Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

Being a woman — June 20, 2010

Being a woman

Every woman is a whore

Or a potential whore

What does it matter

what the subjective details of this instance were

When the demons of past

raise their ugly head

they ask for blood

if its not people

at least relationships

the kill is not called for by need

and the dead are not eaten

the corpses are abandoned

left to rot

and fill the deepest niches in our beings

with their morbid stench

and then

I can be accused again

of being a woman.

a quartain — February 11, 2010

a quartain

Fazaaye dil pe udaasi bikharti jaati hai
Fasurdagi hai ke jaan tak utarti jaati hai
Fareb-e-zeest se qudrat ka muddaa maaloom
Ye hosh hai ke jawaani guzarti jaati hai

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The climate of heart gets smeared with gloom
Desolation climbs deep into my being
Illusion of life explains nature’s concerns
I’m conscious of youth passing by

My Translation

Life really does long for itself… — February 7, 2010

Life really does long for itself…

 

Life is changing your password

from freespirit to funspirit

it is being settled like sludge

of dying wishes

that shallows each passing day

Life can be exciting little kicks

from within your belly that fail to affirm you

 

life is being woken up one Sunday morning

by kisses of a child

and missing your own mother

 

life is what happens

when a finicky friend

lets you order at the restaurant

to make you feel better

Life arrives  at some unremarkable instant

and leaves you weeping

as you climb the stairs home.

 

Life is the art of wondering

without really caring…

Where is it that successful people reach

when they succeed?

 

Life is making a little ritual speech

addressed to yourself, every now and then

and going on.

 

 

 

Twilight at dawn… — August 29, 2009

Twilight at dawn…

नए मोड़

दिल में कुछ खद्शे

नए रिश्ते और नई-पुरानी बातें

चौराहे, बंद गलियाँ

नए तेवर, वही बहाने

खोए लफ्ज़…नए गाने

भीड़… हाथ थामे

कोई साथ

कई जी चुराते

मुश्किल लोग उलझी आँखें

नादाँ मन…

नादाँ मन…

Shakespeare’s sister… — August 2, 2009

Shakespeare’s sister…

A big house

with a study and lawn

A little money

to call my own

Would then my poems be more profound?

and new ideas

my essays expound?

Sylvia Plath…?

crazed by her craft?

Virginia Woolf with stones in her pockets

To remain grounded

and let my dreams defer?

With tradition shall my poems concur?

Write haikus

and of love borrowed

Or like Hughes, let it exlode?

Poem without a title — July 29, 2009

Poem without a title

Am I myself?

Or extension to an idea?

You ask

me to draw my limitations

tighter… more clearly

or else I’m asked

to stretch and stretch

I won’t do either

I’d leave my bounds amorphous

and draw out the argument a little further

The poet Vikram Seth — April 21, 2009

The poet Vikram Seth

Another discovery! Vikram Seth– the poet… sensitive, witty, employing new metaphors, weaving poetry in cultures still unknown to me… enchanting! Really! I read his “A Suitable Boy” as a first year undergrad student. I read it through… in one sitting and marveled at how he was equally well versed with the nuances of all the different cultures and backgrounds that his characters dwelt in. Most of Seth’s poetry, though,  still belongs to realm of personal (like initial-formative work of Faiz?). There is another ‘Faiz-resemblance’ in employing traditional rhyme and meter schemes to conjure up novel imagery. So, am I hoping for too much if I am hoping for Vikram Seth to widen his concerns and turn his gaze deeper into matters beyond ‘the personal’? I think not.  Sample this poem from his collection “A Humble Administrator’s Garden“.

Research in Jiangsu Province

From off this plastic strip the noise
Of buzzing stops. A human voice
Asks its set questions, pauses, then
Waits for responses to begin.

The questions bore in. How much is
The cost and area of this house?
I see you have two sons. Would you
Prefer to have had a daughter too?

And do your private plots provide
Substantial income on the side?
Do you rear silkworms? goslings? pigs?
How much per year is spent on eggs?

How much on oil and soya sauce
And salt and vinegar? asks the voice.
The answering phantom states a figure
Then reconsiders, makes it bigger.

Children and contraceptives, soap
And schooling rise like dreams of hope
To rise with radios and bikes
Round pensions, tea and alarm clocks.

‘Forty square metres. Sixteen cents.
To save us from the elements.
Miscarriage. Pickle with rice gruel
Three times a week. Rice-straw for fuel.

Chicken and fruit trees.’ In Jiangning
Green spurts the psychedelic Spring
And blossoming plum confounds the smell
Of pig-shit plastered on the soil.

Life and production, drought and flood
Merge with the fertile river mud
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest
And mandarin ducks return to nest.

The Yangtse flows on like brown tape.
The research forms take final shape,
Each figure like a laden boat
With white or madder sails afloat.

Float on, float on, O facts and facts,
Distilled compendia of past acts,
Reveal the grand design to me,
Flotilla of my PhD.

On the obnoxious dreary pillage
Of privacy, imperfect knowledge
Will sprout like lodged rice, rank with grain
In whose submerging ears obtain

Statistics where none grew before
And housing estimates galore,
Diet and wealth and income data,
Age structures and a price inflator.

Birth and fertility projections,
Plans based on need and predilections,
O needful numbers, and half true,
Without you what would nations do?

I switch the tape off. This to me
Encapsulates reality,
Although the beckoning plum-trees splayed
Against the sky, the fragrant shade,

Have something tellable, it seems,
Of evanescence, light and dreams,
And the cloud-busy, far-blue air
Forms a continuous questionnaire

And Mrs Gao herself whose voice
Is captive on my tape may choose
Some time when tapes and forms are far
To talk about the Japanese War,

May mention how her family fled,
And starved, and bartered her for bread,
And stroke her grandson’s head and say
Such things could not occur today.

The poem appeals to the researcher in me, grappling to understand social realities that must not be itemized and counted because they simply cannot be.  I also liked Seth’s poems The They and Homeless from the same collection because these poems have concerns that do not draw only from the angst arising out of relationships and love. They also sort of appeal to my sense of what I consider ‘beautiful poetry’. But I also love a deeply personal Unclaimed. Then again, I think it speaks to my feminist concerns of sex, love and the accompanying emotional sticky-gooey mess.

Unclaimed

To make love with a stranger is the best.
There is no riddle and there is no test. —

To lie and love, not aching to make sense
Of this night in the mesh of reference.

To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,
And understand, as only strangers may.

To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart
Preferring neither to prolong nor part.

To rest within the unknown arms and know
That this is all there is; that this is so.

Friends — March 12, 2009

Friends

Extremely ordinary footwear
a bag that has everything
needed for an overnight stay

No TV in the house

A rack full of books
fiction, politics, travel
a little humanistic poetry

Some soulful music

Ever observant eyes
analytical mind
large accommodating heart
providing to the soul

An adopted child

Clear, respecting relationships
open to questions, reason
encouraging independence

An alternative school
a telescope

An open house
a stream of friends

Daughters and Feminist Mothers — March 6, 2009

Daughters and Feminist Mothers

All my unconsciousness knows about being a woman was learnt from my mother.

I am eerily like my mother in so many ways but I don’t want to be “like her” and try to do things, react to things differently. Even though I wasn’t close to her and my father was my teacher of the world, its politics and the large philosophical questions, it is ultimately, who she was that shapes me as a woman.

I firmly believe that it is not so important to ask how much time was a mother able to spend with her daughter (child?) and what she did specifically in that time but what the mother did with her entire life. How did the mother take on the various aspects of life, what kind of treatment she took from people around her, what were her dreams and how did she go about them…all these the child remembers. The girls learn from this how to be a woman and, I suppose, the boys would learn how to treat a woman.

Arundhati Roy once said somewhere that a feminist is a woman who creates choices for herself. Being a feminist daughter to my mother is not easy. I’m always evaluating my choices and trying to create new ones where none exist. Being a feminist mother to a daughter is no joke either… in fact the whole effect is that of a double whammy. I seem to be constantly swimming against the tide. Regardless of whether I make any progress or not on any front, slogging is a must and being tired is a given.

Why do I feel compelled to go on slogging? Because of my daughter… let me clarify lest you get me wrong. As a feminist, my struggle for equality begins with my own family, in my own house. I struggle with feelings of love and concern, with demands of devotion and decency while I strive for respect as an individual and freedom to engage with what I wish to. I struggle with others’ nostalgia for ‘family values’ and I struggle against unreason and coercion masquerading as ‘respect for elders’. I am forever struggling and contesting established notions in relationships to create options for myself that will create a new legacy for my daughter. With each act of negotiation, confrontation, conciliation and even compromise I am writing the text for her unconscious.

As I struggle, I write the script of my daughter’s struggles.

It is not surprising, then, that it was the feminist struggle that gave birth to the slogan “personal is political”. None other could have.

For women’s day my gift to my daughter and all my (feminist) friends who have daughters, a ‘Lullaby‘ by Fehmida Riaz in translation by Amina Yaqin.

Dearest your countenance like the
moon
You who are a piece of my heart
Dearest I keep on looking
Dearest my eyes are filled by your
image
Dearest I rock you in my cradled arms
Holding you next to my heart
Dearest sparkle of my eye listen,
Your mother’s entire life,
A flowing cataract of tears
Passed by
This bowl has been filled with that clear
water
With that dearest let me wash your
flowerlike hands, lotuslike feet
Touch you with my eyes
I endlessly wept away my sorrowful existence,
your sight stopped the tears
They unfurled and blossomed into
laughter
My frightened motherhood has great
faith in you
It seems like yesterday to me
I can recall that night
When you were born
That night was very black
Tormenting the heart with pain
But a kind of oil lamp began to burn
upon hearing your cry
Your beautiful beautiful limbs
Lovely and fresh, healthy and
prospering
Dearest can’t manage a kiss
Dearest I’m shaking and shivering
I know a wolf stands in my doorway
Consuming my youth, drinking my
blood
The wolf who was raised by Mammon
Who rules the world
We who are cursed from age to age
Because of whom in this world
Thinking is considered a crime
To love-a major sin
It has sniffed the blood of a human
body
It tracks your every move
Dearest cannot sleep at night
Dearest I am constantly awake
Dearest borne of my womb listen
This world belongs to injustice
What skills can I teach you
Women who came and went
Embroidering sprigs on net upon net
Placed food on platter upon platter
Which the wolf ate
Today every kitchen is empty
What can I show you
What skills shall I teach you!
When I take you in my arms
I listen to the call of time
I hear great battle cries
I listen to the beckoning of war
Hearing this again and again
Your skill is “bravery”!
Listen my dear little one
This land, this sky
All the grandeur of peace
The markets full of grain
Until that does not belong to us
We cannot exist in harmony
No one to lean on
There is no other option
Do not fear the wolf
Dear heart! Fight with conviction
Do not ever despair
I will teach you bravery
I will make you into a lioness
Fear will not touch you
Listen my dear new little one
You will not be alone
Your friends will be with you arm in
arm
Your friends, your companions
Will be by your side
Many hands will join together
This is my one wish!

How shall we get acquainted again…? — December 24, 2008

How shall we get acquainted again…?

So much has happened in the last couple of months and it has left an unsavoury taste in lots of interactions, expressions and friendships. Mumbai attacks claimed hundreds of lives but people were not the only casualties.  For weeks I went about my life, feeling inwardly as if I had experienced a personal loss. Like when my parents died.

Kosi floods had pained me as did the images of recent repression in Kashmir. The encounter of young Raj from Bihar had me shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at being a citizen of police state. But this was something different… It was personal. It could not be otherwise when a friend told me that, “in times like this when Imams want to wear black bands on Eid and Muslim groups don’t want terrorists to be buried on Indian soil, you of all intellegensia (sic) should sense the dominant mood and that perhaps its very WORTHWHILE for Muslims all over the world to say that TERROR in name of Islam should be stopped.” Another person said “Although some members of the Muslim community do express condemnation, on the whole I do feel that the Muslim community has not expressed enough outrage at some of the terrible atrocities that some extremists have committed in the name of their religion over the last decade or so especially.”  

These people were essentially just agreeing with American Hawk journalist Thomas Friedman when he says “But at the end of the day, terrorists often are just acting on what they sense the majority really wants but doesn’t dare do or say. That is why the most powerful deterrent to their behavior is when the community as a whole says: “No more. What you have done in murdering defenseless men, women and children has brought shame on us and on you.”

Another person said, “It is actually the welfare of the Muslim community that is at the heart of this argument… it is a religion and a community that has some serious thinking to do at many many levels…”  (all this exchange took place online when the friend mentioned above CC’ed an e-mail, containing a link to this Friedman article from New York Times, to several of her friends saying it was a “worthwhile read” and I hit the reply all button to say that I was, “Really saddened to see that you thought this dangerous ranting against Muslims in general a ‘worthwhile read’.)

I mulled and agonised over all this when I sat in winter sun in the park and watched my 3 year old daughter Miftah play and call for more of my attention. “Amma dekhiye… AMMA!” The comments hammered on my heart and left me gasping for air every time I thought of it. “Muslims all over the world“? Me included Miftah included? The terrorists were acting on what I and millions of Muslims around the world want but do not dare to do? And what they have done has brought shame on me and my daughter? Then, obviously, many people think it is not enough that I condemn the attack as a human being but that I should somehow feel responsible and ashamed because I am a Muslim and condemn the attacks as a Muslim.

I looked at Miftah and felt scared for her… I did not feel this scared even during and after the Gujarat 2002 violence. Those days, at least from the security of the small world of development professional/social activists, I heard many sane voices of reason and compassion. No one was calling for people who condemned the communal carnage to identify their religion.

I told my friend that it saddened me but it just scared life out me to realise that this was the world that my Miftah will be doing her growing up and living in. For weeks, I couldn’t muster words to respond except to apologise for my inadequate e-mail attequettes- having hit the reply all button.

My friend, philosopher and guide Dr. Manoj Jha sends out new years wishes every year. This year he chose this ghazal by Faiz Ahmad Faiz to go on the card. I think, it just so aptly and beautifully says what I struggled to in the earlier paragraphs of this post but couldn’t really. It will suffice if my English translation conveys how I feel even to a few people.

Hum ke thhehre ajanabi itni madaraaton ke baad
Phir banenge aashnaa kitani mulaqaaton ke baad

Kab nazar mein aayegi bedaagh sabze ki bahaar
Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barasaaton ke baad

Dil to chaha par shikast-e-dil ne mohalat hi na di
Kuchh gile-shikave bhi kar lete munajaaton ke baad

The bohot bedard lamhen khatm-e-dard-e-ishq ke
Thien bahut bemehr subahein meharabaan raaton ke baad

Un se jo kahane gaye the “Faiz” jaan sadaqaa kiye
Ankahi hi rah gae vo baat sab baaton ke baad


Even after much warm hospitality we stand unfamiliar

After how many meetings shall we again get acquainted

When shall we see a spotless spring in the fields again

How many rains shall it take to wash the blood stains off

Though the heart wished, it did not allow its defeated self

To make complaints after whispering words of prayers

Merciless were the moments when the throbbing of love ended

Unpitying were the mornings that followed the compassionate nights

With the gift of your own life, Faiz, what you went to tell them

That matter remained unsaid when all had been expressed

The past few weeks have also included conversations with friends that gave much hope and I do not wish to end this post at a pessimistic note so here is an Arundhati Roy quote, that my friend Aanchal Kapoor mailed me.

“Sometimes — quite often — the same people who are capable of a radical questioning of, say, economic neo-liberalism or the role of the state, are deeply conservative socially — about women, marriage, sexuality, our so-called ‘family values’ — sometimes they’re so doctrinaire that you don’t know where the establishment stops and the resistance begins. For example, how many Gandhian/Maoist/ Marxist Brahmins or upper caste Hindus would be happy if their children married Dalits or Muslims, or declared themselves to be gay? Quite often, the people whose side you’re on, politically, have absolutely no place for a person like you in their social, cultural or religious imagination. That’s a knotty problem politically radical people can come at you with the most breathtakingly conservative social views and make nonsense of the way in which you have ordered your world and your way of thinking about it and you have to find a way of accommodating these contradictions within your worldview.”

Peace All.