Saturday, 30 October 2010


Listening to October rain
prepare Winter's stones
for the coming festival of cold
And the stripping away of gold
and green,

I see trees denude themselves
in a demystification of old -
the ritual celebration of bones.

Above the silent dates of tombs,
the sky hovers, blue and unsure
of beauty's welcome here -

but this is the time
for the colour change;

Not quite black yet,
these are the shades of grey.

- Shaista Tayabali, 2010
(illustration from Magpie Tales, online creative writing group)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ideal Diaspora

Recently I wrote on my blog about the changing shifting states of my bedroom, a space that continually provides me with some measure of physical artistic freedom. And yet, a few days ago I was having a little moan about the constraint of living within the sphere of four walls, imagining myself one of Michelangelo's unfinished works of captives within marble, attempting freedom, never to be freed. Or like Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern; a vast carpet of porcelain replica seeds, each hand painted and hand fired by inhabitants of Jingdezhen, free to be stepped upon by the public, but none to be opened, none to bear fruit.

That same day, the Telegraph magazine arrived, with James Mollison's photographs of children's bedrooms all over the world. From Ciudade de Deus in Brazil to the Yunnan province in China, a Palestinian refugee camp in Hebron to the Rendille tribe in northern Kenya, the gulf of inequalities and the bridges of similarity are all here - from the guns (for fun, Kentucky) and the axes (for work, Senegal and Kathmandu) to the dolls, the beauty pageant queens and future rabbis (Tokyo, Kentucky and Beitar Illit). This here on the left is Roathy, who is eight and lives on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. His home sits on a huge rubbish dump and his mattress is made from old tyres. He shares the space with five thousand others.

The final picture is of my elder brother, who is at this very moment in Phnom Penh, where Roathy is. They probably will not encounter one another. But then again, life is strange and powerful encounters await us at every turn and on every journey. Rizwan's globo-social projects include just such encounters. I am not sure what he remembers of his bedroom in Bombay. It was a multi-purpose room for most of our childhood. I had torn out posters of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa from a Hello magazine above my bed, I think he had his own drawing of Bruce Lee for a while. What we shared was the light pouring in from the windows and rain from the balcony, love from our parents and friends and books and games and lullabies and prayers bookending our days and beginning our nights. I love this picture. It contains everything. The ancient stone carvings of Angkor Wat, a book, a travelling rucksack, light and his smile.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Knitting Pearls

Knit three, wool over needle, lace
Knit three, wool over needle, lace
Yarn yawns and stretches
beneath my touch
Taking shape in lines of faith
one by one by one,

I knit in hope
and dream of names
of future daughters and sons.

I make mistakes,
I drop a stitch
and pick it up too late

But always, a steady hand awaits,
My grandmother's,
My mother's,
My own.

Life is a course in miracles
And I am knitting a calendar
for when I am old
and there are stories to be told
yarn will hold them for me.

- Shaista Tayabali, 2010

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Wicked Little Angel

There was an elderly pigeon walking along Finchley Road today. When he tired, he paused to contemplate a few sodden autumn leaves. London in the rain, he shrugged morosely. His glum little figure became a thing of memory as traffic moved and our taxi driver apologised profusely for his squeaky shoes. It's the rubber soles, he offered politely. Yesterday's taximan swore blue murder at an intrepid pedestrian, words that shocked my mother! But surprisingly, even he apologised at the end of the drive, with a somewhat complex tale about a cousin who wound up in prison because of... there are seven million detailed biographies entwined on these streets and no one is what they seem.

We have been swanning around in taxis in rainy London because Mum tumbled down a few mossy stone steps and a golf ball sized swelling bloomed around her ankle. But ice and my reiki righted the pain and we have travelled down Rotten Row where the horses canter, and past the Serpentine, spent hours in the National Portrait Gallery where the newly acquired bronze bust of Nelson Mandela resides beside portraits of Amartya Sen and Dorothy Hodgkin. This time Mum didn't return home determined to tear up her portraits as she is dramatically wont to do...

We are in London for my childhood friend's wedding at Langhams Hotel. A swanky affair! I wore a floaty sort of green ensemble, empire line, very Regency. Byron would have approved. And Father danced with far too many women. And almost no one knew I had just emerged from Rituximab infusions less than two weeks ago. And none of that matters anyway when I stand in awe of the magnificent exhibition of Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, surrounded by the living art of Karsavina and Nijinsky, Stravinsky and Massine, Leon Bakst, Jean Cocteau and a huge drop curtain detailing Picasso's Women Running on the Beach for Le Train Bleu.

Most moving was the performance of the Little Angels, an all-female children's folk ballet troupe from Korea. Sadler's Wells theatre was full of Korean war veterans, for whom the troupe was created in gratitude, in 1963, for laying down their lives in a faraway country in civil strife.

So there has been sculpture and sketches, ballet and marriage vows, but when I shut my exhausted eyes, what I hear... is singing. Have you seen Wicked, the musical? It is... well, wicked, really! Witches before they were witches, and why the monkeys became winged, and why Elphiba flings Dorothy into the cellar, and there's a man, (there's always a man), who first loves Glinda the Good and then decides it is the green Wicked Witch of the West he truly loves and suddenly everything changes... and I know, as Elphiba does...
"It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap...
It's time to try defying gravity!
I think I'll try defying gravity!"
... and perhaps the return to a bed on the floor of a room in Cambridge, will not seem quite so dull after all.
First two images:
Nobel prize winning chemist and crystallographer
Dorothy Hodgkins, by Maggi Hambling, oil on canvas,
Opera singer Adelina Patti, by Camille Silvy,
photograph, 1869