The Black Cat Blue Sea Award

I’m pretty new to the whole blogging thing: opening up to the denizens of the internet for all of posterity isn’t always a cakewalk. So it should come as no surprise that I have no idea how these Award things work! However, it’s 1:34 am, which is as good a time as any to find out what it’s all about. Thanks to the fantastic ihaveabadsenseofhumour for this nomination, it’s a whole new (and very exciting) world!

Here are the rules:

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From ihaveabadsenseofhumour’s site

And now for the questions that I was asked:

What is your biggest fear?

This is a hard one. There are so many things that scare me every day, whether it’s the growing hyper-nationalism, violence and misogyny in my own country, or the general darkness and chaos that has defined 2016 so far. I know what my greatest desire is— to create something meaningful, whether it’s through writing or policy or something else entirely. Something that’s filled with hope and promise and wonder, even if it helps just one person, even if it’s long after I’m dead and gone. And my biggest fear is never being able to do that.

What do you love the most about yourself?

This is such a great question! It’s so hard to remember that praise and self-love is necessary vanity. I think I love my constant idea-bopping, curious, thinking out loud mind. I love that I’m always writing down ideas for new “projects” (though execution is often non-existent) and constantly buzzing— it’s what keeps me going, and convinces me that I’m actually going somewhere.

Have you ever been in love?

I know that people say teenaged love is silly  and naive, but I think I’ve felt something a lot like love in the past. Happy endings aren’t always as we imagine them, but just because something ends, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. And lingering on memories from those times feels both real and fleeting all at once— but I’m lucky to have felt these feelings, and to have become a better person for feeling them.

And now for the nominations! Quick note, I’m still new to WordPress and haven’t followed many people yet, so this list is shorter than seven, unfortunately:

518-Song of My People

L.G. Iyer

Tales from the Cabbage Patch

m.r.s

And my questions are:

Why do you write?

What does your perfect day look like?

Who inspires you?

 

 

Happy blogging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Shirt Man

Raindrops gathered on my nose like a piercing.
It was that just awake, yawning Delhi rain
Leaving me not quite wet not quite dry.

I am quite honestly lost in these gullies
Rain has that faraway-look-in-my-eye quality
It scoops out my soul and scatters it in the dirt.

Swanky house Block C Swanky house Block B
I am looking for a similarly swanky Block A house
But I linger, waiting to actually feel the drop drop. 

A single silvery pearl cascades down my shirt
Hitting my dry chest like a bullet, but softer
This rain has stories to tell, I thought.

I pass a construction site, golden and damp
A blue shirt man squats on his haunches
His muscles ripple from the bricks he has laid.

I taste sweat and fresh rain on my tongue
I hear mud squelch and rise around my shoes
He watches me, safe under the roof he built.

Past working hours, post chai and gossip
This roof he built is more solid than his home
This roof he prefers, but can’t afford to own.

 

A Day in the Life

Avoiding a friend, arms like lead
Ideas in my head, sleep under my eyes
Ambition is oozing out my fingers
but they only type in questions
Cough like a toy rattling in my chest
And the ebb and flow of routine
That’s only possible on a Friday.

Feverish

Sunday settles on me like a heavy haze
Heat curls up in my crevices, sickly, damp
A vast sea of nothing sits idle, watching.

A fever of sloth is sweet, sweet poison
Crumpled on sheets, a mist of sweat
Like dewdrops for those who slumber.

Limp limbs, rise, make use of this time-
Words whisper in the deathly afternoon
Quiet them, says the sun. Be still.

 

firefights

When you and I were candles,

We kindled each other’s fires

Flames danced on wispy wicks,

We danced in awkward unison-

Stumbling in our radiance.

And the pool of wax it spread,

A puddle of hopes and dreams

A new drop joined now and then

Which flame was which?

Who could tell?

But now my light it flickers,

Drops dangerously low

And sputters seductively,

Only to burn bright again.

And somewhere, I fell-

And now I’m alight on both ends.

And all that remains is a mess

Of waning wax and waxing wishes.

The Tourism Trap

I’ve been a tourist in a lot of places. My father loves travel, and his kids were dragged along on as many trips as the school year would allow. My younger brothers spent a lot of time in our fancy hotels (my father also likes luxury travel), playing video games and watching TV and ordering pizza like there was no tomorrow— a freedom reserved only for vacations. But during my childhood, I was the one that tagged along with my parents, going to castles and galleries and lakes and museums. When my brothers came, they usually trudged and grumbled. I traipsed. (They hated me for it). Though they’re more grown up now, and much more excited by the prospect of journeys to other lands, I always won the best traveler award back in the day— mostly because I agreed to everything my parents suggested back then, but also because my head was always full of faraway lands and magic adventures.

On every holiday, we saw other Indian tourists. Scores of them— and my parents always had the same comment. “So many tourists!,” they said disdainfully, because somehow we were better tourists, or not tourists at all. I usually nodded my head and voiced my agreement, echoing the seemingly obvious fact. What makes you not-a-tourist anyway? Do you have to stay in hostels, or “eat local”, or go to hole-in-the wall eateries that you’d never find on Lonely Planet? From what I understand, a tourist is simply someone visiting a foreign place for fun. But as the world became increasingly globalized, tourist became an adjective. “Oh going to the Bean in Chicago is such a tourist thing to do,” scoffs someone. Tourist is a pejorative adjective now, and that intrigues me.

When we saw other Indian vacationers, everyone went into competition mode. We had to look better travelled, more at home, more classy, more like citizens of the world. We scoffed at those unsophisticated idiots distributing smelly Indian snacks, and god forbid someone showed up in a saree— that was foreign vacation faux pas. At the time, I followed my instincts, and did what I saw around me. I looked our competitors up and down, I put on my shades, I laughed nonchalantly and strolled around with the self-assuredness of a local. It was all a show of course. I loved overreacting to regular tourist sights; squealing excitedly and taking a 100 pictures is part of my personality. So why this charade? To be honest, I never understood at the time.

When we saw these other Indian families, I always seeked out the girls. I looked at their outfits, and made sure to smooth my own. I gave them looks of unclear purpose— what exactly was I trying to convey? That my vacation was more Instagram-worthy? We had to be the BEST Indian family in that area. The stereotypes about dirty, uncivilized Indians who spoke broken English and asked silly questions always hovered in the backdrop, making us determined not to be them. And so when we saw someone acting— to put it simply— very Indian in a foreign land, we disassociated immediately. Why are they so noisy? (Read: uncivilized) Why are they eating paranthas on the train? (Read: uncultured) Why are they dressed like that? (Read: not Western enough). This unreasonable, strange competition extends into a far more alienating pattern: that of pitting members of minorities against each other.  We were scared of being judged, and so we judged others, secure in our own little bubble of superiority. I never admitted that I really wanted a bite of that parantha. And it wasn’t just us, it was everyone. When I darted my territorial eyes around, I found ten more staring back.

But I’m beginning to gain some clarity, and to understand how layered and deep this problem really is. Growing up as a woman, I’ve bought the disturbing competitive tendencies that are packaged and sold to girls by the mass media, by consumerism and the society around us. We’re somehow, implicitly, taught to compete with other women. “You’re not like other girls” is every cliché romance novel’s favorite compliment. But why can I only win when other girls lose? Why do I only shine when other women are trampled on? Girls are shallow, girls are bitchy, girls are out to get each other— these turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. When I tell people I went to an all girls school, the first reaction I get from many people is this: “Wasn’t that an extremely toxic environment to grow up in?” And often times I agreed, remembering a fight I had with someone over a leadership position. I misinterpreted it as the norm of female behavior because that was the meaning society gave it, and not as a normal consequence of students reaching for their ambitions in the same space. But I’ve grown so much since then. Being nurtured by so many women has fundamentally defined who I am, in more positive ways than negative— I was surrounded by women who had ambition, strength and compassion. Besides, boys fight and gossip and talk behind each other’s backs too. It’s a human phenomenon, not a female one. All I know is that women are pitted against each other constantly, and that we’ve been ingeniously molded into instruments of our own oppression by the patriarchal hegemony.

That’s why my eyes always found the other girls first, because despite all the amazing women I knew, I felt the need to prove that I was better than them. This disturbing pattern of behavior is apparent within and across minorities, but I remained blind to it— I had never experienced its debilitating force.

And then suddenly I was on the receiving end like I had never been before. On a school trip to Malaysia with my classmates, we visited an amusement park and screamed our lungs out and giggled like 13 year olds discovering The Princess Diaries for the first time. Our teachers rebuked us lacklusterly, they didn’t really mind. But I saw our then Head Girl, sniggering with her friends in a corner, staring very pointedly at us. I was crossing their path when I heard her say—”Look at the way they’re behaving, I bet they’ve never been abroad before”. I stopped, shocked. The Head Girl, our supposed role model and guide, was talking about us. Fears I did not know I had at the time were materializing— suddenly I was the barbaric Indian. How had this happened? I thought long and hard. Her comments reeked of privilege. Does going abroad make you a better behaved person? How could it? Then I thought again. This was me. These were the words all my subtle actions were whispering in these past few years. I reeked of privilege. We needed solidarity, not more competition. Divide and rule. That was the Britishers’ number one strategy when they colonized us, and somehow its echoes were still rippling all over the world.

There is so much glamour associated with travel. #wanderlust is plastered over people’s Facebook timelines and Instagrams and whatever other social media accounts. While I’m no stranger to the thrill of exploring new places, there’s so much elitism attached to these fantasies. It seems unfair to use travel as a metric to decide how “cool” a person is. The farther away you vacationed from India, the cooler you became. Extra points if you brought home expensive foreign gifts for all your friends.

On the flipside, people romanticise small, developing areas (such as places in India) as “uncharted territory”. This is to ignore its nuances and problems and simply turn it into the new hipster hotspot. This is to strip a country of its complexities and turn it into its stereotypes, for some kind of self-given tag of “explorer”. I don’t mean that travelling is a no-no. It can be eye-opening, beautiful and truly worth it. But what we have to realize is that travel is inaccessible to so many people, and our privilege in experiencing it does not render us more worthy in any way.

Now that I’m a student in the United States, I marvel at how differently I feel about fellow Indians. Navigating a strange country when you don’t look and speak like its residents can be a lonely upward climb, and suddenly (and hypocritically, might I add) Indianness became my favorite cushion of comfort. I was one of those annoying children who said things like, “I want to branch out of my comfort zone in college”, cimplying that I wanted some foreign friends too. Yes, having friends from all over the world is fun and opens your eyes to new experiences and other such tropes from a college brochure on diversity, but there’s nothing like home. And when home is on the other side of the globe, your people become your home. Seeing a complete stranger who happens to be Indian no longer merits the usual sizing up. Now it’s the look of kinship as we cross each other on the street, heads bowed against the steely cold wind. It’s the shared eye roll of “White people, am I right?” in a class when someone inevitably makes some problematic statement casually. It’s the ability  speak in your native tongue without being afraid that you’ve accidentally slipped into it and no one knows what you’re saying. It’s not being self conscious about how your Indian accent sounds against the chorus of American voices, and I need that for my sanity, my well-being, my peace. We don’t need to be the best Indian in the room, or in class, or at the museum, or on the train. That’s us succumbing to the dividing, and allowing the ruling to continue for the unforeseeable forever. There are no better tourists, there is no winning at the game of foreignness. There are just tourists, and just foreigners, and there is just one way to travel— in unity. Besides, how else would I squeal about tourist sites in both Hindi and English?

family 101

We sip our tea, gather at the table for dinner
We learn that silences can be familiar, familial
But we watch when silences speak louder than words,
When they scream things we were forbidden to hear.
In a house with three children things were always loud,
Squabbles and snorts and squeals of laughter echoed all day
But louder still were plates and words hurled in rage.
There were holidays and fancy dinners and plane rides
There were warm hugs and melted chocolate and inside jokes
But then there were separate rooms and separate world views.

What’s a family without a little fire?
A little pug was scared when crackers flamed on Diwali
A father relived his childhood, setting smoke into the sky
A mother decked the house and herself in careful finery
A daughter found peace in the diyas that lined the walls
Less religion, more tradition: a son thought it was cumbersome
And the baby just laughed and cried, like babies do.

The pictures line a dusty shelf, a virtual wall
Together we live in and despite our glass walls
Tied together by fate and blood and love and years
We deflect questions and skirt conversations
But words ricochet like bullets in our halls
Answers are inconclusive, elusive, often absent—
But today my father took me to his childhood home.

 

 

Written in response to the daily prompt

Hoarding

How soon you became yesterday,
Crumpling under a pile of tomorrow,
Your dying voice gasping for  breath
Choking below my islands of fancy.

Once you too were full of my life,
A hopeful wisp in a summer breeze
But seasons do not wait for love
We could not weather that winter.

The winds whip yet I stay calm,
Packing all the little pieces we left,
For I know how to record things,
And simply store them away.

 

 

In response to the daily prompt

Loops

And when you’ve run out of every social media platform to browse (3 times over— there are always new updates) and reread that poem just so you can taste the words again and set your alarms for tomorrow and clicked the button of darkness on your phone, there is still no escape from the iterations in your mind as you traverse and traverse all the things you didn’t do, and could’ve done, and things that could’ve been but went up in smoke like a Snapchat, and that gnawing ache you can’t explain will somehow creep its way into your bed, and you will tell yourself it’s all in your head and it is it is, but that’s the whole problem— everything is in your head and nothing ever becomes reality.

Windchime

I always loved this wind chime
Bronzing rust is the skin it wears,
And when it rains, there’s music.
Rhythmic splash splash like a drum,
And the fairydust ting of the wind chime.

The sound carries across the building,
I sip my tea and think of romance
Of you and me listening to the music
Our faces drenched in the fading light
Our hands stretched into the rain.

This wind that makes the leaves whisper
This wind that can rage ferocious, end lives
This worldly wind that knows all secrets
This same wind makes my favorite song
And I can’t help but sing along.

The wind chime is its jangling announcer
Its brassy cover glistens in the monsoon
Tinkling away, come whatever weather
Spattered with dirt, it will not stop
Even when thunder tries to drown it out.

But the wind is no benign king, it cries war
And the windchime lurches helplessly
JANG JANG it thrashes, about to give up
Like its king is about to whip it away
And that’s when I sometimes wish
The wind will carry its dying song to you.

But the wind chime always stays.

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