My mom has been a big influence on my writing life, but I didn’t realize the extent of it until she passed away.
My argument with my mom about writing and reading went on for many moons. To be honest, my mother didn’t always read my published essays, poems, or stories. I, sometimes, found her trying to read my books — mind you, she tried reading my works in all the three genres — her brows furrowed together and her glasses sitting on the tip of her nose. Intently. Deeply. Confusedly. In one of my artistic and emotional moments, I asked her why she didn’t read my books. She said in a soft and frustrated voice: “I try. Very hard. But I don’t always understand. You use words that are too complicated.”
That was the day my relationship with writing changed. If my own mother, who spoke English and was a college graduate with global experiences, couldn’t understand my writing, how could I expect others to understand my work? I didn’t mean to write in an inaccessible way; somehow, my boarding school upbringing had trained me to believe that big words meant I was a better writer. Also, in some instances, I used big words to shy away from the real issue. I started to make an effort to simplify my writing. Shorter sentences. Clean language. Simpler words.
My mother was so excited to read my poetry collection, Wet Silence, that came out in the summer of 2015 and became an Amazon bestseller. Mom believed in the power of those stories, told as poems, in the book. When I was younger, she feared for my safety; when I got older, she said to never let go of my desire to help other women.
Mom would often complain that I didn’t write about her. How often I would roll my eyes, “Ma, it’s only people on a writer’s shit list that appear in their works.”
The universe always pays close attention, especially when you are not noticing. In the summer of 2014, my mother passed away, suddenly. Her sudden demise shook my world. The only thing that could keep me sane through of all this: poetry. Inside of a week — this was from the time she was admitted in the hospital to the time she died — I wrote an entire collection about my mother: Saris and a Single Malt. It looks me thirty seconds to decide the title of the book.
Up until my mom passed away, I didn’t understand how loss works and that it has a mind of its own. It’s not the poet who always decides what he or she is going to write about; sometimes, it’s the poems that select the poet.
Writing Saris and a Single Malt changed me. It’s been my mentor and confidante. I grew up writing this book.
The book, in its pre-order stage, became #1 on Amazon’s list of Asian American poetry, as well as #1 on Amazon’s death, grief, and loss section. Honestly, I didn't write Saris and a Single Malt for anyone but myself. Who wants to read about someone else's grief, you know? But I didn't realize that grief is universal even if the stories are personal. People have been reaching out to me from all over the world and telling me how the book has moved them, or helped them heal from their losses.
There you go, Ma ... I might not know how to wear a sari or like having a single malt, but the book about you and the values you have taught us is bringing people together.
Saris and A Single Malt
Published by Modern History Press in August 2016
Kindle and Paperback; 46 pages
Available now for your Kindle, Paperback, or Nook.
About the Book:
Saris and a Single Malt is a moving collection of poems written by a daughter for and about her mother. The book spans the time from when the poet receives a phone call in New York City that her mother is in a hospital in New Delhi, to the time she carries out her mother’s last rites. The poems chronicle the author’s physical and emotional journey as she flies to India, tries to fight the inevitable, and succumbs to the grief of living in a motherless world. Divided into three sections, (Flight, Fire, and Grief), this collection will move you, astound you, and make you hug your loved ones.