Behenji

Written By: Bhaswati Ghosh

When I first heard
It, the word didn’t
Sound endearing or like
An appellation. Behenji
Was a crude joke reserved for
Those girls who
Wore salwar-kameezes,

Tied their hair into
Well-oiled, tight ponytails
And spoke no English.
Behenjis stood on the other side.
Always on the other side,
Huddled among their own,
Away from us

Convent and
Public-school types. Did
Behenjis cringe the
Same way at those
Dirty looks as did my school friend
While uttering “Mohalla” when
She shared her home
Address with me?

Behenji was
The weird look my
Friend got when he
Asked for Mayawati’s
Biography at a bookstore.
“Inhe Behenji chahiye,”
The store boy sniggered
To his co-worker.

At a diaspora party,
I’m the salwar-kameez
Sporting odd one
Among a bevy of
Desis in short dresses.
I see how easy
It is to become a
Behenji.
 

[Behenji, literally meaning sister, has come to be used as a pejorative term for traditionally-attired, less urban-looking young women across educational institutions in India.]

About the Author

Bhaswati Ghosh - Behenji

Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Open Road Review, Warscapes, Pithead Chapel, The Sunflower Collective, Coldnoon Travel Poetics, and Humanities Underground. Bhaswati lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband

Website: bhaswatighosh.com
Twitter: @Sury_here