Monday 13 September 2021

#WEP #WINNER's #GUESTPOST - Kalpana Misra's Alphabet Circles

Hello everyone! Laura here!

As you all know, the winner of the WEP challenge gets the opportunity to write a guest post. Kalpana Misra's piece Landai moved readers with its portrayal of women in Afghanistan and the power of their poetry. Our judge Nick Wilford said, "This really brought home the terrible reality of what is happening in Afghanistan and how women's voices, which are already clandestine, might be snuffed out completely once again. This shows poetry as a mighty act of resistance."

Today Kalpana talks a bit about a Kashmiri poet named Zareefa. Take it away, Kalpana!

Alphabet Circles

The JCB Prize longlist came out last week. It brought with it feelings of despair. It’s a prize awarded to an Indian author writing in English as well as translations from Indian languages to English. You can read some extracts here. My daughter’s astonishingly good first novel, The Heart Asks Pleasure First couldn’t be considered because she doesn’t have an Indian passport although she lives in India. I don’t know if books should be judged on your nationality.  I know there are excellent reasons for these rules but it is disappointing. Being published as an Indian writer in English isn’t that simple.

So it was all doom and gloom for me in the past week and I didn’t want to read any of the JCB books apart from the translations from Malayalam.

I thought about the Landai the Afghan women write and recite in the face of so much opposition and danger, and my spirits lifted slightly. Here were women who believed in literature enough to defy the patriarchy that blanketed their country. Patriarchy that isn’t only in our part of the world. I went back to Tara Westover and Educated and thought about what it must have taken out of her to write that memoir that made her family cut her off even more effectively than before. Into this frame of mind,  came an article about a 63-year-old Kashmiri woman poet, Zareefa,   who never learnt to write. Her only language is Kashmiri, that’s all she speaks and the government, trying to make that language obsolete, as well as the men who kept her home from school because she was a girl combined their forces to ensure she never learnt to read and write. She didn’t need to. Poems and ghazals just came to her.  But she kept forgetting her poems and wasn’t happy with her children’s methods of recording them - either writing them down for her or making audio recordings. So she invented her own alphabet of circles, which only she can interpret, and through this sign language she reads out her poems.

I was so moved by this story and Zareefa’s tremendous love for her writing that my bad mood and petulance were completely washed away like a cool mountain breeze washing away the city’s pollution.

It is, of course, nice to be recognised, to win prizes, to have people talk about your books and buy them in huge numbers and I’m not ashamed of saying I want that for my daughter. And for me, when I do get published.  But it is easier to make oneself happy thinking of women like Zareefa.

Kalpana is a poet, writer and journalist who got waylaid by teaching. She has recently broken out of this hostage situation and begun to write seriously again. She is half German, half Indian and lives in New Delhi India with her three indoor cats. She is co-owned by four other feral cats. Her three children are far away now but used to be her entire life. She’s still getting used to cooking for one person. Kalpana is nibbling away at her novel, which is always ‘almost ready’. She might be a perfectionist.

She has been widely published in Indian magazines and newspapers.


Some of her work is visible on



Thank you for your guest post, Kalpana. Isn't the power of Zareefa's love for her craft inspiring?

We'd love for you to tweet this post or share it to Facebook or your favorite social media site.

@Kalpanapster #WEPFREEDOMOFSPEECH #WEPwinner #guestpost Alphabet Circles @DeniseCCovey, @YolandaRenee, @LGKeltner, @OlgaGodim #amwriting #writingchallenge

@Kalpanapster #WEPFREEDOMOFSPEECH #WEPwinner Landai #guestpost Alphabet Circles @DeniseCCovey, @YolandaRenee, @LGKeltner, @OlgaGodim #amwriting #writingchallenge

Learn about an inspiring poet with @Kalpanapster #WEPFREEDOMOFSPEECH #WEPwinner #guestpost Alphabet Circles @DeniseCCovey, @YolandaRenee, @LGKeltner, @OlgaGodim #amwriting #writingchallenge


Our next challenge is just around the corner! We hope you will all consider joining us for our October challenge, The Scream! We'll post about it on October 1st!

See you all there!