The Blooming Rose
If only we'd stop each time and smell the rose. If not that at least slow down to watch it sway and smile at its graceful dance with the wind and bees and the butterflies; blooming, welcoming them in, selflessly gifting its scent to everyone who merely passes by and cares to breathe in.
With your shoulders straight, chin up,
Go out and jump into puddles and
come back to me with muddy hands,
scraped knees and a big smile on your face
so I can kiss you and
send you right back to
Explore The World
with your tiny palms
And make you scrunch up your nose to
breathe in new wonders everyday
And remember, it's okay
To cry once in a while,
or snort when you laugh
Or burp in front of boys.
Go play in sun
Tan without worry,
throw like a girl,
run like a girl,
do whatever you want
Like A Girl,
because you are a girl
and there's nothing to be ashamed of.
And when you grow up,
Don't let them tell you that
'You're not a real woman'
'Cause baby you are,
As real as it gets.
And remember to stand up and tell them,
that real women come in all sizes and shapes and hues
More colourful than the rainbow in a clear sky.
Teach them that
All women are real,
Black and White,
Yellow and Brown
All shades you can name.
At home or in town
Fat and skinny
small and tall
With men or without
With kids or without.
Ring or no ring
All women are real.
Just like you and
your mother, her sisters and
their fierce foremothers.
And remember, my love,
Stuck in traffic
Out for a walk
On my own
In an empty parking lot
In a mall
In broad daylight
At the holiest of places
Leered by least expected of faces
In the cradle
On my death bed
On the first night
And the following nights
In my favourite pair of jeans
Draped head to toe
By every single one given an opportunity
If given time, rape
and break and
Make me feel unsafe
In every space I inhabit so
Every moment I tread
It’s going to be
To the mothers,
To the mothers,
And daughters who became mothers
To the girls who
Grow up and
Go on to say to their own minions
"I said so" a million times in a million tones
becoming shadows of their mothers,
(who they SWORE they won't be like)
Whispering sincere apologies into the past
for the eyes rolled and the doors banged
And the ugly teenage angst
That now stares right back at them
From fresh faces
that look much like their own and
Finally realizing what mother meant
When she said
"Wait Till You Have Your Own Lil' Ones"
To all the Ummas, ammis, ammas,
Maas, moms, and mammas,
For the mothers by blood, and for the mothers by bond,
There are not enough days and not enough nights
to let you know how great you are
and repay you for the endless sacrifice.
We love you!
The U n i v e r s e
They say life is chaos
but I see patterns
when lips curve
in synchrony with babies
gurgling unknown wisdom
when tears compete
as farewell knocks
at doorsteps too soon
when hearts sigh at
fairytale endings far away
from reality so cruel
and I see a system
so set that no rules
can define how
The U n i v e r s e
works like clockwork
Night and day
the sun and moon
to their courses
Stars supporting constellations
when they could shine solo
A celestial symphony
that words remain speechless
and songs go unsung
at the lips
leaving just wonder
twirling up from
The Snagged Doll
The Doll was like every other woollen doll in the world. She got out of bed every morning and did what she had to do. She watched closely what the Real Dolls did and mirrored what she saw. She laughed when jokes were cracked and held her head down when a sad news reared its head. She minded her Ps and Qs, she didn't bother anyone and no one bothered her. So life went on, slowly, but without incident.
One day, while combing her hair, The Doll looked in the mirror and saw a loose thread sticking out of her bare shoulder. Her first instinct was to ignore it, after all, what's the big deal about a small thread standing out. But then she remembered that she will be meeting a lot of Real Dolls and it's not nice to face them with a thread sticking out of the shoulder. So she took a pair of scissors and cut the thread right off.
The Doll checked her make up and left her apartment pleased that she looked nothing less than perfect. Then in the bus a kindly old doll sitting behind her tapped her on the shoulder and said 'Honey, there's a loose thread sticking out of your shoulder.' She thanked the old doll and quickly covered the unrelenting thread with her scarf.
She was at work and could do nothing about the thread now. So The Doll decided to spend the day close to the walls so no one sees the her and the stubborn thread. 'I can do this' she thought to herself as she walked to the photocopier. 'Hey Doll, how are you today' The Doll jumped back, startled, and bumped into the boss doll. 'Oh me..I'm good. Thanks for asking mam.' she said. The boss doll nodded and left. When she was out of sight The Doll let out a big sigh and leaned back on the wall. 5 seconds like this, that's all she needs. She was walking away when something tugged her shoulder sharply. It was the stupid thread, it had managed to get stuck on a nail on the wall. Now it was unraveling and 1 meter long. She looked around and since no one was there she cut the thread off with her teeth, curled it up and threw it in the bin.
And that became life. The thread kept unraveling, not concerned about day or night, work or home. One moment she was laughing with her friends over drinks and the next they were looking weirdly at her shoulder. She kept cutting it, with scissors, knives, and any sharp objects she had at hand. But it just wouldn't stop. Sometimes it would get stuck in her boyfriend's cufflinks when he hugged her before leaving for work. She would scream out 'OW' and he would groan and say "Can't you do something about it already?!". "I'm trying everything I can!" She would scream back, on the verge of tears, "Can't you see?!"
Soon her friends stopped dropping by because she just wasn't the same anymore. The thread stuck out like a sore thumb and it was unsightly to see her constantly picking at it.
One evening she decided she'd had enough. "Let's see where this ends" she said to herself. She sat in her favourite corner and began pulling at the thread. She kept pulling and pulling, till the rug below her feet was covered by a heap of thread. One long single thread. And then on the third day, when she was done, she was nowhere to be seen. All that was left, was a messy spool of wool.
A love note for my brown girls
I'm here, right by you,
as you turn glossy pages and sigh
as you flip channels and see your skin demonised
as you glance into mirrors everyday and cry
I'm here, standing by
I'm here, holding you, swaying side to side
telling you to open your eyes and
close your ears to all the lies
of not being enough of a
an elusive body type
I'm here, my queens-
heirs to bequeathed shame,
carriers of generational pain-
to tell you that you are
warriors in my dreams,
you are what the world needs
Leave your brown bodies alone,
let your beautiful skin bloom on its own,
take pride in the rise and fall of your curves and
know that there's no shame in being the
same shade as the earth.
run wild and
see your skin defy fire because
you are what makes this world and
in you lies the very universe.
is not a woman
let alone a benevolent mother
draped in the tricolour,
Palm stretched to bless
those who shun her femininity
in all other forms.
India is dark and dusty,
It exists, at once,
In squalor and poverty and
glass towers and gated communities.
India subsists on a meagre meal
eaten out in the field or
thrives in the vicinity of air-conditioned malls
with gourmet deals.
India floats around
occupying empty stomachs and
lynched bodies with drooping hands,
hanging from peepul trees
over parched lands, or
in bodies running on treadmill belts
shedding stubborn fat
a desperate mother dreams to see
on her child's sunken face one day.
India could be covered from head to toe
or in a T-shirt and jeans for all you know.
India could sport a beard or
wrap a lungi like a pro.
India is just a land
of a billion people with
more ideas than can be enforced.
So don't you go
as just your own
Don't just say you stand
for the 'idea of India'
and watch as unadulterated hate
paints all other thoughts black.
India is not one person
not my mother, my sister
or even the next door neighbour.
India refuses to be a woman
you revere as you rape
her daughters and sisters.
India does not rest at the
tips of your trishul or the
hem of your khaki shorts.
India will not be contained
in the notes of a single song
that only some can hum.
India is so much more than
the single thread you hold.
India is an experiment
in weaving a thousand threads
till you create the most dazzling fabric
that ever existed.
India is a painting in process,
A canvas with one billion strokes
of red, blue, green, and
every other shade you can imagine.
India is not saffron and
saffron is not India.
cease shoving your
idea of India
down our collective throats;
Let India be and
You may win a battle
but no one wins a war because
victory doesn’t rest in losing less
on this side of the enemy lines.
For the widows and the orphans,
when ghosts of unhinged collective pasts
haunt their todays and tomorrows,
there are no Victors in war.
For the farmers and the traders handcuffed to poverty
and dangling from tree tops desperately,
there are no Victors in war.
And There are no Victors in war,
for the fallen soldiers,
six feet deep in the grave
or ashes spread far away.
There are no victors in war
when brave men die to save face and conceal lies of lesser men.
In a Victor-less war,
you sit here and rejoice.
whom do you celebrate why do you clap and exclaim, when you have nothing to give and
nothing to lose
I will not
Today I will not hold back
Today I will not brush away sexism as just another thing women have to live with
Today I will call out my family and friends when they say misogynistic things and tell me to just 'take a joke'
Today I will let them know they aren't funny if the only joke they can tell involves stereotypes and worn out cliches from days of yore
Today I will not stand objectification and Stories that make diamonds and pearls out of women (first because I am not a grain of sand or parasite that disturbed an oyster's peace and second because I am a frikkin human being not a possession to be locked away in your prehistoric jewel box)
Today I will scream, ladylike, because ladies have vocal boxes and can run out of the infinite patience we are expected to keep
Today I will laugh at the faces of those who think we are less because of what's between our legs
Today I will mourn the lives lost to the silly jokes and Whatsapp forwards that's built brick by brick, the endurance of this culture of rape
Today I will rage against this growing tide of hate
that sees women as a collage of sexualized body parts and crevices that need to be filled
with force if required
Today I will not bite my tongue and hold my quiet
Today I raise my shaking hands and say:
It's time to strike back
'Ramlah.' She was told it meant 'Sand', some kind of valuable sand. Why would her parents name her dirt? Well, it did explain why they treated her the way they did. Her father had died in a drunken brawl and her mother decided to run away with the first man who came knocking on her door. Leaving her, like dirt washed ashore, with her grand mother.
Beyya , she was the only one who truly cared for Ramlah. The two years spent with her grandmother were the happiest ones in her life. She still remembers how she would rush back to their small, tin-roofed hut and into the arms of her warm beyya. Beyya would feed her with her own hands. Rice and meen molagu. Fish Curry. Every single day. But it didn't matter, because when beyya fed her, while telling her stories of their long gone ancestors, it was the most delicious meal on earth. Oh beyya would scold her too, and sometimes a spanking with a thin stick plucked off the gooseberry tree on their courtyard. But the moment the tears started, beyya would place the stick down and gently wipe away the tears. Then together they would walk to Khader icha's shop and beyya would give her a rupee to buy anything she liked. And she would always buy orange soda and panji muttayi. The sickly sweet sweet which she convinced was what old witches' hair looked like. They would come back hand in hand, over the creaking wooden bridge, past Adlancha's mansion, through Kareem's banana plantation farm (where one of the workers would always pluck off a ripe yellow banana and hand it to her) and back to the tin roofed hut.
Just when she thought nothing could possibly go wrong now, Beyya also decided to abandon this dirt.
At beyya's funeral everyone was there. The village had lost an elder, and even a poor elder deserved some respect. Their hut was full and people were sitting on straw mats out in the courtyard too. Khader icha and his wife were serving black tea to everyone who came. Safiya ammayi, her uncle's wife, came and collected some of the good vessels lying around, handed her a rupee and left in the same rickshaw she came in. As midday approached the men there decided it was time for the funeral. They lifted her beyya, wrapped in white cloth, and carried her away. Through tears she watched people tae away the only person who had every cared for her.
Her tears eventually lulled her into a troubled sleep and when she finally woke up only a few people remained, cleaning up the mess that the mourners had left behind. Empty glasses, some toppled over leaving a trail of black tea which was now drying into sticky splotches. She was watching the flies buzz around the splotches when the cook from Adlancha's house approached her. She was an old friend of Beyya. She told her that she could come and stay at Adlancha's place. She would ask Jameela mua , Adlancha's wife, to give her some work there. Of course, she could no longer attend school. She understood that much, right? Right.
What about the hut, she asked. Oh don't you worry about it. It's taken care of.
Ramlah's job at the mansion was to take care of Adlancha's children. Three of them, just a few years younger than her. Asiya, Jaffer and Ahmed. They became great friends within the first few days. Itha, big sister, they would call her. She would wake them up in the morning and push the older two towards the bathroom. She had to bathe the youngest one herself. Once all of them were ready she would serve them their breakfast. Everyday something different. Idli, Dosha, iddiyappam. if they were served the same thing two days in a row, they would refuse to eat. And the youngest one, Ahmed, would kick up a storm. After the breakfast and a glass of milk off they would go to the school. Madonna's Primary School. It was nothing like Ramlah's school. This one had real walls, not dried palm stalks, to separate different classes. And they had a park, with shiny swing sets and a big slide. After dropping them she would return and then go back a few hours later with triple layered steel lunch boxes filled to the limit with hot rice, curry and pickle. In a separate packet she would carry the crispy pappadoms. She had to be careful not to crush them or Asiya, the eldest, would refuse to touch them. She would sit outside the big black gates of the school and wait for the lunch bell to ring. As she waited with a dozen other girls, waiting for their respective little masters and mistresses, she would strain her ears to catch maybe a snippet of a rhyme and sometimes a slice of the alphabet. Whatever she heard she would repeat to herself till she knew it by heart. Once the lunch bell rang they all would rush inside and wait at the edge of the playground, under the canopy of the huge banyan trees, for the children to come out. Asiya, Jaffer and Ahmed would come running towards her and sit on the mat that she would spread out for them. If they were in a good mood they would tell her, in between the rolling of rice into balls and the cracking of pappadoms, about what they'd done in class. Half the time Ramla couldn't follow what they said, but when Asiya would talk about her history class she would sit there quietly, taking in each word, as she was told about kings and queens living in huge palaces (bigger than Adlancha's mansion!), warriors who saved their land from the white Sahipmaar, about men and women who died trying to do so. Every night as rolled her straw mat out in the kitchen she would pray that these kings and warriors find their way to her dreams that night as well.
Years went like this and before she knew it, her Asiya was getting married. The same Asiya who couldn't tie her own braids was now going to be the mistress of another house! The wedding was beyond anything the entire village had seen. Jameela mua had some people from the city come and decorate the house. Everything was repainted, the old sofas were taken out, the teak wood beds were stuffed into the attic. Everything was new. And everything was cold.
But would Asiya care about these changes when she was busy talking to her fiancé on the new phone that he had gifted her? A few times she caught her looking at a photo of him and when Asiya saw her looking she would turn red like the fresh henna patterns on her hand.
The day of the wedding Asiya looked like a princess, dressed in a red sari, with gold necklaces and bangles covering every bit of her. Some of her friends from college had come to help her with the make up too. When she sat on the stage with her now husband Iqbal, Ramla couldn't help saying a prayer to protect both of them from the evil eye.
Once everything had quieted down, all the flowers and lights taken down and the gifts unpacked, Jameela mua called Ramlah to her room. She told her that the wedding couldn't have gone this smoothly without her help. She thanked her for taking care of Asiya all these years. Then she told her that they thought it was time she got married too. Jameela mua beamed as she told her about the man that was going to share her life from now. He was a driver and worked for Iqbal's brother who was a wealthy businessman in Dubai. He was coming back home for two months and the wedding would take place as soon as he came.
"Not everyone can get a husband who works in the gulf, Ramlah, so thank Allah for your luck!" said mua while Ramla rolled the betel leaves for her.
She met her husband, Rafeek, after the nikkah. He was a kind looking man in his thirties. As her wedding gift Adlancha and Jameela mua gave her a small house with a backyard facing the river ( You can grow your own vegetables, Ramlah!). She moved into this house with Rafeek. Within the first week Rafeek found out all her fears of men she had amassed over a childhood spent near strange men with roving eyes and groping hands. With his kindness and patience, he easer Ramla's heart and put her fears to rest. She thanked Allah for giving her this ease at last.
Before she knew it two months had passed and it was time for Rafeek to leave. She cried and held on to him as he made his way out, but he had to go. He told her he'll be back soon. "Just a year or two, Rammu, and then it'll be time for my next leave! You can wait that long, no, Rammu?"
At the beginning of every month she would go to Jameela mua's house and wait for Rafeek's call. On his third call she told him that he was going to be a father. He was ecstatic. She didn't know what to feel. Jameela mua told her not to worry, she'll take care of all the expenses. They'll find her a good midwife. But that was the least of Ramla's worries.
She gave birth to a baby boy. With ten little fingers and perfect toes. He was the most beautiful thing she had set eyes on. In an instant Akbar became the centre of his mother's small world. Ramlah didn't know that she was capable of loving anyone so deeply. After her forty days of rest, she dressed him up and herself wore her wedding sari, followed by a burkha on top, and took the bus to the city. There she went to a studio and took pictures of Akbar and one picture of him with her in her sari. This, she would send to Rafeek.
Her heart swelled with love when her Akbar took his first steps. And when he said his first word- umma- she took out some money from under the mattress and bought sweets from Khader icha's store and gave it to everyone she saw that day.
Soon it was nearing the time of Rafeek's leave and she was eagerly waiting with Akbar for his Uppa's arrival. Rafeek came with bag loads of Pampers and Johnson's baby powder and Lux soaps for her. As soon as he saw Akbar he dropped his bags and scooped him out of her hands. His uppa couldn't stop kissing Akbar! For two months Akbar never touched the floor. His uppa was always carrying him around. Wherever he went he would take Akbar with him. The little chap was also growing fonder of this stranger who was suddenly living in their house.
Again, two months flew by and it was time for Rafeek to leave. She accompanied him to the bus stop and waited till his bus to Kozhikode came. He held Akbar close to him throughout and she saw tears rolling down his cheeks as she took Akbar out of his arms. She tried to stifle her own tears so that Akbar wouldn't be alarmed. But the poor kid was already heartbroken as he saw his uppa getting into the bus and going away. Leaving him and his umma at the dusty bus stop.
This was the pattern even with Ayesha and Mariyam. They both saw their father when they were two and then it was a hide and seek game where they saw him every two years. Akbar was growing up faster than she wanted him too. She could see glimpses of a young man on his face now. Much to her dismay he dropped out of school when he was 13 and joined Kareem's plantation as a helper. As the days went by, she began to see lesser and lesser of him.
When her neighbour, Razia, told her that she had spotted him smoking bidi by Raghav Cinema, she was furious. That night she waited for him at her gate with a cane in her hand.
When he came she saw that his eyes were bloodshot. Then she lost it. She hit him till she hurt. Ayesha and Mariyam tried to pull her away with their little hands but right then she couldn't think. And Akbar, he just stood there as the cane left cut after cut on his skin. And when all her frustration had left its mark on her son's skin, she threw away the cane and took him inside. No one spoke about it again, especially Ramlah and Akbar.
When Akbar turned 18 his father asked him to learn driving. Ramlah knew what was coming but she bit back her cries. Adlancha's driver taught Akbar driving in exchange for a cup of tea every evening. The old man would do anything for Ramlah's children. After all he'd seen her grow up with his master's children.
During Rafeek's next visit much of the time was spent getting Akbar a passport and visa. new clothes were bought, pickles packed and among all this hustle no one spotted Ramlah's heart breaking. Rafeek consoled her as she held on to Akbar at the bus stop. And when they finally left she took Ayesha and Mariyam back, served them dinner and put them to bed. Then she cried herself to sleep holding onto to a yellowed picture of her Akbar as a baby and her in her wedding sari.
Her daughters grew up to be beautiful women. They were as efficient as their mother and were eyed by quite a few young men. Soon there were marriage proposals flooding in and more than once she spotted her girls giggling over pictures of potential suitors. After countless cups of tea and plates of laddoo, they finally did find two young men worthy of her daughters. The wedding dates were finalised, two weeks apart, during Rafeek and Akbar's next visit.
Father and son came back laden with perfumes and cosmetics for the brides to be. Two weeks before the wedding Rafeek decided to take the whole family to Kozhikode for the wedding shopping. That was their first trip as a family. Three days they spent entering every single wedding shop they saw. Rafeek didn't seem to be bothered about the expenses and made sure that his daughters got what they wanted. Silk Sarees, Some jewellery, shoes...Ramlah was worried about the money, but Rafeek calmed her. 'What use of me staying in Dubai if I cannot spend for my daughters' weddings? The whole village should remember this wedding!'
The wedding was more than both their daughters had dreamt of. After they left for their husbands' houses, it took some time to sink in that they were now somebody else's. When Rafeek and Akbar went back after their leave, leaving her alone in a house that suddenly seemed too big.
This was how it was going to be now. She filled her time doing every possible chore. She cleaned her house every single day. She made sure that every corner was dust free. Then, if she still had time, she would take her clothes down to the river and wash it there. Her vegetable garden was also flourishing. She had tomatoes, pumpkins and green chillies growing there. She wanted to fill every waking moment with some activity. She wanted to tire herself out so that she didn't have the energy to think about the empty house. Everyday she would look at the calendar( Which Akbar had gifted her) and it would look the same each time. The time refusing to budge.
She wanted an end to this but she existed for the moments when her daughters came to visit her with their children. She doted over her grandchildren and would often get scolded by her daughters for spoiling them. As the children grew their visits also became fewer and fewer until they visited only when Rafeek and Akbar came back.
It wasn't like the others didn't sense her loneliness. Her neighbours would try and spend time with her, but how much of their time could they really give her? And how much of their time could she really take?
A woman living alone also meant that some of the menfolk thought they had a free pass to behave as they want with her, drop in unannounced with vague excuses. It made her so paranoid that at night she couldn't sleep. She would keep checking if the doors and windows were locked. Again and again till she could see the crack of dawn and then it was time for prayer. Lack of sleep and all this stress ensured that high blood pressure caught up with her. Soon visits to the hospital became one of the things that filled her time. But she didn't mind. Atleast there were people at the hospital.
A few months after her forty-seventh birthday, during a call with Rafeek, he told her that he was coming back For good. She asked him again and again to make sure she had heard the right thing. She couldn't believe it. Her husband was coming back! She rushed back home, there was so much to do! She didn't remember feeling this giddy with happiness. She wasn't going to be lonely any more!
The day before Rafeek's arrival she couldn't sit still. Even for a moment. Every few minutes she would go into the kitchen to check on the chicken curry, then she would come back to her verandah where she was rolling dough for Pathiri. Rice bread and spicy chicken curry, that was his favourite dish. She cleaned the house and cleaned it again. And when everything was done she lay down to sleep barely able to contain herself. How could she sleep knowing that the following day will bring her husband with it? And this time he wasn't going to leave her.
Some how her eyelids did get heavy. She drifted into a dreamland and saw her Rafeek's face followed by Akbar, Ayesha and Mariam. Oh, her grandchildren were there too! This was nice, this dream. She didn't want to wake up now. And she didn't. Even after the dream ended and Rafeek had come home she didn't open her eyes. She couldn't.
The House was a spectacular sight. Even in the yellowed photo I carried around, it stood tall and proud, reveling in its own grandeur. No one knew for sure how old it was. At the last count, five generations of family had lived and died there, each leaving a mark only my grandmother could tell.
Each night before my eyes grew heavy with sleep, she would stroke my head on her lap and tell me The House was alive, that it grew when youth was unwillingly handed down before each generation folded into itself. It was true, because as its dwellers multiplied, The House stretched till each person found his place. With babies new rooms were born, the rooms expanded when the elders died, and eventually the kitchen and bathrooms were invited inside.
I still see it, The House. In my dreams the coconut trees dance with the wind, and branches from the twin mango trees settle on the brick roof. I hear the mangoes falling on the roof with a loud thud, rolling down the sloped roof, and the cheers erupting when one of the children deftly catches the juicy prize. I smell the raw mangoes being pickled in the kitchen; I see the red chilies spread out to dry out under the scorching midday sun; I hear my grandma chasing me away when I venture too close to the well in the backyard. And I don’t want the dream to end.
The House was kind to its inhabitants, but each generation was less grateful than the previous one. My grandma was the last of its protectors, so they waited for her to die to dissect The House. But she didn’t die; she chose to fade in front of our eyes. It wasn’t sudden, but I still remember the shock as it hit me that she was now half her size. Old age reached her legs first. They would refuse to cooperate when she wanted to walk. She wasn’t very stubborn and let them have their way. The regret set in only after her legs forgot to walk, but by then it was too late.
She prided herself on her ability to retrieve dates and names and numbers at any given time. Ask her ‘Velliamma when was Rafi mama born?’ and you could see her eyes light up as she prepared to dive deep into the recesses of her mind to grab a date which was now a pearl in a hidden oyster that lay under so many other memories that she’d rather forget. But she would still emerge, memory soaked, a smile on her face and the date in her open palm.
As the years settled into the wrinkles around her now toothless smile, memory became murkier. ‘Grandma what’s Khadeeja ammayi’s first born’s name?’, and she’d ask back ‘Who’s Khadeeja?’. Soon the answers didn’t match the questions and it wasn’t long before blankness engulfed her and she was a shell a step away from crumbling into nothingness.
Before they could tear apart The House, a faraway King’s sprained ankle triggered war and our family bore the battle scars. Rebels and loyalists that came from the same womb now couldn’t share the same roof. Since my father, the youngest one, had returned to his Lord, my mother and I were disposable.
Years later my mother told my children, stroking their heads on her lap, that the house had lived through floods, droughts, and centuries of nature's fury, but it couldn’t survive its own children who tore it down.
When we were told to leave, I ran to the attic while my mother fell on their feet, begging them to let us be. I climbed up the creaky wooden stairs and dug out the photo album buried under the dust carpet that hid stories of the many lives lived in The House. And before my uncle barged in and dragged me out by my hair, I stole a single picture of the only place I called home.
And come sit
Next to me.
It doesn't take much
To make me happy
No, not the diamonds
Nor your precious pearls
Not dinner at some
Neither tickets to the Opera
What I need
Is just a little assurance
That you love me
To put the phone down
And come sit
Next to me.
The Great Indian Stereotype
They see curry on my plate
And begin their sad monologue
About how ‘Indian’ I am
Wisecracks about my limited career options
And remarks on my ‘pre-destined married life’
Gaffs at ‘The Great Indian Nod’
Reflecting their inability to distinguish our yes from a no
Throw in a few Bollywood songs
And they are done for the day
Signing off with a Namaste
I don’t say a thing
And sometimes laugh along
Yes, my accent is thick
And my Ts sound like machine guns
On a roll
But that’s why it’s called an accent, silly!
I do love me some curry with some red chilli
But on other days I’d rather kick back
With some Chinese
On the go.
No, we don’t dance when we are happy
Nor do we run around trees
When there’s joy, we
Laugh and smile
Amidst hugs and kisses
We sing, badly, in the shower
And dance when getting rid of pesky roaches
You see, it’s very tough
To explain what it’s like
To be Indian
To be an Indian woman
To be an Indian Muslim woman
My experiences are mine
And mine alone
So don’t put me in a box,
Along with your expensive pashmina shawls and ivory figurines,
And label me ‘exotic’
For I will break free and let you know that
I am you.
Maybe a little browner.
I'm beautiful and so are you.
Shopping with girlfriends or at the hairdressers',
Flipping through magazines as I get my hair done
Page after page of glossy perfection
Sensuous curves and caramel skin so soft,
Image after image
Mocking me, calling me names
One places me in the ‘before’ selling distant dreams of a beautiful ‘after’
Dreams contained in big bottles and labelled lotions,
My skin needs lightening, body some tightening or,
they reveal, I face a future so bleak-
Men’s rejection, collapsing careers and eventual dejection
I can’t look at the mirror no more
That image is not me
It’s an ugly monster I’ve created,
So done with this,
Now time to change
Throw out all Chips and chocolates,
The cheese in my spaghetti, sugar in my tea
Push out carbs too-out you go potatoes
My body is in my hands and I am its sculptor
Carving those curves, perfecting that pout
I feel good - I must be beautiful now!
A glance at the magazines- a broken heart
The images look thinner,
Eyes brighter, lips fuller
Skin flawless with that ever present glow
My shame burns me
Why can’t I be like them?
I sit at the table
Boiled vegetables on my plate
Stuff myself and then run to the toilet
A finger down my throat
Out comes it all
Some calories down the drain!
An evolving competition
Me and those calculating calories till death do us apart
Tiredness treads in now
But that’s a good sign!
I must be on my way
Hopes high I head to my ally
'Mirror Mirror on the wall- who's the thinnest of them all?'
no lies, hidden truths no more
Deep breath, eyes open and I see
A big ugly whale
If perfection eludes me,
I must step up my game.
Pit stop and I pick up some pills
Now guaranteed a fine future ahead
I take them- 1,2,3 at a time
Day after day, week after week,
My body now starved, some pills popped,
I feel different. My body's not mine,
Instead a dying corpse
A sculptor’s worst nightmare
Her masterpiece shattering in her own hands.
In my race to perfection, I’d forgotten
That perfection, didn’t exist
Not in this world.
I wasn’t the lie, it was the image
Starved models make up caked,
Photo-shoots then photoshopped
Altered curves and concealed spots
Plastic smiles then painted on
Creating a fantasy; destroying million others
So I take a step back and let my body speak for itself
It tells me to stop, this torture unbearable,
And look within
While my body starved, my soul did too
In the pursuit of perfection, I'd lost not one but two
The trials were testing and it took me some time
But I turned to the one who is perfect and He sorted it out
Cracks mended and tears stitched
I've prayed and the answer was lucid
To look beyond the body and go for the soul
This I shall polish and let shine for the world
The Creator created me this way and so it shall remain
I'm beautiful and so are you.
Note: it was very tempting to put up a flattering photo. But that defeats the purpose of this altogether. This was taken just before I reached my heaviest. I am also quite unfashionable here. (The bag looks horrid) But I want to get over this need to put out only my best, filtered, photos, taken from the angle which makes me look thinnest. I reclaim my body, with all its curves and turns and fur (yes, all mammals have hair on their body!) It's time we stop comparing ourselves with others. There is no one normal. There are just normals
To the fathers
To the fathers
born on the day
Their children entered the world.
To the fathers
Spending every waking hour
Toiling and planning, saving and spending
To present their children better futures
Than their own pasts.
To the fathers
Shunning stifling norms,
Teaching boys to be kind
And moulding wings for
Their little girls to fly
To the fathers
Who are there,
At each and every step,
So when you fall,
you don't hit the ground.
To the fathers
Worn and torn,
Unable to take another step
But willing to bleed a little more
For a smile on their little one's face.
To the fathers
Guiding and leading
Cheering and lifting
Cracking bad dad jokes and
Showing the ways of the world
In the same breath.
To the super dads
And the ones out of breath,
Dizzy and drenched in sweat.
Your blood, sweat, and tears are not going unnoticed.
Your drive to provide and protect is not going unnoticed.
Your deep love is not going unnoticed.
You are seen.
You are loved.
You are cherished.
And you mean the world to us.
All the daddy's little girls and boys.
While the women in my life played a big role in making me who I am today (not saying I am a big deal!) It's my father who played one of the most central roles in my growth and development. The one who raised me to be strong against all odds. The one who pushed me even when I resisted, because he is the biggest believer in my potential. The one person who will give me honest feedback (that I reluctantly take) to keep me grounded. I can't thank God enough for blessing me with such an amazing father. This poem is for him and the millions of other unsung heroes inside dad suits. They don't get enough appreciation for what they do.
You told me the streets weren't safe
So I stayed inside and watched
your son spread his wings and fly high
across the skies.
You told me my chest will tempt men,
and when compelled, their acts won't be their fault,
not at all,
So I crouched and folded into myself and
shrouded what was left in all layers I could get.
Born with a rulebook
chained to both legs
I followed what was said:
"Minimise yourself, erase your presence,
flatten your curves and try self defence."
I destroyed everything feminine in me
so no blame can come my way.
And yet, here I am, victim of another faultless crime.
Another statistic and a fleeting national headline.
Now in my grave, I await,
the verdict from the moral brigade that
will find a loophole and dig till it
frees the man from culpability
and nails me instead
for being too lax about protecting
the only thing worth saving in me:
dignity and the honour of my society.
Tell me, what was my share in this bloody fate?
What looseness in my character justifies hate that
wishes to see my body turned inside out?
Was my house too inviting of strange men?
Was my bedroom door painted the wrong shade?
Was my door latch giving the wrong signals?
Was I showing my skin while unconscious?
Was my breathing too sensual?
Or is it that two simple words: "Don't Rape"
are heavier on the tongue
than a lifetime of rules that don't make sense?
Or, maybe, is it just that nothing will ever be enough
to save me from being the victim
of the wrong chromosome?
Maybe it ends only when I cease existing.
What else explains
this perfect student
failing the final test?
If we aren't safe in our homes either, why must we languish indoors? I will go out. I will reclaim public space. I don't care if femininity outdoors is jarring for you. Your comfort is your problem. This is our right.
No is not a word.
Not at all.
No is a period with no
Brackets in sight.
No is a sentence
That begins and ends in itself
No is a novel
With no plot twists at the end
No is a compression of
Histories of strained Yes.
No is enough.
No you can’t touch me
No I won’t kiss you
No I will not bend
Or anyone else.
Yes, I am a (wo)man but
No, this is my body and
I will choose when to say yes and
A No is not a Yes
Not even if you beg.
No is enough.
But sometimes No is silence-
a small shriek,
Or tear streams
Sliding down wet cheeks
Wiped off by
Shaking backs of hands
Or threats of slaps so
Sometimes No breaks down
Never to be fixed and
Sometimes No crawls out
In the middle of the night. But
Othertimes No comes back
With a knife in its hands
No takes a while
With a bang.
Make No enough,
Before it isn’t anymore.
#Bengaluru #BangaloreMassMolestation #consent
Art by Fathima Nisar
If you could stop
For a second-
Just a moment-
We need to talk,
I see cracks where
Men carved your skin,
Etching borders that
Starved your kids
Midst wars that bleed
Those who don’t even know
What they mean.
The world is in a whirl
And where do you start
Solving what’s tearing us apart
When your sight is met
With imagined borders that elect
Who’s safe, who’s a threat.
Your children are dying,
Your rivers are drying,
And I know you still turn
So sorrow never
Reaches your shore
You spin because
Standing still is
Letting grief stifle
If you could stop
For a second-
Just a moment-
Right now, about
The girl looks out at
rain, straining to hear
the pitter patter as it hits
the window sill,
anything to quit the
cries of the bitter battle
as father batters mother
for a mere tea spill or
a word deemed ill
She forgets and it doesn't matter,
because mother says
in topsy turvy worlds
this is just background score
you mute, and bruises are
where you blend make-up more
So the girl looks out at
birds, escaping rainy blows,
and wonders whether
baby birds fly lower and
cower in front of daddy birds too,
Till mother walks in and
yanks her out the dream
with a smack across the cheek
"Make tea before
bhai loses it too."
Chase me with a doll…
I was 7 when you came to see us. You, a visiting relative, came stocked with sweets, toys and tales aplenty. My brothers and I loved you, for you added colour to our bleak, dusty existence. You enthralled us with stories from- what was to us, the biggest wonder in the world- the city. Rapt, we would listen when you described the big buses which can carry A Lot of people at a time and how it can drive without stopping (Unlike our lazy bullock). We would watch you with wide eyed wonder as you showed with your arms stretched wide, how wide the roads are and run, clutching the end of your kameez, giggling, as you showed us how the trains run. We laughed when you told us about the People Of The City sitting on a chair to pee and felt sad for the poor Women of the City who have so few clothes to wear that half their bodies are left uncovered.
I was so amazed by you, that when you came that night and asked me to come outside with you, I gladly obliged. I still remember how dark the night was and how tightly I held on to your hand as we walked into the bushes. I couldn’t contain my excitement, anticipating what new things you would show me this time. I was already preparing to wake my brothers up after we went back to tell them that you had chosen only me to give this special gift. And mid-dream you touched me. At first my cheeks, then my tiny chest…then with your groping fingers you undressed me. You did things which my 7 yr old mind couldn't grasp. I lay there, biting down the pain and holding back the screams…maybe I need to prove myself to deserve the gift? Surely there was a gift?
And then, when you were done, you got up and left. I lay there, in the bushes, bleeding, waiting for you to come back with the gift. You never came back.
The next day my father found me, lying naked, next to the bushes. He rushed back into the house and saw that you had left. He came back to me and jolted me out of sleep- A light dream where I was playing with a pretty doll you’d promised you would bring me. He woke me up and slapped me. Again and again and again. Then he sat down and cried as he pulled at his hair. I wanted to go and hug him, ask him what the matter was- but I was scared he would beat me up again. I stayed there till his loud sobs turned into whimpers and eventually died down. Then he picked me up, took me inside and wrapped me in a blanket.
I have stayed in ever since.
You visited me often, in my darkest nightmares. I run and you chase. Chase me with a doll…till I fall off a cliff and wake up in tears.
Yesterday was the last dream I had of you. 9 yrs. For 9 yrs I haven’t slept without seeing you in my dreams. I yearned to sleep without waking up. Without tearing up. Without knowing that I am torn
So here I lie, floating in the river, dreaming blissfully of things other than you.
I orbit the universe
My skin is a wheatish brown
my grandmother tried to make pale
with talcum powder-white face.
An in-between shade
that couldn’t escape skin trade
which placed your worth
on a quantified colour scale.
My body is Disrupted
By defiant curves, inappropriate
till appropriated by white girls
in short shorts and tank tops,
becoming hot shots while
we mourn childhoods lost.
The smiles erased by roving hands.
and hunched shoulders
hiding bosoms from leering eyes.
My faith is a Peace
that is personal,
held ransom by a mere piece
of cloth that agitates the viewer
not the wearer.
So they gather in their panels of
chat show channels
minimize my voice and dismiss my choice,
Throw what I know out the window because
‘Freedom is measured by what you show’
I’m a body coerced to
accept the constant viewing and
be spectacle to the relentless gaze and
surrender the rest of my days to
proclaim I am human
in more than one way.
A pursuit in vain because
I’m the disjointed product of
labels that never expire.
Frankenstein's new monster in
an experiment gone haywire.
But before you take your
predetermined talking points and
attempt to micromanage my life,
Ask me what I am.
I’m a collage of
Let me show you,
gaze into my soul,
not through, Not over-
look into me and
allow yourself to see
that this entity is
A kaleidoscope of realities
straddling parallel histories.
I'm a shooting star in a distant galaxy
of dreams and unrealised fantasies
that just because you don’t perceive
doesn't cease to exist.
Accommodate this truth and
chant it till you understand:
You can't tether me to one world because I,
I orbit the universe.
She was born a girl.
I’d like to apologize
For a crime so great
That it demands punishment severe
I am sorry
For being born
With the wrong chromosomes
In my defense, I wasn’t asked to choose
‘Would you like an XY or XX?’
‘My personal recommendation is XY,
It’s hot in the streets I hear!’
I apologize that my chest isn’t flat
And that my hips form curves
I do understand that my body
In fact demands it!
So sorry if I didn’t take your crude passes
With a demure smile
But I know better now.
I apologize for my presence
In the public space
It must take a lot
Not to pounce on me.
So sorry that I provoke
The caveman in you
Every time I step outside.
I apologize for demanding
That my sister gets rights
‘cause, in the end she asked for it.
After all, it was her fault
That she was born a girl.
Not A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a people who did not care for the Little Things. They cared so little for the Little Things that soon the not-so-little things became mere Little Things too. One may wonder what took up all their attention, so much so that they stopped caring for the poor Little Things. Well, it was the Big Things- much much bigger-happening in lands across the sea. If that wasn’t enough to divert the attention, some among them would walk around with seals in their hands and mark others’ foreheads with bright red labels that read ‘NOT US’. Then another group made a different seal in neon green that said ‘ANTI NOT US’. Soon they declared that those without a seal need to be hunted down as they don’t belong anywhere, hence proving dangerous. So they squabbled on, over these Big Things- the happenings of far away lands and If not that then the color coded seals they’d invented just a few days back.
The Big Things took so much of their time that one day the Little Things decided they couldn’t take it anymore and slowly faded out of their lives. The people didn’t notice it on the first day. Neither the second. Then on the third day they realized something was amiss.
The wife did not smile at her husband through her sleepy eyes, neither did he turn to cuddle her. The husband did not smell the fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen. The kids did not come running to squeeze them in a warm hug. The neighbor didn’t say hello in the elevator, gone was the friendly smile. The roses in the garden were as perky as ever but had no scent whatsoever. The sky was clear but the sun didn’t shine. The breeze refused to play with the hair. The birds went about their business without chirping their songs. The trees stood proud, offering no shade. And just like that the world had lost all its colour and smell and flavor.
While the men and women were busy debating, disrupting, and deconstructing the Big Things, the Little Things had slowly stepped away. The Little Things took with them all the hues that make the rainbow stretch and all the notes that made music just yesterday and all the joy that made life worth living everyday. And the people? They never truly learned how to live without the Little Things, so they invented Bigger Things to make the Big Things seem Little.
I am someone who finds herself constantly wandering, searching for that elusive place which is 'home'. My life is in constant flux and naturally, my thoughts are even more chaotic. This blog is an effort to channelize my ruminations and rants into a coherent space. I hope this proves as a platform for me to mature as writer by exploring different styles and as an individual by delving into myself. It's going to be a long journey, and I would love for you to join me, whenever you want edited