Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hunger Strikes

credit: UNHCR Photo Download.

When hunger strikes
Bullets become morsels and 
The war rages on,
The cause forgotten as
Brother kills brother and humanity weeps.
The sky mourns as streets turn red.
What was this for? I forget,
Memory now a contested terrain
Because our lives are tethered to puppeteers
plotting and planning proxy-wars,
Betting our lives for their gains.
Snap. My sister falls
Snap. Our mother wails
What was left of my soul seep out of my face
But the war rages on.
As my eyes begin to fade
I dream of soft bread, crumbling in my mouth,
cool milk cascading down parched throat
Of that lingering sweetness of a meal
where fear isn’t doled out with tea and
Death isn't an uninvited dinner guest.
But my right to dream has long been seized,
So here,
Take what remains of me.

Look Inside

O man, you set forth to chart the seven skies,
seeking that elusive light,
night and day and night tumble on,
and you, you still trudge along.

You have reached the end of space and travelled back
yearning a glimpse of what the heart demands
Many a trinket have you picked on this lonely path
and yet, there remains the widening void.

O man, you set forth to chart the seven skies,
And yet, you forgot to look inside
Sakinah, was there-waiting- all along.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Conversing with familiar strangers...

After weeks of poring over books and journal articles in my dingy room (without actually registering what I am reading), I stepped outside for a change. With a few books I headed to the Trafalgar Square. It was a sunny morning so I decided to grab a cuppa coffee and a scone and sit outside the square café. My intention was to get to the reading material right away but I couldn't help but lean back and soak in the sun and the life around. It's funny because in India and Malaysia I used to hide from the sun. Here I've come to appreciate that wonderful sensation that is the sun on skin. 

So there I was, out on a wooden bench, for once my mind off what I need to be doing or I haven't done. I felt happy as I let the laughter around me drown my internal deadlines. The square is a nice place to sit by yourself on a clear Sunday. You'll see families walking around, young couples with prams, harrowed mothers chasing their kids, couples lost in each others eyes and, of course, noisy teenagers goofing around. There were two twin boys running around as their parents filmed them, the mother occasionally stepping in as one twin pushed the other on to the floor or pulled at his hair. A middle aged couple sat in front of me, holding hands and looking across the square, occasionally leaning into each other for a quick kiss.

After a while I spot three old ladies walking towards the café, their arms interlinked. I hope they would sit next to me, and they do! As I try to focus on the book, I can't help but overhear their conversation. As one of them goes inside to get them drinks the two ladies next to me start talking about their grandchildren.
"What are your grandchildren doing Helen?"
"Your grandchildren, Helen, where are they?"
"Timothy is teaching English. Somewhere in South America. I think he can speak English."

I smile at that and look on at the children chasing around pigeons. One boy in particular was intently following a pigeon, till the pigeon stopped and he tried to jump on it. As the scared pigeon flew away, the boy looked around for his next target.

"Helen, don't you remember coming to the square for the demonstrations?"
"I don't remember much, dear. Why are we here?"
"We are just here to look around. Then we'll meet Philip. He'll take you out for dinner."
"Philip is coming? Do you know where? Because I don't know."
"It happens, Helen, we are old now."
"We have lived too long. I thought I'd be dead by now."
"But I'm too young to die!"

As the third lady comes back with their drinks I decide to start a conversation with them. I've been here long enough to realize that talking about the weather is a good place to start off.
"It's a good day, isn't it?"
"Oh it's lovely! The sun is just wonderful. Hard to believe we had strong gales a few days ago. Well, I think it's global warming. Why can't people understand that? We are doing so much harm to the planet that the earth is trying to shake us off."

And there begins what would turn out to be the most interesting conversation I've had in a while, with Helen, Macy and Ann. 

"Have you three known each other for long?"
"Oh yes dear, we are very old." says Macy with a laugh.
"We have been coming here together for years. We used to demonstrate for peace here. You remember the protests in 2003? Against the Iraq war? We were here for that"
"Tony Blair and George Bush, they are the real terrorists." chips in Ann.
"We came here for the demonstration to free Nelson Mandela too. The place was thronging with people. And the next day when I went to my class I was elated to hear a teacher in the next class play songs of African freedom."
"David. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, he is a hypocrite. As a young Tory he used to walk around with badges saying 'Hang Mandela' and he went to South Africa to support the apartheid, what right does he have now to go to Mandela's funeral?"
"I came here for the memorial services with my grandson, I was so excited for him. He has never been to anything like this."
"We are always campaigning. Have you heard of Wool against Weapons? This wonderful lady, Jaine, started this by herself and now it has spread all over the UK. We are knitting a 7 mile long pink scarf to protest against government spending on nuclear warheads."
"What are we doing here?"asks Helen.
"We are waiting for Phillip, Helen. He should be here in 5 minutes."

The conversation then shifts back to Helen as the other two try to see if she remembers anything.
"You remember us, right, Helen?"
"Just about'" and then Helen turns to me and says with a sheepish smile "I used to be clever."
"You used to be very clever, Helen" says Ann.
"You are young, aren't you?" Helen asks me.
"Oh she is very young, Helen"
"You make use of your time, darling. Old age will come before you realize. Every decade in your life will go faster than the one before." And with that Ann sets me thinking.

We are quiet for a while as we sip on our tea and coffee. The square is more crowded now as the sun shines even brighter on us. I laugh as I see three brothers, all under 6, chase each other and when one stops they topple over each other. The youngest one sits on the older ones face as the father just stands there with a pram, a look of resignation on his face. A little girl dressed in red and white polka dots with pink fairy wings hops along and Ann exclaims 'She looks like a lady bird!"
Helen looks down and greets a pigeon next to her "Hello there!"

They get excited when they find out I am from Kerala.
"I've heard that's the best place in India! The women there are very strong. It is sad that in some other parts of India women are not valued as much. I heard a case where a woman aborted four fetuses when she found out they were females. That is horrible. Especially because I think women are superior than men. Even logically, we are the ones who procreate so nature favours us over men. Nature doesn't need very many men to progress." That is some food for thought.
"I've been to a nice restaurant which has Kerala food. I can't have the spices though."
"When is Phillip coming?"

Ann says to me she has always wanted to go to Kerala but somehow it never worked out. "I've travelled to some other places, though. I've been to Egypt and Greece...and Istanbul. That was wonderful. The first time I went I saw these beautiful murals and in their souks, they sold these handmade art. But the last time I went, the markets were selling these trashy items that we can get here as well. That is really sad."

At one point I mention that I have a blog where I write about being 'Brown in Britain'. Macy gets excited and tells me about a poet friend of hers-Richard Berry- who writes about race and discrimination. And then she surprises me by quoting from memory snippets of a poem that he wrote to comfort a young girl who complained to him that she was being bullied for being a different colour. I came back and looked it up. The poem is called 'Okay, Brown Girl Okay'. This is the para she quoted from-

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
all the time bright-sky and brown-earth
work together, like married
making forests and food and flowers and rain.
And they would like to say to you:
grow and grow brightly, brown girl.
Write and read and play and work.
Ride bus or train or boat or airplane
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

As Macy notes down my blog address, Ann confesses that she hasn't kept up with technology or 'anything new'.
"The world is changing too fast. In my childhood change happened at a slower pace, and there was stability because of that. Now it is scary how fast things are moving. It is not good for human beings because we are now working under so much pressure. Even when you are in the tube you see people looking at their screens and not noticing anything going on around them. Nothing remains the same."
Helen smiles at me again and says "I used to be clever."

And so our conversation flowed from global warming to empowerment of women to nuclear warhead to the African National Congress. These three ladies made a lovely Sunday even lovelier and more meaningful. Soon it was time for them to leave. Helen was surprised to find out they are going to meet Phillip. 'He is coming?". They wished me luck and we went our different ways.

People around us are walking stories, just waiting to be heard. I am thankful I was there when these beautiful ladies decided to draw me into their lives for that short while we were together, sharing a beautiful day. I may never meet them again, but their words and warm smiles will always remain with me.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

On Writing: Part 2

(When I feel like I should be writing something, but can't figure out what, I usually end up writing about writing itself. Yes, I am a little crazy. You can read the first installment of crazy here.) 

I am having some trouble with this writing business again. What I feel refuses, adamantly, to tie itself down to words. Every time I plead for coherence, my thoughts run amok and hide in forgotten crevices of my brain. The worst thing is, I can hear them giggling. Pushing back annoyance, I try to tempt them out with offers of finding new friends. But stubborn that they are, they refuse to  budge. So at this moment, what I feel is not expressed in what you just read, or what I might write in future. My thoughts have eloped now to someplace where words can only dream of reaching. Despite all this maddening hide-n- seek, writing remains my 'safest' mode of communication. When talking I have a tendency of letting my emotions get the better of me. So what I intend to say and what I end up blurting out have a huge gap which almost always translates into some very awkward silences.

Writing, on the other hand, allows you to process the senseless chaos in your mind and let it out in a, somewhat, coherent fashion. Be it pen on paper, or fingers tapping away on the keyboard, there is something very therapeutic in writing as an exercise. So I find myself looking for reasons to write, sometimes I might have some ideas which reluctantly agree to settle down with words that aren’t their choice and in sentences they are clearly not comfortable expressing themselves in. At other times, like now, I sit down to write the first thing that comes to my mind. Just for the sake of it. If it’s blank I coax them out with the shadow of an idea and once chatter within begins, it’s difficult for my fingers to catch up with the madness inside and button them into a written, readable form.

Credit:  Robbert van der Steeg. CC BY-SA 2.0

At times, like a child (high on sugar) in a toyshop, I go wild and run in all directions. Suddenly there are ideas calling out to me from everywhere, promising me that they are the Next Big Thing. Why can’t they come one at a time, and knock for heaven’s sake?! I do my best to cater to the calls coming from all around and finally burn out and, frustrated, just try to shut it all out. Oh but once you’ve provoked the dragon, you can’t will it to go back to sleep. The clatter doesn’t cease so I go online and after some mindless surfing on YouTube, the most restless of brain cells have been numbed into a harmless buzz. This, I like.

I then take a calm stroll and occasionally stop to (after some mental acrobatics) take a whiff of thoughts which are bursting with potential yet restrained acknowledging the possibility of them never materializing for the lack of good words. Good words, I realize, are like Good men (or at least what is said of them), they are already spoken for or non-existent. It’s frustrating, to say the least, when you possess a seed of an idea that you know has greatness in it but can’t bring to blossom for the lack of those damn words!

So is there any way to get around this conundrum that all writers,at some point or the other, are faced with? Is there another mode of communication that can encapsulate things which refuse to reveal themselves with mere words? For expressing free-spirited thoughts which are so cocky in their own perfection that they prefer nakedness to the humble rags that the writers can (barely) provide? To this end, I propose funding a research on how to seduce good ideas out of one’s mind. A research so intense that these damned things won’t know what hit ‘em. So writers, take your pens (and your keyboards out), crack your words, and together we will work till the last standing thought relents and dances to our tunes. Let the (mind)game begin!