To want. To find. And perhaps to read.

An (overly) optimistic  reading list for 2023… but it’s not even January yet, so perhaps making this list is not altogether a bad thing. It’s a live list and will keep growing, I think – so if you have something interesting on your reading list, let’s hear it!!! Overloaded with poetry and non-fiction but there’s a couple of novels in there as well.

1. Apeirogon – Colum McCann (reading now)
2. The Professor – Charlotte Bronte (my year-end classic ritual, last year I read MiddleMarch by George Eliot)
3. Seven Moons of Maali Almeida – Shehan Karunatilaka (can’t wait to read this one)
4. The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
5. West Asia At War: Repression, Resistance and Great Power Games – Talmiz Ahmad
6. In a Strange Room – Damon Galgut
7. Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet – George Monbiot (yet to be released)
8. The Earth Transformed: An Untold History – Peter Frankopan (yet to be released)
9. A River Dies of Thirst  – Mahmoud Darwish
10. Night Sky with Exit Wounds – Ocean Vuong
11. Ambedkar: A Life – Shashi Tharoor
12. All the Light we Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
13. Horizon  – Barry Lopez

Life lessons on friendship and compassion: a manual for myself

1. When you first connect with someone you heard is unwell: swallow every platitude, every cliché that comes to mind. Please.
2. Don’t ask for details. No one wants to repeat their pain a hundred times. You aren’t a doctor. What you don’t know makes no real difference.
3. Start by asking how you can help.
4. End with a plan for real action.
5. Don’t give medical advice. This is not the time. You aren’t there in any professional capacity.
6. Do not talk about how you have the best doctor/ the better hospital/ the most efficient caregiver. No one cares. This is not the time.
7. Do not talk about all the times you were sick and how you suffered. All the people you know who were sick and how they suffered. Had the same issues. Similar issues. No one cares. This is not the time.
8. Send things if you aren’t close enough to visit. Fruits. Flowers. Books. Bookmarks. Love. They may never be consumed or appreciated. They show you care. They show you want to be there. Words are not enough. Do something.
9. Visit. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait to be called. Show up. Even if you can’t see the patient. Your intent counts. Your action counts even more.
10. Don’t say you have the person in your thoughts and prayers. Share proof. Your kindness and faith will reassure even non-believers.
11. Don’t talk about your promotion. Your holiday. Your coffee dates. Focus. Care. This isn’t about you.
12. Reach out to the caregiver. Take care of the caregiver like you would care for the patient. Caregivers need breaks. Need love. Need comforting. Mostly need hot food.
13. Don’t call if you don’t have time to complete the conversation. Don’t hang up half way, don’t put the call on hold. If you don’t have a few minutes to give, don’t bother. Break those digital boundaries. Be the kind of friend you want others to be to you.

The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

Stuff, mostly. Things that came or went or stayed or circled back…in no particular order:

1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
6. All the people I hadn’t visited when they were in hospital. Karma is a fucking vengeful accountant.
7. All my passwords. To important things. To streaming apps. To game apps. Memorized for potential transfer in the ether.
8. How will people I know who don’t know any one else I know, know if I die?
9. What about the person who gets my mobile number? What if they get the call I am waiting for?
10. The earliest I can go to South Korea is next summer. Maybe it will be beautiful in autumn? Will seasons still be seasons next year? Will next year still be next year? Will I still be I? What difference will it make?
11. Raised voices. Running feet. Wheels. Hums. Clanging of metal. Like the inside of a program. Everything in binary code. [Life. Death.] [Hospital. Sky.] [Tomorrow. Maybe.] [Why. If only.] [1.0.]
12. AK Ramanujan’s poem about the death of his father:
“But someone told me
he got two lines
in an inside column
of a Madras newspaper
sold by the kilo
exactly four weeks later
to street hawkers”

I was paraphrasing, crushing his craftsmanship inside my head. But this is now. No one prints obituaries anymore. No one reads newspapers anymore. But someone told me / she got 17 likes/ and the odd comment/ on an Instagram post/ that an algorithm relegated/ executing quietly / an hour later
13. My mother.

How do you know your poetic memoir is on the right track?

Here’s the ultimate checklist:

1. You have started finding the words. The writing is completely organic. Organic, but still unhealthy. And unsustainable.
2. Poems are coming in bursts of three or four at a time. Well, drafts, not real poems. But who’s judging?
3. Connections that you had forgotten or repressed or never seen, start showing up in clear red lines. Sometimes double red lines but what that means is still unclear.
4. Like the moon on a cloudy day, the present reveals itself with stunning clarity for one unexpected moment. Then two. That’s about it, though.
5. Readers who know you a little are getting uncomfortable reading the poems.
6. Readers who know you well are avoiding your work altogether.
7. You find chunks of your life, short periods, entire years, that have been so unmemorable, they aren’t worth writing about. Things that seemed overwhelming or even interesting then, translate into poetic chalk dust.
8. Memories are not set in stone. They say, the more often we recall something, the more we alter its details. Your truth is possibly a lie. Or a stretch. Or just convenient (though by that logic, what we don’t remember, is what we remember best, no?).
9. Catharsis is a trick word. It is the exact thing as the light at the end of a tunnel. A very long, very painful tunnel. You have realized how that will end.
10. You’ve figured out that this is not a mystery novel (more Non-Fiction, History, Self-Help). There is no twist in the tale. The hound barks when it should, the killer is on the orient express, whatever it is, is buried under a pyramid somewhere.
11. You are your only audience. As long as that much is clear, you can skip a few sordid details, forget a few names and fast-forward the cringe. Not that you haven’ seen the movie. This is just the book.
12. The three people you hope will never read this, will. You can bet your last rupee on it. Your “who gives a fuck” confidence should have factored this in by now.
13. You know for sure that when the imposter syndrome wears off, there is the anxiety about the quality and merit of your life to look forward to.

If you check most/ all of these boxes, don’t stop, you have an absolute winner! My poetic memoir is a work-in-progress here.

******

(Inspired by Colleen Redman’s New Thursday 13, list-making joy that I recently discovered!)

A year after “Duplicity”

Last September, “Duplicity” was born. A second book of poems. Birthed in the dark days of the pandemic. A few weeks later. I wrote this on my blog:

As the exhilaration of bringing forth a new book begins to settle, it presents the writer with another empty page. The writing has to being again and the poet, like a child, stares out at a freshly scrubbed world, learning anew, words and meanings, tasting phrases and metaphors, slowly, as if the morning is a foreign language, strange and tempting yet utterly incomprehensible.

I started writing what I had tagged #citypoems in the pre-virus era but only sometime after the debilitating second wave, when I had a stack of pandemic poetry, written in the silence and despair of the endless lockdowns, did I start putting “Duplicity” together. But all that seems like a long time ago.

What happens next? What happens on the morning-after-the-month-after-the-book?

We climb ladders with invisible rungs. Never knowing if our feet are planted in the right place, on safe ground. From that uncertainty, come the poems. Comes this journey. And how glad and how grateful I am for it. That need to write from a place of honesty and self-awareness has spilt into this year and all my current writing. What could be better?

Thanks to everyone who supported the book. And thanks even more to all readers who came back to me with their thoughts.

“Duplicity” is available in print and kindle editions on Amazon.

Survival Guide for Poets

I feel an amorphous weight inside. I think it is because of the new series of poems I am writing. Or attempting to write. Honesty does not come easy. Words that should want to break free of restraint and guilt, sit and stare at you with soft, reproachful eyes. I have backspaced more than I have written. I have written more than I thought I could. There is still a mountain to climb. One step up, two steps down. One poem in. Two poems out. The mornings are weary of my wounds. The night refuses to listen.

I read instead of writing. Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. I read a little. I backspace some more. I meet friends, people who may be friends. I talk a little. I backspace even more.

Austen’s Anne says in the book, “that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

I wonder if poetry should be enjoyed safely. I wonder if it should sear and chill and raise and drown. Both poet and reader. Austen in her dulcet voice sounds a note of caution. For both poet and reader. So, I ask myself as Rilke commands. Must I write?

As if questions matter anymore. Or caution. Or feelings.

I read Darwish. Because that is the horizon. Because he can find paths through trees that don’t know they are forests.

The horse fell bloodied
with my poem
and I fell bloodied
with the horse’s blood …

( The Horse Fell Off the Poem – Mahmoud Darwish)

I read it again. And again. I backspace until all there is, is a universe, a horse, a weight, a blinking cursor.

The June that was!

My June writing marathon was an absolute fun ride. I didn’t do NaPoWriMo this year but all the stars aligned to make the writing happen in June. All of you who read and liked and critiqued and commented: Thanks a ton! Couldn’t have done it without you!

Also delighted that a few of the poems from June were picked to appear in Via Negativa’s weekly poetry digest. Dave Bonta puts together an amazing collection each week and am truly happy to have my poems included. Thanks so much, Dave. Here are the links to the poems:

One of them is real posted on June 1, appeared in Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 22
Till the end of June posted on June, 7 June 7, appeared in Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 23
Anatomy of a poem posted on June 14, appeared in Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 24
So much, so loud  posted on June 24, appeared in Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 25
The arbiter of all sorrow  posted on June 28, appeared in Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 26

Thanks again to those who read right through the month and gave me all the encouragement and support I needed. You know who you are!

(Oh and I am putting together a little chapbook centred around the June poems with some additional pieces. More on that when I have it all done! Watch this space!!)

Friend

It is not a tryst, not a beginning, not a confession. Definitely not a conversation. Don’t say anything.

If, in a moment of strange alignment, I make the uneven journey from within myself to what you see, what you think you see; if, in that moment of random foolishness, I peel away the façade, the armour, the wall after wall of defence; if, in that moment of irrational truth, I let you in on something real, then, don’t say anything. Let me have that moment. Let me step into the light. Let me cast my shadow. Let me happen. Let me come free.

You see that moon, alone, adrift in the pitch-dark sky, the moon that doesn’t know it shines, the moon that bears its scars alone, the moon too far to hear a word, the moon that came in through my window once to say it has the darker side…

…that moon used to be my friend.

just one night
without an impending dawn
just one night

Untold forest

It is okay to have stories that you will never tell anyone.

It is okay to have trees grow inside you that fall when no one is around. It is okay if it is an entire forest.

It is okay if that forest burns one night and turns to desert.

It is okay if in that desert an ugly flower blooms. And you don’t know its name. And you don’t tell anyone.

It is okay because a stranger will see you from a moving bus and think to himself that there must be a big desert inside your heart because your eyes see nothing that they see and there must be in that desert a single flower blooming because you still cast a light.

It is okay if you never meet that stranger and he forgets your face. It is okay that the stranger has no light. It is okay even if that was the best version of yourself and the only one who saw it and mistook it has forgotten about it.

It is okay that it is pointless right up to the end, that no one knows the pain, no one shares the surging joy, that no one sees the suffering. It is okay that it is all for nothing, that the erasure will be swift, will be surgical, the space you occupied will fill quickly, easily, as if it never was, as if you never were. It is okay that your existence is not validated by someone else.

That someone too has stories they are never going to tell.

stopping
suddenly, midway,
this too is a destination

Where the light draws no shadows

They say in the far reaches of the universe where the light draws no shadows, a little planet, bigger than a dream, smaller than a smile, was inhabited entirely by flowers. Flowers, some bigger than magic, some smaller than a sigh, lived together, talking, laughing, reaching out with their little leaf-hands to caress a neighbour’s face.

They say when a flower finally dropped, roots murmured to it, for days, for weeks, until it returned to the light. No one else visited the planet, it never grew dark, a gentle wind meandered in soft arcs and twice a day a grey cloud arrived in the sky above to shower the flowers with sweet water.

They say that life of fragrance and colour and a kind of joy that did not want a name continued for a time bigger than a beginning, smaller than an end, until one quiet afternoon, when a newly blossomed flower, bigger than a moment, smaller than faith, opened its little eyes and fell in love with the grey cloud.

so many birds
so much sky
what is happiness?