I’ll rise


You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

~ Maya Angelou

Pay it forward



I read “Indira” by Katherine Frank immediately after reading “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which tells the story of Mahabharata from the eyes of Draupadi. And later I read the biography of Mother Teresa by Navin Chawla. All the books in quick succession.

Three strong willed women with remarkably eventful lives.

“Indira” by Katherine Frank introduced me to her vulnerable side who is otherwise known to be strong, arrogant, adamant, and vengeful.

Instead of plainly chronicling the events in her life Frank’s endearing writing brings Indira alive, I could feel Indira’s fears, pains and upheaval, as if she voiced it herself.

Diagnosed at a young age, with a rare pulmonary tuberculosis in her lungs she spent most of her childhood in medical treatments which disrupted her education. The turbulence of Indian independence movement in which her father, Jawaharlal Nehru played a pivotal role, made her growing up years tense and lonely.

“Long periods of inactivity, illness, and a relentless urge to be of worth in the freedom struggle, in early childhood; frequent bouts of depression, triggered by solitude and loss of dear ones; estranged relationship with her philandering husband, Feroze Gandhi; perpetual emotional harassment by her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, on whom she doted blindly; petty domestic squabbles and frequent clashes with her daughter-in-law, Maneka Gandhi; and above all, increasing insecurity of being stripped of power in the political scene inherently dominated by men, all contributed to her taking some impulsive, erroneous decisions which had disastrous consequences.”

In her letter to Dorothy Norman, an American writer and activist, Indira writes

“Since earliest childhood I have been surrounded by exceptional people and have participated in exceptional events…The circumstances in which I passed my girlhood- both domestic and public spheres- were not easy. The world is a cruel place for the best of us and specially so for the sensitive.”

“I have felt like a bird in a very small cage, my wings hitting against the bars whichever way I move. The time has come for me to live my own life. What will it be? I don’t know at all. For the moment, I just want to be free…and find my own direction. The experience of being President of the Congress has been exhilarating at times, depressing at times, but certainly worthwhile. But…..I can only be warped & unhappy if I have to continue.”

I loved the way Frank gave a glimpse to the vulnerable side of a powerful leader who was once celebrated as, “India is Indira and Indira is India.”

I gifted this book to my dear friend Malavika. A few years back, Malavika reached out to me after seeing my TEDx video while she was pursuing her Masters in Public Health at LSHTM, in London. She then worked with NalandaWay briefly and then moved to Delhi to work with young people and their sexual/reproductive rights at IPPF.

A deeply introspective book, which gives you a glimpse into the mind of a woman.

‪#‎GiftABook‬ ‪#‎PayitForward‬ 19/100

In medias res


Earlier on Radio, I heard a twenty something upcoming actor talk about his newly married wife. He said that they have known each other since school. He had always liked her. And she always took care of him. He thinks she is the most beautiful girl. And she reminded of his mother, whom he loves a lot. He has a busy travel schedule and never has time for her, gets angry sometimes but she always puts up with him patiently. He finds it endearing that she always worried about his health, whether he ate on time, always checking on him. Towards the end he promises that he would spend more time with her this year and protect her at all times. And the RJ who is a woman goes ‘Bravo! what a lovely romantic couple.’

During the entire conversation he did not mention even once, what her aspirations were or how he would support her dreams.

Do young people still think this way? Or is he an exception?

Stories from far and near


All of twenty and four years into marriage, Draupadi has had three husbands and two children already. Arjun had skipped the order and Nakhula, had to take his place. Arjun had forced himself into exile in the forest, and has had three dalliances, two marriages, that included, Subhadra, sister of Krishna. Arjun, was her husband now, based on an agreement between the brothers as advised by Sage Narada.

“If he never loved me, why did he have to win me in the swayamwar? He has always kept me at a distance. I still can’t forget that night, when he unilaterally banished himself into the forest, because he accidently entered the bedroom when I was with Yud, Maybe he never loved me. It was a clever ploy to run away from me. Am I that horrible? Now he is pretending to be concentrating in a game of archery with Bheem, and avoiding me. Bheem is nowhere close to his prowess”, Draupadi ruminated.

“How I so wish he smiles and catch my eye? I am struggling hard to avoid Bheem’s stares. He is a darling, but very rustic and crude”, she continued, depressingly.

Draupadi lay back, resting on a tree, gently caressing a long lock of her hair, and watched Arjun and Bheem bowed to each other.

“Are the babies’ things packed for the travel?” reminded Kunti.

“Yes Amma, I have taken care,” she replied. She did not relax the laziness of her posture or stop looking at the men.

“Anyways I got to get things sorted out, back in the kitchen. The maid always forgets to grind shikakai with hibiscus, for Arjun’s oil bath tomorrow. Well, I only have a hold on the maids. No one listens to me anymore.” Kunti sulked, as she walked back into her private quarters.

She had been noticing a sudden change in Kunti, from a mother who held her sons on a tight leash, to a graying old lady, loathing with self-pity. Her hair had whitened quite a lot and the change had been very sudden. She also noticed a change in herself, her attitude towards Kunti and other elders, or for that matter her multiple husbands. She started respecting herself, but that did not mean she stopped respecting others. She was increasingly getting tired of pleasing every one and seemed to get things done better in this state of increased self-confidence. And indeed, what did it matter if these people thought any less of her.

“What are you thinking?” she quickly turned her head to check who was talking to her.

“Sorry to have scared you, didn’t mean to interrupt your solitude”, Sahadev took a rough patch and sat a feet next to her.

“No you did not. I was just thinking if Amma was suddenly looking older. I have been having that feeling for some time now. Have you noticed it?” she wondered.

Sahadev smiled in return and paused, “time flies isn’t it? Hasn’t it been four years since you came?”

“Yeah, in the fourth year”, she paused and thought of Arjun. “Next year I would be staying with you.”

Sahadev smirked at the thought.

Draupadi was irritated at his body language, “what, don’t tell me you don’t like me?” visibly angry.

“No, no I was not being rude,” Sahadev was quick. He was aware that Draupadi was prone to short temper. “I was only wondering how this rotation arrangement has been for you?”

“Finally, someone did ask my opinion. Congratulations Sahadev!” she clapped her hands in a manner of being contempt.

“Well, jokes apart, I have started enjoying and making the most of it,” she laughed out loud looking at the horrific expression on Sahadev’s face. “Now don’t look shocked, otherwise I would have to pretend that I was shocked too, and it doesn’t suit me. Well, life has thrown a challenge. I could either embrace it or be frustrated. Being depressed and mopping over what did not happen, doesn’t suit me.”

Sahadeva paused as if he was trying to say something very difficult. Draupadi turned towards the fighting men who were now working up a fine sweat trying to displace each other.

“Bravo, my Lord, bravo! You are the best warrior to fight using the gada (maze)”, she was addressing Arjun, and that left Bheem amused and Arjun confused.

“Draupadi”, started Sahadev, “I distinctly remember the day when you stepped into the hut at Ekachakra with Krishna after the swayamwar, before Amma unmindful of what had happened, asked us to share among us equally, as if you were some kind of eatable. You were brimming with happiness, pride, spunk and youthful spirit. Much had changed after, which we believed, you concurred and was happy. But for all your talk of enjoyment, I can sense that you are unhappy. I know that you are angry with Krishna for getting Arjun married to Subhadra. And now you are talking like this. This kind of cynicism doesn’t suit you”.

Draupadi took a deep breath and paused. She was looking at the grass with her eyebrows raised. “What would you want me to do Sahadev? But let me warn you, that I am increasingly getting tired of people who advise me.” She looked at him, “didn’t mean to be rude. The friend, whom I most trust, Krishna, knowing me so well, has done this to me. As if I don’t exist anymore. You brothers will make your choices, even including who would sleep with me for the year, and I have to obey, as if I had nothing to do with the act,” she paused.

“Krishna was the one person I thought who would look out for my happiness, but that is not true. It looks like the only person who has to be responsible for my happiness, is myself – not you, Krishna, Yud, Bheem, my brother or Arjun,” tears rolled down as she tried to compose herself. “I am neither cynical nor bitter. I am just trying to be realistic”.

“But I want you to be happy Draupadi” said Sahadev.

“Sahadev, you expect me to be happy! What have you or your brothers done, to understand, what I really wanted? How do you expect me to be happy?” she was agitated. “My marriage with you all, was just for convenience. All my father cares is defeating Drona, his arch-rival. Now that he has not one, but five sons-in-law to do his bidding. I hear that he is a happy, happy man. His daughter, of course, is the pawn traded in the process. To preserve unity between all of you, I had to marry not one man, but five.”

“I have two children now. While all of you have other wives and colourfull affairs, I try being happy with what I have.”

Sahadev remained silent.

Draupadhi looked at the men silently.

“Look at the way Bheem threw Arjun on the ground”, she roared in laughter.

Draupadi relaxed again and smiled, “so tell me something?” she paused.

“Go on Panchali”, insisted Sahadev.

“Have you ever thought of me, when I was with your brothers?” she smiled coyly.

“No,” Sahadev was firm, “I don’t think I am sufficiently in love with you, yet.”

“Well let me see what we can do about that next year,” Draupadi giggled.

Before Sahadeva could respond, Bheem let out a huge roar as Arjuna again, fell to the ground panting.

“Are you hurt honey?” Draupadi rushed to Arjun’s rescue with towels and water, while Sahadev smiled, seemingly aware of the events that were about to unfold.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.