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Month: May 2020

News on the Street

Earlier in the week, the UP Police 
charged a man with sedition

for calling CM Yogi a dog on FB,
and late last night, 

the South Asian Canine Confederation
held emergency meetings 

all over North India to debate 
the difference between defamation 

and free speech; you must have 
heard them howling.
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A Modest Manifesto

-for Devangana, Natasha and all political prisoners

Each of us needs 
a safe place to dwell,

love and care 
when we’re low or ill;

we all need enough 
to eat and drink—

stories and songs, 
paper and ink;

respect at home,
at work, fair wages,

not condescension, 
curfews or cages!

We should not have to fear
they will take us away

because they don’t like
how we think or pray—

these are basic,
modest demands;

we must give to ourselves
these rights, my friends.
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PM, Care

I’m searching for scales to weigh what’s fair:
families are hungry, miles from home;
don’t worry, they say, our PM, he cares.

Millions are living on water and prayers,
while others are forced to work to the bone;
I’m still looking for scales to weigh what’s fair.

It plays on the street, in the radio’s blare,
listen, it’s there, in the nightly news drone:
trust him, and give; our PM, he cares.

We need rations and love and protective gear,
we must care for all who are sick and alone;
we have to find scales that weigh what is fair.

We could  file an RTI, if we dared:
‘What matters more, food or free loans?’
Let’s audit the PM: how much does he care?

We don’t need police spreading hatred and fear,
we don’t need new vistas, statues, or thrones;
we’ll fashion new scales, we’ll weigh what is fair—
we’ll learn from each other the meaning of care.
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Green

I dreamed I was writing in green,
my father was dressed in green robes—

the dogs in the park were frisking,
you were spinning beneath a tall tree.

I saw the capital emptied
of those who hungered for home—

two pigeons took flight from a lamp post 
and swept down the lane in the back.

I heard they’d opened the jails,
and freed all the wrongly accused,

I was writing this poem in green,
my father came close and he touched me.
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Lockdown Lullaby

Let the ceiling fan spin you tonight, 
    my friends, 

    you don’t need to be anywhere.

Go lie on a cool, hard floor,
    my friends,

    feel gravity hold you down.

Together, we’ve come through dark days, 
     my friends,

     there are darker days coming soon.

The moon is flowering tonight, 
    my friends,

    we’re here for such a short while.


Sumedha Bhattacharyya (@kathagrapher) translated into dance. You can see it here
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Weather Report

Yesterday’s tomatoes pucker 
on the kitchen counter,

and uneaten pulao turns 
under a midnight fan.

Meanwhile in Surat,
police fire tear gas 

at workers demanding 
the right to go home— 

beware my friends,
the season is changing,

and there’s more than one 
sickness loose in the land.
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Delhi Lockdown, 8:45 pm

Yes, hunger is stalking the land,
you’ve seen it up close, and I hear you.

And they are using the UAPA
to crush those who dare to speak out.

Last night, you lay awake turning;
I dreamt of thick smoke and my father—

but the moon is half full and waxing, 
and the wind is gentle and clear;

let’s grab our masks and a bag— 
we’ll walk towards a Mother Dairy;

I’ll buy you a cold tadka chach,
you can buy me a cool sweet lassi.
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Dear Comrade Marx,

I’ve been reading the Communist Manifesto, and also Wikipedia, and I think we have some things in common. We both want a world ‘in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ and where the first rule is, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’.

Also, we’ve both used interesting names to avoid trouble from the authorities. (I noticed  you signed your letters from London, ‘A. Williams’.  May I please call you, Al?)

I confess I did not finish Capital, and I never even attempted the Grundrisse, but I can see you got a lot right about power and social relations. It’s true, your timing was off; the horizon wasn’t as close as any of us imagined. Who could have predicted refrigerators or automobiles and all the change they brought? 

I know you and a lot of comrades really hoped we could just flip things, and many good people died trying. And I don’t think it’s fair to pin it all on Stalin—no doubt he was a sociopath, like most world leaders, but I think you’d agree that the system wasn’t as easy to seize as we thought, for practical and probably theoretical reasons that I don’t fully understand.

Listen, Comrade Al, the dhabas are closed, but I think you should meet me at the Mother Dairy by the main road; I’ll bring you a mask, and I’ll buy you a lassi or a tadka chach. I know a park nearby where the police rarely come. We’ll carry a shopping bag and find a bench under a tall tree that will shield us from the May Day sun. 

You could explain what you meant by formal subsumption and clear up some questions I still have about the labour theory of value.

We’ll talk about the way pronouns are changing, and I’ll  bring you a small stack of my favourite books—friend, you have a lot of catching up to do—Ambedkar, and maybe Paulo Freire and Why Loiter. But also poetry. I’ll see if I can find you something by Agha Shahid Ali, Kutty Revathi, Kolatkar, Safdar Hashmi and Sukirtharani. I’m guessing you’re a fast reader, and please don’t tell me you don’t have time for good poetry wherever it is you stay these days.

If you like Delhi, you can come back next year, once the lockdown  is lifted.  I’ll show you an AC train and we’ll visit Shaheen Bagh. And that bookstore up north in Shadipur, where they still lovingly hang a photo of you on their wall.
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