Featured on Feminism in India

Featured-Writer-Of-The-Month.jpg

I have been publishing articles on Feminism in India since January last year. And I was featured as their Writer of the Month for March 2018!

Here’s a link to the interview.

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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.

Plastic

Dark and cold, the city awaits

For a gentle touch of the sun.

And trapped within its concrete walls, I wait

For redemption, yet to come.

 

The buildings cast long shadows,

Blacker and deeper than trees ever could.

And yet my plastic mask threatens to melt

From the heat of the elusive sun.

 

Is this what I seek? A reprieve from the dark?

A rendezvous with the sun, to dance among the stars?

To shed all my veils, like leaves from a tree,

And reveal my true self, for you to finally see?

 

But here’s the catch, the clincher of it all,

The fear that keeps me locked within these concrete walls.

In my mind every day this question does stick

What if, in the end, all I am is plastic?

The Date

There it is again; the fluttering in my stomach. As if a thousand caterpillars have chosen this very instant to break through their cocoons and spread their beautiful butterfly wings, and are now trying to find a way out of my dark insides. My hand moves towards my stomach and lingers for a few moments, as if to soothe my body, which is buzzing with nervous anticipation. It’s a mechanical gesture, one that I’ve been doing since many years to calm myself down. Today it doesn’t work.

I look at the wall with the patterned wallpaper. An ornate clock hangs from a nail, tilting to its left. The imperfection fascinates me. I listen to the clock’s periodic clicks. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Time seems to be moving slower than usual. I will it to move faster, it refuses. I sit back with a sigh.

I have intentionally chosen a table at the back, with my seat facing the glass door of the tiny café. This way, I’ll see him when he enters. I’ll be physically and mentally prepared. I realize I’m in my head too much. I’m overthinking this.

The waiter places a tray on my table. With a shaky hand, I take a few sips of the iced coffee I have ordered. It’s probably a bad idea to order before the other person arrives. But I needed to calm myself down. The cool glass feels slippery against my palm, which has become slimy with sweat. What if he tries to hold my hand, and thinks it’s cold and reptilian? I quickly wipe the sweat away with tissues. I want to hold the glass up against my forehead, which seems to be burning hot. Maybe I have a fever. I wonder if I should use this as an excuse to cancel. I don’t. The cold glass beckons, tiny droplets of condensed water forming along its outer later. But I’m conscious of the other people in the café, huddled around their tables, deep in conversation.  What if he walks in right now and sees me holding a glass against my face? That could happen to me. I have bad timing.

I push the glass away, and my heart begins to pound. I glance at my phone to see the time. Five minutes late. ‘Why am I getting so nervous? It’s just a date. It’s no big deal.’ I repeat this in my head a few times, till I feel my throat constricting. “I know why you’re so nervous.” I hear my bestie’s voice in my head. “You like Ethan! You like Ethan!” In my mind’s eye, I see myself blushing.

I catch the waiter’s eye, signal for a glass of water and gulp it down with growing urgency. The phone buzzes. I snatch it and read Ethan’s message.

Sorry, can’t make it tonight.

As I take a deep breath, I feel my throat clearing. Must be all the water I drank.

No problem. I was running late anyways.

His message also says some other things. I ignore them, deciding to read it properly later. As my heartbeat slowly returns to normal, I feel my body relaxing.

‘What should I do now?’ I wonder, looking around the tiny café. Going home doesn’t seem very appealing. And I like it here. Suddenly I grin. I whip my phone out, and type rapidly.

Are you nearby? Are you free?

The phone buzzes back in equal haste. Within minutes, Jake is here, sitting right across me. We talk, we laugh, we binge on fries. He asks me about Ethan. I feel the familiar tightening of my muscles, and I blush. He smiles. I feel a warmth spreading through my body; the warmth of friendship, of familiarity, of Jake.

I reach home and check my phone to see Ethan’s messages. I wonder if I should be offended that he cancelled our date, but his reason seems valid enough, so I decide to play it cool. “But he cancelled on you, so let him text you first.” There’s my bestie’s voice again. I roll my eyes and keep the phone aside. It buzzes and I grab it.

You forgot your scarf in my car again, moron.

It’s Jake.

Meet me tomorrow and take it.

I smile, feeling the warmth in my body again. Looks like I’m meeting Jake tomorrow.

My Bi Friend Forever

It can be a life-changing moment; when your best friend of 12 years comes out to you as bisexual. This is a friend you’ve had sleepovers with since you were a child, cuddling together in the same blanket before adulthood made cuddling gross. A friend who insisted on eating maggi from a single plate; and whose pathetic attempts at cooking food left you eating tasteless, lumpy and uncooked biryani. A friend you’ve shared every little secret with. A friend you even shared crushes with! (We were big on sharing back then). A friend who you almost lost contact with a couple of times after school, but who clawed her way back into your life like a resilient little cat.

So the moment that this friend tells you that she’s ‘officially’ attracted to both men and women can be life-changing.

But it wasn’t. And my response of “Weren’t you already bisexual?” was perhaps surprising, and a little anticlimactic. “Yes, but its official now!” she had answered, rolling her eyes. But after hearing stories of her dalliances with both genders for almost a year, and cringing at the detailed descriptions (there is no such thing as too much information, she keeps telling me), this news was not news.

It’s been almost two years now since my best friend first embraced the ‘bi’ label. Fortunately, she’s surrounded by people who sooner or later were accepting of all her labels; whether the bisexual one, or the poly amorous one. Of course she comes across people who’re incredulous, or who say or write hurtful things under the guise of ‘trying to understand’ and ‘creative freedom’. But Sammy has always been a tough one, and I sometimes find myself getting more offended by people’s insensitivity than her (for good reasons, I assure you).

“What was it like?” she asked me the other day, “When I told you I was bi? You didn’t exactly respond.”

“Didn’t I?!” I paused for moment.”It didn’t change anything”

She gave me a relieved little smile.”Good. Because your response matters.”

So we joke about being in a relationship, because after 12 years, it sure feels like one. We’re big on sharing again; clothes, make up, even food. (She offered to share her boyfriend as well, but I had to draw the line somewhere!) We make plans to live together, travel together, sing together, write together. We’re inseparable, which can sometimes irk people, but we love annoying people, so it works in our favor.(Some may say that’s unhealthy, but what do they know?)

Maybe this is not what I expected when I started talking to the new girl in my school. But this is much better! We’re not conventional, and we don’t ever intend to be.

So this is a shout out to everyone who has that loved one who’s different from you, and makes life choices that you might never completely understand. Support them through every decision they make. Because those decisions are hard. And your response matters.

PS: For those of you who’re not exactly sure about what bisexuality is, or need a coming-out anthem, here’s a video you must watch at all costs.

The Great Escape

How lovely would it be

If you and me were lost at sea,

Or disappeared among the misty clouds,

Or hid under the warm brown earth?

The two of us, side by side,

Without another, for a while.

No distractions, no anxieties,

Nothing to cloud our tired minds.

How the words would flow!

From your lips to mine

And back from mine to yours

An intimacy so sublime.

Our eyes would crinkle and shine

The way they did once upon a time,

And our hearts and minds would heal

From the blows and bruises of life.

Do you think they would notice?

Realize that we have gone?

Or would the world just carry on,

The way it did before we were born?

But it wouldn’t really matter

Whether the world wasted away,

Or shook with tears of joy,

‘Cause I’d have you by my side.

So darling, come with me now,

Away from life’s cruel games.

We could finally make

The great escape.

The Storyteller

She had loved them as a child, listening to them with unblinking rapturous eyes, and a mind that painted pictures of every word she heard. Tales ordinary and extraordinary. Stories of hunters and monsters, heroes and villains, devas and rakshasas. They lingered in her mind long after they had been told, flashes of colourful images and strings of words woven together into stories. More stories. Different stories. Her stories. She longed to let these stories out, to send them back into the universe from which they had emerged. A universe of lights and sounds, smells and tastes, a universe of narratives.

But the stories remained stuck in her mind, like jewels embedded deep into the walls of the caves, unwilling to be separated from their rocky cushion. To smash the walls apart and pull these stories out, to heat them and beat them and shape them until they shone and sparkled with her creative zest would be nothing short of a violent act. Violence to her mind. Violence to her soul.

So the stories remained in the recesses of her mind, glowing like tiny stars in a blue sky. There they ripened, infused with the flavours of her life, until they were ready to be gently plucked off. No burning. No violence.

And when the time was right, the stories came pouring out. Stories of hunters and monsters, heroes and villains, devas and rakshasas. New stories. Her stories. She spun them into gold, and spread them far and wide.

He listened to the storyteller with unblinking rapturous eyes, and a mind that painted pictures of every word she said.

On Chocolat

Have you ever come across a book that you really liked, and you kept reading it over and over till it resonated with every cell in your body and became a part of your very existence; an extension of your self?

If yes, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If no, you should be reading more!

For me, Chocolat is that book. It is not just a story that I read. I see, smell, taste and experience it. If books could be our soulmates, Chocolat would be mine. If I thought calling something my ‘bae’ was cool, Chocolat would very much be my bae. If I was an evil wizard (a female Voldemort, maybe… Voldemorte?), my copy of Chocolat would be a horcrux, because it does essentially carry my soul. But I’m digressing.

As I’m sure I have established by now, Chocolat is  one of my favourite books. Why? Because it’s a book about chocolate. It is literally called chocolate!

Now I know what you’re thinking. I have just taken you from soulmate to chocolate; not quite the climax you were expecting. But it gets better, I promise.

Chocolat does not just have a flirtatious encounter with chocolate. It has a committed relationship with it. The entire book describes different kinds of chocolate, how chocolate is made, and how our preferences in chocolate depend upon the kind of people we are. As a reader, you don’t just read about chocolate, you see it looming in front of your eyes, ready to be devoured and you smell its strong scent emanating from the book.

But the chocolate doesn’t just stand for chocolate. It stands for indulgence and individuality, for passion and proclivity. It stands for happiness. It stands for Vianne Rocher. Nothing describes this better than a quote from the book, a slogan that is used in an attempt to drive chocolate, and Vianne, out of the little French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes: Church, not Chocolate.

This brings us to Francis Reynaud, the priest of the above mentioned Church, who has a vendetta against chocolate. Here Church doesn’t stand for religion as much as it stands for impositions of morality and socially appropriate behavior. Vianne is an abomination because she does not go to Church on Sunday morning, because is an unmarried mother, and because she just arrives in the village one day and opens a chocolaterie.

Through the story we slowly begin to see the unhappiness that lurks beneath the perfection devotion of the people of Lansquenet. Sorrow at losing a beloved pet, fear of being beaten up by a husband and regret at being estranged from a grandson. Slowly, the chocolaterie becomes a space whether these feelings can be expressed; a substitute for the Church confessional. Here, the unacceptable is accepted, the unmentionable is mentioned, and deepest desires as shared over a cup of chocolate.

Meanwhile, the fight between church and chocolate, which is essentially the fight between Vianne and Reynaud becomes more and more personal. They both battle their own demons, their own fears and desires. Reynaud does this through God. Vianne has her own magic, a remnant of her mother’s legacy. This magic is never truly explained, but is felt throughout the book, a mixture of hope, intuition and fate.

So Chocolat isn’t really about chocolate. It is about love, and fear of loss, desire and self-restraint. It is about the magic of happiness.

And that’s what makes the story so beautiful. The complex themes that it covers, but the simplicity of the message it gives. ‘Be happy’, Vianne Rocher tells me. ‘Be happy no matter the cost.’

The Phoenix

She stood there, shivering

In all her wretched glory,

Watching the world go by.

No one could hear her screams.

The glass bubble she had once lived in

Had shattered.

Leaving her defenseless.

Leaving her damaged.

Stripped of every feeling, every emotion,

Stripped of everything that was once hers,

Till she was nothing. And nobody.

She was nobody in pain.

With her bloodied heart and soul

She painted the world black and red.

Deemed them all monsters

Monsters! Out for her blood.

Up came the walls. Brick by brick.

To keep the monsters at bay.

As she picked up the pieces of her soul,

And willed it back to life.

She taught herself to think and feel,

What to think, how much to feel.

And bit by bit she sculpted herself

Into the person she wanted to be.

Set ablaze by the tricks of life,

She rose up from the ashes

And turned herself into someone

Who could no longer be burned.

The Written Word

Here’s a little secret.

When I was in school, I was afraid of writing.

Actually afraid is an understatement. The mere thought of writing would have me breaking into a cold sweat! It probably had something to do with me being in state board, where you seldom get to learn the nuances of English language.

My mum, being the ‘thoughtful’ mother that she is, would push me quite often to improve my poor language and writing skills. To be fair, she is the reason I have some, if any, skills at all! My first attempt at writing (and I do not mean those long essays we had to write for our exams that no examiner bothered to read!) was in 7th grade. I wrote a poem on Harry Potter, determined to prove my mum wrong. It was cute and childish and adorable. I waved it in my mum’s face for days, refusing to let her read it; a proof that I could do whatever I set my mind to. My mum was never prouder.

After that was an endless stream of stories that began but never ended. Fiction was never my strength. On rare occasions, a poem would flow from my pen, born out of extreme hurt or happiness. Then came a long pause, my love for writing pushed back into a dusty corner of my mind.

Last year, my sister asked me, “Why don’t you start a blog?”

And here I am.

This is my story.

It is not a story about facing obstacles and achieving your goals. That’s not how stories always go. This is a story about knowing what you like to do, and finding a way to keep doing it. For me, it is about writing. For you, it might be something else. After all, we are never too old to do the things we always wanted to do.

For the Bullies and the Bullied

I was bullied as a kid.

I know what you’re going to say. Who wasn’t? But just because it’s a common occurrence doesn’t make it less painful. Or less impactful.

So there I was, being bullied by a couple of sisters. Let’s call them N and V. N was older, and always instigated the bullying. All the other children in my building followed suit, thankful they were not in my shoes.

“You can play with us if you can catch us!” she would shriek, and start running away. Her laugh sounded like a witch’s cackle. Or what I assumed a witch’s cackle sounds like. I had never met one. The others would run too, not wanting to be left behind. I wasn’t a fast runner. I could never catch them. So I could never play. So I never learned how to run fast. It was a vicious cycle.

I never told my mother. I didn’t want to disappoint her by showing her what a weakling I was. She was a strong woman. I would just sit somewhere in a corner and cry, till it was time to go back home. But she found out. And she tried to help. But that made things worse.

Life went on. They finally started including me in their games, due to need rather than kindness. I slowly became stronger. I started questioning them; challenging the lies that they told others about me. Once I even found the courage of not inviting them to my birthday party. No one showed up, and my mother was upset and the amount of food that went to waste.

A few years later, they moved to some other place. I didn’t bother finding out where, as long as they were going away from me. Once they were gone, my life was better. I made new friends and played a lot, and no one treated me that way ever again.

They came back once – N and V. Just to visit for a couple of days. They wanted to hang out with my good friend, who had been their best friend before. All three of them put on skates and skated around the building for a few hours. N refused to share her skates with me, and V’s and my friend’s skates would be too small for me. I stayed with them for those hours; helping them balance themselves and supporting them as they tried to skate.

After that, I hated myself. I should have said something. I could have. Why was I so nice to them while they treated my like crap? I should have let N or V fall and hurt herself, I thought viciously. For a long time, this anger lay heavy in my heart. I wished I could meet them once and give them a piece of my mind. To show them what they had done to me; turning me into this extremely shy, weak, self-doubting person.

As I grew older, the anger slowly faded. I realized I was glad I hadn’t let one of them fall. I was glad I had helped them out. I was glad I hadn’t become them. But I was also glad to know that I was stronger now. That no one could bully me anymore. Because I knew what it felt like, and now I knew how to fight it.

So this post is for all those who bully and are bullied. Because true strength lies not in fighting back, but in not succumbing to weakness.

The Woman

I call her didi. 

She’s eleven years older than me; an age difference everyone keeps reminding us of. But we talk as equals. And boy, do we talk! Whether lazing around at home or sipping coffee in our favorite café, we move from one topic to another. Sharing what we learned, taking it apart bit by bit.  We are unaware of time, space and age. Of the supposed gap between generations Y and Z. We aren’t sisters; we’re just two individuals. Discussing. Analyzing. Be it psychology, sociology or the plot of a new TV show; our banter never stops.

But we aren’t equals. Not really. I see her once in two months; sometimes more often. We spend half of our nights talking; spilling our friends’ secrets and whispering about boys. I tell her about my college, she tells me about hers. Sometimes I say something really funny and she lets out a peal of laughter, waking everyone in the house. It sounds like a witch’s cackle, I tell her.

Sometimes I call her when I’m in FLAME. When something really exciting happens. Or when I need comforting. Or when I have tough decisions to make. You see, she knows everything about me.

But she’s a small child. Mani mau (kitten/cat), I call her. She cries when she gets terribly hungry. And she drinks unbelievably large amounts of milk.

She buys me gifts. Loads of them. She makes fun of me; and I can never resist pulling her leg. We share clothes; always eyeing each other’s brand new purchases. We take hilariously stupid videos and selfies. We sing incredibly stupid songs on the karaoke. As individuals, we are unmistakably different. But our academic tastes are so similar and non-mainstream, they sometimes leave our parents baffled.

She’s my confidante, my mentor, my mother, my daughter. I call her didi.