VERSE | ALONE, JAWAB-E-SHIKWA*

I laugh unabashedly, from the belly out 
Someone has said something absurd
They all watch me in derision and doubt
This woman who shouldn’t be seen or heard
She speaks! What social license does she bear?
She’s no debutante, she’s no political heir
Yet she comes to these exclusive soirées
And instead of blurring, fading away
Into the background, this upstart lets down her hair

I walk out gaily, dressed like a queen
I bump into my neighbour, the virulent Sameen
Her face already garbed in a smug smile
She says “Where to Maha? So dressed to kill?”
I laugh loudly, her smile falters a bit
“Just to the market, to get some things
A shirt from Sapphire, two thootis* of kheer*
A tub of it’s-none-of-your-business-my-dear
Is there something you would like me to bring?

I’ve been alone these twenty five years
But I’ve never been lonely, I decided that early
I surmounted my doubts conquered my fears
It wasn’t easy, it took a few years
It took some lonesomeness, some vanishing acts
From folks I called friends and even family who cracked
Under the pressure of seeing me break out
Of the box built for me by the socially devout
But I dug in my heels, I wasn’t going back

Now there are friends and well wishers anew
In all that chaff, I found these gems too
They give me hope, they let me be me
It’s been food for my soul, this honesty
I know who I am and who I want to be
And it’s not a reflection of what society
Has plotted and planned for someone that swerves
Through fate or design, outside its bell curve
I’m contented, eccentric and oh so happy!
* Jawab-e-Shikwa: “Shikwa” (Complaint in Urdu) and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Response to Complaint) are poems written by the poet Mohammad Iqbal. They are known for their lyrical beauty and depth of thought

* Thooti: a small clay saucer in which some Pakistani and Indian desserts are sold in order to keep them cool and fresh

* Kheer: rice pudding in Urdu

VERSE | I’M HAPPY TODAY

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT:  https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSdJJQM5y/?k=1
I’m happy today, I can feel it inside
The laugh in my belly comes bubbling outside
I feel a strange lightness like I have grown wings
Yesterday’s burdens seem like faded old things

I look in the mirror while fixing my hair
I smile to myself, my reflection smiles back
I giggle aloud, my twin does the same
We go back and forth playing that funny game.

With my bag on my shoulder I step outside
I walk to the tree with the dappled sunlight
There I stand for a while to glance at the world
As the brightness of spirit around me unfurls

Two dogs amble on, happy kings of the street
A little old lady dips in her bag for a treat
The trio stand out like a painting of love
Surrounded by kindness, lit up from above

The resident Tuk Tuk is parked in the lane
Its sarong-clad driver is humming away
A handheld mirror is clutched in one hand
The other is smoothing an errant strand

He looks at me, smiles and says “Good morning”
“Where will it be to? The usual madam?”
I grin back as I sit down on the seat
Sandwiched between two photos of pedicured feet!

I arrive at my destination, feeling crazy and light
I’m still warmly cloaked in the joyful vibe
Yes! I’m happy today, it’s been pouring right out
The smile on my lips has been hard to wipe out.

VERSE | IN THE ‘EAT OF THE NIGHT

This week I said that I’d be good 
I’d stay off carbs and meat
I’d focus on healthful juices
And on salads. What a treat!

I hope you read the sarcasm
In the verse above this one
Even then, didn’t mean to offend
Tomatoes, lettuce and onions

But the intermittent fasting
From midnight to noon next day
Did me in, up to my chin
Couldn’t keep the carbs at bay!

And so my resolutions of
A healthy body and mind
They just choked, went up in smoke
My force of will became unkind

I ended up inviting in
A thousand extra calories
But dang! I’m quite determined that
Tomorrow I’ll eat only sunflower seeds

So if you feel like you’ve lost
The battle of the bulge
On good days, be resolute
On bad ones, go on and munch.

Let the heart guide you along
The mind is like Cruella*
No one needs a conscience deep
When the belly gods do yell-a!
* Cruella de Vil: a wicked character from Dodie Smith's 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”.

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