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…”