Poems and Other Myths:

A collection of spoken word poetry by women from Asia.


Anu Elizabeth Roche


Your grandfather was

the Creator of the universe

your sisters were named

Rohini, Bharani, Ashwini, Ashlesha

twinkling in the night sky

you called the moon your brother

the great Shiva your lover

The gods were favoured guests

in your father's house

but when the flames finally licked your feet,

neither man

nor god

dared follow suit

Now women tremble

at the sound of your name

It doesn't matter

that no one chased you

to your death

No one

adorned your charred body

with wedding finery

or blessed your corpse

At least she died

a sumangali*

When the flames

scorched your hair

and melted your flesh,

it wasn't for the honour of your father or

the memory of your husband or

the lusty cries of a mob of people

you once considered playmates,

brought up in the belief

that a woman's mere existence

was a knife that could slice

a man's lifeline

in half

It was to exact vengeance

against a father you thought you could trust

by desecrating a space

he held sacred

But they wouldn't tell us that, Sati

They were too busy building temples

in honour

of the charred bits of flesh

you left behind

Sang hymns

of your illustrious death because

it was the only memory of you

they wanted to keep


Drowned your name

in definitions

that never existed

Made your story the fuel

that would set the bodies of widows alight

and drive married women to pray

for early death

Perhaps they have forgotten

that you were once the rebel

they warned their daughters not to be.

You danced to the beat

of your own damarukam*

Rejected instructions

from your father and your husband

if they didn't make sense

Didn't stop

chasing the man of your dreams

until he was finally yours

Perhaps they needed proof

that even their gods

believe in love

because Sati

in this country and this age,

your story would have ended long before

you entered your father's

sacrificial pyre

When a man and a woman

considered their love 

sans matchmakers, sans horoscopes,

sans parental approval

just love 

as reason enough to be wed,

you called it gandharva vivaha

Today we call it Love Jihad

Today love

is reason enough

to kill

We have painted our roads crimson

with the blood of lovers,

made the sharing of stolen kisses in public

a crime

and the private violation

of a wife's consent



they use your name now

to lampoon women

who grew up biting down on their tongues

and gift wrapping their spines

to be broken

by the first man their family

came across

Don't be such a Sati Savitri they say

except that some of us

already are

We don't even know we've taken on

the roles you made your own

One of you embraced Death

in your rage

the other fought Him

and won

Both of you

lived only by the rules

you set up for yourselves

but your stories

were too smothered in whitewash

for us to notice

How were we to know

that every time we married against the wills

of our fathers,

got down on bended knee

and told our paramours we loved them

we were invoking the two women

we spent our whole lives trying

to ridicule


when the fire crushed your bones

and turned them to ash

did you ever dream

of the shackles we would bind

to your name?

*Sumangali: used in most Dravidian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada) to mean a married woman whose husband is still alive
*Damarukam: small two headed drum that is used by Lord Shiva
*Gandharva vivaha: instant marriage by mutual consent of both participants only, without even the presence of a third party as witness.


O silent invisible lover

The moment you lay

in eternal slumber,

the blessed Archer shot star tipped arrows

across a black expanse of sky

to fashion the moon's bridal veil

But your eyes would be forever shut

to the warmth of her gaze

Her nonsense words

would leave unheard,

like droplets dying

on earth made damp

And then,

she would turn

Your smile

would forever glimmer its welcome

and this moon would glow again

If this is not love, she said,

I would rather not know

What love is

O silent invisible lover

You are alive

yet dead to her

Your silence

is her bare slate

Your ignorance,

her freedom

Her whims lie

in the vast golden ripples

on your skin

Her love drugged sighs

in the muscles unfolding

beneath your thighs,

in the slumbering silent broadness

of your shoulders

Her gaze will brand you

forever with her name.

Her desire will mould you

to be what she wishes

every man to be

She says Be

and you become

You are clay

in her hands: voiceless

and sightless,

your form changing

to the shape of her needs;

your languorous breaths

the only indication

that you are alive

You are both her fantasy

and her fear

that the fantasy was a lie

so she robs you

of your ability

to evolve

Silent invisible lover,

you will never have the chance

to know how this feels

but I do

I know what it means

to have the words I love you

breathed over and over into the shell of your ear

and still feel absolutely alone.

How it feels

to watch everything you once were

slip away through her fingers

and know you could do nothing

to stop it

How it feels

to wake up one day knowing

that what you wanted will never matter

and nobody will understand

that just because you can't feel

the crushing weight

of all her denials

doesn't mean it won't hurt

I know

better than you ever will

the pain that is just begging

to emerge

beneath that frozen smile:

that last living proof that you were once

a free man

If this is not love, she says,

I would rather not know

what love is,

and she has stolen from you

the ability to tell her

that if she really did love you

she would have just

let you



Mother did you not

hear him laugh?

Laugh as he watched us

rent the river apart

for our clothes

Clothes he had gripped


in his hands

Laugh as he broke our pots of milk,

let it pool over his feet,

let it pool over mine,

let its silken whitness

leave darkened spots

over our clothes

Laugh as he crushed my wrist

in his hands, his amusement

spilling in bursts of hot air

snaking 'round my throat

He didn't laugh like

the boy that he was

He laughed with the confidence

of a man who had captured,

in the palm of his hands,

what he had wanted

before he could even ask

Mother his laughter

followed me

wherever I went

I could not breathe

without the winds carrying

the flute like sway

of his boundless mirth

but mother,

how could I scream,

when my friends were with him,

laughing back?

When they wept the moment his laughter

had left them?

When my daughters

begin to have daughters,

his laughter will haunt me again

So gentle

So teasing

So sure

He will look down from the heavens

The men he sees

will be dots of sparkling dust,

a woman's cloth crushed

in their python grip

One of them begins

to strike his thigh

The others laugh

Krishna! she screams

This woman whose flamekissed feet

now struggle

to hold their ground

Smiling, he will

raise the hand that had

once clutched the clothes

that I had worn

He will lift his palm in a court where

no one dared lift a finger,

and cloth will emerge

as flames

from sacred pyre

She lifts her eyes in gratitude,

knowing he will smile back

He had kept his word

as a brother would

All her life

she will remember

those hands

Krishna! I screamed

He laughed

and refused to let go


How should I

remember this?

Gopika was put up as a blogpost in the popular feminist blog UltraViolet in March 2013. 
The link can be found here: http://ultraviolet.in/2013/03/27/gopika/