Wednesday, 27 November 2019

CLIVE JAMES, ARS MORIENDI

‘Put that down.’ 
Clive always said that, if he thought I turned a phrase neatly. That’s good. Put that bit in. 
‘In’ to the ongoing double narrative of our lives that we were both writing separately even in our moments of togetherness on the Addenbrooke’s infusion ward. 


We met on one ward - D4 – hooked up to the same treatment of intravenous immunoglobulins, both under the care of the same wonderful immunology consultant, Dr Kumararatne - and then a few years later, on G2, the new incarnation. There is going to be a third iteration, but Clive will miss that one.

Death is so annoying. I feel a bit cheated as we all do when the continuity of our conversation with friends gets interrupted. But the nature of a writer is to personally provide the material for imaginary conversations to continue for all of time. Meet a person once and if they make an impression, you can re-meet them. Take down the book from the library of your mind and find the chapter titled ‘Clive’ or ‘Shaista’. In our case, that first meeting in April 2012 on D4 was not destined to be our last. Four years passed from our first meeting and one day a nurse told me that Clive had gone up to another Indian patient and hailed her across the tubes, ‘Shy Star! Lovely to see you again, kid.’ Except it wasn’t me. So I asked the nurse to book our next slots together if possible and on we went for the next three years, him booking in concordance with my dates if I hadn’t done so. We emailed throughout the years. 
It was a strange friendship because Clive saw himself as mentor to a new young female writer. But the not very new or very young writer had no such notion. I was often and often extremely direct with Clive when he made remarks that didn’t sit well with my own sense of self and my feminism. Dude, seriously. You can’t say that! Or at least, you can’t say that and then expect me to take your praise of my work seriously. Clive once said I had a type of arrogance not dissimilar to his. Eek. Make of that what you will. But presumably he never imagined a pipsqueak would squeak back. Or roar back, baring her teeth. Mostly it amused him, and probably made him want to persist with that thread but for the fact that he genuinely cared and eventually ceased to undermine a real friendship. One during which he swiped my favourite snuggly hat. One during which he introduced me to Tom Stoppard. One during which he offered to send an essay of mine about Les Murray to Les Murray. But I never got around to it, because life with illness is an interrupted life. Hold a thread here, concentrate on keeping it unbroken, and another one, just over there, breaks. Les died six months ago.

Clive’s eyes would light up when he saw me. And this was because if I walked on to the ward, I was still alive. If I was alive, there was conversation to be had and a moment to be shared. Preferably a merry one but I never held back on sharing my sorrow, depression or painful reality. I lifted up my eyelid once to show Clive the various shunts and blebs that my glaucoma surgeon has sown in over the long years to save some sight. And Clive wove the moment into one of his poems. 
A year before we met for the second time, Clive had been in correspondence with and then lost a fellow cancer patient. She was, believe it or not (but if you have read that article you will know this to be true), also Indian and, also a blogger. Shikha Chhabra wrote under the pseudonym Oblomov; her blog was titled Oblomov’s Sofa, and Clive mentioned her in the Guardian. It was a respectful nod he offered her, one that meant for a brief sweet while, Shikha was the acclaimed writer she was always meant to be. She died at 24, so losing me to an early arrival of Death was not implausible. And I have brushed that cloak - or did the cloak brush me? Either way, it has not been my time yet to cause that particular clutch to the heart and breath that hearing of Clive’s death caused me. I am writing because he would expect me to. Because he’d think it a wasted opportunity and because I know he always checked my blog, ostensibly to see what I was up to, but also to see if I was writing about him. He was rather disappointed that I hadn’t brought the ‘yoof’ in as he once had hoped I might. 

I have IVIg tomorrow. It’s a Thursday. And Clive won’t be there as he hasn’t been for the past several months. In his last email he made light of a recent operation, and I chose, ridiculously, to pretend he just might merry his way back to the ward. Even though I knew he wouldn’t. But he had already outlasted that type of ‘knowing’ for ten years. 
Death is so annoying. I am so tired of it. I ought to respect it and fear it, but really... I can’t. Not this death anyway. It was preceded by so much humour that the cloak looks a little less terrifying now. A cheery pathway is being cleared for us by the kid from Kogarah. 
And presumably, heaven and hell aside, I will hear him hail me again someday, his eyes lighting up and my cheeks and lips curving up. Unless of course he mistakes that other Indian girl for me... 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVIST

My father always asks, ‘What’s the good news?’
And as you and Dad and I know, finding the good news seems an almost impossible feat these days. Everywhere is humanity in crisis. With each step of seeming progress we strangle ourselves and our planet. For each glimpse of an extraordinary human rights achievement like the UN’s adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we decimate ourselves with slavery, genocide and war.

Into each troubled time, a prophet emerges. Vilified, of course, by many, but onto these individuals entire nations pin their hopes for action.
So what’s the good news?
Greta is the good news.

In a time of instagram frenzy for likes, and a reality TV show host for President - one who crucially did not sign the Paris Agreement - Greta Thunberg takes personal responsibility for climate change activism. Watching her meet senior officials and instead of playing the smiling game, be the straight talking activist she is, is radical.


There is talk of a Nobel Peace Prize, which makes me think of Malala Yousafzai becoming the global voice of girls’ education, and like Greta, being the daughter of a man who listens and demonstrates no particular ego in sitting beside his daughter as an equal.



Friday, 4 October 2019

CROCUSES (OR ‘THE ONE DAD TRIES TO LEARN’)

My father knows when
the crocuses are out

And when the snowdrops
and when the bluebells

and how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds

trilling,
between our rooms.

Daisies will come
and roses will grow

and perhaps we shall walk
and reminisce about the snow

and kick up some leaves
and weave up some dreams

while the world passes by
my father and I.

© Shaista Tayabali
(Dverse Poets Open Link)

Dad fell hard on the concrete pavement outside our house, broke his femur and had surgery a few weeks ago. His road to recovery is long, challenging and filled with his extraordinary light.










Friday, 30 August 2019

MAY THE SUN SHINE ON YOUR WENDY HOUSE

The heat! The heat!! 
The Amazon fires! 


Last night I trawled the house looking for a fan and came up empty handed... 





This summer has been a summer of children coming and going - one nephew and niece from Singapore, and now my twin nieces from Malaysia,  and as you can imagine their houses are designed perfectly for intense tropical heat, the humid or the dry kind. ‘Where’s the air conditioning?’ Bella asks, as she flings herself about in my bed trying and failing to get comfortable. 
Me, I can’t decide. The heat can be a tricky thing to manoeuvre a body so sensitive to extremes of any kind, but sunshiny light casts a sense of hope over the world for me. Glaucoma as a condition is a net of darkness, the thief of sight, and I am constantly battling a world of changing, shifting, unnerving shadow play. So when the strong summer light comes and stays, I feel living becomes possible again. Reading becomes possible. A house full of books and fading sight can be a tough pill to swallow.


Speaking of pills, do you remember the very first person you knew who took pills? It is generally an older person, isn’t it? Mine was my grandfather. He had surgery for a pacemaker after serious heart attacks and I remember all his tablets, and although vibrant in spirit, how frail his body was with his walking stick ever near; so it has been an odd business being the tablet taker from the age of ten. And wondering what the four children make of their aunt with her tablets, and eye drops and staying in bed so much, and chipping off to the hospital for hours and hours, and sometimes days, weeks... but after the ghastly campylobacter and PICC lines of earlier this year I seem to have escaped nasty infections thus far. (Touching wood madly...)  
 
I had some scuffles with A&E, am hobbling around with Achilles bursitis trying to catch Pokémon, balancing my days finely on excruciating migraines... a new drug and I did not fare well together and my steroids have been souped up. Rituximab is around the corner albeit half the dose and twice as far apart. Also, I had a birthday with hand made cards and some delicious Malaysian food … 




So onwards like a bullock pulling a cart I go - we go - together, into light and heat and coolness and shadows, building campfires for warmth, creating Wendy houses for play, wondering if the little mouse who was bold as brass on our kitchen counter the other day has run far, far away.

 

Friday, 9 August 2019

VERA, AN ANNIVERSARY

A small brown bird flies close to me.
Yesterday, a butterfly -
- white, monarch -
I scent my grandmother near.

She was not a poet
Nor a deep thinker,
But she liked the quiet,

Which was strange
Because she hated to be bored;
And yet she could sit for hours

On balconies, in conservatories,
With only herself for company,
A book, a ticking clock,
And the sky - ever changing, ever the same.

©Shaista Tayabali, 2019
Inspired by Vera, my beloved grandmother who died a few days after my birthday, six years ago... both our anniversaries are coming up as Vera and I were born only two days apart. Many lifetimes but only two days... 

 Participating in DVerse Poets Friendly Call to Open Link night ... 

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

POKEMON GO! (AMONG WOODS AND WISTERIA)

Friends who live away, say
England's green is unlike any other.

So I stop by the bridges,
and let the green wash me clean.

Eyes, ears, nose and... breathe.
I know I live in a conservationist's dream.

The birds mark time with me.
Chweet! Trreet! Prreet!

Have you ever tried to transcribe
the song of a bird? It is beyond me.

I catch Pokémon as I walk - the game
that reflects our real world biome.

On my phone, in the palm of my hand,
friendly creatures snarl and land

feet from me, greeting me.
Old worlds, new worlds,

we are the other, we are each other.

All it takes is a different sense of seeing,
that I am you, and you are me.

Captured now and then,
and now again free.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2019
inspired by Anmol for Dverse Poetics: On Wandering & Observing)









Thursday, 16 May 2019

A LINE OF FIRE

It takes an eternity to decide
to move one way or another;
an infinity of maybes and what ifs.

A bird muscles her way
through a series of calls,
like twanging rubber bands on repeat.

Nothing helps a human
to make a decision,
with clarity.

Everything is obscured.
We are a series of obfuscations,
an infinity of chaos.

Yesterday, my tears were a hurricane.
Today, I am sitting in a stripe of sun.

Tomorrow, the purpose I sought
will greet me at my door,
and welcome me home.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2019
For Dverse Poetry

(Auguste Rodin, The Dancer, 1913. Kettle’s Yard)

Friday, 26 April 2019

EASTER ANNIVERSARY


April has been a busy month. Towards the end of March I was asked to offer my writing services to a book project recording the lives of some of the folk who live in our village - a very tiny selection but hopefully a somewhat representative one. In between a plethora of interviews, I have also embarked upon a new drug called Mycophenolate Mofetil (I had tried it before and it had been extremely unpleasant... this is what the doctors call ‘re-challenging a patient’... a bit like facing an old foe in a new duel). A gastroscope wound its way into the mix with a bunch of biopsies taken. That left me a little bruised and weary.



At Easter my feet found their way to our local church where I bumped into friends who were arranging the Easter flowers. I ended up helping with the main arrangement by the altar, and marvelling that ten years had passed since I was in hospital at Easter, 2009 - the three month long admission that marked me on deep, unfathomable levels. A decade ago I had a clear understanding of what was needed of me to live, or rather, to go on living. In some ways, the essentials haven't changed - two of which are named Perveen and Chotu, or Mum and Dad... but I am once again, worn to the bone. To the cells that deplete, and replete, and deplete, and on and on... until I cannot see anything but the forks and crossroads and ahead, all woods. But where the flowers are, there the light still is. Here, a bouquet of carnations, for you. 






Sunday, 31 March 2019

HANAMI TEA CEREMONY, KAETSU CENTRE

I never knew the Kaetsu Educational and Cultural Centre existed until just before Japan Day earlier this year. I never knew the Centre had been hosting celebrations for Japanese culture for decades. It’s nice when you discover depths to the community life that surrounds you...although nothing really should surprise one about Cambridge... it isn’t London, but it is evolving beyond its origins,beyond fenland and university land to a place where different migrating worlds collide.


Back to hanami in the heart of town. I arrived too late on Japan Day to enjoy any of the food - of course, Japanese food would be the first to be devoured! But I did sit down at the calligraphy table, and I did buy some beautiful handcrafted lavender scented worry dolls made by Kazuko, the chef herself!


I was so charmed by a young girl in her grandmother’s kimono, that I wrote to the administrator to say so, to thank them for the day. The person who wrote back turned out to be the charming girl’s mother! Which is always handy. When people praise me to my mother, I know she appreciates my daughter-ness. Filial success!


Hiroko replied, inviting me back for an informal hanami celebration. She is learning the ways of the tea ceremony herself, and I was guest of honour. The matcha was delicious, so lucky to have had two bowls (chavan), and the cake and sweets were all perfectly balanced.
I read a couple of my poems out loud to the five women present, and later, when it was just myself and Hiroko, we spoke of her own literary work - she is completing a paper on the ancient craft of kintsugi, the philosophy of which has long interested and intrigued me. Kintsukuroi in more recent Western philosophy is the idea that even something broken can be made beautiful, transformed by the gold lacquer that holds the pieces together. Why gold? Why such care taken over something broken? These are questions Hiroko is exploring and I can’t wait to read her paper. 

Monday, 25 March 2019

SPRING BIRD, FOR SHELAGH CHEESMAN

When sunlight 
comes my way, 
I can see 

the smallest bird, high up,
on the cherry tree; 
belly, beak and leaf.

Lose that light,
come storm and sleet,
how easily I forget 

to see,
with memory.
All is lost to me. 

Then turn to the listening ear,
and touch my hand to 
curve of cheek -

mine, or yours, either 
will do. Love goes on, 
invisibly. 

© Shaista Tayabali, 2019
(sharing with Dverse Poets Open Link Night) 




Today is the one year anniversary since my friend Shelagh Cheesman passed away. Shelagh loved spring, the blossom and the warmth that returned to her Raynaud's afflicted fingers. I miss her, I have grieved the loss of her, and I feel her guiding hand strongest this month. 

Our mutual friend Colette, Shelagh and I also shared a love of these doll necklaces that were sent by Meme, another lupus-pal who lives far away in Australia, but really only a heartbeat away by snail mail, and email, and her loving spirit. Onward we go, with the friends who take care of our hearts.