TWI Women’s Day 2021 Contest Winners

Thanks to all who submitted their pieces for TWI’s Women’s Day 2021 Contest.

We enjoyed reading all your work, and we are so appreciative that you chose to participate and send your poems to us.

Here are our 5 winners and their winning poems, in no particular order.

Mansi Vijay – “A lease

lessor/lɛˈsɔ ː person who lets out the property for lease
lessee/lɛˈsi ː person to whom the property is leased

A honey bee selects it’s nesting
site by a highly refined decision
making process that occurs in
the spring when a colony
outgrows its hive, until it finds
a comfortable and spacious
hollow of a tree to call home.
So almost twenty years later
I finally adjust my vision enough
to locate the branches of that tree,
the resemblance of an encroached territory
outlived stretch marks of
an outstretched C on her lower abdomen.

I claimed in one of my verses,
a desire to crawl into people
and make homes in them.
I never meant it with this ferocity
until I realize it’s a lifetime too late
to cancel the lease;
lest the property be destroyed
to an extent that now it 
locates its voice in the third cabinet of the kitchen drawer,
the edge of a scalpel cutting
through skin and ambition with no
hint of remorse, is now as
harmless as the soft curves of a
rolling pin, they now flatten out careers, love and sacrifice as daily appetite,
knit braids, butter sandwiches, 
keep the house warm each day
by gaslighting a bit of her own body and sanity,
so you know it takes one measured birth of a life
to stitch scars into a fabric 
of monotony,
with the record on loop playing motherhood,
until you start calling it a life.

“finish your plate”
“oil your hair or let me”
“clean your room”
“watch your shoes”
“watch your mouth”
“can you help me”
“put away that screen”
“when will you come home”
“you always look beautiful”
“how am I supposed to be okay with you pushing me away”
“let me in”
“come here”, open arms and yet the hands of a clock fall short to replay the unheard bits of this broken vinyl record,
“I need you more than you need me.”

Lest their lessees
push out of rented wombs,
crawl into kindergarten,
strut through high school,
walk into corporate glass houses, 
trading her time and company
for a clock that only ticks to sound an alarm each morning, 
a phone call every evening,
until you wake up one day,
put the remainder of her property up 
for a mortgage and call it home.

Mansi Vijay (she/her) is a spoken word artist based out of New Delhi. Chaotically defined by her degree in literature and descent into poetry, she selfishly pledges her metaphors to mitigate the morgue and it’s mellow privilege of silence. When she’s not torn across waning metros and muscle memory, she’s plotting a revolution in her head led by five minute long hugs against the unprecedented times.

Aparna Eswaran – “Omened

In the month of Avani,
the men of the house stay in
averting their gaze from the rising moon. 

Something terrible, they say, can happen-
“Be devoured by an enchantress, 
die childless, worse,  father a defiant dark daughter
or be cuckolded for an inferior rogue”

There is only so much that is terrible that can happen to a man

The women of the mansion
never question the ancient omen,
in patience, they end the ruthless day,
in mirth, they take long night dips in the village pond

fondle, tease , caress and play,
dance in circles under the spying  stars,
hair dripping wet, luminescent and indigo, 
adorned with long strings of wild white jasmine.

On their way back, arms intertwined,
a discreet visit to the shrine of the impish kuttichathan,
With offerings of red hibiscus and bottles of arrack
gently waking him with their lilting laughs
from his year-long slumber.

A lucky one among them 
possessed by the demigod that night
be  blessed with an invisible parrot on her right arm,
her toes wrinkling like the lotus goddesses of the ritual murals.
The unlucky ones will take a swig of the left over palm drink
and dream in waiting for the next rising moon to come.

Aparna Eswaran is a researcher on poetry written by Tamil women of Ilankai. She is based in Kerala, and enjoys reading and writing poetry which has appeared in Cereberation and Our Private Literature. She is also a member of ‘The Quarantine Train’.

Prajakta Paranjpe – “Tawa

My grandmother’s tawa was iron-clad
molten and cast, of rage, of hard upbringing
into womanhood.
Cooled down, its curving concave body
gently held each billowing roti
warm, growing up. 

My mother, who worked, gave it all she had, 
But also earned enough.
Not to worry too much about what tawa 
the cook used. 
Did it end up being lighter
or heavier – than my grandma’s? 

I grew up easily into 
the practicality of a ‘non-stick’
I’d thought I could softly, quickly 
Detach
from the sticky household. 
“Really?” it asked, “You know what I do, don’t you?”
So I now wield my own, hard-anodized version
Wondering if the cast iron skillet would better withstand
the heat of an electric coil. 

Because you see, even the tawa
matters only so much
The flour and the foreign soil
Also gotta have their say, after all!

They will measure my commitment
to this chewy dough of an existence
to this fine art of modulated temperatures
to this acrobatic performance every day- 
Roll, rotate, and plop
Roast and flip
Transfer to a special stand,
And finally, with a puffed up chest
Land on toes, perfectly pointed
to imaginary applause!

I hope I’ve made you proud, my mothers- 
I’ve striven each day
Rotating and revolving incessantly
around many things
within and without
for a life that should feel, somehow,
Rounded out. 

Prajakta likes to describe herself as a ‘little fish in the ocean of multilingual currents’, because she grew up in India, learning and loving 3 different languages, and considers her love of various languages and their colorful literature as her defining quality. She blogs in English and Marathi, on aavarta.wordpress and aavarta.blogspot. Her translations aspiring to bridge cultural gaps between the two home countries. have been published in Marathi journals, ‘ऐसी अक्षरे’ and ‘ज्ञानभाषा मराठी प्रतिष्ठान.’ An English educator in New Jersey, US since 2008, she aims at kindling a love for reading and writing in her students. She’s obtained an M.Phil from Pune University, with a thesis focused on ‘A Feminist Reading of Chekhov’s Tragi-Comedies,’ (2006) followed by a Masters in Education from Rutgers University (2008). Her extensive training in Hindustani Classical music proves to be a constant source of inspiration.

Athira Unni – “this is not a housewife poem

the poet told me
there are too many 
housewife poems: 

unpaid, smelling of fresh laundry
sweeping dead pigeons off porches
sauntering with eyes hiding locations
of missing lives and objects

unwashed, tending to roses 
cleaning toilets with college degrees
quietly making rotis with
turmeric and gunpowder

this lousy poem with all its complaints
can be ironed, folded and shelved away
like saris that adorn our bored bodies
or forgotten in the latrines of history
too deep to reach even with a plunger 

Athira Unni lives on coffee and thunderstorms. She is a PhD candidate at the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities at Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her debut poetry collection “Gaea and Other Poems” was published in September 2020. She blogs at chocolateandink.wordpress.com.

Esha Shah – Dandelions and Dynamite

When she emerges from the womb,
She is sunlight, anew
Gazing at the world with her eyes like oceans,
She knows she’s been here before.
The thought is bittersweet.

When she is embraced by the arms of young womanhood,
She feels like a shadow, ancient.
A puppet on strings.
She worries at her acne,
rough as ridges on the plains of her brown forehead,
At her hair,
prickly as grass sloping down her shins.
At her limbs,
skinny as the trunks of budding birch trees.
Not because she particularly cares,
but because other people tell her to care.

Beautiful is a construct, she knows.
She will never be beautiful like the starving models on television,
or the Greek Goddesses in the paperbacks .
She doesn’t care, still.
She knows she is beautiful.
Like sunrises.
And nostalgic childhood memories.
And intelligent observations in conference rooms.
And sweet music from abandoned pianofortes.
Like the feelings of love and vulnerability,
that fit like jigsaw pieces into the grand puzzle of her mind and heart.

When she passes by him
in the depths of the dark alley, or
behind the dumpster on campus,
She is not afraid.
She calls on to the singing flame in her blood.
She calls on to the strength of her ancestral mothers and sisters,
etched into the marrow of her spine.
She calls on to the brave golden light spilling from all the cracks in her soul,
where they tried to break her.
And smiles, deadly, into the darkness,
a tigress.
She knows,
she is no one’s prey.

When she handpicks books off dusty, moth-eaten shelves,
yearning for nourishment that food never gave her
She consumes stories about dragons and wars and love and magic,
knitting them like badges of girl-scout honor into the seams of her heart .
She looks for herself in the words,
within modern literature’s strong female personas:
Girls with nerves of steel in leather jackets and track pants
Girls adorned in knives and guns, brute force lining their muscles,
glowing as they wield their power.

How disappointing.
She doesn’t find what she seeks.
She sighs at this deluded, dimensionless portrayal of strength.
She grimaces at this depiction of a girl’s power,
at this need for physicality and cold-blooded severity,
at this compulsion to paint young women practically dressed in the skin of ‘manliness’
to prove their fortitude.

She wonders,
Is it really so terrifying a thought,
that beneath her summer frocks and big dreams and kind grace,
a girl has courage and grit burning like icy fire in her veins?
Is it really so terrifying a thought,
that beneath her quiet smiles and thin composure,
she has a voice which can wield the power of all the twilight stars and galaxies?
She shakes her head,
and closes the book.
Flourishing her pen and paper,
she knows what to do.
Excitement tickles at the tip of her fingers.

Somewhere in the faraway corners of the planet
The oceans climb up to kiss the shore,
listening
The trails of wispy smoke rise from bonfires,
listening
The warm west wind stops its whistling,
listening.

The world quiets for her, a little.
As it should, she thought, eyes twinkling.
The universe calls
And for the first time, it was
listening,
To her,
The beautiful brown girl,
Created from summers and stories,
Bred from dandelions,
Raised to dynamite.

Esha Shah is an aspiring writer and rising sophomore student in high school. She found her love for stories within literature’s cozy corner of fantasy and historical fiction novels. When she’s not poring over YA books or Hamilton soundtracks, she enjoys playing piano, eating ice cream and engaging in late movie nights with her family. She lives in Hyderabad, India.

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