The Exchange Programme

When one of my best friends, whom I shall call Scrappy, was about to leave for Italy as part of a cultural exchange programme, I was thrilled. Full of vicarious excitement, I pelted her with poetry from time to time.

I.The week of departure

In two days and two nights,

You’re off to Italy, ‘to fight the good fight.’

To sup at a table in Belinda’s house,

and sneak out later, quiet as a mouse.

To sightsee and shop,

to party and club hop.

You’re gonna have a blast;

take care, so it can last.

No going to unknown places,

in the company of strange faces,

or trusting everyone you see,

and giving too much info away for free.

In short, be cautious and vigilant

(this is probably advice you’ve come to resent)

and yet it’s important to heed it,

because you’re definitely gonna need it.

Now that I’ve done the obligatory prodding,

I can wish you a great trip without foreboding,

Send a postcard if you remember,

And I’ll see you again in September.


II. Scrappy’s Evil Internship Boss is the reason she hasn’t finished packing yet

Burn the midnight oil,

so your plans won’t be foiled.

Put your nose to the grindstone,

and grind until it reaches bone.

You must finish packing soon,

this trip abroad is a divine boon!

The work will always be there,

and the boss, not always fair.

But if it must be done,

then do it, so you can run.

Away, to a strange land,

of courtyards, and stone monuments grand.

of a Mona who evaded those who sought her,

and gelatos that make your mouth water,

of a rich, vibrant and convoluted historical past,

and a ship bearing the legend ‘Mayflower’ on its mast.

Farewell! I bid you adieu.

I think I’m more excited for this trip than you.


III. The Evil Internship Boss strikes again. Scrappy strikes back, and then regrets it.

It might be tempting to spew fire at your superior,

When he makes you feel furious and inferior,

But lay off on the vitriol, for heaven’s sake,

or he’ll leave you in hell’s kitchen to bake.

Instead vent most enthusiastically,

to your guide, philosopher and most loyal ally.


IV. The day of departure

Say hi to Titu the peacock for me,

for I’ll be clapping my hands in glee.

The Aam Aadmi will welcome you, as per the new decree,

onto a plane flying to Italy.

V. Scrappy tries smoking for the first time

I know it’s hard to resist the allure,

when the European boys and girls are smoking gaily.

But you must guard against the lure,

for else you’ll be taking puffs daily.

Trying new things is a wonderful philosophy,

and I greatly respect you for it.

But it’s better applied to art and gastronomy,

and that’s why I’m throwing a fit.

You see, you’ve probably always taken good health for granted.

Most healthy people do; everyone looks for what they don’t have, anyway.

And those who lay ill can’t understand it:

Why you throw your blessings away.

Smoking takes a toll on your life span.

It’s sheer ignorance that makes you perceive it as benign,

If you start, you won’t live long enough to be a gran.

Education is a start, and yes, it’s a concern of mine.

Conversing with someone whose breath smells foul,

and the lack of concern for one’s well-being that it implies,

will leave me piqued and liable to growl.

Quite frankly, I’d rather make a pastime of swatting flies.

In short, young prawn, you had better never look at a cigarette again.

And think, “Well, maybe just a drag or two…”

Or I’ll disown you faster than you can count to ten,

and paint all your earthly possessions blue.


VI. The conclusion

Scrappy returned from the exchange

with wild anecdotes galore;

Long enough to fill a page,

her story is now the stuff of lore.

Malavika Selvaraj is an eighteen year old writer and poet currently residing in Mumbai

Featured image credit: Giulia Bertelli/ Unsplash