September 20, 2016

Of Autumn Nostalgia, September, and The Blank Spaces Between Chapters


I remember the first time I saw trees in fiery autumn finery. It was late September; I was a newly arrived undergraduate at the university that I was attending in West Midlands, United Kingdom. As I battled all-consuming homesickness, cultural disorientation, and other newbie university student challenges, I nevertheless did occasionally emerge from my fog of bewilderment to briefly appreciate the brilliant theatre that these trees were putting up on display. They were in decay, true, but they appeared no less magnificent than in their glorious summer plumage. But I didn't take any pictures of them. All the photographs that I took of those initial months on my analogue camera depicted my university, my friends and the exciting memories I was making and accumulating. I experienced three more autumns during the time I lived and studied in United Kingdom but apart from a handful of pictures taken in my Oxford college's garden where bright yellow and orange autumn trees provide an arresting backdrop, it never occurred me to photograph the autumnscape for posterity.



How times have changed! Or, perhaps, more significantly, the way and how I look at nature. I made up for my earlier lack of autumn appreciation when I lived in Pittsburgh for a year and half, savoring how autumn unfurled over the months. I learned to love its nuances: the toast-crisp air, the sharp, invigorating, buttery sunshine, and a certain headiness that belongs to only autumn. I remembered exclaiming in surprised delight when the massive tree just outside my apartment window seemingly turned scarlet overnight. Yes, the summer was over, we were approaching winter - and yet, there was a promise in the air that was autumn's alone. That I could not photograph. What still vividly remains in my memories is the pleasure of walking out on a cool autumn morning, bundled up just so, literally drinking in the autumn air, the leaves crunching below your feet, so thickly, densely carpeting the path ahead that you could scarcely see the gray concrete or the viridian grass below. If no one was looking, I would take a childish pleasure in running through the leaves, seeing them swirl in the air,  like birds agitated into flight. 


The other day, while glimpsing these orange gulmohurs dotting the soil, I couldn't help but remember similarly hued orange leaves, as they must once more densely fall on the ground in various parts of the world while the season transits from summer to autumn. There is no autumn here, of course. The monsoons have concluded in Delhi, at least...but still, something feels different. It gets darker a tad earlier each day and the cool morning breeze makes me smile in anticipation for the mellower, delicious days of between late October-early December

Perhaps, the season reflects my current state of mind (or is it vice versa?) I  must admit that I too am in transit, immersed in a limbo. I feel that I currently inhabit the blank spaces in between chapters of a novel. The hectic summer flew past and I wonder what beckons in the newly forming season ahead. So I hibernate in the den of my words, the short stories that I am trying to write, characters who are slowly beginning to form and take shape on my pages. I don't know them and they don't know me - yet. And so we are both in - there's that word again - limbo. But I persevere, writing and writing, persuading them to reveal themselves. And perhaps, by doing so, I will migrate to my next chapter, writing myself into what is going to happen next. 

September is not over yet.

 Inspired by this Instagram post of mine

September 14, 2016

The Story of a Lotus Bud

I found it at my flower-wallah on Sunday night. This flower-wallah was the one whom I had been buying my flowers from ever since I had moved to Delhi. In all these months, I had previously never seen lotuses there; I was instead accustomed to choosing from a library of roses, carnations, gladioli, marigolds, mogra, chrysanthemums, and rajnigandha, becoming blase about their beauty in the process. The lotuses were a pleasant surprise to encounter. A few days ago, I had seen them featured in pink bloom on someone's Instagram feed. A month ago, my family had sent me pictures after pictures of pink, white, and ivory-hued lotuses while holidaying in Sri-Lanka, where the blooms lay luxuriously massed upon the tables as temple offerings or sold in street-side shops. I remembered the first time I had seen devotees offer lotuses at temples in Bangkok; they resembled pale gray green candles from the distance until I peered closer and realised that they were in fact lotus buds. I tried to recall where I had last seen a lotus; I could not remember. I thought of the Buddhist mantra I frequently chanted these days, the lotus a powerful symbol and component of its spiritual structure.

I did not have to think twice about buying the lotus buds. I don't know why I bought just one though. The first lotus that I saw was greying, its outer almond-shaped petals the color of an ageing flamingo. Please give me a new, fresher one, I imperiously declared. The flower-seller picked one out from the many buds nestling together in their current home, a greying green bucket and began to swaddle it in a newspaper sheet for me. The lotus exuded no fragrance though. For fragrance, I bought my mogras, whose scent I forever associated with summer, smelling of rain when there was none. How long will it take to bloom, I asked, after he finished wrapping the lotus bud for me. Not much time, he replied. Not much time: that was hardly any time at all! I was prepared to wait. 

I posted a portrait of it on Instagram the next day, murmuring about the multiple beautiful truths that resided within its delicately striated pink bud. I talked about the delicious anticipation of waiting to see it bloom. I was in oblivion until Subhashini gently reminded me that lotuses usually do not bloom outside of water. But of course! How could I have forgotten? Was mine a magical lotus that would bloom in air? She instead asked me to carefully open the petals to discover what lay inside. I felt as if I was being asked to go on a treasure-hunt. Our conversation took place during the night. I waited until the next morning to perform this pleasurable task. But alas! I thought I was being careful but I was not. As I coaxed the bud to open, the petals swiftly and disintegrated, detaching themselves from the stalk like the pages of a dying antique book fleeing from its spine. I was left with the denuded heart and the petals scattered around me. The lotus was no more. I touched its heart. I wished I had been more gentle, more thoughtful, I said. But there will be a next time: a new lotus, a new heart to love, new petals to read. Until then, I will content myself with a memory of eternal longing, the longing of waiting for it to bloom.

September 12, 2016

The Right to Walk: Women in Public Spaces

(Courtesy: The Conversation)

I recently published a piece, The Right to Walk: Women in Public Space on Feminism in India. It was the first time in ages that I had written a consciously feminist piece about a subject which had been consuming me ever since I moved to Delhi. I talk about accessing the public space in Oman and the United States before narrowing my focus on how I navigate the Delhi streets. It is an issue which continues to impact me but what I have observed is that I have recently begun adapting to the situation, deliberately becoming oblivious to the aspects which earlier made me furious: constant staring, the paucity of sidewalks/space to walk (well, at least, I have the gardens to walk in), and in general, never being at ease in the public space. Is adapting the right thing to do? Should I actively challenge the things which I resent and cause discomfort? However, so far, my only way to address the situation has been to write this piece, articulating my frustrations. I was amazed to see the number of likes (over 1000) the piece garnered on the Feminism of India's Facebook page and how many times it has been shared. It just goes to show how many women identify with the piece and how incensed and intense we are about the fact that we cannot access the public space in the way that we should be able to do. In any case, my voice is just one of the many who are championing the right to women to access the public space through movements such as the Blank Noise Project, which is a community/public art project that seeks to confront street harassment in India and a movement explores and encourages women to loiter in streets of India, Why Loiter. Our collective voices and action will contribute towards normalising a women's right to walk in the public space.

I hope to explore this idea in other pieces but for now, am just reproducing this initial piece on the blog:

I clearly remember the first time I experienced the unadulterated pleasure of walking. I had recently moved to Pittsburgh, United States; even though it was a steel-cold, gray December afternoon, I must have walked for over an hour, eagerly exploring the bylanes of my new neighborhood. By the time I returned to my apartment, I had seen several runners, mothers pushing babies in prams, and elderly folks amongst other using the sidewalk. That walk marked the first of the many walks I was to take over there. What I appreciated the most was the abundance of space that the walks afforded to me; I often had the sidewalk to myself, walking unobserved while simultaneously observing my new surroundings and people. The public space was a friendly, welcoming, and accessible one, encouraging me to walk and take pleasure in the experience, significantly offering it to men and women alike. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Prior to moving to the States, I grew up and lived in the Sultanate of Oman, where I only walked during the night and that too for the exercise. The night made me invisible, something which I was grateful for because I no longer had to negotiate men constantly looking at me while I walked. The men never said anything but their act of looking spoke volumes enough – and the looking-at-edness made me experience extreme anger and discomfort. As it happened, I lived in a self-contained university campus kilometers away from downtown Muscat, where I still felt more protected than I would have in the urban spaces. I would like to point out that while Oman was a largely safe country for women, I nevertheless did not feel entirely comfortable walking for long stretches or periods of time in the urban areas; women friends and acquaintances often spoke of being followed or being harassed, making it extremely difficult for them to freely access the public space. Passing drivers often shouted out demeaning remarks, as if women walking on the street and moral laxity were synonymous with each other. Given all of these constraints, I welcomed these nightly walks. They say that you do not miss what you do not have; indeed, until I moved to the States, I did not really think so much of my walks apart from the functions they provided of exercise and contemplation. It never struck me that I was being deprived of a right or its gendered implications. I should add that it was not as if I did not have to face cat-calling or unsolicited conversations while I walked in various parts of the States; yet, on the whole, I still felt a lot more comfortable walking over there, no matter if it was night or day.

I moved to New Delhi in October 2014. Even though I had grown up in Oman, I had regularly visited India during annual trips since my childhood so it was not as if gendered public space dynamics were alien to me; however, I had always significantly moved around in a sheltered bubble which meant I hardly ever had to access the streets and public space on my own. Arriving and living in Delhi meant that I had to now consciously pay attention to renegotiating how and where I walked. I currently live in a gated, security-fortified Delhi Development Authority colony where it is still relatively easy to walk around but what happens once I step out? I encounter broken side-walks, if there were any at all, truncating the space that I have to myself when I walked. The narrow streets with their unpredictable traffic mean I have to be more vigilant of the passing vehicles, reducing my singular focus on the walk. Walking has become a mode of getting to point A to B, the destination taking precedent over the journey of walking, which I so enjoyed earlier. The sidewalk here does not offer much incentive for walkers to enjoy and be aware of the act of walking; there are no benches or other ways in which the pedestrians could engage with the urban space, which would invite them to linger there longer. You had no choice to but to simply carry on walking.

A public space theoretically allows democratic access to its users; yet, what I have most singularly realised over here is that there are sharp differences between a man and a woman walking in the public space. A man walks with authority, without perpetually looking over his shoulder, without worrying about constantly being watched and examined. Given that I am fond of phone photography and perpetually taking pictures while walking, I have faced double scrutiny of being both a woman as well as a photographing one. I am deprived of the precious me-time that my walks should afford me, encroached as they are by constant watching or unwelcome conversation. Can they not read my eyes and body language which singularly say, 'Leave.Me.Alone'? And as for nocturnal perambulations, I cannot even think about it, here in Delhi, the darkness potentially yielding multiple unknown terrors and threats.

I thought that I would find solace in the many parks that happen to dot my neighborhood; I thought that I would find the pleasures of walking there at least which was otherwise deprived to me in the streets and roads. I would find regulars walking around and around the circular paths, using the park space as a much needed one for exercise, social activities or to simply sit and soak the fresh air. Yet, even there, I was either constantly watched or found myself being followed on several occasions, the culprit tracing my steps within the garden and then from there onwards. I had to take alternate routes back home to dodge the follower, furious that the brief pockets of serenity I experienced in the parks was no more my own. What public space was left for me to call my own? Or perhaps public spaces and women were not synonymous with one another?

The only time I have found joy in walking the streets in Delhi have been the ones which curiously enough have been the canvases for incredible street art, such as the neighborhoods of Shahpur Jat and Lodhi Colony; the local populace is perhaps accustomed to the sight of people photographing and documenting the street art. It doesn't matter whether you are a man or woman; they simply encourage you to go and seek the wall-canvases which have made their neighborhoods attractive magnets for photographers, tourists, and art connoisseurs. Having taken ownership of and deriving pride from their neighborhoods, the inhabitants in turn seek to make visitors to the spaces that they call home as welcome as possible. For me, as a woman, I felt entirely comfortable walking around those neighborhoods, taking pictures, pausing to linger upon the art, chatting to the residents about the stories behind the art. I experienced the double pleasure of accessing the art in a public space as well as being able to appreciate it just as easily as any man would.

The public space is for the public and that public consists of men and women; it is not a contested territory, affording more rights to one gender over another. When I walk in a city, I would like to walk with the knowledge that it is my own and that I can access anywhere I want. At the end of the day, I do not want to move around in circumscribed spaces, subjected to a spatial censorship. I demand the right to walk without thinking that it is a right. 


You can read the full piece here

August 29, 2016

Collaboration Part 2: A Valley of Mountains Which Are the Sum of All Colors

There she sat, perched upon the boulder bordering the river, slumbering awake beneath the clear, blue skin of a sky. Headphones plugged into her ears, eyes fastened shut, the music pouring into her very being - and she was suddenly swimming in a river, the river snaking up and around and through mountains that were the sum of all colors. She was both inside them and outside them. They were the blue of a newly born river, the lime of a budding seedling, jade of a rain-washed tree, and the mauve of a decaying mogra. She did not know where these mountains were; perhaps, they existed only in the planet of her imagination, whose terrain she knew only so little of and still had so much to explore. She kept her eyes shut, knowing that the moment she opened them, the mountains would evanescence, the river would dry up, and she would be left with the indomitable gray bedrock of reality from which there would be no escape, no escape at all. And how could she let that happen?


This is the second part of my collaboration with my painter friend, Vidya; in the first part, she had beautifully interpreted one of my images and accompanying text through her art while here, I seek to give words to a musical dreamscape she magically evokes in this painting. 

I hope you enjoyed partaking of our collaboration as much as we enjoyed participating in it!

July 28, 2016


So when did July arrive and when did it decide to disappear so quickly? For the longest time in my life, July was synonymous with holiday or at the very least, anticipating some sort of travel. I can only think of two or three Julys which I entirely spent in one place (usually, Oman), going about my daily life while simultaneously wishing every day that I was on a plane or train or car and heading somewhere.

This July was fortunately no exception though; I have just returned from a hectic five day trip to Bangalore, where I joyously glimpsed numerous gorgeous trees (Bangalore trees, you have my heart), colonial mansions turned into hip contemporary spots, beautiful fresh rangoli decorating the thresholds of homes everymorning, winding roads, overdressed sari shop window displays,  the famous Bangalore weather, and finally, consumed a lot of goodies from Bangalore bakeries and an authentic bene dosa from CTR in Malleshwaram. It was such a good dosa that I doubt that I will be eating one for a while in Delhi without remembering its Bangalore counterpart's finger-licking buttery, goldeny goodness!

However, my two most favorite memories involved visiting National Gallery of Modern Art and spending a very happy three hours discussing everything under the sun and its beautiful, beautiful spreading, giving, warm trees with Vidya, turning our so far virtual friendship into a face to face one. I also spent a peaceful twenty minutes wandering around the gardens of the gallery before she arrived; it was especially such bliss to be in the proximity to this enormous, spreading, long-limbed rain-tree,  whose formidable presence dominantly permeated the whole garden and yet, there was such serenity to be found standing beneath it. 

The other memory involved visiting a quaint little second-hand bookshop, The Select Bookshop at Brigade road; my husband used to buy a lot of books from there when he was growing up in Bangalore and I was charmed by how the book-shop owner greeted him, asking where he had been all this time. Having either shopped from chain-store bookstores or ordering books online lately, I had only heard of such bookshops, where the owners knew your name, thoughtfully recommended books, and took the trouble to find them for you from the depths of the crammed bookshelves. Vidya had also recommended the bookstore to me when I had mentioned wanting to visit another famous Bangalore bookshop, Blossom. It was so calming to stand there and browse through the books whilst soaking in in the wistful-making smell of old books and thinking of the journeys they had travelled when espying years-old inscriptions written in them. I even spotted a book edited by one of the first persons I had followed on Instagram many years ago! Needless to say, I left the bookshop, armed with several new old books that I cannot wait to read.

July has also seen me making my Guardian debut. I am happy to share about my first piece for the Guardian; it is an insider's guide to Jodhpur, where I wrote about its architecture, music, food, green initiatives, art, and more. Writing about cities and that too one of my most favorite cities in the world? I couldn't be more glad! Have a read here!

My other published writing this month was about how collaging and scrapbooking has helped me write better; there is something so orderly about assembling your otherwise scattered thoughts into a jigsaw of collage and watercolor before proceeding to sit down and write.

The rains have poured down this year, walls of rains sheeting down throughout the night until dawn, accompanied by sauna-like humidity, which I am not too terribly fond of. However, all is forgiven when you glimpse how incredibly green everything is! The trees have shed their summer skin of dust to reveal a brand new green being beneath. I have reveled in clicking the green, the rain-drop jeweled flowers, the redness, the greenness, the pinkness of it all. What I especially loved chancing upon was how I found a beautiful, intact, yellow-hued white plumeria bloom only to see that someone had made an arrangement out of few upturned plumeria flowers. Those serendipitious discoveries make my day, honestly speaking!

So this has been my July so far. How has yours been?

July 16, 2016

Poetry: My Week in a Triptych

When You Were Away

I made bread out of bananas,
scented the room with memories
of nocturnal moonlight,
and wrote poetry that I was
never going to read again.

Buying Carnations 
They inhabit a damp black cave,
primly veiled in jute purdah.
The pink is sharp and loving to the eye.
They will die soon
but I will buy them anyway.

Part of Mine

Everyone told me that
Delhi was the most ornate palimpsest:
rococo layers upon layers upon layers.
When I tried to peel them away,
they refused to be pried off -
and without me knowing it,
I had become one of its layers too
and Delhi a part of mine.

July 7, 2016

Friday Poetry: Monsoon


is an artist's thickly-laden paint-brush,
dabbing this
and that
shade of green,
a sea of green green green
until eyes yearn
for an island of iridescence to
be marooned upon.

is memory of rain ghosting up
from moist tarmac, defying gravity:
redolent of crushed, damp
leaves, flowers, fruit,
happily percolating your dreams,
pillows smelling of petri-chor,
its fragrance migrating into your hair.

is a bare gray prarie landscape,
where nothing and everything grows,
where rains root in a parallel universe,
birthing the beginning of forests,
a novel which will never end,
which will keep on growing
and growing.

June 26, 2016

Of Nature's Stories, Land Art, and Morning Altars

The first time I chanced upon the idea of nature/land/earth art was when I glimpsed sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy's work in The Clothes Horse's blog. I was simply enchanted by the notion of abstracting stunning site-specific art from natural surroundings, putting together fallen leaves, branches, twigs, flowers, seeds, and fruit, rocks, pebbles, and feathers into art that entirely and literally emerges from and connects to the earth, seamlessly integrating itself into the environment.  I have been lately been pinning a ton of land art on my Pinterest and have discovered examples which left me breathless and marvelling at the artists' ingenuity and creativity, such as swirling twig waters around a boulder, stone paths in forests, and stone sculptures silhouetted against the sky. Here's a gorgeous Andy Goldsworthy in which he arranges numerous stones in graduated shades of gray to form an existential black hole of sorts in the vast universe that is nature.

After seeing scores and scores of incredible land art works, I wondered if I too could create miniature examples myself; a little bit of researching led me to realise that I had been partially doing it with the fallen flowers, seeds, seed-pods, and fruit I found during my morning walks. Having photographed the trees and plants, I found myself engaging with the gifts that they left for the earth - and for us to discover. I sometimes arranged what I found in a simple pattern or grid format, displaying the diversity of what I had found; it reflected both the species growing in my immediate environment as being season-specific, such as summer displaying a great deal of gulmohur and laburnum, for example. This earth art below below depicts the various stages of a gulmohur bloom that I found in one of my favorite neighborhood parks: bud, budding, blooming, bloom, and flower itself.

Yesterday, after posting a picture of my walk finds: a peepal tree leaf, bougainvillea, gulmohur petals, and a branch of lime green neem fruit on Instagram, Day Schildkret of Morning Altars liked it and which fortuitously led me to explore more of his work. I was intrigued by what he is doing: creating gorgeous, intricate morning altars, foraging from his surroundings to create the most exquisitely detailed works. It celebrates the ephemeral and the deeply rooted, nature with all of its bountiful glories and its cycles of death, rebirth, and growth. Here's one of his morning altars dedicated to spring below:

Inspired by his morning altars, I decided to create one of my own today morning. In the park, it was quiet except for the birds twittering and the sound of plum yellow neem fruit plopping on the ground; this was the background to which I created my first altar wrought from bougainvillea, laburnum, and gulmohur flowers and champak and bougainvilleas leaves. It celebrates the joy these nature's morning colors gives me and to brighten my day ahead, the little joys that I derive from these nature gifts and compensating for potential challenges and disappointments that may lie ahead in the day. Of course, I do wonder what will become of them once I leave...will nature find a way to make its own unique installation out of them?

I enjoyed the process so much that I ended up creating two more earth art works later today from found champak flowers, leaves, and neem fruit:

This activity gives me much peace as well as making me aware of the healing, restorative, and creative powers of nature; I find myself contemplating and appreciating nature's diverse manifestations much more closely. In this age, when we are battling climate change, habitat destruction, species' extinction, and many other depressing stories of environmental degradation, it powerfully drives home the message that we can no longer take nature and stories for granted for it may potentially disappear one day; let us hear its stories and more importantly, strive to conserve and preserve them.

Have you ever made impermanent art? I would love to hear!

June 22, 2016

Friday Poetry: My Yellow Is Your Green

My yellow is your green,
my room your house.
And my mind,
my mind is a palace
whose inhabitants
have long deserted it,
refusing to return.
And only memories haunt the rooms,
Sunlight a distant dream away.

Written in response to Farideh Lashai's oil-painting, Circa 1960s; seen in Harper Bazaar Art Arabia's edition


When I was younger, I constantly used to write poems inspired by paintings or photographs or any other source of visual inspiration; I wrote about Japanese pagodas after having glimpsed them in a calendar hanging in my uncle's home or a poem called Chimera in response to a painting I had seen in a magazine. To see and to write were almost synonymous for me and it most strongly manifested in my poetry. Once I stopped writing poetry, I began to manufacture images instead and stopped writing in response to visual stimuli. However, thanks to Instagram, I began writing in response to my own images and it soon spilled over into my poetry. Hope to have more of these art-poetry juxtapositions over here!

June 21, 2016

Of A Collaboration: Rose Gold Skies, Jacaranda Trees, and Dreams - Part 1

I have always loved the idea of collaborations: multitude of ideas mashing and meshing together, divergent skills and perspectives merging into a hugely textured confluence. Even though I don't know that much about Hindustani classical music, what I am familiar with is the notion of jugalbandi. I had always sought to perform an artistic jugalbandi of my own, what with my writing and someone's art. I was curious to see how someone would respond to my work and vice versa and what new doors of thought and looking would the jugal-bandi open into my work and hopefully, their own too.

When I initially started following Vidya Gopal's Instagram account, she was @spink_bottle for me for the longest time; however, we soon began exchanging comments, notes on IG, and emails, seguing into food for thought conversations about creativity, productivity, what we were reading, and whatnot and - it all recently and happily reached a 'shall we collaborate?' moment.

But first, a word about Vidya's truly beautiful water-color and ink illustrations; if you cast even a mere glimpse, you will find yourself swimming through thoughtful, whimsical, colorful painting studies about flowering fuchsia bougainvilleas, dreaming, eccentric women, budding Tendulkars, coffee drinkers in a cafe, gulmohar petals migrating from hand to paper and so much more. These paintings collectively could form a lovely painting novel of sorts, as we encounter a brilliant school of characters and their environments, becoming familiar and fond of their quirks and foibles, all expressed through the medium of illustration. For so long, I must confess that visual art had been purely about the dramatics and technique of aesthetics for me; however, Vidya's story paintings have compelled me to much more strongly consider the sheer story-telling element as well.

Our collaboration therefore resulted in us responding to each other's work through our respective modes of expression. This is the first part of our collaboration and Vidya chose to depict a jacaranda tree I had photographed few months ago silhouetted against a rose gold sunset sky, interpreting both the photograph and the text which I wrote to accompany it. I will leave for you to think what you will of this superlative work of hers below; as for me, it simply made me very happy to look at a painting which gorgeously captured in essence both the sky and the jacaranda tree as well as the addition of the dreaming, langurous girl (me?!), which so powerfully marries my words and image. 

 My image and words

I dreamt of a jacaranda tee last night; it was blooming in a planet galaxies away, in a world where the color of the night was the palest, softest rose-gold. I stood on my tip-toes to touch the velvety mauve blooms but before I could do it, the dream evanescenced and I was left with nothing but the memory of a sky and purple on my finger-tips. 

Vidya's response

Thank you so so much, Vidya and in the meantime, here's hoping that I will do justice to your lovely paintings!

Watch this space for the second part of our collaboration:)

June 17, 2016

Mandatory 'Where has the year gone by' musings + glimpses into my published writing

Where has this year gone by? Seriously, I had just started to become familiar with 2016, its quirks, its flavors, its textures and yet, before I knew it, it was inching towards its middle. And I too have been away from here more than a month: visited Oman in the interim, picked a ton of mogras, ate snacks which I specifically associate with home and communed with the sea, desert, and the mountains before returning to hot, humid, green Delhi with barely a bloom in sight. However, the good news is that the monsoon is due on June 29th so I am looking forward to the rain. I was too unwell last year to really notice either the terrible yearning for the rain or the rain itself but this year, if El Nina doesn't insist on having her way, I am anticipating sitting at my window and watching the water gush down from the heavens and sluice away the inertia, lethargy, and the omnipresent 'this is the hottest summer ever'. Of course, rain will also gift us the return of mutant, giant mosquitoes, more mugginess, and gray rivers flowing down the street but we won't think of that now!

My weather report over, I just wanted to give brief glimpses into the writing that I have published lately; I am veering towards the personal memoir (especially relating to nature), the surreal (the mannequins), and nostalgia, such as these musings about Muttrah. I would like to continue to do a wide range of textured work this year, migrating from one genre to another, as that a) that keeps me much more engaged and b) it definitely results in much more lively writing. Or so I think.

I read in the newspaper the other day that our neighborhood is the greenest one in New Delhi, and I must agree as I observe the sheer wealth of the flora surrounding me. There is a massive peepal tree behind my house, which simultaneously functions as a pop-up shrine; seen from my study window, the first tree to bloom during spring, the appearance of the silk cotton tree’s fat monstrously beautiful crimson or orange flowers herald winter’s end. The gulmohar tree’s bare branches which had otherwise sported earrings of long chocolate brown seed pods (incidentally, they also make excellent rattles) are currently ablaze with crimson blooms.

 If you stroll through adjoining by-lanes, you will encounter baby green mango-laden trees, creamy white neem bloom, laburnum dripping with chandeliers of gloriously yellow flowers, and a garden earlier violently violet with blooming jacaranda trees. Even though trees may send away bits of themselves to the world through their fallen leaves, flowers, and seeds, they are ultimately rooted to where they are, their one and only home. 

Read the full piece here

Arabic, Indian or cross-culture – one question remains about these shops, their clothing wares and the mannequins who showcase them. Who is the consumer? Western tourists and visitors? Arabic-speaking customers? Omanis? Emiratis? Local Indian immigrants? The mannequins, coloured as they are in an unmistakably fair skin colour, perhaps tries to address them all. What the mannequins’ appearance nonetheless communicate to us is how Western looks/aesthetics and bodies are perceived as the norm across the world, even in non-Western countries, where they are costumed in local clothing. Or perhaps, they are arguably protean creatures, changing character depending upon who perceives them.

Read the full piece here 

It is a space where local and expatriate communities' lives and paths have intersected for years. As you cross a glut of tailoring shops, briefly pausing at one, Arjun of Bangladesh reveals that he has been living here for for twenty eight years. The hunger-making smell of frying pakoras and freshly baked bread imbues the air as vividly as sound. Peeking inside a non-descript looking bakery, Mohammed and Aslam vigorously pound dough before rolling out and baking bread in a tandoor. “Our shop is 38 years old. Omanis, Indian, Pakistanis, and Arabs all buy bread from us; in fact, people from as far as Sohar and Barka come to buy it,” Mohammed says. 
Yet, walking through the gullies, you can still content yourself thinking that you are still experiencing one of the multiple cities that constitute Muscat.

Read the full piece here

May 15, 2016

What Writing Nature Diaries Have Taught Me

The other day, I read this piece in which the writer describes the lively antics of a blackbird seeking to make a nest in the English countryside; it was featured in a column entitled, 'Country Diary' and the title made me think how many of my daily entries in my own journal have lately been largely dedicated to nature and observations about nature. All through spring, I wrote about the trees, which bloomed, which stopped blooming, the new ones that bloomed. I described my blog as a garden of sorts in the debut post and my journal too has became a figurative garden in which I write about physical gardens.

I also wrote about the birds that I saw: jade-sheened black humming birds drinking from kachnar orchids, an orange-mohawk bird contemplating the trees from our window sills, a tiny black bird which could have fit inside my palm nibbling on peepal fruit, palm doves performing trapeze-artist theatre on the parabolas of wires strung between buildings. I wrote about the sparrow that flies from our window as soon as I open it towards the opposite end; it was the World Sparrow Day sometime ago and I was sorry to hear that these humble birds have become an endangered species. I wrote about the marauding ants navigating the undulating terrain of visible tree roots, turquoise and black butterflies dancing on concrete, and of course, the street dogs, some extroverted and tame enough to proffer their handsome tapered heads for a pat while others skitter away at the sight of you, burying themselves in a damp sand hole.

Today, as I leaned out of my window, I noticed that a spider has built two webs in between the grilles and that the kachnar tree is leafing in sporadic spurts, unlike the enthusiastically blooming gulmohar or the silk cotton tree with their exploding seed-pods, cotton spheres floating in the wind before resting upon the ground, like unmelting snow. It's all a matter of looking and looking carefully; for all these years, I was looking but I never really saw. I was ignorant of the flowers blooming, birds building nests, termites constructing homes, dragon-flies shimmying in the air, and invisible armies of ants. I only became aware when I had to be, when my world collided with that of the natural one, when I once saw a dead dragon-fly flutter down at my feet or the blooming mogras' gorgeous scent called out to me. 

Now that I have begun to see, really begun to see, what will I get to discover?

May 6, 2016

Friday Poetry: The Poetry of Silent Trees

which had been silent
all this while
have now decided to speak:

their poetry blooms under my feet,
and I listen carefully,
not wishing to miss
a single

May 2, 2016

Of 'The Girl Who Ate Books,' Bookstores, and Browsing

Last week, I finally got around to ordering a bunch of books I had been wanting to read for a long while; one of them happened to be the acclaimed journalist, author, and columnist, Nilanjana Roy's book, The Girl Who Ate Books. I had heard a great deal about Ms. Roy and had even seen her in person, moderating a panel which included Taslima Nasreen among other authors at the Times Literature Festival held in Delhi last December. Yet, it was one thing to hear of and read an author in a column and another to read their book, which happens to be a series of superlative, elegantly written essays about being a bibliophagist (and quite literally so!), house of books (in her case, her grandmother's ancestral Calcutta home, where books were scattered, stacked, and shelved in every possible space), reading, encounters with authors and poets, her own writing, sensitive, thoughtful notes on plagiarism and more. The last time I had read such a nuanced treatise and musings on reading was when I read Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, which incidentally is a book that Ms. Roy also refers to in her own.

It made me deeply think about reading: how and why I read - and of course, books which have played a central role in my life. Reading about Ms. Roy's childhood reading experiences and bookshops she frequented over the years, I journeyed back into my own childhood in Oman and how I acquired my books and satiated my voracious reading appetite. I read a lot and there were only so many outlets from where I could replenish the constantly diminishing stack of books I consumed. There being not much of a reading culture in Oman, there was only one local bookshop chain, Family Bookshop, where the limited range of books in the few branches gleamed shiny, new-smelling, and very expensive, as everything imported in Oman was. While I borrowed a huge number of books from our school library (one year, the librarian informed me, I was the student who had borrowed the highest number of books that year: 333, to be precise!), we also had the option of ordering books through publishers' catalogues such as a British children's imprint of Penguin, Puffin and an American children publishing house, Scholastic. The books arrived by sea-mail and took months to arrive and I almost forgot that I had ordered them until a huge box would turn up in our class room - and you remembered all those books, awaiting to be read. I would devour the books within hours of acquiring them before immediately re-reading them, a habit that still persists till this day with many of the books I read. They would finally be given a precious place of honor in my shrine of books, the book-shelf  - and indeed, many of the books I read as a child still remain in my bookshelves at my parents' home.

Other than that, I bought a lot of books at school fests or book sales or especially when we traveled to India or abroad, where I literally had to be pried away from the bookstores; for example, when I was thirteen and a cousin of mine took me to Borders bookshop in a suburban New Jersey mall, it took me a long time to delightedly comprehend that there was a store where you could sit down and read  books - and no one would be around to shake their head or ask you to stop reading. It was probably my most favorite store that I encountered during that trip.

What always pierced through me while browsing at the bookshops was the dizzying incredible realisation that there were so many books waiting to be read and I had gotten around to reading just a few. There is a scene in Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy where the two protagonists, Lata and Kabir meet in a bookstore and Lata and Kabir's eye collide when Lata, who normally gravitates towards poetry, particularly Tennyson, is lost in the mysteries of mathematics; Seth particularly emphasizes her awe at the multiple continents of knowledge waiting to be discovered and explored. As I grow older, I have to admit that I have a disappointing habit of stubbornly remaining within my reading comfort zones; however, once I do venture out of them, I happily lose myself into a novel which delights in playing with toys of language or transplants me in a meticulously re-created historical era and ethos. A few years ago, when I was still living in Oman, a group of neighborhood ladies and I would meet for monthly book-club evenings, where we would bring our favorite books and exchange them with the others; given the paucity of bookshops in Oman, it was a god-send to discover authors and books that I would never have otherwise heard of.

I have to confess that it was not until recently when I was reading about the demise of some much-loved bookstores in Delhi that I realised I had both forgotten the act of browsing as well as the joy I derived from them, thanks to so much online book-shopping I now indulge in and which is my primary mode of purchasing books nowadays. When I lived in Pittsburgh and greedily ransacked the Carnegie Library every week to borrow books, I would still browse but didn't linger too much, always eager to rush home and start reading the books I had borrowed, knowing that I would have to return them soon. However, when I found myself in bookshops, knowing that I was going to actually invest in a book, knowing that it would be mine and which would decorate my shelves or bedside table for years to come, I would deliciously linger over the browsing, taking my time to leaf through the books. And so, when I had some time to myself weeks ago, I slipped into a bookstore and took my time walking around the store, pulling out a book or two, flipping through the pages, allowing an eloquently written passage to brand my memory. I had taken this luxury for granted, unknowing it was a luxury until it became one.

April 29, 2016

Friday Poetry: Beauties Sleeping


Beauties sleeping,
dreaming of pink bloom,
unaware that they are ghosts of
what they once were,
what they will never be again.


April 27, 2016

Five Thoughts About April

1. I began a collaging-scrap book which is becoming a novel of my thoughts. I also painted a bit more this month, specifically expanding on my love for dots; I don't know where it has sprung up from, this inclination towards embedding the page with dots but it is a very calm, meditative process and imbues the painting with a strange, structured quality. Here is a third such chapter from my book: The Art of Cloud-Making.

2. I attended my first art event in ages and surprisingly, only my second one in Delhi after all this time living here, what with its uber-packed art and culture calendar. It was the closing ceremony of  multi-media and disciplinary artist, Satish Gupta's At The Feet of Buddha, where he presented ten sculptures, eight paintings and seventy two haikus. We heard Buddhist monks in orange robes chant, renowned Indologist, a venerable looking Professor Chandra in a crisp white kurta and dhoti talk about Buddhism, saying something which particularly resonated me that Buddha saw the entire universe in a leaf, and finally, the artist himself reciting his haikus. The giant contemplative Buddha was the focus of everyone's attention, mogras buds scenting the air all around him. We briefly chatted to the artist and he told us that it took him two years to wrought it. I have to say though  that my favorite part of the evening was hearing his wonderful haikus; read them here and here.

3. Time to blow my trumpet a bit! I wrote a piece about my love for the trees in spring-time on a whim inspired by a beautiful writing cue, participating in a writing competition for the first time in years (another first!). To my pleasant surprise, my entry was among the five winning entries for this month. You can read the piece here:)

4.  My abandoned sofa trail saw me spotting one in Mehrauli after almost a year since my last sighting in Delhi; it was unobtrusively hidden in a tangle of forest and scrub, its extremely dilapidated state indicating that it had been there for a while, almost becoming a part of the forest itself. It looked so at home in the spot, if one could say, that I wasn't tempted to extricate its back-story. This was its story.

5. It's the season of mogras once again. I bought a string or two from my local flower-seller and wrote about a poem about it, kickstarting my Friday poetry posts. The other evening, sitting inside the car and waiting for the traffic light to turn green, a man swung an entire bunch in front of us and offered to sell them for a bargain. "I need to go home and get rid of them," he succinctly told us. I had been planning to buy a couple of strings and so immediately leaped at the chance to buy a bunch of gorgeous-smelling mogra. Since then, they swayed on the rearview mirror, scented my living and bedrooms, and are now slumbering in the cold, protected confines of the fridge.

How was your April? I would love to hear!

April 22, 2016

Friday Poetry: A Country Where Many Reside


The octopus tentacles of tree roots
lie flat upon the leaf-strewn soil,
exuding tiny ink-spots of an ant-army:
crawling, scurrying, cargo-bearing
before disappearing inside
their cool, black holes 
of subterranean palaces.

Watching them reminds me that
a tree just does not exist for itself:
actually, it cannot.
That would be far too self indulgent, a selfish act.
It is a country, after all, where numerous citizens reside
and which they call home.

April 15, 2016

Friday Poetry: The Birds Whose Music Invisibly Perfumes The Spring Air


I discover today that the birds
whose concerts richly, invisibly perfume
the still, warm spring morning air
are called Indian treepies.
They flit from the kachnar tree
to the neighboring gulmohar,
a kinetic, musical long-tailed blur of tan, white, and brown
from a muddy green universe
to a bright green one.
The jade-sheened glossy black humming bird no longer sups
from the kachnar orchids,
which became pod earrings when no one was looking -
and the crows have found elsewhere to feast upon
now that the flamboyant, plump blood-red
monstrously beautiful silk cotton flowers are fat green pods
of future flowers, leaves, roots, and branches.
Only the sparrow traverses
the invisible trapeze-rope in the air,
metal grill to metal grill,
its clay water bowl empty and parched
like a summer desert.

April 7, 2016

Friday Poetry: The Season's First Mogras



The season's first mogras cost twenty rupees:
the boy takes them out of their plastic home,
pouring them into the bowl of my palm.
In the new moon light, they are phosphorescent,
the half-open buds gradually emerging,
like teeth in a baby's shy smile.

They slumber overnight,
luxuriously curled up
in a bowl full of written water.
When I wake up,
they have already made themselves home.
I journal about the poetry of their fragrance,
which seeps into my words,
the texture of my thoughts. 

The next morning,
they are already gone,
their fragrance a distant, bittersweet memory:
crumpled tea-brown white petals
fall apart in my palms,
like a ransacked city,
the ghost of what it once was. 

** I have started writing poetry again after a very long time - and so, every Friday, I will be featuring a poem of mine accompanied by a photograph. Sometimes, the photograph will inspire the birth of a poem or vice versa. Let us see where this journey of poetry will take me. I will look forward to your thoughts about these tentative re-explorations of mine into the world of poetry!**

April 1, 2016

Jacaranda Journeys


First of all, isn't jacaranda such a beautiful sounding name for an undoubtedly beautiful flowering tree? Actually, I have to be a little bit honest: I don't find the individual mauve jacaranda flower as lovely as glimpsing them collectively blooming upon the trees, the bloom-laden branches silhouetted against the clear sky or scattered en masse upon the grass below.

We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood dotted with lots of gardens, consisting of both large, sprawling and cosy, miniature ones; I discovered one such latter garden during a spontaneous afternoon stroll on a moody, cloudy, cool Delhi day. I had seen the jacaranda blooming there from the distance but I didn't realise it was more than one tree that was blooming; it was only when I explored the garden that day that I observed it was a triad of trees in various stages of bloom, one already having considerably leafed. Being the only jacaranda trees in my immediate vicinity, I was thoroughly enchanted to be caught in a quiet drizzle of jacaranda flowers as they joined the sea of flowers splashing the emerald green grass below.

Sea of Purple and Green

Ever since I have discovered that garden, it has become one of my little pleasures to stop by there during my morning walks and sit beneath these trees; it's invariably deserted when I arrive so I have the satisfaction of having the garden to myself, rendering it in my eyes a secret garden. Even if it's just for five minutes, I quietly sit on a flower-speckled stone bench below the jacaranda trees, glimpsing the flowers fluttering here and there in the air before gently coming to rest upon the ground. 


I have lately been taking great pleasure in making flower-dot paintings and so while I was sitting below the tree one morning, I scooped up a few jacaranda flowers, deciding to abstract something out of them too. I had called it the 'Journey of the Jacaranda Flowers' on Instagram, the flowers migrating from the tree to my palm to my sketchbook. There is something so calming and indeed, meditative arranging these flowers upon the stark white desert of my sketchbook, making it bloom before inserting the bindis of dots (perhaps, you could say that I am inspired by Bharti Kher's bindi explorations to a certain extent). Once I have painted, photographed, and Instagrammed the painting, I leave it upon my desk and when I return the following day, I find that the flowers have become dessicated yet certainly not diminished in any which way beauties. And so completes the circle of spring.

March 23, 2016


I have been feeling unwell for the past several weeks - and yet, simultaneously have never been as consumed by a desire to create as much as I am experiencing right now. Whether it's intense, meticulous outpourings in my red-notebook designated for morning pages or abstracting art from decaying, dying flowers juxtaposed with water-colors or making videos on my new phone or working on a short story about a Maharani who wants to become an archaeologist and has a cat called Holmes (he's a very clever cat), all I can currently think about is...creating. When I go outside, I become more aware than ever of the texture of bird-song, the trees blooming, budding, and leafing, the fragrance of nocturnal flowers. I find myself hungrily combing through the internet to learn something new every day, something utterly unknown and which will enrich my mindscape, planting dense forests of newnness. I suppose, I am paying much more minute attention to both my inner and external universes, something which I hadn't been doing for so long, the raucous clamor of both worlds drowning out and inhibiting this powerful desire to create. Or so I think, anyway. 

Some creative notes from this literal and emotional spring:

I have gotten into the habit of picking up fallen flowers these days and my best discoveries usually happen either during my daily morning walks or occasional dusk strolls. I found these gorgeous lilac-hued kachnar flowers below the bloom-laden kachnar tree standing across my home (it provides quite a backdrop to meditate upon while I write and gaze upon it from my study window) while the fiery crimson hibiscus was a fortuitous find below a bush. I thought they were no less exquisite in their decaying, dessicated states as they were in their just-fallen, still vibrant states - and preserved them between the pages of a sketchbook, introducing them into a minimal story of watercolor dots.

There is a large peepal tree amongst the many in our neighborhood which has been designated as a shrine, where you find miniature idols, plastic rosaries, framed paintings, and floral offerings wedged into the textured canyon grooves of the entwined tree trunks. While it receives offerings all year along, it is currently in the process of relinquishing its leaves. I found this fantastically hued leaf one morning and decided to perform a poster-color intervention to it, seeking to compete with its marbled chrome yellow, coffee-brown, and luminous green canvas.

Thanks to a birthday present in the form of a new phone, I have become completely obsessed with making videos (partly because of the excellent camera quality and also, I now have lots of memory space!) Our neighborhood was recently declared as the greenest one in Delhi and that's very much evident through the sheer diversity of flowering, leafing, and budding trees that one encounters walking whilst through it. The silk cotton tree with its flamboyant, fat red (or orange) blooms particularly stands out as it is among first of the trees to flower during spring. I captured one such video at dusk, standing below a silk cotton tree as crows feasted upon the blooms, which are now incidentally vanishing from the branches. I tried uploading the video but I unfortunately encountered technical snags so you glimpse can it over here: