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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 21 New Delhi May 14, 2016

Searching for the Woods

Monday 16 May 2016, by Sagari Chhabra

I went searching for the woods—
Dark, dense and deep;
But I fear they are no more to be seen.
 
Whoever felled my beloved trees—
Neem, palash, peepal, bargad—with an axe?
I fear I did not see him,
Oh! Do forgive my lapse!
 
I was so intent in building towers of cement
I quite forgot the hours spent,
Under the boughs of the banyan tree
On whose ariel shoots we swang,
along which bonds of friendship
And early love, just sprang.
 
Then those very shoots became roots
And in turn sprouted new shoots,
Beneath which we read our books
And dreamt our dreams.
We never thought we should protect our old banyan tree.
 
Now they have cemented the ground
Below the tree, and all around
Laid a shining concrete floor,
So the banyan tree can grow no more.
 
I looked up far and wide
Beyond the tree, on the side,
I saw earthmovers and earthshakers
Build palaces of steel and brick,
As they demolished the huts of the poor
In an electoral trick.
 
I searched for the five-paise ‘piao’
—The humble vendor who once gave me water,
While parched birds tapped window panes,
Falling on the asphalt in feverish, feathered slaughter.
 
I searched for what this ancient civilisation stood for—
The piao, the well,the banyan tree,
The peacock and the mynah, drinking cheek by jowl,
Instead I saw a monolithic structure, so foul;
Oblivious to the howl
Of the jackal, the scurrying squirrel,
The clicking dismay of the gecko,
From an urban sprawl, a ghetto.
 
I ask you, my friend,
At the altar of ‘make in India’,
Do you hear the sprite of the tree,
The soul of the displaced,
The whisper of wings,
The speech of ants,
The parched cries of children
Rummaging the garbage,
In torn underpants?
 
Can you look into their beseeching eyes
As they seem to say,
Must you wreak havoc,
Must you slay,
Must you take even our little, away?

April 27, 2016      Sagari Chhabra

(Poet, playwright, filmmaker and author, Sagari Chhabra’s latest book is In Search of Freedom—Journeys through India and South-East Asia)