Poems: Jhilam Chattaraj


I was sad and falling sick,
So, I bought a lipstick.

Brown it was like the soil’s infinite haze,
sister said, “you wanna be the subject of male gaze?”

Soft was the silk of its rusty stain,
in print, they promised, no animals were slain,

I beamed like an ethical citizen,
when the activist sneered, “brands are brazen,”

“In India, children burrow through mica-mines,”
don’t you see their bones, in the way it shines?”

I saw a colour,
a shade called fempower

but aunty claimed, “painted lips are not for good girls,”
it’s too slutty, “just wear white pearls.”

I posted, “#Brown bullet.” Got two thousand likes,
not one boy came on a date with my bike.

Heartbreaks have been healed by this satin spread,
it taught me to knife confidence like butter on bread.

“Wear it more often, and you will find a man,”
said, mother, as she sautéed my pride on a hot pan.

This was truly no innocent purchase,
in poems and books, I will build my case.

Until then,
I remain
a brown girl, allergic to pink,
mumbling confessions
to a sparkling kitchen sink.


An edible stain

Mine is no body for nail polish.
These fingers that crown rusty hands
smell like unpaid bills in the pockets
of a forgetful husband.

There’s a Midnight Blue and a Ravishing Red
for the young rebels, the tender, flawless ones,
fresh from runways, swishing down glass staircases
or floating on the streets of glamorous cities.

But name me a shade for thumbs that have ripened with time?
What is the colour of the burden
of those who have skinny-dipped
on the shores of soapy-waters?

Is there a gel or a matte finished liquid that will survive the edge
of kitchen knives, the steam rising from a pot of rice,
the prick of a metal hairclip,
or a bite of the hook of a wrong sized bra?

Even the nudes cannot survive the ordinary.

Is there a polish that will hold my palms up to light?
add meaning to the aching sentences of desires,
unwritten by routine baths
of dishes and drains?

Dear artist, come down from your towers!
Join the woman who eats fish bones with her fingers.

Come, make her an edible stain,
an amorphous luminance,
unknown to the apologies of her salary and nails.


Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in Hyderabad, India. She has authored the books, Corporate Fiction: Popular Culture and the New Writers (2018) and the poetry collection When Lovers Leave and Poetry Stays (2018). Her works have been published in journals like Colorado Review, World Literature Today, and Asian Cha among others. She received the CTI excellence award in “Literature and Soft Skills Development”, 2019 from the Council for Transforming India and the Department of Language and Culture, Government of Telangana, India.

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