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What it means

To walk as though my feet are mine
To eat as though I can be nourished
To sleep as though I know how to be still
To breathe as though I won't be punished.

To awake as though I matter
To know at once that I don't
To understand the beauty of never having mattered
The vagabond freedom of being nothing, no one.

To hear the screams of others in my throat
And forget my own singing voice
To trade selfish joy for borrowed sorrow
And never notice when it became mine.

To be hoarse with thoughts
And ill with feeling
To be queasy with questions
And feverish with fright.

To be weary of the world,
To wear the world on my body
To wear my body on the world
As though we are one
As though we were never two
As though we can touch without hurting
And be without breaking.

To close my eyes
and die for a moment
As though I am alive
The rest of the time.

To seek warmth as though I deserve it
To demand love as though I've earned it.

To hold air in my lungs
And feel how fragile the thread
That stitches heartbeats together

To hold pain in my palm
And feel how strong the skin
Etched with memory
Tattooed with trauma
Branded with guilt.

This is what it means
To watch, to witness
And count the ways in which I'm dismembered
Out of reach

As though I was never there.

Pictures in my drawer

CW: Depression, child abuse

Try not to touch me there
These are bruises I’ve been trying to understand
I don’t want them to hurt you too
They’ve been there for so long
I wonder if they’re birthmarks,
Wounds from a previous lifetime.

Try not to touch me there
I was hoping you wouldn’t have to see these parts of me
But when you slipped my dress off,
My guards fell to the ground with the cloth
And you didn't lower your gaze.

If you look closely enough,
You’ll see
These bruises are alive
Some days they darken
And some days I almost forget
That I am broken.

Some days, the love in your voice
Makes me cry uncontrollably
The shape of your foot
Makes me want to run for miles
I am angry that you adore me
And bored to death
Of the many tender ways you say my name.

Some days, I cannot pick up the phone because you’re calling
And I want to talk to you.

Sometimes, I'm afraid
Of strangers who've stolen my intimacy
I lose sight of you when I can’t find the rest of me.

We make love all night and I cannot recognise you in the morning
You reach for me
And your sweet murmuring disappears into the sheets
I have left.

I'm with her now.
She tells me to draw,
Because she says
I was hurt before I could speak in full sentences.

Maybe that’s why I talk too much, too cheerful, too loud, too intense,
Too offensive to be heard.

I draw a picture that is red for never-ending agitation
Black for lingering heaviness
And blue for an old sadness.

I keep the drawing,
Folded in my drawer.
It is comforting to have a picture
Of your sorrow.

She tells me to listen
To the voice of my younger self
But it’s not my love that little girl wants.

I cry every time I talk to the empty armchair
The one the little girl is in
I can’t see her
But I avoid her eyes.

She pinches, scratches and spits at me
When your teeth bite your tongue,
Who do you get angry with?

She tells me to jump off the top of our HDB flat
This child I am too busy to heal.

She will stay, because we tend to stay with our struggle
She’ll stay, because familiarity is a powerful thing
She’ll stay, because we can’t tell anyone else what happened.

So stop asking
And try not to touch me there
I have a few more pictures in my drawer now
I have almost no family in my life now.

I’ve stopped drawing on paper
Now I’m drawing boundaries
I’m building bridges
I’m leaving my sins out in the rain
I’m wearing my pain on my fingertips.

Hold my hand
Walk with me on eggshells

Till they're dust beneath our weight
Run your tongue along the edge of each bruise

But try not to touch me there
You don’t know what it feels like
Maybe I don’t want to know what it feels like.

I had sex.

The boy across the aisle catches my eye, and we have sex. Right there, in the middle of the library, my flushed face and his teasing smile copulating wildly. After that, I'm pregnant with the possibility of romance for a week, clutching my pillow between my writhing legs, doing him over and over again. He lives in my head and sleeps in my bed till I've exhausted my imagination.

He's not the only one. I also have sex with the folks at the gym. Every Monday evening after work, there are new bodies, new odours. Each one glorious and unglamorous. Sweat rolling down our moaning bodies, we twitch in rhythm. Skin clings to cloth and muscles cling to pain. My bones discovers new sensations, new powers. After fourty-five minutes, heart racing, blood pumping through my veins, I release.

When I get on the bus, I have sex with my book. The words leap off the pages and slip their fingers under my shirt, feeling for my sweet spots. I don't resist. Senses aroused, I cling to the chapter with rapt attention. The story consumes me with its twists and turns, and I find myself gripping the edge of my seat. It takes me to a different place. I surrender, losing myself completely in the plot. Right before the climax, the driver steps on the brakes and I'm flung across my seat, rudely torn apart from my lover. It's my stop. I brush my hair out of my face and gather my things hurriedly. As the bus pull away, I stand on the pavement catching my breath, tingling from top to toe and wondering if my seat is wet.

When I'm lonely, I lie on my back in the grass, stare into the night sky and have long-distance sex. When someone reads poetry in Tamil, their lips and my ears have sex. When I smell the first drops of rain before they fall to the ground, the air and my lungs have sex.

When we lie next to each other without touching, but I feel your body heat prickle my skin and I'm wide awake at 2am with desire, it's maddening sex. At the thought of almost kisses from years ago, my pulse quickens, my stomach clenches and it's nostalgic sex. When we reach for each other across class and caste oppression, and fight human fragmentation with our naked bodies, it's revolutionary sex. When I want to disappear into you, when you want to disappear into me, it's transcendental sex.

My sex is on its own journey, backpacking across borders. For the first time, I think about a woman when I touch myself. For the first time, I ask you to blindfold me. For the first time, I tell him what I like. For the first time, I say no. For the first time, I say yes. I don't have enough hymens for all these first times but yet they tell me I'm a virgin because I need a penis to know my vagina, I need pain to know my pleasure, I need penetration to know my desire.

When our clothes are on but our guards are down, they say, it's not sex. I'm not naked enough, my body isn't vulnerable enough, my lover isn't happy enough. My sex isn't good enough for biology textbooks, porn, marriage or procreation. So I try and put my finger in to pave the road for a penis, but my vagina recoils and my body shuts down. The sex leaks out of my pores and I am left sore, empty and afraid.

I have vaginismus, a condition that makes any kind of vaginal penetration extremely painful or impossible. It's a muscle spasm I can't control, a conversation that disturbs friends, a reality that confuses lovers. It's not uncommon, but its unheard of.

It's treatable, though. Then I can fuck just like everyone else. Because, you know, all this other stuff isn't really sex, right?

But maybe, instead, what if we stopped pretending that there's only one story? That my vagina is broken, that sex is about performance, that my experience is incomplete, that it can ever be complete, that my body doesn't know what it wants, that doctors do, that we all fuck the same way, that we all want to fuck the same way.

I close my eyes and clutch every memory of intimacy with self and strangers, with stars and storms. I think of every body I've wrapped mine around and rock slowly, drink
deeply from the bottomless well of my pleasure. I have sex.


We tape our lives up into cardboard boxes, bold letters scrawled across the surface of each one. Only the surface is bold. Inside, we are fragile items, trying not to bump against each other in case we might break.

I'm having trouble packing. My memories are too unruly to fit neatly into empty cartons stolen from the mama shop downstairs. A- test papers and dramatic love letters sit awkwardly beside crumbling photo albums and practical shoes. What do I take? What do I leave?

My favourite nightgowns shriek with indignation when I pick fashionable PJs over their comforting floral prints. But sacrifices must be made, my mother tells me.

Old trinkets try to catch my eye and the veena snaps its strings with anxiety. Not all of us accept rejection with the same grace.

There are other questions, bigger questions. Who do I want to remember? Which parts of me do I want to keep? Things trigger thoughts like bullets through my brain. I know the things I leave behind are thoughts that might never surface again. This, too, is how we die. In small parts, in forgotten memories, in things left behind. And so, as I pack, I cull. I curate.

The little girl next door takes the swing from our balcony. My mother is happy that it's going to a child. I'm just sad that it's going. I cup the memory of my mother sitting there sipping her tea in the afternoons, and hope I won't forget how it feels to watch her in her happy place.

Our couch goes to my cousin's new home. They're much stiffer, that family. They won't snuggle into the corners we've warmed or sprawl over the long conversations, late night movies and comfortable silences that sit next to them. I wonder if they will notice the tiny scribbles of a free-willed child on the cushion or the worn fabric where I tried to scrub off period blood.

We give all our childhood books to the karang guni man. I wonder if he will notice that our names, classes and sometimes, our birthdays are scribbled on the first page. My sister's name typically followed by "The Great", and mine by a standard illustration of a spiral sun with triangular rays.

I give him my earlier self's stamp books, sticker books and drawing pads; my sappy romance novels and borrowed travel guides; my attempted diaries, unfinished lecture notes, clumsy poems and rushed college essays. He takes my words, read and written. This is the hardest goodbye. Standing in front of my empty bookshelf, I sneeze. I don't know if it is the dust or the loss I'm allergic to, but I take my antihistamines and wear my N95 mask, protecting my respiratory system from my quickly disappearing home and pretending that only my body and not my heart is suffering.

Watching the house disappear a little more every day is like walking backwards in slow motion, away from someone you love, or like watching a favourite film on fast forward with people who think it's rubbish. It is strange and familiar, too fast and too slow. I feel like I'm standing on my head, but can't figure out if my world is turning upside down or if it's me that's the wrong way around. I want to laugh and cry, freeze time with my tears, hug and hold everything so close, so tight, that we can't be peeled apart.

Finally, we clean out the closets and roll up the carpets. When we're done stripping the house of us, we stand there, naked. Embarrassed. Our knees are shaking, our palms are sweating, and with the clocks gone from the walls, we can't tell how quickly it will all be over.


It was so long ago, I imagine more than I remember.

I remember the way his white school uniform hung on his frame.
The too much body hair.
His large front teeth.
The way he said my name.
The way I felt when he said my name.

I imagine how it must feel to hold him.
To look into his eyes without either of us looking away.
To kiss him without feeling guilty
To walk hand in hand, unafraid.
To reach for him, unashamed.
To not be watched as we discovered each other.
To not watch ourselves as we discovered each other.

In the day, I never felt it was alright to love him, for him to love me. There was an age limit, and we didn't pass it. But at night, I fell asleep to fantasies of alright-ness, of legitimate love. Where we smiled fully and held hands that didn't tremble. Where I wasn't a mistake, and didn't have to be a sacrifice. In these fantasies, we were real people, not secrets we tucked into our pockets on the way home from school. Each night, I lay in bed, making up for the wrongness of each day we spent together. My imagination cured my inadequacy, erased our delinquency.

I wanted him so much my bones ached. I knew it was love before he cut my name into his hand. We were a bundle of suppressed hormones, a caricature of comical desperation and under the influence of waaaay too much tamil movie romance. Our world was volatile, adventurous, dramatic, pathetic and utterly beautiful. I knew love like I never knew it before, and couldn't know it after. It was fierce, sweaty, unapologetic and I filled every inch of it. I was inside it, it was inside me. When I was dry, I drank from it. When I was hurt, I wrapped it around my body and kept warm. I was on fire.

I learnt fast that I couldn't love him the way he wanted me to. With restraint. My love wasn't well-mannered. It missed him too much to follow the rules. It wasn't punctual, polite or perfunctory. It was neither upper-caste, nor vegetarian enough. Most of all, it didn't like to be put in its place by his parents. His parents were everywhere. They were every car that drove past my busstop, every lampost I hurried past on evening walks, every silhouette sitting next to me in the cinema, every shadow that fell across my path. So I stayed in the shadows.

In our love, I felt both hidden and exposed, sacred and profane. Judged by visible and invisible gods. I was at once a goddess and a dirty secret. He taught me bad words like everlasting, undying, forevermore. I rolled them around in my mouth and grew to like their sound.

So I didn't hear him at first when he said goodbye. I laughed before I cried. Suddenly, I had to learn new words like rejection, loneliness, coping. Coping. For a while, I remembered everything. And then, some things. And then, fewer things.

When we met again, there were butterflies. Our bodies remembered. He tried to call it teenage foolishness.

Did it stop being real, or did we? I wondered.

I let him have his truth. By now, I had learnt restraint.

But I wasn't about to fade out my sixteen year old feelings, rewrite what was left of my memories. I had stepped out of the shadows.

A part of me wants to kiss him again, without accusation; love him again, without censure. So I don't have to imagine. We're old enough now for our choices to count, for our feelings to matter, for our families to be quieter about their disapproval. But sometimes, I think, it's hard to get to know someone for the second time. What if he disappoints my imagination?

Behind closed doors.

Not all cages are made of metal. Some are built with bricks and cement. They are painted with bright, happy colours. They have roofs and walls, quiet walls. They have doors without handles, and beds without bodies that fit into each other. They have curtains that are difficult to pull apart and children who cannot hear their own voices.

What does the word 'home' mean to you?

Not all cages are made of metal. Some are carved from skin and bones. Frozen tongues, clamped jaws and lips that have forgotten familiarity. She bangs on their doors every night, begging to be let in. She bleeds. Blood is thicker than water. It clots, clogs, stains and seeps into the deep crevices of her insecurity, the stench filling her mind with who she should have been, who they wanted her to be. Her body is shaped like a bow from the hundreds of arrows she has released. None of them protect her in a world where at home, she cannot let her hair down, she cannot keep her skin unbroken or her soul intact. She is many fragments, each one swept under the carpet, hidden in the closet.

What does the word 'family' mean to you?

They say you store your sorrow in your belly. Hers is swelling from the beatings she won't talk about, bloating with all the water she drinks to wash away the pain, inflating with the desperate air she gasps when she wakes up from nightmares she cannot separate from reality. The only inheritance they left her was the violence that lingers behind her eyelids, around her nails and in the core of her belly.

How many smiling photographs does it take to imagine a happy childhood?

Not all cages are made of metal. Not every dark alley is dangerous and not every home is a sanctuary. She waits on the other side of the door, waiting not to be let in, but to be let out. She is an unwanted child, a neglected mother, an abused wife, a bullied sister. She is homeless.

Sometimes, are we safer amidst strangers in the lift?


This unspoken love,
You write to me on dead trees,
Bringing them alive.

Post me your beating heart,
Handwritten tears, pencil-drawn laughs,
Your vulnerability flutters in my hand.

Envelopes of reassurance,
stamps of certainty,
I hold up these paper witnesses,
and fold away my insecurity.

I didn't think I could love trees any more than I already did.
Now I know otherwise.
I didn't think I could love you any more than I already did.
Now I know otherwise.

A respiratory problem

I've had some trouble with my breathing for a while. The doctors don't know why. Each time I inhale, I feel the anxiety of a child blowing tentatively into a balloon that's about to burst, wondering if it will hold out just a little longer. Today, it's worse than usual. I gasp, waiting for my lungs to give up on the world and explode. A regular dose of obnoxious, rat-racing, everchanging, greedy, upper middle-class, unapologetically consumerist, I-don't-give-a-damn-about-the-exploitation-of-the-poor-or-the-dying-planet air is too much for their timid tissue. My trachea recoils from the guilt. With all that stuff in the air, there's no wonder I'm not getting enough oxygen. I try to catch my breath. Did you know newspapers could cause respiratory problems? It's something in the ink, the words they bring alive, the uncensored truths and the unabashed lies. The war that I cannot see has gotten under my skin and punctured the confidence I used to hold in my lungs and so now, I cannot find my scream, my resistance, or my indignation. I try to catch my breath.

The doctor says I have to give up caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol. He says they rip my body apart, and I tell him he's wrong. They're the bandages I wrap around the gaping holes in my body; they're the lullabies that sing my hurting soul to sleep. They're the calm after the storm, the balm that makes every human indignity a little less painful. They're the barely-there stitches that hold together what's left of my hope and stop the bleeding so I can cope.

I don't go to the doctor anymore. I don't go to the doctor because he can't end poverty, inequality or stop the man next door from telling me what I was wearing in his wet dream last night. I don't go to the doctor because he can't give the oppressed their voice back nor silence the powerful when they defend discrimination and hatefulness. He can't change the unfair laws that keep me up at night or stop "development" projects from raping the earth. But mostly, I don't go to the doctor anymore because he doesn't believe me. He sees me gulp in a strangled breath of air and tells me that I'm imagining it. That my body is fine and the world is alright. The problem, of course, is in my mind.

Crowded Out

Right. Wrong. Gray areas.
I trip over these boxes
In your crowded mind.


In your quiet eyes,
I discover hidden maps
Leading to your soul.



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