November 3, 2015

Pinning Ancient and New Earrings: The Histories and Personal Stories of Objects

I have become a relentless pinner these days. I pin delectable recipes that I will never cook (ok, I lie, I have baked one version of a moist banana bread recipe I found there!) and fiercely calibrated outfits which I am never going to wear. I pin complex smoky eye tutorials although I still do not own a smoky-eye palette and DIY projects which I know are beyond the scope of my artistic and creative capabilities despite their helpful, hand-holdingly reassuring step by step photographs and instructions (it's a bit like seeing Nigella Lawson cook and no matter how much she charmingly conveys that her recipes are so easy-peasy to prepare, I feel that it's her culinary magic which is entirely responsible for transforming a mostly quotidian collection of ingredients into dishes that are midnight-fridge-raiding worthy and finger-lickingly good). But I nevertheless immensely enjoy it, this act of pinning. It's ultimately not so much about the pins as this admittance into a veritably magical, exciting visual universe, where you never quite know what gorgeous, strange planet or personality or plant you are going to discover. One day, I find this incredible installation artist recreating and freezing the sinuous curve of sea waves in glass. For some time, I virtually grew succulents after succulents in the little boxes on my moodboards. There are scores of hugely talented visual, design, jewelry, and book artists whom I am just learning about and from. I have even found a new preoccupation: collecting obscure words; did you know that I am a solivagant soul? And yesterday, I wrote a poem inspired by a wall-hanging called The Taste of Petrol and Porcelain.

Gold earrings, 2-3 BC,  Archaeology Museum, Istanbul
My method of pinning is a quick, efficient affair though; I usually immediately jump to another pin as soon as I have pinned one, not really choosing to linger. I don't know then what it was about these super-long, below the shoulder grazing gold earrings dating from 2-3 BC that made me pause longer than normal today. I suddenly and intuitively saw a woman with very long, very straight black hair wearing these earrings; in fact, I simply saw her wearing the earrings, I couldn't even see her face or any other features. She wore them during the day, her dress was snow-white and sleeveless. I wondered what occasion it was that warranted the donning of such gloriously extravagant, excessive jewelry; weren't her ears simply exhausted from cargoing all that weight around? The more I coaxed my imaginative faculties, the more vividly the scene came to life: the woman at a festival or a wedding or a celebration, the earrings reaching just below her bust-line, shearing through the crowds, the earrings simultaneously commanding attention yet discouraging too much intimacy, ordering a distance. I am in the middle of reading the massive tome, Memoirs of Cleopatra and perhaps the descriptions I have encountered there of her magnificent costumes and jewelry may have influenced my imaginings of this particular woman and her history. However, whatever the reasons, the earrings had firmly taken root in my mind. 

When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut and an archaeologist; apart from their spellings being coincidentally identically bookended, perhaps the two occupations were not so radically dissimilar. Becoming an astronaut necessitated you to explore the outer space, a vast, mysterious realm, which was still largely unknown, only beginning to become knowable, populated with planets, galaxies, and even extra-terrestial beings, both whose existence and finer details we were just starting to learn of and comprehend. As for archaeology, was the very distant past too not akin to outer-space? The stars we see in the sky are long dead, their twinkling only deceiving us into thinking that they still live; similarly, the still existing structures and objects that we encounter of those long extinguished civilisations remind us at once that they both flourished - and yet are no more. The earliest human civilisations are as tantalisingly mysterious as the furthermost edges of outer-space: there is only so much we can imagine after a certain point after all in absence of data and empirical information and tangible objects, literature, art, and language.

However, whenever I saw myself as an archaeologist during my childhood, I was at a site, surrounded by layers of soil, unearthing an object - and placing it against my ear and asking it to speak its story, as if it was a conch-shell telling me how the sea sounded when it pounded against the beach.** When I was ten years old, my family and I had visited the ancient city of Qalhat near Sur in Oman; we had stood in the dusk shadows of the domeless mausoleum of Bibi Maryam, thousands and thousands of ceramic pottery shards littering the stony ground around us. I recollected picking up one of the shards, the glaze still glossy and vivid - and trying, trying very hard to visualise it as an entire pot. I couldn't: I never have been particularly skilled at seeing the bigger picture. 

My preoccupation with intuiting, imagining, and coaxing stories from objects has remained till this date though. I see objects transcending mere functionality into becoming signifiers, signs, and Russian dolls of memories and stories. I am currently working on a short story collection which revolves around a chest of objects dispersed across the world from a haveli in Rajasthan, each object becoming an alternative story and narrating new ones in its new homes. I am still working on my personal text-photography project, Object Stories, where I assemble story-portraits from an individual's specific collection of much loved objects. And I delightedly chanced upon Aanchal Malhotra's project, Remnants of a Separation, in which she uses precious objects that were brought over during Partition as alternate mode of narrating the stories of that climatic historical event.

Minutes after I had pinned the ancient golden earrings, I saw these contemporary statement earrings in gold and cobalt blue. They made me think of similar ones I had received as a 22nd birthday present and which I decided to wear at a birthday dinner with close friends. In those days, I normally did not wear such conspicuously statement earrings; I preferred to over-dress my wrists or neck, rather than my fingers or ears (as I am inclined to do now) - and I hesitated before eventually putting them on, telling myself that it was my birthday dinner, after all, and I could surely cope with the attention the earrings would presumably attract. On the bus en route to the restaurant, I met an acquaintance from my college and as we made requisite small talk, I noticed him closely observing my earrings, making me feel self-conscious. "Nice earrings!" I still recall him saying as he got off at his stop. I don't think I ever wore those earrings again but they are still sitting somewhere in one of my jewelry boxes - and whenever I come across them, I am reminded of that birthday dinner many years ago.

Will someone find those earrings years later and wonder about their story? That's for future to contemplate and decide. For the present, though, I will continue to ponder about the woman who wore those ancient golden earrings, where, why, when...

 ** I highly recommend Kamila Shamsie's novel, A God In Every Stone, which recounts among st other stories the tale of a London archaeologist and so took me back to my childhood yearnings to be an archaeologist

September 24, 2015

Dawn Gifts and Writing to Bird-Song

Mogra from my mother's garden, freshly plucked at dawn

The other day, I awakened just before dawn and could not slip-slide back into sleep, no matter how much I tried. I am currently visiting my parents in Oman; I instead decided to go outside, wandering into my mother's garden, inspecting the sprawling neem tree, the frangipani and peepal plants, and my favorites, the mogra [Arabian Jasmine] bushes, still blooming even though it's already nearing the end of September. I have waxed eloquent about my all abiding love for mogras often enough and it's now become a new favorite game of mine to spot the buds in various stages of bloom hidden inside the bushes, a bud treasure hunt, so to speak. My mother tells me these mogra bushes growing in the garden are called haathi mogra, 'haathi' meaning elephant, the name probably due to the comparatively large-sized blooms that these bushes produce. I personally love marvelling at the intricate mint-green origami perfection of their journey of blooming as much as witnessing the actual bloom itself. 

The bloom I saw that morning though was enough take my breath away: I could not imagine a more perfect dawn gift. As I gently cradled the mogra in my hands, the apricot light tinting its famously fragrant snow-ivory white petals, I realised it had been a very long time indeed since I had voluntarily been up and outside at this hour.

I am not a morning person, period. I forcibly had to get up at 6am during my school years and the only thing that made it bearable for me was glimpsing a spectacular sun-rise from my bus windows as we drove to school every day. During college, though, I gleefully embraced my night owl avatar; thanks to my particular roster of classes which began either before lunch or during the afternoon, I was free to wake and sleep late. I was pursuing a degree in creative writing and I would only work on my assignments between midnight and three am, even later, at times. It was singularly the most peaceful time of the day, or at least, what constituted my day, anyway. Everyone else was asleep, the phone would not ring, and if I needed company, there was always MSN Messenger (oh god, how long ago was that!), where I could pop in to chat to other nocturnal kindred spirits or friends living in different time-zones. I would also often find my friend, D awake and online then; she lived in the flat next door and told me that this was the time of the day she too liked the best, whether to read or relax. I still remember those nights: the silence, the feeling that you were absolutely the only person awake in the world, the sensation of almost like being inside a meditative vacuum. Is this what space sounded like? If I became particularly immersed in writing or working on an assignment, I found myself only pausing to stop writing when I could hear birds singing. The sound of bird-song was a sign, to me, at least, that the night was over and a brand new, tooth-paste smelling morning was upon us. I would shut the computer and crawl into into my bed, finally ceasing to write, study, think. By the time I woke up, the sun was rudely poking its stubby bright yellow fingers into my eyes and there were too many other noises drowning out the birds singing.

This particular nocturnal writing routine persisted long into my working life, when I was working as an independent writer and journalist, unbound by office hours and strictures. After a while, I realised that I just could not write during the day, no matter how much I tried. I conducted interviews, called interviewees, or completed work and personal correspondence but the meat of my writing, slowly cooking words, ideas, and voices into articles or stories, only occurred in those inky post midnight hours. If I wasn't writing, I was either painting or collaging or journaling or something or the other. Now that I reflect upon it, it seems as if I was only truly myself in the night, my performance during the day literally being a day job.

The routine changed once I got a job and had to turn up to office at suitably early hours and of course, afterwards, when I got married to my surgeon husband, who would be out of the house at 6am or frequently placating an incessantly buzzing pager and phone often all through the night, shredding the night silence into smithereens (and unfortunately depriving him of a good night's sleep!). I still stayed up till midnight, however, only mostly reading though. As time went by, I just couldn't fathom writing late into the night anymore. I found myself too burdened by the day to write, its stories and events and attendant physical and mental exhaustion over-crowding my mind, making it impossible to voyage into the world of my writing. I increasingly preferred writing during the day, particularly during the afternoon, when I had yet to decide what was to become of the day, what adventures and conversations and memories awaited me, thereby leaving me free to focus on my writing.

When I was in college, our tutors recommended that we regularly read Paris Review. I eagerly consumed interview after interview of both known and brilliant but obscure writers in which the journalist usually questioned them in detail about the architecture of their writing routines. I always enjoy learning more about the rituals and process of writing - or any kind of creation, really - whether it is about the rooms in which they write or the objects inhabiting their desk - and so I loved that portion of the interviews. Many of them mentioned that they often arose early in the morning to write, commenting that it was that pocket of time during their day, wonderfully devoid of distractions as well as the fact that their minds were so fresh and well, emptied. It reminded me of a painter friend who once told me the same thing, also adding that the remarkable quality of dawn light made the experience much more joyful.

It was unimaginable to me then as a student to subscribe to a similar routine. However, as I grow older and becoming decidedly less and less of a nocturnal creature, I thought of it: writing at dawn, absorbing the molecules of purity and silence and above all, the optimistic quality of that roseate dawn light.

Dawn conversations between the tree and the clouds

I once used to stop writing at the sound of bird-song; now, I can imagine myself - just a little bit -  writing to the dawn background soundtrack of bird-song, perhaps weaving their joyousness, a contagious zest for the unblemished day ahead, into the textures of my work. 

Perhaps, I should try it some time.

What about you? Do you have a time of a day when you feel you are the most inclined to create? I would love to hear!

June 2, 2015

Two Artists, Two Quirky Urban Art Interventions

What is the first thing that leaps to your mind while wandering through a city and espying a crack-splattered wall? An exposed-brick wound? A frozen-ripple like pothole on the road? For me, they are signs of not as much a city in disrepair or decline one constantly growing and evolving. In fact, I find the urban and built space to be no less dynamic, fertile, and facinating than a natural habitat - and what I particularly gravitate towards is the intersection of nature and urban in the city. A seedling valiantly emerging from a crack in a wall, a tree's branches reflected in an edifice of glass and concrete, it all suggests that the urban space is an unique eco-system in its own and whose inhabitants - humans, plants, animals, and more - adapt and accordingly co-exist over there. There are so many textures to an urban space and it is something which I have greatly enjoyed observing and photographing over the years.

What I am also passionate about is exploring how we care for and can further beautify the urban space, transforming it into an  accessible, engaging, and enjoyable place to be. When I say beautify, I don't just necessarily mean landscaping/prettification; I am equally interested in interrogating the scope of how we perceive and engage with the urban space. Given that I have only recently lived in cities, Pittsburgh and Delhi, both vastly different in their size, appearance, and character, my desire to understand the dynamics of urban space has nevertheless always been on my mind since I studied   urban geography in school. The interfacing of humans and the built environment and their productions in form of the cities always intrigued me. What does it mean when we walk through the city (if at all, we choose to walk and the city is walker-friendly) while simultaneously and frenetically fulfilling our multiple life chores? Are we simply walking through it, focusing on the destination in our mind or do we occasionally pay attention to the surroundings that we wander past? When we talk about a city's character, does it only repose within its people or its actual physical constitution as well? When I walk through a city, I would like to engage with it through its people, food, conversation, and its physical spaces: the street art on its walls, its architecture, parks and gardens, and little quirks which give it character and individuality. 

That's why I so happily chanced upon these artists, Paige Smith and Juliana Santacruz Herrera via Instagram and Pinterest respectively; both of these artists are performing terrific urban interventions in their cities, seeing these cracks, potholes, and brick wounds as sites of artistic transformation. They are both seeing the city as it is, engaging with its character, and moreover, encouraging the inhabitants to do so as well. Paige introduces artificial rock geodes abstracted from hand-cut paper and resin into nooks and crannies of various cities through the medium of her street art project, Urban Geode while Juliana 'repairs' potholes in Paris with iridescently hued yarn installations.

A rock lover, the appearance and structure of crystals or geodes first captured my attention as a child and have fascinated me since; I have in possession a gorgeous dramatically textured amethyst geode that I bought during my first trip to the States many years ago and one of my most prized discoveries when rock-collecting as a child was discovering a delicately peach and white hued geode in the Omani hills. I loved how Paige Smith is planting these crystals into the otherwise seemingly inert soil of the city's visual landscape and growing them into something so unexpected, beautiful, and startlingly unique; it changes both the very nature of the site as well as the overall bigger surrounding environs. "These installations are like hidden gems sprinkled across the world that invite us to actually look, to be playful and discover and to participate in a glorious and global treasure hunt," is her take on her super whimsical project. 

Juliana Santacruz Herra seemingly heals scars of Parisian potholes (aside: doesn't just prefixing Parisian to potholes make them sound so terribly chic? No? Just me then!) dotting the streets through her bright, cheerful, colorful braided knit art; it must be so delightful to stumble upon these countries of yarn art dotting the otherwise drab, neglected gray sea of asphalt. You can see more of her work over here.

Have you seen a curious, quirky urban art intervention? Did it pause you in your steps to make you consider both the art as well as the environs that you were in? I would love to hear about it!

Images courtesy: Internet

May 27, 2015

A Boat Ride on the Ganga

I have never been much for rivers, I have always claimed. The first rivers that I saw were the wadis in Oman; they weren't technically rivers, I suppose, pop-up rivers, really, which birthed into existence immediately following the rains and then, swiftly vanished a few days afterwards. In any case, I imagined rivers to be like the way I saw them for the first time in atlases: silver snakes laboriously crawling across the pink, green, and yellow-hued landscapes, in manner of the Nile or the Amazon or the Mississippi. 

I kept on bumping into rivers nevertheless. I remember taking a dip in the Ganga's icy, gray waters at Haridwar many years ago as a child. I saw the Thames, Danube, and the Rhine. I sat by the Charles river in Boston one spring afternoon last year with an upset stomach, an unread Marquez, and feeling lost. The river prettily gleamed in the fading light but I derived more comfort from the weeping tree standing next to me, which reminded me of a kind elephant. And then, of course, I lived in a city of rivers, three rivers, to be precise: Pittsburgh. I recall spending one warm autumn night by the river, the city's glittering skyline reflected in its mirror-calm waters; I trailed my fingers in the water, saw it silently embrace the rocks clustered upon the bank. Yet, in all that time I lived there, I could never bring myself to appreciate the beauties and complexities and gifts of the river. Perhaps, I had lived by and loved the sea for too long; I was too accustomed to its exciting tumult, its mercurial color palette, the beach's unique universe, and the vast infinity of the sea, as it married the horizon.

Sometime ago, we took a boat ride on the Ganga in a place called Garmukhteshwar. It would be a new moon night the following day and which would attract scores and scores of visitors, the boatman told us. There already seemed to be so many people around, many of them bathing and immersed in the water: women, fully dressed in saris and salwar-kameez, their heads still nevertheless covered, men, children, young, old, middle-aged, everyone. I saw an old lady set a bowl stitched from dried leaves and containing marigolds and pedas into the water as an offering. People were also filling up large white transparent plastic cans that they had purchased from river-side stalls with the holy water.

I didn't bathe or buy or worship the water; I took a boat-ride instead.

We shakily stepped onto the boat - and the boatman lifted his pole and began the journey.

It was hot, very hot; the heat had bleached the sky almost white.

The river meanwhile was the color of soil: it resembled liquid earth. This was the Ganga. When I placed my palm upon the river skin, it felt like lukewarm tea. The boatman strenuously ploughed through the water. I asked him how long he had been doing it. Ever since I was a child, he told us, I usually take up to twelve people on the boat but there are only two of you today. I thought of one of my favorite books, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy in which the characters go for boat-rides upon the Ganga in the fictional city of Brahmpur. In one scene, as the city burns following terrible Hindu-Muslim riots, a couple still nevertheless goes for a boat-ride, saying that you can't set fire to water. 

If I accidentally leave the boat unmoored at night, it will travel downstream - but there's usually someone to find and bring it back to me in the morning, the boatman says, affectionately, glancing down at both the boat and the river. 

I gaze at the heat-enshrouded horizon: the river merges with the sky in the distance until it is difficult to distinguish where the sky begins and the water ends. I am starting to understand a little bit as to why you might want to spend so much of your time on the river: there is something comforting being on this strip of water in the land, the river arguably not as overwhelming as the sea, whose vastness can be simultaneously beautiful and frightening. Perhaps, the best way to appreciate the river was to be within it: I had been looking at it from the wrong end all this time.

Around us, as the sun traced its arc in the sky, the river quietly flowed, as it had done for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

River-reading: I have so enjoyed following environmental photographer and journalist, Arati-Kumar Rao's evocative pictures and words as she documents the Brahmaputra river basin and powerfully drives home the significance of rivers over here

May 20, 2015

May Ramblings: Memoirs, Water-Color Experiments, and Exploring Delhi's Many Cities

May means:


Late to Tea at Deer Palace along with some fresh mogras and a postcard of the Grand Canyon

I have always enjoyed reading memoirs and this was a beautifully written one of an Iraqi family and the trajectory of its political and economic fortunes before eventually being displaced from their homeland and spending their lives in exile; the author, Tamara Chalabi minutely documents her family's history while contemplating the currency of the notion of Iraq in her life, both as a mythical abstraction derived from her family's many stories about their homeland as well as as its contemporary political status today. I randomly picked it up at Daryaganj's Sunday Book market, where every Sunday morning the pavements are lined with book-stalls, selling best-sellers, obscure novels, M&Bs, vintage Vogues, Christies and Sotheby art catalogues, coffee-table books, you name it. What I found most amusing was the book-store where best-sellers were sold for 100 rupees per kilo while Mills and Boons were 99 rupees per kilo! I discovered 'Late to Tea at Deer Palace' over there (I must confess it's romantic title and the aqua cover definitely influenced my decision to purchase it) and read it in the course of a weekend. While I have always been interested in Middle Eastern politics and history, I must admit that the quotidian minutiae of pre-war life in Iraq, under Ottoman rule and then, incorporating the cosmopolitan changes which swept the city following the arrival of the British was what intrigued me more. I loved reading about the costumes, wedding rituals and ceremonies, the dishes cooked and prepared, and superstitions which were wholly unique to that culture and age along with something which is personally close to my heart, the fluid idea of home and homelands.

As someone who has always preferred writing expansively and at length, it's heartening to see more and more long-form reads popping up everywhere  -  I unsurprisingly love the site, Long Reads, where I have had the pleasure of reading some excellent essays and articles. Two of my recent favorites were this Rebecca Solnit essay,  a superb meditation about the meaning of travel in our lives and this Judy Blume interview which I read today. I read practically all Judy Blume's novels while growing up and loved the candour, wit, and the freshness of her voice as she tackled that bewildering and challenging world of adolescence, in which there are so many questions and very little by answers and consolation (especially if you lived in an archaic pre-internet world, as the interview mentions;) Two of my favorite novels were Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. I would now like to read her novel for adults that the interview mentions too.


Migrating Moons: combining water-colors along with paper collage, something else which I am fond of

When I was ten years old, I took a weekly water color painting class for two months with one of then Oman's most well-known water color artists, Lynda Shepherd. I would go to her house on Thursday afternoons, sitting on a long white table along with several other girls, learning the techniques of water-color painting. I distinctly remember her teaching us how to expertly paint a sprig of bougainvillea and also, drumming into us shadows are not just inky black: they are a cocktail of multiple colors. I recall wishing to paint an ochre-hued wall of an Omani fort; however, she in turn asked me to render it in a palette of cool gray, mauves, and lavenders instead, the space appearing as if it had been painted in situ just before dawn, the literal grayland between night and morning. I painted in water color for many years afterwards, filling up sketch-books with my illustrations (the bougainvillea in my house garden, the Rajasthani kathputlis hanging on my bedroom wall, and recreations of photographs) before discovering oil painting in my second year of university. I almost exclusively painted in oils ever since then before a sudden impulse led me to purchase water-colors a few weeks ago. I still keep on treating them as oils though, ha...and while I honestly miss the sheer joy I experienced while mixing the color in oils,, there's something undeniably so crisp and instant about water-colors too: it's like taking a Polaroid of your thoughts.



Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort

 The heat notwithstanding, the arrival of family in town meant we did a bit of Delhi sight-seeing: Qutub Minar and Red Fort, two of the places that our niece especially wanted to see because she had read about them in her textbooks:). The Minar was fabulously grand and dominated the area which was filled with tombs, mosques, and ruins, trees and monuments, botany and history, merging together. Red Fort was also a place which I had been wanting to visit for a while. As a child, we would travel to Delhi from Jodhpur by an overnight train and arrive in the city at dawn; we would go past the Red Fort, the saffron morning sunlight making it look redder than ever. I earlier used to exclusively associate it with the Indian Prime Minister's 15th August address; afterwards, as I studied more about Delhi's history, I began to appreciate its vital historical and architechural significance (William Dalrymple's portrait of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Ali Zafar and him conducting court during the 1857 uprising in The Last Mughal was especially haunting) . Of late, I had seen its photogenic spaces featuring in many an Instagram feed I follow so I was glad to finally see it in person; however, as always, I often wonder what it would be like to see a historical place in seclusion, imagining as it was, rather than with hundreds of tourists milling about and well, rendering it hollow and devoid of back-stories and histories. Well, I too joined the click-crazy brigade that day, eagerly snapping photographs of that gorgeous, impeccable arch symmetry in the Diwan-i-Am along with its other miniature pavilions and landscaped gardens. This was the Delhi of my imagination and which had colored and shaped my anticipation before moving to it...but as time goes by, I am learning that the city is a hydra-headed creature and this romantic, tombs-monuments-historical Delhi is but simply one of them.

How is your May coming along?

May 9, 2015

Photo-Story: Of Trees and Old Monuments

Wherever I go, I find them again and again, the ruined monument and the tree growing alongside each other, seemingly content in the other's company. The tree may be significantly younger than the monument and yet, you can intuit a quiet, beautiful rapport between them, regardless of barriers of age and character. The monument must tell stories to the tree - and how many stories must it have! - and it communicates them to us through the rustle of its leaves, a storyteller narrating what the stone cannot share.


Speaking of trees, I had the honor of interviewing one of India's most iconic photographers, Raghu Rai and talking about his recent exhibition of tree images in Delhi recently; it was a pleasure to glimpse his photographic forest and hear about his creative processes...have a look at the piece here

April 30, 2015

Making Notes From My New Desk

I am finally writing on a proper desk after a considerable length of time; we bought it in a furniture market called Panchkuyian, where I told the shopkeeper that I wanted a desk where I could write a book. I had had my heart set on something a bit vintage-y and antique-pretty but settled on a more functional desk for the time being instead. When we finished paying for it, the shopkeeper wished me luck for my thesis. "Book," I said a little wryly, thinking of my long-vanished academic persona and that the last time I wrote anything remotely resembling a thesis was a good many years ago. "All the best for your thesis," he repeated. Thesis, it is.

I like a desk which has acres of space but isn't too empty; there should be a few objects populating it, adding color and character and whimsy to the deskscape.

Here are the objects:

There is an old passport-sized picture of my husband taken several years ago, a postcard of a mad crazily patterned turmeric yellow door I picked from up an art gallery, a blue glass cube I bought at a Cambridge street market, two silver floral appliques from Jodhpur (I don't know why I bought them when I can't sew to save my life - perhaps, to use in a painting?), an intricately gold patterned and red-interiored square Persian jewelry box, which can't fit on my dressing table and has migrated over here, my journals (the ones I write in anyway; the empty ones share shelf space with my books), and a miniature art painting of two impressively dressed storm-colored elephants propped upon against the window.

Two Elephants

This painting has been wrought in the Udaipur school of miniature painting and I bought it from an artist called Mukesh at Dilli Haat, which is increasingly becoming my one-stop shopping location for traditional handicrafts, fun fabric clutches and bags, and my new sartorial obsession: palazzos (*so* ideal to wear in the heat!) The painter also painted a tiny black red caparisoned elephant on my thumb-nail. I have never been much for nail art but this was one was literally so and I spent the next few days admiring the snazzy little elephant on my nail!

Explosion of a Sunset
I experienced a sudden urge to revive my water-color painting skills this summer so my pen-stand contains three brushes, a pen (which works), and a faded dark pink rose, which I still haven't got rid of, thinking it will somehow find its way into one of my Instagram stories. So far, it hasn't.

I love the fact that my desk sits against the window; even though the view consists of faded puce-colored apartment facades, air-conditioners, a couple of trees, scores of birds (pigeons mostly) either flying across the sky or dancing or fighting on the grilles veiling the window, there is nevertheless still always something to see. I don't need a moodboard or a TV or a laptop wallpaper: I have my very own window screen.

My visual notes so far:

I see pigeons having a drink from the round black stone bowl of water affixed to the corner of a balcony.. 

There is a plucky little peepal seedling sprouting from the roof of one of the apartment buildings. If the day is clear and I see it at noon, I can see the plastic glossiness of its brand new leaves.

The chipmunk-like squirrels constantly run up and down the branches, nibble at the leaves, or have a snooze.

The kachnar tree whom I write about in my previous post has lost all its leaves and flowers; it sits there baldly, bit embarrassedly, a winter alien in this summer clothedness.

A woman in a purple salwar kameez and hennaed hair comes out to hang clothes on her balcony; she shares visual space with a fuchsia and white bougainvillea, numerous plants in blue and white ceramic pots, and marigolds.

I love writing at my desk. It also reminds me of this great Jhumpa Lahiri piece in which she writes that when she became a writer, her desk became home; there was no need of another. I wouldn't go as far as to say that but there is no doubt that it has swiftly become one of my most favorite spots in my house - and needless, even prosaically to say, I am getting far more writing accomplished here than before.

Care to share your desk notes? I would love to hear!

April 24, 2015

Photo-essay: Flower Memories and the Language of Fallen Petals


It is spring in Delhi. I see a tree top feathered with pink flowers from my window; the other day, a rain-storm neatly plucked the flowers from the tree and scattered them all across the street. When I picked up one of them, I observed that the pink petals were actually more lilac-hued; one petal was covered with warm violet markings, as if a child had absently decided to wrought Magic Marker art upon it. 


 Another tree outside my apartment has sprouted fat, flamboyant orange and red flowers; I see crows snacking upon its buds in the mornings. These trees are the tallest and most majestic of them all; they also happened to be the first to begin blooming. In fact, I first saw their flowers fallen on the green grass, rather than on the branches. Afterward, the earth below those trees would become so densely carpeted with the blood-red flowers that it was almost as if a flower massacre had taken place. 


I have to admit that I only became so interested in the business of blooming trees after I moved to Pittsburgh from Oman two winters ago. There's something about being transplanted in a new country which compels you to be minutely aware of both its cultural and physical ecosystems: in case of the latter, its landscape, flora and fauna, and the visible, tangible transition of seasons. As I began to adapt to my new home, the trees outside my apartment balcony were my personal markers of the changing seasons; I first saw them winter-bare and snow-adorned before budding and eventually bearing leaves, flower, and fruit. 


The other day, a Pittsburgh friend wrote to me, mentioning it was a lovely spring morning. I could easily conjure up the scene: the air's promising, scented warmth, the tulips poking their heads through the soil, unmelting snowflakes of cherry blossom limning branches -- and a magnolia-filled tree blooming in a churchyard. Before coming to the States, I had rarely seen magnolias; I made it a point to find out their name upon discovering this beautiful bloom. I wanted to populate the landscape I now called home with familiar faces, rather than faceless ones -- and that included the foliage which grew and bloomed around me. 


Watching the pink-lilac flower tree, I find myself thinking of the magnolias I glimpsed in Boston one spring afternoon last year. I was eager to visit the city where so many beginnings and histories nested, in the country to which I would shortly be bidding adieu. I took the T to downtown one afternoon. In addition to experiencing the city's elegant, history-drenched prettiness, I also yearned to see the sea, which I terribly missed in Pittsburgh after years of having lived in a sea-country, Oman.

 I examined a map-imprinted signboard on the top of Beacon Hill and figured out the direction I would need to walk in order to meet the sea. However, although I proud of my map sense, that day I failed to realize that I was heading away from the sea and towards the river instead. I was completely unaware walking past the stately, beautifully proportioned homes, richly anticipating the sea with each step. 

After a while, I paused and gazed into the distance; the street appeared seemingly endless while the sea was nowhere in sight. I asked a passerby for directions. "You are by the river," he said kindly. "You are a long way from the sea." 

Lost & Found 

I eventually found myself on the river bank, unable to summon up the energy to walk all the way back to the sea. I sat on a stone bench beneath a kind weeping tree and watched the sunbeams dance on the river surface. I took out a book of Marquez short stories that I had brought along with me; I stopped reading after only a few paragraphs and examined the stone-colored waters lapping the bank’s edges.

I was lost. Yet, I knew it was much more than just losing my physical bearings; I felt a strong sense of displacement, as if I had fallen off a grid and did not know how to put myself back in or -- where. I began to wonder if the feeling had to do with the truth that I had been playing dodge-ball with all this time: I would eventually find myself in yet another new country, a country which was officially my home but felt nothing like it. I had endlessly discussed the transition with my husband, family, friends...I had even written about it, thinking words would be the best ships with which to navigate the sea of confusion and fear churning inside my head. This afternoon, though, as I watched the river slowly inch its way towards the sea, it was as if I clearly saw the move and its solid implications for the first time, rather than the abstractions I had been drowning in all this time. 

Sunshine of Magnolias

I started walking back to the T -- and it was then I encountered the avenue of magnolia trees in full, thick, unbearably beautiful bloom. It was as if I had stumbled upon a river of magnolia blossom: creamy pink, pale yellow, almost white, almost red. Petals constantly drizzled down upon the brick ground. They were entirely another entity altogether up on the trees; here, scattered, broken, they formed the hieroglyphics of an arcane nature language. I did not attempt to translate. I simply soaked in their beauty, consoled in a way that only nature was capable of doing. 

Flower Memory I

When I stood up, a fat butter-yellow petal detached itself it from a branch, whirling around in sunshine before resting on my shoulder-blade. I opened the Marquez and placed the petal upon a bed of words. Many days later, when I opened the book, the petal was tea-brown -- but in my eyes, it remained freshly yellow, a postcard from a day when flowers had gifted me with respite and hope amidst a sea of lost-ness. 


I have been living in Delhi for almost five months now. I am only just beginning to understand its languages; some days, I speak it somewhat fluently, even enjoying doing so. Some days, it metamorphoses into Greek, and I long for the comfort of familiar tongues. I wake up feeling homesick, not knowing if it is the seas of Oman that I yearn for or Pittsburgh's summer-green woods. 

However, once again, as in America, I find myself watching the trees outside my apartment. I learn that the fat red flowers belong to the silk cotton tree and the pink-lilac one is kachnar, a type of an orchid. I become familiar with their blooms, watching them fall in the air before eventually gracing the ground with their presence. 

No matter where I journey, despite the multiple lands I may call home in my lifetime and all the different languages and landscapes I must learn to speak and inhabit -- nature and its quiet rhythms will always be teacher, guide, and friend. 

Flower Memories II

 The fallen flower that I find goes inside a book too -- and it will also become a memory of my new home, just like the magnolia petal from Boston represented a home from my yesterday. We carry the chapters of homes and the passages in between as flower memories inside the books of our lives.


This photo-essay originally appeared in The Aerogram here

April 8, 2015

Wah Taj: Making Notes On Re-visiting India's Most Iconic Monument


I first visited the Taj Mahal exactly and coincidentally seven years ago. I was trying to pursue a writing residency at an arts-organization in Delhi and while I ended up falling ill and not really accomplishing much writing, I made some wonderful friends and initiated my explorations in and around Delhi, unknowing that I would eventually come to call it home one day.

These explorations also included an excursion to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, both places which I had been wanting to visit for ages. For many years, whenever I happened to mention that I was from India, I was invariably asked along these lines: Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? No? But you're Indian and you still haven't been there yet? If I was asked the same question now, I would probably reply, India is much more than just the Taj and no, it doesn't make me more or less of an Indian if I haven't visited it. However, back then, I always felt a bit embarrassed that I had yet to experience one of India's arguably most iconic monument, as if the failure to do so questioned my Indian-ness, as if I wasn't Indian enough.
It didn't help that when I arrived at the Taj with my friend, the guards at the entrance refused to believe I was Indian and in fact, asked me three questions to prove my Indian identity. Our tour-guide had already beforehand hinted at the possibility of me having to declare my Indian credentials and even told me the three questions. I still doubted that it would happen and when it did, I felt irritable and bewildered. I can't remember the other two questions that the guards asked me but I do recollect the question about the name of the then Chief Minister of Delhi. I knew that anyway and authoritatively told him, Sheila Dixit. Still, as I was finally permitted entrance and we walked towards the Main Gate, I felt a weird displacement and which, perhaps, in hindsight, may have contributed towards the gradual erosion of Indian-ness I have increasingly experienced over the years.

Gateway: one of the doors studding the Taj facade
All that vanished from my mind when we encountered our first glimpse of the Taj through the magnificent sandstone portal; it was akin to seeing Amitabh Bachchan in flesh after only having seen him in cinema and photographs over the years. And yet, as we wandered through the garden, around the platform and inside the crowded tomb interior, I felt, well, a little disappointed. I wondered if it was because I had expected too much from it. I am generally wary of subscribing to hype, whether its about books, films, personalities, stores, Aamir Khan's movies, cupcake bakeries (yes, I am looking at you, Magnolia) or even one of the world's most beautiful monuments. In fact, I instinctively develop a resistance to anything the moment it is hyped, preferring to experience it once the hoopla has faded away. Whatever the reasons, I afterwards told everyone who cared to listen that I preferred Humayun's Tomb, whose mausoleum architectural style was in fact what influenced that of Taj Mahal and which I would discover later during my Delhi wanderings - and  that it was Akbar's doomed fossilised city in sandstone, Fatehpur Sikri which truly captured my soul during that Agra visit.

All this was many years ago though - and when we landed in Delhi last October, I found myself wanting to see the Taj again. I got the opportunity when we went to Agra on a spontaneous trip last weekend; my husband had yet to see the Taj and as I proprietorially talked about it on our car journey there, he joked, it sounds as if you personally constructed it. We stopped en route at Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna only to learn that all the temples there were closed due to the lunar eclipse that day. We instead indulged in some of the most delicious samosas I have ever eaten at a roadside stall; afterwards, lugging our samosa-filled bellies, we sped to Agra, the full moon in the sky initially appearing as if someone had taken a bite out of it.

The Taj is open five nights a month around or on full moon day but only a limited number of visitors are allowed inside it and that too if they have booked in advance. We thought of getting a glimpse from a roof-top hotel restaurant which had advertised the Taj's visibility from its location. Only during the day, the manager informed us when we reached there. We sat by the window, ate exquisitely spiced Awadhi biryani, and tried to abstract the Taj from the area of fleshy black darkness where the Manager told us the Taj stood.

The next morning, we first paid respects to the greatest of Mughal emperors and Shah Jahan's father, Akbar the Great's tomb at Sikandra. In contrast to the vast, sprawling complex and the impressively ornamented tomb facade, the tomb itself is an extremely spare, unadorned affair, something which Akbar himself had wished and accordingly designed so. There was nothing else in the tomb chamber apart from a few yellow and pink flowers and a handful of rupee notes and coins lying upon the tomb. Pigeons roosted and cooed in the intricate fret-work windows set high up in the walls. Say something, our guide suddenly spoke up. We said our names aloud; they first vibrated before reverberating, our names and voices co-mingling with each other.

Waves of Arches: Akbar the Great's tomb, Sikandra

Ever since we had arrived at the tomb, the guide had been telling us that even walls have ears in the tomb. We politely listened to him, half disbelieving until he took us to a canopy of arches and asked the either of us to stand and face the corners of the arches' pillars - and speak. Even though my husband was some distance away, I clearly heard his voice travelling through the matrix of stone - and he heard my delighted laughter seconds later. These cleverly designed and constructed walls certainly could hear...if only they could have spoken! I thought of all the stories they must have to share and we, yearning to hear. Outside, deer and black buck brunched on the rain-nourished lawns; I smelt the fragrance of roses meters away from the rose-garden. Inside, Akbar reposed within his bare beautiful chamber.

The sky was spitting rain when we approached the Taj in our car. As we parked, a passerby told me to put my lipstick away as it was amongst the objects banned at the Taj. It turned out it wasn't. When we finally arrived at the Taj, owing to Sunday and the long weekend, it was virtually impossible to navigate walking inside the Main Gate without being pushed or blocking someone's phone camera, dozens of them held aloft in the air. But no amount of people or the heat could ever mar that mirage-like first appearance of the Taj through the arch of the gate. Even though the skies were cloudily moody or perhaps because of it, the Taj appeared distant, a floating illusion-island. 

One of its Many Faces: A shot of a facade

We stood in queues that snaked all around the perimeter of the exterior to enter inside the main tomb interiors, each of us in rich anticipation at fully experiencing the monument, whether it was for the first, second, third time. I spotted that someone had freshly autographed the wall with cherry red lipstick (so much for not banning lipsticks). There were people from all over India and the world. We overheard a woman sounding as if her boyfriend had just proposed to her. A newly married woman with the red and white bangles almost up to her elbows told her husband that she wouldn't go inside the main tomb if it was too crowded; her husband smilingly agreed. Four Buddhist monks in maroon inspected the onyx flowers inscribed upon the exteriors. Inside, the crowd streamed around the island of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal's tombs; people took selfies in front of them. When we emerged from the main tomb, grateful to freely breathe once more, I noticed that the lipstick vandal was at it again. He wasn't the only one. When you peered closely at the walls, you realised that so many people had previously chiseled and layered the ornamented white marble surface with their initials as well as that of their lovers. In presence of this enormous, breathtaking ode to love, who could resist leaving behind an imprint of their own love, entwining themselves forever with this magnificent intersection of beauty, history, and love? 

Soaring: one of the four minarets
This time, as I drank in the Taj, I forgot about all the hype surrounding it or even what I thought of hype itself. I allowed myself to erase all the innumerable photographs I had seen of it too: I replaced them with the pictures that my memory took of it instead. I leaned over the balustrade to look down at the Yamuna, a truncated version of itself, still slowly, silverly flowing past the Taj. I thought of Shah Jahan in house arrest in the Agra fort during the last eight years of his life. Was he reduced to seeing the Taj from a tiny window, his magnificent monument and memory to his love circumscribed within a square? From the distance, it must have looked even more beautiful, unattainable, and dream-like, much like the memory of whom he had lost. 
When I turned around to face the Taj again, the sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds, drenching the Taj in silhouette.

I read the poetry in stone and smiled.

April 1, 2015

Tree Stories

Spreading, Bangalore (2015)

When reading this article today, I learned that it was International Forest Day on March 21st; this article incidentally happens to explore the politics of trees in Africa, which certainly made me pause and consider the way trees shape and influence our landscape in multiple ways.

Embrace, Fallingwater (2013)

I have previously blogged about my fascination for trees; I once again wonder if it stems from the fact that I grew up in Oman, where I mostly saw trees as gnarled, hardy, antique characters dotting the desert scrub or insulated, almost snobby clusters of exotic tree species, rather than grandly massed in forests? When we lived in Pittsburgh, I especially grew to love walking upon nature trails which wound through densely wooded parks during heady summer days; the urban drabness receded into the distance and I found myself enveloped in a leafy, green-light filtered world, hearing only bird-song and unique musical notes that only rustling leaves are capable of creating.

Telescoped Time, Sequoia National Park (2014)

Before we left the States, my husband and I embarked upon a month long cross-country trip where we visited several National Parks in the American South-west (aside: I really should blog about that epic journey one of these days!) One of the parks was the Sequoia National Park in California where we encountered some of the world's largest and tallest trees. As you wandered amongst groves of these giant sequoia trees, many of which were thousands of years old, you couldn't help but wonder: who and where exactly were you in the the grand scope of the Earth's history and existence? My personal perception of time and space were greatly telescoped, scaling down my trivial concerns and worries; I similarly felt that way when I was sitting by the sea. It was an undoubtedly powerful experience to be in the company of these august tree giants, who stoically and solidly continued to grow, as they had done for many a millennia - and I remember feeling both fulfilled and yet, a little depleted when we reluctantly left the park and returned to the identical monotony of a Californian freeway.

The Architecture of a Leaf, Delhi (2015)

I guess it is why I feel so strongly about the necessity of large and multiple green spaces in urban environments; you need such spots in which to escape the soul-sapping demands of urban life, no matter how temporarily, in order to contemplate, recuperate, and relax. Indeed, when I am in the presence of old, venerable trees, with their spreading branches, labyrinthine roots, and serried leaves, I feel that they radiate a contagious calm, which immediately envelops you in its fold. 

I recently read about and spotted Jahanpanah Forest in Delhi the other day and which I would quite like to explore. In the meantime, as I write, I see the tree outside my apartment window filled with soft red flowers; the tree neighboring it has sprouted feathery green leaves, which provide accompaniment to the parabolas of the chocolate-hued seed pods limning its branches. There are plenty more trees to encounter in my neighborhood, including the huge peepal tree behind my apartment whose leaves' shadows dapple my walls, drop gifts of leaves in my balcony, sing along with the rain, and seemingly protectively curtain me from the surrounding world. 

We Barely Know Each Other, Delhi (2015)

Speaking of protectiveness, I would like to bookend this post with another article and also, a wonderful story about tree canopy shyness; I thought it so perfectly illustrated the innate beauty, dignity, and wisdom of trees.

Do you have a favorite tree - and tree story?

March 24, 2015

The Books that I Missed Re-Reading

When I visited my parents' home a couple of months ago, my mother presented me with cartons full of my old books and shoes that I was unable to have shipped over to the States when I was living there. I had been able to bring quite a lot of my clothing to the States but the books and shoes, alas, no  - and I have to admit that I missed them all. I spent a happy few weeks re-reading my favorite books and of course, sorting out and slipping into my shoes (I always feel that shoes/clothes which I haven't worn for a while and  subsequently, find tucked away in the back of a closet or bottom of a carton after ages become new in my eyes once again!)

I am in the process of re-building my library here in India and I am adding the books that I have so enjoyed reading over the years to it. For me, re-reading books not only makes me appreciate them anew in each encounter but it also contributes to the cache of memories that I have accumulated of reading them. The act of reading is as important as the books themselves.

Here are a few of my favorites: 

Manju Kapur's Difficult Daughters

This is Manju Kapur's first book and I must say that it remains my favorite one after having read two more of her subsequent works. Even though I usually don't judge a book by its cover, I would like to make an exception for Difficult Daughters though (at least, of the edition that I happen to have). The front cover features a sepia-toned image of a young, wistful looking woman while the back meanwhile depicts a similarly-hued portrait of a grave bespectacled man. I am always curious as to the extent to which an author's biographical details seep into his/her work and I recall reading somewhere that the novel was based on the author's parents and their love story, the portraits presumably being of her parents. Regardless of whether that's true or not, the novel is still a compelling reading of a young woman, Virmati growing up in a traditional Punjabi Hindu household in Amritsar prior to Independence, forsaking tradition for illicit love and pursuing higher education in the backdrop of the Indian independent movement and soul-shattering horrors of Partition. I remember reading it for the first time on a hot summer night at my grandmother's home in Jodhpur; there was a power cut and my family was gathered in the room where a single tube light flickered, the fan feebly cut through the air, and we could smell rain and night flowers from the garden outside. I have read the book many times since but I still remember that night and how oblivious I became to everything as I became further and further involved in Virmati's story.

Kamila Shamsie's Kartography

I was in a bookshop in Heathrow, searching for a good book to read for my flight back to Muscat when I spotted Kartography. I had never heard of Kamila Shamsie before and had also been wanting to read a new Pakistani literary voice. I picked it up and began reading the first page - and the second - and then, the third before realising that the departure time for my flight was swiftly approaching and it was a good twenty minute walk to the gate. I bought the book and started reading it even before the flight took off. Arriving home and in any case, too jet-lagged to immediately fall asleep, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning to finish reading it. I have since then read and loved everything that Shamsie has written but this novel too remains my favorite of her works. She brings Karachi to such tremendous life in the book, her voice heart-breakingly gentle, fiercely protective, and affectionately teasing towards her clearly beloved city; as the book's name tells us, she is a cartographer of multiple Karachis and Karachiites and their stories. 

Ahdaf Soueif's Map of Love

I bought this book in my university bookshop and somehow, waited to read it on my flight home for Easter holidays (I am beginning to see a pattern here!) After reading The Map of Love, I scoured bookshops and libraries to lay my hands on everything else everything she had written: In the Eye of the Sun, Aisha, and Sandpiper. It was partially to do with her writing as well as the fact that I have been an earnest Egyptophile since I was eight years old and been longing to visit Egypt for years. I have mostly read about her depiction of Cairo in her writing though and she presents it in all its untidy, grand, ancient, colorful and chaotic glory. The Map of Love is really about two parallel stories of Amal, a middle-aged woman in Cairo who discovers the chest containing letters and objects belonging to a 19th century English woman, Anna, who had come to visit Egypt following the death of her husband only to fall in love with and marry Amal's great uncle and an Egyptian Nationalist, Sharif Al-Baroudi. A  couple of years later, I wrote a paper during my graduate studies about British colonial women's travel writings of accessing the zenanas in India. I have to admit that The Map of Love and Soueif's presentation of Anna's wanderings into Egypt and what she makes of this exciting, strange land planted a seed in my mind about the dramatic, transformative possibilities that travel  afforded for Victorian women in the 19th century.

I couldn't bring A Suitable Boy back with me this time round but that is one book I religiously re-read every year; it is akin to a literary pilgrimage for me. I first read it in my last two months of school, manically studying for my exams and alternately dipping into Vikram Seth's superb albeit gargantuan saga of four Indian families in newly Independent India - and it has never failed to enchant me over the years. The book perhaps deserves a post of its own and in the meantime, if you haven't read it already, please do so (the length is a tad intimidating but once you get into the thick of things and have sorted out one branch of the family tree from the other, I promise that the pages will just fly by). I am meanwhile eagerly anticipating the release of its sequel, A Suitable Girl in 2016!

Do you like re-reading books? Which ones do you find yourself returning to over and over again?

March 17, 2015

The Blog's Tomorrow and Link-Sharing!

Spring. Travel. De-cluttering. It's got me thinking about where this blog is headed to - and if it has run its course. Should I start something completely new? Or not? I am increasingly using Instagram as that space to muse or ramble and I feel that a lot of what I post here simply seems to be an extension of my Insta-thoughts.

As I ponder further about the blog's tomorrow, I would like to jump on the link-sharing post bandwagon that I have seen on several blogs that I follow. I am mostly on Twitter to check out the interesting links and be privy to multiple conversations so it's easy to lose track of what you discover and more importantly, what you would really like to thought I would present my list of what caught my fancy in the last few weeks.

*I can't remember when I first started reading Gretchen Rubin's blog but it's always been an useful and thought-provoking resource, encouraging me to think about about how introducing seemingly minimal changes into my routine and lifestyle can contribute to a happier bigger picture. I have yet to read any of her books but I have been following her blog for years. She's going to launch a book about cultivating habits tomorrow and she had been interviewing a personality each week to learn more about their habits in the run up towards the book's release. While I enjoyed reading and learning more about the author, Hannah Nordhaus's habits, what I was even more intrigued by was the book she's recently written, American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest. Ghost, gender, desert, memoir, travelogue: this is exactly my sort of book!

*Having written nothing but poetry for the first ten years of my writing life, I abandoned it for fiction and then, subsequently, non-fiction and journalism. I have started to write poetry in fits and spurts again and even though the results are far from what I would be satisfied with, it's nonetheless giving me pleasure. I thought this was a beautiful piece about an ecologist mother turning to poetry to provide succor to her troubled teenage daughter.

*I so want to visit Spiti Valley after reading this!

*I fell in love with Chinki Sinha's stunningly written essay about the travails of love in the time of internet. Just take the opening paragraph for instance: "And then, there were no lilies. Although when she stops by the florist sometimes, she tries to imagine what a thousand of them would look like. Then, she hurries to the grocery store, and never buys lilies. The promise of lilies remained suspended. In time, and in anticipation, and later in memory."

*I have bit of an issue with the notion of a day called Women's Day! For me, it amounts to tokenism, simply singling out a day for half of the world's population to recognise, revere, and respect their innate strength and dignity...when it instead should be a constant, continuous process to be performed every single day, rather than just one. Nevertheless, when National Geographic asked seven of their women photographers to share a powerful image of the women they have photographed over the years in honor of Women's Day, they came up with these moving photo-stories...and which I found hugely inspirational.

PS My first post without pictures! Well, that's a first for this blog...