The stress of a night during wartime


The stress of a night during wartime
will make adults
out of our children.

Because of
every blood-soaked, faceless human corpse
that’s hurled across
the passage of their mornings
lovely as a tiny sparrow’s
and the smashed ramparts falling
on their lively laughter,
our little boys have
ceased to be little boys.

The report of a lone gun
on a star-lit night,
smashing the silence and exploding,
reduced to naught
the meaning of all children’s stories.
And in the brief daytime remaining,
they forgot how to make chariots
from thorn apple seeds
or to play hopscotch.

To shut the wicket gate before nightfall,
to recognise any unusual barking of the dogs,
to refrain from asking questions
and to remain silent when
the question had no reply –
later, in herd-like fashion,
they learnt it all.

Wantonly ripping out a moth’s wings
and turning staves and twigs into guns
to kill a friend, thinking of him as the enemy,
became our children’s sport.

Amidst the stress of a night during wartime,
our children had
turned into “adults.”


Done for by war


On all the lands that you and I
must traverse from tomorrow,
only our national flag will remain.

With trash heaps over spots where
babies and thistles have been buried
together, my country has become
a jungle of corpses.
Is it in the eyes of that crazed dog,
battened on human flesh, that I must
look for my comrades’ nationalist fervour?

Is it among thousands
of these tombstones that I must
celebrate my freedom?

Grant reprieve.
Let one human survive at least.
Grant reprieve also to a blood-filled pen
so that it may write of my land ruined by war
to bring us awareness of human love.

On flowers that bloomed this morning, their pollens,
I must write of bloody sorrows scabbed over
in the night; and of blind men crazed with lust
for state power and lethal arms.

It’s time for a new world
to be born. We need
a community where all arms have been interred
and death sentences have surpassed murders;
which propounds only that equality
which is full of human decency
and innocent of racial difference –
such a world must arise.

How were we done for in this war?
What did we lose?
What did we gain?
On the walls lining our streets,
we must set down
the history of these heinous men.


A few additional blood-notes


Though used to seeing blood
regularly every month,
I am still shocked and flustered
when my child runs to me howling
with a slashed finger.
As though I am seeing it now for the first time,
this blood, expressing helplessness,
craves my compassion – and distress.
Blood from a raped woman, though,
might grow cold and drip
like the revolting blood
from a dead wasp’s carcass; or flow
in the sticky, moist colour of her life.
Blood pours
from the body of a murdered child –
quite silently,
quite innocently.
Those who shed the most blood
and those who caused the most
bloodshed on the battlefield
have been honoured by our leaders,
promoted to high positions.
Feelings of the supplicant human soul
under intense punishment
have hurled themselves and shattered
on the blood-stained walls
of torture camps.
The blood scent of vengeance,
the blood stench of predation,
the same blood that congeals on the crazed streets,
the same blood that has seeped and dried on the walls of mausoleums –
as death’s indelible traces,
they stalk me endlessly.

Translated from the Tamil by N Kalyan Raman.