Performative, Poems

Roots

I remember listening
to my grandparents converse
in rapid fire Sindhi
When I was at their house,
In the summer of 2003
Meanings lost in translation
I was in agony.

I remember being confused,
Not understanding anything
But being fascinated with the sounds
The emphasis
The accent
The shape of the words
I was in awe

I  remember the first wedding
I danced at,
Copying my cousins’ erratic movements
And then smooth ones
As they swayed to Damadam Mast  Qalandar 
Not knowing at the time,
That it was not a Hindu chant
But a Sufi one
I was in bliss

I remember my mother’s stories
Of her grandfather’s travels
From across a hostile border
Through adversity, surviving only off creativity
And gradually developing biases
Against the reasons for their forced move
That day, I was enlightened

I remember reading the news last night
Scrolling through the despair on Facebook
Of eight bombs in five days
In a country we claim to hate
But our tongues still speak the language of
Tongues now horrified into silence
And the haunting melodies of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar 
Ring in an empty, destroyed shrine now.

Poems

5 Things I Know to be True

1. Cinnamon rolls are edible happiness and nostalgia

2. Being as colourful as possible is a guaranteed way to feel positive

3. The ocean is calming, inspiring, thrilling, and exciting all together

4. Words are beautiful, poetic devices and wordplay are some of the greatest things to have come out of language

5. Reading is empowering

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Scourgify

​After three whole months of suppressed sighs, subtle hints, snide remarks 

and secret exclamations of great exasperation,

My mother asked me

To clean my room

Now if you’re anything like me, 

A master procrastinator but also a neat freak with a violent fear of failure,

Then you’ll know, that this endeavour can throw up many combinations of differing situations with unpredictable possibilities-

Cathartic cleaning, new discoveries, or perhaps a space even more untidy than it was originally.

And it was bearing these in mind that at first I halted, 

but then decided to proceed undaunted, 

excited to see what exactly haunted 

the rears of the packed drawers that still taunted me with cubic units of space I needed but could not fill

And I’m sure glad I did because barely two minutes in, I discovered

Ten unfinished canvases

Nine Model UN Placards

Eight lost hair ties (So THAT’S where they were!)

Seven pairs of metal earrings

Six twisted seashells

Five copies of my 12th marksheet (Attested, might I add)

Four forgotten polaroid pictures

Three alcohol store receipts (Definitely getting rid of those)

Two origami cranes

And one, one strong gust of nostalgia

I have learned that out of sight 

is not out of mind, 

and messy clothes, just like dynamite, or feelings, 

will not sort themselves out 

just because you shut them away 

and pretend that they do not exist 

and say “Look, ma, all tidy!” 

because we all know denial never ends well.

The thing is 

Like most things I try to do in life, 

I never completely finish cleaning because 

just like the way the ocean clambers up sand dunes and 

claims them for itself, 

I embark upon miscellaneous mess piles,

 and when I retreat, 

there are seashells in the wake of my withdrawal, 

titbits from different time zones, 

homes to creatures of memory that have long passed on.

My mind is like an ocean, turbulent and destructive, 

yet sustenance and home for certain beings only, 

perpetually pulled by conflicting currents, 

and perhaps this is what always dooms my cathartic cleansing to fail, 

because if your head is in a mess 

then you can only fold clothes and throw away candy wrappers for so much long

before drifting off into another whirlwind of thought-

But I’ll save cleaning my brain

For another time, 

because each time I try, 

the first thing I discover 

is a collection of unfinished poems

including this one.

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Objectification

(Written for NYPS)

It is human nature to align the unknown with the pre-known,

To put everything into comforting categories,

set clearly defined boundaries

to clearly defined spaces

within clearly defined boxes

–all based on relevance to the matter at hand –

whether being called out on the street,

or by every relative you greet,

or an angry ink stained marksheet,

your real personality becomes discreet.

But I object, to being reduced to a single object, because,

Objectively speaking:

I am more than just a woman, a body, a pass certificate, a number, or a not-so-glowing CV, there are other things to use, if you want to objectify me.

I am sharp pieces of coral from a Thai lagoon, crystals from the heart of the mountains, twigs from the Redwood forests, twisted seashells from an isolated beach, feathers from pillow fights and migratory flights, and the brochures from every single aquarium I’ve been to.

My substance is in a Ziploc bag full of the powdery sand from a southern coastline, and a cable car ticket bought with coins from a country I don’t live in anymore.

These are the objects that define me; that I cling to, and collect, from the places I’ve been, and the people I’ve met.

I’m a bit like a refrigerator door, covered in magnets from every visit, travel, experience and more – and just like the soul of the fridge is the food within, my objects have spirit too, just beneath their skin

In the warmth of a scarf crocheted by my mother, sixteen years ago for a Minnesotan winter.

My very first formal blazer, which my younger sister wears now, because these arms never stopped getting longer and longer and clothing can’t cover these wrists anymore.

Just like the wires that once shaped my grin-

Who I am is VERY visible in

The DVD of my sixth grade school play, where I spoke with a quivering voice, accented, confused about which better to say:

“Vande Mataram, or ‘God bless the USA’

 

For growth, all you need see, is the scraps of paper I saved from grade three-idyllic nature poems I wrote, about crunchy leaves on a forest floor, from long ago, back before – I discovered that poetry could be so much more.

 

So rather than demanding ‘relevant’ information,

That doesn’t really matter, to objectify me

Take, instead my box of metaphors, assortment of things

I don’t mind being identified

As seashells and souvenirs and butterfly wings.

 

I object

To being reduced to just a single object,

Because objectively speaking, I am all of these, and all of me is relevant, and I am an Aristotelian being

-With both matter that forms me and and a form that matters,

And YOU

With your leering eyes or interview questionnaire

Cannot take that

Away from me.

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Words

I like words, I love words, I love the ways you can pace them, a few at a time, side by side so they rhyme. When you string them together like beads on a cold, metallic chain, or as exuding warmth, like the huffing cabooses of a long, winding train.

It’s amazing how one string of speech can be sharp, and too short to go all the way around your neck, so it chokes you, possibly to death, leaving you gasping for breath, yet another’s words can easily slide over your head and proudly rest, glittering necklace adorning your chest.

But what’s remarkable is the power behind the words that makes them so specific yet diverse, how the same word can be spat out in a fit of rage, meant to insult and degrade, but also be sweet, like vengeance at last, or kind, comforting, as if to soothe shattered glass.

There are words that trigger anxiety and dread, and also words that make you wish the speaker were dead, or perhaps, alive, but with those words forever unsaid.

A single word can incite waves of nostalgia, or inside jokes, heartache and longing, set old feelings awoke, or can be a beginning, in either heart or wallet broke.

Words can hit crowds and change minds for the better, influence our opinions, views and feelings, down to the letter. But wielding this power, utilizing these tools, takes responsibility, morals, and intellect; it’s not meant for fools –  such as, certain “great” people who then, claim to want to make the rest “great, again”. Those, who, on the tides of opinions rose, to power, to power, but by stepping on other toes, and when they take words? Then these combinations of sounds or symbols are used and used and used to spread negativity and misunderstandings and abuse, and for what? Temporary satisfaction? Fleeting dominance, fleeting fame, when will you, up on your throne, realize that this isn’t a game? It may be great to go viral, have the whole world know your name, but if you can’t use that for good, it’s not just a waste, but also a shame.

Your words have the power to go to real people, so why wish them ill? You won’t feel the result of your own hatred, but someone, somewhere, will.

There’s no synonym for the word, “word”, and that’s significant to me, it means words are all we have, and our usage of them is what we’re known to be.

Words can make or break a person; they can make or break your day. So be careful how you wield them, because, after all:

you are what you say.

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A Foray Into Spoken Word:

In June 2014, I was introduced to an art form- Performance Poetry. While the poetry bit was not new to me, the performance aspect of it definitely was. To quote Sarah Kay, “I felt that my two secret loves, poetry and theater, had come together, had a baby, a baby I needed to get to know. So I decided to give it a try.” If that wasn’t already enough, binge-listening to Sarah Kay’s work sold the deal.

Fast forward two years to today, and I’ve just come back from representing my college at the National Youth Poetry Slam, the first inter-collegiate event of its kind in this country. If nothing else, this concept was a clear sign that poetry, Spoken Word in particular, is powerful- and is not something to be taken lightly. There is nothing more surreal or magical than being in the same room as more than a thousand other people who have the same passion for words as you do. Watching artists well known in the poetry circle from not just your own locality, city, state or country, but also the entire world, LIVE, is an incredible experience, and an unbelievably inspiring one too.


Poetry is powerful. Poetry has no borders. Poetry is transcendent. Poetry brings people, lovers, friends, languages, enemies, cultures, religions, genders, and every other distinguishing factor together. Poetry, when given out to people who want to listen, can spread awareness and exposure, set moods and influence opinions, create and destroy, teach and unlearn, and evolve. Words are unbelievably lyrical units of language, and the finest proof of human advancement. Words are beautiful things, in fact I have felt enough about them to write poem after poem chronicling their magic.

We’re all poets and artists, we just don’t acknowledge or express it. Pick up that pen, slide your heavy fingers over that keyboard. Put your mind’s whirlwinds into words – say what you can’t say out loud, what you can’t keep within, what you only feel comfortable thinking about in the dead of the night, anything, but express. Create, express and inspire. Listen to other people. Get inspired. Let your environment weld itself with the fire of the neurons in your brain, and even the dying embers or sputtering sparks of creativity will blaze brightly.Write about what you know. Write about what you don’t. Write about what you wish you did. Invoke emotion in mirth and empathy and sadness. Show it to people, or don’t, if you’d prefer not to. Use it, whether as catharsis, to put out flames that burden your mind, or as a foray into creation, to fan them, until they burn out all that must go, and replace them with newly formed phoenixes of inspiration, ready to take flight from the ashes and spread their wings to every corner of your insides and beyond.

Everyone has the beginnings of vibrancy within them. Poetry need not be aesthetic or eloquent to be impactful or good. Poetry need not have a goal or a purpose, and nor do we.

Sometimes, poetry just is.

 

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On Wednesdays, We Wear Thoughtful

The way we feel about things is a reflection of our experiences with them, or what we’ve heard and seen of other’s experiences with them. Our interactions with our environments are constantly shaping opinions, ideas, and reactions, whether we realize it or not. The way I feel about Wednesday, for example, could be shaped by an unforgettable experience I had, that coincidentally, took place on a Wednesday. However, it isn’t always this direct. The human brain is marvelous; it takes in information from everywhere and interprets it without sparing a minute for an aware analysis. Our feelings are impacted by so much more than just our own, or other’s experiences. Opinions are shared on every forum – the print media, television, and the internet. Different perspectives on a situation can be accessed at the touch of screen. This also means that our thoughts can be influenced by almost anything.

In today’s day and age, pop culture plays an enormous role in our perceptions of the world. Video games, movies, television shows, books, and even music are largely influential. The discussion of these over the internet only makes them more and more commonly referred to, and therefore more familiar to us. Pop culture has developed a sense of humor of its own through these many references. Mashing lines from different books together, making puns with song lyrics, and impersonating a favorite character’s catchphrase in response to something, are only a few examples. All of this gives us a new, vast world to draw inspiration from.

Once upon a time, the word “Wednesday” would make me think of studying, a lack of sleep, or the desire for a break. At my current high school, during my junior year, everything would happen on Wednesdays: The first day of school, parent-teacher conferences, interesting visitors, chemistry practical classes, performances, sports games, and even tests. Wednesdays would bring with them a certain sense of anticipation, usually ranging from dread to excitement. Thanks to the pop culture influence, Wednesdays are so much more to me now. My favorite artist released an album on a Wednesday, and it was something my friends and I counted down the hours to. Wednesday doesn’t even have to be a day of the week, such as, for example, the morbid Wednesday Addams, of Addams Family fame.

In the movie ‘Mean Girls,” which is one that most high school students have found themselves watching at least once in their lives, the popular girls wore pink clothes on Wednesdays. This became a bit of a running joke among my friends, especially because popularity is relative in a school as small as ours, and our uniform is anything but pink. However, the line, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” is one that I won’t be able to forget. It is a constant reminder of the friends I have right now and the high school environment I’m in, and how in a matter of just a few months, I’ll be separated from both.

I decided to put off writing this essay until it actually was a Wednesday, just to see if it inspired me any differently, and I’d like to think it has. I don’t know if it’s possible to think about the answer to a question as vague and open-ended as “How do you feel about Wednesday?” without a lot of introspection, and the relieving of quite a few memories. A simple ‘mixed feelings’ is impossible to understand without the knowledge of everything a person has been through, in relation to the question asked.

What I do know today, Wednesday, is that from now on, I’m going to associate ‘Wednesday’ with one of the most unusual essays I’ve ever written.

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“Huddled Masses Yearning to Break Free”

Humanity has hit a new low when violence, hate crimes and terror attacks are no longer rare headlines, but regular occurrences. However, it is how the rest of the world chooses to react to these incidents that define us as humane, or not. The ongoing refugee crisis is one such incident that I believe is of great importance. This example is not something I have faced directly, but still feel strongly about.

Refugees, by definition, are people who have been forced to leave their countries in order to escape war or persecution, among other threats to life. By accepting refugees, nations are providing at least a temporary safe shelter for people who have nowhere else to go. It must be understood that they are trying to escape war-torn nations after facing extremism and violence, with no intention of perpetrating it themselves. Conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and so many other places has driven citizens to the point of fleeing their homes on perilous journeys they might not even survive, all in the hope of a safer, better life somewhere else. It takes a serious lack of compassion and morality for a nation to deny these people the asylum they seek.

Yes, there is always the risk of malignant individuals posing as refugees to enter a nation and cause more trouble, but is it worth jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people seeking asylum from those very malignant individuals over this? Aside from this, there is always xenophobia and racism that influences judgments, if not the fear of drain on resources, or an undesirable impact on the economy. Refugees bring with them new cultures and lifestyles, which some fear may change civic identity.

The decision of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to take in more refugees is even more significant, after the recent attacks including, but not limited to the incidents in Paris. An example has been set for other developed countries that can, and definitely should, be able to integrate refugees into their economies relatively painlessly, despite the potential cost.

Although this crisis is mostly faced by Europe due to its geographical location, it is one that all nations need to confront. The United Nations has appealed to the United States to uphold its tradition as a beacon to immigrants and admit Syrian refugees. The hesitation of many Governors to do so, as seen on the 19th of November, is not unfounded, given the events in Paris. However, calling for a pause in the vetting process to ensure that terrorists are not admitted would only exacerbate the problem by causing a massive delay, and setting an unfavorable example for US allies to follow.

As Susan Grant said, “We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. We can fear, or we can care.”

It is time we opened our hearts and borders to those who need all the support they can, in this dark time for humanity.

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On Ringtones

If I were invited to give a TEDtalk, it would be about the existence of a ‘One True Calling.’

A calling, by definition, is a strong urge towards a particular way of life or career, a vocation. People often refer to it as something they were “born to do”, and something they will always be able to succeed in. Finding this is akin to finding oneself and one’s place in the world. Somehow, I do not believe that such a thing exists for everyone.

With each phase in life, our passions change. Beliefs we had as children rarely make it to adolescence untouched, and opinions formed in high school are more than likely to change after exposure to the ‘real world’. Our priorities affect our decisions, and it is only natural for these to change at each stage of growth. We cannot predict the future, so we have to make the best decisions we can, based on our current environment. Some are fortunate enough to be able to pursue what they believe is their true calling for their entire lives. However, there are so many instances where people are forced to change their lives due to the circumstances they find themselves in.

Often, a true calling may not be feasible. Playing the tuba might be the one thing that gives you ultimate happiness, but unless you are the very best in your field, you won’t be able to sustain yourself, financially or emotionally. Some people may dedicate their life’s work to a cause, only to find, in the end, that it wasn’t worth it. The concept of the ‘mid-life crisis’ comes to mind here. You can chase your calling to the fullest, but eventually, a time will come when you reach a stagnant point. You have faced every hurdle, reached the peak, and cracked the code to success. All that’s left is to do the same thing over and over again, for the rest of your life. Upon reaching this stage, it is only natural for the initial enthusiasm to fizzle out, and for feelings of emptiness, boredom, even, to creep into one’s mind.

There are enough people, who, after an experience with a social issue, an accident, or other life-altering event, re-evaluate their priorities and realize that there are many things they have taken for granted. With the rapid advancement of technology, many conventional industries that require human involvement are being destroyed. Someone’s true calling may have been in hospitality services, but thanks to the internet and increasingly tech-savvy tourist destinations, this is no longer a career that holds much opportunity at an interpersonal level.

In all of these cases, the logical response is to explore other fields and causes, to find a new calling, or to find a new way to apply the original one. Sometimes, this requires skills that a person doesn’t already have. While it is never too late to learn more, it can be difficult to start afresh, owing to factors such as age, health, family, finances, and plain habit. The crucial choice between acquiring skills and interests that are highly specific to one sphere, or ones that are not as in-depth, but applicable to a large variety of areas, is one that is usually, often unknowingly made at a relatively young age.

As a high school student, I am expected to have at least a vague idea of what direction I want my life to take, career-wise. My interests, both academic and extra-curricular, play an important role in shaping my future. The Indian education system is such that towards the end of high school, one is to narrow down the courses they take, taking fewer, but highly specific and rigorous subject classes.

I have not, however, been able to find my “One True Calling.” My own interests are varied- I love English, reading and writing. I love Biology, nature, and the details of what exactly makes us alive. I love world politics, law, anthropology, and economics graphs. As a pure science student today, I did not appreciate the value of all of these subjects until they were removed from the curriculum. While science definitely interests me, I crave the ability to study other fields as well, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Conventionally, a calling is associated with a single, independent sphere. In today’s dynamic world, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are many new careers that involve the applications of more than one conventionally independent field of study, like astrobiology, musical healing, and computational life sciences, to name a few.

I’ll admit that it figuring out what exactly I wanted took a lot longer than it may for most, but even if I don’t have one set field or aim, I’ve done justice to myself. Maybe someone’s true calling is the pursuit of knowledge, which is limitless. Maybe you don’t actually need to ‘find yourself’ to succeed. Maybe all you need to do is do everything. Being the “jack-of-all trades” is frequently associated with the words “master of none”, but the entire saying “But still far better than the master of one,” is frequently forgotten.

Finally, I’d like to remind my audience not to discount the importance of the unconventional. The lines between fields of study are blurring as the world develops, and the demand for people educated in more than one sphere is definitely on the rise. Besides, a well-rounded personality will be able to apply their skills to a multitude of careers, and will have a unique point of view on issues that the world faces today. Whether you have one calling or seven, acting upon your interests will surely give anyone a lot to contribute to society.