Lunar Cycles

i am born in the capital of the country
and grow used to gazes

madras finds me shoving my hands in the pockets of my too-short shorts
or so the aunties and teachers and friends’ mothers think
get pulled aside one sunny afternoon (but then most afternoons are sunny)
when I am sitting by the library (the safest spot on the campus)
my physics teacher asks my why I wasn’t wearing shorts
under my uniformed regulation skirt and aren’t I sending the boys
the wrong idea, somehow?

madras finds me laughing in the face of my modern-day medusa
asking her if she thinks 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 call an uneasy truce after that but I can feel her stone eyes
whenever I walk through the mud through the grass over the basketball court

a friend (with whom i’ve long lost touch) asks me, aged nine, whether my top
is slightly too revealing and shows too much of my midriff
I feel her eyes on my stomach on my yet-flat chest still-growing body
‘that’s what my mother thinks anyway’ she says, and takes a sip of her juice

madras finds me combatting many modern age knights in shining armour
worried about my honour and my prepubescent body
littered with skinned knees and adorned with shorts
I learn, then, to avert the eyes of those that want me preserved, to turn to stone

i move back to the capital and watch it grow around me
and it silently watches me right back

it lurks uneasily at the side of barely-developed roads
men look at me through car windows and whistle
they watch me wait for my uncle at the airport
they watch me walk down the path to school
they watch me fling myself across a court to catch a ball

delhi waits for me to step a single toe out of line
so that it can claim me for its own

growth spurts mean being hauled up in front of class
and being loudly asked by my chemistry teacher
(is it any wonder that I never take a shining to science?)
about whether my pink bra is appropriate within hearing range of
every boy in class who ask me every day for a week
whether my breasts are appropriate

(I am 11 when I am called a slut for the first time
She probably learned it from her mother
back then, it means girl who wasn’t scared of her own body
now, it means girl I don’t like because she has an opinion)

growth spurts mean being let into adult-rated movies at 14
leaning in to look at the show timings
the man at the box office looks down my shirt through a plastic counter

growing up means being terrified of newspapers
because every day is a new atrocity
growing up is feeling the country beat around me
pulse, silently, with ever-growing anger at people who look
like me, share so much of mine except my luck

(we learn to laugh it off, of course
my friends and I enjoy the film just fine and I don’t think of the man again
when asked, I just say I have no time for the news)

when I am 15, I’m at a school fair in line for some food
a man my father’s age comes up behind me in line
I don’t think anything of it until he
presses his body to mine and I can feel more than I ever have before
through my jeans, through his terrycot trousers

of course I don’t say anything
(this is delhi and I have fear constantly lurking under the bravado)

I wait and I wait and I take my burgers and run back to my friends
they think I am imagining everything, of course
they think it wasn’t on purpose, of course
they think I am thinking ill of a poor old man
and I turn around and see him staring at me, licking his lips

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 f*** up
they wait for a single slip in my vigilance

all it takes is a single careless moment.

Shloka Ramachandran is a poet and an English and Creative Writing graduate of the University of London, currently based in Mumbai.

Featured image credit: Massimo Vergilio/Unsplash