Twelve handpicked poems curated by the editors (in no particular order). Assume all kinds of trigger warnings before you start reading the pieces.
The inheritance of worshipping by Aaditya Pandey
Five generations ago when my ancestors gave up their profession of worshipping, they did not stop practicing it altogether rather they passed this legacy to my great grandfather and his sons who did not know what to do with it so they nurture it like a baby who’d grow up eventually but not really old enough to experience death
when I was old enough to memorize hymns and shlokas from Vedas and other religious texts, my grandfather told me to worship the sun whose name I was given to celebrate the dawn of a new generation in our family and the only thing I could remember was how the sun got me so sick that the doctors emptied four bottles of glucose in my veins while I spent two days and three nights in a manufacturing factory of grief called hospital;
my grandmother used to take me with her when she would visit the shrine of our local goddess and she would proudly show me the names of our family’s men engraved on its walls amongst many names of other big men from our village who shed their sweat and blood in its construction but I would be distracted by the bells hanging from its ceilings that looked like carcasses of dead animals who would be sacrificed to the goddess every year to please her and I would wonder did she eat them alive or did a professional cook their meat for her feast;
my father told me to worship Maa Saraswati for she was known to bestow knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom on her worshippers but he got furious at me and called me bad names when I came second in my third grade so I went straight into Puja Ghar with the same rage in my body as him, to confront Saraswati and shouted at her wooden framed portrait “whose fault is it? mine or yours? oh please tell me, Saraswati why didn’t you give me what you were supposed to? you know I studied hard and worshipped you with accordance to the rulebook of Brahmins;”
my mother would remind me to worship those deities whom my father, grandfather, and grandmother has advised me to do and I’d ask her – “Is that why you, against your own wills, do everything they tell you to do?” she would answer by imprinting the fingers of her right hand in red over my cheeks and a salty river would start flowing through my eyes wetting the edge of her maroon Banarasi saree and now when I ask her – “Tell me mother, what sin did I commit to be born and love but not be loved; to have lovers who don’t love me back? can they still be called lovers if they don’t love me back?”, she doesn’t say or do anything but stares at me like I’m a stranger
the next time a boy holds my hand, a great war starts between me and the butterflies in my stomach and so I drink fire from the holy fireplace to end it and offer my skin to that goddess’s slaughterhouse so that she release me from this curse of forbidden love
I’m not an atheist but I don’t know which god to worship because they say that look around you no god and goddess practise this nonsense between two men and women that you call love then I lose all my arguments in this delicious debate and join them to laugh at myself.
An abstract canvas by Simra Sadaf
Last night I read Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song thrice and the window in my room mourned the loss of mind’s white sanity. White, like the extra whipped cream on your favorite frappe, like marshmallows that melt in my mouth smoother than Judas’ kisses and his ways of making an ocean mental.
Then I listened to Achilles Come Down on loop and brown jolly buds sprout off a desolate land. Brown, like your favorite chocolate ice cream with crushed almonds that we shared after our first date, like the shoelace that mysteriously went missing and was found three days later under the cushion of my cat’s bed.
At dawn, I heard the prayer call so I removed my silver anklets and praised the Lord then wrote two atheist stories. Silver, like my Amma’s unused and untouched dowry utensils which I will inherit when the gap between Alif and Zabar perishes when you and I will hum to the tunes of July wind together.
Each person you meet is the sum total of all their memories by Anurag Mohanty
After a night of carrying hollow burdens, I closed my eyes hoping Morpheus would slip dreams where my pastel yellow dupatta slithers down my right shoulder as we roam around the streets of Jaipur. Yellow, like my skin’s undertone, skin that sheds every time I am purple or violet or any shade of blue, but skin that’s an abstract canvas of harlequins.
Quitting on people is easy.
There are people I lived with, that I haven’t spoken to in years. But I still sip tea, the way they would- slowly, taking it in with a loud slurp, sipping on the rim of the cup like a squirrel.
There are people I talked to for hours every night, knowing every inch of their book by heart, starting from how they got their heart broken the first time in high school to what made them not kill themselves that one time when they thought they couldn’t breathe because their heart was so full and the air, too heavy. Now I don’t know whether they exist, whether they got around to finishing that book without choking on every word, after every three pages. I don’t know whether they got around to saving themselves after I stopped trying to. But sometimes, I close my eyes and re-play their stories like augmented and diminished triads of the piano in my memory palace, gliding ever so slowly at the brink of their voice guiding me to a warm slumber, when I’m at my worst. Sometimes, I’m reminded of them while posing for photographs, the way they’d hold my waist, almost but not quite, cupping their palm on my skin like a doorknob and placing their shoulder like the final puzzle piece that fit perfectly under the curve of my arms.
There are people I grew up with, whose funerals I didn’t shed a tear at. People I loved, who I didn’t ask to stay when they decided to walk away one fine afternoon and now I don’t remember their last name. But sometimes, I’d casually utter a word while talking to people, when suddenly from the hidden pockets of the brain’s synaptic carousal, their face would appear like a lucid dream and how they used to overuse that word and how it has stuck with me, dodging the erosion of time. Sometimes, I’d suddenly be zoomed back in time and can almost sniff their musk cologne, when I hear the faint sound of a particular song playing inside a car next to mine at a traffic stop, which somehow was the closest I got to a time machine.
Each person you meet is the sum total of all their memories. Quitting on people is easy, but how do you wipe your memory slate clean?
The Goddesses Of my village have learnt to scream on their own by Nayonika Sengupta
majnu, are you still living on a prayer?
in the village where your laila lives, the bloody offerings of birth are buried in the bowels of a river in the name of abundant goddesses. goddesses who cannot read or write. goddesses who are framed on rosewood doors and kept in shrines of slaughterhouses.
in this village, goddesses entomb their children in glittering rubies around their throats; their nipples are rouged with the hunger of starving mud walls. men worship them in the dimness of the moon with discarded moans. men close the doors but the goddesses need to stay open.
in this village, goddesses are crumpled into limbless paper cranes when they lose their legs. without feet, they are shells with no names. their bodies become funeral pyres clad in white flags.
majnu, save your tears for another day
save them for laila’s charred womb burnt in anticipation of kerosene lamps. save them for when her breasts still smell of milk but the rivers in her uterus are weary of being bled.
save them for when they stick fingers into her dreaming eyes and yet, on daydreams, cast their shadows. save them for when they dip her in honey and let loose beetles on her arms.
save them for nights when streetlights hang like decapitated heads and blood paves the way for mutilated screams. when my mother clamps justice in her mouth, save your tears for laila writhing on her bed of nails.
save them for when there are no more ripe mangoes left to fall from bare trees. because goddesses in your laila’s village have had enough of hanging from branches.
majnu, break the hands on every clock
my house has no rosewood doors. my heart is a wildfire on a warpath; it refuses to sink in the silent vengeance of my mother’s ruin. my heart is the shrine of living, breathing, vermillion-faced goddesses who read and write and churn rivers in their bellies.
majnu, when will you scream? on second thought, save your tears again. my goddesses come from a land haunted by history’s hostages. they have learnt to scream on their own.
Of Nine-yards and Fifty-three Breaths by Aishwarya Roy
/pre-Independence India/Nivi style of sarees/free-flowing drape/hesitant 𝘨𝘩𝘶𝘯𝘨𝘩𝘢𝘵. Sunlight filters in through the frosted glass. Dinners end up in broken plates. Her body looks like a half-knit sweater, with oppression, the colour of her receding hairline, pinned on her thighs. People come and leave with a ball of yarn, but never halt to fix it.
𝘔𝘺 𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘧𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘺 𝘢 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘥𝘢𝘺.
𝟭𝟵𝟲𝟬-𝟴𝟬𝘀 /emergence of Bollywood movies/Nargis, Madhubala, Mumtaz/sexy chiffon sarees with blingy borders/no kissing on the screen/scarcity in the country. She romanticizes her pain by opening the 70th page of her diary, at the stroke of the midnight hour, to write a poem of love and resistance. An apocalypse hibernates inside her backbone, causing severe aches. And freedom is as non-existent as,
𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘥𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘯 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘴, 𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩 𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘬𝘴.
𝟭𝟵𝟵𝟬-𝟮𝟬𝟬𝟬𝘀 /affordable color televisions/floral prints and Organza sarees/mp3 CDs/insurgency breaks out in Kashmir. Her love comes easy. It’s spread across the world, covering the dark areas of it, like a bedsheet hides the ugly spots of the mattress. Sometimes, she feels so many emotions, that they fall into the loop of emptiness; like that of Rutherford’s atomic theory, when electrons lose their energy and freely fall into the nucleus?
𝘌𝘹𝘤𝘳𝘶𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨. 𝘌𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭. 𝘜𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦.
𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟬𝘀 /draped dhoti sarees tied with chunky belts/minimalism/empty roads/longing hearts/itchy sanitized hands. When her willingness to give me more of herself runs out, she falls silent and picks off my face everything that belongs to her. Slope of an incomplete nose. The blunt span of two questioning eyebrows. And wet hair locks,
𝘪𝘯𝘷𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘮𝘺 𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘺 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘢 𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘱 𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘭.
My mother, a monochrome menopause; Won’t bloom every month With red colour.
My mother, a graveyard ghost; Scares me Into becoming like her.
Mourning looks a lot like moving on by Gauri Mhaslekar
eight minutes ago, you read a story about grief how it is impossible to handle how sledgehammers and denial work only to be triggered by the t-shirt you found in your wardrobe stolen a lifetime ago. how you regret the last words you ever said to them how you couldn’t hold their hand while they quit on this desolate world. how you prayed to the god you never believed in to take you instead.
eight days ago, you listened to a song pretending it was the one they used to humm while doing the laundry because the truth is, you can’t remember anymore. you look in the mirror while brushing your teeth, and just when you tilt your head to a certain angle you somehow see them in you and all you want to do is rip the skin off your face anything to stop their ghost from haunting you anything to write off their existence anything to just be able to breathe.
eight months ago, you saw their picture hidden amongst the pages of a book you swore to never open only to see a stranger smiling back at you. you saw a neighbor burying their loved one, saying at least they had a life well lived because in the end, no matter what they say, it is never about the memories you already made it is always about the ones you can’t anymore. it is about the dream you’ll achieve only to have no one to share it to it is about you not getting to watch them grow old and senile and stubborn it is about all birthdays lighting candles to an empty grave.
eight years ago, you saw their body and felt absolutely nothing because they had begun to die long before that.
you see, mourning doesn’t look like the five fucking stages of grief there are no tears, and there are no shattering glasses against the wall. most of the time, mourning looks a lot like moving on. one day at a time. because it never goes away. it cripples you and all you can do is keep your damaged soul above the water. all you can do is survive.
Aaita’r haath(Assamese) or Grandmother’s hands by Jijnyasa Patowary
i. aaita sits on her backyard charpai and dries chilies in multiples of hundred for the neighborhood co-operative. the charpai, reeling under the weight of koka’s death, investigates aaita’s contracting shape. the spice hovering above the peppered fruits escape into her epidermal pockets and redden her fingertips. she brings it to her forehead, a 62-year-old habit, and feels koka’s quivering hands from the day of their marriage.
ii. aaita makes rasna for her grandchildren every autumn break – the stubborn talc turns her elbows tangerine at the touch of rotund ice cubes. she listens closely as we tell secret stories from new Bombay and new Dilli and tucks vicarious rebellion in the pleats of her saree. later at night, she hides the folded silk under her pillow and dreams of foreign waters.
iii. aaita buys ready-to-eat noodles whenever the cylinder runs out. ma warns her of flickering flames because the doctor says gluten knots at her stomach. but when ma sees aaita tonguing the yellow masala powder straight from the valleys between her fingers, it reminds her of summery, mango-pulped faces – maybe this way, aaita revels in youth again.
iv. aaita has a green thumb – she has watered roots unyielding to clocks’ hands and cyclonic ambushes. she became the queen of undeterred flourish when she was forced to bury her dreams where good girls rise from – good girls learn to cook, good girls learn to birthe, good girls stay tethered to the soil. now with every leaf that defies gravity, aaita conquers the stratosphere.
v. aaita decorates her wrist with five blue bangles. she wears them to the vegetable market, jingling them like in a filmy scene at the sight of those who want to jail her in white fabric.
vi. aaita dyes her kurta with indigo – the color of koka’s tie from his officer days at the refinery. she likes it when the color marries her palms because it looks like scanned photocopies of her husband’s hands. she will not tell you, but in their teenage months, this is how they romanced.
vii. aaita plays Holi with baingani gulal and cradles Aurora Borealis in her arms. her skin holds the creases of time and a thousand stories that may never touch another’s memory.
viii. on most days, aaita’s hands are pale and crinkled – but do not be fooled – hold her hands and see your bones in vibgyor.
I have earthquakes for heartbeats by Ranya Vaid
A painting by CK Purandare
I don’t want to think about it; how many smiles I’ve shed, how many smiles I’ve spent. I don’t want my mind to wander back to the days when every breath I took didn’t feel like a war cry. These days I wear grief for perfume, and my sister wonders why our room stinks of wet clothes. The sun refuses to come in; the stench is too much for him. So, I don’t want to think of how many smiles I’ve spent till I went broke, but I do it anyway. It’s like pushing your fingers down on a wound, pulling the flesh by your fingernails, or biting down your lips too often. You do it because it burns, and in the flinches of these burns, you forget how many smiles you have spent, how many smiles till you went broke.
I have words clinging onto the back of my throat, yearning for a release. I have tried whispering them in my lover’s ears, singing them in my mother’s lap, but they stay there hanging. While I understand that I’m their refuge and these words; mine, I want to let them out, I want to let them free. Perhaps, it would be easier for me to breathe then. So, I cough it all out pages after pages, thinking maybe there is something left of me. I hope there’s something left of me. But, all that’s left is blood. I think I’ve lost poetry.
Today, I’m sorry for my careless hands. For each day, I have an apology that slips easily off my tongue because it’s easier to say I’m sorry than to explain why I have earthquakes for heartbeats every time the music gets a tad bit louder or why it’s easy for impatience to rest in my hands than the soft bristles of my paintbrush. So, I say I’m sorry because these hands are my undoing and theirs; I.
My footprints always stink of impermanence. I don’t know how to be without it. I can never be who I was yesterday. It’s always a little sadder, a little angrier, or just standing face down out of hope. I wonder if there will ever be stillness, soundness, a calmness that stays so she can adjust to me rather than I to her. Every poet tells me something different, and I don’t know whom to believe anymore. A young Sylvia tells me she wants “to taste and glory in each day”, the older lies dead in my oven, the gas replacing her breaths. Perhaps, yearning for the same stillness as I. Who am I to believe? Who am I to become?
On my bedside, December lies rotting. January pulling me from the other end reporting a suicide of art I once hung from my ceiling, but I sleep eyes heavy with the weight of a thousand crushed roses and a head that weighs too many eclipses of a moon this body can’t hold. My heart is still tender and soft, too soft indeed if you are worried about that. It still thumps to chirping birds and mellow skies. But it is a bargain you see, to feel the birds chirping, I must let it break. I must let it break again and again.
I’m sorry if my words look like chapped lips and fractured bones, but they can neither be Lord Byron’s poetry nor bloodstained teeth. I can only write a subtle pain that lies in every day’s melancholy, the subtle signs a person leaves before a suicide like the songs that refuse to leave his throat every time he’s in a shower, like that one pair of socks lying in the corner of his room, like bruised knuckles that bleed when you touch them like every time you ask if it’s okay and his glassy eyes break, pulling Olympus down because these sins weren’t his to bear.
I can’t look at this naked flesh. I can’t look at this ruined body. I can’t look at this mess made out of the leftovers of my past self. This skin isn’t mine; this body could never be. So, I look outside, the world outside this window I’ve been sewing lies in a child’s dream, a child whose face I once adorn, and I can only exist inside it. I can only ever exist inside it.
There is poetry in stock markets by Noorpriya Chawla
the Semal trees of Delhi decided to visit the Dalal Street for today the lovers of love were to seek lessons on trading so SEBI decided to remodel the curriculum as per the romantics
i) now every strike price has a heartbeat to it identify the number that pounds as resolutely as the first time your eyes melded into his under the glow in the dark stars in his room on your third date as you relished his over cooked maggi that’s your deal but you must know, love weathers autumn even in spring if you mistake noise for flutters a strong trade won’t disappoint the public will always pit you against it
ii) when Galileo saw the algorithms of mathematics in nature he assigned a vocabulary for the world to learn what he meant was you may be in love plenty of times but if you don’t identify your pattern chances are you’ll keep falling for those who promise you the stars and bring you only dust and so, imbibe the language of each trade as you do for your aayats there is always a chair at the table for the exotic polyglots
iii) remember, when emotions crowd your trades, like that last boy who sweet talked you into believing his loyalties even when Maa warned you against it step away graciously it’s okay, love today you’ve earned a lesson and knowledge always pays
iv) but when your losses are far greater just as the pain of withering when your city is a portrait of a necropolis and not of ghazals remember, the number of times Delhi painted palimpsests on the wall of her Purana Qilla and now, even as the seething pyre of longing chars the spirit of her skin she falls in love again you see, trades cut trades just as heartbreaks heal heartbreaks and scars – look, art runs wild in you
now go GLORY GLORY GLORY
Me and my life are Identical twins by Ananya Aneja
Me and my life are identical twins, She was born, two minutes thirty three seconds after me. The ever late, but to her superlative of late is, the “𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘴𝘵” We both turned six months old twice, once inside our mother’s town, and then on the outskirts of her favorite city. I am a mouth full of cotton candy and she, a sky leaden with 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘮𝘦𝘴𝘢𝘯 clouds, you won’t drown in her vastness, but you’ll certainly suffocate in my proximity. Summer noons spent on beaches, we would chisel a sandcastle together, while I looked at it as a 𝘣𝘢𝘳𝘳𝘦𝘯 𝘢𝘭𝘤𝘢𝘻𝘢𝘳 ruined by the waves, she would narrate me tale of a sand grain falling in love with the ocean, die casting herself into a 𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘭𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 and one day nosediving in it forever. I look at things with pain because my mom didn’t comb my eyelashes in my infancy, they are brass bars to the iris without wings in my orbit. But life, plucks her’s out and blows them away to 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘨𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘵𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘴 inside the 𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘳𝘪𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘥 on the edge of our lane. She paints her nails while I like them naked, She romps with 𝘥𝘢𝘩𝘭𝘪𝘢 tiara around dawn, while I hark 𝘍𝘶𝘳 𝘌𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘦 staring at the tapestry amidst dusk. I struggle at foreign dialects, she smiles back to strangers as a 𝘮𝘶𝘵𝘦 𝘱𝘰𝘭𝘺𝘨𝘭𝘰𝘵, I smell lies, she bakes stories. I like my poems long, and she is tall. I tell her to get out because I comb my hair alone, to which she comments, “What about the 99 bristel and 99999 hair with you?” I admire 𝘜𝘳𝘴𝘢 𝘔𝘢𝘫𝘰𝘳, but she draws constellations on her own. I don’t understand life even though she is a replica of my mirror image. I may be am a poet with shoes, but I walk places with my hands. She may be is a poetry with end, but you cannot stand beside her without diving in to a never-ending drown. So next time don’t mistake our semblance, because I wake up everyday, in search of paper, and she awakens with 𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘵𝘴 inked on her body wraps.
Earth’s love letter to the sky by Smita Singh
you’re the reason i never wish to close my insomnia-phobic eyes i lie flat as a newborn in cradle just to witness you flutter like a butterfly dressed in skin i see you and every seed in my womb sprouts like a feminist song from an oppressed nightingale’s mouth i see you and learn that love is too delicate and tender to be held by time or space or distance that there’s no language for love in order to convey what it truly is that when love tries to speak, silence shushes him with a soft caress on his tongue
your shades are to me what a periodic table is to a science nerd– i remember them all by heart i want you to know that you look as beautiful naked in plain blue as in any other hue and that the lover in me envies how these earthlings try to capture your beauty into their Instagram stories i want to burst into a volcano and tell them that you were mine much before god turned to their office desks to create them i want them to know that we are the place every Romeo-Juliet and Laila-Majnu long to reach to as soon as they learn to spell l-o-v-e
i love how your cheeks turn into a blushful blossom of sunset every evening when you catch me staring right back at you i love how you never fail to intersect with each of my heartstrings although we’ve been running parallel across the whole globe i love how with us the possibility of being buried beneath or carried above doesn’t dare to exist and how even a million of tumblr quotes about you and i would do no justice to what ‘we’ feel looking at each other’s faces 24/7
i love how we find us closer in ways no species has the audacity to comprehend or adopt that everytime a bird in flight poops on me, i feel your touch linger on my shoulder blades that your clouds shapeshift into winds just to leave a peck on my collarbones that your rain droplets are the warmest forehead kisses my cold bare self could ever ask for that everytime a lightning bolt strikes my belly, i know it is time for me to go to bed under your moonlight that when your stars disappear, you’re cursing summer to stop making me sick with its heat strokes that everytime winter arrives, you wrap your limerence in snowballs and let it fall on me as love notes
dearest sky, i want you to know that one day i will grow mountains so tall that i would be able to kiss your back
The discomfort of being in love and being loved by Resham Sharma
i’m peeling boiled potatoes and i’m in love with you.
they are getting inside my nails and smudging over my hands and all i’m waiting for is to wash them away and i’m wondering how long can i stay in love with you.
the hollow beneath my long nails is filled with layers of potatoes and my fingers are not at ease without that emptiness and i keep scooping them out and you’re still under my skin and i’m trying to be in love with you.
the boiled potato crumbs are drying over my fingers and my palms are hardening into a rough texture and they don’t feel like my hands anymore and i don’t know what to do with them except peel the leftover potatoes so i go on being in love with you.
my fingers are tender but my grip is tight and i end up breaking some potatoes into lumps and they stick on my arms and they feel heavy on my touch and i’m carrying them on my limbs while i try to be gentle with others and i’m terrified of being in love with you.
i don’t know why i am peeling these potatoes anymore but they are warm in my hands and the room is so cold and my stomach is hungry but my mouth is full and i don’t know how to feed myself but peeling potatoes is easier than peeling myself and i’m relieved that i’m in love with you.
i am still peeling potatoes but i can’t feel them anymore, i cannot differentiate between the act and the thing and peeling becomes a habit and the potatoes layer over my hands and i can’t remember who i am underneath them and i can’t remember myself without the urge to peel and i don’t know what else to do except be in love with you.
i am peeling the last potato and i am scared of the pile in front of me and i don’t want them to feed my hunger anymore because they weigh too much and i was never really that hungry and now i don’t know how to stop and i’ve peeled the last potato and i am ready to run away and i don’t want you to be in love with me.
i’ve finished peeling boiled potatoes and i’m not in love with you anymore.
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