Scarlet Rising

The scarlet blouse beseeched her to take it home.
It was a declaration of boldness, a solid fiery red
With a splatter of silver and black sequins around the neck
And no protective arms of modesty.
All she had wanted, when she had picked it up, 
Was to satisfy an unresolved fancy of several years,
A secret desire to wear something… er… well, outrageous,
For maybe a moment in time, yes, just that.
And what better occasion to fulfill her desire 
Then in the confines of the trial cell 
Where no one saves her could see what she was dressed in 
And judge her through the conditioned mirrors they bore in their hearts?
Oh, she had really meant to put it back
On the hanger, with all the other blouses in the store,
And take with her
Only the sweet minute-long memory 
Of the pretty confident woman who smiled at her
In a bright scarlet sleeveless blouse.

Closing her eyes she imbibed the image she saw of herself,
The vivid bearing of assurance that was so distinctly not brazen.
Why not? She asked herself.
It was thus that the bright scarlet sleeveless blouse 
Got paid for and found its way to her wardrobe at home
Only to be delegated to a hidden nook,
Seeing the light of day and breathing in a quick breath of fresh air
On those very rare times when she would take it out
And run her fingers over it longingly,
A reminder to herself of the image that was her but not,
And with a sigh, would resign the awaiting flame 
And herself to the darkness of their imposed existence.

Till one day she decided that she was going to be the scarlet queen.
Out came the blouse and with it, some matching accessories
That had been lying ignored.
She gave her hair a twist and settled it into a style
that she had never worn before.
Her dressing completed with a matching bag and shoes 
She dared out into the immediate world she was part of,
A world rooted in traditional superiority and decent values
That spat quite vehemently 
At even the slightest trace of immodesty
And ruled it disgraceful any crossing of standardized thresholds.
Especially if it involved married women.


As expected, the middle-aged mama was at his balcony
In his supposedly white dhoti discolored with miserliness, 
Rightfully shirtless as ever, leching at passing femmes.
“Women these days seem to have lost all sense of decorum,”
He quoted.
She passed by the official gossipers of their apartment,
Three ladies who unfailingly took up their positions
Come rain or shine to indulge in world-changing conferences
Disapproving the improprieties of society. 
Their bored expressions lit up when they saw her.
She had given them food for talk.
The mami on the ground floor who deemed it her diligent duty
To keep a mental record of where and how her neighbors were going
Called out loud to her.
She pretended not to have heard but walked on.
Mami, her saree hanging loosely about her shoulder,
Leaving uncovered one round breast kept in place by a sweaty blouse  
And exposing a generous waist, 
Took a quick step up to the gossipers, eager to join 
The ongoing discussion about a red alert that had come 
From an unexpected quarter.

The saga in scarlet marched on, unfazed by the stir she was causing.
None of it mattered to her, anymore.
For in the vulgarity she had donned, she found
The strength of her femaleness,
The beauty of liberation,
And love for herself.
She discovered she was poetry. 

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Vidya Shankar
Vidya Shankar, a widely published Indian poet, writer, editor, English teacher, and a “book” in the Human Library, says poetry is not different from her. A recipient of literary awards and recognition, she uses the power of her words to sensitize her readers about environmental issues, mental health, and the need to break the shackles of an outdated society. Vidya is the author of two poetry books, The Flautist of Brindaranyam (in collaboration with her photographer husband, Shankar Ramakrishnan), and The Rise of Yogamaya (an effort to create awareness about mental health.) She finds meaning in her life through yoga and mandalas.