My women, my everything!

I

That day, I saw her the first thing I woke up in the morning, like every single day, smiling at me but not expecting me to return it. I rubbed my eyes, reluctant to get out of bed so early in the morning, but got out unquestioning. Her reassuring smile told me that the day was going to be really good and even if it was not, she would say, I would still find her there at the end of the day, sitting right there smiling at me when I came back home from the world outside. She sent me off, out of her home, with a kiss strongly pressed on my forehead.

I got on the same blue bus as everyday and found a suitable seat after some deliberation. Like everyday, I was slightly perturbed by the sudden emergence of so many new faces, voices, and attitudes all around me. Same faces as the previous day, the day before and so on, but still new to me every day. At that point daily, she came and sat next to me, with a heart-warming smile, and all the new faces disappeared, submerged into the unintrusive background, and I was myself again. She held my hand as I got down the bus and helped me down so that I wouldn’t stumble and fall like I did the previous day. That day, as the bus left I realized that I forgot my water-bottle in it. I looked at the bus, I looked at her, I looked at the bus again, dumbfounded, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say. She tapped me on my shoulder and I turned towards her again, while she waved the water-bottle at me and said with a knowing smile, “I got it.” I went inside the building, hand-in-hand with her. I reached the door to my room and she left me there with my water-bottle and my sweaty hands. I entered the room and there were new faces again, making noise, laughing, jeering, shouting, mocking – so much noise that I felt like rushing back to her, join my hand with hers, run back to the bus, sit next to her in my favorite seat and go back home.

I turned around towards the door, determined to leave at once but frozen in my place. I was counting the seconds in my head and she entered through the door, with a loud Good Morning that went ringing through the room, bringing everybody to silent attention. She walked briskly towards me and ushered me in, with her delicate but firm hands on my shoulders, and whispered “Good morning, sweetheart, had your breakfast?” in my ear. A special greeting just for me, everyday. I took my seat just in front of her. I shut my eyes, joined my hands for the morning prayer, and opened my mind again, and thought, “She looks absolutely smashing!”

II

At the end of the day, I went back home from school and found her running about the house, reading a book, cooking supper, talking on phone with her husband, watering plants, changing out of clothes she wore to work – all at once. She looked at me once in the middle of all this, the kind of look I was longing to get, and it satisfied me – I felt like a part of her life again, along with all her clothes, the bangles on her hands, the plants she took care of, the food she cooked, and so on. I thanked god for her – my mother.

Next, I picked the phone ringing in my room and I heard, “Sorry.” I knew who it was because every time I had ever walked up to that phone to answer a call I wished that very voice to say ‘Hello’ to me. I asked, “Why? What happened?” She said, “I was not in any hurry to leave but I left without saying goodbye in the evening…I’m so sorry.”  I saw her at the gate in the evening, waiting for me even though I got very late; she was worried for me; when she saw that I was alright, she left without saying goodbye. I forgot that I promised to meet her at the gate at 5 sharp. I broke my promise. I felt punished when she left without saying goodbye. “How could she know how to punish me?” I thought all along. Though I hated to accept it till then, I missed her goodbye all through. That phone call broke my ego and I said, “Sorry”, for the first time. We talked about the waterbottle, the bus ride to school, the promise I broke, among other things. I thanked god for her – my best friend.

Later, in the night, I pictured all the fairies, the princesses, the maids, the magic wands.. as my  mother narrated a bedtime story to put me to sleep. She kissed me goodnight and put off the lights. She went to her room and shut it close, perhaps knowing that I wasn’t really asleep. They shouted at each other for an hour or so, a daily routine, while I trembled in my bed, trying not to visualise how they fought, how they slapped each other, how my mother suffered the beatings – for my sake. I wished it could all stop. I hoped it wasn’t the same with my class teacher too, because every single day after the morning prayer she would say, particularly to the boys in my class, “Remember, treat women with respect, always, no matter what the circumstances are.” I hoped it wasn’t fights with her husband that made that beautiful young lady say so everyday. I hoped that her daily lesson would make better men out of the boys of my class. I thanked god for her – my teacher.

I thank god for these women – my mother, my friends, my teachers – and all other women in my life, that are protecting me, nurturing me, and helping me grow into a woman too, every day.

Happy Women’s Day to all!

The Queen’s Rival by Sarojini Naidu

THE QUEEN’S RIVAL

by: Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

I

QUEEN GULNAAR sat on her ivory bed,
Around her countless treasures were spread;

Her chamber walls were richly inlaid
With agate, porphory, onyx and jade;

The tissues that veiled her delicate breast,
Glowed with the hues of a lapwing’s crest;

But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

King Feroz bent from his ebony seat:
“Is thy least desire unfulfilled, O Sweet?

“Let thy mouth speak and my life be spent
To clear the sky of thy discontent.”

“I tire of my beauty, I tire of this
Empty splendour and shadowless bliss;

“With none to envy and none gainsay,
No savour or salt hath my dream or day.”

Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose:
“Give me a rival, O King Feroz.”

II

King Feroz spoke to his Chief Vizier:
“Lo! ere to-morrow’s dawn be here,

“Send forth my messengers over the sea,
To seek seven beautiful brides for me;

“Radiant of feature and regal of mien,
Seven handmaids meet for the Persian Queen.” . . . . .

Seven new moon tides at the Vesper call,
King Feroz led to Queen Gulnaar’s hall

A young queen eyed like the morning star:
“I bring thee a rival, O Queen Gulnaar.”

But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

Seven queens shone round her ivory bed,
Like seven soft gems on a silken thread,

Like seven fair lamps in a royal tower,
Like seven bright petals of Beauty’s flower

Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose
“Where is my rival, O King Feroz?”

III

When spring winds wakened the mountain floods,
And kindled the flame of the tulip buds,

When bees grew loud and the days grew long,
And the peach groves thrilled to the oriole’s song,

Queen Gulnaar sat on her ivory bed,
Decking with jewels her exquisite head;

And still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

Queen Gulnsar’s daughter two spring times old,
In blue robes bordered with tassels of gold,

Ran to her knee like a wildwood fay,
And plucked from her hand the mirror away.

Quickly she set on her own light curls
Her mother’s fillet with fringes of pearls;

Quickly she turned with a child’s caprice
And pressed on the mirror a swift, glad kiss.

Queen Gulnaar laughed like a tremulous rose:
“Here is my rival, O King Feroz.”

P.S. Not one of my best-loved poems when I was in school but somehow remained in my memory for a long time after I left school and entered college…and then, in a much-delayed, emotionally-charged moment of epiphany, I finally began to realize the essence of the poem and am still awaiting complete realization; the feminist thought in this one is unique…