Friday’s probably a good day to Wax Lyrical for a change. So,with some trepidation, I share with you the first poem I ever wrote; or, at least, the first poem I ever thought was halfway decent.
I wrote this in 1992, when India was just starting to experience a loosening up of the airwaves, with access to things like American soap operas and MTV (though MTV India wasn’t launched until a few years later). Doordarshan – Indian public television – was suddenly no longer the only entertainment option (and I use the word “entertainment” loosely).
Artistes like Anuradha Paudwal, a popular Indian singer, were in danger of being toppled from their pedestals as more Americanized performers started to appear. Words like “yuppies” were making their way into our vocabulary, foreign brands were moving from the “black” to the “white” market, and the cocktail party circuit was bulging with “culture vultures,” as they were often referred to. India – at least, my India – was encountering a kind of cultural colonialism from “the West” that it was unsure of how to respond to. (Whether or how it responded is a whole other discussion.)
I was in drama school, and this poured out of me after a particularly cathartic exercise. I was naive enough to believe that a “four-figure job” was something to aspire to. Re-reading it, I point a pretty good finger… but it was always pointing back at me as well.
Oh, one more thing: we don’t use American-style punctuation in India… at least, we didn’t then. This is just as I wrote it, many years ago.
Life is treating you right; the future seems great
A four-figure job; not much longer to wait
Till you get that promotion you’re so sure you deserve;
After all, you’ve got grit; you’ve got style; you’ve got nerve.
The refrigerator’s stocked, the cable’s connected;
With ‘Santa Barbara’ on the air, Doordarshan’s rejected;
With CD’s available, two-in-ones are passÃ©;
Move over, Ms. Paudwal, it’s MTV’s day.
From Gucci to Nike, you’re in step with the times,
And you talk over cocktails on escalating crimes
In the city; and you deplore the fate of the planet,
And wonder why on earth someone just doesn’t ban it –
All this ‘unenvironmental activity’ and ‘pollution’
And ‘smog’ and ‘deforestation’ – what’s the solution
To the ‘widening ozone hole’ and the ‘greenhouse effect’?
To the ‘oil spills’ and ‘global warming’ experts detect?
In your world of plastics you sit, quite satisfied
That you’re doing your best; that you really have tried
To make people aware of the knowledge you glean
From ‘TIME’, ‘Newsweek’ and the idiot-machine.
But where were you when the earth was thrashed,
And the mountains were whipped, and the trees were lashed,
And the streams and the rivers and the valleys were bound
And were doomed to death ? Not a whisper, not a sound.
Where were you when the rain turned acid and sour?
And a tree lost its leaves and a plant its flower?
And the sun took on new and terrifying hues?
Where were you when the earth began to pay its dues?
Where were you when the condor became its own prey?
Where were you when the dolphin’s smile began to fade away?
Where were you when the blue whale let out it’s silent cry?
Where were you when the earth began to die?
Thank you for stopping by.
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Shonali, thanks for sharing this with us! I always knew you were brilliant, but this just adds another layer of brilliance! ;-)
As others had said, thank you for sharing something so personal with us… I know it can be very difficult to do, but I appreciate a deeper glimpse into your life.
I am also glad that online dating brought you to us here in the States!
Have a wonderful weekend Shonali!!
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Thank you so much, Beth! I’m glad I’m here too; I never dreamed I would be, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my life… except maybe winning the lottery. ;-) You have a great weekend too!
Sonali, indeed this is powerful. You’ve shared quite a bit with personally with your professional friends and I think its wonderful that you have. It says a lot about who you are, and your make-up.
Where were you in 1992 when you wrote the poem> Just curious.
Thank you for sharing.
You clearly had eloquence to your writting in 1992 and you still do today.
Thank you, Leigh! I was in drama school (grad school), in New Delhi. We’d had a particularly cathartic outdoor exercise with a teacher from a school in London who was guest-lecturing, and I remember getting extremely muddy and wet. I suppose all that brought it out of me. Thank you very much again.
Shonali, this is a great poem! I am really glad that you shared this with all of us. Just as what Kim said, your poem still focuses on things that are still going on in our world today. I would be honor if you share another poem with us.
Thanks, Lisa! This is one of my favorites. If I find another one I think is half as good, you bet I’ll share it. I’d love to see some of your writing too.
WOW – very moving poem Shonali. I really connected with your words and am humbled by the finger pointing right back at me. Thank you for reminding me again…
No, thank YOU.
Thank you for this poignant, relevant and wonderful wake-up. I’m literally enjoying it with my morning coffee and driven to, once again, do my part to help change and improve our world. As others have said, thank you for sharing this personal side of yourself. You’re a wonderful human being I am thankful to have met on the Web. I so look forward to meeting in person.
Mary, thanks so much, and likewise!
Nice poem with great memories hiding between the lines. Some time it is very hard to explain what we experienced in India to our kids here. My daughter still doesn’t believe that my parents never used credit card in their life.
Kind of like showing my students (at Johns Hopkins) how to use carbon paper…! Thanks so much for stopping by, Raj.
Shonali, than you for this powerful poem. I emigrated from India back in the early ’70’s, and even then, environmental degradation had begun destroying the forests, streams, and mountain landscapes that now live only in my heart. Each time I return to India for a visit, I’m saddened by the rush towards consumerism and the loss of natural habitats.
Thank you, Hiro. It is pretty frightening, and you see that in so many countries, especially in the “developing” world. That’s one hand of the clock I’d really like to be able to turn back. Thank you again for stopping by.
Shonali – I am so blown away by how “right on” and fresh this poem is 17 years later – you were very insightful as a very young woman. I believe that is the gift of a timeless poet – and clearly you have the gift! And it is lovely to see this side of you – as Lindsay said, poetry is a very vulnerable art, and I am so honored that you chose to share your gift with us – hope you will share more.
Thank you, Kim!
Thanks for sharing something so personal, Shonali! I think I speak for many of us who’ve had the privilege of getting to know you on a mostly professional level when I say that this post gives us a better understanding of who you are, where you came from and what you’re all about. So rarely do professionals have the courage to step outside of themselves and share. This is authenticity at its finest … which is something I’ve appreciated about you since I “met” you.
I’m curious: Did some of the positive things that you gleaned from the “cultural colonialism” eventually influence your decision to come to the states?
Lindsay, thank you so much for the kind words. No, I ended up in the US simply because I “met” and married an American, and it just seemed to make more sense for me to relocate here than vice versa. I say “met” because we were one of the early adopters of online dating. Eleven years down the road (we’ve been married for 10), it’s still the best decision I ever made.
Thank you again for stopping by!
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