‘Each of us is a Born Goddess’: An Interview With Poet-Physician Nivedita Lakhera

Juggle writing and a medical career is a challenge for me but my friend Niv, short for Dr. Nivedita Lakhera, makes it looks easy. We met at Regional Medical Center in San Jose, Cal.—me wiping mysterious brown fluid from my scrub pants and Niv showing me a copy of her poetry book, “Pillow of Dreams.”

For the next 11 months, “Pillow of Dreams” would hold the number one spot on Amazon for being the most five-star reviewed poetry book and go on to win the prestigious Silke Irana award. Niv’s newest book of poems, I am not a princess, I am a complete fairytale, will release on April 15, 2019, so I decided to catch up with her and talk about poetry and female empowerment.

[Allison Bekric (L) and Dr. Nivedita Lakhera (R). Photo credit: Stephanie Masullo.]

Why do you write?

I cannot not write. Poetry is a compulsion; I have this intense need to express myself. Also, as human beings, we look for examples. Someone on Instagram was going through a tough time and asked me to send her a poem. If you’re vulnerable it gives others permission to be vulnerable and get through heartbreak. Words can become legs for someone who cannot walk or wings for someone who is drowning. Words are powerful; words can save you.

For you, is poetry a way to heal pain?

Pain takes you inside of you. Suppose I had a heartbreak. I have to go inside of me. Pain takes you inside of you, kills the things that are not helping you and helps you grow the things that are helping you grow. You need to let pain do its thing. If you accept your pain—work through it—beautiful things happen.  

How does accepting pain lead to empowerment?  

When we see someone who is successful we say, ‘Bravo.’ We see smiling selfies, amazing selfies. Not “What a journey they had!” We don’t see the story of assault or failure. We don’t see that because of shame. I think, finally, with the #MeToo movement we see a shift happening. We have to open these wounds… We have to make it normal for our generation. Each generation has a responsibility to normalize things about women that have become the biggest hurdle to our progress.

Do you think shame is the biggest hurdle for a woman?

You need to disassociate from anything associated with shame. Put it in a paper bag and burn it. Women, especially in Asian and Indian cultures, have been conditioned from the very start to be put in a mold made of shame. From showing their skin to their choice of being single to their choice of being married to the choice of being childless—any woman who dares go outside that mold it’s like the whole family’s honor is gone and the shame is set at her feet. How the hell will they have a place in their mind to do anything? How can anyone create? How can anyone innovate? How can anyone educate? How can anyone lead? You never know where the genius lies. When you take so much from half the people of the planet, how can society move forward?

What advice would you give girls who feel they are not doing enough?

Pause. Your life is not about doing enough; it’s about experiences. Having conversations, meditating over things, learning about yourself, accepting that your thoughts may change, accepting yourself even if your thoughts do not match society’s. Challenging yourself, especially falling down, is very important. Woman have been conditioned to play it safe more than any other gender. We forget we are divine. Each of us is the universe trying to express itself through the form of flesh; each of us is a born goddess.

Below is a poem titled, “Not an Invitation,” excerpted from Lakhera’s latest collection:

my “pretty” is not an invitation

it’s not an invitation

till i invite you

it’s not an invitation

even if we sleep in the same bed

married to each other

legally and religiously declared as man and wife

it’s not an invitation

even if my dress is not what

your family, your own mind,

your strict manuals of code or conduct, your religion, your country

or anyone anything except me has decided “appropriate” and makes you believe

“asking for it.”

it’s not an invitation

if i just underwent or ever underwent gender reassignment surgery, gender neutral, gender fluid – unclear, man or woman, labeled or not labeled, body type – with or without society approved perfections or imperfections- with or without curves

it’s not an invitation

if i am – passionate, shy, sensuous, docile, virgin, non-virgin, monogamous, polyamorous, dominant, forward, backward, as per your own interpretation

it’s not an invitation

if I’m a pole dancer, stripper, rocket scientist, journalist, friend, sex worker, doctor, homeless, drug addict, co-founder of a company pitching you an idea, a student, a struggling or established actress, wife, daughter, sister, caretaker, or in any and every role

it’s not an invitation

if i said at first yes and then changed my mind

or we had it one time already so i should be ok when you feel like it again

it’s not an invitation

because i got drunk, or i got sober, or i am playing easy or hard to get

or because i am celebrating or suppressing my sexuality or lack of it

it’s not an invitation

whether i am wearing a bikini, hijab, sari, skirt, bare-skin, or any whatsoever or nothing

it’s not an invitation

it’s not an invitation

it’s not an invitation

till i say it is

till then you are not welcome

and you are in violation

of highest degree

and you are committing a crime

and it will never be my shame

it will be your shame

oh and while we are at it

there is no such thing called “asking for it.”

if i want i will “ask “

your entitlement is not my responsibility

your ignorance will be your suffering, not mine

just remember

it’s not an invitation till i invite you

till i say yes

it’s a no

and as someone wise once said very well

“no” is a complete sentence

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By Allison Bekric

Allison Bekric is a nurse by day and writer by night living with her husband and two daughters in San … Read more ›