Bending Over Backwards

By Kaisera Kanwar

Renouncer or householder? Ancient yogic traditions and tensions travel into the COVID19 induced domestic bubbles of many bored, well to do Indians.

Alamy stock photo; lady in a yoga pose multitasking

As the Coronavirus crisis threatens abstinence from physical traversal for an undetermined period of time and a complete collapse of the ‘family-package’ travel economy, Reena and Rohit of Fair Woods Apartment Complex find their domestic bubble becoming increasingly uneventful and restrictive. The body and mind after lockdown day 6 or 13 itches for stimulus that does not necessarily originate from a pixelated screen or a heated family discussion over government policies (Rohit’s father insists on advocating for PM Modi like he was paid a salary for it).

When Reena renounced a certain working and land traversing portion of her daily life due to dire circumstances such as these, she never expected to dive so deeply into the role of the householder. The physical space of the house gained prime importance over Janta curfew night and all efforts were redirected towards the creation of comfort within its four walls.

Reena and Rohit has always been responsible for their household but for the first time after marriage they found themselves demanding more than – “Please get the groceries on your way back home” or “The maid needs to be paid”. The household was now not their groceries, their maid or the beds being made, but rather two individuals creating a comfortable routine around each other. Truly, holding the house together.

They may or may not have known how to independently function their complicated washing machine, make rice or even put together a neat little shopping list, but now the responsibility of the house and its upkeep lies on their shoulders. The usual suspects– the maid, the mother, the part time help are no longer around to bear the burden. Lo behold, they now hold a broom or a ladle in their hand. Their involvement was maybe not voluntary but it soon became necessary.

The first few days of lockdown excited Rohit, so many choices and possibilities! To shave or not to shave, to sweep in the morning or in the evening, to watch Netflix in bed or on the couch, to drink tea on their balcony or in bed, makhani dal or dum aloo for dinner? These choices provided stimulus that lasted (quite sadly) for only a week or so.

Reena on the other hand felt stifled from day one. How could a travel loving creature like her find solace within a two bedroom apartment. How many more times could she sweep and sanitise the house as the death count rose, before anxiety and panic would overwhelm her fragile, in-door emotions? Boredom was also slowly getting to her.

Also, how do the average Rohit or Reena of India mould their domestic routines? First, they respond to external stimulus (here the formidably contagious COVID19) and second, they learn from their respective families. Be it over a phone call, video meeting or in person, a human often reaches out to relatives and moulds their routines in accordance to past family practices. We mimic (or aspire to reinvent) certain disciplined practices that have travelled over generations into our own personal domestic routines. The time we wake up, what we use as make up or how we plate up!; man bending backwards

Another strain of sociology that makes appearances during such distressful times is the tendency to renounce. Reena had always found comfort in her close knit family, where several crucial roles like the nurturer, the bread earner etc. were normatively assigned to particular members due to their gender or age. This social structuring allowed Reena to renounce certain household responsibilities and invest time and effort into other matters that interested her, like work and travel. But would a situation like this alter Reena’s renouncer tendencies?

Having given up physical travel, Reena could now opt to travel either within the confines of the house (hello, monotony!), through digital space (the incessant scrolling, clicking and tapping) or through time.

Photo albums were dusted and fondly perused, old recipes rediscovered, forgotten playlists of music looped, old friends reached out to and most interestingly, old traditions or physical knowledge was dug out from either the recesses of Reena and Rohit’s own memories or their close relatives (leisurely calls to cousins, mothers, fathers and others were made). One such physical tradition that found increased mention and eventual embodiment within their domestic COVID19 bubble was yoga! Popularly propagated as an ancient practice that emphasises meditation, exercise and inner peace, Rohit found that several of his colleagues, relatives and friends were now initiating conversations about the practice of yoga. He wondered why?

The answer lies in the human need for gratifying sensory stimulus and physical movement. Sensations that one often experiences during a trip to a foreign land can closely be mimicked at home by simply stretching out both muscles and memory, and here lies the affinity towards yoga especially for adults like Reena and Rohit trapped within their homes.

The ancient yogic traditions once preached not only meditation, flexibility and inner peace, but also, alchemy, miracles and painful practices. But when yoga entered the postmodern period it found itself increasingly interpreted as a ‘physical culture’ with added elements of gymnastics and calisthenics. The asanas became less extreme, the purpose more docile and the practice increasingly westernised. But, “an asana after an asana after an asana is power”, regardless of which time period we are in.

Reena, a renouncer by nature first engaged with yoga when she felt unenthusiastic and uninterested about her days in lockdown. She remembered twisting and bending a little during school yoga sessions, but never after. Here she was now during the COVID19 lockdown seeking an escape in the physical practice of yoga, but what she found was the ability to not only bend backwards but also back in time.

Thus, I propose that yoga is a form of travel, namely a journey that not only physically transports the individual to bend, twist and stretch on a mat, but also to trace the recreation of the mystic, often painful yogic traditions associated with spies, ascetics, sages and warriors to a contained postmodern ‘physical culture’ which emphasises fitness and calmness.

When Reena chose yoga amidst the COVID19 tensions and anxiety, she chose to engage with a practice that transported her back several centuries and introduced the complex yogic tussle between renouncer and householder into her domestic bubble. So when today, the average Reena or Rohit of this country turn to their respective mats to bend backwards, they are effectively travelling into the spiritual and physical universe of the yogis. The ‘decline of the supernatural yogic powers in favour of theism’ may have muted certain aspects of the tradition but yoga still incorporates elements of spiritual travel in one’s stationary lifestyle. The Nath yogi may have gained enlightenment and yogic perception from their wild, vagabond-ish ways and travels (yogic traditions are often linked to ‘cultural outsiders/travellers recognized by their matted hair, ashes, rags and iron implements’), but the very stripped down physical culture also reinvents the possibility of (a) travelling through time and (b) moving towards a spiritual goal.

The path charted by a yogi was often scrutinised in order to determine how powerful his practice was. Similarly, today Reena wonders whether an hour long class would benefit her more than the measly 20 minutes she has been practising for the past week. Rohit insists that 20 minutes for yoga are enough as she can then spend more time helping him out with the preparation of breakfast, but Reena is conflicted. Something within her practice of yoga demands more detachment from her than she has been able to provide during this time. She understands that she cannot sit and practice breathing techniques with no end in sight but the need to immerse herself completely in the meditativeness of yoga appeals greatly to her.

Rohit on the other hand has difficulty understanding how Reena is able to completely zone out during such a crisis. He understands that they both need the relaxation and physical exercise, but he sees her drifting away from her household responsibilities. “Has the yoga gotten to her?”, he wonders.

As Reena or even you, sit cross legged and attempt to practice breathing technique, there are two goals in mind – physical exercise and stilling the mind. In doing so, one wonders whether you are renouncing certain worldly responsibilities or helping yourself become a better, more calm and efficient householder?

Several Hindu texts narrate stories of the miracle-working, unpredictable Nath yogis who would often swing between the roles of the worldly renouncer who detaches himself to immerse completely into the yogi’s practice or finds himself anchored to a household where ‘real word demands’ force him to settle into the normative societal routine.

This struggle to pinpoint the ideal path or philosophy behind yogic traditions holds relevant even today. As a young working professional juggling between household chores, sanitising, valuable ‘me time’ and work from home through digital mediums, one wonders whether those moments you choose to practice yoga are means of momentary renunciation of your daily troubles or a mere distraction. Can the shravasana for example, momentarily detach you from the troubles of not finding groceries, empty bottles of dettol, frequent hand-washing, anxiety surrounding COVID19 deaths etc. and allow a moment of escape. Is the practice of yoga closer to physical travel in terms of exposure and stimulation than we ever imagined? Is it possible that the sensory stimulus and cognitive gains that one receives practicing yoga is now, during the COVID19, the most accessible form of ‘travel’?

It has been argued through Nath yogic legends and tales, that ‘there is greater value in the renunciate’s path than in the householder’s family life’, but one could argue that fulfilment is imagined and felt differently by different individuals. Therefore, both the Reena and Rohit may choose to travel from within their COVID19 bubble, but their means of travel may differ. Rohit may choose to traverse virtual journeys that challenge notions about the physical feel of a distant land while consistently playing the role of the dedicated householder, while Reena could renounce certain responsibilities and engage with a physical tradition that allows for travel across centuries and spiritual movement. Both these COVID19 reinterpretations of ‘travel’ deconstruct certain preconceived notions about physical movements and their joys.

Rohit has now by lockdown day 22 come to terms with Reena’s fondness for yoga. He understands that the tug of war between the renouncer and the householder will persist during this lockdown period, but in remaining constrained inside the four (very well sanitised) walls of their home they may choose to ‘travel’ on paths that don’t necessarily put them at risk.

So for now, Reena is bending back to the future of sensory and spiritual travel, and hopes that even after the COVID19 crisis subsides she will have gained new skills of movement and travel that don’t require a plane ticket, physical destination or backpack. And Rohit is puzzling over whether to make potato curry, potato fry or potato dry (you see, the vegetables have run out!).


Gold, Daniel, and Ann Grodzins Gold. “The Fate of the Householder Nath.” History of Religions, vol. 24, no. 2, 1984, pp. 113–132. JSTOR, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

Reviewed Work: Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White; Review by: June McDaniel

Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 79, No. 2 (JUNE 2011), pp. 538-540 (3 pages). Published by: Oxford University Press

Gold, Ann Grodzins. “The Once and Future Yogi: Sentiments and Signs in the Tale of a Renouncer-King.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 48, no. 4, 1989, pp. 770–786. JSTOR, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

Gerbarg, Patricia & Brown, R.P.. (2005). Yoga: A breath of relief for Hurricane Katrina refugees. Current Psychiatry. 4. 55-67.


Crown of wild, unruly curls
Heart of fickle fire
Soul with the wilful wings of want
She was no angel nor devil
But oh , oh why would she ever be just a human?
She was so much more ….
Life in evermore !
She was the beyond, the belief, the beauty
And so much more ….
Life in evermore !

~ By Kaisera Kanwar

Childhood’s Takeoff

By Ishaan Garg

When I walk down the lane,
I often sense the pain,
That I tried a lot to save,
But all in vain.

When I walk down the lane,
A thought hits my brain,
Those bats of twenty-two yards,
Are no more in the game.

When I walk down the lane,
I see the lake, its the same
Where the painting made of dove,
Turned into the feeling of love.

When I walk down the lane,
I feel the emotions turning plain,
When the tears roll when I cry,
She fondles my face with love,
And waits for the tears to dry.

When I walk down the lane,
I see the memories drain,
With the time sadly passing by,
I just wait for the lady to call,
We are ready to fly.

I won’t walk down this time,
Because it’s time for me to fly high,
Bidding my gracious childhood,
A final goodbye!


Meet Me At The OM! #yogadiaries

21st June 2019
Entry I

As we celebrate the ancient practice of yoga on this day and as I complete my fourth yoga class at the Sivananda Yoga Centre (, I have decided to document the journey of discovering yoga and the many muscles of my feet !

Yoga often knocked on my door in the form of school mandated lessons and Yoga Day celebrations. I enjoyed it but never regularly practised asanas. About two months back I found myself with more time than I could hope to while away on my bed and hence decided to try my hand at a trial yoga class. The experience was great ! I felt stretched physically and relaxed mentally. The Om chanting reminded me of the powerful Omkar meditation I had tried my hand at 3 years back at Isha Foundation in Tamil Nadu (which I had thoroughly enjoyed and practised thereafter). All in all, I could have easily joined then and there, but due to some academic classes (and sheer laziness) I chose not to.

Fast forward to now, with a highly motivated partner (in form of a cousin sister who has just flown down from Bombay) I am enrolled for a month at the centre. I highly recommend having a partner, it helps with waking up on time and you can also share ‘muscle discovery’ notes!

The next post will dive deeper into what the first few classes were like, so stay tuned ! (This series will be limited to 10 posts or less)

Lastly, do drop a comment if you have / are currently practising / plan to practise yoga ! What has your experience been like ?

~ Kaisera Kanwar
Founder YWC

Ishaan Garg

Ishaan Garg is a positive boy of 19, who hails from the heritage city of Gwalior and is currently studying at Christ University, Bangalore. The habit of writing developed accidentally, when he was somewhat in a state of stress. His writings decode the reality of life, world and the holistic learning, he received from the society, and also one’s understanding towards it.


कुछ सुनने की तलभ थी,
दिल ही दिल हसीन सपनों से भरी एक नदी थी,
इशारों भरे समझौतों में वो बेशरत प्यार कि बर्नी थी,
उसके हाथों में मेरा हाथ देख, वक़्त की भी साँसें थमी थीं,
इन सबके बीच, बस उस प्यार के इहज़ार की कमी थी,
जिसे सोच कर मेरी दिल की धड़कने भी सहमी थीं,
कुछ ऐसी उनकही सी थी वो प्रेम कथा,
जिसकी दास्ताँ सिर्फ़ ख़ुदा के दरबार में बनी थी। 


 कुछ बातें अनकही सी, दिल ही दिल दफ़न हो जाती है,
होंटों तक आती है, पर बयाँ नई हो पाती है,
कहो, तो सज्जन्नों को तख़लीफ पहुँचाती है,
ना कहो, तो मनुष्य को अवसाद के चक्रवूयह में फाँसती है,
क्या वर्चस्व है, ऐसे लोकतंत्र का,
क्या महत्व है, इंसानियत से भारी भावनाओं का,
जब दिल ही दिल, चंद अनकही बातें, 
मनुष्य का बहुमूलए जीवन, उससे छीन जाती है।


गुमनामी की सरहद पर भटकता,
एक प्यार का प्यासा जीव,
बस एक ख़्याल दौहरता, गुनगुनाता,
पल भर बस यह सोचता,
यह क्या ज़ुल्म है जो समाज को बर्दाश्त नहीं,
यह क्या वाक्य है जो आज की आराधना नहीं,
यह क्या गुण है, जसकी कोई शिक्षा नहीं,
यह कैसा प्यार है, जिसमें कोई बंधन नहीं,
यह कौनसी इंसानियत है, जिसमें कोई मानवता नहीं,
क्या यही है मौजूदि दुनिया, जिसमें स्नेही प्रमाण नहीं,
या यही वो भरम्माण है, जिसमें बसी गुमनामी कहीं।

Sabah Kaur Mann

Sabah Kaur Mann is a young writer and poet based out of Jalandhar. She practices formal poetry and inspirational prose to accentuate societal problems that people face in their day to day life. She prefers to write under a pen name – ‘Genesis’ which is interpreted as the origin of a new beginning.

The Girl Who Cried

By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

I’m writing this to the girl who cried,
I’m sorry you felt like you died.
I know this wouldn’t make it fine,
So forgive me if I crossed a line.

I see you waiting after all this time,
With no one sparing you a single time.
I know you went through a terrible life,
Believe me you’ll get through this strife.

I know my words seem like a lie,
But these horrible times will surely die.
You will soon bloom like the Queen-of-the-Night,
And will positively get through this plight.

The girl who cried was once my name,
But sadly no one told me the same.
I died each night, each time, each day,
But I couldn’t ever follow this way.

So save yourself it’s all I ask,
Don’t burden yourself with every task.
Just be yourself and dry your tears,
Scream and let go of all your fears.

Just A Tide

By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

You can be the wisp,
or you can be the storm.
It might be rough,
yet you needn’t conform.

They might try to thaw,
from ice to ash.
If that flays you raw,
try not to crash.

No need to dry,
those tears you hide.
Whenever you cry,
remember, it’s just a tide.

You are yourself,
no change required.
They can’t put you on a shelf,
you aren’t some ‘thing’ acquired.


By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

Welcome to the world,
Where terror isn’t a crime.
So many people have hurled,
Somehow, nothing changed over time.

I’m puffed-up and proud,
To call myself an army brat.
I stand out in a crowd,
No matter where I’m at.

See, everyone in our nation,
Can sleep a peaceful sleep.
Because my father at his station,
Makes sure that we do not weep.

Yet, bigoted politicians,
Do not seem to care.
They have made it their missions,
To use words to ensnare.

They negotiate with the enemies,
And always protect their skin.
Feeding on our amenities,
They betray their own kin.

We wished those unfulfilled words of honour,
Become a wisp of hope.
Patriotism lost its valour,
And somehow meant a necklace of rope.


By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

How many women believe,
That the wrongs happening to them are right?
How many women will grieve,
For the events that happen to them every night?

I’m not telling you to take it,
Nor fake it and say, “It’s alright”.
I’m asking you to not just sit,
And act like it’s not a problem just cause it’s out of sight.

Nobody has the right to tell you what to do,
Nor to tell you what to wear.
They can’t push their opinion on you,
And then snatch away your air.

There is no one else who holds you hostage,
Except your own mind,
Your life is a book, write your own page,
You never know just how much you will find.

I Tried To Be . . .

By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

I tried to be sugar,
In a world full of spice.
The world threw a dagger,
Cause I tried to be nice.

I tried to be a friend,
In a world filled with hate.
The world asked me to end,
Cause I tried to depend on fate.

I tried to be different,
In a world so mundane.
The world became a parent,
Cause I didn’t try to be the same.

I tried to be the best,
In a world that held me back.
The world pointed out to the rest,
Everything I ever did lack.

I tried to be myself,
In a world as fake as ours.
The world put me on the highest shelf,
And then left me there for hours.

Darkness All Around

By Sabah Kaur Mann (Genesis)

Lost in the fields of my own mind,
I drown in the river of regret.
My essence somehow I cannot find,
Millions cause me to fret.

And in those fields I find no light,
Just darkness all around.
And in those days I lose my might,
And I realise I’m nowhere to be found.

The river rushes by so fast,
My regrets I see flowing by.
And sometimes I drown in at last,
Still asking the question – Why?

My essence lost bit by bit,
A trade with the devil it seems.
And nothing ever seems to fit,
Yet somehow I drown my screams.

I care for some who never care,
I fret and fret for an empty face.
My love I somehow cannot share,
With those who keep changing their pace.

Be it fields or rivers,
My essence or my mind.
In the end I remember,
People cannot always be kind.

Saanya Sodhi

Saanya Sodhi is a young writer, based out of New Delhi. Saanya uses free style poetry to give form to her feelings, thoughts and opinions. Love is one of her favourite feelings to give shape to through her writings. She wishes to grow more with each passing day as a writer. She goes by the pen name Spero and also uses the hashtag #speŕowrites🌼, to display her writings.

That Night

By Saanya Sondhi

At 5 in no time, I scroll through all my content apps,
I scroll through my social media

I see how songs from another age make my friends feel warm
I however lay here, in this infinite cold just scrolling. 

I have so much content, content to go through, so many words to learn and study through
But all I want at this brink of dawn is to talk to you

Talk about how the universe was made, how the matter that’s light is not even one-fourth of this universe
And how we’re just a tiny speck,  a nothing in that something.
How I’m something everywhere, but how I’m not everything
How my memories juxtapose at this time of the twenty four hours

I want to talk to you about the marvels of the universe and the marvel cinematic universe,
I want to talk of everything I know and listen to everything you have to say. 

I want tell you about my fascinating horror of numbers
I want to tell you about my love letters, the ones I wrote to space.

I want to hear about your life and about your last love,
I can talk hours about love only if you’d like to listen….
I’ve written speeches on ambition, on dreams that are yet to take form,
I could tell you about how I’ve adored and waited for the stars when everyone I knew was busy clicking the sun lit sky.

Just like I waited for them I’ll even wait for you, 
For that night to come one day when we’d talk about life, analyse Beauvoir’s works, appreciate Marsha’s existence

When we’d, undress each other’s scars and listen to our heartbeats and to our hidden muffled screams. 
For that day when the galaxy will shine and the universe will align

I’ll wait for that night, for you to realise …..

Good With Words

By Saanya Sondhi

Good with words,
People say I’m good with words
How my words are raw and how I am great at putting alphabets in lines that make sense.

I’m still scared to go deeper with my cuts, more than I am scared to go deeper with my words
I think it’s a good thing, maybe for the world it is.

The colour red pacifies me when the ques of alphabets don’t
Maybe if I was gone, maybe then someone would see me.

I’m screaming for help
But the buds of their own life are between me and them,
Why am I too poor for them?

There’s a voice screaming in my head,
Laying, saying maybe I’m not worth it,
pictures showing maybe I’m not.

My conscious knows I believe in case studies, my mind making me my own.
I am my own victim, I am the universe’s victim.
But I can’t say it out loud.

Knowing that I don’t have happiness is so much easier to accept,
than knowing that I’m meant to give is so much beautiful than what it truly is.

Tears have put me to sleep more than sleep when it came to lie with me,
Screams have tired me more than fatigue,
when I saw starvation as a pretty look on me.

The voices that become miserable sounds in my head tell me that I am my own victim.
Those sounds overlap to become cries of help to no one listening.

I often wonder what can be more important than me on the verge of dying for them.
I often wonder where they are when I’m closer to the knife than I am to my bed on which I’m lying.

There’s not miles but even more of skin that I can see is wrong.
There’s this figure in the mirror that I can see is not worth it.

As I tip-tap my fingers on my screen my cheeks become wet,
as I pull down my panel to see my hopes fade away.

I shouldn’t, I know, I shouldn’t be angry,
but when I see them crying over a broken heart
I want to show my soul to them.
I want to show how no adherent could fix the cracks the shreds of black.

I’m closer to death than I’ve ever been to life.

Young Love and The Rain

By Saanya Sodhi

Young love makes me as happy as the feeling of my cotton dress on my legs, flying in the direction of the wind, going with the wind

I recently learned what a pluviophile is, euphoria took over me as I found another word synonymous with my name

The petrichor makes me feel at home even when I’m not, the wetness of the rain replaced tears on my cheeks

I feel happy in the rain, imagining and re-imagining scenes from movies that happened and from my life that never did

I see a lot of young love around me today, I’m at that age when the little girl that was always scared of the rain thought she would live through young love

But all I live is see and the only way I live, vicariously

I was once scared of the rain, I thought it would flood our homes, that was before emotions flooded my heart and numbness my body

I thought our house would break under the pressure of water but that was before the pressures of love and life scared me much more

I used to think after the rain only wooden boats could save us, the boats of hope have proven otherwise

The me then wanted to live to see love, the me today wants to live for the same

Just that then I was a girl who was in love with love, no complexities, no questions

And today I am the girl who wants to understand all about Aphrodite, Apollo and Inanna

I am heart broken and a boy didn’t break my heart.


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All the writers above have consented to sharing and showcasing their pictures, literary works and opinions on the Young Writers’ Collective website. YWC and its founder Kaisera Kanwar assume no responsibility for their respective opinions and expressions. All rights are reserved by the respective authors and poets. No literary work or photograph may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission.
( In accordance with the Copyright Act 2012 )

Anoushka Radhakrishnan

Anoushka Radhakrishnan has been writing ever since she was ten years old and presently performs at various Slam Poetry events in New Delhi. She writes about feminism and mental health. She would love to publish her own book one day !

The Difference Between A Compliment And A Catcall

By Anoushka Radhakrishnan

I don’t wear dresses anymore. 
I don’t wear dresses
because dresses have consequences.
I’m fifteen and I’m walking on the sidewalk next to my school,
I am wearing my school uniform
You’re twenty eight and driving a bike 
I wonder what you think 
before you cat call. 

Do you think I’m a cos player? 
Pretending to be underage? 
Or do you think this is a porno? 
Do you think I am walking in front of you 
Hoping you’ll notice my 
undefined body?

‘He’s just offering a compliment, learn to accept it.’
A compliment? 
A compliment is 
‘Hi, you look nice.’
‘You’re such a kind person’
‘I really like your smile.’
‘Hey, sexy! Wanna come with me?’
Haha, get the joke?
because clearly, he did too.

It’s a compliment?
Is that what your mom told you 
when you were catcalled?
Is that what her mom told her when 
she was catcalled?
That it is just somebody
your femininity,
He does not appreciate your beauty
and he doesn’t see you as a woman
but as 
a toy.
a mannequin.
a doll.

You are not a doll, 
You are a human being.
You were born in this world
to live 
Not to feel uncomfortable
by someone else’s doings
and then be told 
you are not uncomfortable,
a compliment does not make you 
feel uncomfortable,
a catcall does.
It wasn’t a compliment then 
and it isn’t a compliment now.

I’m fifteen. 
I want to go home
happy and content. 
I want to go to a party
happy and content.
I want to be 
happy and content.
A compliment makes you feel
happy and content
a catcall makes you feel 
and dirty 
and unsafe 
and not human.

I am fifteen 
and I am wearing my school uniform, 
and I do not appreciate you
raking your eyes up and down 
my body like it is a joyride,
a carnival.
my body is not a roller-coaster,
my body is not candy,
my body is not yours to enjoy.

I’m fifteen,
I’m twenty,
I’m thirty,
I’m forty, 
and I know the difference between 
a compliment and a catcall
I know the difference
a person who respects me
and a person who wants to 
drug me.

I know the difference between a compliment and a catcall
like I know the difference between
my home and that 
god damn sidewalk.
I know the difference between 
a compliment and a catcall
because I know the difference between 
feeling good and
feeling dirty. 

I know the difference between
a compliment and a catcall 
just like I know the difference
between consented sex 
and rape.
I know the difference between
a compliment and a catcall 
there’s only one 
that considers 
my consent.

I know the difference between a compliment
and a
because both flatter me yet 
there’s only one 
I want to accept. 

Hamid’s Hands

By Kaisera Kanwar

Hamid had dreamt of pillowy naans and luscious, creamy curries the previous night, but sadly began the day with leftover rice and cold chai at the dhaba. His dreams often disturbed his appetite. How could he relish leftovers when his mind was floating with images of hot pakodas, makhani dal and syrupy shahi tukadas. He wasn’t undernourished, just deprived of the luxurious fare served at ‘Shahi Tughlaq Dhaba’ – his residence and means of livelihood.

The dhaba had been his whole world for all his fourteen young years. He had seen the steel vessels turn into copper thalis and the rusty fans into modern coolers. Hamid had no recollection of how he ended up here, and sadly neither did Karim Bhai. They all believed his parents must have been labourers who had nothing to give their newborn, maybe not even a home. All his early memories were of Karim Bhai and his fragrant food.

His days, come sun or rain began with the sound of clanging vessels and whistling kettles. He would hop off his bed squashed under the spice cabinets and rush to the hand pump behind the dhaba, to freshen up. “ The little one has woken up! “ , Karim Bhai would shout out and business would begin with the first order of ‘cutting chai’. Hamid’s duties at the dhaba were clearly chalked out, he would first collect milk from the dairy down the main road, then haggle with the old lady who sold them vegetables, lug the heavy bags of fresh produce with Reeta to the dhaba and by lunchtime start shovelling coal into the tandoor. The routine did bore him at times but the food always excited him. He had been pleading with Karim Bhai to let him into the kitchen and help with the ‘masala tadkas’ or even the fresh chutneys, but the man refused to budge, always citing hot oil and flash fires as the reason for his refusal. But Hamid too was hellbent on making it into the kitchen and watching the magic happen. After all he wasn’t a child anymore, he could handle the heat.

One summer night he crept into the kitchen, hoping to sneak a little midnight snack into his bed. It was extremely dark but he could feel a faint heat emanating from the corner where the tandoor was situated. The soft orange embers within the clay pit were the source of the heat. As he moved closer he recalled how Karim bhai had looked so confident slapping naans with his bare hands into the same fiery pit. Maybe he could try too? Many would have feared the hot coal, but Hamid didn’t. The idea of cooking something, anything lit this happy spark within him. So he thrust a little more coal into the tandoor and began searching for a little leftover dough. Bingo! There it was under the sugar tin. He knead it out with his hands and slapped it around on the marble slab a few times imagining up wonderful fantasies of being a professional chef like the ones on TV. Just as he was about to pop it into the tandoor , Karim Bhai all red eyed and angry entered the kitchen. “ WHAT IS THIS RACKET YOU ARE CREATING HAMID?! DO YOU WANT TO BURN YOUR HANDS!? HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WILL BRING MILK WITH BLISTERS ON YOUR PALMS? “, he thundered . Hamid was mum, silent with fear of getting punished or beaten. There was silence for a few minutes in the room, and then Hamid was hauled by his collar and left at his bed. He fretted thinking about his punishment, but soon fell asleep.

The next morning there was no hustle bustle to be heard in the dhaba. No vessels clanging, no kettles whistling only silence. Hamid was flummoxed. Was Karim Bhai unwell? Hamid then heard the sound of the shovel from the kitchen. Ahh… someone was there. He entered the kitchen and found it to be empty with only Karim Bhai present, no Reeta and no customers. Confused he looked up at Bhai who had stopped working at the tandoor and was putting something into his hand. It was the five spice special mix. ” But why  Bhai ?”, he asked. He got no answer. All he got was a nod towards the tandoor.

That day the dhaba was shut down for the first time since it was opened; that day Hamid burnt his hands for the first time while using the tandoor ;that day Hamid also learnt to name spices, saute onions, roast meat and churn buttermilk. That day a chef was born….