• India 2019: State of War and Other Poems

    Soibam Haripriya

    November 30, 2018

    From the Editors:

    Is this the India we want?

    A country in which citizens are murdered or attacked for being rational; for being critical, for raising a voice of dissent; for just being themselves, Muslim or Dalit or women. Intimidation, threats. Hatred. Lynching. Sickening violence. Students and teachers given the choice between being leashed in thought and word, or being hounded as seditious. Institutions built over the years weakened. The economy and development turned into exercises that mock the needs and aspirations of most people. The secularism, the scientific temper and the rights promised in our Constitution subverted every day. Our democracy, our India, frayed.

    But this is our country. It belongs to us, and we belong to it. We have each other for support. We have our poems and songs and films and essays and fiction and art. Our diverse voices.

    What is the India we want?

    Listen to our fellow citizens speak of the country they don’t want and the India they want on the series India 2019 on the Indian Cultural Forum and Guftugu.

     Image Courtesy: Max Pixel | Painting Oil Texture Artistic Grunge Dirt

    State of War: Four Poems


    Hear hear
    Election is near
    Call to arms
    Armed one
    Armed all
    The enemy is here
    Quench your blood thirst

    Nothing is a mystery
    For those who see
    This is not a prophesy
    From the Indus on
    The enemy should recede

    It is easy you see
    Burn a train, plant a bomb
    Call it development
    And we will be blinded
    By dreams of blood drenched gold
    But it is only a dream, the gold
    But it is only an excuse, the blood
    Plant a rumour
    Let it sprout
    The enemy is beloved 
    of your daughter
    Love jihad
    Jihad the jihadi then

    Parade, Lynch, 
    Naked, Parade, Lynch
    Yes, now everyone is cleansed
    Plant a rumour
    Let it sprout
    into unreadable books
    Raid bookshelves, 
    Parade the reader 
    The republic drowns
    in riots called 
    the development model
    Summer is freezing
    In silences of history
    In shrieks of the present


    In times of war
    think of contagion.
    Violence is contagious
    it ruptures through
    quite as heartbreak
    but not of a kind
    you've had before.
    It empties words of meanings;
    It empties conversation of words.
    Sometimes a gaze is blank –
    it is cataract,
    it is memory hazed by present
    The clock falls, shatters time
    because pain will be
    the cyclical pattern of audio recorders
    thrust on you, sound-bites of war;
    aid for recovery. A bomb splinters,
    the sun disappears. On blackout nights,
    the siren sings as birds.
    No, no longer war amputates you.
    It infuses within; a slow drug
    releases itself in your blood.
    You think you are defiant,
    but you reflect them.

    See, I was warning you
    about contagion.


    In this war
    and non-war
    and the not knowing
    if we are at war
    or non war
    Is this the funeral
       of a martyr
       or a fugitive
       or both?
       Always both.
    Is there
    in this war
    a Good Lord
    eyeless above
    Or is S/he there
    only in us?

    In this war
    and non war
    and not knowing
    if we are at war
       or non-war
    How do we know
    if we are inhaling defeat
              Or exuding victory


    The screen is primitive, savage and 24/7.
    The reportage shames itself, 
    only shame does not exist,
    except when summoned to tie around a woman’s neck. 
    Myopia is a rampant affliction. 
    The radicals throw their wholesome abuses to all 
    but worry about a cut in their share.
    The needle points to every direction, including you 
    (and let me not congratulate myself) and me. 
    The concluding day of the conference on AFSPA
    Booze flows freely
    from the army canteen
    so, over dinner the nuances of the argument is further elaborated. 
    There is hope that
    in the season of mangoes
    the parrots will be done parroting memorised lines  
    This is no poem of apocalypse. 
    This is merely reportage.

    Dystopia or Achhe Din: Four Poems


    A meat for a meat
    That is the new law
    A meat for a meat
    A slaughter for a slaughter
    That is the new law
    Ram’s rajya is dystopia
    Sita’s blood is the colour of earth
    Ram’s rajya is dystopia
    Mohammad’s blood is the colour of meat
    Ram conjures up the menu
    Ravan weeps: all ten heads
    wishes he guarded Sita better
    Averted her ignominy
    Now, not even Gujarat’s vegetarian earth
    Swallows her whole
    Come to Lanka, Sita
    Ravan will ask the ocean
    Swallow you whole
    Have your death of the ocean
    It is your ancestral fault
    Your collective ancestral fault
    to have chosen such a king
    March towards the ocean
    Part the waters
    if you can
    or walk into it

    Ram’s rajya is dystopia
    What consummates his appetite?
    Meat cooked by torching of houses?
    Ravan, the ten headed demon king
    weeps with all ten heads
    Everything gets called a revolution
    But never before
    a king’s deed
    was called a revolution

    In the absence of a corpse

    So, what should we do in the absence of a corpse?

    I heard he died in training
    In Bangladesh or Burma
    What day do we choose for the Shradh?
    Is this better than the stench ridden corpse?
    The son of the neighbour next door
    Reclaimed three days late
    Death degrading itself into stench

    The mother says “He isn’t dead
    I haven’t seen his ghost yet
    You see, there are no walls, to contain death
    They have to come back”

    In the absence of the corpse
    How do we convince her,
    she isn’t a half widow
    but a full widow
    And you thought half and full
    is only the proverbial water in the glass tumbler

    In the absence of the corpse
    Can’t we just get another?
    Give it her name and set it ablaze
    in her name

    Many do come back after the cremation
    Not as spectacular as second coming
    But no less a miracle

    They come back, sometimes to grief
    sometimes to happiness
    sometimes to indifference –which is worse than either

    You see, sometimes in the absence of a corpse
    We are given to too much hope


    You are common
    Your body is common
    You are as common as a corpse
    We will turn
    your body into a corpse
    Money is paper
    crisp but common
    One common object
    can be exchanged for another
    Your nakedness is common
    can be exchanged for another
    We will parade you
    one common naked body
    followed by another
    Naked bodies with orifices
    We will put common objects
    into common orifices
    A stone, A twig
    A stick, A baton
    A muzzle
    Common objects
    of our times


    promises and promises
    give it a miss
    it is unsure
    you promised me the moon
    and doted on my nails
    the black stain of your promises
    I live with the regret
    yet another five years
    Optimist that I am
    you will find me yet again
    lining up in the queue
    amonsgt stones and dust
    of the rumbling school
    roofless from your promises
    waiting for the stain
    secretly folding your promises
    sliding it down
    the box of dreams of democracy
    locked securely for another five years
    is lies and lies and lies
    Yet I believed
    like a love struck luckless lover
    I wish I had chosen
    another polish for my nails

    Read more:
    India 2019: The Great Leader’s Shadow
    India 2019: A Self-Reliant Nation
    India 2019: दूसरा बटवारा 

    Soibam Haripriya is a Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Her poems have appeared in an anthology Tattooed with Taboos (Partridge, 2014). Her works are also included in 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry (Paperwall, 2016).

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