February: Anxiety, an Astronaut, and Falguni’s Bowl cut

Living, especially in the time of quarantine and coronavirus, is complicated, anxiety-ridden, and full of emotion. In these journal-style short essays, Brown Girl writer Divya Seth explores whether space really means freedom and the wonderful queer-coding of Falguni’s music videos of ’90s Bollywood.

[Read More: December: Grownup Babies and Coffee Shop Mice]

February 4, 2020

The queen of social anxiety toasts to me, tipsy, speaking on sheer impulse, at my birthday party. She falls deep asleep on my couch, exhausted and content and safe, so much so that the thought of waking her up is too cruel. She cries quietly, sitting across from me at brunch, and I can feel her relief and her happiness, because there they are, springing from her eyes. She does the Cotton-Eyed Joe as a dare on the subway, and she delights in making a fool of herself in front of strangers. I watch, with envy and love, as she laughs. She somersaults into standing up for others, not a thought or a moment of hesitation. She reaches, despite herself, for those who claim they do not need her. She bleeds openly, needy and embarrassed, challenging them, daring them to look. She leads me, fearlessly, through the darkest times, and I creep behind her, afraid, grateful, safe. In the five years between my birth and hers, something shifted, the planets somehow, the stars in some way. And, so, this is how she was born: brave. 

February 8, 2020

I imagine that it takes a lot of preparation to send a living thing into space. This is a mission to live among the stars. It takes experimentation and asking as many questions as possible in an attempt to recreate space-like conditions, here, in our predictable safe cradle of a planet to create an astronaut. What happens to a wanna-be astronaut when we dial the thermostat all the way down, and she gets so cold she can barely feel her fingers, and she gets slow, and tired, and uncoordinated? What happens when you turn the pressure all the way up—so high that she won’t be able to fathom dragging her limbs across the floor because she’s sapped of energy, leaden, stuck. What happens when she’s swung around so fast that she doesn’t know which way is up and neither does her stomach? Will she still want to be an astronaut? How will she propel herself into the stars? Will the sheer force of her dream jettison her body out beyond the grasp of our gravity?

How can I dream of free-floating, when my feet cherish the touch of grass, sand, and soil. Barefooted cartwheels and handstands that are only complete upon landing. How can I subject myself to the pressures and changes of disorientation, when I am most content absolutely still, drinking in a steady sunbeam. How is it that I want to be spinning, dizzied, and all the while, ache for the slowness of summer. I want to sink into an ocean and witness the catastrophe of its waves around me. I want to lay down, let the soil absorb my nutrients, and be enveloped by the cacophony of cicadas. I want to be one with the floorboards of a concert hall and let the crash of orchestral crescendos reverberate through me. I want chaos to melt into my skin like sweat, I want to heave with it, drink it into my lungs, allow my body to hum with the frequency. I want to find peace in the pulse.

All electrons have spin. Any given electron pair is always and only spinning in opposite directions. And yet we are intact. You’d think we’d go careening away, every little piece of us, in exactly opposite directions, and yet we do not. Where does that chaos go? That constant whirring and zooming that we’re made of. Do we siphon it off in little rages? Furious honking after being cut off in traffic, sweating over stationary cycles, and la petite morts? What if you’re unable to release your chaos, because it is so overwhelming that you’re stricken, stilled and silenced by it, and so you’ve never known how. And now it’s unbearable. And so, you wish that someone would pop you like a balloon, releasing it all at once, all the wishing and wanting and spinning and zooming inside of you. Maybe you’ll deflate, but maybe, as you do, you’ll be catapulted into the sky with terrifying speed. Maybe, when you’re up there, you’ll find out if the astronaut ever made it. Maybe she’s waiting among the stars, waiting to compare notes and share her journey with yours. Or, maybe, the astronaut is still on the ground, and for the briefest moments of free-floating, you’ll be living out her wildest hopes and dreams.

February 20, 2020

I love discovering the queer-coded messages of my childhood—the ones I never saw back then because I didn’t even know what queerness was. Falguni. I caught the tail end of her career but thought nothing of her grown-up bowl-cut, nor the fact that I’d never seen her in a dress. She mirrored me at the time: cropped hair, baggy jeans, different, in an unplaceable way. With puberty, I grew into femininity, grew my hair out, and forgot about Falguni. I moved onto Madhuri, devoured young adult fiction novels, and reveled in romanticism. Now, nearly a decade later, I’m rediscovering myself. Sporting a pinnie and the haircut of a soccer jock, I’ve stumbled upon Falguni again. I haven’t so much as thought of her in years, and yet I’m swiftly googling and rewatching her music videos from the ’90s. She sings saccharine love songs that are acted out, equally cheesily, by a hero and a heroine. The camera cuts to her, and in all her soft butch glory, Falguni inserts herself into the narrative and takes the place of the hero. And she dances with the classically-femme heroine. And she evades questions about her love life and sexuality. And she exists just as she is. She foils the hyper-femininity of 90’s Bollywood, and yet she is seamlessly integrated into the culture, woven in as if to say, “Why would we ever question her right to belong?”

[Read More: What Music Means to me as a Queer Desi]

In exploring sexuality and the range of feelings that accompany social anxiety, Seth’s quietly ponderous voice draws vivid pictures of the scenes she creates and thoroughly explains why being grounded doesn’t mean being trapped, even for an astronaut. Find more of her short essays here.

By Divya Seth

Divya Seth is a medical student in Harlem, NYC, who strives to one day be a multi-faceted healer, working in … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

[Read Related: Poetry That Reflects the Fire Inside]

[Read Related: A Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

After So Long (English Translation)

Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]


Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›

The Pressures of Being the Perfect South Asian Woman

NAKED: The Honest Musings of 2 Brown Women was born in the autumn of 2018, when Mimi Mutesa and Selvi M. Bunce began sharing their poetry collections. It was scary, beautiful, and terrifying when they decided to trust each other with their most intimate thoughts. Not only did they feel relieved after doing so, but Selvi and Mimi also felt more seen as women of color. They embarked on their publication journey, so others may feel as seen as they did on that fateful autumn.

“Ingrown Hair” deals with the themes of societal and family pressures that are reflected throughout NAKED. Mimi and Selvi have always written for themselves. They see poetry as an outlet, and their poems exemplify their personal frustration and vulnerability. “Ingrown Hair” speaks to Selvi’s experience with the societal pressures of South Asian women, such as getting married, being a good wife, becoming a good mother, and leading a certain kind of life.

[Read Related: Exploring the Endless Possibilities of who I am In the Mirror]

Ingrown Hair

There is something strange beneath my skin
telling me to build a house,
make a home,
mother children.
I am not sure how to reconcile it.
My mother was strong
and a mother after all.
My philosophy has been to spend my time
on myself and the world.
I have always thought
I could simply address the thing under my skin
when it finally crawled out.
But when my family starts guessing
who will get married first, and my father
has been saving wedding money for years,
I begin to wonder
if I will have to pluck it out.

[Read Related: Reconstructing and Deconstructing our Ideals]

You can purchase your copy of NAKED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Bookshop, and The Black Spring Press Group. Follow Selvi on Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to check out her project, Brown & Brazen.

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Selvi M. Bunce

Selvi M. Bunce (she/they) has written for academic and creative journals and spoken at diversity conferences and TEDx. Selvi currently … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“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!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

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.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›