2 poems

by Akshata Kapoor

Akshata Kapoor is a high school student from Mumbai, India. A national-level debater, she can be found discussing and writing about issues surrounding gender inequality and politics. She enjoys reading Paul Beatty and Orhan Pamuk novels and listening to the Lumineers in her free time. Akshata is currently an intern at Fair Observer, a non-profit online media organisation.

Walking Down a Bombay Road Wearing Shorts

Crumbling tarmac and betel leaf puddles
fresh rain puddles and mud and red betel leaf blood


they’re wooden tree trunks
to some (mirrors) carved with a chainsaw
to others, an earthen vessel, a vase
they are brown mud puddles
but my cheeks are betel leaf red
legs are strong
leaping over the seas of bleeding lilliputians
unaware of my cheeks
are betel leaf red


Don’t look at my legs then
my legs they intimidate me
so turn my head up and away from the puddles
blue cloud sky
up
but red betel leaf eyes and tongue
ahead
is it dusk so soon?
the eyes look up and down
tongue licks up and down
and then I go back
down, down, down
back to the dead
lilliputians.

Flying: If I Were to Ever Perform Spoken Word

Sometimes I get too scared to speak in public
Especially when the naked people in front of me
Don’t look like me
when they’re naked
I’m kidding, imagining people naked is just about as useless
as thinking of sheep jumping over a fence
I think it is because
these sheep are always white
why are these sheep always so white?
fluffy, like the cotton candy that is sold in questionable plastic bags along street corners
fluffy, like the dandelions in all the Western movies
that I dreamed of, growing up
that took one trip to Britain for me to discover
were just weeds
desperately needing controlling.
I take too much time then to test
whether my muddy, decidedly un-fluffy
Indian goats
will work as well as your Western remedy
(they don’t by the way, only the sheep can make us sleep)
And so, when these not-naked people are not
brown like goats I am familiar with


I freeze.


I freeze like it’s not possible to under the hot Bombay sun.
As I say this, I realise “Mumbai sun” sounds unnatural
you see how the tongues of your ancestors
have somehow managed to shape
the depressions of my cavernous mouth,
like they shaped the depressions in our soil
Because although I stand silently
this cavernous mouth secretly wishes to scream out “MUMBAI SUN!”
even though it sounds wrong in my head
(how can we hear things in our head? do white men control this too?
because everything sounds wrong in my head)
my mouth itches to bellow out an “Arre”
whose centuries of frustration will roll on my tongue far better
and further
than your eyes can roll in their sockets
but these phrases disappear to hide somewhere
inside my long nose and stomach rolls
Arre.

Because I realise, my words,
which I think sound like
butter oiling a cast-iron tava
cruder, but without the metallic after-taste
of your stainless steel tongue,
will sound like an arranged marriage of your language and mine
to you
if that is the case, then I assure you
mine has paid her dowry
a hundred times over.
And I realise too how hypocritical I must sound
speaking a medley of your words
for I cannot express myself in my own


But you,
you stripped us of our verandas
and exploited our words until we chose to
forgo our open air porches
remain stuck indoors
behind the gates you threatened to lock up
realising that we’d rather
lock them ourselves
than lose anything else to you.
You forced us to change the way we stress our t’s
haven’t you had your fill of stealing our tea?
Chai, you wish to correct me
I can only speak your version of my language when I speak your language,
those are the rules, right?
I guess Chai does make you sound somewhat superior
but somehow it just makes me sound more exotic.


I hate that word exotic
not because it tells me how I must put henna
or fashion my bindi
as if it were my grandmother
(by the way, grandmother wishes to tell you that your pickles are a sorry excuse for pickle)
but because the way you say exotic
sounds so good
yet when I try, I sound like like a hormonal teenager
stressing at all the wrong times
for all the wrong reasons
saying exo-TICK as if I hope
that by emphasising the tick enough
I can correct all your wrongs
of course, it was never meant for me to say anyway.


Sometimes I get too scared to speak in public
because, to you
I smell like all the curry and incense
of your cathartic journey East
and my skin looks like some strange mocha, cinnamon, honey blend
which, like your accent
sounds perfect to my western-moulded ears
but, like your accent
it would would taste terrible in my very Indian mouth.


Sometimes I get too scared to speak in public
Because what scares me more than speaking
is not being heard.
What scares me more than facing this crowd
is that this crowd will not see me beyond my face
not hear be beyond my voice
not listen to me, beyond my screams
at least that’s what my grandfather said it felt like.


I judge myself through your eyes
for your eyes were all the movies I ever watched
and all the books I ever read
my people are not considered incredibly literary by your people
and hence by my people.
I judge myself through your eyes,
because your eyes are like
strangers’ eyes
on a Mumbai local
which stay on me
a second too long
enough to make me intensely uncomfortable
Please leave.


Sometimes I get too scared to speak in public
But maybe, its time I speak in public
because my grandparents never could
because
this historical baggage is getting too heavy
It’s time you acknowledge
and remove
the checks and obstacles
and security measures
that you set up
a century of colonialism ago
So that we too can board the flight
that took off for you
before we could even dream of
flying.