Friday, September 30, 2016

In Dubardha village

in District Ballia, U.P.,
the family of Lance Naik Rajesh Kumar Yadav
had erected barricades on the road that
"lead to our house to ensure that
no media-person or any relative
could reach there and talk of
Rajesh's death to his
mother and wife."

In stopping the news,
did they hope the truth would turn,
or that Parvati, Rajesh's wife,
eight months pregnant, would grit,
in the meanwhile, her fingers on
the impossible arm of resolve.

"We stopped everyone from visiting
our house," he said, "but, somehow,
some journalists, they found a way from
the other side of the road, reached our home
late that afternoon, and told Parvati about the death,"
Vikesh, the Lance Naik's brother, said.
He farms a 3-bigah piece of land in the village.

Who owns the news
of the death of a soldier?
Who has the right to hold it in their hands
as it stuns courage into disbelief
at what its always asked to do? In Satara,
the father of a killed soldier, only twenty-seven,
is afraid of putting this land of the courageous in the docks,
he asks the journalist, "Am I wrong in saying
that I want my two other sons to be safe"?

Should the news of the soldier's passing
not stun our ears into the shape of disbelief,
not make us refuse the leaden article of
the country, not turn us into rain, or should it

run in tickers till blood runs dry?

Far away, seated outside her house,
in Gangasagar, 24 Paraganas in Bengal - "the road
to their house had no light" - the 20-year old Bulti Ghorai,
sister of late Sepoy Biswajit Ghorai, who now lives only in
the country of loss, tells the journalist, resolve now held so tight
in her fingers it cannot breathe, "I will never let any member
of my family join the Army again," and asks them to believe.

(thanks to Sweety Kumari and Manish Sahu)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jas suna ki us aashiq ne - Agha Shahid Ali

I had to choose

between a squirrel and a war;
I chose the squirrel and let the war go.

This choice was crucial for our humanity,

the squirrel trembles at the very mention of war
but no war has ever thought of the squirrels.

tr. from Pratyush Pushkar's 'Mujhe Chunna Pada'

Pratyush Pushkar

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

बुढ़ापे पर एक मॉनसून नोट

tr. from Agha Shahid Ali's A Monsoon Note on Old Age

ये पचास साल बाद की बात है, मैं
अपने सामने बैठा हुआ हूँ, मॉनसून के
पसीने में तह लगा हुआ, मेरी खाल

मुरझाई सी, थका सा ख़ुसरा, सिर्फ
एक गैरमौजूदगी से आगाह;

                                        खिड़की की छड़ें
मुझपर कैदखाने का नक़्शा बनाती हैं;

                                        मैं तारों को फेंटता हूँ
पुराने ताश की गड्डी;

                                        रात फिर से बारिश सी
बनावट हासिल कर लेती है। मैं तुम्हारी फोटो
को ज़्यादा ही धुप दिखा रहा हूँ; मौत

के दूर-दराज़ देश से धुल उड़ा रहा हूँ।                       

Agha Shahid Ali

Sunday, September 25, 2016

आँखें तस्करी

हँसी मसखरी
देखे तो जाती है जान
निगाह रसभरी
बलम केसरी
पधारो फवाद खान

آکھیں تسکری
حسی مسخری
دیکھ تو جاتی ہے جان
نگاہ رسبہری
بلم کیسری
پدھارو فواد خان

Thursday, September 22, 2016


After the check-out,
with my strolley behind me,
I set out walking in this city
that was strange
only till this morning
meant for leaving
made its streets familiar
with the colours of cities past.

The light had just
settled on the concrete
and filled it with other evenings
from other places.

A square with a fountain,
a parking lot bathed in rust,
and the purple that refused
to leave the downtown sky even
after the night had left, marked
only places that had come before.

At the Washington Park red-light,
I turned into memory,
slipping tokens of the last decade
into the cracks;

at West Delaware Place,
my hands were again heavy with touch;

and near Lassalle Street,
those old steps upto an apartment,
flanked by iron, and petunias, on either side,
made me climb them,
wait a little,

and the idea of you opened the door
and the idea of you said "What took you so long?"
as the purple left the sky
slowly behind me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Identity Card

Name: Nasir Shafi
D.O.B: 13-Jan-2005
School: Greenlight Higher Secondary
Class: VII
Resident Of: New Theed Harwan, Srinagar
Father's Name: “More than 300 pellets pierced my son’s body.”
Mother's Name: “He was tall and looked much older for his age."
"...distinction holder..."
"...ace footballer..."
"...wanted to be an engineer..."
"...had promised us he will take mummy and papa on Haj..."
Last Seen: "...boys were throwing stones at government forces near the Theed bus stand. Around 5 pm, or later, the forces surrounded the spot from all sides. I saw Rakshak jeeps speeding towards us...We ran towards the Dachigam Park forest...As we reached near the Hapatghar, the bear cage, the police were already there...some of us tried to hide behind bushes and trees, others ran towards the saraband, the reservoir...I climbed a tree to save myself...I saw the SHO order his men to catch the boys...then I saw Nasir alone in the Saraband. A group of five policemen went towards among them pointed his gun towards him and fired...he fell down instantly..."

Date of Death: 17-Sept-2016
Cause of Death according to local Police: Killed by a Bear.

Meaning of Name: Nasir, 'Protector', 'Helper', 'The one who will bring victory'

(thanks to Ubeer Naqushbandi, Junaid Nabi Bazaz, Abir Bashir, Faisal Khan and Jehangir Ali)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Nobody said it

but we all knew
that if you cannot cry at will,
you're not a good actor.

This was the reason why, in those years,
I found myself landing 'bubbly roles'

as if only make-believe tears
throttle us into our depths.

That was the first time
since I began theatre in college,
that I realized the stage
is always upto something.

A few years later, in Delhi,
after we'd spent hours in his house,
and the evening had grown on us,
I remember my boyfriend told me -

'I challenge you
to hold back tears on this one,'
and played a concert of Lauryn Hill
on his laptop.

It trumped me,
but I was sincere in my efforts,
and Hill really helped by tearing up herself
as she sang in the video,

but it wasn't working;

I thought of the hardest days
I could, and the saddest moments I'd had,
and managed, I think, by the end of it,
half a tear.

I don't know whether
he figured out it was fake.

(In the past, he had cried many times
seeing Hill sing that song.)

We broke up
a few months later. No, not because of this,
but I should have read the writing on the wall.

To cry on the same things
is to live the same sorrows,

and if your sorrows do not match
no late evening play-acting will do.

Earlier this year, one night,
as I scrolled down my Facebook feed,
Aylan Kurdi washed up ashore
on the Turkish coast of Bodrum,

red shirt, blue shorts,
as if asleep on the sand,

the three-year old from Syria
told me, that a whole world lies between Turkey and Greece,
a world of our making,
that if the men had wanted,
the Aegean could have been a little stream,

but the men have made
this Aegean bigger than the Pacific.

A journalist asked his father, through an interpreter,
"What do you hope to do now?"

His reply, though between tears, was certain
"Now all I want to do is sit next
to the grave of my wife and children."

Tears interpret
the certainties of our loss,

tears interpret
the long night of the sea.

How can anyone
bring them at will?

How can anyone
stage them,

they also dry up.

Days later, as Omran,
another boy from Syria,
sat in an ambulance seat too big for him,
stunned by his own blood,
his hand feeling for certainty in the crowning dust, and

the whole world watching
Aleppo fall around him,

I realized
my tears had already
hardened like rubble in my eyes,

and really, for this to happen,
and for the world to still 'debate' a 'migration crisis'
as Aylan sits next to his father, whose world now
will always be sea,
must be make-believe,
must be staged, must be unwilled,

for what else will it take,
what else can tear our sky
more than this, what else
can make us certain.

(co-written with Mallika Taneja)

Saturday, September 10, 2016


the 6th century Hun of Kashmir
was so known for his cruelty

that "people could tell of
the approach of his armies by
the vultures and crows that flew ahead of them."

Kalhana wrote in his Rajatarangini,
that the Hun was "a terrible enemy of mankind,
who had no pity for children,
no compassion for women,
no respect for the aged."

Mihirgulla's reign,
all Kashmiris remember,
was a long night of massacre
that they thought would never end.

Does India know that, finally,
as one more spring was sharpening Jehlum's air,
the Hun took his own life?

(thanks to Prem Nath Bazaz)