Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Poem: Talking of Flowers

There was a poet who said once
your talk is the talk of flowers.

He said it in Urdu of course,
so perhaps this is not what he meant.
To talk of you is to shed flowers
from my mouth is also
what he might have said.

To talk of you is to talk of scented
creatures grinning up at the morning
plush with themselves and the aching
to be witnessed and named, dancing
in their skins, coaxing seed
up and out.

The panicked response of still life
to someone's riotous need to mean
more is to think of you.

The brief and the tender,
the easily sold and binned,
the easily crushed
and not even through malice,
is to think of you.

To feel sun and dew
on skin cracked raw,
to quaver as roots fling themselves out
of ankles and affix you to earth
is to think of you.

To speak of you is keep watering
the snowdrops long after spring.

To speak of you is a rosewater rinse.

To speak of you is to soak jasmine
garlands overnight in a bucket.

To speak of you is to tear
open a marigold and eat its
cushioned ovary.

To speak of you is to swear
never again then again be stained
by the taste of sugared roses
in betel leaf.

To speak of you is to speak
of beds on wedding nights
fields of mustard
a song with a mandolin in it
and a honeymoon suite occupied
by one.

(C) Annie Zaidi

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

5 Newspaper Headlines Re-Written for Greater Clarity

A set of five poems inspired by newspaper headlines in recent times.

Five Newspaper Reports Re-written for Greater Clarity

1.  All Eyes on HSC Results

how many eyes are trained
on the higher secondary exam results,
hard to say but eyes are slitted sleek
with yesterday's failing

eyes follow monkey eyes gibbering
through a bazaar, rubbing neon
out of the black lids of night

eyes are fixed upon a street gone
grey with too much going away

lost foundlings blinded by concrete,
eyes wait on the road divider
holding the skeleton of a bunch of red roses
that grazed the shin of a passerby
who looked but saw nothing
except a flower pot that he used
as a spittoon

eyes are intent on sum assured
insurance plans and a new toffee car
bought by a semi-friendly neighbour
with good skin

eyes are wildly careening between
yet, most days they are fixed upon
the luminous face of a PhD guide
who won a gold medal for every exam
he ever sat and comes to uni in blue fleece
and real leather sandals.


2.  Nation Outraged After X gangrape in Y town 

forty one percent of the population
recalled other instances of mutilation,
murder along with the caste and age
of various name-changed victims.

twenty point five percent of the population
silently measured their hemlines against
newsprint inches devoted to the said crime.

roughly thirteen percent of the nation
was looking at a girl of eighteen
crossing the road.

an unknownable fraction of the nation
was buying bottles of acid.

zero point five percent of the nation
roared about state culpability and blocked
two arterial roads that led to a jam that will
occupy the front page tomorrow.

the rest of the nation was busy watering
money plants, relieving itself
between stalks of sugarcane,
changing diapers and being rocked
to sleep.

less than one percent of the nation
had the stomach for details of intestine,
perineum, bladder, womb and the neck
of a girl who swung from a tree
that did not belong to anyone in particular.


Call us Munna.
A single name will do
for both, and for either one.
No, we don't have school names.
Who went to school?
BA-MA-Doctorate in
loading-unloading, huh?
About that red carpet,
there was actually more than one.
Twenty feet long, each one and six feet across.
Before all this loading rolling unrolling
there was the weaving.
Carpets, yes, much nicer than this junk.
No, don't ask how long that was.
There was no calendar in the room.


4.  Year on, dead couple not forgiven

Forgiveness is a trick,
a dirty one played by children
who have not learnt to wipe
the green stain of love from their eyes
after they have been thrashed.

Forgiveness is an exposed brick house
with no boundary wall to stop the man
who answers the call of a she-wolf
wearing a plaited rope of debt for an anklet.

Forgiveness is lovers hacked
for their art of caress undress 
the exhumation of soul from under flesh.

Forgiveness is a foreign thing.
A denim jacket with rivets thing.
A plastic tweety bird ring that nobody 
in the village had ever bought and 
if the young had any thought of such things, 
they'll think twice now.


5.  Two Palestinians Shot Dead After Attacking Israelis

Two people armed with knives
were killed after they (separately)
rushed towards (different groups of) Israelis
armed with guns.

Two people set out from home (or whatever
remained of that feeling called home).
It is unclear if they kissed anyone goodbye
but preliminary imaginings indicate
they held that thought awhile.

It is unclear if their homes had been bombed
or if any children died in the shelling.
It is unclear whether they rebuilt or relocated
and if they had, whether they were bombed
a second time.

It is clear they had access to kitchen knives.

It is clear they rushed towards wielders of guns.

It is clear the guns would be used.

The colour of their skin is clear.

Their olive trees, their pets, their throaty
mother tongue, their last words were
not so clear.


(C) Annie Zaidi

Friday, May 26, 2017

The war on dust

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if we collectively gave up on dust. What if we just let the city sink under the dust for a whole month, or even a year?

The other day, I was out walking, and may have spotted a demo version of such an eventuality. The pavement lay fractured and unswept. Dust had settled in so firmly that although it was made of coloured paving blocks, everything looked a uniform shade of dull brown. It ran parallel to a divider which had been prettied up with some green plants. But, dust lay so thick on each leaf that the plants too wore a vomitous shade of dun. Sheets of metal lay around covered in grey dust. An old scooter was parked nearby, also covered in dust. The scene suggested decay, abandonment, despair, and it was infinitely depressing.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


A couple of decades ago, however, someone high up in the municipal corporation of Mumbai must have decided to try something new. Interlaced paver blocks were rumoured to be a better idea than concrete or tarred roads. Some people joked that the politicians who pushed for this change probably had relatives who had set up paver block factories. Who knows?

I have to admit that I was pleased to see paver blocks for totally impractical reasons. They made for interesting shapes and colours. I liked looking at the geometrical patterns unfolding under my feet, and a road or pavement or walkway could be terracotta red or yellow. I kept hoping that the authorities would get more inventive and ask for more colours to be embedded into the design – green, blue, black, teal. Why not? Just imagine, what if entire stretches of road could be made into designer works of art? Paver blocks could be set in different colours to make images or portraits. One could embed messages in the shape of words. At the very least, the street could tell us its own name. If we got really creative, we could leave capsules of history strewn about the city. Suburb by suburb, street by street, we could learn to remember where we were, and how we got here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some questions for Mr Kejriwal

Just a few days ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend and like all good Indians, we discussed politics. Lots of breast-beating (metaphorical, of course). We discussed you: AAP as an alternative and you as the last round of ammunition in the nation’s democratic belt.

I had my doubts, but it was not on account of electoral setbacks. For a new political outfit, one without a lot of money backing it, AAP did alright in Punjab and Goa. You didn’t "lose" ’em because you didn’t have ’em to begin with. My doubts were about your values.

My friend argued, what do I know about your values? How could I judge?

I was judging you as I judge all politicians - through statements and silences, through action and inaction.

I noticed you doing good viz health and education, electricity and water. You are trying to fix a deeply unequal system and I respect that. But sometimes I wonder if you are committed to core constitutional values. Freedom of religion, speech, choice. Justice: social, economic and political. Equality. You talk the talk. Do you intend to walk it?

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Triple the Trouble

Women of all religions should worry. A majority government can change laws so that women no longer inherit land, widows no longer remarry, divorce is no longer permissible.

Already, some states restrict freedom of faith by preventing citizens from converting to other religions. Our freedom to eat and drink what we want has been legally curtailed.

No government has passed laws making inter-caste and inter-community marriage easier. The Constitution has been subverted repeatedly.

As far as Muslim women are concerned, ladies, you need to up your game and start fighting in earnest. Feel free to follow a set of civilian laws if you want, for no force is permitted in your religion. But if you follow religious law, learn to make it work for you.

Fight. But don’t just stop at triple talaq. That is a tiny problem. The big problem is independence.

Read this column on Triple Talaaq and Indian Muslim women's struggle to get rid of it:

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The TT and UCC conversation

I had shared some thoughts on the debate around Triple Talaaq and Uniform Civil Code with the newspaper Sakaal Times: 

- Women are not paid wages if they work alongside their husbands or within the household. So if a marriage collapses, they have no money or house of their own. This is true for Hindu women too. The right to inherit property for Hindu daughters is a recent development. It took many decades of fighting orthodox and conservative elements within Hindu society.

- Marriage and divorce are finally personal matters, and cannot be legislated beyond a point. What the state needs to do is to secure individual freedoms and offer greater safety nets for all citizens, regardless of religion or gender.

On the Uniform Civil Code:

The problem is not that the Modi government wants Uniform Civil Code but that they want Muslim marital laws to be the same as Hindu upper caste/ Brahmin laws. Even the laws governing Hindu marriages are actually not reflective of all traditions. After all, divorce was freely available and common among many tribal communities that broadly fall under the umbrella of ‘Hindu’. The British had to legislate and codify laws only because upper caste Hindu groups did not allow divorce, or widow remarriage, etc. Polygamy and polyandry, both are a part of Indian cultural history.

You can read the interview version here
Tweets by @anniezaidi