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)