Shadow Reverie

Rini Jospeh, in her own words, as interpreted by Alex Juhasz

Rini Joseph is an artist first, self-taught, and young.

She is a teacher with different artistic mediums with kids.

Her work right now is centered on identity: class, caste, and ancestry.

Thinking about this, she was angry constantly; she worked in her place of trauma.

The rage accumulated into an exhausted space; it was taking a toll.

And then she wrote this poem.

It was written for Doing Things with Stories; she could view her rage through a new lens.

Women are told to repress our masculine aggression, but Rini wants to occupy it mindfully. She is proud of her rage.

Her oppression is like racism.

Her social capital is her education despite her caste, but even then, she hears racist remarks and certain spaces stay inaccessible.

Sometimes inclusivity can be trauma porn,

but for this project she understood

that a retelling of her story would be humanising.

Understanding her struggle and suffering as a transformative space.

‘Narrative needs to change!’

This was her cue to convert that rage.

And in a global context?!

That’s an honour.

Opportunity is bleak in India for artists.

Gatekeeping is in the imagination of someone in power.

In contrast, Doing Things with Stories did not ask for past work, a portfolio, or a resume.

The invitation is based on what Rini has to say now.

Doing Things with Stories said: ‘We are giving you time and space for you to say what you want to say.’

This is liberating. A symbol of reclaiming or re-allotting power so as ‘to drive my own narrative and put it into the world.’

(like a child, exasperated)

I am sick to my stomach!

The torment of everything

the way it is

the truth of who I am

It is suffocating me.

This reality

This society

Will never allow me to thrive.


Maybe some water to calm your nerves?



Are you listening to me?

My identity, my life

It is the tragedy that wrapped me

as soon as I came out of the womb.

This body carries the pain of a reality

that’s the ghost of the past

that predates me.

My ancestors—

disaster ridden



they taunt me in my dreams.

‘I am the wound of multitudes,

the multitude of wounds’

Their fears are bound to mine.

Their tears are wound with mine.

(collapses, breaks down)

(offers water)

(drinks water)


What did you dream last?

(closes eyes)


Mother’s father.

I never knew him.

Mamma doesn’t talk about him.

I don’t even know his name, you know?

The story goes—

he gambled away their little money

in an alcoholic’s frenzy

then abandoned grandmother and their four children

‘You picked the right time to leave me, Lucille, With four hungry children and crops in the field,’ Pappa sings.

stranding them in the depths of poverty and lack.

Mamma would see him almost decades later

at a job that gave her life dignity,

dignity that she warred for.

He came into her Bank—

a beggar

a vagabond

stinking of cheap liquor—

asking his daughter

to spare him some money.

He stood there

in a nightmare of a moment

laying out her truth

in front of her Upper Caste colleagues

in front of her aspirational upper caste life

in front of her life of integrity

—her truth of her murky meagre undignified past.

Is that what you saw in your dream?


It was just him—faceless


dilapidated —like a house forgotten.

I knew it was him immediately, despite never knowing him.

He wept like only a broken man can.

Before pity what I felt was shame—

the shame mother must have felt—

that this was my blood.

I cannot lie—

I felt disgust—

like he was stubborn muck that was stuck to my footwear.

I think that’s unfair—

(enraged and fierce)




All my life I aspired to be upper caste, OK?

Even before I knew caste

I knew what my dark skin implied.

And I had to compensate for it

by sucking the oppressor’s ASS!!


I aspired to be all that was wounding me

all that wounded my bloodline.

I talk like the oppressor

I walk like the oppressor

I live like the oppressor

And my ambitions bind with a success

that was framed by the oppressor

gatekept by the oppressor

controlled by the oppressor.


Grandfather reminded me

that I am the descendent of a downtrodden

humiliated life.

that I belong to a backward caste.


I hate that term—backward caste—

like we’re walking around

with our spines being pulled back

by some invisible chain.

This torment is the invisible chain.


It is the blood of Adivasis that run in our veins

the first inhabitants

the indigenous life of the forests in the Idukki hills

Manninte makkal—the children of the soil, as Mamma says.

       The deep brown of our skin confesses the love of the sun for our people.


ugh, don’t be such a romantic!

the deep brown of my skin confessed the powerlessness of my being the entitlement towards my body

the pre-existing leverage over my dignity

to be grabbed, to be fondled

the permutations of my social inferiority

to be scarred, to be fucked.

But it also demanded a double standard—

My body could be property

But it could not be beautiful.

I spent so much of my childhood

bathing trying to scrub away the brown in my skin.

Before I knew what desire was

I knew darker the skin,

the less desirable it made me.


we are not mere victims of this terrible society!

Are we not?

Our childhood was stolen from us.

We entered every room fearing being the darkest skinned being in it.


How are you not angry?!

Do you not remember that imbecile

who barged into our home

for a quick fuck

only to shame me into a slut

and had the gall to tell me

that I should consider it an honor

that he even noticed me and my ‘black skin’.


I think our sexiness upset him.

He knew that we knew that

we’ve got diamonds at the meeting of our thighs.


We are not mere victims of this treacherous society. It taught us to hide from the sun per chance it chars our skin into soot. And yet we do not shy away from the sun.

We walk into every room



that the depth of the brown of our skin

will make their eyes linger

will gather a gaze that thirsts for it

a thirst that we will not quench

unless we deem them worthy.

We are the beholders of the skin

and we have inherited the heart

and the soul

and the mind

and the intelligence

of our wild ancestors

along with their melanin.

So tell me why we must choke ourselves with a prerogative that we constantly defy.

So then what of the angst

and the injustice

and the rage

and the sadness

of the abandoned mother/the daughter

the lonely grandmother/the wife/the single mother/the poor, unprotected woman

the drunkard grandfather/the estranged husband/the disappointment/the absent father the aunt/ the wayward daughter/the prodigal sister/the whore found dead in the garbage


must I go on?

(deep breath)

I know.

All this generational trauma

while I strut around

among people

with all their generational wealth.

And what of our generational wealth

our generational love

our generational strength?

Great grandfather was the Chief of the Malayarayars

a just and lauded head

who boldly martyred himself.

Great grandmother’s fabled beauty and spirit

live on still as stories.

Before the brahmins and the white man

encroached our lands

and our dignity

and branded us as inferior



we were the companions of forest spirits and wild things.

The congruence with the soil

and the forest

and the earth

we were born into

still hold power in the green of our thumbs

in the grip of our tools

in the sway of our hips

in the gleam of our sweat

in the roar of our songs

in the blank spaces of our dreams.

Then why do I feel like a coward

a traitor

  • pretender?

I am climbing this ladder

so far up from the ground that in birth I fell into. Why do I polish myself

and mould myself

to be palatable to a system that continues to

tread unkindly on the likes of my ancestors?

They don’t even listen to my grief.


I am someone raising his head for a fistful of respect’ Ay, there’s the rub.

The act of empowering oneself

is reduced into compliance.

We climb to overthrow a system of its fragility.

Is this truly what you want them to hear?

Not war cries

not incantations

but the wailing of a wounded animal?

Then what do we do of all this memory

that lie raging beneath our skin?

‘I am the poison throated one

who swallowed the famine so that the world may have wealth’

The grand injustice we suffer is that our memory is tainted with forgetting—

our stories stricken down by erasure.

So we must re-make them.

We must embody them.

Fight the good fight that mamma fought

by exercising the autonomy she granted us.

This world

it is speckled with injustice and suffering.

But what the oppressor never foresaw

was how this turned us superhuman.

We are scattered across earth

and we are not alone.

We must collect new stories,

retell old stories,

braid them all together as one,

then crowd and wipe out the tales told by the oppressor.

‘I’m not a victim, I’m an immortal

I am the fluttering flag of defiance’

Our lineage runs deeper.

Our blood runs thicker.

Our love runs stronger.

So why be shy?

Scream of the boons of our blood

till we rumble and growl

louder than thunder.

Howl it till the rage in our heart

grows warm.

Our skin that is as thick and wild as the wilderness resistant to so much of nature’s pricks and bites and burns.

The fearlessness of the dark because we

were born into the darkness of a formidable night.

The whip of my hip

the stomp of my feet

the dance of my spirit

trembling the surface I tread on.

My hands that have always known how to nurture

to create

to soothe

My hands that taught itself to push away and scream IT IS ENOUGH!

My hands that refuse to dread the dirt

Instead gives it new life and new meaning.





The blood of all who will come after me.

The ground that I learned to walk on.

The ground that I couldn’t help but dance on.

The ground that I built myself on.

The ground that death will bring up on.

I am the soil and the soil is I

It will continue to sprout

even when mankind is gone.

Hear me O sky, for I will no longer torment my self.

Hold me O wind, for I will now fight as I dance.

Bless me O river, for I will now thrive.

And hence I reclaim,

the power that is I.


Please note: my poem refers to other poems including Maya Angelou’s ‘I Still Rise’ and Kalekuri Prasad’s ‘A Fistful of Respect’ to convey the power of literature in shifting our personal narratives and empowering our self-perception.

Rini Alphonsa Joseph

Aged 27, I am an artist, writer, educator and sculptor, building and honing skills and discourses to create and empower myself. Self-employed for the last three years of my life, I strive to enhance my capacity for self-sustainability through my skills and artistic expression. Through my artistic practice, I try to embody self-expression in a way that highlights strength in vulnerability, and the power of reflection and critical thinking in defying outdated, regressive thought and institutions. I believe that my approach to productivity, independence and reframing of what success and ambition truly mean to me is a way that I shift the narrative of the powerless and oppressive prerogative allotted to the identity of a young Dalit woman of Adivasi descent, or even the ‘Backward Caste’ identity. I am also an occasional model, trying to reframe the narrative around the socially accepted understanding of beauty and override the Casteist/Brahminical/Indian patriarchy driven feminine aesthetic.