The following series of poems, titled “Eighty-Four,” are based on the Sikh massacre that occurred Delhi during the winter of 1984 in response to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The author said she wrote them to create empathetic creative literature about this event. All photos are courtesy of Jasmine Kaur.
“The air smelled like fear,”
says my mother, her face
suddenly younger, as young
as the face that peered out
of the dried up water tank
in the middle of the night,
money tucked into the folds
of cloth that covered her in
layers and layers, more than
she could count – the Delhi
winters have always been
unkind, and the onset of that
year’s cold was marked by
more than just a chill that went
to the bones – scorched plastic
has a heady smell, mixed with
kerosene and blood, it smells
quite like death, and death it
saw, yards of wound cloth,
crimson red, stained darker with
fresh hues of anger, pain, and
loss, found itself thrown on the
ground, and off the heads of
those it adorned, but what was
most telling was the pin drop
silence of those who could help
for studied ignorance of anguish
is abetment unto itself, and
the silence that followed, was
the worst of all, because those
who survived, hoarse and scared,
had no voice to call their own.
She sat across the table, and
clutched at the ceramic in her
hand, spotted with age and grips,
the mug too large, and too at odds
with the narrow, bent fingers that
wrapped around it, just as she
was at odds with the world she inhabited.
Her hair was slicked back with the
smell of coconut, and it snaked down
her back, a narrow tale of the faith
that she fostered, and its signs were
there to see for those who noticed,
a flash of silver on her wrist, and the
little prayer book she clutched to her chest.
The colours she wore, hues of the plains
made her stand out, stark, against the
city of pastels she was living in, and her
skin, the colour of a wheat harvest, stood out
against the pale pinks and creams,
underlining, highlighting, demarcating
her tangible otherness, and vulnerability.
We spoke for a little while, and her voice
sounded hesitant, wrapping itself into
the language we shared in slow, careful
movements – her words flowed in a cacophony
of accents that chafed at each other’s very
existence – one she was born into, and one
she learned in order to survive her transitions.
“Why did you leave?” I asked, overriding my
own feelings of intrusion, flinching at my
own demand to unravel bandages she had
struggled to cover herself in, and she smiled,
resignation shading her eyes like the shade
of rainless clouds over dusty land, one that
she had left, afraid and circumspect.
“This isn’t your home.” I said, surprised at
my own boldness (I don’t often try to
shock someone into revealing their most
hidden depths), and she sighed, softly,
and her face reminded me of lullabies
hummed to me through the evening fogs,
layers of wool, and winter smells.
“Will you have some more tea?” she asked,
as though my questions were irrelevant,
and in that moment, I knew they were,
because the home I spoke of, and the land
I lived on, had cut into her heart, cut deep
enough to cut itself out of what she
had left, of her identity, of herself.
The Portrait of a Man
My father’s silhouette is incomplete
without the shadow of his turban,
one I’ve seen him tie every day, often
twice, with careful, measured grace
filtering through his movements.
He ties one end of six meters to a
solid anchor as he wraps the cloth
into folds, upon folds, upon folds,
each careful tuck and tug tying him
closer to the identity he holds.
One corner of each of them is faded
by the smallest shade, holding teeth
marks from where he clenched at
the cloth, draping it around his neck,
across his forehead, and down again.
He does this slowly, calmly, standing
still, brows furrowed in concentration
till each fold mirrors the next, and he
pins them down, crisp overlappings
underlining a history he chooses to tell.
My earliest memories are of him as a
magician, tying impossibly long stretches
of colourful cloth into intricate knots,
looming over me as I saw him condensing
practice, faith, and culture into his impression.
But sometimes when I see him perform
his artful meditation honed to precision with
years of repetition, all I can think of is the
people who sobbed as they held scissors
to the most prominent expression of themselves.
I think of how they must’ve felt, as the throngs
fuelled by anger and bloodlust pressed against
the gates of their homes, voting lists in hand,
chasing down men who had, till then, carried
their turbans so proudly on their own heads.
I imagine the turmoil they faced, with the
choices they presented to themselves,
caught between faith and massacre,
the helplessness in the face of reckless,
unwarranted, unjustified executions.
I wonder if they look at their reflections
and see the faintest silhouettes of what
they were forced to give up, and give in,
and I imagine that the history that it signifies
isn’t a wound that heals, or forgives.
The dawn of tenth November,
nineteen eighty-four saw a dawn
of grey and pink hues, the skies painted
a faded reflection of the colours
that had been splattered on the roads
almost all week, before, and the
city bustled like it did, as always.
As mornings go, it was an ordinary one,
wisps of fog trailing around ankles
as they collapsed under the rays of weak
winter sun cut across in giant swaths
by the shuffling of early risers setting up
the day’s stock – they sat on their haunches,
beedis in hand, waiting for their sales to launch.
The rates of the day were usually decided
by a common agreement of sorts,
a flexible number that was attached
to various goods, as they were dispatched,
and the prices were bemoaned, paisas haggled
over, and free condiments demanded,
all little traditions followed as commanded.
And on the tenth of November,
nineteen eighty-four, another price of sorts
was defined; Fifty rupees (less than a
dollar today, if you’d believe the rates) was
handed over to terrified, attacked mothers
and their children in Sultanpuriˆ, and
they were told, ‘You’re free, and safe to go.’
ˆ Them v Us, quoted in The Assassination & After (1985), Arun Shourie, p85.
‘Your body remembers, even when you hide,’
says my mind, as I walk through the narrow
lanes of Trilokpuri, dusty red and scattered
grey, chipped bricks casting meandering
shadows over rapidly fading paths in the
weak winter sunlight.
‘Your fingers know, though you don’t,’
affirms my body, as I feel cold wrought
iron, after warmed stone, after pliable mud
after scraggly, overturned, roots, brushing
against my hands, leaving smears of faded
remembrances against them.
‘Your hands tremble, and you know why,’
whisper my fingers, as the stories I’ve
heard, and the numbers I’ve read, weave
in and out of half-heard radio reports
and state-sanctioned commission outlines
gather, like witnesses.
But they remain silent, party to my own
avoidance, as the loss is snatched away
under acquisition acts, broken down into
statistics, and filed away into comfortable,
byte sized pieces, a broken inheritance of
crippling loss and pain.
A Walk Down the Shukkar Bazaar, Rajouri Garden
(‘Shukkar bazaar’ is a traditional weekly market that’s held on, as the name suggests, Friday.)
I walked by a chuski-wallah today
and he ran a spoon down the row
of bottles in front of him – sapphire,
emerald, ruby glinted off cheap glass,
making things look prettier than they
are, and he ran it back left, tying an
invisible noose around my wrist, and
it held me in place, peering through
the wooden planks that made up his
castle of forbidden treats and tastes.
He smiled back through, rotten teeth
bared in a weather-beaten imitation of
a welcome for an unwilling, unwarranted
visitor, and wrapped a cloth around a
block of ice, greyed and frayed with
age and use – shaving upon shaving of
feathery powder piling up under his
yellowed nails, cracked fingers prying
apart solid dreams to mold to his
own delicious mechanisms.
He looked up again, the question writ
on his face, running the spoon with
slow deliberation across the cap of each
bottle, till I nod, almost imperceptibly at
the murky brown- kaala khatta, extra masala,
and he smiles wider, approving, of what, I
don’t know, and as he pours, I walk away,
deaf to his protestations – I had promised
Ma that I’d stay away from all diseases
in the light of the exam season.
Harnidh Kaur is a 21-year-old student, currently pursuing her Masters
in Public Policy from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. She’s a debater, slam
poet, and TEDx speaker. She is the senior poetry editor for Inklette
magazine. Her first book, The Inability of Words, is slated for a mid-2016 release. Harnidh Kaur’s blog can be found here.
In celebration of Kirthana Ramisetthi’s second novel “Advika and the Hollywood Wives,” BGM literary editor Nimarta Narang is publishing this short story by the acclaimed author. This piece chronicles the evolution of a writer’s life through their ever-changing author’s bio. In the details, from the change in last name to the new address, we observe how Gigi grows into Genevieve and the life events that make her into the writer she becomes.
“My Picnic,” published in the Oakwood Elementary Storytime Scrapbook
Gigi Maguire loves strawberries, “Smurfs,” and being a first grader. Her favorite word is ‘hooray.’ This is her first short story.
“Sunshine Day,”published in Oakwood Elementary KidTale
Gigi Maguire is a fifth grader in Ms. Troll’s class. She loves writing stories more than anything in the whole world, except for peanut butter.
“What Rhymes with Witch?,” published in BeezKneez.com
Gigi Maguire is a high school junior living in the Bay Area. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling. If she can’t attend Hogwarts, she’ll settle for Sarah Lawrence or NYU.
“On Her 21st Birthday,” published in LitEnds
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a writer and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, and Mahatma Gandhi. She is making her big move to New York City in the fall.
“Valentine’s Day in a Can,” published in Writerly
Gigi Laurene Maguire is a freelance writer who loves the written word, Ireland in springtime, and “La Vie En Rose.” She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Unspoken Ballads of Literal Heartbreak,” published in Weau Dunque Review
Gigi Laurene Maguire is an assistant editor at ScienceLife.com. Her work has appeared in Writerly and is forthcoming in Pancake House and Schooner’s Weekly. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“The Mistress of Self-Loathing,” published in Story Day
Gigi L. Maguire is the editor-in-chief of Small Business Weekly. Her work has appeared Writerly, Story Day, Pancake House, and Schooner’s Weekly. She’s currently working on a novel about witches. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her tabby cat Sabrina.
“The Distance in Your Eyes,” published in The Canton Review
Gigi L. Maguire is a freelance writer and digital marketing specialist. Her work has appeared in Writerly, Story Day, and is forthcoming in Idaho Centennial. She’s working on a novel and a short story collection. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Auspicious,” published in BookWorks
Genevieve L. Maguire’s work appears or will appear in The Canton Review, Mark’s End, Bishop Quarterly, and Idaho Centennial. A second runner-up for the Imelda Granteaux Award for Fiction, she is writing a novel and a memoir. Genevieve lives in Brooklyn.
“Meditate, Mediate,” published in Ripcord
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears or will appear in BookWorks, The Canton Review, Berkeley Standard, and elsewhere. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she is an MFA candidate at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and their two cats.
“Chaat & Chew,” published in The Carnegie Review
Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears in Ploughshares, Ripcord, The Cambridge Review, and elsewhere. She received her master’s in creative writing from New York University. Her short story “Meditate, Mediate” has been optioned by Academy Award nominee Janet De La Mer’s production company, Femme! Productions. She lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé, their three cats, and a non-singing canary.
“Urdhva Hastasana Under a Banyan Tree” published in The Paris Review
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in The Carnegie Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Manoj in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“Reaching New (Jackson) Heights,” performed by Lana Del Rey on NPR’s “Shorts” series
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “effervescent” by Alice Munro and “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, The Carnegie Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their feisty menagerie of animals.
“The Bhagavad Gina,” published in The New Yorker
Genevieve Maguire-Mehta is the recipient of the Whiting Prize of Short Fiction and is a McClennen Arts Colony scholar. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review,Elle, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“When Two Becomes None,” published in American Quarterly
Genevieve Maguire’s writing has received dozens of accolades, most recently the Luciana Vowel Prize for Female Fiction. Praised by Alice Munro as “effervescent,” her work has appeared in more than twenty publications, including The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter Priyanka in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve Maguire is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than thirty publications, including The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Woodstock, New York. “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” is her first novel. Visit her website at genevievemagauthor.com.
“Hairy Arms and Coconut Oil,” published in MotherReader
Genevieve MaguireDunblatt is a novelist, homeopath, and part-time yoga instructor. She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Benji and daughter Priyanka in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life,” published by Capricorn Rising Press
Genevieve M.Dunblatt is the author of two novels, including “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path.” An aura reader, faith healer, and yoga instructor, she has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit genevieveauthormag.com to learn more about her writing, and genevieveauthormag.com/hearthappy for her wellness services.
“Comma, Coma,” published in Read-A-Day Journal
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Alice Munro has called her writing “effervescent.” She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Next Stop New York,” published in The Lunar Reader
Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She lives in New Jersey.
Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).”
A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up.
“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”
Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”
Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.
Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls.
They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home!
Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning.
She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”
Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”
As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”
Bharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance form and the oldest classical dance tradition in India. Bharatanatyam, originally a dance performed by women in temples of Tamil Nadu, is often used to convey Hindu religious tales and devotions. It is taught by a teacher known as a guru. The dance costume resembles that of a South Indian bride and the dancer wears anklets, called ghungroos, to keep the rhythm while dancing to the music. While Bharatanatyam is still taught all over the world in the traditional way, the styles of teaching have changed over the years. For the last six years, my sister and I have been taught modernized styles of Bharatnatyam in the USA.
An Arangetram lasts approximately three hours and has nine, or in our case 10, dances in total. It begins with an introduction dance called a Mallari or Pushpanjali following the guru’s nattuvangam (rhythm kept using symbols). In the middle of the program is a Varnam — a centerpiece dance that lasts about 30 to 40 minutes. This dance tests the dancer’s endurance as well as their storytelling ability. The performance is concluded with a Thillana which is seen as the last glimpse into the dancer’s full capacity. The Thillana is followed by a Mangalam, the closing dance of the Arangetram.
My sister and I began learning Bharatanatyam in 2016 when we were nine years old. Despite our instant attachment to the art form, we were always daunted by the idea of having an Arangetram of our own. It would be challenging, mainly because we are twins, and our performance would have to be suitable for two people to perform side by side. We began preparing for this event in the summer of 2021. Our guru would make us run for the first half hour of class to build our stamina — much-needed for a three-hour repertoire. We would spend the next two and a half hours learning our repertoire. The first dance we learned together during this time was our Varnam. Learning this dance took a month and we spent a lot of time memorizing it. Our Varnam was dedicated to Lord Krishna, one of the many Hindu gods, known for his charm, wit, and being a master Guru whose philosophies were immortalized through the Gita — the Hindu Holy scripture.
An Arangetram is the on-stage debut of a traditional Bharatanatyam dancer following years of training and discipline under the able guidance of a guru. This is a milestone for young artists as it opens up the opportunity for solo performances, choreographing individual pieces, and instructing other dancers.
By January, we had learned our entire repertoire and were starting to memorize it while adding expressions, poses, and building up our stamina, making them look effortless. Some dances were more difficult to memorize than others, particularly dances that were story-based. Because most Bharatanatyam dance music is in either Sanskrit or Tamil so we couldn’t understand the lyrics right away. Our guru helped us interpret the stories before teaching us the choreography making them easier to commit to memory. We also had help from our mother who listened to all our songs and gave us keywords that corresponded with our dance moves. Listening to dance music on the way to school, dance, or while getting ready for bed, became a part of our daily routine as it helped us internalize the rhythms.
Although a year seems like a long time to prepare for an event, the day of the Arangetram came before we knew it. The morning started off with family and friends coming to our house to help us transport decorations and essentials we would need backstage. We arrived at our venue — the Balaji temple in Bridgewater, New Jersey — and made our way to the green rooms. Our makeup artists assisted us with hair and makeup, which lasted four hours. During this time we were going through the dances in our heads and mentally preparing for the performance to come. Once we were dressed in costume, we headed for the stage pooja, a prayer session on the Arangetram stage with close friends and family, to invoke a successful performance. This was also the time when jitters started kicking in. It had just occurred to us that the performance we’d been preparing for our entire dance careers was about to happen and this was the only chance we had to show the audience our very best.
A person can only have one Arangetram in their lifetime, and this huge milestone comes with pressure given how special the performance is.
As the masters of ceremony were introducing our first number all I could do was stare at my sister standing in the other wing, and I knew we had the same thoughts going through our minds.
As we began dancing I felt almost a sense of relief because of how well we knew the dance. Every single dance was so ingrained in our muscle memory that it felt like second nature even in front of such a large audience. During the repertoire, we had two costume changes, with three costumes in total. Each costume change took 15 minutes while the audience was learning about SAMHAJ or listening to speeches from our friends and family. Backstage, our makeup artists and backstage moms were busy helping us change our costumes and jewelry, adjusting them to make sure nothing would move while dancing. We also had some of our fellow dance girls backstage giving us water and fruit as well as tightening our ghungroos so they wouldn’t fall off on stage.
Our Varnam was a huge success, resulting in a standing ovation from the audience. After the Varnam, we performed a slower dance called Ramabajanam, telling all the stories about Lord Ram, another Hindu god known for his chivalry and virtue. We decided to dedicate this dance to our parents since it was always their favorite to watch and listen to. My mom was heavily involved in helping us memorize this dance by telling us the stories so we wouldn’t forget the choreography. Right before the last dance, we acknowledged all of the people who helped us backstage and were presented with our graduation certificates. In order to give the audience a peek at the effort that went into the performance they were watching, we shared our experience with the audience as well as our guru’s message during this time. Our last dance surprised the audience, as our mother joined us on stage and danced with us. She always dreamt of being a dancer as a child but was never able to learn. Sharing one dance meant a lot to us, and watching it was very entertaining for the audience as well. After all the dances were over, all our guests proceeded to the banquet hall for dinner where we were able to greet all our guests and thank them for coming. When the night ended we were exhausted but still full of adrenaline.
Even though the tension that had built-up in my head over the last few months had now subsided, I was somewhat disappointed that the process had come to an end. I wouldn’t exactly call my Arangetram journey perfect or effortless, but I grew so much this past year as a dancer and as well as a person. The lessons I learned from dance about hard work and resilience will carry on with me for the rest of my life and for that I am forever grateful. The event itself brought so many people together such as my aunt and cousin, who came all the way from India to attend, as well as so many relatives that we hadn’t seen in years. Grandparents, as well as young children all gathered in the audience to watch a display of their culture, or for some audience members, learn a new one. Not only did we spread awareness for this beautiful art form, but we also raised awareness on mental health amongst South Asians — an issue we’re passionate about.
Along with our guru, we decided to leverage this event to create awareness for mental health amongst South Asians in the United States. We decided to advocate for SAMHAJ, a charity that provides education and support for South Asians affected by serious mental illnesses. In order to educate people about mental health, SAMHAJ offers workshops to social service organizations, schools, and mental health professionals as well as provides culturally competent mental health services by creating bilingual support groups. You can donate to SAMHAJ via this link.
Overall, this process has been immensely gratifying and I simply cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me with Bharatanatyam.