Bengali boys of Laban used to have nail polish on their fingers –

Almost always red or a bright pink – now they feel shy I think.

Now, boys must be big and strong and say they head something:

Whether battalion, business or bureaucracy.


Once, the Khasi boys from Mawlai also painted their pinkies.

Almost everyone had an amulet those days –

Some a bullet on a chain and others a sacred gem –

Boys could be big but gentle.


They did not have to be angry – just young men.

Aunts would gather around and tell the boys how good-looking

They were or how tall they’d grown since they last met,

And once boys allowed themselves to be flattered by this.


Maybe once, boys weren’t defined

By other boys but by women.