Vidya Shankar, INDIA

SCARLET RISING

The scarlet blouse beseeched her to take it home.
It was a declaration of boldness, a solid fiery red
With a splatter of silver and black sequins around the neck
And no protective arms of modesty.
All she had wanted, when she had picked it up,
Was to satisfy an unresolved fancy of several years,
A secret desire to wear something… er… well, outrageous,
For maybe a moment in time, yes, just that.
And what better occasion to fulfil her desire
Than in the confines of the trial cell
Where no one save her could see what she was dressed in
And judge her through the conditioned mirrors they bore in their hearts?
Oh, she had really meant to put it back
On the hanger, with all the other blouses in the store,
And take with her
Only the sweet minute-long memory
Of the pretty confident woman who smiled at her
In a bright scarlet sleeveless blouse.

Closing her eyes, she imbibed the image she saw of herself,
The vivid bearing of assurance that was so distinctly not brazen.
Why not? She asked herself.
It was thus that the bright scarlet sleeveless blouse
Got paid for and found its way to her wardrobe at home
Only to be delegated to a hidden nook,
Seeing the light of day and breathing in a quick breath of fresh air
On those very rare times when she would take it out
And run her fingers over it longingly,
A reminder to herself of the image that was her but not,
And with a sigh, would resign the awaiting flame
And herself to the dankness of their imposed existence.

Till one day she decided that she was going to be the Scarlet Queen.
Out came the blouse and with it, some matching accessories
That had been lying ignored.
She gave her hair a twist and settled it into a style
that she had never worn before.
Her dressing completed with matching bag and shoes
She dared out into the immediate world she was part of,
A world rooted in traditional superiority and decent values
That spat quite vehemently
At even the slightest trace of immodesty
And ruled it disgraceful any crossing of standardized thresholds.
Especially if it involved married women.

As expected, the middle-aged *mama was at his balcony
In his supposedly white **dhoti discoloured with miserliness,
Rightfully shirtless as ever, leching at passing femmes.
“Women these days seem to have lost all sense of decorum,”
He quoted.
She passed by the official gossipers of their apartment,
Three ladies who unfailingly took up their positions
Come rain or shine to indulge in world-changing conferences
Disapproving the improprieties of society.
Their bored expressions lit up when they saw her.
She had given them food for talk.
The ***mami on the ground floor who deemed it her diligent duty
To keep a mental record of where and how her neighbours were going
Called out loud to her.
She pretended not to have heard but walked on.
Mami, her saree hanging loosely about her shoulder,
Leaving uncovered one round breast kept in place by a sweaty blouse
And exposing a generous waist,
Took a quick step up to the gossipers, eager to join
The ongoing discussion about a red alert that had come
From an unexpected quarter.

The saga in scarlet marched on, unfazed by the stir she was causing.
None of it mattered to her, anymore.
For in the vulgarity she had donned, she found
The strength of her femaleness,
The beauty of liberation,
And love for herself.
She discovered she was poetry.

*mama = Uncle, ** dhoti = Indian male apparel  ***mami = Aunt


NAME ME RIGHT

When I was born —
A girl child,
The grand-elders of the family agreed upon for me,
A name as per the astrological charts confirmed.
‘Twas a wonderful name, no doubt,
A name that held serene beauty,
But what my mother wanted for her first-born
Was something beyond the aesthetics.

All through her trimesters, she had only prayed
That her daughter (yes, she knew it would be me)
Be blessed with knowledge and wisdom
Not just of the intellect but even beyond.

My mother, however, being nothing but
that breed of a daughter-in-law
conditioned to mute nodding whenever
the grand-elders pronounced an edict,
The prayer remained a silent wish
she carried into the labour room —
My mother, whose name meant 'achievement'.

So, when the unheard voice managed in a whisper
To utter the wishful name,
The grand-elders deemed it sacrilege.

“Remember, it’s a girl you have birthed,
Society expects a girl to be beautiful, not wise.”

“Remember, it’s a girl you have birthed,
who must, one day, cross our threshold to move
into her husband’s home.
A girl with brains is a girl undone.”

“Remember,” said a stern-eyed matriarch,
“Men take beauty; men don’t take intellect.”

“Remember what you are now.
For the name your parents gave you,
What have you achieved here but the kitchen!"

Thus, the cry of the 'achiever' ignored,
An absolutistic statement was made —
“Beauty, the baby’s name will be,
Beauty, she will grow up to be,
And beauty, her tool, a husband for her to find.”

What brought about the moment of catharsis
Neither of my parents can recall,
But just as the priest was about to declare
the commanded name,
My father, a shadow till then, spoke out loud and clear.

“She’s my daughter and I shall name her what I will.
I refuse to comply
With your unreasonable decree.”

People say it was my father’s audacity
To make his voice heard in a tone more solid than the elders’
that gave me my name.
But I believe ‘twas Love —
The love my father had for my mother
That triggered his voice.
And, over the hollering of generations of bias,
Came to achieve, a mother’s silent love
That dared to dream for her daughter
Not only a simple name but also a destiny
That went beyond
The acceptable.

(Vidya is an Indian name that denotes learning and wisdom)


MOTHERHOOD?

Girl,
The offspring you are carrying in your womb
Because you are taken for granted,
Because that was what completed you supposedly
as woman,
Is not just because of Nature’s bestowal upon you
a receptacle,
It is society’s imposition too, that it may be born to carry
His name!

Girl,
The wailing baby whose poopy nappy you are coping to change,
The baby of the purple crying that is his as is yours,
The baby that was conceived to carry only
His name, not yours, for,
Carrying yours is sacrilege,
Why, then why must only you be delegated
The mucky task of cleaning up the hapless baby
While he, among friends, socializes
Well-perfumed?

Girl,
The little one that feeds at your breast
Because nature so designed you to be the giver,
But when it grows up and from your breast weaned away,
The kitchen now a place in the house
And its feed any hand can give,
Any hand with care in the chest,
Yet the feeding still remains your prerogative
While he at the TV sits,
Apathetically!

Girl,
Know this, motherhood though maybe a blessing,
Motherhood though may be the paradigm of womanhood,
Motherhood is, nonetheless, a glorified title that
Society has conferred on women to aspire for,
So that the noxious breed of nonchalant fathers
May be spared the ethically due responsibilities of
Parenthood?!!

Girl,
Be aware… be aware!


Vidya Shankar is a poet, writer, blogger, motivational speaker, English language teacher, instructional designer, content developer, and yoga enthusiast. Like a bamboo taking its time to grow, so has she waited, patiently, for her time to come to live a life of purpose, having broken the invisible shackles of an outdated society. An active member of poetry circles, Vidya’s works have appeared in national and international literary magazines, literary platforms and anthologies. She had been a regular contributor for the column 'Short Take' published in 'The Gulf Today', a Sharjah-based newspaper for over five years with over 250 articles to her credit. Her first book 'The Flautist of Brindaranyam', an anthology of 12 poems, is a collaborative effort with her photographer husband, Shankar Ramakrishnan. It was published in December 2017. Vidya is currently working on her second book — a collection of some of her Short Take articles.


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