ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry
The Freedom to Dream: India at 70
By Neha Goyal, 19 years, Noida
1997, midnight, I was born and I didn’t open my eyes
My grandma wasn’t carrying a charming face anymore
I grew up on the 2nd floor room on the terrace of the house
And I wondered why my mom had tears in her eyes
I wondered why she talked so little but slept like a child
She used to make me sit in the cold open wide sky of night
And watch the stars,
Her eyes used to gleam and I used to look at her more often
Because I used to see something hidden,
Something buried deep down in her body.
2003, morning, we moved to a new city and the sun was very bright
I used to count the number of cars passed by me as I’d try to sleep
I was five, the first time I sleepwalked in that city I barely knew.
I just had a vague memory of my grandpa looking for me,
And me hiding and running away from while I was in my sleep
But never knew why
Until few years later when he groped me in my sleep
But his hands were so tight, I couldn’t slip away,
I couldn’t speak as the words died on my lips but I wanted to shout,
It’s funny how I was taught different ways to grow up.
When I was in 8th grade, I was coming back from market
When a man I never saw in my life, asked me how much I’d charge for him
And I ran away as fast as I could, before his hands could touch me.
I was in 11th grade when I went to meet a friend while he started to touch
My breasts so I asked him what was he doing,
He said, “Isn’t this what you came for?”
I grew up mostly with hurricane showers in my head,
In wonder if I’d just be able to survive the thunderstorm
So when someone asks me about that one thing when they scream ‘dream’
My mind goes from becoming a scientist to a footballer,
From being a poet to a music writer.
But I don’t say anything because wishes never come true when you speak them out loud
And I’ve been wearing a mask for long enough that now it has become a part of who I am.
21st century, middle class family, my grandma wants me to get a job
So that I can support dad, but my dad never said what he wanted
And his eyes looked differently when I tried to look through them,
Sometimes my mom tells me we’re both the same, and we are
But in a parallel universe, standing on one side of the circle, we are the same
As a brown girl, I’m expected to hush my thoughts and never speak too loud
It has to be lady-like, I’m expected to bring the best chai and
Always agree to what they say, I shouldn’t indulge in boys,
And violence is a dark spot you have to carry
So they dream, but never speak.
If you ever spot one spotting a shooting star like my mom did
When I was a kid, it speaks of unfinished dreams and sacrifices
Burning through the sky.