Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear Paatti

I am thinking of you, grandmother. I could just call you. You are alive. But I am thinking of you now like I think of someone long gone. Forgive me for that. I will call you tomorrow, and we will talk about your mother, my great grandmother, the one who had many stories to tell. But someone will have to hold the phone to your ears. And you may not hear me properly. Or at all. 

You always spoke when I danced. I was your trophy. You'd ask me to dance for the guests. And when I danced, you always spoke about something else. "That one's daughter is getting married. Did you know?" And the guests were too polite to ask you to shut up. So I did. Or I think I did. I always wanted to. Forgive me for that.

I remember your stories of America. Your wore like a tiara the fact that you were the first woman in the family to go on an airplane. You went to hold death's jaws open for as long as you could. But dear uncle died anyway. You changed your saree, wore shoes and sweaters, ignored the meat-smeared dishes in the sink, and even overcame the shock of how much curry leaves cost. But you lost one of your sons anyway.

Can you tell me again that story, the one about how you were locked out one night in the snow and how scared you were? I have a similar story to swap with you. It may not have snow in it, but it does have fear and loneliness. I think you will understand.

I will call you tomorrow. And, as always, you will not ask me when I would get married. You have no idea how much I love you for not asking me that ever. 

I have many stories of your failings. But I will let go of them like you let go of that vegetable when you went to Kasi and never ate again. 

I will call you tomorrow and tell you I love you. It is very likely that you won't hear me, that you won't know that it is love that rolls in my throat. And someone will have to hold the phone to your ears.

That someone will put the phone down and tell you it was I who called. They will say it louder and closer to your ears. And you will burst into a toothless grin. You will ask where I called from. They will tell you. And your winged mind will soar high above the reach of your shaking arms and hurl its love over the oceans to me. 

I love you, too. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Trust Your Bells

For Shailja Patel, a dear friend who reminded me never to judge my work on the basis of how much money it brings, that in this capitalist world, which refuses to value the practice of art as labour (unless done within certain regimes of oppression), our very existence, our persistence at performing, writing and practising whatever art it is that we practise, are important. Of course, our concerns for our material well-being and achievement of recognition are valid and important, but they need have no bearing on how we value our work. 

(Written for performance)

You will be told many things.

For instance, you'll be told
that art isn't labour,
That it comes from sinuous vapours
rising from burning, idle hearts,
That it is not important, 
That it has never ended wars,
though nor have governments.

What does not value
art's labour
or yours
likes to hear
you judge yourself and
your artistry
for failing to bring in the buck
for your perpetual bad luck.
It smiles when you hide -
swallowing your pride -
your pen and palette.
You can hear it chortle 
when you throttle 
your ankle bells under a pillow.
It grins when your scrounge
and scrape and
grovel and gape.

But in exchange for your songs
about empires,
your dance of wrath
about plunder, what tears
your world asunder,
or even your hymn
for your gods and goddesses, 
in exchange for your truths,
your soul, your heart,
it will clothe you
in its banners. Flex is
the new haute couture,
the fabric of submission,
of surrender. 

You keep your rage, you
lie on your pillow and with your 
fingers make the bells on your anklet
toll. When you put them on,
implore them to be both
death's little doorbells
and love's little chorus,
as they will,
as they see fit.
Let them drag your feet,
take you to your truths,
to the dark cave where
your soul sits in hiding.
The bells on your feet
they see, they sing,
they huddle and conspire,
they keep in them your fire,
they remember when you swaggered,
when your aching feet faltered, and
when they stomped to the ground
all meanness,
they remember your gait,
your rhythm, your falling,
but they remember too
your getting up.
Trust their buckled wisdom,
trust even the ones that have lost 
their beads and are toothless - they will
speak anyway. Trust your bells
to teach you to dance
your dance. Trust your bells
and dance. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pills or Reasons

You ought to have reasons for your feelings.
Or pills. 
You cannot have a cold despair come
and sit in your heart just like that.
Not in the middle of a sunny day.
Not without a reason. Have a pill
If you will. 
See a shrink.

I was sad the other day. Just sad. 
For once, sad was the apt word.
It closed with the airtight click of a tupperware lid.
Language sufficed, and that almost cheered me up.
But a friend said, "Don't despair." 
He could see clearer than me
the weekly forecast to the weather in my heart.

A poet suggested I keep myself at arms length.
It became hard to navigate crowded streets
and subway stations. My arm is long
and it slams across the faces of multitudes.

I now sit with the sadness,
the despair and the arm reddened with the slam
of faces passing by. Myself sits close by,
for fall has arrived
and a sudden chill makes you want to huddle
with whoever's closest. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Charm Against Things That Have No Place In Me

"The bells on my feet rage in rhythm
against your smallness. They toll
for things that have no place
in me, no walls with crevices
to leave their seeds in
to grow and undo. 

I stomp to the ground the hatred you throw at me
to keep, water and whisper.
I adorn myself to set myself apart
from your plundering away at molehills of pettiness...

Any darkness there is, lies smeared around my eyes,
reminding me to seek 
to see more clearly. I peel the clouds from my eyes 
and leave them by the side. 

What lies in my gut is timeless 
and it rises and flows through me now.
It comes out not as a cry of despair
but as the dance of de
ath, of ends,
and new beginnings.

Little acts of healing and coping

(Written for my column in Page Seven Magazine)

Whenever I find myself doing dishes in the sink with too much passion, I know that I am sorting through some issues in my head. I scrub away at the oil and grime, and feel a wonderful sense of healing as I see them go down the drain leaving a clean, soaking wet dish in my hand. Does that sound weird? When I announced that I love washing dishes, many people offered to have me live with them. I think I should not dismiss this as an idea, because I already sort of function in the gift economy mode, trading food for work, work for work, etc. But this may not be the appropriate place to go into what transactions I engage in on an everyday basis.

One of my friends tells me that spending time weeding in her garden gives her that sense of healing. I know she really means it. A couple of days ago, I finished watching two movies on the internet while she was lost to the world, bent to the earth in her backyard, weeding away. To each her own, I guess. I have not done much gardening in my life. My mother used to have a beautiful rose garden, and she took great delight in taking care of them, talking to them, thanking them for their colour, fragrance and abundance. Sometimes, if a plant was dying, she would go to it several times a day and speak to it very gently. And my therapy was vicarious, in that I found great healing and love just watching her talk to the plants.

I talk to gadgets all the time, if that counts. The first printer I had at home was a great conversationalist, but not a very compassionate one. When I had to print out several drafts of my Masters dissertation, I spoke to my printer more than I spoke to my parents or friends. One day, when I was in the middle of a passionate plea to my printer to let me print a few pages before it started wheezing and whining, the phone rang. It was my dissertation supervisor who already had strong misgivings about my sanity. When she heard me shout at the printer, she took pity on my condition and extended the deadline for the submission of the draft. She saw it as emotional disturbance that warranted compassion.

Another task I love is ironing clothes. It is especially so when I have issues to sort out, which is, actually, all the time, but sometimes I don't sort them out. I just let them gain weight and sink beneath the surface so that I can go on with my life. But, of course, they resurface soon with vengeance, and it is not pretty sight. So let's not go there. 

But when I do iron clothes, I really get into it. I feel like I am ironing out the creases from my life. It is a wonderful feeling. Of course, when I said this to friends, they were like, "Oh you can iron our clothes, if you want more healing." But that's the thing - it was only recently that I learnt to stick to ironing the wrinkles out of my clothes alone. Others' clothes are their business. They might actually be going for the creased and crinkled look. You never know.

Back to the dishes. It is amazing how quickly they pile up. You want to clean them all before you go to bed, so that you can wake up to a clean sink in the morning and feel like a success in life. But you give into the sloth that comes after that terrific dinner, and go to bed right after that second glass of wine. When you wake up the next morning and come to the kitchen for some coffee, there the dirty dishes are, piled up like the easy debris of your weak will and determination, mocking you.

Should I be going for therapy? Please tell me it is normal to go through these emotions, that some of you can relate to this madness. Help me out here, please!