Friday, 15 November 2013

If life is a test

If life is a test, I am failing
or else I’ll just scrape through
with a scrawl in the margin of my report card
saying "Must try harder" “Lacks focus”
or “Expected more of her”.

If life was a school, I was just the class fool,
and everyone laughed but me.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Oops, I did it again. Opening myself up to the endless comments of
you-look-much-nicer-with-hair and why-did-you-do-this and
are-you-depressed and and and ad nauseam. Sigh. To save you
the bother, here are my responses:

I know, and I don't care.
I don't know, and it doesn't matter.
All my life, what about you?

Sadly, most of the people who feel compelled to give me sartorial
advice do not read my blog.

I have not yet exactly pinpointed why I have this need to keep buzzing
my head. I had wanted to try it for some time, if only to make sure
that there was no 666 mark! Well, more realistically, to see if there
were any childhood scars that had been hidden (there weren't,
no physical ones, at any rate).

Then I saw Natalie Portman in that delicious film, V for Vendetta,
and that settled the matter.

All I know is that it somehow makes me feel powerful and
humble at the same time. It's incredibly freeing. It can be my shield
or my sword. It can work like a hijab or a big fucking billboard
that says "Go away."

It's also incredibly TIDY. I love not having to worry about how
my hair looks (it always looks the same, no cowlicks, no bed-head)
and when I'm sweeping, I never have to deal with strands of hair
around which dust bunnies form (unless friends or family visit;
they usually manage to leave behind a strand or two).

And it feels - in the literal sense - fantastic. There's something
exquisite about holding your freshly buzzed head in your hands,
letting your fingers run down your skull. Velvet in one direction,
velcro in the other.

Oh, and by the way, that story about Samson? Big fat lie.
I blame (but of course) patriarchy.

If only every woman would try it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Tomoyo and Tibet.

She looks fragile, but I don't think she is. Her skin seems
translucent, framed delicately by strands of soft, straight hair
that have fallen out of her ponytail. She speaks softly and gently,
but her words are purposeful and strong.

I see all of this in  her work. Each piece of Tomoyo Ihaya's
artwork is unique, and has been crafted with care and thought,
lovingly, to tell a story.

Although the story is one, it has over a hundred narrators:  the men
and women, the young and old, the mothers, fathers and children,
the friends, the monks. Each one a Tibetan who saw self-immolation
as the only way to protest the Chinese occupation of their home.

The ethereal texture of Tomoyo's work contrasts so starkly
with its dark, distressing subject. Perhaps that's what made it
sear itself into my mind and heart. It was hard to walk up to
each picture and look at it, and read the little pencilled captions
underneath. I read how old they were, and who they left behind.
It would have been easier to walk away.

I read of cruelties and injustices. I read of their last words,
and their last moments. It was painful, but, I felt, vital for me
to visit each and every person represented there. It was important
for me to put my fears and discomforts aside, and pay my respects.

Sometimes, I do this in graveyards:  every tombstone I pass, I say
the name out loud, imagining that there is a soul stirring somewhere
at the once-familiar sound, who finds some comfort in knowing that
their name is still on someone's lips, if only a sympathetic stranger's.

I do this because of a movie I watched earlier this year, in which
a dying woman tells her friend:  We die three times. The first
is when you take your last breath. The second is when your body
turns to dust. But the final death is when your name is spoken
for the last time.

Those 126 Tibetans are gone. Their evidence stolen away and
hidden, their headlines muffled, and the world could easily go
on its way as though they had never existed.

But Tomoyo speaks their names. She speaks their names with
the beauty, skill and gift of her art, and draws me in, making it
easier for me to look at the things I would rather hide from,
holding my hand as I walk past the tombstones.

Her work is showing at 1 Shanthi Road, and today is the last day.
Don't turn away. Don't close your eyes. Your soul needs it. And
so do theirs. Go on up there and take her hand.

Post script:  After I finished writing this, I came across another piece 
on Tomoyo, beautifully written by Sudha Pillai. Click here to read it.

Not so depressed doodle.

Not depressed on my part, that is. Although the lady in the picture
doesn't look very pleased with herself, in spite of owning
that magnificent bosom.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Another random depressed doodle.

And here's another, no doubt from the same era. I think I was
being a bit cynical with the saccharine twirly "bloom where
you're planted" cliche, because that whole doodle with the scrawl
and barbed wire and wall screams "TRAPPED!" to me. But the sky's
full of stars, and the earth full of what might be badly-drawn earthworms,
so it's not an entirely hopeless doodle. Unlike my dress sense.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Random depressed doodle

Found this while going through an old notebook from last year. 
Given that I still feel a lot like this most of the time, it would appear 
I haven't made much progress on the self-nurturing front. So much 
for years of therapy.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A need to bleed.

We are the animals in the circus, the gladiators in the arena.
We cut ourselves open, and they applaud.
We bleed, and they throw coins.

Every act of creation calls for blood.

The bringing forth of what has been growing within us.
The birthing only possible with pain.
The need to hear an appreciate voice cry out,  
It’s a boy! It’s a girl! It’s a poem, a story, a song!

We who create have a need to bleed, and a need to let the world watch.

Some of us bleed through pens and pencils, some through colour and clay.
Some through texture, or numbers, or with wood, leather and string.
Some of us, our voices bleed, or our arms and legs as they move
through space. Mothers bleed, and some never stop bleeding.

We who create, bleed, and all blood flow starts from the heart.

Monday, 30 September 2013

All I have is one teardrop.

Today I learnt that a friend’s father died, and I am jealous.
I am jealous of all the things he could say and do when he was
last with his father:  talking and smiling and touching and seeing
and remembering and joking and being together.  I don’t know
exactly what he said, but I know he said - and heard - the most
important thing:  I love you.

I said it too, to a heavily-sedated man with a ventilator tube
stuffed down his throat, held in place by a large unevenly cut
strip of surgical plaster across his face.

I love you. Thank you. I’ll miss you. You were wonderful. Good bye.

I said all these things, I think, to a man whose chest may only
have been moving up and down because of the machine pushing
air into his lungs. Somebody said later, that he was already gone
by the time we gathered around him in the ICU, and that
his reaction to my words might have just been a reflex,
a coincidence.

Because when I said these things, one tear gathered and rolled
from the corner of one puffy, closed eye. 

So I said a bit more. 

Don’t cry. Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. I’ll manage. 
I’ll take care of things. Go in peace.

Some of it was a lie. I’m not okay. I’m not managing. I don’t know
how to take care of anything. I cry. I worry. I have very little peace.

I hope my friend will be better off. I don’t know what else he said
to his father, but I hope he got to say all the things he needed to.
All the things he will need days and months and years from now.
When the if-onlys, the should-haves, and the why-didn’ts
come calling, I’m hoping his last memories of his father
will see them off at the door.

All I have is one teardrop. Sometimes it feels like everything,
and sometimes it feels like nothing. But it's all I have.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Book 1: The Mysterious Howling) - by Maryrose Wood

I like many, many things about this book. I'm going to tell you
about some of them, but not all. Because what I liked best about
this book was that I just looked at the front cover, liked it and
bought it. In other words, I somehow never got down to reading
the back cover. And I'm so glad I didn't, because it made it
such a delightful surprise for me to open the book, start reading,
and discover for myself exactly why those children were Incorrigible.

I don't want to deny you that pleasure, so I'm not going to tell you
much about the story. What I will tell you is that Maryrose
out-Snickets Lemony. She surpasses him, yes she does.
I found her storytelling more interesting, her humour more subtle,
and her style of 'speaking' to the reader more natural.

The story is set in 19th century England, and is told from
the perspective of  a young fifteen-year-old, Penelope Lumley.
There's a sprinkling of Jane Eyreishness about it; no Mr. Rochester
though (perhaps he'll emerge in Book 2, The Hidden Gallery).

Miss Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy
for Poor Bright Females, travels to Ashton Place in response
to this newspaper advertisement:

"Wanted Immediately:  Energetic Governess for Three Lively
Children. Knowledge of French, Latin, History, Etiquette,
Drawing and Music will be Required - Experience with Animals 
Strongly Preferred."

After a brief and somewhat odd interview with the lady of the house,
Penelope is hired:

"And with that, they both affixed their signatures to the bottom 
of the letter of terms that Lord Ashton had prepared. Penelope 
hardly thought this necessary, but Lady Constance assured her 
that signed, binding contracts were the custom in these parts, 
a charming formality which she would not dream of omitting."

So Penelope becomes governess for the three alphabetically-christened
Incorrigibles - Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia.

This is where the story really begins! Unfortunately, this is also
where I have to stop telling you anything more about it so as
not to spoil the surprise! Just know that this is one of the most
scrumptious children's books I've come across in a long time,
and it must be read!

Do not begin to assume you know exactly what an Incorrigible child
is like, because you do not. Not this kind of Incorrigible.
Any expectations that you have about the storyline are going
to be in shreds. Which reminds me,

Do not succumb to the temptation of reading the back cover. Also,

Do not fear the wrath of Lemony Snicket should your loyalties sway. 

Do not think you are too old/educated/busy to read this book.
Finally, and most importantly,

Do not die without having read this book.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A Liebster for me!

I love the definition of the word "liebster" because my name means the same thing! Thank you, Barb and Groundwell Farm for nominating me for this award!

For those of you who don't know what a Liebster Award is, it's an award given by bloggers to other bloggers to help discover small blogs and give them recognition. It works a bit like a chain letter (without the dire consequences!) in that each nominee gets to pay it forward by nominating other blogs they like; there's also a fun question-and-answer section that I'm looking forward to.

Eleven questions I got asked
Here are the questions that were put to me, and my answers:

1. What do you think about sheep?
 I do not get to meet very many, but there are two sheep that will always remain in my memory. They had the most serene, beautiful faces. I would sit by them every afternoon and sketch them. I was 16 or so at the time. I did not realise that the reason they were tied up behind my landlord's house was because they had been selected for sacrifice on Eid Al Adh'a (this sacrifice is a reenactment of the prophet Abraham's sacrifice, and performed on the last day of the Haj pilgrimage). The halal ritual (similar to kosher)  involves calming the animal down, being gentle with it, praying and giving it water to drink first. It is quick and painless in comparison to the usual type of commercial slaughter.  I once read of a German study that compared the two methods, which found that when animals are stunned first they die slowly and painfully, but with little outward expression of pain, due to being stunned. The animals slaughtered in the halal method lose consciousness - and consciousness of pain - within a few seconds, and pass quickly. Outwardly, however, from a human's perspective, there is a lot of blood flow, and the animal's muscles continue to have involuntary contractions even after the heart and brain have stopped. I had no knowledge of all this at the time, so needless to say I was horribly traumatised by the sight before me. I was even more horrified later that morning when the landlord's driver showed up with a gift of fresh mutton for our family - a gift made out of my two serene, beautiful friends. For a while after that incident, I became a vegetarian. Whenever I think of sheep, I remember these two.

2. Identify your most unloved possession.  How did you acquire this thing?
My grandfather's sword. A ceremonial British Army sword - he was the Inspector General of Police (in the days of British India) and used it only in parades. I doubt it has seen blood, but I, being a writer and a stumbling follower of non-violence, have always thought of the pen as being mightier. My cousin inherited it, but when he moved to Australia, he gave it to me.

3. Why did you think you needed it?
I didn't, but as it belonged to my mother's father, I have kept it out of some sense of obligation. Although I do hope to pass it on to my brother or nephew at some point.

4. How did it disappoint you?
It didn't, but a weapon, even a ceremonial one, is an ugly thing to display. So it somewhat distresses me that I have to store it in my home. Its length makes it hard to put away in a drawer! So I'm forced to let it lay flat on top of a cupboard or cabinet, and worry about whether or not it's being correctly stored, and also have to dust it every once in a while.

5. What is your favorite gardening tool?
I have to say, my hands! My gardening is limited to potted plants on the balcony, and I like interacting with them gently. As far as actual tools go, the one I've enjoyed most was a pick axe I used to dig great big holes in my backyard in Bahrain, in the year 2000. I was in the midst of psychotherapy to process my childhood sexual abuse experiences at the time, and I would come home shaken, disturbed and relatively spaced out. Digging the holes felt great, and let out a lot of anger and pain. It was hard work, but made easier by pretending that I was digging graves for the relatives who sexually abused me. Of course, pretending is as violent as I get:  the holes were actually intended for tree saplings. I planted seven, and heard recently that they have all grown into fine ficus trees.

6. What got you started blogging?
I really can't remember! I've just been a huge fan of the internet from the start, so as soon as I discovered Blogger, and found it easy to use and with nice features to organise everything by date and with labels and widgets, I jumped on. I originally had close to ten separate blogs, until I decided it made more sense to consolidate them into one - this one - as they all had something to do with art, earth, ink, and/or soul.

7. What is the best way to build community?
I think you need to personally be what you want to achieve for a community. And to me that means feeling and acting with sincerity, compassion and respect for everyone and everything. You start with yourself and then the people nearest to you in heart, blood or proximity. And you move outward from there. You don't need grand gestures or huge investments, you do it like a ripple, and somehow that connects and saves the world.

8. When was the last time you grew something and produced a yield?
I would love to be able to answer this question differently, but all I've done lately is plant mint cuttings. I use the mint in salads and tea, and my little bird Hello likes to sit on top of his cage and have me feed mint leaves to him.

9. Did you save seeds from your yield?
It has only just struck me, after reading this question, that there might be something in existence known as a peppermint seed.

10. The last time you entered the wilderness, what brought you there?
I know this refers to the actual wilderness, and that would be I-don't-know-when. I'm not sure if carefully preserved US national parks count, but if so, then it's Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. Otherwise it would be picnics with friends and family out in the Bahraini desert, when I was younger. That phrase, though, "entering the wilderness" has a whole different meaning for me, as I have Major Depressive Disorder, and on the occasions when I've had a severe depressive episode, this is what it feels like:  entering the wilderness. (I am not there now).

11. ?
So it was ten questions I got asked. But here's an 11th question:  Where is my 11th question?

Eleven random facts about me
1. I sometimes forget to brush my teeth.
2. I have three piercings in each ear, but don't usually bother with earrings.
3. I had the reading level of an 11-year-old when I was 6.
4. If I could live a long and healthy life on pizza and vanilla ice cream, I would.
4. I am a huge Harry Potter fan.
5. I do not know what my purpose in life is.
6. I used to work as a clown.
7. I would like to be immortal.
8. I once tried to kill myself.
9. I talk to myself, and I reply too.
10. I collect unusual alphabet books.
11. I have been scared of swimming in the deep end of the pool ever since I saw Jaws.

Eleven blogs I nominate for Liebster Awards
And now, here are my 11 nominees (in no particular order):

Lunar Hine

Which Main? What Cross?

Diary Of A Street Coin Collector

Home Is Where The Art Is

Infinite Souls Farm and Artists' Retreat

The Phytophactor

Handwritten Recipes

Letters of Note

Muttering Fool

Advanced Style

Serpent Mandalas

Eleven questions for my nominees to answer on their blogs
here are my 11 questions for you to answer if you choose to accept your Liebster Award (scroll down after the questions to see the rules and guidelines for how to go about accepting the award).

1. Does your mother know you're here?
2. What do you like shopping for?
3. What is your favourite time of day to sit down and blog?
4. What is the most magical place you've ever visited?
5. Have you ever cried with joy?
6. If you could meet me, would you want to?
7. What inspired you to start this particular blog?
8. Have you ever written fan-mail to a celebrity?
9. What's the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up and open your eyes?
10. What's the last thing you do at night before you close your eyes and go to sleep?
11. Where are your keys?

The Official Rules of the Liebster Award:
(thanks to Lorraine Reguly for providing this information)

"If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:
1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
7. List these rules in your post. (You can copy and paste them from here) (and link to Lorraine's blog to thank her if you like, as I've done above - Naz.)

Once you have written your post, and published it, you then have to:
8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)
I would like to add that you can nominate someone who already has been given this award, as long as they have less than 1000 followers/subscribers. The idea behind this award is to recognize new bloggers and help promote them! The benefit is that you get from doing this is that you get some promotion, too!"

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Behind cloud cover
The Hunter is standing guard.
I am not alone.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


The moon is like a woman this evening, beautifully incomplete. 
She is just a smudge of white in a sky of blue and grey and
eucalyptus treetops.  Below her, predators soar and swoop, and I,
I who am in love with these bad boys of the sky, I walk, and I sing
love songs to the kites as they fly.  I sing and I think they hear me,
four of them, because they come to where I am and fly only above me,
lower and lower, leaving the rest of the sky to the rest of their family,
other kites, and to more distant relatives:  bright green parakeets
on double dates, shrieking in delight as they hurry towards
the setting sun, crows crossing over, pigeons going nowhere.

I sing the higher harmony of Beatles’ songs, although I am an alto
and a smoker, because I think that the kites may hear better
a higher pitch that is closer to their own tremulous whistle.
I can see their claws, and the rips in their feathered profiles,
 leftovers from their victories and defeats.  I lose myself
in them, in their dark silhouettes, in every turn of their heads
and subtle shift of their tail feathers.  I cannot believe that
they are only scouting for food to snatch from my hands,
because I am here every evening, holding a lighter, a phone,
a pencil or a notebook, sometimes lifting a cigarette or
a bottle of water to my lips, and they have never swooped down
for these.  I know they can’t understand the words I sing, but
 I like to think that they can sense the feelings:  awe, wonder,
infatuation, envy.

Above us, she shines, but dimly.  It is not her time yet.  She peeps
out from behind grey muslin cloud every now and then, flashing
for a few moments the brilliant beauty she is not yet ready to share.
Across the sky, the sun is sinking.  Some days he goes down
with a roar, setting fire to the clouds around him, turning
green treetops to glowing embers.  Today though, he settles down
so quietly I do not notice he is going until I hear the call
 to maghrib* prayer.  I think he has understood her need to sing
this evening, and he knows that she will not sing as long as
he stands before her, she cannot reveal her song to a sky
that is not yet quite hers, and so he exits silently and with grace.

The kites have flown away, back to their rain trees, all but one,
who sits on top of a fir tree like a dark Christmas angel.  I gaze
up at him, forgetting to sing my own songs, hoping that
he sees me and feels me, but he never once turns his head
in my direction.  It is not me or my song that he waits for,
I realise.  He too has been waiting for her.  

I sigh and tear my eyes away from him to lift them even higher,
up to her.  The sun has gone and a wind breathes gently
close to her so that the clouds drift away from her face,
and it is such a beautiful face to see it makes my heart ache.
I look back at the kite, and I know he sees her too.  And in
that moment I think that he knows I know, because the next second
he is gone, like every bad boy after a sharing too unexpectedly intimate.  

A tiny bat scuttles across the twilight, and above her, the moon
takes a deep breath.  I feel that she does not need my audience tonight,
so I turn and head downstairs.  Tomorrow will do.  I will be back,
and so will she, and so will my dark angel.

* maghrib - at sunset, the fourth of five daily prayers asked of Muslims by God

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Happy Independence Day!

I love this drawing I found in my friend's daughter's Hindi language
notebook. I'm not sure which daughter (she has several,
and most of the time I can't tell them apart! They're triplets.)

I love the fact that in Hindi class, you are actually encouraged
to draw in your notebooks. I love the way she tries out different
stars and finally settles on the Star of David. And I love
her interpretation of Gandhiji in his dhoti.

At first, I thought she had drawn him larger than life, towering
over the trees, until I took a closer look while she explained that
those were hands waving up at him. So I was only half wrong,
about the trees, not about the "larger than life". She turned him
into a rock star, with his fans reaching up to him. I can easily
imagine little disposable lighters in those hands! And she's
absolutely right:  Gandhiji rocks.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tentative toes.

I sketched this gentleman's feet one long morning in
the opthalmologist's waiting room. He was, I think,
aware that I was doing this, but as he said nothing,
I continued. I think he was embarrassed and unsure
about what he could do in this situation, because
I feel I've captured that awkward uncertainty
that went all the way down to his toes!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Why I walk the roof.

I could barely manage to describe what I saw yesterday, with
the kites. How can I begin to describe the sky? It doesn't matter
 if it's not over a beautiful lake or an ocean, mountain or forest.
It is just as beautiful when it blankets a city infested with
humanity's ugliness. Clumsy buildings, piles of garbage,
cell network towers and black cables zigzagging all over
can't  touch it. Even photography won't do it justice (and mine
is off my phone camera)! But even a simple phone cam
can't hide how amazing it is.

Clouds spread out to dry after a rain?

Big heavy rain clouds that sometimes get blown away

A distant golden pyramid, or a snowtipped mountain? Cloud catching the sunset, and my imagination.

And as I walk, the sky keeps changing

The colours deepen or melt

The clouds shift and evolve in the wind's hands

 I'm supposed to be up there burning calories but it is more than
my exercise hour, it's a time of worship.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Almost indescribable.

The sky does things to me. Today it almost made me weep, it was
so magical and awesome (in the true sense of that word, not the one
that's accompanied by "dude").

I was up on the roof for my evening walk (down 2 kg, people!)
and suddenly the sky over the nearby graveyard was filled with kites.
The kites I saw today were all pariah kites - their feathers more grey
than brown, not the woody rust wingspan and white head of the Brahmani kite. 

The graveyard is an old British one, with enormous rain trees
and mahogany trees. The kites live in the rain trees. They were all
up in the air, soaring, gliding, sometimes even seeming to defy
gravity:  struggling to stay still against some invisible air current.
It was magnificent. I couldn't keep walking, I just had to lift my
head and watch them. My neck ached but I could not stop, it was
as though I had connected with them.

Suddenly they were swooping one by one right above me,
just about 25 feet over my head. I could see their feathers
ruffling in the wind, could see their heads pivot this way
and that. It was as if they knew I was there, that I envied them
their flight, and they shared the experience with me as best
as they knew how. They saw that I saw them, really saw them,
and so they came to see me. I felt so honoured, and humbled.
And so, so blessed.

As I watched, the call to prayer rose from nearby mosques,
and it struck me that just like the men bowing their heads
to the floor, perhaps these kites were offering up their
evening prayer too, their flight some outpouring of unbearable
joy - for the beauty of the sky around them,
for the oranges and purples and peaches of the sinking sunlight,
for the crisp wind, for the ability to fly, for life!

Watching them, and the majesty of the sky, I suddenly felt
as though the pariah here was me.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Not quite done yet.

Found this half-finished doodle while tidying up. In more ways
than one, it's something I need to keep working on!