Thursday, 29 September 2011

Digesting lunch.

In this quiet time
The world recedes. The leaves stir
and tell me secrets.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Angel tears

What makes angels cry? Is it something I've done or something I didn't?

The burning grief of phoenix and angel alike tells us that tears heal.

Is it in the dew? Sobs hidden in the thunder? Or sighs in the fog?

Stop being so bad or the angels will weep, they said, and the angel wept anyway.

Bad girls make them cry. That's what they said. 

When she wept the angels joined her.

"You bad little girl! Stop being so bad! The angels must be weeping!"

Yes. They weep for her. 


Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Grief draws
big black lines
around my loneliness
heightens all my fears
Grief lays stark every vulnerability
and doubt
and dusts away the cobwebs
of memories both lost and hidden.

It comes again and again and again
an unwanted monsoon storm,
a necessary cruelty
and I keep hoping that it is just a season
that the sun will shine on me and warm me again
but the days get colder, gloomier,
and winter must first be braved.

Friday, 19 August 2011

I doodled all the day.

And it wasn't easy, because drawing is what 
gives me the most pleasure (more than writing, even) 
and yet I always feel guilty about how "useless" it is. 
I know, I know, is the Mona Lisa useless, is 
the Taj Mahal? Have heard all that before, 
but it doesn't stop me from feeling guilty that 
I wasn't doing something more useful for humanity. 
It's the old I-must-save-the-world mentality, and yes, 
I do realise it's quite mental, but there it is. No advice 
required, I already give myself PLENTY on this topic.

Besides, guilt nonwithstanding, I did manage 

to allow myself the pleasure of a long doodling 
session with lots of twiddly details and colouring-in 
of white space. I was inspired by an old school friend 
who has a wonderful page on Facebook, The SuRealist, 
where she posts time-lapse clips of her doodles and lino cuts. 
(Go there and Like it!)

It was fun. And even better: it was useful! It cleared 

my mind of all the static that usually clutters me up 
(I'm assuming the clutter transformed and translated 
into all the squiggly bits I drew) and it made me happier 
and lighter. I suppose it was therapeutic but that sounds 
so clinical, so I'd rather just say that it just gave me joy, 
and that's a pretty useful thing to get these days.

P.S. Yes, those are elephants and no, those aren't teeth, 

they're piano keys.

Friday, 5 August 2011

How to Prevent Murder

"The dramatic term soul murder probably was coined in
the nineteenth century; it was used by the great Scandinavian
playwrights Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg. Ibsen defines it
as the destruction of the love of life in another human being.
In psychiatry, the term was made familiar by the paranoid
psychotic patient Schreber, whose Memoirs (1903) were
the subject of one of Freud's long case histories (1911)."

- Leonard Shengold, from his book Soul Murder Revisited
(click the title to read Chapter One)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Let him see you cry.

(For E.)

Let him see you cry.
He is a baby. He knows something about crying, already.
He will understand.
That you are cold and wet and alone.
That you hunger for something to fill the emptiness.
That you need a hug.
That you need him to love you.

Let him see you cry.
He is your son. He looks to you for answers
To questions he can’t yet ask.
He feels their absence too.
He senses your grief.
He watches both your sorrow and your strength
And sees how to become a man.

Let him see you cry.
He is not too young to learn what it is to be human.
Your tears teach him.
That it takes courage to show vulnerability.
That deep pain is only created by deep love.
That love is what matters.
That love is what lasts.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Grave conversation.

It tends to be one-sided. At least, that's been my experience, and to be honest, I like it that way. I think I'd be more than a bit disturbed if my father had had something to say this morning, when I went to visit him.

The graveyard is beautiful. I find most graveyards beautiful, but perhaps it's just because of the trees and the quiet. There is nothing to fear in a graveyard, even at midnight, except perhaps for rats, snakes stray dogs, or stray men (living ones).

The dead pose no threat. They return no greetings and answer no questions, and if they're happy to see their visitors and hear our voices, we can't see their smiles, not unless we shut our eyes and seek out their faces in a memory or a dream.

But we don't know for sure, do we? And we'll only find out when it's our turn to take a place under the earth. So I found myself babbling along, trying to remember all the important things I had to let Daddy know. Just in case. I felt a bit silly, talking to a tombstone - but surely it was no sillier than buying a lottery ticket, or blowing a fallen eyelash off the back of one's palm and making a wish ..

I would have sat there for hours to tell him all that I had to say, but the living were waiting for me at the gate, so I rushed through as much as I could, then left. Now I'm sitting here wondering if this is how we humans first created prayer: conversations with an unseen unreachable parent, someone who gave us strength, care and protection, who loved us in spite of what we were.

I suppose an atheist would see in this, the invention of God by a bereaved child. And a believer would think of Adam, separated from his Creator, calling out, yearning for that lost connection.

No answers, so all we have to go on is our faith, and on what we choose to believe, even if it's make-believe. And so I like to think that my father might have had something to say back to me this morning, after all. I worry that I left too soon, but I like to think that he understands, and that he'll get the message across to me anyway, in a language I'm only just learning to unlock.

Good night, everyone, wherever you are. Good night, Daddy, wherever you are.

(Edited 15 April 2014)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Upside down.

It's four months since my father died. My world has turned
upside down. I've gone from being the baby of the family
to being its general manager. I've gone from reading and writing
to 'rithmetic. I've gone grey. I go home every morning to do work
that isn't mine, and I leave home every evening to sleep in a bed
that isn't mine. I go crazy once in a while, and go into the abyss
even more often. I go on. I indulge in a lot of emotional overeating,
and am intrigued by the amount of emotional weight loss. I smoke
like a salmon and cough like a cancer patient. I cry, even in front
of other people. I wake up screaming, and wish I had an Edward Cullen.
I obliviate by drowning myself in Harry-Potter-abilia, which works well
until my favourite characters die, and then all the heartache comes back,
and I cry like it's four months ago.

But .. Nature spoke to me this weekend, and this is what she said:

So - it's been four months since my father died, and my world
has turned upside down. I'm not the baby of the family any more,
I've grown up. I'm learning new skills, like how to balance accounts
and pay taxes. I am getting to experience emotions that I've spent
most of my life running away from. And when it gets too much,
I have places to escape to, some down the road, and some
inside my head.I do smoke and I do overeat and I don't exercise,
but I haven't walked into a bar and I haven't got hooked on
sleeping pills. It's difficult closing my eyes because the nights
aren't very nice, but the mornings keep coming, and when
my eyes are open, that's when I catch such glimpses of
the loveliness of life that is always there to find if I just look.

Upside down isn't all bad. I'm growing. Just not in a direction I'd expected.

P.S. I don't know what these amazing flowers are called. They're growing on a tree 
in my next-door neighbour's garden (she calls them "trumpet flowers"). I've been 
driving past for more than a decade, but I only noticed them a few days ago.

(Edited 15 April 2014)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Happy Bathday.

Or not. In spite of it being a wonderful sunny afternoon, Teddy Dog and Siggy here don't look too thrilled at being pinned up by their ears to dry.

Introductions are perhaps in order. Teddy Dog is, if I remember correctly, 22 years old. Cruelly abandoned by my niece when she decided she was too old for teddy bears (or dogs), he was taken in by me, and will remain with me until Ayesha comes to her senses. Teddy Dog is of a fine pedigree, and comes from the second most wonderful toyshop in the world - a gigantic building filled with nothing but toys, in London. I think the shop was called Hamley's? Or something beginning with F. Whatever.

Siggy, on the other hand (and on the right, in this picture) is of humbler origin, picked up at the Manama souq in Bahrain, back in 1999. Amazing that, really, because he does look much older than Teddy Dog. Presumably being born in London gives you some sort of anti-ageing advantage over being born in China.

I remember meeting Siggy on my first day back at work at FP7, when some of us took another new colleague, Marius, for a nice hot Indian thali lunch on a nice hot Bahraini spring afternoon. Siggy was waiting for me at a souq corner, where a Malayali gentleman was babysitting him and several other furry orphans. After trying several of these orphans on for huggability, I realised that Siggy was the one meant for me, and that was that.

By the next day, I had discovered that this bear had great listening skills, a sympathetic yet non-judmental eye (two of them, in fact) and a complete commitment to client confidentiality. I knew at once that this was a bear to whom I could pour out all my heart's woes and fears. Like all good therapists, he never answered my questions for me, of course. And best of all, he did not charge 30 dinars an hour. I named him Sigmund Furred.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Why we need trees.

We have innumerable reasons, but I'm sure this is one of them. Sometimes I look around me at the garbage strewn around, at the strays, at the unsmiling faces. Sometimes I'm down. And then I say to myself, "Look up."

(These are pictures I took one sunny Sunday afternoon in early March, walking home. These trees, and more like them, form a canopy all the way down my street).

(Edited 15 April 2014)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

One day in March.

The sky  was still blue, as blue as polluted Bangalore skies go. The leaves were still perfect in their intricacy and their symmetry. Almost everything stayed the same. Almost nothing changed.

But I've been hearing ambulance sirens since, and am surprised to find that my heart no longer races, my fear and dread no longer rise up to choke me like they used to.

Later that evening, I watered the neglected garden and noticed that a little brown butterfly with lemon-yellow markings lay dead at the foot of the lime tree my father and I planted on my birthday two years ago.

Things we have in common:
artistic talent
like to plant trees
like birds
know how to make tomato jam
the same eyes
the same feet
slow to show anger
tend to think the best of other people
find it hard to say 'I love you'

The butterfly was dead and I ran the hose over it, bathing it like they bathed Daddy yesterday. This morning when I brushed my teeth there was only the faintest whiff of camphor and herbs left to remind me.

Things we did together:
walk down to the riverbank to brush our teeth when I was little
paint eggs
make gulab jamuns
do the crossword
agonise over paperwork
go for walks
go to the bank
fix things
roll our eyes at each other when Mummy got melodramatic

The man from the mosque came back later to clean the bathroom. He did a terrible job so I grabbed the Lysol, rolled up my salwar and helped him clean it a second time. I like cleaning so much that for a while I could forget that just a few hours earlier, they had been bathing my father's body just there; the wooden bier had lain on the cream tiles that my bare feet were on now.

It is now three days since I tried to warm his cold swollen feet, and then held his clammy hand while they switched off the machine. And the sky is still as blue as it gets.

Dr Abdul Razak Tonse
1 December 1926 - 21 March 2011

Bye, Daddy.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A New Year's Wish For You

 Walking down the road to my parents' house for New Year's 
lunch this afternoon, this water tanker caught my eye. While 
I was getting my camera set, that boy in blue happened to come 
into frame. It didn't bother me much, although I had intended 
to just get a close-up of the painting. And now, after having 
just read Lunar Hine's comment on my previous post, I'm thinking
 that maybe it's serendipity again. This is what she wrote: "I think 
that sometimes love is as simple as doing the washing up when 
 it's not your turn. These are the droplets which build the rainbow 
we call love."

And so, my New Year's wish for you is this:

The next time you're doing the washing up, out of turn, out of love .. 
may the gods not just smile upon you. May they - wide-eyed, 
with nostrils flaring and moustaches bristling with pride - stick out 
a joyful red tongue and lick the side of your face.