he disturbed her at least every hour without knowing it.
She woke up feeling tired at 6.30 am. It was a Monday morning. The day of the week didn’t matter much any more as both of them had recently retired. She as a head-mistress of a primary school and he as an accountant.
Their daughter lived in Liverpool with her boy-friend. Her job as a personal trainer at David Lloyds was less than they’d hoped for her. Her boy-friends spoke funny but for a living, wrote speeches for prominent people. The phony politicians who couldn’t even write what they wanted to say to the people they represented.
Sue put the kettle on and freshened up while it whirred. She put two green and gold Wedgewood cups and saucers on a tray along with a matching milk pot and a tea pot large enough to hold 4 cups. She entered the bedroom with the tray. Instead of sitting up in bed thumbing his phone, Ryan was flat on his back. His eyes red and fine vertical lines above his nose.
‘Morning!’ she sang, ‘You ok darling?’
With a smile, she placed the tray on his bedside table and placed her hand on his forehead.
“Yes. I’m fine.” Said Ryan.
‘Did you sleep well?’
“Not really. The temperature in this room was all over the place. Couldn’t settle.”
The temperature was just fine, she thought but decided to stay mum.
‘Care for a cuppa?’
“Yeah. Sure.” Ryan raised his head off the pillow. An oval wet patch was imprinted on the white cotton pillow case. He quickly turned it around and stood it up against the cushioned head-board. She noticed but did not comment. She poured the golden-brown tea into the cups and added a few drops of milk for him. Over this first month of their retirement they had been falling into a nice little routine. Opening the day with a shared pot of tea was a special pleasure for them both. It made space for the rest of the day to slide into their lives.
“What shall we do today?” she asked Ryan.
‘I miss my work. All the friends I had. My clients. The window in front of my desk. The 11 am coffee with colleagues. The laughter. I even miss the commute. I never thought I’d hear myself say that but it was nice. I miss all that.’
“Yes. I am sure. I miss my work too but not much. Shall we go to the garden centre and get some saplings? This is a good time for planting. The Organic Café does some nice coffee too.”
‘Let’s see. I might just enjoy the sun-shine in our garden today.’ He got up to visit the loo again. This was not like Ryan. He was the one who normally put ideas forward and she was the one who normally said yes or no.
As soon as he left the room, she put her cup down and stood up to get a closer look at the other side of his pillow. It was definitely damp. She peeled back Ryan’s side of the duvet. The bedsheet underneath him was certainly moist. It smelt of him. Only stronger. This was unusual.
Sue’s pulse quickened. She’d heard of people working really hard all their lives and then dying soon after their retirement. She shoved her silly thoughts aside and waited for Ryan to come back, trying to focus on the delicateness of the tea.
When Ryan came back, she was surprised to hear the puffing sounds of his breathing. His brow had started to glisten.
“Would you rather have a lie-in Ryan?”
‘No. I am ok. Nice tea. Don’t make an old man of me. I’ll be fine once I’ve had a shower. It’s funny. My left arm feels strange. Must’ve slept funny.’
Now she could hear her own heart pumping in her ears. But she kept it cool.
She managed a fake smile. A polite false agreement. She wanted to jump at the phone and dial 999 but didn’t want to scare Ryan.
“There’s no rush to have a shower. More tea?”
‘No. Thanks. I’ll get myself a glass of water.’
“Don’t worry. I’ll get it for you.” She jumped.
At the kitchen sink Sue stood like a statue, staring at the water pouring down the hole in the stain-less steel basin. Is today the day my life changes for ever?
She debated with herself on what to do next. A tug of war went on within her. Does he know he’s unwell? Is he really unwell or am I imagining this? Is that new virus in him? In our house? In our bed? Will he be terrified if I tell him what I think? Is he just having the blues? Or a heart attack? Or an infection? Or nothing at all?
She carries the glass of water back to Ryan. He glugs it back and slowly slides back inside his duvet. She walks around to her side of the bed, slips under the covers and lays down right beside him, holding him with both her arms, a little bit tighter than usual.
Like a couple of soft cuddly toys, they snuggle up. In that moment, she has all she needs. Ryan breathing, resting right next to her. Her tears meld into her pillow. The past and the future disappear. In that moment, life is whole and complete.
Frantically searching for an important document, I rummaged through all my papers up and down the Study. My mind can’t be trusted with anything anymore! My memory is shot. I exhausted myself and all my options. Over a cup of tea, I thought about all the places I had not looked through. A box full of Saagar’s books and diaries. I never read through any of his personal stuff. But that day, before I knew it, I had read all his musings from his travels to Uganda with a friend. They were there for 2 weeks to help at a local school supported by their College.
It seems when he was struggling, he wrote. Like me. He wrote exactly as he spoke, leaving some words half said and stretching out the first letter of unspeakable words. His diary was reading itself to me in his voice. I felt like he was in the room. I was an intruder. It wasn’t my place to read it. It was personal to him. But it was also my conduit to him even if it was written 27 months prior to Day 0.
It was clear that the boys were totally unprepared for the massive change. This is the note from his last day there.
30/7/2012. 2300 hrs.
“Never before have I been able to say the words “I want my mommy!” with as much certainty as now. This sucks ass. I feel like such a pathetic little shit. I hope missing Mother is no more than a manifestation of homesickness.”
A deep feeling. Then a judgement. Then an admonishment and then a substitution. A minimization. A classic example of a young man being brutally unkind to himself even though he is suffering. Being a ‘man’. Not allowing for any fragility even in the face of a harsh reality.
Fact: He missed me. Thinking of me brought him comfort. I have evidence.
How could I ever doubt that? By judging myself too critically. Why do we do this to ourselves?
That was a beautiful gift from you to me on your birthday my son. 25th birthday! Bless you my love.
In between childhood and adulthood.
In between start and finish.
In between finish and start again.
In between seed and sapling.
In between nothing and something.
In between ‘now’ and ‘not yet’.
In between confusion
In between ‘not knowing’ and ‘knowing’.
In between listening and understanding,
Understanding and assimilating,
Assimilating and learning,
Learning and applying,
Applying and having an effect or not.
In between the impact and its height,
Or possible flight.
In between the flash of lightning and the roar of thunder,
In between thought and action,
In between you and me,
There is travel.
An invisible, microscopic stirring
Of this nurturing Universe
Of this mothering Earth
Of this sun-ward bound energy of Spring
Of this Blossoming of everything
Dissecting a human body is an enlightening experience. At 17, in the first year of medical school, it was a shock to enter the massive Anatomy hall with 12 metallic rectangular tables, each occupied by a horizontal naked human body covered with a white cotton sheet. 4 students in alphabetical order, to a table/ body. All different but more or less the same, students and bodies. Mine was a dark skinned, muscular young man in his thirties. I wondered how he had landed up on this table in the heart of Punjab when he clearly belonged somewhere else. I wondered what his story was.
The air was suffused with a stench of formaline. It flew through the roof of my nose straight into the recesses of my gray matter to form unerasable maps. It stung the eyes so hard, they wept. I never thought it was possible to get used to that repugnant odour but by the end of the first week, it was a ‘normal’ part of me.
‘Upper limb and breast’ was the first Lesson. Anterior, posterior, medial, dorsal, ventral lateral, proximal, distal were some of the new words added to my word bank. When I took the scalpel to my man’s skin, I flinched. It was an invasion. A sacrifice. An offering. A permission. I wanted to apologise to him and thank him. As I carefully peeled the first layer off, a pale yellow silky layer unravelled itself. I peeked at the next table and it was the same. And the next and the next. Men and women, old and young, squat and fit, brown and black. Whatever on the outside, were the same just underneath. The other thing they had in common was that they were all dead.
It’s the same with us. Whatever we are on the outside, we’re the same just underneath. We cry the same salty tears, we feel the same love for our kids, we yawn and sneeze and hiccup and breath the same way. We all are distinct and yet, more or less the same. Our innermost desire is only to be loved and understood. And one day we will all be dead.
At present, with the identity politics at its peak, my kind, gentle and fairness-loving husband is made to belong to only one box, that of a straight middle-aged white man. Yet, he is so much more than that. Just as black people are so much more than just black and homosexuals are so much more than just that. And Saagar was so much more than just a brown young man.
Underneath all that they all are just human. We have the privilege of living on the most gorgeous planet. Our numbers are higher than ever before and our potential as a race is the highest it has ever been. Yet, we cannot find one suitable host for the Oscars Award ceremony. Because we have paralysed ourselves. We cannot allow people the smallest past or future mistakes and mis-judgements. The amount of energy spent on getting offended or apologising for mistakenly causing offence is frightfully high.
At a time when we need more cohesion between humans than ever before, we are building divisions all over the world – us and them. Be it ‘the wall’ in America or Brexit or Islamophobia. We need bridges, not walls. We need to see ourselves in others – vulnerable and tough at the same time.
Can we make an effort to find the sameness between us? I may be a hippie and you a hipster but we are not that different. Let’s talk.
S A A G A R.
In Delhi, it was simple and sweet. In Belfast, it had to be spoken out slowly and spelt out clearly. Still, it was utterred in all kinds of ways- Segaar, Sags, Sagsy-Wagsy, Saga, Cigar etc. It is, after all, a proper noun. I would think forgivingly, “As long as you speak his name with love, you can say it any which way you like.”
At about 7 years of age, Saagar came home from school one day and casually, asked “Can’t I be called Aran or something?” I felt for him but laughed. What else could I do? I asked him if anyone had commented on his name at school that day. “I have to tell them at least twice and then spell it out and they still get it wrong.”
I told him the story of his name. I was 24 when I got married. My in-laws lived In Chennai. We visited them a few months later and one evening we all went to a place called Besant Nagar beach. That was the first time I saw the ocean. The vision of a dark blue shimmer below meeting a pale blue glow above in a clean, delicate, straight line made everything else disappear. Its calm, its rhythm, its enormity, its subtle dance, its grace and openness pulled me in. All people and conversation faded away and there I was, completely soaked in the bliss of the ocean. My soul soothed. My body relaxed. My eyes quenched. I was in love. In that moment, I knew that if I ever had a son, he would be called, ‘Ocean’ ie. Saagar. I told him he was named Saagar because his heart was as large and as beautiful as the ocean. He smiled and hugged me tight.
Saagar and I needed more stories. They could give us a sense of connection with the characters and each other. Feel their excitement and face their challenges. Make us less alone. Create pictures we could step into as characters. They could show us a map of how to get from here to there. Of how to live in this world. They could make us more human, creating boundaries and arenas within which we could shine. They could make things seem less endless and random. They could take us places we didn’t know we wanted to go. We needed more shared stories.