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Tag: #PoliceState

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have withdrawn from Delhi streets;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.
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Lifted and Carried

-for Varavara Rao

It’s easy to remember 
    the slow shuffle back,

the way the ceiling fan’s 
    slow turn makes the hair 

on your arms stand up, 
    how the morning light 

falls with such gentleness 
    on every green, growing thing—

how it occurs to you that relief  
     is a seasonal kind of pleasure.

We’re so quick to forget 
    what came before—

the aches, the chills, 
    the stabbing, grinding,

burning, heaving, raking, 
    cramping, throbbing,

gnawing, shooting—
    perhaps there’s just no 

advantage in recalling 
    such things, but

even after the pain’s been replaced 
     by your story of the pain,

if you are honest, you know 
     there were moments 

when you thought or wished 
    you might shatter or stop,

but also moments when you 
     were lifted and carried 

by a glass of cool water,
    from a sibling or mother,

a touch on your neck,
    by a comrade or lover,

a quiet, kind word 
    from a neighbor or father—

and if you allow yourself 
    to examine these memories 

 you will see why 
    it’s such heinous crime

to jail innocent people 
    for political gain.
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Under a Midsummer Night’s Moon

You asked me if it might be fun to try
to hold gloved hands and kiss through our new masks,
but when we did, your aunt came barging in,
announcing she had urgent things to ask
about the state of the judiciary,
the meaning of sedition and contempt,
and why we jail professors and poets,
and why I looked so worried and unkempt.
I could not find any fitting reply—
as in court, the truth was no defense—
I changed the subject back to the virus,
and asked about medicinal incense.
(I am no lawyer, but I often dream
of fascism, frustration and moonbeams.)
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Pinjra Tod

-Delhi, August 13

Rain drenched the city 
like a bite of ripe pear 

after a hot, oily meal,
and there was no dry path 

through the narrow lane 
behind the masjid,

so two giggling girls 
picked their way 

through the muddy 
maidan—

shoulder-to-shoulder
under one worn umbrella—

while Devangana Kalita
and Natasha Narwal

spent one more long day 
in Tihar jail.
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Last Week, in Hauz Rani Forest

-for Hany Babu and Varavara Rao 

We met near the pond,
I brought something to eat:

tomatoes, bread,
your favourite sweets—

old couples strolling,
children laughing;

it would have been perfect, 
except for these things:

the ducks were caged, 
the pond was dry,

there was no breeze, 
and I wondered why

we jail our best teachers 
and poets. 
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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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False Narratives

False Narrative (i)
-for Rahul Roy and Amit Shah

A book or film that relied on identically 
worded ‘witness statements’ 

in order to show that Kristallnacht, 
the Delhi riots, or any other pogrom

was caused by a conspiracy between
the victims of the violence and a shadowy 

group of doctors, feminists, student 
activists, and documentary film makers 

would be classified as, ‘fiction/fantasy’,
and hardly anyone would buy or watch it, 

because even by the standards of that genre,
it would be unbelievable.


False Narrative (ii)

You may spook the courts, 
    and even the press, 

but you won’t deceive 
    the rest of us:

fiction is fiction, 
    no matter who sells it;

a lie is a lie, 
    no matter who tells it.
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Varavara Rao Came to Delhi Last Night

I was thinking of your poem, 
‘When Moonlight Moves Into the Dark’ 
as a comrade and I walked past the remnants 
of one of Delhi’s once wild forests. 
From our left came the sound 
of rain soaked branches and wind,
from our right, the grumble and pop 
of late night traffic. Across the road, 
beyond the rush of bikes and cars,
loomed the homes of the city’s rich—
and I asked myself,
Who owns this hauled-out wealth?
At that moment, I heard you whisper:
All the riches hidden behind closed doors
are the forest.

They want you dead, Varavara Rao,
they think they can silence and cage you,
but we know that is not how this will end.
Not soon, but soon enough, we’ll rouse 
ourselves from this nightmare to find
vines entwined everywhere,
flames blossoming new worlds.


*Note: Italicized lines by Varavara Rao from 
the poem cited, translated by D. Venkat Rao
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He Does Most of His Work in the Dark

Every so often, I catch a glimpse 
of the lizard that lives in my room;

he does most of his work in the dark.
I know it’s a foolish comparison,

but his eyes evoke a home minister
who appears on the evening news.

Meanwhile, Safoora Zargar 
has still not been granted bail,

and though the monsoon is far away,
yesterday, a neighbor’s child 

swore he saw a long black snake 
in the park behind our flats.
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Someday We’ll Remember How We Came Through This Together

Behind us, a rusty, wire fence; under our feet:
dry grass and dust. We were thirsty. Above us
loomed an enormous, leafless tree; it looked as if
it might touch the shivered, June moon. Samir
gestured, or maybe it was Salima, and we all
leaned back and peered into the darkness. We
somehow understood that a piece of the tree, or
the moon, had broken off and was hurtling
towards us—but we had no idea where it might
land, so we just trembled and waited for thunder
and shake—or the end. Later, we tried to count
how many of us were missing. A woman ran
towards us, screaming. She was carrying a small
child in her arms. Only his hand, she sobbed.  
It only took his hand.
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Late Last Night

We slept on my grandmother’s porch,
how we got there, who can say?

Dogs approached, snarling and circling;
I cried out, and you held me close.

Later, came sounds from the road,
a grinding of gravel and boots;

you said it was Amit Shah’s man:
he stunk of whiskey and malice.

He said he’d be back in the morning,
whether or not I was pregnant

as he left, the wind changed direction
and brought back the scent of still water.
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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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Ninety-nine Days After the Delhi Pogrom, While America Burned,

I dreamed they came to our door
and took you away at dawn.

I tried, but I could not stop them;
they were silent, and rough,
 
when you struggled. 
Tonight, friends, let us all dream:

doors open and cages broken,
cool breezes and ceiling fans—

we’ll argue and sing 
and share what we have,

(we don’t need the police,
we don’t need the police!)
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A Modest Manifesto

-for Devangana, Natasha and all political prisoners

Each of us needs 
a safe place to dwell,

love and care 
when we’re low or ill;

we all need enough 
to eat and drink—

stories and songs, 
paper and ink;

respect at home,
at work, fair wages,

not condescension, 
curfews or cages!

We should not have to fear
they will take us away

because they don’t like
how we think or pray—

these are basic,
modest demands;

we must give to ourselves
these rights, my friends.
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Delhi Lockdown, 8:45 pm

Yes, hunger is stalking the land,
you’ve seen it up close, and I hear you.

And they are using the UAPA
to crush those who dare to speak out.

Last night, you lay awake turning;
I dreamt of thick smoke and my father—

but the moon is half full and waxing, 
and the wind is gentle and clear;

let’s grab our masks and a bag— 
we’ll walk towards a Mother Dairy;

I’ll buy you a cold tadka chach,
you can buy me a cool sweet lassi.
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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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We Must Insist on Saying
Unspeakable Things


When right wing thugs
attack members of a religious
minority in broad daylight
in a nation’s capital
while the police look on
or join in the attacks,
that is not a ‘riot’,
that is a pogrom.

And when armed men in uniform
force their way into homes,
break furniture and take
jewelry and cash,
that is not ‘quelling a riot’,
that is loot and pillage.

And when students of a madrasa
in UP, or any other place,
emerge from jail with bruises
and rectal bleeding,
that is not ‘detention’,
that is torture and rape.

And when officers of the law
take young men accused
of a crime to an empty field
(on a hillside or under a flyover),
and then turn them loose
and shoot them dead as they run,
that is not an ‘encounter’,
that is murder.

And when any government
anywhere in the world,
at any time in history,
accepts, justifies or orders
these and many other crimes,
that is not a ‘democracy’,
that is tyranny.

And when any of us agree
to use words that mask
the truth of these
unspeakable things,
we are not using
‘measured language’
we are telling lies.

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You Always Dream It Before It Arrives

Sometimes as you drift off
you feel your chest tighten;

your ears ring
and your lungs won’t fill,

like you’ve been shut
in a cold, dark vault,

or you are shackled
and shivering

in a cell somewhere
in Kashmir or Karnataka—

maybe they’ll beat you
if you ask to see the sky

or just because it is time
for the beating.

Lock your doors,
turn off the lights,

do not venture out
after dark.

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A Seditious Song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
I’m loving my neighbors,
don’t care where they’re from—
let’s abolish all checkpoints
and borders…
as we sing a seditious song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
I’m praying for freedom
from fear and from want—
let’s plant crops, not walls,
on our borders…
as we sing a seditious song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
I’m reading Ambedkar,
he makes perfect sense—
let’s annihilate things that
divide us…
as we sing a seditious song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
Some days let’s be boys,
some days let’s be girls—
let’s fall in love when
we want to…
and we’ll sing a seditious song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
Let’s open a library,
we’ll read what we want—
we’ll argue, and think
together…
as we sing a seditious song!

I’m dreaming seditious dreams,
I’m singing a seditious song!
It’s natural to cry,
to feel anxious and scared—
let’s heal each other
and struggle…
as we sing a seditious song!

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That One is an Animal

There are some who give off an evil glow,
no matter what colour clothes they wear.

In a state just a bus ride from here,
a leader shouts promises of revenge;

what he says quietly, we can only guess.
I have not been home to see my children

in two weeks, says the man selling peanuts
on the dusty road that runs along the drain,

but I hear things are bad
they come in the night and take away

our young men, and they gun
us down in the streets.

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In Praise of Azadi

-after Bertolt Brecht

It’s simple,
anyone can grasp it.
It requires no force
or violence.
The exploiters tell us
to sell, borrow and buy it;
pandits and priests
disguise it with dogma;
and tyrants call it ‘sedition’,
when the wrong people say it.
It is against buying, selling,
debt and dogma—
and ‘sedition’ sheds
all meaning in its presence.
The rulers call it worthless,
but we know:
it is priceless.
They have never
given it away freely—
we’ve had to seize it,
again and again.
It is the simplest thing,
so hard to hold on to.

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There are Other Names For These Things

Before the darkness,
you used to laugh

when your Communist
friends warned you,

Never forget the Golden Rule:
he who has the gold makes the rules!

In UP, newspapers report
that police raided a madrassa

and arrested 1oo young students
and a 66 year old cleric

who they stripped naked
in the cold and tortured all night.

After their release,
some of the students said

they’d been beaten and forced
to chant Jai Shree Ram,

while others came out crying,
bleeding from their rectums.

No one expects an investigation.

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Eclipse

-December 26, 2019

I dreamed a group of us
were kidnapped by a pair
of sociopaths—

they explained they were
conducting an experiment:
they would blind half of us

in one eye and half of us in both
to see how this would affect
our ability to love.

When I told you, you said:
That’s just a dream about
the leaders of our country.

Later, the owner of a tea shack
handed us an X-ray of a broken foot
and gestured at the half-eaten sun.

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In the Beginning

I kept hearing people say
the same words over and over

wherever I went—
sometimes in greeting

or farewell,
sometimes in prayer—

the neighbor downstairs,
the electrician in the market,

the man who cleans
the toilet in the park.

The more it happened,
the more anxious I felt.

When I mentioned it to the chemist,
he lowered his voice and said,

Yes, it’s no longer just
a greeting or a prayer,

it’s become a celebration—
and a challenge.

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