An Unknown Girl is about Moniza Alvi’s attempt to find her place in a country to which she does belong to but which she cannot call her own.
The poems starts with a description of the setting: it is an evening in a market place where neon signs are the main source of lightening. As the persona sits, perhaps in a stall, getting her hand decorated by henna by a mysterious ‘unknown’ girl who works for a few rupees. As time passes and colors fade away, the persona imagines that the mannequins in the shop windows are staring at her. As the design is completed and a peacock unfurls its feathers on the palm of her hand, the persona feels that she has achieved a new identity, with the henna running in her veins. She desperately tries to hold on to the intricate lines of henna unwilling to let go and she thinks that despite the fact that when she removes the dried henna from her palm that night and even when the design fades away in a week, she will still remember the experience, the feeling of belonging, and long for it in her dreams.
This poem is written in free verse but makes use of many other literary techniques to further emphasize the message. Ethnic words such as ‘bazaar’, ‘henna’, ‘shalwar kameez’ give an exotic feel to the place, which one finds out later is a market place in India. The girl who is applying the henna comes across as almost sensual in her mysteriousness: she is a deft worker, clad in satin, artistically creating designs and patterns. The passing of time is described in a metaphor which again because of the implicit imagery provoke the reader’s senses: ‘the colors which float up in balloons.’ This creates a gradually darkening atmosphere as it grows late and the evening turns to night.
The contradictory feelings that the persona feels as she sits in the bazaar are brilliantly portrayed in the metaphorical description of the dummies with western perms turning their heads and staring at the persona as she tries her best to fit into a...