Tears of Shame

Have you noticed? How you will subconsciously stick to well-lit roads if you are walking home alone? How you will pull your bag across your chest in a crowded bus? How you will not look a man in the eye because you dont want to send him ‘signals’? Because in this world where the victim takes the blame, the onus of rape is on the woman.

Can we change it?

Tears of Shame

You are young and beautiful and attractive…
They said.
Men will lust after you…
Its all your fault.
And she cried tears of shame.
Sometimes she jumped down a well..
Sometimes she kicked a chair.
Then one day…
They raped an old, wrinkled grandmother instead.

Look at how ambitious you are, when home should be your place…
They said.
Men will lust after you…
Its all your fault.
And she cried tears of shame.
Sometimes she cleaned and cooked all day
Sometimes she resigned the job she loved…
Then one day…
They raped a stay-at-home mom instead.

Look at the way you walk and laugh and dress…
They said.
Men will lust after you…
Its all your fault.
And she cried tears of shame.
Sometimes she stifled the laughter…
Sometimes she covered her legs.
Then one day…
They raped a baby instead.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Song of a dream

Centuries of women have gone before us, and centuries more might go by before the dreams that they passed on to to us can become reality. But every woman who has had the courage to stand up in face of oppression, had the strength to withstand the pain, who fearlessly walked over coals… She lives on, because we carry her within us… like the song of a dream.

Let’s make sure, it is heard. We owe it to every woman, who will come after us.

Song of a dream

Her laugh echoed / long
After the song / of
Her dream
Had frozen on her lips / and
The words had / dissipated
With the cold winds / Blowing
Over crumbling walls / of
Stifling dogmas / and
Craggy chasms / of pain
That stood powerless / now
Against her laugh / resounding
In / A thousand voices
Uncontrolled
Like / Frothy bubbles
Spilling over

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Red, Stained with Good Fortune

Aai and Fauzia, her Libyan friend from office had been talking in hushed tones in the women’s drawing room for over an hour, their conversation dotted with muffled sobs. When the tearful sounds subsided, muted words would fill the room. I wondered why Fauzia was crying. Just a couple of months back, she had seemed happy, effervescently announcing that she was to be married. Was she not getting married anymore? But of course it was not my place to intrude or ask.

I did steal a glance at the strikingly beautiful girl, while she adjusted the white farrashia before leaving. The thick chador fell like a tent around her, hiding her shape and identity. She kissed Aai thrice on the cheeks, and clutching the white cloth close under her chin, made sure that it completely covered her lovely face… all of it, except the kohl-rimmed left eye, with which she peered out at the world.

That was the last time I saw Fauzia.

Many years later, when Aai thought I was sufficiently grown up, she told me of the custom of the white sheet. The virginity test… the proof that groom’s relatives needed… the red stained white sheet on which the marriage is consummated. Fauzia had been returned to her father because the white sheet was not bloodied.

All these years, I thought of Fauzia as a proof of the subjugation of women in Libya. Until last week, when a news held my attention. A girl was sent back to her parental home and her marriage annulled by the caste elders in Kolhapur because she too had failed her virginity test. And it made me wonder…

Red, Stained with Good Fortune

I smear / the red
In / the parting of my hair
Wearing / proudly
My streak / of good luck
And fortune
That is /mine
Will be / mine
Until
The day / that I pray
Will / never arrive
When / they will wipe
The red / out of my hair
And
Cover me / in
A white sheet.

Jyostna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Queue

Photo Courtesy: https://unsplash.com/@internetztube

The numbers are climbing. People are dying. Old and young, alike. Everyone knows someone who is gasping for their next breath. Because the virus knows no difference of age, wealth, status. It just knows to invade a body. And when you get fever and chills, a cough, maybe pneumonia, unable to breathe… you can still make it… Maybe you will recover at home. Maybe you will need medical care. Perhaps, oxygen support. But such great are the numbers that hospitals are overrun. Crematoriums too.

And in the grip of a devastating second Covid wave, there are those, who are profiteering, making money off the dying. Extracting a pound of flesh. Scooping up the coins scattered around the dead. The irony is, what guarantee is there that they will survive to enjoy their ill-begotten money? Who guarantees that a number won’t become a name?

Queue

The nights are / the worst
When / the silence of the curfew
Is pierced / by the banshee wail
Of white coffins / their
Blue lights / announcing
The presence of the / dying
Encased inside / as they
Race / on deserted roads
But / no hospitals are
Taking them in / no beds
Mostly / but no oxygen
Either / and definitely no
Hope / as
People die waiting /
To suck in the next breath / in
Serpentine queues.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Power

The powerful and the wealthy are fleeing the Covid catastrophe that has seized the country… away from the scenes of gut-wrenching pathos. And while they, who could have helped fly away, it is the commonest of the commons who are reaching out, running around, and helping the gasping to draw in the next breath.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 is considered one of the most challenging and ambiguous of all the Sonnets. But when read with a view to what’s happening around us today, you will understand what he wrote.

“They that have power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow …”

And in an ode to the Master of Words is my limerick… Power.


Power

They / the rich and wealthy / holding power untold
They / who run the world / with all their silver and gold
Have hearts of steel /
But not the strength to feel /
Their souls / they have / to the devil sold /

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Once was my city

It used to be a charming, little city, with old trees lining its sleepy roads. A sense of familiarity floating in the air, and a genteel, if predictable, demeanour of modest living.

Where has that friendly place – which could listen with equanimity to the voices of dissent and to the voices of reason – disappeared? Who are these rowdy, greedy, intolerant fanatics that have ripped apart the civilized serenity that lived in my city, once?

Once was my city

This city
Which was once my city
Now
Feels like a stranger I bumped into
At one time
He would have
Gathered his papers
And I
My purse and specs and the keys
From the ground
A gentle apology
Exchanged
Before we went away
Now
I will be wary
Of airing my thoughts even
In this city
Which was once my city
Lest
They bump
Into someone
And he whips out a gun
And
Silences
The voice of reason
Just because
He doesn’t like
The sound of it
Reverberating
Through this city
Which
Once was my city.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

No means No

Photo courtesy: https://unsplash.com/@stayandroam

No means No

Take a moment, and let those words sink in. For far too long, there has been a misplaced notion that no matter what a woman verbalizes, she is actually indicating a willingness to go along with your sexual thoughts about her, and that in fact, that is how women express their consent.

Nothing could be more repulsive than the advances of a man who doesn’t have the comprehension power to translate a No into a No. And no matter how suave you are, if you lack the power to understand, it is time we took you to task.

No.
Don’t.
Stop.
I hadn’t shouted out
But
I did say it
Firmly
Over and over again
Pushing
Your hairy paws away
With
All the strength
My thin shoulders
Could muster
But you…
You thought
It was a yes?
You thought
I was being coy?
That it was
Just the way
A woman consents?
And
So you pursued me
Unrelenting
Unashamed
Brazen
Just like
In the B-grade movies
That you like to watch
And use as
Your Dummy’s Guide
To all things girls?
So tell me
Which part
of what I said
Or what I did
Made you think that
You could
Stalk me
Harass me
Touch me
Which part
Made you think that
It was okay
To make my life hell?
The part where I said No?
Or the one where I said
Don’t
Or was it Stop?
The problem isn’t with me
Never was
It is YOU
Who needs to cull
Your bigotry
And accept
That
No means No
And it can never mean
Anything else.

Jyotsna Atre
April 20, 2021

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Muddy mess

Photo courtesy: https://unsplash.com/@davehoefler

The summers have stretched far too long. The boiling sun has bleached the sky, burned the earth, and turned the trees a deathly brown. Parched lips murmur quietly, praying to the rain gods, appeasing them with promises of bountiful homage.

But will the rains, when they come, bring the promise of life with them, or a deluge of destruction?

Muddy mess

The thatched straw roof
Is no match
For the thick ropes of water
That are lashing the earth
And huddled in a corner
Cradling his head
Between knotted bony knees
He curses the day
He prayed for rains
Incessantly it pours
Now
The earth is a muddy mess

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Love is the only pain

Photo courtesy: https://unsplash.com/@jakobowens1

When despair surrounds you…

Love is the only pain

Some days are like this one…
When the sun melts into nights,
And darkness is the only light
That you can see…

Some days are like this one…
When vapours of despair cloud around,
And silence is the only sound
That you want to hear…

Some days are like this one…
When tears drench you in the rain,
And love is the only pain
That you feel…

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Kaikeyi

As a child, every time Grandma told us a story from Ramayana, Kaikeyi was unfailingly described as the bad woman. The description was so strongly stamped in my mind that years later, when I revisited the stories from the epic to tell my son, I would often find myself using the same words for another mother.

It was only recently, while sifting through mythology, that I began to wonder how the women who glisten in black are always the ones who have exercised their will, expressed their thoughts, sought to satisfy their desires, and in the process crossed the lines etched in stone by men. And by erring on the wrong side of these boundaries, they are reviled in perpetuity.

Kaikeyi is a character who often pops up in my mind, when I think of how we expect daughters, wives, mothers to be. She was given away in marriage in a faraway land by her father. She saved her husband’s life on battlefield. She was devoted to the welfare of her offspring. Is her entire life of being a meek and dutiful woman negated by one act of asking her husband to live up to his promises? I would rate her as naïve for taking the promise of his promises at face value. But I don’t see that as a reason to vilify her. No one is perfect. And she was just human.

Kaikeyi

Stoic
I stand here
As I have done
For centuries
Despite the abuses
You have hurled at me
I shall never accept
The tags of
The flawed woman
Or the vile mother
Although I am the
Scorned Queen.

Unyielding
And unrepentant
I have no excuses
To offer
Nor any forgiveness
I seek
What was my fault
Except to believe
Naïvely
That two boons were
Mine for the asking
Any time that I liked.

Judge
Me if you must
Like so many others
Before you have
And more to come
Shall too
But tell me
In all your honesty
How would you
Have labelled me
Were I a man
Making a calculated move?

Being woman
Now that is a price
I must pay forever
And more
The unbearable burden
Of expectations
Of virtue
Of untold sacrifices
And toeing the line
Mutely
Be it drawn by father, husband
Or son.

Handed
Out in lieu of
Protection
For my father’s kingdom
As second wife
To my husband
Although second
I was to none
The tragedy of
Being woman complete
When I was forsaken
By my own son.

Jyotsna Atre
April 19, 2021

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge