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
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.
The other day I heard someone say,
Why don’t they keep terror in their corner,
And not let hate escape their bay.
Then I read somewhere,
Prominent persons discussing relevant questions like,
‘Why do they hate us and our freedoms?’
And ‘How do we civilize them?’
Whines the white man.
Now I hear
They burned a mosque,
Boxed an old man in the face.
Ripped her headscarf off and
Pushed a woman onto an oncoming train.
Then screamed at brown kids:
‘Fuck off. Go back to where you came from’
I am sorry,
I can’t ignore this anymore,
Even if I’m ignored.
So let me answer,
If these answers are the key, maybe
They will unlock our shared humanity.
Dear Delusional One,
You can’t keep terror in my corner,
Because the world is round and
My corner is your corner so
Your wars kill my children and
The other way around
You didn’t ask for it, but then,
Neither did I.
And know that
Hate can’t be contained in our bay
Because it spills and taints
Every single thing in its way.
If hate could be contained, then
Why does yours wash over our shores,
And rain on our homes.
Why does it stifle our hopes and
Tread on what’s left of our dreams?
Dear prominent person,
We don’t hate your freedom,
But we do crave the ability to
Live our lives free
From the politics of faraway lands
We have never seen.
But it seems freedom isn’t free
As the fine prints indicate, each time
Certain *conditions apply.
So the lives we lose is just
The price we pay for wanting
To have a say in which way
Our future sways.
Dear White Man,
Who do you want to civilize?
Those that were left behind in the
Centuries of civilizing missions
Of colonizing tongues and
Othering complete continents?
Or those whose lands you made sure were
Reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds?
Or do you want to civilize the orphans, the widows,
The living dead,
The vague numbers in your brief mentions
Of the ‘collateral damage’ we must endure?
Please, do let us know
As we wait with bated breaths.
Dear Ignorant Bigot,
Those kids live right across you street
So, please, retreat. Crawl back into your cave
With the others competing to hate.
We won’t miss your face.
Every night before sleep
I swallow little pills of apologies,
Regular doses so I can doze,
See dreams well without random security checks
Every morning I mourn
The day and its turns
As I stir in strong condemnation with my tea
As I brush my teeth with more apologies
As I cloak myself in the otherness bestowed to me
And step into a gaze that
And they say:
Why don’t you just make up your mind-
Condemn or condone-
Get it right this time.
There is no way out so
Shout out your moderation from rooftops
Declare yourself civilized so we have no doubts
Scream that your religion is peace and
Continue to String prayers beads with apologies
For the crimes you did not commit
For the times you did not admit
Your absolute irrelevance in
This world we have made for ourselves
Or let us paint you in seven shades of hate
As we pillage and plunder
Your bodies and boundaries.
Don’t question our privilege
For offence is our right and
Dissent was never your due.
Accept the labels we so kindly bequeath
And tweak your faith to our ease.
Till you fold into the corners we spare and
Contort your history to erase our errors
Cull terror cells in your wombs and
Raise new tombs and
Raze new tombs.
Here, let us save you
Now express freely,
In our terms .
Adorn your brown, black and blue bodies with our ideas
Abandon your tongue and Put away your words
Weave your oppression into the strands of your veil
Now twirl around so the world can see you
Don’t let your truths seep into our world and
Stain structures built for you on your bones.
What was just meant to be black and white
For you will need them again
Store them in purses and pockets,
Seek crevices of your being that matter.
Tuck them into the delicate folds of your blue scarf,
Slip them between yellowed pages of history book behind the broken jar or just
Spread thin on the empty plates of your hungry child.
Fill apologies in your pores and your prose and your poems
Till you can no longer breathe.
A jumbled, tumbled upside-down, inside-out, all-over-the-place poem for my daughter (If I ever have one someday) to read on rainy days when she just doesn’t ‘feel it’. Inspired by one of my favourite poets, Sarah Kay.
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 are not a real woman’
‘Cause you are, baby,
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,
A POEM FOR MY DAUGHTER
WHEN SHE ASKS,
‘DON’T WE BELONG?’
It’s not long
before my daughter asks
don’t we belong?’
How do I make her understand
the only world she knows
can’t stand those who look like her,
her mother, or any child she ever has.
I breathe deep, hold tears
and tell what mothers like me
tell daughters liker her:
sit down. Listen up and
remember everything mama says.
Life isn’t going to be easy.
Know what people see
when they look at us
is just the colour of our skin.
So they take the lilt in our laughter
to label us monsters
Then proclaim our ‘difference’
is what makes them our masters.
Their rage blinds
from seeing our souls and grasping
we’re also flesh and bones.
Woven with our blood is
their chosen cloak, and
they still shout ‘Don’t choke’
while they stand on our throats.
It’s a toxic paradox
that mocks feeble people
and pushes into a box
Put heavy locks,
and they levy tax
we can’t breath
we can’t eat.
and still we meet
irony that cheats
at each gate,
handing out mutilated fates.
But baby, don’t forget,
in our broken ribs
rest battered hearts
that still protest and
beat a constant beat
So sing of our shattered dreams
spilled at the foot of their whims. And
when they yell, don’t stop
tell stories of our scars
gathered in their wars.
Don’t let them white-wash
our past, stand tall,
hold a mirror to their crimes.
Let them resist, you persist
till they swallow their hate
I know it’s a long wait, but
it won’t be too late
before love illuminates
what lies out there,
beyond black and white.