Mistresses of Melancholy, or the Fallen Women

forgotten tales from pre-nirbhaya

But she found man resolved to go,

So she went out with him, deathwards tending;

And yet God she’d scarcely got to know.1

†          †          †


No, let me speak, and let me rail so high,

That the false housewife Fortune break her wheel,

Provoked by my offence.2



We are the       fallen women

we are not the             only women3

scattered amidst uneven spaces

staring at you through jagged surfaces

our still-heads tell of abandoned graces

coloured, rich, poor, ornamented-

We are the wandering omens of your hunger             satiated.


Not GB Road, Kamathipura or Avignon4

Our home!

Released from mortal flesh

Cut from everyday ties-

Everywhere we roam.


Where ever we may roam.5

Scattered around Time,

our lives are a hand full of dust.

remembered only as shameless shades of lust.


Our muffled screams from smiling pictures

and memories of sordid adventures

fail to swerve a splinter

in brains turning in their usual grooves6


Staring sans vision, smiling sans affection7

Our hearts are dried-

Dry limbs, dry mouth, dry souls,

Aridity is our deepest affliction.


Yet, we have seldom attempted to weep,

Seldom cried,

most certainly refrained for bleating like sheep –


So remember us not as –

A delirious mass of weeping women, but only as8

the fallen woman

the un-crying, undying woman.


†          †          †          †          †




At twenty three

my April eyes said to me,

‘Be your own person,

aim to be free.’

At forty, December skin

has paled

like dry stone in scorching sun


My lips have forsaken questioning those conditioned creeds.

So please, please do not lament my seemingly persistent deeds.9


I have been aware of this for sure.

As most of us

have rounded and matured.

But some refusing to ingratiate

have conveniently disappeared

between fatty folds of Time

that was not even theirs


I have forsaken questioning

the laws of disappearance

and those many creeds –


No! Do not lament my most persistent deeds.


Nor despair o’er them!


We are not the cardboard cut-outs

of the usual reign.


We are the fallen women

the silent, beautiful women.


†          †          †          †          †


Stands amongst us:

Gorgeously smiling  G.10


Wearing a Face

adorned by much tapestry.


She served drinks on flights

over land and sea,


To charming men

given to subtle lechery;


Coaxed, cajoled bewitched her; one such lech

listlessly moaned, while she sensuously stretched.


To his wild mating calls,

promising successes, love


and much tomfoolery.

Slowly diluting ambitions with conceit,


he managed to pop her cherry!

In Love, they signed many-a bond


ran around trees

till She got bored,


yelling to be free-

Here, she gracefully stands, while


her ghost, wise, innocent and wild

sits chained in the dungeons of flawed memory.


†          †          †          †          †


She flew the skies

fell into lies.


Remember her, not as

the fallen women, but only –


As the fallen woman.

The soaring, roaring woman.


Beside G, sits B11

who ne’er flew-

Or went on wild shopping sprees.

Yet, She too had wanted to be free!


By indulging in twilight games

about dangling a cee-dee.


But the infirm Dog

who was to chase,

was given to much biting, rabid and crazed.

“Enough!” he barked, “I am done with such fun!”

so, Her Body still glistens

by the canal in the sun.


No! She hadn’t fallen in the canal

dreamily lost in lover’s games.


So remember her,

not as a frivolous, game-loving woman, but only –

As the fallen woman

The bloating, floating, dog-loving woman.


†          †          †          †          †



These words she would’ve scribbled

if she could-

do not read these as M’s words, if at all you should!12


Written Words, not Freedom

Was M’s real calling.

They could not prevent her from,

into an Hungry Abyss falling.


She emerged, sphinx like

with a bump in her body.

Patterns of poignant words

now made illegible and shoddy.


For six months we saw,

We saw and we whispered;

‘Boy-Girl-Girl-Boy’, the suspense of it lingered.


Alas! Mistimed concern

Doesn’t heal or embalm.


“aim at the stomach, so all evidence vanishes”




echoes and

-a bloodstained wall

her greatest poem

reads back to us, in un-poetic charm!


Do not remember her, through

these tepid lines


Do not remember her.

do not! – But only avoid

reflecting on her, as upon the dead


And mis-assuming her heart to be buried here.13


†          †          †          †          †


So many have been our stories

that only some get told.

Even if quaintly mentioned

they’re swept into societal folds.


So whilst we stand outside this Gate.14

And restlessly await.


The black-and-white decisions of fate


Let me introduce you to A, 15

when found, she was neither scarlet,

nor adulterous 16


–  two large, black eyes painted over a face

childlike, more innocent than Grace.


Look at her coming

look             at her

look- there she comes


walking the gait of wooded-nymphs.17

Neither laughs, nor smiles, nor childishly grins


simply staring at those who begot her

nurtured her, destroyed her.

And now try to forget her.


wondering if the ones who love us most are also capable of hurting us the most


Remember her not –

as the fallen woman,


she is a girl

an eternal girl

[where is the good in that!]

with the eternal smile of girlhood

sitting over her

like Irony sits over Tragedy

softly, mockingly smiling to itself


She joins us awaiting

Justice, Love

or just              Kindness


In Life’s Other Kingdom-




the A, B, C, D, E…


the flying-soaring-roaring-floating-bloating


the dancing-laughing-talking-walking-living-enduring


the singing-cooking-seeing-unseeing-loving-unloving


the fallen women

the lovely, smiling, beautiful women.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,

Wait.   Wait.


Wait.   Wait…

‡          ‡          ‡          ‡          ‡

Dec 12




madhumita shukla






  1. Quoted from Eve, New Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke (Penguin Books, 1964)


  1. Quoted from William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. Act 4 Scene 15, Cleopatra.


  1. Allusion to TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men (1925). Original lines:

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpieces filled with straw. Alas!


  1. Refers to major red-light areas in Delhi (GB Road) and Mumbai (Kamathipura). Avignon is an allusion to Pablo Picasso’s 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon (Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York)or The Women of Avignon. In an essay on Picasso in 1920, Andre Salmon spoke of the painting as ‘the ever glowing crater from which the fire of contemporary art erupted (Roland Penrose, Phaidon, 1971). Five prostitutes confront the spectator as if he had just entered their midst. The following allusion attempts to communicate this fire of life reminiscent in the women who stare back at the reader through photographs. It is also suggestive of the fact that unlike the five women in the painting, the protagonists in the present context have not been circumscribed to a set canvas or space, nor do they, sadly, garner the awe and veneration of the five women in the painting.


  1. The line is inspired from rock-band Metallica’s song Wherever I May Roam(The Black Album, Elektra Records, 1991). Excerpts of the original lyrics are as follows:

And the road becomes my bride
I have stripped of all but pride
So in her I do confide
And she keeps me satisfied
Gives me all I need
And with dust in throat I crave
Only knowledge will I save
To the game you stay a slave
Roamer, wanderer
Nomad, vagabond
Call me what you will
But I’ll take my time anywhere
Free to speak my mind anywhere
And I’ll redefine anywhere
Anywhere I roam
Where I lay my head is home


  1. An allusion to Emily Dickenson’s poem #556, which reads:-

The Brain, within its Groove

Runs evenly-and true

But let a splinter swerve

T’was easier for you-


To put a current back- –

When Floods have slit the Hills- –

And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves

And trodden out the Mills

The implied meaning of the lines is opposite of that in the original.


  1. Ibid. 3.


  1. Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937, Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London) has been alluded to here.  Having been painted after the Guernica, the Weeping Woman was intended to meditate upon the outrage of an event. In that case, the bombing of Guernica (Roland Penrose, Phaidon, 1971). The painting itself assumes grotesque proportions due to the jarring play of colours. However, in the present context, it has been placed at a counterpoint to suggest a refusal to be sympathized by the reader, and hence emphasizes on the mental strength vis-à-vis self-respecting egotism of the speaker, in the face of tumultuous misfortunes.


  1. Alludes to William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (Act 5, Scene 1)

Agriappa:        And strange it is,

                        That nature must compel us to lament

                        Our most persistent deeds.

10. G: Geetika Sharma. An airhostess who rose to become a director of an aviation company owned by Gopal Kanda, Haryana’s sacked minister of home affairs. She later committed suicide on 04 Aug 12, leaving a note behind blaming Kanda and his associate Aruna Chadha for harassing her to death. (SugardaddyDunnit, August 27, 2012, Outlook. 05 August 2012, Indian Express)

     11.  B: Bhanwari Devi. A 36-year old scheduled caste, auxiliary nurse and midwife in Jodhpur, she went missing in September       2011. She was allegedly killed and her body dumped in a Rajasthan canal because she was blackmailing the state’s Congress minister Mahipal Maderna with a cd of her sexual encounters with him (SugardaddyDunnit, August 27, 2012, Outlook. June 14, 2012 India Today)

12. M: Madhumita Shukla. Fiery poetess was gunned down in Lucknow in 2003. Six months pregnant at the time of her death, a   DNA test revealed the father to be Amarmani Tripathi. (SugardaddyDunnit, August 27, 2012, Outlook. 24 October, 2007,

IBN Live)


13. Refer to Lines written in an Album, at Malta (Occasional Pieces, 1809-13) by Lord Byron. The original are as follows:

As o’er the cold sepulcher stone
Some name arrests the passer-by;
Thus, when thou view’st this page alone,
May mine attract thy pensive eye!
And when by thee that name is read,
Perchance in some succeeding year,
Reflect on me as on the dead,
And think my Heart is buried here.


There are two aspects to alluding to Lord Byron here. Firstly, it is to emphasize the fact that like Byron, the protagonist being referred to here was also a poetess. Secondly, in the present context, the lines aim at warding off any spongy sentimentalism which may arise on part of the reader.

14. Gate: The symbolism attempted at is two-fold. Firstly, they refer to the proverbial gates of heaven which have been shut to these protagonists. It has also been used to suggest the refusal of a normal life. On another plane, it refers to the judicial gates, which are still shut on some of the protagonists who await for ‘black-and-white’ justice. Consequently, the heavenly gates too are dependent on judicial verdicts for admittance in public perception.

15. A: ArushiTalwar. 16-year old girl and only child of a successful dentist couple, was found dead with her throat slit in her parent’s home. Initially, their domestic help, Hemraj was the key accused whose body was found in the same house at a different spot. Later, suspicion fell upon her parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar who have now been charged and proven guilty with murder of their daughter Arushi and their domestic help, Hemraj (Arushi-Hemraj Murder case: Nupur, Rajesh Talwar charged with murder. 25 May, 2012 IBN Live).  L.138-139 also shed light upon the unsavory tendencies of the Indian media such as sensationalism, a tendency to ‘overkill’ and carrying out a public trial-by-media.

16. Allusion to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850). Even though the key facet of the book is Adultery, committed by Hester Pyrnne who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair, arguments about sin, guilt and most importantly legalism run throughout. L.136-137 attempt to draw parallels between Hester’s struggle to preserve her innocence, in the face of insurmountable societal recriminations.

17. Wood-nymph: Picasso’s The Dryad (1908, Oil on canvas. Hermitage Musuem, St. Petersburg) has been alluded to here. The painting carries a primitivist theme. The mask and body of the mythic creature are hewn from the very materials she inhabits (Roland Penrose, Phaidon, 1971). In the present context, it signifies a complete loss of innocence. The allusion is also stresses and enriches the imagism of dry hearts, limbs, mouth and souls in the previous lines.













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