• 30
    Dec

    I spent this evening at the protest in Jantar Mantar, and it was a mix of so many emotions. As KS and I got there, our first impression was simply deep sadness at the way this protest has been completely hijacked by men with their own agendas… when we got there, there were maybe 20 men to each woman present, possibly more. Many were there to represent political parties, with their waving tricolors and their cries of “rahul gandhi hai hai” (umm, yeah, i don’t know).

    After spending a few moments at each of the noisy groups, we decided to go join one of the silent protests instead. Then we walked to each silent group and found all of the messaging too disturbing — it was mostly about hanging and castration for the culprits, with a generous sprinkling of the “tomorrow, it could be your sister… wake up and save women” variety. Not wanting to lend our presence to any of those groups and messages, we finally called up some folks who were going to join us later and asked them to bring us pens and paper so we could create our own messages.

    Then we came across one young woman who had been standing alone for a long time, holding a message about taking every act of violence against women seriously. We started talking to her and found that this college student had been standing there, protesting alone, for days now because she wanted to be there but did not want to associate with any of these groups. At last, a voice of sanity. We stuck around with her, lighting candles. When our pens and papers arrived, KS created a “I am not your mother, daughter, or sister… but you should still care” placard, and I created one that read “I am not here for vengeance; I am here for solidarity.” For a while, we (along with NB who had joined us by now) stood in one line, holding our placards and our candles.

    After a while, we decided to sit down in a semicircle, and then somehow, we started singing. Tu zinda hai, tu zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar; agar kahin hai swarg toh utaar la zameen par (really rough translation: You are alive, believe in the victory of life; if there is a heaven somewhere, bring it down to earth) to begin with. Then several renditions in Hindi and English of We shall overcome, specifically the stanzas about “We are not afraid” and “we are not alone.” Then Itnee shakti hume de na data/ man ka vishwaas kamzor ho na (roughly: “Give us so much strength that the confidence in our hearts doesn’t weaken”). A few other songs too. The singing drew people’s attention to our little sit-in, and several people stopped by to light more candles or leave diyas in front of us.

    At some point, one man sat down in our group and started his “Down with Manmohan Singh” sloganeering. After some internal debate, I found the courage to politely inform him that his agenda was not ours, that our message was different from his, that I would rather he join one of the groups that shared his message and leave us to talk about solidarity and coming together. He looked surprised, but he agreed to leave us our space. We ended up being one of the only groups comprised mainly (actually only, except for some kids) of women.

    Other women and young children joined our singing. Every time one of the all-men political party kind of sloganeering groups would pass us with their chants, we would sing louder, work at drowning them out in our women’s and children’s chorus of we are not afraid, we are not alone, and we shall overcome, in Hindi and in English. I have never been part of such a powerful, joyful, obstinate sing-along.

    By the time we left, I felt so much better. I felt proud that we had, in some small way, taken back our space, our protest. Proud that, even as we mourn, we had been able to talk about hope, about moving forward, about fearlessness. Above all, I felt proud that we had been able to sing instead of being silenced.

  • 02
    Dec

    I have been at Sangam House for a week now, and since I am avoiding Facebook updates for this time, I thought a blog post was due. It feels like so much longer than a week, though — not in the “this is all so slow and boring” sense, but rather in the “you mean I haven’t known these people all my life?” sense.

    Everything about being here — the place, the people, the food, the dogs — has been magic. I came here feeling completely daunted by the task of pulling together any sort of manuscript… one week in, I have already completed two solid drafts of my manuscript, figured out a lot of the hardest stuff around sectioning and organizing, and come to a clear sense of what my next steps are — for this manuscript, and for at least 2 other writing projects. Just as importantly, it has been a week of so much laughter, so many stories, so much incredible conversation, and so many new friendships that it is hard to believe it has only been a week. Turns out the Sangam House isn’t only what my writing needed; it’s what my life needed just now.

    I will admit, though, that today is an odd day to be here. I awoke this morning to the realization that today is December 2nd — less than a week away from the wedding (in Delhi) of one of my closest friends from high school. It would be odd enough to be here rather than there for that wedding. But it’s so much odder because, as the universe would have it, he is getting married on the death anniversary of one of my closest friends from college. December 8 on my calendar is a day of quiet, of remembering. I don’t know how to process it also as a day of the celebration and the noise that is an Indian wedding. I simply can’t seem to reconcile the two. And how much odder still to be here, on this gorgeous little island away from all of the rest of my life, surrounded by people I thoroughly enjoy but who are unfamiliar with both of those parts of my life, during this week. I can sense I’m going to learn something important over the next few days, but I’m not yet sure what that will be.

    In happier news, I was able to bake brownies for everyone in a pressure cooker yesterday! Move over, ovens, a whole new world just opened up to me! 🙂

  • 23
    Nov

    After another couple of months being MIA, I’m sitting here at the ant cafe in Bangalore, desperately trying to feel like a writer again before I start my residency at Sangam House tomorrow. It has been a strange few weeks, the kind that disappear on you without a trace, since I finished my last round of workshops in the beginning of October. I was traveling for a few weeks, and sick for the rest, and then hosting one of my closest friends on a 10 day layover in Delhi on her way to Afghanistan. Somewhere in the middle, I was facilitating research writing and reflective writing workshops, tutoring, and doing research towards a dream consultancy project that I will begin in January. All wonderful stuff (except the being sick!), but all time consuming enough for me not to find enough time for the blog, or for writing in general.

    So I opted to take the train rather than fly into Bangalore. Over the 36 hours, I slept a lot and read a lot. I also stared out of the window a lot (and I have to say, as ways to spend a day go, staring out of windows is grossly underrated!). Somewhere in the middle of all that, i started returning to a space inside me that is quieter than the hecticness of the last few months, and I reached Bangalore equally exhausted and refreshed.

    I spent the day today at the home of my oldest friend; after a quick morning chat and breakfast, he left for work, and I slept in, ate lunch, slept some more — pretty much until I got out here to read and write. Every time I meet friends like him, I am struck with joy and gratitude at the effortlessness of these old friendships… at the way in which we can make each other’s homes our own, at the fact that time away doesn’t matter.

    While staring out of the train window, I was thinking similarly about another friend from long ago. Over 12-13 years of our friendship, he’s grown into more and more of a close friend, and on that train ride, as I recalled a joke another friend made recently about this friendship, I grew suddenly, intensely grateful. Somehow, who knows how, over more than a decade of not living in the same city or, for the most part, even in the same country, we have become such solid presences in each other’s life. Somehow our love for each other has grown absolute and dependable in such a way that I don’t know who I am without that friendship.

    The more I think about one person in my life in all these ways, the more people come to mind who are just as special in different ways. And the more my heart fills with appreciation for all of them.

    Here’s the funny thing: this year is the first year in the last decade when I haven’t been aware of the date for Thanksgiving in the USA. I used to have a mish-mash of holiday calendars from around the world that I commemorated because those individual rituals and moments with friends had come to mean something to me that went beyond their historical of cultural significance… this has been the first year that Thanksgiving slipped off that calendar (partly because of the craziness, but mostly because I guess that part of my life has slipped off my immediate radar). And yet, this year is the one where I organically slipped into a sense of deep gratitude at approximately the same time that my friends across the world were carving their Turkeys or Tofurkeys and saying their prayers of gratitude. Maybe that part of my life has only slipped off my conscious radar.

    So, going into the 3 intense weeks or writers’ residency to come, I’m grateful. For this opportunity to become the writer I haven’t yet been able to be. And more than that, for a beautiful, strong, and loving community that I know is mine regardless of the writer, or anything else, that I am.

  • 14
    Sep

     

    A few months ago, I blogged about my Spiti adventures and what I learned there about the my own relationship to both solitude and community — about learning that the two aren’t really opposite ends of a spectrum. Over the last week or two, I’ve been thinking again about the relationship between the two, but this time in the context of writing.

    Two years ago, while I was in graduate school, I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would miss the MFA community. Not because I didn’t like that community, don’t get me wrong, but simply because I had been so saturated with poets and poetry that I was craving something else, anything else. In moving out of Bronxville and into NYC, then throwing myself into my various jobs in the more social change-y space there, but still going up to college two or three times a week for poems, I found a balance. But yes, I admit I prized college more for craft-based learning and the conversations with professors (especially my super-awesome thesis advisor) than for the rest of the MFA community. Maybe prized is the wrong word; maybe it’s simply that I took the writing community aspect for granted because it was everywhere.

    Also because I never fully felt like I belonged in it — I still struggle to identify myself as a “poet” (because it’s only one of so many things I am, and because people read more weirdness into that than I ever intended to pack into it!). Consciously or unconsciously, so much about who I am becoming is about breaking out of categories and boxes — just when you think you’ve finally wrapped your mind around who I am and what i care about, I want to spring out of that box and surprise you…  just when I think I’ve finally wrapped my mind around who I am and what i care about, I want to spring out of that box and surprise myself. That’s become the most fun part of being who I am!

    And recently, I have surprised myself by how much I miss having a community of writers. I don’t mean a critique group — I do still exchange and critique manuscripts with friends from various writerly spaces, and while it would be lovely to have more of that in physical proximity, right now, I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about being part of a community of writers. About a group of people who care about, work with and enjoy talking about words — a group of people alongside whom I can read and laugh and spend hours talking about a favorite poem or about the etymology of my favorite word or about a metaphor I just used but don’t fully understand myself. A group of people who understand the frustration of a misplaced comma and the exhilaration of getting into the backseat of a character’s life and letting that character drive you wherever they choose. it isn’t so much about what we give each other’s writing as it is about being able to share this thing that we love so much — perhaps so differently, but still so much. Whatever else my MFA community was or wasn’t, this it was, and this I miss about it.

    Which is part of why I’m very excited to announce that I will be spending three weeks in residence with five other writers from around the world at Sangam House this winter. I’m looking forward to the focused time to write and edit and pull together a manuscript from all the disparate poems lying in various online folders and paper scraps (yes, I said it. I’m working on pulling together a manuscript. Eek). But perhaps even more than that, I’m looking forward to three weeks of being part of a community of writers again… of early morning walks and late evening conversations about words, our love for them, and the ways in which we tame them and are tamed by them.

    I’ve never fully bought that whole “solitary profession” thing people are always saying about the work of the writer, and now, I’m looking forward to conversations and cross-linkages that breathe new life into my words. You shall hear more about all of that in a few months, and perhaps about some other kinds of interesting writing-and-community things in the offing before that.

    For now, I just remember what K. Srilata told me about her experience of Sangam House: “For once, I felt like I was walking on the right side of the road.” As statements about the role of a writing community go, that pretty much sums up everything I’m hoping for.

     

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