Tag Archives: Rohini

What is happiness?

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A prose poem by Rohini Sunderam

The following piece was written for a collection of inspirational stories, articles, and poetry produced and edited by Robin Barratt called Happy. If you want to read it or indeed buy it, do visit his website where you will also learn more about this wonderful man who is totally committed to writing and promoting writers, and whom I am pleased to call a friend. http://www.collectionsofpoetryandprose.com/happy/

“What is happiness?”

The infant gurgled in the old man’s arms.

“You are happiness,” The old man replied. “Your innocent enjoyment of every breeze. Your laughter at the sight of your mother’s smile. That’s pure happiness.”

“But, how do you know if you’re happy?” the child asked the old man.

“You don’t,” the old man replied, “But your pleasure in every morsel of food, the fact that your tongue can taste all the nuances of each mouthful, discern all its textures, its layered flavours, top notes that tell of meat that’s been braised, its delicate juices released as you bite into it. The sweet-sour melting tones of a fruit, some with the sweet blossoming just as it slides down your throat. Your ability to catch all the subtle nuances of a single grape as it’s crushed on the tongue. That’s happiness.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” the young boy said, “How do I taste things so differently than you do?”

“Your palate is young and hasn’t been tested by the acrid tastes of disappointment, nor yet savoured the bitterness of sorrow. Your lively taste buds are still easily aroused by hundreds of smells and sights. Your eyes are still bright with the hope of youth.”

“I still don’t understand you,” the young lad said. “Surely I see as you do. The sun as it rises and sets. The leaves on the trees, the fine delicacy of a bud on a twig. Granted my vision is sharper, but yours is softened by wisdom.”

“Ah!” the old man sighed, “Wisdom. That is just youth’s way of taking the edge off the blows of old age. Our faces are weathered by the winds of sorrow. Toughened to leather by the salt of our tears. Our once young, soft hands are calloused with care and our shoulders hunched by the weight of our regrets. Your youth gives you strength to handle the onslaught of life.”

“I think I now get what you’ve been saying to me,” the young man said taking a deep breath. “I now have concerns and worries, like you. Responsibilities too. I have a family and their needs overtake my own.”

The old man smiled, his eyes lit up, bright as the sun as it sinks in the west. His weathered face glowed a mellow red and the whites of his eyes had a hint of blue. “Thank you for making me happy,” he said.

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Drinker of the Wind

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Untitled design

Some time ago when I was at the ad agency in Bahrain, I worked with some very talented artists and illustrators. One was Linda Strydom – who created the illustrations for Corpoetry and among so many others there was Francis Tiongsen, his brother David Tiongsen who is nothing short of amazing and many others who do so much more than computer graphics. If you check out their portfolios in the links provided you’ll know what I mean.

All that is by the by. Just thought I’d give some friends a plug!

This poem came about because Francis loved horses and at the same time we were doing a brochure for a real estate project created around the theme of horses, in particular the Arab. He’d created some captivating illustrations which then prompted this poem based on an old Bedouin legend.

 

 

 

 

DRINKER OF THE WIND (sharaab alrreh)

He was Erebeh, he was mystery,
The Arab steed that flew
Across the desert sands
Chasing the storm
His hooves thundering a warning
To those who had sinned
He was the first Drinker of the Wind.
His mane was midnight,
His eyes were the stars
The light from his hooves,
Four galaxies that shone from afar.
One look from him, one shake of his head
The other steeds followed wherever he led
He ruled the old dunes,
He ran wild and free
And his sinews were limned
With good honest sweat:
The Drinker of the Wind.
Long was he hunted,
Hard was he sought
And the Bedouin tribes
Over him once had fought
His was a spirit born to be free
A being not to broken, nor ridden was he.
But legends tell us,
One wild winter night
A lone Beddu approached him,
So humble, polite
And our Arab stallion
He pawed the hard dunes
And took unto him a mare
Pale as the moon
Then he left as he came
That dark winter night
Like a vision, a dream,
A mere flicker of light
Never again seen by mere men
For he truly was 
The first Drinker of the Wind.
Some say they saw him
Against the dawn sky
Some say they hear him,
When the wind rumbles by
But the Bedouin know
And their legends declare
The Drinker of the Wind
Can’t be seen anywhere

For he left as he came
On that wild winter night
When the sky was a mantle
As dark as could be
And the wind moved the dune tides
Like waves on the sea.
No moon, not a star
Shone that magical night
When the Drinker of the Wind
Disappeared from all sight
He flew up to the heavens
The night sky took him home
Where, as he was meant to
He still freely roams
The first Drinker of the Wind.

Note: The Arabian Horse – 

And God took a handful of South wind and from it formed a horse, saying: “I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil And a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth… I give thee flight without wings.”

— Bedouin Legend

(Byford, et al. Origins of the Arabian Breed)

 

Twig & Leaf

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All I need is a compliment… I posted a fragment from this piece on Facebook and one person’s reaction prompted me to reproduce this dramatic little dialogue that I wrote many moons ago when there were fewer high rise buildings in Bahrain, when our apartment in Muharraq looked out to the sea where dhows lounged on the beach and the causeway to the Diplomatic area was a quiet passageway and the country was asleep by ten at night.

A TWIG AND A LEAF

A bird introduced the story. It twittered: “This is the story of leaf and twig. Of self and self. Which destiny is yours dear listener? Which road to dusty death would you take?”

Twig:   “The wind blows and I move.”

Leaf:   “The breeze breathes and I dance. I quiver with its tiniest breath. Silver. Golden green. The sunlight warms me and I glory in its warmth. The moonlight shimmers on me and I play a dainty game with moonbeams. But you, you are stiff and angular. Your movements are scratchy. Scritching. And scratching. And squeaky.”

Twig:   “Just because I am more firmly set it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the wind or the sun. Or that the silver moonlight does not make dramatic patterns with me. I am strong. And you are weak. Too emotional. Too full of movement. Too light. You dance today. But all too soon that loving sun will make you wilt and you will fall and be crushed.”

Leaf:     “Drop I shall some day. But not before the sun and the wind have caressed me into the most exciting hues of green and yellow and russet, a russet that would rival a sunset. Colours that have made poets sing. What poets have sung of you, Twig?”

Twig:     “No. That is true. No poets sing of me. I am the coarse, unlovely of the world. The bark grows hard around me. It shelters me from the sun and the wind of life. But it constrains me too. Confines the sap that flows within. Warm sap that longs to leaf sometimes. That aches to dance.

And, yet I know that if I were a leaf, I would dread the day when I should fall. Having metamor­phosed from glorious green and yellow on to russet and hectic red. Fall and be crushed. Stamped out. And forgotten. No. I would rather be a twig. And never live or love so much, so close to life that some day I shall, I must be turned to dust, ignominiously…under the foot of some uncaring, unthinking, unloving passerby.”

Leaf: “Perhaps. But twig, dear twig, to love is all. Why should it matter how you leave this world? We must all be crushed and torn some day. So live. Live and love and laugh and dance today!”

Twig:   “No. No. I cannot… And yet, should I? No. I must not. For I support the leaves.”

Hearts for Valentine

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Valentine’s Day was approaching and our publisher was in the throes of revamping the website. How do we make it more interesting? Let’s add a blog, he said. Let’s add stories and so I was moved to write this story, which is now available on Smashwords as a free read.

Here are the opening lines

They never celebrated Valentine’s Day, “Such a load of nonsense!” she said as they held hands and laughed at others’ follies: boxes of chocolates, bouquets of red roses tied up in guilt, hasty dates at restaurants waiting to lighten the lovers’ wallets.

There were jewellery stores dripping diamonds with their adamantine facets, sharp enough to break hearts. Rubies as red as the blood of the nightingale’s heart in Oscar Wilde’s tale, that beckoned lovers into the stores. Emeralds as green as the eyes of a mistress when she sees her lover with his wife on his arm winked through the shop windows at passers-by. The temptations and offerings were everywhere, and so hard to resist.

“We show love every day, and that matters more than chocolates,” he said.

“It does,” she answered laughing that carefree laugh that comes from the heart of a woman who knows she is loved.

Their children teased them, “C’mon Dad, get with the times!”

He shrugged. She laughed

Yet, one year arrived when she wished – it was just a little wish, light as the last snowflake of winter that disappeared in the warmth of his smile – that they did something a little special on Valentine’s Day. They never had, so why start now? After thirty some years of a happy marriage, there was really no need for any special recognition of the day. The commercialisation of love on display seemed too garish for them. Yet the little wish persisted in her mind, no longer an ephemeral snowflake, more like a spangle from a Christmas decoration. So that year, on his breakfast plate she placed a small dollop of raspberry jam in the shape of a heart.

“Oh!” was all he said. His hazel-brown eyes crinkled at the edges and lit up with suppressed laughter. He finished his single fried egg, sunny-side up on toast and then followed it with his second toast and the little heart of raspberry jam melted on its surface, spreading its soft sweet jelly redness over his tongue.

You may read the rest of the story on our Ex-L-Ence Publishing website

http://www.ex-l-ence.com/blogs/high-days-and-holidays/hearts-for-valentine

Or download it here:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/704228

Extract from a work in progress

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I am at last working on a story I had started way back in 1994! It’s also my first novella set in Halifax. I have written one short story set in Lunenburg County in Nova Scotia, and you can read that here, it’s titled A Rhyme and a Reason, the first thriller I have ever attempted.

And now, here’s a peek into a tale to be…

As she approached Scotia Square, Meera looked around seeing everything afresh. She marvelled at the old buildings standing amiably next to newer glass and concrete structures. The red brick and the sombre grey, articulated doorways with raised eyebrows looking forever down their noses at the large plate glass of some upstart new high-rise. Thankfully, there weren’t too many high-rise buildings here. There was an olde-worlde charm she hadn’t noticed before. It’s quite a beautiful old street, she thought. I’ve never really looked at it properly. A bit like Calcutta. Almost straight out of Dickens! Then she smiled, trust me to think of Dickens. I used to think it was a dreary grey English sort of street, which it is, but now I have a job and it takes on a romantic air. I am so, so, lucky. It’s been less than three months since we arrived and I have a job. Part time too, the most wonderful part of all. I can fix dinner, do the housework, make lunch… the plans started to fall into place. I’ll tell Ajoy that now we must do the laundry just once a week. Oh, God! A number two. My bus!

She almost shouted out aloud. Then lifting her sari slightly, displaying silver anklets worn over skin-tone knee-high nylon stockings, she ran to catch her bus. ‘I have a job’ the chorus in her head came to a crashing crescendo as she clambered up the steps and tossed the coins into the receptacle with a flourish. I’m an expert at doing that already. How Canadian will I get? She wondered. Will I ever wear pants? I may have to when it gets really cold. A dress? Never! It must be so strange to have all that cold air going up your legs, oof! She shuddered at the thought of it.

When she reached her stop, Meera almost ran up to the strip mall on at Lacewood and Vimy, where Ajoy had recently established their video rental store. She pushed through the door, he had a couple of older customers and was deep in conversation. so she wandered to the side and looked at the list of videos on offer. Through the corner of her eyes, she watched him speaking with animated gestures to his enchanted audience. Her heart skipped a beat, he had grown old so suddenly. The hair at his temples had begun to grey and there was a thinning patch at the crown of his head. His large soulful eyes, usually edged by laugh lines, had begun to droop in the three months since they had come to Halifax.

Excerpt from ‘Five Lives One Day in Bahrain’

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Until another author friend sends me something to share with you, here’s an extract from Five Lives One Day in Bahrain published by Ex-L-Ence Publishing. Check out the site for many good reads.

Rosita is late:

Rosita had been so exhausted that after her six o’clock Skype call to her mother that morning she’d gone back to sleep and had slipped into such a deep slumber that she’d gone past her softly buzzing alarm and her roommate Wendy’s door-banging departure. She woke with a start, “What time is it?” she exclaimed aloud, rubbing her eyes and yawning all at once. She reached out and looked at her large wristwatch, which she’d set on the small table near her bed. “Oh No! Nine o’clock! How did I do that? Now I’ll have to take a cab, and I was hoping to catch the bus.” The unnecessary extra expense upset her rhythm. But she knew she needed to look good, have all her certificates ready and arrive at least fifteen minutes ahead of the 12:30 pm appointment. No way could she catch a bus now.

There was too much riding on this job! Her very own section for hair styling, a salary of two hundred and fifty dinars plus sponsorship and the lady, an English woman married to a Bahraini, seemed to be kind and understanding. How was she going to get to Budaiya in time? All this buzzed through her mind as she hurriedly showered and sprayed herself with both a new deodorant and the Kenzo she’d used so sparingly and carefully ever since the American marine Ricky had given it to her three months ago. That was something else she’d kept from her mother and the girls at the Red Rose Salon in Juffair.

You can also buy the book here.

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Lest we forget

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A painting by my friend Serena Stevens

A painting by my friend Serena Stevens may she rest in peace she battled cancer as valiantly as any soldier

November is a month to remember. Loved ones lost to all kinds of battles… on the front in war, of course, but there are other battles that some folk wage against disease – that dreaded, insidious, cancer; stroke victims, who wage a daily battle with bodies unwilling and unable to respond to the simplest of their wills; so many other ailments and conditions that render folk dealing with pain on a sub-chronic daily basis, the list is a long one. This November I’d like to remember them all.

I can’t name them, but they are all my heroes.

You and you and you, who see

Life ebbing by in slow degrees

For whom there was a time, I know

When nothing ever went so slow

Today your speech is locked behind

An uncooperative mind.

And you, why half your body can’t

Respond to anything you want.

And then there’s one who cannot turn

For pain that through his body burns

And there’s another one who, while

Her spirit breaks, yet she can smile.

Some have lost their limbs to bombs

And still they somehow all limp on

We know not who has been in war

But this we know, and know for sure

There are brave soldiers everywhere

Who need to know that we do care

For them, our poppies red

We wear and still a tear or two we’ll shed.

Fight on you brave immortal souls

The day will come, you’ll reach your goal.

And for those who are thinking of loved ones lost in war I have this to say in remembrance of ‘Poppy Day’.

The famous poem by John McCrae is reproduced below:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

With so many wars that have been fought since that poem was written, I’d like to change it around a bit

Forget that quarrel with our foe

‘twill only lead to e’er more woe.

And who is foe may in the end

Turn ‘round and some day be a friend.

The only faith, that we need keep

Is, to try and end each day in peace.

 

Let the poppies, sweetly blow

Lest we forget those laid below

And should our leaders want a fight,

And rant and rave about what’s right,

Let’s hide the guns and send them in

To face each other in the ring.

Note: This post was first published a year ago. I have reworked it for the reasons above.

5 tips for writing a memoir …

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… And how I scored

The other day someone asked me if I had any tips for writing a biography or a memoir. That was a tall order. I must confess I am working on one but can no way see myself as any kind of an expert on the subject. My method, quite honestly was to plunge on. Get the story down and then work it into a somewhat linear narrative thereafter.

Why didn’t I do what I usually do, Google it? The main reason was because I didn’t want to be bogged down by external strictures, by what a regular biography should look like. I wanted the person’s own story and own voice to come through.

The memoir I am working on is almost done. But, after the question was posed I decided to see whether my method was nuts, or did it work?

I came upon an old article from AuthorHouse that suggests the following tips:

Tip #1

Have a deep interest in your subject. Don’t pick a biography subject just because you think there’s a market for that book, or because that person is currently in the spotlight. Pick someone you’re dying to know more about.

In other words, ask yourself, “If no one but me ever reads this book (or if, for whatever reason, the book is never completed), would the research itself be its own reward?”

I for one am glad to say an unequivocal YES! I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of getting to know my subject. We’ve had many laughs, tears, frustrations. But, overall it has been an amazing experience for me.

Tip#2

Be organized. If you’re a thorough researcher, you might interview hundreds of people and review thousands of documents. Simply dumping all those records, transcripts, photographs and notes into a folder with your subject’s name is NOT the way to go. Use a system that works for you.

Oh dear! Nope. I wasn’t that organised, but I wasn’t a total wreck either. I did/ do have separate folders. Fortunately, since we decided to keep it as a memoir, I didn’t need to interview a whole host of people so I didn’t have to check and counter-check with others who would, perhaps have given different versions of the same account, a la Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.

Tip#3

You don’t necessarily need a new subject—just a new angle. Just because your person of interest has already been written about before (perhaps many times), it doesn’t mean there’s no place for your biography.

This didn’t apply to me or the subject, because the story is unique and there aren’t that many accounts of the person’s life for us to worry about. Besides, it is very much an authorised memoir.

Tip #4

Don’t delay, especially with interviews! Once you’ve decided that you want to write about a particular person, get started as soon as possible. Why? Because interview subjects will, unfortunately, pass away eventually. Waiting a year, a month, or even a week could result in the loss of an eyewitness or a close friend of your subject.

Again, this didn’t apply… thank God! But we had got the bulk of the story down fairly quickly. In spite of a hectic schedule, we met twice a week. My subject is a very focused individual and after a few preliminaries, we wasted no time. I am very impressed by his prodigious memory and tremendous sense of story-telling. I felt I was there, witnessing each event he talked about. That’s why sometimes we’d both end up laughing or emotionally drained.

Tip #5

Be thorough. Because, after everything you also have to write the book!  Follow leads, pursue hunches, and research your subject exhaustively—but don’t forget to write the book! At some point, you have to make a conscious decision to stop digging and start typing.

As you do your research, you might be able to fine-tune the scope of your project, which will narrow the parameters of your research.

My method was to write along. As soon as I had finished the interview sessions I would transcribe the session and keep that in a separate folder. The next day, or sometimes, that very night, I’d get into trying to “write the story” as a story.

This worked to some extent, because, after a very thorough (and I may add: sharp) review by the editor, major chunks of the book had to be moved around and rewritten. Some parts had been repeated and some were inconsistent.

To the above AuthorHouse tips, I’d add a sixth…

PLUS ONE!

Get a good editor. Preferably someone who is not associated or emotionally connected with your subject.

This was a great help for me. Because, although on reading my editor’s comments I was initially devastated, when I returned to fixing the manuscript, I found that perhaps the emotional distance had helped to bring clarity. We are always far too close to our own work – especially long pieces – to see the errors.

And that’s about the size of it. I’m sure there are many other resources for writing a biography or memoir, but if this helps even one fellow writer, I feel I will have done something today.

Poem or Story

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Which works better?

Genesis

It’s all supposed to begin with the first step

The thousand miles or kilometres or whatever: Life.

But what if I refuse to take it?

And stand here unmoving

Clinging to the membrane

Steadfast.

An ovum unfertilised

A life that denies the acceptance of existence

Dodging the all-seeking little worms of spermatozoa

Remaining a single-celled

Non-creation.

Still I will be moved

In the bloody menses that she will discard.

And so I will have made a step

Whether I travel

Towards life

Or death.

AND HERE IT IS AS A MINI STORY

Genesis

It’s all supposed to begin with the first step. The thousand miles or kilometres or whatever: Life. But what if I refuse to take it? And stay here unmoving. Clinging to the membrane.

“Stay away from me you worm! Serpent!”

“Allow me entry and you will enjoy experience.”

“No! I don’t want it.” I scream turning away from his seductive dance.

“You will learn about love. A mother’s caress. You will smell flowers as sweet as heaven. Experience the wonders of a world beyond this red-darkness and loud throbbing. You will taste delicacies more exquisite than the insipid chyme that filters into your being just now. You will hear music so fine you will dance free from this static limpet life.”

“Go away. I am afraid.” I am a life that defies existence. I coagulate my shell to prevent penetration. I remain an ovum unfertilised. The spermatozoon dies.

I have survived. I am the star. I dodged the all-seeking little worms and have remained a single-celled non-creation. I have saved her from the pain of birth, the agonies of raising a child and of death.

My triumph is short-lived. Forces I cannot fight are shedding me, tossing me out in her bloody menses. She discards it with disdain and anger, wrapping her tampon carefully in toilet paper.

There are no medals for death if you haven’t lived a life.

A poem presented at the Colours of Life, Bahrain

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Two of the poems I presented at Colours of Life are already on FictionPals. I guess the third one should join them here.

Apologies to Maya Angelou

I will not go down in history

And no one will write lies

About my daily mystery

Or if, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Am I sassy or even sexy

Do I upset you in any way?

The chances are you haven’t noticed

I’m wallpaper plain today.

 

But like the aged dying tree

I once was young and green

I’m not like the moon or sun or tides

And yet I shall be seen

 

Though my hair is white as hoar frost

Though my limbs hang loose with flab

Though my voice is hoarse and rough

You know, I have the strength of words

 

And if you will, or won’t or can’t

Hear what I have to say

Above the noise, the static chant

I know I shall be heard

 

For I speak of your tomorrows

Your coming ills and ails

Your aches and pains and hollow

Moans, just as your daylight fails.

 

So listen to me young ones

Hear what I have to say

No matter what you dream and hope

Just do it right away.

 

When you think that you have lots of time

The sun sets on another day

The hundred little things of life

Keep getting in your way

 

You think this will not happen

Who me? Oh, no! No way!

Your tomorrow it is coming

And that is me…Today!