Pure On Canvas

​To the guy who sees my body as a Metrical composition.

You say that my brown eyes remind you of fireballs; eager meteors ready to enter your territory & destory everything in the vicinity. They remind you of sunsets, and sunrise. That when you look at them, you see a lot more than just hollow darkness. Amber, chestnut, cocoa, chocolate; you see in them colours you can put together in your canvas. 
That they are not just brown, they’re copper against honey, fire against calm. 
They’re newborn stars against an age old galaxy. That they can be an eclipse, and a planet at the same time. 
You lock my gaze with your eyes and get in the bed with me. Your hands glide into mine as effortlessly as I spend my days waiting for the nights to come, and bring you to me. 
Your skin brushes my body, tracing along the edges of my skin like an artist carefully outlining the finishing stroke of his best painting. 
The insecurity in my blood eases up. 
Every touch, feels like a whole new story being carved on my body. You tell me that my smile looks like it’s a withered flower that was once lively & beautiful. You see glitter in the spaces between my wrinkles. You say that this smile, it adds glaze to the entire piece that I am. 
Your legs tug at mine & I release a long held back smile for you. I can feel sparks inside the sheets waiting to turn into fire. Just then, you turn to my face & make way into my mouth. The fire is extinguished, just a few milliseconds before it was readying to explode. 
All night, you make me believe that I am art. Finally, you shut your eyes to sleep & the museum you saw in me is allowed to close down. I immediately get up & run to the washroom. 
I look at myself. No, I stare into the looking glass. I think I stay like that for a little longer than an hour. I see wrecked masterpieces & havocs on my skin. I see fine art on an unfine skin. I find myself looking at this dimmed reflection the way I would look at a beautiful vintage vase, or an antique piece of jewelery. 
I take a final look & come outside, to lay down beside you. I wait for you to get inside me like I would into an old art gallery & give me this one, final assurance, before I shut down forever.


Living In A War Prone State

Indian paramilitary soldiers stop a Kashmiri woman during curfew in Srinagar, Image from Dawn

DISCLAIMER: The story is pieced together from real occurences, the instance used is real in nature, but it had been ficionalized to some extent; as is required for the creation of a significant piece of art.

​The first time I witnessed a war, my eagerness to grow up and do something about it rose to its peak.

I saw a bomb blast when I was ten. I was at school, in my class, writing my diary (yes, I had the company of words even at that time) and suddenly, there was a loud bang, followed by the sounds of glass windows shattering and children screaming.

I sat there like a breathing, living statue, scandalized. Blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of sadness weighed down my heart. My teacher quickly, mechanically got up, without a hint of fear or shock and helped each one of us get out of the building that was shook by the blast. We were made to go to the backside of the school and wait there until help came.

I was little, and I did not cry about this incident as much as I should have. I did cry, dear reader, but it was only because I had lost my favourite eraser, and a shoe. This incident still remains intact in my heart.

It was after months that I got to know the details of the terror I had seen so closely. I was told that a car was parked outside of the school gate, filled with explosives. I couldn’t help but wonder at the possibility of the catastrophe that could have struck us, if we did not have a huge playground, seperating our innocence from that horror. As I grew up, that playground became a sacred spot to me.

Later, in defiance, in protest, I saw people getting out on the roads; fighting the repetitive instances of violence, but with graceful steps, without a single weapon in hand- only words on their lips. Honestly, people armed with weapons looked more vulnerable to me.

This reminded me of a line by Ghalib, which says, “Ladte hain aur haath mein talwar bhi nahin,” (Oh God how she fights without even a sword in her hand) which later became something I decided to live by.

The second time I saw bloodshed, I saw innumerable women being unveiled on the streets, though forcefully, but I could see the fire in their eyes and I guess that was when it spread onto me & my Iris started to turn red.

But I was still just a child. I was told that to make a difference, I’d have to leave my homeland that was then stained with blood, to come back armed with the power of knowledge. I couldn’t have compromised with my studies because I really wanted to save my home and all my people. In war, we were all united, you see. All the little differences were wrung out as inaudible complaints.

So, I left my land and went on to wet the soil of another city, which became my home for the next few years. Nobody talked to me about my home. Everytime I recalled, a perfect and unimaginable picture was presented to me; a picture of my streets & the people that it had betrayed was nowhere to be found.

Maybe that’s what living in unintended denial looks like.

I knew I had to return & see it for myself, for my brain was tricking me. I had to return to see what lied behind those concealed images of utopia. I had not yet forgotten my first rendezvous with the horrors of war. 

When I came back home, it wasn’t long that I was again acquainted with the same horror for the third time. When it hapened for the fourth time, dear reader, I didn’t see it at all.

I was physically present there, but what I saw did not hold much account. It did not change me as much as the previous encounters had. The violence held lesser and lesser value with each of its succeeding attempts in my presence. It did not hurt my eyes anymore. It did not affect my countenance.

I could sense the immense pain in the air, and yet after a while, I got immune to it; immune to all the restrictions and shackles. Freedom was a luxury now; one that, surprisingly, nobody could afford. It had stopped having the same effect on me as it used to have on me as a child.

I had found reasons and justifications for the dead calmness of my inaction. Nothing could be more painful to human mind than to submit. I bore a hell within me. Yet in the chaos and dismay, I found my resort. I found words; words that could heal my wounds like no medicine ever could, words that could make flowers blossom instantly on the barren land of my homeland, words that gave me a reason to bear days when I was laden with desires to commit myself to my land’s emancipation, but I was deprived of enough hope & faith. 

So, instead of planting seeds, now I plant words. I plant words on walls, papers, and even on social media. I sit in that very playground and write. I plant words because they are the only weapons readily available to me. Maybe, they’re the only weapons I was waiting for all my life. Maybe they are my best instruments of war. 

And with these words, I will keep practicing my form of rebellion till the time it consumes me.

~ Ismat Ara, 2017

Secret Letter


Hi, baby. There you are! So long, no?
You keep busy with your college, curriculars, internships and all that.
Yes, yes, I know.
But why is it that you haven’t been coming to me at all, lately?
Have I become so uninteresting to you?

You know, you make me feel like an abandoned housewife sometimes. Craving for you like you’ve never loved me wholeheartedly, leaving me all by myself in this strange & lonely place, feeling completely unsatiated & undesirable.

Do you remember there was a time when you used to come to me every night? You would come to me when you would lose faith in everybody else. I was like a never ending light of love to you.
I was like a solace that you didn’t only want, but very much needed. I reflected you. I reflected your courage & reaffirmed your faith in yourself, and that’s why you loved me so much. In fact, I also remember a time when you wouldn’t be able to sleep without confiding your day’s secrets in me. I guess that phase has passed now.

Now, now that you’re happy on your own, content in your life (and for how long?), you’ve stopped coming to me, you don’t need me anymore? All that time that you spent with me has made me needy of you. I know it’s not your fault, but isn’t it a little unfair to me? I don’t have hard feelings for you. It’s just that I really, really miss you & want you to come to me sometimes, like you did befor.
I miss how you would come to me to get your back patted everytime you achieved a milestone, no matter how petty, I knew it was important to you, and so, being as much in love with you as I am, I celebrated it with you. I miss how you told me every little detail about your day, and with such beauty, that I would promise to store those emotions inside of me for an eternity.
In all the time that I have spent with you, I have come to understand how much you stress over the fact that it’s your time to develop & hone skills for the rest of your life, and you’re doing really well. I understand you. Doesn’t matter if you have to leave me behind for some time. Because you can trust me, I’ll stay right here. I am part of you, the way you are part of me.

I’m happy for you, but I’m also very concerned. You know, earlier you never feared to voice your opinions, since you knew I wouldn’t judge you, but now that you try to do that with others, I know it doesn’t work. I miss you doing that sometimes. I miss you expressing yourself wholly.

I always knew you would fall into the trap of writing fiction & leave me lying in the bookshelf as a piece of display someday, but I didn’t know it would be so soon. It struck me really hard. But no matter what happens, remember that I am happy for you, and I will always have more faith to offer to you, whenever you decide to return to me.
And yes, these pages, these are your own. Come back to them whenever you want to, and you will be welcome.
Without you, I’m empty, both literally & figuratively.

Yours, forever
‘Dear diary’

Secret Letter | Ismat Ara

I Should Have Justayed Home.

~A lament from a woman trying to ‘break the wheel’.~

Maybe I should have just stayed back home. 
Maybe I should have just got over with school, sat at home, and learnt to make round rotis, to help with household chores, to wear a hijab & lower my voice. After all, this is what my ‘ultimate destination’ is going to be. My neighbour tells me that I will have to live like that. In a four walled house, bordered with laws that will give me rights over my kitchen, but not over my own wardrobe. She reminds me of my hopeless future at least thrice a week. And that the institution of marriage is ‘bound’ to send me that way.

Maybe I should start preparing for all that. Maybe I shouldn’t have scored a ninety percent after all, and gotten into one of the finest Universities. 

Maybe I shouldn’t have read about the plight of WOMEN, people of colour, the ‘untouchables’ and maybe I shouldn’t have read at all.
I would have been a woman who didn’t know enough about her subjugation to question it. I would have been a woman who did not see sexism, and opression in everything-from home to college, from the internet to the TV soaps & be constantly upset about it, tons of conditioned bias-even in closest of my people, and hurt every moment. I would’ve been a woman who would have defended her own opression and have been happy about guarding her beliefs at the end of the day. 

Maybe I shouldn’t have read Dr. Faustus, and become skeptical of religion. Maybe I shouldn’t have questioned polygamy, property rights and Hijab. Maybe I should have just read the Quran like a dummy without understanding or questioning it. 

Maybe, if I hadn’t learnt to question, I’d have been accepted as a woman, as a person and not be seen as a THREAT. A threat to fragile egos & inherent sexism. Maybe I wouldn’t have become an outcast in my own family. I am fond of wearing Bindis & sarees, which they see as Hindu influence, while I only wear it as a sign of resistance. Maybe I should have simply followed the authority of religion in everything that it tells me, and lived solely on the hope of God’s benevolent grace, in the distant future & hope of a just day of judgement.

Maybe if I hadn’t learnt to be a woman of self respect, a woman who is confident about herself, and aspiring to be independent, maybe it would have been easier to find a man for myself. A man who stayed. I choose the men in my life very wisely-but it doesn’t take more than six months, a few instances of not agreeing to their preset conditions-of me being their ‘ideal devi’- not smoking, drinking, wearing ‘revealing’ clothes, going out, having ‘guy’ friends, and sometimes just NOT GOING OUT AT ALL, it doesn’t take a lot for that CHARM TO WEAR out. If I hadn’t read, maybe I wouldn’t have had a paranoia about finding a man who understands, and accepts privilege. Maybe I would have been just fine, being with a man who deteriorated me in the guise of LOVE and possesiveness.

Maybe if I hadn’t read so much, maybe I wouldn’t have fought back the people who pass lewd comments every time I get down my building. That, I do simply by action-by going out fearlessly, dressing exactly the way I want, and not feeling guilty about it. Yes, there’s a certain kind of ‘guilt’ involved in the process of emancipation. It is a sad thing.

Maybe if I hadn’t read, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go out without a hijab. Maybe I would have had just given in & put it on to escape all the comments that seem to question my ‘character’.

Maybe I wouldn’t have had started going out, dressing up exactly as I wanted to, just to avoid these lewd comments. Maybe I just wouldn’t have noticed those unsolicited comments-that come in the rawest forms from the bystanders, but also sometimes beautifully disguised in the form of advice, suggestions & well wishes from people I know-and love. Maybe life would have been easier. 

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