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Tag: #Communization

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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My Mother Calls With Her Worries

Smog has wrapped the city
like a fine wool shawl
when my mother calls to say 
she hasn’t slept in days—
because of the news on TV
and our friend who is dying.
I know she is right;
these are terrible times,
and we have both always 
struggled to calm
the warm flutter in the gut,
the sudden searing 
behind the left eye.
I tell her I love her and not to worry:
Delhi’s roads are wide enough
for farmers and tractors 
and all kinds of lovers—
we’ll plough under the wasteland, 
plant wheat and white clover.
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First, We Will Dream It

The late July damp has settled on the city 
like a sweat soaked shirt, but you continue 
on the footpath outside the hospital

where workers go to smoke and crows 
gather to feed on stale roti and seed. 
Further on, across the road, 

you give a wide berth to the stinking canine 
carcass sprawled in the shade of the shrubs 
outside the park’s back gate; further still, 

you pass the new camp of tarp and twine 
that’s sprung up in front of the fenced-in ruins
west of the fouled drain’s rush.  

You’re tiring now, but you understand 
that if you keep to this path long enough, 
you may find a forest and a quiet place to pray. 

Late in the night, sweet water will run 
through your dreams; you will hear children 
splashing somewhere outside your window,

and from the foot of your bed will come 
the yelps and gentle whimpers 
of a well fed, sleeping dog.
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Welcoming the Storm

Remember how we threw open the windows 
to watch the storm pass over the city—

it arrived  just past midnight, 
and even after it was so far gone

that we could no longer 
hear its thunder,

it still lit up the southern sky
like fireworks at a farmhouse wedding,

or a faulty street light, flickering 
over a dark, narrow lane in Mehrauli.

You told me that if I climbed the wobbly, 
wooden ladder to the roof,

on a clear day I could see Qutub Minar.
I wasn’t sure I believed you,

but I knew you were right to fear the storm
and also to welcome it. 
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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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Refuge of the World

-Jahanpanah, 1341

Smoke drifts in from camps
where starving men stew
animal hides and rotten meat.
 
The sultan is angry; 
the traveler is put under guard—
he fasts for nine days, reciting,
 
Allah is sufficient for us,
and most excellent is the Protector.
Freed, he finds an excuse to move on.  

On the day I took you there,
a light rain calmed the flies,
and mist masked the smoke that

rose from nearby camps and cars.
There were no children playing
on the muddy field below us,

but near the top of a crumbling 
tower, young men smoked, 
drunk beer and laughed.

A thousand pillars have fallen and rotted, 
leaving only stones, sod and soil. 
We lost so much in one short year: 

your sister, my niece, some of our 
faith in the future of love and freedom.
The city is locked, we cannot go back—

I searched, but found only this:
the Refuge of the World has fallen
we must build a new refuge, my friends.

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How Many, How Long?

How many summers have come
since Harappa and Mohenjo-daro 
faded or fell? 

We’ve all heard the story:
a rivers runs dry or changes course, 
a new pestilence rides into town,

crops wither in baking fields.
Each time it happens must 
seem like the first time—

hungry families camp outside 
city gates or scatter like tumbleweed
towards faraway forests or hills

while rulers pace and wonder 
how long their guards will hold.

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Someday, After the Fire

The Delhi smoke is thick
tonight, my love—

but here on this wide road,
the wind is cool.

Remember how it used
to taste, you say—

like burning plastic, fear,
and diesel fuel.

This year, there is a new
scent in the air,

like flowers blooming
after a great fire.

I’m searching for a way
back home again—

Perhaps we’ll build a better
home, you say.

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Beyond the Horizon

In UP last year,
93,000 people applied
for 62 government jobs—

jobs that required
a Class 5 education
and bicycle riding skills;

of the applicants, 3,700
held PhD’s, and 20,000
held post graduate degrees.

You have read many stories
like this and on some level
you understand it’s likely

the current system
is running into limitations
that education and growth

will be unable to overcome.
Western environmentalists
call it a climate crisis

and offer a Green New Deal;
new communists call it
a secular crisis of capitalism

and say it is hopeless to try
to see beyond the horizon
of a system that conditions

even the way we make love.
We’re all looking for a way
through: you, me,

the Chief Minister of UP,
and the crores who may
or may not have documents,

but who nonetheless haul
our trash, sweep our roads
and build our tall towers each day.

Some choose suicide or struggle,
some put their faith in fascism;
and some keep their heads

down and patiently wait
for some kind of a new
day to dawn.

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Rupture


You tell me that you’re always sad;
you want to run away, but ask,
How can I run from myself?

I want to say you’re not alone;
lakhs, no crores are asking
questions just like this—

all over the world
rich and poor are asking them,
the children of refugees

and rulers are asking them,
academics and experts
are publishing reports about them,

pharmaceutical representatives,
psychiatrists, and self-help gurus
are making their living off of them.

This is not new, but it is urgent

and growing; and the darknessthat has fallen around us now

is just one sign of a larger,
grinding thing: we all sense
we’re approaching a rupture

that the old tricks of war,
debt and growth may finally
fail to delay—

and none of us can imagine
what lies beyond that horizon.
Friend, I can offer no clear

answer to your question,
but it has something to do
with solidarity and love,

how we’ll all have to
cross over together.

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It Is Difficult To Remember What Comes Next

It is difficult to remember when it was or could be, but the
August sun was low, the air was clear and damp, and the roads
were still, except for the rattle and ring of cycles and bells. We
were walking through narrow lanes, offering to sing songs
about the songs we’d all sung during the darkness. A few doors
declined to open, and from time to time insults fell on us from
behind shuttered windows: immigrant, infiltrator, anti-
national, traitor—
and other hard words which no longer
possessed any power or meaning. But on most corners, small
crowds greeted us with slaps on the back and many joined in
when we sang. In the late afternoon, as we crossed a muddy
field newly planted with tomato and pepper seedlings, a boy
ran up from behind us and demanded to know if we
remembered the song we’d been singing on Rajpath when the
police threw down their lathis and guns and melted into the
rising sea we’d all become. We solemnly nodded, then one of
us sputtered, and we all started laughing and shouting and
singing together. Later, we agreed that the song still tasted cool
and sweet every time we sang it, like water drawn from a hand
pump, like freedom.

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