The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Healer

A psychic once took me by the body, my whole body, and sat me down, called me “healer,” told me I could heal with my hands. We sat by the ocean in Key West. It was about to rain. She said I could have babies if I chose, even get married. I wanted to believe her. Back then, at eighteen, I hadn’t menstruated in two years. I wasn’t planning on bleeding, either. Bones were more important. But this woman, she said I could heal with my hands. The thought of touching another made me flinch. I wanted to love this woman who told me I could heal. Years would pass and I’d want to love other women, too, but it wouldn’t work. The psychic wouldn’t tell me this. Instead, she stood to leave. I paid her, and night settled.

Years later, at twenty-three and on my period, I went to some trendy bar and there was a by-donation psychic. I donated, put my beer in a corner, sat down. She took my hands, placed them palm up. You have lost everything, she said, and will only fall in love if you allow it. I wanted to tell her I haven’t loved a lover in my whole life, and I wasn’t planning on it.

I wanted to tell her how bitter I was, the choice I made to exist on the outskirts of another
woman’s life.

But I didn’t tell her. There were others waiting, and my friends were asking me to dance.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Shells

I remember getting this hard feeling in my chest when I looked at the woman, as if my whole body would collapse. I wanted to kiss the woman, but those rocks in my chest. I couldn’t move.

When I started losing weight, it felt exciting.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Just a Bunch of Muse Girls Hanging Out in the Desert

Pack-Ratting

This week, I’ve been flirting with one boy and two girls. The boy is cherry pie. The girls, they are ponies, death metal. I tell the boy my dreams. Steel Pier in flames, swallowing Jupiter. The girls and I go swimming naked in the sea, waves metallic in the cat-hair dusk. I want this to last forever. I want to dance in the street—traffic lights glowing like angels in the oiled, wet road.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Clay and Anchor

You shed your skin this morning and left it on my plate, next to the grapefruit I sliced and salted
for breakfast. Then I yanked my teeth out, one by one, and placed them on the table next to your
fork, fixed you eggs over-easy while you buttoned up your work shirt. You looked like a new
woman, standing beside the kitchen window, touching yourself, becoming all fingertips and
cloth, weaving, reconstructing each grain of light coming through from the outside. We both
sang a song with no name. I called you Clay and Anchor and you called me Clementine and what
was done was done.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Peaks

Girl slept for a thousand years, cradled in an ocean of ghost horses, their legs and necks
wrapping her like mothers would children. Sometimes the ghost-horse legs wrapped girl like
rope, tying up her limbs, all wet with salt from the sea. Sometimes the ghost-horse necks
spooned girl tight, only to uncurl once again, flinging her still-sleeping body into the next wave
of mane, of tail. Sometimes the ghost horses ached when they let girl go. Sometimes the ghost
horses could not wait to get her gone.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


The auditorium dims, and the audience stills. The moderator welcomes the crowd and introduces me as the first speaker. God, why did she have to put me first? I take a sip of water, clear my throat, and click on a slide that shows a compilation of news headlines from 2016 to 2025. 

“Much has changed in the last decade. As you can see, khatna was made illegal in India. There have been dozens of court cases — starting in Australia, then Detroit, and later all across the U.S., Canada, Europe, India — cutters and parents prosecuted. There are now hotlines for victims, specialized therapies for survivors.” 

I run my thumb down the cool glass of my tablet’s screen, and provide the audience with background information and statistics about Bohras and khatna’s emotional, physical, and sexual impacts. The energy downgrades in the room. I move on to the next slide, a photo of our high priest posed with a dead lion five times his size. I hear a couple of gasps. Good, I have their attention again.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that khatna is still being secretly practised amongst those who are most closely aligned with the apex leader of the Bohras. Thankfully, he has fewer acolytes now as more Bohras have shrugged off his control and have formed more democratic communities, including a large alternative masjid here in New York City. There is even talk that the Indian government might seize his funds and properties and redistribute them to these new configurations. Fun fact about this photo: it circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook in 2018 and people say it was a catalyst for change.” Finger snaps popcorn through the auditorium as audience members show their support. 

I click on the next slide, a photo of me with my mom, her cousins, and my nani, all of us wearing identical orange-and-red tunics. There is a collective “Awww.” I feel a sudden light-headedness. I exhale. Time to get personal. 

“So, that’s me, at seven years old, in India with my family. I’d like to tell you a little about my personal connection to khatna. Like every other khatna story you’ll hear, it’s about secrets, lies, and shame.” This last sentence sounded better when I rehearsed in front of my full-length bedroom mirror. Now it seems cheesy. 

I click on a photo of Mom and Dad, smiling for the camera. Dad’s holding a placard that reads FGM IS GENDER VIOLENCE! 

“My parents were dead-set against the practice, and even attended a rally, the first of its kind in India, while we were there in 2016. Oh, I should give credit to my mom, who provided me with all these old photos.” My gaze slides to the left of the auditorium, where my parents and Nani sit. I told myself I wouldn’t look their way until the end of the speech. 

“One day, I was supposed to be babysat by an older cousin, but I ended up with my grand-aunt, for an hour or so. Now, Maasi was fully aware of my parents’ views about khatna.” The audience is quiet, as though holding its breath. 

“Maasi told me we were going to the market and then we’d go and get ice cream. I remember feeling excited about that.” I pause, take another sip of water, the reel playing in my mind: we were supposed to buy vegetables, but we didn’t. I remember thinking that the aborted errand was somehow my fault. 

“She seemed to be in a rush, and while we were walking, I tripped and skinned my knee.” She scolded me for being clumsy, and her unexpected harshness shocked me. Perhaps she saw it in my expression because she softened then. 

“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I know a nurse who lives close by, and I’ll phone her and she can take care of your knee.’ Soon after, we arrived at this so-called nurse’s place.” 

A century of dust coated the foyer. The lift was that old-timey kind, with a criss-crossing metal grate that protested with a creak and a sigh when Maasi pulled it closed. I liked watching the cement underside of each floor pass as we ascended. 

“An older woman answered the door, and Maasi whispered something to her in Gujarati that I couldn’t understand.” 

The air was stuffy with kerosene. I take a breath and continue. 

“I was told to lie down. Maasi said, ‘We’ll clean your knee and put on a bandage.’ Then she told me to pull off my shorts so she could check that there weren’t any other injuries. I resisted that, told her it was only my knee, but she shushed me. I didn’t stop her when she pulled down both my shorts and underwear. A part of me wondered if she knew better, and so I complied.” 

Later, I’d blame myself for letting her remove my clothing. Mom told me to never let anyone touch me down there. 

“Remember, this was a decade ago; I was only seven.” An old man in the front row nods earnestly at me. He resembles one of my great-uncles with his long white beard and topi. 

“She said the antiseptic might sting for a second, and told me to look out the window so that it would hurt less. I did, and so I didn’t see what actually happened.” 

The sky was smoggy grey. My knee sizzled. At the same time, I felt sharp fingers and a much stronger, searing pain. 

“I believe Maasi tended my knee while the other woman cut my clitoral hood, and while I felt pain in both places, I was confused about what was hurting where. And why.” My knee and vulva prickle for a second and I shift from one leg to the other. The old woman’s fingers were thick at the joints, her nails stained turmeric-yellow. 

“Maasi said, ‘Look, you are fine now, nothing happened.’ The nurse applied a cream and then they dressed me again. Maasi said, ‘You’ll feel better in a minute and forget all about this.’ I wanted to believe her, and so I did. At least for a while. 

“All the way to the ice cream shop, Maasi instructed me to never tell my parents about visiting the nurse, that it was our secret. I thought that I was in trouble for something I couldn’t name. 

“The pain subsided. When we returned to her place, I must have been in shock. I didn’t argue when she undressed me, washed my underwear, and then put them back on me, damp.” 

She told me, “Chee chee, you’ve dirtied your panties. But that’s good, the bleeding stopped.” I was supposed to read out this last line, but something about it feels too crude to say aloud to a roomful of strangers. 

“And so, in that child’s haze of confusion caused by the manipulation of a trusted elder, I kept the secret. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when we were back in New York, and looking at our digital photo album, that I asked about the protest and what it was all about.” I turn to look up at the projected image of my parents at the rally. 

“And that was when I told them what happened. When I was a bit older, Mom and Nani shared their khatna stories with me and I’ve come to see this as a weird sort of bond we share. A trauma bond, but also now an activism bond.” I lock eyes with Mom, but then look down at my page. 

“My parents and nani didn’t have much to do with Maasi after I told them what happened. She died a few years ago. I don’t know how I feel about her, still.” 

Nani dabs her eyes with a tissue. 

“I’m not really sure what the full impact of khatna has been or will be on my life, but I’m glad I can speak to you about it today. I’ll end there, because my time is up, but I’m happy to speak more during the Q and A.” 

The room explodes into applause. Mom, Dad, and Nani rise to their feet.

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


“C’mon. Let’s go!” Zainab yells into my ear. 

“What? Where?” I yell back. “Follow my lead.” She pulls my arm, and I accompany her around the side of the building, and in the side doors. She pauses to consult the directory; gynecology is on the fourth floor. 

“What are we doing?” I ask, but she shushes me and pulls me into the elevator. Inside, there are two other ridawalas, and I realize that we look like them; patients on our way to appointments. On the fourth floor, Zainab pauses, as though considering our next move, then takes me by the elbow down a long hallway. 

“Zainab! What are you doing?” I ask, but she shakes her head. 

“Shhh.” 

“I’m leaving.” I turn to go. 

“No, please, I need you! Just pretend you’re here for an appointment,” she whispers, glancing around fearfully. Again, no one looks at us askance, the ridas our camouflage. She shoots me a look of desperation. “Please, just come with me.” 

She takes my hand, and worried for her, I follow, her lady-inwaiting in this unfamiliar game of make-believe. 

Ahead is a desk where a receptionist in an emerald rida types at a computer. Sitting beside her is our great-great-grandfather, who thumbs a rolodex. He looks up, nods in acknowledgment. I blink, and then he is gone, the index cards abandoned. 

“Name, please?” the receptionist asks. Zainab offers her first and her maiden name and says she has an appointment with Dr. Master. The receptionist squints at her computer display, searching for the missing information, and Zainab says, “Sorry, must go to the bathroom.” 

She grabs my hand and we flee down the hall, our ridas like wings flapping around us. I have no idea what we are doing, but I know I can’t stop Zainab. And I can’t leave her alone to do whatever unhinged thing she’s about to do. Can I? 

“You gave her your name?” I hiss-whisper. 

“I know, it was stupid. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think of that when I was planning this.” 

“Planning what?” 

She places her finger in front of her mouth to silence me and then gestures with her eyebrows to the door in front to us. Its nameplate reads RUBINA MASTER. 

“Zainab! No!” 

Zainab turns the knob and bursts in. A woman in a white coat, who is standing by a window, turns to look at us. 

“Can I help you?” 

“Don’t you remember me? We went to St. Mary’s together, Rubina. I’m Zainab. I was passing by with my cousin and I thought I’d come up and warn you about the protest downstairs.” 

“I can see it with my own two eyes.” Rubina gestures to the window. “These people are such liars.” 

“Yes, it is so bad the way that women these days are taking up this cause. They are bringing shame to our community.” My eyes bug out at Zainab. What is she saying?

“I know, it’s just a small thing, and they are making it into a mountain.” 

“And why are they targeting you? I mean you do khatna under sterile conditions, not like the traditional way, no?” 

“Yes, that’s right. I wish everyone would come to doctors for it. It becomes a safe, medical procedure. Like with boys.” 

“Yes, that was what I was telling my cousin here. She’s in town until next week with her seven-year-old daughter. Can you squeeze in an appointment for them?” 

“Yes, just ask my receptionist out there.” She scans the crowd outside. “The procedure is very quick. We can do it before you go.” 

My brain unscrambles and I ask, “Do you use an anaesthetic cream?” For some reason, I want to confirm Maasi’s account of the procedure. 

“You can get one if you want, but it’s not required,” she says distractedly. Perhaps Maasi’s report was based on hearsay. 

“Very modern, no? When we were kids, it was done in some aunty’s flat.” Zainab laughs, shakes her head. Despite her pretend positivity, her words bring back that apartment, the waiting, the fear. I inhale, shake it away. “

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


Now hours later, I lie awake, listening to the even breathing across the room and beside me. I can’t tell whether my cousins are fast asleep or lost inside a similar maze of interior thoughts. I allow my hand to slide down my pelvis and rest over my underwear. A cut was made there thirty-three years ago, according to Fatema. It’s odd to not remember and to know in my heart that her words are true. This story both belongs to me and does not. 

My body, as though finally being given a missing puzzle piece, adjusts and repositions itself under my hand. But it is not an easy fit. My stomach, which loved our dinner, now roils. I have a terrible headache. I’ve popped three pills, and I wait in the darkness for the throbbing around my eyes to subside. 

I have always loved my community, my Dawoodi Bohra community. It’s the place I can return to, the place I belong, the one identity that is sure and strong. I’ve admired my family, and in particular, the women. But tonight I hate it. Hate them. I don’t want any part of it anymore. I want to go home, get out of this awful village. I want my mother. I want my dead father. I want the Edison three-bedroom that’s long been sold. I curl onto my side, press my temples. 

I’ve defended my community. Like so many others, I’ve shrugged about the corrupt men who rule over the flock. I’ve tolerated them, and like so many of us, I haven’t opposed them because they haven’t before interfered with my life directly. 

But now my community feels like nothing because, while the men might have made the rules, it is the women, women I’ve loved, who’ve enforced them. 

This is why I have never had an orgasm. This is why. 

In the dark I think, Did my mother know and not tell me? Did my father? How can I continue to love my maasi now? Can I ever forgive her? 

I spring out of bed, grab my phone, and head out to the hallway, my stomach lurching with the sudden movement. The screen’s blue light sends a shard of pain through my skull. I check the time — it’s just past 1:00 a.m. — and call Murtuza. 

“Honey?” His voice is groggy. Then there is alarm. “Are you okay?” 

“Yes, I’m fine. Is Zee with you?” I lean against the wall, and then crumple to the floor. 

“Sleeping. Why?” 

“Since I’ve been gone, have you let her out of your sight? Did you leave her with any relatives?” 

“No, we had lunch over at my aunt’s, then we saw the Gate of India. Then we came home. We’ve been mostly at home since. What’s this about?” 

“Please. Please don’t leave her with anyone while I am gone. Not Tasnim Maasi. Not any of your relatives, no one. Please, it’s very important. She’s seven. Murtuza. Seven!”

Fatema opens the door to our suite, shushes me, draws me in. Zainab switches on the light and I shield my eyes against the white glare.

“I’ll explain it all later. But for now, you have to promise me. You have to protect her at all times. Do you understand?” 

“Of course I will. I’m her father. But tell me, what happened? What’s wrong?” 

“Oh my god. She had that sleepover with Nafeesa. On your birthday.” I shoot a look at Zainab. “Did anything happen to her?” 

Zainab shakes her head emphatically from across the room. 

“Shari! Talk to me! What’s going on?” Murtuza shouts through the phone. 

“They did it to me, Murti. They did it to me when I was seven.” I sob, and gasp, and my thoughts muddle. Fatema takes the phone from me, and, in a low voice, explains my distress to Murtuza. I rush to the bathroom and throw up into the toilet, just in time. Zainab comes in, turns on the light. 

“No, turn it off!” It goes dark again. The nausea has stopped, thankfully. I rinse my mouth at the sink and Zainab hands me a towel. She guides me back to bed and holds me close. I rest my head on her shoulder and smell the sharp tang of her sweat. She rocks me like one of her babies, smoothing my hair. 

“It’s over now, it happened a long time ago. It’s over,” Zainab coos. 

“It’s not. It’s not over. My life, my sex life has been ruined by this!” I wail. She tells me to breathe. Holds me tighter. I stop crying, and slowly detach from her. I notice that Fatema is sitting beside me, her hand on my back. 

“How are you?” She passes my phone to me. “I told him we’d look after you, but you should call him back. He’s worried.” 

I nod and she dials for me. I move to the opposite side of the room, sit on a wingback chair. My head is still sore, but not like before. 

“Shari? Are you all right? Should I come there?” Murtuza asks. 

“No, it’s better you stay there. I’m kind of a mess and don’t want Zee to see me like this. Also, we have things to do tomorrow.” 

“You sure you still want to? Maybe you need some time to sort all this out.” 

“I think so. I don’t know. I’ll probably feel better in the morning.” 

“Okay, I’m here, Shari.” 

“Yes, I know. Murti. Remember what I said about Zee, okay?” He assures me he will, and then we say good night. 

“How’s your headache?” Fatema asks. 

“Better. Sorry to wake you up like this.” I cover my face to hide my embarrassment. I fear I am being overly dramatic. 

“I wasn’t sleeping, anyway.” Fatema rubs her lower back. 

“Me, neither,” Zainab says. “You know, it’s odd. Maybe I’m imagining it … but … I think I remember pieces now. At least those colouring books, the smell of the crayons … my mother smiling at me and telling me how … proud she was of me to be so brave and good. She … she told me I was the best one out of the three of us, that I did the best, made the least fuss. Like it was a contest. I remember wearing a pad that was very big and my mother told me I’d hardly bled because I’d been good … I remember the ice cream after.” 

Her eyes are wide, wondering, the memories a revelation. 

“Because you’d been good.” Fatema get up, shakes her head. “That bitch.” 

I wait for her to come back, to sit beside us again. 

“Why can’t I remember?” 

“Some of the women in my activist group don’t remember, either, but have been told by a relative that it happened. It’s how the trauma works, apparently. It’s mysterious. Some of us remember each and every graphic detail. Others have pieces, like Zainab. Sometimes I think it is better not to remember. Every time I think about it, it’s here,” she says, touching her forehead, “right here.” 

I nod, although I can’t agree. At least she’s got something to anchor her, even if it is something awful. Me? I am floating in an ocean of uncertainty. 

“Shari, I am really sorry it came out this way. I wanted to tell you months ago, but when it seemed you didn’t remember I wasn’t sure …” 

“No. I’m glad you told me. It’s better to know.” I think that’s true. 

Exhausted, the three of us have run out of words. We turn off the lights but I stay awake for what feels like an eternity, listening to my cousins’ light snores.

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


I have to rewind the film, because I’ve missed the last minute or so, focused on my thighs and trying to remember the lyrics to that Nancy Sinatra song. 

I start from the beginning again. A few women speak forcefully against khatna and I nod along. A couple of women say that it’s a harmless ritual. They make me think of Zainab, and I pity them. There is just one lady who is vehement that the practice is positive for girls’ sexuality. Her voice reminds me of Maasi’s but of course I know that this woman, whose face is obscured by a cinematic smudge, is not my aunt. It’s not Maasi’s way to appear on a video like this. 

I pause the film to get up to pee, and then again to make tea. I am sweating so I change into shorts, turn the air conditioning back on. 

The credits roll and my heart races. I check the time. It’s almost 2:00 p.m. I wish I could call Laura back. But it’s not her I need to talk to: it’s my mother. I need to finally ask her about all of this. Mom will already be in bed, fast asleep. But I call anyway. 

She picks up on the fourth ring, her voice groggy. 

“I’m so sorry for waking you. But …” I don’t have an appropriate justification for shaking her out of her sleep. What am I doing?

She asks a half-dozen alarmed questions about our safety and in a calm and authoritative voice, the kind she needs when stressed, I reassure her that we are fine. “Can you go to your computer and turn on Skype?” I need to see her face. I wait two minutes, watching the clock, feeling childish for this drama. Then my computer rings, and she appears, hair tousled. She’s brought her laptop to her bed. 

“Did you see that article I sent you a couple of days ago?” 

“Oh, yes, I read it today.” 

“I need to ask you about it.” 

She is quiet as I tell her everything I have learned about khatna. I give her details about the conversations I’ve had with Fatema and Zainab. I offer to send her the film link and she nods her assent. 

“Is it possible that it happened … to me, too?” I finally get the question out, this question that for the last few weeks has been in my periphery, but from which I’ve been turning away, turning away. 

“Oh, this is why you’re upset.” 

I nod, chide myself for making this a big deal. 

“Don’t worry. We opposed it.” She tells me that the family tried to put pressure on her when we visited India when I was seven. I relax into her assurances, but only for a moment. 

“Who? Who put pressure on you?” 

“Tasnim, your maasi. You know she has always been so much more old-fashioned than me. And she is only six years older!” 

“You are so different,” I agree, feeling a sliver of disloyalty to Maasi. I add, “But she’s also so spunky, you know? It’s hard to believe she believes in this stuff.” 

“Well, it’s religion.” Mom shrugs. 

“Still.” 

“People think it’s symbolic, not anything that would do any real harm.” 

“Yes, that’s what Zainab thinks.” 

“I barely remember it happening to me, but the idea of it has always left a bad taste in my mouth … so when it came time to make that decision for you, I said no. We’d been living in Edison for three years already and we’d been exposed to different things, people, culture. Not only the Bohra culture anymore, although that was there, too. Ratna Aunty became my best friend. At the time it was a big deal to have a best friend who was Hindu!” 

She’s fully awake now, back to her chatty self. 

“So you said no. Then what?” 

“Before we went to India, Tasnim called me saying she and my mother could make the arrangements for the three of you cousins. She thought it would be good if you did it together. I told Ratna, who was appalled, and her reaction got me thinking, really thinking about it. I remember her face when I explained it to her, saw how shocked she was, it was kind of like when you haven’t given something much thought and then you see it clearly through someone else’s eyes.” 

“So did you call Maasi back?” Impatience buzzes under my skin. I need to get to the end of the story. 

“No. I knew I had to explain in person. She wouldn’t understand, so I wanted to be delicate about it. You know, she was so bothered that I’d even cut my hair! I had that Dorothy Hamill cut back then and they didn’t like it. She’d ask me things like, ‘Are you doing your namaaz still,’ and I brushed her off, telling her it was impossible to have an office job and pray at work.” She rolls her eyes. 

“So you told her in person?” “Yes, I told her and my mother together.” She flicks her wrist, indicating the completeness of her actions. “I said that your father and I didn’t want it. She argued with me and said, ‘Do you want her to turn out like Shaheen?’ I couldn’t believe it.”

“What did she mean by that?” Shaheen, the older cousin I admired as a child, would have been eighteen at the time when Mom and Maasi had argued. She’s married now, with two kids, and owns a thriving office-supply store in Detroit. 

“She wore makeup and had a boyfriend. Somehow everyone in India heard the gossip! Her parents tried to rein her in, but she had a will of her own. Don’t tell anyone — it was a secret — but just before we came to India that year, she had to have an abortion. Tasnim doesn’t know that part of the story.” 

“Really?” Of course, no one would have shared this with me — I was a child — but it’s strange to not have this information. What else don’t I know about the family? It’s like I’m peeling a boiled egg, only to find its yellow yolk soft and runny on the inside. 

“Yes, it was the first time any of us had dealt with such a thing.” 

I nod, imagining Shaheen having to cope with her private drama while relatives spread rumours about her. 

“Tasnim tried to persuade me with her ideas about Western influences and the need to control girls and all sorts of things I knew were nonsense, but at the time, you know I felt intimi dated? She’s always been a bossy older sister and sometimes I wondered if we should have followed more traditions.” 

I tense, hearing her contradict her earlier words. I gaze into her eyes. She hesitates. I remain quiet. 

“I know it’s stupid, but later when you went through all those troubles in your twenties I wondered, Was she correct? But no. I never thought khatna was right.” 

“So, you stood up to your sister and your mother that summer, right?” I still feel fuzzy about the story. 

“When we left you to stay that summer, I made Tasnim promise to respect our wishes and she agreed to not allow our mom, your nani, to take you for it.” 

“And you believe she did that?”

“Absolutely. She told me it was the parents’ decision, that it was only her duty as an older sister to give me her perspective, but she wouldn’t interfere beyond that.” 

Her eyes shine brightly, lovingly, from across the ocean, and I sense her certainty. And I also know how much she loves her sister, loved her mother, how hard it must have been for her to disagree with them. 

I exhale deeply and it’s as though I’ve been holding my breath for hours. I apologize again for the late call, and she waves it off. “It’s okay, you were worried. And it’s not like I have to go to work in the morning. I’m a retiree, remember?” She screws up her face, attempting to be goofy. 

After we log off, I close Fatema’s message, send it to my deleted items mailbox. It’s all too much. The sadness of others is seeping into my skin. I’ve been perseverating on something that isn’t mine.

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


After ten minutes of teeth-brushing, flossing, and changing into my least boring nightie — the black cotton knee-length with the lace neckline, definitely not bought at Forever 21 — we are in bed. 

“How are you?” he asks, his usual way of starting. 

“Fine.” I smile nervously, wondering if I am the least bit alluring. After nine years of marriage, I still don’t have any moves. What if I were to say, “I’m on fire for you!” or the opposite: “I have a headache”? 

He kisses me, the peppermint on his breath reminding me that our dentist appointments are next week. 

His hands rove over my back and then under my nightdress. I copy his movements, feeling for the waistband of his boxers and the fine hairs on his slim buttocks. He rolls on top of me, sucks each of my breasts, always the left, next the right. I like it when he does that, and I breathe deeply, getting caught up in the moment. His mouth travels over my belly and lingers a few moments lower down. I think about the bottle of lube I recently bought and that I haven’t yet overcome my shyness to tell Murtuza about. 

“Ready?” he asks, cupping my right breast. 

“Okay,” I reply. 

I try to relax. My friend Anita showed me her copy of a selfhelp book called Mating in Captivity, and I imagine that Murtuza and I are a pair of orangutans at the zoo. Then I feel weird for getting aroused by imagining we are orangutans at the zoo. 

After a few minutes, Murtuza grunts and rolls off me, panting. 

“Want to try the toy?” He purchased the vibrator years ago. He’d read an article about how, after having a baby, it was good to spice things up in the bedroom. We’ve tried it a few times, and while the sensation is pleasant, it is uncomfortable to have Murtuza apply the device to my vulva and wait expectantly for me to climax. 

“No, I’m satisfied. That was good, Murti.” I peck him on the cheek and get up to use the bathroom. When I return to bed, he lifts the covers and wraps his arms around me. 

Early on, when Murtuza sporadically asked about my lack of orgasms, I reassured him that it was because we were still new. Then I said it was because I was pregnant, and then because I was a sleep-deprived new parent. And then he went out and brought home the vibrator and I finally admitted that I’d never had an orgasm, ever, not with anyone. This revelation soothed him somewhat, the problem clearly not about him but me. He’s never said so, but I suspect that he’s had much wilder sex with all the women he was with before me. 

In my twenties, I read books about it. Attempted various positions. Insisted on oral sex. Spent a hundred dollars on toys. Now, I find it easier to accept things as they are, rather than perseverating on an unfixable problem. I can enjoy sex for what it is instead of looking for what’s missing. 

After my confession, he encouraged me to try again. “You’re in your thirties now. Maybe it’ll be different.” Over the next couple of years I went along with his experiments: new books, new positions, new toys. I held a thin, golden thread of hope that maybe he was right and things could change. 

Each effort was embarrassing, and the more we tried, the less I enjoyed myself, my bits the subject of his prodding and probing. “Look, I like it best when we do the regular stuff,” I insisted. 

And so here we are, post-coitus, sleepy. The sex was fine, and he is always considerate to check if I want more, and I always say no, happy enough to curl up with him afterward. I sniff his sweat, a mix of his deodorant and something else warm and musky, and fall asleep.

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.