Saturday 29 December 2012


I am not here today
for I was never born
and I can never die

I am not here today
in this ordinary form

I am particle
and consciousness
in someone else's sky -

I am wings
I am flight
and this body
will surely die.

 © Shaista Tayabali, Singapore, 2012.

My dearest younger sister,
You travelled from Delhi to arrive here in Singapore. I was at Mount Elizabeth Hospital myself, a few days ago, filled with my usual combination of terror at the state of my scarred eyes and the immense joy of being loved. They say you 'passed away peacefully' this morning. Who chose those words, I wonder? I know so little about you. Only three things. You were a physiotherapist, you loved movies and you had a good friend who tried to protect you. Not knowing your name, we have named you Nirbhaya, the Fearless One.
Did you know that when she was 18, Frida Kahlo had an accident on a bus? An iron rod entered her left hip and exited between her legs. In later life, her gangrenous feet were amputated. But someone was carrying powdered gold on that bus and the glitter speckled her body, turning dark into light. She spent the rest of her life in excoriating pain, but through her art, purified that pain. There was no one to blame. It was an accident.
You drew out poison on a bus thirteen days ago. It was no accident. Was it the medical teams who battled to keep you here until today? I would not choose for you to stay. Not with that particular poison in your veins. Growing up in India, most of us experience some measure of that poison. I am no exception. It informs the way we move, the choices we make, for the rest of our lives. We become tortoises with lionhearts, instead of lions. We become elephants who never forget. We never forget.

Your sister, Shaista.

Tuesday 25 December 2012


We arrive to the scent of pine, and forget we are in Singapore. We could be anywhere. Inside, we are home. Our world revolves around a small ball of fire, who this very Christmas has been introduced, by "Shai! Shai! Shai! Shai!" to The Gruffalo... "Oh no! Oh no! It's a Gruffalo!"
Christmas Day has been a crash course in Finding Nemo, Madagascar and Barnyard Animals, a swim, a game of basketball, a visit to the nearby riding stables to neigh with horses and jump in puddles. A Christmas unlike any other...
 and the only way I want to end this year...

Thursday 20 December 2012


We are aged and ageless
together on the ward
blending blue
against a dull stone sky.

We are a strange alien race
hooked to wires
trailing machines
tangled in each other's space.

We manage doors one handed, we smile,
quirky twists of face;
We play the game,
knowing why.

I long for a bed, a blanket,
a cushion,
heat, sand, beach,

Outside the windows, a playground
I have never seen children in:
a chessboard with giant squares,
and no chessmen.

The light has faded to black now
I turn to the faces within,
to patches of white
and yellow butterflies
tucked securely into skin.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2012  
(I wrote this on the Patient Short Stay Unit Ward. I spend a lot of time on this ward, but no more for this year. I am taking flight! Tell you all about the heat and light when I am on the other side :)) 
Illustration: Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban, 1904