POETRY EDITOR ANANYA S GUHA’S NOTE:
We talk of ‘ powerful’ poetry. Prerna Bakshi’s poems come straight like an arrow hitting the target. They come like a slap on the face. They come in the dark. Call it protest poetry or whatever, her poems rub wounds within, no escapades but journeying into rights, society and its fall outs, death, politics and human aggrandisement. Her voice of protest also rivets to India’s North East where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force, brutalising and demonising society. This is surely powerful, hard hitting poetry which lights up the mind and awakens inner consciousness- nay, conscience.
ABOUT THE POET
Prerna Bakshi is a writer, poet and activist. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the recently released book, Burnt Rotis, With Love, which was long-listed for the 2015 Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in the UK. Her work has been published widely, most recently in The Ofi Press, Red Wedge Magazine, TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism and Peril magazine: Asian-Australian Arts & Culture, as well as anthologized in several collections. More here- http://prernabakshi.strikingly.com/
Guns and Graves
(First published in Red Wedge Magazine, U.S.)
I looked for you everywhere.
I asked everyone.
Now the answer I was in
quest for, rests with you
in your grave, as you lie here
resting next to other dead men and women,
whom I had asked earlier
about your whereabouts.
All lined up
next to one another.
Now this place looks like a giant cemetery
hosting more graves than the actual people,
guns outnumber the hands,
(and whatever that’s left of them anymore)
thorns exceed the petals on the rose,
rivers have turned red,
only blood flows,
even the sun reluctantly rises,
crows no longer croak,
people here have long forgotten
what colors look like,
one only sees khaki-colored clothes.
Khaki-clad men with guns in hands
is all one sees,
state sponsored massacres, witch-hunt,
deploying ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’
don’t usually bring ‘world peace’.
Today the world’s biggest arms importer
aspires to become tomorrow’s ‘superpower’,
not by bloodshed, but apparently,
all by exporting ‘peace’.
Arms is all one sees here now,
stretching as far as one’s eyes can see.
The air is filled with gunpowder smoke,
slowly choking me as I breathe.
As I sit here next to your grave and weep,
while at last your body at peace and you’re asleep,
I wish you’d call my name
just one more time,
talk to me just once,
tell me all about this life,
come back to me,
how to shoot guns.
This poem was written in response to the decision taken by the Indian government to extend The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 to Arunachal Pradesh. AFSPA has been in place in seven Northeastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, and parts of Central India and it has been resisted in the past and continues to be resisted today because it gives almost absolute impunity to the armed forces and paramilitary forces for perpetrating gross human rights violations.
(First appeared in South Asian Ensemble: A Canadian Quarterly of Literature, Arts and Culture, Canada)
In the distance, a group of stray dogs
fight over a dead crow, and
a herd of cows and pigs
fight over some territory,
as rival political camps take out their procession
by driving through the very contested territory, over the dead crow,
lathi charging, dispersing the hungry stray beings,
as the rich from the rooftops
of their bungalows,
(First appeared in Red Wedge Magazine, U.S.)
When I write verse
about trees that bear fruits;
flowers that bloom;
they call me a poet.
When I ask for whom some
trees would never bear fruits;
why some flowers would never bloom;
they call me a communist.
What’s the name of your pind?
(First appeared in The Ofi Press, Mexico)
He asks me which pind
do I belong to?
Confused, I respond by telling him
the names of my grandfather’s and grandmother’s village.
He interjects, her’s not necessary. Your belonging, your identity, your pind is traced through the
pind of your father and his father and so on, you see.
I say nothing, and just nod.
In the blink of an eye, my grandmother’s history was deemed irrelevant. Erased.
History belongs to victors, they say.
Clearly, she had lost.
Her past, torn
like it was an unwanted page from the book of history.
Her clung together memories
got flushed down the toilet like a clump of hair stuck in the comb.
What is her pind, then?
What is her home country?
Or is she a traveling soul?
A wandering Sufi?
An escaped soldier?
An absconded convict?
If she had no home to claim as her own,
which borders did she cross then?
To what extent did she even cross any, if at all?
What was her supposed ‘home’?
Or was there even any?
When I die (Haibun)
(First appeared in Unbroken Journal, U.S.)
Will my body be buried or burnt on a pyre? I ask this in a hushed voice. As I lay there dead, lifeless, will kalma be recited or mantras be chanted? I ask this in a hushed voice. Will the mourners be arriving dressed in all black or will they mourn me dressed in all white? Will they claim right to ownership, will they fight, will they hold knives to each other’s throats over my cold, inert dead body laying there motionless, all exposed, mouth wide open, like it wishes to scream, eyes to the skies, as if asking the heavens to intervene. I ask this in a hushed voice. In a hushed voice I ask, when they come to take away my body, will they divide it into pieces, rip it into half? I, then, say resoundingly, what difference does it make? Aren’t they doing it already?
Liminal dawn —
between night and day…
envy of both