I feel a rage
It’s not the flaming, blazing kind
Nor is it the hating kind
It’s disappointment mixed with hurt
A betrayal mixed with cheerlessness
It’s a whipping, bruising buffeting
It’s a faded, jaded trustfulness
It’s a crashing and a burning
Without smoke, without fire
It’s the turning into ash
Of something held so close
Of something tender and so dear
Of a precious, precious thing
Of a pearl old as the years.
I feel a rage
But in its manifestation
There is no acid hotness
Only a painful heaviness
That sits mostly in my throat
Huddled there, straining to emerge
In tears or in words
I’m capable of neither.
Even as it squeezes me
Choking, asphyxiating me
In its throttling stranglehold
I’m hoping for some peace and grace
Hoping even in the throes
Of this weary, bleary rage.
Dedicated to the memory of all those young people who struggled to fit into the norms dictated by their communities and who lost that battle. May the second wind in your sails be glorious and joyful.
LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSde5UerP/?k=1
I’m going to tell you a little story
Of a girl who loved too much,
Lived too much, hoped too much.
They said, she was too much!
She was a queen, a young one
But she had that zest for life
That is so rare and beautiful
That is also so ominous and direful
The story goes that she was born
In the wrong place at the wrong time
Nothing seemed to feel right in fact.
She was told to be someone that
She wasn’t. She was taught, against her will
To be the clone of a fantasy
That had persisted for centuries
And so the queen crumbled
Atom by atom, bit by bit, little by little
She fell apart like a young sapling
That has been buffeted and knocked about
By righteous winds whipped up
By those who were afraid of her
Of our queen getting out of the box
That they had so faithfully built for her
She finally broke into a million pieces
And she plummeted
She had once known how to fly like an eagle
To soar up to the top of the world.
But that memory was gone; pounded out
And so she fell
Hitting the ground six feet deep
And that is where she now sleeps.
Do you remember when you felt the blood
Gushing through your body;
You felt it etch into your being
All the kindness, courage and love
That you thought you could ever feel;
And your heart sang!
Do you remember how your breath
Caught in your throat. The sheer shock
Of those emotions rocking you inside.
You felt so overwhelmed that your tear ducts
Felt the strain. You blinked your wet eyes
And your heart sang!
You looked straight ahead,
The wave kept rising in your chest.
You felt like you were everything
That you were meant to be. Your atoms ricocheted
With those around you. Nature played
A little bit of handball as she caught
Your Atoms in her hands and passed her own to you
And your heart sang!
Do you remember feeling like this was
The perfect moment in your time,
In your space, in your place;
And everything had come together that day to remind you
That your heart was aligned with all
That defined you as the happiest version of yourself;
And oh your heart, it sang!
You don’t remember - not really. Neither do I. I mean
I remember the warmth in my being, the love flowing out
In waves, in rivers. A oneness with the essence of the world.
But beyond that, I can’t remember; I can’t evoke the feeling.
Something has gone awry, something has been lost
Along the way.
But I still see its ghost flitting,
Vaguely passing before my eyes when I am still.
But my heart, it doesn’t sing.
It is feeling like the world has overcome
You body and soul and then some
It’s like drowning in a bottomless sea
Gasping, gasping, trying to breathe
Sputtering, choking reaching for air
Crashing, thrashing limbs everywhere;
It’s feeling the whole world closing in
Vision blurring, darkness descending.
It’s being sure that many endings are near:
Of wanting, of living and even of fear;
It’s feeling the numbness spread like a pall
Binding you, blinding you even as you fall
Into the swirling, whirling abyss
Of dead emotions; of nothingness.
It’s finally seeing the smallest of gleams
Picking the darkness at its hoary seams
Little by little the flicker grows bright
Ever so slowly it pierces the night.
Your leaden heart too warms in the heat
Resuming its vital, pulsating beat;
You rise to the surface on a rip tide
You’re thawing and warming on the inside.
You break the surface of your despair
As your throttled lungs fill up with air;
Gasping, gasping you take in a breath
Sputtering and choking you hold on to the thread
Of the world coming back within reach;
Hope on strong wings, has ended the siege
She gathers you up in her healing arms
Anointing you with her soothing balms
Freeing you, steeling you so that you may walk
Another day with strength and love in your heart.
I’ve seen the colours of loneliness
I’ve seen their moldering faces
I’ve seen them fill the keening voids
Of our broken, scattered places.
It’s the grey of the sky just before it descends
In blinding cascades
Of granite and slate
While waiting for that one special friend of the heart
Who’s gone an infinite distance apart.
Gone forever; not coming back.
It’s the darkening shades of smoke and ash
Stifling and choking. It’s emotional whiplash.
It’s the curdled russet and clotted yellow
Of dying leaves
Still on the trees.
It’s the hope that once blossomed,
Now just a vanishing dream;
Like fading delusions;
And fractured illusions.
Like wasting ivy, still clinging tightly
To the mottled, purple-bruised spaces within.
It’s the decayed red of old blood
That has flowed and then congealed
From scarred old wounds
In the fallow fields
Of the innermost corners of your being.
It’s the throbbing new cuts of remembrance-pain
That sear you with their scarlet heat
Scorching your insides until there remain
Only the rust-dripping embers of defeat.
It’s these mottled hues and grainy textures
Of mangled hearts and hurting souls
Its the piercing, stinging, strangling tightness
In the pit of the stomach; in the back of the throat.
In the end, it is all of this
That make up the tinctures of loneliness
That fill up all our sad and desolate spaces.
You ask me if I’m alright ...
I am alright, but the stabbing ache in my heart is not alright.
You ask me if I’m ok ...
I am ok, but the stranglehold of despair around my throat is not ok
You ask me if I’m fine ...
I am fine, but the icy grip of fear in my soul is not fine.
I need to remove the steely shards from my heart, one piercing sliver at a time;
Even if a hole, an abysmal gorge remains, I can learn to fill it with other things, better things.
I need to loosen the malevolent grip of hopelessness, one hoary, gnarled finger at a time;
And learn to open myself up to the comfort of a quiet, gentle embrace.
I need to thaw the icicles of dread, one knifelike lance at a time;
and learn to warm my soul with the simple heat of being alive.
I know that I need to learn to separate my angst from my being; learn to put the wretchedness to bed
So that every so often, I am able to feel whole, happy and free.
And so my friend, when you ask me if I am well
I say I am well, because I’m learning to take care of the most fragile parts of myself.
I will be alright; I will be fine; I will be ok
Inspired by the vastness of our universe, and the impermanence and fragility of our own little blue green planet.
The moon hangs low like a key lime pie
In a firmament strewn with golden gleams of zest;
The sky like a cosmic porcelain platter
Holds this sweet perfection in a state of rest
I sip on my tea as I sit back in my chair
And look at the glimmering stars up on high
My mind is a telescope of infinite scale
My soul, a radar that amplifies
I see nebulous orbs dancing around;
I see their frigid friends standing their ground;
I see the little ones and the gargantuan greats;
I see the middling ones jostling for space.
I see luminous worlds move in grandiose arcs
Leaving star dust in their celestial wake;
I see comets race into ethereal depths,
Gleefully chased by their blazing tails
I see weighty old stars in their twilight of being
Collapse in a mighty roar of ultimate endings;
I see embryonic knots of vital masses,
Heating up at their core in hopeful beginnings
I see torus-shaped, shard-textured asteroid belts
Circling around an oblong of planets;
I feel the formidable power of gamma ray bursts,
As they cannonade up vaults of ink-silver granite
I see pulsars and quasars whirling around;
Solar winds spreading out in feathered plumes.
I hear the happy hum of the cosmos above me,
Like a foetus hears her mother from inside the womb.
I collapse the telescope of my mind;
I shut down the radar of my soul.
I look back down into the eyes of our Earth,
Now blurred and smudged with eventide kohl
I don’t hear the hum of her kinetic voice;
Nor feel the tenderness of her warm embrace.
I don’t smell the bouquet of her fragrant skin;
Nor see the glow of her beautiful face
The cosmos continues to dazzle and shine
To skip and to leap, to dive and to fly;
While our own little world continues to be
The storm in our teacups; the dust in our eyes.
A tribute to the brave young men and women who battle everyday to come to terms with their identity and a perennially judgmental, dogmatic society. May each of you find the strength to be the truest and best version of yourself.
Geena woke up with a monster of a headache. She sat up slowly, disoriented, the neurons in her brain firing a piercing staccato. She held her throbbing head as the events of the previous evening flitted across her hippocampus in discordant technicolour… a night out with friends, B52 shots, Neelu was there, more shots, they’d talked, vodka shots, she was definitely the one, they’d danced, even more shots, they’d kissed…. The memories bounced around her head in weird harmony with the stabs of pain in her body, making her grimace. Geena, the fighter of causes, the Robina-hood of small but essential kindnesses, the dogged agent of change for others, was a frightened, anxious little girl when it came to herself. When did she become so weak? She frowned against the whipping, curdling flow of her boozy blood, arming herself with the shifty valour of self-suggestion.
Say it Geena! Just own it! SAY IT OUT LOUD!
Her head pounded harder, punishing her… for what? For what she wanted to say? For what she couldn’t say? She quivered with the effort.
She couldn’t voice it; her identity, her very being continued to hide inside her like a deep, dark, dirty secret. She crumpled, her spine bent, her voice as silent as the tombs of long forgotten conquerors. No, this wasn’t the day she was going to be her own hero.
Geoff came inside the house, tossing his keys onto the console table. He was glad to be home; it had been an unusually busy Sunday morning. He went straight up to Geena’s room and found her still in bed. She was asleep. He looked at her, at the exhaustion etched in her beautiful face, at the sweet innocence that still enfolded his 18 year old daughter. It had been another one of those nights when she’d arrived home drunk, angry and tearful. How he wished his wife, Ruwani was still around… was still alive. She had been the loving, grounding anchor for this now somewhat dissonant family. He sighed… Ruwani would have known how to handle this teenage angst. He had tried talking to Geena but had always come up against a wall as fortified as it was high; she wouldn’t let him in. He got himself a glass of ice cold water and sat down, mindlessly switching on the television. Anderson Cooper on CNN was saying something about America’s decaying morality…
Something was nagging at him. It was something about morality and uprightness. About righteousness. It was about family values, about being respectable and … being normal. There was an elusive element of normalcy that seemed to be missing from his life… from Geena’s life…
He shook off the strange, disconcerting feelings – like he always did. He’d have to talk to Geena about her drinking. And he’d make it a point to ask about that new boy he’d seen with her group the other day. He never thought he’d say this to her before she was 30, but a nice boy in her life would actually be good for her.
Geena woke up at past 6pm, splintery glimmers of her hangover still keeping her company. She took a couple of panadols to quiet the tumult in her head and lay back in bed, looking at the ceiling overhead. As the pain receded, she became aware of a faint little feeling in her chest… a feeling of something new, something spirited, something honest. It warmed her, tickled her, strengthened her. She smiled tremulously, blinking in the anticipation of the ultimate truth-telling, of a final release from her demons. She was going to talk to her father about it. She was going to tell him that she … she liked girls. She always had. She was a lesbian. That word… still awkward on the tongue and yet that’s what she was. She let the idea float around her head, felt it fuse with her thoughts, sensed it coursing through her body.
She grinned widely – hopeful, nervous, anxious… but mostly hopeful.
It was another Friday night at apartment TP-1.
Tonight though, there was the ragged aura of broken hearts. The truth-telling, the sharing of confidences, the spiritual reckoning had been had. A father sat slumped in his chair, wounded, silent. A daughter stood looking at him, shattered, resigned, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Despite everything, he wanted to reach out. Even in the abyss of her despair, she looked at him, willing him to reach out.
De Khudai pe aman
*A Brave New World: Title inspiration from Aldous Huxley’s dystopian social science fiction novel of the same name.
I’ve been meaning to put this hitherto confusing, emotionally wounding mass of thoughts to paper for a while now. So far, through all the varied attempts over the last 10 years, I’ve always choked on the words in my mind; cocooned in a kind of benumbing Writer’s Block if you will.
So here i am today, feeling a little more intrepid, a tad more emotionally sound and spurred on by a medley of bittersweet reminiscences, to finally reflect on the vital importance of End of Life acceptance, dignity and preparedness.
To die is inevitable; to lead a life well-lived is a choice. And yet, we leave so much to providence while we can still exercise our power to choose, and put up formidable bulwarks of resistance when faced with the inevitable. This is a construct and a bullheaded perpetuation of our modern times, urged on by medical advances and their preserving effect on our life expectancy. While we are living longer, we have also developed an almost combative relationship with the End of Life. Even when everything is pointing towards the inevitable final exit, we choose to fight. We push back, we suffer, we agonize and we degrade, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as we try and keep the “monster” at bay. A lot of times, that militancy is dispensed by the people closest to the terminally ill; and despite their good intentions, end up reducing their already suffering loved ones to little more than vulgarised shadows of their former selves.
In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She lived with the disease for four years with the dignity, grace and courage of the superwoman that she was. Never once did she put on the mantle of the reduced or the afflicted or the invalid. Right to the end, she remained the gracious matriarch of her warm, welcoming home. Towards the end, the final two days to be exact, when she should have been allowed to make that Final Walk with the same beautiful poise with which she had lived her life, we, her family and her medical specialists intervened with all of our might to fight off the inevitable. She was taken to two different hospitals over the span of the last 3 days where the vitally alive battled to avert or at least delay an end, that became heartbreakingly beleaguered.
My final memory of her last day with us, has nothing in the way of any gentleness, love or the deep peace of final goodbyes. It is a memory fraught with fussing, poking, prodding Medical Staff intubating, pulling and pushing her as they, with determined professionalism, executed their Hippocratic oaths. The memory of her looking right at me, confused and exhausted as they inserted the ET tube down her throat is still searingly painful.
For a full two years after that, I thought of that terrible, terrible last scene every single night before i allowed myself to sleep. Perhaps it was my form of emotional self flagellation for being a well meaning party to the inadvertent indignity and torment my mother suffered towards the end.
And then, I’m not sure whether it was a providential helping hand reaching out from my own subconscious to finally pull me out of my emotional abyss, or the tender, cosmic reverberations of the maternal bond that helped me to transition to my current state of mental well being. That said, it was a dream that gave me back some semblance of my peace. So lucid, potent and reassuring was the vision of my mother being well and happy that i woke up with the sheer visceral force of the feeling – the warmth of her touch still lingering on the skin of my hands. (I have written about the dream in another post: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/03/09/thank-you-for-the-joy/ )
And so, I finally did surface from the viper pit of guilt and grief and i have since, forgiven myself.
All living creatures are the sum total of their experiences and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my experience of losing someone close to me is the ability to see death for what it is – unavoidable. While I have lost my fear of the end, i also now understand the profound blessing a quick (relatively painless) exit is. That a departure that is underscored with acceptance, essential conversations, tranquility and quality time spent together becomes the blessed catalyst for more fully celebrating the lives of the loved ones we’ve lost. That the ability to see life and death with more ethereal eyes, to help us to grieve a little less and remember with joy so much more, are the cornerstones of a loving, respectful parting.
These End of Life conversations need to logically start in the hallowed halls of medical science. Medical caregivers need to bring more depth to their oaths taken for preserving the well being of human life, to include the dignity of death. These conversations need to become mainstream; to change the culture of the crusading and contrariness around death. In our current approach, we are left with too little in the way of the love and grace of final farewells.
It will take a consummate change in our emotional and social makeup and temperaments to begin to ennoble death even half as much as we do life. Given the current state of our world, this gracious labour of love around Final Partings may be the panacea for reminding us of both, the wonderful alchemy of the state of being alive and the eternal fragility of life itself.
De Khudai pe aman
This is A sequel to my earlier verse “Ravaged”.
This piece looks at the complicated nuances of nurture and upbringing, as opposed to the static all-out denunciation of the individual perpetrating familial rape. This piece of writing attempts to highlight the grotesque patriarachy which we have allowed to perpetuate and which has damaged generations of both, our girls and our boys, in its terrible wake.
I am Harris Jan Saleem, the son of Owais Jan Saleem
I am the scion of the Saleem ___ family
I have been raised like all the men in my family:
To hold my dreams high and my head higher
I have been taught that nothing bends that proud bearing. Nothing.
I was 8 when I first saw my father. In Asma apa’s room.
Asma apa is my cousin; my father’s sister’s daughter.
She is 4 years older than me.
I saw him many times; he saw me see him many times.
I learnt tacitly like so much is at home. Nothing needs to be said for it to be understood and emulated.
“It” was a dutiful visit to Asma apa
I was 20 when i too knew that I had to pay a dutiful visit to a woman of the family
She was a feisty one; too independent-minded for her own good. Her mother said so.
I was going to teach her.
I was going to teach her to be Good. To ensure no harm came to our family honour if she got out of hand.
She was 11; she was old enough.
I first visited Sophia on a rainy monsoon afternoon.
The family was surrounded by a haze of food-satiated, heat-fomented stupor;
Each in their own space in the sprawling ancestral home.
That I knew was the congruous ground for the undertaking of such obligations
She was a handful. I almost came away without fulfilling the onus on me of safeguarding the family honour.
But I persisted - it took a chokehold (and I don’t generally believe in inflicting violence on women).
I learnt that the chokehold was a necessary evil. Every time.
(I also realized with time that it wasn’t really violence since I was doing my duty towards upholding the family honour).
There are a slew of such behavioural nuances no one tells you about; which you have to learn on your own.
All of which you perform for upholding the family honour.
One day my father saw me visiting Sophia
Like i had seen him for so many years, visiting Asma apa.
This time he looked at me - with a wisdom of the ages.
And i knew then that we are the MEN of the family.
We are expected to know; to be versed in the DNA prescription passed down in virtuous silence along the patriarchal line.
I felt i had been let into an ancient, sacred secret.
I felt an inexplicable pride in being a Man of the Saleem Jan family
It’s my wedding day today; I’m to wed Sophia
When I was asked if I would marry her, I had said yes.
Although she was ... tainted.
But I was a male scion of the family; a custodian of my family honour.
I was expected to bear that burden of protecting, of upholding the family name.
But I have been deprived of the consummaiton of my marriage.
Today her sister is coming to stay with us,
For the summer.
She is 10 and I think already very much like my wife, in her waywardness ...
Tomorrow I will do my duty to protect my family name
In whatever way i need to -
Tomorrow, and for as long as i live.
De Khudai pe aman
A tribute (brutal and raw so we don’t forget) to all those courageous girls who have been made victims of our ugly patriarchal social fabric, and who have stood up to their tormentors/ violators and even their protectors to stop the abuse. And to those brave, brave girls who continue to fight to survive another day. May we see this horror begin to end in our lifetimes.
It’s my wedding day today; i am 17 years old.
It is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened,
And the 3rd anniversary of the 153rd time.
I have this terrible memory - my teachers call it a photographic memory.
I remember everything. I can’t forget even when i want to.
My mind is a notebook, each page blazing with the clarity of vulgar recall
I have tried to be good; to remember only what i should
But I have this terrible memory...
Today I’m to wed my uncle - My father’s younger brother.
For him, it is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened.
And all the anniversaries in between.
I wonder if he remembers the 28th time...the 10th time....
The First time...
I wonder if his memory is as unforgiving as mine.
My notebook has no entries on conjectures, or pain or anguish
Not mine; not anyone else’s.
It is only the sum total of the number of times “It” happened.
Each page pristine, detailed, crystal clear, with edges as sharp as knives;
Bestowing countless paper cuts as they stir secretly in my head.
Those blessed paper cuts ... mental cuts .... numberless abrasions, innumerably inflicted to forget a page;
To forget one instance.
That never happens.
But i find some peace as the physical pain temporarily cloaks me in its tenderly piercing grasp.
Today I will become the wife of Harris lala* .... Harris.... No, I can’t bring myself to drop the suffix
Maybe he will finally become nameless. Tranquilizingly, numbingly, mercifully nameless.
My mother is relieved... she has been a silent witness (his co-conspirator?) to the last 5 anniversaries of when “It” first happened
My father hasn’t really spoken to me in 3 years (his Protector?) .... not since the day I tried to tell him that his brother had ... had been ... my mind still refuses to name “It”
Today I also learned that I’d stood first in the Board matriculation exam.
I resent that accolade .... that worldly consummation of my terrible memory.... my terrifyingly acute, my savage, unrelenting memory.
Today, my tormenter (my violator?) will become my partner for life
Today, I’m going to finally close the Notebook in my mind
Today, I’m going to be respectable once again.
Today will be the First day of the consummation of my marriage!
(Today will be the 389th time that i will be ravaged).
De Khudai pe aman.
Lala: term of respect for older male relative, mainly denoting “big brother”. Used commonly across most communities in Pakistan and the northern parts of India.
Why another 4 years of a Trump administration will be the likely impetus for China to dominate the world
As the 2020 US Presidential election looms largely ahead, I’m feeling increasingly ambivalent about the preferable outcome. Plain old gut-impelled common sense dictates that a Trump/ Pence-less administration is what the country is in dire need of. But a more cogent analysis shows that there is definitely more to it than just extricating the US and even the world from the incessant cringe-worthy mire of Trump gaffes and laughs.
The Biden/Harris duo may be optically appealing and indeed, stalwart creationists of pithy political sound bites, but on a practical, foreign policy level their ideology brings nothing cohesive or constructive to the Developing World table. The last 60 years have shown a lot of well-intended global alliances and organisations take on barely veiled male fide overtones serving the cause of only a chosen few. The rest of the world has continued to be trapped in abject, desperate poverty or firmly shackled in the ceaseless chains of debt and “corporate debenture”*.
With the Trump administration, we at least know where we stand. His unapologetic Exclusionary Nationalism bordering on an almost totatlitarian inward focus has meant that much less interference in world affairs; and by extension probably that much less devastating employment/ manipulation globally of the US war machinery.
At this juncture in our planetary politics, we can definitely do with a break in the poorly disguised fossil fuel wars and the not so covertly executed ethnic annihilation campaigns – all ruthlessly wrought for the unchallenged endurance of the unipolar world of the 21st century.
Another 4 years of the Trump administration will also most probably mean the invariable rise of the Middle Kingdom given that global political tipping points continue to respond as they have post World War II. Many countries in South Asia (which at almost 2 billion people, accounts for 25% of the world population) are already in various phases of “cooperative economic alliances” with China, mostly through the BRI (Belt and Road Initiaiative). Beijing, many say, wields a finely tailored approach towards each south Asian country to achieve its national interests, whether it is counterterrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, port access in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, or brewing agitation and discomfiture in and around its primary regional rival, India. The naysayers who are also the beneficiaries of the current unipolar world, have a lot to say about a planet dominated by China. But it is pertinent to note that the last 250 years haven’t exactly been the most favourable for our region either. We have been caught in economically and psychologically devastating proxy wars, become the unwitting co-creators of Islamic militarism/ terrorism and have in fact for most of our independent existence, continued to inextricably slide into the abyss of socioeconomic and ideological regression. This has resulted in punishing repercussions from many formerly friendly countries. So a world where Beijing is at the helm of affairs can only be a step up for the otherwise beleaguered region.
As Wade Davis, writer and anthropologist, has so succinctly put it, “No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. [By the 20th century], the torch had long passed into the hands of America”. And now, in the third decade of the 21st century, it is yet again that epochally perfect inflection point where the real and conceptual Crown of the 7 Continents passes on to a new victor.
And even though I and many more half way contemplative global news watchers may tire of the mindless rhetoric emanating from the White House, higher purposes must take precedence. And so, it is indeed with reluctant ambivalence that I am rooting for the Idiocracy to continue to beat the US drum for the next 4 years too.
A 2020-2024 Trump administration will be the perfect timeline impetus for the Wuhan Spirit to really take root not only in the region, but to also quite solidly infuse the rest of the world with its distinct politics of Courteous Hegemony.
Enter, The Dragon!
De Khudai pe aman.
*Enter The Dragon: Title inspired from a 1973 Robert Clouse movie.
*POTUS: President of the United States
*Corporate Debenture: the vortex of debt and the accompanying debilitating/ coercive actions nations are subjected to by the international funding agencies