Fresh Featured May Poet: Rabia Basri Malik

Rabia Basri Malik is a previously unpublished poet from Pakistan, who is looking forward to getting her degree in Creative Writing. Her poetry intrigued me, so I wanted to ask her a few questions about it, and bring those answers and those poems to the rest of you. So, without further waffling, here’s our Fresh Featured poet for May…

KG: So, Rabia, how and when did you get started with writing poetry?

RBM: The very honest answer is that I don’t really remember. I remember writing poems about brown fat rats caught by cats under the mats when I was around 8 (I don’t really include that in poetry anymore, of course). I didn’t write much after that. It was not until I was 15 that I swung to writing again and started writing short stories. Far as poetry is concerned, I turned to it recently. I am exceptionally sensitive to the pains of the world around and so I need some ink every now and then to drain it all out of me.

KG: The poems you sent for Fresh are about social issues. Is this always what moves you most to write?

RBM: Well, this is what moves me to write most of the times, but using the word “always” would be an overstatemnt. I can easily be mesmerized by simple pleasures of life. That can have my pen moving too. I also write about myself, sometimes, but I am too reserved to let the world know my feelings. So, when it’s about myself, it is too vague to be understood most of the times. Well, anyway, you have guessed it right. Mostly it is the world around that gets me scribbling.

Locked with a Stranger

My knees itch on the carpet
Yet, I keep filling
The little tea cups
With lies.
It’s water, not tea
But my plastic doll knows not.
‘Time for bed’, says my mother,
I drown my lies in sink,
Throw the doll in toy box,
Let my stuffed Jerry
Lie on the plastic curves,
And close the box lid.

‘Sit straight’ says my dad,
And I do.
I receive kisses on the red,
Perfectly round cheeks,
Finish the last bits of egg yolk,
Receive more kisses,
A place on father’s lap
And permission to ride the cycle.
In my shorts and top,
Little music shoes,
And funky colored tricycle,
I run on the road
And let little Tom have a try.

Unusual Sunday night of finished homework,
I open my toy box,
Free the poor plastic doll
From under Jerry’s weight of cotton,
And press his chest.
The hard box shouts ‘I Love You’ thrice.
The painted smile on my doll
Seems to thin and grow.

I finish the last bits of yolk
But daddy doesn’t kiss.
I don’t fit in his lap
And wear baggy shirts.
My doll lies in the forsaken toy box
Visited not so often
Buried beneath Jerry’s weight.

My cheeks are hollow.
I have grown fairly tall,
Beautiful and ‘nice’.
I sit straight, walk modestly,
Have made Tom a stranger
And abandoned my cycles.
When I am out
My face is veiled.
I speak in a low tone
And let my hands tremble
When I put down the tea tray
And walk out, aware,
Of the X-Ray machines on me.
I pass the test.
I am a good girl.

I walk out of my house, unveiled,
After countless years of cover,
And let a non-Tom touch my hand.
I steal a look at his face:
Pretty reasonable, I think.
The red and golden heavy suit
Makes it difficult to walk
But my sister helps me by sharing the weight.
I walk in a new house, which
Looks like my toy box, just bigger,
And think of my plastic doll
Under the heavy weight of Jerry.

KG: Do you write anything that isn’t poetry – stories, non-fiction, etc?

RBM: Yes, I write short stories and sometimes monologues. Infact, I write anything that would let me say what I have to. That, too, without confining me to the form. As long as I can let my heart be on the page, I will write anything.


The pendulous spiral lights encased
In glittering cylindrical lamps,
Have taped around my memory
In the same faded white of easy bills:
‘Put out the unnecessary lights’
‘Use the morning sun’.
Those Sunday mornings
In my pyjamas I have finished
The last sugary sip of milk,
Felt like spilling my insides
On the oh-so familiar textured carpet
Yet, ran to the bathroom
Escaping the sung legends of my mother’s dowry
And the heavenly spirit in milk
That makes it white.
The rantings of my thanklessness
Sprinkled on green bitter gourd
Have still won me orange juice somehow
As the sugary hands on blender
Ghurr ghurring so noisily
Have screamed for yet more sugar;
Left the ghurr ghurring when unheard.
Stuck to my memory are
The mumblings midst the ghurr ghuring,
Starting from Tina’s grades to Bubbly’s manners
And how quickly she passes the sugar,
And salt, when asked for.
Every single time the watery pool
With floating chicken pieces
Has been placed on the kitchen floor,
My face painted with detestation
Has called for yet another train of mumblings
This time of the fuelled taste kebabs on the road
And the chicken swimming in oil
With the plates I have licked
Because unlike Tina and Bubbly
I have loved the roady, trafficky food.
Covering the distance from the bowl
To my mouth, the dripping thin gravy
Has left the floor mat decorated
And kitchen resonating with mumblings.
I don’t know why these mumblings always end
With the clothes my mother has never bought
That Tina’s and Bubbly’s mother always has
And the meals my mother has never had
But Tina’s and Bubbly’s mother
Has been served in her bed.

KG: Who are some of your favourite writers?

RBM: Umm, that’s actually a difficult question to answer. Every work by every author cannot be appealing. I am one of the most loyal fans of J. K. Rowling and being very sincere, I turn to the Harry Potter series time and again. Apart from that, I fall for very realist worlds. Some of my favorite writers are Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Saadat Hassan Manto, Sylvia Plath, Kamala Das, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and so many more. I like selective works by some of the Pakistani authors as well. I like Kamila Shamsie for her ‘Salt and Saffron’, Nadeem Aslam for ‘The Wasted Vigil’, Tehmina Durrani for ‘Blasphemy’, Bapsi Sidhwa for ‘Pakistani bride and ‘Ice-Candy Man’ and H. M. Naqvi for ‘Homeboy’.

KG: Do you have any words you like best? Or words you don’t like at all?

RBM: You have no idea how I have waited for someone to ask that question! People find my love for words funny but I still love some of the words. ‘Obsessed’ is a word I am literally obsessed with. Hullaballoo, gobbledygook, wobbly and higgledy-piggledy (Could not believe such a cute word could actually exist when I came accross it for the first time). I have never really thought about any word that I dislike but now that you have asked, I guess I dont like the word ‘institutionalized’. I can easily mess it up. I think I will hate it from now onwards.


Rolled down, divorcing;
The specks of dust vanishing,
On my wheat colored face,
From the ones glued
To the glass window;
Half my car door is capable
Of segmenting my vision.

‘Midst the melting standstill
And the impatient tch tching
Echoing even in the thick
Sound of huge truck tyres,
A brown male hand, decorated
In red cutex, stretches
Inside my car, demanding
Jingling coins to dance for,
Clapping weightilty. I
Shout to get the thing away,
Never touch, never push.
It’s a vision in two, because.

I have once worn red
Lipstick, and draped
My mother’s red dupatta
Around my skinny body,
Run to my mother
And expected to receive
Koochi koos from my aunts.

I have rushed to the bathroom,
Humiliated every inch,
Rubbed off the lipstick
With the back of my hand
And buried the word Hijra
Beneath my countless sobs.

KG: And finally – please give us all some advice or words of wisdom. This can be about writing, or it can be about life, or maybe both…

RBM: Life, hmm!
Life is a not just one event, so take your time but eventually let go of the things that make you sad. Love more, be kind and do it now so that you don’t regret it later. Love someone? say it. Want to marry someone? ask away. Want to laugh? laugh. Want to cry? cry. Have an ugly voice but want to sing? well, sing in private may be but sing. Every now and then let yourself be your own lover. Every now and then, be the reason for your happiness.

If you would like to know more about Rabia, or read more of her work, visit her blog at

If you are an unpublished or emerging poet, and would like your work to appear in one of our weekly Fresh spots (Thursdays), find out more here.


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