life imprisonment


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
one by one
the aunties come forward
rubbing their yellow-stained fingers
violently on my arms, calves, neck
my body gives in
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.


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.


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

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





– Parveen Maghera



[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

Stories, Thoughts

An Effort In Vain

He entered the living room and stood at the door, feeling proud as ever.

“Mother, I am a man now,” he confidently confessed, his hands on his hips, imitating his grandfather who stood poised in style, staring down at every member of the family from above the fireplace, as though his intense gaze could penetrate and break the glass of the photo frame.

“What did you do son?” His mother questioned, with a tinge of neglect in her voice as she busied herself with her half-knit sweater. She stopped for a moment, realising she had not heard a reply from her son. She looked up and he was standing there, now staring at her, arms crossed. She turned and looked up at her father-in-law.

“Those same eyes, full of rage,” she calmly replied. “Is there anything you would like to say? I’m still waiting for you to tell me what you did my love.”

“If you could at least give me 60 seconds of your time?” Her son grumbled.

His mother sighed, kept her knitting tools into the box and pushed it under the table.

“There you go. Speak.”

“I kicked a boy, swore at him, teased a girl. I did it. I am a man!” he confessed.

His mother looked at him calmly.

“Since when did kicking a boy, swearing at him and teasing a girl made you the ‘man’ that you speak of?”

Her son frowned.

“Isn’t it that? Isn’t that what a man should be?”

“How on earth did you think of that?” His mother stood up angrily.

“I don’t understand your anger mother, nor anybody’s!” He cried. “If I wore a skirt and stole your lipstick, you slapped my face and told me to be a man! I asked you why I found myself being pulled to Jerry, you said it’s brotherly love but I know what brotherly love is and it’s not that. But you said it is. When you read in my diary that I wanted to hug and kiss Jerry, you slapped my face again and screamed I’m not being a man. And when I just did what a man does, why are you still angry with me?”

“No man does what filth you did son!”

“Then what is father? Isn’t he a man? He does that all the time! That is what a man is, isn’t it?”

His mother began to weep.

“I don’t understand this. I want to be like you mother, dress like you, sit like you, eat like you, talk like you but you force me to be like father, I don’t know what is going on, who am I? Am I even a son?”

His mother wiped a tear and looked at her child. “You will be one soon, just keep trying.” She turned and walked away.

He left the house in slow draggy steps with his head down low.


It Could Have…

I tell him the truth

with my cheeks blushing

i scurry out of the room

biting my scarf while grinning in delight

the time is finally here

i can be what I want to be

he will love me more I suppose

after all the failures

this would be my first success

that would mean a lifelong relationship

he won’t leave I’m very sure

i hope he is excited, I hope he is jumping around!

who else should I tell?

no, I can’t handle this

i’ll let him do it

i should stop running

i need to take care of myself

and him

and the new one

i can’t believe this

it’s a sign of our love

i walk back casually

but it seems different

why does it look so solemn?

this is not my home

where is he?

why are there so many people crying?

they must have done it

i hear someone say

what… is that?

why is there a garland on my photo?

this is insane

done what?

why didn’t they wait for the doctor?


this can’t be

but why?

we could have made things better

i was going to make things better

why did you have to do this?

i should have deserved another chance

it could have been different this time

it could have been a boy…

– Parveen Maghera