Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Redefined





How the years shred us, and the distance strips
the latent meanings, microscopic shifts
in unbidden words, slow rise of silences
morph the bonds, redefine relationships.



The cords are cut too early or too late,
knots loosen and tighten under the weight
of random things, arbitrary, adrift
at whims of currents and winds of fate.







Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Celebration of Blogs and Life, which is a Woman Breaking Eggs : 300th blog entry





Hello folks, all who stop by here.  Today I am celebrating my 300th blog entry with a very special guest post from  a very special poet and blogger - Adura Ojo.  I came across her poetry/writing about two years ago, from the Romantic Friday Writers website and her own blog. Her writing spoke to me because I too, like her, straddle different cultures and continents, and because I did a bit of my growing up in Nigeria, where her roots lie. She has a unique and forthright voice, with the characteristic lyrical lilt of West Africa.  


Here she talks about life as an immigrant and 'minority other', the identity issues we struggle with, and her debut poetry collection - Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.


Over to you Adura, the page is yours. 




What ‘Life*’ Taught Me about Identity & the Immigrant Experience


First I’d like to say thank you, Nilanjana for giving me the opportunity to guest post on your blog and to meet your readers. My name is Adura Ojo. I am a blogger, poet and writer. Recently I published my poetry book:  Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.  I’m British-Nigerian. I wanted ‘Life*’ to reflect my identity and how I see the world.  This was important to me because of life events that helped shape the individual I had become. One of these is the immigrant experience – my main focus in this post.



Life in Nigeria

My parents took me back to Nigeria when I was three. I lived in Nigeria for eighteen years, so a major part of my formative years was spent there up to my first degree and graduation.  Identity was never an issue. It was a given. My ethnic group – Yoruba – is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria.  I doubt that most of us ever question the ease with which we live in our various countries of origin. Whether you are Indian or Nigerian, you go about your daily business with relative ease. A conversation with the customer service assistant at the post office is not a hassle because you understand each other’s language, local names and use of English.


Life in the UK


One of the things that exasperated me the most when I came back to live in the UK was the need to always have to spell my name. It was a never ending ritual. It was a constant reminder that I was the other. Other experiences included being ignored, not being served, people twisting what you said, pretending to misunderstand what you said, being given an instruction repeatedly though you’ve done nothing that clearly shows that you misunderstood the instruction, - and the one that’s really hard to stomach - people taking your idea as theirs. (Presumably their ears took a vacation when you spoke!) Dealing with one’s experience as the ‘minority other’ can be traumatic. It can leave the individual feeling alienated, unappreciated, frustrated and angry. I experienced all of these emotions as portrayed in ‘The Museum’, ‘Say My Name’, ‘Eggs Crack Easy’ and ‘Zebra Crossing*.’ Racism compounds the diaspora experience because it gives the oppressor power to stigmatize a group of people who are already feeling alienated. 


What ‘Life’* Taught Me


Identity is one of those fundamental needs that define humanity. It can also produce conflicts within the individual. The diaspora experience is one of those conflicts, in particular the immigrant experience. Having lived in Nigeria until I was 21, I found myself declared an ‘immigrant’ in my land of birth. British institutions and way of life were strange to me. It seemed like the system was designed to keep me out rather than welcome me in. It took years of grit and determination to not drown in a sea of frustration and alienation. Holding on to my core identity sustained me and provided a shield against the trauma of being a minority other.


As I held on to my Nigerian identity, I also opened up to what I liked about British-ness. The poem ‘French’ was a revelation to me. It was a reflection on my experiences while on holiday in Morocco. I was so irate, so righteously indignant and arrogant that no one in the Moroccan restaurant spoke English! It made me realize how proud I was of my British identity. – That I am as fiercely proud to be British as I am to be Nigerian; and though the winter months alienate my soul and racism still rears its ugly head occasionally, nothing changes the fact I am British. A lot of my humour is British and I share the dark humour that comes with being British. I am Nigerian because it is my soul. It is how I breathe, eat, stand with my hands on my waist and form the words out of my mouth. The biggest lesson from my experience of being ‘the minority other’ is the importance of holding on to one’s core. No matter what happens in the dominant wider society, what keeps a human being sane is their core. Not recognizing or appreciating one’s core identity can be traumatic and in extreme cases contribute to a mental breakdown.  What keeps me whole is my identity – all of it. My identity is the sum total of what I accept and what I reject. It is a source of comfort.  More than two decades later, I don’t mind spelling my name. I would like it though if people would just say my name before asking me to spell it.




*The book, Life is a Woman breaking eggs is also referred to as ‘Life.’

*The Museum, Say My Name, Eggs Crack Easy, Zebra Crossing and French are all poems in the book: Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs.


Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs is available on Amazon Kindle in most countries.



Adura Ojo is a British-Nigerian author, poet, blogger and a mother of two. She is the author of Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs, her debut poetry collection. She graduated in English Studies at the University of Ibadan. She later bagged degrees in Law and Social Work in the UK. She has professional experience in varied employment roles as lecturer, trainer and mental health practitioner. Her poems have been published in Sentinel Champions, Sentinel Nigeria, The Poetic Pinup Revue, and a number of websites. She lives in the UK where she is currently working on her debut novel and a second poetry collection.


Follow Adura Ojo:

‘Like’ her author page: https://www.facebook.com/aduraojoauthor







My thanks to Adura for that very interesting and insightful post. (And boy, does spelling out names resonate with me or what?!)  My own feeling is that as the planet becomes smaller and rounder, learning to integrate, assimilate and let diverse 'others' enrich not just the minorities but also the majority will continue to be relevant. 

If you have travelled or lived in cultures other than your own, then I/we would love to hear your take. 





Write...Edit....Publish....September 2014 : Changing Faces



It's time for the Write...Edit...Publish... challenge hosted by Denise Covey, where she invites us to write/respond to a monthly prompt. This month's prompt is Changing Faces.  The details are



FLASH FICTION, POETRY, NON-FICTION, ARTWORK, PHOTOS
OPEN TO ALL
  1. SUBMIT your name to the list below NOW or direct link from Sept 24-26 AEST or until linky closes (Earlier entries receive more comments)
  2. CREATE your entry according to the monthly theme - SEPTEMBER - CHANGING FACES.
  3. EDIT your entry until it sparkles.
  4. PUBLISH your entry on your blog on the dates shown, stating feedback preferences.
  5. READ other entries, giving feedback as requested.
Open to all genres - Fiction works can be - Adult, YA, MG. All entries maximum 1,000 words.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT WHEN LINKING UP. 
Email Denise if you have more questions:
den.covey@gmail.com








You wake up, look in the bathroom mirror, and a different face looks back at you.



My entry is a flash, an excerpt from a much longer story.




Spills



The water felt unusually cold in Pratik’s cupped hands, and even colder against his shut eyelids.  He quickly found the towel, and as he emerged from the folds, his eyes fell on the mirror.   The shock was unnerving, though this was not the first time.  He dabbed his face again, and scrutinised it closely.


The changes were subtle - his eyebrows arched now at a minutely different angle, his earlobes sat flatter against his head, his lips were narrower, the jaws a shade wider, and the stubble on it a darker chestnut. He looked down at his hands, the veins were corded, the skin flaky, the fingertips squat, squarer nails, and rough.  The forearm shorter somehow, bulkier than his; limbs of an older person, older than his twenty-eight years.  He looked back into the mirror, and shuddered.  The eyes were the most frightening of all, a different person looked out of them and back at him, ruthlessly cruel eyes, without a shred of compassion or humour. Just like a serial killer's, he thought wryly.  


He came out and sent a text to his boss, working was not an option today. Panchali was still asleep, she smiled in some dream as he looked at her and wondered how to break it to her - this sickness in his brain. She sensed his presence and half woke, reached out for his hand, and clasping it, smiled wider and went back to sleep.  He had planned to talk about their future this coming weekend, but now - he sighed, sat next to her and tried to untangle his thoughts.  Perhaps this part of his life was better witnessed first-hand rather than heard narrated?   


He woke her gently and told her, there was no time for details, just broad outlines of what to expect.   Her sleepy eyes flared wide in surprise but then became attentive as he spoke, his words urgent and slightly incoherent.  She shut her eyes and listened, touched him as he talked, ran her fingers along his jaw, traced the curve of his ears and eyebrows with her index.  The rigor started even as his words petered away. 


Still with her eyes closed she kissed him lightly and said, “Your voice is just the same, did you know?”


“Will you stay?”


“Of course,” she threw back the covers and rose, a swift fluid dancer’s movement like a swan taking flight.  “I'll get some coffee.”


***


He lay on the bed, shivering uncontrollably with his eyes open, conscious but unseeing.  The tinkle of spoons from the kitchen slowly faded.  The sounds of the city coming awake outside - the auto-rickshaws shuttling the first commuters, the loud airhorn of a bus, three notes of a conch at a neighbour’s shrine, tram and temple bells – all receded and regrouped into sounds of a different time and place. 


It was quieter, only the lap-lap of water licking banks, punctuated occasionally by the faraway rhythmic slap of oars pulling away from a pier.   The lane was half as narrow as the canal it bordered, the cobbles slippery with rain fallen earlier.  Sparse lamps and shafts of light from the odd window shimmered, reflected in the oily waters, but lost the battle against darkness.  He walked quickly, primordial rage and hate roiling inside him, walked so as to leave the torment behind.   Was it his fault that he was made this way, misshapen and crooked?  He was stronger than two men, and could outperform many even with his dwarf’s hunchbacked body.  Yet no-one would give him a job.  He was a knife-thrower, reduced to a monstrosity, a butt for jokes, shunned, at most tolerated, a demeaning spectacle his only livelihood.


Four rough men stood chatting ahead, barring his way.  Pratik stopped a few feet away.  One of them turned and looked, another said, “Byata kooNjo*” and all of them guffawed.  His rage spun into a red hot fireball, and his hate was a sharp dagger twisted in his side.  He drew two knives from his waist, and threw them with unerring aim.  One of the men fell with a gurgling sound, the other screamed and toppled into the canal.  He ran and rammed his head into the next man, hitting the midriff, winding his victim and leaving him gasping for breath on the ground.   


The last man was on top of him now, both locked into combat.  He fended several blows, but could not bring his opponent down.  A deep breath and he launched into the man with his left, a powerful blow that made the fellow stumble.  In a split second he reached down and pulled the last knife, but he was caught in a melee of limbs, the winded one was up now and they were two against one.   Pratik slashed viciously and felt the knife plunge into soft flesh.  The nearest man let out an animal squeal and Pratik pulled out and half turned on his ankle and slashed upward with the knife again and felt the blade slip into flesh and the warm rush of blood over his wrist. The last man crumpled and lay in a pool of light from a street-lamp.  Pratik saw with a stab of sudden panic that it was his own face under the light, his unaltered face he saw every day in the mirror.  He moved closer, his heart thudding, but his feet scrabbled on the edge and he fell and knew only the blackness and coldness and the smell of the canal.


***


“Punch?”

“Mmm hmm?  You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine now.  Did I scare you?”

“Hah, you wish!”

“No, seriously.”

“Well, not exactly the best half hour I have had with you, but it’s okay, you didn’t kill me.”

“No, I killed somebody else.”

“What?”

“I killed men.  I was a dwarf, a monster, a psychopath.   I re-live events again.  Go back to a past life somewhere. It bothers me.  How much of that previous me spills into this one here and now?”



“Listen darling, I don't know about spills and splashes, but in this birth, you’re you.  Pratik Sinha.  And you’re mine. Don’t dare forget.”



WC - 1021
FCA

Byata kooNjo* - Hunchback 


Read the other entries here and join in:




(Submissions close in 3d 16h 18m)
powered by InLinkz








And I am celebrating the 300th post in this here blog soon, with a guest post from a very special poet/blogger many of us know - Adura Ojo.  Don't forget to check it out.




Sunday, 21 September 2014

The lands of foremothers









To stand just once, as my foremothers stood
on humped mud-markers between their paddy rows;
to feel the same earth that once held their shadows,
to dip and drink from that vast solitude


that was once their sky, stop at a ruined shrine
where they knelt; rest in a mango orchard
touched by their work-roughened hands, and nurtured
offhand in leisure, planted without design,


a crude hammock hitched there some monsoon day.
I’ve loved my amber earth as it is, but still
I’d have been a deeper, broader tranquil
had I been able to touch that old pathway.


Yet, all mud’s wind-blown. And as likely true -
soil that dusts my feet might have crumbed theirs too.










I belong to the third generation of a "Partition" family.  My family origins lie in a village that is deep in rural Bangladesh now.  I have this dream of going back there on a visit some day.  

The picture is of a traditional Bengali temple in a 400 year-old rural homestead in West Bengal.














Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quinnet : Claustrophobia





Folded paperwings origami art
flocked vultures coming to rest in the throat
waiting for the kill for the feast to start;
and whipsharp creases on a shrinking heart
a terrible scream that can’t find its note.


Take them off, wipe them away from their perch
stop the quickthree bound of those yellow claws.
I am the island, they the relentless surge
of slavering waves that come in greedy search
every crumb of soil pecked up by toothless maws;


toothless but keen the talons and the beak
concentric rings of claustrophobia
the drawstrings pulled too tight, breathlessly bleak
the throat spasms and stills for it must not shriek
there’s no toehold on escape over here.


Whisk me back quick to those wide-hipped mainlands
of skypink birds, honeywarm grass and sands.





I have been experimenting with variations on fixed forms :) I call this one a quinnet, a sonnet with five line stanzas instead of four.  The concluding couplet remains.  Seventeen instead of fourteen lines, prime numbers are so much more elegant :) What do you think of the form? Of the poem? and experimental verses?



Sunday, 7 September 2014

Where does your sonnet grow?







It’s a difficult habit, hard to maintain -

to peg the reading, writing, with place and date

much easier to buy a book and scrawl my name

and leave the rest blank, no city or state.



For a few days I have put the writing off -

“get to it another time, when less fragile” -

may be scribbled a direct draft in the blog.

But in the end I must make a fresh new file



and nothing of the cities now left behind

lodged in the making of these new documents

and nothing once I finish writing these lines

to signal homesickness and reminiscence.



Life’s perhaps a sonnet but the universe

cares little where it’s written, wants just the words.
                                                                                                                                                              




Manama.
07.09.2014.











Monday, 1 September 2014

Frangipani











Each velvet-soft frangipani memory
falls on a bank then washes away
with the tides into the light of the sea
hovering between a darkness and a day.


An old woman, with gnarled tree fingers
stoops to pick a handful for her apron
but waves flash one burst of gold and silver
snatch them in and then forever darken.


A sparrow pecks at mud for unseen insects
and calls the flock and cocks its head and waits
and rushing wings do come out and connect
but all the same find nothing, it’s too late.


The last ferry, with a blast on its horn, pulls
through silk-dark rivers, frangipani petals.