Flamingos in Early Summer
In the terrible days of solitude,
Herds of jobless migrants with clay brick masks would
Suddenly arrive in the deserted city.
With them, the Armenian flamingos
Also descended; flock after flock
In the maggoty shadows of early summer.
From their sweaty pink wings,
Dry mustard leaves kept falling
In the freshly made shelter homes.
Flapping their empty stomachs,
Slowly, they filled the sky
With their hungry nasal cries for food and water.
Infuriated with the smell of infectious blood
Affluent city dwellers turned against themselves-
Speaking with strange voices of stones
In their moments of self-survival.
Where are the men and women,
Washing, ironing dirty clothes at the Dhobi Ghat?
Where are the daily wagers and prisoners
Lavishing praise on lawmakers for their miseries?
Where are the laborious ants, and lazy rabbits
Slumbering in the holes of solitude?
Where are the lovers and travelling souls
Clearing imported land-mines in the streets?
Where are the days and nights
Polishing our shoes for May Day parade?
We all must stay in the house, dark confinement.
It is useless to protest.
Submit to the funeral speech of the victorious virus!
Zebras at the Ration-Shop
Grains are in short supply
Salt and sugar in abundance.
I am the only hungry person
Standing in this long queue.
The rest are affluent, and healthy.
They offer Botox sympathy for my wrinkled skin.
And zero-dollar petroleum oil for my kitchen.
Come next day
Stand in the long queue like an obedient ghost,
The rest are all zebras with your stripes and mine.
Shades of Lockdown
In a sudden invasion
an invisible pathogen infects air sacs,
and paralyses all forms of life on the earth.
Latching on its spiky surface proteins,
It multiplies itself, spreads in the pneumonic cavities
Of human desires and silences gossips of
Growing wheat in the languorous fields.
Corpses rise, funeral processions march
Limb by limb,
Masculine traders of pine and oak offer
Free logs for funeral pyres.
Facing acute shortage of hospital beds and ventilators
Priests in white aprons sacrifice bearded
handsome alligators in balcony prayers.
In a dishonourable capitulation to the infectious droplets of death,
Prisoners are released on parole
And armies retreat in sun-burnt camps.
Exotic birds, and blood-red hibiscuses
Watch from lunatic social distance,
The growing awareness of virtue and vice.
I hear sounds of the angry silence of office goers and travellers
Locked down in their fossil homes,
Barbecuing, sailing to their fantasy destinations.
Starving vagrant labourers
Craving for a religious past
Or easing of secular isolation restrictions,
Build memorials of dead bones in their shanties.
I am told,
Nothing can be done when
Rivers flow backwards, swallowing
Their own maritime ancestors.
But it is beautiful early summer
I am not marooned of hope –
The beastly fear slowly annihilates itself
With scents of smouldering wet sandalwood, and
Life regains its glowing fire –
Stirring poem after poem
In the ancient clay pot of ashes.
After a long day’s idleness –
No smell of burning pig iron or
Chimes of manufacturing happiness
My proletarian body parts
Rot, rust in the cold silence.
Your ash-green eyes are filled
With crumbs of falling stars
And I feel like a factory
Shutdown into unannounced communism.
Ashwani Kumar is a poet, writer and professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai). His latest poetry collection Banaras and the Other, was longlisted for Jayadev National Poetry Award.