Sunday, 8 May 2022

BED, an essay, published by New York SLICE magazine

I can’t recall when I sent this essay to SLICE magazine in New York but it was accepted a year ago. Part of the contract forbade me from first publishing it in a book, but publication of the issue kept being postponed. In December they gave me the go ahead to publish my book, because as the pandemic raged on, this magazine among many others has been forced to shut down. I made it into the final issue (their 27th, themed ‘Levity’) by a mouse squeak. It’s a very cool, eclectic and racially diverse literary mag, so I’m in the rather splendid company of Honorée Fannone Jeffers and Zakiya Dalila Harris with one of my favourite chapters from my book. ‘The one with me in it?’ asks Eva. ‘The one with you and Ellie and Bella and Scruffs…’  Many of you have been wonderful to me and already bought and read my book ‘Lupus, You Odd Unnatural Thing’ but in case you haven’t, here is a taster 📖🛏💁🏻‍♀️

https://slicemagazine.org/bed-by-shaista-tayabali/

BED, BY SHAISTA TAYABALI

Artwork by Carolina Rodríguez Fuenmayor

Let me try telling it this way.

Draw a horizontal line. On one side write, “life,” and on the other, “death.” If you perceive life moving toward death in a chronological fashion, then you’ll probably write “life” on the left and “death” on the right. Or you’ll put “death” on the left and “life” on the right. Death as a beginning. Darkness as a beginning. Moving toward light, toward life.

Now collapse the center point of your line into a sunken bowl.

This is chronic illness. Chronic illness is the in-between place of stuck. Life shouts out to you, “Grab hold of me! Come on, I’ll pull you across with my words and these movies and this travel brochure.” Death says nothing. But life looks at you knowingly: “Is that what you want? To just give up and die? Fight! This is the good side!” Life is the place where everything happens, from the expected to the unexpected. The learning to walk, run, drive, feel, study, make money, lose property and possessions, create more of yourself, grow. Death, they tell us, is the place where it ends. All the money, the property, the human bodies you loved but cannot pull across to the other side with you.

In between, in the place of stuck, we share the human terror of a life with no possible change. So deeply uncomfortable are we with the place where nothing seems to happen that we plague each other by asking the question “What do you do?” What do you do with your life? Not, who are you in your life? Not, how do you feel in your skin? Your mind? Your heart? But, where in the cogs do you fit?

An odd character with the wolf disease is bound to feel defensive about what she does, mostly because she doesn’t.

An odd character with the wolf disease is bound to feel defensive about what she does, mostly because she doesn’t. You would think that when I am in hospital, I would be let off this hook for a bit.

«  »

In 2017, I was hospitalized four times with persistent infections. It was a complex year to navigate. On two separate occasions, I had to have a PICC line: a slender catheter surgically inserted into my vein for me to self-administer liquid antibiotics, one end hanging outside my skin, the other end resting atop my heart. Self-administration makes me respect my nurses even more than usual; there are so many little details to concentrate on, air bubbles and contaminations to be careful of. On each occasion, I administered thirty-two infusions. Some were injected at home, some at the hospital as an inpatient. Rheumatology suspected that my long-term monoclonal antibody therapy had resulted in my body becoming more immunocompromised than ever. Immunology disagreed and pointed to my underlying hypergammaglobulinemia. Either way, the reality of such immunological machinations was a bone-deep fatigue. I needed to rest.

And yet I lost count of the number of times the medical staff teased me about sleeping. Do other patients rise and shine, stretch, and leap out of their narrow white beds to . . . do what?

“So,” asked my consultant when she visited, “what have you been up to in here? Working on anything?”

“Working on getting this fever down,” I replied. During my fourth admission of the year, I was moved from a ward on the ground floor (Gastro) up to the tenth floor (Infectious Diseases), to an enclosed room, with negative-pressure vents circulating eddies of freezing-cold mechanical air. I was on heavy antibiotics. The first night, my older brother, Rizwan, brought me blankets, a beanie hat, and gloves because I could not stop shivering.

“Every time I’ve seen you,” said a nurse the next day, “you’ve been sleeping!”

“What should I be doing?” I asked. “Inventing a new gadget?”

His comment stuck, and from then on, I fought sleep to occupy myself—painting in watercolor and pastel, writing blog posts, trying to look busy—to account for the bizarre preoccupation of society even on the most isolated infectious-diseases ward to do something do anything just do something.

So, I did do something. Only it was accidental. I pushed open the heavy door to my room, stepped out, ostensibly to discover when my next antibiotic dose was due, and had a quiet mooch down the long, unfamiliar corridor ahead of me. There were eleven beds on the ward, each locked away from the other. Toward the end of the corridor, I saw a portrait of Mary Seacole on the wall. Hello Mary! I greeted it. I had reached the fire door now, and while contemplating Mary, I leaned companionably against the door. Suddenly, a wild alarm set off, ringing around the ward. I put my hands up in crime drama fashion as two burly nurses hefted their way toward me. “Sorry!” I bleated, recognizing one of them, and slunk away from the crime scene.

“You won’t be doing that again!” he called after me.

Honestly. Can’t win. Back to bed I went.

«  »

You are tired. “How is your mood?” the doctor will ask you.

“You mean my mental health?” you wonder.

I am tired. Fatigue is an actual symptom, but mention it to a doctor and they will tell you, “Try doing a little more every day. Try exercise. Try tai chi.”

Doing nothing in the face of a busy, restless world will never be met with anything other than baffled curiosity at best—thinly veiled contempt at worst.

The inner persona of the professional bed-resting human may confidently follow the motto of “Just Do Nothing” as opposed to “Just Do It,” but our outer persona will always be subject to scrutiny. Doing nothing in the face of a busy, restless world will never be met with anything other than baffled curiosity at best—thinly veiled contempt at worst. “Have you ever tried waking up early?” they will ask. “Exercising last thing at night, to tire you out? Baths, to make you sleepy? Yoga? Going vegan?” Battleground language begins here. Get up. Escape. Be a (wo)man.

«  »

During my 2005 admission to the Eye Unit, while undergoing various surgical procedures like needling and the laser-burning of ciliary bodies in the hope of bringing my intraocular pressures down, a friend visited. “Have you been down to the concourse for a little shopping?” she asked. How could I blame her? I had done precisely that on the first day of my admission, whizzing about the hospital Body Shop, buying presents for the Kawanos, my younger brother Irfan’s Japanese landlord and landlady, who were visiting England for the first time.

“Try the shepherd’s pie!” my friend advised, looking at my lunch menu. I did. When my eye pressures shot up later that evening, and my ophthalmologist, Dr. Meyer, found me violently retching up that same concoction, how could I blame my friend for her cheerful suggestion?

«  »

In my second year at university, I met a poet called Les Murray. Not the way I would later meet his contemporary, Clive James, across our portable motor pumps on the Patient Short Stay Unit, but on the page, in poetry. There were poems that could only have been created by an Australian bard writing within the Jindyworobak tradition, but there was one that spoke directly to me as though it had been written for me. One that I have carried with me all the years since. It is titled “Homage to the Launching Place,” and each line pays homage to “bed, kindest of quadrupeds.”

Every time I climb back into my bed—and it is always “back,” a return home—I feel as though I am being welcomed, the way a beloved house greeted you, greets you still.

“I loved you from the first, bed, / doorway out of this world,” writes Murray, giving me the line upon which I can hang my own love. Every time I climb back into my bed—and it is always “back,” a return home—I feel as though I am being welcomed, the way a beloved house greeted you, greets you still.

«  »

When we were children, my mother agreed to temporarily take care of a neighbor’s golden retriever. He was a beautiful animal, fur like silk. Clear-eyed and friendly enough for a house full of children. A year later, when the vet asked Mum if she would adopt Bruno permanently, a very different dog awaited her. In the year between, Bruno had been abandoned and tormented, by children, we presumed, because he feared the young and was indifferent to the rest. Once a stunning example of his breed, he was now a very sick dog. His fur had been eaten away by mange, his eyes were weeping with conjunctivitis, his tail was almost hairless. It took every ounce of my mother’s healing prowess—turmeric-and-coconut-oil paste applied daily to cure the mange, cotton wool soaked in tea bags for his eyes, her constant presence by his side—to coax him into a semblance of the show dog he had been. He did come to enjoy all of us, particularly my father, but my mother was his true love. Certain habits continued to proclaim the fragile state of his psyche. He would habitually walk in circles around our dining table while we ate, round and round in an ever-dizzying circumference until, miles clocked up, he would settle somewhere beneath the black glass top.

There was one other place he would circle: the mattress my mother had custom-ordered for his bed. At any time of the day or night, he would click-clack toward the front door. Slightly to the left of the double doors, he would stop, step onto his fur-grubby mattress, turn and turn and turn around, massaging the fabric with his paws, readying his bed for the moment when he would collapse his body, legs first, shoulders second, heavy head upon forepaws last, and then the sigh. Always the sigh. Eyes not entirely closed. His bed faced front and center. No activity of import could take place without his notice. Even though nothing was required of him, he gave the impression of sleepy vigilance.

My bed, fortunately, does not face the comings and goings of our home life. There is nothing normal about a human taking to bed at any hour of the day. Sleeping in late into the morning is the reason I was sent to a psychiatrist. Dr. Meyer was worried that I was missing my morning dose of eye drops due to a combination of insomnia and seeming somnolence; in his concern, he ascribed my lethargy to mental illness. I had no personal stigma against a mental equivalent of the physical disease manifesting in me. After all, I had self-diagnosed depression. I just didn’t want my mental activity to be placed on weighing scales by figures of authority.

I escaped the psychiatry department, but I never fully freed myself from the guilty association between my relationship to sleep and medical noncompliance.

I escaped the psychiatry department, but I never fully freed myself from the guilty association between my relationship to sleep and medical noncompliance, even though my relationship to my bed began not with noncompliance but with the administration of high doses of intravenous and oral steroids. Prednisone would make anyone crazy, if crazy were what you were looking for. Add in daily doses of morphine, and you have Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, except she’s not on the roof, she’s house-bound, hopping in and around her bed.

To this day, if the hour is late enough, I feel a twinge of something unsettling. Alarm that things are still far from normal. A quarter to six in the morning and I am still awake. Not widely so. I think I could switch the light off now. The traffic outside is a gentle hum, a soughing wind. The birds have not yet begun to sing. Quickly, before the fates decide I am lost, I pack away my wakefulness. And slide down into submission.

«  »

There are addictions to my night life. Tidying my Pokémon, for example. Or Candy Crush. I could delete the app. I’m sure I could. But there is something about those brightly colored candies and the jolly jelly-busting fish. And the rewards of a hammer disguised as a lollipop. I play at least five games before bed; after five losses, you have to pay, so I try to stay within reason. I’m sure there is a connection between the happy candies and my decision to finally let go of the night.

I know I’m not alone in my night life. It used to be a more eccentric thing, an Artist thing—this staying-awake business. But now it’s an Everyman-with-a-Smartphone thing. The sky darkens to purple, lightens to mauve, the birds fall silent and then wake, but the world continues to glow and chatter in the palms of our hands. It never stops rewarding us with more and more of whatever we desire and much that we don’t. At night is when I go to the school of the globe. I meet my famous friends and I read the encyclopedia of Wiki wonders. I catch up on the latest articles that Twitter has been kindly accruing for me all day long. And then, since it’s morning for them anyway, I message my siblings in Singapore or India to see if anyone’s up.

«  »

Ever since he could pronounce the word, my nephew Rafael has enjoyed saying he is “nocturnal” just like his Aunty Shai. At four, he was proud to share this quality with me. At six, his only anxiety was the distance between us. I was living alone at the time. What if I needed him? How would he get from Singapore to Cambridge in time? He especially didn’t like the spooky sounds he could hear across the miles. Owls dancing on my roof, I told him. Keeping me company. But maybe they weren’t owls. He couldn’t see them. He didn’t like not knowing. His younger sister, Bella, adopts more of a Guillermo del Toro attitude. Could they be monsters? Let’s see!

If it’s the twins I get, Ellie or Eva, we discuss mysteries like why Grandma and Papa are in bed sleeping and I am eternally awake. Why is it dark in Cambridge and morning in Bangalore? Would I like a piece of pancake mashed through the phone? Why don’t I get on a plane, since I’m up anyway, and then we can play properly? The circles beneath my eyes deepen into moody maroon bruises and I peel away before three a.m. “Let Shaista sleep now,” says a voice in the background. My siblings are the proper grownups. My position is unclear, variable. “I’ll only go to sleep if there’s a grownup in the room,” said Eva to me, negotiating, prevaricating. “What do you think I am?” I asked. Silence. But always, always, all four of them will instruct me to wake early.

Once, Eva held my face firmly between her hands, looked seriously into my eyes, and said, “In the morning, when I wake up, wake up early with me, okay? Don’t sleep.”

Once, Eva held my face firmly between her hands, looked seriously into my eyes, and said, “In the morning, when I wake up, wake up early with me, okay? Don’t sleep.” And, “I get tired waiting for you to wake up.” This said without heat or drama. All the more potent for it.

«  »

The house is cold now, radiators temporarily in retirement. I switch on my small heater and contemplate slugging myself to the nearest kettle to boil water for a hot-water bottle or a cup of tea. I am hungry. Nighttime food is packaged food, unless dinner wasn’t completely wolfed down. Chocolates and crisps feature now. Occasionally, an experiment: Cheese and tomato ketchup. A fried egg with sesame oil over mixed vegetable rice leftovers. Kimchi, kimchi, where art thou, kimchi?

«  »

Sometimes my first waking thought is this word: “death.” And just as quickly on its heels: “life.”

Know this about your chronic-illness friends—we are closer to death than you, in thought, but just as busy with life. And because we are alive, we never get used to our closeness to death.

Know this about your chronic-illness friends—we are closer to death than you, in thought, but just as busy with life. And because we are alive, we never get used to our closeness to death. Les Murray’s poem acknowledges the busyness of bed, how it heralds our screaming arrival, pushes us up and out on bedsprings and legs and then lays us out, cold, our first grave. “Shield that carries us to the fight / and bears us from it,” he writes.

Bed is my yew tree. The place where I heal, the place that heals me. I was born here, and perhaps I will die here, but that doesn’t scare me. There is nowhere I would rather be when something, an appointment or social engagement, gets canceled. The intense relief is a type of nirvana because the lead-up to it is arduous. The flip-flopping is not as boundless as it once was because my life and the people in it are more streamlined. I know myself more.

But there are still occasions when I force myself forward, thinking it will be all right. I’ll manage. I won’t fall apart by the side of the road. The ambulance won’t have to come for me. “I won’t die” is often the barometer for going ahead with a plan. But “I will spend the next several days or weeks surviving the decision” is also part of the barometer.

When the phone rings with a cancelation, there is something specifically personal about the moment—as though the universe really is listening to me with my tiny problems, seeking to find a solution just for me. This is not the truth of it. More than likely someone else is suffering too in that moment—the cancelation, after all, is occurring because someone is ill, or has had bad news. Sometimes you don’t know why. But the sweetness of the reprieve is unconcerned with these humanitarian details. Thank you, thank you, thank you is the sleepy sigh that emerges from every intelligent cell. Now we can get back to work—fighting ourselves and fighting inflammation as always. The business never ends on the inside. On the outside, you may see the twitch of my lips curl into satisfied happiness. The rest of me continues to lie in my bed as though nothing monumental has happened.

Only my niece Ellie sees through the stillness, into the truth. She draws a picture of me in bed and captions it “Shaista: Having the Life.”

«  »

Calling to cancel a hospital appointment is a trickier business because NHS appointments are gold dust, and because I spend hours thinking that if I can just rest until the last moment, I’ll make it. I’m always calculating the mathematical minutes, working backward from any appointment: Minutes to get there. Minutes to get a taxi. Possibility the taxi will be stuck in traffic. Minutes to change out of pajamas. Minutes to work out what to wear, what to pack—medicines, reading material for waiting rooms. Food? Have I eaten? When all along my only desire is to be unmoving. A sea urchin upon the bed of the ocean. Coral. You wouldn’t know I was breathing unless you lay curled up beside me.

«  »

You know those dreams where you get up, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, change, and walk out? You’re on your way, and then you wake up to discover yourself still in bed? It’s that, except it isn’t a dream. It’s my reality. A type of forced sleepwalking, where I wish I were still sleeping. Where bed is the lover I have been forced to leave because reality pulled me away, but my body yearns to return.



You can buy my book at this Amazon link : https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUPUS-YOU-UNNATURAL-THING-auto-immunity/dp/B09MYTDVH5/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2O2Q9MTUYL4KU&keywords=lupus+you+odd+unnatural+thing&qid=1651972634&sprefix=lupus+you+odd+unnatural+thing%2Caps%2C69&sr=8-1

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

VIEW FROM BED

A week ago was an IVIg day. For a year, protocol has required me to have a covid test on the Thursday before the Sunday infusion, but rolling out across most lands today are ‘the end of covid restrictions’. These are words that do not inspire feelings of delight and freedom in the immuno suppressed person. For us, once again, the personal negotiations with each situation, begin. 

And yet… Something has changed, I think. Some deep understanding of fatigue, of the way an invisible source can derail your forward movement, has entered human consciousness. It hasn’t affected man’s desire for war, oil and nuclear arms. But between the two, I think a dialogue has begun. Or, at the least, space has been created for dialogue. That’s progress. 

Ivig this month was sandwiched between two Rituximab doses. In the interim, I walk my bundle of cuddly fur and attempt to be fully in the present moment. Aware of wisteria and magnolia at their plumpest. Aware of sunshine and friendly dog related conversations. 


Two pairs of not so tiny hands have arrived from Malaysia and Papa has company shouting and screaming and jumping all over him. Games are being invented fast and furiously and bath time is once again a special English delight…

At the hospital, in between joys of dogs and nieces, I managed to catch up with my friend Daisy, who had a little cry when we wrapped our arms and masked cheeks around each other, and then proceeded to coolly sketch this masterpiece of Zadie Smith. Next commission: Ocean Vuong.


View from the bed, the faux blue chair… cloudy with a chance of sunshine. (How about your view?)

Saturday, 2 April 2022

ARTIST TO ARTIST: KRITI BAJAJ, INDEPENDENT EDITOR AND WRITER

photo credit: Sahil Bajaj

 

I'm a mountain person. I was three years old when I first visited my grandparents' secluded home in the Himalayas. Though I was too young to realise it at the time, the sense of possibility that this new world opened up would stay with me.

 

Himachal Pradesh, 2016, photo credit: Sahil Bajaj

Kriti, this is how you begin to describe yourself on your website: I've lived in cities my entire life – Bombay, Delhi, London – but every so often, I have a longing for grass studded with clover, starry skies and a majestic view that changes with each cloud and shadow, but is always constant. I mean, is it any wonder we ‘found’ each other? Poets just do! 'Poet’ may not be a term you would use to describe yourself, but I mean it in the way a writer uses her language. So, there you are, three years old in the Himalayas… were there books there? Did you start writing as a child?

 

There's a whole wall of books, though I can't remember whether this excited me at that age – I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to reading. It's one of my favourite nooks in my grandparents' home. There was no internet here until a few years ago, and even phones arrived relatively recently. As a child, I used to communicate with my grandparents through letters. Many of the books are encyclopedias and reference texts on everything imaginable; my grandfather had many interests, from carpentry to photography. He once bought the contents of an entire bookshop! 

 

photo credit: Kriti Bajaj

I used to write poetry before I ever wrote anything else. I remember the first 'serious' poem I wrote was in fifth grade, and it was probably very derivative – I mean, I was only ten – but it felt like I'd found my calling. I'd come across little snippets of poetry at my grandparents' home, newspaper cuttings of poems by Patience Strong that my great-grandmother used to send to my grandmother, which I found wonderfully simple and musical. My nana also loved poetry and would recite some of his favourites often – Omar Khayyam, Swinburne, Henley – and inevitably start crying a few lines in. I wrote poetry all through my school and college years, with rhymes gradually giving way to free verse, and imaginative themes being replaced by real experiences.

 

There were a few years between the first time I met Clive James and the second. It was during our second encounter that he told me about a young friend he had made on the oncology ward (he and I met on a less specific infusion ward), only to lose her to a rare bone cancer. This friend happened also to be your dear friend, Shikha. Tell us a little about 'Oblomov'?

 

I met Shikha (known to the world as Oblomov) in my final year of college, when we were editors at a Model United Nations conference, leading a team together, completing each other's sentences and finding that it was very peaceful to curl up in our cabin rather than attend the sessions. We did our Masters in London at the same time too. The best introduction to Shikha is through her own words, so I will direct readers to her beautiful blog. So many amazing people found Shikha through this, and she connected kindred spirits, like you and I. 

 

Kensington Gardens, Oct 2011, credit: Kriti Bajaj


Clive James, of course, made her very happy through his enthusiastic support of her writing, and his wonderful sense of humour, some of which she shared with me. I reached out to him once in April 2015 with sad news, and we exchanged a few notes. He was very gracious; his words brought comfort. 

 

Since 2016, you have been on an ancestral quest to discover more about your family tree. Tell us a little about that? I often find myself googling my grandfather who was the first Muslim Chief Justice of Udaipur and aide-de-camp to the Sultan of Zanzibar. I want him to just pop up! I do the same for my great-grandfather, who was another High Court Judge, from my maternal Parsi side. Both were Khan Bahadurs. My maternal grandfather was in the railways like your great grandfathers. Trying to trace the female line is much harder, unless you have someone doing the oral remembering, like my mother. I am so envious of your ability to access from direct sources and digitise your findings - future generations will no doubt be thankful to you!

 

That's literally how I took a step forward with my research – I Googled my great-grandfather and he popped up! I'd done this for years, but there was nothing. I'd heard stories, seen photos, made family trees, but I was desperate for more. Then I went on a trip with my grandmother to her parents' last home, my first time there, and I felt really close to them even though I'd never known them. When I returned, information was awaiting me. I think the universe was sort of collaborating with me by giving me what I sought right after this trip.

photo credit: Kriti Bajaj

An entire family tree appeared, going back generations. It made me realise that there were ways I could do this research myself. I didn't actually end up using much of the information since I wanted to verify everything on my own, but it was a start. Since then, I've been learning about genealogy through online courses, resources, Facebook groups, and I recently attended my first genealogy conference too. Of course, as you say, the availability of records has made it much easier to trace the lines and connect with more people, places, and contexts. I'm about to embark on research of another branch of my family, for which there will be far less information (and perhaps a lot lost during Partition), but interestingly, we do have access to a handwritten family tree in Urdu that might give us something to work with! 

 

You went to Lady Shri Ram College. Tell us more about this experience - what is the college’s history? Why were/are you drawn to German particularly? Was it for German film appreciation? 

 

LSR is a women’s college affiliated with the University of Delhi, though the campus is separate from the other colleges of the university and feels a bit like its own little world. It was founded in 1956 to encourage and enable the higher education of women. My years here were definitely a turning point, because up until then, I'd been more interested in studying the sciences than the arts. But literature was the perfect subject and opened my mind in many ways. I think both the colleges I've attended – LSR and SOAS in London – have shaped and added nuance to the way I view the world and what's happening in it. 

 

Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, credit: Kriti Bajaj

I started learning German as a third language in school when I was ten. We had three options: German, French and Sanskrit. I felt drawn to German mostly because it was the underdog and we were tempted with promises of exchange programmes to Germany (which never materialised). I also attended weekend German classes at the Goethe Institut for about three years when I was in college. I enjoy the worlds and cultures that a new language allows access to, and I've tried learning several over the years, but so far, German is the one that stuck. 

 

How did your interest in Zoroastrian heritage develop? I love that you were able to source a seven month internship at Parzor. (I’ve written for Hamazor.) Give us a sense of that time?

 

I wasn't very familiar with Zoroastrianism until I did the internship. Dr. Shernaz Cama was my professor at LSR and is also the Director of Parzor, and I'd expressed an interest in working there. I was taking a gap year after completing my Bachelor's degree as I figured out what to do with my life next, and I wanted to try all kinds of work. I also wanted to save money to buy my first camera, so a paid internship helped me meet both goals! I did all kinds of work during this time, from helping redesign brochures and the website, to assisting with sales, exhibitions and photography, as well as compiling Parzor's tenth anniversary souvenir book and covering the occasion for leading Parsi magazines like Hamazor, Parsiana and Fezana. This was the beginning of my freelance writing journey. 


 

How extraordinary that you wrote a dissertation on mental health in film years before Deepika Padukone became the first Bollywood actress to openly speak about her mental health. What drew you to this topic?

 

I was studying anthropology at SOAS, and my interest was specifically in visual and media anthropology. But I had a hard time selecting a dissertation topic. In initial sessions with my supervisor, I presented my plan of writing about the role of photography in war, but somehow it didn't feel like the right fit then. (I do love photography and I'm researching its history independently now.) I thought about other topics that made me really eager to know more, because a dissertation is a fairly long road. I'd written one of my term papers on the complex relationship between anthropology and psychology – it was one of the topics we studied – and I'd been fascinated by it. So I decided to combine that with visual culture. I did find a fair amount of research on the portrayal of mental health in Hollywood films, but only one book about Bollywood. I thought this would be a good gap to fill. 

'East of the Sun and West of the Moon', Nielsen, 1914

Back to Bollywood, or rather not, how did your passion for line dancing come about? Why line dancing rather than … well, anything else? You’d fit right into any English or American dance class with that up your sleeve, but what’s the appeal? (I’m an ex Bharatnatyam and tap dancer, but ballet was definitely my true love. Now I just free style in the house, after hours, when no one’s looking…)

 

I didn't know what line dancing was until I showed up one day for a trial class by Merry Feet, which is one of the only line dance clubs in India. I'd been looking for a way to be physically active and I'm not really fond of going to the gym, so I thought dancing might be a fun way to care for both my physical and mental health. From the beginning, I loved the music, the way that line dancing brought together so many different dance traditions from around the world, the stories behind them, the philosophy of not chasing perfection but learning and repeating patterns, the inclusiveness. I also liked how it was a community or social dance form, but individualistic at the same time – both in that you don't need a partner (I've also learnt salsa and bachata for a while, and felt quite limited by that, though they are beautiful in their own way), and you have the freedom to express yourself within the structure of the choreography. Because of this, we were also able to learn and practice line dancing online throughout the lockdowns in the last two years. 


'In Powder and Crinoline', Nielsen, 1913

 

I also taught line dancing for a while before moving to Bombay. One of my happiest accomplishments – and this is what I love about teaching, mentoring and also learning – was watching the steady rise of confidence as people went from being very hesitant in the beginning to guiding new learners a few months in without a second thought!


'Untitled', K K Hebbar, 1911-1996

About your many years as editorial manager for an art auction house, you say this: the real perk is getting to lay eyes on masterpieces that otherwise remain hidden away in private collections, as well as stunning gemstones, and centuries-old books and photographs. Tell us about one masterpiece in particular (or a few that spoke to you).

 

One of the first auctions I witnessed after joining Saffronart featured a beautiful painting by Nicholas Roerich. I'd been to his former home in Naggar a few years prior, and there are paintings there, but this one was quite different, almost haunting. Another artist whose work I really like is Jehangir Sabavala. Apart from art, I was fascinated by 19th century photographic processes like ambrotypes and stereoscopes, as well as rare and limited edition books such as those with illustrations by Kay Nielsen and Arthur Rackham. 

 

'The Dance in Cupid's Alley', Rackham, 1904

The colleague who sat nearest to me was in the jewellery department and would routinely receive boxes of glittering creations that were hard to look away from. I've never really been into jewellery but I do like beautiful things, and I've learned everything I now know about gemstones and techniques (which is probably just scratching the surface) from her. She even guided me when I was picking out my engagement/wedding ring!

 

'The Bangle Sellers', Sabavala, 1954

Your 2021 calendar or cookbook of food inspired directly from books is so worth reading. Of all your many worthy accomplishments, I would recommend this as the most delightful and delicious. Which brings me to my final question - as a fellow blogger and non-fiction writer who secretly longs only to write fiction (but seems never to do so), do you fantasise about writing a novel? I ask this because I can easily imagine your novel - it will weave in the art world, and the food world, it will possess the photographer’s eye for detail and the researcher’s eye for historical/ genealogical accuracy. Am I way off course here? And if so, what dreams do you dream of next?

 

I think everyone who enjoys writing hopes to write a novel some day! When I was young and innocent, I attempted starting a couple – a fun exercise while it lasted, planning the stories, chapters, characters and so on. But I haven't attempted anything of the sort in a long time. The closest I've come is writing several dozen pages about my family history, a compilation of my research. I've always thought I'd write a book someday, when the right story comes along, so for now, I'm just waiting patiently. I used to think it would be fiction, because that's what I chiefly read, but I'm not so sure anymore. I've read some delightful non-fiction, and I wouldn't be averse to it if the story intrigued me. I have some latent ideas, though none are quite developed yet. 

 

This year, I want to build my business further, continue my research, put time and resources into honing existing skills, and hopefully learn a few new ones. I also hope I'll get a chance to travel a bit and have a few little adventures here and there. 


from Kriti's blog 'Onwards'


Kriti, Clive’s sign off on all his emails to me was ‘Onwards’, the title of your blog, which was born months before you ever interacted with him. As you say, there are connections in everything. You chose 'Onward' as the title for your blog as a reminder to keep moving, keep learning, keep trying. Even when you don't really know where you are going, you remember that journeys are important. I wish you all the success and adventures your writing fingers and creative heart desire. Thank you for opening a little window into your life for my readers! 


Kriti can be found at her website www.kritibajaj.com


photo credit: Kriti Bajaj

Thursday, 31 March 2022

HOW TO RECONCILE

I write my experience in sand this time,

wanting it forgotten.

Not like last time, every day recorded

in verse and flower, a memory scripture, 

a treasure.

 

Older now, none the wiser now.

Just swimming in the sea of me,

a current of one, in the ocean of all.

More scared now, knowing how far 

the fall.

 


In some ways, it is all the same.

Gold dust on white blossom, still plump. 

And yet, already, the slow drift

to green grass, to soft earth,

to winter down.

 

The nuns have so much to remember, 

like nurses, saving lives.

They need the bell even more than we do,

we, temporary retreatants – fleeing our worlds,

escaping to theirs.

 

Breathing in, I breathe with my father’s back.

Breathing out, I breathe with my father’s lungs.

 

I invited my father to join, 

but he declined, knowing I would 

bring him in anyway. 

It’s harder for some, no light or ease,

but the bells toll on.

Drepung Monastery, Xizang, Tibet


The birds are here, the birds are there.

My cup of tea grows cold, again.

Mother breathing in with me, 

mother breathing out with me.

I want both things at once.

 

To choose is to lose. Something. Sometimes.

Can anything stay a secret?

And still, we try so hard to hide.

Suddenly, the flood gates open.

Everyone cries.

 

The gold is gone now. Soon, 

Sister Tea Cake will sound the bell

for final goodbyes.

Everyone cries.

Sometimes. 

 

Present moment,

wonderful moment. 

Thây is still alive. Smile. 

Be still and heal. 

Reconcile.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2022

Thây, Tu Hieu Temple, Hue, Vietnam


poem linked to Dverse Poets OLN