Sonali Pattnaik

for us

until we can show

that the lives of our

children, our girls,

women, the shunned,

the vulnerable,

the different, our own,

these lives of us others

matter as much

as theirs, any

amount of breaking

of silence, of howls and

cries of pain and justice

will only echo as an allegation

hurled at the perpetrator

for, only they have

had the privilege of being

human so far, they reason,

every voice of outrage,

every scream from the pained,

is but a dead world

against the lone ranger, ‘me’,

they assume.

you victim, you hero,

no matter what you do,

everyone's been taught

the only one with worth

even when exposed, is you. 

even our pain must stem

from your worth.

when only one kind of

life matters,

even as perpetrator,

the only one 'hurt’ can be you.

so, when we break our silences

dear sisters, daughters, invisibilized others,

we must state to those who harm,

that even when you are being

for your frightening deeds shamed,

listen to our voices clear as we say,

this is about the one you have hurt

this is not about you

while you are linked to them

by the chain of injustice you perpetuate,

for which we demand that you meet just fate,

the silence is being broken

not against you but

for beings other to you,

we speak for us


know exactly who you are
you know, always
only touch that truth
breathing it in,
belief is bodily

don't you let others talk you out of
your skin
walk the night
take it slow
curling your toes as you go
walk away, sway
but take it all the way

take it all the way

forthcoming in her debut poetry collection 'When the Flowers Begin to Speak' from Writers' Workshop, Kolkata

‘do you forget?’

you measure my worth
according to the depth and girth
of your neighborhood pond
you click your tongue
as I immerse and over-run
do you forget I am ocean?

you huff and puff with your might
thinking I am only a flame in the night
but I am not glow or light alone
I am also golden ire
do you forget I am fire?

rain cannot be measured by thunder
nor the ocean be held in your tea cup
fire will burn the wooden yardsticks
you measure my multitude with
and oceans wash away the embers

Baramba – a village home

that creeper on the wall
the smell of jasmine garlands behind
travels to the concrete city, unseen 
the broom still rests on the wall
the blacks and the reds
of the old stone floor
my tiny feet hopped and missed
they hold up that grand home still

I haven't looked up aimlessly
for so many years now
at your curved arches
pigeon holding niches
photographs make it seem
as though it was only a day or two ago
that I fell by the step
just missing the large iron vat
that stored water
in a flash I go from forty to four
running wild with a trail of cousins behind
the sudden sting of cool water
from the old well drenches our limbs
tired from climbing that mango tree
my skin barely recalls the thrill

the sagada* is gone as have the cattle
but I see all of you even now
Jeje leaning back on his wooden chair
your legs crossed before you,
your transistors beside you
my grandmother chewing her paan
looking over things big and small
uncles, aunts, in languid conversation
the corridors always full, thresholds
with stretched bodies, marked
my mum going in and out of the 
old open kitchen, her head under 
the end of her cotton saree, 
reserved only for her time there
the corner room of laughter
of the peripheries, a keeper of secrets
fires burning, like the summer on our skins
old hiding places
sacks and pickle jars
terraces without edges,
so many of us,
some for long, some a vacation short
living under one roof
that opened theatrically
at it's centre
every night and dawn
a starry universe
to behold,
the world as a home
within us all

*a long, boat-shaped bullock cart

Sonali Pattnaik teaches literature in English in Ahmedabad. She has a PhD in the subject and her thesis elaborates upon the body politics of contemporary Bollywood cinema within its neo-liberal context and its complex colonial and pre-colonial histories. She has taught English and film studies at Delhi University, Mumbai University, SNDT University and Whistling Woods International. She is a poet, a visual artist and academic. Her poetry has found place in several journals and anthologies including, Muse India, The Bombay Review, The Kali Project (Indie Blue Publishing) and Through the Looking Glass (Indie Blue Publishing)

 Sonali has been an active participant in gender activism as well as activism around issues regarding environmental destruction, minority rights and displacement. She is a committed mother who revels in home-schooling her daughter and is currently working on turning her thesis into a book. Her debut collection of poems ‘When the flowers begin to speak’ is forthcoming from Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata.