Blog, Poetry

Social (Media) Change & Social (Media) Anxiety

Trigger warning – this post and the poem are about high anxiety and stress. Some people, especially those already dealing with these, may feel disturbed by the content.

So, after my second one was born, I took a break from social media. I completely disappeared off the face of the www, and that was the time I had least anxiety. I came back this year to promote my Etsy shop and it has been great connecting with so many people and have my work appreciated by so many, but the anxiety has started to come back too. Sure, it has a lot to do with my husband’s third seizure, but even so, social media engagement does have a role to play.

I don’t know why but there is a lot of negativity on social media these days. I know a lot of people say it is because people are trying to show their lives are perfect, which makes others feel inadequate and leads to anxiety, but that’s not the case with me.

My anxiety stems from the way people use words. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m in love with words. I value words. Words matter to me. To see people use words so thoughtlessly, so carelessly, causes me a great deal of pain. Every single day, someone is telling someone they are ugly, their kid deserves to die, their spouse will leave them and run, for no reason at all. What reason could there be for spewing such hatred on people whose journey you have no idea about?

Hiding behind the keyboard apparently makes people feel empowered for all the wrong reasons. Another place that is evident is in how people comment on social issues on social media and criticize others who are not doing the same. People would say I condemn this or I stand with that and their job is done. Since when did social change become social media change?

Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that social media has achieved a lot in terms of creating awareness and bringing people together. In India, so many people came together for candlelight vigils and protests through social media and they were able to bring about social change through that simple act of sharing a post, on multiple occasions.

However, while social media is a platform where important messages can be shared, it can also be a breeding ground for thoroughly misleading information, incomplete initiatives and senseless hatred. And it is the blurring of the lines between these, as well as the way information surfaces and gets lost the very next moment, that causes me a great deal of anxiety.

This is what made me write this poem a while back.

She sat in front of the laptop again

hoping to find answers to

the million unanswered questions

woven in the web of her mind.

Hoping to curb the wave of anxiety

threatening to drown her, yet again.

She came across images of violence

in a land, not very different than hers,

and she could feel the wave getting bigger,

pushing her even deeper in the anxious sea.

She quickly scrolled to roll down

the bumpy hill of kaleidoscopic images.

Cats playing with dogs

brought her back to the surface,

if only for a minute.

Her fingers were in charge now.

They were moving against her will.

They moved on to the next image,

and the next,

and the next.

She sank again,

at the sight of corpses and skeletons

and floods of tears, wet and dry.

Giggling babies rescued her this time,

pulling her to the bank,

like angels who stood tall

against her own demons.

She was exhausted from all this

pushing around.

She vowed to take charge,

take things in her own hands.

She stopped the browsing,

actively, consciously searched

for groups and pages and influencers

she could use as her inspiration.

But why stop at that?

She decided to become an influencer herself,

to bring about social change, one step at a time.

She wasn’t anxious anymore.

She posted information, opinions,

even calls to action.

She got one hundred likes, two hundred follows,

five hundred shares. They made her feel

empowered. She was finally getting somewhere.

Until, one day…

The likes stopped, the follows slowed down,

the shares took a break.

She could feel the waves coming back,

trying hard to drown her.

How will she come back from this?

How will she rescue herself this time?

I guess, only time will tell…

Blog, Poetry

More thoughts on Home & Exile

Trigger Warning: Some readers may find the thoughts discussed in this post disturbing.

So, here is another poem I wrote about my confused identity as someone from Kashmir, who has no physical connection with the land, or the trauma associated with exile. This was also published by South Asian Ensemble, like the first poem.

The Exiled Truth

Here I sit again tonight,
Bent over my study table,
Far removed from my long-forgotten reality,
Yet deeply attached to it. 

I make another futile attempt
To comprehend the truths about my past,
Through elaborate discourses
Drafted by well-informed minds.

The picture of my past 
Sadly remains half-painted into my present.
The elaborate discourses I encounter 
Do little more than fighting 
To find fit labels for a reality 
They understand no better than me.

As they feign to answer correctly 
The hows and whys
Of the time I was exiled 
From my beautiful Kashmir,
They forget to mention 
The colour of the earth on which I stood
As I bid farewell to my home 
Burning in the unforgiving flame 
Of senseless hatred. 

They fail to describe the paleness of the sky
Witness to the fateful night 
I had to uproot my soul from that home,
As I desperately sought a land
I could at least pretend to call my own.

Their curious eyes miss 
The roughness of the spot in my backyard, 
Where I hurriedly hid my memories,
Hoping that, on a blessed day, 
Inquisitive hearts tied to mine,
Would unearth, 
Or even relive them,
As they meander into 
The ruins of my paradise. 

Alas, the picture of my past 
Will remain half-painted 
Way into my future, 
As the elaborate discourses
Fight over fickle labels 
That don’t mean anything to me. 

So, here I sit again, 
Bent over my study table, 
Far removed from my long-forgotten reality, 
Yet deeply attached to it. 
I still yearn to comprehend it;
Through imaginary discourses, this time, 
Drafted by my own feeble mind –
Defeated yet determined.

Blog, Poetry

Mothers & Daughters & Domestic Violence

Trigger warning: This post has a poem on domestic, gender-based violence and physical abuse, which some people may find disturbing.

Growing up in India, I heard so many women discussing marriage; and every time someone talked about their complaints with their husband, some woman commented, “At least he doesn’t hit you.” I talk about India, because that is the only reference point I have, but I’m sure it is not the only country where domestic violence is a critical issue.

Canadianwomen.org has shared these shocking facts about gender-based violence,

”Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.”

“67% of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.”

“Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.” (Canadianwomen.org)

So, coming back to my childhood, I always thought that a woman should feel lucky that her husband doesn’t hit her. What was even more shocking was how many times I came across mothers advising their daughters to go back to an abusive relationship, rather than standing by them and encouraging them to speak up. Of course, a lot of movies and other media discussed this issue during my childhood and adolescent years, bringing out the hypocrisy and toxicity of societal norms surrounding marriage, but that never seemed to change the general attitude on the subject.

So, troubled by one such incident, I wrote the following poem on domestic violence. It’s called Rice Pudding. It is an impassioned plea from a daughter to her mother to teach her subversion not submission – to boil over and fight, not give up and get dissolved in society’s inequalities.

Rice Pudding

Oh Mother, dear Mother!

Teach me how to make

Your rice pudding, tonight,

And take me back to my childhood.

Take me back to those nights

When Life dealt me a blow

Through the heavy hands of Father.

Oh Mother, dear Mother!

Please teach me how to make

Your rice pudding, as tonight,

Life has dealt me another rough blow;

This time, through the unfeeling hands

Of the man who swept me off my feet

Just as I crossed the threshold of adolescence,

Only to throw me back on the ground

With unforgiving force.

Oh Mother, dear Mother!

Teach me how to make your rice pudding.

And, as I bite the dust licking my fallen face,

Let the aroma of the fragrant cardamom

Overpower the smell of fresh blood

Oozing from my nose;

And the colour of saffron

Hide my weeping bruises

In a warm embrace.

Oh Mother, dear Mother!

Please take me back to my childhood,

And teach me not to

Get dissolved passively like the sweet sugar,

But boil over like the indignant milk,

When not tended to carefully.

Mother, do teach me

How to burn the unfeeling hand

That bruises my body and my soul.

Tonight. Every night.

Blog, Poetry

A Poem about Home, Exile and an Unspoken Connection

Hello. I hope you’re all safe and well. I don’t know why but I have been thinking a lot about Kashmir lately. Kashmir, often called Paradise on Earth, is a troubled state in India. Its history is stained with violence, unrest and their obvious companion exile. Now, although my ancestors, Kashmiri Pandits, had to flee the state, likely during the Mughal Era in India, and I have never visited the land, I still identify as Kashmiri – my facial features, my last name, the traditions I follow are all reminiscent of my inheritance. However, since I am far removed from that experience, I am always at a loss when people ask me where I’m from.

This poem was written after one such conversation. I was having a conversation with friends and they asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘Kashmir.’

Immediately, they followed up, ‘Where in Kashmir?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Do you still have property there?’

‘No. Never did.’

‘Is it as beautiful as they say? What is the political situation there?’

’No idea.’

’Okay, so why do you call it home, then?’

Everyone just had a casual laugh about it, but it really got me thinking. I wrote a bit of it at the time, and then polished it for an office exercise and submitted it for publishing, soon after. It was published in an edition of South Asian Ensemble in 2014-2015.

Here is the poem, with a few revisions:

“Last night, I met my friends 

Over dinner and drinks;

We had a great time chatting

’bout silly little things,

Until they caught me completely off-guard,

By asking a question I’d never been asked.

One by one, they started discussing memories of their hometown…

Distant memories of belonging to one place, of being tied to it forever.

Thinking about my turn I was filled with panic –

How could I ever explain where I belonged?

Making a mental note to get a bunch of new friends

Who asked better questions,

I pondered the answer over and over again.

I sneaked into my heart, and strolled deep inside

To dig out a name I cautiously hid there,

And kept sheltered, away from all harm.

The place celebrated as Switzerland of the East, 

As Paradise on Earth,

The beautiful Kashmir!

The place to which I owe my notoriously long nose,

My complexion, my light eyes,

My fat-laden, spice-loaded food,

And the perfectly embroidered patterns on my phirans.

But how will I ever explain to them why, despite being a born Kashmiri,

I never set foot in Kashmir?

They would laugh at me if I told them,

I didn’t want to visit it as a tourist who couldn’t wait to return.

That I wanted to go there when I could call it my own, 

Even a tiny inch of its land to carve my initials on.

Wouldn’t they make fun of me when I disclosed,

I visited it in my dreams each night,

Played in the captivating valley nestled quietly in the Himalayas,

And absorbed the beauty of its snow-capped mountains?

I got lost in the lush pine, deodar and chinar forests

And its deftly designed waterfront gardens.

I cherished the brilliance of its silvery streams and sparkling waterfalls,

Slid down fragrant slopes of bright, vibrant flowers.

Oh, how I relished luxuriously cruising around the Dal Lake in a Shikara,

Or stealing a silent sleep in an exotic house-boat!

They wouldn’t know how often I imagined wrapping myself

In the spell-binding beauty of the picturesque Pahalgam,

And the splendour of Gulmarg and Sonamarg;

Or drowning in the magnificence of Srinagar’s marvellous orchards and lily-laden lakes,

Being immersed in the gentle hues of its four fabulous seasons.

No, I wouldn’t be able to explain to them

What it meant to be tied to a place you’ve seen only in your dreams!

‘Cause the Paradise has been plundered for centuries now,

By Greed and Satan’s entire legion,

Not subtle as the serpent this time,

And definitely not alone.

They abducted the Eves, mutilated the Adams,

Snatched from them what Nature had gifted willingly,

Until they chose exile over death and dignity.

No, they could never understand what it meant 

To belong to a land that cannot belong to you.

So, when my turn came, I quietly answered

I don’t have a home, there’s nowhere I belong.

And as they laughed heartily at my anomaly,

And moved on to the next glorious narrative of a distant home,

I went back to reflecting upon the lost paradise,

And revising my mental note of getting a bunch of new friends

Who asked better questions…”

Would you like to share a similar narrative of belongingness/belonginglessness? Comment below or send me a message.

©️Pebble in the Ocean 2021

Blog, Poetry, Tutorial

No Time for Rhyme? Tips for Writing Free Verse

Hello. So, before I start the post, let me give you a few updates. First, I did not get a call about either of the two interviews I gave last month. I am now taking a break from applying for copywriting jobs, and focussing on applying for teaching jobs instead. This is something I do once every two or three months, to keep my morale up and avoid boredom. If you recently got a job in either of the two fields, please let me know what you did right. Haha. Second, my husband got the most unique 40th birthday present – a positive Covid-test. He is fine, thankfully, and so are my kids and I. There’s just been a lot of self-isolation going on, so I couldn’t post for a while. Third, I closed my RedBubble shop. Despite good feedback, and intermittent Instagram promotions, I did not manage to get a lot of follows or make even a single sale. Since I made two sales on Etsy, I wanted to make sure I’m able to spend enough time promoting Etsy, rather than trying to juggle two things art once.

Now, back to the topic. So, I love rhyme, but I do not always have the time or energy for it. On days like these, and depending on the subject matter, I like to write free verse. Free verse is verse free from the bounds of fixed meter patterns. So, simplistically put, a poem without a consistent rhyme scheme. Now, how do you add rhythm to a poem without using rhyming words? These are some of the tricks I use:

  1. Title – Make the title of the poem poetic. Use a poetic device in the title itself, or make it imaginative. Let me give you the example of my poem “When Two Become One”. I wrote it a while back, after a minor argument with my husband. Yes, that’s what poets do! They write a poem, no matter what the situation. So, this title portrays an image of coming together and has a romantic ring to it.
  2. Alliteration – Alliteration is repeating the consonant sound at the beginning of a few consecutive words in a sentence. For example, take a line from my poem. “I take pleasure in pleasing people…” Do you notice the repetition of the “p” sound? That is alliteration. It emphasizes an idea and creates a good listening effect, don’t you agree?
  3. Imagery – Creating pictures with words, particularly those that have a sensory effect, are particularly effective in making poetry poetic. “Let’s melt all our ironies into a single paradox…Let’s walk hand in hand.” These are examples of using words to create an image in the reader’s mind. Let the reader see that you’re walking hand in hand. Let the reader feel the ironies melting into each other like a mocha chocolate bomb melting under hot milk in a mug…Oops! Sorry, foodie alert!
  4. Idioms – Idioms are groups of words that have come to possess a meaning in the collective mindset that is different from their literal meaning. “Let’s walk hand in hand towards the evening of our lives.” Here, the evening of our lives means old age, a meaning that literature has popularized, over the years.
  5. Repetition – This is my favourite device, especially while writing free verse. Repeat a word, a phrase or a line and notice the effect it creates. It can help drive a point home, while also creating a unique listening effect. It is used quite commonly in popular songs, as well. Can you think of a favourite song that plays the same line over and over? Doesn’t that line stick to your memory more easily than the other lines, playing in your mind like a broken record?
  6. Dramatic effect – A little exaggeration of emotion, a little bit of word play – techniques such as these create a dramatic effect that works well in poetry. “By an unknown twist of fate…” is used to describe something as mundane as a husband and wife getting used to each other after a few years of living together, in my poem. Also, pay attention to flow by using lines of varied lengths and dividing a sentence into lines such that it sounds rhythmic.

What are some of the techniques you use to make your free verse poetic? Do you like rhyme better or free verse, both as a writer and as a reader? Let me know through the comments section of the post. If you’d like to participate in a one-on-one poetry workshop, get in touch through my contact page. I also offer poetry editing and proofreading services. If you’d like to buy the poem discussed in this post as a scroll, please visit my Etsy shop or the Shop on this website for pricing details.

©️Pebble in the Ocean 2021

Blog, Poetry

What I Mean When I say I’m a Writer by Birth

So, if you’ve read my bio, you know I’ve been writing since the age of 5. What exactly does that mean, though? Did I scribble a few words on the page? Or was it an actual poem? See for yourself:

A Rough Translation of the Poem I wrote at Age 5

I wrote these lines in Hindi on the last page of my notebook. I remember this distinctly. I’m still amazed I didn’t use rhyme for this, but it was probably because it seemed too hard at that age. The poem went something like this:

Once upon a time, in a village,

There was a king, who was like a step-king (Cinderella was my favourite story, at the time).

He was extravagant, but did not share anything with his people.

One day, the king died.

All his soldiers cried for him. (Deep and moving, don’t you think? My thoughts were always on the negative side, I guess.)

The queen said, “I should die, too.

My husband is no more, so I don’t have

Any purpose in life anymore.” (Hmmm, Patriarchal much!?)

Smile

This one is in English. I wrote it when I was in Grade 6. It is more positive, kid-friendly and…it rhymes!

A smile is something lovely,

It is indeed very cute,

It is as sweet as someone

Playing on a flute. (I was BIG on rhyme at the time, did I mention that?)

It looks very good

On children’s face,

When they have an adventure

To some exciting place. (I was big on adventure, too, it seems.)

Smile, smile, smile, (I still love repetition – excellent device)

It is a lovely word.

It is present on children’s face

All over the world. (how marvellous!)

Work of Life

I wrote this in Grade 8. It is in English, too, and it rhymes. This and Smile were published in a local newspaper- big achievement for me.

Mother says, Study all the time,

Book of math or book of rhyme,

Brother says, What’s the time?

Brother, Brother 2 o’clock.

Sister says, Give grains to cock!
(It seems like I just let my imagination run wild on this one. I have no brother and we had no poultry in the house, except what was in the fridge, so I have no idea what I’m talking about here. My mother was always asking me to study, though, so that part is accurate.)

Father says, Polish my shoes. (Papa used to polish my shoes, at this age, so imagination at work again.)

Food is ready for the goose. (Nope, no goose either.)

Mother, Father, Husband, Wife,

This is the only work of life. (My priorities were always set, I guess. Also, is it really deep or am I just conceited?)

The Carefree River

I wrote this one in middle school, too, but it was in Hindi. This is a rough translation.

I am a carefree river,

I flow and flow all day long,

Morning or evening,

Day or night.

Even when I see a beautiful sight,

I can’t stop to admire it.

I see everything, I absorb everything,

Then, I go and find my destination

In the deep blue ocean.

I narrate everything I’ve seen on the way to him.

He tries to make me understand,

That my life is nothing more than

Flowing endlessly. (When my family read this one, they knew I was going to be a writer.)

I love that my parents always encouraged me to realize and work on developing my passion for writing. They always took me to book fairs, got me pens, notebooks, cute stationery – to indulge in my love for writing. We were always reading literature, discussing it – and that really helped me grow as a writer and as a person. I’m proud of my journey and I’m proud of the role my family has played in that journey.

Would you like to tell me about your journey? Comment below or contact me through my Contact page. You can find prints of my poems on my Etsy shop, and a few downloads on the Free Downloads page.

Poetry

The Circle of Life

The circle of a woman’s life

Has turns at every corner,

Pointed, piercing ones at that.

At every turn, she encounters

Her past welded into her present;

The seams of her guarded future

Slowly sneaking away;

The entrances and exits miraculously merged;

Speed bumps and roadblocks strewn along the way.

Although the baffling maze

Makes her feel lost every now and then,

She can see the light

At the end of the sharp twists and dark tunnels,

Deceptive like a mirage –

Always in sight,

Yet never quite within reach.

©️ Pebble in the Ocean 2021

Poetry

A Mother’s Promise

Dearest D and D,

I don’t remember when I took

My place in my mother’s womb.

I have no recollection of how

I grew there, took on the human form,

Getting used to it, day after day.

My childhood and adolescence

Are a blur, as well, of memories

I’d cherish forever, and some

I’d rather forget; Of dreams

Fulfilled and Unfulfilled.

The only vivid memory I have

Is of the day I found out

That two pieces of my heart

Had set out to make a cozy nest

In my womb, only to leave it again,

To find their way into my arms,

And right back into my heart.

I promise that I will treasure all memories

Made since that day – how you grew in my womb,

Took on the human form, and perfected it

Beyond the realm of my imagination,

Day after day.

I will preserve memories of your

Childhood, adolescence, youth –

Of every moment since that blessed day,

When two pieces of my heart

Made their way into my arms

And right back into my grateful heart.

Love always,

Your Mother

I recently wrote this poem for my kids and decided to share it with some of the beautiful mothers around me. You know why? I did it because in running around our kids, getting anxious about their health, safety and comfort, mothers often forget to sit down, look into their hearts and express their unconditional, undying love for their kids through words, not tears or a hopeless smile.


Want to Gift This Poem to a Mama?

If you would like to buy a framed/unframed poster of this poem for yourself, or a mother in your life, please visit my Etsy shop.

©️ Pebble in the Ocean 2021

Blog, Poetry

That Nameless Child

Forgive me, dear child

Whose name I can’t remember,

Or don’t, or perhaps won’t,

As I cannot fight for you tonight.

You see, my kids’ exams start tomorrow,

And I have to make sure that they’re well-prepared

To take on the world, to secure their future.

I cannot fight for you,

As I have to fight for a promotion,

That will go to a less competent male colleague,

If I don’t spend every waking minute,

Confined within the wobbly walls of my cubicle.

I cannot fight for you,

As I do not have any children yet,

And I don’t understand a mother’s pain,

Who lost a child she painfully delivered,

And raised for almost a decade.

I cannot fight for you,

As I am busy protecting my daughter

From predators who’re always freer than their prey.

I am busy guarding her until she feels stifled,

And starts despising the love that traps so.

I cannot fight for you,

As you’re not the trending hashtag anymore,

And another, more horrific tragedy

Has caught my fickle attention,

Till the next one steals it again.

Please don’t think it’s because of your religion,

Or nationality, or ethnicity, or skin colour either,

As I couldn’t fight for

That child who had my religion,

nationality, ethnicity, skin colour either,

I couldn’t ’cause I was trapped even then –

By kids’ exams, office politics, my own fears –

Or, by something else.

Well, there’s always something else!

So, please forgive me,

My dear child

whose name I can’t, don’t, won’t remember,

As I cannot fight for you.

Not tonight…

©️ Pebble in the Ocean 2021

Poetry

A Chance Encounter

It sneaked up on me again tonight,

That memory we made together,

You and I,

On a happier day, with happier hearts.

I hid it under the thickest layer of my heart,

When it was at its heaviest.

I hid it and pretended to forget about it,

And you,

And us.

I saw it tonight,

As it sat on my shoulder,

Like a mischievous butterfly,

Light as a feather;

And I tried to remember its name,

Or recall any other detail about it.

I couldn’t,

So, I just stared at it blankly

As it fought with me,

Its voice shaking with indignation.

“How dare you leave me

Alone in the darkness of yesterday?

Why didn’t you bring me with you

To see the brightness of the promising tomorrow?”

I looked at its innocent, indignant face,

Not wanting to recall its name anymore,

Realizing, that even if it was made with you,

It was still mine,

Not meant to be carried as a burden of the past,

But as a light brightening the road towards the future –

My future, not yours, and certainly not ours.

I caressed it ever so gently,

Smiled at it apologetically,

And took a confident step forward,

Feeling a light comfort on my shoulder –

the comfort of that memory we had made together,

You and I,

On a happier day,

with oh so happier hearts!

©️ Pebble in the Ocean 2021