Millions of girls continue to vanish pre-birth in India simply because they are girls. The following poems imagine these vanished girls.
In my mind I cradled you in my arms
I didn’t cage you
you latched onto my breasts
I didn’t siphon life into you
you mumbled bilabial sounds, m…p
yet my ears did not hear you speak
I know you exist
waiting to be reborn as my son
then, I will cradle you in my arms
let you latch onto my breasts
siphon life into you
hear you mumble Ma, Pa
welcome you as the heir
who will carry your father’s name
WOULD YOU STILL BLAME ME?
You were like circles of incense
It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth
It was the kind of feeding we would do
For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother
You would get only one not soaked
Every glass of milk that went down his throat
You would drink chai with a hint of milk
Every pair of new clothes he would get each month
You would only get one pair a year
He would utter complex phrases in English
You would say soft words in Hindi and the local tongue
He would earn fancy degrees to do something great
You would master fine skills to please others
He would walk with his head held high
You would walk with your head bent
For you are leased property
Returned to its rightful owner in two decades
Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.
Manisha Sharma: Born and raised in India, Manisha Sharma earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Tech. A graduate of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, she was a Spring 2016 poetry mentee in AWP’s mentorship program, where Shikha Malaviya mentored her. Her recent poetry and writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from TAB, a journal of poetry and poetics, New Asian Writing, The Bombay Review and The Huffington Post. More of her work can be seen at www.genderedarrangements.com.
Editor’s Note: Between 2000 and 2011 seven-to-ten million girls in India were prevented from being born simply because they were girls. With her important poetry and collaborations, Manisha Sharma tells research-based stories of these girls-who-never-were. Her work goes a step beyond giving voice to the voiceless. Sharma literally gives life — through her art — to those who never came into being because of their sex.
In today’s poems Sharma imagines these “vanished girls” from the perspective of the mothers who carried, but never birthed them. “I know you exist,” one such mother reflects, “waiting to be reborn as my son.” Another considers the gender inequity she wanted to spare her would-be-daughter: “It wasn’t that we couldn’t feed another mouth / It was the kind of feeding we would do/ For every roti soaked in ghee for your brother / You would get only one not soaked / Every glass of milk that went down his throat / You would drink chai with a hint of milk.”
It is heartbreaking to think of the lost souls whose sex alone prevented them from having a chance at life. But it is perhaps more challenging to consider the mothers who conceived, who carried the seeds of life inside them, and who made the choice — if they were given a choice at all — to terminate their pregnancies when they discovered they were carrying girls. One mother harbors no illusions as to the kind of life a girl child in India would have had to lead, while the other acknowledges that, despite the choice made, she suffered a great loss: “In my mind I cradled you in my arms.”
Want to see more from Manisha Sharma?
“Indian Girl Crumbling” in New Asian Writing
“#17”, “#18”, “#22”, “#23”, and “#25” in The Bombay Review