Phrased Phases

About her

Some nights, when she knows 
I am alone
she'll come down
and knock twice. 

If I catch it, I open. 

She won't enter, no. 
Not until she holds my heart
and feels it beat, at twice the speed. 

She turns me around,
and puts it back in. 
Brings her lips closer, 
as it beats quicker. 

Her fingers trace...
harsh lines from a mean bra
and her lips soothe, 
slow and steady. 

Then we go to bed
and she hugs me, heart in hand
making sure it doesnt break, 
making sure it doesnt hurt. 

Jelly for Papa

Today is my father’s birthday. Though he didn’t celebrate it much, I’m sure he would have liked to. How do I know this? I just know.

I remember that he wanted a very grand 50th birthday party, but that never happened. I guess we were just too small to be able to plan one for him. I wish we weren’t.

But we did something anyway, in our small capacity–We made jelly. Jelly has always looked very rich and glorious to me, like a precious ruby stone if the light hits it right. It was chosen that day because too much sugar has always been frowned upon in our house, and jelly wiggles around somewhere on the borders of that restriction.

Red jelly was made in a glass bowl, and a tiny silver teaspoon was slipped inside. I don’t know why. Perhaps because we needed a cause to eat through this wobbly substance that makes your teeth question their purpose.

Jelly in hand, we went to him that afternoon as a Malayalam film played on in the background. He sat on the edge of the sofa, legs stretched out and resting on our carpet, crossed at his ankle. He smiled kindly at our jelly. We sang happy birthday, and he scooped some of that shiny red onto his spoon.

It was a pathetic way to celebrate a birthday I think, but it is the only celebration of his birthday I can remember. So I made the jelly again today, on his 59th birthday. But there is no Asianet film no interrupt, there is no glass bowl, and there is no papa to spoon out glorious red jelly, and giggle at the spoon frozen inside.

There is only a void of regret, memories that wiggle near the border of sweet and unsweet, and a white bowl of jelly with a spoon stuck inside it. Purposeless jelly, serving it’s purposelessness.


A 1000 Piece Puzzle

On the 8th of January at 7:56PM, I completed my first (and last) 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. A beautiful picture titled, ‘A walk in Paris.’

Lessons from a jigsaw puzzle:

  1. Everything looks intimidating at first, sometimes you just need to go ahead and do it anyway, because otherwise you’ve just made a mess and not taken responsibility for it.
  2. Pieces that seem to fit together may not actually be meant to be together.
  3. When it gets overwhelming and stops being fun, get up and leave (for a while.)
  4. When two pieces fit, you’ll know, it’s like an orgasm.
  5. Sometimes the pieces will only make sense when you look at them from a very senseless angle (I’m talking in between your legs/ upside down/ leg around your neck type senseless.)
  6. Some pieces may not belong where you thought they did,
  7. And yet, every piece belongs, no matter how odd it may seem to you.
  8. If you force two wrong pieces together, you run the danger of ruining the pieces, and destructing the puzzle.
  9. It may be really small, it may require strong vision, but there is always a clue.
  10. It’s a fucking puzzle, don’t try to seek too many life lessons from it.

Women and Public Spaces

The following is a speech I delivered at NGAGE 2021, an event conducted by the Bangalore-based NGO Durga India, where I was the keynote speaker.

I have been invited here to answer the question- ‘How I experience public spaces as a woman.’

To get into this however, I think it is first important to identify what exactly is a public space for a woman. This is a tricky concept because to me I have always felt like my presence, my womanly existence makes any space I enter, public.

To explain, there is a constant eye on women. Everything we do, eat, wear, speak, there’s an eye on it all. An eye that is waiting to taunt, to blame–
“He raped her, because she was wearing this”, “He hit her, because she provoked him”, “They went to war, because she laughed”, “He sinned, because she gave him an apple.”

So there is something about a woman’s presence that makes every space she occupies automatically public, because suddenly it is open to comments from everyone.

So when we put it this way, the question then transforms to how I live through my daily experiences as a woman. How I survive knowing full well that I am being watched and observed.

The truth is, I survive in fear.

There is fear in walking out into the streets at any time of day, fear of laughing a little too loud, fear of wearing certain clothes, fear of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And yet even in this fear, I am privileged. I was groped on the streets at 4PM in the afternoon while taking a road I take every day. The man came to me on his Yulu bike, groped me, and then went to the end of the street and flashed me the middle finger. I was frozen still. He then proceeded to imitate the penetrative action by pushing his finger into his curled-up hand.

After this incident occurred, I did not wish to go out at all. It was too scary. In fact, in a month or two I even shifted to another country. But for many other women, such occurrences are a constant reality. It is a chance they have to take every day in order to survive.

Based on your ethnicity, religion, sexuality, abilities, caste, and overall appearance, your experience in a public space can become worse and worse. And this is precisely why we need to stress the need for intersectionality today.

We need to be aware of these differences, acknowledge them, and most importantly address them. The feminist movement in our country will only progress if we begin to accept that there are certain systemic issues that contribute to making issues worse. Because it is not progress unless we are all progressing.

Incidents like nudes being leaked, which occur every other day, or the Sulli Deals incident which occurred a while ago where Muslim women were ‘auctioned’ off online bring forth another perspective in the case of women and public spaces, which is that the private becomes the public in the case of women.

There is a tendency to view our bodies as public property, which is why we are assaulted, our nudes leaked, and even our most private experiences tailored to fit public consumption.

And so this watchful eye that is waiting to critique everything we do, combined with the burden of heavy expectations that dictate everything we do work together to exclude us from many public spaces.

The phenomenal feminist writer, Virginia Woolf, wrote at a time when women were not encouraged to speak, read, write, or even think. There is a fierce speech she delivered called ‘A Room of One’s Own,’ where she talks about how she was denied entry into libraries and certain university spaces simply because they were meant only for men and she was a woman.

Fast forward to today, there are no more restrictions in place that prohibit women from entering any place. But it still silently exists, and it is very visible if you really open your eyes. I would still think twice before entering a tea shop if it was filled with men. In fact, any space with a male majority automatically causes me to rethink- “Do I really need to go here right now? is there an alternative place? is this really urgent? can it be pushed to another time?”

This is a sad bitter truth. And it may seem small when I put it only in my perspective, but think on a larger scale. Every day, there are so many women who make the same decision to avoid certain spaces after being intimidated by the overwhelming number of men present. This also means that every day, a huge chunk of our population is excluded from certain spaces.

It is men occupying more spaces, and women adjusting further by slipping into the shadows.

What makes writers like Virgina Woolf great is that despite not having space, they created their space. They fought for it in their own ways.

Today, by attending this platform I think we have all taken a huge first step into creating this space, and for that, I would like to congratulate us all.

But I would also like to urge you all to keep creating more safe spaces, and more importantly, to talk about the fear you experience, because we can only solve an issue if we first acknowledge its presence.


How That Night Went

I have only a vague memory of this- the few sensations I could salvage from a piece of memory soaked in alcohol- it was my birthday after all.

We sat on my bed, fresh sheets- a deep red with specks of gold, laid out clean and straight a few hours before. On my body is silk. A sullen pink that could perhaps be mistaken for brown. My hair, freshly washed, so that when we sat very close to each other a few hours later- my back leaning against his chest, his chin on my head, he would be greeted with the scent of coconuts and flora.

Drunk ramblings. My mouth gushing with words that I don’t remember too well. I am overcome with emotion- a typical birthday…

Until I put my head down, covered by coconut and flora-scented hair. I am weeping.

It was the first and the last time, I wept about my father and was held with love. Topics were not changed, water was not poured.

Just two people, on a bed of fresh red, hugging and crying.

Phrased Phases

Self Deprivation

I have not written for myself

in a long time.

So I feel myself



slowly away.


Woolf on the Streets

This is a blessing of the face mask. I have finally become a lot more comfortable in public, and have successfully been able to resist the urge to only observe myself. Hiding behind it, I focus now on others and the spaces they occupy. These others are almost always men, and during some opportune moments, women.

It is easier to observe what is so common, so out there always. Men occupy the center in the large back seats of buses, they sit with their legs crossed- right ankle on left knee. They loudly proclaim business decisions, casual musings on the state, and evening plans on phone calls- allowing their voice to occupy more space than I find women occupying physically. Women choose to cram themselves into small spaces, their eyes focusing first into little screens and then at the roads and their buildings, trained eyes that don’t stop for any detours. But we must pardon my rogue eyes, for they- though once trained are now in the process of un-training.

I find that women occupy more space in men’s eyes than in the physical realm. At first, I would try my best, through ample shirt tuggings, buttonings, and layering, to prevent this kind of occupancy. I watched in awe, from my tiny little pocket, how men occupy the physical so boldly, and then allowed for a moment for self observation to mull over my inability to even begin approaching this space without thinking it over five times, without calculating the risks- the potential for embarrassment.

But then I spoke to Virginia Woolf, and she told me, through ‘A room of One’s Own’ how I must occupy more space- physically.

She told me how years ago, a woman would need to think five times, and calculate the risks- the potential for embarrassment, before she picked up a pen- the only activity that today I find myself doing with no extra thought or effort, even in public. She told me with brilliant humor, about the discomfort with which their writing occupied space- that made possible the comfort with which my writing occupies space today.

And so, thinking of all this from my corner seat, I stretched my legs out a little further, I read a funny article and laughed out a little louder, I crossed my legs- left ankle on right knee until it hurt, and played the music on my headphones loud enough to block out his unimpressive evening plans.

Most importantly I tried to steady my eyes. Raising them. Readying them to shoot back relentlessly when reluctant male eyes bounce back up from my cleavage.


This Panda Lamp

I had forgotten about this Panda lamp until a few moments ago when I realized all the three bulbs in my room did not have enough power except for when it came to ruining my already weak eyesight.

This Panda lamp was collecting dust in an old shelf. I suspected that it would not work, but it did not let me down. it shone through all the dust. It shone like a child trying to win her mother’s mythical praise. Mythical, because she had only heard it was possible, she never really experienced it. This panda lamp was eager to please.

I call it Panda lamp because it has pictures of three pandas on it. It shines with a soft yellow glow that reminds me of a therapy session I had been to in Bangalore where I started crying because my family was always fighting and I had just acknowledged that I had been abused.

Papa was strict when it came to external factors that impacted our studies- our spectacles had to be smudge free, and our study area well lit. This panda lamp was bought for me when we were in Dubai, and it cost him 20Dhs. It was bought from Al maya hypermarket- a one stop shop in the fourth floor of Lamcy Plaza- a plaza near our house that we would visit every weekend for home supplies, snacks, and free tastes before we went down to the ground floor to eat pizza and maybe an ice cream. Today, Lamcy Plaza has been burnt down, never to be rebuilt. Papa has passed away. This Panda lamp however, still shines.

Thank you papa, for this panda lamp. I love it very much now that I have rediscovered it.


The Nature of Silence

A million thoughts and ideas mock me everyday, only to come into a dead silence when confronted with an empty sheet. What to write? what to say? What to do next?

Silence is a power I wish I exercised control over. But it is a blank slate I use and misuse on many occasions. An after effect for heated arguments, to conceal episodes of immense disappointment, something to hide behind during moments of climactic confusion.

There are many well known virtues to this state of meditation. To be able to hold your silence even in the loudest calamities has been proclaimed a sign of wisdom. It allows for observation and reflection- to source minute details, tiny changes in body language, in facial expressions. Silence is in fact, a very practical implementation- and an important pre-requisite, of the ‘show don’t tell’ method.

And yet, silence is also a tool of the coward. An escape for those who don’t know how to deal with the world. A betrayal by the privileged.

I dangle often between these two perspectives, wondering where my silence would fall. I think about whether it may have dared to cross lines, and maintain even more silence in this anxiety. Didn’t my silence betray loved ones? Didn’t my silence also help me learn more? Didn’t my silence make me seem like a thoughtless fool- a heavy, soggy, sponge that soaks in whatever was poured into my ear? Didn’t my silence also seem powerful enough to convey my disproval?

An interview tip I had once heard long ago went like this- When they ask you a question, maintain silence for about 5 seconds before you answer, this helps you compose yourself, collect your thoughts, all while making you seem more thoughtful and intelligent.

But what if those 5 seconds of silence are nothing but a head start for the panic in your head? What if there are no beneficial thoughts to be collected, only sharp pieces of a cruel mirror, determined to make you reflect on your pathetic state?

Silence then, has to be accompanied with self respect, with faith in oneself. It has it’s own timing. A background and story. Perhaps all we can do is be patient, and wait for these silences to explain themselves over time.