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Month: August 2020

आवारा हैं

Maybe you’d had too much to drink,
    or maybe you were just dreaming—

or maybe you were an I or we,
    or maybe it does not matter—

but a pack of boys on bikes flew up
    and over the wide, wet crossing,

and six hungry dogs in the market stared
    as we shared a plate of samosas.

Is it right to eat outside, you asked,
    while so many go without?

Nearby, a gang of students sat 
    and laughed and flirted and smoked.

It may have been a fever dream, 
    or the snack we’d eaten too quickly—

or just the feel of road under feet,
    or maybe it does not matter—

an ancient road roller rumbled by
    as we passed the shuttered temple:

you matched its speed; I slowed and searched
    for demons in puffs of black vapour.

At the T-point by the rubbish heap, 
    dogs studied the moon and trembled

as it emerged from a bank of clouds,
   then hung there, like a cradle.
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Under a Midsummer Night’s Moon

You asked me if it might be fun to try
to hold gloved hands and kiss through our new masks,
but when we did, your aunt came barging in,
announcing she had urgent things to ask
about the state of the judiciary,
the meaning of sedition and contempt,
and why we jail professors and poets,
and why I looked so worried and unkempt.
I could not find any fitting reply—
as in court, the truth was no defense—
I changed the subject back to the virus,
and asked about medicinal incense.
(I am no lawyer, but I often dream
of fascism, frustration and moonbeams.)
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Winter Harvest

-for those who promised to sweep

Big lies may fool a few of us,
    but not for very long;

you’ll never clear a smoke-filled sky
    by spewing out more smog.

The BJP will answer for 
    the hatred it has sown—

but it didn’t plant the hardy seeds
    that bloomed in Shaheen Bagh.
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Pinjra Tod

-Delhi, August 13

Rain drenched the city 
like a bite of ripe pear 

after a hot, oily meal,
and there was no dry path 

through the narrow lane 
behind the masjid,

so two giggling girls 
picked their way 

through the muddy 
maidan—

shoulder-to-shoulder
under one worn umbrella—

while Devangana Kalita
and Natasha Narwal

spent one more long day 
in Tihar jail.
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Only Together Can We Bring It

-one year after the abrogation

A year ago, a plague was delivered 
upon a far-off northern region,

and many of us in the capital 
understood this, but did nothing—

because we were afraid 
and felt powerless,

or because we told ourselves 
that twitter or the courts would cure it.

Last night, I watched a storm
flash in the southwest sky—

the ebb and glow of distant light,
just the hint of a cool, clean breeze—

and I wished and prayed
it would bring us relief

from all of this season’s 
sickness and heat. 

But friends, none of my lonely 
wishes and prayers

were enough to summon  
the storm’s healing air.
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Last Week, in Hauz Rani Forest

-for Hany Babu and Varavara Rao 

We met near the pond,
I brought something to eat:

tomatoes, bread,
your favourite sweets—

old couples strolling,
children laughing;

it would have been perfect, 
except for these things:

the ducks were caged, 
the pond was dry,

there was no breeze, 
and I wondered why

we jail our best teachers 
and poets. 
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