Poems

life imprisonment

I. 

My eyes
chilli pepper red
like the dupatta[1] above me
bordered with a line of tinkling gold bells
amplified in my mind like a wake-up call
the reality of the death of humanity
last night’s pillow-hugging
choking screams still stuck
in my throat
soft cushions beneath my lids
are filled with anguish waiting to explode
into a waterfall down the blank canvas of
my face, but I need to prepare
for today.

No concealer or foundation
to cake the pain during the tael[2]
my blurred vision dart from
one coloured chunni to the next
uncomfortable hues of
pink, green, purple, blue, red
a congregation of docile bodies
like those powders in the diamond-shaped
rangoli[3] on the floor
of inconsistent pigments
forced into a motif by women
whose creativity reeks only patriarchy
because our dignity is tied
to even the thoughts in our minds
my life is just black and white.

The aunties are inspecting
my loose Punjabi suit
akin to the concentrated turmeric paste
in that steel bowl on the thali[4]
in my mother’s hands
she fabricates a smile
oh, of course, I know
peeri ‘teh beth[5], she says
in a surprisingly peaceful tone
like a tamed lioness
a sly fox
performing a facade
waiting to roar
she says her poor girl is so sad to leave her home
while clawing at my arm
the beast unleashes again.

She pushes me down onto the stool
my feet lay calmly on the fatti[6]
a meek object of aggression
re-enacted
one by one
the aunties come forward
rubbing their yellow-stained fingers
violently on my arms, calves, neck
my body gives in
finally
to the many pairs of cold-hearted hands
who have murdered several girls
the same way
rocking in momentum
on our passage to hell.

With the smell of mustard and yoghurt
in my hair, the house stinks of the
same odour of distaste
but the tongues of women
are clasped shut
chained up by izzat[7]
but the tangles are invisible
a fancy term for surveillance
one wrong mistake
is a catastrophe
a tsunami and a hurricane
tearing down buildings
of love, emotion and dignity
because of our loss of shame.

II.

The dupatta cocoons around
my drenched hair and amber arms
I cuddle within myself
into the darkness of the overfold
baby tears flow from red eyes
but it’s the bride’s last day at home
they’ll say as they escort me
to the ritual bath
I cry like my first day in Kinder
on my last day
at home.

Water pours
and a yellow pool of innocence
washes down the drain
my face glows of despondence
fair and unlovely
the dholki[8] picks up louder
off tune boliyaan[9] ringing
blood in my ears
of old granny voices
like funeral prayers
crying happiness in the death
of the daughter.

Musky floral scent
with a tinge of earth
rise from my palms to my nose
Persian boteh, Bengali kalka, Punjabi ambi[10]
nestled in between intricacies of rosettes and palmettes
my eyes are lost in its pseudo-perfection
unreal but convincing
I bear the weight of beautiful green-brown art
as they become
strangulating webs of maroon
when night falls in dried flakes
impermanence begins to scar my life.

In her lengha[11]
she swings in circles
with the gaggar[12] above her head
candles melt in unfathomable speed
of hot wax that trickle down
smoothly against clay
unseen like the anger in me
hidden behind red eyes
wake up, it’s the night of singing and dancing
wake up, it’s the last night of lifelong misery
your burden shall be lifted soon.

III.

Weighed down by
the veil of hot rage
burning red from each piece of fabric
that shrouds my battered skin
noosed by yellow sapphire and gemstones
while diamonds dot along the red and white
shackles obscuring hesitation wounds on frail wrists
umbrella-shaped gold and rhinestones
dangle from the glass like a false hope of wealth and prosperity
the door opens with a summon
the gallows await my arrival.

I walk down
the blood-carpeted aisle
prisoned by torturing scrutiny
of surveillance
like guardians of obedience
locking me into my pace
down to the hunched man
who cares less of his crumpled
sherwani[13] but more of my virginity
a false pretense of his matching dastaar[14]
caressing his black-dyed moustache
in his pride of manhood.

Bowing down to the Holy Guru
one last wish as the gurbani[15] echoes
around the darbaar[16]
I sit cross-legged next to him
like a beautiful slave
his precious possession after
my father forces the palaa[17]
into my palm
giving consent
to our bond against
my will
again.

And it begins
Soohi Mehala Choutha[18]
my heart pierces
as we stand up for
the four laavaan[19] that chant
in the heavenly voice of
the priest that serenades
and seduces me to follow
the stranger
to the paradise
of hell.

We take the first
round of false commitment
to unify
a soul, the second
to shrink the love into
a compromise, the third
to enforce my devotion for
a stranger, the fourth
to make us
(desperate) man
and (unwilling) wife.

With five handful of rice over my head

i

surre…

surren…der

again.

– Parveen Maghera

 

Glossary:

[1] An Indian scarf. (Also same for chunni)
[2] Oil ceremony as a pre-wedding ritual
[3] Multicoloured patterned motif designed on the floor with coloured  rice, powder or flower petals
[4] Round steel platter
[5] Peeri refers to a short stool; “Sit on the stool”
[6] A rectangular piece of wood placed in between the rangoli and peeri. Bride/groom must have their feet on the wood during the ceremony. A wooden ruler, often used as an alternative, can also be used as a fatti.
[7] Loosely translated to “honour”
[8] Two-headed percussion drum
[9] Traditional Punjabi couplets
[10] Different cultural names to the English term, Paisley, which is a droplet-shape vegetable motif of Persian origin.
[11] Long flowing skirt
[12] Pot of candles carried above the head
[13] Long coat-like garment, often embroidered, worn by men
[14] Sikh turban
[15] Verses from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib
[16] Prayer hall
[17] Groom’s shawl that hangs from his right shoulder. He holds one end while the other is held by the bride.
[18] Set of wedding verses in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib
[19] Wedding rounds around the altar

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Stories

Let It Go – Chapter Five

Here’s chapter five of Let It Go! Read chapter one, two, three and four if you haven’t!

FIVE

WINTER 1996

 The knock on the door jolted her out of her seat.

“Lady!” Dan bellowed.

She jumped, and hid her books and the letter under the mattress.

“What are you doing in there?” He snapped. “I know you are in there. Don’t hide.”

She quickly pulled her sweatshirt over her tank top and moved forward to open the door.

He stood there tall, towering over while she dipped her head low, clenching her fists behind her. He shifted his weight to the right while he rested his right arm on the doorframe. Bending closer to her, he whispered in her ear.

“I missed you.”

She shut her eyes real tight, and stammered. “P..ple.please leave me alone. Please.”

He pushed her into the room with his body and locked the door behind him.

***

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Stories

Let It Go – Chapter Four

Here’s chapter four of Let It Go! Read chapter onetwo and three if you haven’t.

FOUR

AUTUMN 1996

It’s my birthday today. And I haven’t received a single wish in two years. Well, who else knew about my birthday apart from my parents? Maybe they are secretly wishing me, from wherever they are but the truth is, it’s not the same at all.

I yearn for someone to talk to. I yearn for love. But all I get is hatred. Disgust. Loathe. Lust. I’ve just turned 15. And I’m writing this letter to rid my pain, physically and mentally. It’s very dark here, in the cellar. I can hear footsteps above me. It’s very cold. My legs are shivering. The candle is still lit, but only enough to give me light to write this.

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Stories

Let It Go – Chapter Three

Here’s chapter three of Let It Go! Read chapter one and two if you haven’t.

THREE

SUMMER 1995

The father’s authority in the house was akin to that of a King. Everything had to flow in accordance to his will. The curtains must be royal red. The marble flooring must be sparkling clean. The photo frames on the walls must be dust-free. The books on the top shelf belonged to him while the bottom shelf belonged to his wife. He sat on the first seat at the dining table, from which he could monitor the expressions of each family member. Women sat on the left while the men on the right. He ordered the servants to align the dishes in one row. If just one bowl were to be misaligned, he would send it crashing to the floor. A few people figured this to be his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but many others believed this to be his imposed authority and control over everyone who lived under the same roof as him.

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Stories

Let It Go – Chapter Two

Here’s chapter two of Let It Go! Read chapter one here if you haven’t.

TWO

WINTER 1994

The bitter cold made it even harder for them to breathe. Their bodies shivered even with the tiny fireplace I lit after Pa extinguished it out of anger. Their bare skin touched the dirty gravel flooring. There were frostbites on their toes. I stared as they hugged each other tightly, embracing in each other’s warmth. I crept into the room slowly and quietly tiptoed towards them. They were shivering in their sleep. I’ve never seen anyone so bare apart from myself. Their skin was pale. I looked back at the doorway ensuring no one came by. In a quick move, I unwrapped the blanket I draped around me and covered them. Just like how Ma tucked in me into bed. I glanced at them one last time and scurried off the room, not forgetting to drop in more wood into the fireplace.

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Thoughts

Why I write what I write

Alright. I know a lot of what I have written carry the themes of forced marriages and honour killings. All those dark and terrible situations you would never had wished for yourself to be in. You may never know… more terrible stuff might just add on to the list. Let me just share with you why I write what I write.

After O levels, I read a book recommended by Rashvin (I share over 10 years of friendship with this woman. She’s more than a bestie.) The book was titled Shame authored by Jasvinder Sanghera, who now runs Karma Nirvana, a non-profit organisation supporting victims of forced marriages and honour based violence. In short, the writer ran away from a strict Sikh household that tied her into a forced marriage. She escaped and led her life by herself. It’s coupled with all the ups and downs of running away from home, being lonely, home-sick and even living on the edge.

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Stories

Let It Go – Chapter One

So this is something I’ve just started on. It’s going to be a novel though I’m not very sure how long it’s going to be. I’ll be posting chapter by chapter. The style I’m trying to adopt is inspired by Khaled Hosseini’s books and you would realise it later on as you read several chapters. But of course, its not entirely like his style and how effortlessly he does it. Nobody can beat this amazing dude! Till then, here’s chapter one of “Let It Go”.

Don’t lie. That Frozen song just started playing in your head, didn’t it?

 

ONE

SUMMER 2014

He stood there, towering over me while I hugged my knees tightly close to my chest. He inched forward. His smell – one that reeks disgust. My eyelashes were wet with tears which hung on my waterline, waiting to roll down my cheek, staining them wet. Just like him. Waiting to caress my skin, my body… with lust in his eyes. And. Staining me. Forever.

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