Ishmeet Nagpal – WE ICWP Prize ’20. Longlisted For WE Kamala Das Award ’20.

The Floor Is Lava

When you are someone who is not 
A man, 
Stepping - Outside - 
Is akin to taking off 
In a space shuttle. 

One small step for man, 
One giant abyss for you. 

You gear yourself up - 
A precisely placed dupatta, 
Covers and patches on every inch of your skin, 
Like an airtight spacesuit - 
Lest you burn yourself 
In the static, toxic, unforgiving 
Catcall asteroids hurling in your orbit, 
The weightlessness of vulnerability - 
When a stranger gropes your hip, 
Deplete the limited oxygen you carry on your back.
You have trained for this adventure sport, 
All your life. 
Every time you step outside, 
Because the inside is not safe either, 
Suspended at the threshold for a microsecond, 
Life flashes before your eyes -

Is this the day you collide with a rogue planet? 
Is this the day you will die?


I have taken the last Mumbai local, 
The slow one to Churchgate, 
A hundred times, safe in the ‘Ladies’ compartment. 

The womenfolk who peddle 
Their wares, their days - 
Sleep, stretched out on the seats. 

I am reminded of the office-going women, 
Who buy vegetables from them in the evening, 
And proceed to cut them in the train. 

I am reminded of the on-going Antakshri, 
The clamor at Dadar station, 
The endless Musical Chairs of seats.
The ‘Ladies’ compartment is an extension of home, 
A daily reminder, a riveting light and sound show - 
Of freedom and oppression co-existing. 

I usually watch from afar, 
Sprawled out near the door, 
Where the fisherwomen stack their baskets. 

I have taken the train back and forth, 
A hundred times, a thousand times, 
Zig-zagging through trials and aspirations.

Today, the tracks are wrapped in silence, 
Of halted lives, and halted women, 
Rusting bodies, awaiting a life-giving green signal. 

I promise, I will never take the train, 
Without falling to my knees, 
At the sight of women smiling again.

Dr Ishmeet Nagpal is spoken word poet, entrepreneur, publisher of the poetry anthology Isolocation @Ratio Auream Publishers LLP, ’20, that she co-founded with Nirav Mehta. Ishmeet was longlisted for the WE Kamala Das Poetry Award 2020. She is a dentist turned social activist. As director of Project Manasvi, she conducts workshops and sensitization sessions on gender, sexuality and mental health. She is an established spoken word poet and co-founder of Sexonomics Band, that creates awareness on gender issues through dramatic satire.