Words can be deceptive

Third prompt for Airplane poetry movement’s 100-poems challenge- Begin and end your poem with the words “I promise”//

I promise,
I’ll remove my make up,
And take care of my skin,
Follow a strict skincare routine,
Drink more water,
Get more sleep,
Get rid of my dark circles,
And if I can’t,
I’ll conceal them well,
I’ll paint my lips purple,
Let them speak what my voice couldn’t,
Dye my hair grey,
Look older,
More matured (?)
Maybe people will start to see me as someone new,
But I promise,
I promise I won’t break down,
Even if my bones are breaking under the pain
I’m not able to express,
I won’t trade my laughter,
For men,
Who jump from one pair of lips to the other,
Like we’re service lanes,
Google maps showing them which roads to avoid
Due to heavy congestion.
But most of all,
I’ll try to heal,
I’ll nurse my wounds,
Put antiseptic on them,
Love the butterflies,
And the winter sun,
But most of all,
I’ll love this body,
This mind of mine,
And all of me,
I promise.


Mirror to me

There’s a little girl, on the other side,

She fell from a swing when she was five,

And from her bicycle when she was nine,

So she thought to herself that falling is the only way people

Learn to be more careful,

So when she fell in love,

And fell out of it,

And fell apart,

And fell down the stairs one night drunk,

She didn’t complain,

Because to her, she was learning.

She heard Phil Kaye say that if you repeat something too many times,

It loses its meaning,

So she stands in front of me,

Repeating words trying to lose their meaning,

Until she can’t find the difference between them anymore.

“Failure, failure, failure”, she says to herself,

Looking down at her heavy feet,

Until failure starts feeling like a word less, feeling more.

Maybe Phil Kaye isn’t right anymore.

She combs her hair, but forgets to tie them,

Paints her eyes, cheeks, lips, but forgets to love them,

Makes me want to be a human,

So I could hug her, and tell her 

Sometimes, you could stand still and learn your lessons,

Without falling to the ground.

I want to tell her,

the next time she colours her hair purple,

Or sharpens too many knives,

She’d have too many crayons to colour on paper,

And someone who holds her every time

She feels like she’s falling.

The fisherman’s daughter

Twelve years ago, when I was in college, young and jubilant, and with my love for fishing, I used to go the sea often. At first with friends, and later when what started as a hobby began to feel like an addiction, mostly alone. On one of those days, I encountered the fisherman’s daughter, the one who lived closest to the sea, like its waves are the only home his boat has ever known.
I don’t remember her face much, except, she always tied her hair up, in a bun, and once we got talking, I’d often tell her to let it down. She’d look the other way, and shake her head in disapproval. It was one of the many fears she harboured. It felt strange to me that among the fear of your house being drowned away, and not having enough to eat, she could fear of not being beautiful enough. But there are a few things, I’d never understand.
She wasn’t one of those extraordinarily mesmerising country girls that remind you of Heidi, and reading about her won’t make you think about Irish girls in a fair, but I remembered her for a long, long time, maybe because on most days, she was my only companion.
We talked a lot, but never about ourselves. Even though I know her father had weak knees and how she thought dictatorship could actually have been better, I never learnt what she liked to eat, or who she thought of every night when she went to sleep.
She taught me folk songs that she learnt from her mother, and made me taste the fish chutney that her grandmother passed onto her, but amidst these, she laughed at me, especially when I talked in the only  language we both could understand, for I spent half of my life until then in an English boarding school, and she’d studied in a vernacular one.
The language we conversed in wasn’t her first language, but it was supposedly mine, but she still said it better. And every time she laughed at my accent, it felt like a slap on my self-assumed superiority.
Eventually, my dad got transferred and we moved to a city. I found a new love, a new addiction. Over time, I almost forgot about her. Maybe she got married, maybe she died early, I’ll never know.
Last night, she came in my dream. Hair let down, roses in her hand. Looked at me for a moment, smiled. It looked like she was going somewhere, like she was in a hurry.
I’ve been thinking about her a lot since then. She still remains my favourite teacher. I, however, do not remember her name.


Tom Odell for the lonely nights,

Old Eagles harmonies for the nights we spent playing charades,

That’s how our house always looked-

Like a constant low key gig was going on,

With Nani’s Goan prawn curry dominating all other odours in the neighborhood.

It’s been long since Papa has gone fishing,

And I miss the smell of the sea on his hands.

Ma is a little forgetful these days,

And calories aren’t the only thing she burns, 

Sometimes it’s the rice for lunch too.

The violin Uncle James gifted me when I was six,

It’s stacked away somewhere,

Between my old toys in the basement,

After all, it used to be my favorite toy once.

The children of the house have grown up,

The elders have grown out,

And I’m still trying to figure out what’s worse,

Dada’s volatile anger at the dinner table,

Or Dadu forgetting to unlock the gate Everytime he’s back from his morning walk.

I’m usually the most silent one,

Sometimes humming to the songs I grew up with,

And sometimes playing my own in my head.

The way we milennials love

P for Paranoia. P for Pepperoni. 

Both requirements for a late supper.

On good days, my insomnia takes a walk, reads the newspaper,

And on the worst of them, gulps down sleeping pills like candies.
We don’t hold hands anymore,

But we let our fingers talk when our mouths won’t.

We can’t distinguish breaths anymore,

Perhaps we’re all dying a little,

And last I heard, all corpses smell the same.
Perfect by Ed Sheeran plays on, but we don’t dance to it,

Because our lives are more Gloomy Sunday than It’s a Beautiful Day,

Or so we believe.

So we brood,

And make pancakes at home on Sundays

When we should be running through the empty streets.
We can’t stand romance,

But romanticise heartbreak.

Sexts over letters.

Although love, and loving comes to us as easily 

as tan lines after a Greek vacation.
We fall out of love as easily

As we fall into it.

We’re the milennials and our love stories

Resemble the saddest of poems.

Weird kisser(s)

I’ve kissed two (and a half) men in my life,

And that’s pretty surprising for someone with as many romantic adventures as mine,

But that’s okay.

I remember how men taste like I remember phone numbers of the people who matter,

By heart.

The half-kiss happened when we both were drunk, and his breath was warmer than

All the fire that they use to light cigarettes.

I didn’t (couldn’t) kiss back, so I wouldn’t call it the best of my experiences.

This other time, I met a guy who would kiss less, bite my upper lip more, so much

That it had started to swell.

It was unpleasant, but I was being a good guest, so I pretended it was fine.

Maybe some people like destruction, 

And call it love.

But then I met someone, one day,

He laughed when I didn’t know how to kiss him back,

And I swear, tasting the laughter of someone on your lips

Makes you happier than all the wealth in the world combined.

He taught me to love,

And how weird kisses could get weirder,

And you’d still like them.

Time Lapse

Home has a new address now. We click pictures in rooms that look like suites that can be turned into houses by pulling the curtain a little, my friend teaches me how.


Half of us have passed out, the other half either drinking outside, taking in the Diwali air, or looking for people they wish hadn’t left. Amidst flirting and anxiety attacks and everything in between, we survive.


The house is quiet, except for an occasional laugh from an old anecdote, the familiarity of having spent too much time together seeps in, and stays. We don’t sleep yet.


The guitar is in the right hands, and the night has just started. The room is filled with happy kids singing (almost) sad songs. So, we sing along.


The music doesn’t stop, not even for a minute. I know, this is going to be my happy place for a long, long time. The room is dark, but our hearts are lit with the brightest lights.


Back home, the sun would’ve risen. We read about meteor showers and regret staying in the city, for city skies are too hazy for our eyes to spot anything we want to.


We’re still singing. Drunk voice notes and genuine feelings make an extraordinary combination, beautiful. We’ve sung the same song thrice, and we’re still not bored.


Some of us go back to our beds, some of us have other homes to go back to. The music plays in our heads, we’re still humming. We disperse, wishing the night has gone slower, wishing we’d live longer, the exact same way.

We see sunlight outside our windows, and know it’s going to be a very good morning.

Hashtag Kranti

R for Revolution.
Dissent in the streets, consent under the sheets (?)
This is our kind of Kranti.
The one that’s trending on Twitter?
These beggars are disgusting,
They sleep on pavements.
But we have a beautification project.
So we’ll paint the walls we’ve successfully built in red, blue and yellow.
Definitely yellow.
The city is not my own,
But we’ve left pieces of us in emergency wards of expensive hospitals,
And leftover plates of inexpensive food.
Capitalism will seize the hour,
The day, and all of our time.
But this is our kind of Kranti.
We’ll post videos of university students shouting slogans that no one really understands,
And call the number of views it gets, our Kranti.
We will face our identity crises and blame the ones in power, because now is our time,
Fuck the majority this time.
We will build our temples and mosques on the same pedestal,
And we’ll kill for fun,
But we’ll protest about it over social media,
Because how else do you show your anger,
Your Revolution?
We will build walls, a lot of them,
And we’ll ask for funds to break them,
Because this is my country,
And all countrymen are my brothers and sisters, goddammit.
When it’s 3:17 am and you run out of posts on social media to browse, what do you do?
We casually ruin our fortresses with our tears,
With words like anti-patriarchy,
And call it Kranti.
We’re stuck at traffic signals,
And the hijras, the eunuchs,
They fill the steets up.
We drive them away.
The “I have a kid, please give me money”,
The “I don’t have a limb, please give me money”,
We drive them all away,
Just like we go to clubs on weekends,
To drive our fear of loneliness away.
We seek constant validation,
And call it Kranti.
We write things we don’t believe in,
Post pictures we haven’t clicked,
And snap to poetry we don’t understand.
Because art, that’s how our Kranti is.
We put the hashtag before the Kranti. It’s trending now.
We have our priorities set.
And you still think we need a war to start our Kranti?


“What you seek, is seeking you.”- Jalaluddin Rumi


She stood behind the tombstone of one of the lesser known Sultans of a dynasty that once soared into the skies higher than its international counterparts. Only now, it looked desolate, forlorn. Like a mansion that’s abandoned in a fire, left hurriedly, and never returned to. She stood at its edge, eating the leftover edible skin of the raw mango, consumed more than half by the army of ants. Her sister, Masoom, stood at a distance, trying to make a perfect throw at the tree with the wild berries with the pebbles she’d collected this morning, chosen especially for this task. After all, she’s been eyeing the maroon berries for quite some time now. They look scrumptious, they’d make a nice breakfast, she tells herself. Masoom comes back to where she is standing, a few berries in her hands. “They don’t taste as good as I thought they will. Not bad either. Here, take some”, she offers a generous amount of her already meagre share of natural resources.

They’d named her Afrah, her folks. It means happiness, one of the few English words she’s learnt over these years. When curious foreigners ask her what her name means, she’s learnt to tell them, Afrah. Khushi. Happiness. They smile and give her small tips, sometimes an anna, sometimes two. She likes working in the petty eatery, peeling vegetables, washing the glasses, and even though Faizal mian doesn’t pay her much, she relishes the roti-tadka, and the occasional beef nahri. They come here to explore ‘the true Dilli’, the one they’ve read in history books and watched in historical movies. Some of them come here for photoshoots, to add fancy portfolios to their résumé, she overhears them talking. She wonders what hers would say, Afrah Saleem, Vegetable peeler by day, ragpicker by night. Faizal mian treats her as his child, for that she’s grateful. Without him, she and Masoom would have died of hunger long back. But he’s not their father; he can’t send them to the madarsa to study, he’s paying her, she has to work, that’s how the rules are.

The apartments in Mehrauli are quite well-maintained, she observes on her way to the tombstone, her home, their home. She’s heard they charge 8 rupees per unit for electricity. “Saara paisa current ke paise mein hi jaata hoga”, she thinks. (They probably spend all their money on electricity bills.) She laughs in her head. It’s funny, even in her weirdest imagination, that someone could spend money in amounts she only dreamed of on something that she never had access to in her entire life. When she’s led a life of roti and kapda, without the makaan, things like electricity seem like a faraway dream.

She doesn’t remember her Ammi, she died when Masoom was born, she was only two at that time. She doesn’t recall how her Abbu used to look, but that’s a different story altogether. He was always in hiding, either from the police or from his fellow comrades, as he used to call them. Few days after he realised it’s not worth the risk and left the movement, someone shot him at 4 in the morning when he went to pee in the field. Afrah was four, Masoom was two. They didn’t have preschools then like they do in almost every street now, and Afrah had just begun to learn the alphabet, a bit of English, a bit of Urdu. Abbu used to teach her in the evenings when he was home. And now, they had no Abbu and no home. The first few months were terrible, they felt like an infant who’s sent to a marathon but never taught to walk, like the world is a matchstick and they’re a forest fire waiting to happen, vulnerable, exposed. Then, it started to sink in, the wholeness and the emtpiness, the gravity of it all-they were orphans, they would have to put an extra word before their parents’ names-“late”, the idea that they were all alone was unsettling, terrifying, especially if you’re the elder one, and especially when you’re hardly five years old.

She puts her finger on the engraving on the tombstone, she couldn’t read it, no one taught her Urdu after Abbu, but it looked like someone had carved a prayer that couldn’t be said because so little time is allotted to the ones who live, like there’s an assurance with the dead, they’re not going anywhere, they will stay dead. She tries to understand its touch, like its written in Braille, like it’s meaning will find her, tell her something about wars won and kingdoms lost, but it doesn’t. Masoom watches her from a distance, she’s the smarter one, more practical. It’s the beginning of Ramadan tomorrow, and she knows there will be good food all over the city. “Beggars look cleaner than rag pickers, so we need to look like beggars for the next 40 days”, she wisely tells Afrah, who’s half-listening to the crickets and half wondering the meaning of words she’s not able to decipher. Masoom shakes her head in disgust, she knows Afrah will spend a good half hour thinking of things that aren’t meant to be. She goes from grave to grave, picking up their clothes that she’d left to dry. Once she’s done, she braids her hair hastily but skillfully, applying coconut oil out of a used Parachute tin. After two whole minutes of persuasion, Afrah does the same. They don’t have doors to lock, windows to bolt. But it’s a habit, they look back at the graveyard once to check if everything’s in place, like people check their homes before going out, only their home looked like no one lived in it.

They go to one of the 8-rupees-per-unit-electricity-paying apartments, and knock the first door. A man in a Pathan suit, probably in his early sixties, opens the door. “You’re just in time for iftar“, he says. In a strange way, his warmth reminds her of Abbu. He leads them to a room where a few people had gathered and food was being served.

“What’s your name, beta?”, someone asks.


No one asks her what it means. Either they know, or they assume that she doesn’t. Either way, it saves her the trouble.

Happiness, Khushi, Afrah, Masoom tells her when she sees the food on their paper plates, that for once, they’re not required to wash.

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