My dear Yemen, I hope that you too can one day grow from every rock that you’ve been diminished to.
I have always known you as the only country whose name I could take if y landed on me during a game of atlas. I have always known you as the country who causes the game to end if its name has already been said. But today as I have grown and read up on who you really are, I worry about your own end. You see, when I search up your name and the only images I see are of destroyed buildings that used to be historical landmarks, malnourished children being carried away by volunteers from NGOs, tall men in kurtas carrying rifles larger than the graves of new born babies, and not even one woman outside her house, I cannot help but wonder, what really happened to you? And so I dive into the wonders of the internet and find every piece that can educate me about you. Everything from your history to your culture to your people,
to your forgotten war.
And It breaks my heart to see that if I type in children along with the name of any country in this world, I see happy smiles that taste of youth, yet when the name typed in is yours, tragedies of war and epidemics take up the entire screen. And it enrages me that you’re being termed as the nation of the forgotten war when your cries for help have been louder than the missiles that have made you their home.
I find myself wondering if your end will be forgotten as well.
Nevertheless, I want to understand who you were before demolished houses and fallen bridges. I want to find out how you began before I worry further about your end. And so I look up, ‘yemen before war,’ and oh my god. Yemen, you breathe beauty. Your mud brick architecture filled with intricate designs are a pleasure to look at, and yet, the most beautiful of all are your people. In fact when I learn that in ancient times, you called yourself ‘Arabia Felix,’ Latin for happy land, I think to myself that although you appear to have lost that title, something tells me that your people never will. For they seem to find time to celebrate weddings between bomb raids, fix roads by hand every time they’re destroyed, and write poetry in a country which has 3 times more guns than people.
But the one thing I cannot keep my eyes away from is the divine Dar-al-hajar palace that hovers over your sleepless capital city. For it is built in a way that it looks like it’s growing from a rock. And as I admire how tall it stands, only one thought rests in my mind. My dear Yemen, I hope that you too can one day grow from every rock that you’ve been diminished to.
and as he crumples even more underneath, the world finally hears him screaming, screaming for help, screaming that he cannot breathe.
a crow sways gently off the tree,
accompanied by a heavy raindrop from the sky
he touches the ground and lies there all alone
until a certain white boot steps on him,
crushing him into pieces. almost.
the crystalline drop of water spreads across,
polishing his mixed shade.
a shade that rests somewhere between gray and black
somewhere between life and death.
and as he crumples even more underneath,
the world finally hears him screaming,
screaming for help
screaming that he cannot breathe.
the white boot steps forward and leaves,
but the muffled cries of the bird remain.
for they echo across town as he exhales one last time
and that one heavy raindrop, breaks into rain.
nearby birds that have grown wingless over time,
whisper within themselves,
‘another was murdered today.’
yet this time, a storm begins to erupt
and slowly the beaked creatures realize
that as long as the white boot is a power hungry predator
black birds will always be its prey.
they gather to shield the lifeless crow,
righteously grieving the loss
of many more than the world will ever care to know.
and as the sky cries out louder than it ever has,
they flap their wings and caw in sync,
for it’s finally time
to bid farewell to their 400 year long caged winter,
and to end the await of a relieving spring
it’s time to lift the white boot from their throats,
so that the weeping black birds
can finally sing.
———————————————————————————————————————————————— here, the lifeless crow symbolizes the death of george floyd. // the following are a few references that i made in the poem:
i. ‘somewhere between life and death’ – this is to highlight the fact that he didn’t die at once, but that he lay there pleading and screaming for a deafening 5-10 minutes.
ii. ‘echo across town’ – his murder sparked several questions against the racism that is still extremely prevalent in today’s world.
iii. ‘a storm begins to erupt’ – several protests took place despite the presence of an ongoing pandemic. instead of light rain/complaints, people were enraged and expressed their support through petitions, donations and much more.
iv. ‘400 year long caged winter’ – it has been 400 years since the establishment of slavery in the United States of America//
because at the end of the day, a relationship needs a lot more than just love to last.
grandma told me that she was in a long distance relationship once,
that they wrote love letters to each other at the age of 16,
labelled their long phone calls as dates
and sent gifts every week.
tonight i ask her if she still thinks of him
she kisses her old rusted locket
and in those moments of silence,
all is understood.
she met a boy who made a lot of promises,
but somehow always forgot to keep them.
she tells me he made her wait for a long time,
so why didn’t you leave?
false hope is better than the pain of loss.
she chuckles, as if embarrassed,
but i hope he’s doing alright.
when aunties started sending proposals,
and batchmates began to mail fancy invitations,
she met a boy who already had everything planned,
from his first car to his first house to his first kid’s name.
yet he left her a note after their 5th date,
she rolls her eyes and tells me,
a woman from a middle class family would have put his status to shame.
when she turned 28,
her mother introduced her to grandpa,
and as expected,
he treated her like she was the only woman on this earth,
like every being had grown tired and weary,
and he was the only one who saw her worth.
and although he wasn’t her biggest what if,
or any other guy from the past,
she chose him
because at the end of the day,
a relationship needs a lot more than just love to last.
i. I have begun to appreciate sunrises way more than I did before. There is something about waking up at 5 am to see pinkish glowing clouds that seems to calm my restlessly beating heart.
ii. I have stopped wearing earrings and my face looks incomplete. As if missing someone it needs to let go of. As if yearning for something that adds nothing to who it is, except a touch of superficial appeal.
iii. I have started taking afternoon naps and I’ve realized that we don’t need to do everything without even breathing in between. That we cannot do everything no matter how hard we try and so our best chance is to enjoy every given moment like it is our last.
iv. I have started making maggi at 3 in the morning. I have begun to tell myself that if I don’t know how to be happy right now, it is because I’m worried about the future, but if I don’t know how to be happy right now then what guarantees I will in the future?
v. I have started going to the terrace to wash clothes. For there is something melodic about clothes flowing with the cold breeze. Melodic enough to make me sing to the sky. Melodic enough to fill my words with hope.
vi. I have begun to feel a lingering sense of relief whenever I see someone outside. For my heart seems to sigh knowing that there is one more person who’s still there. One more person who is trying their best to survive. One more person I can still pray for.
vii. I have realized that Saturdays are my favourite. That sleeping in and not having to worry about staying up till late the next day is perhaps one of the only things that I can still find comfort in.
viii. But Mondays are the worst. For they signify the start of another long week. They remind us that there’s a lot to do before we can go back to things that comfort us. That despite everything we’ve done in the past, we still have a long way to go.
“well I simply have no clue, for we may believe that beauty lies in a certain shape or size, but perhaps, it lies in us too.”
i once read somewhere,
that in china,
girls are taught to shrink themselves,
since birth they are taught to wear a shoe
smaller than their actual size,
their feet are bound and choked
like the voices which long to come out of their throats,
the voices that have remained paralysed too long for them to know,
their feet are bound and choked,
until they become numb to the pain,
until they become used to a lifestyle of restrictions,
and start believing it’s sane.
i once read somewhere,
that in korea,
complexion is what helps you climb the ladder,
that being fair there,
is far more important than being free,
and beauty for them doesn’t lie in the eye of the beholder,
but rather in what cosmetic surgeons see.
i once read somewhere,
that in japan,
every girl is expected to be petite,
maybe because they fit easily into the arms of men,
or maybe because it’s easier for them to be controlled,
or maybe because a bigger body is a risky chance,
for their thoughts to be larger,
and reactions to be bold.
i once read somewhere,
that in india,
women try all sorts of things to lighten their skin,
that they put fair and lovely during the day,
and haldi at night,
that they listen to all the parminder aunties of the world,
in hopes to finally hear them say,
‘ah your skin tone is just right.’
but what i wished i had read is that,
in this world,
people are black, brown, white, red...
and they look beautiful regardless,
they are of sizes 0, 6, 8, 10..
and they look beautiful regardless.
so that if someone asks me one day,
what do people here do to look beautiful?
i’ll be able to say,
“well i simply have no clue,
for we may believe that beauty lies in a certain shape or size,
it lies in us too.”
my brothers always hated seeing the trees lose colour, and so when the leaves started falling, as if on cue, he left the four gray walls once and for all.
my favourite teacher resigned in march,
yet i waited for her to correct my pronunciation just one last time,
and even though she didn’t,
the things she taught me,
the things she thought were in vain,
will always remain.
in june, my best friend moved to another continent,
and i learnt that distance does not break bonds,
it simply loosens the light ones,
and strengthens the right ones,
the ones which keep us sane
the ones which always remain.
two months later, my ex girlfriend changed jobs and the sky cried with me,
but we could never lose what we had,
nor could we grow out of the beauty of being in love,
for even if there are wrinkles on my face and she forgets my name,
in that beauty, we will always remain.
my brother always hated seeing the trees lose colour,
and so when the leaves started falling,
as if on cue,
he left the four grey walls once and for all,
and although we called once a month,
i slept in his room every other night,
because in the things they leave behind,
be those of joy,
be those of pain
always manage to remain.
it's christmas now and no one is home,
yet love seems to be in the air,
because even if a screen,
is the closest we can be,
it’s enough for me,
here’s to our loved ones,
wherever they may be.
they drank till their slight touches turned into slaps, and repeated their favourite line, ‘tu haan kar, ya naa kar, tu hai meri kiran.’
translation: ‘even if you say yes, or no, you are my kiran.’
my uncles liked having loud conversations,
they liked keeping count,
of how many people survived,
and of how many died,
they liked arguing over policies,
capitalist or communist,
conservative or socialist,
as if the leaders involved were just by passers,
diplomats in their monarchical world,
they liked to talk while chewing,
often spitting in each other's plates,
secretly staring verma aunty up and down,
her liberal mind was too much to bear,
some days were worse than others,
for they drank till their slight touches turned into slaps,
and repeated their favourite line,
'tu haan kar,
ya naa kar,
tu hai meri kiran,'
over and over again, every single time.
my uncles liked to take names,
calling the pakistani traitors,
and the bangladeshi bastards,
sharma uncle would always say that our politicians were corrupt,
that the strikes were staged,
and the roads were never built,
for the taxes we paid were rather used,
for their luxurious spa treatments,
and sarees of silk,
but he never dared to speak,
of the tea stained rupee notes that he slid,
to the man with stars on his vardi,
nor of the abundant notes he gave to his son's principal,
and how he just forgot to mention they were farsi.
but the women in our family,
well they never spoke,
they'd clear the tables,
throw away the seeds on the orange peels,
tidy up the washbasin,
while uncles smoked their pipes and went to sleep,
although they weren't literate enough to read,
and their lips remained steadily shut,
their ears always perked up,
for they longed to hear of a day,
when the headlines would talk about their win,
and the misogynists' defeat,
the day they could be the ones commenting on medha pathkar's feminist ideals,
and the outspoken female who only won one seat,
they would continue to scrub the spots of the dhotis which smelled like mrs.sharma,
and put cotton on their swollen bruises,
they would continue to nod and say 'no matter,'
and then leave to take care of chores,
for whether or not china chose to avenge itself,
whether or not the workers staged their strikes,
whether or not policemen took bribes,
they'd have to grow barley and pluck their weeds,
uncle would continue to come home at 11,
although the security guard said he left at 7,
friday evening dinners would still turn into political campaigns for the parties which paid more,
for even if the economy slows down,
and all those endangered are gone,
manages to go on.
But who on earth gives us the right to judge? Who gives us the right to make them feel as though by being themselves, they are already guilty of something?
Today, I want to shed light on a subject which we barely question ourselves about. I figured that I cannot merely touch upon it through a poem like I usually do. For this is something we as a society really need to dig deeper into. And the magical term is;
This refers to personal assets which provide us with social mobility. This enables us to climb the social ladder without necessarily having wealth or financial resources. It includes our skills, knowledge, interests, hobbies, etc. In layman terms, cultural capital is when we’re perceived on the basis of our non economic strengths. Unfortunately, this leads to class differences and social inequality 99% of the time. But one of its biggest consequences is gender inequality.
You’re probably confused but let me explain.
Women and particularly teenage girls hold almost zero cultural capital in our society. Their interests are quite frequently looked down upon in contrast to those of men. Things that are stereotypically marketed towards men such as sports, action films, action figures are generally considered good taste. Whereas when it comes to the stereotypical interests of women which include rom coms, make-up, and even fashion to an extent, then the self-created critics are always quick to comment. I mean ask yourself, what holds higher value in your mind?
A movie like ‘Mean Girls,’ which consists of rich spoilt school girls as the protagonists who plot plans to avenge each other or a movie like ‘Thor,’ which has a strong masculine superhero who fights other supernatural creatures as the lead character? If I had to take a wild guess, then based on the centuries long gender biased mindset we’ve all been victims of, I’d say the latter.
We are naturally inclined towards downplaying the likes and dislikes of women in our daily life.
Let’s take another example; fashion.
Stereotypically, most females are drawn to clothing and accessories. They tend to care about the way they look more than men do. However, the fashion industry as a whole is considered highly superficial. Women who enjoy styling themselves are quickly boxed into the spoilt and stupid rich brat stereotype. Although, if a man takes care of the way he dresses and experiments with his clothing then he’s considered ‘cool,’ and ‘classy.’ He’s even termed as smart looking to an extent.
I think it’s important we ask ourselves why.
For this is not just present in the cinema or a few other industries. It’s present within us as well.
When I was younger, I’d never have admitted to liking Taylor Swift or One Direction. Those were two artists whose fan bases mostly consisted of female fans. Unsurprisingly, it was considered ‘basic’ to like them. If you were fond of Taylor Swift, then you were immediately labelled as the dumb girly teenager. When it came to One Direction, people were quick to assume that girls only liked them because of their attractive looks. I mean what else, right? People didn’t waste time listening to their music before calling them the band which only shallow teenage girls listened to. Young women were practically shamed for having a choice which was different from that of the men.
Sometimes, it was even worse. For quite frequently, a man and woman might have the same interest but a woman is shamed for it whereas a man isn’t.
Let’s go back to Taylor Swift. She was and still is famous for writing most of her songs about boys who broke her heart. Now although heartbreaks are a normal part of life, she was continuously shamed for it. She was perceived as this immature unintelligent blonde who was utterly boy obsessed and was termed as someone who was forever ‘victimising’ herself. Nevertheless, when Post Malone wrote about a girl who broke his heart, everybody was ready to drop everything and scream ‘fuck that bitch,’ with him. They began to think of him as someone who understood real pain.
What’s so different about a young woman writing about heartbreak compared to a young man doing the same?
A more current life example would be the different trends which keep coming into light. Like the whole vsco girl thing. Young girls were trolled, bullied and practically forced to feel shameful of talking and behaving in a certain way which seemed to be stupid in the eyes of other people. Take a look at tiktok. There are so many videos on youtube of people reacting to tiktoks of teenage girls and just making fun of them for having ‘no talent,’ or being dense, all because they chose to put themselves out there by recording short videos.
But who on earth gives us the right to judge? Who gives us the right to make them feel as though by being themselves, they are already guilty of something?
This right here, is the sole reason why girls grow up to silence themselves. They grow up to become women who prefer to remain quiet because when your interests and opinions aren’t valued then what’s the point of using your voice? When your likes and views are naturally considered inferior to those of others then what’s the point of arguing? What’s the point of saying anything at all, right?
I’d like you to just imagine if teenage boys were picked on for liking superheroes or unrealistic action movies the same way young girls are made fun of for enjoying sappy romance movies and barbie dolls. But that could never happen. Because we have been programmed to think of anything that is associated with the female gender as something which is inferior to the things that are linked to the male gender.
It is way ‘cooler’ to watch Mission Impossible instead of Clueless.
It is way ‘cooler’ to have Iron Man figurines instead of Barbie dolls.
It is way ‘cooler’ to prefer shirts over dresses.
It is way ‘cooler’ to be a professional swimmer than a professional makeup artist.
Our minds have been installed with a toxic mindset since birth and we don’t know why.
When we’re two years old, we don’t know the definitions of words like pencil, chair, or even mother. We just know how to identify them with images. We just know that the woman who feeds us everyday is our mother, the object we write with is a pencil, and the piece of furniture we sit on is a chair. But when we’re two, we don’t know how to state the meanings of each word. We only know what we’ve seen and heard.
Similarly, we as a society, including our ancestors, don’t know why the colour pink or the floral dresses forever 21 sells are associated with females. We don’t know why scary movies and sports like boxing are associated with males. We cannot do anything to change that identification established in our minds either.
But what we can do is start believing and reminding ourselves every day that liking pink is just as okay as liking blue.
Enjoying the Avengers; End Game is just as okay as enjoying the Titanic.
Being a stereotypical teenage girl is just as okay as being a stereotypical teenage boy. Not being either of those is alright too.
For our likes and dislikes make us who we are and that is something which should never ever be compared.
Padmavati was the Queen of Chittor in the 13th century. She was married to Ratan Singh and was known for her surreal beauty. People yearned to even catch a glimpse of her exquisite features. Alauddin Khilji was one such man. However his greed and lust caused him to declare war against Chittor. When it became clear that he would win, Queen Padmavati made a decision which would go on to impact millions. She committed Jauhar which is defined as the act of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by foreign invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war.
Although the goddess like Queen died, Indian history immortalized her.
And this is her story.
p.s: part two coming soon:)
Praises of her pulchritude,
Fill the ancient halls of Chittor,
Hira Mani tells tales of her beauty,
The rajput warrior desires to know more.
She walks in her ghagra choli,
Embellished with heavy gold beads,
Blinding mirror sequins,
Like a lotus flower amongst weeds.
He reaches the doors of Singhal,
Wins the swayamvar as his duty,
Marries the legend of folk songs,
Padmavati, the epitome of beauty.
Nights in Chittorgarh seem like bright mornings,
For her divine glow ignites the sky,
Maybe that’s why the moon hides behind the sun
The Queen’s royal glamour makes it shy.
Alauddin follows the tittle tattle,
With his desire to own every precious thing on land,
Ratan Singh mistakenly prepares to battle,
But Queen Padmini is Khilji’s only demand.
Yet looks don’t limit to her charms,
She allows a glance,
Seeing her reflection is his only chance.
Furious sultan deceits the trusting Ratan singh,
His lifeless body falls to the ground,
Men with armours clench their shivering swords,
“Jai bhavani,” they scream as mughals surround.
Alauddin storms inside the majestic fort,
A surprise beholds his eyes,
Sixteen thousand women in crimson red ghagras,
Dressed as newlywed brides.
They’re more than enough to take him down,
But they don’t,
Instead they fill the palace with echoes of their cries,
Chanting, “jai bhavani”
Ready to sacrifice,
As each second, a braveheart dies.
Yearning to catch a glimpse of Queen Padmavati,
Khilji sprints across the halls,
He screeches as the gates close,
And she embraces the fire,
With no tears in sight,
For they may have killed the rajputs,
But Padmavati won this fight.
Aur yeh hi, Alauddin ki sabse badi haar thi.
In the Hindu epic Ramayana, Goddess Sita was known to be Lord Rama’s wife. She accompanied him in his 14 year long exile along side his brother Lakshmana. They spent a few years at Panchvati, also known as the site where Goddess Sita’s abduction by Ravana, the ten faced king of Lanka took place. She is often regarded as the embodiment of wifely devotion and self-sacrifice.
Fabric the colour of saffron,
On the eccentric green grass,
Her sari spread like rangoli’s rays,
Her thick silky hair,
Bound by elastic,
Few short strands flow,
With the breeze that blows,
Congested in a bijou hut,
Near the free fragnance,
Of dear Godavari,
Lies the confined heart of Panchvati,
The cold damp gufa,
Where sits the almighty shivaling,
Echoes her silent prayers,
Enclosed by 14 years of unfair penance and care,
Yet her genuine heart,
Sees no disguise,
A starving beggar appears,
Mouth full of hungry lies,
She steps out,
Crossing the holy line,
He doesn’t take a second to grab her,
And divine Panchvati loses its shine,
The elastic loosens,
Black locks gather apart,
Her shrill screams haunt the hut,
Remorse fills her heart,
They fly away in his grand chariot,
Ten faces laugh aloud,
Yet the sky cries with her,
Her anger as heavy as the storm cloud,
Panchvati bids goodbye to its queen,
Lord Rama shouts in agony,
For he failed his promise,
But long gone now is,
Sita, our Goddess.
“There may have been several ramas but only one sita.”