The hegemony of clothes

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

‘Clothes are a code.’ The old lady points knowingly towards my uncovered legs. Barely ten, I am already too tall for my age. Aai understands something much beyond my grasp and averts her gaze. Her cheeks are slightly pink from embarrassment. I have never seen my fiery mother like this. Curiously I stare at the old lady sitting next to us in the women’s clinic. 

She has dropped the knotted corner of her billowing farrashia, so her face is visible now. But the younger woman with her is still wrapped in the white sheet, leaving only one eye uncovered with which to see the world. I wonder who she is shielding her face from now that she is out of the harsh summer sun… for that’s what my friend from school told me. Her elder sister Maha has stopped coming to school and now covers herself with the white sheet on the rare occasion that she steps out, and never without her father or brother.

‘Do you think she can breathe inside that tent?’ I ask Aai in Marathi.

‘Don’t stare. It’s rude.’ Aai’s face is expressionless. She looks straight ahead, lest the old woman thinks that we are talking about her and her companion; which we are… but I don’t think Aai would appreciate me pointing it out.

‘But she is still staring at my legs. That’s rude too.’

‘Shall we stop at the hymermart on our way back? You can pick out some nice trousers for yourself.’

‘Bell-bottoms? Pink ones?’ I am already super-excited. Aai laughs and nods a yes. Distracted by the thought of pink bell-bottoms, I forget about the disapproving looks my bare legs are receiving.

It is only years later that I understand what the old woman was alluding to. There is no age when your legs, arms, face, body are not sexualized.

Are you worthy of

Dignity and respect, girl

Clothes alone can tell

Women themselves participate in setting up the hierarchy of domination and denomination. Clothes are the first step towards exerting control over another woman’s body… towards limiting her to a constricted role within this politics of class, wealth, culture and more importantly gender.

No matter how it looks in different cultures… it is still the same. It could be the farrashia covering women from head to toe… It could be the corset that leaves nothing to imagination…

A complex subject for sure… I will return to it later… perhaps do a series of posts. But for now, I understand that clothes are a code.

This post is a part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

An Extinct Past

We have left the squat, flat-roofed houses of Homs city far behind now, and the car is cruising comfortably along the serpentine road bordering the sea. Aai picks out a tape from the many she has brought along on the trip. Its her favourite… an assorted Rafi. She starts singing along. In the back of the car, I sigh happily. It is the perfect start to our summer holidays.

When the car finally slows down, my brothers and I tumble out, anticipating an empty beach where we could swim and play all day long. Instead, we are staring at a sight unlike any other we have ever seen. Juxtaposed against the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean Sea are the towering ruins of Leptis Magna.

Carved figurines and ancient motifs are everywhere, watching us as we follow the young guide through empty cobbled streets; medusa heads stare stonily from crumbled walls. For a while, I try to imagine the children who must have run through the endless lines of pillars once. What battles were fought here? What tragedies wrought? I listen keenly to the inflections of the young man’s voice, as he drones on in Arabic, throwing in a few words of English. I cannot understand him, or the history. Losing interest, I wander off.

The whispered words are startling… floating in waves to the edge of the amphitheatre where I stand. ‘… the pygmies were made to fight crocodiles here.‘ I look back but there is no one. Am I imagining them? ‘…they were slaves mostly… captives… unarmed.’ The words are fragmented by silence. But they have shocked something deeply primeval inside me. I strain to hear more, thirsting for gory details… no different from the frenzied spectators lusting for blood and death.

A statue of Hercules, buck-naked, scrutinizes me impassively from his high perch. Behind him, the fallen arches and the perfectly chiselled steps are stained by centuries of salty moisture. 

Marbled arches stood

Protruding like exposed ribs

From an exhumed tomb

Once an important Roman city, Leptis Magna was discovered in the 1930s. Only partially excavated, it is the best preserved of the seven world heritage sites in Libya, and a fine remnant of Roman architecture.

Colonnaded streets, piazzas, triumph arches, public baths, gymnasium, basilica, an amphitheater built in A.D. 56, are just some of the archaeological remains that can still be seen.

The port city ceased to be a commercial centre after the Arab conquest in the 7th century, and fell into ruin. For more pix, click https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/183/gallery/

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z2022.

Do leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed it. Or not.

Desert Storm

Pic: metofficenews

In the first inkling of the khamsin headed our way, the skies have turned a dull orange. A veil of fine red dust hangs in the air, a warning that the Saharan sands are flying north.  

I know the drill. We are hit by the sand storm at least once every summer. The slatted wooden shutters have to be pulled close first, then the glass panes. When this is done, I run around the house drawing the thick curtains. The red dust will still find its way inside and coat the inside of our house; so that afterward, I would have to spend the day shaking out rugs and cushions.

What a colossal waste of a beautiful summer Friday… I grumble. It is the weekly off for my parents… a day we were to spend on the beach. Instead here I am, pushing a tape in the VCR and hoping that the storm doesn’t trip the power.

The busy neighbourhood has gone quiet. I imagine all my friends holed up in their houses, knowing that they will be as bored as I. But already, we can hear the roar of the billowing wall of sand. No-one dare step out. Not unless they want the sand to choke their lungs and scrape the skin off their bones.

Later, the scene outside will resemble a sandy graveyard instead of a happy beach-side town. Even the cars parked on the road will be buried under metre-high mounds of sand. Then we will play Map, trying to locate the streets.

Plumes of desert sand
Levitating above ground
How do camels live?

Each year, these sandstorms carry millions of tons of dust from the Sahara desert, and these enormous walls rising thousands of feet above ground fly across to Europe, and even travel across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Its a terrifying phenomenon… one which helps us realize how powerless we are against the might of nature. Heck… did you know, while we hole up in our homes, camels can survive this harshness of weather.

This post is part of the #BlogchatterA2Z 2022.

Blue Summer Sea

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Somewhere deep in the alcoves of my mind, clear turquoise waters lap gently against the silver shore, on a hot summer day.

I run forward until the water is touching my waist. I look around to see who will fish me out if I venture any deeper. Faraway on the shore, Aai and her friends are sitting under an umbrella, draped in yards of georgette with floral prints. Women don’t swim publicly in these parts of the world. Not even expats. But I am only a little girl still… flat as a surfboard… devoid of any womanliness and so, protected from the male gaze. Why, even my curls are cropped close to my head. It’s a nod to my free spirit that soars high, higher than my brother’s… and even at eight, I am convinced that gender has nothing to do with the freedom to be.

So today I am going to be a seagull, or a sea turtle, or maybe I would like to be a starfish… The possibilities of make-believe are endless and exciting. Then I notice Baba floating on his back. I have found my make-believe for the day.

I hurry forward, until I am sure he can hear me… at least I hope he does because the waves are gathering around my shoulders and I daren’t go in any further. “Baba, I want to be dead too!”

Streaked with salty air
Mind is a watery grave
Today I’m the sea

I discovered haiku rather late… but it has quickly become the form that I explore the most.

This is my second haiku in the #BlogchatterA2Z2022 challenge. I am always open to conversations, so do leave a comment if you enjoyed, or would like to critique.

Capturing the Melodies of Mind

Melody of a Muddled Mind by Kashish Mahtani

Poems are but whimsical words that take shape in the mind, and disperse like whispers with the wind… It’s fortunate that Kashish Mahtani has penned her words, in verse after beautiful verse, in her book ‘Melody of a Muddled Mind’.

They say, the human mind has 70,000 thoughts per day. That is roughly about 50 thoughts every minute. We hold on to some of these, and we let go most. Kashish has delved deep into the myriad thoughts passing through her mind, and ‘carefully… jot(ted) every stray rhyme, plot and thought’, and has penned gems that truly deserve a reading.

Poets are thought to be moody people, struck with a paralysis when commanded to summon words. Not Kashish. If in ‘A 2-minute Poem’, she has ‘conjured verses off the top of (her) head’; she opens the poem ‘Fill My Heart with Love’ with a delightful verse describing love’s exhilarating effects, that is sure to bring a smile to your lips.

“You fill my heart

With a love so sweet,

It trickles down my spine

And tickles my feet!”

Her eclectic choice of subjects, from insouciant to the serious, takes the reader on a roller-coaster of sentiments. One moment you are on a high before dipping unexpectedly to a thoughtful, sombre mood. Consider for example, the poem titled ‘The Admirable Stranger’. You stumble into it just after reading a love’s missive. And when you peek into the world of the ‘boy who grew up too fast’, the poet tells you of the ‘the pain… in his smile’ and how ‘his stories tore through (her) soul’.

The book is divided into five segments – Whimsical Whispers, The Heart’s  Rhapsody, Segue into Chaos, Death Knell, and The Phoenix Song, which appropriately ends the book with poems such as Closure, Don’t Cry, Rise Phoenix – Rise!

I would love to write about each of the poems in each of the segments, but I don’t want to take away from the reader’s joy of diving into the ‘Melod(ies) of a Muddled Mind’, and discovering their own interpretations in the poignant words of the poet.

About the Author

Kashish Mahtani – born & brought up in Kolkata, now living in Pune – is a blogger by passion and copywriter by profession. She is perpetually enamoured with those who spin magic with words. Old-school at heart but a millennial in spirit, you will find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Mehkashi. Melody of a Muddled Mind is Kashish’s first book.

Year of the Virus

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@pamslens

With Covid deaths in India touching alarming numbers, history will remember 2021 as the Year of the Virus. And my only hope is that we learn from the pain of losing those we loved, and imbibe the self discipline of masking up and social distancing to keep everyone safe.

Year of the Virus

Warnings about the second wave were always in the air,
But no-one wanted to believe, calling them just a scare,
Now we are caught unprepared,
Falling prey to the virus snare,
And still needing to be told to mask up to avoid a third flare…

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Xenophobia

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/@franki

Xenophobia: Fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything foreign or strange. (noun)

Xenophobia

Xenophobia

Both were humans like you and me,
Yet they were different, as different can be,
She wore a bindi, he wore a cap,
She folded her hands, he prayed on his knees,
Imprisoned within cages of xenophobia,
And that was their only similarity.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Words

I am no revolutionary, no rebel, no mutineer… I am just human. Words is all I have. A witness to what I see, hear, feel.

Words

Words.
Poignant.
Wise.
Fragile.
Pregnant with emotions.
That remain unshed.
Like a torrent.
Washing over.
An arrow too.
With a poison-head.
Words.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Vultures

The vulture and the little girl, NYT, Kevin Carter, 1993

Also known as “The Struggling Girl”, this famous photograph by Kevin Carter first appeared in The New York Times on 26 March 1993. It is a photograph of a frail famine-stricken boy, who had collapsed in the foreground with a hooded vulture eyeing him from nearby. The child was reported to be attempting to reach a United Nations feeding center about a half mile away in Ayod, Sudan (now South Sudan), in March 1993, and to have survived the incident. The picture won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography award in 1994.

Carter took his own life four months after winning the prize.

Vultures

Discoloured / with old blood
The vultures circle / low
Over the young girl / watching
Greedily / with dead
Beady eyes / waiting
Knowing / delighting / in
The moment / when
Their talons will / sink into
The raw vernal flesh / ripping
Out the guts / tasting
The pain / drawing
Pleasure / lower they
Swoop / on the
Gamin / unsuspecting
Unknowing / unconscious / until
With wings outstretched / the
Vultures plunge / casting
The pervert shadow / of
Death.

Jyotsna Atre

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge

Unequals

All men are created equal.
A few acquire power. Some accumulate wealth. The rest become unequals.

Unequals

It is a / well-ordered
Parade / a cavalcade /
Of the powerful
And / the wealthy /
With exemplary
Composure / safe /
In the knowledge
That / hierarchy is /
The golden shield
Against / the dance
Of death
Raging unrestrained / unbridled /
Sucking the breath
Out / of lungs /
And fuelling pyres
Of unequals /

Jyotsna Atre
01/05/2021

This post is a part of the Blogchatter A2Z challenge