Love Letters
Shikha Malaviya

After Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Engraving of a Bison on Stone

The letters will be brief and colorful and leave a residue of spilt oil and blood. They will be an enduring sort, of wars that sand blew over, turning casualties into rock formations that look prettiest at dusk. Hundreds of years later, our children’s children will claim them and think they are just as beautiful as the wadis of Petra. The tour guide’s voice will move them along gently, like a herd of cows shepherded from one meadow to another. They will feel that ancient ache, the way our ancestors did stumbling upon the first cave wall drawings of bison, and they will weep knowing they aren’t the first, and it will feel like burning one’s hand while lighting a fire to stay warm, pain spreading from the fingers to the heart.


September 9, 2012
Shikha Malaviya

(A poem in 9 hours)


1 PM, Bangalore, Sunday brunch

The sting of sea salt on our tongues
we chase down tequila shots
screaming chug! chug! chug!
Our hips swaying badly
to Bollywood beats
telling us the party has
just begun

Remainders of an ordered feast
green curry smudged
on the forehead of a table
and after the fact
a melamine pile
plates balanced precariously
a half-eaten momo
in the shape of a smile
grinning back at us

As the neighbors’ loud laundry
flaps in the warm Bangalore wind
tied in triplicate to
the security camera pole
how ugly it is we all complain
tenants should be screened
we all agree
someone is always watching
don’t they know
as you snap a picture
with your mobile phone

Could there be a better way to spend a Sunday?


5 PM, Narmada Valley, dam protest

The belly of this land
is about to burst
a dam full of consternation
and their heads skim the water
like a string of beads
round and brown
with a translucent green glow
from plastic bags that keep heads dry
their chins making ripples
when they move side to side
in murky waters

We will stand until
they make it recede
until our homes re-emerge
like the Loch Ness Monster
till then our toes burrow
into the mud
and like a lotus, our determination
is growing and growing


10 PM, Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, nuclear reactor protest

Tonight, underneath starry skies
a soft glow, diffusing hope
we lie in crooked rows, our hands
and toes grazing each other
to save what is ours

This body that shields us from heat and cold
that forms a cage with bones
to protect what is soft
cannot deflect rays
that are as toxic as your intentions
fission, fusion are words we do not know
but we understand the anatomy of violation
a reactor lights a fire
that silently scalds and peels and pierces
turning our bodies 
into kindling


The same canopy of stars
we all draw as blankets
the same rhythmic beating of hearts
thumping in rib cages
the same long stalk of larynx
letting out a scream or a song
as we come together
and fall apart
on this day of rest
and prayer

– from Geography of Tongues


Photograph: Lascaux / Don’s Maps

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Shikha Malaviya
Shikha Malaviya is an Indo-American poet and writer. Her book, ‘Geography of Tongues,’ has been featured in The Times of India Literary Carnival, Prakriti and other literary festivals. Shikha is co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a literary press dedicated to new poetic voices from India. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, The Indian Quarterly and Drunken Boat. She currently lives in the San Francisco bay area. Website: