Friday, 16 November 2018


My father, asleep in an armchair,
breathing in Chopin,

his head resting
on two fingertips.

Silver grey hair,
and a face

gathering thoughts,
before he wakes.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018

A recent photograph of me and the Chopin listener (taken by our friend Sue Fox), and also one of Mum’s earliest portraits of Dad...  ‘a very quick oil sketch’ is how she describes it... the most talented artists are sometimes the most humble! I love her use of blue, don't you?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Either way,
she doesn’t know her ways, yet.
Her mind bends with the remover;
if not to remove,
then certainly pause, edit, pause,
delete, regret the deletion,
ask advice, regret asking advice.

Either way,
she knows her own ways;
her mind, unclear,
is loosely framed by ideals
dear to her.
And so on she moves, on,
ever onwards.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018
(participating in Dverse Poets Open Link Poetry)

(Painting: Egon Schiele, ‘La Libertad’) 

I did an interview with poet Sherry Marr over at Poets United... a catch up of sorts over long distances and imaginary cups of tea... you can click here to read it ...
Sherry lives in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, a tiny district nestled in the southern heart of Clayoquot Sound... She has been a huge source of friendship and encouragement over the years since I first began my blog. We nearly met last year when I nearly went to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding and my birthday, but campylobacter in my bloodstream kept me here in Addenbrooke’s Hospital rather than in Sherry’s living room across the pond. I still owe her a basket full of English tea!!!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018


That is a proud name,’ he said.

I am proud of my name.

It is the Rajput name for warriors.
It is the Persian name for poets. 

Am I not then Shaista, the warrior-poet?

I am standing on the battleground,
listing a little,
sword and pen at the ready,
blood and words aplenty.

But I long for sakura,
snow pink petals of my cherry tree.

Oh brief, beautiful one,
wrap yourself around me,

so I can be Shaista, the free.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018

What does my name mean? My mother always told me it meant courteous and graceful, mostly because she wanted me to be unfailingly polite! But in Pashto, the language of the Afghans, my name means beautiful. An ex-soldier from Afghanistan once commented on my name as we both waited in line at the Apple genius bar! Then my poet friend Kenza assured me it was so... and last week a Pakistani taxi driver, who proceeded to quote couplets by Ghalib (in Pashto) at me.
When I was a child and our class was studying the period of the Mughal empire, and the wars between the Mughals and the Marathas in Indian history, we came across Shaista Khan, the fierce Mughal warrior. So of course my classmates wondered why I had been named after a man!
My own grandfather, though, had never heard of the name; he decided to call me Shy Star after I was born, so he could not fail to  remember the name of his first granddaughter. I use his mnemonic to help people even now, when they struggle to wrap their unfamiliar tongues around my name. 

The illustrations above of Sufi warriors, Sufi dancers, are my own... I've been including them in copies of my poetry collection for friends... I titled the book 'Something Beautiful Travels Far' which I suppose could also read 'Shaista Travels Far'! 

(for 'Poetics: What's in a Name?' a dverse poems prompt) 

Sunday, 7 October 2018


Rudi made me cry. 
I don't cry at or during films anymore, mostly because the varying levels of discomfort my eyes are usually in, make it hard for me to escape entirely into the visual world before me. But the life of Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev contained within a single powerful documentary, All The World His Stage, had me in tears for much of the second half.

Exile is a common enough story for many of us. Voluntary or involuntary. But in Rudi's case he was a pawn of a nation, a government, an ideology that his body and will refused to succumb to. Of course, his defection in Paris in 1961 had nasty consequences for his friends, the 'kitchen culture' crowd, who had, in secrecy, danced and recited poetry and played under the wrap of darkness. But they separated him from his mother, and more than anyone else in his family, I think that may have been the worst of it, though in the end they let him back for the days before her death. They say that although she was failing to recognise anyone else, she knew he had been to see her, but what was that one moment against all the years - the millions of yearnings, and achings for home?

And then there was Dame Margot - La Fonteyn - the substitute mother figure? No, she was more, she was everything to him;  after she died, he had no one; he would call friends before dawn, and say nothing, only cry. She was on the verge of asking her husband Tito for a divorce, and then he got shot, and Fonteyn's mother said how will it look if you don't go immediately to his side? How will it look? Even the greatest prima donna ballerina obeys when her mother says those four sinister words. That was the end of Nureyev and Fonteyn, so said the documentary, although in reality they danced for years afterwards, and stayed close until her death. 

The violinist Yehudi Menuhin called Nureyev a panther. Parkinson asked him to describe how things had been in Russia when Nureyev was a child. 'Bad,' replied the dancer. 'But how bad?' pressed Parky. Because people always want to know how bad, from the safety and comfort of their own lives. Richard Avedon photographed Nureyev's leaps into air as though he were challenging gravity to call him merely human, but Bob Dylan wrote 'No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.'  

The documentary was at once the embodiment of freedom and simultaneously a chaining down, a weighing down of things that are bigger than us, wider than we can control. Politics, AIDS. Being called Russian when you are really Tatar, but no one knows of Tatars or their complicated history with Russia...

 Ah... go watch the documentary if you can. Also Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two. Also M.I.A, about the Sri Lankan Tamil English singer and activist Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam. Also, the manager of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse has promised me the Nureyev poster when the film has finished running... these are moments worth living for.  

Monday, 24 September 2018


I have been meaning to post about my book... a first collection of poems now available to buy on Amazon UK, US and Europe... I'm not sure about Australia, though I would love, for example, my friend Mémé to have a copy (hi Mémé! Will get one to you somehow!). Am working on the Kindle edition for India and Africa... poetry on a device used to seem like an odd idea to me, but my poems have been online in the digital world for almost a decade! So a kindle version seems apt enough.

The book is called ‘Something Beautiful Travels Far’ - the title of my second poem. When I first created the collection with this title in mind I had no idea the book would travel with me across oceans to India, Singapore and Indonesia... I first held it in my hands in hospital (of course) in the Jubilee Garden, my favourite spot at Addenbrooke’s...  then, needle in hand, dreaming of travels and glorying in freedom already achieved... and now, today, back at the hospital, needle in hand... filled with the richest of memories. 

Here is the link to Amazon... in case you feel inspired to buy a copy!  

(the first image and now my blog header was taken by my brother Irfan on Nikoi Island, the tiny eco island in Indonesia where he and Theresa got married - gorgeous photograph, ain't it?!)

Friday, 21 September 2018


‘Beauty doesn’t last forever,’ the young one said.
Wise heart, serious head.

Time passes, changes everything.
The recording poet remembers everything.

The curve of this tree, mottled with green,
the conch of this shell I may wear as a ring,
the slats of this chair I wrote a wedding poem in,
the sound of the rain pitter pattering -
even my hair curling,
sharp sting of insect biting,
wish I had done something different thinking -
years thundering along.

‘How does it feel to be forty? Tell me!’
The Dutchman says he is dreading it.
‘Wonderful!’ I say, ‘when you’re happy.’
But maybe I mean free, as maybe he is not.

There are types and types of freedom;
we rein ourselves in, and gallop fiercely on.

At night my bed is a pirate ship
loosened from its moorings.
I fight off shadows of Komodo dragons
and bodies of armoured beetles.
Mulan of the Nikoi night, I tamp down
on fear, and hungry midnight yearnings.

If Frida could, I can -
a motto for all time.

Some beauty never fades.
Some women never age.
Power grows smaller,
cupped in their hand.

©Shaista Tayabali, 2018
(participating in DVerse Poets Open Link Night)

This poem was inspired by my niece Isabella, who provided me with the first line after seeing my postcard of Frida Kahlo and learning a little of her life.

DVerse Poets Open Link Night)

Friday, 7 September 2018

BOMBAY: A Return After 21 Years

And then the rain comes down,
but gently, as though it knows 
not to carry a typhoid - 

In the heat, the dripping heat,
I am miles away from the peace 
that comes dropping slow;

But here I find a different peace,
the kind that took 21 years - 
I say ‘took’ and not ‘takes’,

Because it could just be me 
that moves at mammoth pace,
a slow pachyderm, if that’s the right term.

©Shaista Tayabali, 2018

Tuesday, 14 August 2018


The heatwave has finally come to an end, we think. The rains are teasing us in fits and starts, but of course it is still mid August. It is my birthday month, and I have already done some very exciting things - like watch the Mamma Mia prequel/sequel with my friend Victoria, which I enjoyed more than the first - is that sacrilege? Even without Meryl Streep - and mostly because Lily James is a joyous actress (she was in 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', in 'War and Peace', in 'Downton Abbey'...)

I went to a post wedding party at my old school, decked out in a salwar kameez, and tried to feel nostalgic, but couldn't. Time has passed and moved me along with her, and that's all there is to it. And yet... if my younger self could see me posing in the quad, what would she think?

My friends Dan and Kate are back from Zambia with two new additions, and where better to take in Englishness than the fairy walk at Audley End?

And the teddy bear picnic along the train ride? There were several tunnels, but Lewis, who like all children, knows what's what, said, 'Again?' as we submerged into tunnel number three...

Comings and goings... I am embarking on global travels myself tomorrow morning... quite ambitious ones for a person who spent the whole of last year battling infections of one sort or another. But I did mention it was my birthday month and it is always lovely to celebrate one's birthday surrounded with as much love as possible - and where I'm going, there are several small persons who have buckets of love to give!

But sometimes, even when you stand still, love comes to you in a German Peanuts box, with a wooden duck from Bosham.... I have named her Jemima, hoping Beatrix Potter won't mind, because she has a pair of pink spotted galoshes (galoshes or wellingtons? Dad says wellingtons are not for ducks, presumably because they are hunting gear?) I was tempted to take her with me, but Mary said, 'No!' I love you Mary Haybittle! Thankyou for Jemima - I shall look forward to being reunited with her on my return...