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)

Tuesday 28 July 2015


(for Colin Morton)

For months, a post titled Theatre of the Mind: My Oliver Sacks Quandary, has lain in my drafts folder. Today as I come to finally writing about Sacks, I can't remotely recall what my Oliver Sacks quandary was. Note to Self: Make Better Notes to Self.

A few days ago, Oliver Sacks, British neurologist and best-selling author of such books as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings (which was turned into a film with Robin Williams and Robert de Niro) wrote a beautiful article braiding together birthdays and the periodic table. At the start of this year, Sacks was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and now, having just celebrated his 82nd birthday in style (following the advice of W. H. Auden who insisted one should always celebrate one's birthday, no matter how one felt), he writes of the delightful science in sharing our birthday number with a chemical from the periodic table. I studied chemistry myself at A-Level, and the romance of sharing my birthday with a natural element - dangerous or otherwise - appeals very much to me!

And now, at this juncture, when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence — an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence — I am again surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity. At one end of my writing table, I have element 81 in a charming box, sent to me by element-friends in England: It says, “Happy Thallium Birthday,”a souvenir of my 81st birthday last July; then, a realm devoted to lead, element 82, for my just celebrated 82nd birthday earlier this month. Here, too, is a little lead casket, containing element 90, thorium, crystalline thorium, as beautiful as diamonds, and, of course, radioactive — hence the lead casket.

I have a brain scan booked for next week, which I managed to wiggle out of once because the radiographer had never heard of the plastic shunt device used in my latest Baerveldt operation - he wanted some time to read up about it and decide if the MRI was a safe idea. Apparently he has done his reading because I have just received my new appointment. I had a funny turn the last time I had a brain scan, which I wrote about in a blog post called Firework in my Eyes. So I'm not wildly keen on another. However, knowing how theatrical and brilliantly inventive the brain is even on an ordinary day, I shall try to channel Sacks and observe, come what may. There are some authors whose entire book catalogue would be worth reading and Sacks is one of them - however, a shorter introduction to him is possible through this TED talk he gave. He really has lived a good and useful life; to quote his New Yorker article: 'Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.'

Link to Oliver Sacks' New Yorker article:

Saturday 25 July 2015


Sometimes I am compelled to watch a movie. I will make a concerted effort to trek to the arts picture house, buy a ticket and immerse. Last week, I witnessed Amy - a documentary by Asif Kapadia on the singer Amy Winehouse, whose music ought to have made her an enduring legend, but whose descent into drugs and alcohol annihilated body and soul. After an hour and a half, I wondered when the movie would end. When the credits rolled, I realised I hadn't once been moved. I walked out of the theatre and into crowds, into shops. Twice I was asked about my day and I shared my thoughts on the film. I think Amy would have hated the film. She would be humiliated by this remembrance of the very worst of her laid bare for our delectation. It was ghostly voyeurism. 

Later that night, still unable to shake the fog of depression, I began another documentary, this time on Netflix, one that has had no fanfare or billboard trumpeting. Amy has been advertised everywhere, has 97% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, will no doubt earn nominations and awards - this quiet little film streaming only on Netflix was about a gifted black woman. Nina Simone. Critical and public interest in the story of a black woman vs the story of a white woman in the music industry, then and now, is virtually unchanged. Evidence: the recent Taylor Swift/ Nicki Minaj twitter debacle.

Within the first five minutes of Liz Garbus' What Happened, Miss Simone I was in tears. Nina responds to the question: 'What is free to you?' 'What does freedom mean to me? I'll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear. If I could have that for half of my life. I mean, really. No fear. Like a new way of seeing.' When I was in N2 all those many months of 2009, imprisoned in my hospital cell on feeding tubes, cannulas in my jugular, I came across this quote and wrote about it on my blog. Nina's music and lyrics have formed a constant thread in my life from the first year of this disease taking hold of me, because Nina writes about freedom.

She wasn't free. She was young, gifted and black during the most violent times. She wrote about the horror of the bombing of four black children in a church in Birmingham, Alabama in Mississippi Goddam, the lynchings of black men in Strange Fruit, and had a mental breakdown eventually because how could she dissociate from feeling anger for her people, and yet making the kind of music white people would buy? Nobody loves an angry black woman even if her anger is poetic justice. Everybody loves a damaged white woman: Marilyn Monroe, Vivian Leigh, Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse. Simone was damaged too, of course. A manic depressive with a violence in her that was ultimately contained by a prescription drug that slurred her speech and chemically altered her personality. The price of fame for a dream that wasn't hers. Her dream? To be a classical pianist. First black female classical pianist. 

Meanwhile the chemo dripped into me yesterday. In the last hour, a woman on my right had a fit of bone bruising coughing. I hadn't heard anything like it in a while. So of course I turned to her. The cause of her severe lung destroying bronchial trouble? The same drug sliding into my veins. Be careful, she warned me. Stay vigilant. Pass me some of that No Fear, Nina. I need it, as I've always done. 

Thursday 23 July 2015


Continuing with my thread of artistry taking all forms, Wimbledon included, July is the month during which Cambridge artists exhibit their work - usually in their own homes and studios but occasionally in venues that act as surprising galleries. Like the Old Fire Engine in Ely where an artist called Michael Edwards is exhibiting his work. As the daughter of artists, I suppose buying the art of other artists is slightly suspect - but I like the idea of building up an eclectic art collection. One day, one day.

Mum has been using my portrait as her calling card this year. Which means all around the city, I am casually draped on kitchen tables and peeking out from bowls cluttered with car keys and spare buttons. Come visit if you're in the neighbourhood. Only one weekend more before the Open Studios comes to an end for another year. Portraits make great surprise gifts - most of Mum's commissions are for such gifts.

Tuesday 14 July 2015


I have just returned from a week in the Algarve, Portugal - I am slightly woozy with exhaustion and the particular effects of intense sun on a lupus body. I feel parched and floaty at the same time; also satisfied and enriched with love and learning. It was a family holiday. Our first grown-up sibling holiday, with four children. It was hectic. And as with all the best holidays, I had a book to retire with, to curl inside, every night.

The Art of Asking is relevant to all of us, artists and non-artists (if any of us are non-artists, which I suspect we aren't - everyone makes art and beauty somehow, in some way) because we are all afraid of rejection, of being turned down, or most poignantly, because we simply don't know or can't imagine what we can ask for. We want, but we don't know how to ask for it, whom to ask, where to look for help. In my life, dependent as I am on so many people for love and support, worrying about how I will finance myself in some future universe where I am alone and hoping The Books will manifest themselves, I am learning to ask. To be unafraid. To Take The Donuts. Palmer tells us of the recent literary anecdote that has 'rocked' the lovers of Henry David Thoreau - the magic of Walden has been dimmed for some because of the discovery that Thoreau was not quite as alone and self-sufficient as his book implies. On Sundays, his mother and sister brought him a  basket of freshly baked goods, including doughnuts. He took the donuts (American word, American spelling).

Take the Donuts, Palmer pleads with her readers. Take the help. Ask for the help. And then watch the dots connect themselves in your life. Watch the net of loyalty, trust, compassion, understanding, love, tighten. We need each other. Especially when we think we don't. Especially when we are writers, and the expectation of our imaginary audience is that The Book will simply write itself while we are on an island, locked away in a shed or disconnected from the pulse of human chaos. Artists need help: food, shelter, money, hugs, perspective, inspiration, friends. Asking for help is part of the art. Offering the help is part of the art. One cannot exist without the other.

I love this book, but if it's not your thing, here is the book condensed into a thirteen minute TED talk that rightfully went viral...

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Wednesday 8 July 2015


My beloved father Chotu turned 80 today. It took him by surprise, the age. Suddenly this strange number. You don't expect 80. Weren't you 40 only a few years ago when your first born arrived, bright eyed and cherubic? And now, four grandchildren… but always, the beautiful Perveen by his side.
Happy birthday Popsy!