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Tag: #SolidarityLove

Elegy for Lakhimpur Kheri

The marching farmers fall,
like wheat beneath a fast combine;

young and old, they fall,
stuck from behind, struck from behind!

Watch the video:
it is so clear, my friends, so clear;

they’re marching peacefully:
they do not fear, they do not fear.

I see my father there;
his tall, bent back, his slow, slow gait.

The fallen ones will rise—
like seeds, that is their fate, our fate!
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Sometimes, just after the rain,

you remember how often you 
misunderstand important things—
like that time the drunken 

drain cleaner looked 
straight at you and said, 
Of course, I read poetry,

or the night you saw the shopkeeper
you’d argued with days before,
wearing no mask and laughing,

and how at that moment, 
he looked just like your closest friend—
or yesterday, when you heard 

the young fruit seller on your corner
tell the woman next to you,
yes, he was looking for books—

ninth standard, and schools 
have been closed for so long—
and you suddenly remembered 

the relationship between 
the price of labour and rice and pears—
and the cost of capitalism.

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Delhi Emergency 10 p.m.

Outside the emergency 
department doors, 
a woman sobs 
as she clings 
to a trembling, 
straight-backed man.
As we pass them, 
everything shakes:
the smoky clouds, 
the hospital walls—
bushes, flowers, trees—
the footpath
under our feet.
These two are holding up 
a piece of the sky tonight;
              it has broken, 
                                 I know 
    you can feel it.

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I Have Seen Astonishing Sights

-after Kabir

Friends, I have seen
astonishing sights:
a great seer slain
by invisible invaders;
proud men 
cueing for buses, 
or liquor,
to flee a failing capital;
kings and princes 
kissing their master’s
hidden hand
while their subjects
struggle to breathe—
I have seen 
the fevered rich 
party, then pack 
their bags
while pyres burn
day and night.
Last week
I saw one woman 
turn her scooty
into an ambulance,
and just now I saw 
another woman 
sitting on the footpath 
in front of a hospital—
she is less than a mile
from where I stay;
she is sobbing, 
my friends,
she is sobbing.
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Failure in Gujarat

When I saw the video of pyres 
burning in an open field
because, contrary to what one 
would expect based on official figures,
the crematoriums were overflowing,
I remembered that spring day, 
two years ago,
when I saw you last,
and how your mother’s 
shoulders slumped
as the steel doors slammed,
and how late that night,
after the tears and prayers
and stories boiled down,
we sat in silence
under a spinning fan, 
and then how she looked 
at me and said,

I know you know I loved herbut still, I feel I have failed.
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Questions I Don’t Need To Ask

Do you struggle against 
the deepening dark
because you read 
Marx or Ambedkar?
Or was it the bus driver
who whispered in your ear,
or the teacher who failed you,
or the neighbors who 
forced you to say, 
‘Everything is fine’?

Or was the way 
the world treated your parents—
or was it the way 
they still loved you?
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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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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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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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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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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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13 Ways of Looking at a Farmer

The dirt that clings 
to the potatoes you hold
came from a farmer’s field.

I dreamt a soft-spoken farmer 
taught me how to tell
when the corn is ripe.

It was still dark that morning 
we heard your uncle 
shuffle out to milk the cows;
eighty years old, 
and still a farmer.

On the coldest day of December,
a boy grafts a rose onto 
a branch of China Orange.
He wants to be a farmer.

Somewhere, the winter 
wheat is in the ground;
a farmer looks out 
at her field and smiles.

A farmer can tell you
how deep you must drill.

Listen to the creak and splash
of the farmer’s hand pump;
tonight there will be a wedding.

On Human Rights Day,
posters of political prisoners
spring up on Tikri border. 
Farmers are also humans.

It is cold on the Singhu border;
farmers light fires and plan.

Libraries sprout like tulips; 
farmers are readers,
spring has come early.

rupi kaur is writing about farmers—
she just called Modi a tyrant.

Are there three lakh or ten?
Perhaps it does not matter.
Amit Shah fears our farmers.

He worked with his hands in the city,
and stood up for justice each day;
as he passes, we sing for this farmer—
we grow from seeds he has planted.
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This Number Does Not Exist

-for Manglesh Dabral

We were on the run,
and things were changing fast;

one moment, we were huddled 
on a windswept rocky ridge in Garhwal

peering down at an approaching line
of police and pack mules,

and the next, we were avoiding 
the CCTV Cameras

in Haridwar Junction;
you warned me:

Our enemy has many phone numbers,
and I didn’t understand you,

but also I did. We finally boarded 
a train destined 

for the Singhu Border, 
or Shaheen Bagh, or home;

when you disappeared, I took 
out my phone and dialed you;

a stranger’s voice answered,
This number does not exist.

Squatting and shaking
in the space between coaches,

I wrote my father a postcard.
I told him how much I loved him,

that I was trying to find 
my way back. 
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Love Jihad

-On the first anniversary of the CAA

Yesterday evening,
as we walked through Kotla Gaon,
the clamour of a ragged wedding band
mingled with the call to prayer,
and for a moment, I swear,
two bright sparks lit up the smoky sky,
and I thought of how worried I’d been
that day last December
when you texted from a police bus
on the outskirts of the city,
and how I bit down on my tongue
when you said that when they freed you, 
you would go right back again.
But when we met at Jantar Mantar,
I knew you had been right;

love is always a struggle—
we struggle because we love.
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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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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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I Think of Umar Khalid

When I hear the gentle cooing 
of pigeons outside my window,
I think of Umar Khalid,

and when I see crows massing 
against an approaching bird of prey,
I think of Umar Khalid.

I think of Umar Khalid
when I see an autowala shaking 
his head as he reads the morning news

and when word comes that farmers 
and workers are marching again
after so many months of silence.

Just before dawn in Lutyens’ Delhi,
Amit Shah thinks of Umar Khalid;
he fears this time he’s gone too far.
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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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Only Together Can We Bring It

-one year after the abrogation

A year ago, a plague was delivered 
upon a far-off northern region,

and many of us in the capital 
understood this, but did nothing—

because we were afraid 
and felt powerless,

or because we told ourselves 
that twitter or the courts would cure it.

Last night, I watched a storm
flash in the southwest sky—

the ebb and glow of distant light,
just the hint of a cool, clean breeze—

and I wished and prayed
it would bring us relief

from all of this season’s 
sickness and heat. 

But friends, none of my lonely 
wishes and prayers

were enough to summon  
the storm’s healing air.
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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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So Long

I want to sing you a sweet song tonight—
the road you’ve chosen looks so long, tonight.

When you were small, your dreams were full of dread;
alone, avoiding sleep, you clung to night.

Now fear and walls, and worse, are everywhere:
new plagues, and old, see how they throng our nights?

I know that you can see my shaking hands,
but we’ll pretend that I am strong tonight.

The ones you leave will stay to pray and fight;
we’ll breathe the scent of rain and dung tonight.

I am your confidante, why doubt me now?
This tide will turn; the moon’s still young tonight.
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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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Now, They Are Coming for the Doctors

-‘Delhi Police chargesheet names owner of hospital 
that treated riot victims’ -Indian Express

They charged a friend of a friend, last week—
    who will be next?

Someone is spinning false yarns, my friends,
    everyone knows.

Meanwhile, middle class families fight 
    for hospital beds;

the state of the camps is dire, we know,
    it won’t get any press.

My mother studies the news, and asks,
    Can this be Delhi?

My father worries: my child, please call 
    us every day.  

Last night, I slept to a siren’s song, 
    but woke to a prayer—

What is the cure for plagues like these?
    Solidarity, love.
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Imagine a Fitting Response

We only beat the war drums 
as long as we imagine

the just-grown children 
of the people we imagine 
to be our siblings or friends

killing the just-grown children 
of people we imagine 
to be our enemies—

just for a moment, 
imagine every child 
is one of all of our children.

(You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.)
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Catching Up in Strange Times

When I called this morning, 
my father told me that just before 
going to bed, he’d replaced 

the cell in an old alarm clock 
because he noticed it had stopped 
at 4pm sharp. He didn’t have 

the strength to set it right, 
but all night long he said
he heard it spinning,

and in the morning
when he woke, it had just 
about caught up. I don’t 

know what it means, he said, 
but these are such strange times,
I knew you would understand.
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I Want To Go Back, Let’s Go Back

Let’s float away on that rain cloud,
we could ride it over state lines,

we could ride it up north to the hills,
we could take off our masks and breathe deep.

Let’s find us a cool, empty valley,
in a time, before all this began,

we’ll learn to dig roots from the ground,
we’ll learn to dry fruit and to dance.

We’ll study the way hard stone fractures,
we’ll figure out fire and we’ll sing,

we’ll forget about tear gas and prisons,
we’ll live without curfews and kings.
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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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Lockdown Lullaby

Let the ceiling fan spin you tonight, 
    my friends, 

    you don’t need to be anywhere.

Go lie on a cool, hard floor,
    my friends,

    feel gravity hold you down.

Together, we’ve come through dark days, 
     my friends,

     there are darker days coming soon.

The moon is flowering tonight, 
    my friends,

    we’re here for such a short while.


Sumedha Bhattacharyya (@kathagrapher) translated into dance. You can see it here
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A Map of Our Love and a Promise

Somewhere today, 
a baby conceived on the eve 
of the abrogation will be born;

just think of all the hatred, hunger, 
violence and courage we’ve seen 
in the past 38 long weeks—

what stories will we tell this child 
when she’s old enough to hear them?
Yes, her mother carried her 

through dark times, and she 
was born into darker times, still.
But the late April breeze 

was cool that night,
and though the May sun
would be unforgiving,

we promised to fan her,
to love and to stand with
her and her siblings,

and cousins and classmates—
and all of her friends
and all of her neighbors—

and all of the people 
in the land she called home,  
and all of the people beyond it.
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This Virus Is a Beginning, Not the End


Friends, more than one plague
    is loose in the land—

yes, there’s the new virus,
    but please understand

there are older plagues, too—
    and all plagues are connected—

ignorance, caste,
    exploitation and hatred.

When we all grasp together
    the great power we hold,

we’ll make tyrants tremble,
    we’ll heal this world.

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Letter From Our Future


Remember, when we posted
selfies and self-care memes?
It was difficult to be alone.

When we had to go out, we tipped
autowalas and didn’t bargain over
the price of potatoes or fruit.

We were tempted to share
stories about our efforts,
but even then, we were

starting to feel uncomfortable
about performance. Some
of us worked from home,

some were put on unpaid leave.
We thought it was temporary,
and though we knew the Janta

Curfew was a symbolic drill,
held a month too late,
most of us secretly hoped

the government had a plan
or the weather would somehow
change things. Then came

the layoffs, and the pleas for help
from friends: first artists
and writers whose income

and savings had dried up—
that was easy; after all,
they were like family.

And when our neighbors
came asking for ghee and onion,
we gave and were glad to.

When we were called
to share water, atta and dal,
and when we began to see

terrible things on our screens,
and in the streets when we
had to venture out,

it became more difficult
than we’d imagined it
would be. We did not cover

ourselves in glory; yes,
we loved, but we also failed.
We are here on the other side now,

grieving and also rejoicing. We
are all here together; yes we failed,
but also we loved.

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What to Say: A Letter To Our Leaders

Our schools are closed, our markets are slow—
none of us knows what is coming,

but a few things, at least, are clear:
we can’t beat a virus with lathis;

tear gas and bullets won’t work.
Our doctors and nurses will work

till they drop; we’ll all do
what we can to support them.

But everywhere and always,
public health depends on trust:

Say you’ll withdraw the CAA,
and roll back the abrogation.

Say all of us are equal;
say each of us counts the same—

say we’re all brothers and sisters,
say we will stop this, together.

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We Cannot Fail to Write Love Poems

-after Miguel James

If I write a poem against the CAA and the NRC,
that poem will be a love poem.
And if I write a poem about Chandra Shekhar Azad
leading a march in Daryaganj in support
of the constitution and in violation of Section 144,
or a poem about hundreds of women sitting
day and night on the hard pavement of a main road
during the coldest months of the year,
or a poem that says what everyone knows—
that the police does not serve the people or our laws,
but only the Home Minister and his boss—
those, too, will be love poems.
If I write a poem against the very idea
of exploitation, property or borders,
or a poem about a ragged line of teenage boys,
trembling as they face a wall of police dressed
in riot gear and wielding lathis and guns,
and if one of those boys turns and runs,


while his friend reaches down and picks up
an egg-sized stone and weighs it in his hand
as he lets fly a word that means ‘freedom’
but may later be translated as ‘sedition’
in the court record if he is lucky enough
to live to appear in a court—
those, too, will be love poems.
All the poems that I and you and we
write and sing as we try to hold and show
the courage of people sitting
and standing and fighting
to be treated and seen as human—
all of these may or may not fail
as poems, but not one of them
will fail to be a love poem.

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Desh ke Gaddaron Ko

Go fix your gaze on the setting sun,
or even a welder’s torch:

the damage you suffer may result
in blurred vision or blind spots.

Your eyes will heal, but for a while,
when you study a budding tree

you may mistake a parakeet
for a piece of smoky sky.

Some slogans work like that, my friends:
if we train our ears to their blare,

we may perceive only barks and growls,
when we hear our neighbors’ prayers.

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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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How to Be a Home Minister

-after Jeet Thayil

First, remember, your job
has little to do with homes,
and much to do with security.
You’ll have to choose:
security for whom?

If you choose security
for the powerful and rich,
expect to remain powerful and rich;
throw a party, invite the people
who matter. Understand,
you draw strength from sycophants,
snitches and men who wield
lathis and guns; hold them close.
Study the snake, the guard dog,
the jackal.

If you choose security
for the common people,
you’ll have to move fast—
your time here may be short.
Set your affairs in order,
tell your children you love them,
open libraries and hospitals—
hold festivals in parks. Dance,
sing, have a drink and pray.
Study crows, elephants,
and all creatures that gather
in flocks or herds. Do not fear:
we will not forget you.

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We Have Been Here Before

I dreamt that, nearing his end,
my father wrote the story of his life
in the language of his grandmother.

I don’t understand the words,
he told me, but I think you
will find it useful someday—

it has something to do
with the way we lived
in the dark times that came

before these dark times.
It is not easy to remember,
he told me. It has something

to do with scattered light,
and how I love you.

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What They’ve Been Feeding Us

This time, my barber does not lower
his voice as he announces:
They fed us hatred for weeks,

and a few do like the taste of that,
but most of us know it won’t fill your belly—
the broom has swept Delhi again!

Later, you tell me about the persistent
pain in your stomach: it’s been a week,
and I know it’s just food poisoning,

but it feels different this time—
like I have a gut full of grief,
or dread.

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For an Undecided Autowala on Aurobindo Marg

Yes, there have been many disappointments.
No, Ola and Uber were not defeated.
In spite of what you see as good intentions,
you feel the broom gave up too soon, retreated.
And who will find good jobs for those in need?
No one I know has convincing answers.
We dreamed last time we’d sweep the city clean
of inequality and other cancers!

No single man or party has the strength
to stand against the ones with the real power—
yes, all of us together may well fail,
but divided, we’ll be forced to bow and cower!
This vote is not a cure, friend, let’s talk straight—
now is not the time to vote for hate.

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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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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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