Wednesday 30 December 2015


It's the difference between silence and sound. 
Just outside the bathroom a farm, with crowing roosters fluffing dust and gravel off their tails. The villa is harmonious with both breeze and screeching gecko. I hear each crackle and rustle as the rooster places his claw, regal even in this clump of fallen twig and dead leaf. 

The villa is silent of human sound. The other nine occupants have left on various adventures - water park, shopping excursions - I, lone wolf, among the ants and my words. 

I have been to Bali before; two years ago, in a villa like this, but with a koi fish pond and the beginnings of a raw grief. The rain gods began kicking up a storm from the moment we arrived. One night found me huddled on the cold bathroom floor, wishing away my barren life, wishing instead for a fertile womb, a baby. I wrote something that night:


Nothing bold. Perhaps the saddest year.
Certainly the loneliest. 

A storm outside does nothing to console me
inside, on the floor of a bathroom in Bali.

You will get everything you wish for.
Even sadness. Especially sadness.

That is the curse.
That is the price.

You would have been willing 
to pay anything (you thought).

Anything, but that. 

But that was then. And I am here now, a different self in the same place. The raw grief that haunted me has dissipated. I feel lighter. Not accepting, exactly, rather adjusting to each new discovery of a life less travelled in some ways, deeply traversed in other ways. All that matters is that I am here, now, surviving the wild heat and submitting to what will come.

Friday 25 December 2015


And then the end of the year is upon us. I don't know about you but I am not entirely heartbroken to see the end of this difficult year. Under the blazing Singaporean sun, I am letting go one month at a time.

In the concentrated heat, amid koyals and beetles, monkeys leaping in through windows for fresh bananas and the occasional languorous green snake, I eat and unwind my own coiled tense muscles.

In the midst of celebrating Christmas eve, the nephew and I contemplate a tired beetle, struggling to climb aboard a raft...  not dissimilar to me in the final stretch of this year. 

In his last hours, the beetle had two friends trying to build walls of protection around him. 
Later, at Christmas lunch under tropical sun, Raf insisted I eat with the upturned beetle beside me ... oh well, all part of the great merry go round of life. Merry Christmas everyone! 

Sunday 8 November 2015


The trick is not in the knit,
it's in picking up the fallen stitch.

You can carve anything into flesh,
given a knife, a little strength.

Usually, it's the other way round, but now
we bring darkness to light,

bring skulls to life, even though the grin
terrifies. We persist. We leave our orange

gifts out, like half peeled bananas,
to tempt the jungli revellers.

And then they come, Houdini's ghouls,
to trick or treat you - impossible to tell -

until they leave you, empty of sweetness,
wondering why you invited fear to drop in.

But then you turn to the scared faces within,
your little caped monsters, and you draw

your own fake grin. And when you tug
on the bucket of myth that lives inside your skin,

you are Mother; from you, blood,
from you, ferocity begins.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2015

My Halloween poem was inspired by friend and poet Caron Freeborn, whose casually used phrase, 'the pumpkin smashers', to describe the grown boys who mirthlessly destroyed her children's evening by smashing in their pumpkins, has become a poetry prompt among her circle of poets.

Halloween confuses me. I got into the spirit of the thing a few years ago: pumpkins were carved, children stopped by in masks, bleeding ketchup across our porch... I have never enjoyed being frightened. I don't particularly care for deliberate ghoulishness. Especially after hearing of Claudia Winkleman's daughter bursting into flames because her cheap supermarket costume (highly flammable) brushed past a lit candle. A candle sitting plumply inside the hollow of a pumpkin lining the pathway to a friend's front door. (As a result of Winkleman speaking out, many supermarkets are increasing their fire safety standards.)

Ah, but I do try for the spirit of the thing.

Did I not scamper off to Spectre? The latest Bond, timed perfectly with the 'ween spirit, centres itself in Día de los Muertos festivity in Mexico City. An earthy enough beginning, and I was all in. But as the hours wove on through cybersecurity and threats that were more elaborately verbose than actual, I found myself consciously trying not to roll my eyes. One eye might have rolled, a little.

There seemed to be at least four or more scripts stitched together by an extremely unwieldy surgeon. Bad enjambment. A disjointed skeleton with an excellent mortician filling in the gaps with superficial make up. The grisly scene with the eyes would please any horror film aficionado. But the seduction of/by Monica Belluci, left me neither shaken nor stirred. The villain did not frighten me - I only thought, dear Christoph Waltz, you seem so nice! And worst of all - the pièce de resistance - were the moments when the character of Léa Seydoux, a superb young actress, equal to any Bond, found herself hiding behind Jim. No! I thought, but did not holler, into the dark theatre. After all, there were men there, enthralled. By cars that were bullets, and bullets that were bullets, and women who looked like silver bullets... If you like that sort of thing...

I missed you, Judi Dench. I loved you, Skyfall. You almost had me then, Mr Bond, but now, I'm underwhelmed.

*Sigh*. Somehow, I don't think he cares...

(This poem and piece are participating in Open Night at Dverse Poets Pub over here:, October 2016)

Wednesday 28 October 2015


It's like that
even in autumn
especially in autumn
when you become part of the fall.

You have forgotten to drink
enough water through summer, and now
you mirror the parched, desiccated
leaves that crunch and crumble
beneath the heels of your boots.

You are being pulled back,
taut elastic,
to your roots.

You pass a green tub
full of this year's Bramley windfalls

- leaves fall,
dancing free of your marching feet.

Everything is not dead
when it falls.

I pick up the living,
shaped like hearts,
the plump, yellow, still beating.

I run out of breath
clutching on to the promise
of new shoots awaiting me.

I am gorging on the wind
that feeds me hope.

I am home.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2015

(On my way over to the nieces, three words stop me and start a poem. By the time I am writing the last three words, I am home. This is a love poem to the beat of my own heart, the march of my own feet, the breath that carries me to love.)
Participating in dverse poets and magpie tales poetry prompts.
Images via dverse and magpie. Photo credit: Daniel Murtagh.

Thursday 15 October 2015


A few months ago I was interviewed in style (at home no less) by the short story writer Alex Ruczaj for the Cambridge radio station Bookmark, which she, until recently, co-presented with Leigh Chambers. I've known Alex a while and attended a fiction workshop that she organised. She writes beautiful stories, with fascinating character premises and a blog. It's nice knowing working writers - writers in the middle of their craft - who have little ego and lots of passion. Or at least it seems that way to me. The best part about my Creative Writing Masters has been the development of friendships with writers who make the world of being a writer feel real.
Leigh Chambers (left), Alex Ruczaj (right) should provide you with the link page, and if you scroll down to where it says Podcast: Download, click on 'Download'. That should open up the radio interview link (oh how tremendously technical I sound). I am interviewed 34 minutes and 45 seconds into the programme, to be exact…
I hope the link works but if it doesn't - I shall tell you I sounded quite good according to reliable sources. Alex asked me about my blog - how I began it, why I began it and the wonderful paths it has led me down. Sometimes I miss the first years of blogging - there is something I yearn for about those times - lost now to the mass of social media sites. I am not sure what it is I yearn for, but I know it is a shared longing among my early blogging friends.

Where I sometimes write by the window, and where I was interviewed...

I meant to upload this interview soon after it was available online, but my mind lately has been distracted by writing my first book. An exhausting business. How do they do it? However. Onwards.

Monday 28 September 2015


Long passages occur when I don't leave my little writing shed in the shires, but occasionally, for a dear friend, I willingly face train schedules and cross country shenanigans. This summer I have managed Hertfordshire, Ely, Wisbech, Hampshire, Chichester and a few days ago, Bury St Edmunds, where I discovered the significance of St Edmund's Wolf. My friend Colette was kind enough to stop outside the Abbey; a wolf greeted us at the entrance and then inside, seemingly, a pack. Since C and I both have The Lupus, the synchronicity was quite striking. Here is a little grisly yet romantic tale about King Edmund:

Edmund, King of East Anglia, fought against the Danish invasion but on 20 November 869, he was captured. When he refused to give up his Christian faith, the Danes tied him to a tree, shot him with arrows until he 'bristled like a hedgehog', and then decapitated him. The King's men came to find his body after the battle but they could not find his head. Hearing a cry of 'Here, here, here!' from a nearby wood, they discovered a wolf protecting the head of the King. The wolf allowed the men to take the head, and when placed with the body, a miracle occurred. The head fused back. 

C and her husband, known only as the mysterious Badger of Badger's Wood, were the most delightful, charming hosts, and their barn conversion is a dream. Acres of land have been transformed by Badger into a haven for newly planted trees - thousands of them. I was taken on a tour and shown a badger's set, taught how to tell a hawthorn from a dog rose, how a willow might seed itself if left to her own devices, and what a roebuck's bark sounds like (I heard him and saw him prance, especially for me).

It was so magical that I forgot about The Real World, and rude awakenings. 
When I bought my ticket at the Cambridge train station, I had simply asked for a return. I hadn't looked at my ticket. It was a shock when the station official stopped me, called me back and accused me of having intentionally given him a folded up ticket in the sneaky hope of getting away with the wrong ticket - he was looking at me as though I were a hardened criminal. This, inspite of the fact that there was a stamp on my ticket, which had been approved by the ticket conductor only a few stops earlier. 'What shall I do,' I asked. 'Tell me what to do.' 'You can go through this time,' he said, 'but,' and he drew a circle around his face, 'Remember this face. I'll be watching you.'
I refused to budge. I refused to be falsely judged. 'I won't go through,' I said. 'Tell me what to do to make this right.'
Eventually he pointed out another station official. I walked over to him, explained my predicament and although I'd have rather not, found myself in tears.
This seemed to amuse the official but it also made him incredibly kind, helpful and didactic - he advised me to toughen up: 'You need to get a bit hardened.' Which was ironic since I'd just been accused of being exactly that, in a different context.
'You lot get really upset don't you?' he commented. I prefer not to focus on what he meant by 'you lot'.
One complication at a time.
I paid my penalty fare of twenty pounds.  Wiped away my tears. And told the nice man I was going to prove my mettle then and there by speaking up. 'No, don't,' he advised. 'You'll just get more upset. I'll have a word with him later.'

One battle at a time. Sometimes you have to take your kindnesses where you find them. 

Sunday 6 September 2015


I have just returned from the first literary evening held at our local village hall - with the authors Allison Pearson (I Don't Know How She Does It) and Sarah Vaughan (The Art of Baking Blind). It was delightful; both women are 'locals' now, so it felt quite cosy. Pearson's novel about a high-powered fund manager named Kate was made into the Hollywood film of the same name, and she had a plethora of roaringly funny anecdotes from her time on the road. She also read a moving passage on the great yet unappreciated work done by mothers - which was the focus of Vaughan's novel, too. The two writers created a braid of literary intimacy on the complex subject of motherhood and working/writing. Both are journalists too - so it was a very connected evening.
As much as I enjoyed tonight, the reason for this post is dedicated to another Kate, a little girl who isn't a little girl anymore.
In my first years of living in Shelford, I babysat a lot, but it is difficult to maintain an unceasing thread with the children you babysit even though you continue to live in the same place for all their growing up years.
Tonight, before the event began, I was catching up with a few of the parents of my once-upon-a-time babysitting years, when I was made aware of a very pretty young girl sitting beside one of the mothers. I can't imagine she recognised me, as I would never have known her for the five year old I once wrote poetry with in a summer garden. I still have my poem but I wish I had kept hers - I must have left it with her mother, for her mother.

Here is mine…

June 28, 'Kate'

In the summer garden
an old pond
edged by lady's lace
and the sun 
falling low
down a blue bowl of sky -

Water lilies float
on a carpet of moss
and through the arch
a pair of blue eyes
watch me

(I think I shall try to send this poem to Kate - who might think it a silly memory, but might also quite like it. It's nice to be remembered, even if you can't remember the rememberer!) Tonight I also learned of the artist Margaret Tarrant, thanks to my friend Victoria - and I am now in love. I am sure I have seen her work before but I like knowing her name, and shall probably find myself making good use of Tarrant's illustrations with the nieces and nephew. Quite a handy evening, all in all!

Saturday 29 August 2015


It's not like when you're 4 and you know exactly what you want your birthday cake to look like, or when you're 9 and you organise a fancy dress party with your cousin because you have a dress that makes your handcrafted wand look perfect, and she has the perfect magician's top hat… it's different now. But still, it's your birthday, so you try to find some magic.

Just around the corner from me, in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire…

At the entrance, some advice from George Bernard Shaw on birthdays… I'm afraid I disagree with you here, dear GB…

but ah! your writing shed…

Built around a central steep-pole frame, so Shaw could follow the arc of the sun's rays, it was dubbed 'London' by its bearded owner - unwanted visitors were kept away by being told he was 'visiting the capital'… we were therefore surprised to find a telephone above the typewriter, but suspected that was in lieu of a dinner gong - his wife, Charlotte, needing some way of calling her husband in from the land of words. In keeping with the irony of Shaw's instructions to a birthday girl, his house, a paean to Edwardian Arts-and-Crafts days, was closed for modern 'electricals', but the gardens were open and my friends had brought a picnic…

Across from Shaw, the Church of St Lawrence, somewhat newly ruined, and then twist through three kissing gates, take a selfie with sheep, and you arrive at the Apollonian influenced Greek revival church, built at the request of Sir Lionel Lyde, who decreed that 'what the church united in life, it should keep separate in death'. Interesting marriages, the Lydes and the Shaws!

The weather held, the sheep did not leap over the fence to knock the offending selfie-taker, my friends sang 'happy birthday' in church - where it sounded hallowed and melodious - and I even discovered a plaque commemorating a Lieut. Colonel Monier Williams, of the Honourable East India Company's Service, who was Surveyor General of Bombay; also of his son Alfred, ensign in the Grenadier Regiment Bombay Infantry, who fell, at 19, gallantly leading the Storm of The Pass of Nufoosk - a piece of Indian/British history I had never heard of. So I suppose you don't need to be 4 or 9 to enjoy your birthday - you just need the right friends.

Friday 7 August 2015


Many months ago, while in India, my brother Rizwan agreed to do a TEDx talk organised in Vellore. He had been asked thrice before during his working travels in countries like Laos and Malaysia, but on this occasion he was physically present long enough to put together a brief presentation.

Rizwan is currently the CEO of Make A Difference, which mobilises young leaders to ensure equitable  outcomes for children living in shelter homes. As of today, Make A Difference works with 5000 children living in 83 shelter homes in 23 cities across India. MAD's highly efficient delivery model annually mobilises 400 Fellows and 3500 volunteers to deliver a range of interventions aimed at helping children overcome their challenges despite the circumstances they face. I've met some of these volunteers and Fellows - they have energy, intelligence, humour and compassion in spades.

I have already watched this talk several times and find new inspiration and wisdom - Rizwan speaks not only of social change, but also of the patience required to develop insight and true understanding of any problem at hand. There is compassion here too, which we all need for ourselves and others in our pursuit of making the seemingly impossible possible. Watch.

If you wish to know a little about my brother's work, he can be googled and 'found', but here is a brief summary: he has over 16 years of social and commercial experience ranging from strategy and design, to delivery and implementation of programmes and change, has worked with and advised more than 150 social purpose organisations across the UK, South America, South East Asia and Africa, and developed the first dedicated framework for scaling social impact (which can also be found online/ youtube).

Friday 31 July 2015


My tacky heart
Beats too fast -
A Plaything
For my rib cage -

I could give it
To You, if You asked
But You
Never do -


Love refuses me Nothing.
Every nook
And cranny Fulfilled;

Love refuses me Nothing -
I have only to ask,
And it is Your Will -

That I Be Satisfied.


What more can I ask, Beloved?
What more can I say?
For You have heard
every Word -

and shown me
every Way -

© Shaista Tayabali, 2015

The poets over at dverse suggested we write in the style of Emily Dickinson for today's poetry prompt. So I have… but I also feel the need to post a real Emily D poem, one of my favourites -

You cannot put a Fire out -
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan -
upon the slowest Night -

You cannot fold a Flood -
And put it in a Drawer -
Because the Winds would find it out -
And tell your Cedar Floor -

(poem 530, c. 1862)