Tag Archive: poetry


sentinels

from google

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sentinels …

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thoughts whizz past, embers meant never to last,

leaving memories behind, grappling fears in spaces of the blind,

memories, with all their nostalgic tugging,

stand blurred, hazy sentinels against excessive lugging,

sentinels, silently harbouring, threads of you, and of me,

sentinels, hewn into our being, protecting the persistence of memory …

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from google

talkin’ why hope is important bluesy-blues … … …

… … … this scribble is about hope, that unweighable weighty word, often bandied about ritually, and thus its message, its voice, may be blunted by repetitive bluster, so i’ll be a-scribblin’ along, with all the gusto i may muster, since we’re talking about hope, without which the human race, us all, all of us, i dare say, would not cope, ’cause imagine an absence of something, can’t put your finger on that feeling feeling, that oftentimes rocks at our souls, leavin’ our minds reelin’, yeah that’s right, but no propagandising today, though with me, at least, i can truly say, were it not for hope, that figment, blister on indifferent fates’ machinations, that belief, that burning in the pit of ones core, gnawing, gnashed teeth muttering, that all this pain too must eventually, pale, and that’s whats a-sometime the reason for us being heartful, and or hale, its hope, raw, deceptive, lyin’, corrosive, rusted but a-shineyed up, yeah that hope that keeps my heart pumping, its that hope that keeps me alive, and its that hope upon which, may all new flowers thrive …

Art by Picasso

my mother meeting her old comrade Nelson Mandela after 27 years of him being in jail and my parents working for the African National Congress (ANC) in exile since the 1960s. Photograph taken by me in Sweden 1990

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my mother’s story – a true story …

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my mother used tell me this with tears in her eyes.

my mother left South Africa in the 1960’s to join my father who was in political exile at the time in Tanzania.

in 1970 my father was deployed by the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC) to India to be its Chief-Representative there.

I was born in New Delhi a couple of years later in 1972.

my mother and father spent two years in Mumbai (then Bombay).

one afternoon my father fell and broke his leg.

my mother knocked on their neighbour’s door of the apartment complex where they lived.

the neighbour was an elderly Punjabi lady.

my mother asked the elderly lady for assistance in calling a doctor to see to my injured father.

a Zoroastrian (Parsi) ‘bone-setter’ was promptly summoned.

my mother and the elderly neighbour got to talking and the lady asked my mother where they were from, as their accents were clearly not local.

my mother told the elderly Punjabi lady that my father worked for the African National Congress of South Africa and had been forced into exile to continue to struggle to raise awareness internationally about the appalling situation in Apartheid South Africa.

my mother also mentioned that they had to leave their two young children (my siblings, whom I met only later in life) behind in South Africa, in the care of grandparents, and that they were now essentially political refugees.

the elderly lady broke down and wept uncontrollably.

she told my mother that she too had to leave their home in Lahore in 1947 and flee to India with only the clothes on their back when the partition of the subcontinent took place and when Pakistan was torn from India and formed, due to narrow religious and sectarian reasons, whose repercussions are felt to this day.

this was also a time when religious violence wreaked havoc, and untold suffering and death for millions of human beings.

the elderly lady then asked my mother what her name was.

‘Zubeida’, but you can call me ‘Zubie’.

the Punjabi woman hugged Zubeida some more, and the two women, seperated by age and geography, by religion and all the things that seek to divide humanity, wept, for they could understand the pain and trauma of a shared experience.

the elderly Punjabi lady told my mother that she was her ‘sister’ from that day on, and that she too felt the pain of exile after being forced to become refugees, and what being a refugee felt like.

Zubie and her husband Mosie (my father) and the family next door became the closest of friends.

then came the time for Mosie and Zubie to leave for Delhi where the African National Congress (ANC) office was to be officially opened.

the elderly Punjabi lady and Mosie and Zubie said their goodbyes.

a year or two later, the elderly lady’s daughter Lata married Ravi Sethi and the couple moved to Delhi.

the elderly lady telephoned Zubie and told her that her daughter was coming to Delhi to live there, and that she had told Lata, her daughter that she had a ‘sister’ in Delhi, and that she should not feel alone.

Lata and Ravi Sethi then moved to Delhi in the mid-1970’s.

Lata and Zubie became the closest of friends and that bond stayed true, till the both my mother passed away in 2008.

my father and I still feel a close bond with Lata and Ravi Sethi, and vice versa.

a bond that was forged between Hindu and Muslim and between two countries of South Africa and of India, shattering the barriers of creed and of time.

a bond strong and resilient, forged by the pain and trauma of a shared experience.

that is why I shall never stop believing that hope shines still, for with so much religious bigotry almost consuming our world today, there will always be a woman, somewhere, anywhere, who would take the ‘other’ in as a sister, and as a fellow human being.

and that is why, I believe, that there will always be hope.

hope in the midst of unbearable pain and hope in the midst of loss and of unspeakable suffering.

hope.

for we can never give up hope for a better world.

never.

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(for aunty Lata’s late-mother, my mother’s ‘sister’ and who took us all into her heart, and for Lata and Ravi Sethi of Defence Colony, New Delhi, India)

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old anti-apartheid poster

senzenina*

from google

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Senzenina*

There was a glorious moment, in the autumn of 1994, when a nation broke free of the shackles of Apartheid.

There was a hope that burned bright, there were people ululating and dancing in the streets, there was a palpable feeling that we were on the cusp of achieving something that so many had sacrificed and died to accomplish.

The fetters of political and social and economic and racial tyranny were to be cast off, with the indescribable hope of a newer tomorrow, a better more equitable future, to be built on the foundation so many South Africans gave their lives to realise.

But it was not to be. The burning conviction of so so many was diluted, and then further diluted, till the very flames of revolution were hastily doused, with all that remained being the smouldering embers of hopes and dreams banished to the marketplace of deprivation.

In the Freedom Charter, there were the humane ideals of housing and health for all, of education and economic justice for all, of work for decent pay for all, for freedom from wage-slavery for all.

How hurriedly were these ideals buried.

The dreams and hopes and aspirations of generations seemed to have been consigned to the dust heap of history, as someone once said.

The South Africa of 1994 was not a country with a failing economy, and was in fact a wealthy country blessed with precious metals that had the potential for so many of the ideals of the Freedom Charter to be finally realised where the obscene wealth of the few would be more equitably shared by the overwhelmingly masses of the country.

It is was not long after the advent of democracy when the warning flags started popping up. The mad dash for power and influence and the feeding of greed began rapidly eroding the ideals that our leaders spent decades in prison dedicated their lives to achieve, the far far too many who were tortured and killed, who were forced into political exile, and the vast majority of people who bore the scars that the jagged edge of tyranny inflicted upon them.

The warning signs were there for all of us to see. The graft, the tenders for pals, the insatiable acquisition of personal wealth by a fraction of a fraction of the people of the country, exposed ominous signs that the noble ideals so many sacrificed for were being gradually consigned to oblivion.

Today, twenty seven years since freedom dawned, we have little to be proud about.

We have not alleviated poverty adequately so that the poorest of the poor citizens of South Africa still go to bed hungry, and often sleeping on newspaper sheets under gleaming highway underpasses. The scourge of unemployment means that those seeking to find work cannot do so, at least not for a liveable wage. The vast majority of the children of freedom still commute great distances and bear long hours in order to access a meaningful education. The “there shall be housing for all” words contained in the Freedom Charter has become a cesspool of substandard tiny homes being built, mostly even without doors or windows.

The elderly who are sickly have to endure hours of waiting in gradually decaying hospitals with more often their dignity being trampled upon by underpaid and understaffed nurses and doctors.

There is much much more to mention.

The saddest thing of all is the crushing of the hopes of the many, more often than not, by the few.

This is not the country leaders such as Madiba and Tambo and Hani and Biko and Sisulu amongst countless more had envisaged.

We have failed our selfless freedom fighters.

We have and continue to fail the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

This is now.

This is today.

Could there still be hope for tomorrow and the tomorrows yet to come.

It is up to all of us.

________

* “Senzenina” is an anti-Apartheid song which means “What have we done” with the implication “what did we do to deserve this?”

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from google

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your name

from google

hewn into my being,

carved across my heart,

weaving through my mind,

embossed in my soul,

it remains –

a persistent reminder:

your name

from google

Myesha Jenkins’s – “To breathe into another voice : A South African anthology of jazz poetry”

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my poem appears in Myesha Jenkin’s book To Breathe Into Another Voice: A South African Anthology of Jazz Poetry

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Old Sof’town*

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1.

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In old Sof’town,
the jazz struck chords,

the jazz lived, it exploded,
out of the cramped homes,
rolling along the streets,
of old Kofifi,

in tune to countless blazing heartbeats.

In old Sof’town,
Bra’ Hugh breathed music, Sis’ Dolly too,
and Bra’ Wally penned poems that still ring true.

In old Sof’town,
Father Trevor preached
equality and justice,
for all, black and white and brown,

and all shades, every hue,
even as oppression battered the people,
black and blue.

In old Sof’town,
the fires of resistance raged,

‘we will not move’ was the refrain,

even as the fascists tore down Sof’town,
with volleys of leaden rain.

In old Sof’town,
the people were herded,
like cattle,
sent to Meadowlands,
far away and cold and bleak,
as the seeds of resistance,
sprouted and flourished,
for the coming battle.

In old Sof’town,
the bulldozers razed homes,
splitting the flesh of a community apart,
only to raise a monument of shame,
and ‘Triomf” was its ghastly name.

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In Jozi today,
we remember those days,
and those nights of pain,
that stung our souls.
like bleak winter rain.

Yes, we remember old Sof’town,
as we struggle onward,
to reclaim our deepest heritage,
and build anew,
a country of all hues and shades,
of black and of white and of brown.

And yes, we will always remember,

and yes, we will never forget,

the price that was paid,
by the valiant sons and daughters,
of old Sof’town,

those vibrant African shades and hues,

of black,
of white,
of brown.

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from google

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* – Sophiatown was also called ‘Sof’town’ and ‘Kofifi.’

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https://www.myeshajenkins.com

from google

from google

Johannesburg Blues …

walking in this city of diamonds,
gold deep beneath my feet,

sleeping under her rainy skies,
embracing my newspaper sheet.

i had a life long ago, a woman too,
now I’m just a huddle of rags,

while the women walk past
never reaching into their Gucci bags.

she left me, or i left myself,
on these bleak Jo’burg roads,

searching for that fix at these desolate crossroads.

now i stand alone,
these empty streets my bed,

my blood soaking the earth
with drops of beaten red.

so i wish you well, friends,
i wish you gold dust amidst the fray,

all of you who walk on and away,

leaving me to beg or borrow,

to get through another Jo’burg day.

from google

from google

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talkin’ dreamscapey blues …

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slipping through sieves,
time leaves,

scurrying off, slinking away,
so let me hold you close, tight,
tonight,

as dreams crash, plummeting,
spiralling gradually, slowly, agonisingly,
into freefall flight,

blinded by knowing whats right,

holding you close,
holding you tight …

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desire

🍁

desire …

sprinkled scribbles,
sketched against skin,

softly soothing, dipped in inked nectar, infused with desires unleashed,

to live, to taste the salt of sweat on flesh, to walk in the torrential rain, drenched in perennial desire,

scorching, broiling, slowly inflamed, centuries, months, moments, decades,

the moth to the fire …

🌻

from google





For Delhi: An Exile’s Lament for his adopted Hometown …





In anticipation,

of a touch, a caress,


something tugs, straining,


luring me back,


through smoky mists of bygone times,


magically transporting me,


to the lilting strains of sensuous ghazals and erotic rhymes.




My memory flees the splintered now,


to monsoon drenched days in Delhi town,


with your hand in mine, hidden in plain sight,


whistling romantic tunes in the scorching Delhi summer night.




Days of gol-gappas* in the Connaught Place rain,


bicycle rides to the melas**,


to rewinding our song over and over again.




I do confess I have been dying a little each day, since you and I were torn apart,


when from our beloved Delhi I had to so hurriedly depart.




I have been dying the death of a thousand cuts, since bidding farewell to you and to our eternal Delhi town,


sinking bit by bit, into the frigid ocean of fate,


where I feel myself ever so slowly,


drown.





* – gol-gappas or paani-puri, a favourite roadside dast-food.


** – mela, the Hindi word for a carnival 










from google






She is you

Billie Holiday by Banksy – from google



She is you …



They say she is opinionated, rude even, and lacking all tact,


they expect her to be demure, to brew tea and cook, so that suitable suitors she may attract. 



They castigate her for not following the norm,


they expect her to weather the relentless storm in hushed silence, with acceptance and aplomb.



They dismiss her for being “loud-mouthed”, for speaking her mind,


they demand from her the acceptance of the gnawing shackles that to her bind.



Yes,


she lives in gilded cages, while the blood in her veins rages,


she is condemned to the countless leaking, freezing, boiling shacks, facing horrors untold,


she is used, her body abused, to be bartered, battered and sold. 



A single mother, she is savaged by their barbed whispers, their narrow, antiquated attitudes,


while on mother’s and women’s day they pummel her with their hollow meaningless  platitudes.

 


They speak disparagingly of her flouting cultural, sectarian, and their narrow-minded claptrap,


even as she wrestles the demons, the indignity, the trauma of the punches and kicks, the slaps after slap.



They damn her for unclipping her wings, as she soars free into the open sky,


all the while our silent complicity,


kicks her to the cold ground where she is expected to cower and lie.


 

She is you, and you are her,


and may you continue to be,


unflinching, unbowed,


and always, always true.







from google






The Conceit of a Man

from google


The Conceit of a Man …





How dare I stand before you, a man – to recite a poem on women and about the rights of women the world over?



Am I not the perfect caricature of that man – who deems himself capable, and so very able, even entitled?



Yes, aren’t I that man who thinks he understands,



who believes righteously that he knows what it has been like, and what it is like being a woman in this crass, misogynistic world.



The man who presumes to know and to empathise about countless women’s deeply personal and painful truths that they live each day, not just at times,


I am that man who thinks it possible, even admirable of him to scribble out a few rhymes. 



Isn’t this what caricatures like me have always done – speak on behalf of, or drone on about women, their struggles and the need of the now, the forging ahead in the countless battles yet to be fought for the emancipation of women,


yes caricatures indeed, us men who beat down with bloodied fists the very same women, for whom we hurl a few slogans around, utterly meaningless as they fall to the blood stained ground.



But never will I admit to the profanities I have spewed, in-between off hand chats with male friends, those chats about how many chicks I have screwed.



The man before you stands and pontificates about all that women need – the liberal manifesto – equal pay for all, the right of a woman to determine what is best for her body, the calling out of the lewd catcalls and the uncouth slow-eyed once-over leering stares, shamelessly violating the woman, even as she with contempt at them all glares.



The man, oblivious to the hypocrisy, prattles on and on, speaking on behalf of women the world over, so attuned to their struggles, harping and carping, about feminism and women’s lib, all the while with a self-congratulatory tone so condescending and glib.



Ah but the facts speak for themselves, and they stack up time and time again, from time immemorial, to today, to a backdrop of the shrieks of collective pain.



The time has come and long passed, for the facts to be driven into the consciousness of every man, every boy, every girl, every person this wide world around,


if for once, we may actually, onto a sliver of hope hold, it must be to accept our complicity in this sorry parade, while dusting off the grime and slime of this endless charade. 



The facts are brutal, they speak for themselves – the facts are grotesque, screaming to us all,


for as the worn-out adage goes, we stand together, or together we will fall.



The facts are plain to see, they condemn us for our inaction, the facts are unalterable, they will never be what we want them to be, even as we sew our eyes shut not wanting to see. 



I should perhaps apologise for not being more positive, and for being so abrasively cynical,


but I would rather say what I’ve said now,


and say it ever more,


because somehow I feel,


the platitudes will be dished out on Women’s Day and whenever our consciences are pricked,


by news reports of the unspeakable crimes of the savage treatment of women, the truths we live with daily, the said and the unsaid, the unspoken behind-the-picket fence abuse,


where no matter what we may think, it is us men who shroud ourselves behind the veil of complicit silence, seeing only what we choose.



Yes, so I would rather say all of this, gagging in this stench of rotten egos laid bare, as the truth we unpeel,


instead of gurgling out more lame, old feel-good, and utterly meaningless spiel,


while us men, the chosen ones, the patriarchy at its most hideous,


still, and for quite a while longer, I’m sorry to say,


expect the woman to always kneel …




from google

from google




Aretha Franklin 1942 – 2018


The Queen has lost her voice,


and yet it soars,


reaching up, up, up to heaven itself,


where Aretha Franklin is being welcomed,


to add a whole lot of soul …




from google

REST IN PEACE

Slaughter at Marikana

from google






Slaughter at Marikana.




1.



Bullets tearing,

into muscled flesh,


as,

bodies slump,

dead as dust.




Sweaty and bruised,

slogging,


mining the land of the ancestors,


descending into hell,

day by wretched day,


for shiny metals,


like those shiny metal bullets,


that tore,

into muscled flesh,


as,

bodies slumped,


dead as dust.




2.



How can we mourn,

the slaughtered,


how do we cleanse,

our blood-soaked hands,


without,

betraying our complicity,


in the slaughter at Marikana,


as we lightly tread,

on the mine-fields,


of greed,

of profit,


on the backs,

of the slaughtered dead.






(dedicated to the human beings massacred at Marikana)

from google

from google






who killed the miners at Marikana?





definitely not the executive

nor the executives
far removed from the grime
and the slime

Who killed the miners at Marikana?

not the Prez
and not even the press for a change

strange

so who killed the miners at Marikana?

the unions perhaps
or the errant miner
led astray

in that obscene demand for better pay

who killed the miners at Marikana?

not armed cops,
firing bullets of lead into the back of the head

execution-style it’s been said

who killed the miners at Marikana?

it seems no one can be found

as bodies decompose deep under gold dust ground

while families grieve

there
ain’t no one around to take the fall

so
who killed the Marikana Miners?

no one

no one at all




* inspired by the protest song “Who Killed Davey Moore”, a topical song written in 1963 by folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan.




from google

Comrade Nelson Mandela’s mother and my mother protesting the imprisonment of political prisoners by the Apartheid regime. Photo taken in eitner the mid-1950s or early 1960s

An Anti-Apartheid poster from the early 1980s



The 15th of August 1934 and 1947

( dedicated to our late mother Zubeida ‘Jubie’ Moolla, and to all the women, the mostly unsung heroines in all the struggles for freedom across the world )


1.


Our mother was born on the 15th of August, an auspicious day, in the winter of 1934.

Thirteen years later, also on this auspicious day, in the summer of 1947, India cast off the yoke of colonial oppression.

These dates, though a decade apart are bound together in our family, hewn together by the happenstance of fate.


2.


The threads of the struggle for freedom, the hunger for liberation, the thirst for democracy, the ache of sacrifice, are intertwined.


3.


The valiant freedom fighters faced the brutality of the enemy head-on, staring down the barrels of the imperialists with chins held high, relinquishing the comfort of inaction for the battle for those eternally noble ideals – the struggle against oppression, the quest for human dignity, the emancipation of women, the conviction of being a part of a greater cause in the service of humanity. 


4.


The struggle for liberation in South Africa and in India left many martyred souls, many more victims of appalling cruelty, the harrowing pain of families’ torn apart, the parents and children ripped from each other, the savagery of torture, the massacres of the innocents, the decades spent in prison, the years spent in exile.


5.


The names of the martyrs bear witness:

Solomon Mahlangu.
Bhagat Singh.
Ahmed Timol.
Rajguru.
Vuyisile Mini.
Sukhdev.
Steve Biko.
Victoria Mxenge.

Just a few names of the many more who gave up their youth, cruelly executed by the merciless foe.


6.


The torch bearers of the struggles, are forever etched in our minds, always kept close to our hearts, for these were the giants who inspired countless more to join the just cause for universal human dignity.

Their names are legendary:

Nelson Mandela.
Lillian Ngoyi.
Jawaharlal Nehru.
Sarojini Naidu.
Walter Sisulu.
Mahatma Gandhi.
Dorothy Nyembe.
Oliver Tambo.
Charlie Andrews.
Ahmed Kathrada.
Sardar Patel.
Govan Mbeki.
Nana Sita.
Chris Hani.
Aruna Asaf Ali.
Andrew Mlangeni.
Margaret Mncadi.
Sucheta Kriplani.
Ruth First.
Subhash Chandra Bose.
Joe Slovo.
Raymond Mhlaba.


These are but a few of our eternal flames – the flames that shall burn bright in the hearts of all freedom loving people.


7.


Our mother was born into a politically active family. Our grandfather a fierce opponent of racism and sectarianism in all its grotesque forms.

Our mother grew up in this cauldron of political agitation.

Our mother married our father and a daughter and a son were born, while Papa made his way in and out of jail, Mummy was left to tend for the infants, Tasneem and Azad.

Our parents were forced into exile, with their beloved young children left behind in the care of loving maternal grandparents, uncles and aunts.

Mummy as a mother suffered harshly and went through many breakdowns, being separated from Tasneem and Azad. I think only people who have been apart from their children will understand the pain of a mother.

People often think life in exile was easy. It was not. Papa was with MK and travelled continuously. It was mummy who was left with her thoughts, her grief, her pain and suffering knowing that her children were suffering by not having parents like normal families do.

People also called mummy ‘cheeky’ with a quick and bad temper, but can anyone understand the pain of being separated from ones own children and not becoming angry and feeling broken.

What Tasneem and Azad had to suffer through only they know. No one who has not been ripped away from their parents can ever ever know the effect that pain and pining has on the children. Today we see people whose kids go for sleepovers with friends and already the house seems empty and already the parents and the children miss each other and WhatsApp each other.

Tasneem and Azad never had that luxury.

May my nuni nieces never forget the sacrifice mummy and daddy made and the pain of that time that can never really heal.

So may we try and spend time just thinking how it would be for the nunis if they had their parents suddenly taken away from them and then having to live with uncles and aunties, and grandparents.

These are the scars of history.

These are the wounds that never heal.

These are the sacrifices that go unnoticed.

These are the gnawing ache that history often forgets.

These are the experiences of countless mothers and their children.

This is the price paid dearly for the freedom and democracy we share today.


8.


The 15th of August, a day of celebration of freedom in India.

The 15th of August, a day of reflection for our family in South Africa.


Long live the Women’s Movement!

Viva the strength and power of the women!






( dedicated to Zubeida ‘Jubie’ Moolla, and to all the women, the often unsung heroines in all the struggles for freedom across the world )



Anti-Apartheid poster during the tyrannical system of racial discrimination

Comrade Nelson Mandela and my mother reunited after 27 years in Sweden 1990

art from google



Pandit-Ji* – A Poem for Jawaharlal Nehru.


1.


The moon cast an enveloping shadow over the teeming multitudes,

as they made their tryst with destiny**,

with you as the bearer of the light,

and at the stroke of the midnight hour,

you emerged an icon, from the long and desolate night.

Long years had passed,
since those humid evenings spent,
languishing in jail,

yet your mind remained unshackled,
putting words on paper in the dim candlelight,

as the gaudy glare of empire began to pale.


2.


Today,
you live,

within us,
though not amongst us,

and,

your discovery,
your glimpses,

smoulder within me,

your immortal words,
my compass.

I am now,
the soul of nations,
once suppressed,

that have,
found utterance.

I am now,
me.

I am now,
finally,

free.



* – ‘Pandit-Ji’ was the name that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, was respectfully called.



** – excerpts from Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on 15th August 1947

art from google

the duality of time

 

      

 

 

the duality of time …

 

   

 

time

erodes.
loves, lives, hearts.

 

 

souls, spirits, selves …

time

mends,
wounds
a salve,

a balm.

 


knowing only that

in the end,

 


there shall be,

 


only
stillness,

silence,
peace,

calm.

 

 

 

 

 

for women everywhere






for women everywhere …




they said she was opinionated.


they castigated her for not following the norm.


they dismissed her for being “loud-mouthed”.


they spoke disparagingly of her for flouting cultural, religious, sectarian narrow-minded claptrap.


they damned her for unclipping her wings, as she soared free into the open skies.



she is you. 



and may you always be you …





​in love with hope








​in love with hope …



she comes to me,

offering solace, gentle words whispered in my ear,


she placates me,

her words a tender caress, dispelling fear,


she seduces me, as sure as she breathes fire into my soul,


she teases me, offering glimpses of the promise of being whole,


she heals me, when i’m down, battered blue black,


she picks me up, shuffling my self as bones achingly crack.




in love with her, i know now, without her, i would not cope,


in love with her, i know now, she is abiding hope,


hope lives,

hope breathes,


always … 










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