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Tag: #PoliceState

Yesterday’s News

Spring has arrived in Delhi
as the Supreme Court
scolds SBI again
and India Today 
live streams the PM–
later, on the edge of the city
police tend gardens 
of cement and spikes,   
and the rich gaze 
out their windows
at razor wire glinting
in moonlight– 
these days even the tops 
of small colony walls 
are sprouting rows
of broken glass:
like a slim beds 
of thorny wildflowers,
or rows of broken glass.
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1000 Days Inside

Every morning last week,
two butterflies appeared 
near the bush 
by our back window–
they flickered there,
like static from your 
mother’s old radio,
or faraway lightning–
or j0y.

This week, 
they’re suddenly gone–
like the tailorbirds’ 
storm-broken nest, 
or your mother– 
or Umar Khalid.
How long has it been 
since they took him? 
you ask as we enter the park. 
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On the Back of Your Bike, Praying

-for Umar Khalid

I was holding you tight and praying
as we weaved through autos and cars–
you said we were already late
for our train to the south–
and the sea. At some point, 
moon swallowed sun,
or was it the other way round?
We told lies to strangers and laughed– 
we cursed the Delhi police.
Before dawn, I woke and was struck
by the sound of the call to prayer,
I remembered Umar Khalid–
I prayed for the souls of blind judges.
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Tremble

-August 15, 2022

Some day soon, 
you’ll be watching 
a pair of tiny squirrels 
chase each other
around a muddy park– 
or you’ll hear a young girl
laugh as she rides 
an oversized cycle, hard 
through rain-soaked lanes– 
and for a time you may 
forget the fading light– 
but later you’ll read 
more friends have been charged
for reading namaz,
or that Hany Babu
is still in jail–
or you’ll see a brown kite
fly away with a squirrel–
and you’ll remember 
the darkness and tremble.
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Garden

-for Mohammed Zubair

On the day Mohammed Zubair
was released from Tihar Jail,
sheets of rain bounced so high 
that for a few moments 
the ground all around
shone and bloomed–
a watery garden,
suddenly sprung
from a muddy, 
North Delhi lane.

That evening,
after the snarled streets
and soaked shoes,
I went out to buy a mango 
to celebrate the news. 
The man at the fruit
cart was smiling:
See how clean the wind tastes tonight–
perhaps, the weather is changing.
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Painful

-for Professor Ratan Lal

The feelings of powerful people
are so easily hurt, lately–

the police investigate satire
as if wit were a felony.

Reason, humour, history
are now enemies of the state;

solidarity’s called ‘terror’; 
they see love and say ‘hate’.  

But what do they find most painful?
A Dalit who speaks his mind, friends!

(If Ambedkar were alive today,
Tihar Jail is where you’d find him.)
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Father Stan Swamy Came to Delhi Last Week

I was sitting near the back 
at the launch of G.N. Saibaba’s 
book of poems and letters from prison
when he slipped into the seat on my left– 
I might not have noticed, 
but his white hair was glowing 
like a Christmas star,
or a tube light hung on the wall
behind the priest at at Midnight Mass.
His tremors were mostly gone;
I only saw him shake once–
when A.S. Vasantha Kumari 
described the solitary confinement 
cells in the Nagpur Central Jail.
He disappeared before the Q and A,
but later as I stood outside with friends
giving thanks for the cool May rain
we heard him whisper as he passed:

Breathe deep, comrades, breathe deep–
tonight you can smell the forest.
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How Is It We Keep Forgetting?

While reading Ilya Kaminsky, 
   I Think of Umar Khalid

Just outside Qutub Minar
there’s a line of buses and cars

filled with all kinds of folks,
looking for all kinds of things– 

some have come to lose themselves;
some, just want to get home;

walking back to the metro,
we pass flocks of uneasy dogs.

Later, I’m reading Ilya Kaminsky,
under a spinning fan–

we may not live in a mythical town,
but they’ve jailed the best among us.
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‘If they are so mighty, let them snuff out the moon’

-writing from Tihar Jail, 
Umar Khalid quotes Faiz Ahmad Faiz 

In the photos the young lovers post,
they are smiling as they sip 
from the same bottle of cola,
they are sharing a plate of chaat,
they are sitting on a seesaw, 
under the bright, 
winter moon. 
Some nights he says, 
I’m cold, please warm 
my hands. Some nights 
she says, Let us pray 
now for Umar Khalid;
I hear he is lonely inside.
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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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Song for You

-Hauz Rani, 6:24 p.m.

Let’s walk out into the light, my love!
Why not? There’s time before night, my love.

This sky is hard to define, it’s true; 
both bats and birds are in flight, my love.

Recall how we shivered for hours that night—
Shaheen Bagh was crowded and bright, my love.

This morning, rain washed our smokey sky;
Hany Babu’s still jailed tonight, my love. 

A coward, yes; I’ve surrendered my name—
to this broken world, I write my love.
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Failed Ghazal

-August 15, 2021

I spent hours last night 
trying to write a ghazal 

that included this line:
unbroken, Umar Khalid’s still in jail,

and also this one:
they aim to break your soul and will in jail. 

‘School teachers’ and ‘freedom fighters’
figured in it,

but I gave up in the end
because it really all came down to this:

They aim to break your soul and will in jail;
unbroken, Umar Khalid’s still in jail.
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For My Mother, That Baby and Father Stan Swamy

The day my mother calls
to confess she’d woken in tears
(she still misses her mother, 
after so many years),
I am blessed to meet
a six-week-old baby girl;
drunk on her mother’s milk,
she smiles as she sleeps
sprawled on a charpai,
like a pehlwan
after a hard-won match.
Later that night,
I read that Stan Swamy
can no longer walk or bathe
or even feed himself,
and how he’s told the court
he does not prefer a hospital
to Taloja Jail; he prefers
to suffer and die in prison—
or to go home:
Whatever happens to me, 
I’d like to be with my own.’
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News in Review

-Delhi, May 15

१.
Our PM works hard
on his palace and speeches;
‘Let’s be positive.’

Vaccine centre’s closed;
an old woman asks, ‘How long?’
‘Try again at dawn.’


२. 
Amit Shah’s police
have withdrawn from Delhi streets;
still the sirens wail. 

They locked up our friends,
but did not send oxygen:
we will not forget.

३.
Far from the city,
neighbors die of breathlessness;
something is not right.

Bodies float downstream:
this is not a metaphor,
just friends we couldn’t save.

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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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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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Coronation

We stood in the shadows and ate,
it looked like a coronation;
how we got in, I’m not sure,
perhaps we snuck in the back. 
It could have been Jaipur or London, 
or maybe the Central Vista—
the music was loud and fast,
and most of the crowd was dancing.
You said you heard screams from below,
but nobody seemed to notice—
you looked like you might pass out;
I felt the room start to spin.
A painting that hung by the throne
showed fires and families fleeing;
another showed farmland circled
with walls of concrete and wire.
A man in a suit whispered, smiling:
We’ve finally figured it outbusiness is booming, my friend,
the good times are here at last.

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Still Trying

I’ve tried for years to write a perfect poem,
an open window that lets in cool air—

or a siren calling from the main road,
reminding us to listen, reach and care.

That might have worked before this darkness fell,
but now, I fear, it may not be enough;

we must throw back the curtains so the bright sky 
can cleanse this sickness, feed our strength and love.
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Three Postcards to Umar Khalid

(i)
You don’t know me,
but in the summer of 2019,
you met my friend—
she couldn’t stop talking about you:
a man who knew how to listen,
a leader who spent more time working
out of the spotlight than in it; 
a scholar who’d learned the art
of switching autos mid-journey—
They trail me everywhere,
you told her, smiling,
Why should I bring them to you?
I was envious I hadn’t been there:
for months, I kept hearing your name 
spoken alongside words like hero and hope.
When they put you inside, those words 
were joined by rougher ones, 
but don’t worry; 
we have not forgotten.

(ii)
I thought of you yesterday morning
as I passed by the PM’s residence 
on the way to CP. The wind was cool 
and smelled like a green living thing; 
the Delhi sky was more blue than gray,
and clouds of bright yellow leaves 
rose from a sweeper’s broom.
I thought: it’s springtime today,
but how long will it last?
My phone said Tihar Jail  
was just 12 kms away; 
at that moment I prayed 
that you were near 
an open window.

(iii)
Alone at night, or on Delhi’s borders
we say your name when we pray or shout;
we have not forgotten you or the others,
we’ll welcome you all, when you come out.

I wish we could talk, under a tree,
I’d ask what you’d read, how did you cope?
I’d buy you a cup of special hot tea,
I’d ask what you think of heroes and hope.
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Stopping by Saidulajab to Consider Horses and Torture

-for Shiv Kumar

Hauling carts and vendors home,
weary horses stop to drink
from a bucket on the road
at the edge of Saidulajab.

They have no time to frisk or roam,
just to quench and shake and blink, 
as they pull their heavy loads
up the road by Saidulajab. 

What happens next, I do not know,
except to say their clop and clink
grows softer, softer, as they go
southward from Saidulajab.
 
There’s news of torture on my phone;
some folks are treated worse, I think,
than the beasts that pull and slow
at the edge of Saidulajab.
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A Simple Prayer

-after Kabir

No matter how often you sweep,
dust gathers under your bed,
and the TV is loud and shrill;
it sounds like thunder and rust—

but outside, across the main road,
someone has hung out bright clothes,
and the tree on the left’s raining birdsong;
from its roots rise the scent of spring flowers.

They’re sowing division and fear
to silence our songs and our prayers;
but we’re only here for a moment—
let’s sing of bright cloth and love.
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Note to a Fellow Poet on Subtlety and Silence

-for Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi

You complain I’m too direct,
that similes and slanted images
can unfold truth more powerfully
than the plain truth told plainly,
and that there is wonder afoot 
even in this time of darkness
and disease,

but when police and paramilitary forces
lob tear gas at farmers,
it does not cover them like a winter fog,
it covers them like tear gas,
and when they jail young women 
for loudly demanding their wages
or for quietly explaining
how to speak loudly,
they are not fencing in spring flowers, 
they are jailing young women 
who speak up bluntly.

I am trying, my friend, to find 
subtle ways to sing in the dark.
But remember, if it ever 
comes back to this:
when blood runs in fields or streets
it does not run like warm rain 
or a monsoon-fed drain,
it runs like blood,
and when that happens,
subtlety is really just silence.

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Behind the Mask,

some things diminish:
the scent of morning dew
rising off sparse grass;
news of frying food
or what the cat 
killed three days back.
After sundown, in crowded 
market lanes we still hear 
the clamour of hawkers,
horns, engines, bells,
but we may miss the shift 
in the air as we move 
from smoldering coals 
towards crackling wood—
or the difference between 
distant rain and the leaking main 
under the road behind the park. 
Most nights, my dreams still smell 
like worried sweat and roses—

but last night I was locked 
in Amit Shah’s almari;
it smelled of moth balls mixed 
with anger, fear and whiskey. 

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Postcard from 2019

What if they jailed the students 
    and scholars who disagreed

or outlawed peaceful gatherings 
    all over the city? 

What if they stopped counting 
    the votes in parliament 

or made it criminal to laugh
     at a court judgment?

If all this came to pass,
    who’d dare speak its name?

And would we even notice if 
    other small things changed:

power cuts at the local mosque,
    five times every day, 

the space on our front steps where once
    the morning paper lay?

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You’ll Join Us, I Know, My Friend

You’ll Join Us, I Know, My Friend
-for Umar Khalid

It was late in a South Delhi warehouse,
it was cold, but I didn’t feel cold;

Umar Khalid was swaying
to jazz, or was it hip hop?

I looked over his shoulder to see
the Ska Vengers laying it down,

I said, Sir, we’re so glad you’re here,
how did I miss the news?

He said, don’t call me Sir, I’m your friend,
yes, this beats Tihar Jail—

he said, soon we’ll be back in the streets;
we’re winning, we have to win.
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Lost in Translation

A rooster outside my window,
has been crowing all afternoon—

something about the thinning clouds,
or the breeze; it’s hard to tell.

They’ve arrested Munawar Faruqui
for making ‘indecent’ remarks

against a god or a devil—
or was it just Amit Shah?

They’re filling our prisons with lovers,
scholars and comedians;

if they find enough stadiums,
the farmers may well be next.

It must be hard for rulers
who fear words and love only power

to tell the difference between
laughter and hunger and sorrow.

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The Moon the MHA and Agent Orange

-a letter to W.S. Merwin

Today I am reading The Moon Before Morning 
I should have read it years ago when a friend 
gave it to me but I was lazy and anxious 
it is filled with unpunctuated invitations to pause
and shadows and sounds made by rain 
right now outside my window I hear the scratch 
of a stick broom and the shrill whine of a distant siren 
late last night clouds hid the moon and later it rained 
and this morning when I took in the newspaper
I saw I had slept through it but I remembered 
that I’d woken at dawn to warmth and the gentle 
rustle of pigeon wings and that I’d thought 
This moment is complete just as it is
yes sometimes I do remember the scent of pine 
trees and water and the feel of my grandmother’s 
hand in my hair and I wish I could return to her 
and to that place and to that time when I worried less 
yes I am reading your poems with close attention 
and I am glad you have found old trees and a quiet garden 
near a pond that greets the returning geese each year 
but outside my window a sickness has spread 
from the Ministry of Home Affairs to Northeast Delhi 
and to the forests of Jharkhand and to every place 
where people gather around TV’s radios and smartphones 
and no vaccine cooled by dry ice can stop it 
I can see from the final poems in this book that you would
understand what I am saying and also that you would remember 
what you wrote five decades ago about the Vietnam War 

When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remain

[the last line quoted here comes from an old Merwin poem, ‘The Asians Dying’]
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Unshakeable

  -Christmas Eve, 2020

Tonight in Taloja Central Jail,
Father Stan Swamy shakes 
but also rejoices;

he knows that soon enough
carpenters, fishers and blunt 
speaking women

will join others who labour—
in fields and factories,
forests and homes—

and that all those who hunger 
will be satisfied,

and our weeping 
will turn to laughter.
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Perhaps It’s Best

-Nine months after the Delhi Riots

In spite of the November cold,
   a cat went into heat

and wailed into the night, 
    like a sick child

or a faraway ambulance.
   I thought of you then,

and the stray you used to feed;
    I haven’t seen her in months.

Perhaps it’s best you’ve gone;
    you told me once how much

you miss the city’s sound and light,
    and yes, drying clothes still hang 

like strange bursts of bright fruit 
     on the rusty barricades 

that divide the loud road 
    in front of our flat—
  
but even the healthy among us
   are coughing these days,

and if they don’t like how you think,
    they’ll come lock you away.
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Worried Blues Pantoum

-Delhi 2020

Would you still love me, my friends,
if I lost my sense of smell?
Could we still touch from a distance?
What if I had a dry cough?

If I lost my sense of smell,
would I still crave idli-sambar?
What if I get a dry cough?
I don’t go outside; I’m afraid.

Would I still crave idli-sambar?
Would they put a big sign on my door?
I don’t go outside, I’m afraid
I might spread this virus to others.

Would they put a big sign on my door?
Would they jail me like Umar Khalid?
Could I spread this virus to others
like they spread hatred and lies?

If they jailed me like Umar Khalid,
could we still touch from a distance? 
In spite of their hatred and lies,
would you still love me, my friends?
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Let Us All Rest in the Company of Those Who Love Us

-for Varavara Rao 

It settled on me just before dawn
the day after I came to pay my respects—
heavy, like a thick wool blanket
on a not-quite cold night. 
It stayed until the scratch 
of a distant grass broom 
swept it from the room,
like a gentle cloud of dust.

I did not really know him, 
so I had no clear right to grieve,
but I knew what he meant to you, 
and when I saw him lying there
in the company of those who loved him,
I remembered an afternoon long ago
when I found my own grandfather 
lying still in his bed,  
and how my aunt and I sat with him—
and I was so sure I could see 
him breathing, but it was only me 
that was shaking.

This is not a poem about bail pleas
     or fascism.
Every word I write is against fascism.
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As the NIA Raids NGOs in Delhi and Kashmir

The clothes left on the line outside
the flat across the street

are flapping in the dirty wind;
one shirt has just flown free,

and someone’s firing atom bombs
or guns; it’s hard to say—

the autumn air tastes acrid,
and the sky’s an inky gray.

Tonight, we’ll sleep to yapping dogs 
and creaky ceiling fans;

we’ll dream of sirens, pre-dawn raids, 
unjustly jailed friends.
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I Fall Asleep Reading a Poem by Akhil Katyal

-for Natasha Narwal

I don’t smoke, but somehow I’m smoking 
on a cramped South Delhi terrace;
I’m looking down at a wide, brown field 
of dry grass and scattered trash.
Beyond, are trees and more trees,
and gathered in upper branches,
a murder of angry crows
is scolding a circling kite.
Beyond that are just skyscrapers—
or maybe that’s just an illusion,
and there is Natasha Narwal,
sipping tea at a roadside dhaba.
I want to go down and ask her
about the food in Tihar Jail, 
I want to go down and tell her
how much we all have missed her. 
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Make Us Remember

-Delhi, October 13

Smoke presses down 
    on the 5 pm sky

leaving the sun bloated 
    and glowing,

like a molten bronze medal,
    or a strange neon fruit.

As raptors glide
    in high, hungry circles,

crows keep watch
    from ragged rooflines,

and closer to earth,
     children run laughing

through lanes lined with dust
     and shuttered shops. 
 
This weekend, we’ll read the police 
     have beaten another reporter,

and this reading 
    will make us remember

this is our city,
    we must take it back.
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A Lesson for Future Fascists

If you fear you might be condemned
for committing atrocities,

go file some FIRs 
and claim there’s a conspiracy;

sedition or 144,
incitement or simple foul play—

if anyone asks for bail,
just invoke the UAPA.

Clichéd, yes, but also true:
all tyrants and most all cutthroats

know when the going gets tough,
it’s time to go hide behind scapegoats.
Comments closed