On the first anniversary of Three Feet Taller

Today, it has been a year since I published my first and hopefully not last book.
Today is the anniversary of me overcoming one of my greatest fears : that of commitment.
God knows how many times I toyed with the manuscript before I typed in the words
“Title of the book : “Three Feet Taller”
Author : Vrinda Sood”

I didn’t think I knew what the word “author” meant, or if I was even ready to take on the responsibility of having something out there with my name on it forever. I was brutally honest about this in my preface when I said that words like “poet” and “author” carried with them too much responsibility that i didn’t think I was capable of, or even worth.

I mean, what if my views on a topic changed over time? What if sometime in the future, when I’m passionately engaged in conversation with someone over feminism or cross-border firing, or even my views on love and loss, they wait for the lull in my sentence before quietly pointing out, “that’s not what you said in your book.”

Of course, I’m giving myself and my publication much more credit than we both probably receive, but the thought of having your views set in ink in copy after copy that who knows might end up in which corner of India, or the world (thank you, Yale-NUS) had me scared.

Throughout the entire publishing cycle, making the final punctuation edits (for the sixteenth time) I caught myself thinking if was necessary for me to publish. I mean, I could blog and express myself that way, too, I didn’t need to do all this.

But I am a reader at heart. I have grown up sitting huddled in big armchairs Sunday after lazy Sunday with my fingers wrapped around a thick new novel and the entire world on hold. I have gone discovering inside my grandfather’s old closets only to find the entire collection of Lord Byron’s poetry bound in heavy leather jackets as if to prevent the words from spilling out. I have spent hours under staircases, in beds, during classes, beneath desks, hanging by the loose ends at the bottom of each page, each unfinished sentence itching my fingers to turn the page.

I knew, I know, the joy of feeling, reading, owning, (occasionally sniffing), and buying books. Which is why when the first few hundred copies of my book appeared online, I was screaming internally. What if no one wanted to read, own, or buy my book?

It has been a year and I have yet to know how many copies my book has sold. All I get is a text from my mother whenever it’s nearly selling out. Every time, it makes my blood rush to my ears and my heart pound in my chest.

People want to read my book. My poetry. My words.

And not just 17 year old Vrinda’s writings, but those of all the people I have been when I first wrote those poems. This is why this collection of poetry is something I hope reaches beyond me and into the heart of someone else, anyone else, who is or has ever been unsure about the way they express themselves.

I don’t mean to sound like a TED speaker, but if this past year has taught me anything, it’s that everyone’s story is so beautifully interconnected with everyone else’s and yet so unique, that it’s worth listening to (or reading about, whatever).

So this is to my book, to Veer Misra, to my mother, and to myself. A very happy birthday to Three Feet Taller.

May you, and everyone who has read this, never stop finding beauty in words.

A note to self (and a few others)

A friend of fourteen years left for college a week ago. I’ve been trying to craft all that I’ve wanted to say to her into coherent sentences ever since her flight took off, and as tough as it was combing through the mass of emotions in my head, I finally managed to come up with something borderline decipherable.

I’m posting this here because along with her, and I, there are so many others who just started (or are going to start) this new journey. Hopefully you’ll relate.

Here goes.

I honestly cannot believe that you left already. I swear to god, I had marked the day in my calendar ( I mean on my phone, not an actual calendar; who has those these days anyway).

Anyhow! New York!

You have absolutely no idea how happy I am for you. Everything, from the lights shining all day and all night, to the buzz on the streets no matter what time will envelope you in wonder. Honestly, you’ll be so enthralled in the next few weeks, with both college and New York, that you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed. I just went through the same thing. I’m still going through it, and I’m absolutely no expert at handling it all, but I do know this.
There will come a point when you’ll be experiencing so much at the same time, you’ll be feeling so many emotions at once, that your heart will be full to bursting. Let it. I swear to god. The fist time you cry looking up at the sky, or at a wall in your room, or in your sister’s lap will tell you so many things about yourself.

You’ll know the kind of person you thought you would be when you came here, and how you’ve realised that you’re laughably off the mark. You’ll realise that making friends is actually not as easy as we always thought it would be; because there are just so many walls that we’ve been trained to not let down. You’ll learn that eventually, slowly, you’ll have to let down those walls (I just started working on it, too) and start trusting strangers. You’ll learn to trust your instincts more than Google maps.

You’ll learn that the extent of our education was limited to learning how to read words off a page, and not watch those words become fingers that stretch your mind in a way that’s painful, but refreshing. You’ll breathe. We’ve both (we’ve all) been cooped up inside these boxes we unknowingly created for ourselves, holding our breath in anticipation for something to come along that let’s us exhale. You’ll exhale. You’ll cough, and sputter, and fall ill with the freshman flu till you can’t lie about your cold being a sniffle anymore (they can hear it from two blocks away, they know it’s you).

You’ll let go of all definition; of everything familiar and comfortable. You’ll realise you’re not actually as good at things as you thought you were. And that is when you’ll look. You’ll look beyond your own limited experiences in liminal spaces and see people. You’ll meet people from countries you can’t possibly point out on a map (no, Serbia and Siberia are not the same thing), with accents you can’t decipher. You’ll repeat your own name to people so many times it’ll start sounding strange (“wait, how do you pronounce it?” “I don’t even know anymore”). You’ll think you remember people’s names and have four hour long lunches with them before they shake your hand at the end of the meal, confused as to why you keep calling them Paul.

Don’t worry, chances are they don’t remember you either.
You’ll realise how hard it is to control your tongue sometimes, and you’ll learn the hard way. There are things that you’ll learn people don’t talk about, and that’s okay. Because these are the same people who will bare their thoughts to you under a starry sky at 4 AM when it’s just you and them. And yes, you will have all those 4 AM nights under the starry skies. I hope you do. I hope you have many, many incomplete conversations that carry on until the wee hours of the mornings. I hope you get to feel the bags under your eyes the next day as you rush off for your first day of classes (and get lost).

Please get lost. Get lost alone. But don’t expect to “find yourself” in some dark alleyway of Harlem (there are much safer places to do this, pls ok thnx). Get lost alone so you know you have it in you to figure it out. You’ll figure it out.
You’ll figure out that it’s alright to feel inadequate. People have had experiences that took them around the entire world, and sometimes you’ll feel like the life you’ve led until this moment has been nothing but a series of test papers. It hasn’t. Don’t hesitate to look down at your own roots for the inspiration that you need. Believe me, we have more depth than we think we do. Feel the relief of realising that everyone is as uncertain as you, no matter how quiet or loud they are.

You, and all these baggy eyed, enthusiastic, barely-adults are all in this together. You’ll learn alone, and you’ll learn together. But by god, you’ll learn.
With infinite love and free Skype calls,
Vrinda

Heroes

The thing about heroes is, the world only shows you the end. The final result.
The shiny cape, shiny smile, shiny hair,
but not the shiny eyes.
Not the moments when the hero first wore his cape unsure of his own powers, or whether he even had any.
All the nights spent with none who had his back as he was training so he may have ours.
None who would hold him at 3 AM except uncertainty which would slowly intertwine its fingers with his,  consuming him till he started believing in his own inadequacy.

The thing about heroes is, they go wrong sometimes. When you need them most. When you least expect them to. When the world is looking up to them with awestruck eyes marveling at how they seem to be holding the entire universe together just with their presence.

The thing about heroes is, you can never tell when something’s wrong. Superman doesn’t whine. Wonderwoman won’t stop for a twisted ankle. Their invincibility makes us believe in our own.

Believe. The thing about heroes is that they raise the bar so high that our expectations become hope. Hope that we cling onto as we stand watching our entire world falling apart, the Holocaust nothing but a series of unfortunate mishaps, the belief that “despite everything, I still think people are good at heart.”

The thing about expectations, is that they don’t always fall through. We still remain the unbridled dreamers, the dissatisfied Burger King customers, we always want…more.

The thing about heroes is that we’ve started believing that it’s their job to rescue us. Like Spiderman isn’t Spiderman unless stopping a train with his bare hands. Like a hero is defined first by what he proves, and then by who he is. Ourselves rebuilding the misconceptions we’ve spent lifetimes shattering.

The thing about heroes is, they’re not heroes at all. They are the ones who were born with the misfortune of being saviours.
Saviours of a people so selfish they do not not even realize their own thievery as they sleep soundly in their beds each night.

There is no peace in the heart of heroes. Only the fear that they do not exist unless it is for others.
Their existence is a variable so easily replaced it makes them wonder if they ever deserved to be called Heroes.

The thing about heroes is that they fight the toughest battles when there is nobody to save but themselves,
as you sleep soundly in your bed each night.
You don’t care.

11:11

11.11. PM

The sun has long since set

and the shadows of the clouds

are playing peekaboo with light.

It is 11.11 PM,

and for the next sixty seconds,

everything is going to make sense.

11.11.10

You waxed your left arm four times

because that’s always the side he sits on.

I promise you, tomorrow, he will tap your wrist

and ask you for a pen.

His mind will begin reeling with the same possibilities

that keep you up at night.

You will be devastatingly beautiful.

Athena and Aphrodite’s love child.

11.11.20

You will have the answer

To ever exam question, and

for everyone who asks you

where you are headed.

11.11.30

Your poetry will come out

on wet paper with trembling hands.

But I promise you,

It will made somebody laugh,

or cry.

11.11.40

It will take you five minutes less

to convince yourself

To get out of bed

tomorrow morning.

11.11.50

The bottle will be left uncorked tonight.

The glow of the phones will die out;

and for once,

the answer to the question “how was your day?”

will not just be

“fine”

11.11.59

The checkboxes in front of your list of responsibilities

will all be ticked.

Tonight, no matter where you are,

or whom you are with,

you will be home.

So close your eyes.

Hush, now.

This is a piece from my maiden publication ‘Three Feet Taller’
I was talking to a friend recently who said, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t think I have it in me to show my work to everyone.”
And he’s right. For the first few months during the publishing process, I got jitters every time my mother, or my agent said words like “manuscript” or “book” (hell, I even freaked out when I got to know I had an “agent”).
Suddenly it all seemed too, real. My work would now forever be attached with my name?
Was I ready for this?
Yes.
There is nothing that I love more than writing, and to know that I’m making a person sitting miles away from me feel something inside their chest, is all I can ask for.

Three Feet Taller changed me, stretched me, fortified me. It made me a lot of things, and “afraid” is not one of them.

I hope you like reading it as much as I loved writing it.

Here’s the link : Buy Three Feet Taller

 

Gravity. Or, The day I stopped being a cynic.

The walk from our house to the local temple is five minutes long. Every twenty days or so, when my mother finally succeeds to coax me out of my pyjamas, and my cynicism, we take a little walk to the Mandir late at night.

The sound of the bells reaches me before I see the tip of the red and white arch as we turn the corner. My mother nudges me to take off my shoes as we enter.
The tiny diyas dot the entrance to the throne of each deity, giving my mother’s face an ethereal glow as she bends down to pull off her sandals.
As we walk through the temple, our footsteps quiet in respect, we bow our heads and touch the feet of each God present there.
My mother tells me stories of reincarnation and war, tales that became reasons for millions of people to willingly place their faith in someone they had never seen, heard, or touched.
We reach the final stop, the source of the rhythmic chanting.
As all of the seventy five people present there, including my mother, move their lips fervently in silent prayer, I see how much it means to all of them.

My mother had always chided me for my lack of enthusiasm as I mumbled the words of her favourite bhajan half heartedly. Every conversation about religion and God would end with an “I will pray that you see sense soon”.  I guess it just surprised me seeing so many people so easily, in a way, giving up control of their own life.

Little did I know that it had more to do with finding control than giving it up.

I always used to pay rapt attention to my mother’s gesticulations as she regaled me with tale after heroic tale, even if all I did was scoff at them later on. It was because few other topics made the face of my mother, a pragmatic 9 to 5er, glow with such passion.
It was because looking at the early morning Sun would give her hope that the day would be purposeful and that in due time, everything would fall into place.
It was because every Tuesday, I was woken up by the smell of marigold (and a futile reminder to not eat meat)
It was because every night she would close her eyes and kiss me on the forehead, convinced no evil could befall her family if she believed enough.
Belief.
It’s what ties human existence to something concrete and gives our lives meaning.
Be it in scientific theories or in a goddess with six hands, we seek…something.
Something larger than ourselves. Something that forms the core of our everyday activities, like a centrifugal force.

As I stood leaning against a wall in the far corner of the room, the final bell of the evening ritual was struck, the final note of the bhajan sung, and the final prayer sent to heavens high above.

The silence set in as everyone closed their eyes for a moment of tranquility.
As they opened their eyes, I could see a smile form at the ends of their lips. Their hope was reinvigorated. Their belief, refueled. Their sense of belonging, of security, enlivened. They had found their rock, Their own personal gravity.

We all seek it, we just end up finding it in different things.

My Heaven

What might my heaven be?

My heaven would have…laughter.
ringing so loud it dispels the darkness from the most sordid corners of the Earth.
My heaven would be food. All-you-can-eat chocolate. Homemade butter chicken with fat dripping from the naan bread like water droplets
falling to my shoulders
as I shake my head after a swim.
My heaven would be a swimming pool
with just the right temperature of water
so my spindly legs didn’t look like leaves shaking in the fall.
My heaven would be the feeling you get as you stand at the edge of a bungee jump, toying with the safety cables.
It would allow for wondrous curiosity.
My heaven would be the corner of my sofa bed that fits me perfectly, having just the right amount of pillows,
My heaven would have ample leg space.

My heaven would be the badge upon my forehead
declaring my mind the sharpest weapon of all.
My heaven would be finally attaining the level of sarcasm that my English teacher had,
the furtive smirk visible even in in her goodbyes.
My heaven would have no goodbyes. 

My heaven consists of a house so grand it’s never too far from anywhere and yet,
It’ll have a small fireplace
and a stack of my favourite Roald Dahl books.
There’s going to be a study lined with endless works of art,
even if all I do is bury my nose between the pages and come up smiling stupidly, a library;
the kinds where they have ladders on wheels.
I always did like those ladders.
My heaven would be cute boys who’re taller than me
no matter how high my heels are,
with baritone voices and a penchant for dancing.
In my heaven, I’ll be dancing.
I’ll put on a little Etta James on repeat and sway my hips; heartbeats would replace the seconds passing by
and the rude ticking of the clock would stop.

In my heaven, I’m ageless.
For I can’t tell if I’m going to be eighteen
or twenty five
or forty, when I attain my heaven.
But I do know that everyday, I’m getting just a little bit closer.

Rhyme Of The Ancient Child

A child of eight
lies in wait
of life to pass her by
So she can see
with widened eyes
the lows and the highs.

This child of eight
looked at me straight
this child with widened eyes
She asked of me
a thing not tough
but titanic in size

“If you stand tall
at five feet nine
but still bite your nails,
If you don’t cry
when Marley dies
But still make pigtails,

I see it says seventeen, here
since you started existing
but tell me didn’t you trip, yesterday,
on your very own shoestring?

Are you still a child, then?
or are you big and grown?
have you already started reaping
the seeds that you had sown?”

And now it was my turn
to stare with widened eyes
Had I already bid farewell,
to all my lazy Julys?

The sun still shone
The dogs still barked
and I felt like none but me
however, in that moment
she’d set my mind free

My thoughts reeled
like the imaginary racecar
I had when I was six
for two plus two
still equaled four
but my eyes didn’t transfix

On that old bag
which mother had
that big old bag of tricks
Of which she’d pull
something always better
than what I’d predict

I did still dig
my ten tense toes
into the warm brown soil
I did still love
my mother’s fingers
in my hair, with coconut oil

But when did
this strange time come
when my heels started to fit
when I no longer had
to hastily erase
the lipstick from my lips?

She stared at me
intently waiting
as I stood tongue tied,
because childhood was
supposed to be
a kingdom where no one dies.

Edna St. Vincent Millay inspired. ^_^