Are you familiar with the story of sugar in milk?
This is a story, plucked from a corner in my mind. I am not sure if my eyes or my ears recorded it, I am not sure if it is even the correct version. But stories are stories, there is no right and wrong, they change with each telling.
When the Zoroastrians entered India and asked the King of Gujarat permission to stay on in his land, the king commanded for a bowl of milk to be brought to the petitioners. This bowl was filled to the brim, and without saying a word, he pointed at it. Our kingdom has no place for you, he seemed to suggest. The asylum seekers, thinking quickly, asked for some sugar to be stirred into the milk. Wordlessly, they pointed at the now sweetened milk. The king was pleased and allowed them to stay on.
I do not know if this indeed happened, but I like to imagine a scene where solemn looking Zoroastrians took in the splendour of a royal court, and made the best of the situation they were presented with. I like to think that a long time ago, this is how problems were solved, with a bowl of milk and some sugar.
This is the story that came to my mind as I read milk and honey, a collection of poems by Rupi Kaur. She talks about abuse, love, heartbreak, courage and womanhood, and the courage that is specific to a woman – to overcome the tragedy that visits women so casually and cruelly, and often, simply the tragedy of being a woman. She writes about the pain of being violated, the pain of being silenced, the pain of losing a love, of picking up the pieces of one’s heart and making something beautiful of it. She talks about beauty and our uneasy relationship with it, questioning our tendency to default to standards that hold almost no meaning for us. She comments on women made to feel mortified for the colour of their skin, for the shape of their bodies, for the hair they choose to remove or not, for the shame they are made to internalize.
Some of the poems are accompanied by her own sketches, and this allows us to feel as if we’ve been offered a window into the mind of the poet. These are feminist poems for today, short, snappy, full of verve. Her writing style is sparse, but vivid. The poems are direct, though not lacking in style. They are angry, yet ultimately hopeful. She exhorts us to be kinder, to love, to give, to be the best versions of ourselves.
There is always place for some more goodness, or some more sweetness, if we so wish.