Wednesday 23 November 2022

The Kashmir I saw -- Part 1

Her hazel eyes, large and curious, peered at us with such intent that they made me feel important--like I had something useful to share, like my life in the city was a curiosity worthy of a story.

Deep in Basmai Valley, in the middle of paradise, a group of us -- trekkers of ripe years and enough worldly possessions sat in a shepherd's hut. 

Warm, worn blankets, still vibrant in colour, were offered to us by the owner. The hut belonged to an old couple. The husband was out with the sheep. The wife offered to make us  kahwa. She wore her wrinkles well. Women and men of the mountains wear their weather beaten badges like mountains wear snow-- effortlessly and naturally beautiful. The way it is meant to be. She would've made an excellent subject for a portrait. 

We sat. We talked. A neighbour, another shepherd, was present as our interpreter. How the people of these valleys--vast in expanse, sparse in human population, communicate without phone signals I do not know. But he was there. As was the hazel-eyed teenager. She too had wandered in from her hut nearby to meet with us. 

I have no photos of the hut or of the Kashmiri shepherds we met that day. Either my phone was out of charge or I was sucked into the cocoon of their life so completely that clicking seemed unnecessary. 

Three months later, when I finally sat down to write about that day, plonked on an extra cushion at the end of our dining table which is forever a mess of books, notebooks and scribbled notes, I figured I'll have to rely on my memory to recreate the scene for you.

Venky, Apu, Manju, Anju, Sachit and I sat on the mud-hardened, surprisingly warm floor in a jagged circle. We had taken our hiking boots off and left them in a dripping, muddy pile by the door along with our walking sticks and poles. It had rained incessantly for the past two days. We'd managed to continue with our hiking plans thanks only to short and timely dry windows. 

 "What did she say?" one of us asked the shepherd-interpreter. The hazel-eyed beauty had whispered something urgent and animated to him.

"She wants to know what you do in the city. What is your city like." his face broke out into a fatherly smile--deep, mountainous wrinkles parting to let the warmth out--his eyes shone like the clear waters of the lakes we'd seen earlier.

We introduced ourselves. He translated for her. She'd watch whoever was talking with such intensity that I had a feeling she was imagining herself in those roles, in those cities. What we perceived as chaos and drudgery and hectic and mundane seemed magical and exciting and unreachable to her--that's what I thought as I watched her drinking in all the information that was being translated to her like a parched traveller stumbling upon an oasis unexpectedly.

Periods of quiet interspersed with her questions, followed by our replies followed by his translation followed by her animated face, eyes and broad smiles. 

"She didn't like school. She quit when she was young. So she travels with her father and uncle with the sheep in these valleys and mountains from spring to autumn. Her mother stays with the older and younger family members in their hometown. All her siblings go to school." the shepherd-interpreter informed us.

No school. No friends of her age. No phone signal. Only sheep, sheep dogs, horses and household chores for company. How does she manage to stay so alive in her curiosity?  Her inquisitiveness lit up the hut. Her questioning eyes turned us into wise travellers. 

It was getting darker. The clouds rumbled. It started raining again.

The kahwa was taking time. Let it be, someone suggested. We had to reach our camp at the bottom of the valley before dark. 

"No. No. Please sit." The hostess, who had been busily scurrying around the hut for ingredients insisted.

"She doesn't have all the ingredients-- she's shy to serve you kahwa without those." explained the interpreter.

"Even hot water will do." we were all grateful for their company, their hospitality, their curiosity. 

The kahwa came in an assortment of cups and bowls--sweet and delicious. The hostess, the interpreter and the hazel-eyed teenager watched us while we sipped and oohed and aahed about how delicious it was. How it was exactly the thing we needed then. 

There were a couple of Japanese bowls too. How come? I wondered. Who would've picked those? Did a Japanese traveller bring them with her? 

The mountains have this effect on me. They say stars shine the brightest in skies where fewer eyes gaze at them. How true that is too. We saw the mighty Milky Way twice in those ten days! I'm left in wonder of travellers, shepherds and explorers who would've walked the same rough terrain, the same stunning pastures, gazed at the same crystal lakes, watched the same wildflowers dance, sat in this same spot as me--before me, will do after I'm gone.

Curiosity connects us. If we were more curious and less cynical about each other, we'd be living in a peaceful paradise. But we choose to weed out curiosity and feed our cynicism in cities and civilizations and call it progress. Our systems thrive on this division of us and them. Imagine a world anthem with no mention of political borders. Can you? Ever wondered if the grass on this side of the border tastes different to the sheep and cattle that graze on it than the one growing across it!

"We are the Bhakkarwals." the shepherd-interpreter informed us. "Ours is a tough way of life. And we don't want our children to do this. We didn't get a chance to improve our lot. But they do. They all go to schools and colleges. After I'm done, my children will not do shepherding any more." 

"Improve our lot." I thought. And here we are--city-dwellers by choice, educated, worldly folk who trek to these mountains, stay in tents, re-connect with  that part of ourselves which lies buried under the demands of our own chosen lives. Granted, there is absolutely no comparison between choice and necessity. We choose to explore these mountains (with all creature comforts) while the shepherds have to keep a watch day and night, in snow, rain and  wind. A shepherd's life in these parts is tough. No doubt.

Even off-the-counter common medicines are not easily available.

Our interpreter's bad back, our hostesses toothache are their realities. Like most human encounters in  remote mountainous parts, our meeting ended with them asking for commonly available pain killers.

Their challenges are real. I get it.

But I still can't shake off the feeling that I wish I could live that hazel-eyed teenager's life for a year, a decade. How would I see me then? This world?

I remember when I was in grade 6, I was convinced that I didn't belong to this planet. I'd imagine a spaceship landing in the middle of our school's hockey-field and a booming voice from the spinning disc demanding me back from my school. For I was a VIP (Very Important Princess) of another planet, the booming voice would explain to the entire school, especially to Bro. Carroll (our school principal) and that I had been sent to planet Earth by mistake. 

What sounds like pure conceit now was simply the effect of watching the film 'Back to the Witch Mountain' on my over active imagination.

I guess I have been trying to escape my reality ever since then!

What is about escape that is so appealing? We, the city-dwellers, escape to the mountains to find ourselves, to connect with that which we loose touch with when we live our day to day lives and yet the one thing that shone most brightly in the hazel-eyed teenager was the idea of escape. For the hour or so we sat in the wood, stone and mud hut of the Kashmiri shepherd, it was her eyes that kept me captivated. Glued. 

Would she be happy to swap lives with me? Or would she wilt like an alpine flower trodden on by a careless trekker?

Would I survive such a harsh life? Could I? 

Escape from our own realities is so delicious. Even the idea of such an escape makes ones eyes sparkle.

Yet, it is this reality that we have to embrace to find that elusive peace of mind. Guru Nanak Dev ji  called it 'hukum rajai chalna, nanak likhiya naal'-- Accept the reality of this moment. This is it. There is no past and no future. This is it. To live in harmony with the laws of nature and not in conflict with that which is--is the way to eternal peace.

The Japanese call this concept of acceptance Uketamo (oo-ke-ta-mo) which means--I accept with an open heart. 

Lalla Dyad -the mystic Kashmiri poetess says:
(quote from the book by the same name authored by Shafi Shauq)

"Why like a blind man you grope randomly?
Stride into your inside, if clever you are;
Shiva resides there, never seek Him elsewhere,
And trust in the word of truth that I say."

Perhaps it is easier to seek outside. 

According to Stephen King (Stephen King on writing) "the easy answer isn't always the truth." Perhaps I'm not not ready to put in the hard work just yet. 

Is it possible, I ask myself, to be as utterly curious about 'who am I' as I am about the mountains and valleys and all those yet to be explored nooks of this beautiful planet?

Perhaps one day all I'll have to do is go inward like Lalla Dayd and then I'll have no need to travel. But I have a sneaky suspicion that it is my travelling and wandering that will take me to who I am -- the ultimate state of  'I accept this moment as it is -- truly and fully'.

For the next time you're planning to escape to a land blessed with such surreal beauty that it takes your breath away every few kilometres (and not just because of the rising altitude! ) here are a few pictures to help you dream with your eyes wide open. 

My younger self would have deleted the following photo. But in my autumn years, I see how this was meant to be. 

I wish you beauty and peace in being you just as you are in this moment. Till we meet again. Ciao.

Monday 25 July 2022

A Fully Functional Feminist tackles Ageism and the art of Hustle

Dear Readers,

I hope you've been well and if you're in the northern hemisphere, you've found a way to keep yourself cool and safe from the blistering heat.

I've been hot and bothered this summer. And not just because of the 75% humidity combined with the rising mercury in Doha.

As many of you, who know me via my writing journey, know that I like to inflict the pain of submitting my writing to literary journals every now and then. I do this for two reasons:

1) to get published -- perhaps this is my ego based reason. 

2) to expand my writing horizon: write about topics I haven't found the courage to write about yet or explore genres which have thus far felt out of reach. 

The second reason is a non-egoistic reason. It's the 'being a student for as long as I'm alive' reason. This reason feeds my curiosity and makes me indulge in what I love--the practice of writing and reading. This reason makes me appreciate and be grateful for the privilege of being able to write. Writing is a privilege indeed. I'm thankful to my parents for the education they supported, to my teachers for the education they imparted and for my place in the socio-economic fabric of society where I am able to find the time to write and share. 

Sometimes, these submissions bear fruit and a piece gets accepted. Like, this one in March 2022:

It's called A Fully Functional Feminist. It was carried by Gulmohur Quarterly 

The joy of acceptance can hardly be contained in a post. I'll always be grateful to the editors of Gulmohur Quarterly for housing my voice.

Like any journey worth its salt, the writing journey is challenging and revealing. The more I write and share my stories and poetry, the more this world reveals itself to me.

Recently, while filling out a Google Form, I ticked the last 'age box' which read 50 +. I've been very comfortable about my age since 2015 when I wrote Adventurous Auntyjis arrive in Himachal. In 2015, it was the physical fading out of women of a certain age that had rattled me enough to pour my heart out into a post.

Age is a number and it's what you do with your time, not how you look that matters in the end. I get that. I live that. I imbibe that.

But, this form tingled my age antennae because the boxes preceding my 'age box' were:


25- 30





And then there was


No, the Google form wasn't for some physical prowess type contest. It was for a poetry/storytelling platform. 

I proceeded to submit my entry anyway. Ego is a tricky thing.

But, the form and its boxes troubled me. It's the fading off of my creative/intellectual/ intelligence calibre in the eyes of the beholder that pinched, hurt.

Is this an age thing or a gender thing or a technology thing or a talent thing? Am I crying sour grapes because I lack what it takes?

I know I've entered the foray of poetry and storytelling late. I make no excuses. I was busy raising myself and then my family in my teens, twenties and thirties. By the time I was able to sift time for myself and my writing, I had turned forty and then fifty. 

So, does that mean that my stories, which are not always and only about young love, heartbreak and pining are not worthy? Of course, I'm not claiming credit based on my age, but don't write me off because of it.

Looking at that last age box made me feel like after all the struggles of climbing a mountain, I'd lost my way and instead of finding a road ahead, I had reached a plateau where all those above 50 (who are starting out anew in arts or pursuits of their calling) are assigned to fade away, noiselessly, without disturbing the status quo.

Sometimes, I feel that I have no business being a participant in such forums. And that I'm better suited to be a part of the invisible audience where my claps will be heard but anonymously. That by now I should've made my mark in this field and if not--I should shut up and go home. That trying out new things is a privilege suited and suitable only for the young. That I should've chosen this path in my teens to prove that this was my true calling. 

Perhaps, I'm a fake artist. Or an artist of convenience--someone who's quit their job to pursue a passion because they have the means to. Have I become that someone? Am I that vain? That blind? That greedy to be famous? That inept to see my own true self?

Am I an imposter after all? 

Art is my solace. Books rescue me. Poetry pulls me out of the deep whirlpools my fading visibility threatens to push me into.

I read a post by Idea Smith on Instagram last week. She'd shared her experiences of being boxed into age-related-ideas by the world at large. She mentioned the invisibility cloak the world is always eager to drape over 'us' -- women who are not in the 20-30 box anymore.

Her post made me think about my age, my visibility, my stories and this old-new word I've been seeing and hearing a lot recently--HUSTLE.

As a verb, hustle can mean 'to jostle, to push roughly or to obtain illicitly or by forceful action.' As a noun it can either mean 'a state of great activity' or 'fraud or swindle.'

I'm told that 'hustle' is the ticket to get noticed these days.

And I see a lot of 'hustle' in the field of the written word. 

But the question is, does it appeal to me? 

I post regularly on Instagram. It's a routine I enjoy. I share because I like to share. I get visibility for my work via Insta posts. I like that. I've made meaningful connections via my posts. And even those posts where I smile at the camera to simply show off a saree are important to me. It's my visibility cloak.

Are my Insta posts my hustle? Am I being fraudulent? Is my reel-ism bleaching my real-ism? Questions such as these churn me up. Churning births art, clarity and a deeper understanding of the self. 

I prefer to post when I'm in my 'creative' phase; those morning when sitting on my dining chair, propped up on an old, faded sage green cushion, I start my day by writing a post, a page or a line. In my non-creative phase, I pick up a book to read instead. That's been my rhythm forever.

The age-boxes broke my rhythm and nudged me into the mulling-over-things phase. I've been brooding over the idea of ageism, visibility, art and creativity ever since. 

Is 50+ the retired area of story-telling and spoken word performances? Hence, assigned a one size fits all box?  Do we not deserve an incremental improvement of our art every 5 years like those in their twenties and thirties? 

And why am I hankering to be boxed in when I should be breaking free? 

Confusion is the enemy of creativity.

Suffice to say, I wasn't able to focus on any writing for an entire week.

I know there is a unique point of view assigned to every age-group. A five year old's story of struggle to convince his Ma to let him eat ice-cream for dinner is as valid and true as the pain of a teenager's first heartbreak which is as raw as a forty something being called auntyji by a complete stranger.

Discrimination on any grounds hurts art. 

I'm not saying I feel discriminated against because of my age because I haven't. Not yet, anyway. But I do see too much of the same old stereotypical story-lines and poems circulating around. So, how do I pick myself up and dust off the disappointments and focus on my art, my voice?

Another poet friend, Parth, sent me a message yesterday. It read--"the need to express and the want to express sometimes seem to go separate ways---acceptance is the key-- acceptance of the fact that art will always be there."

I thank my lucky stars for these seemingly co-incidental connections. I find my answer in Parth's words.

Yes, art will be there.

True art needs no hustle.

As long as I have visibility of my truth, I should stop wasting my time on what others are doing and focus on how I can share my truth truthfully--without fraud or jostling.

My duty is to my art. By writing and sharing and speaking the truth of how I feel is the only way I know to break the boxes and step out of 'isms' that restrict and constrict. By speaking my truth I can at least, at last shine light on my despairs and hopefully, resonate with others who've felt this way.

Hard-work has no substitute. And talent? Well, I believe in honesty and hard work and practice, practice, practice.

Together we can strive to keep our true selves visible to ourselves, to each other and for each other.

Kahlil Gibran says this about 'Self-Knowledge' in The Prophet

Say not, 'I have found the truth,' but rather, 'I have found a truth.'

Say not, "I have found the path to the soul.' Say rather, 'I have met the soul walking upon my path.'

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.'

Poetry rescues me every time. I scrub off the dust of false self-perceptions from my fading ego and settle down to write my story in my voice. I settle down. I sit. The unfolding of petals cannot be forced. It will happen when it's meant to. 

"The soul walks not upon a line. The soul unfolds itself..."

My job is to use my voice to live by the principles I truly believe in--equality and kindness.

If any of the above has found resonance with you or you'd like to offer your point of view or share your self-care strategies with me, you know I'd love to read your comments. 

Wishing you a restful and joyful day wherever you are.

Till we meet again.


Friday 17 June 2022

Please Read The Letter -- A poet's plea -- WEP June 2022

In order to dust off my writing cobwebs, I decided to participate (for the very first time) in WEP's June Challenge.

It’s the year of Music Challenges at WEP, and for the month of June, the prompt is based on Please Read the Letter by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – a break up song and a moving plea for understanding at the termination of a relationship. 

I had recently participated in a short form poetry workshop run by Namratha and Manas of Soulcraft Poetry Workshop and was introduced to a new (to me) poetic form called the 'Cleave.'

It's a form created by Dr Phuoc-Tan Diep. You can read more about it here: Cleave Poetry.  The form is as intriguing as its creator's story. Happy exploring.

Before you scroll down to read my poem, here's 

"How to read a Cleave poem?" (from the Cleave Poetry website)


1. Read the left hand poem as a first discrete poem.
2. Read the right hand poem as a second discrete poem.
3. Read the whole as a third integrated poem.

Here's my WEP entry: Word Count : 154, FCA

"Please Read the Letter-- A Poet's Plea"

Call for Submissions: Knock. Knock. Knock.


We are now Closed! I touch wood for luck—just in case, fingers crossed!


Odd! how rejections, “We cannot carry your poem.”


folded in soft words—“not for us” pour and pour and


slip through bolted doors: my poetry will drown me – I write it aloud.


Please read the letter (it’s an attachment)


that I wrote. I’ve mailed it.


I’ve nailed it. I hope this time, at last, it’ll make it


to your door. They call them windows


on my laptop. But they’re always ‘currently closed’.


"We’re closed for submissions.” Knock! Knock! Knock!


Please read the letter. It’s a poet’s plea:


It holds just one question, of many broken parts. How do I piece together the perplexing  pieces of the publishing game?

When will you open up? When will my poetry be seen?


Should my poems wait? Is there hope?


Or should they give up? Please reply ASAP.


Thank you for visiting and for reading. I hope my poem's theme is clear to decipher.

You can read other WEP entries and even send in your entry (if time permits): here

Wishing you a happy and safe weekend. You know how much I enjoy reading your comments. So, don't be shy:)


Thursday 16 June 2022

Red Sun Yellow Sky

I've been an absentee blogger since April 30th 2022. All I have as a way of explanation is a bag full of excuses. 

This April, our first holiday since February 2020 crossed paths with my first #NaPoWriMo. I wasn't sure how I'd cope. But I did well:)

I was able to post daily and even got featured twice! Yay!! I absolutely loved the discipline of  crafting a new poem daily (to prompts-- no less). But what I loved even more was reading some amazing poetry and posts throughout April. 

Every time I participate in the April challenge of blogging from A to Z, I promise myself that I'll be as committed to my blog after the challenge is over as much as I am while it is on. But. But. Every year, all I'm left with is a bag full of excuses to offer.

I hope, fingers crossed, that with this short post, I'll put myself back in the saddle and ride, nay, trot along rather gently with my other blogger buddies. You see, I owe a lot to my blog and my blogging journey. Everything that can be counted as anything of substance in my writing career is somehow linked to this blog. The writing process-- its discipline of writing regularly escapes me when I'm not blogging. And funnily enough, it's only when I'm in this sacred space of writing and sharing that my writing stretches its limbs and shakes off its lethargy.

I do post on Insta every now and then but the 'instantaneous' quality of those posts (known as captions for a reason) is so short lived that I barely get the chance to dip my toes and its the next morning, the next week and just like that a whole month has gone by.

The tile of this post is "Red Sun Yellow Sky" because it's the title of the story I'm sharing here with you.

I had the good fortune of sharing this personal story on 26th March 2022 on a zoom session hosted by Shanty Rose who created a fabulous storytelling forum called "Across and Beyond the Arabian Sea". We, the story tellers, were asked to share personal stories on the theme of 'The Gift/Gifts". This is what I shared--

Thank you for listening to Rana's story. 

We are all stories after all. But, it's thanks to challenges and forums that stories embedded in us get aired.

I hope to see you all soon with some pics and posts about my first ever trip to Turkey.

How's the last month or so been for you? Are you making any travel plans? Is summer a time of the year you look forward to or dread? You know I'd love to find out, if you'd like to share.

Stay well. Keep safe and hydrated. Till we meet again.

Saturday 30 April 2022

Z is for "Zindagi ka Safar" (The journey of Life) #bloggingfromatoz #NaPoWriMo 2022 #AtoZChallenge


Good Morning from Izmir,

The fact that it's the the day of the 'Z' and the city I'm in at the moment carries a Z in its name makes me smile. 

The prompt on Day Twenty-nine of #napowrimo states: "In certain versions of the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty, various fairies or witches are invited to a princess’s christening, and bring her gifts. One fairy/witch, however, is not invited, and in revenge for the insult, lays a curse on the princess. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem in which you muse on the gifts you received at birth — whether they are actual presents, like a teddy bear, or talents – like a good singing voice – or circumstances – like a kind older brother, as well as a “curse” you’ve lived with (your grandmother’s insistence on giving you a new and completely creepy porcelain doll for every birthday, a bad singing voice, etc.). I hope you find this to be an inspiring avenue for poetic and self-exploration."

The prompt lends itself to be wedded to an Urdu word -- Zindagi which means life. I've chosen a famous Indian film song title as the title of my post and this poem.

Thank you so much for being with my throughout April. If you're a blogger who's visited me and is miffed by the fact that I haven't returned the kind gesture, I apologise. I have every intention of fulfilling my blog challenge duties when I'm back home after a few days. 

Heartfelt gratitude to all of you who've read and commented. You may never know just how big a deal your comments are to this poet/writer. Your words carry me further -- into new directions and even the muse is mighty pleased when she sees them:)

Presenting my  last post of the #Ato Z April Challenge 2022:

"Zindagi Ka Safar"

(The Journey of Life)

It was a moonless night, the night I was born. My mother told me.

Black-outs and sirens of war shone instead on the night I was born.


I imagined the dark night of my birth like Alfred Hitchcock

must’ve imagined Vertigo and Ravens. Dramatic. Moody. Extra-ordinary.


Your smile, my mother told me, never left you. You’d ask for things and we’d give you.

You didn’t miss me when I was gone. She told me how I hadn’t looked up even once.


Sitting under our  mulberry  on Papaji’s munjhi*, happy --- so happy, I wondered whose child?

Recalled my mother the memory of the day she came home from the hospital--


Carrying my new born-sister. It was my first birthday. I was such a happy baby.

Content. Cuddly. Chubby. Apple red cheeks, my mother told me. 


So many gifts and more were to come. First my sister, then a baby brother even.

Our trio. “You’re not a happy family.” A precocious girl visitor once blurted out.


“Why did you say that?” her mother, our mother’s childhood friend asked, worried.

“Because they’re three—not like the T.V. ad—"We two-our two: A happy family.”


The girl jingled aloud the campaign slogan of India’s Family Planning—innocently.

We shouldn’t have laughed then. Should’ve seen the ravens’ dark—the dizziness yet to come.


Black-outs. Curtains drawn on good sense. Throwing precaution to the winds--of change.

Not to tempt fate. Not to laugh out too loudly or even softly at innocent utterances.


Loss. Loss. Loss.


Every blessing comes with its counter-balance.


Call it a curse. A CURSE-- a curse, if you will.


Life’s a list of opposites strung as beads—nature’s aesthetics.

Every life must be counterbalanced with death.


Brother. Mother. Home.


Full moons and No moons. Gibbous. Crescents. Grow. Fade. Glow.

Life’s hide and seek. Happy. Sad. Extra- ordinary is frowned upon by gods and goddesses.


What are Blessings without curses? Forbidden fruit. Only verses—

Songs of Praise (question mark). Mortal sins. Divine Justice.


Full STOP!


I'm participating in the #AtoZ April Challenge as a blogger and in #NaPoWriMo 2022 as a poet.

Also, as the poems I'll be sharing this month are first drafts, I'll be removing them from my site after a couple of days.

You know I'd love to find out what you think of my attempts.
Thank you for being here.
Be safe:)

Saturday 2 April 2022

B is for Breath #bloggingfromatoz #NaPoWriMo 2022 #AtoZChallenge

Dear Readers,

It's day 2 of the two April challenges I've jumped into.

Two things to share with you toady:

1) You may want to click on: The prompt to find out the task (optional, of course) set by  #NaPoWriMo. The challenge is to write a poem based on a word featured in a tweet from Haggard Hawks, an account devoted to obscure and interesting English words. 

I've picked “greenout,” which means “the relief a person who has worked or lived in a snowy area for a long time feels on seeing something fresh and green for the first time” to write my poem.

2) Also, as the poems I'll be sharing this month are first drafts, I'll be removing them from my site after a couple of days.

Thank you for being here. 



Notice: Day 2 poem has now been removed.


I'm participating in the #AtoZ April Challenge as a blogger and in #NaPoWriMo 2022 as a poet.

Wish you a happy and healthy Saturday.

Friday 1 April 2022

A is for An Announcement #bloggingfromatoz #NaPoWriMo 2022

Dear Readers,

I decided to jump into the familiar excitement of the blogging challenge of A to Z this year at 10 pm, last night which happened to be the 31st of March. I'd been toying with the idea of giving it a miss this year on account of lack of preparedness and a big lack of time. But, the pull of this challenge is too irresistible. So, here I am. 

This year's badge is a tribute to Jeremy Hawkins, the official graphics guy for the A to Z Challenge, who passed away.

I'm also participating in the #NaPoWriMO2022 for two reasons: 1) Because I love poetry. and 2) Because I want to learn how to craft better poems. And as practice is the only way to get better, I thought I'd give myself an entire month of limited time to write to invite the muse to work with me.
Thank you for being here.

You know I'd love to find out what you think of my poem today, if you'd like to share.

Happy Friday.


An Announcement

The white spots on the base of her throat hadn’t responded to the steroid cream her GP had prescribed. If anything, the pale white spots had turned red, angry and frustrated. Deep down, in the recesses of her heart, where her Indian heritage lived and guided her actions and thoughts—about love, the self but never about the two together—she knew. But she buried the knowing under fluffy blankets of optimism on a cold, clear autumn morning in West London and went to see her GP.

“It’s Vitiligo.” He announced, without taking his eyes off of the UV light he was holding on the red, blotchy spots which used to be brown skin but were assimilating with the whiteness of the country she’d migrated to.

“No!” concrete tears stuck in her throat. She sobbed out, “Really?”

“At least it’s not cancer.” The GP offered solace. “It’s only superficial!” he hammered the concrete, hammered her hopes.

She left the clinic. Outside, the blue sky was sparkling with autumn sunshine. The air was crisp. She unwrapped her scarf. The air hit the spots. She’d kept them covered for over six months with scarves, turtle necks in summer and band-aids in the swimming pool. She let them drink in the air—at last. But her feet, her knees, her brown heritage sitting deep inside her trembled like an earthquake—seismic shifts to how she’d look when the white spots start to grow, multiply and mutate her skin, her body and how people will see 'her' made her slump on the road, outside the GP’s clinic, under a large chestnut tree full of red, yellow and golden leaves that once were green.


Sunday 6 March 2022

Reality vs. Imagination.

Every year on my birthday, I cry.

This year was no exception.

"Happy Birthday to me." I grumbled sarcastically as the husband entered the kitchen at 7.30 am on the morning of my birthday last week.

He said nothing. Didn't react. He's learnt to walk on egg shells around this time of the year. He's had 28 years of practice.

I was washing the dishes. The kitchen tap was gushing ferociously. I huffed and I puffed at the unfairness of the morning. 

He extended a small bag towards me. I rolled my eyes at him. I was in no mood to dry my hands and accept my birthday present from him. He left for work after wishing me 'Happy Birthday' quietly.

The 'present' sat on the slab near the water filter, unopened. I looked at it only after I had done the dishes and scrubbed all the surfaces and dried my hands. I didn't open it.

I should've been happy. I should've ripped the present open and rejoiced in this act of love, basked in the happy fact that he'd made an effort. But, something inside me was nudging me on to be unhappy. I wanted to be moody and block any joy from entering my heart. What it is, I don't know. But, it happens every year -- around my birthday. Perhaps, it's an unresolved childhood memory. Perhaps it's a disconnect between my reality and  my imagination.

Till a decade or so ago, I'd imagine my birthday to be a replay of the many Mills and Boon romances I'd read as a teenager. Something like this: that a perfectly fitting dress with perfectly matched accessories and the most comfortable and fashionable shoes (all wrapped up beautifully) will be delivered to my door along with a note that'll read--have made reservations at so and so, will be waiting for you. Love you. Signed--husband. 

The messenger will turn out to be a chauffeur as well.  I'll get dressed and go to celebrate my special day at this fabulous imaginary location and we'll live happily ever after.

Ignore the big plot gaps such as work schedules (my birthday is not a national holiday) and HIS choice of dress, location, footwear suiting my taste and temperament -- I don't let him decide my salad dressing, how did I imagine myself being okay with his choice of attire for me?

Let's assign the absurdity of my imaginary celebrations to my daydreaming ways.

Granted, it's a ridiculous ask. 

Now, Let's take a quick peek at what usually happened--year after year on my birthday.

Firstly, it took the husband more than a decade of reminding (by yours truly) to remember the all important date!

By the time the children became old enough to make cards and make a fuss over me, he'd figured it was safer to ask them to help him to keep me from blowing my fuse.

It worked, mostly. Except, there's that big one he missed -- my fortieth. I sulked for half a month.

He's been good as gold since.

It's been 11 years.

Another learning happened on that fateful 40th. I took charge of my own celebrations. 

I became my own romantic hero from then on. I bought my own presents for me--a saree and/or a piece of jewellery, organised picnics or turned up for gatherings organised by other women, met friends for a meal--anything that I fancied that year to celebrate my special day. 

In fact, the year I turned 48, I decided to let go of all and every expectation. I had just turned older than my mother had ever been. I could see what a blessing this life is. A joy to behold.

Despite all the maturing that was going on, images of my imaginary celebration continued to cast intermittent shadows on the day and make me sad in the middle of all the love, joy, happiness. I'd shed a tear or two and let the sadness wash away from me. 

Of course, there is no logic to my behaviour. No, I have not seen a therapist for this unique problem yet.

Back to my birthday this year.

The little bag is still sitting on the slab. I look at it but don't open it. Instead I grab the garden broom and step outside. Dried frangipani leaves are strewn all over. I start collecting them, one swipe then another and another. A pile of leaves -- half golden, half brown makes me smile for the first time on my birthday. The morning sun, filtering through the branches on which these very leaves lived a day ago, touches the crumbly heap with its magic. Each leaf, now dead, shines like an incandescent incarnation of its life's journey-- a purposeful life lived fully and let go of so effortlessly.

Something dislodges inside me. Tears well up and escape down my cheeks. But they're not sad tears. I can't explain it but holding the handle of the dust pan, I get up and look around with new eyes. I look at my hands and thank them. My dusty feet, naked on the brick floor, look beautiful to me. I look up at the frangipani tree. In a moment, I'm buzzing with joy. Birdsong, sunlight, gentle breeze -- all come rushing in as if the gate I'd kept  bolted up all my life has suddenly swung open. I don't know what happened but I run back to the kitchen--grab the little bag and take out the card first, read it and then rip open the white tissue my beautiful necklace is wrapped up in. I call him. Thank him. Tease him about his 'official' sounding card. I sense his relief. I sense his love. I sense my love.

For the next 2 hours, I clean the rest of the house while listening to Sufi music on full volume.

The list of things I'm grateful for grows longer with everything I touch to dust or move to clean: this safe space, this new day, this new beginning. 

At 10 am, I decide to pick up my phone. It's heavy with messages. I listen to a few, make a couple of calls I'd missed and accept the love. It keeps flowing. Then, I hear a voice note. I'm stunned. I can not imagine I'm hearing it. How could this be? Who's listening in? Who's watching me? 

My friend Aprajita's message rolls out of my phone and tumbles into me like a torrent. Kabir's words gush in through my ears first. I'm stunned to hear the poem. I listen to it again and again. Each pore of my body absorbs the words of Kabir like a famished soul--hungrily. My thirst is unquenchable for the solace his words bring. I put a star on the message so I can reach it easily, quickly as often as I need to hear it.

I don't know where, how or what I'll be next year around the time of my birthday. But for now, I'm happy that the turning, the changing and the unburdening this year happened in a matter of minutes.

Once upon a time, I would've sulked for days for imaginary things. Now, I stand firm in this body, this moment, this reality and keep my heart wide open for love to flow into me, through me.

An ocean in a drop--a drop in the ocean.

Going forward, there will be times when I'll forget the lessons I've learnt. In those times, I know I'll stand firmly in my space and remind myself that this is life. Forgiving the self is the best present I've opened this year. I know without a doubt that the next time I stumble upon my path or lose sight of this love, a voice note or a poem or a gesture or a dried leaf will present itself to guide me back to my present, my joy, my happiness.

Are there any imaginary worlds that you've attached yourself to that distort the beauty of your everyday reality? You know I'd love to hear if you'd like to share.

Thank you for reading this post. I wish you beautiful days and wonderous nights where you stand firm in your reality and in the solidity of your grounding may you soar brighter than any imagination.

Stay safe. Till we meet again.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

An easy embrace

(Seattle, August 2021)

My husband and I have adhered to the social-distancing, minimal meeting protocol of Covid times like good students. We have followed the rules. Over the last fortnight or so, however, we have started emerging out of our long hibernation and engaging in the social etiquette of meeting with other human beings, mostly friends--tentatively and cautiously.

At all these recent meetings, what struck me was the palpable discomfort and uncertainty surrounding the erstwhile easy practice of shaking hands and/or hugging each other.

Open palms pause in mid-air, turn to closed fists and proceed to bump fists of friends. For that split second fist contact, I, at least, feel like breaking into hip-hop or rap. Thankfully, my mask hides my silly grin and I continue to act my age.

Then there are those hanging in mid-air moments when both of us bend our bodies towards each other to hug, and realise we're not ready to throw caution to wind just yet. We turn sideways and offer an elbow bump instead: Bhangra style sans music.

Embracing reality has made us let go of the ease of embracing each other. 

When I was growing up, japphis (hugs in Punjabi) were the privilege of family and very close friends. It was a valuable commodity used sparingly but honestly. When you received a pyaar wali japphi (a bear hug), you knew you'd be okay. It was a token of love. For strangers, acquaintances, and friends-in-the-making there was Namaste: the no contact way of expressing a phenomenal range of emotions, from love and respect on one end to  discord and disagreement on the other. How hard the two palms come together to form the 'namaste' can convey the intention of emotion very clearly to the other.

Sometime in the past, the 'hug' became as mandatory as wearing deodorant in polite society. 

Suddenly, everybody was offering themselves to be embraced at parties, meetings, conferences and get-togethers. Sometimes, the ubiquitous air kissing would provide the sound track to these newly adopted social norms.

I must admit I participated in the practice of communal hugging myself at first. 

Then, with dwindling need to fit in, I became more discerning of who I hugged. But my hugs became deeper and more meaningful. They were my expression of love for the one I hugged. My hugs were never flippant. They lasted. I have friends who'd come over just for a hug. 'I need a hug today.' I'd demand solace from friends when I felt vulnerable. And they'd do the same. My body remembers those beautiful hugs, still. 

Moving forward, I wonder if we'll learn from the pause provided my the non-contact era of Covid'19. Will we practice deeper, more meaningful embracing of friends, family or will we continue to engage in fickle, societal norms to fit in? 

What do you think? Are hugs a part of your 'normal'? Do you miss them? Should we be more discerning of who we embrace? 

I'd love to know your thoughts. 

In the meantime, I'm sharing a poem I wrote for a contest run by Soul Craft Poetry on Instagram last week. The task was to write a poem in exactly 44 words on the theme of:

Harvesting Hope

I know not how to harvest hope

four letters long



indestructible harbinger of spring.


it lies 

in snowdrops all winter long

like a lover's hug

breath. raison d'etre

gallantly, gracefully, generously rising 

to embrace

all my cells

to keep me alive.


Wishing you all a wonderful week. Stay safe and healthy. Embrace hope, love and a warm blanket if it's cold where you are.