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Month: June 2020

What Matters

 As June slips towards July,
     the heat turns heavy and wet,

our coolers don’t work like they used to,
     we pray for the rains to return.

We read of atrocities daily;
     no one is watching the watchmen—

we post angry memes, but we know
     we’re weak when we’re inside and distant.

Let’s walk through the dark streets, tonight— 
     let’s remember what matters, what’s true;

the rains will be back soon enough, my friends,
     soon enough, we’ll be back, too. 
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Now, They Are Coming for the Doctors

-‘Delhi Police chargesheet names owner of hospital 
that treated riot victims’ -Indian Express

They charged a friend of a friend, last week—
    who will be next?

Someone is spinning false yarns, my friends,
    everyone knows.

Meanwhile, middle class families fight 
    for hospital beds;

the state of the camps is dire, we know,
    it won’t get any press.

My mother studies the news, and asks,
    Can this be Delhi?

My father worries: my child, please call 
    us every day.  

Last night, I slept to a siren’s song, 
    but woke to a prayer—

What is the cure for plagues like these?
    Solidarity, love.
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Imagine a Fitting Response

We only beat the war drums 
as long as we imagine

the just-grown children 
of the people we imagine 
to be our siblings or friends

killing the just-grown children 
of people we imagine 
to be our enemies—

just for a moment, 
imagine every child 
is one of all of our children.

(You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.)
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There Are Many Ways To Eat

‘Na Khaunga, na Khane Dunga’

Yes, 
accepting or offering bribes or kickbacks, 
or giving contracts or jobs to friends or family,

but also,
instructing or allowing the police to fabricate 
charges against people who oppose you, 
and refusing to investigate those you favour.

(Graft hidden in suitcases
     or banks in far off lands,

or improper use of office
     to enhance your party’s brand;

craving for wealth or power, 
     is usually its cause—

it spawns lies, hunger, fear,
     and disregard for laws.)
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Catching Up in Strange Times

When I called this morning, 
my father told me that just before 
going to bed, he’d replaced 

the cell in an old alarm clock 
because he noticed it had stopped 
at 4pm sharp. He didn’t have 

the strength to set it right, 
but all night long he said
he heard it spinning,

and in the morning
when he woke, it had just 
about caught up. I don’t 

know what it means, he said, 
but these are such strange times,
I knew you would understand.
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He Does Most of His Work in the Dark

Every so often, I catch a glimpse 
of the lizard that lives in my room;

he does most of his work in the dark.
I know it’s a foolish comparison,

but his eyes evoke a home minister
who appears on the evening news.

Meanwhile, Safoora Zargar 
has still not been granted bail,

and though the monsoon is far away,
yesterday, a neighbor’s child 

swore he saw a long black snake 
in the park behind our flats.
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Someday We’ll Remember How We Came Through This Together

Behind us, a rusty, wire fence; under our feet:
dry grass and dust. We were thirsty. Above us
loomed an enormous, leafless tree; it looked as if
it might touch the shivered, June moon. Samir
gestured, or maybe it was Salima, and we all
leaned back and peered into the darkness. We
somehow understood that a piece of the tree, or
the moon, had broken off and was hurtling
towards us—but we had no idea where it might
land, so we just trembled and waited for thunder
and shake—or the end. Later, we tried to count
how many of us were missing. A woman ran
towards us, screaming. She was carrying a small
child in her arms. Only his hand, she sobbed.  
It only took his hand.
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Late Last Night

We slept on my grandmother’s porch,
how we got there, who can say?

Dogs approached, snarling and circling;
I cried out, and you held me close.

Later, came sounds from the road,
a grinding of gravel and boots;

you said it was Amit Shah’s man:
he stunk of whiskey and malice.

He said he’d be back in the morning,
whether or not I was pregnant

as he left, the wind changed direction
and brought back the scent of still water.
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I Want To Go Back, Let’s Go Back

Let’s float away on that rain cloud,
we could ride it over state lines,

we could ride it up north to the hills,
we could take off our masks and breathe deep.

Let’s find us a cool, empty valley,
in a time, before all this began,

we’ll learn to dig roots from the ground,
we’ll learn to dry fruit and to dance.

We’ll study the way hard stone fractures,
we’ll figure out fire and we’ll sing,

we’ll forget about tear gas and prisons,
we’ll live without curfews and kings.
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Two Memos

1.
Perhaps he wanted a sudden transfer,
or maybe he just didn’t get the memo,
but on Monday, a Delhi High Court judge
granted bail to a man accused of arson 
during the Delhi ‘riots’. The judge 
remarked, ‘prison is...not for detaining 
undertrials in order to send any 
“message” to society.’

2.
(This is not your kingdom,
we won’t bow or touch your feetif you treat us like your subjects
we will see you on the streets.)

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Ninety-nine Days After the Delhi Pogrom, While America Burned,

I dreamed they came to our door
and took you away at dawn.

I tried, but I could not stop them;
they were silent, and rough,
 
when you struggled. 
Tonight, friends, let us all dream:

doors open and cages broken,
cool breezes and ceiling fans—

we’ll argue and sing 
and share what we have,

(we don’t need the police,
we don’t need the police!)
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