In November, The Ohio State University opened its arms to a bestselling Sikh author last. The Ohio Union Activities Board (OUAB) humanities committee organized “OUABetween the Lines with Rupi Kaur” in a ballroom full of women, clutching Kaur’s “Milk and Honey” and “The Sun and Her Flowers” close to their hearts.
I remember when I first came across Rupi Kaur a few years ago as a senior in boarding school. I spent most of my day keeping my head above the mounds of homework and readings required for classes. At this point in time, no one knew who Kaur was. I would curl up into a ball at night and scroll through her Twitter to marvel at her poems. It was my daily escape. The habit continued in college – I ordered her first book of poems and devoured it within thirty minutes.
At some point, I felt like nothing I was doing as a freshman in college really had my name written all over it. I was sick of the repetitive cycle of going to my boring classes and coming home only to shove my head into more textbooks. “Milk and Honey” inspired me to stop that cycle.
In the darkest time of my life, Kaur’s growing critical acclaim and success pointed me toward Brown Girl Magazine and a life of doing things I actually enjoy. No more pleasing others and doing what “good brown girls” are supposed to do. Kaur was the one who showed me Sikh women can succeed in writing and art. She is the reason I sent in my application to write for Brown Girl Magazine, and here I was, finally seeing her in person years later.
Kaur was striking, to say the least. She has a definitive sense of humor for someone who wrote two books about heartbreak, loss, death, and diaspora blues. For example, she started that night in November off with “Art of Living,” a spoken word about rape culture, body agency and women learning about “the consequences of the world when they should be learning math and science instead.” The spoken word was dedicated to 12-year-old Kaur. I secretly dedicated it to 12-year-old Ravleen as well.
Chapter three of “The Sun and Her Flowers” is Kaur’s favorite. Shifting focus from feminism and rape culture, this chapter delves into the immigration trauma and displacement her family experienced moving from Punjab to Canada. Kaur says she did not have the language at the time when she was writing “Milk and Honey” to document the experiences of her dad a refugee, and she an immigrant. “What was it like to make a life out of nothing?” was something Kaur constantly asked herself. She finally answered that question in her latest book of poems.
“The Sun and Her Flowers” Pg. 123 – “I still catch my mother searching for home in foreign films and the international food aisle.”
This poem addresses the process of overcoming the shame of your mother’s roots. She reminisces how she would walk farther away from her mother and act like she didn’t know her when she went into the international aisles. This unhealthy shame is something even I have learned to undo and continue to unpack with my younger brother.
The words from her next spoken word performance, “What Love Looks Like,” threw me into a fit of laughter and tears.
“I can’t believe I thought love looked like a 5’11 tall brown-skinned man who likes frozen pizza for breakfast,” she said.
I know at least five other girls who thought this too. We grow up in a culture where everyone celebrates a desi boy doing the dishes and forces girls to put everything on the line for a man. Kaur says love starts within us – everything else is a projection of our wants and fantasies.
And lastly, Kaur gave an ode to her Sikh heritage with a light-hearted poem.
“The Sun and Her Flowers” Pg. 217: You can’t keep two lovers apart.” She then points to her eyebrows and said, “These hairs grow back because they’re supposed to be there.”
Kaur later spoke about the bullying her brother, a sardar, faced growing up in Canada with unshorn hair.
For the first time in my life, I felt like literature had been written for me. Here we had Kaur in the flesh addressing our religionand bullying on a stage in front of hundreds of college students eager to listen to her every word. She had brought Sikhi, feminism, and immigration to the forefront and thrust it in young people’s faces to devour. You could gush over her poems about love but not without sifting through pages documenting the trauma women of color go through.
For the first time in my life, I felt seen.
Ravleen is a senior at The Ohio State University with a passion for politics, writing, and Punjabi virsa. When she’s not writing her own pieces, she’s busy reading the works of influential women, especially anthologies. She ultimately aspires to have a career in healthcare where she can use her skills and experience to achieve efficiency and equity in the healthcare system.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
I organize play dates for my children. They’re friendships remind me of when I was younger when Fridays were consistently set aside for my friends. Now, it seems play is indeed meant for childhood and work is for aging adults. We often can’t find time for ourselves, let alone our friends, who are busy working mothers like ourselves. Or we moved into unreachable corners of this globe, far away from any means of physical communication. It’s fair to say, it’s hard to stay close to friends like when we were in college. Nowadays, it’s easier to travel, but more difficult to bond with others. “My Friend” asserts that we should not end let our friendships fall by the wayside. Even with physical distance and conflicting schedules, we keep our friendships close with kind words on phone calls, regular FaceTime calls, or even encouraging social media comments. Friendship doesn’t end once we become adults.
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