When I was younger, before Instagram
Before 100 likes on your profile picture
Meant that you mattered,
When my ugliness was deliberate, I used to call myself Plain Jane.
Hair put back in a no-nonsense-not-interested ponytail
Big black joggers under my school-uniform-shalwar
My frame sheathed in a school sweatshirt two sizes too big.
I banned kajal and lip-gloss and straighteners near
My frizzy hair.
I thought that being smart meant that you couldn’t be pretty.
I thought that because I made myself ugly, I was smart.
I took sick pleasure
In contrasting my plain face to their carefully made-up ones
In comparing my wild, frizzy, rough pom-pom of a ponytail
With their stick straight, socially acceptable silky manes.
High school was one day after another
Of resisting my femininity, even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
I was confident enough in myself to be as I was 24-7.
I didn’t realize they judged me twice over
Once for not “putting in any effort”
And then again because I had the nerve, the gall
To not trade on the currency of my face
To not negotiate with the inches of my waist.
There is an invisible rule book
About being a girl that speaks
Through the mouths of fathers, uncles, brothers.
It says “You’re free enough already. You’re going to college, aren’t you?”
It says “Can you believe it? Mrs. Cheema’s daughter got married straight after FSc.”
It says “Ab ye bas karo. Aisa sirf Bollywood ki filmon mein hota hai.”
Is there any wonder I want
Out of these underground tunnels
Where they want to trap me so one day I can
Share a bed, share closet-space
Share air, share all the parts of me,
That I kept behind the wall
The rulebook made me put up brick by brick.
It is not romantic at all
To be seen as your damsel in distress.
If I wanted saving, I’d call you asshole.
In my secret fantasies, yes, I want to beg on my knees
And have you hit me over the head
Drag me back to the cave. Keep me barefoot and pregnant
While I cook at the stove
And spice and season just like your mother did.
But then I wake and face the fight
To choose what clothes I can wear,
Where I may go, with whom,
Till what time and if I may have the
Distinct privilege of
Being chauffeured there.
I carry with me everywhere
The weight of my eligibility
(I am 20, I am young, I am fertile)
I come from a “good family”
I am yours for the taking
Because I am fair enough
Because my father brings to our F7 home
A paycheck big enough.
I carry with me everywhere
The weight of being a girl, a woman
Not a person, but a set of orifices
That could be filled if I’m not careful
I could be soiled in the sound
Of a zipper being lowered.
One trap after another I must navigate
Be beautiful, be smart, be capable
But only to a certain pre-set degree.
What am I, a fucking oven?