A Poem Every Desi Girl Can Relate To: Girl By Jamaica Kincaid

Many times you read something and you are surprised at the expression of the writer who seems to have gone right into your head and produce your feelings and thoughts on paper. This is exactly the feeling I get whenever I read the short story poem “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid.

Girl is a poem written by a Carribean American poet yet it seems it could have been written by any Pakistani girl as the life of a Pakistani girl revolves around these adages as well. The list of do’s and dont’s for a Pakistani woman is really long and ironically the responsibility to carry the family’s honor  lies on the girl’s frail shoulders. Men, despite being a “stronger and better” gender (according to Pakistani mentality) are absolved of all responsibilities to carry the family honor although it  is “them” who carry the lineage forward and daughters are “praaya dhan” (someone else’s daughter-in-law). Ironic, isn’t it?

Here is the poem to leave you with some food for thought (I have tweaked the formatiing of the poet because I find it pretty hard on the eyes in its original form (sorry, Ms. Kincaid). You can read the original version here though.

Girl
By
Jamaica Kincaid

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap;
wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry;
don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun;
cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil;
soak your little cloths right after you take them off;
when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash;
soak salt fish overnight before you cook it;
is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?;
always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach;
on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming;
don’t sing benna in Sunday school;
you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions;
don’t eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you;
but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school;
this is how to sew on a button;
this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on;
this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down
and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease;
this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease;
this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants;
when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it;
this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house;
this is how you sweep a yard;
this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much;
this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all;
this is how you smile to someone you like completely;
this is how you set a table for tea;
this is how you set a table for dinner;
this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest;
this is how you set a table for lunch;
this is how you set a table for breakfast;
this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming;
be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit;
don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know;
don’t pick people’s flowers—you might catch something;
don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all;
this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona;
this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold;
this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like,
and that way something bad won’t fall on you;
this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you;
this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways,
and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up;
this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it,
and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you;
this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh;
but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?;
you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

Featured Image: Ali Xeeshan Bridal Collection Khamoshi (a photo that totally wowed me).

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