Archive for May, 2013


We are One

We are One…

Coursing through my veins,

Insistent voices call out,

Across the concrete monoliths,

Dusted gold by Johannesburg’s winds,

Into the heart of these lands,

The voices call out,

‘we are one, you and I’,

the voices say,

As my blood thumps against the walls of my veins,

Breathing life into my words,

Offering solace,

‘we are one’,

The words echo,

Through those convoluted tunnels beneath us,

Where sweat and blood mingle in search for that shiny yellow metal,

Over the townships, where daughters and mothers, brothers and friends, seek shelter from the advancing night’s chill,

Soaring high into our African sky,

Burnished bronze, kissing us with today’s last rays of light,

‘we are one’,

They all say,

These voices of your father, these voices of my mother,

Speaking to us in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, Setswana, English, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Siswati, Tshivenda, isiNdebele, Mandarin, Gujarati, Swahili, Lingala, Hausa, Somali, Portuguese, Greek, Shona…

The voices, mixed with my blood,

Become me,

‘we are one’, they say, gently,

‘we are one’, I breathe.

We are one…

knots tighten,
heaviness settles,

whispers disappear,
between breaths,

life insists, pleads, placates,

dismissing meagre pangs, of blocked sentences, unfinished paragraphs,

wrecked passages,

dispelling paltry rhymes,

coiling, asphyxiating,

strangling vowels,
splitting nouns,

searching, perennially vigilant,

against,

the cacophony of mediocrity …

Man 0.003 (dev alpha)

eat, sleep, drink…

…eat sleep scrounge prepare expel

expel eat sleep

drink, eat, sleep

expel

expel

expel

(erroneous program code, perpetual loop)

A Grand Unified Theory…

… Scraping our knees,
as fluid time flows,

months and years and days and weeks,

loving, living, cooking, caring,

our pain, our desires, our simple wishes,

lie neatly tucked away,

behind the clean linen in the guest-bedroom cupboard.

Whispering to ourselves, bleeding to feel alive, feeling a cold, distant cloak of invisibility shrouding our screaming silences.

A tender glance, a few comforting words,
remind us that we are still human,

picking away at still-raw sores, pacing around in our minds, searching for yet to be opened doors,

craving simple warmth, a kind word, a knowing nod, a shared tear,

holding each other, close by, yet not near,

grappling within, without,

at the gnawing fear,

I may have loved you too much,

my phantom love,

always present,

still you always, always, always,

manage to disappear…

Why do you scribble, they ask,
the answer resists, hesitant…

Why scribble?

crafting rhymes unshackles captive thoughts,
weaving warm words, deftly embroidered onto
the thudding depths of this wild, dancing heart,

seeking peace, flirting with the promise
of bliss, of love, of sharing lengthy silences,

savouring hushed moments in between breaths,
stretching the seconds to caress the naked sky,

as the colours of life swirl around my warm tea-cup,
reading the leaves to divine what the morrow holds,

acknowledging the impermanence of fleeting smiles,
hollowed hearts lost somewhere in the bygone miles,

and so,

I scribble…

untitled

My broken words lie in tatters
discarding all that matters,

echoing the splintering sounds,
of this heart when it shatters.

Im floating down the sewers,
lynched by unknown skewers,

tossed and flung away,
into the bowels of today.

Still I refuse to beat my retreat,
despite the sting of the icy sleet,

and through the slicing rain,
I will sing a hopeful refrain,

picking myself up to stand again…

Self-righteous tongues wag,
Spewing forth appalled bile,
Dismissing me as a lousy fag.
Waving their flag, their tag,

While conspicuously silent about,
Crimes perpetrated in their name,
Mute when murder is carried out,
Sans a whisper, let alone a shout,

No indignation for ‘our’ own crime,
The ‘other’ being so easy to condemn,
As we bury our heads in the slime,
‘We’ become a hushed mute mime.

My Heart is with You

My Heart is with You…

Far too much has been said,
too many miles have been tread,

it looks like the end of the line,
keep it safe, that old heart of mine…

My Family: A Historical Journey Through the Seasons.

Part Five – Thoughts about Exile, Home, Identity, Belonging.

This scribble is going to be a rambling, not too coherent piece all about my thoughts on identity, belonging, exile, and about ‘home’.

So, my dear friends, I invite you to accompany me, with sufficient forewarning I hope, on this scribbled ramble…

‘Home’

Looking back now, I can say that I grew up with two very separate yet entwined ideas of ‘home’ – ‘home’ being both the idealised country of my parents, who spoke of ‘home’, which meant South Africa, as being the place where ‘family’ was an umbrella of safety and a source of comfort, and the other reality of what ‘home’ meant was the reason I was born in exile in the first place, the country that had become a pariah of the world, with its brutal, oppressive system of Apartheid racial-segregation.

Now this may seem odd from today’s historical vantage point, but back when I was growing up in India and Egypt, there was a definite sense that we would never see ‘home’ again.

The hopes and aspirations with which my parents lived by, and probably had to live by, was that freedom would come in our lifetime. But a lifetime can be a long time, so there was also the possibility that we may never see the end of Apartheid, and this fear, which I think is shared by exiles, refugees, and all displaced human beings, was always just below the surface.

This ever-present and often repressed fear was fuelled by the deaths of fellow exiles who passed on before South Africa’s transition from Apartheid state to democratic nation took place in 1994.

I recall an old ANC comrade, an elderly man in his 60’s, who lived with us in Cairo in the early 1980’s, and to whom I became quite close, who later took ill and passed away in a Cairo hospital.

I was 8 years old at the time, and even though my parents did not tell me that ‘uncle’ had passed away, I knew it. I sensed it from his deteriorating health earlier, and from the grave expressions my parents wore for months after ‘uncle’ ‘left’.

My parents carried their own feelings of guilt and pain, of leaving behind a young son and daughter (my siblings Azad and Tasneem whom I did not grow up with) in South Africa, who grew up with my maternal grand-parents in Johannesburg. My parent’s guilt and pain never left them, and I remember my mother as she lay bedridden with Motor-Neurone Disease almost 14 years after freedom still carrying the anguish of the separation of parent from child.

My father still carries the pain with him, and I think even more so today because of the difficulties and emotional minefields that he has to navigate through knowing that he did not share his two eldest children’s childhood, and only now, after all these decades, are the relationships being strengthened, and that too is still a work in progress.

I can only imagine the pain, emotional trauma, anguish and heartbreak that my sister Tasneem, and my brother Azad felt growing up knowing that their parents were out in the world, yet remaining separated from them.

It is a legacy of pain, of homes and of families split up and separated that remains with us today, of Apartheid’s continuing brutalisation of South Africans.

These complex and conflicting issues that we as family, and we as a nation have to deal with may still yield some measure of peace, if that is at all possible, given the weight of the past.

I have so much more to say, dear reader, but it can wait for later.

I can say that my experiences growing up here, there and everywhere have been a convoluted scattering of disjointed places, of half-remembered faces and of many a restless night spent contemplating the questions of identity, home, belonging and of what ‘anchors’ a person.

Perhaps there are reasons for the times when that vagabond exile blood gets restless and that itch, that impatience, that urge to move, to flee, to rejoin the nomadic community surfaces.

And perhaps, there are reasons too, for my ability to suppress the sometimes fiery urge to trade quiet suburban stasis for the unknown path of the unnamed exile.

TO BE CONTINUED?

My Family: A Historical Journey Through the Seasons.

Part Four – Thoughts about Exile, Home, Identity, Belonging.

A Flash Back –

I look back to that November evening in Helsinki, Finland in 1989, where the temperature was around -20 degrees Celsius, and we stood on the railway platform with our little luggage (mostly books, photographs etc) with tickets to Moscow via Leningrad (yes, it was still called Leningrad back then).

I recall my mother and father, by then already in their late 50’s, and preparing to return to their home, South Africa, after almost three decades living in exile all across the globe, from Zambia to Tanzania to England to India to Egypt to India again and then to Finland, and now following the Apartheid regime’s unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela and political prisoners, my parents were to return to a country they had called ‘home’ for as long as I can remember. South Africa was always, always home, no matter where we happened to be.

Whether it was in our ground-floor, bleakly dark flat in Zamalek, Cairo where we had to keep the fluorescent lights on during the day, or in our 1st floor flat in Safdarjang Development Area in Delhi, or in our cramped 2-bedroom flat in Helsinki, Finland, I was always told about ‘home’, about family and about the country that I grew up loathing (Apartheid South Africa) as well as the country that I grew up idealising, for South Africa was after all ‘home’, that mythical place where family stuck together and where my brother Azad and my sister Tasneem grew up, separated from their parents, and where finally, at long last, Nelson Mandela walked free after 27 years in Apartheid’s jails.

I often look back on my years growing up as a child of political exiles, and I am thankful, as I grew up without the hardships that so many fellow exiles had to endure.

I am also thankful, for the depth of humanity that I saw in strangers and friends and people who took us in, and loved us, and extended hands of solidarity and assistance and warmth when we were most alone.

I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people, ordinary folk, workers, labourers, academics, doctors and engineers, school-teachers and students, who chose to identify with the plight of the oppressed people of South Africa, just as they chose to support the cause of justice, of freedom and of self-determination in Namibia, Western-Sahara, and Palestine.

I can vividly remember the pain and anguish that my mother endured, being separated from her family and her children, and I remember her tears, her quiet sobbing when I used to return home from school, knowing that my father was away travelling, often for months at a time.

It is not easy to put everything down on paper, and indeed it is impossible to capture all of one’s experiences, yet I feel it is very important that I share these thoughts with you, dear and patient reader, not because of what I wish to say about myself, or even about my parents, but to honour and to remember and to cherish the strong bonds that were forged during those sometimes hard times, and to convey to all, that no matter what one hears about our differences as people, be it differences of creed, of colour, of nationality, there is a ‘human’ connection that I have seen that simply extinguishes the claims by the religiously fanatical, or by the jingoistic nationalists who seek to impose upon us a barrier, a wall, a divide that cannot be breached. I have mentioned what I am about to write earlier, and I only repeat it because I believe it needs to be repeated, so forgive me, dear reader, if I seem to be revisiting old ground.

The old ground that I feel I need to revisit now is that of a story that my mother used to tell me, repeatedly, and always with tears in her eyes, and always with her crying openly as she retold this story over and over again to me.

Let me place the story in its historical context. The year was 1971, and India had just been at war with Pakistan, and my parents had arrived in what was then called Bombay and had rented a small apartment in one of Bombay’s high-rise blocks of flats.

It is important to remember that India had gained independence only 24 years earlier, so the wounds and the trauma of the division of India (into Pakistan and East-Pakistan) were still very fresh.

My father was sent by African National Congress (ANC) to India, in order to work to further strengthen the support that the liberation movement had received from India.

My mother, who was a nurse by profession, had started working at Bombay’s Breach Candy Hospital, and my father was busy establishing links within the sizeable South African student community that Bombay was home to.

One day my father decided to jump over a railing, in order to catch a bus, and slipped and fell.

I shall now let my mother tell her story …

… Now we had just arrived in India, and though Mosie and I spoke Gujarati, we still didn’t know Hindi or Marathi (the language spoken in Maharashtra, the state in which Bomaby/Mumbai is located), and here comes Mosie, limping and in pain. I am a nurse and so I took a look at his foot and it looked bad, but what were we to do? We didn’t know anyone, we didn’t have a telephone, and we didn’t speak the language. So I went and knocked on our neighbour’s door. An elderly lady opened the door and I explained in English that we were new in the apartment-block and that my husband had suffered a possible fracture. The old lady then asked me to sit. I sat. The elderly lady then asked me my name and I said ‘Zubeida, but you can call me Zubie’. I then told the lady all about South Africa, about how I had been separated from my two children, about Apartheid, about Nelson Mandela, and about how we were freedom fighters and were in exile. The old lady broke down and sobbed, and I cried too, feeling her warmth towards me, even though I was a total stranger. Then the elderly lady told me that they were Punjabis and during the partition of India, they had to flee their home in what later became Pakistan because they were Hindus. The old lady sobbed when she told me about the rioting, the massacres, the pain of leaving everything behind and fleeing with only the clothes on their backs, and then she grabbed my hand tightly and said that she understood everything, and she shared my pain, because she too had been a refugee once … (at this point my mother would be crying openly while telling me the story) … and that from then on, she was my elder sister. This from a woman who had experienced the horrors of partition, and who realising I had a Muslim name, chose to share her life story with me, and who could understand what we were going through. Anyway, we called a doctor who turned out to be a Parsi ‘Bone-Setter’ … (laughing between tears now) … and later when we moved to Delhi and her daughter Lata got married to Ravi Sethi and also moved to Delhi, she told Lata that ‘Zubeida hamaari behen hai’ (Zubeida is my sister) and that Lata should keep in touch with us. That’s how Papa and I know aunty Lata and uncle Ravi …

Hearing my mother tell me this story over and over again, emphasising that aunty Lata’s mother had gone through hell at the hands of Muslims, and still she chose to see my mother not as a Muslim, but as a fellow human-being, who shared a similar life in the fact that my parents were also refugees, having fled their country, and that aunty Lata’s mother ‘took’ my parents in, and shared a bond that cannot be described sufficiently in words, as words would only dilute the depth of feeling that the two women shared for each other, only makes my belief in the power of the humanity that binds us all together that much stronger.

Yes, there will be those who will say that those were different times, and that nowadays things have changed.

Yes, there will be many who may call it idealism, romanticism, or simply burying one’s head in the sand, but I still hold on firmly to the belief that aunty Lata’s mother and my mother shared, one person to another, regardless of religion, colour, caste, wealth, status or any of the many other ‘yard-sticks’ that people are measured by, and by emphasising our shared humanity, rather than by highlighting our differences, that we can, and that we shall, indeed, overcome, someday.

TO BE CONTINUED?

Realpolitik in the Bullet Riddled-East

Trembling, the child weeps,
silently sobbing, tears rolling down,
moist cheeks speckled with dried blood.

Shivering, the child seeks warmth,
huddling close to the stiff corpses,
with faces blown off, limbs crushed,
not looking like mum and dad at all.

[ complicit, I sit back, hurling invective,
at the inaction, or the lack of reaction,
assigning blame, here, there, everywhere,
sipping my cappuccino safely in my cocoon ]

Famished, the child shivers in the night,
ear-drums blown out, senses heavy as lead,

as the dogs of war circle nearby, bellowing,
spewing diseased words from severed tongues,

waiting for the bleeding child to have fully bled.

splinters, fragments
of
thoughts, emotions,

fragment, and
splinter
my
emotions, my thoughts

May Day!

A distress call,
echoes over the seas,
working men and women,
shackled, bound by wage slavery,
rise, as one, united, voiceless no more.

‘all frequencies jammed’,

‘we apologise for the inconvenience’

May-Day!

Madiba Breathes

Madiba breathes,

the heartbeat of our hopes,

the pulse of our common joys,

the memory of our shared pain,

the promise of our founding ideals.

Let Madiba breathe,

in peace…