Tuesday 30 October 2018


Either way,
she doesn’t know her ways, yet.
Her mind bends with the remover;
if not to remove,
then certainly pause, edit, pause,
delete, regret the deletion,
ask advice, regret asking advice.

Either way,
she knows her own ways;
her mind, unclear,
is loosely framed by ideals
dear to her.
And so on she moves, on,
ever onwards.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018
(participating in Dverse Poets Open Link Poetry)

(Painting: Egon Schiele, ‘La Libertad’) 

I did an interview with poet Sherry Marr over at Poets United... a catch up of sorts over long distances and imaginary cups of tea... you can click here to read it ... 
Sherry lives in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, a tiny district nestled in the southern heart of Clayoquot Sound... She has been a huge source of friendship and encouragement over the years since I first began my blog. We nearly met last year when I nearly went to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding and my birthday, but campylobacter in my bloodstream kept me here in Addenbrooke’s Hospital rather than in Sherry’s living room across the pond. I still owe her a basket full of English tea!!!

Tuesday 9 October 2018


That is a proud name,’ he said.

I am proud of my name.

It is the Rajput name for warriors.
It is the Persian name for poets. 

Am I not then Shaista, the warrior-poet?

I am standing on the battleground,
listing a little,
sword and pen at the ready,
blood and words aplenty.

But I long for sakura,
snow pink petals of my cherry tree.

Oh brief, beautiful one,
wrap yourself around me,

so I can be Shaista, the free.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018

What does my name mean? My mother always told me it meant courteous and graceful, mostly because she wanted me to be unfailingly polite! But in Pashto, the language of the Afghans, my name means beautiful. An ex-soldier from Afghanistan once commented on my name as we both waited in line at the Apple genius bar! Then my poet friend Kenza assured me it was so... and last week a Pakistani taxi driver, who proceeded to quote couplets by Ghalib (in Pashto) at me.
When I was a child and our class was studying the period of the Mughal empire, and the wars between the Mughals and the Marathas in Indian history, we came across Shaista Khan, the fierce Mughal warrior. So of course my classmates wondered why I had been named after a man!
My own grandfather, though, had never heard of the name; he decided to call me Shy Star after I was born, so he could not fail to  remember the name of his first granddaughter. I use his mnemonic to help people even now, when they struggle to wrap their unfamiliar tongues around my name. 

The illustrations above of Sufi warriors, Sufi dancers, are my own... I've been including them in copies of my poetry collection for friends... I titled the book 'Something Beautiful Travels Far' which I suppose could also read 'Shaista Travels Far'! 

(for 'Poetics: What's in a Name?' a dverse poems prompt) 

Sunday 7 October 2018


Rudi made me cry. 
I don't cry at or during films anymore, mostly because the varying levels of discomfort my eyes are usually in, make it hard for me to escape entirely into the visual world before me. But the life of Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev contained within a single powerful documentary, All The World His Stage, had me in tears for much of the second half.

Exile is a common enough story for many of us. Voluntary or involuntary. But in Rudi's case he was a pawn of a nation, a government, an ideology that his body and will refused to succumb to. Of course, his defection in Paris in 1961 had nasty consequences for his friends, the 'kitchen culture' crowd, who had, in secrecy, danced and recited poetry and played under the wrap of darkness. But they separated him from his mother, and more than anyone else in his family, I think that may have been the worst of it, though in the end they let him back for the days before her death. They say that although she was failing to recognise anyone else, she knew he had been to see her, but what was that one moment against all the years - the millions of yearnings, and achings for home?

And then there was Dame Margot - La Fonteyn - the substitute mother figure? No, she was more, she was everything to him;  after she died, he had no one; he would call friends before dawn, and say nothing, only cry. She was on the verge of asking her husband Tito for a divorce, and then he got shot, and Fonteyn's mother said how will it look if you don't go immediately to his side? How will it look? Even the greatest prima donna ballerina obeys when her mother says those four sinister words. That was the end of Nureyev and Fonteyn, so said the documentary, although in reality they danced for years afterwards, and stayed close until her death. 

The violinist Yehudi Menuhin called Nureyev a panther. Parkinson asked him to describe how things had been in Russia when Nureyev was a child. 'Bad,' replied the dancer. 'But how bad?' pressed Parky. Because people always want to know how bad, from the safety and comfort of their own lives. Richard Avedon photographed Nureyev's leaps into air as though he were challenging gravity to call him merely human, but Bob Dylan wrote 'No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.'  

The documentary was at once the embodiment of freedom and simultaneously a chaining down, a weighing down of things that are bigger than us, wider than we can control. Politics, AIDS. Being called Russian when you are really Tatar, but no one knows of Tatars or their complicated history with Russia...

 Ah... go watch the documentary if you can. Also Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two. Also M.I.A, about the Sri Lankan Tamil English singer and activist Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam. Also, the manager of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse has promised me the Nureyev poster when the film has finished running... these are moments worth living for.