And Then, There Is Grief

As a writer, I wondered…
Can I create poetry that tore?
What after all, did I know
about pain too pure to bear,
or grief too deep to share?
What did I know?
Indeed!
I looked up the meaning
of words that stood in
for grief.
Distressed, in agony,
desolate, in purgatory, or
drowning in sadness.
Why, one could even be melancholic!
But all mere words that did not…
could not
sum up heart-breaking misery.
Picture by Michael Held on Unsplash
Now, I know better.
The words aren’t just on paper.
Tattooed into life,
they flutter on my every breath.
As always, I put pen to paper,
to seize the naked rawness of it all.
And, hit a wall.
Bearing witness to a pain
beyond the reach of medicines.
Words fail to capture
the silent darkness
of private anguish.
All the ink in the world
cannot pen the wretched misery
of this unrelenting story.
Everything is at a standstill
inside of me.
Poised to start living,
Once… Once this happens or that.
Once I wrestle the pain
down on to the page.
Fool!
There is grief
Beyond the reach of meaning.

This poem was written in response to a prompt on my writing group. Walt Witman wrote, ‘I contain multitudes.’ And now our grief is reflecting it too. Layers of grieving. Even as we all struggle with the pandemic, some of us are also fighting parallel, personal battles in our own little pandemic induced bubbles. Nothing will ever be the same again – a cliché but true. We have all lost our innocence, and every day I mourn for what could have been, even as I am grateful for what is. This poem is my attempt at depicting my grief for that loss, because I can begin to manage things, feelings and vague notions only, and only when I write it out.

Melancholia

… of a writerly kind

A half-remembered tune melts into me.

I rise up trying to meet it… grab it

make it fully mine.

But the very acting of reaching

rips the melody out of my mind.

Just the ghost of it stays behind

to tease me with its unformed lines.

Haunted by a feeling, almost physical,

I hang on to sanity by slender threads.

There is a foreboding in my chest 

vague in detail, precise in visceral sentiments.

Picture by Andreas Kretschmer on Unsplash

Like waking from a nightmare,

heart pounding, drenched in sweat,

half-remembering details.

The very act of waking,

pulling veils over specifics

as they brush by teasing… warning,

all in the same heartbeat.

If only I could capture

the wretched poignancy,

the bleak terrain of my mind,

and pin it on paper.

Other poets do it with ease; but I struggle.

The very act of putting pen to paper

robs the emotion of its very feeling.

‘It’s alright,’ I soothe myself.

All I need is a good night’s sleep.

Not too long to sunrise, now.

I will bid the dark goodbye.


Banana Time…

I am what you call a 2 a.m writer. My best ideas for stories and dialogues come to me when I am slipping from one sleep cycle into the next. I groggily reach for my mobile and open OneNote to type in the idea. Sometimes it is just a sentence and sometimes a para.

Earlier I’d not get up and pin the idea down, certain that there is no way I could forget this gem. Come morning, all I could recall is that I had had a good, maybe even a brilliant idea, but I have no clue what it is. After the first two times of not being able to recall the ideas, and the resultant kick-your-own-ass anguish, I would just wake up and write the damn idea down. At least, I could now go back to sleep peacefully and wake up to something interesting.

Most of my 2 a.m ideas have done me good, except for this one time, when I had an idea to solve, and I mean SOLVE, the problems facing the world. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. I got up and typed in my solution and went back to sleep relieved that when I wake up the idea to solve all our problems will be there in my OneNote. Waking up, I opened the note, and my solution was just one word – Bananas.

I am sure it is a code. Or maybe we are all supposed to eat bananas. Go figure!

Would love it if you’d share your ‘Bananas’ idea :).

The Statue

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Walking had become a pleasure again. The sun was gentler,  and the breeze cooler. My hip did not feel tight anymore and I could swing my right leg without that twinge and ache in my bones. It also took less effort each morning to talk myself into getting ready to head out for the walk, mentally preparing myself for the exercise, and the fear.

The last few weeks as I had walked my usual stretch in the park, I had had to fight multiple demons – pain, weariness, and the gut clenching dread that had been my constant companion these last few months. Initially, after my recovery from the surgery, it had taken more energy and will power than I had thought I’d need to complete my walk. But it had got easier with each passing day.

I could have walked around the city blocks instead of the park, but I like trees. And the stubborn mulish part in me is not yet defeated. I believe that if I stop walking in the park, if the few of us who still venture out there for our dose of exercise and fresh air, were to quit, then we’d lose the park completely. It will no longer be ours… but his.

The first few times, after my return to the park, it was not muscle weakness and tightness or pain, but the thought of that statue lurking ahead, unseen, that had terrorised me. Waiting in the gloam with the left half of its head and shoulder missing, as though someone had taken a go at it with a sledgehammer, bits of rusty wire mesh sticking out of the jagged edges of concrete, the statue of the young boy did not cut a very impressive figure. It stood on a concrete pedestal, raised a foot and a half above the ground and was about four feet tall from the soles of its shoes to the top of its disfigured head. It may not have been remotely imposing, yet it had radiated an strange eerie almost mocking power. So out of place, I had thought the first time I saw it, not sure exactly what was out of place – the statue or the malevolence it exuded.

˷ ˷ ˷ ˷

I had been overjoyed to discover this park in my new neighbourhood. It helped me get over the concrete jungle blues that assailed me after I moved to the city from my small town. Every morning, I would be at the park by 5ish. The sun still a blush on the horizon, I loved this time of the day, with its reverential silence in the air, broken only by the nattering birds. But in the park, even the birds were quieter. And then there was the added advantage of avoiding my fellow park and fitness enthusiasts, who descended on the park by 6, by when the sun would be out, no longer shy.

It was a nameless park. My kind of park, overgrown with trees and shrubs that bordered the outer walls and the inner paths that criss-crossed the park. There was a banyan tree that held pride of place as being the oldest, with its widespread canopy, housing a mini universe of its own. Then there were the peepals, sals and the gulmohars. All of them lush, richly green, somehow more tropical than the world outside the park’s single, high, rusty, wrought iron gate. Even on the hottest summer day, at mid-noon, the sun only peaked in through the protective green canopy. I fell in love with the park at first sight.

Photo by Guillaume Lorain on Unsplash

My first day at the park, I arrived around 6, and seeing the handful of others already there laying claim to different jogging paths and patches of sunlight, I promised myself that I would arrive at 5 the next day onwards. I looked around and decided to stroll down along the only path stretching long and empty ahead of me. It was a beautiful one – trees arching overhead creating a lovely tunnel effect, with the sun sneaking in here and there.

As I walked down the path, I realised that this path, stretching five kilometres, offered the only complete circuit around the park and would lead me right back to the gate, the only gate into the park, that I had entered from. Strange it should be so deserted then, I thought. Or maybe, people don’t opt for the complete circuit in the mornings because it takes longer to complete, and everyone has to rush back to whatever work awaits them. Maybe there are more people in the evening, because come to think of it, I had seen only four others when I came in. Why can’t I hear the birds at all out here?

Questions and thoughts flowed through my head as I walked on. Before I knew it, I had reached the three-quarter mark. The last stretch extended dark with the trees completely blocking the light over the path. I stopped and took a deep swig of water from my bottle. And then for reasons I did not fully understand, turned around and walked back down the stretch I had already covered towards the gate.The first week I only walked three quarters of the circuit before returning, as the last stretch extended gloomily ahead with the trees arching over the path.

Retracing my steps meant it took me longer to reach the gate than if I had just walked on. But I could not explain why I did not walk on. Was it that the complete absence of another soul had finally got to me or the fact that the birds had fallen completely silent in that stretch. All that week and the next, I would walk down the path, reach the three-quarters mark, and then turn back. I rarely saw anyone else venture into that section. With each passing day of that first week, my reluctance to complete the circuit increased.

Every single day, I would tell myself, today I am going to complete the circuit. And every single day, I would return home irritated with myself but unable to take a step beyond the self-set barrier. This inability to complete the circuit became a secret shameful burden. I could imagine the peepal and the sal bending their leaves towards each other and laughing at my weakness. Even the friendly gulmohar had stopped acknowledging me. Her fiery red flowers would have nothing to do with a coward like me, she seemed to say. I began to fancy that if I completed the circuit the birds on the trees along that path may start to sing again.

The third week, I decided to confront the irrational fear growing in me that had cast its shadow over my morning walk and my life in general. When I reached the three-quarters point, I stopped, and then taking a deep breath and ignoring the panicked alarm bells ringing in my head I stepped forward, and took another step. Just one step and I wished heartily that I hadn’t. Just one step, and I was in a different world. I wished I had worn a jacket, which was silly, because it was a balmy summer morning. It was darker. I turned to look back down the path I had already covered. It too was bordered by trees arching over the path; however, it was somehow lighter… less feral there. Don’t be silly.

Photo by Tom Morel on Unsplash

I carried on, fighting the desire to turn back, and run. Each step was an effort as I pushed against an invisible wall of hostility. Walking on would mean that I would be able to reach the gate in a mere 10 minutes instead of the 40 it would take me to if I retraced my steps. Walking on would mean, I would be able to set aside this shameful fear for ever.

As I walked on, trying to tamp down this strange sense of unease rising from my stomach to my heart and compressing my chest, I came across the boy’s statue for the first time. Disfigured and lonely, it stood out starkly against the dense foliage. A broken young boy, dominating the surrounding wildness despite his smashed head and shoulder.  

As I kept walking, I realized that I had unconsciously crossed to the other side of the path, away from the boy. Coward. But I could see the gate ahead. And then the warning bells jangled loud again. Don’t look back. Don’t. Look. Back. I don’t know why that thought came into my head, but I knew, just knew that it was a matter of life and death that I did not turn back. I could feel his stare at the back of my neck willing me to turn. I half-walked, half-jogged the last few metres to the gate. As I neared the gate, the air cleared, and I could breathe easily again. My t-shirt stuck to me as though I had walked through a downpour.

As I blindly walked to my apartment, I promised myself that I would never walk through that stretch ever again. But half an hour later as I showered, I began to feel silly. I remembered reading somewhere about paintings where the eyes of the subject seemed to follow you, no matter which part of the room you were in. Perhaps this could happen with statues too. That would explain what had happened in the park. Inanimate eyes following one in a gloomy part of a park can freak anyone out.

By afternoon as I sat with my new friends at work enjoying a break from our project, I was ready to laugh at my over-active imagination. If my brothers back home heard about this, they would rag me about it for the rest of my life. This is why we never took you along, you shrimp, I could hear them jeer. You are always scared of every damn thing.

The next morning, I was back at the park gate, armed with renewed courage… courage that seeped out of me with each step. By the time I reached the three-quarters mark, my heart was trying to jump out of my body. What if I had not imagined it? What am I trying to prove? Don’t be a fucking wimp. You can do this. Three steps in, I knew I had not imagined it. It was darker, wilder and somehow bitterly malevolent here. The air hung damp and evil over this place. But I kept on. Second guessing my instincts, praying to every god that ever existed, I walked on. Just before I reached the statue… the boy, I crossed to the other side. And I looked ahead. I promised myself that no matter what, no bloody matter what, I was not going to turn back. By the time I reached the gate, I was drenched in sweat and my heart was pounding as though I had run a marathon.

Photo by Kevin Jackson on Unsplash

That day I did not feel like laughing at my imagination. I was beginning to think that it was not my imagination that was the problem, after all. Perhaps I was suffering from some strange form of mental illness. I was subdued the whole day, feeling as though I had been touched by evil.

The next day I was at the park again. I knew I had to return. If I did not confront whatever it was that was challenging me on that stretch of the path, I would forever be afraid. The first three-quarters of the way was covered in the blink of an eye, even though I tried to linger. At the three-quarters mark, I stopped and re-tied my shoelaces as I looked ahead into the murky shadows. The trees and the breeze waited for my decision. Maybe I should just turn back and go home. Even as I thought it, I knew that I had to go on. There was no other way. I could not live like this. I stood up, took a deep breathe and took a step forward.

Again, the vileness of the place filled the air around me. The place knew. He knew. He knew I was challenging him. I tried to control my galloping fear, but my thoughts sped ahead direction-less giving shape to vague ideas and terrors. I forced myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s all in my head. It’s all in my imagination. I kept walking. You can do this. Suddenly I breathed a sigh of relief. I could see someone else running down the path from where the gate was towards me. See, all in your head, you silly goose.

That was the last sane thought I had for a while, for even as I thought it, I noticed that the pedestal on which the boy stood was empty. Even as this fact began to impress itself on me, I realised that half of the jogger’s head was missing. The other man was no man. He… it was the boy, and he was headed straight towards me with a malicious glint in its one eyes. I think I screamed.

˷ ˷ ˷ ˷

When I came to, I was in the hospital surrounded by my family, and my right leg in a cast. It had been broken clean as though someone had hit my leg with a hammer – the orthopaedics’ words. The cops asked me who did it, and I said, I can’t recall his face and that all I remembered was that he was jogging in from the gate. How could I tell the cops and my family that the person who had come running towards me was the statue with half its face and shoulder missing!

As though he sensed my thoughts, my brother mentioned that after my surgery to fix my leg, I had kept muttering something about a statue.

I blanched. What else did I say?

Maybe someone was hiding near a statue in the park, the other brother offered.

The constable shook his head and said, “It’s a strange place. No one goes to that side of the park.”

The other cop nodded.

I had to know. “Whose statue is that there?”

“Who knows? I have never been to that part of the park,” the man admitted.

“I have heard that a man went mad there about 20 years ago and took a hammer to a statue there. But I don’t know. No one really goes there.”

It was months before I built up the strength and the courage to return to the park. I can now walk without too much discomfort, the pain in my leg hardly there. But not even for a million dollars will I ever walk even a step beyond the three-quarter mark. At that point, I stop, turn back and retrace my steps back to the gate. That broken boy can keep his vile part of the park.

*The End*

Paper Dreams

Hello dear readers,

Silly of me to address you guys as my dear readers given that I have not posted anything out here for anyone to read for a while. I have used the break to complete the first draft of my very first novel, A River’s Love Song. I am now working on the second draft.

Now that the story is more or less in place, I have started asking myself how to get my story into the hands and onto the screens of potential readers. I did not think beyond traditional publishing initially, but revisited my initial ideas of how to go about getting my story out there as I heard more and more horror stories from newly ‘traditionally’ published authors. Call it serendipity, around the same time, I came across the article You Won’t Make a Living as a Fiction Author by Elle Griffin. If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, do give it a look.

It got me thinking. What is my end goal? To be traditionally published or to be read? The answer, I realized is that I want to be read and make money off it at some point. This has led me to Substack and my newsletter Paper Dreams. My hope for Paper Dreams is that it become a landing pad for readers who want to read stories that deal with the beauty in the ordinary, with the joy, horror, ugliness and heroism hiding right under our noses. And it will have the occassional poem thrown in.

To tie in my work on the two platforms together, I am renaming my WordPress page Paper Dreams too. I want to thank you guys for sticking by me over the years. I now ask you to extend your love and support on to my Substack Newsletter. Please head over to my newsletter Paper Dreams and click the subscribe button and my stories and poems will land in your inbox once every week. The archive of my work to-date and all new work will continue to be available here at www.binusivan.com.

Much love,

Binu

A Quay in Girvin

Something powerful

a monster

roiling underneath.

The waves of Girvin

speak a tongue

deeper than any

I have seen.

It speaks not

for ears but

for the beating heart

and the soul that

churns within

Hypnotic…

the waves rise

invitingly

resisting the pull

of ancient

primitive

forces

that call me

from deep within.

I think everyone

should know

that one place

where they are willing

to give in.

The battlefields,

the end of a rope,

a quay in Girvin.

A Return

It has been a while since I have blogged. I told myself that I am going to stay away from social media and any distractions of the online kind until I was done with my final draft. A year or so down the line, I have learnt that the final draft is never the final draft, especially when working on one’s first ‘proper’ novel. Suffice it to say tears of blood have been shed. I am now working on what I sincerely hope is the penultimate final draft. Laugh away you Gods of fate.

Staying away from social media has been the easy part. After the first few days of twitchy fingers, I have not once felt the need to get back on the social media bandwagon. That is until December 2019.

A sense of unease with the Indian government’s silence on many issues and the standard response of resorting to divisive religious talk had been building up over the years. The amendment to the CAA was the last straw for me. As an NRI, and one of the privileged folks, who is not impacted by the CAA, I move in circles that seemed disassociated with the harsh reality of life on the ground in India. I needed to talk to like-minded people, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I chose Twitter – maybe because it is the one platform that I rarely used except for the direct upload of blog links from my WordPress account. I knew I did not want to be pulled back into posting on a regular basis, so Twitter seemed apt.

It has been a learning – I have had a speed course in brief on Indian history (of which I knew a bit more than what our schools teach us), Kashmiri history (of which I knew next to nothing), political and legal implications of many laws, and above all, it has been an introduction into the world of online activism – an impassioned world fraught with hope, sincerity, righteousness, anger, sarcasm and biting wit. I had no clue that there were so many committed, passionate, politically aware people in our country, especially among the millennials. I sound like, no scratch that, am such a neophyte in this regard. But it is true – the trolling and ugly aspect of Twitter aside, it is really a great place to get a toe-hold into understanding pretty much any topic.

Three months down the line, I have begun to read Indian history in greater detail (not just the easily available official line), have begun to read more about what is happening in Kashmiri from various sources, and am reading up about socialism. It is overwhelming. My head hurts with all the information. It has also meant that my writing has taken a back seat.

Now as I sit here in the safety of my middle-class life in the Middle East, my heart still broken about what happened in NE Delhi, I know that I cannot do much except contribute to some funds, tweet my anger, hurt and affront. But what I can do is what I genuinely believe is my only true skill – write.

As always, when I stumble at my writing, I turn to my blog. It is the place where I work my writing muscles and tease the knots that tie me up open. However, there are many thoughts that I need to pen down that are more political in nature. I hope that setting the words down will free my mind to get back to my business of working on my novel in a more focused manner.

So please bear with me if my blog posts end up being political in nature more often than not. Even my poems are angry. I have realised that I cannot turn my back on politics. I am a woman living in deeply trying times. Existence, I have come to realise, is political. There is no escaping it.

This is a longish post, especially given that I have posted zilch here in so long. Thank you for sticking around.

In the shadows

There are days when
darkness does not scare me
And then there are days when
I shy away from the light.
And my truth stays hidden.
At times a total renegade
to my own cause
I search for my reality
in another’s eyes…
only to see blurred, murky
Pools of reflections
Posing as my reality.
But the truth stays hidden.
It’s true…
the beasts dwell within.
My waning and forming
Forming and reforming
My light like the moon’s
Lies safe in the shadows.

I am not done with this one yet, but felt like sharing it nonetheless.

Look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

Poem Excerpt

Am slowly limping back into social media. My novel’s final draft is almost done, and I now realise that it is not the final draft. I want to make a few more changes… Aaargh. To paraphrase Deepak from Masaan, “yeh drafts kahe katam nahi hote bey?” (Why doesn’t re-writing come to an end man?)

So, to not hate myself or my book (yes that’s possible when you live with it 24/7) I am blogging and posting again…

Thank you for reading.

Much love

BS

Melancholia

I have been busy focusing on completing what I hope is the final draft of my first novel. This basically means that I have let the blog slide. Apologies.

This is a poem I had written recently, and was featured in the latest (25th) issue of Dubai Poetics. (https://dubaipoetics.com/edition-xxv)

Melancholia

By Binu Sivan

(Click on name link for all the poems written by me that Dubai Poetics has kindly featured.)

A half-remembered tune melts into me
I rise up trying to meet it… grab it
make it fully mine.
But the very acting of reaching
rips the melody out of my mind.
Just the ghost of it stays behind
to tease me with its unformed lines.

Haunted by a feeling, almost physical,
I hang on to sanity by slender threads.
There is a foreboding in my chest
vague in detail, yet precise in visceral sentiments.

Like waking from a nightmare,
heart pounding, drenched in sweat,
half-remembering the details.
But the very act of waking,
pulls the veils over the specifics
as they brush by teasing… warning
all in the same heartbeat.

If only I could capture the wretched poignancy,
the bleak terrain of my mind
and put it on paper.
Songs seem to be able to do it.
Other poets do it with ease. But I struggle.
The very act of putting pen to paper
robs the emotion of its very feeling.
‘It’s alright,’ I tell myself.
All I need is a good night’s sleep.
Not too long to sunrise, now.
I will bid the dark goodbye.

TEACH HER A LESSON

 

D
From hero to villain.

 

I am trying to get my head around what is unfolding in Kerala. To boil it down to its bare essentials.

A leading actress and actor had a fallout. There are many theories, reasons and notions floating around. Some say that she had rejected his advances and he was miffed. Others say that it has something to do with some real estate dealings. Yet others say that she had revealed his philandering ways to his first wife, resulting in them getting divorced. A rift in the perfect façade – the ideal marriage, in which he was the provider and she had to sit at home taking care of the child, as per his  wishes. The charade was over! Was the charade over? No. The charade was just beginning. The year was 2013.

The charade was over! Was the charade over? No. The charade was just beginning. The year was 2013.

In the intervening four years, the actress loses one acting offer after another. The industry buzz says that he is responsible but nobody comes right out to point a finger at him. The divorced wife, herself an acclaimed actress never speaks about the divorce. She, however, returns to acting with a bang. He initially denies his relationship with yet another actress, but eventually, marries her. He states that he decided to marry her, because he wanted to protect the besmirched name of the woman who was linked to him by the gossip rags. Oh, the patriarchy! He has everything going for him. His daughter opts to stay with him. His career climbs even greater heights. He is newly remarried.

Yet his mind and heart are still stuck in 2013. He had it all. Public sympathy and a new love. Yet deep in the crevasses of his mind the darkness spread. He is consumed and burning with a rage and hatred that dominates every other emotion, accomplishment and joy in his life. For four fucking long years. He plots with a conman driver on how to get back at the woman who was, in his mind, solely responsible for the break-up of his first marriage.

I know. I know. You are thinking… ‘But dude, he is the one who cheated! And, didn’t it all work out well for him? He is after all now married to the woman he loves!’ But what chance do common sense and logic have, when anger, ego, arrogance and power have set roots in our heart and mind.

We have all committed some stupid act or the other; said something regrettable in the heat of the moment at some point in time in our lives. People have even committed murder in the heat of the moment. But when you are plotting for four long years to teach a woman a lesson… to teach her exactly what her place in the world is, then that is not an act committed in the heat of the moment. It is a planned act of depravity.

Teach that bitch a lesson. Haven’t we all heard variations of that sentence in our own lives? Addressed to ourselves or to another woman in our presence. Aukad mein rah. Know thy place woman.

How dare you tell the world that I am a cheat? How dare you reveal my feet of clay? How dare you believe that you can make a career in the same industry as me without my say so? How dare you think you can continue to live your own life, get married, and hopefully be happy in and with it, after crossing swords with me? How dare you?

Teach her a lesson. Silence her. Shut her up. Oh, you don’t need a gag for that. She will bind herself in knots and ties, and maybe even hang herself with the same rope. Shame is the greatest silencer… the strongest gag.

Hurt her.  Molest her. Harm her. Click. Click. Click. Add fear. We will show your shame… your body… your tears to the world. Talk and we will hurt you again… and again… and again. Know this. Know this well. This is a contract. We are here to hurt you.

This is a story that has been written and re-written for so many years. The characters are different, the details are different. But the ending is always the same. Silence. The silence of shame. Or the silence of death. How is this man any different from the animals who threw acid at the women who rejected them? How is he any different from the men who stabbed the women who turned them down or antagonised them in some way or the other.

But not this time. He may not be any different from those animals. But she was different from the popular, widely accepted image of the female victim that our ‘traditional culture’ is comfortable with. She spoke. She stood tall and spoke. About the abduction. About the molestation. About the photographs. She spoke. She refused to own the shame that was not hers. She refused to own a fear that had been our cross to bear for centuries, our yoke to shoulder forever. And then, most wonderfully, she continued with her life.

Four fucking long years! He plotted and waited!  The hero reduced to ashes. Even the villains shine brighter. The tables have turned. The mighty have fallen. And I wonder. Why?

When a man had it all – fame, name, love and wealth. Why did he throw it all away? Why did he toss it all away? For a grudge that should have In reality meant nothing at all! Did his sense of entitlement blow everything else out of his mind? Did the power fed to him over the years blunt his sense of right and wrong?

I know why.

He didn’t expect to be caught. He didn’t expect her to speak. As simple as that.