To the Soldier in Siachen

Come back
the snow is treacherous
come back
they are making you fight a treacherous war
you were not born in snow
you do not know snow, come back
I do not want you to fight that war in our name
I want you to rest, I want you to be able to feel your fingers
I want the snow in your veins to give way
for you to be able to breathe, to melt
into a corner, to sleep.

Come back.

Go home.

Go home to Dharwad
go home to Madurai, go home
to Vellore, Satara, Mysore
do not stay in the snow
go home to Ranchi, that war
is not for you to fight, that war
is not for us to give to you to fight
let not our name be ice, let it
not heave on your shoulders
do not let us steal your breath
the people there, the people of the snow
do not need us, they do not need you to fight
come back
you were not born to snow
you do not know the treachery of snow.

Go home
to the sun, to water, go home
to village nights
to the sweltering marketplace
to the noise of family homes
to the sweat of the Ghats
to the dust of the plains
to rest, go home.

May you never
have to see white like that again
may you never see a colour
become death in your very palm.



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
as one more spring sharpened Jhelum’s air
the Hun took his own life?

(Thanks to Prem Nath Bazaz)


On Days Such As These

Early morning

a no man’s blue

not yet hostage
to its evening clamour
is quiet, laburnumed
with hope

on days such as these
across an unsolved sky
the azaan at Badshahi
and the ardaas at Harmandir Sahib
can hear each other.


He Was Born in 1948, So He’s

straight up Pakistani, not some
pre-Partition guy we can claim
as our own. Now the trouble is,
how do I wipe clean all those
evenings, growing up, when
drunk on his voice, we heard
“Afreen Afreen” losing all our
cares, not knowing Nusrat
was theirs.


When Shammi Kapoor Slides Down the Snow

in Junglee, shouting “Yahoo”, they tell you it’s Kashmir
but it is actually Kufri, near Shimla.

When Ranbir Kapoor climbs up the snow
in YJHD, all moonstruck, they tell you it’s Manali
but it is actually Gulmarg, in Kashmir.

So we’ve always got it wrong – granduncle or
grandnephew – and we’ve been like this for long
always Kashmir without Kashmiris, all for a song.


On 8th February, 2010, two men forced their way into Dr Ramchandra Siras’ house and shot a video of him in bed with another man. The next day, Siras, a professor of Marathi literature, was suspended by Aligarh Muslim University for “gross misconduct”. The Courts ruled against the university, giving Siras his job back. On 7th April that year, Siras died in a rented house under mysterious circumstances, a day before the official letter revoking his suspension arrived at his office.

Dr Siras,
in those nights
you must have felt loneliness like a drip

the walls of your room
held together by a faint song,
past loves sitting by you
combing the hours.

That poem, Dr Siras,where you ask the beloved moon
not to fear the dawn that separates us
where you seek consolation
even from shadows –

I read it last night on the terrace,
it held my hands, we will dance
as shadows dance, it let grass grow
under my feet, we will touch
as shadows touch, it hurt
my morning into dewdrops.

Dr Siras, in my Delhi barsati
the windows open onto a palash tree.

I was 27 when I first moved into it,
the landlord did not pause
at the word “bachelor”,
he only asked if I had “too many parties”.
I didn’t. I got the house.

But next time, Dr Siras
when I look for a place in this city
I’ll be older (I was born the year you got your PhD)
and they’ll pause at “marriage?”
I will try to draw respect from a right surname
from saying “teacher”
from telling them my birthplace
and will try and hide my feeling small under my feet.

You had said you were always unseen in the light of day.

What did you say, Dr Siras,
when you looked for that house in Durga Wadi?
What did you tell the neighbours:
Teacher, Professor, Poet?

What gives us this respect, Dr Siras, this contract with water?

In those nights
weighing this word in your hands
you must have felt weak, you must have
closed the windows to keep out the evening
you must have looked back, and hung the song in the air
between refusal and letting go.

(Thanks to Apurva M. Asrani, Deepu Sebastian Edmond and Ishani Banerjee)

Excerpted with permission from How Many Countries Does The Indus Cross, Akhil Katyal, The Great Indian Poetry Collective.