Category Archives: Caste

My lover speaks of rape

Flaming green of a morning that awaits rain
    And my lover speaks of rape through silences,
    Swallowed words and the shadowed tones
    Of voice. Quivering, I fill in his blanks.
Green turns to unsightly teal of hospital beds
    And he is softer than feathers, but I fly away
    To shield myself from the retch of the burns
    Ward, the shrill sounds of dying declarations,
The floral pink-white sad skins of dowry deaths.

Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .

Colorless noon filters in through bluish glass
    And coffee keeps him company. She chatters
    Away telling her own, every woman’s story;
    He listens, like for the first time. Tragedy in
Bridal red remains a fresh, flushing bruise across
    Brown-yellow skinscapes, vibrant but made
    Muted through years of silent, waiting skin.
    I am absent. They talk of everyday assault that
Turns blue, violet and black in high-color symphony.

Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .

Blues blend to an unforgiving metropolitan black
    And loneliness seems safer than a gentle night
    In his arms. I return from the self-defence lessons:
Mistrust is the black-belted, loose white mechanism
    Of survival against this groping world and I am
    A convert too. Yet, in the way of all life, he could try
And take root, as I resist, and yield later, like the earth.

Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .
Has he learnt to live my life? Has he learnt never to harm?

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Mascara

The last thing she does
before she gets ready to die
once more, of violation,
she applies the mascara.

Always,
in that last and solemn moment
the call-girl hesitates.

With eye-catching eyes
she stops to shudder.
Maybe, the dyed eyes
mourn her body’s sins.

Mascara. . .
it serves to tell her
that long buried
hazy dreams
of a virgin soul
have dark outlines.

Silently she cries.
Her tears are black.
Like her.

Somewhere
Long Ago
in an
untraceable
mangled
matrilineal
family tree
of temple prostitutes,
her solace was sought.

It has happened for centuries. . .
Empty consolations soothe
violated bodies.

Sex clings to her devadasi skin,
assumed superficialities don’t wear off,
Deliverance doesn’t arrive.
Unknown Legacies of
Love made to Gods
haven’t been ceremoniously accounted
as karma.

But still she prays.
Her prayer words
desperately provoke Answers.
Fighting her case,
Providence lost his pride.
Her helplessness doesn’t
Seduce the Gods.
And they too
never learn
the Depth of her Dreams.

She believes—
Cosmetics were
once. . .
War paints.
She awaits their resurrection.

When she dons the mascara
The Heavens have heard her whisper,
Kali, you wear this too. . .

(First published in Indian Horizons)

Apologies for living on

i am living on
because providing apologies is easy

once—

i was making choices
with insanely safe ideas of
fleeing-madly-and-flying-away

i was a helpless girl
against the brutal world of
bottom-patting-and-breast-pinching

i was craving for security
the kind i had only known while
aimlessly-afloat-and-speculating-in-the-womb

now—

i am locked away
a terrified princess waiting
for-death-and-not-any-brave-prince

i don’t dream or think
i just remember and wince
at-voices-of-the-past-smirking-in-sarcasm

once—

i ran away in the darkness
nothing beaconed me more than the
prospect-of-solitude-and-the-caress-of-a-million-stars

i ran into the arms of the ravishing night
nothing pulled me back: not even the memories
of-love-i-had-once-known-&-stolen-kisses-savoured-for-so-long.

i ran until terror stopped my tracks
for, trembling i turned and saw that the moon was
another-immodest-ogler-and-lecherous-stalker.

(First published in Great Works, UK)

Justice is . . .

(For Indians only. . .)

The first lesson we are taught about life
has something to do with dharma and karma.

“Dharma”. “Karma” two good appetizing
and rhyming words they may come in handy for classic poets.

Dharma they say is indefinable,
it is all encompassing
and yet untranslatable.

Dharma they say means
Justice, Integrity, Veracity,
Righteousness and Legitimacy.
Almost enough meaning for a word.

And you carry it on with yourself.
Dharma makes a versatile lucky-charm.
All your life, you blame things you don’t understand
on the word no one has ever understood.
Sometimes highly frustrated with the cruelty
and apathy of everything, you even resort to blaming karma
and you begin to trace past lives, ancestry
you bother about the enormity of trivialities
you start worrying about the petty lineage of everything
you happen to come across.

this insanity deludes you as you fret and fume over
descent—pedigree—wretched caste—and above all proper
marriages and the legitimate sons
and then it all comes to you

the truth, the truth about all this ****
the truth about Dharma
You remember the man,
the man Dharma,
for—the medium is the message.

You realize he is a bastard,
an illegitimate son.
Justice is Dharma.
Dharma is a bastard.
So you know Justice is. . .

Well, whatever. But still, blotted.
Blemished. And with Scandal for a middle name.
Perhaps all your hopes die and you stop all your expectations.

Or, perhaps you suddenly throw back you head
and laugh and laugh. . .
Whatever you chose to do
the truth hits you
when she whispers

‘Legitimacy is Illegitimate.’

(First published in Muse India)

Reverence :: Nuisance

In walls of reception counters
and staircases of offices, hospitals, firms
and other ‘secular’ institutions—
pictures of Hindu Gods are painted. . .

so that casual people walking in (or up or down)
fear to spit on the adorned walls.

But still looking around or climbing:
you can always find the work done
a irregular red border underlining the walls
owing so much to betel juice and spit.

And on cheap roadside compound walls
that don’t bear “Stick No Bills” messages or
cinema and political posters—the Gods once again
are advertised. And captioned with legends that read
“Do not Urinate”. And yet, the Gods are covered with
layers of smelly urine—they don’t retaliate.

Tolerance is a very holy concept.
Or like someone said,
the Caste Gods deserve
the treatment they get.

(First published on The Poetry International Web)

We will rebuild worlds

We will rebuild / worlds from shattered glass/ and remnants of holocausts.

Once impaled for our faith / and trained to speak in voiceless whispers / we’ll implore / you to produce the list / from hallowed memories / of our people disgraced/ as outcastes / degraded / as untouchable at / sixty-four feet / denied a life/ and livelihood and done to death /

in so many ways it would take / an encyclopedia to describe and steven-spielberg / or some-such-guy to produce the special effects for a blockbuster version /

not just the stories of how/ you charred to death forty-four of our men and women and children / because they asked for handfuls of rice/

electrocuted children to instant death because they played in your well / and other ghastly carnages

but the crimes of passion/
our passion/ your crimes

poured poison and pesticide through the ears-nose-mouth/ or hanged them in public / because a man and a woman dared to love/ and you wanted / to teach / other boys and other girls / the lessons of / how to / whom to / when to / where to / continue their caste lines

and we will refresh your mind with other histories / of how you brutally murdered and massacred our peoples / with the smiling promise of / heaven in the next birth / and in this / a peace that / never belonged.

We will wipe away the / sham of your smiles / that appear and / disappear like commercials on prime time tv / smiles that flash across / botoxed faces / smiles that crease / plucked eyebrows / smiles that are pasted and / plastered to your lips/ smiles that sell yourself / smiles that seek to / sell us into soulless worlds.

We will singe the many skins you wear to the world/ the skins you change at work / the skins called castes and / skins called race / the skins you mend once a week / the skin you bought at a sale/ the skin you thought was yours / the filthy rich stinking skin you thought you could retain at bed.

Shorn of style / and a hypocrisy named / sophistication / there would be nothing for you to do but gape at our combat gears.

We will learn/ how to fight/ with the substantial spontaneity/
with which we first learnt / how to love.

So / now/ upon a future time/
there will be a revolution.

It will begin in our red-hot dreams that surge that/ scorch that / scald that sizzle like lava / but never settle down never / pungently solidify.

It will begin / when the song in the sway/ of our hips/ will lead us to dance and sing/ and stand up straight / put up a pretty fight/ redeem and reclaim/ the essence of our earth.

It will begin / as our naked bodies / held close together / like hands in prayer / against each other/ like hands in prayer / set to defy the dares the /diktats the years the terms / the threats / that set us apart.

It will begin / as we give names to our children and/ give names to our / inward anger and aches and / name ourselves / with words of fury / like forest fires / with the words of wrath / like stealthy wildcat eyes / that scare the cowards/ in power /away.

It will begin / the way thunder rises in our throats and / we will brandish our slogans with a stormy stress and succeed / to chronicle to / convey the last stories / of our lost and scattered lives.

It will begin / when the oppressors will wince/ every time they hear our voices and their sparkly silence will never be taken for a sacrament.

It will begin when never / resting we will scream / until / our uvulas tear away and our breathless words breathe life to the bleeding dead and in the black magic of our momentary silences / you will hear two questions / India, what is the caste of sperm? / India, what is the cost of life? and the rest of our words will rush/ in this silenced earth / like the rage of a river in first flood.

It will begin / that day when / we will pay /
all that it takes / for the dangerous price of love.

Prayers

In an arid land of arid human minds
Caste, yet again authored a tragedy.
He, disease wrecked, downtrodden,
long-ago skinner of animals, sets out.
Ten days of Typhoid, and a partial recovery.
Enough reason to thank some God.

He drags himself clumsily to a nearby temple.
Sadly, of an Upper-caste God.
Away from the temple, he bends in supplication.
Says his last prayer—Unwelcome Gratefulness.
To a God who (anyway) didn’t help him recover.
Innocent Acts of Undulating Faith spurned
Anger. Retaliation.

An irked Rajput surged forth
and smote the untouchable with a iron rod.
He, warrior caste lion couldn’t tolerate
Encroachment. At the temple. By a Dalit.
Deathly howls of a feeble-voiced
rent the air, fervently seeking holy intervention.
God, Lifeless as ever—watched grimly with closed eyes.
In resigned submission, the sick man’s Life was given away.
Caste—crueler than disease, emotionless, dry, took its toll
Confirming traditional truths: Dalits die, due to devotion.

Unanswered questions remain;
Agony is not always a forgotten memory.

Life teaches: there are different Gods at different temples.
One solitary thought haunts recollection day and night.
Where did this poor man’s sixty-five year old soul go?
To Heaven – to join noble martyrs who died for a cause?
Or to Hell—where the Gods reside, making Caste Laws.

(First published in Kritya)