a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
[Trigger warning: sexual harassment]
i wear the apple foam wrapper around my fleshless wrist; because my mother jumped into the
village well with the family chandi bangles after
she could not release herself from her benadryl addiction;
or the role of a mother. she said ghosts haunted her. she
slaughtered me everyday before
i learnt the role of a silent daughter.
i cut holes in used amul kool cans and stick the circles to my earlobes with sap of a
decomposing banyan tree leaf unchosen to be devoured by an army of fire ants. i let
termites scavenge my body;
my body is not my body but their nutrition.
i want to be a rajkumari but my mother’s reputation
eclipses my dreams and desires.
so i collect bakul flowers and bury them in my mouth.
i gaze at sun like my brother did
before he died from tuberculosis. he loved
paper boats and yellow taxis and gully cricket and kala-khatta golas. he hated my mother with
every last, sacred breath of his.
i trace my fingertips onto the red paan spat on rock outcrops by
rikshawalas who call me
suwar ki aulad
kali kutti; because i stood
in the middle of traffic unmoving
like a gazelle in the mouth of a gir lion
that did not have any fight left in her brittle bones.
i accept death. i celebrate it.
offer it my head as a peace offering.
i sacrifice i.
i never capitalize i for i do not deserve any ounce of respect.
i colour my forehead red to form a misshapen bindi; i stuff cigarette butts, trampled
in sand, in my brassiere stitched out of
amritsari dupattas i stole from dhobi ghat months ago;
and let the barely surviving butts burn holes into the partition of my chest.
i watch the dancing monkey show on juhu beach performed
for the middle class families where the monkey acts a puppet on command; i watch
intently to relish for two seconds
before stepping on a desi daru bottle
to punish myself for straying too long into my distracting desires. i murder my dreams
with lethal stones.
when the sun is crushed under the ocean, i run back to the jam-packed juhu circle
and beg alongside
sari-enveloped hijras who raised me after my
mother died. they taught me marathi. and how to string mogras into my hair. and apply lipstick
as rigid as a blackboard chalk. and how to survive.
but all i get from begging
is a b r o k e n packet of parle g biscuits,
a plastic bag of rotten apples,
ugly looks from housewives on mopeds that emit carbon monoxide into my nostrils;
the smoky tendrils erode the nasal cartilage.
if i am lucky,
i pocket twenty rupias and a cold vada pav in a week old newspaper that reports world
disasters and stock market crises in advanced telugu.
the scar of my belly snakes towards my throat and grips it
chokes it. a story for another day.
flute-sellers and bhutta stall owners glare at the shape of my body underneath
the unwashed thickets of hair,
calculating ways in which
i could be completely destroyed by their guns.
a parade of viscon temple preachers marches near the shore curvature. the young
protégé beats the dhols as the eldest chants a mantra,
counting rudrakash using his tilak-coloured thumb
— and i, i
cover my face, using a pinwheel that stands stoically in the freezing, abrasive ocean of
sand. i hid from brahmins and my god; for i am cursed by kaala jaadu. my mother said that
when she breastfed me milk that bore opium.
i am a panauti.
a kali billi scratching its nails on pavements — devoid of carvings of hopscotch and tic-tac-toe.
a kali billi to be killed by a hungry coyote.
i don’t utter music; music is for deity worshippers;
my touch is
dark art of poison. and misfortune.
i remove the fruit wrappers
wipe the bindi
threaten to trespass into the chemist store to steal soframycin to
for the wounds i will own eventually;
for i eat lizards for lunch and beg on streets i belong to stripping my
bones of any dignity and worth and respect
and letting old, robust men look at me with rousing flames of sexual violence to earn
das rupia that i smuggle in the holes of my chest.
my nails loiter around my chin, scraping at the scab i procured
when i bumped into a electric pole
running away from
hormonally charged boys who needed to tear my clothes and corrupt my body.
the rattlesnakes of loose wires had stung my abdomen and gave me a scar.
a small price i had to pay.
i collect seashells medical prescriptions frangipani flowers bottle caps a rabbit a broken
cpu parts of a motor vehicle carcass coconut husks garlands of marigold; are the only
items i can provide for my dowry.
i am only thirteen.
i am only a girl
with a prosthetic heart
mold growing on my lower calf clavicle with an undiagnosed infection. vomit-coloured
teeth. fever bursting behind the walls of my temple of my head. yet i dare to dream
of becoming a divine princess. as beautiful as aishwarya rai.
i plunge into a
narrow pothole and
let the dirty water scald my hairy skin — the only touch i deserve:
for the only light i am allowed to watch
is of bruised tail lights
of broken cars.
my dreams will never condense
as dancing odissi to nagaland folk music is impossible.
as is growing chameli from the womb of
a darling hibiscus.
as is looting a beggar.
yet i continue to disappoint myself and wander into a hopeless, scantily-coloured dream
forcefully stepping on the same daru bottle to
reinforce that i am
and will always be
a tarnished panauti.
undiscovered and unyielded
is the force of my body. i am
discarded carelessly like apple foam wrappers that once carefully
Arush Desai is an eighteen year old writer, student and debater from Mumbai, India. He is the author of 'Mercury Poisoning' and 'Mercury Poisoning'. He has recited spokeword poetry at TEDxYouth@PPSIJC 2022, the opening ceremony of MISA Research Paper competition and, JNAA Cascade where he stood in the first position nationally. Desai also was a guest speaker at Rotaract Club of Sion, Mumbai where he gave a speech on 'How to Publish a Poetry Book?' He finds inspiration in everything: his city, Mumbai, quantum physics, flowers, and his favourite musician, Lana Del Rey.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.