Poems by Famida Basheer

Mumbai Dec.’92 – Jan.’93

a poem by Famida Basheer

Strangers to sanctity had started it…
There was bedlam in our country then…
Hindus killed Muslims in our country then…
Muslims killed Hindus in our country then…

Sikhs and Christians and anyone mistaken
to be a Hindu or a Muslim was hacked to death,
in our country then…
And then there were those nameless
who used the scene to vent their spleen on more of the blameless…

Children lay dismembered upon smogging dark streets
Children who had never stopped playing long enough
to ask what God they belonged to or what it meant.
Old people lay dead at the taper of their existence…
In their last quarter,
when God’s religion finally meant only a friendly smile…
and they never got to see that God…
The young and able, the middle aged,
the invalid, the ailing… none were spared…
Somebody, somewhere had started it
and the primitive in Man took over with unseemly zest.
The streets were strewn with a nation’s irreverence.
The streets were strewn with the clueless flesh and blood
of neighbours who over the years had looked face to face;
who saw eye to eye
till they were blinded by a stranger’s mindswirls
that psyched them into paring the “Who is Who’s and What begets What’s”…
and they hacked at each other and they killed all reason.
Soft lamplights took harsh overtones
as steel blades a meter long
sliced through the air repeatedly
quelling breath years like there were no more Birthday candles.
Grandmothers breast-held young ones to shield their eyes from the horrific death of a parent;
only their eyes… only their eyes…
Lovers, friends, colleagues, families, watched nerveless as their loved ones were vultured…
Bloated innards of heads and torsos made clotted garlands for wayside watertaps…
Half-dead and dead, half-clothed and naked, were heaped,
petrol-drenched and torched with unceremonious haste by lumpens in policemen’s attires…
The air cried acrid with the smog of cremated flesh and a charred Democracy…
There were stampedes and yellings in the streets where the night before
only the street-dogs had howled their commonplace camaraderie;
and the dingy grey high-rises stood witness ;resigned, forlorn…

And now Movies roll out about the pain and the agony…
in digital clarity, in vivid colours,
with award winning lighting, in stupendous locations,
with best selling actors in incongruous costumes…

It will soon be a decade since Bombay ran red…
Too short a while to unsnag the snarls that only a suspect breed of Politician
could knot into mangles of such perversity…

The silence is dense in the corridors of power.
Here your mother tongue is another’s gibberish,
Yet why do I hear and understand the painshrieks of voices calling;
bouncing off the lawless terracotta walls;
resounding in the very pit of my being…
“Give me back my lost ones!! Give me back my dead!! Give me back Love!!”

And the voice of her forefathers so lost in faint
“…give me back India…”


a poem by Famida Basheer

a woman’s body is
only your imagination
More fertility resides in her mind
and that too you cannot view…
Black robes dust the cobbled street
as she picks her path
through trellis grilled lashes
of kohl in distress…
The walls are old and desperate
Towers wail a strange solos
But the gentle veil is practiced
in the muffling of its references
and all its cinquain prescriptions
Her affirmations are sleepless
restless within the hollows…
Soon her hennaed feet
will rise in convulsive rush
to sweep the weeps
and to breathe clean
while her mate seems wide awake
but is asleep in other places…

A Deep Deep Sigh

a poem by Famida Basheer

Mother earth in sedate poise
She swirled upon a wary axis
She watched with turbid eye
the machinations of the creatures
that she wrought;
those breathers that brought
crude wile of mind
to her topography
with nuclear detonations
acrid experimentations;
contrived to cause fear in a neighbour…
Nothing more than pure
unadulterated fear…
Primitive nationalists who would not let themselves be civilised
or negotiate across a table
Who need to instill horror, create enemies, to be lord of a territory…
They tossed all norms of united life
to find divergence of every hue
of language, colour, religion, caste…
they blew a sordid breath upon
the length of a nation
the breadth of her history
the civilisation of her people
Mother earth watched with silent sight
Her sincerity powerless in the face of deviant thought
She quelled a tear
but was forced to expel
from deep within her very core
a sigh that rattled through her depths
that broke free through metal sheet, coal and rock
to knock upon an unwary people
To knock upon a collective conscience
to hold the nations shoulder in a powerful shake
to tell her people.enough is enough
No more divisions
You are one;
believe it or be damned…

Heal India!

a poem by Famida Basheer

Dislodge this dreadful silence
that impends the sanguine screech of shrapnel…
For I am with you India…
wavering through the flames
and fistfuls of chilly powder
that stung the eye of the enemy
who knocked upon my minority…
My children suckle upon
the wasted breasts of secularism
and the blood of prayer caps,
Crosses and Bindis
seep into their blabbering lips…
And the bitter stenches of Marigolds
stretch from sea to sea
and from mountain to sea…
and the dead ashes from crematoriums
blanket the terrain
and cover the hollow foreheads
of the seekers of ethnicity…
Conviviality is a red spot.
Blood sucks.
And babies wail…
Give me back my jasmines if you can
Give me back my roots…
Give me alabaster trees that will shade me
from this glaring communal sun…
Give me back my mother
Give me back my brothers and my sisters, India!
Give me back my intellect…
I watch the rivers that partitioned you
drain and dry and flatten the land…
And I hear the oceans swell
And I smell the prismic fathoms
of my culture
that mingle and merge
the peculiar characters of the Bay of Bengal
and the Arabian Sea
into the smelting pot
of The Indian Ocean…
while the Himalayas weep
tears of joy
and season the waters with salt..
Reach India! Reach into those wayworn waters
and douse your saffron flames…
For you will still heal…
For I am with you…

Morphous Morpheus

a poem by Famida Basheer

Was it you
that tripped upon
my solitude
and hummed a myriad
solo songs…

Was it you
that took the time
to lace each lilt
and bind within
the tendrils
of my dreams…

Was it you
that stole
my somno trances
with sidelong glances
and reamed late languor lyrics
through half shut eaves…

Was it you
that kindled
faltering flame
and groped their fading flicker
to quiet quick…

Was it you
that sold my soul
for fourteen coppers
while all around was unstated sleep…

Was it you
that grasped my misty fingers
to wade me through
cloud softs the stars
to reap

Was it you
that let my fingers go
that I should fall
and wake again to light…

Is it you again…

Aphonous Eye

a poem by Famida Basheer

Ssshh…you with-hold
all slip of lip
and ear, and watch
with dull aphonous
eye, the moue-less mum
that mutes the wind
and seals the bated
breath of wave…
Muzzled are the moves
of leaf and limb
and hushed the hoarse
of Raven song…the dim
that gags to giddy
gasp, the heady giggle
of purdah-ed puberty…
bestilled, her tinsel
tinkle…and anchored hard,
her fleeting ankles…
firm fixed to
heaving chill
of dumbened stone…vice-grasps
upon the slivered
throat and wisps of
guttural menaces to slit
her virgin soul…and now,
her screams…!
In deafening pitch
the piercing shrill that dins
resounding in
your head…
Ssshh…your voice too husk
and light to fight
will yet watch mute
through dyed-in-lie
aphonous eye…

The Diamond

a poem by Famida Basheer

A many faceted foreplay!
An augur of a bond!
Foreseeing the four Cs
Of his Chivalry and her Charm
A Couch and their Copulation
Of pristine love
That lusts the waters
And lures her sparkles
To solidify the elements
To grace the flesh
Of emotion
Within her depths
The deeps of all creation!
Around her the auras
Of genesis without end!
Like a bit of sky
That fits within an eye blink
This missive of a love
This missive of a friend!