26th January

The moment the car stopped at the signal,
off he went again,

Hobbling along on his polio-afflicted leg.

His mother tried to stop him

But her cough smothered her voice.
“Two rupees for this tricolour, it’s Public Day
Take one Seth, good for the country.”

The signal changed,
and the car moved on.
Perhaps this scene can also figure
Somewhere in the festive pageants of our nation!


Use the Diversion

He was a Hindu, I was told.

One day, when he turned

The corner of his street

Where a pothole had been dug up

He found a riot was on.
Two-three dead bodies, flames all around,
The hole had filled up with their blood.
Next to the hole, a board proclaimed:
“Work in progress, use the diversion”.

He became a Muslim

But the blood in the pothole has not dried up
Work on the road is still in progress.


Traffic Jam

For seventy years I am caught in a traffic jam

A great rush is on at New Delhi’s Parliament Street:
In a line to the right, people jostle and push

No one knows since when;

To the left some other lines lie entangled;
Have a look, men are standing, one upon another:
Somebody is distributing seats, another is pulling chairs away;


No one moves ahead, or steps aside.

I am caught in a traffic jam

For the last seventy years!


Procession

Like some pageant in the Republic Day parade
The rioters dance on the road,
Celebrating.

They are very happy turning buses into bonfires
Jumping around them, shouting slogans.
Their faces show neither sorrow nor anger

It seems

A team has returned after winning the World Cup.

Gulzar. Image credit: IANS
Gulzar. Image credit: IANS

Newspaper

As I took up the newspaper

Some small, insignificant stories fell into my lap.
A child, thrown into a dustbin

Was kept alive

By a dog who suckled him for three days;
Then, some people came and took the child away.
The dog now paws at the garbage day and night . . .

The Passport Commissioner looked up
From the application before him and said:
“Any mole or wart on your body?
Any birthmark?

Any identification that cannot be erased?”

The Sikh thought for a few minutes
And then suddenly took off his shirt:
“There is a burn mark, Sirji,
From ’84.

This can’t be erased!”


There’s Nothing New in New Delhi

There is nothing really new in New Delhi
Except that every five years a new government comes in
And converts old issues to new schemes.
Opening scabbards anew

They unsheathe again all the rusted laws

That can cut neither grass, nor necks!


Sultana Daku’s Last Letter to His Son

My son,

As long as I had life in my lungs
For the last thirty years

I have robbed;

When robbing became difficult

I just grabbed;

When I couldn’t grab or rob any more
I murdered;

When that got over

I wore the hangman’s noose;
Don’t forget, your turn will also come
After as many years.

It is compulsory for a six-year-old

To begin life by learning his father’s profession
But remember, don’t ever mess with a politician
Their children begin to learn from the age of five!

With thanks to Sujit Saraf.


26th January: A Scene

The wind was bitingly cold, and it was 26th January
Fog was all around, and it was Lahore

The river Ravi was flowing…
The kachehri was closed and on its roof was the British flag
Those three stood silently, their bodies stuck to the wall
The dawn was quite distant still

But they could hear the breath of the morning

That night they would climb to the roof

And bring down the British flag

The three of them had resolved to change the attire of India!

Zafar was on the pole when the bullet exploded in his
head

The drops of blood flew across the country.

The wind is bitingly cold, and it is 26th January
Fog is all around

The celebration is on in Delhi

In Lahore the river Ravi is flowing…

With reference to Bela Lal’s novel.

Excerpted with permission from Gulzar: Suspected Poems, translated by Pavan K. Varma, Viking.