The Broken Rainbow

By Ruth Vanita


She says she cannot sleep,
smiles as if she’d rather weep.
My hands are empty as hands
always are. I cannot make
the world a smaller place, or bring
the moon closer to comfort her.
Words are weak magic, disobeyed
by dreams. What use to sing when night
so long must be endured – no song
conjures the sight that she would see.
Wakeful in me and restlessly
she stirs. I become a mirror
gleaming, hour after silent hour.

Gay Indian Poets

for Prageeta, who asked the question

For years it lay quiet in a corner –
the answer a mirror caked with dust,
till a slant question set it dazzling.

To what school of poets did you belong?
she asked. Belong? Where? In what world?
There was a you, an I, but no – no ‘we’.
The dead were speaking and I overheard
enough to stammer. Song needs windows.
Maybe one will do, if through the bars
a king may hear a minstrel serenade.


Pain is not a matchstick you can light,
and if it were,
there’d have to be air too, and dryness
to make fire
and in the flames
perhaps a god.

No line you draw will keep it out, or in.
Before you drew,
lines were already crossed and cities burnt.
All that you fear
is done – battles
begun end, here.

In this forest you can’t lose your way.
It spans the world.
All roads are right and none leads anywhere.
All space is yours
to take in, to
breathe out, to bear.

Excerpted from The Broken Rainbow, Ruth Vanita Copper Coin Press, India

Ruth Vanita is the author, most recently, of two novels, Memory of Light (2022) and A Slight Angle (forthcoming 2024) and The Broken Rainbow: Poems and Translations (2023). Her books include The Dharma of Justice in the Sanskrit Epics: Debates on Gender, Varna and Species (OUP, 2022) and Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriages in Modern India (Penguin, 2005; updated 2023); Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema; Gender, Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry. She has translated several works of fiction and poetry from Hindi to English, most recently Mahadevi Varma’s My Family.

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