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.

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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. 

Dear Diary

A Modern Sonnet by Shiuli Sural

I write in you,
My secret, vice and dream,
My aspirations, old and new
My thoughts, full of beam.

My closest confidante
I vent in you my feelings
You only listen to my rant
My doubts, worries and dealings.

I tell you all about myself
My world and my life
The movies I watch, the books on my shelf
Towards which goal I strive.

Now I shall tell you no more,
Having left the room through the door.

The Passing Of Time

A Modern Sonnet by Mannat Sidhu

They say

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”

My idle mind says nay

My idle eyes wander to the clock,willing it to hop

Ahead, a few hours, a few days

Wishing time to quicken, to hurry up

But that darned clock and its wretched ways

Can never seem to speed up

It moves so slow

And as I sit and stare

I fantasize about giving it a throw

I’m up to my ears in despair

But eventually time moves; days,months and years progress

That beloved clock moves too fast; all I want is to regress.

Flouting Forces

A Modern Sonnet by Kaisera Kanwar

Clothed in star pyjamas, all of seven years old I declared I wanted to fly

Who would question an imbecile’s reverie?

They said Yes! Yes , you will touch the sky

But now I see….. You are my greatest enemy ‘Gravity’

Your pull and hold, like being patrolled

Your invisible bond, frustratingly firm

Oh cruel foe! You have me pigeonholed

To the sun and moon, I must escape, even if I appear infirm

Lets us reverse your force

No stalling, just free falling into the universe

May your attraction

Boost my acceleration

But in our ability I doubt , physics we can’t possibly flout

I can’t really fly it turns out….

Beauty Waiting

By Shreeja Singh

How long do I have to wait?

How long do I have to seek?

An empty road

An even more barren heart

You fight for glory

You fight for hate

You fight for everything

Yet I am the one who waits

How long do I have to wait for you to come home?

How long do I have to be forlorn?

Fake smiles, stoic laughs

Happy parties but no part

A rippling river

Bustling with life

But why am I the lone bud

Alone waiting as I strive

Why can’t you see I fight against the ultimate?

The ticks of clocks

Closes and locks

The open door we had before

The actual feelings start to wither

At the core

Why do I wait?

Why do I wait?

For a man who leaves me behind

For a hand that doesn’t hold mine

For eyes that no longer gleam

We may see the same moon and sunshine

But farther than we seem

I lose a lot for you to gain

I then choose to remain

You leave to fight battles that are not yours

You leave to win and rejoice

The end result of our choice

But I am the one who waits

Alone without you

Waiting and waiting

Serene and astute

I gave up a choice to stand beside you

You chose to make me wait

For you

Why should I wait?

For whom should I wait?

Battle gears, war fields

Leave a little blood for me

Drop by drop you water a soil

You use your blood to nurture an unknown seed

But what about the one you left in me

But what about the blood that needs to flow through your heart

So I stop waiting and end this treacherous path

If you want to bleed the whole of you

For a land that will forget you in

Bloodied pages of time

If you want to fight

Fight for a battle that may never be yours

But leave a little drop for me to make that heart beat

But fight a war for me by giving me back my choice

As a beauty waits home

So does a seed

Waiting and waiting

For you to meet.


Standing in front of the mirror
Disgust was not an alien feeling to her
Questioning her existence, as tears streamed down her face
She had never thought heartbreak could do this.

Love, incomprehensible to her
Yet she herself decided to give it a chance, give him a chance
And yet both betrayed her
Leaving her exposed and in desolation.

She was afraid of love
Afraid of opening up to the wrong person
And getting heartbroken
And yet,
She took a leap of faith.

Wishing to go back in time
Wishing to have never met him
Wishing to have not fallen in his trap
Was futile
And yet she wished for all this.

Her spirit,
Couldn’t be broken.

Picked herself up from the floor
Dried up her tears
Stared at her reflection
Felt an unusual emotion bloom in her chest.

What she felt could only be termed as love
Disbelief was prominent on her face
An unfamiliar emotion had overpowered the emotions felt previously

Liberation was felt to her core
Liberation from the disgust towards herself
Acceptance of her imperfections
Embracing herself she whispered,
“I am enough.”

Flames Of Love

By Sara Sharma

We had our eyes set on the target. Our past six hundred and sixty-six failures laid heavy on our minds. We had own own doubts and fears. I know Sam was gradually losing hope and starting to regret buying ‘A Stud’s Guide to Summoning Satan’ from that shady cult but at that time for Sam love of my life in exchange for my soul seemed to be a pretty good deal. As for me I was enjoying my time here . This love quest helped me take my mind off those screaming souls back home. I was getting bored after torturing those poor souls in the fiery pits of hell so this sudden request of matchmaking served as a good pastime. This time  our plan was to shoot Sam’s love with the Cupid’s arrow which I had stol-borrowed without permission from the Cupid himself.

So here we were watching Sam’s crush from behind the bushes. This reminded me of my teenage days, falling in love with every passing guy and girl, the heartbreak, the fear of dying alone as a virgin. Well I’m an immortal so I’m not dying but I’m still a virgin. Sam’s love quest has lit a fire in me, it has once again made me want to fall in love.

“Mr. Satan if you would kindly snap out of the dream world of yours and focus on the task here it would be great.”

Oh boy, these earthlings cannot show any gratitude. Here I am helping him and he shows me this attitude.

“Listen to me you ungrateful human. I risked my life, my job just so I could stea-borrow this arrow and help you live a long happy life with your love but if you show me this attitude I will drag you down to hell, tie you on one of the cheap ropes, roast you and feed you to my helpers. So shut that hole of yours and let me work my magic.”

Nice, I still got it. To think I almost forgot the satisfaction a fear stricken face gives me.

“I… uh.. I am sorry Mr. Satan you are the supreme evil spirit and to think i shouted at you! I am a fool please forgive me. I am sor— oh my God that fine ass is on the move.”

“I’m going to ignore the fact you just spoke God’s name in my presence and do my job.” I said while shooting the arrow towards his crush’s ass. After the arrow hit him, I shot Sam.

After ten minutes they both woke up. I was expecting fireworks, dancing, them running towards one another but nothing happened. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

“Ugggh.. Mr. Satan? What happened did the plan work?”

“To be honest I don’t know. The arrow did hit you both but I don’t see you running towards him or him towards you.”

“Here I thought I could finally ask him his name.”

“You don’t even know his name and you have been following him around for weeks like a lost puppy!”

“Hey calm your horns Mr. Satan, it was love at first fight.”

“You mean sight?”

“No. Fight. F-I-G-H-T fight. I’ll just tell you the story of how we met.”

I wanted to stop him but his heartbroken face made me remember my six hundred and sixty six heart breaks. Damn you heartbreakers i hope you burn in Hell. His story was kind of unique. Cat calling his crush in the middle of the road, him beating Sam to pulp, Sam realising his masochistic tendencies, him meeting a cult selling a book to summon me on the same day and him summoning me. We were so engrossed in his story that we did not realise someone standing beside us. To our surprise it was the crush!

“Hey, this is weird but I wanted to say hi to this cutie right here.”

Sam had turned into stone. Not literally but that kid wasn’t moving.

“Hey kid you’re not Medusa’s son are you?”

“How did you know?”

Well now it was my turn to turn into stone.

“No need to be afraid sir I’m not Medusa’s son I’m just kidding. ”

“Oh well hello kidding I’m Satan. Please undo whatever you did to little Sam here.”

Just as if on cue Sam pushed me out of the way and started speaking to kidding. Weird name for a handsome fellow but who cares my work was done here I can always come back to check upon them and make sure he remembers his end of the deal so with that I made my way back to Hell.

A few years later when I went to check up on Sam, I caught him and kidding in a compromising position and did the only sane thing I could think of – clicking pictures. I was glad they were living happily together I even boasted about finding a cute lover after getting back to Hell. I had spared his soul because he had given me something even better. He made me realize that there was something better than burning and torturing souls in purgatory, that it was not the fire of Hell that could provide me happiness but it was the flames of love that burn your heart and leave a lasting impression. Love is a fire burns within you, it is a desire you surrender to. I’m starting to think that all this fire which burns within me can power all the fiery pits of hell.