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Hamraaz Posts

Love, and Also a Challenge

Two nights ago, 
you shook your head
at the saffron flags
that line the narrow lane 
behind our flat 
like wilted marigolds–
They are a kind of anger, 
a kind of challenge,
you said.

Last night,
we watched news
of razor wire, roadblocks 
and wind-blown clouds of teargas–
The farmers are back 
like spring flowers, 
you said–
a kind of love,
and also a challenge.
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Reading Akhil Katyal on an Early Morning Metro

The ‘not-a-morning-person’
in his recent insta poem

looks a whole lot like  
the man right next to me–

and yes, I too am sleepy
as I swipe to the next story:

Israeli-US bombs, 
the bunker busting ones.

Could those bombs shatter
these Delhi Metro tunnels?

(They may break the ‘Gaza Metro’,
but they won’t break Palestine.)
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Dreaming of Rubble and Rivers and Seas`

-Kotla Mubarakpur, November, 2023

I won’t comment on the moon,  
or the way the chemist shops
were bathed in neon light–

forget the smoke and dust,
forget the swerving bikes–
you took my hand that night.

Today I woke at dawn,
choking back a sob,
you looked at me, worried.

I told you, I was fine
but did not tell you this:
I’d dreamt I’d been buried–

and yes, it’s true, I’m fine–
I can stand and breathe,
but also, I can see–

buried friends will haunt
all our dreams until 
Palestine is free.
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As Bombs Fall in Gaza, I think of Umar Khalid

The Delhi air turned cool,
so we set out into the night;

we argued about the future–
you said, I was too optimistic.

The G20-potted-plants
were wilting or already dead;

we cursed our leaders and wondered
if curses were now illegal. 

We knew the answer was yes–
and that bombs were falling in Gaza;

at this moment, children were calling, 
Amma, when will this stop?

When it rained, we ducked for cover,
I thought of Umar Khalid–

the wind smelled of woken soil–
I prayed somehow he could smell it.

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‘Pressure on the Family’

-reading Sakshi Malik’s response to the FIR

My grandfather was a wrestler–
he said wrestlers understand power.

Home ministers understand power,
as does Brij Bhushan Singh.

The police understands power, 
Sakshi Malik understands power–

she says she has ‘hard calls’ to make–
she’s wondering if we’ll stand with her.
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1000 Days Inside

Every morning last week,
two butterflies appeared 
near the bush 
by our back window–
they flickered there,
like static from your 
mother’s old radio,
or faraway lightning–
or j0y.

This week, 
they’re suddenly gone–
like the tailorbirds’ 
storm-broken nest, 
or your mother– 
or Umar Khalid.
How long has it been 
since they took him? 
you ask as we enter the park. 
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Meditation

Some mornings I stand in the metro,
or sit in an auto or bus,
and consider my breath or the wind–
or the beautiful faces of strangers.

Some days, I pray for my parents,
some days for Umar Khalid–
imprisoned because he refused
to put profit before love and freedom.

Did you hear about Junaid and Nasir?
Residents of Ghatmeeka,
found dead in their car last week– 
burned alive,
burned alive,
burned alive.
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Still No Eternal Peace?

-after the speech, a drunk fascist speaks frankly

We taught them a lesson at Auschwitz,
we taught them a lesson in Gaza–
O, how we taught in Rwanda, 
Johannesburg and Durban.

In Chile and neighbouring lands,
we taught thousands to disappear–
we taught them a lesson at Wounded Knee,
in that church in Birmingham.

We taught them a lesson in Myanmar,
we taught several lessons in Delhi,
we taught such a lesson in Gujarat–
and still, they refuse to learn!
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On the Back of Your Bike, Praying

-for Umar Khalid

I was holding you tight and praying
as we weaved through autos and cars–
you said we were already late
for our train to the south–
and the sea. At some point, 
moon swallowed sun,
or was it the other way round?
We told lies to strangers and laughed– 
we cursed the Delhi police.
Before dawn, I woke and was struck
by the sound of the call to prayer,
I remembered Umar Khalid–
I prayed for the souls of blind judges.
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I See the Future and the Future Looks Good

At the Kashmiri Gate metro station, 
a child in a bright blue dress
breaks free from her parents,
runs laughing– 
into the cool, rushing air. 
And then what?
She turns and returns–
and then what?
More laughing and growing– 
and then what?
She figures out something–
and finds others 
who see she is right. 
And then what? 
Her ideas spread,
but they jail her–
like Natasha Narwhal.
And then what?
We all see she’s right
and come into the streets
like a flood.
And then what?
Life is still hard,
but noone  
sleeps hungry or cold;
we still struggle 
and we still love–
we struggle because we love.
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Tremble

-August 15, 2022

Some day soon, 
you’ll be watching 
a pair of tiny squirrels 
chase each other
around a muddy park– 
or you’ll hear a young girl
laugh as she rides 
an oversized cycle, hard 
through rain-soaked lanes– 
and for a time you may 
forget the fading light– 
but later you’ll read 
more friends have been charged
for reading namaz,
or that Hany Babu
is still in jail–
or you’ll see a brown kite
fly away with a squirrel–
and you’ll remember 
the darkness and tremble.
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Garden

-for Mohammed Zubair

On the day Mohammed Zubair
was released from Tihar Jail,
sheets of rain bounced so high 
that for a few moments 
the ground all around
shone and bloomed–
a watery garden,
suddenly sprung
from a muddy, 
North Delhi lane.

That evening,
after the snarled streets
and soaked shoes,
I went out to buy a mango 
to celebrate the news. 
The man at the fruit
cart was smiling:
See how clean the wind tastes tonight–
perhaps, the weather is changing.
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Distraction

We’re huddled at the junction 
     of five long, dusty paths:

 a swollen, hammering sun;
     withered wheat and grass.

As weary families near,
     a bald man points and screams:

Look at how they pray–
     it’s their fault, can’t you see?

Next morning, when I ask, 
     you say: It’s obvious– 

That was just Amit Shah
     trying to distract us.

That night, as our fan rattles
     we sweat into the sheets;

there’s thunder in the distance–
     we pray for rain and sleep.
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Painful

-for Professor Ratan Lal

The feelings of powerful people
are so easily hurt, lately–

the police investigate satire
as if wit were a felony.

Reason, humour, history
are now enemies of the state;

solidarity’s called ‘terror’; 
they see love and say ‘hate’.  

But what do they find most painful?
A Dalit who speaks his mind, friends!

(If Ambedkar were alive today,
Tihar Jail is where you’d find him.)
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Two Hundred Poems Later, the No-Name Poet Tries to Explain

After the abrogation,
but before Shaheen Bagh–
the Ayodhya verdict was in the news,
we all sensed a deepening dark.
I think we were in Kolkata–
or maybe I have that wrong;
we were celebrating your love–
I wanted to write you a song.
It might have included lovers
holding hands under tube lights– 
maybe dust, or my father’s hair–
I tried, but it didn’t feel right.
My friend, I did not tell you,
but that was the day I decided
to learn how to sing of the dark times,
to banish the censors inside.
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Father Stan Swamy Came to Delhi Last Week

I was sitting near the back 
at the launch of G.N. Saibaba’s 
book of poems and letters from prison
when he slipped into the seat on my left– 
I might not have noticed, 
but his white hair was glowing 
like a Christmas star,
or a tube light hung on the wall
behind the priest at at Midnight Mass.
His tremors were mostly gone;
I only saw him shake once–
when A.S. Vasantha Kumari 
described the solitary confinement 
cells in the Nagpur Central Jail.
He disappeared before the Q and A,
but later as I stood outside with friends
giving thanks for the cool May rain
we heard him whisper as he passed:

Breathe deep, comrades, breathe deep–
tonight you can smell the forest.
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Ghazal Against Bulldozers

Who authorises homes and rites in this city?
Each one who lives here has a right to this city!

Equality under the law is just fiction–
bulldozers show their masters’ might in this city.

Landlords and agents act like sponges and thugs–
private property? A blight on this city.

The cops say, ‘with you, for you, always’– but we know:
they’ll come for us, morning or night, in this city.

Who reads alone in Tihar Jail? Umar Khalid!
Behind the smoke, the moon is bright in this city. 

You ask me what it cost to give up my name– 
Nothing, and now I’m free to write in this city. 
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No Escape

Last night, I tried to turn 
off words and worries,
to let the city rush over me,

like a postmodern raag,
written for engine, horn, 
shout and bark– 

after the elections in UP,
I stopped reading the news,
but the pigeons outside 

my window keep cooing:
Madhya Pradesh, 
Jahangirpuri– 

and the raucous crows  
won’t stop their calls:
Bulldozers, bulldozers– 

they’ll be here soon!
Bulldozers, bulldozers,
what will you do?
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A War Poem

Once while going by sleeper
from Delhi to Bengaluru

I dreamt I was trapped 
in a broken mine shaft,

and waking, I cried 
out in terror.

Now I dream of distant fires
and wonder how far they will spread– 

there’s no way to know,
but this much is plain:

there’s no glory in war, 
just sorrow and pain,

there’s no glory in war,
my dear friends.
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How Is It We Keep Forgetting?

While reading Ilya Kaminsky, 
   I Think of Umar Khalid

Just outside Qutub Minar
there’s a line of buses and cars

filled with all kinds of folks,
looking for all kinds of things– 

some have come to lose themselves;
some, just want to get home;

walking back to the metro,
we pass flocks of uneasy dogs.

Later, I’m reading Ilya Kaminsky,
under a spinning fan–

we may not live in a mythical town,
but they’ve jailed the best among us.
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Considering the Issues on Counting Day

From a West Delhi roof,
the moon is high and bright,

the heat will be here soon,
but the wind is cool tonight.

Last night I dreamed of my father,
and how my mother said,

he cried when he lost his job,
he sobbed when he lost his job.

I’m thinking of your brother,
and how he lost his job;

he has no  place of his own,
he has no place of his own.

Our leaders peddle hate and lies,
and still we vote for them– 

we trade our hope for hate and lies,
again and again and again.
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I Fall Asleep Reading Uday Prakash as Russia Invades Ukraine

I’m dressed in my best 
at the wedding hall
or is it a gym in Saket?

I’m not ready to marry
but don’t want to fight,
so I slip out for a smoke.

I meet a sweeper,
we chat for a moment,
he shows me a hollow wall–

there’s cash behind it,
he says, please take some–
it’s black, but free, for now.

Later, I’m sipping 
tea at a dhabba 
somewhere in Dhaula Kuan;

a plateless car 
pulls up and then
a tinted window rolls down:

Putin and Shah
laugh as they ask 
for samosas and directions;

Ayodhya’s their goal,
there’s not much time,
the fifth phase is nearly here.

   (Just before dawn, the northern sky 
   fills with neon lightning–

   thunder follows fast behind:
   the sound of young men dying.)
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The Emperor Consults His Advisors

The emperor is worried:
first the plague, 
and now the council
of ministers turning 
against his favourite viceroy–
and what of the guilds–  
how can one trust those 
who build, weave or reap?
It’s time to take strong action: 
re-invade that northern region,
imprison a merchant 
from Bactria or Persia,
announce a horse sacrifice–
or better still, a pogrom; 
well placed fear 
yields division and hate– 

(We’ve done it before, sir,
 we know how it works:
just say the word,
and we’ll make it so.)
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‘If they are so mighty, let them snuff out the moon’

-writing from Tihar Jail, 
Umar Khalid quotes Faiz Ahmad Faiz 

In the photos the young lovers post,
they are smiling as they sip 
from the same bottle of cola,
they are sharing a plate of chaat,
they are sitting on a seesaw, 
under the bright, 
winter moon. 
Some nights he says, 
I’m cold, please warm 
my hands. Some nights 
she says, Let us pray 
now for Umar Khalid;
I hear he is lonely inside.
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A Memory, a Prayer and a Dream

-Christmas Day, 2021

i.
One morning, during the plague
that followed the fires
that scarred the capital,

you were feeding our pet rat,
when word came 
from the town cryer:

The farmers have circled the city.

ii.
A year and many deaths later,  
the king and his first minister
finally concede.

It will take another long year 
to pry open the jails, 
but when spring arrives that March,

Shaheen Bagh is back in bloom.

iii.
‘The change’ comes fast when it comes:
the police and army trade their lathis 
and guns for the tools they need 

to build homes and hospitals.
On every corner, libraries sprout,
like winter wheat planted 

over obsolete borders.
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Delhi Progressive Writers’ Association Conference

-Lodhi Garden, December, 2021

I was reading that story by Manto 
about two old friends, now soldiers,
fighting each other in Kashmir,
and I was thinking about how 
the distance between us
has grown, but also how 
we sat on that bench today
in the smoky, fading sun–
we were talking about fascim
and our fathers, 
but really about ourselves–
and how you said, 
It’s tough because we all know
there’s only one way 
any of our stories ever end.
I forgot to ask you about the last time
we saw Mangalesh Dabral,
or what you think 
about Varavara Rao. 
You told me you believe 
in what you’ve written,
and anyway, most of the time
they don’t actually put poets in jail.
But sometimes they do,
and my friend if they do,
we will stand by you,
I promise we will.
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Appeal

-for Sabbah Haji 

When I heard the Kashmiri 
educator had been jailed for calling 
a general a ‘war criminal’,
a serious question came to my mind:

How often does anyone
in any large country 
rise to the level of general
without running afoul 
at least once of some
part of Article 8 of the UN’s 
‘Rome Statute of the International 
Criminal Court’?

And forgetting generals, how 0ften 
does anyone become even a DCP 
in any police force anywhere
without condoning or ignoring
‘torture or inhuman treatment’ 
(to say nothing of encounters,
which might be classified 
as acts of  ‘willful killing’)?

Just as some countries 
are kingdoms dressed up as republics,
this is an appeal,
disguised as a poem.
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What They’re Selling

These days on the metro,
I keep seeing this pair:

the old guy with his thick 
white beard,

and his orange-robed friend—
the one who’s always smiling.

They’re building homes 
and universities;

handing out  jobs 
and free vaccines.

I feel dizzy sometimes,
thinking about the possibilities:

a superhighway to Lanka;
my very own flying chariot.
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Elegy for Lakhimpur Kheri

The marching farmers fall,
like wheat beneath a fast combine;

young and old, they fall,
stuck from behind, struck from behind!

Watch the video:
it is so clear, my friends, so clear;

they’re marching peacefully:
they do not fear, they do not fear.

I see my father there;
his tall, bent back, his slow, slow gait.

The fallen ones will rise—
like seeds, that is their fate, our fate!
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Sometimes, just after the rain,

you remember how often you 
misunderstand important things—
like that time the drunken 

drain cleaner looked 
straight at you and said, 
Of course, I read poetry,

or the night you saw the shopkeeper
you’d argued with days before,
wearing no mask and laughing,

and how at that moment, 
he looked just like your closest friend—
or yesterday, when you heard 

the young fruit seller on your corner
tell the woman next to you,
yes, he was looking for books—

ninth standard, and schools 
have been closed for so long—
and you suddenly remembered 

the relationship between 
the price of labour and rice and pears—
and the cost of capitalism.

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Song for You

-Hauz Rani, 6:24 p.m.

Let’s walk out into the light, my love!
Why not? There’s time before night, my love.

This sky is hard to define, it’s true; 
both bats and birds are in flight, my love.

Recall how we shivered for hours that night—
Shaheen Bagh was crowded and bright, my love.

This morning, rain washed our smokey sky;
Hany Babu’s still jailed tonight, my love. 

A coward, yes; I’ve surrendered my name—
to this broken world, I write my love.
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While We All Slept (a Ghazal for Drones)

These days, we’re told we must be thrilled with drones—
our lives? Recorded and fulfilled with drones!

to-touch-an-emu is proclaimed a meme:
not for dancing; he’s just skilled with drones.

Jeff Bezos loves to lower labour costs;
in his dreams, our skies are filled with drones.

In wartime, hunger sprouts in fertile soil—
how many fields have you seen tilled with drones?

Obama promised fewer casualties,
but did he count the blood he spilled with drones?

As US soldiers fled Kabul last week,
reports emerged: more children killed with drones.

You wake shaking, mouth my name, then sob,
While we all slept, see what they built with drones!
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