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Month: March 2020

Some of Us, Friends

This city wakes daily 
    to birdsong and worry—
we all miss our family 
    or friends, or the sky;

we wonder how long 
    our paychecks will last,
we fret about those who
    are sick, old or frail. 

Some ask how long 
    the atta will last,
will police harass us 
    if we go look for dal?

And some of us, friends,
    have no place to return to,
and some of us, friends,
    don’t know how to get home—

and some of us, friends, 
    are already hungry,
some of us, friends,
  are afraid and alone.

Distant or near, 
    all of us matter,
we must not forget
   we depend on each other.
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Waiting at the Station

The night before the lockdown,
my sister called to say

our cousin had told her:
Go see your father soon,

he is not keeping well at all.
We both knew I could not go,

and that night I dreamed
I was standing alone

in an silent railway station,
waiting for something or someone.

And all week, I’ve been trying
to remember what I was waiting for:

was it my sister, my father,
or a train to take me home?

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Letter From Our Future

Remember, when we posted
selfies and self-care memes?
It was difficult to be alone.

When we had to go out, we tipped
autowalas and didn’t bargain over
the price of potatoes or fruit.

We were tempted to share
stories about our efforts,
but even then, we were

starting to feel uncomfortable
about performance. Some
of us worked from home,

some were put on unpaid leave.
We thought it was temporary,
and though we knew the Janta

Curfew was a symbolic drill,
held a month too late,
most of us secretly hoped

the government had a plan
or the weather would somehow
change things. Then came

the layoffs, and the pleas for help
from friends: first artists
and writers whose income

and savings had dried up—
that was easy; after all,
they were like family.

And when our neighbors
came asking for ghee and onion,
we gave and were glad to.

When we were called
to share water, atta and dal,
and when we began to see

terrible things on our screens,
and in the streets when we
had to venture out,

it became more difficult
than we’d imagined it
would be. We did not cover

ourselves in glory; yes,
we loved, but we also failed.
We are here on the other side now,

grieving and also rejoicing. We
are all here together; yes we failed,
but also we loved.

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What’s Playing Now

It’s like that moment in the film
when the main characters

are looking out the window—
they can hear the thunder

and the rain, but the wind is still
just rustling the branches

and bushes in their small,
close-knit community,

and it would look so peaceful,
except for the soundtrack,

and the fact that you know
that they know

there is a mighty storm on the way,
and the only question

is whether it will be their home,
or one of their neighbor’s,

that will be left standing
after it passes.

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What to Say: A Letter To Our Leaders

Our schools are closed, our markets are slow—
none of us knows what is coming,

but a few things, at least, are clear:
we can’t beat a virus with lathis;

tear gas and bullets won’t work.
Our doctors and nurses will work

till they drop; we’ll all do
what we can to support them.

But everywhere and always,
public health depends on trust:

Say you’ll withdraw the CAA,
and roll back the abrogation.

Say all of us are equal;
say each of us counts the same—

say we’re all brothers and sisters,
say we will stop this, together.

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Scientists say that every so often
something tips,

and savannah turns to desert,
or forest to tundra,

in the space of a decade or less.
Our own short history’s littered

with drought, plague, famine,
war and tyranny.

What’s one more bank collapse,
one more novel virus?

The moon is just past full,
the March wind is wet

and warm. There’s no line
at the ATM,

but the dogs seem
restless tonight.

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Abstract: How it Changes Our Focus

-Unpublished research into COVID-19

When hunger, heat and poverty
kill millions of us annually,

why is is there so much focus
on this novel kind of virus?

This is one is not a mystery:
since there is no costly vaccine,

and the rich can still contract it,
they’ll spare no expense to attack it.*

*Note: Proactive measures such as handwashing,
school closures, and other forms of ‘social distancing’
do work and will save many lives.

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We Cannot Fail to Write Love Poems

-after Miguel James

If I write a poem against the CAA and the NRC,
that poem will be a love poem.
And if I write a poem about Chandra Shekhar Azad
leading a march in Daryaganj in support
of the constitution and in violation of Section 144,
or a poem about hundreds of women sitting
day and night on the hard pavement of a main road
during the coldest months of the year,
or a poem that says what everyone knows—
that the police does not serve the people or our laws,
but only the Home Minister and his boss—
those, too, will be love poems.
If I write a poem against the very idea
of exploitation, property or borders,
or a poem about a ragged line of teenage boys,
trembling as they face a wall of police dressed
in riot gear and wielding lathis and guns,
and if one of those boys turns and runs,

while his friend reaches down and picks up
an egg-sized stone and weighs it in his hand
as he lets fly a word that means ‘freedom’
but may later be translated as ‘sedition’
in the court record if he is lucky enough
to live to appear in a court—
those, too, will be love poems.
All the poems that I and you and we
write and sing as we try to hold and show
the courage of people sitting
and standing and fighting
to be treated and seen as human—
all of these may or may not fail
as poems, but not one of them
will fail to be a love poem.

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In the Early Days of the Delhi Fires

We lay awake, trembling.
We no longer understood the rules,
or where we were going.

We stopped posting selfies;
we flirted with memes
and sarcastic stories.

One by one, we got VPN’s.
We shifted to Signal for politics,
gossip and love.

We could not put down
our phones; we could not bear
to look at our phones.

We knew we had it better
than many. We knew it would
get worse.

We fell in love at rallies,
argued on marches and tried
to forget what was coming.

Some of us were detained
and beaten. We knew many
had it worse.

We joked about the new virus—
we hugged each other and laughed
when we coughed.

Some of us called our parents,
some of us started smoking,
some of us secretly prayed.

We sang of heroes, cursed fascists,
shouted brave slogans and worried.
We were so tired.

Some days we thought we’d gone mad.
We remembered Kashmir;
some of us drank too much.

Some nights, we gazed at the moon
from Jasola Vihar or Jamia.
Some mornings, we woke up crying.

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Desh ke Gaddaron Ko

Go fix your gaze on the setting sun,
or even a welder’s torch:

the damage you suffer may result
in blurred vision or blind spots.

Your eyes will heal, but for a while,
when you study a budding tree

you may mistake a parakeet
for a piece of smoky sky.

Some slogans work like that, my friends:
if we train our ears to their blare,

we may perceive only barks and growls,
when we hear our neighbors’ prayers.

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Fever Dreams and Rumours

Did you ever see Mani Ratnam’s
film, Bombay?

In the midst of the terror,
an old man or woman—

it’s difficult to remember now—
raised her hand and said:

Stop! Enough is enough!
And then all through the city,

brave men and women
stepped forward to say,

Rukh Jao! Bas!’
It was as if a great fever

had broken, and suddenly
we could see clearly again.

There was probably music playing,
and we all knew the director’s

hand was there somewhere,
not so much saying,

‘this is how it happened’,
but, ‘this is how it should

have happened’.
Yesterday, we all heard

the rumours; at protest sites,
in markets, via Whatsapp

and Signal, they spread.
And late in the night,

as we lay awake,
trembling and praying—

Please, do not forget or forsake
us or our brothers and sisters—

none of us had any idea
if the fever had returned,

or who was directing this film.

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