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Mainstream, VOL LV No 6 New Delhi January 28, 2017

Bearing Witness

Tuesday 31 January 2017, by Sagari Chhabra


I tried to write, but the word shuddered,

Looked over its shoulder in every direction,

Then broke into letters.

I tried to speak,

But the sentence hung in mid-air,

As I tried to give it utterance

It broke into a stammer.

I walked out to witness

What with a hammer

Had brought my people

Onto the streets;

There were no protests, no clamour,

I saw my people silently standing

In long lines,

Their faces taut,

Their lips drawn,

Their dignity smashed,

On bended knees

Awaiting their own cash.

I saw a man with a walker,

He had dragged himself 

With that four-legged contraption,

But for him there was no compassion,

Not even a fraction.

I saw another, with a bag filled with urine

Attached to a long, dangling pipe;

No one gave him any succour;

He just waited for an ATM machine at the other end,

To comprehend,

He had a diabetic wife, an ailing mother

And four children to provide bread and butter.

Then I saw a woman

Her face covered with her sari’s pallu;

She waited while the wind whipped her brittle bones,

It mattered little that she returned to the line the next day

Only to return home emptyhanded, her face forlorn.

Her children cried, asking her for food.

She couldn’t bear their tears

So she lit a fire,

Then set herself aflame;

To you she was another hapless dame,

But I ask you,

How do I douse the helplessness

You have set upon our people

Only to perpetuate your own name?

Sagari Chhabra 

(Poet, playwright and filmmaker, Sagari Chhabra’s latest book In Search of Freedom—Journeys through India and Southeast Asia has been awarded the National Laadli Media award)

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