Poem: Home by Warsan Shire

It was at the time when the dead Syrian baby splashed across the web and media that I found this poem by poetess Warsan Shire (Twitter). It not only touched me, but crushed my heart and squeezed tears out of my rather cynical eyes. So here it is in all its glory. Hope to see more of her in future.

HOME by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

(Listen to it here)

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Poem: In tolerant India

Yes, I’m a racist.
I look at you and see
The percentage of melanin
In your skin
The angle your eyes slant
The colour of the iris
The length of your hair
It’s texture
It’s shape
It’s smell
The way it shines
Or not.

Yes, I’m a casteist.
I look at your surname and your name
Your tilak and your birth fame
The clothes you wear
The accent you talk
The scrawls on your certificate
What’s on your plate
The smells
The shape
Of the food you just ate
Or didn’t.

racism, caste in India

Yes, I’m tolerant
I tolerate you
Smile at you
Accept you
Hiding disgust
That rises inside.
You’re my responsibility
Part of my culture
My country
My people to empower
And I will
I promise I will
Even though the percentage
And the texture and shape
Remind me of rape.

Is it my fault?
Your hands are so dark
And dirty
They’ve touched the filth
My ancestors did

Your birth certificate
It’s barely there
Torn and soiled
Like a drain.

You speak weird
Unpolished and poor
Your dark skin
Reminds me of
Monsters and their kin

Is it my fault?

I’m trying hard
To power you up
To empower you
But the skin
It’s so dark
So dark.

Can I help but judge?

Is it my fault
If your skin is so dull?
Can I help but judge you?

Roped in to judge a haiku competition at IITK

Earlier this year, I spent three weeks at the lovely IIT-Kanpur campus all thanks to some work my husband had there. There were many new experiences involved in it for me, including living on a campus, cycling from home to work and interacting with faculty and students who talked more engineering and science that philosophy. (I will be writing a more detailed blog on these experiences soon)

After a couple of weeks, desperate for some shot of creativity in that island of facts, I sought the company of English Literary Society at campus on Saturday evening, run by enthusiastic bachelors’ students there. It was a marvellous hour spent with about twelve of them, in a round table discussion on what believing in science means to them, how they feel once they’ve entered this ‘heaven’ of Indian education and delving into philosophy of what truth means and if it’s but a perception. Informal, full of riveting discussion and super fun.


So I was quite surprised to see an email from them earlier this week, asking me to judge a Haiku competition which they are hosting at campus right now.  I wasn’t sure about it since I’ve not written Haiku since a long, long time and studied the short poetic form so very effectively used by the Japanese writers, very briefly in my masters of English. I am wordy and usually write long forms.

After a few email exchanges with them though, I had to say yes, since they seemed convinced about their choice. I have had a slight alien relationship with competitions in general, having written on how winning is important for little kids and also on how competition is perceived as healthy in our modern society. So it would be a test of myself, to see what the whole judging process will bring out not only in those who are entering this competition, but also in me, who is selecting the ‘better’ entries.

Let’s hope the ones that are ‘judged’ won’t come back on me, screaming vengeance. Always a risk in our rather competitive society, isn’t it? I will be posting all the entries I like on my blog later and the reasons that I chose them (if my instinct is kind enough to grant them). Till then, ciao!

(Image source, with thanks)



My words are gone

Only a trembling remains

In my hands, slight epilepsy

In my eyes, a silent burst

Of emptied mind

Of thoughts no more.



For gone are the words

Flung away letter by letter

Torn off, screeching, screaming

Taken to the recesses

Burnt alive

Hacked to pieces

Crushed and then buried.


They lie under the earth

Not breathing anymore

Not hearing the sighs

Nor feeling the caress

Of the motherly winds



But not yet dead.


Waiting, patiently, tirelessly

To be believed in

By dreams and hopes

So that they can start

Create and make

When things need a shake.



My toothbrush travels




My toothbrush,

It travels


When no one has their eyes open

Or are listlessly staring

At the slow moving

Ceiling fan.


When all are lost

In their own private

Heavens or sometimes hells.


That is when my toothbrush

Slings its bag

On its bristly shoulder

And sneaks away


Into the dark lanes

Of unknown names.


It never speaks of it

Where it went

Or what it did.

It never lies too,

It just smells.


Of beds slept in by strangers

And roses dipped in honey

Sweat dripping from armpits

Or a nose that is runny.


That is how I know.

That it sometimes goes

For when we touch

And make love

When its bristles tickle my teeth

Sometimes I smell

The dampness of the beach.



© 2011, Shweta Taneja

Pic credit: @Maf1967

Muses are like opportunities

Muses are like opportunities. They come knocking on your door at unexpected times. Sometimes you have been waiting impatiently, looking at your cellphone screen’s right hand side corner for that precise moment to strike, tapping your fingers on the side board. At times like those, you open the door without waiting or wondering who it might be in the middle of the night.

Sometimes you go out looking for muses, your hair spread wide, like a cuckoo’s nest (BTW, has anyone wondered why cuckoos keep their nests so haphazard? Maybe it’s avant garde style yet to be recognised as such). You ask stray cats, sleepy dogs and curious ravens if they have seen any muses (or opportunities can also do, please). They all shrug, look back at you like you have lost a bolt or two.

Then there are times when muses fall into your email box. There they lie, along with emails from the banks you don’t have accounts with, enthusiastic group emails of astronomy you don’t remember subscribing to and emails from sellers who are convinced you cannot do without such-and-such baby oil or book. But even when the said muses have been served to you in a platter (or in this case, your inbox), there are chances you might miss them.

You might just delete that email without opening, like you have done to other emails from this website you had subscribed to long back ago, but don’t remember why. You might open it, with cynical curiosity, scanning the email because you don’t want to go back to that synopsis you have to prepare. Even if you open it, you might fail to click the link of a short translated story of a Spanish author whose name you cannot pronounce. After all, writers and writings are out there on the internet paisa a pandrah. Then you might open the link but forget to read it as it lies waiting amongst the other tabs opened for later reads.

So that’s why if you do end up reading that story at all and realise with surprise that it was at all this time a muse, waiting to spring up and surprise you, to fire your rockers into writing,  like a virus hidden in an attachment, it’s nothing short of a miracle. The muse is an unexpected best friend that landed at your doorstep, just when you were standing in the balcony, wondering what it will feel like to jump.

All this while, all you had to do is click one email link. A simple click which would have saved you from those empty days when you look in the space and no thought welcomes you. Just a simple click. Was it meant to be? Is this how destiny works? Or is it just a web, an intricate spider web of unexpected choices you constantly make every moment of your existence? Is it free will or do you have no choice in the matter? How can you ever be sure of either?

All you can do is bow to it. Smile, thank the skies, or if you believe in chaos, thank chaos. Write a blog, write a poem and scribble down the thoughts that strike you for your novel. After all, you have been granted the gift of a muse today. It doesn’t happen every day.

This post is dedicated to a muse who came unexpectedly and resulted in this blog. Thank you Juan Villoro and Word Without Borders for the unexpected muse called Holding Pattern.

Kolkata during Durga’s reign

Made a recent trip to Kolkata during Durga Pooja. I planned to write a blog on the travel (before I went there) but after experiencing the whole city during the throngs of art, aesthetic, stories, religiosity, happiness and sheer sublimity, I am kind of out of words. Hence I have decided to share with you a poem I wrote on the airplane while I was coming back from the trip. My head was clogged with sinus and my heart heavy with what I had just witnessed. As is the way of emotion and words, I hope to give you an essence of the transformation I went through seeing the beautiful idols on display and being immersed.


And lo! Durga falls down

The fire of right
Shines through your starry sari
As you stand slightly staring
With those big, diamond-shaped eyes
On to the little girl with oiled pigtails
Black lips sucking on an ice lolly.

In red and white
And purple and silver
With necklaces wound delicately
Like slumbering snakes
You merge burning desire and danger
In everlasting serpentine curves.
You ethereal mystery, you.
How you smile slightly, almost ironically
Moist clay corners of your lips tilted upwards
As she stares at you
Hoping to find
Some solace
For her broken tears.

You float freely
Hailed by harnesses
In the bright light falling
On your bejeweled bosom.
Your calm, cushioned cheeks
Plush like apples.
He looks up, his belly stirring
With a rush of guilt and desire
As he takes off his black glasses
Carefully wiping off the sweaty dust
That has gathered
Standing in the sweaty crowd.

Your feet play hide and seek
In your bridal sari.
One delicate foot
Crushes the demon’s arrogant neck
Suffocating him to death
Your spear tears off his chest
Spurting a stream of blood
A new coloured river.
We look at the blood
And thank you
It’s not us.

You coy, shy bride!
Your hands and feet
Stained with crimson red.
Delicate wrists
Hold the sword and spear
And move with a tinkle
Of green glass bangles
Awaiting a love, long lost.
I look at you and think
Your job’s almost done
Tomorrow you will be gone too.
I know but don’t know
How and why
You would go.

In the dark, sultry night,
Your million hands and arms
Spread like the sun’s last rays
A magician’s card trick
About to be played.
The drums beat tireless
As palpitating excitement burns
Under the orange flood lights.
This is the moment they were all waiting for!
In the truck’s shadow you stand
Silent, waiting for the policeman
To flick his final hand.
The drums beat into a frenzy
Fleshy feet and hands and arms and breasts and hips
All jive and twist and turn and swirl and dance
As the drums beat and beat and beat and beat.
The artificial lights sparkle like stars
On her shining waters
As her soft, clingy, fine mud
Beckons you to come.

She waits for you
Her dirty arms stretched
Her body covered
With centuries of filthy flesh dips
And carcasses and mellowed flowers and broken ceramic cups
And shiny plastic packets.
Sins of flesh and heart and mind and greed
All churn and mix and become one
In her accepting waters.
She is bejeweled too
Her boils ooze plastic like
Her blackened skin moistened with electric lights.
Her brown blood oozes
Onto the shores
With silt and sweat and tears and piss
Her waters call out in anticipation.
They look at you
They look at her
With cultivated disinterest.
From their vantage point
On a small luxury cruiser
Nursing a glass of wine.
Fashionably crinkling their noses
As the slight moldy smell of retch
That rises up to the deck.

You look at her
Your deep, dark eyes
Marked red in corners
And maybe your heart heaves
Becomes so heavy
That the fleshy men carrying you
Slip on her fine muds
One almost being crushed.
He mumbles a quick thank you
As he pushes you again
Towards her.

For just a moment
You stand in all your regalia
Your dress resplendent
Like a thousand suns
Your hand raised in blessing.
And maybe you are slightly perplexed
As to why?
But then, splash!
You fall
Into her.
Your face looks upwards
At the heavy stars
Hanging low, like overripe jewels
In a dungeon sky.
Her cooling waters
Takes your paint away.
Black eyes and small red pout and cushy cheeks and double chin
Is all ripped off by its skin.

You cannot see or hear or smell or taste.
As she sucks you further into her womb.
Like she sucked centuries of flesh and blood and sweat and piss.
They turn you upside,
And the cold, murky waters
Set to work,
Calmly licking
Your skin and bones and veins and blood.

You float and feel
The million others like you.
Your bones softly bumping
Into another you, then another, then another
And then another.
You cannot see or hear or taste or smell
Only feel, only feel
The cold, weathered snake-like hand
That coils on your now empty breast
Pulling, pushing, peeling, pushing.
He grips your bared bones
Sweat mingles with forgiving waters
His dhoti stuck stubbornly to his innards.
He hauls you and thinks of home
His plate of rice and hot fish curry
His empty stomach rumbles as he sees
An endless assembly line yet to heave
Of you and you and you and you.

Maybe you cannot feel now.
I hope you cannot feel anymore.
The rusted crane clutches your innards
With her big, metallic claws
Away from her cold, murky womb.
For a moment
One of your arms
Still white with green bangles
Shines in protest
In the darked up night
Trying to reach to the skies.
But then the crane heaves
Dashing your brittle bones
On a hill of empty
Wooden carcasses.

Maybe you wondered why.
Maybe you knew.
What is born and made
Will crumble to down to dust.
Your holocaust of carcasses
Stands tall as a reminder
Silent, nursing, resting, tired.
Waiting to rise
When time turns
And yet another demon
Needs to burn.

For one moment
My painful heart sinks and cries out
And maybe my soul sours
Up in the dark, murky sky
Calling you,
Grieving for you,
Remembering you,
Becoming you.
I trip and fall backwards
On the deck of the civilized carcass
Floating, for now,
On the balmy river bed.

© Shweta Taneja, October 2011

Check out some of the videos from my travel to Kolkata.


A heartfelt thanks to my friends K and R for their hospitality, company and thoughts. You can continue to read my other poems here.

Tarantulas and all things not so tiny


Just read a report on how big, fat tarantulas manage to stick to things that they want to. Invisible spiderman-like silk threads keep them there. But this post is not really about the glues. Or about anything in particular actually. If I need a reason to post (this is my blog you know, and I can put whatever I want to, really) it would be that I loved the visual that’s put above. Spiders are such fascinating creatures for me and for a lot of many authors actually who keep creating superheroes, villains, monsters, horror stories and weird things with spiders in some form or another inserted. They inspire me in their creepy but slick style, almost make me poetic. Of all the creatures, spiders I would say, with their multiple hands and eyes which I cannot see, make me thing. What do you think this tarantula is thinking now?


I am about to jump

About to jump

On you.


One throw of thread

Silken and soft

Around your mouth

Silence abounds


As I weave around you

Thin, invisible bonds

Of horrifying fascination

That you may see, barely.

But that you may not still.


What do you think will happen

When you stop to see

To feel

To think

To be


And then you become

A strand of silk

Woven around




And lost.


See what I mean? Tarantulas make me attempt poetry. Which is a good thing, even if it’s sort of bad.

A Word’s Journey

An older poem from my other blog (which I will be deleting most probably!)

A Word’s Journey

She resides
On a quivering, moist lip.

From the broken, beating, dying heart
To the boiling cortex lobe
Through an ignited stimuli,
To the barking voice box.

She came with lightening-speed
Grabbing on-edge, electric nerves
An angry flash from the larynx
Tornado-speed to the brink
Of the quivering, moist lip.

She hung, desperately
Wanting to break free
Fly like a free raven;
Not become an Albatross.

But gripped she was
Against her will,
Plastered to the skin
By a remnant of good sense.

So she tumbled back
Into the empty sinewy depths,
Endless cycles and nothingness
An eternal past tense.

(c) Shweta Taneja, August 2009

My wedding poem

Just discovered the poem I had written for my wedding! Had completely forgotten about the emotions I felt then. This was made into a card and sent to all our friends. Hope you enjoy it!