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Month: December 2021

A Memory, a Prayer and a Dream

-Christmas Day, 2021

i.
One morning, during the plague
that followed the fires
that scarred the capital,

you were feeding our pet rat,
when word came 
from the town cryer:

The farmers have circled the city.

ii.
A year and many deaths later,  
the king and his first minister
finally concede.

It will take another long year 
to pry open the jails, 
but when spring arrives that March,

Shaheen Bagh is back in bloom.

iii.
‘The change’ comes fast when it comes:
the police and army trade their lathis 
and guns for the tools they need 

to build homes and hospitals.
On every corner, libraries sprout,
like winter wheat planted 

over obsolete borders.
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Delhi Progressive Writers’ Association Conference

-Lodhi Garden, December, 2021

I was reading that story by Manto 
about two old friends, now soldiers,
fighting each other in Kashmir,
and I was thinking about how 
the distance between us
has grown, but also how 
we sat on that bench today
in the smoky, fading sun–
we were talking about fascim
and our fathers, 
but really about ourselves–
and how you said, 
It’s tough because we all know
there’s only one way 
any of our stories ever end.
I forgot to ask you about the last time
we saw Mangalesh Dabral,
or what you think 
about Varavara Rao. 
You told me you believe 
in what you’ve written,
and anyway, most of the time
they don’t actually put poets in jail.
But sometimes they do,
and my friend if they do,
we will stand by you,
I promise we will.
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Appeal

-for Sabbah Haji 

When I heard the Kashmiri 
educator had been jailed for calling 
a general a ‘war criminal’,
a serious question came to my mind:

How often does anyone
in any large country 
rise to the level of general
without running afoul 
at least once of some
part of Article 8 of the UN’s 
‘Rome Statute of the International 
Criminal Court’?

And forgetting generals, how 0ften 
does anyone become even a DCP 
in any police force anywhere
without condoning or ignoring
‘torture or inhuman treatment’ 
(to say nothing of encounters,
which might be classified 
as acts of  ‘willful killing’)?

Just as some countries 
are kingdoms dressed up as republics,
this is an appeal,
disguised as a poem.
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What They’re Selling

These days on the metro,
I keep seeing this pair:

the old guy with his thick 
white beard,

and his orange-robed friend—
the one who’s always smiling.

They’re building homes 
and universities;

handing out  jobs 
and free vaccines.

I feel dizzy sometimes,
thinking about the possibilities:

a superhighway to Lanka;
my very own flying chariot.
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