Friday 25 December 2009

On Christmas Day...

Morning snow
Crystal dew
Glass upon the street
The scent of emptiness
The blessing of stillness
all around.

A lazy bird
in slow descent
brushes willow leaves
the snow soughs down
to touch my feet.

I scoop the sun
the light, the ice
And taste the sight
of Freedom.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!
Illustrator: Richard Macneil

Thursday 17 December 2009

Sleigh Bells Ring (are you listening?)

I am home... and it is snowing!!!
The windows are inches thick with flakes, arriving in a hurricane, passionate kisses against the panes. Not the silence of snow, but the singing and howling and winging of snow...
Hospital was a breeze this time ;) I think I may have swaggered home tonight. Human Immuno Globulin is the only medical treatment which is sublimely kind to me. And I, in turn, adore it. The needles were placed in the crooks of my elbows gently by Clarence, and I made two new friends across the IV drips; a girl from Denmark with an astonishingly complicated love life, and a girl from the borders of Afghanistan, merrily chatting about the dastardly Taliban nearly ruining her cousin's wedding...
Next week, when the registrar rings with the blood test results, we will have a better idea about how depleted my B cells are and when/if I need to be admitted again.
But until then, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Illustration: another one of Maia Chavez Larkin's pieces, entitled Candace and the Clocks

Saturday 12 December 2009

The Silence of Snow

The Art of War requires armour
and light
The Enemy is more difficult
to find
in shadow
and Stealth is not the style
of the True Hero.

Rather meet
on the white playing field
where red blood shall melt
in the Silence of Snow

And who shall take the lead?
Only the True Hero.

This beautiful illustration was recently sent to
me as a surprise gift by Maia Chavez Larkin, who writes a blog called Une
Envie de Sel
. She simply asked me for my address, et voila! Thankyou Maia!! I do love this piece
of work and I have (typically) stylistically adapted it to myself. I am the
girl with the red ribbon tied around the wolf. In the vain hope that Lupus is no
longer leading me, I am taking the lead.
But notice the ribbon tied intricately around my
own right ankle, and the jaunty lift to the wolf's right leg? I return to hospital on Monday for a week long course of Intravenous Immunoglobulins. So who really wins? Who really leads?
No one knows, in
the silence of snow, who takes the lead and who must follow.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Mrs Warren's Profession

George Bernard Shaw, 1894

In the Preface to the first published edition of Mrs Warren's Profession, 1888, Shaw declared, "Prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together."

Into this rather somber initiation of censorship, and the first imprisonments for Suffragette martyrs in 1913, we find the characters of Shaw's superb play enacting the rather tragic meeting and parting of a mother and daughter who can never be at ease with the other's 'profession'. Vivie, young, bright, lithe, having successfully navigated her Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, a Lady no less, must come to terms with having been funded and cossetted as a direct result of her mother Kitty's stakes in the oldest profession in the world.

And then the stage lights dim, and our breath catches on the imposing sets, the heath beyond, the vivacious bloodred brocade of Felicity Kendal making her entrance regally, minxily (she manages both), and I have a desire to leap on stage and clap like a maniac. You know I don't get out much, and I was in the front row. FRONT ROW!! 'Twas all I could do not to participate...

I bided my time. Hours later, many weary chapped hands later, Mum, Victoria and I hung about slavishly, for autographs. We were stationed rather neatly between front reception and stage door. I snagged Mark Tandy and David Yelland outside the stage door, with a winning smile and a shared eyebrow snooted to the dripping rainsky. Scurried back inside only to find the deliciously tiny Felicity Kendal nipping for the door (and freedom) with her little dog. Unh ah. You don't get away from the Tayabalis and the Kingsley-Pallants that easily. Oh she was so very gracious, and signed and signed, and I told her about being in hospital all year and how seeing her perform so magnificently had been such a treat, and she hoped I was better now... And on my return home I created her a card with calligraphic chinese paintings and poems woven into it. Do you think she'll like them? I left it with the stage manager today. I hope my words find their way to her; I hope they make her smile.

Monday 30 November 2009

To His Beloved, On Her Wedding Day

I recently attended a beautiful wedding, (only the third wedding of my life!), and I was requested by the mother of the groom to recite some poetry for the occasion. I wrote the following words, in the voice of my friend to his love, and read it aloud at the gathering.)

In dreams we meet
a thousand times
You and I

We walk by seasides
giggling like children
Our words drifting
and out
like sand and foam and bubbles

And the troubles
of our hearts
melt quietly aside
tide after tide

Life after life
I long to reside
You, Beloved

This Winter too
shall fade to Spring
and green shoots
will ring true
for us,

(painting by Shaista)

Friday 27 November 2009

A Diary Entry From One Year Ago

Wednesday 26 November, 2008
7:45 pm. My younger brother, on his way to his best friend's wedding, phones from the check-in counter at Heathrow Airport. He is about to check in but, he says, could we check the news? A friend just rang him to say Terror Strikes in Mumbai, don't fly. But how bad is it really? Is it even true?
Panic stations. My mother, feverishly scanning the internet, her wild unhappy heart reading the article aloud, it's true, don't fly. Don't go. My brother's voice calmly interrupting, can I get an aisle seat? and the nice lady at the other end of the line gives him his aisle seat. And he checks in. Relax, he says (to us, not her), it's Bombay. By the time I get there the city will be back to normal. And anyway I have a lay over in Abu Dhabi. I'll be fine. Don't worry.
8:09pm, text message. Hey babes plane about to take off say a quick prayer for me i will call when i get to abu dhabi ok. If things are really bad i will just catch a flight home from there so tell mum not to worry.

Later that night
My older brother phones from a flat in Colaba, in Mumbai. Don't worry, he says, I'm fine. He had not gone directly to the Taj Hotel as expected; he had stopped in at a bar first, to chill with other friends. Busaba. Next to Leopold's. When gunfire exploded next door they stayed where they were. He is as calm as his brother. Just tired. It is 5am his time and he is off to bed.

My younger brother's fiancee phones from a flat in Singapore. It is 6am her time. Did he fly? My father, wresting the phone from The Women (my mother, myself), calmer even than my brothers, assures her Bombay is a civilised place and not to worry. So we are all not worrying now.

Thursday 27 November, 2008
Time crawls by, edgy and tasting strange. The phone rings. It is the younger one back at Heathrow Airport and time starts to move sluggishly forward. My father smiles a little, my mother a lot.
Later that night back at his flat, he rings again and we watch the news together.

Friday 28 November, 2008
The news is skewed to British interest. Like are the terrorists British Muslims? And it feels like the straight planes of time have just curved into a circle.
Fifteen years ago this month, we arrived in England seeking refuge from anti-Muslim riots, fire and fear. This year I am thirty years old and bearing a Muslim name gets no easier.
And I try to think back to a time when Muslim meant good. And ironically (or not) I think of Emperor Shah Jahan constructing the Taj Mahal in honour of his beloved wife Mumtaz. In the poetry of his grief he created something that has survived four hundred years of human catastrophe and destruction.

Photo: Serena Noorani

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Why I Smile (Happy Thanksgiving!)

And we are put on earth a little space, that we might bear the beams of love -William Blake

Dance, when you're broken open.
if you've torn the bandage off.
in the middle of the fighting.
in your blood.
when you're perfectly free.

- Rumi

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Achievement

It Is The
Great Achievement
Of My Life
That No One Else
Can Tell
When I Am In Heaven
When I Am In Hell.
- Shaista

Friday 20 November 2009

Moon River..

Moon river, wider than a mile
I'm crossing you in style someday
Oh dream maker,
you heart breaker,
Wherever you're going
I'm going your way...'

Change comes. Long years pass, and seasons fade, and you wonder when, and then it comes. I followed the crescent moon home tonight after my first teaching session in four years. The moon was smiling for miles and miles, almost as dreamily as I..
My feet seem to have found a rhythm of their own since my last encounter with hospital. Hos-pit-al. The word feels alien to me, like it belongs to another time, an old skin I am waltzing cleanly out of.
In that age past, I was once the traumatised patient of Dr Ly, a skilled Vietnamese acupuncturist, who with the patience of a Bodhi Sattva, helped bring me to this moment, when I can offer my own help in teaching English to Dr Ly's grand-niece Trang. Trang will be a skilled physician in her own time. I know this. And perhaps she will remember the day, when she and I wrote a poem together. A poem that began, 'My mother, my mirror'...
Change comes. And I will be ready for her!

(Lyrics and image from Breakfast at Tiffany's)

Monday 16 November 2009

A Memory

I was 14 years old and the taxi was pelting out of the rioting city towards the airport. My brothers and I were about to leave India, 'for good'. For our good. We stopped at the traffic lights, which, if you have visited Bombay, you know to be the fulcrum of great activity. The street sellers deliver the speech of their lives, some reducing you to tears, some to shame and some to giggles. I have no memory of any part of this journey, except one.

At the traffic lights, there was a girl, younger than me, but on the street, ages are hard to define. She was a flower seller. She was selling moghra flowers, sweet scented jasmine flowers. Was it morning, evening? Cannot remember. She smiled at me, and I smiled at her. And I knew in that moment, I would never forget her. She was my last real, true memory of the Bombay I had loved with every fibre of my being. She was staying, and I was leaving. I wanted to stay, maybe she wanted to leave? But her smile was pure joy, pure innocence - she was me, and I was her. It was a simple exchange. For her, brief, fleeting. It is not possible she has remembered me. But I, have remembered her, and will remember her, all my life.

Yesterday my mother and I watched Slumdog Millionaire. You have all watched it, no doubt, and could critique it far better than I. For it did not move me as I feared it would. The colours seemed bleached into a new Mumbai totally unfamiliar to eyes that have been faithful to the old haunts for long echoing years. Who or what was I looking for that I did not find in the film? Myself, perhaps.

Has my flower seller grown up? Has she survived the streets? Left the streets? Was she in Slumdog Millionaire? I will never know. All I know is I left a piece of my aching heart behind, with a stranger who has never felt like a stranger, in a city which was once my home, and now can never be.

Photos: Rubina Ali (young Latika); Freida Pinto (Latika) from Slumdog Millionaire

Thursday 12 November 2009

Broken Dreams and New Moonbeams

I am moved
to tears that wash me
My broken heart
is a river now
fluid and serene,
A new love (yours)
has washed me clean.
for showing me
what loyalty means.
Perhaps, it seems,
I can be shy now
and stand at the beginning,
now that you
and she
have armed me
with truth and dreams.
Who would have thought
a brother-in-love
could salvage me?

I am remembering the first time my younger brother spoke of his true love for my sister-to-be. It was soon after I had had my own heart betrayed by a not so true love. And thought savagely that all poets were liars, and that all words were false. I was just gearing up to be a true cynic, weary and beautifully bitter... when everything changed. My brother fell in love. Fateful love. Find-you-across-the-other-side-of-the-world love. When-you-are-near-I-am-whole love. And I was undone...

The pictures above are of an impromptu Zoroastrian rice ceremony to celebrate their engagement. We are in the conservatory, my favourite room of the house. They are standing in a powder circle of seven fish, with red kumkum on their foreheads, garlanded and beloved. Later we ate kulfi I had made with rose petals embedded inside. The taste of the day is sweet in my memory.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Bodh Gaya

Everything is Everything

The circle opens
and closes

And in the centre

Yesterday the Leaf arrived

Long journeys
swam past my eyes
The Leaf floated
and settled
in the centre of my palm.

I was not seeking you
Not calling out your name
And yet you arrived
with the three-quarter moon
bearing a leaf in your palm -
your gift
for Shaista

Monday 2 November 2009

To Love

What more can I ask

of You, beloved?

What more can I say?

For You have heard

all the words

and shown me

every Way.

With gratitude to Ruth at synch-ro-ni-zing for honouring me by sharing my poem The Year of Yes on her blog... Yes! Yes! Yes!!!
(The Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer)

Saturday 31 October 2009

Happy Hallowe'en!

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,

Had a wife, and couldn't keep her.

He put her in a pumpkin shell,

And there he kept her very well.

(Mum recited this poem to me last night, at half-past midnight. Can you believe the cheek of Peter???)
Illustrator: Maxfield Parrish

Wednesday 28 October 2009

The Year of Yes

- for Victoria and Perveen,
dearest, patient girlfriends
who nonetheless went off to Bury Farm
without me
and inspired this poem

I wish I had said Yes!
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams,
And I turned you down

Not today, I smiled
Maybe, tomorrow?

But I wish I had said Yes!
I wish we had shared this light.

Next time don't ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!

I am going to need your help
To begin the Year of Yes.

Monday 26 October 2009

All This, And Heaven Too

Autumn breathes
outside a window
In a garden I knew before

Ripe colours I knew
in a different form.

Love letters
in orange and gold
trying to find their way
to free me.

- for Dr J.B.
Painting: 'Tanis' by Daniel Garber, 1915

Friday 23 October 2009

Patient #13915etc etc

The gleaming pebble
of my sparkly days
Rubs itself raw,
and ruinous
Here, on the Stroke Unit
I am just another Case
of Girl, Interrupted

I have lost my face
along the waterways
of little deaths
and unbearable truths.

I have lost my place
Lost the fluidity of my grace.
This is the last of the sad little trio, but it has become special, because the morning after my bleak night, a very handsome, dashing young doctor read my poem and declared it worthy of praise. Suddenly the veils were cast aside and the sun streamed in. I peeked behind the blue curtain on my right, past troubled Margaret, and realised there was a garden there. Right outside. It had been there all the time. And I was just too gloomy to know.
Don't you love this marble head from Constantin Brancusi? It is spooky in its stillness and yet breathing, and alive, warm and cool all at the same time.

Thursday 22 October 2009

The Curve of Learning

Well, I did as you suggested, and posted the grim little piece. But I woke up this morning entirely out of sorts. I have realised something intrinsic about myself. I do write at the dark hours, words that are hooked out of me; but such pieces are really like weeding an overgrown garden. I have to set to, and hack away until I reach the clearing. And it is in the light that my voice really rings true, for me. It is not enough that I write to rescue myself. It matters far more that I bring joy, and a little glee. I have been utterly depressed today, far more so than when I wrote the dashed things! So don't read yesterday's post anymore, ignore it entirely. Tomorrow I shall post something that breathes... thank goodness for tomorrow.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Crabs, After Eight

Most wards have an assortment of visiting hours. And most people obey these arbitrary rules. But, you know the film Good Will Hunting with Robin Williams and Matt Damon? There's a bit where Robin Williams' character is discussing his wife's illness and he says, "you wouldn't know about sleepin' sittin' up in a hospital room... for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes... that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you." My parents are like this. Visiting hours never apply. Nurses and doctors never disturb their vigils. My brothers arrive at strange hours. My mother is offered blankets and pillows. My father sometimes threatens to stay on in my mother's place, but luckily for him, no one has as yet taken him up on the threat. I am usually stoic and smiling at the final night's goodbyes. But sometimes, just sometimes...

Here is a crabby little poem dedicated to the dark fleece of my father's jacket as it departs, for once, just after visiting hours.

You leave me here
to rot
Among the carcass
of my words.

Do you know this place?
It is the place of my extinction.
I become obsolete
Death ceases to matter
There is too much of it around;

And Life
makes no sense
No sense to me
At all.
Image: Salvador Dali, Ascension

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Warrior, Rising

Sister Moon
I am rising too
upon a new wave
of learning.

Keep the tides high
I am not afraid
to wait until
the mourning.

- for Jeanne-Ming at Wu Feng Road
who is thinking of me in her studio as she paints extraordinary works, and who has named her latest exhibition 'Warrior' after me. Me! I am soaring like Pooh with his blue balloon, melting into the sky so the bees will be fooled... I am honoured.
This painting is called Lucky Pearls, and was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer, proceeds of which went to a home for the homeless in Shanghai. I have lucky pearls too - a string of words, kindness from you, and you and you.
Now how, dear friend, am I supposed to concentrate on the pithy evils of this ghastly disease when you write me such comments?!
"Shaista, I am in my studio tonight painting. I cannot relieve my mind of you. I have a show opening on Saturday and the gallery owner called to ask the title of my show. It seems a bit late to be naming a show but I welcomed the call and told her, "Warrior." So, this show will be for you." - Jeanne-Ming

Monday 19 October 2009

Falling Warrior

I am falling to pieces. This disease is taking its toll of me. There are craters within and without; I step into the puddles one by one and drown a little more. I am no one and nothing now. Just a single needle piercing the skin of a body in crisis from itself.
- Lewin Stroke Unit, midnight.
Dear Readers,
I am sorry to have been so blithering about my blog. I have been in and out of hospital so many times this year it makes my head spin. This month I have had two more rounds of monoclonal antibodies, and to be perfectly honest the poems I have gathered around me are of a particularly ghoulish nature. I read some to Dad last week, something about the shadow and the hangman, and at the close of reading, he rested his head in his hands and emitted a low, hollow moan.
Personally, I am quite partial to these goblin spooks of verses, and I wrote three deliciously dark pieces on the Lewin Stroke Unit over the weekend. The first is above, but I have written it as prose, because today I am home, and it is very hard to concern myself with needles and craters when I am snug as a bug in a rug... home, dear home, where the flowers bloom and the hooded look in my parents' eyes have disappeared once more.
Shall I share the others? Will you moan too?

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Almost Rabbit Stew

I am chasing the October sun, hanging on the coat-tails of his after glow. My grandmother tells me the roses are still out in Regent's Park, and they will wait for me someday, some year, to appear. But I have roses right here. Red for love. Red for blood. Life.

Yesterday I was watching a rabbit contemplate an apple. I turned to make my cup of tea, musing on the sweet predictability of it all. When I turned round, hot tea at my lips, a stripey cat was poaching my rabbit! Where had it come from? The rabbit was nowhere to be seen. Orange fur gleaming, haunches silky and sinister, jaws twitching at the lost rabbit stew. Well alright, I couldn't see the jaws twitching, but still...

I am observing Life, concentrating on the sweet happy apples of my days, but the watching cat is at my back - and I have no way of knowing how long he will stay.

Image: 'Garfield's Morning Exercise' by Jim Davis

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Peace Is Every Step

On a perfect day
in September
I walked with you
in my heart

Every leaf
was calling my name

I am still remembering
until we meet again.


Do you ever do walking meditation? Just one peaceful step today for the young monks and nuns of Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province, Vietnam. Why do the police attack the most peaceful members of society? Perhaps because peace brings about true change? These are young disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings, practising peace. Hospital times make me appreciate the sweetness of freedom even more.

Sunday 27 September 2009


Well, my bags are packed. And I am off again. This time to a ward with windows. Woo hoo!
My B cells have not stayed depleted for very long, so tomorrow I start a new round of B cell depletion with Rituximab.
I am trying to choose a nice spot for the needle. The cakes have helped, but not enough :)
Please look after this bear.

Friday 25 September 2009


(landscape by my father, pastels)

Autumn birds
and a sky so blue
I am flying through colour
that soaks into my skin
rich and deep
like balm.

Red leaves
shimmering wet
Once more to dance
Once more transformed
beneath the Painter's brush.

Sunday 20 September 2009

In the trail of a tree

When I am in the garden, time stands quiet and still. Dried leaves celebrate beneath my bare feet. Bees and flies examine me for size, for harm, and muscle in for some skin. I politely decline, and the scent of green guages invites them elsewhere.

I turn to the trees. Trees make me gracious. How strange to long to travel, and see and touch the new, and yet have loved the same trees, in the same patch of green, for sixteen years.

I have loved other trees, in another garden, in that other world I belonged to. The trees of before were loved differently though. Confidently, posessively, smugly - the way you love a thing you think will never leave you.

Trees know things. What do your trees tell you?

Saturday 19 September 2009


Sunlight on a broken column
Of skin
Of dry grass and ancient bark
The afternoon draws quietly in;

Down by the silver birch
Mushrooms have melded into earth,
The paper is a script of lines
Old riddles I cannot find;

My fingers seek to solve
The mysteries of braille songs.

Friday 18 September 2009

An Unaccountable Life

In June, soon after I'd arrived home, I stumbled upon a blog called Poem of the Week. The author of the blog, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had just posted an anonymous poem from Iran. The piece made a deep impression on me; they are haunting words spoken from the rooftops of a country in distress. I remember thinking, wishing, that the piece would stay a while, for me, for others, so we could remember her voice. It seemed wrong somehow that it would become just another poem of just another week. I wanted it to stay - and that is precisely what it did. Months have passed and the author has posted nothing since this poem. Is this an experiment on his part? What has become of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What of the poet on the rooftop? People still continue to comment on this piece, but mostly to say Come Back! to the vanished blogger. It is a mystery.

Friday the 19th of June, 2009
Tomorrow, Saturday
Tomorrow is a day of destiny
Tonight the cries of Allah-o Akhbar
Are heard louder and louder than the nights before
Where is this place?
Where is this place where every door is closed?
Where is this place where people are simply calling God?
Where is this place where the sound of Allah-o Akhbar gets louder
and louder?
I wait every night to see if the sounds will get louder and whether
the number increases
It shakes me
I wonder if God is shaken

Where is this place where so many innocent people are entrapped?
Where is this place where no one comes to our aid?
Where is this place where only with our silence we are sending our
voices to the world?
Where is this place where the young shed blood and then people
go and pray?
Standing on that same blood and pray?

Where is this place where the citizens are called vagrants?
Where is this place?
You want me to tell you?
This place is Iran
The homeland of you and me
This place is Iran.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Heart of a Woman

What I love most about hospital (there's a first line you never thought you'd read), are the stories of people's lives; the moment of intersection when the life of a stranger becomes forever entwined with your own. Not necessarily in the despairing moments either, but in the long quiet hours of in between.
On my third day on SSSU, I met a tough little Hong Kong Chinese lady. She runs a chippie in Letchworth now despite the rare cancer scavenging her liver. We met just before her biopsy, I wished her much luck, but all the talking occurred in the hours after the biopsy, when pain was at its height.
The way a woman relates her life story in the aftermath can tell you a great deal about her, don't you think? And yet... she can punctuate her story with a pessimistic shrug or an optimistic trill, and still, the heart of a woman remains a mystery. Sui Chim's optimism could have lit a stadium, but she was alone.
Pauline on my left, was 84. An hour after her gall stones were removed, she perked up and invited me to accompany her on a little excursion to the hospital shopping centre. Realising I wasn't quite as fit and healthy as herself, she gave me an encouraging pat, tripped along by herself, and returned, glowing, chocolates at the ready to share. What Pauline loves most about hospital is the company, the chat - at home there isn't even a cat.

I have never had to face hospital entirely alone; but sometimes when I am alone, the courage of other women sees me through.

Monday 14 September 2009

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

I still have not removed the wrist band from the ward. I always forget, and then cut it off in a dramatic symbolic moment of recognising freedom. Since returning from hospital, I have been watching television a little too avidly - escaping, travelling miles - Gilmore Girls, X factor, Friends, Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember and Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead. The last is a film based on the true life story of Pierre Dulaine, a Palestinian who has brought the art of ballroom dancing into the hearts of inner city school children all across America. Changing ambitions, introducing etiquette, creating gentler connections.

Walking down the corridor past my father's study today, I heard laughter and music. I opened the door to find my parents half-waltzing, half-swinging around the (very small) room. "It's Magic Mix on the radio!" my father grinned, and I watched with a cheesy smile, as I have always done, since memory began. My parents, talking in a dance, just walking in a dance, through this thing called marriage.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Upside down...

I should be walking
on a sky like this
Orange and pink
a candy floss float
Waving goodbye
to leafy green skies
and a girl in a dream
of painfree smiles
and lullabyes.

Hold still and paint this
keep this
for the hurting times
when breezes and birds
fly by unheard
and I am lost
in my upside down world.

(c) Shaista Tayabali
for dverse poets

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Lately I dream

of the dullest things. I long for a simple routine. A package of little tasks, not muddled through, but begun and neatly adieu-ed.
A cup of hot tea drunk politely, a walk through the village (they could set their clocks by me), tidy the dishes, water the plants, converse with the birds...
You may think I do these Littles everyday and anyway, but sometimes the hunger for larger dreams consumes me. World domination, whirlwind romance with Hollywood dish, Poet Laureate of the Hospital Genre, etc etc...
There are no windows on the Surgical Short Stay Unit. It is a box, with blue curtains and friendly wardens. Creamed potatoes for lunch, jam tart with my tea, needle in my writing hand and the life saving Human Immuno Globulins (The Goblins!) flowing through me.
In a place without windows, a girl can learn to dream, but also learn not to believe in her dreams. Dreams without flight. Lately I dream, without flight.

Friday 4 September 2009

One Buddha Is Not Enough

As many of you know, I am a great admirer and student of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist leader of the Community of Interbeing. The practise of mindfulness has helped me more than any intravenous steroids or immuno-suppressant drug. It came into my life at the darkest point when my left eye was operated on, and the future looked too bleak to bear. Mindfulness is really the practise of gratitude; the knowledge that you can be grateful for your life, in all its uniqueness, is very freeing. It allows you to concentrate on the beauty of a moment without fear, anger, frustration. Gratitude dispels these emotions.
Thich Nhat Hanh, lovingly called Thay or teacher, has been in hospital since my birthday, 21st of August, and I thought I would share part of his letter from hospital, to the Sangha. Going into hospital is going to be pleasant, knowing Thay is there practising in the same environment, and showing me the Way.

Inward to the Bones (a piece about Georgia O'Keefe)

I killed off all sentiment. Did it
for the pictures. It was not allowed
to be an artist and a woman too.
My art had sculpted me, made me
the woman you see.
Something round and warm had to go.
What was left were my bones -
terribly beautiful in a hard desert light.
- from a poem about Georgia O'Keeffe by Emily Braid.

Georgia O'Keefe is an artist both my mother and I admire; not just for her striking art, but also her sheer determination to paint things her own way, despite critique, and isolation, and in the later years, failing eyesight. She was also able to articulate the inner bones of her artistic nature. I love these words:

"I thought someone could tell me how to paint a landscape, but I never found that person. I had to just settle down and try. I thought someone could tell me how, but I found nobody could. They could tell you how they painted their landscape but they couldn't tell me to paint mine."
- from an interview with Georgia O'Keefe, aged 92

- Image: Arnold Newman, 'Georgia O'Keeffe, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico', 1968
Link to further resources on O'Keefe here 

Tuesday 1 September 2009

The Book of Books

Open the book of life
and look back, and forward
to the places
where the choices were made.

Sit somewhere
in a patch of sun, perhaps

You made the beauty gather
here, and here

And there, where the threads unravel
Lie the mysteries.

I ate my noodles outside today, rain thundering down.. not on me, but around me. Rain washed my cobwebs clean. When they ask you, what did you do with your life? what will you say? Will you say you wrote a poem that won a competition long years ago when you were just a boy and not the consultant of a department who does not (no time to) read poetry any more? Will you tell of the time when the light moved just so and you caught the eye of a stranger to share it? Remember when you practised transcendental meditation and travelled across seas to visit family you hadn't seen in years? What tales will you tell when they ask you about yourself?

Tell a tall tale. And tell it well. The book of life is writing itself, and we have all swung along for the ride. Weave in the fiction, the spice and the glory, the pictures, the sweet dreams, the memories. The book of life is writing itself, books within books, stories without end.

Friday 28 August 2009


I can smell bonfires. Barbecues are being flung together, and all across the country the last of the summer is being greedily and hastily drunk.
I'm sitting on the doorstep, door open behind me, open sky before me. If I were to start a children's story now, it would start here. With a wish on a fallen leaf and magic in the floating leaves of the willow. How fortunate to have lived in a world of stories, of creations like JM Barrie's Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter's Jemima Puddleduck, disbelieving Alice in Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, Richmal Crompton's William... Growing up and older is made so much easier for the spirit of imagination instilled all that time ago. Seems so very long ago when books were Books, and not 'children's books'.
Sometimes when I write a poem, it seems so very simple, so very now, that I wonder why I write it at all. I think how easy this moment is, how clear - surely I will be here forever. Why write the words when I am living the poem? But then something moves, restless beside me. A shadow, a reminder. In just over a week I will be re-admitted into hospital for a week long course of IV ImmunoGlobulins.
This has become the noble savage of diseases. It has become polite. We meet, we acknowledge each other, and then at times, I am left alone - to breathe life into old dreams, to conjure new ones.
I am writing myself into freedom.

Friday 21 August 2009

Birthday Girl Thanks

Birthday clouds drift slowly

On the garden floor, a green apple
I bite into it joyfully..

Two autumn leaves settle gracefully
in the palm of my hand;

A light breeze
and they blow away
like the candles on my cake -

Thirty one - I made no wish!
No need.
My birthday,
a garland of love songs,
perfect and complete.
Illustrator: Rene Gruau

Tuesday 18 August 2009

The Eye Clinic

Women in a Waiting Room
dress well for the occasion -
Summer bags and glad rags
and other fashion must haves;

No one would guess their
seething frustration,
the multiplied irritation,
of Being a Woman
in a Waiting Room.

Image: 'Women Waiting', Pat Williams from the Guild of Charlotte Artists

Saturday 15 August 2009

Stopping to breathe in August

Sun washes the house clean.
Great swathes of white wall appear, great patches of hot green. The evenings cool rapidly, and it is too dewy to walk bare feet, but the moss and clover are springy and tempting.
One lone yellow rose, reminiscent of July, and in the falling leaves - autumn. September on the air.
The willow has been trimmed, the winter lantern lit.
In this moment, everything.
Happiness, is this.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Je m'appelle Gabrielle... Coco

Many years ago I read a book called Coco. It was about a brief fling Coco Chanel had with Igor Stravinsky. All I really remember of the affair was that Stravinsky's wife knew when the meetings took place because it was the only time when the piano would fall silent.

Coco Avant Chanel, the new biopic starring the mesmeric Audrey Tautou, is altogether more enchanting than I expected. There was such an intense concentration of expression in Tautou that perhaps even Chanel might have approved. This is not a film review, just a visual recommendation. Go just to see the sea captured on film the way Monet saw it before painting his Trouville series. Go because a woman desired to work, and created with each stitch and hem and cut, a proof of the importance of female independence. In the end the love affairs do not matter, do they? They are en passant. Her work, the creation, is everything.

(I'm afraid the trailer has no English subtitles)

Tuesday 11 August 2009


(painting and poem by Shaista)

A Butterfly Up Close
Has Tattered Wings
And Feather Thin Skin
A Fey, Unnatural Thing -

In Flight
It Commands The Skies
All White Bright
Dancing Light.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Sister Free

Lost on the feng shui highway
I am directed by colour and texture
towards the eternal purchase
of goods, the bads and the other;

I am buying dreams
(red mules and voile reams)
Enchanted by the image of me,
the haunting silhouette
who escapes the bed, the blankets, the heat -
to become that other, the free.

Somewhere across the ocean
in a village by the sea
My sister is paring her nails
and humming softly
Preparing herself
for a little baring of the self
with the visiting wind
the tree.

image from my journal
Hiroshige's 'The Pedicure'

The contrast between the harsh black of the scissors and the delicately drawn toes is particularly striking. The herb in the bowl of water is Nazuma, used to soften the nails before cutting...

Friday 7 August 2009


Someday when I am old
I will sit just like this
Sun warm on my back
Olive oil on my skin
Orange peel beside me
Tang upon my lips.
Dreams fulfilled,
Questions lived -

Oh if only
I could get old like this.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

My mother at 15, myself at 15, Bombay
For some weeks now I have been losing my hair. Vanity, I bid thee farewell.
I do not know if this is the disease or the treatment. Perhaps Monoclonal Antibody Therapy is similar to ChemoTherapy after all? Gently brutal.
I had my first real haircut after I came to England. Until then it had never really occurred to me that my hair was long and 'needed a cut'. It was a part of me that was growing in time with the rest of me. At school I wore it in plaits, as my mother had done, and my grandmother; I even remember my great grandmother's silver plait, fragile, carefully tended.
So why, within a week of starting school in England, did I have my hair cut?
It was too Indian. I could not escape its Indian-ness; a cloud of memories I had to abandon for the sake of a new life, new friends. The strange thing is my mother had her hair cut before her very first trip to England too.
In the East they say a woman's hair is her beauty, her individual enigma. In the West they say, "Trim your hair every six weeks, by a total stranger who may or may not use a razor to make his point."
I have had 15 years of haircuts in the West and have hated every one. My voice sinks lower as the scissor descends and my black roots, hacked, are swept away before they fall.
Am I writing about freedom or burdens? I cannot say. All I know is that I cannot return to the days of heavy weighted sweet smelling curls, brushed languorously by my mother's hands. Only two photographs remain to prove that once upon a time when we were beautiful it was possible to be free and rooted at the same time.

Monday 3 August 2009

Say Love

Say this about me

say only that

you love me

- the rest

can scatter free.

photo by Serena at World Glides Sideways