Barbie-doll

Like nausea
The putrid wave
Makes my hair stand
On end.

Cloying shame
Dilutes my vision
And the pavement stones warp runnily into eachother.

Innocent film songs
Emerge spontaneously
Made lewd and leery
By the congratulatory laughter
That greets the singer
As he passes me
And joins his friends with a grin of triumph.

Anger speeds my feet
In their delicate dance
Weaving in and out of pedestrians
Avoiding bodily contact
Eyes downcast.

Cold eyes
Fill with shared wholesome-healthy laughter
And slide over me in fun
Undressing me in their heads
Like a Barbie doll,
Weighing my breasts in their sweaty mental paws
For ripeness
Like mangoes
Squeezed, smelt and passed around
In the grimy market.

The sickly-sweet smell of decay
Colours the moment a festering gray
As the oh-so-casual hand
Stabs between my legs
Or pinches my breast
Or brushes my behind.

And my father/ friend/ husband/ brother/ lover
Fights for my ‘honour’ in impotent fury.
Asking me not to fight back
And risk the revenge of injured pride.
Haven’t I heard of acid attacks?
Of rape?

My safety is not worth this fight!

Watery frustration fills my eyes
And I cannot dredge up anger.

This is me,
Naked.
A chunk of meat
Dripping obscene drops of red
As a hapless calf sniffs forlornly
At the butcher’s counter.

This is me,
Naked.
In my sunny-yellow kurta
And lime-green salwar and chunni
Haggling with the mango seller.

This is me,
Naked.
In my blue pinafore and black buckle-shoes
Lost in my own head
Playing with the end of my tight plait.

This is me,
Naked.
In my low-cut red dress
And chic cropped hair
Gingerly avoiding puddles
In my high-heeled shoes.

This is me,
Naked.
In my black flowing purdah
A hint of a baby blue churidar at my ankles
My deep black eyes hinting at my mystery.

This is me,
Naked.
In my green cotton sari
And red blouse
Watching my daughter play in the mud
As I carry bricks in a metal pan on my head.

This is me,
Naked.
In my oversize T-shirt and harem pants
Hung with colourful beads and earrings
Carrying my rainbow umbrella.

This is me,
Naked.
Begging for spare change
To feed my hungry baby
And pay off the ones who let me beg
So I can try to feed my child tomorrow, again.

This is me,
Naked.
In my green T-shirt and jeans
Talking to the mechanic about his life
And his sick mother
As he mends my cycle
And his friends snigger
And pass comments I can’t understand.

This is me,
Naked.
Locked in with the others
After six p.m
So that we would not be raped
By our classmates
Who could be out till ten
And who, for some reason,
Could not have raped us
Before six.

This is me,
Naked
To whom strangers feel entitled
To give advice on how to dress
Or how to cover my ‘apples’.

This is me,
Naked.
As authorities,
Ask why I was out walking alone
At two in the afternoon
When I complain about being attacked
By three men.

This is me,
Naked.
In a protest march
For women’s rights
Sneered at for not appreciating what I have
And not being in touch with the virtuous village woman
Or the abused prostitute
Or the oppressed Muslim
Or the rape victim
And thus not having a right to protest
At all.

This is me,
Naked.
Barbie-doll naked
Faceless, featureless,
Naked.

A toy on display
Who should be grateful
That they are only playing with her
In their fetid minds
Or brushing against her in passing.
And learn to dress properly
Stay in after dark
Not stare back at them with hate
Or hit back
Or say ‘no’.

It is, after all, only for my own safety.

Like the cellophane and cardboard
That shields the vapid, smiling
Barbie-doll.

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