Written on the New York subway, while taking the R train from Brooklyn to Manhattan
Inside my fears
The process of making the screen, and printing with pigment on paper
A poem about life- words chosen from an obituary
A poem about loss- words taken from my favorite children's fairy tale
I started by asking myself what are the spaces I frequent- my room, the school, some parts of New York perhaps? On a late night cab ride- as the cityscape whizzed past me- the answer came unbidden- my body. My body. I made a deconstructed self portrait- focussing on the lines, shapes and contours of my body- addressing the sometime-uneasy relationship I have shared with it. It is a mixed media collage using scraps of material I found on the streets- something I have always enjoyed doing.
For a long time I wasn’t conscious of my body
Didn’t know it existed
Didn’t know what it means to have one
Till one day I did
And I hated it.
There was no in-between, no transition
No descent into self loathing
It just was
I hated the fat that stuck to my belly and thighs
That jiggled as I walked
Resolute in its stubbornness
My skin, that was marred by scars
The bumps and ridges a texture I wished I could smooth over
I hated my breasts, twin lumps that drew so much attention
That made men look my way
I started slouching
And hated my body even more
I struggled with existing in my skin
Wished I could shed it
I masturbated for the first time when I was thirteen
It was an accident- an unexpected encounter with the faucet
a surge of pleasure
It was the first time I had felt that way
That my body had served me well, given me joy
I didn’t know, yet, what it was
When I did
Shame, so much shame
It is my body
My skin, my nerve endings, my cells
Mine to own, to carry, to live in, to live with
But not mine otherwise
Still open to judgement, to criticism, to loathing
Now as I slip my fingers beneath my waistband
I feel no shame
06. 10. 18
The everyday is composed of infinite small, repeatable actions- that invariably change with time, place and the person itself. I recently moved, shifted homes, and with it my everyday has shifted too. I filmed my surroundings. Familiar tasks, objects and actions seem so different, so foreign. I am unable to reconcile my way of being, of living with this unfamiliarity that engulfs me. This particular point in time feels so jarring- where the familiar is unfamiliar and the unfamiliar is well, unfamiliar.
09. 10. 18
Today, I spent the whole day roaming around the neighborhood. I still confuse the streets and the avenues, have no way to distinguish between corners and crossings. Have not started associating spaces with specific instances, memories or emotions. The meaning making has not begun. Yet.
These are scenes from the everyday
Wildflowers blooming, untended, on a sidewalk
A few feet away, rotting remains overflow from the split seams of a standard black garbage bag
Strange. A relatively unscathed ankle-length suede boot sits in the corner. Like an afterthought
It would seem more at home at the dry cleaners’ a block away
Or on the woman who gazes absently from the window of a cafe I have started frequenting
I walk, as Vienna plays
Still curious, hungry, my eyes search for things that are new
I spot- A pair of old, rugged boots in a bicycle cart
Tethered to a black iron fence
Worn- but not discarded
What's the story there?
Its cold, I can almost imagine slipping my feet into the warm, moist interior
A few feet away twin dustbins sit side by side in the prettiest shade of mint
Similar to the one in the beautiful mural by the subway station
Now darkened by layers of soot and grime
Thought. What would my last walk through this neighborhood be like?
I feel the sharp stab of loss
Because even though this place is new
The emotion isn't
I have been through this before
And from experience I know
Taking roots has never been easy
But uprooting is much, much harder
I force myself to write
To eloquently string words together
So that they make sense
Maybe even make them sound poetic
Some encapsulation of abstraction
Of human truth
I write as I think
Something to fill in the gaps
Something to keep my fingers moving
It clearly lacks purpose
Does one know what one wants to say
Before one starts to write?
Or does one stumble into meaning
Does everything one writes need to mean something?
Does everything one writes mean to be read?
What if one wrote knowing it would not be read
Would it be less deliberate, less polished?
Full of bad cliches, missing punctuations and spelling errors?
Full of sentences that seem to go nowhere?
Would it be raw and honest?
Or would we tell ourselves the same lies we tell others?
Would we write at all?
Houses and homes
Is it really possible to have a house without a home
Or a home without a house?
Is one better than the other
I remember as a child
I was told to be grateful
To think of all the people
Who weren’t as fortunate as me
But for all our human tendencies
That want to neatly compartmentalize
And grade suffering
Is one kind really better than another?
Do they need to be pitted against each other?
Is the boy tormented by bullies
Not suffering as much
As the homeless man
Starving on the sidewalk?
Obviously my mind supplies
But my heart says you don’t know
We were all made differently
All our sufferings are different
And no suffering is better than the other
Craft is technology, and technology is craft. And yet.
I have a background in textiles, yet I didn't know that the precursor to the computational machines we have today is the jacquard loom. Computing and crafts have a lot in common, beside the mechanical similarities- including the terminology associated with the two, and the ways in which processes, resources and labour is organized. I thought of my own associations with digital technology- sleek interfaces, fancy finishes- that completely disregards the physical circuitry and fabrication- which is an essential part of the phone. I wanted to use electronic components to make a craft collage, of sorts. This raises important questions- about form vs. function, aesthetics, beauty, utility.
This week I chose to make a list of my ten least favorite NYC moments- (some of them lived by fictional characters, admittedly, but nonetheless very real to me). The one I chose to write about, that was the most compelling was something that happened within a few weeks of me coming here. I was in an unfamiliar space, surrounded by new people and newer ways of doing things. I was tentative, hesitant, unsure of the boundaries of my own body- I remember trying to make myself small, so that I wouldn't take up too much space.
I remember the scene vividly- the 14th street subway station, at 5 am, on a Thursday. I was at the platform, willing myself to stay awake. In the periphery, I saw things shift. About half a dozen or so NYPD officers started trickling onto the platform. Within minutes they cornered a homeless man, asked him for documentation, and proceeded to arrest him for jumping the turnstile. I do not know the context, or even the laws of this country- but my instinct, my basal reaction was of seeing something unfair happen in front of me. I did not know what to say or do. While coming into the station, I had seen many people do the same. It seemed to me as if the man was being targeted because he was homeless and black. This conflict is something I face everyday- having no legal rights in a country stunts you in some ways, robs you of your voice, often denying you an opportunity to act in accordance with your own personal values. This week I created work in response to some of these struggles. The concept of belonging, of home, of self vs other, of love and hatred and life.
I feel poetry and art are very dynamic tools, to resist and re-claim narratives shaped by skewed power dynamics. These are some pieces of blackout poetry that explore the theme. The first is from a 1973 article that Donald Trump wrote about the need to bring back the death penalty and the second is based on a recent TechCrunch article about bias in algorithms.
What has happened, has happened
trust, respect, laugh again
serve, understand, tolerate, lift up
give back, unshackle, risk, save
Life, a human search
humans making decisions
in the process, they often interact with prejudices
the flawed reminders
of their humanness
Continuing the series on poetry as a means of dynamic resistance. This past week, there have been clashes between major religious groups back home, which echoes a global sentiment that is increasingly afraid and often hateful of the "other". Code wise, wrote a program where each alphabet corresponds to a symbol.
The anatomy of my raw self
I have a tendency to generalize when I write, to dilute the details so that my presence doesn't become central to my writing. So that others can find pieces of themselves in my words. This week the theme for my writing was honesty, to address things that scared me, that I shied away from. Things that are personal- that would never make it beyond the pages of my journal or the notes on my phone otherwise. I wanted my writing to be completely truthful, even if that meant it became difficult to write or read or revisit. These are pieces of me I keep hidden- some I am ashamed of, some scare me, and some, are simply the ones I never learned to love.
on a foreign street, in a faraway land, at 1:30 am in the morning
sometimes i'm ashamed of my own thoughts- the stray ones, the ones i can't seem to will away. those, whose ugliness is a nasty aftertaste that persists on my tongue, and slowly seeps through my entire being. i’m walking down a stranded street- vaguely uncomfortable in my own body. the new pair of shoes i bought two weeks ago scraping my ankles raw, till it seems like fire is licking the outside of my feet. my clothes are damp, they smell strange- a mix of a day's worth of sweat and oil, the new york subway and fabric softener. the air is warm, moist, putrid. my movements are slow, sluggish- almost as if i am underwater, with a sack of stones tied to my back, or with an albatross around my neck. it is 1:30 am, late, too late- my mind screams. i mentally catalogue what i look like- an internal alarm goes off. i shoot a silent prayer to god, the words familiar, yet complete verses missing because of disuse. i try to remember the rhythm the words are set to- but all I see is my father, and the way he looked as he sang to me. praying isn’t something i do too often. get me home, i tell him- abandoning the ritual, please. let my bruised, broken, bare body not be the last thing my mother sees. let no one tell her that her daughter died a painful death. i know with the many oceans between us there is no way she could could make it to me in time. my mother is a determined woman, one who could swallow the distance between us if she had to, but this chasm is too wide, too deep. it is unsettling, this reminder of her mortality when i’m faced with my own. I have a sudden urge to weep. i pull my skirt lower, tugging it over my knees. wipe my lipstick- smudging it roughly across the back of my hand. i tie my hair, pull an ugly sweater out of my bag. It consumes me, contorts my form, i look like a shapeless blob. the body it took me so long to love cannot be seen at night. self love is something to be practiced only in the day. i pick up my pace. as i walk i think of other women- prettier than me, more attractive. i remember myself, in all my pimpled glory in 8th grade, the countless visits to the dermatologist, and the 3 foul-smelling topical acne creams to be applied 12 different ways a week. I remember running my fingers over the ridges in my skin, trailing it softly over the rough bumps, the textured expanse. i remember wishing that it would all go away. wishing that the boy i thought i loved, could see beyond what lay at the surface. wished i could trade my soul and all the things that made me "me” and just be pretty instead. for once, i’m glad i'm not, and then i'm flush with shame, a wave of repulsion so strong it knocks me over. the woman i am in broad daylight is reduced to this, whoever this is in the shadows of the night. i am ashamed of me, here, on a foreign street, in a faraway land, at 1:30 am in the morning.
sometimes when i'm sad i give myself some time to dwell. to absorb the sadness till it leaks from my pores. pain is not an abstract idea, it is a very real thing. it is about the size of my fist, about as heavy, with blunt edges. it starts off small, the prick of discomfort somewhere at the edge of consciousness. and then without warning it expands, shifting form till every cell is infused with its flavor. it's not something i cannot live with, but something i'd much rather live without. living through this is hard enough, i hope the learning happens by default. it seems almost cruel- this feeling so urgent, so overbearing, so overwhelming- to have anything else expected of me. i try to breathe in and out, in again and out again, and again, and yet again. it is hard to resist the urge to avoid, negate, or say sorry when i know it is not my fault. i am an over thinker, or so i have been told. my search history is full of “how to draw boundaries", and “how to deal with toxic relationships”. i wish i could shed it all, so my body would be rid of all that comes with having a heart too vulnerable. i wish i was born in another body, or with another heart, or maybe it's all in the mind? i wish i didn’t feel everything so strongly, so deeply, so wholly. i continue breathing.
"What we choose to ignore is as important as what we choose to see." I don't remember when or where or even if I ever heard these words. Sometimes I feel that whatever I write is a juxtaposition of words, phrases, sentences that I have read or heard or said. It is as if these words, drawn from memory, are suspended in space, and they reappear, the same words, in different contexts, over and over again, so even though they feel new when they roll off my tongue, I can never really shake the feeling of familiarity, of having known them someplace, sometime.
Anyway, I digress, For this week's exercise I chose to focus on a part of my day that seldom contributes anything meaningful to my life- the time I spend in-transit. I realized that I am never emotionally or mentally present through the passage of space and time. Whatever I made this week was on the subway, all the pictures taken either during the ride or while walking. There wasn't a specific theme that I started with and the only rule I laid out for myself was to not be over-critical of what I was making.
A pink bus and a trash can
there are corners of
where you dwell, but don't linger
where you occupy space
but that occupation is fleeting
and that memory unwelcome
places that should feel familiar
should arouse that sweet swell of nostalgia
but nostalgia is only lent by hindsight
so for the moment
you keep your head down
and your strides long
and keep walking
Person on the subway
the people we seem to be
the reality obscured
all the jagged edges neatly blunted /
embrace your flaws
all the jagged edges neatly blunted?
glue them back on /
embrace your flaws
even the ones you've outgrown
glue them back on
"you aren't the same person anymore!" /
the ones you've outgrown
tell them you don't need them
you aren't the same person anymore
A clear sky and a source of light
the light filters in through the window
you orient yourself
drawn to the sun
like a moth to the flame
you orient yourself
silently turn to face her
like a moth to the flame
keeping vigil over the dead
silently turn to face her
tears are streaming down her face
keeping vigil over the dead
has never been easy