Saturday, April 30, 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!

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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:)
Arti

Saturday, April 2, 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. 

Arti 

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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, April 1, 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.

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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.


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Sunday, March 6, 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, January 25, 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

eternal

impermeable

indestructible harbinger of spring.

dormant 

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.


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

Monday, January 10, 2022

What has made you happy thus far in the New Year?

7 a.m. January 10th 2022

Holding a glass of warm water in my left hand, I open the front door with my right and step out onto the porch.

Winter wafts in like a friend who knows me well. Even before the door fully opens, a faint smell of wood fire, mixed with the sharp, soft rays of the morning sun, rushes in to embrace me. Winter's nippy kisses tingle my skin--clad in a cotton kurta and yoga pants. I'd slept in those last night. I shudder with delight. Winter is rare in Doha. I want to inhale it to my core. The bulbul mimics my joy and frolics noisily on the neem tree.

6 a.m. January 10th 2022

I turn off the alarm and promise to be up in 10 minutes. 

10 p.m. January 9th 2022

I set the alarm for 5 a.m. and then change it to 6 a.m. to be reasonable. I've just finished reading 'Kafka on the Shore' by Murakami; my first Murakami. Even though it took me four months to read the book, I've loved reading it. So, naturally, as soon as I put the book down, I  google Murakami's  'writing process'.  My phone screen informs me that when he's writing, this famous and successful author's day looks like this:

  • Wake up at 4 a.m.
  • Write for 5 to 6 hours.
  • Run a 10 K or swim 1,500 meters in the afternoon.
  • Read and listen to music.
  • Be in bed by 9 p.m.

He attributes his writing success to the 'routine' he follows. 

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Dear Readers,

It feels so good to be back here: writing and sharing after a gap of 4 months! As you may have gathered by now, I've been an absentee blogger and to some extent an absentee writer. Apart from a few Instagram posts and a couple of poems in Hindi, the last four months have been dedicated to dealing with surprises LIFE springs on us rather than documenting it in prose and paragraphs.

Last night, when I read about Murakami's routine, I thought I'd give it a try. 

'Sadhana' in Hindi means 'dedicated practice or learning'. Whether it's yoga, music, or passing an exams in school or college, a dedicated practice births results. I know that but when one falls off the wagon of one's practice, it can be a struggle to get a foot hold back on. At times like these, it's sensible to look to the masters and follow in their footsteps. 

I don't know what 2022 has in store for me but I do plan to visit my writing desk every morning. Why am I telling you this? Because, writing a promise down makes it real. And sharing it with you makes me accountable to myself. 

Adriene of Yoga with Adriene who I follow when I'm unable to join my yoga class, always says: "the hardest part is to arrive on the mat." And I agree.

Irrespective of lost time, the uncertainties and turmoil of the last quarter of 2021, I'm happy to be present at my writing desk today, typing out my first post of the year. 

Thus far, 2022 has been joyous in many ways:

The food, friends brought from their travels and shared with me, made me relive my childhood without the need to time travel! Thank you Vini for the rusks from Sunrise bakery of Dehradun and Anshu for the delicious gajak from Moradabad. Another dear friend sent home -made makki ki roti and sarson ka saag so I could enjoy Punjab in Doha this winter.

Long walks on sandy beaches, sunsets, one lone sunrise, reading 'The boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse' and finishing 'Kafka on the shore' have made me happy despite the pounds that I've piled on -- thanks mainly to binging on Downton Abbey and Ozark on Netflix and NOT moving much.

I have a long way to go before I can discipline my day as perfectly as Murakami but I've made a start.

I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy 2022.

I'd love to know what has made you happy, joyful, smile in the last 10 days of this brand new year?

Till we meet again, take good care of yourself.

Warmly,

Arti