Tuesday 30 December 2014


Outside, I hear morning birds and someone begins the onerous task of sweeping dust. Dust in India cannot be swept away. Can be swept from here to there, but mostly it fluffs itself up in the air and lands daintily again by the sweeper's feet, as though to suggest they would both be more comfortable if they could just accept each other for what they are to each other. Dust provides the sweeper with a job. And the sweeper provides dust with excitement, a little flurry, a change of pace and place.

Why is dust? It is not pretty or useful.

Why is illness? It is not pretty or useful.

And yet here I am. Dusty with illness and that ubiquitous meaningless word - pain.

And yet here I am, loved.

I am kintsukuroi, broken pottery joined by gold dust and laquer. Where the break joins, there is no seamless transition. You can see the suffering and the mechanism of healing. A friend of mine sent me an image of such a bowl made more beautiful by its interesting narrative; she hoped to inspire a poem. But the kintsugi philosophy made me want to write more words than a poem might permit. It has made me think of my broken pieces joined not by stitches and scar tissue, but by the gold dust of love and friendship.

I have always been hesitant to return to India since my diagnosis of lupus in 1997 because I didn't want to return ill. But I am ill, and I am here, and both must be joined somehow. I say I am kintsukuroi not because I am made beautiful, but because I hope such beauty can be possible. Are we all broken and scarred in some places? Then are we not all beautiful? I sat outside for a few moments yesterday, and a cluster of sari and bangle clad women gardeners wove a little circle around me. They were off in the distance one moment, and the next were crouching inches from my feet. One lady asked me the time - maybe she really needed to know. Maybe she just wanted to hear me speak, make a connection. We don't speak the same language - I am in the south of India, where the pace of life is very different from Bombay. But the smiles are the same.

The only difference now is the smiles are not for me - two small figures fascinate their passers by. I am just in the shadow of their smiles. But shadows never looked more beautiful.

Monday 22 December 2014


December 2014. The year is gathering her skirts for the final curtsy. She has been Queen Elizabeth in her Dame Dench-Shakespeare In Love guise for me this year...you know that scene towards the end after the performance of Romeo and Juliet, when Dame Dench/ Her Majesty hesitates for a moment contemplating the icky muddy pool of dirtwater before her, and then with a disgusted look at her noblemen and courtiers, leaps over the hurdle herself?
That's the way I'd characterise some of the last months of this year. An icky pool of dirtwater to be navigated with little elegance and none of the flair I have grown accustomed to.
I am already looking back on the years of 2010, '11 and '12 with a fondness for the old days of pomp and glory. There were weddings to attend, and finally, 2013 brought me my three angel nieces; but since the summer of their births, I have been sliding into a graceless decline.

I have been riddled with infections all year and most of last year too. And although my walk across the stage to be congratulated for my MA graduation with distinction, was filled with pride and confidence... still, this disease haunts my every waking moment.

So of course, in times of great distress and trauma and impending depression, one must buy a plane ticket and get the hell outta dodge!

I am flying far away from fenland and gorse bush to a green city where two small nieces are going to get a little shock when their Aunty Shai rocks up below their balcony and hollers out their names... Will they wave excitedly or look bemused, or take it in their stride that their Aunty Shai has returned to the land of her birth? I shall report.

Meanwhile Merry Christmas mes amies, mi amigos, my beloveds... Let us meet again soon when '14 turns to '15 and we are freshly birthed into the new year.