In April this year, I worked with poetry writing prompts. One of them was to recall a time or an incident when I was fooled. I could not zero down on a single incident but realised that growing up we are told many lies: innocuous and damaging. Some are told with such fervour that they become absolute truth. It requires an inordinate amount of churn to even recognise them as they become ‘you’ over the years. It’s difficult to get rid of lies you’ve been made to believe are true. I began by exploring lies that came to me as genuine advice. Beginning with my own experience, I gradually co-opted all sorts of lies told to women, and this poem was born.

As a child, she’d heard them all:

“Don’t drink tea; it’ll turn you dark”

“Hang on a branch; you’ll grow tall.”

“The tongue turns blue when you lie.”

“Rains will wash away your wedding

If you eat scraped malai.”

When she felt all empty was their store.

They came up with new ones to fool her some more.

“Beware of boys; you know what they’re after.”

“Girls look good with graceful laughter.”

“Good girls come back home by evening.”

“They must never feel desires and stirrings.”

“Your period makes you dirty, polluted.”

“It’s ok, for once in a month, to be hated.”

“Arts for paupers; science is the best.”

“Take up a job, but your family comes first.”

“All your degrees will come to a nil.”

“If you don’t master the housekeeping skill.”

“How good are you if you can’t ever”

“Be a doting, responsible and hands-on mother?”

She grew up straddling this world and that.

Swapping stilletoes and flip-flops and flats.

One day — a fierce pull — the string just snapped.

“Was I a puppet all along?” She felt.

“I went to college; became worldly-wise.”

“And still made strong a tapestry of lies.”

“The first thing,” she decided, “that must go out.”

Will be fear, praise-seeking, perfection, self-doubt.”

“Let them believe I dance to their beat.”

“I can bend them and kill them with charm and wit.”

“I need not rile, rebel or lose cool.”

“I can fight as a silent, subversive, fool.”


** Malai is a Hindi word for milk cream, as well as milk fat stuck at the bottom of a vessel. It is humorously held superstition in Northern India that he/ she who eats malai scraped off from a milk vessel invites rains on his/her wedding day.