From Ashes to Rage

Jaya Yadav

The flames soar
Ashes float into space
Hear the oceans roar
This is love’s rage

It’s deep, it’s brutal
It’s tsunamic, suicidal

The sun blazes red
The sky turns blue
The anger burns the dead
As I don’t say I love you

So I sit and write
You sit and wait
Till the sun’s out of sight
I say your name into hollow space

We’re separated by a twist of fate
I can’t even say it’s too late

This too shall pass
Like the star that shines before it burns
My love will last
Far beyond the pages as you turn

So we part like the red sea without a staff
No goodbyes were needed, we’ve come too far

I can’t turn around for one last gaze
Love just turned out to be maze

I can’t turn around for one last look
It shows me the path you took

I won’t wait for someone who would never return
And my last wish is only for you to learn

It’s painful, painless
In faith I confess
As the universe conspires
Against all my desires

I wouldn’t step onto a pyre1
My love isn’t for hire

So I guess this is where I bid adieu
Without saying I might’ve never loved you.

1 Refers to the ancient Hindu practice of sati, where a widowed Hindu woman would  immolate herself on her husband’s pyre. It has been outlawed since 1829.

After the ‘Happily ever after’

Shambhavi Tripathi

“It’s not that I do not love you. it’s that I love you a little too much. You’re such a special person. you deserve someone who can take you to the Moon. I will bear out the pangs of separation only because I know it’s better for you in the long run.”

I am unable to mention the speaker of these lines, probably because they’ve been used so often that it’s impossible to pin down where it all began. It could’ve been Prince Charming from Cinderella once he realized that she wasn’t all rosy lips and sunshine locks. But then again, who cared about the aftermath as long as the story ended with them setting off into this overrated ‘happily ever after’?

We breed in this almost diabetic, sweet view of love, love that is untarnished, unconceited, selfless and in most cases, an end in itself. We may forget our ABC’s but who forgets that first crush that sets you pulsating and colors up your world, or when you first learn to blush, steal shy glances with him and spend endless moments comparing him to that Mills and Boon character you’ve secured in the depths of your heart? We all have that phase, when spilling your heart out in the diary scores way above filling up pages of assignments, when you start doodling hearts everywhere and honestly believe that every love song ever written defines You. It’s extraordinary how simple it is to fall in love—after all, its not called ‘falling’ for no reason. Anything that I write about the flow and beauty of love will only be a repetition, maybe even in cruder terms.

It’s true: love transforms you and makes you believe that you can overpower any catastrophe. Love has moved mountains, waged battles and sacrificed. To a hopeless romantics like myself, there is relief even in the dooms of love. But what if it is all a charade, an age-old lore that is too tantalizing to not fall prey to? In the wanton illusions of lying below the sheet of stars with clasped hands, we are deluded into thinking that there will never be a starless night.

It’s almost cruel, that subtle drift from romantic to corny, expressive to cheesy, affection to clingy, and the hardest is to stand back and watch it all fall apart. The fear of loss, the choice between holding on and letting go, the painful wait to hear that you’re not a part of someone’s story anymore. Then come the tears. That’s the funny thing about crying. It doesn’t wash away anything, but simply sets your rash tremors in motion. Rains, sunsets and dawns—elements of nature you’d befriended do everything in their power to drown you in seas of separation, hurt and rejection.

He would have you believe that it is all in a vested larger good, an ironical attempt of ‘protecting’ you from a more severe degree of pain. It’s tough to compose arguments when you see the determined look in his eyes, and hear the harshness in the voice that made your heart melt. Breakups are severely underrated; the world seems to have objectified love in stunted concepts of ‘getting over’ and ‘replacing the guy’. There seems to be no space for those who love once with everything they have to offer. Love isn’t a conquest. It’s not a tryst to intensify life. It’s sunlight, which warms you to your core. You never grow out of love, it never fades away. Over time, we just find less painful ways of keeping it at bay.

It hurts, yes. Then again, what doesn’t? For a while, the world around you might not make sense to you, may even seem unnecessary, you may not want to go to the movies or tune into your playlist and no one can tell you how long that feeling of not feeling anything would last. In some cases, a broken heart is mended and other times, it might be the only time that the heart attaches itself to anything that requires it to beat faster than it biologically does. How much love is destructive? When is your insistence at holding on mistaken for your helplessness at letting go? When do you draw the line between trying to preserve it and letting it slip away because it doesn’t want to be saved? How do you know when you no longer have the right to move someone whose gravity you once were? Truth is, there’s no degree to Love. It’s either everything or nothing at all.

Next time you spot a cheesy gesture of love, think again. It’s not important to ‘succeed’ in love. What is vital is to believe in it, to believe in a version of the world that runs on simple love. The world needs that kind of addictive love, love that is supernatural, real and dreamy, all at once. I often think if we could ever run out of love, but does it really matter? The worst way to kill love is to quantify it with the ‘happily ever after’. Look out for love and grab it, make it yours, cherish and celebrate it. In love, take a couple of chances and skip a couple of heartbeats, because the world is just a dark, lonely place without it.

My Fort with Its Moat: Why Did I Make It and Why Was It Destroyed?

Ishita Sareen

I am an 18 year old girl, who weighs 87 kg, precisely. I know that is big amount, I am almost obese by 25-30 kg (what knowledge I gleaned in my physical education classes). I am 5’4″, a modest height. I do not have any particular talents to brag off, I am just your ordinary teenager, but with my own custom-made body image issues.

I was born a healthy child (3.5 kg at my birth on December 16, 1994), just what my parents wanted. I was the most pampered and loved on both my parent’s sides. I was fed cans of lactogen, baby formula, and God knows what else so that I grew up to be a healthy baby. I did. I was a healthy, chubby child, always a little ahead of my classmates on the weight front.

Honestly, I did not care. I never spent my time looking in mirrors, nor do I do now. I was content with myself, at peace with the world and my Alpenlibe lollipop. But as I grew old, I realized that though I was happy with me, the world was not happy seeing me being me. No offense to all those who are thinking that this is just another teen story, but really don’t flip pages just yet.

I was 8 and at school, and that was the first time I felt ashamed of my appearance, of my weight. I remember clearly. It was mid November and the class bully was holding his conference at the far corner of the playground. I was not part of that. I always stood up for what I liked/wanted/felt was right (pick any, I don’t mind)—in this case I did not like being dominated so I did not join the conference. Later on I learnt that the resolution that had been passed was to call me ‘moti ’1 from now on. My friends left me for the bully camp and I was alone. That day I cried in the school bus. Now when all memories have grown so old and I hardly remember any good ones (just vague recollections), that one is the one that stands out, corrupting other treasured memories.

After that incident and many others just like that, I taught myself to ignore them all. That was at 10. No matter what they said, I did not rise to the bait; I kept silent. I mastered it gradually. I built a permanent red brick fort, with its own moat of crocodiles. I was proud of myself. My parents might have guessed what I was facing at school, but they left me to fight my own battles and wars and for that I was grateful because I learnt to fight and hold my own fort.

As I progressed into teenage-hood, I began to realize that the wall I had built around myself was not so permanent after all. It was showing cracks in some places. But with school, boys and lots and lots of homework, who has the time to fill up cracks? The fort turned into a ruin and I felt all those hateful memories and the new names (now improvised) boring into my memory. Like some mind-control drill.

I declined offers to sit with friends, convinced that I would be needled about my weight issue. In the school bus when we had to squeeze together, I would get up from my seat and give it to another. Many thought this act was good-breeding but it really was so that no one could get any opportunity to say that I blocked too much space. I started hating my school uniform, as I looked fat in it. I never looked at myself I the mirror in the morning because I was afraid that I might break down. Many whistles from street loafers followed me in the streets. I was getting out of control inside, getting paranoid. Convinced that everyone was looking at me, commenting about my ever increasing weight. And I could do nothing to stop it, nothing to fight. I went on walks, consulted dieticians and did a lot of exercise, but nothing budged those muscles. I was depressed so I ate even more. And that got me to my present 87 kg.

I thought or hallucinated that I was fighting the battles and winning some of them, but by some treachery on the account of my brain, my crocs were dead. I was not immune to those leers and taunts after all. I am not proud of the fact, but I just curled up under my sheets for a few days and cried. I thought and cried some more. But eventually the crying stopped the raging at the world, the leers and the whistles going through my brain too. It’s a terrifying feeling you get when everything just stops, you wonder if it ever was there, will it return, what happened to it? This was when I was 14.

I started work on a new wall this time with super strong cement, working out the points where I had been weak before. I was shy ever since I can remember but now I was an introvert too. As I grew I learned that my weight was not THE problem. The taunts, and the leers continued, but I realized that they were less a problem when I grew older, more mature. Now people were beginning to understand me, they were trying not to judge me by how I looked and I was grateful for that. They took the trouble to find out about the real me, that me who was hiding under the cemented grey brick walls. I made real friends, who stood alongside me when I needed them. The ‘friend in need is a friend indeed’ type.

And that made me realize something else too. (Other than admitting I had a problem which needed exercise to get over, which I am doing faithfully). You can decide whether its wisdom or not.

I realized that  we all are insecure. All these insecurities make a great part of who we are. Some people let those insecurities commandeer their life. Like I did, they made forts and moats and also kept crocs and jelly fish. Sigh. Some others pay no attention to them but give all their time towards scouring their real talents, their natural ones, honing them to perfection so that the insecurities look puny. Yet others find a way round them, the middle path, they spend time on their insecurities and nurture their talents too. I call these the all rounders. I haven’t decided yet to which category I belong to, but I think I just might bet on the last one.

The bullies in my life who called me all the names and the mean things had insecurities. We live in a world that includes people venting out their anger, emotions, feelings etc. at others—catharsis, they call it. And we need to do that, Why? To feel important, self-satisfied, proud, loved, arrogant, valued, safe, satisfied, confident…. In this process even if we end up saying some mean things or some people end up listening to that mean talk, it’s no reason to make a wall, or bury yourself in deep, or do anything that might make yourself feel ashamed. Because you are what you are. All the songs say it, celebs say it, our shrinks say it, the society also seems to say it—it is we who refuse to believe it. And trust me you only believe it when you are faced with no other option than to believe. You always have the power to believe but you also have the power to choose what you believe, and the impossibility of a situation becomes the catalyst of your decision.

As I learned it the slightly hard way, some mean things cannot change who you are even though you might try it. Some other souls come along and dig you up from your self-dug grave. And to me those are my angels. Sort off. Bit dramatic, huh?

Those people, the mean characters in my life had a great role to play. They eventually bought me closer to the path, at the end of which came Deduction Number 1 —  that I had a problem, and Deduction Number 1a — which needed some solutions and fast, which led to my slimming-down-by-the-earliest scheme of tasks, including a lot of exercise. I was never comfortable in my own skin. Big surprise! Every teenager says that, I guess (except the ones with no acne and perfect swimsuit bodies, if there are any). But now I am very near to it. Bet you no ‘teenager’ says that. Deduction Number 2 — there might be room for constant improvement, but that improvement should not be based on the whims and fancies of others.

I am again at peace with my world, have dreams, go party sometimes, read books still. But there is no archaic fort now. There’s a valley full of long grass that beckons me to move on and love myself even more. I have started loving myself for who I am (and believe me life has taken a turn for good), have you?

  1 Derogatory Hindi term for “fatty”


Shomira Sanyal

A sleepy and laid-back town is an unlikely place to nurture aspirations of academic excellence. Barring the conventional pan-India phenomena of students aspiring to join the IITs1, leaving the place to pursue a course in ‘Arts’ still remains unimaginable. At the precise year of my passing class X, no CBSE2 school in my hometown (except the far flung Kendriya Vidyalayas3 ) offered Arts as an option at the +2 level. Dreaming of joining Delhi University two years later and more so the reputed Lady Shri Ram College for Women?? Well-nigh impossible!

Compromising a shift to the ISC4 board over incurring expenditure to leave the city to study elsewhere at that juncture was the only choice. It did not help that the new school was small—only two students had opted for the Arts stream and that faculty was part time. Dreams of moving, fading or a resolve strengthened were daily dilemmas. A new board, new syllabus, different approach to studying and answering examinations, were certainly daunting. “Will I, won’t I?” dodged me each day. Friends and peers grappled with their routines of tuition classes and entrance examination preparations, leaving no time to share, discuss and reassure. But surely, even at that stage, I was unwilling to give up my dream. Not quite yet. Perhaps no one else, I believe, scrutinized the LSR5 website so frequently! The college, its activities, the agonizingly high cut-off percentages of the previous year…I believed deep down, I could. I was willing to walk the extra mile, self study and reach the place I saw as an opportunity to widen my horizon.

Almost at the end of my first year in college today, I realize it was well worth the effort. Attending seminars, participating in a myriad of activities, often spoilt for choice and regrets for over-lapping events…I have grown as an individual. For the first time, I am experiencing ‘education’ and not merely literacy. A note of all the programs I have attended in my diary, be it the department, Voluntary Agency Placement Program, Women’s Development Cell or the film society screenings, is a constant reminder of what I have gained. I am unwilling to trade this for anything else! A random quote I chanced upon on Facebook, probably summarizes it best for me, “A year ago, I would’ve never pictured my life the way it is now!”

1 Indian Institute of Technology
2 Central Board of Secondary Education
3 Central Government schools
4 Indian School Certificate Exams
5 Acronym for Lady Shri Ram College

Freedom Without Fear

Arunima Nair

What is fear?

It is the unpleasant, raw, and primal emotion that engulfs us when we are stuck in an unlit alley with a dead phone. Or when we hear of the bomb-blast at that street you’d just shopped at. Or when we watch the first few moments of Hannibal Lecter’s screen time. It is pinned to a person, a place, or a situation, that can be comfortably and prudently avoided in the pursuit of a normal life.

What if the situation covers an entire city?

Living in Delhi involves a peculiar sort of neurosis. It drives one to dive, skirt, and flit across the canopy of (male) arms and legs to reach the women’s cabin in the metro. It is evident in the involuntary surfeit of panic that rises like bile when a motorcycle swerves too close…only to veer and speed away with a gust that ripples your dress. The streets of Delhi are a fun house of mirrors, where you look up and find grotesque, distorted versions of you reflected in the public gaze.

What happens when the line between fear and prudence begin to blur?

We build up an arsenal of behavioral patterns to deal with the insidious assault: wear tights under our skirts, travel only to the prescribed list of “safe” neighborhoods, allow ourselves to be picked up by the chauffeur or our parents whenever possible. What happens when these measures—no autos after eight, no programs beyond nine, carry all defense equipment short of actual firearms—stop becoming frustrating indicators of a larger malaise and solidify into rigid, unquestioned habit? The most pernicious aspect of this fear is precisely how internalized it has become, so much so that the irrational terror that seizes one when a man brushes past doesn’t even merit a second thought, forget a discussion. Our entire schedules and aspirations are molded by this deceptive fear, a fear that, in the words of Aung San Suu Kyi ,1  “masquerades as common sense or even wisdom”. We are reduced to a state of perpetual caution, sustained by a collective amnesia that suppresses any thought of how ridiculous this existence is.

This kind of “diffusive anxiety” fractures our relationships with people outside of formal institutions, coloring them with eternal suspicion. We assume a Hobbesian, misanthropic approach towards the sea of humanity, constantly buffeted by a frenzied sense of self-preservation that distrusts the city and its inhabitants. The deeper psychological repercussions are beyond our comprehension.

Living in Delhi, we recognize that none of us is alienated from the specter of violence: we have been groped in a line or whistled at in a rickshaw, we know of a friend who had a stalker or fought off molestation from someone familiar. Living in Delhi, there comes a stage when we realize that one cruel stroke of misfortune can slice through our cocoon of precaution in the matter of seconds. December 16, 2012 was a watershed moment in our association with the city, not because we were compelled to burrow further into our dens, but because we grasped the fundamental truth that beyond a point, we cannot control what happens to us on the streets and markets of Delhi. We chose, then, to discard the straitjacketing edicts of fear. We chose to travel in buses, use the subways, and occupy the wide avenues of the city. Our actions loudly and insistently maintained that the safety of women is the responsibility of the government, its mechanisms, and the civic society that enables it.

In such a movement, an environment like Lady Shri Ram is invaluable. It becomes an oasis where the dupattas come off and raw anger bursts forth from the pressure of constant vigilance. It is a space where we entertain the incredible idea that our right to unrestricted mobility and expression is what the state and society must uphold, respect, and protect. We mobilize ourselves around the apparatus of privilege, using it as a mode to board the bus rather than call for the car, as a means to take risk instead of avoiding it. Our privilege empowers us; it also reminds us of the legions of women in India who do not have the privilege, thus reinforcing the urgency of a combined female presence in the public sphere. Societal wisdom deems us reckless. We see it as necessary and long overdue steps to recoup the city from a male prerogative.

In the protests that burgeoned at the heart of the capital, there was a particularly outstanding and influential speech made by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Alliance (AIPWA). She called out the dismal rate of conviction in rape cases, the patriarchal policing of women under the guise of “safety”, and the endemic practice of victim blaming and shaming that are endorsed by elected politicians and biased judiciary. She asserted the freedom of women to dress as they like, to walk outside at what time they like, for whatever reason they like, making a potent demand for bekhauf azaadi ,2 or the right to freedom without fear.

Freedom without fear. This is what we’re fighting for, an inch at a time.

1  Burmese freedom fighter, Nobel Laureate, and alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College.
2  Urdu for freedom (azaadi) without fear (bekhauf)

The Little Things

Sonali Misra

This dialogue was given as a topic in the Inter College Creative Writing Competition conducted by Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi in 2012. Sonali Misra placed first with this piece.

The Passenger noticed her as soon as she stepped on to the bus. A first timer, for sure— he could tell by the way she clutched her bag close to her body and kept her eyes frozen to the ground. As she paid the conductor for the ticket, she moved towards the back of the bus to where he stood. He knew this was his opportunity. He strode ahead and slightly grazed her arm with his hand as he passed her. He couldn’t contain the smirk that appeared on his face nor could he stop it from spreading into a grin as he saw her wince.

The Security Guard saw her approach him from the corner of his eye. Being much too engrossed in his newspaper, he didn’t turn to face her until he heard an “Excuse me, bhaiya1. She was lost, she said. His eyes shifted from her moving lips to her breasts. He heard her pause, and he looked back up at her face as she shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other. She was waiting for an answer. He told her he didn’t know but pointed her towards a vague direction. As she thanked him and turned away, he couldn’t help but glance at her swaying back before he shifted his attention, once again, to the screaming headlines of the day.

The Neighbour heard her exclaim, “Please, stop!”, and he slid his hand in between the closing doors of the lift. She thanked him and entered the small space. He turned to his left to look at the flustered girl and asked her if she had taken his advice to try modeling as a career. He noted how her expression changed to one of controlled gleefulness, or at least that’s what he thought to himself. She suppressed the grimace, and answered by shaking her head. They had already reached the sixth floor. He extended his hand and gently laid it behind her waist. He told her he thought she would make a great model. She took half a step away from him, and as soon as the lift doors opened on the eleventh floor, she stepped out. He shouted a “Good night” at her but she did not respond to the closing doors. She walked towards her apartment and met her father at the entrance. He asked her who that was and she answered by saying, “Mr. Raheja”. He admonished her for not wishing her elders as she walked past him into the living room.

She entered her room, dropped her bag on a chair and turned to look into the mirror. She walked towards it slowly… closer and closer… until her face was just a few inches away from it. She gazed deeply into her own eyes and whispered,

Badhe badhe shehron mein chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain.2

1 Colloquial Hindi term for Brother
2 An iconic dialogue from a popular Bollywood film, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, it roughly means: ‘Such little things keep on happening in big cities.’ It was spoken by the male lead to the female one, and its context is placed in romantic banter with repeated gestures of melodramatically gazing into each other’s eyes. The dialogue in this context depicts the girls inability to depend on anyone but herself.

The Others’ ‘I’

Arpita Mitra

Sitting on the periphery of the room, I am in constant search of my own reflection within four walls so opaque to light that I don’t even gather traces of a shadow. Surrounded by scattered memories, shattered inspiration, and fragments of ‘me’ in crumbled balls of paper—the ‘I’ is vulnerable, unable to weave myself a definition.

When was the last time I sketched my identity through my vision? Strangely, why did I confine myself to expectations, assumptions, notions of the ‘other’? Did I never learn to mirror my own portrait?

I am disciplined—that is what my portrait could have revealed to me by now. Ah! It was rather a lesson taught compulsorily, responding to the ticking alarm, despite my battle with burdened eyes, trembling to avoid a curtain raiser. I was a recipient of nothing but doubts- extending greetings to people. I never cared to know, folding hands as a gesture that bore no meaning per se. I had to succumb to all that, just to be recognized as a ‘good daughter’—a fanciful term to denote an ideal image—a well-brought-up child.

I was already given a meaning to hold on to: My name! It was systematically thought, discussed with innumerable others (even the farthest of relations I may have the slightest knowledge about) and also (hopefully) rhymed with my elder siblings’! For some reason, I have found this ritual of naming the newborn so intrinsically significant, such that any hurried decision established in isolation appears to me a rarity.

There was never ‘one’ meaning I got attached to, however, a meaning never my own. Someday the matrimonial leaves of the newspaper would describe me based on categorical expectations of colour, age, size, weight, skills1—as if I was advertised to be approved by the standard requirements of ‘the other’.

The conception of the ‘social’ tended to overpower the individual existence—if at all the latter had succeeded to survive by this minute. The ‘I’ had hitherto discovered a space to germinate, however within pre-defined frames, routines, its roots leveling at a certain stage of development, failing to materialize its intentions to push the boundaries already erected- of institutions firm and old. It acquired a shape, but within an already structured mould.

Not that today, I, the real me, propagates any aspiration of being a deviant, or anti-social. However I would contribute only via questions of a different kind—naïve! Did I ever get the opportunity to know what I really wanted, what I could have made of myself? Could I ever begin from a clean slate, getting to determine my own name, my own norms and ‘my’ expectations, the vision to see me, independently?

Why could I never be the artist of my own portraiture, despite being artistic?

My thoughts stoned me for a while, as I kept staring at the crumbled balls of paper surrounding me with the irrational hope to receive a response. Sadly I was (made) blind for a long time before I managed to discover the light in ‘my’ room, handicapped in layers of intellectual abstractness, as someone opened the door….

1  For a long time, the advertisements in Matrimonial sections of the newspaper would quantify men and woman to racial and cultural stereotypes. Caste, colour and skills were the lowest common denominator based on which the worth of a potential bride or groom was decided. An unhealthy practice, it has often been satirized through literature and art, yet its existence has never been eradicated.

Because No One Else Will

Sonali Misra

I turn my head around to find tears streaming down her face. I extend my hand to put it on hers but she pushes it away. I try to console her by saying, “It’s all right…don’t cry. Your father told you that you would get a chance to sit in the front seat in the ride back. Don’t spoil your mood, Tanya.”

“But it’s not fair, Mom! Rohan always gets to sit in front!” replies she.

“I’m sure that’s not true…now come on, stop crying.” I hand her a tissue from my purse. She wipes away her tears but still mumbles about it not being fair. I try to make eye contact with my husband, Sameer, in the rear view mirror in the hope he will calm her down but all I see are his dark-tinted sunglasses covering his eyes. I cannot read their expression.

After the film, we move towards our car in the basement parking lot of the mall. Tanya, just to be sure, races Rohan to the front seat of the car. She reaches there first, and is just about to open the door when Rohan pushes her out of the way and seats himself there. Tanya starts to protest and refuses to get in the car. I try to strike a compromise between them but no one pays any attention to me. I look at Sameer to see what he plans to do about this situation but he just ignores the entire scene and proceeds to put his sunglasses on, and gets in the driver’s seat. I somehow get Tanya to sit in the backseat with me.

“This isn’t fair! Dad. You promised that I’d get to sit in front. Please, say something! I want to sit in the front! It’s my chance!” says Tanya.

I try to hush her but she again bursts with “No! It’s not fair! Dad, you promised—“

Rohan interrupts her by saying, “Oh, shut up, will you? I’m taller than you and I need the leg space. That’s why I get to sit in front.”

“But you’re as tall as Mom and she always ends up sitting in the back with me!”

“That’s because she’s Mom. She doesn’t mind.”

“Dad! This is not fair!”

Suddenly Sameer stops the car on the side of the road, swivels his head towards Tanya and shouts, “Both of you, keep quiet! I’m driving and I don’t want this tamasha1 around me.”

“But Dad…“ Tanya tries to say but is interrupted by my husband who says, “I said QUIET.”

My husband starts the car and continues to drive. Tanya stops speaking but cannot control her tears.

Hence ends another family trip.

The car turns in to the driveway and my husband parks it. As soon as it stops, Tanya shoots from the car and runs into the house. I get out and follow her in. I know she is headed towards my mother’s room. I go up to the room and knock on the door. Without waiting for a reply, I open it and find Tanya’s head buried in my mother’s lap as she cries and tells her nani2 about the ‘sorrowful injustice’ done to her. Mother pats her head and tells her to stop crying. I look around the room and notice that Mother hasn’t finished packing yet. She had come to stay with my family for a month. She normally stays with my brother, but he has gone to Bangalore with his family for a holiday and returns today. I decide to finish packing for her and I go around the room doing that while my mother consoles Tanya. When I complete my task, I turn around to find a sleeping Tanya on the bed. I sigh and sit next to Mother.

“Bringing up a child isn’t easy. It’s all right. You have to handle such things at times,” says Mother.

“Yes… I know that,” I reply. “You know, things like this remind me of the times when you acted as a mediator between different members of our family. Remember that one time when I wanted to get a tattoo and Papa3 totally blew it?”

My mother laughs and says, “Oh yes, I remember it very well. That argument went on for days and our home had lost its peace for that entire time.”

“Hmm…. He forbade me from getting it because he thought it looked cheap. I asked him what he meant by that. I was horrified when he said that the family I would enter in the future may not approve of it.”

“Yes, he said that.”

“I could never understand it then and I can’t understand it even now. Why should anyone have the right to say what I can or cannot do with my body?”

“Parents have to think about such things, Sweetheart.”

“Not parents. If I remember correctly, you took my side in the argument. You supported me.”

“That’s because you told me what that word meant to you and I understood. I still think it looks nice.”

I cast my eyes down to look at my inked wrist, which reads “dream.”

“And anyway, we women have to stick up for each other, you know. Because no one else will,” says my mother.

I look into her eyes and then turn to look at Tanya sleeping, tired from crying for so many hours. I get up, walk towards the bed and bend down to whisper in her ear.

“Tanya, do you want to go for a drive? Just you and me?”

She opens her eyes, beams at me and wraps her arms around my neck. I scoop her up and walk towards my car. As I put her down in the front seat and shut the door, I look at her excited face. She wipes away the tear marks. I turn around and go back to my mother’s room. I hug her and whisper, “thank you”, and she smiles at me with a twinkle in her eye. I leave the room, go to the car and buckle myself in.

Tanya asks me, “What was that all about?”

I smile and say, “nothing”.

She nods and says, “Thank you for doing this, Mom.”

As I sit in the driver’s seat this time, I say, “It’s all right, Sweetheart. Anyway, we women have to stick up for each other, you know, because no one else will.”

And I drive on.

1 Colloquial Hindi term for creating chaos
2 Hindi term for Maternal Grandmother
3 Hindi term for father


Priyam Mathur

For those eyes that beam
into futures of blur;
My heart pours
to denounce this cosmetic
Hope for change
that has now risen.

Born as answers to Yeats’ prayers
Are we who succeed
the call of knitted destines,
That flame heat in those cocoons
that were constructed
from the time our arrival was expected.

All that fire
I refuge in these breasts
Never oozes molten
At any.

Because, I am the best daughter;
taking silent steps
with a lowered head.
Passionless, obsequious:
As petite
As you liked it.

Because, mother
From the youngest of my age
You were training me
to not be the slut
that I was to become.

So, here I am,
floating on the rough sea
In the body of a plastic polythene
Existing in a void,
To avoid;
those who will pick me tomorrow
And throw me back to
where I just never was.

The Art of Articulation

Natallia Khanijo

Unique statements that are heard at young impressionable ages often stay rooted in memory and belief for prolonged periods of time. Whether these are iconic statements ensuing from the popular literature of the age, or adolescent catchphrases that come to represent the spirit and beliefs of an entire generation, the politics of language never fail to astonish, amuse and mesmerize. The transition from one phase of language to the next depicts the evolutionary nature of the human mind, and its desire for information and communication. However, the language that becomes liberating in this pursuit of knowledge is also imbued with subtle codes and mores that enable it to trap people into conformity and prescribed social conditioning. Studying literature and language over the last few years has given me an opportunity to rethink all the conventional tools that are used to convey action and feeling. The deconstruction of stories and the categorization of thought as an exercise is trying and exhausting but it often depicts how the tiniest detail in a sentence could either alter its meaning, or amplify it, based on the context. The application of such analytical deconstruction to the regular communication that one indulges in daily leads to some fascinating revelations of a society’s progression.

“Women can communicate alright but they can rarely articulate.”

I remember hearing something along these lines at a party my parents took me to as a child. The essence of the sentence had remained buried somewhere in the recesses of my mind, until I heard another such statement at my father’s reunion recently. ‘He who must not be named’ said something along the lines of, “the reason men don’t pay attention to everything that their wives say is because they’re so busy differentiating between the words which make sense and the words which don’t that they end up missing the rest of the conversation”. Both these statements left particularly deep impacts on my mind as I began to question the boundary between communication and articulation. To communicate, according to Webster’s dictionary is, “to convey knowledge of or information about : make known”, while to articulate is, “to express oneself readily, clearly, or effectively”. The former is arrogated to women who have been termed gossip mongers while the latter, right up till the 19th and 20th centuries, has effectively been the prerogative of male rationality.

Speaking from a personal perspective, as the daughter of a naval officer, I have been tossed and twirled with each wave of the sea and consequently have been forced to reposition myself accordingly, based on my father’s transfer from shore to shore. This constant uprooting paused for a considerable amount of time when we moved to Mumbai and stayed there for almost a decade. However our time there soon melted into a memory, as dad shifted bases and we tagged along, moving to the dreaded yet fascinating capital of the country. Delhi is a schizophrenic representation of the collective social consciousness of India. It is a place where the traditional can safely coexist with the modern, just as corruption can coexist with activism. The multiplicity of cultures unites into a blend of pure Indianness. Yet despite all this the one thing that the capital is famous (or rather infamous) for is its devastating crime rate, particularly with reference to crimes committed against women. The culture of a city which does not respect its women is no better than the culture of a city which openly subjugates them. The consciousness of such a city needs to be re-examined, de-prejudiced and cleansed. We need to go back to the roots of Greek comedy, and renew Lysistrata’s wool carding metaphor1  to re-examine the path society has picked. This need for a reappraisal of an ancient past is an example of the irony of the human condition that, while life moves on, a large part of humanity remains the same. Even today, we all ask the question that Draupadi2 raised years ago: are we free beings or are we still property to be pawned away and stripped of dignity by male authority?

Women in fiction, as Virginia Woolf repeatedly pointed out, are usually much grander than the reality of the domestic space that they embodied. The truth remains that all the Judith Shakespeares, Becky Sharps and Cleopatras in fiction remain confined to that invented space. The ‘real women’ are unable to transcend their narrative boundaries in a dystopian space, which denies them rationality. In such a reality, a female author was often treated with scorn or contempt, and refused the right to put down her thoughts in a coherent manner. Even today, in Delhi one can find a very interesting blend of opinions on female intelligence. There are some who claim that a woman is only fit for domestic duties, and must not cross the ‘Dehleez ’, 3 which would invite social ostracism and contempt. The other end of the spectrum involves radical feminists, who question the definition of “gender” and the arbitrariness of male supremacy while pushing for a cultural revolution and a conversion to matriarchy. The ‘In Betweeners’ are essentially forced to rotate like tops, swiveling between misogynists and ‘Feminazis’, depending on whichever perspective is dominant at the time. The repeated rapes that take place in the city constantly remind women about their frailty in a country that refuses their right to say ‘NO’. But the support that has been surging forth since the sixteenth December case is like a wave of resistance that refuses to be beaten down by a few perverse minds. However, despite the endearing mass of protests that have risen in defense of women’s rights, one still finds, embedded within the cultural conscience, (and exposed through the stereotypes that exist), certain demeaning and degrading perceptions of feminine ability in the sphere of Logos or Logic. Maybe this is why a majority of the students studying in IITs all over the country remain males and the women are sent off to complete degrees in art and literature. Whenever I look at the gendered nature of the educational division in our country, those words I heard long ago repeatedly return to haunt me. Women can communicate but cannot articulate. That such a distinctive prejudice is still deeply embedded in the cultural conscience of the people is evidenced by the fact that most stereotypes of Indian women either involve silenced partners, nagging wives, interfering busybodies, or beauty-obsessed crones. Each of the stereotypes typically depicts how women lack reasoning or understanding faculties. Such caricatures are an intricate part of popular culture (as evinced by the vamps in countless television serials), and yet like all satire, they raise larger issues. In this case the question that arises is the reduction of an entire gender into typified portraits of male aggrandization. They become the foils of their male counterparts and remain, as Mary Wollstonecraft once defined them, ‘intellectually children’.

In Delhi, however, I have seen a conscious attempt to move away from such stereotypes. In their own little way women all over the city rebel and refuse to conform. Whether it is by refusing to bow down to social pressure by wearing skirts, or raising their voices to stand up for each other through petitions and Women’s organizations, the recent solidarity and sisterhood that this city has seen is encouraging to say the least. While we still have a long way to go before we achieve social parity or manage to weed out the chauvinistic elements that ruin the social ethos, we are definitely on the path to progress. This can be seen in the very fact that LSR, a college for women, has been topping the college rankings for the last three years. In LSR, I found a place where like-minded women bonded over their ability to defy the stereotype by using the very faculty of reason which has been denied to them over the years. From Aphra Behn to Anita Desai, most women authors have been deemed frivolous, inconsequential or vulgar. Often denied formal training in classical literature or higher education, women have hitherto been intellectually marginalized. Yet with the emergence of the feminist movement and the modernization policy of independent India, there has been an improvement in the status of women and their bid for an equalized society. Post independence, there has been much work done in the field of women’s education. With pioneering figures like Sarojini Naidu at the helm, Indian society has made a shift from the dark ages of ignorance towards the light of equal knowledge. Now all that remains is the step which will ensure that women are allowed intellectual license, without the stigma of past associations impinging on the moment. We are yet a fledgling nation, newborn, by comparison to Western civilizations, and yet older than all the rest. Deep within our hearts, there remains a collective desire to progress beyond measure and beyond limit. Writing is one way to pen down this deep desire for intellectual parity and it is also the most powerful weapon which has been handed down for our use. The city’s women are all attempting to create change through the medium of social media and blogs, and someday maybe this articulation will end in action and women will roam the streets in a changed sociological parameter where their word holds as much emphasis as a man’s does. In conclusion, Jane Galvin Lewis’ quote “You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman” seems the most sensible position, as articulation becomes a weapon for both freedom and confinement based on how society chooses to wield it.

1 From the Greek Comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes

2 Draupadi is a character from the Indian epic, the ‘Mahabharata’, which talks about an apocalyptic war that took place between the clan of the Purus, also known as the Bharatas. The failure of patriarchy and primogeniture led to a split within the Bharata family as the Kauravas (sons of Dhritirashtra) and Pandavas (sons of Pandu) competed for the throne. Draupadi is the wife of the five Pandavas, and she is gambled away by the eldest brother, King Yudhishtra in a game of dice after he has already lost his kingdom, his brothers and himself. Stripped of her caste and lineage she is dragged into the assembly hall by her brother-in-law, Dushasana, and an attempt is made to humiliate her publicly by ripping off her clothes. Her chastity protects her as the cloth regenerates and the shamed Kauravas are forced to admit defeat. Before the ‘Vastraharan’ or forced stripping begins though, Draupadi asks Yudhishtra “Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?”. He does not answer her as it was believed that a woman is her husband’s property, and if he loses himself he loses her too as she is akin to his slave. The question regarding women’s rights was not answered for the longest time, and even though there are laws for the safety of women in place now, the woman’s body, as viewed by perverted voyeurs, is as much a target of male pleasure as it was in the past.

3 Traditional Hindi term for defining the threshold of the house. Symbolically, once this is crossed, the woman has defied patriarchal authority and is liable to ostracism, isolation and punishment. It has often been used to depict the schism between modernity and tradition.

A Day’s Tale

Anam Fatima

Ah! Another morning arrived,
Get up, O silent soul,
Life’s battles only brave ones survived,
Open thine eyes, pursue thy goals.

Now ready for college,
Say goodbye and explore,
The world of fun and knowledge,
Enter it, open the door!

The long journey, begin it fast,
Be quick and careful, but avoid haste,
See the birds soaring above,
Smile my friend, smile with love.

Take auto, then walk, then change metro thrice,
What to say, it’s a better life’s price,
Don’t stop, keep going ahead,
The golden path to success has to be tread.

Suddenly heartbeats catch a new rhyme,
Entering the college, winks the time,
Knowledge hugs lovingly, heart fills with delight,
Life attains a shine, soul feels the silver light.

Treading LSR lanes, enjoying, smiling,
Book of happiness, compiling,
Sweet tune of tension free days, humming in ears,
Feeling gratified, life deserted fears.

Trees looking greener than ever before,
Natural world, heart adores,
Flowers flooded with nectar, happy honeybees,
Cats enjoying sunlight, heart enjoying cool breeze.

Looking at my world, with visions widespread,
Exploring things, long, complex paths to be tread,
Missing mom’s smile, dad’s advice,
In every new person, finding something nice.

Often smiling, to reduce, forget pain,
But life isn’t all about gain,
Talking with oneself, quite a lot,
Finding solace in every new thought.

Then journey back to home, last class ends,
Treading path to home, with lots of bends,
Then walking, getting closer to destination,
Reaching home, with winning warrior’s sensation.

A day’s tale over, yet certain things remaining,
Whom to complain, ah, my leg is paining,
Tired, pretty enough, o warrior, take rest,
Consoling the soul, flattering ‘thou art the best’.

Anger, often uninvited, ready to arrive,
Oh, this sad soul, wondering how to survive,
Little pain, ache, little fun, felicity,
These contents make life, may be pretty.

No more left to say, night arrives, soul feels drowsy,
All that remains is dream, sweet dream to see,
Such went the days, nights, at a relative’s far home from college,
Letting heart feed alone on knowledge.

A Woman of Strength

Aishwarya Khanna

A woman is the peace during a storm
She is the anchor onto which we hold
Like an angel descending from the sky
She shines with love, affection and pride

She moulds herself into the roles of a daughter, a wife and a mother
Burdened with responsibilities, yet walking with confidence
She is someone you can turn to in times of crisis
And she will be there with you all along, as you fight it.

A woman she is, in the world of men.
Filled with perseverance and creativity
Striving for her space and identity
Indeed she is the true nurturer of life.

An epitome of selflessness
She gives her all, without expecting anything in return
A friend, a guide and a teacher to her child
Never will she let him go awhile.

And yet you treat her with disgrace
Molesting her and then thrashing her, showing your false might
Do you not feel ashamed of yourself?
Or does it boost your false pride when she cries for help?

BUT remember! She is neither weak nor alone,
And will not stop until the path of justice is shown.
Because she has as much right to move freely as you do
And giving the culprits a death sentence to protect the victim’s honor
Is the least the government must do!

A woman is an image of courage and determinism,
Fighting with full might against all kinds of discrimination.
Hoping for a new dawn, where the family celebrates when a girl child is born.