Time

Tonight, the moon shines
Just like a decade ago
With a little fire, glowing yellow
Setting memories aglow.

At my bedside, a lamp comes alive
After long; golden lines slanting
At a familiar, pleasing angle
Gazing upon these words, knowingly.

Dusted and brimming, nostalgia
Arrives — moments beam up
Floating slowly through this
Tropical air — and it is a moment, pregnant.

This rain, enthusiastic, torrential,
Seeped with the spirit of another time,
Awakens a longing, tugs at my heart,
Turns my soul on.

So much the same, so fleeting
It remains. This night must
Not leave. For as dawn encroaches,
I’ll be lost, my past vacant, yet again.

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Glitter

I lie in a bed not made for me,
Wrapped in sheets that smell of you.
You, who stay away, far far away,
a thousand miles, a million galaxies
away, in the room adjoining. There,
I spy you, hiding among shadows that
grow as evening turns to night. Sometimes,
what you seek is not what you find.

I am shrouded in darkness – I want
to believe you search for me just as I
turn to you. There is much I imagine as I
breathe you in, but lesser that I forget as I
air you out. We are lost in the dark and to each
other. The night has worn us. You glimmer
pale, reflecting your thoughts. Sometimes,
the people who save us, also enslave us. 

You plague me – as you are and as you could be. 
You are a warlock, an addiction; a spell cast,
a charm thrown, another self invoked. I am as afraid
of seeing as I am of dreaming, for I thought I saw me
when i saw you. Illusions must not last. Now, we
must sink the stone. Before it ends, the surface
will shiver. Now, we must disappear. Because
sometimes, we are just the dust, not the gold. 

The Wrath of the Spurned: How Acid Attacks Life Beyond The Moment

(Now that the Supreme Court of India has made the laws regarding acid attacks more stringent — imposing a rather difficult-to-implement ban on sale of acid, and a more respectable amount of financial aid — it is worth looking at how this might change things for the better. You can also read this here)

Pragya was sleeping on the upper berth in a sleeper compartment of a train to Varanasi when she felt a burning sensation on her face. She woke up with a start — she literally felt her skin on her cheek come away when she touched it. “I jumped down and began screaming with pain. It was 2 am, my clothes had melted and people around me thought I was going mad. If it weren’t for the foreigner who recognised what had happened to me and called a doctor, I would’ve perhaps not survived,” she says, recalling with vivid clarity, the moment she was acid attacked in 2006.

The attack came merely 10 days after her marriage and, as she and her family were to find out in the following weeks, was the repercussion of a rejected marriage proposal. “The man was at least a decade older than me and apparently already married. They caught him and put him in jail in the next few months, but he’s out on bail now. None of it changes the fact that it took me over two years simply to recover physically,” she says.

Recently, two men on a motorbike threw acid on four sisters in Shamli. The case has made national headlines, as did another incident in Patna where two teenage girls were also victimised in their sleep. It is heartening to see an increased focus on reporting sexual crimes against women, following the December 2012 protests that were triggered by the gangrape of a girl in a moving bus in the capital.

It is important to recognise the special nature of acid attacks, seeing as they are generally perpetrated by somebody in the know. In the Shamli case, one of the accused is the brother-in-law of the victim. The girls wanted to go to town about their illicit relationship, and this was his way of containing the situation. In the Patna case, the attackers were spurned lovers.

“A general perception is that the male ego cannot take rejection lightly and seeks to overcome his rage through such an attack. This is complicated with the impulsive spirit of today’s youth, which cannot handle what we call ‘delay of need gratification’ – they don’t seem to find any sense of illegitimacy to their actions. Another explanation would be the lack of accessibility – the feeling of “if your attractiveness can’t be available to me, I will make sure nobody else can have it either”,” observes Dr. Arvind Mishra, professor of social psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The notion of revenge is critical to acid attacks, since its intent is to ruin the victim’s life without actually ending it. Such attacks cause disfiguration that lasts for a lifetime, because the social stigma attached to deformation ensures that the victim would no longer have access to a social life, nor will she be considered a viable candidate for marriage. The fact that acid is easily available at kirana shops and supermarkets across the country, doesn’t help the situation.

The consequences of acid attacks can be very dire – considering the fact that this form is particularly popular in the low to lower-middle classes of society, the victims’ access to medical help might be limited. Basic operations to keep the victim alive could result in bills as big as Rs 50 lakh, or more, at times. Also, the facilities to treat first degree burns are few and far between. It was due to the lack of proper medical treatment that 23-year old J Vinodini died in Pondicherry after being attacked by her neighbour, and battling for life for over three months.

It is also within the momentum created by the December 2012 protests that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was passed recently, recognising the various forms of such violence and raising the punishment bar for rape, voyeurism, stalking and acid attacks. Up till now, all these offences were clubbed under the ambivalent label of ‘grievous hurts’ in sections 320, 322, 325 and 326 of the Indian Penal Code, punishable by imprisonment upto seven years – legislation, or lack thereof, that itself showed just how seriously violence against women was being taken by the state.

Under the amendment ordinance, acid attacks, along with the others, are recognised as specific crimes and are punishable by imprisonment of upto 12 years, along with a fine of upto Rs 10 lakh. While this is a definite improvement, it still seems to fall short of the correction required in cases of acid attack, from the point of view of the victim. “The government has made provisions for a parallel amendment in the Criminal Procedure Code to provide compensatory medical and private aid for victims. But whether this will be followed through remains to be seen,” notes Madhu Mehra, director of Partners for Law in Development.

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She is sceptical because of two factors – the speed of convictions in India is nothing to boast about, and it isn’t possible to adjudge the capacity of the accused to pay the stipulated fine. “The government needs to recognise that this is among the most physically debilitating crimes. It must also acknowledge the fact that violence can create polities of its own kind. For the victim, it would be more important to get back on her feet. You can either make sure that you take up social transformation, but when you can’t even tell the Khap panchayats to shut up, you could at least ensure that the schemes or provisions you draft are water-tight,” she states.

In such a situation, does regulating the availability of acid make sense? “Not really,” says Mehra, “because it isn’t the ‘weapon’, but the intent that needs to be inspected. Ten years ago in Mongolpuri, we heard of a case where men on motorbikes were slashing women’s faces with razor blades. The government could slap restrictions, but there’s always a way to get around the law, especially for a product so cheaply available. We just can’t deal with disfigurement and that is what needs to be addressed.”

Today, living in near-complete anonymity in an undisclosed location, Pragya believes that she’s been luckier than most, thanks to a supportive husband and family back home at Varanasi. “I have no friends though – when I walk on the road, people ask me what happened to my face. There’s plenty of sympathy, but they don’t really want to associate with me beyond that,” she says.

She has now started working with Stop Acid Attacks, an NGO working to help victims with medical and financial aid. Her aim is to help girls come out of the trauma through counselling and group support sessions. “I don’t think I am abnormal – it is feeling that a lot of girls develop when their faces and bodies are maimed in this manner. I want to help them get back to their lives as before,” she says.

You [already] Stink and Burn

Perhaps it should have been heartening to see so many people finally coming out on the streets, crying for ‘justice’, whatever it is that they mean by the word; demanding that our roads be made safer, that rape cannot be tolerated.

Perhaps it is the ever-growing cynic in me who just cannot find a hint of satisfaction or relief in the drama that is unfolding every moment in pristine Lutyen’s Delhi, in these beautiful winter days.

Perhaps they will pass a new law, there will be a new CM, there will be more police on the roads, the papers and TV channels will follow rape cases more doggedly.

BUT!

This is not the first time a woman has been raped to the brink of her death. This is not the first time the CM has shrugged off responsibility. This is not the first time the common man and his kin have come out in the streets. This is not the first time they’ve increased security. This is not the first time there’s so much excitement. This is not the first time – and it won’t be the last. Not the way we seem to be going about it!

Because rape isn’t an under-the-table act, where both parties can leave with some sense of satisfaction, gratification. It isn’t an assembly line product that has come to dominate psyches, turned into a status symbol, something that one MUST have, a sign of one’s affluence at the cost of another’s impoverishment. It isn’t a man, a regime that has his/its own way all the time. It isn’t an ideology, a religion, a policy, a piece of property. STOP calling your picnic a fucking REVOLUTION, for heaven’s sake!

Because if you think what you’re doing out on the roads – shouting slogans, burning effigies, calling authorities names, getting a shower-down by policemen, demanding death by hanging and/or castration – is a revolution, you don’t know shit about what it is like walking on the road, alone, everyday, with a mix of fear and stubbornness swirling inside you, making you nauseous and pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream all at the same time. Knowing that any moment now, you will face an ugliness that you never dreamed possible, even in your worst nightmares.

You don’t know shit about how everyday, you see it in their eyes, everywhere. That you’re being undressed slowly or hastily, depending on just how his highness likes it, your breasts are being weighed, your buttocks are getting spanked, and this may not just be foreplay. You know it because you can see the bulge in their pants that they will continue to thrust into your behind, your shoulder and everywhere else as you jostle for even the littlest space to stand in an overcrowded bus.

You don’t know shit about that lecherous uncle / cousin / male relative (even fathers!) who will leave no stone unturned to be with you in a closed, isolated space, touch you whenever possible, wherever possible, however possible. And just how the sight or sound of them fills you with an inexplicable dread, a sense of terror that can paralyse you down to your very puny soul.

You don’t know shit about how your dreams, your identity, your entire being is subservient to your safety, which is just politespeak for your family’s honour, that nondescript sense of selfhood that rests almost completely on the girl’s sorry shoulders. You have a job that keeps you out late? Imagine the possibilities! How can you not be panicking yet? After all, worrying is our prerogative, beta.

(By the way, if you do know all this and are still screaming your head off in the streets, for your and fellow sufferers’ rights, then aww, you poor little naive thing. Even my rant here on this webspace that nobody reads isn’t half as bad as yours.)

Why do you talk about it, and those who do the deed, as if it were exclusive to you and your environment? Rape isn’t an isolated act, much as it may require isolation as a condition to facilitate its happening.

Rape doesn’t happen because the girl (or boy) was looking soo unbearably sexy that no power in that dot on the time-space axis could’ve stopped her (his) molestation.

Rape doesn’t happen because the rapist harbours exceptional degrees of lustiness. Nor does it happen because the night brings out their romantic side.

Rape happens because society, and you, let it happen. Because you don’t stand up against offences of any nature in public places such as, say, the Metro. Heck, you don’t even get up to give your seat to the old/ pregnant lady standing in front of you, that’s how blind you are! Rape happens because we live in a repressed society where girls and boys are segregated, having boyfriends is seen as criminal, sitting and talking with a boy in a public place warrants a lock-up, being beaten-up, where prostitution remains illegal and sex is seen as a depraved, corrupt activity. Rape also happens because Hindi cinema glorifies masculinity, which in turn has its source in violence and sex. Rape happens because power equations across class, caste, gender lines are changing – lines that were drawn by the very people who are climbing lampposts and posing for pictures at India Gate today, not-waiting to put them up on FB to show they’re so with it. Rape is not one man’s crime, it is even yours when you tell your daughter/sister/mother to stay indoors at night, even though all you want to do is protect them.

At this rate, rape will continue to happen. Even as you lot are ‘protesting’ – which, come on face it, is just asking for revenge – there were at least three more cases reported in today’s newspapers. Do you think your shouting is loud enough to drown out their urges inside their heads? Doesn’t look like it.

Rape will also keep happening as long as you think that women need to be protected. The presumption here is the male is and always will be an animal, naturally. That’s like, WTF? And all you women, you buy into this crap because it makes you feel better in your cramped existence too.

Rape happens because in the friction caused by shifting plates in the continent of patriarchy, there’s a little squeak that the woman manages to edge in sideways now. Because when boys with bloated heads from small towns arrive in the National Chutiyaap Region, otherwise known as the land of promise, they see all these…the girls!…calling the shots! How could this be? Meri ma toh mere baap ki jooti ki dhool chaat-ti hai, ye kya anarth ho raha hai yahan?!

Rape will keep happening because you mothers don’t slap your sons enough and continue to let them turn into such egoistic, horny bastards.

Rape will keep happening as long as educationists and the moral police (who should be sent back to the 17th century) believe there’s much glory in segregation and separation, not realising that in the process, they turn this ‘other’ into this fantastic, exotic creature that must be had at all costs.

There are other reasons for rape to happen too, but the overarching reason it actually goes DOWN (ALL puns intended) is because the girl’s body is thought of as a site of control. Even as you yell from the ramparts of the Parliament for equality, what you should be fighting for is to gain control of your body. Free it from this omnipresent gaze, free yourself from being conscious of this gaze.

The only way you can really stand up for the poor girl struggling to get off ventilators now is by swearing to change how you think and how you let others around you think.

By some twist of fate, she’s a hero today instead of being a victim for life or even dead, and that is the only good thing to come out of this charade. She will live respectably where countless others have perished.

But her life will be in vain if you don’t realise that this is not one incident, this is not the 9/11 of India, but something that, sadly, happens everyday, several times a day.

The answer, my friend, doesn’t lie in retribution, in castration, in revenge, because that is only enabling a vicious cycle. It lies in education. Unless we learn lessons from history, as modern as last year’s fascinating summer, things will never change.

That is, of course, unless all you’re looking for is cheap thrills over the weekend, in which case, ignore all that you’ve read so far. Obviously, you are the MAN of the moment.

Last Call: What the FUCK do you mean by a rape CULTURE?! Can you please think before you let these words come out of your mouth?!

True Love

There was once a boy who knelt in front of me with a bouquet in his hand and said that he loved me by way of asking me out – such was his innocence in matters of the heart. I was his first love (the rest were mere crushes) and he did everything he could think of to keep it going. He bought me flowers, chocolates, food, music, books, walks around beaches, beer (though he was a teetotaller) and oodles of chicken (though he was a vegetarian), he wept for my pain and laughed for my happiness, he sang me songs, he wrote me letters…oh the letters – going away letters, coming back letters, random stream of consciousness letters, gifting letters, celebratory letters.

When he handed me one while we were sitting next to a window in a fast moving bus one day, it blew away. I was reading it with tears in my eyes for it had promises I was desperate to hear. And then the wind blew it away. I turned to him, eyes full of shock and apology, and he just said it was alright. I was going away and he was dropping me to the airport. When I returned 15 days later, he handed me a patched up piece of paper. It was muddy, crumpled and torn in places. He’d gone back to that exact spot and fished about in the gutter and the roadside and found most of the scraps and taped it back. It left me speechless.

Towards the end of our relationship — and I knew it was ending at astronomical speed, and there was nothing I could do to stop it — a very flippant acqaintance of mine commented that he was a very good boy, and that I didn’t deserve him. She’d met him fleetingly once and barely knew me in our two years of shallow camaraderie. I was shocked — and this comment worked to cleave us apart all the more. I know it was unreasonable, i knew it then, but how do you explain all this to a passion-filled heart?!

A year and a half later, I am sorry for how things transpired between us. There are times when I regret my actions, but I know if all this were to happen again, in some other universe or another time-space axis, as they show in the sci-fi movies, I’d end up doing it again. The coordinates may have changed but the climax would’ve stayed the same. At some point in those four years, I’d begun to see the unseeable: This wasn’t it.

I really am sorry. Please take care of him, Universe.

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There was once a girl who radiated happiness in a manner that could put the sun to shame. She came from Kashmir, from a conventional Muslim family, yet, defeating all stereotypes of the world (as most people are wot to do at some point of time or the other) she had attended the hallowed halls of a much cherished, much desired all-girls college in Delhi. Her father was in the merchant navy. She rode to college everyday in a creamy white Corolla Altis with her grandmother and five-year old sister in tow. The surveillance on her life was very heavy. Her stint at the college where we met was her first experience in a co-educational school. It had taken her parents a lot of will power to let her go to a co-ed school for this implied immediate contamination.

But she was a bubbly child, super-excited about being in the company of boys other than her brothers and in an open environment. She wore fully covered salwar kameez with Puma sneakers and a grey backpack, which carried her notebooks onto which she inscribed notes like a dictaphone. She loved the world of hi-fashion and had grown up to venerate the ways of South Delhi ladies. But her innocence made her seem cherubic. She laughed and giggled and hugged and kissed and sang and hummed and danced and burst with such energy that the first thing any of us wanted to see when we reached college was her big smile and a big bear hug — it made it seem like everything in the world would be alright.

I fell for her in a way only a girl can fall for another girl, minus any sexual connotations. I wanted to be the reason she smiled, laughed, i wanted to be her best friend, her secret keeper, her advice giver and seeker, her confidante and co-conspirator. It might seem childish now, but a day of her absence made me restless for I didn’t know who to turn to for company. Some of the best times from college I remember today are with her in the picture.

Halfway through our course, she fell in love with an Afghan fellow. I warned her, attempted to make her understand that these things should be taken one step at a time and not rushed into. She wouldn’t listen — she had an army of Bollywood stories to back up her convictions that he was the one and if you don’t die for your love, it never was love at all. In the end, she listened to another — one who brought the same look into her eyes as she did to mine. I’d never thought I’d be in a platonic love triangle!

Today, I don’t know where she is. None of us know where she is. Even her Afghan sweetheart has no clue where she is, seeing as he was violently thrown out of her life. Her father called us all up and warned us to not speak of her ever again or there wold be dire consequences. Her heartthrob blames the end of their relationship squarely on her. And her FB page looks like a vigil for someone long gone.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. I fell in love with her – it was that simple. She may not have reciprocated, but she had a good heart and does not deserve this state of affairs. Please take care of her too, Universe.

Narrow Escape

That morning, I woke up wanting
only a vision to calm the restive animal
hammering to get out of  my rib cage.

That morning, my breakfast
was a few dry crumbs dissolved in tea gone 
cold. I wasn’t paying attention. 

That morning, all those years of lies
And deceit were unwanted company 
On the balcony, twirling in tune with the smoke.

That morning, the valley yonder
was a vast, relentless admonishment —
“Who do you think you’re running away from?”

That morning, I thought I’d escaped
on a blue bus, out of the city, out of the civil,
out of me. And there I was, face to face.

That morning, the wilderness was inside
me like never before, confusion reigning,
anger thrashing, the madness hunting.

That morning was just the night in camouflage,
only just beginning to descend. With fingers
clammy, it would’ve squeezed me bloodless.

But that morning turned into noon, into 
evening and into twilight, and i walked
from sunset to sunset and rainbow to rainbow
and felt the monster disengage, dissipate,
apparate as the sweat on my forehead
arrived to witness………………………………..

…………………………………….THIS.

The illogic of small big-big things.

Beware of the night, they whisper.

In the black, there are always, and only, shades of grey.

A vortex, it will slurp up the white, like a Hoover,
Burp and beam, from Jaapan to Jalandhar.

Replete with satisfaction, it will leave red.
In your face, on the road, on your sheets.

And then Society will come a-knocking.
And all they’ll be able to see anymore is the mud.
Horrors. No blairwitch, this. “She wouldn’t listen”
Is all they’ll have to say, passing it on.

*Facepalm*. Life’s sucha bitch.

Bewitch

Of course, by now, heartbreak was
a foregone conclusion. She knew, even in
those intense moments when she could almost
touch a wave of love welling up inside her,
that this too, like all else, wasn’t going to last.
Nor was the universe, only our perception
of time didn’t allow us to comprehend reality,
she thought, melancholy. She knew, the comfort
of that blissful blindness, when all her flaws are eclipsed
(because she knew how to charm them a silly pink),
was temporary. They would see her, inside out, baring
thorns on flesh and bones, they would see the big hole
where her heart should have been. She knew that they would
know, in a single moment of blinding clarity, that she was
merely mortal. Not Princess Leah, not Sasha Grey –
Not transcendent. She knew, they would be appalled,
When they saw her plain, reflected whole in an honest mirror.
They would puzzle at her fears and her dreams,
they would blink, stare, wonder – is she for real?
She sighed. She knew, she’d have to end this too.
Self-preservation, her mirror told her, meant
she must hold on to the pedestal. That, at least,
they won’t see her addiction to adulation. Only
her tears, salt and sugar, swords to etch
unforgivable wounds into unsuspecting souls.

Lessons this Spring

You would be foolish to give love in abundance and think there’s enough of it to go around. Because in this realist world, what you want is reciprocation, a fair deal. Ok, maybe even an unfair deal, but a deal nevertheless. But in matters of the heart, this doesn’t work. People will always judge you. They will convince you that you do not deserve what you’ve got. They will pull you down. Unconditional love is a fairy tale. A lesson hard-learnt, then.

Of course, there are exceptions. Those that will say to you, it’s alright, making mistakes is human, let’s move on. Those that will never give up on you. Those that will believe in you and your goodness, no matter what. These, then, are the too-good-to-be-true people and you hang on to them for dear life. For life may not be a fairy tale but around these people, it might seem like one in short euphoric bursts.

Lunar

O treacherous moon,
Tonight you are half
Like my heart,
Scarred
From battling yourself.
You’ve shone
With all your might,
With true love’s pride;
You’ve loved and lost
And yet you love again,
With light you borrow,
To mask all your sorrow,
You fade out of sight
Every fortnight.
But something within you
Must gallop at her sight;
Stars must shoot,
Meteors must burn,
Elsewhere, elliptical
Galaxies must turn;
For the heart doesn’t know,
It is a haunted canoe,
You want her to come
Take you out to sea,
Within her, you want to be.
But she stays, always
A mile away,
cold cold cold
You think her heart is
Wooden whittled wired,
Anew every corner hired.
But you see, she too
Is precious, like you.
Her heart, like porcelain
Is fragile, she too
Must’ve loved,
Only to have it slain.
And tonight we’re half,
You and i; let me bask
In your dim cascade,
Let us go away, into
The pain, let us fade…