In Praise of Azaadi

(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;
tyrants call it “sedition”.
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.

Now We Must Depend on Those Who Are Near

Last night we argued on the phone
like most of our quarrels

it was about something small,
and I think we both knew

it was really just a way to avoid
saying what is too difficult

to say right now:
you are so far away

and if you need me,
I have no way to reach you.

Reel for Delhi in Springtime

When I tell you what it means
to me to live in Delhi,

I won’t use trending music
or a dozen flashing photos

approved by the Ministry
of Tourism

just a few words
to conjure images

that pair of young women
brushing shoulders

as they sip tea on the edge
of the dusty maidan

or the thin, strong man
in the next lane over

who right now
is stripping off his shirt

as he assesses a growing
pool of stinking water

and on a good day,
this might be enough

to get you to consider
this simple idea:

we can remake this world;
we can, and we must, my friends.

Mandi House
– 19 December 2019

Though we had seen what
they did to the students,

something changed
that day in Delhi;

the police filled bus after bus
with people like us

who had come simply
to stand for our own rights

and for those of our neighbours.
Dropped on the edge of town,

hundreds returned to be taken again.
It is worse than we thought,

but I am fine now –
many have it much harder

is what you told the children.
Later you showed me

the boot-sized, black bruises
on both of your legs

and confessed you had cried
as you bathed.

My Mother Calls With
Her Worries

Smog has wrapped the city
like a fine wool shawl
when my mother calls to say
she hasn’t slept in days –
because of the news on TV
and our friend who is dying.
I know she is right;
these are terrible times,
and we have both always
struggled to calm
the warm flutter in the gut,
the sudden searing
behind the left eye.
I tell her I love her and not to worry:
Delhi’s roads are wide enough
for farmers and tractors
and all kinds of lovers –
we’ll plough under the wasteland,
plant wheat and white clover.

Excerpted with permission from Yes, There Will Be Singing: Poems, Hamraaz, Context/Westland.