• 08

    Brown Paper Bag thinks I’m “cool people”.

    For this honor, I will forgive them little slip-ups, but just for the record, I do not live in Green Park, my dog is not white, and I fell in love with Delhi years ago, well before I met Akhil or roamed these streets with him!

    It’s still a fun little read, and a sneak peak into my life as a potter-poet. Here you go!

  • 02

    This April, I did that thing that makes most non-poets (and, to be fair, many poets too) roll their eyes: I took on 30/30, that challenge where a bunch of poets around the world commit to writing a new, complete poem everyday for 30 days. A lot of people are confused by 30/30, ask if poetry can — or should — work like that, if mass production isn’t the antithesis of poetry. Put like that,I understand their concerns, but for me, this year above all years, 30/30 has been a revelation of the opposite sort, something between meditation and therapy.

    This year, 30/30 has, for me, meant a deep, sustained, careful attention to my inner world— an attention that was, in moments, completely exhausting. April was a difficult month, personally and professionally, and doing 30/30 this month has meant a refusal to avert my eyes from any of my feelings and insecurities. It has meant an insistence on sitting with deep pain and deep love, of noticing each caving of chest, each hollowness in stomach, each fear in throat — of learning how to say “I see you, and I am present for this,” over and over, to all sorts of emotions. It has meant sitting across from friends in cafes, writing through tears, refusing to hide. It has meant writing on the toy train, between Marie biscuits and mountain views; it has meant finding poems on Mall Road, and in my grandmother’s stories, and in response to the news. It has meant making poems out of other people’s words, questions, betrayals. It has meant the kind of self-discovery that makes me print poems out and take them to my therapist saying “look! I just explained me to myself!”. It has meant poems that almost broke important relationships and poems that created new relationships, poems that taught me to honor my anger or hurt, and poems that taught me to forgive. At some point, this poem-a-day exercise became an exercise in mindfulness, an insistence on getting through things rather than simply getting over them.

    30/30 has been about the ability to nod at a feeling without immediately trying to change it. 30/30 has been about learning to wrap words around hurts, but also about learning that sometimes I need not bandage, sometimes the wound must ooze before it dries. 30/30 has been the ability to look without fear at a moment/ relationship/ feeling, distilled down to its absolute essence, and somehow, this looking is itself a kind of gaining of power.

    Over the same month, I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score, a fantastic book about trauma and healing, which was recommended to me for the work I do with young people, but which has been just as meaningful at a personal level. In one section, the author, a psychiatrist, writes about how relearning how to name our emotions is intrinsic to healing from trauma— about how being able to locate emotions in one’s body is a big step in reconnecting with the parts of ourselves we shut down when we were in survival mode. Without getting into too much detail, I too have spent the last year or two recovering from a point where I had forgotten how to identify my own feelings, how to trust my own gut. The attention to inner landscape demanded by 30/30 pushed me to redevelop that vocabulary, and in naming those emotions accurately, I was able to regain a sense of autonomy and agency. This, for me, is poetry doing its best work, making me more whole, more present, more resilient. Everything else is a bonus.

    This April has also been the first time I have shared early drafts of my work on social media: Almost a third of my poems made it onto Facebook, visible only to friends, but still, out of the private realm well before they were polished or otherwise shielded from their own vulnerability. When I wrote about a close friend’s engagement, he told me he couldn’t have captured the night as well. When I wrote a letter to a Kashmiri friend with my dreams for her son, we reconnected after months separated by the violence that my government has been perpetrating in her city. When I wrote a letter to my own six year old self preparing for her first surgery, several friends texted or called to offer love or support (which surprised me because I didn’t think the poem had any information they didn’t already know!). In many ways, the vulnerability of putting up fresh writing opened space for other conversations and other vulnerabilities to surface.

    Are all of those poems good? Of course not; that was never the point. Will they all be revised into pieces that go out into the wider world? Again, probably not. I do think I could get ten good poems out of these thirty (and that’s a lot of good poems for a month), but the real reason for 30/30 runs so much deeper.

    Overall, I am probably going to remain that person who is currently working on the ninth draft of her second manuscript, and who doesn’t put anything short of a fifth draft up anywhere, but who knows? Maybe this month of sharing will teach me that it is okay sometimes to let that guard down, to be unfinished, or messy. Maybe it’s okay for some poems to walk out into the world in their pajamas; maybe freshly combed hair is overrated. Maybe what counts is the courage to show up, see, and be seen.

  • 07

    For 5 years in a row, I did different memorial posts on 8th December, the day my friend Masako Delalieu, to whom my first book was dedicated, passed away in 2010. Today, in 2016, I decided to modify this a little: I decided it’s time to stop commemorating the day she died and to start commemorating 7th December, the last day that she lived. After all, everyone dies; what set her apart was how powerfully she lived, especially in that last crazy year of fighting cancer, being declared cancer free, and then fighting it all over again.

    I realise too that at this point, 6 years later, I am finally at a point where there are no more stories to tell about this woman I knew intimately for less than that length of time. That between my poems and my posts, I have by now put down on paper every last memory I have of her. And that the need to tell stories about her, to protect our time together by writing it all down, is fading. That she has finally settled into a crevice of memory, periodically awakened by a joke or a story or an activism or an accent, but otherwise content to lie there, content to be an important past without being an indispensable present.

    4 years ago, when I first started thinking of her in past tense, I felt guilty about doing so. In the poem “Letter Written at an Abandoned Amphitheatre,” which I wrote at Sangam House on 8th December 2012, I lamented that she was becoming “a story told so often it is fading.” I was afraid that forgetting any little detail made me a lesser friend somehow, a less conscientious keeper of dreams and imaginings that she had shared but never been able to realise. Today, I am no longer sure what I was holding on to so tightly, what I thought I was going to lose, why I was so afraid.

    As it turns out, I still remember the dreamed-of futures of the past: the cafe she would one day have started in Paris, the Guatemalan child she would have one day adopted, the cartoon piglets she would probably have painted in both, the cafe and the child’s bedroom. I still remember the petitions on Amnesty she would have been sharing, the doctoral work on the Guatemalan femicide that she would probably be pursuing, the man who took such good care of her in her final months whom she would probably still be loving. But i remember these things in a gentle sort of way, not with the clutch of panic associated with the early years of stockpiling memories after her death, more with a soft kind of wonder: Who knows if she would have been any of that? For that matter, who knows if we would still even have been as close as we once were? After all, there are enough other friends from that period of my life who were equally close, who are still alive, and whom I haven’t spoken to in years — who is to say she and I would necessarily have been different?

    And I guess that’s the magic of holding on to her in memory, the way in which she is now frozen in time for me, frozen young and playful and determined and dreamy. And while that doesn’t compare with the magic we lost — the possibility of growing old as friends, or getting annoyed with each other, or making each other laugh, or traveling the world together — it does have its own special magic too. And this year, on the sixth anniversary of the last day of her life, I’m going to bask in that– to allow myself the basking instead of the mourning, to acknowledge that the softening of grief is a gift, not a betrayal. I think she would have liked that.


  • 26

    Those of you who have been following me on Facebook know that the last year has been too full of the work of organisation-founding and entrepreneuring for me to have blogged regularly. But then the last two weeks, since the Trump election and the currency demonetisation, have scared me off social media a little. While I’m all for being well informed, and while my Facebook newsfeed often points me to super-interesting reading and analyses that I would otherwise have missed, and while some of the original content generated by a few of my Facebook friends gives me buckets of hope and sanity, I still think of Facebook as my recipe for overwhelm.

    And so, while I have no intention of altogether quitting that space any time soon (see reasons above), I feel the need to move away from there and back to this space, back to blogging, where I feel more able to think aloud without feeling like I am shouting over a din of voices in a too crowded room. So there’s my old-year resolution for the last month of 2016: I want to start taking a half hour a week that I’d otherwise have spent on Facebook and start using it to think aloud here. I make no promises to fulfil any such resolutions, but voila, the seed has been sown!

    It’s been too busy a year for art in some ways, but it’s also been a super art-full year in other ways: a few weeks ago, I finished draft 6 (of at least 7, unfortunately) of my second manuscript, and there’s been a lot of editing, writing, rewriting, and moving things around that has happened in the process. I also enrolled in a fantastic year-long clay program, which I am not being able to make nearly enough time for, but which is still pushing me into some really interesting bringing together of my different artistic practices, particularly in the form of clay cubes and dolls made out of different poems i’ve written.

    Today, after spending a morning working on a clay-poetry doll based on my poem “Notes to Self” (which you cannot yet find on the internet, sorry!), I’m more inclined than ever to return to my art, to return to what art does to me. Yesterday was a difficult day, today began full of panic about all the work that needed to still be accomplished… and then somehow, in the process of ignoring deadlines to make art all morning, I found myself recharged enough to actually meet all the deadlines this afternoon that I’d never have met if I’d had those extra two hours! My brain works in funny ways, clearly, and for those of you readers who are still around and interested in following its new journeys, welcome aboard all over again 🙂

  • 08

    Hyderabad and I have a strange relationship, mediated by two very different and equally important parts of my life. It is the city where I won my first literary award, before I had published a single poem, and the city where I have returned full circle with an award for my first book. It has also been the city of 4 eye surgeries (and counting), the city where donated organs are easier to come by, the city with the only doctor I fully trust.

    At the hospital for a check-up yesterday, before random loitering around the city and heading to the festival inauguration, I gifted a copy of my book to my surgeon, telling him that the poem about corneal transplants is, in some ways, for him (he did the third and fourth and will do the fifth and sixth). He was moved, and he asked me if I minded writing about my experiences of corneal surgery so he can share the same with patients who are afraid of its implications for their quality of life. I promised to do so, and I also made another resolve that I’d love for you all to hold me to: to start writing more about my experiences around chronic illness in general. I was struck yesterday by my own familiarity with hospital ophthalmology departments, with the parts of the process i know to roll my eyes through, with the parts i know to brace for, which machine to walk towards for a topography test, how not to wince at the burst of air in my eye for the pressure test, how not to be intimidated by the machine with tentacles — so many random little moments that have made up my life. 

    Let’s see if Hyderabad 2016 manages to bring together my literary life with my medical life: I’d be curious to see what emerges from that marriage.

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