Poem: Mamihlapinatapai

Mamihlapinatapai

Yahgun (Tierra del Fuego): a look shared by two people, each of whom wish the other would initiate that which they both desire, but which neither one wants to concede.

The saddest word in the world
has a piñata nestled
within it. You will never
know the richness of
your own heart until
you have held it high
above the totem
of your body and
blessed its
rupture.

Nursery Rhyme For Brana Bono

Posted this on a more private space this morning. Thought I’d share it here, just for fun.

Medusa-seduca, you declared,
and crossed your legs at tea.
Rapunzel-schmunzel, I shrugged.
You don’t mean little old lady me?
But don’t take me at my bashful blush,
I was only feigning surprise.
I think we already know: my hair is
a certifiable home-wrecking device.

On Spoken Word As A Sort Of Shamanism

This appeared in the Chennai edition of The Times of India today, under the “What’s Hot” section.

Years ago, I read that when a woman weaves out of her iyari, she doesn’t need to copy a design. I took this to heart, or took it back into my heart, rather – iyari is the Huichol concept of heartmemory. Eventually, I would twine this with the concepts of duende – the dangerous driving force behind Andalusian flamenco deep song – and ananku – the lost Tamil idea of the sacred malevolence in certain objects and locations, including the woman’s body.

To me, although widely divergent geographically, this trinity of concepts represent one and the same. It is what I enter and try to evoke in performance. I’ve been doing spoken word since I was 15 years old, long enough for me to know my element and try to draw others into theirs. So I teach, and co-organise events. Spoken word is my shamanism.

Having experienced firsthand the transcendental and transformative power of poetry in performance when it hits a point of alchemy somewhere between rock concert and book reading (but not, as some may have you believe, theatre), I am convinced that Chennai is ripe for it.

What I’ve said must sound terribly pretentious. And I’ll tell you the big secret: it is. Ironically, vocabulary limits us when trying to describe the overwhelming. But music, words, visuals and movement have saved my life time and again. Who hasn’t lived through a night sustained by a single song, or sat in the cinema and wept until everyone else in the hall had left? This is why I do what I do. Because art is meaningful. Ultimately I myself, my great loves and disasters and fears, may mean nothing. But what I create on this time on earth could – just maybe – make someone, somewhere, feel less lonely for just one profound moment. And that is enough.

Poem: Mermaid

MERMAID

They found the mermaid the morning after.
She was the colour of homemade toffee, burnt
in places, mellow in others. Her hair fragile
as flax. Her beautiful, brittle fins. When the man
who found her, lifting the seaweed veiling her face,
knelt at her hip, his breath like broken glass, she
looked to him like she would crumble to the touch.

Around him, the shore lay shattered like the
heart of a woman who knows her mother has
turned against her. He traced with hands anxious
with liquor the aghast shape of her jaw. Her bones.
Her ribs like stacked haloes, her tough browned
skin. The delicate, exquisite patterns of her scales.
The sharp, ridged points at which her tail flared
into a crescent, a sinewed handheld fan.

His tears came slowly, at first, and then in little
detonations of despair. The first lesson of the ocean,
he had always known, was reciprocity. What the
mother took from mortals, she would return in
equal fervour. Her sleeping child coiled into
the tentacles of weed and debris, sucked deep
within the womb and expelled like so many other
bodies. He listened to her roar then and heard not
cruelty, not death, but hideous, intolerable grief.

(For back story, please see here)

At Thalankuppam

jump

Some very friendly boys and their dog, on Thalankuppam beach. All photos above are by me. Larger sizes and black and white versions are on my Flickr page.

Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan and I came up with the idea of holding a poetry reading at Thalankuppam, north of the city of Chennai, while talking about coasts. Like many artists, we are both obsessed with them to some extent. When I told him about my own favourite beach, which is widely regarded as a crappy excuse for one but stirs me still, he told me about Thalankuppam. He had discovered it by accident, while riding without any particular destination in mind, leaving the city behind. By this time, we and a few others had been having a lot of discussions about the necessity and opportunity present to create a community, one which not just writes and reveres the written word, but takes joy in the spoken.

Thalankuppam made sense on several levels — gorgeous yet discreet, it has an interesting story which few know. We wanted a small event, something in the indie spirit. No sponsors, no pish-poshness. We also wanted something that had the ethos of the city in it — an ethos which we hope to shape, in our own small ways. As I have written and said elsewhere before, I feel blessed to be at this point again for the second time in my life. The right place at the right time, just as I was six or seven years ago in KL. Chennai is pulsing with something which, if harnessed, will set the city alight. Trust me on this one. I’ve seen it once and am certain I’m about to witness it again. Or the city will, in any case, with or without me.

On the afternoon of March 9th, a small group set forth from Madras University, hugging the beach northwards for under an hour until we reached the area of Thalankuppam. We entered a settlement area, and the further into it we drove the more I realised that truly, this was the kind of beach that could only be stumbled upon. When we finally parked to walk, near a delta, we were confronted by a small hill of sand. Human-made, from sediment that clogged the factory-bordered river otherwise.

Beyond this hill was the beach. And jutting from this beach was the abandoned pier. Chandroo’s camera will say things best, so please go ahead and harass him to post his photos up.

We settled on the beach to start the reading, which was pleasantly delayed by the far from camera-shy boys above. Matthew played sacrificial lamb, reading a poem which Sivakami, who had had to leave once we reached Thalankuppam, had left with him. He delivered her homage to the masculine and feminine properties of the sea beautifully. Chandroo read three poems, one of which was a translation of Subramania Bharathy. Katia, Matilda, Sarah and Jenny — the unsuspecting newspaper interns we whisked off to this deserted, untouristy part of greater Chennai — most impressively shared some of their favourite poems by others from memory. Katia read some musings from her journal. I read a few pieces, including one about a dream I had about a sea that was startlingly similar to the view mid-way on the pier. Julian did not read, but lent his quiet support.

We had held off from actually getting on the pier and walking to its end because Chandroo, whose 25th or thereabouts trip this was, had recommended we wait until closer to sundown, when the colours of our surroundings would take on different properties. He was right — it was worth it.

Walking the pier itself was probably the most incredible experience of an altogether brilliant evening. The good kind of scary, like a rollercoaster, only more dangerous, because the only safety devices we had were each others’ sweaty hands and our own intrepid footsteps. You can’t tell from the picture we used on the flyer, but that is no bridge. It’s like a horizontal ladder. Lose your step and you plummet into the water.

It was like walking on waves, the ocean surging around us. Absolutely stunning.

At the end of the pier was a wonderful little sheltered platform. I tried to imagine watching a thunderstorm from there, the terrible thrill it must be like. We were joined by two latecomers, who hadn’t carpooled and had gotten lost hence. Here, I read two more poems before we headed back, beating the dusk.

Thank you all — who were interested but could not make it, who came, who will come to future events. We had a wonderful time and will keep you posted about the next event. Suggestions, ideas — let us know. Sivakami Velliangiri left a poem responding to the event in the comments section of the announcement post; do check it out.

Poetry On The Pier

Pier-flyer
For more on the location, please see here. We’ll coordinate a meet-up point in the city from which to head out to the beach. Please get in touch so we have some idea of how many people to expect. And feel free to forward!
This is a small, indie event, open-mic style (but without a mic). This is not a workshop or a slam. Bring poems, and an open mind and open heart.
Update: Please click on the flyer for date and time details! Thought this was obvious, but I guess it wasn’t. :)