Once you express your sorrow
from the bottom of your heart
it will be washed away.
The year is 2007. I am graduating from business school. I am one of the top students in my class – and the only Singaporean of Indian descent to graduate with merit. In a few months, I will receive an award from the community for academic excellence. I should feel a sense of achievement, but I don’t. There are many reasons for this feeling – some professional, some personal.
I remember the very first journal I ever wrote in as a kid. No, it wasn’t a Dear Diary type affair. My great-grandfather had trained me to write the accounting journal: a book that detailed all the financial transactions of our business. My penmanship was awful, but my accounts were perfect. By the time I was ten, I could single-handedly do the profit and loss and balance sheet statements on my own.
Apprentice-style learn-by-doing is a trademark of Gujarati businesses. I had studied under a master from the day I emerged from the womb. Business school felt trivial and theoretical in comparison. During my first year, I gave my lecturers a hard time by misbehaving and sleeping in class. My good grades came as a surprise to them. Who needs school when life is our best teacher?
But by my second year, even I buckled down and studied hard. I may have trained under my great-grandfather for the world of business – but tertiary education required stellar grades and a working knowledge of academic theories.
The Master of Ceremony calls out my name. It is time for me to receive my diploma. I am shaken out of my reverie. My eyes are on some unseen horizon and my heart is far away.
I want to leave and never come back.
Hearts are worn in these dark ages
You’re not alone in this story’s pages
The year is 2018. I have returned to Singapore after 12 years abroad. My uncle passed away and I attended his funeral. I didn’t openly show my emotions, but it was a harrowing experience. I hadn’t thought of my childhood much in my years overseas. I was focused on the moment in front of me – not the life I had left behind.
Under my bed, I find photographs of the life I had once lived. Photos of me as a baby and how I grew into adulthood. I see pictures of the shophouse where I grew up. In my mind, I try to reconcile the girl who had left home from the one who’d returned.
I find a picture of me with my great-granddad. I am seated on his lap. I remember that we were close growing up. It had been 18 years since he passed away. During that time, I had given up a career in finance and banking to become a writer and teacher. Not exactly the stuff one expects from someone who was groomed to be a businesswoman from kindergarten.
I wonder if my ancestors are disappointed in me. It is the month of Shradh – a time when Hindus pay homage to one’s ancestors. I open my notebook. I start as all writers do – with a blank page.
‘We are Kin,” I begin.
My first poem is to my great-grandfather and my second poem is to my grandfather. There is so much I want to tell them – about what my life has been like and who I am now.
I secretly hoped my words would reach them.
You bring signs from the unseen
you bring life to this dead world.
The year is 2020. I had no grand aspirations to be a business owner, but the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. I am the Founder of Mith Books – a boutique author consultancy service that specialises in the written word.
On Mondays and Thursdays, I receive articles for our blog from our talented team of content writers. I look forward to the two days each week when I have the pleasure of reading their words. Some days I unexpectedly discover the gems I knew lay hidden inside them. Other days, I find gems in need of polishing.
It is all part of the journey.
It is my silent prayer that they find in me a leader, mentor and friend – the way my great-grandfather was to me. He was firm, yet fair. Strict, yet kind. Demanding, yet patient. He was my hero. Someone I looked up to as I navigated the harsh world of business on my own.
Granddad once said that business owners often get bogged down in the day-to-day operations of running a business – and during that phase, they usually forget the larger purpose behind why they started it. When that happens – we should take a step back and see the big picture.
It’s been tough.
I’m holding down a job and have a gazillion tasks on my never-ending to-do list. And I haven’t even gotten started on my hypercritical inner voice who has so many doubts on whether I’m doing the right thing to get this startup off the ground. Many days I wonder why I can’t be like most people I know – hold down a stable job, get married and have kids.
Why am I like this?
Late last night, I sat down and edited An Artist’s Urge for Freedom by Sanchari Das. She wrote it as a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore for his birthday. As Das’ words danced in my mind, unshed tears welled up in my eyes.
“His emotional turmoil boiled up as his urge for freedom surged. Finally, when he could take no longer, all his pent up emotions came out through words. Weaving words upon words became his only way to break the cage and bring peace to the mind. And that’s exactly how an artist is born.”
As Tagore’s immortal words found their way to me, I remember the secret poems I wrote to my ancestors two years ago. Poetry has a way of distilling the pain of loss into a beautiful song that comes from the soul’s ache to reunite with the Soul of the World.
Poetry is raw. A sacred space to bare my soul.
As an author who has the privilege of working with others like myself – I know that with each work I receive and read, I am peering into an eternity that longs to be heard and understood.
On Tagore’s birthday, I would like to thank every artist out there for breaking the cage and having the courage to bare your soul.
Don’t ever give up. We need others like you.
Man is hidden behind his words
his tongue is a curtain over the door of his soul.
When a gust of wind lifts the curtain
the secret of the interior is exposed