It is with great excitement and pleasure that I introduce my second book for the grownups – my book of poetry and essays titled SHIMMERING SCRAPS OF POETRY AND MADNESS. The book will be available across bookstores in Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the end of December 2022. Friends in SL can currently order it from the Jam Fruit Tree bookstore on Galle Road via call/WhatsApp to 072-7268078.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
This is a collection of poems and essays, humble opinions, rumblings of the heart about the joys, the truths, the pain, the controversies, the funniness and the wonder that criss cross all our lives in one way or another. I have compiled them here because too many times, we are witnesses to profound beauty, love, dreams, desolation, prejudice and injustice and yet, we forget.
The contents of these pages range from the sublime to the ridiculous; from soaring on the wings of ecstacy to struggling with overwhelming despair; from the capricious joys of matrimony to the dubious delights of singledom; from the profound ecstasy in a mug of steaming latte to the ardent disappointment in a less than perfectly brewed cup of tea; from the comedic to the somber and from the customary to the controversial, this collection of poems and features encompasses them all.
Scraps of Poetry and Madness is a phrase borrowed from that literary Wonder Woman, Virginia Woolfe. For in this collection too, there is a stream of raw and strident, passive and ruminative, joyous and grief-bound, mad and glad thoughts that run like a melody through the entirety of its spine; and like a sore-throated bulbul (who also has some good-voice days) I have sung them all for my readers.
I mean are you really there or is it just my mind filling in the dialogue?
Dialogue by its very essence means a conversation between two people
I call myself a ____. But I have so many questions in my head. Secret. All secret. Shared with no one. I don’t want to be termed an infidel. A pariah.
Why is religion so … restraining? Incarcerating almost. And claustrophobic.
I want to be good. I want to receive your divine blessings. I want to go to heaven. But I sometimes feel so trapped here.
You have a mind. Listen to it.
I do. And it tells me that the rituals of religion have overtaken my humanity. I do them with more earnestness than any act of actual kindness or empathy or consideration for the people around me. I feel like a fraud. Like I’m doing all this so I can go to heaven and not … not because I really want anyone to benefit from any of my good deeds in themselves.
My mother is going to perform her third pilgrimage … blessed is she! But I can’t help thinking that in place of raking in more divine favour, she could have instead funded the education of our driver’s daughter. She’s such a smart girl but was pulled out of school because it was a choice between her and her brother. Why does wanting my mother to forgo her holy pilgrimage to help someone at home seem right to me? And yet, thinking that seems sinful? And why must I give fully only to those poor that share my exact faith even if I have to look for them on the streets, and give grudgingly or not at all to the Hindu woman who slaves in my kitchen everyday? Why does that seem incredibly unkind to me, and yet even thinking about the inconsideration somehow seems sinful? Like I’m questioning the very fundamentals and wisdom of my faith.
When I’m alone and these thoughts take over my heart and mind, I get frustrated because I can’t do what really feels right to me. I feel like I’m being cold, calculating, ruthless. And then I get panic attacks because thinking like that just seems damnable and wrong. Everything is upside down and inside out. Nothing makes sense anymore.
When you feel right in your gut about something, anything, a conundrum, then that is your moral obligation. Religion is just another name given to that personal value system, that credo.
But I’m not always sure. There are so many mixed messages. The world has changed and yet we have not. We are discouraged from embracing that change in ways that should happen naturally. Change does not sit well with the communities and the people that were enlightened by your wisdom and guidance so many ages ago. They still want to hold on to all those early norms and customs. It seems unnatural. Counter-intuitive. And yet, I want to do what’s right. I want to go to heaven.
Is …. Is there a heaven?
What is your concept of heaven?
What I’ve been told: a place of ease and abundance. Also a place where so much that I’m not allowed to do in this world, I can freely do there.
That sounds complex.
Yes! Again, I feel like a fraud. Why are so many things sinful and wrong in this life and yet those same acts and liberties will be allowed in the blessed heavens?
You tell me.
But it’s in the teachings. Revealed through your blessed apostle. It is your final word.
You have hundreds of years of history behind you. Your humanity and your spirit together with your instinct, make up your three most enlightened and reliable guides. Let them lead you and you will gradually find your way: a state of being that will make you feel light and joyful on the inside.You know, it’s true when someone said that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
That last bit was funny; I’m actually smiling. That felt good. But …religion is never lighthearted; it’s not meant to be cheerful or playful.
Any enterprise of the body and the soul that stops you from feeling happy on the inside, is not viable in the long term.
I listened to my heart and my mind. I tried to do what felt right at the deepest, truest part of me rather than what I’ve been taught is right.
And how did you feel?
I felt elated, free, at one with everything around me. No one was beyond your divine magnanimity no matter what they believed in; it was their goodness that was at the front and centre of any and all consequences. I felt an overwhelming compassion for everyone, every creature. There was nothing binding me down in odd, contrived ways. Rituals became so secondary. They ceased to define my whole belief system and instead became the anchors that I sometimes went to when I felt agitated or overcome. Sometimes I even felt like I had no … religion; at least, no mainstream religion. My renewed faith was like a shimmering pathway in my own heart and mind. I began to question things without feeling guilty, and I looked for answers. I began to see so many similarities with others who are faith-wise not like us. My perspective evolved … changed. I realized how difficult it was to identify and focus on the differences rather than on the similarities; how unnatural that was. We were all the same. I felt free, grateful, confident. And heaven would be more of this.
More of what?
More of every one of us trying to be ever better versions of ourselves. Our true selves. Our natural, spiritual selves. Because there is so much joy and freedom in that. So much honesty. So much harmony. So much peace of mind. Such lightness of spirit. That has to be what heaven feels like.
Yes, I listened to my inner voice and everything seemed so easy, so natural, so unbinding.
You LISTENED to your inner voice. You used the past tense. Why?
Yes, I did. Because my new sense of godliness came with a tremendous price. Everyone around me, those I love, those I look up to, those that have always guided me and protected me, they didn’t like what I had become. I felt my mother’s painful disappointment, my brother’s deafening silence and my father’s quiet fury. It has to mean something … all this outrage and disillusionment.
What do you believe in now?
I believe there is sagacity in the old ways. I believe in everything that I have been taught. I believe in the precise observance of rituals to keep us focused and dedicated. I believe that our differences are important and cannot be ignored; that these differences, even if they appear small, many times outweigh our similarities. They keep us cohesive as a community, an impregnable force that can withstand an assault of any kind. More importantly, I believe that we are not all equal in the eyes of the Divine. In terms of faith, we have got it as right as imperfect human beings can get a belief system. The final Hereafter will be ruthless, exacting for the unbelievers and also for those of us believers that stray from the one true path.
That sounds ominous.
That feels safe. I feel protected, part of a whole, when I reaffirm this credo. There has to be a reason for why so many believe these tenets. Why we are so many many millions strong. I can’t lose sight of the bigger picture by focusing on the inner, confounding, disquieting workings of my heart and my mind. They are distracting, frustrating and damaging to me, to my wellbeing in the Hereafter.
Damaging to your peace of mind too?
Faith is not about peace of mind. It is about a constant battle inside. An unending war against the voices of excess and those that would try to tempt us from our one, sacred path. Complete peace of mind is an intemperance, an indulgence, a fantasy. I’m sticking to my guns now. You can’t confuse me.
You are not God! With all your postulations about questioning everything, looking for answers, listening to my heart, focusing on the fairytale of my own spirituality, my peace of mind.
You are the devil pretending to be Divine!
I blocked the other voice. I ended the dialogue. I turned away. I turned away feeling triumphant and blessed. I had vanquished the unsettling, misleading rumbling inside. I had been lured away from the wisdom of centuries and I had found my way back. I basked in my victory.
Even as the muscles of my face celebrated the triumph of my soul, I felt something wrenching in my gut. I resolutely swallowed the acid aftertaste that rose to my mouth.
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.
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.
I ask you if you’re Happy You say that you ALMOST are ... But for that deal still stuck in the pipeline; The car you’ve had your eye on; Of someday getting into the privileged fold With a house in a gated neighbourhood.
I ask you if you’re Hopeful You say that you ALMOST are ... But for the country’s socio-economic situation; The children’s future; their education; And, oh your eternally dismal luck! Your lottery ticket is always a dud.
I ask you if you’re at Peace You say that you ALMOST are ... But for the fear of contracting a dire disease; Of neighboring countries planning a seige; And that infernal noisy discord! from the red duplex across the road.
I ask you if you’re Alive You say that of course you are! You’re breathing, you’re living; You’re thinking, you’re worrying; you’re working, you’re hurrying; You’re planning and hedging Against what might be coming...
Stop! Breathe .... Listen ....
Open up your mind and your heart; Cast off the spell of your self-doubting trance; Quit just living, and come gloriously ALIVE! Be happy and be hopeful even as you strive; Face the sun, take control of this time, seize the day, The magic is NOW, not in your ‘morrows or yesterdays.