After The War

At the end of the war
When the counting of dead bodies
began, the Pandavas and the Kauravas
beat their brows together in horror.

“Why did we fight at all?” asked
the Pandavas. “How did
they die?”, asked the Kauravas.
“Whose cruel deed was this?”,
enquired the Pandavas. “Who
was behind it?”, enquired
the Kauravas. “Aren’t we kin?”,
Pandavas wondered. “Aren’t we
neighbours?”, wondered the Kauravas.
“Our rivers are the same,” said
the Pandavas. “Or languages
are the same,” said the Kauravas.
“Our house was on the
other bank of the river,”
remembered the Pandavas.
“Ours too,” echoed the Kauravas.

“The same earth, the same water,
the same sky. The same food,”
Pandavas sang in a chorus.
“The same tree, the same blood,
the same pain, the same dream,”
Kauravas took up the refrain.

Then they polished their guns
and began shooting one another.

(Written soon after the Kargil War between India and Pakistan)

The Soldier’s Soliloquy

We the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
To kill the unfortunate
Die for the ungrateful

– Found on the tombstone of an American soldier in Vietnam

There is blood on my hands.
The nation says it is foe’s;
I say it is man’s.

His fall still haunts my vision.
I wanted to hug him,
ask him about his family and children
But I was scared of him
as much as he was of me.

Who created that fear?
Those who created borders.
Our real enemy.

I want to apologise to his kin,
to kneel before his offspring

I looked into his eyes before I shot him.
Some cruelty there would have been an excuse.
But no; only pity, friendship, grief.

What would he have recalled
as he fell, his hand on his chest?
The bitter sweetness of the wild berry
picked on his way to school?
The song he had sung with
his friends while young?
The last letter he had written
To his beloved? His mother’s dim eyes
peering into the village-lane?
The chill breeze on the ripe cornfield?
His sister’s scream as she
watched his coffin descend from the van?

Soldiers should have no sentiments.
Only the long walk along the desert
that scorches every question when it sprouts.
Only the silence of the lambs that can hear
nothing but the shepherd’s commands.
Only the pang and the angst of the bull
as the cleaver severs his neck.

Farewell to the heroic ballads.
No heaven awaits me

We will sip venom from the same cup in hell,
sleep on the same bed of thorns.
We will weep together
sharing the same impossible dream
of a world without borders.

(Translated from Malayalam by the poet )

The Plea

(Based on an incident in the Syrian civil war where an old woman, distributing fruits to government soldiers, pleaded for the life of radical democrats)

My darling son,
Have this orange
Don’t kill Gafoor
He is my grandchild.

My darling son,
Have this apple
Leave Ishmael alone:
He is my kin.

My darling son,
Have these grapes
Don’t harm Orhan
He is my neighbour.

My darling son,
Have these olives
Please spare Nissar
He is a human being.

Shoot this old hag
I don’t want to live
Where freedom dies.

Kill god too
God has no place
Where hatred rules

My language got
Splattered with her blood.
I wrote this with words
Pierced by shrapnel
That is why this poem bleeds.

If poetry is witness,
It will have to breathe poison.