An Unknown Girl, Moniza Alvi



'nozzle...icing my hand'- the nozzle is placed between the henna (East) and the icing (west). Metaphor of 'icing' her hand compares the application of henna to the piping of icing (something that Western readers can understand better). 'icing' suggests skilled, decorative art, the process takes time. The poet remarks on how she paid 'few rupees' for this special experience.

'western perms'- Juxtaposition between east and west and also between the natural henna and the chemical perms. Sense of cultures meeting and mixing.

'for curtain cloth and sofa cloth canopy me'- sense of abundance in bazaar and a sense of displays overhanging into the market. Also there is a sense of protection (hiding from the stares) and the alliteration of the 'C' suggests layers of cloth.

'people who cling to the sides of a train'- Simile here refers to a common sub continent transport, again showing the poet is seeking to identify herself with and immerse herself in the the culture. Also suggests holding on for life

'the amber will fade'- even when the surface is scratched off a mark remains, metaphor for poet's sense of identity. 'fade in a week' gives a sense of loss realising that her transformation is still only temporary.

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Unknown Girl= the unknown girl is both the henna artist and the poet herself.

'a peacock spreads its line across my palm'- peacock is a national symbol of India. This is a powerful, exotic image, describing the pattern being hennaed.

'colours leave the street float up in balloons'- Colour images giving a scene of a dreamy but vibrant atmosphere also the sense of night drawing in. Also there is a sense of the colour of Indian culture draining away with Western influence, this links ahead to the next few lines to come.

'I have new brown veins'- powerful line shows the poet feeling a sense of identity with the culture she is visiting. It is as if the henna lines on her hand transform her and give her 'indian blood'. 

'longing for the unknown girl'- sense of lonigng and yearning to be part of the Indian culture she is visiting. but at the same time she shows her distance from it, as if it is something she can never truly grasp in her hands. The poet herself is the unknown girl suggesting she can never truly be the indian version of herself.

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  • Written in free verse
  • no rhyme scheme/ regular scheme
  • Presented on the page as a artistic wavy line, represents the henna
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