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Tag: #Fightback

In Praise of Chakka Jam

-after Bertolt Brecht

It’s straightforward; 
you know our history,
so you will understand.
Tyrants call it sedition
when they think we are weak
and an inconvenience when
they know we are strong;
the exploiters always say 
it is bad for business—
but we know: democracy
dies when good people fear 
to act against unjust laws—
and when their profit matters
more than our speech,
fascism often follows.
They can try to stop us
with nails, walls and worse,
but, friends, they are afraid
because they know
there is no power greater
than millions of brave people,
sitting on cold roads, saying:
This must stop!

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Ghazal for a Capital in Darkness

It does not freeze, but nights are cold in the capital;
brave farmers camp on the threshold of the capital.

Farm bills are passed by a voice vote, without counting;
surprising things are bought and sold in the capital.

Ministers pace and kick at walls; they remember:
we don’t always do as we are told in the capital.

The British jailed us when we spoke about freedom;
our rulers now are just as bold, in the capital.

These days, they lock students inside Tihar Jail;
dissent and thought are still controlled in the capital.

Last night, goons failed once more to clear protest sites—
the farmers’ strength is unequaled in the capital.

Why would a no-name poet sing of this darkness?
See the courage here, friends, behold: it’s our capital!

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City Edition, 7 Am

I’d just boarded a southbound train,
or was it a DTC Bus? 

Maybe it does not matter;
I got a seat all to myself.

A man sitting four seats away
beckoned me to come over;

he looked like he’d been out drinking—
or working; you can’t always tell. 

I moved closer, but not too close,
and asked him to tell me the news;

he whispered, The farmers are comingthey’ll do what we failed to do.
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Nightfall at Singhu Border

By the time you made it past 
all the checkpoints and texted

it was already dark.  A line 
of tractors, trucks and tents 

stretched down the highway 
for miles,

and a soft spoken man 
kept trying to explain,

We are not terrorists,  
we are here and will stay

so our families and friends
can live decent lives.

The photos you sent on Signal
disappeared before I slept,

but I saw the red flags, 
and circles of men sipping tea;

because it was cold,
there were many fires—

as I dreamt,
the fires grew brighter.
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Change of Seasons

-for Hany Babu

Last week in the market you saw two fights,
     I saw one myself, today—

wounded pride or unpaid debts,
   rain-fed flowers of worry.

Neighbors and friends still trickle away,
     as rations and patience run low;

now they’ve arrested Professor Babu—
     is anyone really surprised?

Pigeons mate on my windowsill,
    a lizard slips under the door;

the dogs on the street were restless last night,
    as if they sensed a storm coming.
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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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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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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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Let’s Not Forget What’s Coming Next

‘In the FIR, the police claimed that the communal violence 
was a “premeditated conspiracy” which was allegedly hatched 
by Mr. Khalid and two others.’ -The Hindu

This world is built on sand and silt,
dark clouds are hanging low;

how many go to sleep hungry
for food or distant homes?

Meanwhile police investigate
fantasies and dreams;

they target those who think and speak,
ignore the real crimes.

To slow this virus, we will keep
our distance, friends, for now,

but when this sickness passes,  we’ll 
make tyrants scrape and bow. 
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Suddenly, Rage


In life, there are times like this 
when suddenly we can no longer do
many of the things we once could—

maybe you’re missing a strong drink 
and friends, and you’re sick of Netflix
and your bad internet connection,

or maybe your father keeps falling 
because he refuses to stop standing 
on chairs to reach for high things,

and now there are no trains to take 
you home, so you wait each day
for news of his next sudden fall.

Or maybe you live on a construction site 
far from your village, and you suddenly 
lose your job and can’t reach your family,

and one day, after waiting for hours 
for rations, someone announces,
Sorry, there is no more to give today,

and you think, and maybe you shout,
This has nothing to do with giving,
they’ve taken our jobs and our families!

And maybe on FB, someone will complain,
It is so hard, but what good comes 
from anger? We are doing our best.

And maybe we will half-remember 
an old song or poem or prayer 
and suddenly it will become clear:

For everything there is season: a time 
for vexation and sorrow and sharing—
and also a time for rage!

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In the Early Days of the Delhi Fires

We lay awake, trembling.
We no longer understood the rules,
or where we were going.

We stopped posting selfies;
we flirted with memes
and sarcastic stories.

One by one, we got VPN’s.
We shifted to Signal for politics,
gossip and love.

We could not put down
our phones; we could not bear
to look at our phones.

We knew we had it better
than many. We knew it would
get worse.

We fell in love at rallies,
argued on marches and tried
to forget what was coming.


Some of us were detained
and beaten. We knew many
had it worse.

We joked about the new virus—
we hugged each other and laughed
when we coughed.

Some of us called our parents,
some of us started smoking,
some of us secretly prayed.

We sang of heroes, cursed fascists,
shouted brave slogans and worried.
We were so tired.

Some days we thought we’d gone mad.
We remembered Kashmir;
some of us drank too much.

Some nights, we gazed at the moon
from Jasola Vihar or Jamia.
Some mornings, we woke up crying.

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The Importance of Silence
(or What Is To Be Done, Friends)

Maybe you remember a class 5 teacher,
who beat students, sometimes even
leaving bruises, and how he would tell
all the parents at Parent Teacher Meetings
how much it hurt him to have to discipline
unruly children, and how the parents—
even, perhaps, your parents—
would nod somberly, though they knew
he hit too hard.

Or maybe it was the professor who would
call quiet, first year students to his office
for extra help, because he was so concerned
about their progress
, and everyone
in the class could see how uncomfortable
those students were, but no one said anything,
because, really, what was there to say,
except that he was so concerned?

Or maybe it was the husband of a neighbor
in your colony, who would tell everyone
about how worried he was about his wife—
she’s seeing a doctor, you know,
sometimes she can’t control her feelings

and everyone would nod, but also secretly
wonder: does she scream because he beats her?

Or maybe it was the prime minister
of a large country, who invited the president
of a more powerful country to visit

on the day that mobs of organized terrorists
were planning to burn homes, businesses
and places of worship, knowing the police
would stand by or join in, and maybe
that prime minister knew his guest
would not condemn this terror,
thus showing all of us that the world
was powerless to stop it, and maybe
he also knew that all over the capital
and country, people and leaders
and even respectable newspapers
would choose to use words like ‘violent
demonstrations’ and ‘clashes’ to describe
what they understood was probably
a state sponsored pogrom,
and which might be the first step
towards something even graver.

And if we think long and hard about this,
we may come to understand something
that every successful abuser, bully
and tyrant already knows—
the importance and power of silence
and if we think even harder about the bravery,
solidarity and love that that has sprouted in this city
and this country, in spite of the winter winds,
then we will know what we need to do now.
We will know what is to be done.

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Tender Comrade

In your dream, thin corpses
hang in a cold, dark room.

Strong men come and silently
slit them open—

they are harvesting handfuls
of organs or pearls.

As you tell me this,
news of another Jamia shooting

and more election rally hatred
streams across screens all over Delhi.

What have I to offer,
tender comrade, friend?

Night has fallen,
the horizon is near,

we’re all fighting
and longing for light.

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Striding Man

-for Shadab Najar

In the video, it all moves so fast,
but when the frame freezes,
some things become clear.

We see a boy or young man,
mouth wide, as if he
is smiling as he shouts—

in his right hand, a pistol;
it is pointed towards
the sky. Behind him,

a line of police look on,
one is leaning on his lathi;
to one side, a cameraman films.

And now look at the man
with the long, wavy hair, striding
towards the man with the gun—

his arms are down,
his body open, as if to say,
I am not afraid of you,

and you have nothing
to fear from me,
as if to say,

Hold on—
come, let’s sit and talk.
There is one more thing

every parent will see
when they study this photo
of the striding man:

someone, somewhere
raised this one right,
this one is one to be proud of.

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December 20: Rising

-for Chandra Shekhar Azad

When they finally write the history
of how we won this fight,

they’ll say the tide turned
at Jama Masjid

when Chandra Shekhar Azad
held up the constitution,

and a photo of Dr. Ambedkar,
before leading the charge that freed

first Daryaganj, then Delhi
from the idea that we could be

so easily cowed and beaten.
That evening we all somehow knew

that somewhere in Lutyens’ Delhi
the Home Minister was pacing

and pounding his fists on a wall—
and though the Chief

later turned himself in,
by then we all understood

that neither police, nor army—
nor the devil himself

can turn back the sea
when it rises.

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Mandi House

-December 19, 2019

Though we had seen what
they’d done to the students,

something changed
that day in Delhi;

the police filled bus after bus
with people like us

who had come simply
to stand for our own rights

and for those of our neighbors.
Dropped on the edge of town,

hundreds returned to be taken again.
It is worse than we thought,

but I am fine now—
many have it much harder,

is what you told the children.
Later you showed me

the boot-sized, black bruises
on both of your legs

and confessed
you had cried while bathing.

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Not a Poem or a Song

—for Shaheen Bagh

Yesterday, you asked me to write a poem
or a song about the women of Shaheen Bagh,
and I laughed and said,
that’s not possible—
the women of Shaheen Bagh
are a poem and a song—
but last night as I drifted
off to sleep in my warm bed,
it came to me that I’d been wrong—
the women of Shaheen Bagh
are not a poem or a song,
they are women who have been sitting
for weeks, night and day, on a road
in spite of cold wind and hard pavement,
in spite of the threat of lathi’s,
tear gas and jail—
they’ve been sitting because they won’t stand
to see students beaten by police,
to see unjust laws divide the land—
because they are stubborn and right and strong—
and that, my friend, is more powerful and beautiful
than any poem or song anywhere.

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