"It feels like someone is taking every muscle in your body and tying them into tiny little knots."

"It feels like someone is taking this spot, in the middle of my chest, and wringing it."

Conversation with a 16-year-old.

Mental health is not in your head, it's in your body. It's in the tips of your fingers when you can't feel them; it's in the blindspot on the side of your eyesight; it's in the fog you're walking through everyday; it's in the edge you're walking on, holding in your every emotion while they're yearning to break free, yearning to split your body in two, chest downwards. It's the voice in the back of your head that's trying to tell you you're being an idiot, it's the drowning out of this voice by the other voice that's simply screaming in panic, unable to work out that the world isn't about to swallow you whole. Anxiety bloody sucks, and that's the most real thing about mental health.



actually, a worse thing is to be entirely indifferent.


not a poem about lovelessness

loneliness wraps its arms
around my body
and violently pulls at the
pit of my stomach
gradually turning it into
double chocolate ice cream
with rice crispies
and fudge.

it's pretty cold in here
but cushions hug me back.



i take copious notes but
poetry is pith.

i'm not sure if 'pith'
is a real word, but if i am
to understand what poetry does
real words fail me.

they failed me the day
i stepped into her home
just after sunset
and all she had was a
single kerosene lamp she
used sparsely because
she might run out before
the end of the month.

she rummaged around a
tiny trunk in a home smaller
than a king size bed
looking for a badly photoshopped
picture of a daughter
who died in an earthquake.
i never asked and she never told me
about the day she dressed her up
in pink and white and slathered
talcum powder all over her face
and did her hair in two neat plaits
then haggled with the studio owner
who made sure she smiled in
the right proportion, with the right angle
of the chin, then brightened her face
beyond recognition and changed
the background to something green
and floral - the picture she thrust
into my hands was nothing like
what her daughter must have
been like, nothing like
the words inside me, falling apart

so please don't mind me
when i say poetry is pith
because real words don't mean much



i don't write anymore. it's a simple statement of fact that i don't place much emphasis upon in my daily life. i don't write because i don't feel. this is another statement of fact, one not so simple, that i also don't place much emphasis upon. 

i was at a bar last weekend. i got wildly drunk - i haven't been that drunk in months. there was a woman sitting at the bar table all alone. drunker than anyone i've seen in a long time. downing drink after drink after drink. neat vodkas. she kept looking at a facebook profile with photos of a recent wedding. i think she recently broke up with the woman in those photos. she kept drunk dialling someone who kept cutting her calls. each time a call ended, she would smoke a cigarette. between drinks, she would just throw her head back and smile to herself. sometimes the band played a song she knew, so she would sing along. sometimes she would just stare at her phone willing it to light up somehow. at the end of the night, she paid up and left. 

i don't really know why i'm writing about her. it could be because i'm jealous - she processes emotions however raw, however much they cut. it could be because she's my warning light - i'm afraid i might end up like her someday. it could be because all i wanted to do was to give her a hug and tell her it'll be okay, but all i did was make sly jokes about her. 

even writing this post is a diversion. i wanted to write about adult friendships. people draw strange lines between loving and doing things for the people they love. i wanted to write about how i love, and i do things for the people i love, but on the way i stop doing it for someone and simply do it for the sake of doing it. i forget that you have to open up your heart and let them in. talk. let them talk. listen. let them listen. i get jittery. anxious. i keep looking at my phone, or plotting my exit. i keep thinking of all the most frivolous things to say. look, i got new bangles. did you watch the latest episode of xxxxx show? i don't know how to go back to being a person to whom loving came easily. emoting came easily.

a person to whom emoting isn't a goddamn verb.

i wanted to write about making new friends, and keeping old friends. both of which i suck at. i wanted to write about setting boundaries, but ending up with walls i can't climb. i wanted to write about loving, or not loving; relating to fellow human beings; caring.

but words don't come to me the way they used to. they're too halting. too much of an effort. or words come, but the thoughts don't match them. there are no stories i care enough about to tell.

may be i should try harder. may be writing is the first step. may be. 


demonetisation woes

in which i desperately want to tell the internets i withdrew 10000 rupees but account balance doesn't comply. :/


salt (ii)

walk till your feet burn.
the sun sears the skin off your heels.
salt dries into your wounds
till you can’t tell
where your body ends and
pain begins.

walk till your eyes burn.
the heat dries the tears off your face
the sweat off your neck
till you can’t tell
where the sea ends and
pain begins.

walk till your blood burns.
till anger boils the words off your soul
your burdens off your heart
till you can’t tell
where the body ends and
the sea begins.


on some days, i just want to stay in bed, eat everything (and/or a whole plate of biryani) and netflix till i die.

these are days that warn me of oncoming periods.



I didn't realise when I was moving how dependent I was on that city for my everyday. I'm now 6 kilos heavier (because I'm just not disciplined, because weekends mean rice, because my pool has no people, because I drive 3 hours a day, because I love my new job but it's just too much work) and losing hair and gaining pimples and not fitting into half my clothes anymore. 


big shoes to fill

so i just found out that the course i took over (gender, health and public policy) from a fairly senior professor has a history. this professor has been teaching this course for 19 years now and she took this course from srilatha batliwala! eek. 



"teaching is like telling a story."

"there has to be a moral?"

"no! you have to start at the beginning."

sigh. btw, i <3 teaching. it's such a rush. 


can you see it?
it's wrapped inside a
silk handkerchief
and hidden away.
it's masked to seem
pretty and mysterious
like a story on a
rainy night, with lightning
and thunder.
but if you can see it
don't tell me what it looks like.
don't tell me how naked, how
raw, how vulnerable and scared
it is,
my sadness.


i'm sitting at my cubicle, staring at my screen and i can't comprehend why everyone around me isn't crying the way i want to cry. there's something deeply personal about this, yet, i have no idea why my emotions aren't transcending, why it hasn't crippled me yet, whether this is about what i'm seeing or if i'm finally processing deaths i hadn't thought of before. grief is a funny thing. like art or jokes, you always need context. 



darling please, layla.



i'm actually moving. things are being put into boxes. it's really happening. 

i feel like i'm tearing my heart out and abandoning it here in this city. it's a terrible, terrible feeling. and i just don't want to go. the rational part of my brain knows why i'm doing it, but the rest of me is shivering. i'm constantly holding back my tears. 

i've lived here for nearly seven years now. i want to say oh i'll be back in two years la la la but cities are brutal. they'll just move on without you. when (if) i'm back, there'll be a faint smile of familiarity in 4s but no asking random people to scootch because i need a table. market cafe won't instantly give me a double cappuccino. the auto rules would have changed. summerhouse won't be the place everyone's at on a friday night. my swimming pool won't recognize me. my niece won't be a baby anymore. my nephew'll be in the 7th standard *shudder*. people i love would have moved away, gotten married, gone on with their lives. what i'm really afraid of is not having someone to call at 7 PM to say "bro happy hours for another hour. wanna get a drink?" or just walk in to a good bookstore (okay, midlands) and spend two hours there and not buy anything and leave. (where i'm going has only the shittiest bookstores ever). i'm scared of not being anonymous, of not meeting interesting people, of having to build up a whole life for myself from the scratch. of not running into people i haven't seen in ages. of not being a delhi person anymore. and i just don't want to go.   



"I don't think it'll ever end. Like a postmodern nightmare. Till the end of time."

"I had one of those last night."

"Oh no. Those are the worst."

"Yeah! I dreamt I was saving the world but the tragedies were so great and never-ending, that even though I was winning I was losing. So I kept walking from one room to the next (like in that new Radiohead song) and each new room was a new tragedy. I was all alone at home. I woke up at like, 4, moved out of my bedroom with my blanket, put on the television and watched Sex and the City till I passed out on my couch."

"In the dream?"

Honestly, I don't know.


(whatsapp. g.)



my mother writes poetry about
her mother.

she writes about age,
memory loss, senility,
about watching her mother's
mind disintegrate, about
not remembering
names, faces, dates, childhoods
not knowing
recipes to dishes she has cooked
everyday, laughing
at things she has no comprehension of
anymore: the television, soap,
remote controls, shoelaces.

"she can still read," my mother says
so they read together:
the vishnu sahasranamam.
"she thinks she can sing" my mother says
so they listen to her sing.

i wonder if i
will have the strength
to write poetry


a book review

Read my review of 'The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions' here on Open Road Review. 

An excerpt of the review:

"If progress were a linear story moving swiftly from a traditional past to a modern future, technology would be the ghost that haunts Nidhi Dugar Kundalia’s insightful new book, The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions. At the very end of that story, our bodies will be anonymous and unmarked by tradition, healed by those trained in science and medicine, perfumed by scents whose flowers we don’t recognize. We will have a friendly app to mourn for us on Facebook. The Rudaali will cease to exist except in song, for we would have no need for her anymore. The godna artist, the ittar–waala, the street dentist will be relegated to sepia stories representing a past we have run away from."



life in a local train

never again, she said.

she said it with certainty, her face pale, her lips loosely bound together, her nose flaring. a couple of minutes later, she shook her head, raised her eyebrows and closed her eyes. her breathing slowed. her panic ebbed. the smells of jasmine came mildly. they tapped at the tip of her nose before entering, and all of a sudden, she smiled. she asked me where i was going. 'chembur', i said. she nodded at me purposefully. i nodded back. two stops after, i stood up. she jostled through everybody else and took my seat with a sigh.

never again, she said. breaking my heart.


old loves

some days i miss
my old email accounts.
rediffmail, with a first-name-only address
yahoo, whose password i haven't changed in twelve years.
hotmail, back when msn was cool.
but i miss more
the emails i got
when i first fell in love
with poetry.

when i discovered that
poetry can be understood,
can be felt, can be loved,
that it doesn't have to be
in strange phrases from the '30s
that it doesn't have to be explained,
that it can be about
puppies, match sticks, bits of soap*
that it can be broken words
that make sense
only to you and me;

that we can learn to love
ourselves, that i could learn to
love you.

some days i want to
go back and read the emails
we wrote to each other
that we so cruelly deleted
when we decided
we love ourselves
more than we love

kukkapilla, aggi pulla, sabbu billa
heenamga chudaku denni,
kavitamayamenoy anni.


prapancham oka padmavyuham,
kavitam oka teerani daaham.

- srisri, mahaprasthanam.