Voices

Lockdown Poetry Contest Winners: Kanika Ahuja, Ashiqua Ahmed and Anomitra Paul

These poems made it to the top of eShe’s Lockdown Poetry Contest 2020.

These poems are part of our Lockdown Poetry series where we feature the winners of eShe’s Lockdown Poetry Contest 2020 for women writers held this July. There was one winner, 10 runners up, and two special mentions.

Here, we bring to you the works of Kanika Ahuja, Ashiqua Ahmed and Anomitra Paul.

How Much Sorrow is Too Much Sorrow

© Kanika Ahuja

March 25, 2020: India enters a premature lockdown to fight the coronavirus

I.

A city locks its doors, swallows
the keys to its sky, and just like
that, we are left with limbs limp
from being bent on borders we
never knew could rise like spikes,
thirsty to hang our heads in shame.

A city feasts on crumbs left in unwiped
corners, and we learn what it means
to hold the world in a shopping bag, currency
stacked like headlines on a newspaper,
careful like a bribe, loose change
drowning in the wishing wells of desire.

A city falls, wounded, like a corpse crawling
to its own funeral, and we are ashy remnants
mourning the soot – wasteful of a sadness
that will not restock itself on Kirana Store
shelves, wishful of vendors who will sell
it for a bargain anyway – this profitable loss.

A city breaks a sweat – reverse mosaic
with more jagged edges than artwork
imagination, and we cover the cracks
by drawing the curtains. This is who
we are, a catalogue for a city more sin
than skin, breaking under shaky foundations.

II.

We will not be numbed by statistics “generous young man with a delightful grin”
We will not be numbed by statistics “told people she loved them all the time”
We will not be numbed by statistics “mostly worked factory jobs to support his family”
We will not be numbed by statistics “backyard birds were known to eat from her hand”
We will not be numbed by statistics “he loved his wife and said, ‘Yes, dear’ a lot”
We will not be numbed by statistics “part of a tight knit family”
We will not be numbed by statistics “a million dollar smile”
We will not be numbed by statistics “people were her hobby”
We will not be numbed by statistics “endlessly curious, never really finished”

Note: Section II is inspired by and borrows from the obituaries published in the New York Times (May 27, 2020) to commemorate the 100,000 lives lost to the pandemic in the United States of America.

Kanika Ahuja, 23, is a poet and educator based in New Delhi, India. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @kanika0326.

(Ab)normal

© Ashiqua Ahmed

Every night,
My mother is the last one to leave the dinner table.
Every morning,
My mother is the first one to rise from her bed.

I don’t see her in her room all day,
Not until late at night.
These days,
I “work from home”
I have a 9-5 job.
My mother too works from home
They say she doesn’t have a job.

My mother is a woman in her late forties.
She always wears cotton sarees
And struggles with her glasses.
She reads the newspaper in the evening,
And my father makes fun of her.

During evening tea,
My sister complains about her cancelled trip.
I say I miss hanging out at the cafes and bookstores.
We whine for a while,
Inside the four walls,
Frustrated.
I scroll an article on my phone, it reads
“Is this the new normal?”

My mother listens with a smile.
She doesn’t whine.
I don’t ask her why.
I think I know.

//the new normal is not new to her//

Ashiqua Ahmed, 25, is a research scholar from Tezpur University, Assam. When not procrastinating, you will probably find her reading or watching the sunset.

Coming to a Standstill

© Anomitra Paul

The turn of the key that shut the world out
That last breath without precaution,
The dust unfurling on the side of the road
While you sipped on tea from an earthen pot
Did it say ‘goodbye’ to you?
Did you take a long, careful look
Into the contours of the room you disliked so much
The blades whirling endlessly
As you complained about listless days?

Did you look up the word, listless,
Did you dog-ear the page when you came across it?

Making lists, highlighting phrases
Like you highlighted moments in your everyday monotone
The beggar you passed as you ran into the subway,
The stench of eggs splattering against unkempt utensils.

The exact minute, or five of those,
As the sick beat of an unmarked clock came to a standstill,
Did you know the doors shut behind you
Taking away not moments but milestones from your perceived future?

Did you draw blood from an old wound
While you remembered the silhouettes of every setting sun?

Anomitra Paul, 21, is pursuing her Master’s in English Literature in Jadavpur University. She has a knack for literature, oratory and the performing arts.

First published in eShe’s September 2020 issue. Stay tuned for more prizewinning Lockdown Poetry coming up on eShe.

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