Light and Dark

Ripped pages littered on the floor,
The world banished beyond the closed door.
A pen scratching furiously over pages white,
An anguished whine; the words don’t feel right.

‘I give up!’ she screamed at the wall,
‘Every single day, I pour out my soul,
And what do I get in return from you?
Nothing, nothing, no matter what I do.

‘I’m bleeding here, can’t you see the crack?
I’m seeking the rainbow, and all you give me is black?
This darkness, this gloom, I don’t want these.
I want roses, the moon, the sky, the breeze.

‘So there. I tried. Tell everyone I did.
A hermit I became, from everyone I hid.
But I can’t anymore. I can’t take this.
I’m done. This hollowness I won’t ever miss.’

She threw open the window, banged open the door,
And watched, entranced at the streaks on the floor,
Sunlight, long denied had found its way,
Through the very cracks she’d kept at bay.

And at that moment, she made the connection.
That what made her a writer was not perfection.
The cracks and her flaws, the anguish, the pain
The rips and tears, the broken, the stained
Was what made her, her; she couldn’t deny.
It wouldn’t always be roses, or birds in the sky.
She embraced the dark, hugged close the black.
For she knew light would always flood though the crack.

Sun streaks

Image courtesy the very talented Sameer Gurung who happily let me use his photo on this post. Well, who am I kidding? His photo is what inspired me to write this poem in the first place.

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The Last Day of Your Life

When I started writing my book I had no idea if it would ever be published. I remember The Husband and I sitting and talking about it and how, in a moment of grandiose generosity, he announced that he would gift me a MacBook the day I heard back from the publishers saying that they would publish my book. I laughed it off, but we had a deal. I poured my soul out in that book, laughing and crying (sometimes at the same time). And I kept asking myself, “Even if this book sees the light of the day, would people even read it?”

Well, the book did see the light of the day. It made a grand entry online at #4 on Amazon’s New Releases, and it stayed put on that list for almost a month. I got the MacBook last Christmas. But one day, I asked my husband, “What if it doesn’t do well, you know? What if it just… fades?” And proving to me that there’s good reason why I married this guy, he asked me, “When you wrote this book, did you write it so it would sell?” And there in lay the answer. No. I didn’t write the book thinking it would sell. I wrote this book because it had been inside me for long enough.

But then again, an author would want to know how the book is doing. And knowing that my book wasn’t exactly flying off shelves made me feel a little disheartened. It was getting beautiful reviews, yes. People who read it reached out to me to tell me they loved it, yes. But that didn’t necessarily translate to better sales. I wondered if my being away from India mattered. I wondered, had I been there, maybe I could have done something, anything to boost sales.

The Husband came to the rescue yet again and he told me to watch Steve Job’s commencement speech in Stanford University, the transcript of which can be found here. He told me about how Jobs talks about the dots being connected, specifically, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

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“Of course I have faith in the future,” I told my husband a bit half-heartedly. I do believe that things work out for the best eventually. But then, as I kept watching the video I came across to the bit where Steve Jobs talks about death. He says: When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Now that made me think. I think it was a legitimate question. If today were indeed my last day on this earth, would I be sitting with my phone? Would I be worrying about how well my book is selling or the number my weighing machine unsympathetically threw at me in the morning?

No. I wouldn’t. I would spend each moment with my daughter and my husband. I would read the endings of a few books I have been meaning to read. I would have that piece of chocolate cake I had been denying myself. I would probably write something overtly sentimental guaranteed to make people cry when I am gone (that’s the narcissistic in me)

So I decided to do just that. I deleted my Facebook and Messenger app from my phone (I know you will tell me that I could probably stay away even with those apps on my phone but I’ve developed muscle memory when my fingers automatically hover over those icons) I know that with my Facebook personal page gone the already pathetic reach that I have would dwindle down to zero, but again, it doesn’t really matter does it? I am reading book after book (averaging a book a day, too!) when I am not reading to my daughter or playing pretend with her. I am making a conscious decision to spend time with people whose company I relish. I am writing my second book, setting aside doubts and misgivings.

I think so often we get hung up on these things that we think matter, but in the end, maybe none of it does. I don’t wanna drop any more philosophy but yes, the fact that one powerful speech could move me this way means that there is hope for the power of word after all. I’ll toast to that.

And if you wish to connect with me, please do so on my Author Page. Let’s stay in touch!

The Friends in Our Lives

You need that 3am dead night friend,
The one who’ll always pick up the phone,
They’ll insist that you didn’t wake them up,
That you should never, ever, feel alone.
They’ll listen to you without interrupting much.
They’ll be indignant on your behalf.
And when you’re done, they’ll say “Oh, darling!”
And somehow, simply that’ll be enough.

You need that 3pm everyday friend

The one who drinks tea with you,
They make your day seem that much better,
On slow afternoons without much to do.
You make easy conversation, you laugh a lot
They know the people in your life,
They’ll get when you say that your cousin’s a bore
Or that your neighbour’s got himself a wife

Then you need that “Let’s go” friend!

The one who’s always somehow ready to go,
To party, to shop, to even repair your watch
They’ll take you to that late night show.
This friend of yours keeps you on your toes,
And makes sure you don’t become slack,
They’ll take you on an incredible adventure,
and plan the next on the way back.

Then of course there’s the F.R.I.E.N.D.S kinda friend,

The one who binge watches TV with you,
You have similar tastes, you like the same shows
Your favourite characters are the same too!
They get the snacks and you get the drinks,
And you watch in enraptured silence,
Their company spells comfort; they feel like home,
And they’re assuring with their mere presence.

If you’re not a book lover, (I don’t know you)

Then this one isn’t for you,
But everyone knows if you are one,
You need a friend who loves them too.
You really need a friend who gets without saying,
Just why you love words so much.
They understand why your eyes light up,
When a page of a new book you touch.
You’ll cry to them about not having books to read,
And for your sake, they’ll happily ignore
That ever growing stack on your bedside table
Of books you’ve never read before.

You need a once-a-month “let’s catch up” friend

The one who always seems a bit busy
But when they give you time, they give you all of it,
And picking the threads is nice and breezy.
They remember things you told them long ago
They know just the right things to say,
They might be out of touch, but never lost,
Even though for long you’ve been away.

Then of course, you need that “can do” friend,

The one you call when there’s something you need.
They always seem to know someone; to them
Everyone’s a friend of a friend of a friend indeed.
They’re handy, they’re helpful, they have contacts,
Their network is wide and exhaustive,
They know their way, through tweaks and turns,
And their capacity is quite comprehensive.

Then you need a sage of a friend,

Someone to give you wise counsel,
You turn to them when you’re in trouble,
And they always know what to tell.
You count on them to know what to do,
And you listen to every word they say
Just talking to them cuts sorrow in half,
They gently show you the right way.

You also need a “weekend” friend,

Someone you love to hang out with,
You might have grand plans or nothing at all,
But without them, the weekend feels incomplete.

Then you need that childhood friend,

The one who’s grown with you,
You might still be friends or sadly grown apart,
But you know they’ll always be true.
You share inside jokes from your growing up days,
You’ll always think of them with fondness,
Whenever you meet, you’re flooded with nostalgia,
And realise you’re truly blessed.

And finally you do need that soul friend,

The one who feels like your twin.
If soul, and not blood counted,
They would be your next of kin.
You know the one I’m talking about
You’re thinking about them right now.
They know you inside out it seems
Even though you don’t know how.
They seem to take words out of your mouth,
It used to surprise you, but not anymore.
They always know exactly how you feel,
And can tell when you’re all sore.

Each friend you have, has a special role,

A unique gap that they fill.
Lucky are you if you’ve found them all,
And if they’re all one person, you’re luckier still!

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Tug of War

I told you I couldn’t do it anymore,
That I was bruised, and I still am sore.
I told you, never, ever will I call you again.
No, you’re not worth that familiar dull pain.
I can’t always be the one to make that first call
I’m tired of wondering if you miss me at all
My messages to you, delivered and seen,
Time and again, asking you how you’ve been.
Drifting forever in the space between us,
Unwanted, abandoned, and then at last
Would come your reply; too little, too late.
And all this while, all I could do was wait.
So no, I said, I will not put myself through this.
I shall not be ignored, nor shall I be dismissed.
But the more I tried to salvage my pride,
The weaker I became, the harder I cried.
Your silence was deafening, but what were you to do?
Tell me you knew exactly what I was going through?
Good bye, I said, have a good life my dear
This is my last call, the very last, I fear.
I disconnected the call, and memorised your voice.
I couldn’t help it, you left me no choice.
So I kept to myself, everything I wanted you to know,
That hauntingly beautiful song I heard on the radio,
Or those lines I read that touched me to my core,
That movie I watched that left me wanting more.
I told myself I was okay, I was doing just fine
I had severed all ties, and the resolve was all mine.
Until one day, when the skies were grey and wet,
And so was my heart, weighed down with dread.
I ached for company, for conversation and laughter.
I craved that delicious warmth I would feel after.
I scrolled down my contacts, wondering whom I could talk to.
And saw your name. I faltered. What could I do?
The wound had barely healed, I was barely whole.
I thought I had moved on, but what about my soul?
If I reached deep down, I knew it wasn’t the truth
I was still shackled, just like you’d feared I would
My fingers hovered between a yes and a no
Look what you do to me! I hate you so!
My ego whispered, ‘Refrain’, and refrain I did
I salvaged my dignity, and felt proud indeed
Told myself I did the right thing, that I was strong
Then that yawning hole in me yelled that I was wrong
I mutter your name over and over again,
I question my reason; am I no longer sane?
Torn between two choices, both equally cruel
Each reminding me that I’m nothing but a fool
So I choose the middle path, the much dreaded half,
I talk to you in my mind, and that feels enough.
For now, my heart tells me, for now it is so
But how long this will last, I don’t quite know.
I hate you because I miss you, and it rips me apart
Still I won’t call you, because deep in my heart
Ego and love, both monsters at war
Are burning each other, I don’t know what for.
I’ll wait and burn until the edges fray,
But I shall not call you, love you though I may.
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Faith, Music… and Aita.

I must have mentioned this before, about how I am not a religious person at all. I consider myself spiritual, yes, in the sense that I believe in the construct of destiny, and I’d like to believe that there are greater powers in play and that there is a plan.

But this is not about religion or spirituality. It is about a childhood in which spirituality and music were so intertwined that for the longest time I couldn’t tell one from the other. It is about those evenings meant for singing prayers and sitting next to Mamma and Aita as we soaked in the Borgeets and the Naams. It is about watching Aita getting moved by the scriptures so much that she would have tears in her eyes, and feeling utterly at loss as to how anyone could get this emotional about stories from Lord Krishna’s life. It is about listening to her read aloud, in her beautiful sing-song voice, page after page of chapters from the Kirtan and trying to figure out how anyone would willingly seek pleasure from (what seemed like) such a boring means of recreation.

I chalked it to her age back then. I thought it was a habit old people got into. You know, thinking about religion and spirituality, and probably finding hidden meaning that’s lost on us simply because we were young.

Of late I have been missing my Aita a lot. She played a fundamental part in my upbringing, having taken care of me from the time I was a wee three-month old while Mamma went to work. Aita’s account of my days include tales of my mischief and how I would come up with creative ways to torture her (such as pouring water on the lemon pickle she had set out in the sun to mature), until one day, when she said enough was enough and that I needed to be sent to school, which explains why I started school at the early age of three. Evenings were spent singing/praying and then listening to stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana while lying down on her lap. She is amazingly progressive, and gave me and my sister life lessons that one would almost judge rebellious. Question, she would say, don’t just believe in things you are told, and if it doesn’t seem right to your conscience, resist; resist with all your might. I will never forget the day she sat us down in front of her, and told us in all sincerity, “Marry for nothing but love, but find a man who would make you proud, when you introduce him to your father.”

Even now, I equate being open and progressive with Aita. I equate strength and independence with her. I equate music and spirituality with her, and my way of keeping her in my heart is to ensure that everything she’d handed down to us is nurtured and taken forward. My way of enabling that was to bring a copy of the Kirtan and the collection of Borgeet and the raihal (the wooden ‘platform’ on which to place the book while we sing from it) with me when I got married and shifted to Vietnam. I pledged to make my own little spiritual sanctuary, in whatever manner I could, and whether I was fostering my own faith, or honouring the culture instilled in me by my family, I didn’t stop  to think.

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My first Guxaai Thai  in Vietnam

So maybe this was why, when the husband mentioned last Sunday that it had been a long time since we’d done anything remotely spiritual at our house, I suggested having a naam. After making the first compulsory call to my mother to affirm that I did have it in me to organise one at our place, I made a mental list of things I needed to gather, and realised that it’d been so long since we’d had a naam at our place that I would have to brush up on the tunes. And that’s when I opened up my Kirtan and the all-too familiar tunes came back to me. If I stumbled once in a while, I only had to trust my instinct. I would just have to close my eyes and I would hear Aita’s voice singing loud and clear in my mind, nudging me in the right direction.

As I sat there, singing prayer after prayer, lovingly caressing the pages of my still-new book while thinking of the well-thumbed one back home, I finally got it. I finally realised that I could see myself doing this, sitting in a corner and drowning myself in music… and restoring my faith while at it, and that it has got nothing to do with age.

Then again, maybe it *is* about age. Maybe I am finally old enough to appreciate what was given to me, and realise that now it is on me to pass it on to my daughter. To faith then, and music. And a formidable woman who revolutionised the naamghor by making her own tunes and starting a whole new trend.

....and she posed with me too!

Inferno

Your eyes drank from me before skin met skin,
You burned me and left scorch marks everywhere.
We didn’t just meet, we shivered and crashed,
The raging house on fire, that’s what we were.

‘Don’t hold back,’ you whispered in my ear.
I sighed and told you I didn’t know how to.
You stripped off the layers, until I had none.
One word and I’d unravel; I’d give myself to you.

And give myself I did, all I could and more
You knew just the right things to say,
You claimed me as yours, and I let you
For I didn’t know any other way.

Until the day I dared ask for something,
Your word, a promise that you would stay.
I let the word “forever” escape my lips,
Because I couldn’t bear to be away.

You told me I was naive, that forever doesn’t exist,
You told me it was all about now and here,
You packed your clothes, slammed the door and left,
Your goodbye still lingering in my ear.

I salved my scars and licked my wounds,
But you didn’t break me; I was alive and whole
And I thanked the stars shining above me,
That it was only my skin I had bared to you,
And not my soul.

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Endings and Beginnings

I miss them already. I keep dreaming about them, and find myself unconsciously thinking about them as though I will meet them right after Diwali break. I think about the sheer number of books I’d wanted them to read, and wonder what I am going to do with all these books stacked in my house. Walking into the bookstore will not be the same without my eyes scouting through the Young Adult section for new releases and good deals. I look back at just how much they had bloomed and flourished in the last six months and send a silent prayer that they keep doing so.

My last day was two days ago, and I think the wound is still a little too fresh. My subconscious has not woken up to the fact that I am no longer a teacher.

My class, as usual, rose marvellously to the occasion, and organised this superb farewell party in my honour. I got letters from each and every one of them, and a framed collage of photos as a gift from the whole class. What amazed me was how carefully they had picked each and every photo to be included in the collage, and how they knew just the right ones. There’s a photo of me with them on a field trip, a photo from my book launch with Adil Hussain, quite a few with Miss Munchkin because I keep talking about her so much, and of course one with my red, rep lipstick. It was also quite something to get a note from a parent thanking me, and a poem written by another parent, for me. While I am used to getting notes from my students, being appreciated by parents made me feel like I must have done something right, after all.

The other classes showered me with gifts, including the hardcover of Dan Brown’s latest, something I had been coveting ever since I had seen it in the bookstores. One student gifted me a painting he had made, and the note that he wrote behind it was as beautiful as the painting itself. Apologising that they hadn’t bought gifts for me, a bunch of guys invited me to the music room and gave me the gift of a song that they performed exclusively for me. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, because all the while I kept thinking that I was leaving them behind.

My colleagues gifted me a whole bunch of thick books, the operative word here being thick because as all book lovers know, there’s nothing better than a thick book and a big mug of tea/coffee to go with it. I received the illustrated Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, completing my set for now, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (each one a doorstopper of a book, yay!)

To ensure that I wouldn’t sit at home and mope about, my best friend in the staffroom took me to Clarke Quay after work, and we spent the entire evening talking and eating and making merry. It was a celebration of friendship, specially the rare kind of friendship that stems from being mere acquaintances, but transcends into comfortable familiarity, and then warm intimacy when you realise that they have become the person you can say anything to.

I know it’ll take time before the feeling sinks in. Come Monday morning when I don’t have to get dressed for work, I’ll have to say goodbye once again. Whenever I’ll see a book I had bought for the express purpose of lending to students, I will sigh and miss them all over again.

But then, I look at the little one at home who is more excited than ever that Mamma will be home to pick her up after school. I look at the humungous stack of to-be-read books on my book shelves and lovingly caress their spines with a promise to give them their due share of attention soon. But most of all, I look forward to this: writing… moulding my thoughts into words, seeing them take shape, witnessing a manuscript that starts from a single word extend and lengthen… Yes. I definitely look forward to making progress on my second book (can I get a Hallelujah here?)

Ending this with the poem I had written for my class, that I read out to them.

A year is a short time, I agree.
But I hope what they say is true
That it is not how long you spend time together
But it is how much they mean to you.

 
And if we go by those words,
Then it feels like it’s been eternity
Since I’ve known you and loved you,

And given you my all, in its entirety.

 
So let’s not be sad that
Our time together has come to an end,
Let’s not see this as the end of the road,

Let’s just say it is simply a bend.

 
Look, I know, this doesn’t help much.
Saying good bye is always tough.
But do lend a ear to what I have to say next

And maybe, just maybe, my words will be enough.

 
When I walked into the classroom that first day,
I knew life wouldn’t be the same,
When I saw your eager faces smiling back at me,

I knew a spark was lit that would turn into flame.

 
How right I was! Time has proven it.
From being mere strangers, we’re friends and how!
We talk about books, and music and so much more

We even crack inside jokes. I mean, look at us now!

 
They say nothing in life happens without a reason,
And I firmly believe there is a good one.
That our paths in life have met and crossed,

And we’ve had our season in the sun.

 
Maybe I was meant to change something in you,
For I know you’ve definitely changed me.
Each of you have a place in my heart,

Each of you as special as could be.

 
So don’t feel sad today, let’s not cry.
Let’s think of all the times we’ve made each other smile.
I hope your love for words keeps burning strong,

I hope you’ve learned to love books all this while.

 
Coming to books, I sincerely wish
You always find good ones to read.
May you meet beautiful words on your way.

And may they come to you whenever you need.

 
So yes, that’s all I guess, I’ve nothing more left.
It’s time for us to part ways.
Before I leave though, all I’ll say
Is even when I’m old and have wrinkles on my face
You’ll cross my thoughts and I’ll wonder where you all are.
And if someone asks me “After all this time?”
I’ll just say, “Always”.
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