‘Mountains too are equal to men’: In these poems, the personal has a ripple effect on the world

Surrender

If I were a country, you would be a journalist
And because you are not an
empty-headed bloke out for a quick fix
but investigative, committed, idealist,
I would have shot you down a street
and left you to bleed.

If I were a country and you my journalist
it would be a civil war, one too many
revolutions –
changes in governments.
I would have jailed you
and kept you under CCTV.

If I were a country and you my journalist
I would have played a wait-and-watch game
to see who wears the other
sleep-deprived akin to a Russian sleep experiment.

But the more you stare, the more beautiful someone becomes, remember?

Many passed the cellars of my mind
few, the cellars of my heart.

I would blink first.

I would give in
from dictatorship to democracy.

If I were a country and you my journalist
I would let you run a free press and media

to change the face of an
entire nation.


Confluence

Waters when they evaporate, meet…
at a global conference, to speak of fish dropouts,
obscura of clouds, near-deaths, hydrological dynamics,
monocultures, and metals:
nickel, lead, chromium, at their beds.

The bend is notional: water for coffee, cane,
banana, paddy,
mills, distilleries,
fertilizer plants.

The Aral Sea was water for cotton
in Uzbekistan:
one shirt drinking 2000 liters,
now more saline than the Dead Sea –
palm-sized, a fossil-tiger’s footprint,

plains of salt, toxic dust storms,
fishing towns, now ship-graveyards.
people, sick; dumps of pathogenic weapons
making the summers hotter, winters colder,
the Aral Sea is the Aralkum desert.

And if seas made maps,
rivers, homes
men, borders.

The Cauvery too is uprising
– one of the longest-running rivers
over her water share to ripple greens
for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,
when her sand beds expand for mining
flowing from Brahmagiri
on her way to the Bay of Bengal,
she worries if those warring over her understand

that a river is a person,

like Whanganui of New Zealand
– ancestor of 160 years
that got legal status
through the longest-running litigation
by the Māori people

because mountains too
are equal to men.


War Specials

As we went to war over animals on our plates,
pigeons too were seized by their wing-flaps, rings around claws;
a phone number and address with Shakargarh and Narowal in Urdu.
Spy pigeons, un-believing of borders, photographed, carried messages, guided bombs,
like knight’s warhorses that bit and kicked,
and elephants that were machines.

As we went to war over animals on our plates,
animals were politicized too: pigs squealed, camels patrolled,
mules carried supplies, oxen – artillery,
moose were trained not to be gun-shy for deep-snow cavalry,
and dogs threw their weight or sniffed out mines.
Monkeys dipped in oil ‘n fire, were thrown into enemy territory.

When the seagulls flew they carried torpedoes,
dead rats, explosives in their bellies.
Vultures, pelicans thrown to air came back darkly and powdery.

The new recruits were sharks with brain implants.
Cats controlling vermin. Chickens detecting poison.
Bones and beaks in war memorials.
It wasn’t only Noah’s dove that returned after the flood.

Molotov cocktails.

We haven’t otherwise even left the bacteria, virus, fungi…

Embedded with heavy explosives –
unseen beasts, second only to racial slurs,
we now have w.o.r.d.s. to reproduce in our bodies and ears

time over time, over our grand internet,
staying in memory,
trolled by embittered species.

And words?
They have a separate gallantry.


Keyholes

We hide our wet lace behind a trellis of plants, our voices honeyed from jaded soap operas.
Our requiems are parties inside our heads, earphone to earphone.
Tolerance in the diorama of this rented place.
No door of solace or shame left open.

They will keep boyfriends. And.
They will come with trouble. And.
They will eat meat. And.

But sometimes we translate into vixens: late night-girls with eye masks,
returning on the stairs – shush! the landlord is insomniac
to stilettoes and side-slits of little black dresses,
books, menstrual cups, and spandex.

Who will take responsibility for them? And.

Emerald nights pass into agate mornings,
the sapphire of our head scarves and prayer mats
from insular to secular near our 2 by 2 boxes.
We curl each night against thoughts of saffron eyes, bloodshot.

If the nights fall over our skin, our bodies become bottles
of wine, with a crack against it. Dripping… dripping…

They will get raped. And.

Wooden cages with wooden birds flapping to horizons,
we scrape air like parchment,
peeling secrets from walls of adopted jailhouses.

They will grow wings. And.

Serpentine winds belching histories of women
who left when they heard the bricks squeaking,
Shush! And not again! And please behave yourselves.

But we play safe in dog-chewed chappals, our cycle tyres gripping
the road’s ruggedness
as alleyways sugar-lip the broken sky
of old whispering neighbours.

All this for only one proper peg to place the key
of our russet city-freedoms.

They will wear short skirts. And.


Anthill

No one could build or architect one.
Ants are not easy listeners.

They are migrants, militants
why would they come to give us lessons
in community building, strategy, or order
even if we don’t have much?
even for the food they steal?

It’s a unique gift no one gave no one.
The most they gifted was a virgin island.

But I want you to have an anthill –
one that can be placed under your tree poems.
where wise red-rich ants
organize their evolution, egg-laying queens
workers, soldiers, new nests,
nuptial fights…

(The Mercedes you can buy for yourself.
Someone can gift you a Harley Davidson.)

I saw anthills in Matheran on
red clay trips made from childhood to
a second childhood (in adulthood).

They stood proud, the test of rain
their citadel – a sun-burnished
fortress of pride, of
underground passages,
no-aggression super colonies

and if you went close, they
attacked with pungent defense.

How would we migrate an anthill to your garden and house then?
Will they listen to your poems?
Obey the winds?
Learn a new song?

The real purpose of an anthill home, is so we can
tame these organized creatures
tame unruly elements of nature –
all that an anthill was made of
strategy, order,
piles of earth, sand, pine needles,
clay, urine, and manure.

Excerpted with permission from Coins in River, Rochelle Potkar, Hachette India.

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