Thursday, November 24, 2016

Being Bullied Passively in School : Ten Years Later

I was loved, growing up. Family, friends, an army of brothers: I know I was loved, in a very conventional sense of relationships and situations. But what I remember more than that love is that I was also slighted at almost every turn. As a result of that, I never felt loved. There is this difference between knowing you are being loved and feeling loved, and that is lost in many a friendship and relationships.

The thought of school yards drag with it happy memories in the mud. I have friendships from Kindergarten that I still cherish and hold dear, and they are also the very same people who have hurt me without their own knowledge. Back then, I thought it was enough to be just loved, that the banter that accompanied it comes with friendship and intimate relationships. But at 14 years of age, I experienced a gaping hole like none other in the presence of the very people I grew up with, for a good decade. Almost all of them don't know about it, even now. It took me my higher secondary education, five years of college, and becoming 22 before I realised that love was not enough, that the assumed 'friendly banter' is not acceptable and the fact that I have, indeed been passively bullied for a good part of my formative years. I vocalised this to two of my friends (from school) about two years ago: one of whom was subject to something similar in our school-life and another (who has been through their fair share of experiences) who looked a little stunned to know how much of what they thought was not a big deal has affected us in our respective lives.

I was always the person targeted as the 'entertainment' in many groups of people from my school life. I was a fairly popular kid for an interesting mix of reasons: being one of the best sports-persons in school, my loquaciousness and my uninhibited strength to ask silly questions about the things I don't understand. While each of these sound to be independently good aspects of my personality (which I believe they are), it was also what was made fun of at every point. I was (and still am) a tomboy. I talk a lot and in those formative years at school when you are still trying to make sense of life and finding out who you are, trying to accept and wishfully want to be accepted, being passively bullied fell together with me. I understand how my talkativeness could be annoying to someone but it was not like I always blabber incomprehensible gibberish. Every time I had something to say, I was shut off before I was heard, I was laughed at before I finished the sentence and sometimes, left alone to finish saying what I wanted to say because I have even had people walk away from conversations with me. I have been asked to shut up. I have been asked to stop 'lecturing' someone when I would merely be trying to tell someone about my thoughts on a particular matter. My voice was loud, but it was not heard and I want to tell you how much that hurts, even now. These experiences from school form a great part of our lives, it chisels us to be who we are. I think I am finally at that place where I can publicly say this, without anger or sounding accusatory.

When you are not heard, when you are not seen for anything but as being the person who is prodded to ask questions in a classroom by the other students so that the class could potentially waste time in a boring course, when your talents are not quite acknowledged, or when you're visible only for the times of entertainment for someone else: you learn to build walls. You learn to build walls to keep everyone at a distance, dole out unconditional love for a select few and stay safe with yourself.My own friends have been passive bullies, and they have left me with huge insecurities about myself. I find myself apologizing frequently when I talk to people because I have been made to feel like I am not worth someone's time in the past. I speak quickly so I can speak without being cut off. I learnt to focus on art, writing, reading books, being involved in sports and by default, being in the company of dogs. These skills I built were overlooked for a good deal of time. Even now, when someone compliments my writing or art, it doesn't go into me beyond my skin. These things don't seem to travel far but they definitely do cut deep.

While I am not an anxious or an anti-social person on the surface, I am left over-thinking a lot of things and conversations. I make acquaintances with people easily. I am easy to talk to. I believe this in itself turned up to be a part of myself because I know how it feels like when you're assumed invisible or looked through. My empathy can definitely improve, but I learnt a lot more quickly (in comparison to my peers) to be kind, to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, my intention is not to pull the rug from under my friendships but to bring to the forefront, how these interactions have impacted me. I don't hold any resentment for any of my friends who have hurt me: they did not even realise that what they were doing is actually passively bullying someone. Their intent was good perhaps, but their actions directed by peer pressure and the weight of growing up to fit certain slots put me through rough times. For that reason, I decided not to ever treat someone unkindly. I would talk to everyone in my class, there were no outcasts nor uncool kids in my sight. I played with everyone, interacted with everyone and tried reaching out to people in ways I could. But to this day, it's hard for me to accept an outreached arm at me. I don't accept love easily. I don't call someone my close friend easily. I don't share what is on my mind with someone unless I know to trust them fully. I am always on the edge on the inside of my soul. I am almost always expecting someone to bid me goodbye or ask me to shut up. That, perhaps is the baggage I carry with me from school- like a backpack. I have not been able to set it down since.

I have been discussing this several times with a good friend from my school who went through something similar. Classmates and my friends used to assume what this person is made up of. They have told me of similar and other issues that presses them until this day. They are in a great position in life, they worked a good job and are now abroad, in a prestigious university. But the insecurity and scars from childhood into adulthood has not faded away. They are still too haunting. I wonder how different this situation would have been had we had counselors in school and more awareness about such concepts. It still exists in a majority of schools, where I am from. Teachers were not sensitized to pick any of these up. I have my first two favourite professors now: when I am now pursuing my Masters degree and that is because they are sensitive and pick up things quickly, they ask me and we have conversations. We need some changes in our own systems of education.

One thing that kind of seems visible in confrontations I have had recently on this front is the fact that me being hurt about something almost seemed incomprehensible to the other because they were 'only joking'. 'We love you, we were only joking', they'd say. You don't get to decide if someone else is hurt or not, that is simply not an option or a decision of yours to make! Please remember to be kind, please remember to check-in with someone you think you may have offended in any conversation. We all grow up. I am not the person I was ten years ago. My interactions have to, thus, change with time. Sadly, when I do position myself strongly now, it hurts the very people I am trying to tell that have been hurting me all this time. But, I guess that's inevitable right now.

Being subject to such instances and mildly self-troubling formative years has left me a person most people don't recognise. When I am truly trust you, I speak to you in a different way of which only a few know. I urge you you to be generous with your kindness. You never know when you make someone's day. For, when I have been subject to all this and in seventh grade, I got out of an English exam to have one of my own friends who has been their share of insensitive tell me that the composition passage reminded them of me. It said and I still remember 'Creative people are not afraid to ask silly doubts'. It was a reinforcement of sorts. I never stopped asking questions or being talkative despite what I went through. It hurt, but I tried and pushed through because I didn't want someone else to define who I am, as a person. Please remember that any relationship needs both love and respect. It can't survive on just one of these.

All this only made me stronger. I learnt to take care of myself. I learnt to be independent. I developed skills that were in part coping mechanisms and a good part, passion. The last few times I confronted someone close to me about this, they were hurt/offended. I had to spell out that it's not okay to hurt someone even though you love them dearly. You don't love someone and hurt them for being who they are or what you think they are. It has been as hard for me as much as it is for them, and I hope they understand that. My intention isn't to hurt anyone but speak up because this is an important message to put out for one to see. I had a draft of this almost two years ago and I'm only getting around to publishing this now, because this time around, I have to let go. I have to write this down and let this go.

This time, I am still loud and will make sure I am heard.

Please be kind to one another.

Hemu


Source: Pixabay 


















Monday, November 7, 2016

I Stand a Cyclical Step Away from Being Everything Else

I am tucked away in a niche on the highest floor of the campus library where no one can find me. No one can directly see me or at the least, I can’t see anyone but for the tree tops slowing changing colours in the fall of the summer, now gone by. I am amidst everything that is me: changing colours, a dot of an existence in the infinite and everything transient. I am also everything that isn’t me: gable roofs, sweaters and a partial slice of these surroundings. I am removed right now. I am listening to Chopin’s nocturnes as the sun shines outside the curtain wall spread of glass and wondering how being stuck in such a turbulent and delightful place can be expressed in words. I am going to try anyway.

I am bi-lingual. I am actually tri-lingual, so to speak. I am quadruple-lingual if I consider pieces of other languages I know enough to have a conversation with a Tea Master for a cup of chai across almost any state in my country and yet, I need my American friend to say ‘vanilla’ for me because my accent is somehow incongruous to the barista who can’t understand when I say ‘vanilla’. Vann-nila Milkshake, I say.  How do you read an Indian woman saying ‘vanilla’? The word itself seems weird to me now that I have repeated it over and over again. But do you know what is comforting? Vennila. வெண்ணிலா, is the bright, white moon. The bright moon under which I sing and write, that which is everything comforting to me, that which is midnight stories from my mother, books I read under dim lights on the terrace and a constant companion. We hear what we want to. We listen to our own projections and inner-most calling, cravings and demons.  Every time I hear words, I don’t see just one meaning. I see its mermaid sisters in other languages, swimming by hand-in-hand. I seem to have gills for pores and wings for fins. I am familiar. I am unfamiliar. I hold them all in my fist and I can easily switch between at the least three languages within the fraction of a second and yet, I am not understood when I say ‘vanilla’.  What then, is my proficiency with these languages?  I’d go one step further, what is proficiency itself? What does it mean?

I urge you to listen to Chopin’s nocturnes in broad daylight. Throw yourself in my shoes, out of context, out of everything comfortably known. There is nothing as vibrant and melancholic as these compositions. What do you hear when you listen to a solo piano piece? What language pops up in your head? You’re surely thinking, aren’t you? What language do you think in?  What language do you think in when you close your eyes and see your mother’s face? When are those times your parents call you by your full name? What are the words that accompany the oddness of being referred to by our entire name by the ones we love, and if it is a language that you know, go deeper. Do you know the language or the inward surge that comes with it? If you had to tell the story of that inwardly gut, a wrenching pain or an excruciatingly beautiful joy, what are your words going to be?  We are a race that vastly identifies itself with linguistics, one’s mother tongue and inflections of a language’s voice and yet, for most things that strike us, we speak in silence, in pauses and in breathing; in being understood and experienced.

I talk to you from this place. The whole globe is cyclical and I am at the edge of one of the poles. Should I slip, I fall straight south. With a single step upward, I go down.  I am walking a tightrope on the horizon. With each step, I am seeking a balance. I am slack-lining; dipping up and down, trying not to fall. I am looking for a word in English that comes closest to கண்ணம்மா. I am amazed at how the word ख्वाब sounds in my mouth and its lyricism in poetry. One of my closest friends in this country said I was an effervescent personality whereas an angry ex-roommate called me a 'bad person' and that is interesting, someone else's words/descriptions of me: I like that added to the many pieces of who I am. I like these little bits of donated words to make me anew and changing but I am also everything I grew up with and devoured ,by myself. I grew up with கண்ணம்மா, with கண்ணா resounding in my ears. I can’t quite read anything as quickly in my own language as I can in English. I am auditorily attuned to the nuances of my language; it’s a meadow with rivers and the sounds, words come with memory, with nostalgia, with my mother’s face, my grandmother's smile and hot playgrounds. There is comforting familiarity in knowing what I am hearing and what it means to the one saying it, in my mother tongue. And yet, I can read English better than any other language I know. I know what I am looking for. Both of these languages now, hold me at an arm’s distance in one way or another. I am in-between languages, I am in the middle of explaining myself to people on either sides. I am no one story. I am too many of them and based on which side you ask me to tell you the story from, my narrative is going to change.

I want to layer my stories with the words you don’t know when I tell them. I want to know what you think they are and what I think they are and what they really do mean. I can’t translate for you what I viscerally understand. I read an interesting article with the term Shaman in Spanish (by a bi-lingual writer) and I am automatically thinking of the same word in Urdu. Oddly enough, these words mean close to the same thing in both these languages- one connecting the spirit and visible worlds. What do you think connects me and you? What connects a Spaniard and an Indian speaking a language that is a mix of Hindi and Farsi? How did these words travel? Like me, I’d like to think that language is cyclical too. It is stuck between familiarity and unfamiliarity. A language is one step away from falling into another and becoming one or something new. I am all these missteps; I am something new, something old and a confluence.

My friend, in a conversation yesterday, told me that all art is political. This turned up at a time when I independently wonder of the personal and the political in my art, writing and stance. Everything I write, say, make, or sketch is a manifestation on some level, a piece of my socio-cultural-linguistic environs. You are partaking in a bygone memory or incident that shaped me, now, across time. It is in the way I say ‘vanilla’, it’s the way I draw the moon, it’s the way I write a poem about my mother’s and my மூக்குத்தி and how I have embraced what it means to me now… to see her in myself as I move away from her, into being someone else. What do you think மூக்குத்தி is, anyway? I implore you to trace the form of these words that you may not understand. Try to write these words you see and write what you think they mean. They have a story that is me and you have one, too. Do you think these stories can fall together, find some link, a tear to share or a smile? Stories are what make and break us. Micro-narratives stitching up a whole picture full of holes: tears sewn up with the sun shining through them.  

I seem to belong and flit between everything I know and don’t know. I fall freely everywhere. I belong nowhere. I talk to you from my land of in-between's where everything is a simultaneous existence, one cyclical step away from being something else. I am everything you know and everything you don’t.

வாஞ்சை கதைகள் தரவா?

Hemu 

Art  ©  Hemalatha Venkataraman: Please do not reproduce without permission

References:
Borderland: Gloria Anzldua (A book that I actually started reading when I told someone I consider my mentor that I feel like I am in-between worlds)

Sommers- I Stand Writing

Monday, October 17, 2016

Waking Up Every Morning | My Fondest Everyday Memory from Childhood

Mosaic floors embedded with broken bits of colourful tiles stuck into its grounded stature at 254/4, Pioneer Colony, shone with the perfection of a man clad in a tuxedo on his wedding day. They held some chillness in its flat being owing to the modest winter setting in, in the humid city; bearing the silent imprints of the footsteps walked around, in the house. Big, Appa-feet shuffling around the hall whose ever-searching eyes pored through the morning newspapers. A pair of slightly smaller, heavier feet previously adorned in silver anklets whose sounds resounded through the enclosed walls, now roamed around bare; making short trips between the kitchen and the dining table. The sari-clad mother, Amma, held in her hands tiffin-boxes and vegetables for the day while the wrists bore plastic bangles of red, auspicious. Oh, then there were these feet one couldn’t see as they were slipped within white canvas shoes gleaming in the tweak hours of twilight, of a young girl in two plaits whose morning smile was as heavy as her black school bag; whose prints followed her in a momentous memory till the balcony doors before she wheeled her bicycle out through the hall and into the lobby of the ground floor. The un-oiled, rustic lock of the balcony’s grill-doors smiled at her, a hard smile visible only to observant eyes. Papa stepped out into the dark of the eons a little before sunrise till the hallway to shoo away any wild stray that might smell the porridge off the teenager’s scalded lips in an ironed uniform of blue, and waved her an affectionate bye as he saw her riding away into the dark void before the first rays of sun could reach her. Perhaps, she could have waited for the world’s embrace of translucent golden love before she starts on her journey. Things seem so much simpler then.

His steps traced back with a tiring embrace of the names of his favorite gods for the good filter-coffee from his wife and, the black and white papers of the nation. It posed, waiting for him on the teapoy and the teak sofa by the window. Appa made his way into the house though, keeping his parched throat in a wait for his nerves had to be satiated with the taking out of the trash, arranging the empty boxes on the teak-wood table, bringing down the clothes from the vibrant nylon ropes now that they are dry while calling out to Amma for the coffee in all obviousness of his day-to-day activities.

‘Be right there’, she hollered and then began calling out to the early winged visitors of the crow community for breakfast in the backyard, on the concrete luxury of a water motor sump room.
The hues of the sky changed. The sun decided to wake up from another world, a unanimous decision of millions of people who took the big source of life for granted. Life, in their terms always got better when the orange ball ascends. There was App sipping his coffee from the stainless steel tumbler, relishing it with words of the morning papers so far favourable. Amma had begun the string of chants and prayers that would go for at least the next forty five minutes calling out to all the ancestors and gods to protect her family. Gods. Lots of them. Ones with animal heads, ones with human heads and a divine halo. Gods with several hands and hour-glass figures. Lovely goddesses in sparkling diamonds on both sides of their noses and some with matted hair. Amma knew them all, as They walked into the house, supposedly with an assuring note to kick-start her day.

As the rays of the sun now streamed and penetrated through the curtain-less windows of the bedroom windows open to fresh air, a child twisted her bare body to shield them away from its small self. Her tender feet had yet not met the cold floor and were still within the flimsy covers of the big bed. Tousled hair fell over her eyes and the beginning of the nape and no more. The skin shone with exuberant gold as the radiance bounced off the naked back beginning to now extrude glistens of sweat waiting to be trickled off. Tossing for air, the child rolled, calling for Appa (who had switched off the fan) in soft tones that her morning energy could allow. Laying still and waiting for Appa got to the little one in all the heat the humid city could bundle up. Blankets were then kicked in slow motion and those tiny eyes tried to blink through sleepy vision for the initial staring of the day. The thin, half-naked body in just a navy-blue underwear with yellow hot air balloons for a print lay still, breathing. If one saw her from the door of the room, they wouldn't know for sure if that child so cherubic is a girl or boy, at the first glance given her tiny frame and short hair. But I know her more than she thinks she knows herself.

She’s a little, little girl, and I've travelled through time to see her non-conforming looks, innocence and happiness in the eye, again after all these years.

The placid walls and heavily descended golden transience opened her to an unintentional cosmos of what seemed to be real to the rest of the world. She got down with every whim of a child and stood up on those short legs. Her pink lips let out a yawn and her hands broke into the air, fighting with the angels and pushing them against the rooms’ loft that she now stood under. She then adjusted her ballooned underwear, imprinting its elasticity on her delicate navel to view the pink band across its existence. Pouting and pushing her hair away from her face, she took slow steps with me into the long hallway; past the long oval wooden dining table and into the living room.
  
Appa hadn’t seen or heard her tiny stature pull herself out of imagination and dreams onto the cold winter morning until she knocked on the leafy portal wide open between his brown hands. He pulled them close to look at the fair girl with a radiant glow rolling her fist into her eyes. As her hair set about scattering when it met with the morning breeze from the window by the sofa, she sluggishly mounted onto his strong laps. Appa collected her into his magnificent arms as she twisted and turned to finally roll into a riot of a ball, legs hanging down his lap; a hand around his back against the red cushions of the sofa, and her round head resting on his chest. He held the tiny, little bundle of a girl who is all tenderness and love as she swiftly fell into abyss, sleeping to the creaky, fixed journey of the living room fan in the ceiling, throwing at her, tufts of air.

Image Source: http://www.thefeministwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/bampw-bed-bedroom-black-amp-white-black-and-white-Favim.com-326537.jpg

This image DOES NOT BELONG TO ME 


 Hemu 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Living in the Land of In-Betweens

Today marks a year of being away from my family in India, having embarked on a fiercely turbulent and beautiful period in my life: full of learning, leaving and living. It's been a year since I moved to this country to pursue my higher education. I can safely say I've grown and learnt more outside school than within classrooms as a student or teaching one as an instructor.

Leaving the streets I grew up in full of mongrels that know me, extended family living a stone's throw away, best friends on the next street, wrestling with brothers, standing about predominantly male occupied spaces like that roadside tea shop where the Tea Master knows exactly how you take your tea but never feeling threatened by any of them, and never feeling lost: this has been a crazy ride albeit momentous. Cultural shocks were always in the little things for me: neighbours whose living room I've never seen, the people who walked away after 'How you doing?' as I was knee deep in replies and, the absence of street dogs and terraces. Not knowing anything was one of the best things that happened to me and I thoroughly enjoy cracking jokes inside my own head, the intricacies of my language playing in my head, and meeting new people.

Is it all sunshine? No. Living with my parents all this time was a choice I didn't question or think twice about. It was a natural state of affairs. Living like that, I never questioned what home meant. If someone from my own city asked me where my home was, I would give them the name of my neighbourhood. If I was in a different state in my country, I would say 'Tamilnadu'. There are so many layers and social constructs to this sense of home that I never introspected upon. All these variations of answers thus far to 'where is your home' were never unsettling and never did not feel right. They were all culturally and socially understood. Now, in the midst of these versions, I have zoomed out into thinking about those terms across mere geographical entities and into a question of who I am and into a deeper sense of what the term could come to mean.

There are things I miss about India in this country and that is easily a cultural condition. The sense of a community here is constrained in my world simply because I have only been exposed to one version of what community means. I wonder now, if I miss knowing people on the road I happen to walk on. One of my best friends was forever skeptical to go on walks with me because I usually am familiar with the people on the streets (and their dogs) and I kept stopping to say hi to all of them, and that irritated her to no end. There should have been some sort of familiarity here by this point, I reckon but I am not sure if I have located any. On the other hand, I enjoy slinking away into the background and not being known or recognised. I live in-between ends like these two, swinging between sides and not feeling comfortable staying on either end. There are aspects of living in India that I adore, enmeshed parts of my life here that I am grateful for and enjoy; but neither of them fit anymore. Rather, I don't fit into either of these societies completely. I can't stay in one because I have been in the other, they're different moulds. This has led to living in a land of living in-between worlds. I could call it that or a feeling of not belonging in either of these places. All that said and done, this is not necessarily a bad condition either.

None of this is associated with sadness in its entirety. These are phases of growing and coming to terms with certain aspects of life that was buried underneath layers of a false sense of security at various points. Right now, to truly be in turbulence is interesting as it helps me let go of weights that make me feel put otherwise. I can now cast some over my shoulders and move a step on (just threw out some toxic atmosphere I had to live with for the last year, there is that progress). I have a wonderful local poetry community to be a part of since the start of my Spring and numerous acquaintances from there to be thankful for. My vulnerability has always been a calculated venture, a fort from my own past but aspects of it see tiny differences. My summer months have turned around to have me encounter some really interesting experiences. I learnt to be vulnerable on a slack-line with a great person, garnered some wonderful friendships (well, three to be precise) that has its own period of waxing and waning, forever plummeting and flying. These relatively newfound but truly close and important relationships have their own roadblocks that I am trying to break through in ways I best know how to. I wonder how they are going to turn out, but here is to hoping only for the best.

The land of in-between is every man's subjective land, I assume. We all battle with our own sources of discomfort, freedom and independence. I recently had a conversation with one of my childhood friends who is also abroad and she admitted to feeling the same way, though her version varied a little from how I feel at this juncture. We are all lost here. We are all trying to grapple away at the fray ends of the first thing that feels like home, like familiarity and relationships that remind us of our loved ones back home before it manifests into itself. These new experiences shape me as I encounter them and I'm learning of the many ways in which someone loves and prioritizes another.

It's been a year since I arrived at Columbus. I'm not precisely sure of what I learnt in the last year but that every moment has been a form of growth even if it comes with sadness or pain, every relationship a lesson, and also that I am three truly honest and genuine friends richer with whom I can talk about anything.

Also, home is no longer a place.

Home after all this, is a feeling. Whether I shall find it and acknowledge it the way I envisage it, however, is not something I know of. I can't control that.

Until then, from the land of in-betweens,

Hemu




Monday, August 1, 2016

Universe Aftertastes

There is an aftertaste of the universe in my mouth
light years away from the crumbling insides of my self.
They have started pouring themselves into my void
and I've been swallowing the vastness
they slip through the insides of my breasts, tummy 
through my legs and down my feet.
My feet.
The sand under them have been rolling away with the retreating waves,
I'm shorter with each lick
until I can see my feet no more,
they're buried in sand:
the universe is finding its way back to the ocean.
My fingertips are atoms
and they burst into pixie dust
as I try to grasp my galaxies
but they slide away into the waters
though the pores in the sand,
air bubble worlds in the froth.
I can't go after it because I can't swim, 

drowning actively isn't an option.
I can't die like that.
Well,
It's going to take a while
but
I can't see my ankles anymore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

High

I’ve never lived in homes with ceilings low,
breathing on me
like the open windows don’t belong
within the walls;
they’re too stumped,
buckling,
falling,
pressing.
I live now in an old apartment
and it seems like yesteryears were full of people like me
who didn’t want buckling walls ,
let tall lovers graze their homes with no apprehension,
believing in the power and beauty of them high ceilings:
untouchable bases of everyday living,
a space that lets you move.
It lets you explore.
It lets you jump.
Jump because I jump sometimes
in joy,
I shoot up when someone tickles me
an involuntary happiness that I can’t contain
it just spills and reaches out of my body.
I shoot.
Shoots, yes.
I want a lot of them, green from the top
hanging from my indoor skies,
vines filling for the veins of the walls,
pots and plants scaling my thoughts,
upright striving
and a safe space for their flowers to bloom.
I love high ceilings and I can’t lie,
not in houses alone
nor at work or that breakfast diner on my street
but at the psychiatrist’s office
or that bar that was once a bank
and in funeral homes.
The soul needs space to leave that body,
an outworn piece of clothing
the music needs to bounce,
it needs to echo, to want to dance in the presumed void;
it lets me dance with my beloved I bring home
and should he want to carry me high up
straddle my soul on his hips,
breasts at his lips
I want nothing to touch, no ceiling to hold on to
except the high cheekbones of his face.
I can’t be put in places with low ceilings,
they make me seems bigger than I am,
a giant,
an illusion of being free to accomplish goals
and I am not sure that is me.
The high ceilings are a friend
long lost
walls holding them up for me.
They meet me with open, blank slates
my art has the space to breathe,
the poems are up on my walls
living in sprouting light,
shadows incarnated.
When I’m head flat, water in my ears
in the bathtub
naked and suspended of social intrusions
I like looking at the light playing with the blinds
behind my back;
a fresh canvas
not breathing down on me or pressing me,
coercing me to be big
but a tender look that allows my insignificance to manifest.
The crown moulding looks at me like a lover,
the walls let me touch them
slow, I write in the air.
I once read this story about a man who filled his walls
with art, poetry and words,
ceiling resplendent with the words of others
until he hung himself from the fan
and I can’t help but think
how high his ceiling was
because these words can float,
they need no tethering,
they are little free lives in themselves
and if you put them in a box
and throw a person like me in it
I can never make peace with those words
and art, arrogantly mine.
I need the volume to love and it’s important that I love
because that is when I
and the colours
and the words I string
are most beautiful
and should you come to my funeral when I am gone,
I don’t want these words haunting you:
making you cry, kissing you against your will
but makes you rise and pluck words from my space
creating your poems from mine already dead,
streak it with colours
to later tell people about me
with a smile:
That funeral was hauntingly beautiful
and then,
Remember to look up
because

I am probably still there. 

I do not own this image. Collected from Pinterest.
Hemu 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Home?

I woke up one evening to a late summer sun that lives far beyond
its days of regular hours of light
to be situated in movement, in dynamism,
flitting between my lands of illusion and perceived reality.
I searched for landscapes that I’ve known to see by virtue of comfort
in between content sleep and momentary awakenings.
When I travel,
there are reassuring dim lights outlining mounds of back-lit mountains
with their own gaudy colours and early night's chatter.
My father in the front seat:
awake and seriously holding a conversation with the driver while
the speakers float in a language 
I comprehend at the most intimate level.

I woke up in a car racing back ‘home’.. Or what I should call home.
It took me three whole minutes to realise where I was
after the remnants of deep slumber
resting itself in the nooks of my breasts awoke
to transience.
Ten months in this city
and I still wake up from every deep slumber
to unfamiliarity.
Why, the dogs here never stop. 
They don’t have the time to stop.
They’re smiling and following the tug on their leash
following their human who has taught them to sit up straight and act like a dog,
to not lick the faces of people they love and act like a dog.
Don’t jump on her, those clothes will get dirty! Act like a good dog!  
They apologise for their furry companions sometimes,
‘I’m so sorry, He loves people.’ they say
and I want to just strip free of the collars round my neck,
strained attempts to ridiculous decorum
and roll by their side and fight in the mud;
because
familiarity to me is turning into my street
and whistling to have five street mongrels at my side.
They jump, they paw, they lick
and I could wash their freaking ticks away if I ever contracted any
But their love stays on across the seas for all the times they've listened to me
with crooked ears and curious eyes.
And so,
every single time I see a well-behaved dog outside my window
after a slumber so deep that I don’t realise where I am,
I miss being home where chaos was more unruly with herself,
flirting with the orderliness of monotony...

I finally understand what homesickness really means.


But now, I'm not sure I know what home means.

-Hemu


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why I'm Not on Tinder

A friend of mine recently asked me why I am not on Tinder.
I paused for a second, a wild stream of visual cues flowing in my head
but no words at that moment to exactly answer that question.
There lies no judgment in me for people for whom it works
but in my own twisted mind full of second-hand books that smell like tea
and library stamps as old as me,
a digital imprint as that struggles at the borders of my comfort zone.

I haven’t yet grasped the idea of swiping left or right.
People say I have to go after what I want but this doesn’t quite seem like seeking love yet
but squeezing possibilities out of the hope and dreaminess
uncertainty has latent in it in such a way that the tiniest thread persists in you
when you call quits.

No, I don’t think I quite fit in that narrative.

You see,
before and when I go out with you, I don’t want to have a safety net of what you do
or the weighing insecurity of who you did.
I don’t care if you’re 6’2” or the next fraction of measurement and
neither do I want unsolicited dick pictures in my inbox floating next to blank ‘Hi’s’
that were thrown in like bait in the sea.

No. That’s not what I believe in.

I believe in first dates where you can tell me more about what you do for passion instead of profession.
I don’t want small talk.
I don’t want to know where you’re from or who’s in your family but
how you feel when I say the word ‘home’ and what that means to you.
Would there be kitchen stools, pajamas, little legs and hot chocolate
or a glass of bourbon mixed in parts with fear and dread?
Tell me about your childhood dreams.
Tell me what you wanted to be when you were little and why you never became them.
Tell me why you believed all those people who said that superheroes weren’t real or that fish whisperer wasn’t on the hot job market.
Tell me what a fish whisperer meant in your little head and bright eyes, in the first place.

No, I don’t really want to know which school you went to but what you learnt,
un-learnt and re-learned.
Did you smile in your high school year book or were you afraid your braces would haunt
that beautiful broad grin of yours?

I want to know how you talk to your mother
and if she adjusted your tie on your prom night before you left into your version of adulthood?
Did you dance that night?
Tell me who that least popular kid in school was and if you ever gave them company
so that they didn’t feel shunned in the cruelty that some school lives can be…
….or wait,
tell me, were you that kid?

I’d like it known that I would rather have you turning up at my doorstep
with nothing more than a smile and enough meaningful conversation.
I fall in love with the small, important things.
Do you like cats or dogs?
If you have one of them divine beings, did you buy or adopt them?
Do you like tea or coffee?
Tell me, I need to know exactly what you take in it, how many cubes of sugar and all
and where you best like to drink it.

What do you first think of when I say the word ‘fuck’ or how weird ‘lovemaking’ sounds to you?
We’re still both strangers here and I don’t judge 
and so,  I’d like to know if you think drunken nights with nakedness are more intimate than
sharing a morning breakfast together still clothed in the modesty clinging to
our carnal expressions of the previous night.

I want to know everything I can
from how you smile when you blush or if you have deep dimples I’d want to kiss
in a three-dimensional world.
I want to see how you talk about your favourite fictional character
and if gym means making an impression or fitness.
I want to know what ice-cream flavours you like and
how you walk on the crosswalk as cars wait for you to pass
and if you ever gesture them thanks for stopping.
I have to know how your grandparents kissed you as a child and
how they looked at each other
and if you ever think you can ever have that with someone.

You see,
I want to know when you last sent a postcard to someone
and if you ever wrote a love letter.

No, something would seem amiss if I swiped you right on the best pictures of yourself.
No.
Until I know the rhythm with which you walk, the hand you wear your watch on,
how you treat a waiter or a child
and what tune you may whistle on a sunny day,
I can’t swipe you right.

In my little twisted mind full of second-hand books that smell like tea
and library stamps as old as me,
that just
won’t
be
right.


Image Source: http://www.mostbeautifulrussianwomen.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Dating-Couple-Laughing.jpg

Monday, March 14, 2016

Where Are Your Curiosities?

I met an interesting lady in the locker room at the gym, on campus.

Amidst women changing into workout gear and fleets of us just in transit with a towel around our bodies, I met this down-to-earth soul who wrapped herself around with a special kind of joy. I haven't really had much of a conversation here with anyone in the locker room because everyone is predominantly in some sort of a hurry. There are some smiles now and then, quick questions about the weather, workout and fitness, and occasional stories between friends there that comes to float over your head; but there is hardly any time to sit down and talk to someone you don't know. I cherish these kind of dialogues and I recollect having them with random strangers ever since I was young and had started traveling alone for my gymnastics meets across the country. It's a refreshing encounter, every single time!

In a locker room majorly occupied by young college students, she stood out to me: not because of her age but because of her demeanour that consisted of a special kind of radiating smile. She smiled at me and I did so too, I've missed that in a while. She is easily 60 years older than I am. She had come in to swim because it was 'liberating'. For a person like me who is mortally afraid of deep waters (even after swimming lessons), she was an immediate conversation starter. 'Do what you're afraid of', was what she told me and immediately added she didn't mean to preach. I feel culturally attuned to being open to other people's life experiences and it was strange for me to hear someone as old as her to say that she did not mean to 'preach'. It's an interesting crossover for me, a person from a different culture. I wouldn't mind it anyway. Some of the best conversations I've had are with people with a lifetime of experiences and even though I have come to disagree with some of their notions in the past, I have learnt to listen to them and respond, sometimes to gently disagree. Learning to convey disagreement of ideas in a placid and respectable manner are some of the curves I've come to correspond with at twenty four,I guess!

I have always had this affection for people with a zest for life and an innocent disposition bordering curiosity in their quest for life, especially if they're much older than I am. Here is this amazing women for whom walking is difficult but swimming is gently easy and embracing. We were joking about how there needs to be water channels instead of pathways on campus. I was extremely curious to know what education she was pursuing and she generated an entire list! She graduated in 1949, if I remember the year correctly. History (WWI, WWII and The Vietnam War), Literature, Music and French are among the studies she pursued and she is now with the music department again. 'I've been coming here for thirty years. I've been doing this for as long as you are alive and I love it.' For a person who sees students pursuing their undergraduate career with a little of a sulk and my own monster of graduate studies and its expectations, she shone with so much optimism for life and learning something new.

Imagine the zealous curiosity and openness a person must possess to go from one education to the next, sprawling across different fields! She's even learning some Chinese and teaches little children to play the piano. 'I don't have a formal degree for it but I finally feel like I know enough to teach little children.' Listening to her made me question my own life choices, the long way I have ahead and the relative understanding that time and age is, to do anything. Mother of six children, some grandchildren and great-grand-children, this woman is jumping one hurdle after another like it is no big deal. She was so excited when I showed her my sketchbook and the kind of art I make, as it came up in our conversation of about 40 minutes; and I remember her remarking how it is absolutely amazing to come across the talents and skills people have. 'Imagine! Every single person has some sort of skill and creative talent in them, isn't that amazing?' she said. Well, isn't it? In this rat race of a life, that was a gentle reminder to acknowledge the strengths and talents of another person and to stop for a little while instead of trying to power through to simply make it to the 'end'.

In this fast pacing world, we assume we don't have the time for a lot of things, for our little sources of happiness, curiosities and circles of people. Perhaps, we don't make time for it? I used to write letters to my best friend between fifth grade and almost up until my first year of college. We have both grown up and though we still pick up from where we left things, we haven't been writing to each other because of each other's busy schedules. It was beautiful to me when I heard this lady recount that she spoke to her pen-pal over the phone a couple of days back because she is very sick. A pen-pal in France who was just 29 miles apart from the army during the war, a pen-pal whom she wrote to after a gap of 45 years after high school when she started French lessons again. Her pen-pal wrote to her in three weeks saying she was the one who opened the letter and here are these beautiful ladies keeping in touch with each other. When was the last time we sent a postcard or a handwritten letter to someone we love? I don't mean to romanticise the whole idea but I do wonder time and again, if our correspondences and its associated experiences are losing its tangibility and significance in this digital era.

She reminded me of my own grandmother back in India. My maternal grandmother is one of the most beautiful, kind and gentle people I know of. Her education consists only up until the eighth grade as far as I know but she's still one of the most malleable and open-minded people. I sometimes wonder if she grew into it or if being that kind and lovely is just in her. What is most beautiful in her is her curiosity. I love her curiosity and eagerness to learn. She doesn't know too much English but she plays the SpellTower game on the iPad and keeps generating new words. Sometimes, she forms words in the process of playing the game and asks one of us for the meaning of the new word she just landed on, learning one step at a time... with no hesitance or feelings of awkwardness.

Why is it that we don't have time and the countenance for our curiosities anymore? Why can't we be like children and much older folks to whom not knowing or learning something new is exciting? When in the process of 'growing up' did we cease to pay attention to our curiosities and why are a whole lot of us afraid to express them? I'm just wondering out loud here.

I found so much more openness to conversation, ideas and sharing the excitement of doing something new or simply having a chat with someone they don't know of, in her; the interesting lady from the locker room. We have exchanged phone numbers and I shall keep in touch with her, attend her concerts and perhaps, send a postcard even! :)

Life is full of curiosities. Strike up a conversation with them all!

Love,
Hemu

Image Source:https://memyselfandela.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/smile-of-an-angel/

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What is in a Name?

Some nights, days or a sunny noon, living in a foreign country bewilders and astonishes you. I believe I have been fairly exposed to most of the ideas surrounding America owing to an unorthodox, liberal upbringing, migration of ideas from the West in my country and being the generation that is a part of the cultural shift that India is in the midst of an upheaval of. Sure, we have our own boundaries but by and large, I was able to amend and adapt to the cultural setting of The States. I didn't have rude culture shocks nor did I go lamenting about how things are (better) in my country. As far as I am concerned, they're two different countries and have their own socio-cultural setting. While I make observations, my judgments are far reserved for thinking and for the sake of understanding these differences. I arrived here with an open mind and was prepared for pretty much everything I could ever fathom.

I realised I wasn't prepared for one thing when I did come here though: telling people my name. By that, I knew my name in its entirety (Hemalatha Venkataraman) wasn't going to be easy on people who don't have as many as eight different consonants for the alphabet 't' in their language. I expected that and so, I knew exactly what I was going to say when that question comes by (I say my full name very quickly sometimes just to catch some of them smile in confusion and go 'Whaaaat?'). I was going to tell them and teach them the way to say my name. That was a fairly simple plan of action.

However, what I was not prepared for was this question: 'What would you like to be addressed as?'

It is by far the weirdest cultural shift for me and I still can't help but smile at the gentle reminder that I am in another country but my own when this question crosses my radar. You see, it's not a question we frequently deal with in India. People ask you what your name is and you answer them. I've never been asked what I want to be called as in my life until I moved here and frankly, it's not a question that ever struck me. I never thought twice before I uttered my name in response. I have students who prefer being called something else from what their record states. A recent acquaintance said he wished to be called by a different name (that he thought suited him more as he saw it fit on someone else he admired) when he was younger and his family obliged. I have friends who like their name being pronounced only in a certain way and ask to be addressed so and I believe I like the sense of identity that one establishes through that choice.

We don't really have that concept back home. No one has asked me how I'd like to be addressed and it was very interesting to me the first few times people asked me so. I have been silently contemplating how I would like to be addressed. 'Hemu' is a nickname that only my family uses (and so, I was/am a little uncomfortable projecting it publicly for everyone's use) and 'Hema' seemed too generic for my own conscious disposition. Also, my name offers varied meanings depending on what I may identify myself as. Hemu means 'gold', Hema alternatively means 'golden' or 'earth' and Hemalatha means 'vine of gold'. Another close meaning as a means of the variance with which one may say my name would mean 'Goddess made out of snow'. So, which one do I pick? Now that I am posed with a conscious choice, it's a little weird because I am very consciously disregarding/disrespecting the name given to me by my parents, from my cultural and societal lens.

On all of that roller-coaster for a cultural ride, I think it's a great question as a means of self-identification and introspection. If I am asked to associate myself with a calling of my choice as opposed to being socially and from a familial front, being assigned a name; I have already been made to think about what I would like to be known as, and that is a means of manifesting characteristics of who I see myself as and what I aspire to be. Gender, personal and social identities are being made clear of and people get to be more respectful of the other person's identities by asking them what THEY want to be known as. It's a concept I've come to appreciate for its forwardness of thought and scope for showing one's respect.

On a much personal note, I was out dancing one night when I had to explain my name for a full ten minutes to a complete stranger. Amidst all the dancing, here was someone who I didn't know, trying to say my name right. It's strange for me to identify myself as Hemalatha as it always seems to put a distance between me and the person addressing me, formal and full as it is. I eventually give people here options but I must confess all the times I loved them trying to say my common Indian name. It's exciting for me to have someone inquire after my name, something (beautiful in its own way) I've taken for granted this long. I have never been so excited, proud and identified by my ethnic name as much as I enjoy it now, and for that... thank you, America.

P.S: One of the chief reasons I go by the shortened version of my name that I do currently employ is because it's far easier to explain it to my American counterparts and because it is my pen(cil)-name. What's that you ask?

It's Hey-Moo! (Like saying hi to a cow!)

Love,
Hemu

Image source: http://www.womenoffaith.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/HelloMyNameIs.jpg

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Why?

How many of you have babies? Nieces? Nephews? You'd understand right away what I'm trying to convey here. I have a niece who is three years old. She's the most prettiest, cutest thing you'd ever see. She loves the camera, poses, smiles enchantingly and calls out to you in the most cute ways possible when you're angry with her for any reason. She makes me melt as she hops onto the world where children finally realise that they're not going to be able to communicate with adults unless they shed their godly chitter-chatter and talk to us in a language we can comprehend. She's three and very, very intelligent.

We have conversations now and then, Baby and I. It takes interesting patterns. Her current favourite conversation fixative is 'Why'.

No Baby! you shouldn't go there. 
Why, Chithi? 
Because it's dangerous. 
Why? 
You could very easily get hurt. 
Why?
You might fall down, there is a rough patch there. 
Why, Chithi? 
Because you're a baby and that's what babies do. They keep falling down. 
Oh. Okay! Why? 

You get the idea. Her mind is curious and so inquisitive now that she wants to know why, for anything and everything under the sun. You'd think it's cute a scenario to be sitting with her and talking to her, the beautiful relationship between an aunt and her first niece. Well, it is. But it is also very meandering. I lose my train of thought after four 'Why's and something that simple is what makes it so profound. Simple questions and happenings that I've taken for granted in life need to be explained to her in ways she can understand.

The other day, I asked her to not play behind the cupboards because it's dark and cramped there,standard reason being she could hurt herself. She asked me what 'dark' means. I was stumped. I was at a loss to explain light and shadow right at that point in time. Her nine year old playmate jumped to my rescue and explained it to her. She showed her the sun and she showed her the light on the carpet. She told her that there is no light where that light is obstructed by things and when that happens, darkness happens. She actually explained it way better, I forget the intricacy of her explanation. It sounds simple, right? Try actually answering it at that point in time. I was at a loss for words and a nine year old smoothed through it like a sailor.

How many 'Why's' can you answer before you call it quits? I ask you this because it's a very conscious process for me with respect to the 'material world' I am a part of, even though not with the intensity I'd like it as I write, I create art and design buildings. I am a graduate teaching assistant and I've seen my students from last semester at a loss to answer the same 'Why' that we asked them over reviews. Why did you choose that colour? Why do you 'like' it? Why not a different line thickness? We've seen them smile in despair after a point.

I wonder if we lose connection with the basic questions in life after a point. How would a fifteen year old answer the same question? An eighteen year old? Thirty? Ninety? When did we stop and terminate questioning the things we know? How deep can this series of questions get? Do we not do it because we realise the potential it has to turn us insane merely because this could simply mean an abyss of thinking with no end, that nothing is really certain? Would that break us, people who have now 'evolved' into ones with principles, morals and ethics? Have you ever tried looking into the mirror for a good amount of time? Have you seen how you disintegrate as a whole when you selectively see different parts of your face and later on, you don't recognise yourself? Eyes, nose, ears... they start to appear funny and misplaced on you. Have you ever felt that? That's the closest thought that comes to my head currently along this line of thought.

Would it be a good idea to question layer after layer of accepted (both personal and societal) constructs and thoughts? What would happen if you push yourself? Would it lead you towards excitement or would it throw you into a canyon of futility? And what does that tell you about yourself?

Why do I ask all this? 
Just curious. That's all.

Why am I curious?
It's interesting to see how your minds work and perceive concepts, ideas, boundaries and morality.

Why is that interesting you ask?
Doesn't it make you feel like every person is a world, a universe within themselves? 

Why should it?
Because we seem like millions of permutations and combinations put together at the level of neurons, body, culture, social... Wait, I see what you're doing. 

You have a good year, alright? I'll go call my niece and tell her that existentialism might be one of the directions she'd lead me to if I kept this up.

'Why, Chithi?' 

My darling niece on her third birthday! :) And in case you don't know what 'Chithi' means, it mean younger aunt in my mother tongue, Tamizh. (Mother's younger sister-Chithi) 

Have a happy new year, folks!

Love,                                        
Hemu