VERSE | A LOVE STORY

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSewAcj86/
When he smiles
His mouth curves up a little
Just a bit. The teeth don’t show.
But sometimes a rare glimpse of ivory snow
Peeks through. Like weathered pages
From a book that has seen the ages;
That has been loved, and also has
Been tossed around in the hands
Of those that loved it less -
Now hiding its parchment yellowness.

When she smiles
Her cheeks skip up, joining hands
With the crow’s feet at the corners
Of her eyes. Hands and feet
Join together in a wreathe
Its flowers have been abloom a while
Many now wear waning smiles
Just a few are waxing still
Of bountiful life taking their fill.

When they look at each other
He and she
And they smile for all the world to see
The mouths, the noses and the cheeks
The enamel pearls, the crow’s feet
All fade away as eyes light up;
Two sets of windows brighten up
Spangled pathways to twin souls.
The radiant smiles reach deep inside
To gently touch two pages bright
Of a love story yet untold.

VERSE | I’M HAPPY TODAY

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT:  https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSdJJQM5y/?k=1
I’m happy today, I can feel it inside
The laugh in my belly comes bubbling outside
I feel a strange lightness like I have grown wings
Yesterday’s burdens seem like faded old things

I look in the mirror while fixing my hair
I smile to myself, my reflection smiles back
I giggle aloud, my twin does the same
We go back and forth playing that funny game.

With my bag on my shoulder I step outside
I walk to the tree with the dappled sunlight
There I stand for a while to glance at the world
As the brightness of spirit around me unfurls

Two dogs amble on, happy kings of the street
A little old lady dips in her bag for a treat
The trio stand out like a painting of love
Surrounded by kindness, lit up from above

The resident Tuk Tuk is parked in the lane
Its sarong-clad driver is humming away
A handheld mirror is clutched in one hand
The other is smoothing an errant strand

He looks at me, smiles and says “Good morning”
“Where will it be to? The usual madam?”
I grin back as I sit down on the seat
Sandwiched between two photos of pedicured feet!

I arrive at my destination, feeling crazy and light
I’m still warmly cloaked in the joyful vibe
Yes! I’m happy today, it’s been pouring right out
The smile on my lips has been hard to wipe out.

VERSE | JOY MEETS WORLD

It was just another day
I was going to my cafe
I got onto the escalator
Inching me up on my north-easterly way

I turned around to the sound
Of a straining, hassled parent
As he looked at his little one
His mildly stern gaze quite apparent

The boy looked away; he was not in the mood
To be held back from his play
The stairs running up all on their own!
What fun to skip around on them all day!


I sensed his bright happy energy
Even as his little hand was grasped
In restraint; in gentle admonishment
Grown-up impatience was writ quite large!

The agitatated parent caught my eye
As I took in the scene from five stairs above
I smiled; he smiled; something freed up
And he looked back down at his little son

He picked him up and kissed his cheek
Then up on his shoulders the little boy went
The child gave a glorious whoop of joy
As on the magical stairway he made his ascent.

I looked up, the special journey was ending
I bade it farewell with a skip and a hop
The child still grinning chortled with laughter
It was just another sweet day out and about.

VERSE | JOY STORY

I woke up this morning, what a fabulous day!
I glanced in the mirror, smiling away.
I made my bed, brushed my teeth, did my hair
I got myself ready, humming away.
I picked up my bag, looked out at the world
It was glimmering and dancing, shining away
I walked down the street towards my cafe
The Magnolia and Bougainville were blooming away.
I sat at a table in the veranda outside
All the feathered creatures were chirping away.
I wrapped my hands around my latte
As the mid morning breeze whispered away
I then went about my usual day
The hours peacefully ticking away
Then came evening as I sat in my lounge
The shadows of dusk lightly stretching away
I woke up this morning, with hope in my heart
The universe too gently embraced me today.

VERSE|Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle

The beautiful tropical monsoon sky
That changes colours in the blink of an eye.
Inspiring awe in its kaleidoscopic wake
It shifts and shimmers; now translucent, now opaque.

From the deepest depths of a cornflower blue
To the delicate flush of a just ripe peach,
It drifts and glimmers in rainbow hues
An iridescent paradise just out of reach.

Then there’s the never ending mesmeric motion
Of the cresting and falling Indian Ocean;
It’s white laced edges hugging the shore
In a primal dance telling tales of yore.
This is the magic of the Lighthouse* promontory
Where the heavens lustily encircle the sea.

VERSE| IN NATURE’S EMBRACE

The green of the earth 
And the blue of the sky;
The cool, mellow breeze
That caressingly passes by.

The trilling of the birds
The humming of the bees;
The rustling of the leaves
In their verdant canopies.

The well-loved paths
Fringed with emerald grass;
The spring-born butterflies
Delicately flitting past.

That one beloved companion
Who matches steps with mine,
Our hearts and minds in harmony
In this precious time.

This surely is my heaven
My earthly paradise,
Where Nature gently embraces me
And I kiss her with my eyes.

VERSE| THE WOODEN BENCH

We have all, at some time or another been overwhelmed, overpowered, bested by our grief, anxiety and wretchedness. At those times, some of us have also been lucky enough to have that one place where we have, for a while, found some degree of quietude and peace. This is a tribute to those secret little places and spaces of comfort and healing in our lives.

There is this wooden bench I like
It’s not fancy; quite the common type.
Cloaked in by the dappled canopy
Of a gracefully pirouetting Mara tree,
It sits in the park like a dear old friend
It’s well-worn embrace ever welcoming.
A young couple walks up, caught in the grips of wrath
Love is lost; it’s the wretched aftermath;
Words are exchanged until the fury’s spent
Frustration - Anxiety - Sadness - Silence.
Then they sit down on the wooden bench ...
Gradually, muscles relax and nerves untense.
Even if it is a passing interlude,
Loads are lightened; hearts are soothed.

Wild flowers grow lushly around its feet
Bobbing bright heads to Earth’s vital beat.
The bench sits there like a quiet friend
It’s well-worn seat ever welcoming.
A man sits down in a state of unease
Holding on to his hat in an errant breeze.
He picks up his phone and looks at the screen;
The unlit glass reflects the tranquil scene ...
He looks up and around him his brow somewhat eased
Fleeting albeit, he’s found his moment of peace.

Songful birds and their terrestrial friends
Roam warbling and chittering around the bench;
Hoping for a serendipitously fallen treat
They browse busily around the seat.
A wheelchair-bound man looks up at an overcast sky;
His female companion already has water in her eyes.
They sit side by side in worlds of their own
Reminisnce weighs heavy of days that are gone ...
A mynah trills as a light drizzle falls
And a sweet petrichor briefly dispels the pall.
The man looks at her, takes her hand and she smiles
For now they’re alright; tomorrow is still a while.

I too have sat in Nature’s restoring arms
On that bench where she weaves her alchemical charms.
I too have unburdened my hopes and my fears
I too have laid my bursting heart bare;
And I have heard her soothing murmurs
That have quietened my deepest despair.
I’ve looked into her soft eyes from that corner in the park
For a time, my soul too has emerged from the dark;
The clouds have parted; the sun has shone through
And I’ve breathed more easily, sitting on that wooden pew.

VERSE| AN ODE TO LITTLE JOYS

It’s the little joys in life 
That lift and hug the soul;
It’s the little brushes with sublimity
That paint the rosiest strokes

It’s the steaming mugs of tea shared
With a friend, over confidences and laughter;
The mugs wrapped in hands as warm as the hearts
That are bonding, ministering, healing ... and after
Memorializing that perfect little moment of joy.

It’s the sudden cool breeze that caresses the cheek
And then wraps me up in its vital embrace;
It’s the happy burst of a monsoon shower
As she dances and cleanses; prances and quenches
Leaving behind her intoxicating petrichor
In a joyful bouquet of nostalgia and grace

It’s the intrepid, songful, mirthful mynah
That unexpectedly struts right up to my feet
Warbling of little delights; trilling with all her might
Laying her little heart bare in melodious refrain
It’s the big, big soul in that fragile frame
That reminds me of the precious little joys.

It’s the beautiful Sakura tree, bounteous in its white and pink
Waiting for a wayward breeze to stir up her flower-bedecked limbs;
It is seeing the frolicsome duo of tree and breeze
Create magic in a moment they mutually seize
As the blossoms flutter down in lusty effusion
Covering the ground with inflorescent profusion
An enchanting, enthralling moment of joy.

It’s little kindnesses wrought in the moment
A helping hand on a busy street,
A warm smile in the milieu of rushing feet
A tender word to the transiently fallen
A little something more for the lonely and forgotten
It’s seeing this shared transcendental camaraderie
That gives me that small little rush of joy.

It’s looking up into a clear night sky
And finding Orion and Taurus winking up high
It’s watching the Big Dipper look tenderly upon
Little Ursa Minor nestling just under the moon
It’s seeing our little world from the vastness of space
That fills me with joy and bolsters my faith

The quickening string that binds us all
Our whole web of life; all living creatures
Are these startlingly simple acts of joy
These wondrous, alchemical creations of nature
It’s this coming together of life’s vital energy
That lifts and elates with its mystical synergy
This is the mannah that nurtures the soul
Mending our cracks and making us whole.

FEATURE|BY TUK OR BY CROOK

I have now been using these four-stroke creatures to transport me around the island for the last 5 years, and I have to say that we’ve developed quite a lovely (e)motional symbiosis. They take me where I have to go, and I help them log a part of their daily distance while we both also get in a bit of a quaint conversation. The tuk tuk chatter ranges from Imran Khan’s political likability (he’s at least universally loved by the SL 3-wheeler brigade), to expertly compressed 6 minute summaries of their lives delivered amidst unexpected swerves, dodges and lurches, as my driver looks back during the choicest parts of his particular narration. I react congenially enough until imminent death threatens our largely blindly-pitching carnival of drama. Then I don my mother superior mantle, cut my voluble driver short and tell him if he doesn’t focus on getting me to my destination still in possession of my earthly form, that I will disembark right there, right then. That works, because losing a “hire” is almost as bad as having an animated conversation killed at its apex – this tuk tuk double whammy is a thing to be avoided at all costs. So the rest of the journey continues in inhaling the toxic and nauseating but thankfully silent, and undramatic fumes of over-taking vehicles.

Tuk Tuk drivers come in all manner of forms, from the road runners to the pavement huggers and a whole colorful gamut in between. There are the staid, honest types who drive in sedate silence (a perrenial favourite and an increasing rarity); the sly, intrepid ones who will take you on wildly circuitous routes to your destination; the meter cheaters who with undisguised enthusiasm will punch in 10 extra buttons on the instrument to awaken the tuk tuk Beast of Deceit; the MI6 Hall of Famers who will glance suspiciously at every other vehicle they pass, with special x-ray vision scans reserved for when they stop at traffic lights. The ones that are big fans of external trappings, their carriages outfitted with WiFi, a DVD player, a 15 inch monitor, sanitizer, a tissue box and, wait for it…. seatbelts! The nervous, anxious ones driving barely intact tuk tuks that groan and whine in anguished protest – (I tend to tip them the most generously. My sentimental, rooting-for-the-underdog knee jerk reactions continue to be alive and well). The Goodwill Ambassador who will, over the 10 minute ride, deliver a heart warming speech on the goodness of his countrymen and the many wonderful bounties of his paradise isle. Then there are the tenacious shopping mall 3-wheeler brigades with ethics that are as dubious as they themselves are territorial – one has to spew some quantities of brimstone and hellfire to get out of their clutches; also probably the only contingent that all the other tuk tuk drivers hesitate to lock their … headlights with!

This endearingly sensationalist lot also believes in pithy, public declarations of the meaning and gist of their lives, emblazoned as they are on their autos. There’s a sweet, almost nostalgic obsession with certain historical personages and quaint adaptations of favored English idioms: Like Che Guevara who always wants the tuk tuk contingent to rebel; Bob Marley who would like them to forget their woes in most likely, a moonshine-steeped, reggae-rocked weekend. Then there is the tuk tuk driver throwing out a barefaced challenge asserting “if you’re bad, I’m your dad“; or the one who’s had it with arrogance saying “fly not high so you fall not low“; or the myriad others who loudly declare that their hearts are up (on their tuk tuk behinds) for the taking, and as many more who have publicly closed themselves to love… certain lady passengers always being an exception!

On wet days, of which there are many on this tropical island, the rickshaw drivers will race home largely oblivious to the desperate hails of rain-soaked pedestrians. The ones with a flair for a bit of perverse drama, will even pretend to slow down and then rev up almost immediately, leaving momentarily buoyed spirits crashing into the puddles forming all around; revelling in the reversal of the supply/ demand structure for the course of the monsoon torrent. I have tended to see the comic relief in this too as I have been lured and then abandoned by the fickle advance and departure of an unoccupied tuk tuk. Like they say, everyone needs their own particular form of catharsis!

As colourful and varied as the character spectrum is on these public carriers, they, one and all, manage to go where no other/ bulkier vehicles can. Through nooks and crannies, brushing, with millimetres to spare, past a lumbering bus, racing down paths barely wide enough for 2 people to walk abreast. There is something of a mild urban censure of these contorting asphalt plyers – many say, a menace on Colombo’s narrow roads that are already burgeoning with their automotive burdens. But for us, the carless, environment-preserving lot (inadvertent as this reduced CO2 footprint state of being may be!) they are our reasons for remaining happily mobile across our neighbourhood geographies.

And so, as I spend my days roaming the city in between bouts of reading, writing and grocery shopping, I have formed an almost affectionate bond with the tuk tuk posse of the metropolis. Despite the ravages wrought by the pandemic of 2020, they remain optimistic, enterprising, courageous and cheerfully defiant on the roads. I still call them out for over-charging, they still respond with outlandish excuses but together we go pitching and careening across the city in a haze of mutual appreciation.

Getting around the island by Tuk or by Crook!

VERSE|A WALK TO DECEMBER*

Another end of year has trundled in at last - 
Dawned is far too genial a word to use for what’s been a blast
Of a year, of our lifetimes, of living memory too they say
So on this blessed December day, I’m wishing it all away!

May the Corona perish in the gentle warmth of spring
Helped along by its archnemesis, the grand old vaccine.
May the dear departed find rest and cosmic grace;
May their earth-bound loved ones begin to make their peace
With losses, grief and tender hearts;
With new endings and even newer starts.

But most of all, let us hold on to the quietness within,
The fruits of all those locked-down hours of introspection;
May that stillness guide us in the years to come,
To live a life more fulfilled, to let our purposes be done;
To become intimate again with our humanity,
To learn to give, to love, to coexist more easily.

Another end of year is upon us once again
Nuanced as it is with a ragged, shadowy mein.
Even in its greyness, it is ripe with the promise of better days;
Of togetherness and laughter, of joy and celebration,
Of birthdays, anniversaries and triumphant graduations.

May 2022 be a soulful, wholesome distillate
Of all the growing-up we’ve had to do over the last year;
May it help us recover our little magical moments
The joyful alchemy of all that we hold dear.

So family, friends, neighbours and those merrily blundering on this digital wire
Have yourselves a very merry Xmas and a happy new year.

De Khudai pe aman

*Title inspired from A Walk to Remember, a 2002 American coming of age romantic drama

**Read the highlighted words in sequence from top to bottom for the Blackout poem/ phrase within the poem. It reads: December 2020 a year bound with losses, but our humanity once again is ripe to recover all that we hold dear.

FEATURE|The Bloodsoaked Rhymes of our Nursery

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

A lovely old quatrain, filled with the promise of blood and gore (or at the very least, massive quantities of ill-fated yolk!). Or how about:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby, cradle and all!

The doomful melodrama spanning from the cradle to the grave was never more succinctly played out than in the above poem. Or then:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after!

Another rhyme, another disquieting tragedy at the heart of which are the children – always the children, as its main characters. The more of these nursery rhymes you recall, the more you’ll be reminded of the copiously sinister top note in almost all of them. Ranging from racism to bigotry to plain old sadism, these rhymes from our childhood embodied them all. Try reciting a few others like, Eenie meenie miny mo”, “London bridge is falling down”, “Sing a song of sixpence”, “Little Miss Muffet”, “Old Mother Hubbard” and “Goosey goosey gander” – all straight up threatening or woeful or just plain evil! Some of them are actually pithy, blackhearted little odes to actual personages and their peculiar quirks, like Mary the 1st’s religious malevolence – (Three Blind Mice), King Edward the 1st’s cruel avarice – (Baa Baa Black Sheep), the wonton love affairs of the royal European courts and its many colorful denizens; and also a myriad plagues, witches and famines. These rhymes were akin to recording history for quick, unprejudiced recall. And so, what better way than as a child’s beloved refrain, repeated ad nauseam, passed on from generation to generation; the rhyme and meter keeping it true to its original foreboding self.

Indeed, for many of us, nursery rhymes were probably the first few words we ever uttered with any pleasure after the general familial ID allocations of Mama and Papa. I still remember the infinite pleasure, comfort and toddler-centredness (there has to be such a thing!) I derived from repeating these much-loved childhood rhymes. And once the novelty of “she already knows all her nursery rhymes” or “tell aunty what happened to Humpty Dumpty” wore off, the adults also became innocently, resignedly tangled in our whole love affair with these refrains. The slightly disturbing thing is, had they known of the morbid origins of the rhymes we were so lovingly taught, how many would have still thought, let well enough alone; if it makes the kids happy, let them sing of old men being thrown down rickety stairs and babies falling out of their tree top cradles. And they wouldn’t be entirely to blame. Generations of painting the malignant with the brush of hunkydoriness quite entirely dilutes outage and indeed, skews the moral compass itself: Atrocity takes on a happy vagueness; racism becomes invisible; patriarchy adroitly sits atop any semblance of gender equality, and so on. And so now we are all quite happily complicit in perpetuating the crazed ramblings of 400 years ago, cloaked as they are in the rhythm of rhyme and meter. The nursery rhymes of our childhood, thus made eternal, are now forever rolling and roiling in the ether.

The attached link details some of the social madness that inspired many of the most beloved nursery rhymes that we grew up with: https://www.vagabomb.com/10-Dark-and-Disturbing-Origins-of-Popular-Nursery-Rhymes/

Now that we know, seems like it may be time to change the lyrics at least, while keeping the nostalgia-laden tunes/ meter alive. That too requires a break from the inertia of tradition. I’ll begin the Great Re-hash with the below rendering of a favourite. Any other shakers of the status quo, give your favourite a go.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great thought:
What if all the kings horses
And all the kings men,
Danced a nice foxtrot

Across Goblin’s Glen!
Hello, I’m the Humpty that didn’t have a great fall

OPINION| A GRACIOUS FAREWELL

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

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