Update

There was a time when I took my journey as a writer very seriously, mapping it out for future fans and autobiographies.

That was two months ago.

Giving up on ‘trying to improve myself’ freed me up to let my writing be. To see it for what it is – weird, flaky, sincere, and brilliantly chaotic. (Yes, I did call myself brilliant.)

Now I’m back to writing this blog, not to test my writing skills, but to connect with fellow writers and poets. So I’ll share my thoughts here, and you can tell me what you think.

Happy reading!

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Kind of Love

I want the high school kind of love;

red face, hot cheeks, sweaty palms,

heart beating fast kind of love,

dreaming of you kind of love,

smiling at your name kind of love.

Maybe love has never been that,

maybe I’ve forgotten what love is,

each coffee date with a side of small talk

pulls me farther and farther away,

from that feeling of love.

But I don’t want what comes after this love;

why didn’t you call kind of love,

do as I say kind of love,

I didn’t mean that kind of love.

Maybe this is what love has always been.

Maybe I don’t want love at all.

Monsters

Last night
you pulled me in your arms,
and reassured me
that you weren’t bothered by
the demons of my past,
that the present we create together
would be ghost-free.
But you got it wrong my dear,
it’s a terrible tragedy.
I’m not the one in distress, you see.
There’s a monster that haunts you.
The monster is me.

Fantasy

I’m in love with
the idea of you; a fantasy
crafted to perfection
over books and drunken nights.
Let’s not ruin it, my love,
this beautiful thing we have in my mind
with the promise of possibilities
and the realities of life.
The real you
is a mystery unsolved,
a puzzle I refuse to finish;
forever undefined.

Thoughts on Living Alone

Last year I moved to New Delhi for a few internships, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Sure, I’d been living away from home since I was 18. But living on campus had its perks. There was always food (free but not very tasty), and WiFi (the painfully slow kind). Living with my friends meant that I was never truly alone. And it didn’t hurt that home was just three hours away, not too far for desperate laundry runs.

Delhi was a little farther away from home, and without the safety net of a campus. And for the first time in my life, I was truly alone.

This is probably  the part where I should complain about the loneliness of being new to a city, and the isolation that urban spaces often create.

But living by myself gave me a glimpse of independence and self-sufficiency.

When you live with people, whether friends or family, you never really have time for yourself. All your waking hours are spent in interacting with the world around you, or consuming something, whether knowledge or entertainment. And for an emotionally repressed generation like ours, being left alone with our thoughts is downright unpleasant, like in this song.

But living alone has made me comfortable with myself in a way I’d never been before. If earlier time spent alone was time wasted, or just plain uncomfortable, it isn’t anymore. And I don’t feel the need to constantly occupy myself with a show, or social media, with conversations with people or a book. I can really breathe, and let myself be in a space I’ve created for myself. After a long time, I feel free. And it’s a beautiful feeling.

So I leave you with a question: What are your thoughts or experiences on living alone? Is hell other people, or  your own mind? And a hope that we can all find acceptance and comfort within ourselves.

Roots

Guest Post By Supriya Javalgekar

I’m a rooted animal,

Almost a plant, one might say.

Watch others taking flight,

Feel a tinge of envy

Long for the skies unknown

For lands farther and greener

Admire their soaring glide,

Bird-souls fluttering from tree to tree,

Unfettered.

 

Weathering storms or the scorching sun

Sea breeze or the mountain wind

Dusty arid or the cover of green

Their wings don’t tire.

Searching for something new –

New nests, new feed, greener pastures or merely

the joy of flight.

I look up at the venturers,

The migratory folk.

I tried on their wings once.

Every flight, felt a burn.

A twinge of regret.

Yearning for home. A sense of loss.

The desire to return.

Then slowly, I grew new roots

(the plant that I am)

In a careless pause for solace,

Ah! The disunion within.

Roots here, roots there…

Uproot from where?

 

Where is home now?

I miss them. All the nests I lived in.

All the little roots I grew every-where.

All my divided selves

Will feel one.

Only when I’m back, finally back

To where I was

Planted, as a seed.

Coloured Stones

This path of the past

Strewn with rocks and stones

Reminders of past hurts

Bloodied and discarded.

I’ll collect these rocks one by one

Walk back the path whole

And paint the stones afresh

With blues and greens and gold.

I’ll bring these stones with me on the journey I undertake

Not as baggage of a haunting past

But as souvenirs for the time ahead

Like travellers have keepsakes – to remind

Them of places they have been,

I’ll keep these painted stones –

Reminders of what was and what could’ve been.

And when I encounter another traveller,

With stones marking their path,

I’ll help them repaint their past,

Just like I did my own.

No

He asked me to dance today and I said no.

I used to dance with agility, dance with grace,

But now my bones have started to ache.

Icy heart and creaky limbs,

Won’t shake the darkness away.

So I won’t move my body today.

Today is not a dancing day.

 

He asked me to sing today and I said no.

My voice is sweet and my throat is warm,

But I refuse to sing ‘cause something’s wrong.

My throat is gulping down a ball of hate

And my tongue leaves me with a bitter aftertaste.

So I won’t open my mouth today.

Today is not a singing day.

 

He asked me to love today and I said no.

Love needs giving, and I had nothing to offer.

So I offered him my body instead.

He said it wasn’t enough,

He said he wanted more.

But my heart refuses to feel today.

Today is not a loving day.

 

He asked me to leave today,

I had a bag packed the whole way.

 

Image Credit: All my bags are packed by Conceptual Miracles

Ode to Bra

An Ode to my Bra

You padded black beauty, my fashionable friend du jour,
My prison of choice,
You black lace beauty, my object of pillowy comfort,
No underwire, criss-crossing straps, and a velvet touch,
Just seductive enough, but not too much,
Protecting the two brown circles of my modesty,
Black cloth hiding scars and marks of the past.
“Keep the bra on” I tell them,
Hiding my vulnerability behind the lacy flowers of sexuality.

Then C cup became D cup, and I thought I’d lost you.
Lost you to the unrelenting passage of time and my growing body.
You would no longer be my friend in need, my comfy confidante,
You would become an object of desire, of envy,
Hiding in plain sight in my closet, a mocking motivation to reduce my size.
So I avoided you for months, as one does in friendships and relationships,
Postponing the inevitable breakup.
Until one day, I could wait no more.
And so I took you out, with tragedy seeping into my fleshy arms, and cupped you against me. One last time.
Until I realized you still fit. You would always fit.

Tired of being a poet

Tired of being a poet

Tired of being a poet,

I want to be a poem.

Be someone’s prized possession,

An object of affection,

Not an artist, but a muse.

To be immortalized through someone else’s eyes,

For once I want to be the prize.

 

Tired of being a thinker,

For once, I want to be the thought.

To not think and reflect,

Ponder and brood,

Just flit carelessly through a brain,

Maybe get lost down the shower drain.

 

Tired of being a lover,

Now I just want to be loved.

No long nights and days

Spent in someone else’s name,

I want to rid myself of emotion,

Numbly go through life’s motions.

 

Tired of living fully,

For once I just want to exist,

To not swim or sink,

But float effortlessly

Through space and time, you see,

I’m tired of survival,

I’m afraid of death,

Yet somehow I’m always out of breath.

 

Image courtesy: The Whim of Time by Melinda Cootsona

How would I describe myself?

How would I describe myself?

A person, that’s obvious, but what kind?

A woman, an atheist, a lover, a feminist?

Those are just labels, and labels are no fun.

I’m much more than labels, much more than a person.

I’m a wall screaming ‘post no bills’

Covered with stickers and the occasional drops of piss.

I’m a rope strung on two poles,

Carelessly bent under the weight of white cloth.

I’m the pretty little pink kettle,

Placed high out of reach, all flash no utility.

I’m the servant in a castle,

Fending off attackers with my iron spoon.

I’m both the spider and fly in this web of lies.

A mirage that changes with every mirror.

I’m the victim, the survivor, the oppressor,

Good and evil jumbled in a ball of yarn.

But imagine I met another ball of yarn tomorrow,

As convoluted an imagery as my own.

Do we both become spiders or flies?

Do we finally break free from all the lies?

The Princess and the Frog

He comes, he goes, like a gentle breeze,

He waltzes in and out of my life.

Leaving in his wake a crumbling mess;

The remains of my will and pride.

 

What fantastic strength must I muster

From my body, mind and soul,

To throw him out of my life

And will myself to grow whole.

 

Once upon a time life was a dream,

Soft voices under the moon so bright,

No false promises made and broken,

No promises made at all.

 

Yes I can see him for what he is,

Not a prince, just a frog in disguise,

A fantasy of ‘what could’ve been’

Dancing before my wistful eyes.

 

Yet I leave the doors open for him,

As I bid him hello and goodbye.

I keep hoping my frog turns into a prince,

I keep waiting for the moonlight kiss.

Blue

Evenings of silent contemplation

Nights filled with remorse

Staring up at the starry lights

Stuck on my bedroom walls.

This world seems dull and colourless

But painted walls surround me

Maybe it’s not the city that’s dull, but me.

Maybe it’s my heart that paints the walls blue.

And yet I long to get out, to go outside.

But I open my window only to be greeted

By honking ghosts passing swiftly by

Their yellow eyes glittering in the moonlight.

The people have long retired

To their own multi-coloured cells.

Trapped in their own world

Of silent contemplations and remorse.

If only I could reach out to them somehow

Connect with their hearts, not just their profiles,

Maybe I would see something hidden and true,

Maybe they also paint their bedroom walls blue.

 

Illustrated by Alice in the Slumberland

Human Doings

Ring. Snooze. Ring again.

Time to get up, it’s almost ten.

Well that’s okay, ‘cause you were up till three,

Four cups of coffee, you were on a working spree.

Rub the sleep from your eyes,

Chase it away with whiskey and ice.

Sip sip. Open your laptop once more.

Pop. There’s your list of today’s chores.

Work that earns money is priority number one.

Something that’s meaningful but also kinda fun.

Then there’s the hobbies – one, two and three.

Not doing them would make you feel crappy.

Let’s not forget the social life,

Crowded bars, loud music and cheap wine.

Remember to take care of body, mind and soul,

No one’s ever too busy to go out for a stroll!

Feeling a little stressed out? Relaxation’s the key.

Read a book, play the djembe, develop your chi.

New inspirational posters for you to mount.

“Live your life to the fullest”, “Make every moment count”

Pictures of you working, reading, eating, breathing,

Snap snap. Count the number of likes you get.

Human beings becoming human doings,

Only achieving, barely living.

Sexual Harassment in the Classroom

First published on Feminism in India.

When I was in 8th grade, there was a new ‘joke’ spreading in my school. “Sone ka bhaav kya hai?” (What is the value of “sone”?) the boys would ask us girls, sniggering. The joke hinged on a crass pun, you see. Most of the girls would assume that ‘sona’ meant gold, and would respond accordingly. But ‘sona’ also meant sleeping. So what the guys were actually asking the girls was “What’s the price of sleeping with you?” or “What’s your rate?”

Classrooms are rarely free of ‘non-veg’ jokes and sexual innuendos. Cast your minds back to the good old school days, and your memories will be peppered with ridiculous songs (A and B sitting on a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G), words turned into cringe-worthy acronyms (IDIOT = ‘I Do Ishq Only Tumse’, a Hinglish version of ‘I love only you’), inappropriate and often offensive language (‘randi’ meaning prostitute and ‘gay’ among others) and uncomfortable physical contact.

WHILE MANY DISMISS THESE INSTANCES AS JUST PUBERTY, I CALL THEM THE BEGINNING OF NORMALIZED SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

There is a shared understanding of why this happens. That children are sitting ducks hit by the sudden wave of hormonal imbalance and biological change. They want to talk about sex, but no one else wants to talk about it. So the topic of sex becomes taboo, finding an outlet through humour and inappropriate touching. But while many dismiss these instances as a symptom of puberty, I call them the beginning of normalized sexual harassment.

Let me give you an example. When I was in 10th grade, a boy in my class decided he liked me. Let us call him X. X would stare at me all day in class, making me self-conscious. But that discomfort was nothing compared to the disgust I felt when he tried to touch me. You would say there was nothing inappropriate about him touching my arm (which is all he did), but it was a bad touch, the kind that would bring a huge smile on his face, after which he would turn around and look at his friends, who nodded encouragingly. His hands would linger, and I would flinch, and pull away from him. But he would keep finding ways to touch me; during conversations, and while walking past me in the classroom, or in a crowded corridor.

AT NO POINT DID IT OCCUR TO ME THAT I COULD JUST SAY ‘NO’.

I wanted it to stop, but I did not dare to go tell the teachers or my parents, afraid that they would think I was a ‘bad girl’ who consorted with boys. Deeply troubled, I confided in my friends, who promptly began teasing me with him. “He’s doing that because he likes you!” they said. I was filled with disgust and shame. I was finding it difficult to focus on my studies, and I blamed myself for not being able to ignore the whole thing.

But at no point during this entire ordeal did it ever occur to me that I could just tell him to stop. That I could just say ‘No’. I finally got X to stop, by seeking help from his bulkier friend, Y. Y then proceeded to follow me around for a year, believing that I had ‘chosen’ him over X.

Looking back, this incident and my inability to handle it well seems ridiculous, trivial even. But it was all-consuming for a harrowed student preparing for her board exams. And if you think that these incidents are just harmless distractions, think again.

In 9th grade, a boy in my class had started molesting girls who had the misfortune of sitting on the bench in front of him, by groping their butt. No one said a word, except for one girl. Let us call her S. She got up from her seat in the middle of a lecture, and gave the boy a resounding slap. The teacher paused, called S to the table, spoke to her briefly, then did nothing. The next time S slapped him during a lecture, the teacher ignored the incident and continued teaching. In the course of that year, S slapped the boy five to six times. Of course responding to harassment with violence does not always end well. But back then S was my personal hero. Because she could do what I couldn’t. She could say ‘No’.

We don’t think of such instances when we talk about sexual harassment. It has been relegated to the domain of the public; the deserted streets, the high-spirited bars, the crowded trains. But we forget that sexual harassment and molestation can also take place indoors; within the boundaries of our own homes, and in classrooms.

India and Child Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, India’s legal system is far from equipped to deal with the complexities of sexual harassment. Until five years ago there was no legislation to curb or even acknowledge the sexual abuse faced by minors in the country.

But a study conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 across 13 states showed that 53 percent of Indians between the ages of 5 and 18 reported facing some form of sexual abuse, out of which 53 percent of the cases were reported by males and 47 percent by females. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law was finally passed in 2012, criminalizing child rape, harassment and exploitation for pornography. Now it is slowly garnering attention, with mainstream movies like ‘Kahaani 2‘ bringing the issue to the forefront.

UNTIL 5 YEARS AGO THERE WAS NO LEGISLATION TO CURB OR EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.

But the discourse is still limited to minors being harassed by adults in positions of power and influence (such as relatives, family friends and teachers). A study in the schools of Goa in 2003 showed that 33 percent of students studying in 11th grade said that they had been verbally abused by fellow-students in the past 12 months, while 18% reported physical abuse.

This kind of abuse has been normalized and often glorified in popular Bollywood movies, from the recent ‘street-harassment’ songs to the earlier ‘college-harassment’ ones. Songs like Khud ko kya samajhti hai and khambe jaisi khadi hai have normalized harassment of girls in colleges for being too rich, too smart or too fashionable.

The conversation around similar harassment in schools is negligible. There is a growing awareness about this in the US, where a survey showed that 48 percent of students faced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year. But while US has acknowledged the importance of curbing abuse at a young age, India is still several steps behind.

Understanding Consent

The obvious step that India can take is to establish committees in educational institutions to address such grievances, like the ones made mandatory for work spaces. But this only serves as a band-aid to the problem, and a very poor one at that.

The first step towards addressing these issues is to acknowledge that these instances of sexual harassment do not appear out of the blue. They are symptoms of a much deeper problem – a lack of understanding of personal space and consent.

When our peers crack dirty sexual jokes in front of us because they think we are cool and one of them, we do not want to dispel this notion by expressing our discomfort. When someone stands a little too close for comfort while talking to us, we force ourselves to get used to it, because that is how they talk to everyone. These are minor negotiations that we start making in school, and continue making in our lifetime. We choose likability over comfort, because that is what we are taught to value.

This reflects back in our schools, where teachers themselves often fail to understand consent. In 7th grade, a boy sitting behind me in class would touch me at inappropriate places between the waist and shoulder (think sideboob). He did not understand why it was inappropriate for him to touch me there, when the boys did not mind it at all. In fact my annoyance seemed to encourage him further.

Fed up of his tactics, I walked up to the teacher one day and complained about him. But the teacher addressed the situation not by shouting at him or explaining what he was doing wrong, but by simply asking him to sit somewhere else. I went back to my seat feeling extremely dissatisfied. I knew this wouldn’t change anything. He would just torment another girl who might be too frightened to report him.

IN A CULTURE WHERE ALL SEXUAL CONTACT IS BAD SEXUAL CONTACT, TEACHERS DO NOT WANT TO BE THE ONES EXPLAINING SEX TO CHILDREN.

This is a pattern we see all through school, where issues of body and personal space are left unaddressed, and often ignored. This discourages students from sharing their concerns with the teachers, who themselves are unsure of how to deal with such incidents. In a culture where all sexual contact is bad sexual contact, they do not want to be the ones explaining sex to children.

The change we need will happen slowly, with seminars and workshops for teachers to sensitize them to the concepts of the body and consent. Maybe we can develop a set of guidelines that teachers could follow when such incidents occur, to ensure they are handled in a firm and sensitive manner.

Maybe we could have videos for students on consent and what is considered appropriate or inappropriate in the classroom, like the period video they show adolescent girls in school, but less annoying. A few non-profits are already working in this direction, by providing gender sensitization workshops for teachers. But looking at the state of educational institutions in our country, and their sheer number, we have a long way to go.

Towards a Better Future

Sexual harassment is only a small part of the abuse that can be faced by minors in schools today. I cannot even begin to enter the domain of the sexist, homophobic, racist and casteist jokes and slurs thrown around often. And with the rise of social media, the abuse becomes more creative and violent by the day. The continued acceptance of such humor shapes the way we look at others and ourselves. It creates divisions of us and them, and generates an atmosphere of intolerance.

If schools are our first step into modern society, then adolescence is the perfect time to cultivate ideas of inclusivity and acceptance. To build a more nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality and the body, and to weed out sexual violence from our vocabulary. If we are able to make our classrooms harassment-free, the deserted roads, the crowded trains and the entire internet would become much safer for us all.

Pieces

We’re both in pieces, you and I.

We’ve been shattered a few times.

Sharp corners and jagged ends

Drawing blood from well-meaning hands.

 

But when I touch you, I don’t bleed,

For when our crooked angles meet,

Sparks fly, hot and bright,

The world is more than alright.

 

Oh yes, you know very well,

How you make my metal heart swell.

And though you and I hate to cuddle,

We’re two pieces of the same puzzle.