108 poets from around India vied for eShe’s Lockdown Poetry Contest 2020 for women this July.
With one winner and 10 runner-up positions up for grabs, competition was stiff and the jury – comprising award-winning poet and poetry editor Arudhathi Subramaniam along with eShe editor Aekta Kapoor – were impressed with the quality of the entries.
While the theme of the contest was ‘Lockdown’, the topics covered ranged from depression, domestic conflict, the plight of the migrant workers, the mind of a homemaker, the inertia of lockdown, and even longing for one’s boyfriend. Contestants ranged from teenagers to senior citizens, and all corners of the country found representation.
Since there was a sizeable number of junior poets and it wouldn’t have been fair to judge them on par with the adults, the jury decided to add a ‘Teen’ category while judging. Two entries were thus selected for a ‘Special Mention’.
The winner Arenkala Walling receives a full scholarship to a certification course worth Rs 30,000 (plus GST) from ICRI India and a set of four books from HarperCollins. Ten runners-up and special mentions receive a set of two books each from HarperCollins. All winners also receive a merit certificate from eShe and an eShe notebook to jot down more poetry in future.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will bring you the winning entries on eShe.in. To begin with, here are the top three.
Me and My Four Husbands© Arenkala Walling
This pandemic had me quarantined with all my husbands – Mr Anxiety, Mr Depression, Mr Bipolar Disorder and Mr Alienation. Turns out they’re all good friends. Polyandry has never been so peaceful! At night, they take turns to read me bedtime stories, narrate excerpts from my life, tragedy and comedy, keep me up at night, sometimes sobbing, sometimes giggling, even after all of them have fallen asleep. I’m always in their company. They’ve vowed to be with me till death do us part. I once posted on social media how my husbands adored me so much. Later, my inbox and comment section flooded with words that deeply offended my sentiments. “Friends” and “Followers” who barely even knew me accused me of lying, asked me to prove that my husbands loved me, that I’m married to them; said my post was invalid; that I was only seeking attention and told me not to”brag” about it! And unfortunately, I didn’t have any official documents for proof. I wanted to scream: “Am I not a woman if I don’t have a legally signed document that says I’m a woman?”; “Am I not suffering from a disorder if I have no clinically signed documents but symptoms?”; “Does a physical scar alone substantiate the statement ‘I’m wounded’?” But instead, I abashedly deleted the post and decided not to talk about my husbands to anyone, ever. I bet they’d only scorn and label me a sympathy seeker if I tell them that my husbands are sometimes abusive; that they’re so possessive they keep me away from all my friends, family and potential lovers. So instead, I talk about how tidy their houses are, how friendly their pets are, how beautiful they look when they smile, how long they’d live
Arenkala Walling, 21, is a final-year English major student of Tetso College, Dimapur, Nagaland. She wins a full scholarship to any Certification Course worth Rs 30,000 (plus GST) from ICRI India, a set of four books from HarperCollins, and an award certificate from eShe.
Denial© Matangi Jayaram
Like the light, airy, pastel-hued sarees
The easy charm and humour too she wore well
Tongue-in-cheek repartee, puns, the ready giggles
He said he was drawn to the little wise girl in her
I can breathe easy around you was his refrain
Where does that equanimity come from he’d ask always
Her answer was a kiss, on the corner of his left eye always
His breath would slow down and he’d draw her closer
I have lesser nightmares now he’d say
Like a song well sung with the pitch wavering over the years
Something changed insidiously
No signposts, no amber light
What the world needs to see is my joy
I am like a duck, water rolls off my back
Her mouth looked a certain way when she was earnest and determined
Things happen for a reason was what Mom said
She punched down the proven dough but let the air stay in
No, the air needs to be released Mom would have said
The yeasty smell was comforting, a reminder of good times
Her palms wrapped around the cup with the mellow Makaibari tea
It was habit, a reflex to hold up the warm china against the scar on her cheek
As she cranked up the oven to preheat it
She caught her reflection in the glistening oven top
Something about the angle of the cut was just so right
She thought it made her left cheekbone lift a bit
Don’t hide your scars Mom told her
They lend character her best friend said, maybe to comfort her
The second rising of the dough was always an event, a celebration
I should make a time-lapse video to capture this wonder she thought
The phone beeped, the message was curt
“Will take another month for the flights to resume… see you in June”
She breathed deeply on the gorgeous yeastiness
The cinnamon rolls could do with extra butter today she told no one
A month of solitude was something she would cling to
She pressed down the dough to let the air release this time
She wondered why her friends felt keyed up during the blessed lockdown
The pun made her giggle
This feels so right, I feel like I am on a roll
Matangi Jayaram, 48, is a former HR professional. This poem is her maiden attempt at undoing the effects of 23 years of formal corporate-style writing.
A Long Way Home© Ananya Ray
Their blistered feet do not sing songs of homecoming,
Weathered by the sun, emaciated
These half-humans, speak in strange tongues,
Syllables and inflections mouldings the words
To take the shape of the dusty highway stones
That cut through their soles like carving knives.
Daughters carry old fathers,
Pedalling away into the mirage of home.
Sore limbs, parched lips
Parts of expendable bodies.
Rotting in the April heat.
An invisible virus, death a whisper away,
Locked doors and closed shops
Protecting men and women of significance.
Slaving away in brick-kilns
Cleaning tables in cheap hotels
Building houses which would lock their doors.
The son asks his mother,
As they lie by the roadside,
“Where do migrant workers go after they die?”
“Heaven is an unreachable home.”
The summer rains drench the gray roads
They paddle in pools
And wade through clogged drains
Labouring unto death.
Labouring into death.
The world has come to a standstill
But they walk on.
Ananya Ray, 20, is an undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University. She is interested in postcolonial literature.
First published in eShe’s September 2020 issue. Stay tuned for more prizewinning Lockdown Poetry coming up on eShe.