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Month: April 2021

I Have Seen Astonishing Sights

-after Kabir

Friends, I have seen
astonishing sights:
a great seer slain
by invisible invaders;
proud men 
cueing for buses, 
or liquor,
to flee a failing capital;
kings and princes 
kissing their master’s
hidden hand
while their subjects
struggle to breathe—
I have seen 
the fevered rich 
party, then pack 
their bags
while pyres burn
day and night.
Last week
I saw one woman 
turn her scooty
into an ambulance,
and just now I saw 
another woman 
sitting on the footpath 
in front of a hospital—
she is less than a mile
from where I stay;
she is sobbing, 
my friends,
she is sobbing.
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What’s Good for the Serum Institute…

(or how to ration vaccines according to preexisting wealth)

We’re running low on vaccines,
and Adar Poonawalla’s been clear:

he says he wants ‘super profits’;
why shouldn’t he have a good year?

Modi Ji thought through his options;
and decided to just the states

compete in the market with hospitals:
you’ll get one, if you can pay.
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Failure in Gujarat

When I saw the video of pyres 
burning in an open field
because, contrary to what one 
would expect based on official figures,
the crematoriums were overflowing,
I remembered that spring day, 
two years ago,
when I saw you last,
and how your mother’s 
shoulders slumped
as the steel doors slammed,
and how late that night,
after the tears and prayers
and stories boiled down,
we sat in silence
under a spinning fan, 
and then how she looked 
at me and said,

I know you know I loved herbut still, I feel I have failed.
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Whispers

Far from home, lost and alone,
stillness greets you
as you enter the station.
On the platform below,
Mr. Bachchan is growling 
about masks and washing
and keeping distance.
There’s a rumble and rush,
and as your train nears,
a one legged pigeon
swoops down and whispers:

What news of the farmersthe TV’s gone silenthave we forgotten
we can’t live without them?
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Reel for Delhi in Springtime

When I tell you what it means 
to me to live in Delhi,

I won’t use trending music
or a dozen flashing photos

approved by the Ministry
of Tourism—

just a few words 
to conjure images--

that pair of young women 
brushing shoulders 

as they sip tea on the edge 
of the dusty maidan— 

or the thin, strong man
in the next lane over

who right now
is stripping off his shirt 

as he assesses a growing 
pool of stinking water—

and on a good day,
this might be enough

to get you to consider 
one or two simple ideas:

we can remake this world;
we can, and we must, my friends.
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Abolish the Delhi Police

-for Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita

Maybe it’s just habit,
but even all these months after
they locked down the city
and took away friends of your friends,
sometimes you still float away 
at that moment when light’s fading 
and the first bats are flying;
and when you wake with a start
it is already dark—
you’re not sure where you are,
but you hear the door bang—
and then you’re relieved 
to find it’s a friend 
who wants to play cards—
or the newspaper man,
bringing the bill—
not someone who’s come
to take you away:

we don’t need police,
they spread only fear.
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Questions I Don’t Need To Ask

Do you struggle against 
the deepening dark
because you read 
Marx or Ambedkar?
Or was it the bus driver
who whispered in your ear,
or the teacher who failed you,
or the neighbors who 
forced you to say, 
‘Everything is fine’?

Or was the way 
the world treated your parents—
or was it the way 
they still loved you?
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Excess Demands (or Why Such a Shortage of Justice)

Do not call us terrorists
for protesting bad laws,
or jail us for laughing 
at gods or Amit Shah.

Let us love those we love;
don’t tell us how to pray;
and when we do equal work,
give us equal pay.

In jail, grant us straws,
if we tremble when we drink—
warm blankets when it’s cold,
and books so we can think.

Do not molest us or beat us
(in jail or in undisclosed locations
before you take us to jail.)

Do not torture us in any way:
no broken bones or bruises,
no solitary confinement;
we need space and time to sleep,
water and soap to wash.

Tell our families where we are.

Do not take us in the night
to a field or flyover,
and then shoot us before our trial.

Do not shoot us in broad daylight
and then call us terrorists.
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