Lunar Cycles

A poem by Shloka Ramachandran.

i.

i was born in the capital of the country

and grew used to gazes

ii.

madras found me shoving my hands in the pockets of my too-short shorts

or so the aunties and teachers and friends’ mothers thought

got pulled aside one sunny afternoon (but then most afternoons were sunny)

when i was sitting by the library (the safest spot on the campus)

my physics teacher asked my why i wasn’t wearing shorts

under my uniformed regulation skirt and wasn’t i sending the boys

the wrong idea, somehow?

madras found me laughing in the face of my modern-day medusa

asking her whether she thought boys staring up my skirt might

already have completely the wrong idea

through no encouragement of my own through no intention of mine

medusa and i called an uneasy truce after that but i could feel her stone eyes

whenever i walked through the mud through the grass over the basketball court

a friend with whom i’ve long lost touch asked me, aged nine, whether my top

was slightly too revealing and showed too much of my midriff

i felt her eyes on my stomach on my yet-flat chest still-growing body

‘that’s what my mother thinks anyway’ she said and took a sip of her juice

madras found me combatting many modern age medusas

worried about my honour and my prepubescent body

littered with skinned knees and adorned with shorts

i learnt then to avert the eyes of those that wanted me turned to stone

iii.

i moved back to the capital and watched it grow around me

and it silently watched me right back

it lurked uneasily at the side of barely-developed roads

men looked at me through car windows and whistled

they watched me wait for my uncle at the airport

they watched me walk down the path to school

they watched me fling myself across a court to catch a ball

delhi waited for me to step a single toe out of line

so that it could claim me for its own

growth spurts meant being hauled up in front of class

and being loudly asked by my chemistry teacher

(is it any wonder that i never took a shining to science?)

about whether my pink bra was appropriate within hearing range of

every boy in class who asked me every day for a week

whether my breasts were appropriate

(i was eleven when i was called a slut for the first time

she’d probably learned it from her mother

back then, it meant girl who wasn’t scared of her own body

now, it means girl i don’t like because she has an opinion)

growth spurts meant being let into adult-rated movies at fourteen

once i leaned in to look at the show timings

and the man at the box office looked down my shirt through a plastic counter

iv.

growing up meant being terrified of newspapers

because every day was a new atrocity

growing up was feeling the country beat around me

pulse, silently, with ever-growing anger at people who looked

like me, shared so much of mine except my luck

(we learned to laugh it off, of course

my friends and i enjoyed the film just fine and i didn’t think of the man again

when asked, i just said i had no time for the news)

when i was fifteen i was at a school fair in line for some food

a man my father’s age came up behind me in line

i didn’t think anything of it until he

pressed his body to mine and i could feel more than i ever had before

through my jeans through his terrycot trousers

of course i didn’t say anything

this was delhi and i had fear constantly lurking under the bravado

i waited and i waited and i took my burgers and ran back to my friends

they thought i was imagining everything, of course

they thought it wasn’t on purpose, of course

they thought i was thinking ill of a poor old man

and i turned around and saw him staring at me and licking his lips

v.

fear waits

around dark corners

when the sun’s long gone down

fear persists

no matter how many people you surround yourself with

despite how loudly feminist you are

(because of how loudly feminist you are)

fear manifests

fear remains

fear waits for a single misstep

to come up behind you and hold you close

and suffocate you and strangle you and leave you in the dark

gasping for breath grateful you’re safe now

but you’ll never really be safe again

and nothing ever happens until it does

fear lurks behind every closed door

fear lurks in me

it comes to me as natural as breathing

fear rises in me and meets the moon every night

fear would have me believe that inside every person is a werewolf

and the lunar cycles dictate when he loses his humanity and ravages the town

the world would have me believe in man’s cursed lycanthropy

the world would have me sympathise with men who do not have men in them any more

the world would have me blame my skirt my behaviour my volume my inebriation me

for a poor man’s loss of control

but there is nothing poor about a man and the moon

there is nothing pure about the cold sinister rage that lurks behind the surface

there is nothing pure about the way an entire country watched me grow up

just beyond my field of vision

they wait for me to fuck up

they wait for a single slip in my vigilance

all it takes is a single careless moment