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Sunday, 2 December 2012

For those annihilated in riots...by Dileep Jhaveri

For those annihilated in riots, enduring and upright,
to whom history has granted no justice whatsoever

Long before I started scribbling letters
you were already ink.You were the forest
which had proliferated
around the trifling shoot that was I,
blending earth, sunlight, water for me.

You were the language
around my first utterance.

You were smoke, steam, lava
sulphur, phlegm that was coughed out,
carbon chunks, chlorophyll,
bubbling blobs of fat,
a slithering mesh of fibres

clinging together
to forge fragile protection for life.
Even before the senses clutched at colour, smell,
you, as language, were alive to the unspoken word.

Limestone megaliths
tiny seashell

You were blind rain     thunderous lightning             shining steel               pulverous rust
radiant blood at the threshold gaping wounds.
Dry dust          a grating mass of clay
swirling on the cosmic potter’s wheel
splattering, spiralling and capsizing within itself,

hidden ultimately in invisible blackholes.
Retching in hollow depths
you were the scarlet scream of birth
streaming in particles and waves,
the black howl of death.You were the primal language of living and nonliving.

Weavers, blacksmiths, cobblers, carpenters, tailors, butchers,
water carriers, stonemasons, bricklayers,
you are the poor itinerant artisans
whose single day equals my whole life
I am hand         you are fingers

I am palm          you are wrists
I am arm             you are shoulder
You ploughed the                fields you hauled water wheels
you hammered in bamboo posts,             made grass roofs,
screens of sackcloth that masqueraded as walls,

doors of tin.
a fistful of rice simmering over a smoking fire
a couple of meat morsels    scallions fish garlic
Later, cuddling the floor,
in a script dissolved in sleep
you write names of several

crippled, craven, ephemeral people,
whole, unknown, forthright
where you would possibly also find my name.Within a scatter of disarrayed vowels,
bereft of rhyme and rhythm,
you are that language.

You were born just like me,

sucked, wailed, piddled, laughed
burbled, licked toes, bruised your knees, took faltering steps
glimpsed the first mirror – marvel                                          you found yourself
yanking fistfuls of hair                                                                                you found yourself

dismembering a doll                                                                                  you found yourself
reaching for a naked flame thinking it a goldfish           you found yourself
forlorn on forest treks
wandering alone on borders

jostled in crowds
stifled in local trains
tethered to wheeling grindstone and oil press
and yet dreaming                                                                                   you discovered self.
That self is the man.

Other sounds preceded language:
chirp warble trill twitter croak bark bray howl
sneer shout scream screech wail moan
whine wheeze sigh silenced in suffering.
You are that language.

Peacock, crane, partridge

Rhino’s horn tiger’s nail                   blackbuck’s pelt                  elephant’s tusks
Panther    crocodile    turtle    shark    dolphin     whale –
I wish to speak for them all,
so that the forests of ancient teak
and pine and oak and sandalwood

echo with the murmur of tender foliage.
Before I attempt to utter my first words
you are hacked and burnt to black ash.
You are my ink.

Your dupatta, your bushshirt, your curtain-fringe, your floor decors,

your moon, stars, sun, and in the midst of your glittering colours my name suddenly
turning up from somewhere. Your half-nibble is my flesh-gulp of cool water,
down your throat is my blood. Your cramped strength, my bones.

Your sweat is my lustre.
Your faith, your dreams are my existence. Born over centuries
you kept dying, hoping that surely someone will be born to
narrate your tale. But how can a dimwit like me decipher
and articulate your violently shattered words? I do not

have the speech to transilluminate your truth. I have only the facetious
gestures of a deaf-mute. I join my trembling hands. I lower my
head, close my eyes. And with twitching lips, whether audible or not, say:


Poets's Note: This poem was written after the Gujarat riots in 2002.