Apologies for Our Times
Is there really time to say, sorry, we won’t long any more or is there
more time for side-winking the Modis and Yogis as well as sleep?
We stalk love to get pained in return each time the heart throbs —
is there time then to say sorry to nature’s well-designed tricks?
But I’m sorry for all the songs that I had composed, for imagining
children will live and the oxygenated world would be better one day
Where do I keep my apologies, if not on your lips, indeed —
for not loving enough, not saying enough that I do, yes I do
There may be times when I need to speak and still stop
look at the watch and imagine your jawline sharp in the dark
We must go our ways and at the station I watch the crowd, feel
sorry about the young men who lust me and just cannot reach out —
During my lone walks I notice wall handbills of the local quack
reminding me that I could still want a(nother) child of my womb
And the day goes by just as myth, all fire and rumble, TRPs
from news channels, and we’re supposed to feel sorry anyway —
Apologies for swear words, screwed up plans, burnt toast
botched meetings, failed flirtations, and even the ISIS
Must we say sorry – soft, soft, say it soft – and retreat for love?
For you the Judgment Day, while I await his tender gaze
our wonderful brave patriots
the patriots are all over the town
their faces are the red of death
the bottom of the chin peeled like
the rotten fruit of a false petty pride
and here is where he sat
a young fellow and his friend
a place now marked by blood
a place marked by sudden rage
— now even violence hides in shame
did he have a bag, some books
a few alphabets of joy, some letters
of festivities, a watermark of youth
— forever done to a patriotic dust
the patriots have hands of hell
each a sword, smeared, sharp
they rip the sky, stab the earth
each rake up filth and gore, each
given to sordid gods they guard
thunderbirds cry all over my city
the lightening is no more a light
the trains have left the station for
a town too obscure to shine
we’ve raised a flag of heart and pain
we’ve ingested lies within our bile
the patriots chant ram, ram, they drum
evil beats, and my deities look sad
My Neighbor is a Gau Rakshak
Everyone has a gau rakshak neighbor these days
not everyone knows what they look like
we say happy Diwali sirji, and how’s the weather today
we eat cake, madamji makes tea when we meet.
I could even have a lover who’s gau rakshak so tender
that he keeps me from all untowardness of nights.
Our gau rakshak neighbor wears branded jeans
he hates Chinese goods but flaunts a Swiss watch
she too likes kitty parties where Ramdev churan churns
Zara scarves with Kolhapuri sandals for the ladies, kyunki
after all, Musalmanon me hunar toh hai for craft and art
thus my gau rakshak friends make light of life.
When we meet we say pleasantries like the rain
until my inshallah waterlogs their ears, they seem stunned:
You JNU-wallahs are like that only no, they say
a little wanton, a little awaara, somewhat misfit
still I recite Bhakti poetry and often placate the bhakts.
Our gau rakshak neighbor asserts Hindu khatre mein hai
the sky is saffron, cows can turn plastic bags to manna, and
The greatness of Bharat Mata in just one single meet
then Nirvana becomes a Bengali mithai he offers with tea.
Another Toba Tek Singh
There you go, there you go sahebaan, meherbaan, kadardaan. There you go, beautiful ladies, little girls and boys. You know my name now, There you go, you know me. Yes, I’m the one they call Sita, Gita, Anita, Rama, Maya. I’m your Anwara Begum. I’m walekum assalam, vanakkam, namaste, hello-hi there, you see? Oh yes, I’m who they call Mona Darling. Why, you ask. Why I ask, you ask. I stand here on the edge of the train and swing, swing, swing. I can jump, I can fall on the track, I can present you my bloody neck. Saheban, meherban, you’ll immediately know why I talk of doing this. Good people fall on the tracks but not always on their own. In the darkness of night they get pushed. They struggle, their veils hold them back, their dupattas come alive around their necks and they fall. Yes, madam, they fall. They are cut. They die. Why do you look scared. Scared of Anwara Begum? Haha, vanakkam. Mona Darling was also going to be one of those unfortunate ones. Can I tell you all this? No? There you go, scared to hear a woman out. The way she was grabbed, hurt, and let go to die? Because I didn’t go on the tracks you can hear me yell today. Were I the one with my neck gone, you’d be happy because no one would say vanakkam, salaam alekum, namaste to you! No one but Saqib the police chap who tried stopping the men in the dark knew what I went through. Ha ha, forget me. Know what happened to him? On the tracks. Mona Anwara tells you they put him down with wooden sticks with metal hooks. The face becomes something else, madam. You don’t want to know. Go pray to your Santoshi Mata: majhdhar mein akti naiyya paar karo ma. Salaam namaste and good morning… Don’t you report me. Don’t you write about me in your newspapers. Don’t try your upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di durr phitey mun. I’m another Toba Tek Singh.
Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad. She is the author of four books — two poetry collections, a short fiction volume, and a novel. A 2016 Commonwealth Writers correspondent, a 2012 Charles Wallace fellowship winner, and a 2012 Sangam House fiction award winner, she has been published and anthologized widely. Nabina teaches creative writing in classrooms and workshops.