Portraits of Women
Who is she?
The hazy ultrasound displayed a baby.
‘Why is the picture so blurry?’ questioned the husband, the in-laws,
The aunts and the uncles,
The friends and the foes.
Rhythmic contractions culminated into
squeals. One of the mother, the other, the
baby’s. “Congrats, it’s a girl!” said the nurse,
Though before her was a sea of faces morose.
Later, in the wee hours of cold December,
A dustbin squealed awake from a nightmarish slumber.
How is she?
Her fluttering fingers adjusted the dupatta right over the bruise
Concealer under the eyes to soften the blues
A few strokes later, her face a perfect mask.
‘Bahu, thodi aur gori nahi mili?’ is all they ask.
Vermilion drizzled like blood on her forehead
Resonant with violent nights on the creaky bed.
The scars on her skin were hidden carefully lest they be
found But the scar on her soul was an open wound.
Where did she come from?
She worked hard right from the start
Solving algorithms and equations, she was a master of the art.
Applauded and lauded she climbed the corporate ladder
Relationships and men, her life had no room for all that bother.
Insistent family pestered she was coming of age,
Took the matter upon their shoulders and a meeting they arranged.
Her unaccustomed hands brought them tea on a tray
She wanted to impress them with her exciting job and hefty pay.
Aunty lowered her glasses and raised a brow,‘Roti banati hai gol?’
Who is she?
Confident in herself, she dressed for the reflection in the mirror.
Flaunting her curves, rouging her cheeks, she liked life with glitter.
One night, late at work, she encountered a deserted street.
She drove home, beating a hasty retreat.
The hungry headlights of a jeep followed her own,
Leering and jeering, rushing like sperm to ovum.
Reached a dead end, she was a deer in the headlight.
She kicked and screamed and put up quite a fight.
In the end, the wolves got their way, Ripped off her dignity, gobbled it away.
Grappling with her respect, she knocked the doors of justice.
Alas! All they saw was a sexy Miss.
The inspector’s gaze like x-ray, listening to the crime with a coolness
she couldn’t fathom.
‘Seriously. You were wearing a skirt, Madam?’
Is there a he?
He knew he was a hero, a Casanova.
Saw a girl afar so sweet, her eyes hazel and her hair velveteen.
He followed her everywhere, soaking in her beauty.
A million whistles and catcalls, air kisses and winks were all dissolved
with the same NO.
Thwarted by the pain of unrequited love, he refused to accept
defeat. Her face wasn’t for anyone if he couldn’t touch it, he felt.
A sticky morning at the bus stop, a splash of acid.
She screams at her own sight every morning in the mirror,
He screams at the monster he’s become, living behind the bars in fear.
What happened to her?
Just eighteen when she married,
The day her uncle transformed into her husband.
The day he garlanded her with a noose,
She remembers swirling around the pyre.
Then came the first night,
The rose petals arranged decorously, the cousins giggling
Unsure and nervous, she. Straight down to business, he.
She resisted and complained, unwilling to open the gates of her thighs.
He pulled and pushed, shredded the threads of her dignity into
smithereens, ignoring her cries.
She never stopped screaming, only out of horror.
Though the relatives listening outside, thought the sounds to be only proper.
The petals lay soiled and so did she.
Was there a way out of this misery?
Who was she?
She was a bright one, topping the class every year.
A hand-to-mouth income, the household’s only gear.
But to Little Rani, her studies were her only solace.
She dreamt of college and getting a job at a fancy place.
She asked her father about college and told him the fees.
‘Your sister has to be wed and so do you. Does money grow on trees?’
He said it was a poor investment,
‘Why do ladies meddle in matters of the gent?’
She begged and pleaded to go,
He shook his head and said, ‘Beta hota toh..’
Who is she?
A mother. A daughter. A sister. A wife.
The same story across the expanse of a city
Or a village’s open skies.
An object. A commodity. A muse. A toy.
An item. A baby-making vending machine. A slave. How
much does the change in shape of one organ entail? The
power of giving birth comes with many a side-effects. But
to battle relentlessly is the rising of the second sex.
Am I human?
Am I a woman?
Am I a woman before being human?
Who am I?
Anurati is a writer, illustrator, designer and a Young India Fellow from Delhi. Anurati’s works have been published in various journals and magazines.