Category Archives: Indulgence

Dissecting Love

You have acquired this habit of examining love, having become distrustful lately of a thing whose workings you cannot understand. You see, if you can just figure out what love is, how it works, what makes it tick, what feeling denotes what reality, then you will know how much to trust it, what to do with it, how much of your heart you can allocate to it.

You think about the appropriate analogy for this dissecting of love. Play with the idea of performing sanitized autopsies of loves gone past. Slicing through tender flesh with steady handed precision, prodding at hardened arteries with deposits from hurts gone past. Hair trapped in a net, elbows deep in latex gloves, your mask puffs out every time you sing the words to Daudi Kabaka’s Pole Musa playing in the operating theatre. But just as you are about to reach the pulsating centre of flesh that may house the secrets of love’s inner workings, it strikes you that autopsies are only performed on the dead, and love is still very much alive.

So instead you doodle in your black moleskine notebook with the fluorescent pink pen that lends whimsy to the heaviest of topics, and you draw boxes and arrows and circle things furiously.

You land on four possible types of love. You pass on these theories to your best friend, the most discerning one, the sensible one with wisdom in her smile and mischief in her eyes. She spreads some green tomato chutney on a cracker, layers it with soft goats cheese, and pauses to hmmm before she crunches it in her mouth. It is a hmmmm of recognition. It strikes you how old you have both become. Love used to be simple. You felt it. You know you were in it. Now, it seems so complicated, so layered, so charged with agenda and masked with illusion.

You lay the four types of love out on a table, arrange them delicately and with care, the same way you used to play with your mother’s jewellery. An attempt to put beauty into order. Most of all, you do it to exorcise previous avatars of love. Name them. Shame them. Dispel them so they dissolve into whiffs of non-existence.

You think you are in love with him. You were a little in love with him before you even met him. He dripped with charm, the kind that made you want to be smarter, wittier, worthy of the banter he threw your way. But it was how he did what he did that crawled under your skin. You have always been intoxicated by men at the peak of their game. And he was that. He combined understated passion with intense skill and a disarming humility that kept him hungry, just a sliver of the insecure peeking through in conversations. Every now and then he would show you a whisker of vulnerability, and that is when you felt it. That thing. Because it was like he was giving you a glimpse of a part of himself that nobody else in the world had access to. And that was enough of the carrot for you to be kept hanging on. And so in the throes of your encounters, you almost didn’t notice how his eyes darted to the ass of the girl who walked by. Every time. Every girl. And the charm grew old once you realized it wasn’t reserved for just you. Instead it poured out for everyone he met. You see men like that can never belong to one person, they belong to the world.

But then he would ensnare you again with the way he articulated life, the certainty with which he had its nuances figured out, even if they didn’t align with yours. There was something undeniably sexy about such certainty, especially contrasted with your utter wishy washy flakiness viewpoints on life, where everything was changeable, nothing black and white, just large swathes of grey. So you, a self confessed feminist, fell in love with a misogynist.

And then you realize you aren’t in love with him honey. You just want to be him. How’s that for a twist?

You think you are in love with him. You listen to cheesy love songs on the radio and feel like you have finally been let into an exclusive club, that you now know the secret handshake. The delicious texts that you receive first thing in the morning and last thing in the night mean that to someone you are their first and last thought. The fact that you save them more for what they represent, than what they actually say doesn’t ring warning bells. Imagine, all around you there are people walking around this world, sitting in their cars, working at their desks, floating over life in a mist of this emotion, feeling this way all the time. How have you existed this long without this feeling in your life?

You spend a lot of time in the future. When the possibility of what could be, somehow outweighs the pleasure of what is now. When you imagine the things that will happen for you, the way your life will look like now that you are in love, it is almost always backed by a soundtrack, accompanied with lush cinematography and a fan to blow the hair off your face. As if you were the heroine of your own romantic comedy. You want to tell everybody about this newfound love of yours, as if somehow if it isn’t heard and acknowledged by other human beings, it isn’t actually real. And when you do declare it, you have a practiced smug content obnoxious grin that crawls over your face. Except you can’t for the life of you figure out what it is you love about this person. Just that he exists. And that for now is enough.

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with the idea of being in love.

You think you are in love with him.  It creeps up on you stealthily. At first it’s hot and furious, and you use up all your charm very quickly, doling it out in supersize portions, not bothering to ration some for later. Predictably you soon run dry. And he still sticks around. Still seems excited to have you around. You soak up the things he says to you, hoard them like little nuggets of deliciousness that you can draw on, and suck out the goodness from later. You feel floaty, like nothing bad can stick to you, it just slides off, like water off raw potato covered windscreens  at the drive-in during the rainy season. When he holds you, you close your eyes and concentrate on the feeling of skin touching skin imbuing caring and desire and want.

And this time when the texts arrive, their meaning is what you cling onto. The words becoming etched and carved onto the spongy surface of your brain, deeper and deeper, the typed out words shrugging off any ownership from the person. You see at that moment in time, it doesn’t matter who is doing the loving. You are loved. My God you are loved. It comes from a space of emptiness this sort of love, a filling of a gaping hole. As if you could plug the crack in your wall with carbon monoxide. It is a pitiful, egotistic kind of love, the type that takes advantage of vulnerability and speeds away with your dignity. Before you know it, you are knee deep in a love that you don’t own, but a love that has claimed ownership over your emotions. And for what it makes you feel, you are grateful,

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with feeling loved.

You think you are in love with him. Across unreasonable circumstances, your hurt found his hurt, recognized it, wrapped its tentacles around it and oozed thick sticky honey love, coating it with comfort and kindness. You found his nooks and crannies, his tunnels and crevices, and filled them with a languorous urgency that took his breath away. You made him feel things he thought he had banished from his heart a long time ago. And when he smiles, the sparkle in his eyes, boyish, peeking out from the veil of arrogant assuredness, takes your breath away. It is addictive, watching this effect on him. You can see him visibly softening. You feel like you are smoothening his edges like the ocean does to the jaggedness of shells.

He tells you what it is that you do to him, and you swell with accomplishment that you could make another human being feel this way. Your heart smiles that his heart smiles. You feel special. Unique even. Like this is your purpose in life. You have this special untapped power that you did not know about, and suddenly it becomes more important than anything else in the world. Because perhaps this is the only person in the world who is programmed to respond to you in this way, and to waste it would be to go against nature’s design. Cause and Response. It is science really. And when he looks at you like that, like you are the most important person in the world, how you feel about him is but a side effect really.

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with being able to make someone so happy.

So what is love? Hush honey, and just feel…..

In love via photopin (license)Photo Credit

EEEEEEEKS!

For purposes of full disclosure, I admit I am a little post-wine hazy. And I get sentimental when I have been drinking red wine. It makes me want to write love letters; long rambling intimate winding lush love letters. So I am writing this one to you.

First let’s get into the mood. You know when the evening mellows and you get comfortable with where the night is heading. You are surrounded by great company and any jagged edges have been blurred out by a lightness. The day falls off your shoulders and wit rolls off your tongue. You lose track of time and get lost in sparkly conversation. Then your favourite song comes on and you lose your shit! There is shrieking. And dragging of friends to the dance floor. And forgetting that you are in a public place. And wearing heels. And that people have phones that can record things and put them up online.

I went too far…. back to that favourite song moment. There is a bizarre, completely disproportionately sized euphoria in that moment. Yesterday morning I had one of those. I woke up, went to the Bloggers Association of Kenya website to check the nominations for the Blog Awards and scrolled down the list with one eye open. It’s weird how we do that. As if the magnitude of disappointing news will be halved if you only see it with one eye. There it was! Lil ol us, Chanyado nominated for Best New Blog. I lost my shit. Shrieked. Did a jig. Thankfully I was not in a public space and there were no recording devices.

You see, when you start a blog you don’t really believe anyone will read it. Well, maybe your family; your mother out of maternal obligation and your siblings because you stand over them and threaten bodily harm if they don’t. You obsessively look at the back end of your blog and experience real delight when your view count goes from 5 to 6. Somehow, slowly, your view count starts to hit double digits, and you think gosh, real non-related-to-you human beings are reading your writing of their own free will. That is a giddy feeling my friends. Positively heady. Then someone shares it. THEY SHARE IT! They want other people to read it. You are now in unicorn hopping over double rainbow territory. It is a little unbelievable. You fight the urge to stop them and ask if they are sure that’s what they intended to do.

Not that it is all melted cheese and Maroon 5 songs. On my very first piece, someone calling themselves ‘JustBeingHonest’ commented:

Excruciating to read! It seems the readers who have commented before me either know you personally and just want to encourage you by giving false praise or perhaps it’s just that they cannot discriminate between something that’s written tastefully and something that’s not. You can do SO much better. Do something better with your time. Please stop.

I wanted to curl up in corner in the the foetal position and rock myself as I wept. Not only did they leave this withering remark, they felt impassioned enough about their opinion to create a special email address specifically to leave this comment. The email address was ‘Justbeinghonest@xxxxxxx.com. Then I thought, you know what ‘JustBeingHonest’ I will show you! Ridiculous. As if I had something to prove to ‘JustBeingHonest’. And every post I wrote, I thought, oh dear. Maybe that’s all I got. What if I have only a finite amount of words in me to be written, and I have exhausted them all. But I would sit and write because of you. Because you read what I wrote. You were my kryptonite. Stop rolling your eyes. This is a love letter. I am allowed the occasional cheesy line. And let me tell you something. There is no greater gift in all the universe for a writer, than to have someone read their work. I can’t tell you how much it means. To allow yourself to be swept up into someone else’s world. There is true generosity in that.

I think us bloggers are a spoiled lot. Novelists and writers in the pre-internet era would slog for years, typing away, creating vast worlds, pouring their lives onto pages, drowning their insecurities, ignoring their families, ruining their posture and rotting their teeth with coffee and vodka, to create a piece of work which may or may not be published, and may or may not be read by anyone. It would take years for them to receive any mass feedback, any sense of how people were responding to this labour of love they gave their years to. Us bloggers, we write, we post and within minutes we know what people think. It is addictive that instant response. You start itching for your next fix. So in a sense, you are my drug, that hit that makes my body tingle and my brain vibrate.

And you live in over 141 countries. Living in Nairobi, writing about one Kenyan’s life, it astounds me that people all over the world read Chanyado. Who are you? How did you find us? Why do you keep coming back? I think about you when I am sitting in traffic, watching the city wake up and trying to remain calm amidst the chaos of Matatus skittering by. As I sit staring at the asses of cars, I wonder, what is your view over there in Curacao? Is it all sandy beaches and blue skies, or are you cursing at some idiot cutting you off as well.  As I sit in the stifling heat of a February midday in Nairobi, I think, what sort of day did you have over there in Serbia?

And I wonder about some of you who leave footprints in the shade of Chanyado. To the lady who left me a note at the end of ‘Closing the Book’, saying that you read it soaking in the tub in the aftermath of a separation from your child’s father, I hope it was a bubble bath and there were scented candles, because you need to feed your soul pleasure from wherever you can. And I hope there was no one else in the house, so you could wail and break down into the kind of ugly hiccupping that your body needs to purge it of the sobs it needs to expunge.

I never know which pieces you are going to like. The ones I really love seem to just plop undramatically into the ether. There are others that catch some sort of public sentiment and whizz around. Those ones frighten me. Because there is only so much that you can communicate in 1000 words. And people inevitably think they know all of you that there is to know from those 1000 words. But you have taught me, you can only be responsible for what you write, not for what others read.

A few of you come by Chanyado accidentally. And judging by some of the search terms that get you here, I hope you are sorely disappointed by what you find. These search terms can be very specific:

‘a clip of a indian woman wearing a sari who is seducing a young boy shaving his beard’

How, please tell me how, that led you to Chanyado! Also, please tell me what is with this obsession with women in sarees releasing their bladders?

The wine is fading and I feel myself becoming more self-conscious about this love letter that seemed like a brilliant idea a while ago. What I really wanted to say, is thank you. For reading, for caring, for sharing, for supporting.

I checked out our competition in the Best New Blog category and they all are rather beautiful. I feel a like we got caught on camera before we had time to brush our hair and make sure our shirt was not inside out. Voting is open for the next two months even for those who live outside of Kenya. If you like it over here in the shade, please do vote. (Even you, Mr ‘sunburned fanny photo.’) Tell your friends, relatives, nosy neighbours, that smelly stranger in the matatu reading this over your shoulder.

The link to vote is here: http://www.blogawards.co.ke/vote/ – there are some fabulous blogs also nominated, so take some time to wander around the other categories.

Regular non-inebriated programming continues next week.

Shukran.

Photo Credit

This one’s for Tiny

I bet he gave them hell. Misbehaved. Sputtered. Jerked them around.

I can just see him now. Defiant. Gallant. Brave to the end.

Atta boy!

I thought I’d never see him again. But he came back to me. Everyone said he would. Deep inside, I guess I knew it too. And when he did come back, he masked his involuntary creaking and groaning with a demeanor so stoic, so valiant, so heroic, he deserved his brush with death to be narrated by Morgan Freeman’s voice. In Samuel L Jackson’s body. With an A.R Rahman background score. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. With Salvador Dali as the set designer. Too far?

I love Tiny. My big silver ironically named Pajero with bullying bull bars and a slightly embarrassingly squeaky suspension. Actually, it isn’t Tiny….it’s Tiny….well, you have to say it with a thick Indian accent. Go on, try it. Your tongue needs to hit higher up the roof of your mouth, so it is more of a smoother ‘th’ sound. Not a clipped ‘t’ sound. Ok. Never mind.

I really do adore him. He is scrappy in a bumbling, lumbering way, not at all light on his feet, but steady and firm. And he is undramatically loyal. He doesn’t shout or scream for attention with flashy bling, shiny rims, silly moon shaped lights and utterly nonsensical buttons. No. But boy does he have your back. Always.

It broke my heart a little when they found him trashed somewhere in Kangemi after the six brutes had had their way with him. He smelled like a changaa den had burped inside him. They had left bits of themselves as reminders. A black beanie. A metal crowbar. And though from the outside, he had not a scratch, they had clearly manhandled him. He was broken on the inside.

When I drove him home from the police station, in 1st gear he was pensive, as if unsure of himself, not confident that he could really do this thing. In 2nd gear he had a reluctance, as if he had been burned, impulsively recoiling at the the thought of going further. In 3rd gear he dragged to the left, probably from being bashed against a kerb, but whereas before when he dragged, it was cheeky almost mischievous, this time he was like a little boy looking up at you with big tear-filled eyes, whispering that he couldn’t help it…but he had wet the bed.

😦 – I know a sad face is not a recognized literary technique, and I acknowledge the weakness in my vocabulary to properly articulate that feeling ….the feeling of….oh eff it. This 😦

I didn’t want him to have to see me look upon his indignity. Does that make sense? No? Yes, I am still talking about a car. Well, not just any old car. Tiny is probably the only thing in the world that I really own. Stop judging me. This is the consequence of a life rich in experience, but poor in wealth enhancing career decisions. I bought him from bleeding my soul in the world of raw plastic distribution, during a short stint, where I sold polymers to old Indian Industrialists sat in shadowy factories, who when I spoke, looked as if they wanted to say, ‘Awww, isn’t she cute when she tries to be clever.’ I didn’t last long. But Tiny is a constant reminder  of a very important lesson I learned during my time in the world of commodity exchange. I am not very good at doing things I don’t believe in. Or love. Tiny is a symbol of freedom to me.

And he has been my partner in crime since then. When he was stolen, his number plate swiftly circulated the crime alert whatsapp/facebook/email/text message groups. I think he was probably a little mortified about that. He doesn’t really like attention (as you can see from the picture, he is rather shy).

Though he has had his moments of fame, chasing the indomitable Bjorn Waldergard in a Safari Rally, then gallantly towing a rally car to safety after an accident. He blushed a little then, and patted himself down declaring ‘all in a day’s work.’

Or the time he chauffeured Ben Okri to Electric Circuit so that the wonderfully crazy Australian travel writer Peter Moore could show Ben what a Nairobi handshake was. I whispered to Tiny not to embarrass me in front of an African literary treasure, and he certainly behaved himself. He was unflappable, even when Ben started waxing poetic about the landscape, he pretended not to be star struck.

Or the time he ferried me from Laikipia to Nanyuki in an hour flat, as I lay in the back with a dislocated knee, screaming in agony over every little bump we went over. He was uncharacteristically gentle.

Or the times he has had to endure me banging against the steering wheel, muttering like a crazy woman as I sit in traffic wishing bad bad things to overlapping drivers who cut me off at the turn off to Riverside. Yes you!

I felt a little silly feeling sad about losing an object in the face of such a horrific incident. I felt petty and materialistic and very ungrateful at having my life and my family’s life. Then someone reminded me. Sometimes things aren’t just things. They are memories. Symbols. Analogies. For life.

On Jamhuri day, as I started writing this, I thought to myself, my gosh. But Tiny is quintessentially Kenyan!

To Tiny. And freedom. And adventure. And imperfection.

If you actually read all the way to the end of this completely indulgent, admittedly slightly ridiculous post, thank you for humoring me, and thank you for all your prayers, kind thoughts, warm wishes and words of support after the incident. They meant the world to me and the family. They still do. Shukraan.

Photo Credit: The absolutely wonderfully gifted Nafisa Rayani

Eat. Pray. Love.

I wrote this a while ago, before I really started writing. I am setting it free. 

As a teenager I imagined  that when I was 30 I would have a husband, children, an orderly household, suitably accomplished career, hair that didn’t perpetually look like I was attached to a Van De Graaff Generator, and skin that was always perfectly moisturized.

30 hit, and I had none of those. I had a husband. But, we were beginning divorce proceedings. It’s a big word. Divorce. Your world as you know it falls out from under you, gets violently sucked into a whirlpool of what should have been, and suddenly you are standing at the edge of a precipice, staring  out into an ocean of uncertainty.

I read Eat, Pray, Love. An adventure. That’s what I needed. A solitary journeying around the world, where I would find gastronomic bliss, spiritual enlightenment and The One (well, The Second And Hopefully Final One), and if I was really lucky, a sage sound-bite worthy guru of some sort. Unfortunately my wallet would allow no such indulgence. I would have to make do at home.

So eat, I did. Too much. Pray. More than I ever had before. And love. Yes. More like loved. Smothered by the people around me. No. Smothered implies suffocated. Not smothered. Infused, like fragrant vanilla in thick brandied cream. Or coated like velvety dark chocolate does to silken strawberries. Or simmered like chopped up onions turning golden brown in butter. Did I mention I ate a lot?

And then, exactly one year later, he left. Quite unceremoniously, disappeared, to another continent, another life. And like that, I knew. That ember of hope I had been clumsily fanning for 365 days started to extinguish. And it wasn’t panic I felt. Oddly it was calm. Truth be told, my damn arm ached from keeping that bloody flame alive. And my insides were covered in a thick layer of soot. So I started to do what any well brought up girl does when there is dirt coating anything.

I started to clean.

No, not the kind that leaves you sweaty and bothered. Well, ahem!

I changed my name back. And now when people ask, I say with mischief, ‘No, I didn’t get married, it was the other way actually’, and ‘No, don’t be sorry’ and ‘No, we couldn’t have worked it out’ or rather, ‘Fuck off and mind your own business’ or worse ‘Why am I not pregnant yet? Well, my name would have to be Mary, and it would have to be the second coming of…’

Aha. But no longer.

With my pink tipped toe-nails, scarlet red lipstick and that sway in the hips of a woman let loose, maybe I need to rename this piece ‘The Coming Of..’

photo credit:  Photopin 

Whizpopping Human Beans

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with Roald Dahl. I want to be him when I grow down. A few days ago was Roald Dahl Day – YES! It’s a thing. As I was digging in my computer, I found a poem that I wrote on the plane, after a particularly unpleasant incident with the person sitting in front of me. They had reclined their seat all the way back, so that to drink my tea, all I had to do was stick my tongue out and lap up the liquid. In a fit of passive aggressive defiance, I decided to show my appreciation for this inconsideration with a little poke at his seat. He turned around and gave me a withering look that froze my blood and sent my imagination spiraling out of control.

As I contemplated his glare I scribbled this little piece. I feel it has a Roald Dahl-esque twist at the end, no? Ok, then it is just me. As you will see, I am a sucker for rhyme!

He scowled and growled and snarled at me
He furrowed his brow and peered down at me
He grabbed my big toe and yanked a bit
He twisted and twirled and pulled at it
He turned and unscrewed and off it popped
He unzipped his blue bag and in it dropped

He looked at me in great delight
If any of your toes reach my sight
I have plenty of space in my big blue bag
For wayward fingers and toes that wag’

I stared ahead at the airplane seat
Resisting the urge to look down at my feet
He turned and grinned a smile of delight
And wiggled his big toe as if in spite
So dearest Gina, please forgive me so
From Nairobi to London, I lost my big toe!

(The fabulous sketch is by my favourite Kenyan illustrator, Reeves Kibet. He did it in literally 5 minutes!)

And a few announcements.

1.) Thanks to some wonderful angels that responded to my call for help with Njugu George, I managed to raise this term’s fees. Shukraan. May you be always be blessed. Thank you. Deeply. I shall keep you informed on our young explorer’s progress.

2.) The Storymoja Festival starts tomorrow. I LOVE the Festival, and you will too. Please come. I don’t have space here to say just how gobsmackingly INCREDIBLE it is. You can check out the programme at www.storymojafestival.com – I will be doing a few sessions, so do come and say hi 🙂

3.) I got an email the other day that had me squealing and yelping. A story I submitted made it to the Golden Baobab African Children’s Literature Prize longlist (phew that is a mouthful). I am simply not cool enough not to be excited by this! Eeeeeks. Check it out, http://www.goldenbaobab.org/baobab-blog and keep all your limbs crossed, and eyes, and nostrils too.

Happy Belated Roald Dahl Day Human Beans.

 

 

Pleasure

Every now and then I find myself slipping down a dark hole.

Having been fed a steady diet of English fairy tales growing up, it is only reasonable to expect that at the bottom of any dark hole, one will eventually encounter a shisha smoking, vowelly correct caterpillar and then get whisked away to a celebration of your un-birthday at a delightfully absurd tea party presided over by a (hopefully) Johnny Depp lookalike Mad Hatter.

It is never like that. It feels morose and melancholic and raw. And there are never any Johnny Depp lookalikes feeding me scones and clotted cream over half a cup of tea.

Recently I have felt myself slipping, and I don’t want to write about something deep and meaningful. I want to write about whimsy and joy. I want to think about all the things that give me pleasure;  whether silly, or frivolous, or intense, or deep, or whatever. Because sometimes writing about something gives it shape, colours in the lines, fluffs it up, makes it technicolour and tricks your brain into feeling as if you are experiencing it afresh.

So here goes. ‘A few of my favourite things’

The feeling after yoga where your whole body is a tangled weave of hypersensitive nerves, and you feel every whisper of the wind on your skin, when the leaves look a dazzling green, and you can distinguish every note from every bird in the orchestra of chirping in the trees, when your body craves suspect looking green vegetable juice that you would normally find disgusting, when you want to passionately kiss someone you really love, and feel lightheaded and dizzy and just not care who is watching.

Walking into the house after a shitty day, putting my hand on my granny’s ethereal silver hair, and her looking up at me with a smile that dissolves whatever nonsense is in my head.

Being infected with giggles by my brother and sister, and for no good reason laughing and laughing, roaring and snorting, guffawing and hiccupping, till your body is shaking and tears are streaming down your face; and just when you think that’s it, your body has been squeezed dry of any more laughs, and everybody is calm, you make eye contact with one of them, and a giggle worms its way out of your nose, and you all collapse on the floor in a cacophony of chuckling.

The feeling of dewey grass as you squelch barefoot in the garden. The feeling of soft sand as the ocean licks your toes. The feeling of woven mkeka as you tip toe into the mosque. The feeling of wet mud sploshing around the sides of your feet.

Sitting outside, listening to the crickets chirping, as old Indian Ghazals play in the background, whiskey tinkles over ice and my dad talks nostalgically about his wild days.

Early Sunday mornings, when the world is asleep, and the sun peeps through the curtains, and the bed is warm, and you have hours to lose yourself in a great book before the world wakes up.

Long walks in the forest, with butterflies sashaying by, and mushrooms poking out from the grass.

Bright red lipstick. Polka dotted everything. Fuschia nailpolish. Molesine notebooks. Very good pens. Jasmine perfume. Silver jangley bangles.  Kitenge. Bandani. Beautiful fabric.

The smell of aftershave snaking through the house after my father or brother have left the house. The smell of onions frying on the morning of Idd. The smell of Udh wafting through the house every evening. The smell of jasmine in my hair.

Road trips with friends, windows down, singing loudly to Michael Jackson tunes on the stereo as the wind tears through my hair.

The purple explosion of Jacaranda trees.

That moment in a Squash game, when you fake a short swing, and instead thwack it really hard against the front wall, so it bounces right into the back corner, slithering down the wall, stealing any possibility of your opponent being able to get it.

Old romantic Bollywood songs. Shammi Kapoor’s dance moves. Salman Khan’s dance moves. NOT Hrithilk Roshan’s dance moves!

That fluttery, buttery, swirly feeling that starts in the bottom of your stomach and travels up to the tip of your eyelashes when you realise the person you are talking to that you quite fancy, is sending the signals that they kinda dig you too.

The drive home after a Safari Rally, window down, feet up on the dashboard, watching the trees zoom by, everyone silent, sleepy, sunburned and sublimely satisfied.

Spending time with women I love; soaking in a sisterhood that nurtures and nourishes and replenishes my soul.

Witty repartee. With a dashing man

That momentary feeling of invincibility after having written something I like; the sense of having conquered something, that feeling which lasts only a few seconds before I am struck with the familiar terror that maybe I will never write anything I like ever again, and this was just a fluke…and I blew my one stroke of halfway decent writing potential on a silly, frivolous blog post that nobody will read. Wait. Remember. The things that give me pleasure – being delighted by something I wrote, and not caring if anyone else thinks so, because it delighted me to read it.

There. I feel much better. And it didn’t even take Johnny Depp to sweep me into his arms.

(As I finished this post, my sister just came in with a scarlet and yellow kitenge for me; a gift from her coast trip; two of the things that give me pleasure – my siblings, and gorgeous fabric. Thanks Tiffs)

What are the things that give you pleasure?

Photo from Flickr. Credit:  Lmfna (copyright)

Twitter Quilt

A spontaneous conversation took place on twitter last night. It started with a tweet, which was picked up by someone who replied, and picked up by another who added their thoughts to the weaving of words and contemplation….and so it went on, in a series of tweets, replies, re-tweets and favourites.

It meandered, scattered and haphazard and heartfelt.

A quilt was woven in a series of tweets; one of hopes, dreams, fear, melancholy, playfulness, frustration…a poetic wondering, a wandering in poetry. Here it is. Raw.

So little to say
So many ways of saying it

So much to say
So few saying it

So little to hide
So many stealing it

So much to protect
So few up to it

So much freedom
So few liberated

So many lines
So few colouring

So much pain
So few praying

So much pain
So many just praying

So many minds
Such few thoughts

So much insanity
Such little humanity

So many deaths
So few mourning

So many experts
Such little wisdom

So many alive
So few living

So many tweets
Such little wit

So much to have
So little it means

So many heavens
Just one earth

So many chicken wings
So few burgers

So many hot dog buns
So few hot dogs

So many cooks
Such little broth

So much gas
Such little substance

So basically,  all fart
No shit

So much music
So few dancing

So many laughs
Such little joy

So many destinations
Such few walking

So many mothers
So few fathers

So much civilisation
Such few civil

So many answers
Such few questions

So many talking
Such few being

So much history
Such few memories

So many magazines
Such few trees

So many borders
Such little land

So many gods
Such few blessings

So many houris
For just one jihadi

So many nights
Such little sleep

So many candles
Such few moths

So much light
Such little illumination

So many dreams
Just one night

So many mice
Too little cheese
Unless we bring down the moon
With the weight of our dreams
Goodnight

May your dreams tonight
Be but a shadow of what
Your hopes are for tomorrow

The Humans aka’Twits’ –

Sonya Kassam
@SonyaKassam
Www.followyourshadow.wordpress.com

Shamit Patel
@just_sham_it
Www.justshamit.wordpress.com

Aleya Kassam
@aleyakassam
Www.chanyado.wordpress.com

Special mention to @samdave69 for his one tweet appearance that could only come from him

Please do add your poetic contemplations in the comments, and keep weaving – max 140 characters please

Of Swimming Elephants & Downward Dogs – Part 1

First my body broke.

The trip had started off magically with elephants swimming in the lake. Not waddling or doing that thing us girls do, politely bobbing, heads afloat to keep our hair dry. No. These elephants were submerged, frolicking, clambering on top of one another and then sploshing back into the water. Hell, they were practically doing breast stroke. I could hear Richard Attenborough’s commentary skipping the surface of the lake. A whimsical, cheeky scene in the way only Mother Nature can get away with. Something I have always wanted to see.

‘Now I can die a happy woman’, I tossed my head in abandon and declared with sufficient drama for the moment.

Famous last words.

Do not utter words like this so recklessly, my friends. As I learned, the Universe has its ears constantly pricked.

Things proceeded swiftly downhill from there.

Fast forward through African book cover worthy sunset to the night game drive. That is when things started going terribly wrong. The 1940’s Land Rover we were in started smoking; not innocuous wimpy wisps of light smoke. No. Thick, black ominous clouds of smoke, followed by sparks and flames…I swear!

The driver yelled that the car was about to catch fire.

Images of 90’s action movies with cars bursting spontaneously into a bright orange blaze rushed through my mind, and I did what any normal human being would do.

I jumped! Out of the window.

I hear you ask, but Aleya, why didn’t you calmly open the door and step out?

I DON’T KNOW! At the time, it seemed to be most sensible thing to do. Suffice to say, I am not the chick you want making decisions when shit hits the fan.

As I jumped out the window, my trousers got caught on the door handle, and my body was suspended upside down, hanging by my trousers, before I slithered to the ground.

Remember. The car is still catching fire!

So I crawled on the ground as far as I could, before realising my knee cap had done a disappearing act. It was no longer where it used to be. It was now poking out several inches to the left of where it normally sits.

Lying on the ground, covered in Masaai blankets, I stared up at the stars twinkling over a Laikipia night and tried not to cry as I waited for the ranger to come back from the camp with two things; a doctor and whiskey. Not necessarily in order. If ever one needs amber fortification, a wayward kneecap and an orchestra of beasts roaring a few hundred metres away will be that time.

Having dislocated my knee, and torn both ligaments on either side, I spent the next month hobbling around, with a full leg cast, which when I finally removed had left my left leg shrivelled up, half the size of my right. Attractive eh?

I then spent the next several months teaching my knee how to bend again. Nestled in that sweaty plaster of paris cocoon, it had clean forgotten. At first I cajoled it, gently, lovingly, sympathetically, after all 30 odd years of bending to the whims of me and my nonsense, it was bound to crack. It deserved a rest. Then I got irritated. The purpose of a knee is to bend. Did it not understand that? The simplest of things were the most awkward. Sitting at a table, having to stretch my leg out in front, wondering if I should explain to my dining partner that really I was not playing footsie with them, promise. Or not being able to sit on the ground at mosque, experiencing the withering looks of the ‘senior citizens’ at taking up a valuable chair – the ‘senior citizens’ are fiercely possessive over their chairs, and nasty feuds arise out of chair stealing.

I am not a patient person. I got fed up of all the coaxing, and left my knee alone. It would come around. When it was ready to bend it would. Like a child who makes a fuss about eating. They will eat when they are hungry. Terrible analogy. You can guess how that turned out for me?  The pain never really went away, and but eventually my knee was able to bend to a functional level.

Then my heart broke.

Our ‘I do’ turned into an ‘I don’t think so anymore’.

I had always found the best way to take care of an aching heart is to distract it with an aching body. The best way to silence a brain that won’t shut up, is to overpower it by pushing your body till its screams drown out your inner monologue. Even if that lasts just a few hours.

So I hit the gym. But my body wouldn’t do the things it used to do. My knee had reared its ugly un-cooperative head, and I left feeling utterly betrayed by my own body.

Then I met a woman. Dreadlocked Irene, with a smile full of white teeth. She came around to our house early morning, literally bounding into the house, with more cheer and energy than is sensible at that time of day. I am generally suspicious of anyone who is in that good of a mood at 6:00am. And as the sun rose, and the birds made a ruckus, I did my very first Downward Dog.

To be continued…

A hint of what is to come:  ‘Because before a man takes up yoga, something has to break.’ http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-03/08/tony-parsons-recommends-yoga-for-men

Sari Woes

The sari is a garment of genius. It fits all sizes, flatters all shapes, can be shared and never goes out of fashion. The sari makes every woman look sexy. I am convinced the sari was created by a man. Not just any man, but a man who worshipped the shape of a woman, who was moved by the movement of silk skimming curves. By a man who understood the fundamental truth that illusion is more enticing than exposure, that seduction lies in that tantalising promise of more.

But they are a bloody pain in the arse to put on.

Yes, the sari was definitely designed by a man.

When picking out a sari, fabric is king. Do not be distracted by pretty print, delicate embroidery, fancy cut-outs. Let your fingers, not your eyes do the picking. You want fabric that moves, that swishes, that ripples, that skims, that flirts.

New to wearing a sari? Allow me to share my process.

First. Empty your bladder. This is very important. Trust me. There will be no peeing once the sari is on. Unless you are a contortionist.

Second. Get your ghagra ready, which is an abnormally ugly cotton skirt into which you tuck the sari. Normally ghagras come with drawstrings. Apparently, Indians are allergic to zips. For some reason, whilst sitting innocently in the cupboard, one end of the string tends to embark on a flighty adventure, to join the other end, in the process getting hopelessly lost within the seam. To avoid such nuisance, tie a safety pin to the end of the string.

Put on your blouse, a tiny boob tube type top with little hooks down the front, which always has a secret adjustment if you need to let it out. Sometimes a girl needs to let things out. This is just reality. Sari blouses are very sensible items of clothing that way.

Next, put on the ghagra. The string of the ghagra should be tied very tight around your waist. If you are able to breathe, you are doing it wrong. Don’t ask me why. I do not question centuries of tradition.

It is essential you put onyour shoes before you wear your sari, or you will be caught either sweeping the floor, or sporting the decidedly unflattering mid-calf length fashion.

Get out your safety pins. Do not be a snob. Safety pins are your friends. They are the only thing that lie between an over-zealous dance move and a pile of fabric around your ankles.

Now for the sari, which is 9 yards long Yes. 9 yards! Start with tucking in one end into the ghagra, all the way around. Stop. Now comes the complicated part. The pleats. The beauty of a sari lies in the way the pleats fall down the middle. You can be wearing the most exquisite sari, but if your pleats are not perfectly centred, you may as well be wearing a tablecloth. Also, the pleats allow you to walk, so you aren’t shuffling about like someone with a full bladder and no loo in sight.

Back to the pleats. Ok. Admittedly, this is where it all falls apart for me. I huff, puff, curse, get tangled up, curse, trip over, curse, start all over again, pull, curse ad infinitum.  After the tenth attempt, at which point the neighbours are now alarmed at the sounds coming from our house, I get frustrated. Inevitably this tale ends the same way every time.

Me exclaiming…yes exclaiming…

Eff it. I will wear a Punjabi Suit instead.

Every time!

Though it may not sound like it, I do love saris.

They carry in them stories. In my cupboard lies the rich sky blue silk sari, passed down by my grandma, hand painted with splodges of Chinese flowers that bleed yellow and orange. The blue bandhani tie dye sari that I bought in a little hovel in Mumbai, in a room that looked like it moonlighted as a drug transaction parlour. The sari was still tied up in a ball, wound up in string, having been tossed onto the bus straight from the fields of Gujurat, smelling of die and dung. I have a black and white polka dotted sari with glossy black sequins and a red feather border that makes me feel like a 70’s Bollywood actress when I wear it. I have a red chiffon sari that whispers against your skin, and shows enough of a trace of what is underneath, to make old aunties raise their eyebrows. There is the kikoy sari I had made for my wedding. I could go on. All these saris sit forlornly in my cupboard, their glory unfairly hidden from the world.

It is unjust for such beauty to stay locked up, so it will be my mission. I will learn how to put on a sari, I will load those YouTube videos, I will muster up the patience, I will not be conquered by a mere 9 yards of fabric. For there is something slightly pathetic about a woman in her thirties that needs her mum’s help to put on a sari.

I apologise for the remarkably unhelpful guide to wearing a sari. Here is a YouTube video by someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Here is a song about sari, which I love. Play it on repeat as you put on that sari.

Don’t give up. I believe in you. Turn those sari woes into sari wows!

Possessed

Nusrat came to me when I was 15 years old. At a time when Biggy Hypnotized, Heavy D was getting us to call him Big Poppa, and we were No Diggitying from here to Gotham City.

At that age, I went to the kind of school where the only thing less cool than being brown, was behaving brown. So I became a chameleon. One moment, yelling ‘Hip Hip Hoorah and one for a Jolly Good Game’ after a smashing hockey match. The next, pretending I was the fifth member of En Vogue, smouldering in my performance in front of the mirror.

Then Nusrat came to me, with a crazy, feverish sound that I had never heard before. A rhythm that spoke to my soul, and a voice whose sheer mad passion matched the intensity of my teenage hormones. I had found my musical home. I was far too embarrassed to let anyone know of my little secret. After all, Nusrat did not have the lazy swag of R & B, the street cred of Hip Hop. Nusrat was raw, completely unrestrained. He lost his shit, and his music was designed to make you lose yours.

Let me back up a bit. I am talking about the incomparable Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the master of the Qawwali. The Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music originating in then Persia, dating back over 700 years. The Sufis are a mystical sect of Islam who believe that spiritual enlightenment can be found through music. The songs are a poetic litany in praise of Allah. The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was by far the most popular Qawwali maestro of modern times, coming from a family that had sung Qawwalis for almost 600 years.

Traditionally Qawwalis are performed live by a whole group of musicians, called the party. They start out tentative, switching between verse and chorus, chanting the most exquisite poetry. As they build up the tempo, the words start losing their meaning, and with frenzied jazz like scatting, they whip the audience into an incensed fevour until they enter a trance like state. Fana. Spiritual ecstasy. When you cease to exist, and are annihilated in your love of Him.

The songs are long, each one up to 45 minutes long. Spiritual ecstasy is not a 3 minute synthesized pop song. Qawwalis. They demand patience. You cannot be a passive observer, an appreciative listener. No. You are immersed, thrown into a guttural energy that throbs. Life slides away from your shoulders, leaving you bare, and your heart exposed. It wrings your soul. It is visceral and not always comfortable.

There are some things in my life that I mourn I will never experience. They are gone forever, and with them an opportunity to dig deeper into my humanity. One of them is never having seen Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan perform live. Intimately. The man was gigantic. He took up space. A man whose voice and presence demanded you create room. That you clear your body of the drudgery of life, and submit to the torturous beauty of man experiencing art at an almost primal level.

My favourite tribute to Nusrat is by the incredible Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, who starts by saying

The first time I saw Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he was stuck in the door of a van and I feared that he might never be able to get out. I was eight years old and had never seen a man so enormous.’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010lvmx

It was only years later, courtesy of YouTube that I got a chance to see a live performance. It was hypnotic.  He was possessed. Sweat pouring off his face. His eyes squinted into nothingness, pain and pleasure indistinguishable. His plump hands, piercing the air, his head shaking, his arms waving, always waving.

A few weeks ago, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan visited Nairobi. Rahat is Nusrat’s protégé and nephew, and had been singing with Nusrat since he was three years old! Rahat was chosen by Nusrat.

On the night of Rahat’s show, the hall at KICC was filled to the brim, as Muhindis crawled out from Parklands, South C, Ngara, Runda, Westlands, just about every corner of the city. It seemed like every Indian in Nairobi had come out to watch Nusrat’s chosen one. They strutted in like peacocks, hairsprayed to the hilt, a deluge of sequins, bangles jingling, heels clicking and heady perfume sprayed on every pulse point.

The crowd waited patiently for Rahat to make an appearance. Finally, he walked out on stage with his party, all dressed in matching sparkly Sherwanis, to the backdrop of psychedelic flashing lights. They even had saxophones and electric guitars. My heart sunk. This was a production. Nusrat would never have dreamed of distracting us with sequins.

I had prepared myself not to expect Nusrat’s insanity. Rahat was measured, sitting cross legged on the stage. He started out with candyfloss Bollywood songs until the crowd lustily demanded Qawwalis. He started each song with a sweet smile, a beckoning to the audience, a testing of the tune in a voice almost too sweet, too controlled. You resigned yourself to the fact that, yes the music is lovely. It truly is lovely. But lovely is just nice.

And then out of nowhere, it snuck up and you were allowed a glimpse of pure abandon, when Rahat himself slipped beyond the edges of control. It was magic. Those moments that spanned mere minutes, were the very reason you were there.

His voice scatted out like the beat of your heart. Like the pulse in your veins. Like the vibration of your very being. In those moments, you felt like nobody else in the world could possibly feel the way you feel. It left you breathless, on the edge of your seat, every hair on your body standing on your skin. As if it was indecent, this, what was happening to you. Till finally he dropped the beat, and with a shake of the shoulders and flourish of his hands, he smiled. A puppet master. The smile of one who knows exactly what he did. And you could not help but applaud. Burst into it. It made you want to jump to your feet and celebrate that there exists something in this world that could make you feel this way. Feel in a way that is almost unbearable. It left you exhausted. Spent. Exhilarated.

Here is a taster of Nusrat and Rahat. It is an acquired taste, and you will need to be patient, but it is well worth it.

Nusrat performing one of my favourite Qawwalis – look out for a taste of his mastery from 11:57 onwards (you can see Rahat as the young man on the far right of the group matching Nusrat) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ui2deAKr8

Another of Nusrat performing Allah Hoo (again from 25:00 onwards is amazing) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpdM_-YuNPo

Rahat performing – (The deliciousness starts at 6:40, and by 9:34 it reaches the crescendo) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLNa0Ep9ZO0

Nursat in one of his more experimental pieces with Michael Brock. This song should be played in the dark, with your eyes shut to the world.  – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttQmxKHjOJM

(As a suggestion from lydzayar I did an audio clip of the story, for those of you don’t really like to read, as some stories are indeed better heard out loud, but have no idea how to get it up here. So till next time then.)